Wednesday, July 12, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 12

Guests: Barbara Boxer, Howard Fineman, Mo Rocca

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

At a town hall meeting in Iraq, a National Guard corporal virtually begs for better and better-protected vehicles, and Donald Rumsfeld makes a joke out of it.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I can't answer why your particular unit ends up with one of the oldest pieces of equipment, but I'll bet you General Casey can.


OLBERMANN: And if the secretary of defense laughing at you depresses you, soldier, we can give you some Zoloft and send you back to the front.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: One in three has post-traumatic stress. They are in deep trouble over there, our troops are, and many of them are being sent onto the battlefield with antidepressants...


OLBERMANN: And when a senator points out the madness that represents, they can call her a liar on national television. Senator Barbara Boxer, our special guest on Countdown.

It can talk. Robert Novak names at least some of his sources, some of the people who blew the cover of one of our agents trying to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists, terrorists who Homeland Security thinks might attack the Apple and Pork Festival in Clinton, Illinois, or a flee market in Sweetwater, Tennessee, and, of course, Old McDonald's Petting Zoo in Woodville, Alabama, all on Homeland's National Asset List.

And you know what you can't spell "asset" without.

Spelling it out in baseball. How many current players are using illegal human growth hormone? A shocking estimate from Commissioner Bud Selig.

And anybody besides me really shocked by this? The president of Russia kisses a 5-year-old boy he does not know on the stomach. Pressed for an explanation, Mr. Putin says, "I just wanted to touch him like a kitten."

Oh, here we go.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

The Bush administration has long claimed that its self-named war on terror and its self-fulfilling prophecy war in Iraq are one and the same. We learned tonight that if that's true, this means defending Baghdad has taken on the same importance as has defending the Old McDonald's Petting Zoo in Woodville, Alabama.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, unfortunately, the laughs are coming from Iraq and not Alabama. Homeland Security's own inspector general has now blasted the department's list of possible domestic terror targets, a list that includes that petting zoo and some popcorn factories, and the Mule Day Parade.

But in Iraq, the secretary of defense was not laughing at any of that. He was making a joke out of a soldier's plea for something other than substandard equipment.

Mr. Rumsfeld's strange sense of humor, first.

Day two of his war zone mystery tour, the secretary taking questions in a town hall forum at a support base in northern Iraq, question number two coming from Corporal Arthur King, a National Guard soldier attached to an engineering unit. His mission could not be more serious. It is to search for roadside bombs before they detonate.


CPL. ARTHUR KING, NATIONAL GUARD: Right now, we have one of the oldest pieces of equipment in country, it's called a Buffalo, and ours is the oldest. And we - the other day, two weeks ago, we saw a brand-new one in downtown New York City. And we've been waiting for three months for ours. We're just wondering why that was.

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't know about New York City. They obviously have a separate budget, and they buy what they buy. We've got $3.6 billion that dwarfs anything New York City does, just for IED work, and General Monte Nates (ph) has been brought back, and he is in the process - he has been for, gosh, the Army, for two and a half, three years, has been working their heads off. As the nature of the IED problem has migrated and evolved, they have put enormous effort on it.

I can't answer why your particular unit ends up with one of the oldest pieces of equipment, but I'll bet you General Casey can.


OLBERMANN: To his credit, General Casey choosing to skip the jokes, telling the soldier that he did not know either, but would find out right away and get back to him with an answer.

Meantime, as investigators in India search for clues as to who was behind Tuesday's train bombings in Mumbai, the death toll there now passing the 200 mark.

There are no answers that could adequately explain the Homeland Security Department's list of so-called terrorist targets here at home, a new report from the department's own inspector general revealing the government's antiterrorism database to be as - about as sophisticated a piece of machinery as a Hasbro Easybake Oven, the computer system giving computers everywhere a bad name, coming up with a list of terrorist targets that only Willie Wonka might be threatened by. As we mentioned, Old McDonald's Petting Zoo, Huntsville, Alabama, on the list, as is the Mule Day Parade of Columbia, Tennessee. That mule, the most menacing thing in this image, anyway. The owner of Amish Country Popcorn in Berne (ph), Indiana, flummoxed to learn that his factory was on the list, telling "The New York Times," quote, "Maybe it's because popcorn explodes?"

