Tuesday, June 20, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 20

Guests: Evan Kohlmann, Jack Reed, Craig Crawford, Daniel Wilson

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

"Killed in a barbaric way." The bodies of Privates First Class Menchaca and Tucker found murdered by, says Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's successor.

Bringing the troops home, a Democratic amendment to start withdrawals this year. Republican leader Frist calls it surrender and retreat. Democratic Senator Reed of Rhode Island joins us.

More doubts about the New York subway poison threat saga. The former chief of counterterrorism at the White House says if there was an al Qaeda cell here three years ago ready to gas the subways, they would have done it. Reports that are this specific, said Richard Clarke, are usually made up.

A pardon for Scooter Libby, made up or a practical possibility?

And now we can ask it about David Safavian. He's just been convicted.

And if you thought this was a odd farewell...


CONNIE CHUNG (singing): Thanks for the memories...


OLBERMANN: Wait till you hear this one. CBS, quote, "had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work here."

And sex with robots. I'll just repeat that, sex with robots. A robotics ethics committee poses the question, what happens if robots turn out to be sexy? Is that why Rosie from "The Jetsons" was always in that French maid's outfit?

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Since Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. air strike on June 7, at least 19 American troops on the ground in Iraq have also been killed, none of them more brutally than two GIs murdered in apparent retaliation for that strike.

Our fifth story on the Countdown this evening, any semblance of a reversal of fortune for the U.S. in Iraq eviscerated today with the discovery of the bodies of two missing soldiers, the troubling reports of how and why they had been killed, and the question why three of our servicemen would have been, in essence, alone at a checkpoint near a canal.

The search for Privates First Class Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker is over tonight, their bodies found at an electric plant about 20 miles south of Baghdad in the Sunni insurgent stronghold known as the Triangle of Death. Just to recover the bodies, soldiers forced to clear a safe path because it appeared to them, at least, insurgents had booby-trapped the surrounding area with explosives, an Iraqi general saying it appeared the missing soldiers had signs of, quote, "barbaric torture," U.S. military officials reporting the bodies were so badly mutilated, they had to be tentatively identified by tattoos and known scars, the umbrella organization for five Iraqi insurgent groups claiming credit for the killing, suggesting in a statement that could not be independently authenticated that the two young men had been beheaded, specifically, that had happened at the hand of Zarqawi's successor as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayub al-Masri.

To help us understand the sheer brutality of these killings, and what the murderers might perceive as a reason, we're now joined by Evan Kohlmann, MSNBC counterterrorism analyst and founder of the Web site GlobalTerrorAlert.com.

Evan, thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Is Al Qaeda in Iraq trying to send some sort of message about Zarqawi's successor, its role? Is this just indecipherable bloodshed?

KOHLMANN: Well, I think this was two birds with one stone. Number one, al Qaeda has been thirsting for revenge ever since Zarqawi was killed. They were looking for something dramatic that would make the point. And I think if indeed these bodies have been mutilated in the way that they've been described as having been done, that really does send a message.

And, of course, the second idea is simply to flex al Qaeda's muscle. Everyone knows that Zarqawi made a name for himself by beheading American hostage Nick Berg and distributing that video on the Internet. Now, I'm, (INAUDIBLE), I hesitate to say this, but I'm afraid to say that we're likely to see a similar video pop up on the Internet regarding these two U.S. soldiers. And unfortunately, I think that al Qaeda will try to capitalize on this on the same way they did with the Nick Berg video, to propel a new al Qaeda leader forward.

Whether that is Abu Ayub al-Masri, whether that is Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, I can't say for sure right now. But it is look, it does seem to be an - a method to propel forward the new leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Evan, any idea? I know this perhaps is a more of a military question than a counterterrorism question, but why would these three soldiers have been alone at a checkpoint in the middle of an area known as the Triangle of Death? And what sort of lead time would the people who attacked them have needed to see an opportunity like this?

KOHLMANN: Unfortunately, not too much. I mean, it's impossible to second-guess the military commanders (INAUDIBLE) on the ground. But in retrospect, it clearly looks like there was an error made here, especially given that we know that Zarqawi's group was looking for revenge. They were looking for an opportunity like this. It was up to us to try to make sure to starve them of that opportunity.

Here, they took advantage of a weakness. You know, it's hard to second-guess that decision. But again, looking at the results, the consequences, clearly some mistake was made here at certain point.

OLBERMANN: We mentioned this Zarqawi's successor, al-Masri. Do we know anything about him? Has he been involved in things like this before? What are his awful credentials?

