Tuesday, May 9, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 9

Guests: Ken Silverstein, Craig Crawford, Judy Messoline

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will be you be talking about tomorrow?

Hillary Clinton's fundraiser. Your host, Rupert Murdoch. Either the conservatives or the liberals are going to be really honked off.

Nine Fingers and six congressman. The attendees to those Watergate poker parties, possible prostitution parties, linked to former congressman Duke Cunningham. Nine Fingers, reportedly an old CIA crony of Porter Goss. The investigative reporter who dug all this up joins us.

And in D.C., I should have taken a DC-10. Private jets, public corruption, Senator Rick Santorum urges his colleagues to cut back on flights paid for mostly by corporations, two days after catching his flight paid for mostly by a corporation.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that was a stupid one.


OLBERMANN: David Blaine's underwater stunt is a washout. But might it have been a deliberate washout?

Speaking of washouts and deliberate, fudge factor. Bill O' cooks the books for April's ratings. A dramatic O'Reilly reading, and then a whole lot of corrections.

And there's a segue from there to here too. I'm just not sure how to say it. This is about strippers as the new test market for new hip-hop music.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the DJs play the records and the girls come back and frequently request them, we know that we have a hit on our hands.


OLBERMANN: Really sorry about the language there, I did - Oh, he said "hit." Never mind.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

The weirdness of the billionaire recluse Howard Hughes did not manifest itself merely in his refusal to cut his fingernails nor his insistence on covering every surface with Kleenex. He also used to donate massive amounts of money to the Democrats, while at the same time donating massive amounts of money to the Republicans. Used to counsel Republican president Richard Nixon, used to pay Democratic National Chairman Larry O'Brien.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, Howard Hughes, Rupert Murdoch. Rupert Murdoch, Howard Hughes. Mr. Murdoch will be hosting a political fundraiser for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, a prospect no less unexpected than a warm and fuzzy friendship between Senator Clinton's husband and the first President Bush. And look how well that formerly adversarial relationship has turned out.

But this is the man whom the dying British playwright Dennis Potter said he would have gladly assassinated on behalf of mankind if only he'd had enough time left, the newspaper "The Financial Times" reporting that Mr. Murdoch has agreed to host a fundraiser in July for Senator Clinton's reelection campaign, not for a potential run for president, one unnamed source describing the Clinton-Murdoch connection thusly, "They have a respectful and cordial relationship. He has respect for the work she has done on behalf of New York. I wouldn't say it was illustrative of a close, ongoing relationship. It is not like the are dining out together."

Thank goodness for small favors.

Far easier to imagine, parallels between the current Bush presidency and that of Richard Nixon. Speaking of political odd couples, the congresswoman Katherine Harris getting some face time with the president on the tarmac in Florida on Tuesday. No proof that she lives there, but proof positive that Mr. Bush does not read the newspapers.

In any event, as I was saying, the precipitous slide of Mr. Bush's job performance numbers beginning to mirror those of Mr. Nixon towards the end. Bush's disapproval rating, 65 percent in the latest Gallup poll, exceeded only by the 66 percent registered by Mr. Nixon in July 1974, less than a month before he left office.

Let's call on "Congressional Quarterly" columnist Craig Crawford.

Welcome back, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Hi. I had a little too much fun at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, I think.

OLBERMANN: Ow, a little brawl with Stephen Colbert afterwards?

CRAWFORD: I got in an argument with a tree, and the tree won.

OLBERMANN: Wow. Well, I hope you're all right.

CRAWFORD: I'll make it.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of people in slings, Mr. Bush's job performance numbers. That Gallup number backed up by a second poll released Tuesday night by "The New York Times," also showing 31 percent approval. The disapproval not quite as bad, too shy (ph) at 65.

But Craig, what about this here should be most concerning to the White House? I, unlike the situation Nixon was in in '74, there's been no congressional investigation of the alleged misdeeds, the economy is much, much better. How do you look, how do you find a way out of this, other than the one Nixon chose?

CRAWFORD: Well, what's driven it down again - you know, he's been losing about a point a week since early April. This decline has accelerated in the last month or so from what we saw in earlier months. And much of that's coming from Republicans who are bailing on the president when pollsters call them. But that fluctuates. That could go back up.

Also among independents, he's dropping some. But a striking number is among Democrats, something like 4 percent giving him approval rating. You know, that's the opposing party, I know, but even presidents in the worst of times, even Nixon, got double digits from the opposing party.