Amish County or Country Popcorn only one of 8,591 purported terrorist targets in the state of Indiana, making Indiana the most target-rich place in this nation, with 50 percent more sites listed than New York, with 5,687, twice as many as California, with 3,212.

Barbara Boxer represents the state of California in the United States Senate. She's been kind enough to join us now from the Capitol.

Thank you, Senator, for your time.


OLBERMANN: Let's start with Homeland Security in this report. The San Francisco Bay Area lost some of its terrorism funding this year in your state. A lot of the funding in New York and Washington, the places that have been attacked and are obviously still top targets. Is that list we're hearing about now why they all lost counterterror funding?

BOXER: Absolutely. This Homeland Security Department, which brought us Katrina, is just unbelievable. And you really do feel like Alice in Wonderland sometimes when you see some of the things that they do.

Now, I knew that some of my areas in my state were going to lose some funding. For example, San Diego used to be considered a very high-threat area. They took us off the list. If you ever go to San Diego, Keith, you will see more military assets there than you can imagine, because we have so many military bases, we have so many ships, we have aircraft and the rest.

And they took it off the list. And as you said, put on the list some of these places that, you know, I - listen, I'd like to protect every petting zoo in the country. But there's just so much money to go around.

So we know the Golden Gate Bridge is a target, we know our buildings are targets in Los Angeles. We know that Sacramento was also taken off the list. It's our capital. And by the way, has a water system which, if it's breached, 230,000 people will be buried in water.

So this is outrageous. And even the inspector general, their own inspector general in Homeland Security, chastised them.

But this doesn't matter, and it all gets me to the point that we need change here in Washington so badly. We need to change the Congress. We need to get better checks and balances on this administration.

OLBERMANN: Or it would be wonderful if we had a world where the biggest threats were to the petting zoos.

But in response to this report, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department said - let me quote it, "We don't find it embarrassing. The list is a valuable tool." We can skip the valuable tool joke here. But does it suggest that the department or the administration would never let political pork and log-rolling come ahead of protecting this nation?

BOXER: Well, I'll let your rhetorical question stand alone. But all I could say is, this - we can't - we can make jokes about this, but at the end of the day, we are in a war against terrorism, and we've seen al Qaeda documents, and they have told us, told us right now, what they're going to go after, the infrastructure, the subways, the bridges.

I'm not telling anything out of school. We've seen the documents, everybody has. And yet and still, Homeland Security, I don't know what they're doing over there. It's just a disaster, a disaster.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of a subway reference with the Mumbai bombings from India fresh in all of our minds, are you satisfied to any degree? Do you see anything positive in the level of transit security in this country at this time?

BOXER: It's abysmal. We just had a vote, we got voted down, to increase the protection on our rails. You know, our subways, our freight rail, these are major targets, and we lost another vote, we meaning the Democrats.

And I don't really understand what has to happen. This is, I believe, the third train tragedy that we've seen abroad. And it's really, to me, amazing. If - I think the number - and I don't want to put it out as absolute fact - but it is about $150 million countrywide to protect our rail system. I mean, it is ridiculous. It doesn't go very far, I can tell you that.

OLBERMANN: Senator Boxer, it's hard to ask you about Iraq without addressing first some of the comments that you've made about the condition, the emotional condition of the troops there. There was an outstanding series of reports about active troops in Iraq who were suffering depression and post-traumatic stress disorder that was in the "Hartford Courant," how many have been sent back onto the battlefield with nothing more to protect them than antidepressants.

You noted this on the Senate floor, and then a commentator of large mouth and small brain noted your notation. Let me play that, and then I'll get your reaction.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST: Also heard Senator Boxer saying that, you know, we've got all these troops that are getting screwed up on the battlefield psychologically, they're on antidepressants in the field. I mean, is this true?

COL. DAVID HUNT, FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: No. What you've got is any time any soldier, airman, Marine, Coast guardman comes back from overseas, peacetime, there's an adjustment, and they're not sending kids who have depressants into combat. In fact, if a soldier is taking a depressant, he can't go into combat.