KOHLMANN: Well, when you say Zarqawi's successor, I think that alone, we have to be very careful about so far. Al Qaeda has not named this individual as Zarqawi's successor. In fact, it has named another individual as Zarqawi's successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer. Now, supposedly, according to the U.S. military, these two men may be the same individual. However, nobody else seems to think so.

There's a lot of questions about these two individuals. No one within al Qaeda or within the U.S. intelligence or law enforcement community seems to have a firm idea about who really is in charge of Zarqawi's unit right now.

Suffice it to say, I think with this kidnapping and the killings, and recent operations committed after Zarqawi's death, it's quite clear that al Qaeda is still alive and kicking in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Evan, let's turn from Iraq back here, and the alleged al Qaeda plot to spread cyanide gas in the subway system in New York got so much attention over the weekend. The claim was questioned by none other than the former White House counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke. And he said if there'd been an al Qaeda cell in New York three years ago, and it was ready to do that, it would have done it. He also said that - let me quote it exactly, "Reports that are this specific are usually made up." Where do you come down on it?

KOHLMANN: I think Dick Clarke is right on the target here. I think, first of all, when you're talking about a real terrorist plot against the United States, you're not talking about information from one lone source within al Qaeda, you're talking about wiretaps, you're talking about confiscated notebooks and computer disks. You're talking about identified operatives.

I mean, that's typically what you have in real terrorist plots, like, for instance, the orange alert that was declared on specific buildings here in New York and Washington, D.C. We had that kind of specific information. This plot comes from one source. And I have to agree with Richard Clarke, if al Qaeda had the opportunity to carry out an attack like this, I don't see why they would have hesitated.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the person that supposedly conceived of this plot, has talked at length about how he would love to kill millions of infidels in the United States. Why would he hesitate? It makes no sense.

OLBERMANN: Evan Kohlmann of the GlobalTerrorAlert.com and MSNBC, great thanks, as always, sir.

KOHLMANN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And it may be sad but fair to say that there is now war about the war in Iraq in the Senate, Republicans casting Democrats as uncertain about what course to take there, even unpatriotic, some Democrats saying Republicans are incompetent to handle whatever course is best.

Well, the GOP position seems united, if not necessarily thought out. The Democrats appear to be less unanimous, one Democratic group in the Senate, Rhode Island's Jack Reed among its leaders, now calling for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces there in a nonbinding resolution that names no specific end date, but another group of Democrats led by John Kerry of Massachusetts offering a competing measure.

Senator Reed kind enough to join us now from Washington.

Thank you for your time, sir.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Republicans charging that what you are proposing amounts to cutting and running, that any effort to set some sort of withdrawal timetable is surrendering to terrorism. How do you answer that?

REED: Far from surrender, Keith, it recognizes, our proposal, a fundamental reality. Ultimately, it'll be the Iraqis that will stabilize their country, establish their country, and protect their own way of life. The sooner we send that signal to them that we're not there indefinitely with an open-ended commitment, the sooner they'll take up the hard task of building their security forces and really doing the work of stabilizing their country for their own future.

OLBERMANN: Have you been frustrated about where this debate wound up? I mean, it seems to be equating a lack of saluting the administration with a lack of patriotism, that all criticism is wrong. Is that what we should be talking about?

REED: Oh, absolutely not. I think the administration and their allies in Congress has a good uniting behind slogans like "Mission accomplished" and "We'll stand down when they stand up." But those are just slogans.

We're trying to forge a policy that will make sense on the ground in Iraq. And that policy, I think, begins with a redeployment this year, beginning to take our forces out. The timetable, the timing, all that would be determined by the commander in chief, the president, subject to the advice of his military commanders.

But we have to begin today, one, to send a signal to the Iraqis that ultimately, it's their struggle. Two, to take the pressure off our military forces, who are doing a magnificent job, but they're highly stressed because of their deployments across the world (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN: Within - I'm sorry. Within your own party, sir, is there division on Iraq and what to do here? Is positioning for the next presidential election a factor in an area where perhaps it should not be a factor?

REED: Well, there's a serious debate go on - going on within the Democratic caucus, and that's, I think, a function of the seriousness of the problem we face. It's hard to determine precisely the most efficient course in Iraq. So I'm not surprised at the debate.

And I'm sure there is considerations (INAUDIBLE) indeed of, you know, personal position, of advancement, whatever. But I think fundamentally and substantively, we're trying to develop a policy that will work for the United States, protect our soldiers in the field, and give the Iraqis a chance to stabilize their country.