So I think the big problem, though, for President Bush is, it's happening among Republicans. And I think it's a competence issue, Keith, not so much corruption as it was in Nixon. Reminds me of Jimmy Carter's meltdown. He got down to around 28 percent.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of Republicans, perhaps moving away from what supposedly is the star player on their team, we're going to add relationship expert to your job description here.

CRAWFORD: All right.

OLBERMANN: Explain Rupert and Hillary. Mr. Murdoch first. Is he doing a Howard Hughes? Is he hedging his bets here and making hefty donations to the candidates of both parties? Or what's he doing?

CRAWFORD: Sure. And he has a bit of history of that, going back to Tony Blair, throughout his media career. He's reached across the aisle a time or two to willing partners. This one's weird, I agree. You know, I think it'd be less surprising if he and Hillary got into cross-dressing. This is, I guess, political cross-dressing.

But Hillary has had some ties to him before. This isn't the first time they've tried - done something, maybe not an event, but they have met before, and he has a lot of interests, business interests in New York, so she gains, and if she gets a little money out of it, and maybe gets Fox News Channel and "New York Post" off her back, that might be an overall plus for her.

OLBERMANN: Yes, but that only would leave room for other people to jump on that back, wouldn't it? I mean, isn't she just inviting any other rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination to just hold that picture up and go, Are you kidding me?

CRAWFORD: I think we're going to see her do this a lot. I, probably backfired, but when she came out in favor of the flag-burning amendment, opposing flag burning, for example. She's looking for ways to move to the center. She has the luxury to do that, Keith, because she has this nomination locked up in so many people's view. And unless a Democratic emerges who really threatens her for the nomination, she can focus on a general election strategy.

I have never seen anyone who is a candidate or a potential candidate for a presidential campaign able to work a general election strategy, move to the center, this early. It's unbelievable.

OLBERMANN: One other question here. We saw that shot of Katherine Harris greeting President Bush on the tarmac in Tampa. (INAUDIBLE) -

CRAWFORD: I notice he kept his back to the cameras there.


CRAWFORD: He didn't wheel around for the photo-op (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN: It might have been that guy who was at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, the Bush double, for all we know. But, I mean -

CRAWFORD: Yes, it could be.

OLBERMANN:... isn't - isn't she in desperate housewife mode now?

Isn't she radioactive? How did this picture take place?

CRAWFORD: Oh, yes, I think she's down and out and becoming a joke and a has-been, even among Republicans in Florida. You got the governor, Jeb Bush, already saying she can't win. They found someone else from the state house to run who they're going to rally around. So there's an effort now to keep her out of the race, or if she stays in, just to minimalize or marginalize her.

OLBERMANN: Maybe she can get a, I don't know, a breakfast with Rupert Murdoch or something (INAUDIBLE).

CRAWFORD: Right, yes.

OLBERMANN: The recuperating Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly"...

CRAWFORD: On the mend, on the mend, yes.

OLBERMANN: All right. Keep that left arm in good shape.


OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

CRAWFORD: So long.

OLBERMANN: The sheer scope of scandal in the nation's capitol these days mindboggling. The scandals seem to be coming out of tapes. Your choice, hot or told. Staying up to date with just one of them, the Duke Cunningham investigation, seems to require flow charts and a scorecard.

Just the last few days, the now-former CIA chief and two of his underlings linked to that probe. As we have reported, Porter Goss's number three deputy at the CIA, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, handing in his resignation on Monday, having acknowledged that he attended some of those poker parties at the Watergate and Westin Hotels in Washington, where the defense contractors who hosted the games deliberately lost the card games so the members of Congress in attendance had cash to spend on prostitutes who were there if they so desired to, the defense contractors then making up for their losses with government deals.

As for the other CIA officer drawn into the probe, his nickname is Nine Fingers, because he really has only nine fingers. Identified by "Newsweek" as Brent Bassett, he too allegedly attended some of those poker parties. "Harper's" magazine reporting on its Web log devoted to political corruption that Bassett is one of the CIA's old Soviet hands, who, quote, "always managed to get himself in trouble."

That blog, called Washington Babylon, written by "Harper's" Washington editor, Ken Silverstein, who's been kind enough to join us now.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: Should we expect Porter Goss himself to be implicated in this Cunningham probe, or did he go under in part, at least, because he was just associated with the CIA types like Nine Fingers and Foggo?

SILVERSTEIN: Well, I think it has more to do with his association with Foggo and Nine Fingers. I mean, there have been suggestions that he may have attended a few of the parties that were sponsored by Wilkes, although he has vehemently denied that through the CIA press office.