So I'm afraid there's some lying going on. Boxer knows better. She took a statistic and embellished, and once again used soldiers for her political purpose, and that's just wrong.


OLBERMANN: Senator, give me your reaction to Mr. O'Reilly and Colonel Hunt.

BOXER: Well, all I could say is, they don't know what they're talking about, plain and simple.

I have it in writing from Dr. David Chu (ph), who is an undersecretary of defense, works with Secretary Rumsfeld, that they absolutely put troops on the field with depressants. And today, I had a meeting with General Kylely (ph), who will head up the mental health task force that I got put into law to look after our soldiers and come to grips with this. And he confirmed to me today that that is absolutely the fact, that we are sending the troops out with antidepressants.

And the other thing they called me a liar on, I said, I said a third of the troops that are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking mental health help, are having trouble, mental health trouble. And they basically said, Oh, yes, some are, but no - nothing like 30 percent.

Turns out I understated it. It's 35 percent. And that is from an Army report from Walter Reed.

But I think, Keith, the big question here is this. We know how controversial this war is, and we know Americans are divided. We know, you know, one talk show host feels one way, another another.

But if there's anything we could come together on, it's supporting our troops, and supporting our troops means that if they are in any way suffering from physical or mental health problems, they need help. So let's stop calling each other names and let's start, you know, making sure that our troops get what they need, some attention here.

OLBERMANN: And of course, when we're talking about mental health, that is not Mr. O'Reilly's strong point to begin with.

But let me wrap this up with you on the subject of the position of the Democratic Party towards Iraq. Is there going to be consensus within your party about this? And until there is one, is the party going to be hamstrung at the polls, or in the eyes of the electorate?

BOXER: Well, I think what has been really overlooked, Keith, is that 80 percent of my party in the Senate voted to make this year the year of transition, to begin to move our troops out, to actually begin bringing them home, and to allow the Iraqis to take over their own country.

And that was very important. It was overlooked, because, yes, we had another amendment that I personally supported, by John Kerry, to say, you know, finish the redeployment by the middle of next year. But 80 percent of us said, This is the year to start bringing the troops home. So we are for change.

OLBERMANN: Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California. Great thanks for your time with us.

BOXER: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also here, the Valerie Plame leak. Robert Novak breaks his silence about some of the people who gave away the CIA agent's identity, but did he reveal more or less than did that French soccer player who head-butted the guy in the World Cup, then finally talked about it?

And is the former mayor of New York having an identity crisis? The pro-choice, former pro-gay former mayor stumping for Rick "Man on Dog" Santorum. Is that all positioning for '08?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.

OLBERMANN: Almost three years to the day after he first outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, Robert Novak breaks his silence.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, the discredited columnist recounting now - or how, rather, how his still-unnamed primary source told him about Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife, and how, according to him, two subsequent sources confirmed all that.

Novak wrote all of it up for those papers which still carry him Tuesday night. He chose to actually speak for the first time about his role in the CIA leak investigation on, where else, the television operation that employs him, Fox News Channel, and its program "Special Report."


ROBERT NOVAK, COLUMNIST: It was a interview with a senior administration official, who wasn't an easy guy to get to see. Said, Why do you - why would they send Joe Wilson to Niger? He's not a CIA - why would the CIA send him there? He's not a CIA agent. He said his wife worked in the office of nuclear proliferation in CIA, and she suggested he go. As I remember the conversation very distinctly, Karl said to me, Yes, I know that too, and I (INAUDIBLE) took that as confirmation.

BRIT HUME, ANCHOR: I know that too?


HUME: He didn't say you know that too?

NOVAK: No. No, he says, he said, You know that, I'm say, he says, he says, You know that too? What, he said, Oh, you know that too. Bill Harlow then said to me that although she would likely never have another assignment abroad, he said it might be embarrassing if her CIA connection was written, and he asked me not to write it. (INAUDIBLE)...

HUME: Did he say, did he say her status was classified?

NOVAK: No, he did not.