OLBERMANN: Senator Reed, President Bush said on Monday, There will be no early withdrawal as long as we run the Congress and occupy the White House. Can you read that for us, interpret it for us? Does that mean our commitment in Iraq is indeed open-ended, no matter how the facts on the ground might change, or how - what they actually are?

REED: That language sounds like an open-ended commitment, a commitment that is based not upon the reality in Iraq, but the political constellation here in Washington. I don't think that's the calculation we should do. I don't think it should be a political calculation, I think it should be strategic. It should, I think, rest on our understanding of the situation in Iraq.

And also, I think, part of that understanding is the fact that ultimately, the Iraqis have to take up the burden. It's their country. We can help them. We should help them. But they have to take the lead.

OLBERMANN: Personally, do you feel that having been one of the few senators who voted against the war resolution in 2002 gives you any more credence, credibility on this subject now?

REED: It may give some credibility. I spent a lot of time looking at the decision back there in October of 2002. I thought then that this was not a wise strategic judgment. And since that time, I think the planning of the administration and their competence has been severely and appropriately questioned.

But it's not about the past, it's about what we can do to make a better future, not only for Iraq, but also to relieve the pressure on our forces, which are, as I said, doing an extraordinary job.

OLBERMANN: Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and of the Senate Armed Services Committee, great thanks for (INAUDIBLE) your time (INAUDIBLE)...

REED: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also here, will the first comments from President Bush on Scooter Libby come in the form of a presidential pardon?

And the comments in the final decree of the divorce between CBS and Dan Rather were not entirely pleasant. Ultimately, were they entirely the result of politics and blaming the media for the country's ills?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just keeping track of scandal in the nation's capital is not for the faint-hearted, mapping the galaxy of players, bribes, and politicians in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling probe alone worthy of a full-time job.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, things could soon get a lot simpler, though, on the scandal beat, a big win in the first trial to emerge from the Abramoff investigation bringing closure to one aspect of that case, while the case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby in the CIA leak investigation could see some closure of its own, should the president chose to pardon Mr. Libby before that case goes to trial.

We begin with the Abramoff story. David Safavian, the former procurement officer at the Bush White House, found guilty in federal court on four of five felony charges for his role in the Abramoff scandal. Mr. Safavian, a long-time friend of Republican lobbyist Abramoff, was accused of lying to investigators about a 2002 golfing trip he took to Scotland with Abramoff and politicians like Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, the two of them on the far right in that photo.

Elsewhere in Scandaltown, the friends of Scooter Libby chipping in to cover his legal bills, Mary Matalin, another member of Vice President Cheney's inner circle, hosting a $500-a-head reception Tuesday night at her home. No word on whether her husband, James Carville, the Democratic strategist, would be forced to decamp for the evening.

Mr. Libby's legal bills certain to be much smaller in the event that he would be pardoned before his case went to trial. Pardon talks still at the rumor stage, but intriguing nonetheless, because one attorney familiar with the Plame case told the newspaper "New York Newsday," and the newspaper found it sufficient to publish it, that President Bush might find it in his interest to pardon Mr. Libby before the vice president might be forced to testify in the case.

The timing of such a pardon, says the report, (INAUDIBLE) would come only after the midterm elections, the White House declining to comment.

I'm joined now by Huffington Post contributor and political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell, who, we expect, will comment on this.

As always, sir, thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: I find myself defending the White House here. Is it, is the pardon talk just a tad premature, never mind doesn't really account for the ton of bricks that would ensue?

O'DONNELL: I don't think so at all. I actually have been hearing it from people close to the case for a few weeks now, especially those who were assuming, and it turned out to be correctly, that Rove would not be indicted, that the Libby case presents a very serious problem for the White House. Things are going to keep coming out in discovery as the trial approaches that will be harmful between now and November for the Republicans in the reelection campaigns in the House of Representatives.

And so it's a very real issue. This thing, it has a trial, if it goes to trial in 2007, the vice president testifying, it's just gotten nothing good for the White House in it at all. And the president would have a real interest in pardoning Libby as soon as he politically could, which is probably on the other side of the November election, probably after the Republicans go to the ballot box in the fall.