However, what's curious is that Foggo comes to - he is appointed to the number three post at the CIA by Goss. This guy is not by any stretch a shining star. And he has a sort of murky and troubling past. I've heard of some personal embarrassments in his - over the course of his career at the CIA that caused some concern internally.

And then you've got another guy, Nine Fingers, Bassett, who Goss also brings over to CIA, who used to work for him. He was a senior staffer over at the House Intelligence Committee when Goss chaired that committee.

So both of these guys come over with Goss, and both of them end up having links to Wilkes. From Foggo's links have - are by now quite apparent. I mean, they're long-time friends. Foggo's being investigated by the feds and by the CIA for potentially steering contracts his way. Deep, deep ties there.

Bassett, I have been reporting over just really all day today, also has links to Wilkes and to Foggo. They had - Foggo and Bassett and a third CIA official who's very close to Goss go way back, I hear. They were stationed, they worked together overseas, good buddies for a long, long time.

And these guys - it was - I know this is a little confusing, but it was Nine Fingers and this third CIA official who I'm not naming, because he is still undercover, but the two of them apparently, from what I understand, helped position Foggo to get that number three post at CIA.

So now, as I said, you've got Nine Fingers and Foggo deeply implicated, or Foggo certainly deeply implicated in the whole Cunningham scandal, and Bassett apparently has his own independent links to Wilkes. I learned that he got a $5,000 payment from one of Wilkes' companies back in 1999. And they apparently know each other socially as well.

And so all of that is terribly embarrassing, if you're the head of the CIA, to have two guys where you may have serious fallout coming down about their involvement in the Cunningham scandal.

So I think, you know, the White House line about this being a, you know, person, normal personnel move, and maybe a little bit of turf warfare with Negroponte, yes, there was turf warfare, but I think this was a preemptive move to get rid of Goss before he becomes an embarrassment.

OLBERMANN: But it happened so suddenly on Friday. And there's so many different reasons posited here. Why did it happen in such a bum's rush fashion last Friday?

SILVERSTEIN: Well, I can only speculate here. But certainly this was not a planned move, as they tried to say at the time. I mean, I talked to someone who said that one of Goss's senior aides traveled to Iraq just a few days before Goss was fired, and that this person had no idea what was going to go down, and there's no way he would have gone to Iraq if this was going to happen.

So this was not planned. I think that internally, within the administration, they're hearing more and more that Foggo and maybe other people close to Goss are going to be implicated in an embarrassing way, and they decided, We better get rid of this guy now, before this becomes yet another PR disaster.

OLBERMANN: Ken Silverstein of "Harper's" magazine, great thanks for your time. And keep us posted in the event of new developments on this.


OLBERMANN: And a new question of ethics on Capitol Hill. Representatives and senators using corporate jets as their own virtual aerial armada. An NBC News investigation.

A Countdown investigation also into the latest spin. Bill O'Reilly's ratings are down, but he has loofahed them sufficiently to let him pretend that they are up. First edition ever of Countdown's Fact or Fiction ahead.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The problem is best illustrated, as a surprisingly large number of problems are, by following the conduct of Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, on March 8, he introduced an amendment to a lobbying bill that would require congressmen to pay the fair market value for those trips on private jets.


SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We believe this is an area that is - that needs to be addressed. This is clearly a subsidy. I understand, I think we all understand, that this will probably require higher amounts of money in our accounts to be able to pay for these costs as we travel around our states that now are, in a sense, subsidized by the private sector.


OLBERMANN: But two days earlier, the senator had taken a plane owned by the BellSouth Company to fundraising events in the Carolinas. He later reimbursed the company the cost of a first-class ticket. Sounds honest, except that that ticket price, $6,955, was a lot less than the minimum of $15,000 it cost to get that plane in the air.

The senator paid full price, but he didn't pay full value. Mr. Santorum told "The Philadelphia Inquirer" he did not have the luxury of a self-imposed ban. Quote, "I don't see anything inconsistent about that. I'd like to reduce the gas tax. Should I just not pay the gas tax?"

As for other examples of your tax dollars going to pay to give lawmakers more legroom on one trip than you'll get in a lifetime in the air, here's our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers.



Virginia Senator George Allen at the Memphis Airport. NBC News found the potential presidential candidate boarding this Lear jet owned by a Virginia corporation.

The company plane flew Allen to Memphis from Washington on a recent Friday afternoon, waited overnight while he spoke to a big Republican gathering.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: It is invigorating to be with all of y'all here in Tennessee.

MYERS: Then took Allen back to D.C. the next day. There were plenty of commercial flights, so why did the senator need a private jet?

ALLEN: All I got to say is, the reason I do it, I have a very busy schedule, and need to get to a lot of different places.