HUME: He did not.


OLBERMANN: Well, that's all right, then.

To assess what, if any, light that sheds on the CIA leak investigation, I'm joined once again by MSNBC's David Shuster.

Thanks for your time, David.


OLBERMANN: Bill Harlow denied he was a source, an anonymous source told the Associated Press Harlow had in fact repeatedly tried to talk Novak out of running any information on Valerie Plame. That seemed to be echoed there in Mr. Novak's statement.

But, as we also heard there, he seems to think Mr. Harlow only thought it would be embarrassing if her status was revealed. When you get down to the he said-he said here, that happened over three years ago. Is it possible we may never really know what - who said what?

SHUSTER: Well, it's possible. But first of all, the reason Harlow could not tell Bob Novak that she was classified is because Harlow was not allowed to. By doing that, he would divulge that she was classified, and that was against regulations for him.

Harlow, I think, would have a lot to say about this, but will not say anything until after the Libby trial is over, and then may - he may offer his version. And then it's a matter of who do you believe? Do you believe Bill Harlow, or do you believe Bob Novak, who not only has discrepancies with Harlow but has discrepancies with the other sources willing to name Karl Rove?

And he may have discrepancies with the primary source. We just don't know that, because the primary source won't talk about his testimony to the grand jury, or won't be willing to be identified, and we can't compare that with what Novak has said about him.

OLBERMANN: You watch this with great intent, having followed this story since almost its beginning. Was there anything new in what Novak said, as opposed to what he wrote?

SHUSTER: One thing that was new that struck me as particularly intriguing, and that is, Novak said tonight that his conversation with this primary source came a few days after the Joe Wilson column, and this helps explain why, even if prosecutors concluded, as Novak did, that it was an inadvertent leak from the primary source, they still have a lot of reason to be very curious and to investigate the other White House officials who were involved in talking to reporters, because if you look at the timeline, the White House started collecting information about Joe Wilson in June of 2003. Scooter Libby started collecting information from the CIA and State Department. The Wilson column comes out July 6, 2003.

The next day, Ari Fleischer gets taken to lunch by Scooter Libby. Libby suggests, Hey, this information about Valerie Wilson, you should share it with reporters. Then Scooter Libby says the same thing that Judy Miller, the (INAUDIBLE), the next day after that. And then it's sometime after that conversation, when there's this sort of strange conversation between Bob Novak's primary source and Novak.

So it gets to the idea that even if prosecutors concluded early on that the Novak source was innocuous, was inadvertent, there was still a lot of actions that were raising eyebrows about other White House officials, not the least of which was inaccurate testimony that was coming in from Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, which had to have left prosecutors thinking, Well, why are these guys either giving inaccurate testimony or trying to block the investigation? And in Scooter Libby's case, of course, it led to perjury charges, and charges of obstruction of justice.

OLBERMANN: One other thing that raised eyebrows, they're journalistic eyebrows, but something in here that didn't add up. If your source does not deny something and, in fact, seems to inadvertently confirm it by saying, Don't run with it, I know I would have, at any stage of my career, including WPBR at Cornell, have had a hard time getting that past my bosses as a solid source. This is Jayson Blair-like, is it not?

SHUSTER: Well, it is. I mean, to me, a solid source is, you ask somebody, Hey, is this information true? and they say, Yes, it is. If they say, I wouldn't go with that story, then it becomes an entirely different matter. You may still run the story if you've got other sources who are willing to directly confirm what you're trying to find out, and maybe it's more sort of fishing with your third source to determine what their take on it is. But I wouldn't consider that a solid source in the least.

OLBERMANN: All right, well, that's two of us. MSNBC's David Shuster, we may be in the minority here. In any event, great thanks.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And on to the next great mystery, using your head-butt instead of your head. Zinedane Zidane (ph) explains. Sort of like Robert Novak explained.

And never explain, never apologize, never give the bull a chance to remove your appendix. Get out of your car, cut off your sloss (ph), and get back into your car (INAUDIBLE) Pamplona '06 update.