OLBERMANN: But I recall just now a story that came out of Watergate that someone had proposed to Richard Nixon that the way to handle Watergate was to find some Democrats who might be guilty of something, or even entrap Democrats into something, in terms of political violations, and then simply pardon everybody to make it look bipartisan. And even as Watergate enveloped Richard Nixon, he went, This is crazy, we'll just get killed for this. Would not the president be almost immobilized were he to pardon a man under indictment in a political scandal while the trial was still going on?

O'DONNELL: Well, what would you call immobilized, Keith, say a 33 percent approval rating? He can't really sink much lower than that, even with a Libby pardon. This is part of what the Libby fundraising is about for the so-called defense team fundraising. Libby's a very, very rich man. He does not need the money.

This campaign is being undertaken so that perfectly respectable Republicans can put their arm around Libby and in effect say to the public, This guy did nothing wrong. This is a campaign that is much more orchestrated toward a pardon than toward raising money for a guy who doesn't need it.

OLBERMANN: All right, well, then, I'll go further out into the science fiction area here, or at least what I thought was science fiction, but you seem to (INAUDIBLE) think of it as much more realistic. If there's a pardon, does he return to the White House?

O'DONNELL: No, that's out of the question. He's done with federal employment. But it's - when you look at the exposure to the Bush White House from a trial to begin in 2007, it is so enormous, and so negative, and it would be such a helpful ramp-up for Democratic presidential candidates at that time, that it's hard to see that the Bush administration would be willing - and the president would be willing to put his administration through that.

You know, his father issued pardons in these kinds of situations. This is not a peculiar thing. Things have changed a lot. Richard Nixon's judgment about how bad that pardon would have played was probably accurate at the time. We've seen a lot of pardons since then from the White House in politically charged cases.

OLBERMANN: Could that, if it, if there is something to this, could it explain the Libby defense team aggressiveness in asking for seemingly damming documents and making other gestures that didn't seem to make any sense? Is that to try to box the White House into going along with this idea?

O'DONNELL: No, I don't think the Libby team is in any way trying to kind of force the pardon by the tactics they're using on discovery of documents from the White House. That's really about trying to create a big fog about what the case is about. The case is about a very simple thing. Did Libby lie when he said that Tim Russert told him about Valerie Plame?

That's going to be a very, very difficult thing to get around. It's a very narrow case, really small case. So the defense naturally is trying to blow it up into a big foggy mist of a lot of issues that have nothing to do with it. But that's not a tactic to get the pardon.

OLBERMANN: It gets curiouser and curiouser. Political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell of The Huffington Post and places elsewhere. As always, sir, great thanks for joining us.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also here, the extraordinary advance of science. Forty-five years ago, nobody even knew that a mutated gene induced fatal stomach cancer in a woman named Golda Bradfield (ph). Now that knowledge may have just saved 11 of her grandchildren.

Then again, science may also be bringing us this little conundrum. Is it OK to sleep with a robot? We'll ask the author of the terrifyingly named book "How to Survive a Robot Uprising." We'll ask him if that's the kind of uprising he meant, when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: It was on this date in 1988 that "Price Is Right" model Janice Pennington was knocked cold when the director told one of his cameraman to swing the camera around, and the guy didn't know she was standing right next to it. Symbolically, pretty much your average day for all of us who have ever been on the tube. On that note, we'll give a little of it back to you.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Cologne, Germany, where police rounded up between 40 and 50 hooligans after the England-Sweden World Cup match. Of course, we continue to face severe legal penalties for showing you actual highlights of any of the games themselves. That's why we've got finger soccer players instead.

The dramatic recreation here, the England's number 10 on your scorecard, Dave Lewis, showing off some fancy footwork on the beach. England would tie Sweden in the grufine (ph) match at Rine Enachee (ph) Stadium, though femes (ph) moving on to the round of 16, and England, unfortunately, though, without its talented striker. Mr. Lewis, as we see here, suffered a knee injury in the first minute of the two-two draw. And when I say knee, of course, I mean knuckle.

To the Old Homestead Steakhouse in Boca Raton, Florida, where they expect you to pay $100 for a hamburger. Now, they start in this hamburger with about a pound of fine ground beef, add some ketchup made with truffles and champagne, stick on a nice roll, and then add some money. They call it the Grande Dame, probably Grande Dame, and for each burger sold, the restaurant donates $10 to the Make a Wish Foundation. That's nice and all, but I don't care if they serve it on the Mona Lisa. There's only one burger I'd pay $100 for. In fact, I think everybody wants some.

Nothing savory about Dan Rather's departure after the inability to reach a new contract at CBS. One's reminded of that old saying, Don't taunt the alligator until after you've crossed the creek.