MYERS: Allen's staff said the private jet was needed to get back in time for a press dinner and an appearance on "MEET THE PRESS" the next day.

But Allen's speech was early Saturday morning, and NBC found two commercial flights that would have gotten him to D.C. in time for dinner.

The owner of the jet, Apple Hospitality, a real estate investment firm, tells NBC that Allen asked to use the plane. The senator reimbursed the firm the equivalent of first-class airfare for him, his wife, and aides, a total of $3,597.

And what would a charter cost? Charter operators say about $15,000, more than four times what Senator Allen paid.

(on camera): An NBC News investigation of hundreds of financial disclosure forms reveals that Allen used corporate jets 39 times in the last couple of years. He is not alone. Access to corporate jets at bargain-basement prices is among Congress's greatest perks, and it's all entirely legal.


It's like members of Congress have their own private little air force here.

MYERS (voice-over): Among the most frequent flyers, Congressman Michael Oxley, 94 flights over the last five years, Congressman Roy Blunt, 104 flights, Senator Trent Lott, 114 flights.


MYERS: Senate majority leader Bill Frist and his family flew a jet owned by Union Pacific to the Super Bowl in 2004. Congressman Tom DeLay twice used jets owned by Stanford Financial to make court appearances in Texas. And Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid used a jet owned by MGM/Mirage to get to a Democratic dinner.

WERTHEIMER: Companies are providing very substantial financial favors for members of Congress here.

MYERS: Even some lobbyists see a problem.

WRIGHT ANDREWS, LOBBYIST: Paying a first-class fare for a charter flight just doesn't seem to pass my smell test.

MYERS: Records indicate that more than 200 companies, including NBC's parent company, General Electric, have provided jets to politicians.

(on camera): What's in it for the corporations? Access, and perhaps even help on critical business before Congress. Most companies put a lobbyist on the jet to get face time with the politician.

KENNETH GROSS, CONGRESSIONAL ETHICS EXPERT: After all, this is quality time. The member has no place to go unless he walks on the plane with a parachute.

MYERS (voice-over): The Senate recently voted to disclose more about these flights, but not to stop them or force members to pay more for this high-flying perk.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: This is how everybody else travels. Ladies with hot shoes, as in stolen, pumping the pedal in hopes of keeping their ill-gotten pumps. No, you're going sideways there.

Also on the big shew, we're going to a strip club to listen to the music. Sure you are. Actually, music professionals are.

This bizarre explanation when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: He's easily the most famous athlete in San Diego history, maybe the most famous person. Tony Guinn (ph), who batted .338 over 20 seasons, all of them with the San Diego Padres, and never tested positive for anything worse than Malomars, has turned 46 years old. Happy birthday. You're still younger than I am.

In Tony's honor, let's play Oddball.

And what a coincidence. We begin in San Diego, with the Countdown Car Chase of the Week, and we've got two female suspects in a late-model Dart sedan. They've just robbed a shoestore, and now they're running for the border at 110 with a carload of Italian sandals.

But, checking the Oddball scoreboard for the year, we can see that these out-of-control would-be Imelda Marcoses have got no chance. It's cops 28, dopes who try to escape the cops, zippo.

Which is why Thelma and Louis Vuitton here start dumping shoes. Look out, they're chucking shoes! It's a James Thurber short story all of a sudden. Only a matter of time before they run out of sandals and highway. So the SPPD performs a little spin move, and everybody drives sideways for a little while. There you go. Chase over.

And this shoesome twosome is off to where canvas flats are all the rage, because sensible footwear with no laces is standard issue in the Big House.

To Seoul, where a crowd has gathered at the Korean Institute of Industrial Technology to see this women reveal an amazing new robot. Holy crap, she is the robot. Run!

It's Everyone, the Robot Woman, with the ability to have short conversations, follow you with her eyes, and even show human emotions. She was unveiled to great cheers from a room full of kiddies, most of whom are too young to have seen "Blade Runner" and thus don't understand the full potential of an invention like this. But that guy saw it. Oh, yes, you did, you dirty dog, you.

To disasters of a much different variety, David Blaine's desperate gasp and his desperate grasp for TV ratings. Still, Blaine is no match on that score for Bill O'Reilly. He's hit a ratings iceberg while assuring passengers aboard the "Titanic Factor" that everything's just fine, just fine.

All that ahead.

But first, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

A wild assortment of dumb criminals this time, including maybe the worst ever.

Number three is Sharlott Till. She got into an argument over a parking spot outside the Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, and after the swearing, she pulled out a 27-inch sword from her sword cane. They arrested her, going around with a sword cane.