Next here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: July 12, the anniversary of the date comedian Milton Berle, originally Milton Berlinger, was born. He was world famous for the extraordinary length of his contract. In 1951, he signed a 30-year contract with NBC. Within nine years of its start, the company had him hosting a bowling show.

With the terrifying threat of a 30-year contract reverberating like gunfire off in the distance, let's play Oddball.

Speaking of Milton Berle, we begin in Spain with day six of the running of the berls. It was wacky Wednesday, so this time the bulls got drunk, and the people were killed in the ring at the end of the - Nah, I'm just being silly. The bulls met their usual brutal end.

Luckily, at least one of them sent the brutal end of his horn through a Spanish runner's side on the way downtown, bang. All in all, a decent showing from the four-legged competitors, with just two days to go in the Festival of San Fermin (ph). The score remains, all the bulls dead, all the humans alive.

To Connecticut for the first annual running of the emu in Middletown. This mini-ostrich-really-big-chicken-type thing escaped from a farm but was spotted two days later 30 miles to the south. Luckily, local TV was called out for the chase. But there is some skepticism that the bird could have traveled so far. Thus this line from the newspaper "The Middletown Press," quote, "It is possible there are currently two large Australian emus on the loose in Connecticut."

You are with me, Feather.

Finally here to Frisco, Texas, where a local planning and zoning official had herself a little run-in with the local police, all captured on dashcam video. It began when she was pulled over for suspected drunk driving. Suspicions were sort of confirmed when she mistook the gas pedal for the brake and the park for the reverse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of the car. Get out of that car. (INAUDIBLE). Get out of the car. Get out now. Get your hands up. Hands up. (INAUDIBLE). Get out of that car. Hands up.



OLBERMANN: In case you missed that last bit, that was the officer saying how much he loved his car. Hey, take a look at her Benz, pal. That's going to cost a fortune. Your car, jeez, it's always about you.

Speaking of crashing, if Rick Santorum is down 18 points in the polls, why is Rudy Giuliani in Pennsylvania stumping for him again?

And will this belly kiss haunt Vladimir Putin, or enrage Rick Santorum, perhaps? Putin answers the simple question, what the!

Details ahead.

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

Number three, "Discovery" astronaut Piers Sellers. During the repair job outside the shuttle, Sellers was applying a putty-like sealant when he apparently dropped the spatula, 210 miles above the earth. Assuming it falls down, if you hear it coming, run.

Number two, Thomas Carroll of Glencarven (ph), Missouri. Authorities found his Weimeraner puppy, Titus, wandering the streets. They took Titus to the pound. They said to Mr. Carroll, You have to pay $125 in fines. He didn't have it, so he broke into the pound and just took Titus home. He's been sentenced to two years of probation, but he gets to keep the dog.

And number one, Professor Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales in Australia. He says new fossil discoveries there indicate that 24 years ago, Australia was rife with kangaroos that galloped and not hopped and ate flesh and not vegetation. And also giant ducks 10 feet tall, weighing 880 pounds, and Rupert Murdoch.


OLBERMANN: Gallop polls opened, asking Democrats and Republicans who they like for their party's nomination for president in 2008. It was not a checklist respondents had to come up with the names. Thirty-six percent of Democrats chose Hillary Clinton, 16 percent Al Gore, 29 percent of Republicans named Rudy Giuliani, 24 percent John McCain.

Our third story on the Countdown contains a true sign of hope, 50 percent of Democrats and Republicans alike answered it's too damn early for me to thought about this yet, Slappy. The Giuliani number is interesting, of course. For the second time in three months the socially liberal ex-mayor of New York stopped in Pennsylvania on Tuesday to stump for the Senator Rick Santorum who has previously been fearful of men and dogs dating. It was the third leg of a three state tour, he began in Arkansas where he lent his support to GOP gubernatorial candidate, Asa Hutchinson, then he flew to Illinois attending another even for Republican candidate, the governor candidate, Judy Baar Topinka and finally to Pittsburgh where before the baseball All-Star game he re-uped his help for Santorum, who in a recent Quinnipiac poll, trails his challenger by 18 points.

Permit me now to call upon the expertise of "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman.