And the man who could be Rather's next boss, Mark Cuban, hit with his traditional annual huge fine by the head of the National Basketball Association. But did Cuban hit him with an accusation that game outcomes are predetermined?

That's ahead.

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

Number three, Peter Miller, security director of the Tampa Port Authority. He has a console showing images from around 200 security cameras stationed about the port. And for about 12 hours a day, nobody is watching that console. This is our backup, he says of the device. Good thing we cleared up that whole Dubai ports thing, huh?

Number two, a 9-year-old named Belle from Okowee (ph), Florida. She and her friend Kevin Weaver walked into Weaver's home. Kevin then had a diabetic seizure, passed out, hit his head, unconscious. Belle, prepared with just such an eventuality, went to the cell phone, hit the emergency button, summoning the police, saving Weaver's life. Belle is a 17-pound beagle, a 17-pound lifesaving beagle.

And number one, the would-be thieves and unexpected victims in a kind of carjacking gone amiss in Stratford Township, Pennsylvania. Two guys, one with a knife, burst out of an SUV. They try to rob a man and two women. One of the women kicks the knife out of the assailant's hand. The assailants then run away in their SUV. And the victims, none of them injured, leave the scene in their horse and buggy. It's Pennsylvania Dutch country, and the gang in the SUV just lost to the gang in the buggy.


OLBERMANN: He was at CBS News longer than Edward R. Murrow and in terms of regular on-air assignments he was there half again as long as Walter Cronkite, not even the venerable Eric Severeid and Robert Trout matched him in total longevity. But out third story in the Countdown, all that has officially ended now and not especially smoothly. Dan Rather has left CBS.

"With the utmost respect, wrote CBS News president Sean McManus in a prepared statement, "we mark the extraordinary and singular role Dan has played in writing the script of not only CBS News, but of broadcast journalism. There will always be a part of Dan Rather at CBS News."

But the statement then released by Rather, who stepped off the evening news anchor chair of March 9 last year suggested that that part wasn't a very big one.

"I leave CBS News with tremendous memories, but I leave not most of all with the desire to once again do regular, meaningful reporting.

My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS's final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to do substantive work there.

As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn't in me to sit around doing nothing."

Thank goodness it was an amicable parting. Of course, the subtext to Rather's departure first from the anchor desk and now from the organization from which he had worked since President Kennedy's only full year in office, is politics. With the caveat noted that he is also a paid contributor to CBS let's call in "Congressional Quarterly" columnist and MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford, whose book, "Attack the Messenger" opens with Dan Rather's clash with the first George Bush during the 1988 campaign.

Craig, welcome back.


OLBERMANN: Can we say definitively if Rather left CBS because of political machinations or just television machinations?

CRAWFORD: Well, I think it needs to be noted CBS News stood firmly behind Rather for three decades during politically motivated attacks on him going back to, as you mentioned in 1988, and further back to 1972, the Nixon administration. The Reagan administration, (INAUDIBLE) once said saw him as the devil himself, so he's been in the target zone for a long time, CBS stood by him. I do think he's something of this Joan of Arc in this attack the messenger syndrome.

OLBERMANN: You wrote in the book that there was clear intent on the part of the first President Bush, while campaigning, to pick a fight with Rather in '88. But was it just to pick a fight with any mainstream media symbol to advance Mr. Bush's candidacy or was Rather targeted with the intent of diminishing him personally?

CRAWFORD: Well, going back to the '72 era, during the Nixon administration, Rather had become a target No. 1 for republicans and conservatives and that was a strategy in the 1988 Bush campaign, run by Roger Ales who, of course we know, now runs FOX News, he ran that Bush campaign, and this was a tactic to take on Dan Rather in a high profile setting and distract the story from the Iran-contra topic that Rather was trying to pursue in that interview, trying to find out what the Vice President Bush's role in the Reagan administration had been on Iran-contra and always tends to happen in these attack the Messenger episodes is we never got an answer to that question. To this day we really don't know what that President Bush's role was in that particular scandal.

OLBERMANN: Well, let's go to this President Bush's role or imagined role in this scandal or this departure of Dan Rather. When it comes to TV personnel changes, as a veteran of them, I don't necessarily buy conspiracy theories although I've known and seen and worked for news organizations that could cower if pushed correctly, but usually only if they already don't like the guy that they're being pushed about.