Number two, a pair of female students at Yu-Shu (ph) University in Japan. They figured they could keep people from stealing the bags they had stored outside class by writing this message on them, "If you open this, it will explode." After the evacuation of the university and the arrival of the bomb squad, the contents of the bags were revealed, underwear and chocolate cake.

And number one, this could be the dumbest criminal ever, Aron Morrison shoplifted a bottle of vodka from a store in Tane (ph) in Scotland, hid it up his sleeve. But before he sneaked out, he paused to ask the cashier out. With the bottle of vodka making his sleeve bulge, Morrison gave the woman his home and cell phone numbers. Well, at least now, there's somebody who might come see him on visitor's day in jail.


OLBERMANN: Ah, the Holy Grail, TV ratings. Remember what the Howard Beal character said in the visionary movie "Network?" After he'd gotten fired as a network newscaster he told his boss "I'm going to blow my brains out, right in the middle of the 7:00 news." His boss nonchalantly answered, "Well, you'll get a hell of a rating. I'll tell you that. Fifty share, at least." Our third story in the Countdown, no guns but the prospect of gaudy ratings for possible on air suicides, still sets network programmers to drooling. And those cable ratings are enough to indues people to lie about them. The lying? Guess whose, Bill - in a moment.

First the unintentional suicide attempt. And as they pulled David Blaine out of his televised tank of doom, somebody shouted "get him some oxygen." The kind of thing you might have thought they'd have already gotten ready in advance.

Countdown's Monica Novotny was there for the big blowout - Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, well David Blaine attempted unsuccessfully to break the world's breath holding record last night. There was good news and bad news. The good news for the network broadcasting the event, more than 13 million people watched. The bad news for Blaine, more than 13 million people watched.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that was just stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that sucks for him, really.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's done everything else that he said he was going to do, so I guess it's a little disappointing.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): The bubble finally bursts for David Blaine. His waterlogged week did not end in victory or death by drowning, as he predicted, just disappointment. After Blaine failed to break the world's breath holding record while escaping from 150 pounds of locked chains.

DAVID BLAINE, MAGICIAN: Thank you all and I love you all.

NOVOTNY: Suffering from liver failure, a loss of 20 percent of his body fluids, and pain in his pruned peeling hands and feet, Blaine did manage to unlock most of the chains, but after six minutes underwater his body convulsed, reacting to the increasing carbon monoxide and when the team saw bubbles divers pulled him out fearing a loss of consciousness. Blaine held his breath for a total of seven minutes eight seconds, almost two minutes shy of the world record, eight minutes, fifty-eight seconds.

KIRK KRACK, BLAINE'S TRAINER: He's clearly disappointed. I think, right now he feels he feels like he's failed in his task.

NOVOTNY: But his trainer says, in spite of Blaine's weakened condition, this water boy will be back on his feet eventually.

KRACK: Other than his emotional trauma that he'll probably go through, I'm sure he'll recover fine.

NOVOTNY: And with or without the world record, Blaine's optimistic supporters still believe his glass is half full.

NOVOTNY (on camera): I take it you will come back.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, definitely. Yeah. He's amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy's an immortal. So, I mean, just knowing that the guy stayed in there. I mean, how does he do it?


NOVOTNY (voice-over): Even when his stunts are all wet.

NOVOTNY (on camera): Did you get why he was doing it?




NOVOTNY: Blaine's trainers, today, say the magician actually blacked out while underwater and that he'd still be there if they hadn't rescued him. Blaine was kept overnight in a Manhattan hospital. He checked himself out, went home and played cards.

OLBERMANN: Well, they probably would have gotten him out of the water by now if he blacked out.

NOVOTNY: Yeah, I would think.

OLBERMANN: They wouldn't just leave him there. It would be a public spectacle.

NOVOTNY: While they disassembled Lincoln Center.

OLBERMANN: Don't you - did you get any impression that this was done deliberately so that he could try it again and have another special?

OLBERMANN: I know you think that. I don't think that. But, his trainers did come out today and say they do think he's going to attempt the breath holding stunt again, not with the seven days in the water before. He'll do it in some other capacity.


NOVOTNY: But they think he's going to try again, so.

OLBERMANN: OK. So the answer to my question was yes. Countdown's Monica Novotny. Great thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of somebody who also lives in a bubble and is also all wet, there's Bill O'Reilly. Back in the news for playing fast and loose with the ratings, again. So, once again we're in the position of having to address the third thing Bill O. shares with David Blaine, the ability to misdirect your attention. You know the drill, I will read Mr. O'Reilly's on-air remarks from the other broadcast, then translate and/or correct what he said in a little segment we call: "Factor Fiction."