Always a pleasure, Howard.


OLBERMANN: If Rudy Giuliani has designs on becoming the next president of the United States, is Senator Santorum the guy he wants to be associate himself with? Is he courting the far right? Is this like a token appearance or what was this?

FINEMAN: Well, you know, they Beth agree that they're against man and dog relations, so that's...

OLBERMANN: And Democrats.

FINEMAN: Yeah, they're against that so they share that. At least on the surface they don't share a whole lot. I mean, Rudy Giuliani is the New Yorker, he's the pro-choice guy, he's the pro-gay rights guy. I mean you couldn't - it is a long way in Pittsburgh for Rudy to be there from where he was a few years ago wearing a dress as a joke at a press party in New York, you know, to be with Santorum. But what he's doing is trying, if not to win over the right, at least to win some points with the right to prepare the way for what could well be a presidential campaign.

OLBERMANN: But is he not going to, at some point, have to reconcile that, those stances on those issues that are so significant to the far right, that just showing up for Rick Santorum, especially if Rick Santorum continues to crash and burn here, is it going to enough to be enough just to have been seated with him with his hand on his back.

FINEMAN: Well, there's no risk in the Santorum thing. Santorum's way behind, if he loses nobody's going to blame Rudy Giuliani. He's trying to pick up points around the margins. You're right at some point, if in fact he runs, and I think if he runs he wouldn't announce until late in the game, he's going to have to answer for those positions among the grassroots groups that are very in influential in the Republican Party in places like Iowa and especially South Carolina, those two places.

My sense of what Rudy's doing is he's trying to walk among these people to show them that he's a man of faith, because dropped in at a big meeting of preachers down in Florida several months ago. He's not trying to win them over, but he is trying to anesthetize them to some extent so that he can - if he does run, make it fast because he knows that he has won them on national security issues - if he can focus on national security and get them not to make him their main target. I mean, what he wants to do is avoid having them make him their main target until it is too late.

OLBERMANN: But there's an even asterisk on national security and it comes with something, again, you would think he'd have to eventually explain something. Let me just read it as a refresher.

"These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much." The infamous Ann Coulter quote on the 9/11 widows.

Many from the far right, much, much farther right than Rudy Giuliani, not just kind of farther right, denounced it. But to denounce it Giuliani would have to blast Ann Coulter, but is not ignoring it ultimately worse than picking either an endorsement or denunciation. Does he not have to take one side or lose both?

FINEMAN: Yeah, even a certain guy on another network has denounced Ann Coulter for some of this, but you have to search long and hard to find anything that Rudy Giuliani said about this. I talked to his press person today. She finally says she found a transcript which at an appearance on June 10, in New York near Ground Zero, he say he thought the remarks were inappropriate. But you know, by Rudy Giuliani's standards, who's normally shouting his views from the rooftops and who's known as brave guy willing to speak his mind it was - it's pretty small beer for Rudy Giuliani and he may be asked about it again, I would think.

OLBERMANN: On a weekly basis and perhaps you're right about waiting until the last minute. He could probably wait a while and then announce what his opinion was on if somebody's still asking about it.

FINEMAN: I have a feeling it had come from this show if nowhere else.

OLBERMANN: OK. Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, as always great to speak with you, sir.

FINEMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Here's another Rudy Giuliani note in this program. His messy divorce from ex-wife former New York City newscaster and occasional actress, Donna Hanover, got wide media coverage the year before Giuliani became America's mayor and before his ex-wife apparently became an expert on sex.

Miss Hanover, author of the book "My Boyfriend's Back" is now an AOL coach in the wellness division. The subject of expertise: Love and sex, where she will answer your questions like, is it OK to hook up with an ex- just for sex? Should I pursue an ex-flame who is married? How can I get my kids to accept my new partner? What about a guy named Rudy?

No truth to rumors that a new manners column will be penned by a man behind the head-butt. The most valuable player in the World Cut explains he's sorry but really doesn't explain much else.