There has been for nearly two years, Craig, assumptions at both ends, that the far right, either the far right in government or far right out government, "brought Dan Rather down," using the finger quotes. Do you buy that or is it a mix of self-importance from the far right, paranoia on the far left? Having studied this, what did the politics of 2004 actually contribute to Dan Rather leaving "CBS News."

CRAWFORD: Well, Rather painted a big old target on his head for years. You know, his deal was, Keith, he was not shy about showing that he wasn't neutral about stories that he'd covered. And that's different from objectivity. I would argue on the breadth of Dan Rather's career he was an objective reporter, but there is a difference and I think that's where he got in trouble. He was much more forthcoming than people in his position about showing that he wasn't neutral about a lot of stories and many times the truth is not neutral, people look bad. And objectively you can report that truth and what happens is when you're as open and upfront as Rather was about his lack of neutrality about stories he covered, it is portrayed as not being objective, as being biased and I would argue those are very different things.

OLBERMANN: Ultimately here, if the conservatives actually got to him and they started after him in 1972, does it say something about him or does it say anything something about the conservatives that it only took them 34 years to get him?

CRAWFORD: Well, what I chronicled in my book, Keith, is what I see is a very successfully, brilliantly orchestrated campaign. I wouldn't call it a conspiracy. It was an open campaign by those who believed that the media of those days, of the elites of the media in the '70s and era early 1980's were biased against conservatives and the conservatives mounted a campaign against them and I think it's been successful. I think they started a war and won a war and the device I use in the book is they started the war with Dan Rather in 1988 and they finished it in 2004. They won it with the demise of this man.

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly," MSNBC and

most relevantly here, his book "Attack the Messenger." As always sir,

great thanks

CRAWFORD: Good night and good luck.

OLBERMANN: Thanks, indeed.

Dan Rather now contemplates his next career move, clearly he intends to make at least one more of them. He has been offered a weekly hour-long news program on cable channel HDNet which it to be run by internet billionaire, and basketball team owner, Mark Cuban. More about Mr. Cuban, presently, but first, life is the final arbiter of irony and juxtaposition.

For 23 odd months in the mid '90s, Dan Rather co-anchored the "CBS Evening News" with Connie Chung and our friend Connie Chung, herself, just signed off over the weekend, from her show on this network and neither went exactly gently into that goodnight, thus we will leave them now in a special edition of Countdown sound bites of the day in the way they were then, together.


CONNIE CHUNG, NEWS ANCHOR (singing): We came to do a show for very little dough. That's cable TV.

The thing I love the most about hubby as co-host is all those other anchors were as dull as melba toast, the sparks really flew.

DAN RATHER, NEWS ANCHOR: I love your dress.

CHUNG: Now that the show is through I've got bigger things to do.

We thank you so much.


OLBERMANN: Now, how about this segue: Scientific panels trying to set rules for whether or not it would be OK to have sex with a robot. The author of "How to Survive a Robot Uprising" will join us.

And billionaire NBA owner Mark Cuban losing a bit of his fortune over alleged misconduct during the NBA championships. Did he really say the league is rigged? R-i-g-g-e-d? Details when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Good science, genetics tests so advanced they warn 11 members of the same family they are at a dire risk of cancer? Bad science, robotologists worried about the epical dilemma they perceive for the year 2011: People having sex with robots. People you say? You mean scientist-type people? That's next, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: For the nearly two centuries after his death, historians and scientists have debated whether the French emperor Napoleon was poisoned or died of stomach disease? How far science has advanced in just the last decade of those two centuries is summarized thusly. Not only so researchers think they have found a mutating gene in Napoleon's family that caused stomach cancer. When they found the same gene in one stomach cancer victim in this country, they were able to warn 11 of her descendants. Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, how genetic search began, in part, with the historical sleuthing about Napoleon may have extended those 11 American lives. Here's Campbell Brown.


CAMPBELL BROWN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In 1960, Golda Bradfield died of stomach cancer leaving behind an unfortunate legacy, at least 6 of her 8 children inherited her mutated gene, the same cancer killed all of them, but not before passing the gene along to their children.

DR. JEFFREY NORTON, STANFORD MEDICAL CENTER: It's about three percent of all gastric cancers, it is associated with a specific gene mutation and it's very aggressive.

BROWN: Twenty-two thousand Americans will be diagnosed with stomach cancer this year, half will die. For the Bradfield cousins the risk was even higher. Through genetic testing 11 of Golda's grandchildren learned they had inherited the gene, with up to an 80 percent chance of developing cancer, one by one they decided to have their stomachs removed.