"The ratings for April are in, and for the nights I anchored the 'Factor.' We improved our total audience over April 2005."

Unfortunately none of us gets to fudge the ratings like that. Gees Bill, why not just subtract the time when you're playing the commercials. Those ratings are probably fantastic.

"A nice achievement... so we thank you all very much."

Thank you for dropping the "O'Reilly Factors" ratings by 3 percent last month compared to April 2005. You can't just count the nights you're on. To try to finesse it that way is, well let's just say on the schoolyard it would be greeted by chants of here kitty, kitty, kitty.

Well, let's return to Bill's ego already in progress.

".if you read some of the FOX hating print press."

Print press? As opposed to what other kind of press? Wine press?

Bill press?

".if you read some of the FOX hating print press, you'd never know how well we're doing actually."

That's because you're not doing well actually. Last month's audience was smaller than March, which was smaller than January, which was smaller than December, which was smaller than October, smallest since May of last year.

".the writers in the 'Los Angeles Times' and 'Rocky Mountain News,' among others, want to prop up our competition."

Props. Never mention props. Reminds people of loofahs and falafels. The audience for the competition, that'd be us, was up by a third from last April.

"And here's more truth. Last Thursday evening.the 'Factor's' third

re-run at 4:00 in the morning actually beat MSNBC's 8:00 p.m. original."

Well here, when Bill O. says "here's more truth," what he means is he's lying. Last Thursday our 8:00 p.m. original had 85,000 more viewers. And by the way, thanks for calling us original.

"So, the net time you read nonsense about cable news ratings, please understand it is disseminated by people who despise this network."

Like the A.C. Nielsen ratings company or FOX News media relations.

"What counts is that millions of Americans continue to choose FOX News over the competition."

None of them under the age of 70. Bill O's average viewer is now over the age of 70. Ours just dropped to under 60, and here's what actually counts. The little secret Bill O. would pay to keep you from knowing. Not like he paid Andrea Mackris, but you know what I mean. In FOX itself calls the "Money Demo," ages 25 to 54, the "O'Reilly Factor" averaged 412,000 viewers last month. Down again from March, the 13th month out of the last 17 months it has dropped and that counts the month everybody went up when the hurricane hit. His ratings are the lowest they have been since August of 2001. Here kitty, kitty, kitty.

No hiding from the facts for Britney Spears. Sure she didn't have the big press conference last week. She instead decided to surprise David Letterman with a big blockbuster announcement.

And in other important cultural news, strip clubs have social redeeming qualities. It's where they're test marketing new music. No, I'm not kidding.

Details ahead, but first here are Countdown's "Top Three Sound Bites" of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's Barry O. Karacosa (ph) up in Salem, and here's the Croidon (ph) bank police say Karakosa (ph) tried to rob just before 11:00 this morning. The quick capture was really a no-brainer, someone actually saw the robber leave the bank and come right here to order breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came in and ordering pancakes off the kid's menu.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And next thing I know we're surrounded by cops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amy and Mary Jo face to face for the first time since the shot heard 'round the world. You could feel the electricity and tension in the room. Nobody knew exactly what would happen, but few would have predicted this. A long and warm embrace, the anxiety of the moment is so great that if you list carefully you can actually hear Amy's heart nearly beating out of her chest through her microphone.

JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Anyway Kennedy checked himself into a drug rehab clinic. I guess we have footage. We're going to show you know. We're the only place that has this. This is security footage of Kennedy entering the rehab. Even MSNBC doesn't have this. Show Kennedy entering. There it is.




OLBERMANN: Coming up, sparkly things that fly by night. Strippers flying around dance poles and in so doing, forecasting the new trends on your radio.

UFOs and the apparent final answers to what are they really are. And Britney Spears, motherhood news finally from her own sparkling lips. That's next, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It has been a long established practice among Wall Street firms, and other companies around the nation, to have business meetings in strip clubs. It's tax deductible, see. And suits aren't the only ones mixing business with pleasure with business, evidently. Tony Soprano even used his club to close a real estate deal and a little something extra on the "Soprano's" a few weeks ago. Did we just show that?

But our No. 2 story on Countdown strip club business is branching out from the money and the mob into another lucrative industry, test marketing. Going to a strip club to listen to the music may sounds a lot like reading "Playboy" for the articles, but as our correspondent Michelle Kosinski reports, it's actually proving to be the newest way to rate a record.


MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Music executives used to say if the song played in Peoria it could make it anywhere. Well, times have changed. Major record labels have discovered if a song can make it in a strip club.