NORTON: This is really the first time it's happened for such a major organ like the stomach.

BROWN: Dr. Jeff Norton performed the surgery on six of the Bradfield cousins at Stanford Medical Center in California.

NORTON: It would be a big gamble for them to wait because if they developed stomach cancer that was macroscopic or large, they would have probably had lymph node metastasis and would have died.

BROWN: In fact Dr. Norton says each of the stomaches he removed showed early signs of cancer, signs that went undetected before surgery.

NORTON: The chance of them being cured was very high. So we feel like we intervened at exactly the right time.

BROWN: Many of the cousins who recently reunited in Las Vegas, never knew each other before their elective surgeries now is bonded by common experience and hope for a healthy future.


OLBERMANN: And of course without any segue we move into the world of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs," unclear if it would be a promotion on the celebrity scale, but while Mark Cuban may soon be better known as Dan Rather's new boss than as owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks, there are still some basketball sagas for clear up. Like the fine the league imposed upon him in the amount of $250,000 and an accusation by the "Miami Herald" newspaper that Cuban shouted at the NBA's commissioner "Bleep you, your league is fixed."

The fine first, at least the 13th time the league has come down on the Internet billionaire for comments or conduct. This time it's something of a secret. League commissioner David Stern would only say it was assessed for several acts of misconduct following Sunday's fifth game of the NBA championships between Cuban's Dallas team and the Miami Heat. But as to the allegation that Cuban screamed, "your league is fixed" at Stern, the commissioner appeared with Dan Patrick and me on ESPN radio in the afternoon and stuck up for the high-strung Maverick mogul.


DAVID STERN, NBA COMMISSIONER: In fairness to Mark, I did not hear him say anything like he's accused to have said and we were pretty close to each other.

OLBERMANN: Clears that up.


OLBERMANN: So the Mark Cuban-David Stern altercation never happened, at least not in that form and neither, says Bruce Willis, did the Bruce Willis-paparazzo altercation. Except Willis is suing about that. Photographer Anthony Goodrich told the celebrity Web site, tmz.com, that outside a restaurant in West Hollywood, Willis assaulted him and shoved the camera into his face, but the lawsuit claims that Goodrich is one of the so-called stalker-azzi who tried to insight a physical altercation just to get the stars in a compromising situation for a silly photo. Willis says the photographer's complaint to TMZ exposed him to hatred, contempt ridicule and oblique. You heard me. Oblique.

And when will the first robot sue a human for sexual harassment? Scientists debating the ethics of having sex with robots - lonely scientists. Caring, shy, nervous scientists. That, believe it or not, is next but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

The bronze, several anonymous Pittsburgh Steelers fans share it. Their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger was injured, as you know in a motorcycle accident, he was driving with neither helmet nor license. They blame the woman who was driving the car with which Roethlisberger collided. She has now gotten threatening phone calls. Nice.

Our runner-up, Mike Jerrick who appears on FOX News Channel, whose show in that same clip of Connie Chung we showed you earlier. His newscast, like all the good ones, has a live audience. So he asked his members after he showed the clip, "Do you know what MSNBC is, it has something to do with television - anyway it won't be around much longer." Hmm, that's the Mike Jerrick who used to host "P.M. Magazine?" The Mike Jerrick who used to host "Sci Fi Buzz" on the Sci Fi Channel? Mike, thanks for playing. Here's your home copy of the home version of the people who live in glasses houses game.

But the winner - oh, he's back! Explaining that if he were president of Iraq, he'd simply institute 7:00 p.m. curfews, put 60,000 troops in the streets with orders to shoot to kill any violators, "That's me, President O'Reilly, that's how I run that country like Saddam ran it. Now, is this the country I want for Iraq? No, but you have to have that for a few months to stabilize the situation." In other words, Bill-O, you depose Saddam with a great loss of life, and then three years later bring back his methods. Bill O'Reilly, on today's - can we get him the gig for president of Iraq? I'll vote for him. Today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: That we did not know this day was coming, that speaks to nearsightedness of man as a race. Steven Spielberg warned us. But heed him we did not. His 2001 movie "Artificial Intelligence" featured Jude Law as Gigolo Joe, a robot male prostitute. But heed him we did not. Possibly because the rest of that movie put all of us to sleep. Yet, here it is in the No. 1 story in the Countdown, robotic ethicists warning that within five years we will have to address the right and wrong of having sex with robots. Danger! Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

"Security, safety, and sex are the big concerns," says Henrik Christensen, a member of the European Robotics Research Network, EURON. "People are going to be having sex with robots within five years." Hey, somebody call Senator Santorum! Maybe not sex with this one, but with one a few generations improved. Who knows? And whether or not they will expect you to take them to dinner and a movie first, far from the only worry here.

"The question is, what authority are we going to delegate to these machines?" that from a robotocist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Ronald Arkin. "Are we, for example, going to give robots the ability to execute lethal force?" Well we sure jumped off sex in a hurry.

Futurologist Ian Pearson says, "My guess is that we'll have conscious machines before 2020."

Perhaps the other words from "Lost in Space" apply here, "I computed to be an ionic directional probe searching for receiving outlets." You betcha.

Joining me now robotocist, Daniel Wilson, also author of "How to Survive a Robot Uprising."

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: The uprising of which you speak, is that before or after the sex with the humans?

WILSON: Sounds like it might be a happy ending, you know, after the uprising. But in the book I had mostly talk about robot uprising scenarios that don't involve, you know, the robots having sex with the people.

OLBERMANN: There's no dating first.

WILSON: Yeah, there's no dating. It's just, with the rampaging usually, straight to the rampaging. Although, you know, so I should mention up front, that "How to Survive a Robot Uprising" is a humorous book, it goes in the humor section. Although I did interview a lot of robotocists and asked them, you know, how to escape from the terminator, how to bring down giant walking robots, things like that.

OLBERMANN: Just in case that comes up.


OLBERMANN: But obviously, and you would have seen this in talking to then, and we know the first rule of science, if it gets built, it gets used. They did not make an atomic bomb with the idea of turning it into a paper weight. Is this thing a serious concern, is it an imminent among these people who specialize in robots?

WILSON: Well, I wouldn't say that it's a concern, but it's imminent. You know, people are already having sex with robots. There's even a new field called teledildonics where.


WILSON: You can figure it out yourself. I will leave it to you. But, so, you know, people are having sex with robots already. Although, I don't think ethical constraints have, you know, shown up quite yet.

OLBERMANN: Do I dare ask what the real issue is if it's not ethical concerns?

WILSON: Well, in the future, there may be ethical concerns. There have been studies that show that when people interact with robots that look like something, they treat the robots like those objects it looks like. So for instance, in the one study, researchers could not get study participants to strike a 4-year-old girl robot. So, that looks like a 4-year-old girl. People treat it like a 4-year-old girl. So, you could have ethical problems with people having sex with, you know, essentially objects that very closely resemble sheep. Yeah.

OLBERMANN: A whole new world of problems we thought we could avoid here in the future. Is the larger point, ultimately though, that robots are going to be more and more human-like with the traits and if we don't figure out the rules now, we will all, or some of us will be in fact reprising the Will Smith from "I Robot?"

WILSON: Well, I wouldn't confuse the fact that a robot looks like a person with the idea that it I will act like a person or have emotions and feelings. And it's hard when sex gets involved because sex and emotions are really linked in the human mind, but they may not be for, you know, for robots. I mean, they definitely wouldn't be. So, you know, just because it looks like a person doesn't mean, you know, it feels like one.

OLBERMANN: The chief architect of this ethics guide says there are the two priorities. The ethics of the scientist who actually make the robots and then these artificial ethics that would be put inside the robots, which is what you just referred to. Are we talking about the robots developing their own ethics or developing a lack of them? Do we have to program them to be prudes or libertines or are they developing their own? What are they talking about here?

WILSON: Yeah, I think that the research is misused the word ethics, there. For humans that certainly applies. For robots, they're really not making moral decisions unless they're conscious and that's clearly far in the future. We'll be having sex with robots long before they're actually conscious of it. So, you know, to say that you're coming up with an ethical system for robots is kind of misspeaking. I would just say you're coming up with rules, you know, for the robots. So.

OLBERMANN: Buy, you said we were already - there are people out there having sex with robots.

WILSON: Yeah, there are. There's a certain thing called a love doll that - that.

OLBERMANN: OK. I know where you are going with this and I think probably it will be the highest rated segment on the network all week. And perhaps we'll have you back when we invariably turn it into a series. Or somebody else does.

Robotocist and author, Daniel Wilson, thanks for helping us try to make some sense out of this story. It has been entertaining at the very least.

That's Countdown for this, the 1, 146th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck, and keep your hands off that robot.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "Scarborough Country," Michael Smerconish again, once again sitting in for Joe. Good evening, Michael.