SEAN COSTNER, DEF JAM VICE PRESIDENT: Once the D.J.'s play the record and the girls come back and frequently request them, we know that we have a hit on our hands.

KOSINSKI: Def Jam and other top labels are testing what you haven't heard yet on trendsetting customers, D.J.'s, and dancers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The beat. The beat. It's all about the beat.

KOSINSKI: It's happening in clubs in several major cities and it's today's "Billboard" magazine cover story.

GAIL MITCHELL, "BILLBOARD" MAGAZINE: A very few spaces for new records to get a chance so as that's tightened you've got the dance clubs.

KOSINSKI: So, she says, many hits now actually break in strip clubs.

Maybe not the new Celine Dion single, but tunes like Rick Ross' "Hustlin'."

KOSINSKI (on camera): You came here for the music, right?


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Making places like Diamonds Cabaret in North Miami beach a laboratory.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They remember the girl, and they remember the song.

KOSINSKI: And what falls flat.

LENNY MOORE, DIAMOND CABARET OWNER: Nothing worse than a girl sitting on stage holding a pole looking at the D.J. like, what is that?

KOSINSKI (on camera): A promoter dropped this off this brand new CD while were inside. It's written in fresh Magic Marker. But who knows, this could be the next big thing.

C.P., PROMOTER: So, just pump it in a strip club you pretty much can tell if you got a hit or not.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): From the pole to the top of the charts.

Michelle Kosinski, NBC News, North Miami Beach.


OLBERMANN: Well, never has there been an easier segue into the entertainment stories of "Keeping Tabs." A little something for the ladies, and ladies feel free to reject this little something. "American Idol's" Ace Young is reportedly in talks to appear in "Playgirl" magazine. The 25-year-old heartthrob - I see we've lowered the bar on heartthrobs - has been voted off the idol island, but because he's still under contract with FOX show he must abide by the strict moral clause - wait, when did FOX start worrying about morals?

The magazine, "In Touch Weekly" reports "Playgirl" has offered Ace 100 grand to pose nude. An offer he'll consider when that contract expires. But which expires first? The contract or the 15 minutes?

Meanwhile, how have the mighty fallen? The dispatch from the "Associated Press" stringer in Aberdeen, Washington says it all. We'll read it for you word-for-word. "They rolled out the red carpet at the South Shore Mall in Aberdeen, where 150 fans are already waiting behind barricades to see Tom Cruise. He's attending a private screening of 'Mission: Impossible III' with the local winner of an online contest. The fans are carrying signs that say 'Cruising to see Tom and Mission possible.'" OK, yes it was a contest. Tom Cruise would rather go tour home town than back to his own to see his newborn child. But those cruising to see Tom signs, anybody want to clue the folks in Aberdeen about the slang sub text, that word cruising?

Britney Spears says she's pregnant. I'll repeat that. Britney Spears says she's pregnant. That's the word straight from the horse's mouth. I said horse. They made an appearance on Tuesday night's "Late Show with David Letterman." Speculation had run rampant in recent weeks. Is Britney pregnant? Is she not pregnant? Is there some other weird third option? The website TMZ.com reporting mama Spears made the announcement on the air with Dave. No word on how far along she is, boy or girl, or when they will now be neutering (INAUDIBLE).

There's a new British study out, reigniting the debate over aliens and their spaceships. Results are ahead.

But first, time for Countdown's latest list on nominees for "Worst Person in the World." The bronze goes to the Budapest bureau of the news agency "Reuters," they also get an "I told you so." Last week we reported the saga of two home remodelers who came across an abandoned barrel of rum in a house and they drank it and then discovered in its bottom the pickled remains of the house owner. I said here, I had my doubts about that story. "Reuters" has now withdrawn it. The police in Budapest told them it happened but it happened a decade ago.

The runner up, sports columnist Joe Henderson of the "Tampa Tribune" picking up the gauntlet of back filling in defense of Barry Bonds. He writes as Bonds approaches Babe Ruth's total of 714 homeruns, Ruth, quote, "was also illegally juiced. Babe's juice was barley colored and had foamy head and it was also against the law to consume it." Henderson suggested Ruth's total should get an asterisk. OK, let me read the 18th amendment, the one that started prohibition again. The manufactured, sale or transportation of intoxicating liqueurs, the importation thereof into or exportation thereof is here by prohibited. Nothing by drinking. For the last time it was not illegal to drink. Just look it up. Please.

But the winner, Alphonso Jackson, the Bush administration's secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has told a Dallas real estate forum that he awarded a contract to a bidder who then came in to thank him. The bidder then revealed "I don't like President Bush." Secretary Jackson then says he cancelled the contract. While prosecutors try to decide if Secretary Jackson broke the law by canceling an already awarded government contract because of a bidder's personal politic beliefs, the "Dallas Business Journal" has quoted a government contract's consultant whose reaction pretty much sums this up, quote, "oh, my goodness gracious."

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: The question was formerly put to Britain's ministry of defense a year ago. What were its plans for quote, "dealing the arrivals of extra terrestrials?" An unnamed defense official said essentially, we don't have any plans for something is not supported by evidence. Now in our No. 1 story on the Countdown come the details, at least from that side of the pond. A four-year study by the British defense ministry kept secret since its completion in 2000. Keep watching the skis! The study, Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon in the U.K., the findings in the 400 page report quoting, "No evidence exists to suggest that the phenomena seen are hostile or under any type of control other than that of natural, physical forces. Those forces including meteors and their effects, also physical, electrical, and magnetic phenomena in the atmosphere, mesosphere, ionosphere." Basically that means strange weather including electrical events. And by the way, on a more practical level, quote, "There is no evident that solid objects exist which could cause a collision hazard." The study also says that reports of close encounters could have medical explanation. The report was released after a request made under Britain's freedom of information act, though its author was not disclosed.

Joining us once again, a woman who owns and operates a UFO watchtower in Hooper, Colorado. She says its the world's first.

Judy Messoline, welcome back to the program.


OLBERMANN: So, the Brits have done this four year study, they saw no ETs much less any UFOs. Are you disheartened by this news?

MESSOLINE: Heavens no, but I wish they would come to Sawatch County here in Southern Colorado and do a study here.

OLBERMANN: Why, have you got any new sightings for us?

MESSOLINE: Yeah, you know, we've seen such bizarre things from here, and you can't me it's birds, it's gasses, it's an airplane, weather balloons. It's crazy stuff. And I can tell you real quick if you want to hear one.


MESSOLINE: One night we had about 60 people here and there was a couple sitting out front on a bench. She jumps up screaming, "Can you see them? Can you see them?" Well, you know, they were so high up that if she hadn't pointed them out to me I would have never seen them. And they were two dots and there was one here and one here and they were moving really fast. Well all of a sudden, the one in the front just stopped dead and it waited for the one behind to catch up with it and then the two of them took off and there was a streak of light across the sky when they took off. Now, somebody explain that to me, you know?

OLBERMANN: Well, it could have been two members of the British Parliament, knowing the way they behave, but that's another story altogether.

Their study come up with these other explanations: Unusual weather, electrically charged conditions. Do you think actually it's the other way around, that the unusual weather and the events are not explanations of the UFO's, but bad weather are the results of the UFO's?

MESSOLINE: I'm not a scientist, I can't tell you that. I just know that when you see a streak of light across the sky and you think it's lightning and there's no clouds, you know, I can't explain it.

OLBERMANN: This was not part of the study, but there was another recently, and when I heard it, it's like the first time I thought common sense had ever been applied to any of this. It's about alien abductions. That if you look at all of the stories about alien abductions, all the features that are in all of them, they're creatures in masks, the people who are abducted are strapped to a table. They know that the people who've abducted them mean no harm. This study said this is actually people remembering - half remembering their own operations or surgeries, especially if they had them childhood. What do you think of that explanation?

MESSOLINE: I think the mind can play really funny things with us.

I've had hundreds of people in here from all over the world and I've heard

and they've been abductees. But I don't hear al of this gory stuff about the abductions. What I hear is they're trying to test us for our intellect.

OLBERMANN: Oh, well. I guess we may lose that, but that's another

story, again, for another time. Listen; let me ask you about this guy that

you told us about last time. The fellow who visited and ask where he

should sign in and you said you had a guest book and he went no, no, for us

and you said he had the most unusual blue eyes - has he come back?

MESSOLINE: No, he didn't, but I've had nine other come in and tell me that they were part alien. And you know, the strange thing is, they didn't have the blue eyes, but they all looked similar. And I said could they be related? I don't know.

OLBERMANN: Now they - do they really say part alien?

MESSOLINE: No, they call themselves hybrids.

OLBERMANN: And they didn't mean the new vehicle that is run on gas and hydrogen or corn power or anything like that. The Judy Messoline, the manager of the UFO Watchtower, undeterred by this report from the British government that answers the question, what are UFO's? The answer is bad weather. Keep watching the skies, thanks for your time once again, Judy.

MESSOLINE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,104th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now from "Scarborough Country."

Joe, good evening.