And an explanation, but an estimation from the commission are of baseball. How many players it is he think are using illegal human growth hormones? Next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: What, if anything, were they thinking? The story behind the soccer head-butt seen 'round the world. And the story behind the presidential belly kiss, that pooty-poot, planted on a 5-year-old boy. That's next, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It has a beautiful kind of symmetry, head-butt, butt-head. Our No. 2 story, in his last game as a soccer player, Zinedine Zidane, of France may have cost his team the World Cup by head-butting a rival in overtime. But, he kept his honor - except for head-butting the guy.

For why did he do this? Previous reports suggested Italian defender, Marco Materazzi made a racist remark or called him a terrorist or said something about his mother being a terrorist, which Zidane's mother reacted by saying, "If what he said is true I want his balls on a platter." The apple didn't fall far from that tree, did it?


The game was Sunday, Zidane made no comment for three days. In the interim, the Internet got buys. Zidane getting punted after the head-butt . The old school soccer version of the event. Supervisor Mario, not Zidane taking the Italian player out, M.C. Hammer doing the honors, and a version allowing the player take out as many Italian teams as possible before getting the inevitable red card of death.

And after all that Zidane still wouldn't say exactly what provoked him to put himself ahead of his team's chances of a world championship. More from Jonathan Willis of our affiliated British network, ITV.


JONATHAN WILLIS, ITV REPORTER (voice-over): From Paris to Marseille they crowded in bars waiting, listening, hoping to hear their hero justify his moment of madness.

ZINEDINE ZIDANE, HEAD-BUTTING SOCCER PLAYER (through translator): My mother, my sister, these are very hard words, so you hear them once and you try to ignore. That's what I did because I continued playing. Then you hear it a second time and then voila and then you hear it a third time. I am a man after all.

WILLIS: This evening, Marco Materazzi has denied provoking the man he still calls hero. Whether Zidane's claims are enough to satisfy a FIFA investigation remain to be seen. But with the prospect of FIFA withdrawing his best player at the tournament award, and having seen the incident for the first time himself, Zidane had this to say to those shock bid the pictures.

ZIDANE (through translator): I apologize to all children and all those who saw that gesture because this was intolerable behavior. But to regret this is to say he was in the right.

WILLIS: Tonight Zidane looks down on France. The curtain drawn on a career and he hopes on the World Cup controversy, as well.


OLBERMANN: Possibly, in 100 years or so. Kind of a smooth segue then into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news "Keeping Tabs." And before Tuesday's baseball All-Star game played in front of a crowd seemingly so reticent and disinterested that the event may have qualified as the longest moment in silence in sports history.

Commissioner Bud Selig declared his game was entering its golden age, but he also said something that has left many in the game reeling. There may be as many as 60 players currently using the illegal performance enhancing drug, human growth hormone. Selig was explaining that his medical people were much more worried about reports of amphetamine use by players in were concentrating on that because, "I really think steroid use has been minimized.Doctors and trainers tell me they think no more than or two players on a team might be using HGH."

Selig's estimate, there are 30 teams, one or two a team means 30 to 60 active players currently using am illegal dangerous drug without being subject to any kind of drug test or recrimination for it. It is the first number produced by anyone in authority.

And the estimate of how hard Rupert Murdoch's infamous News Corp will be coming after our sister network, CNBC, is a lot, but as usual, not very smartly. As Murdoch prepares to launch a rival business TV network, its New York newspaper took a swing at CNBC "Squawk Box" host, Joe Kernen. A swing and a miss.

"Just like Ron Burgundy, the lead character in 'Anchorman,'" writes the "New York Post's" page six, "it seems CNBC anchor Joe Kernen will say anything that's on the teleprompter."

The story goes on to quote Kernen saying that new "Pirates of the

Caribbean" movie had not - had done so well at the box office that it had

eclipsed the previous three-day record "Aquaman" at 120 million plus. The

"Post" concluded "Unfortunately, there has been no 'Aquaman' movie -

except in episodes of HBO's 'Entourage.'"

Ah, yeah, that's kind of the point. Minutes earlier, Kernen had referenced both the HBO show and its lead characters, apocryphal movie Aquaman. Kernen, unlike the "Post," was hip. Here are the relevant clips.


JOE KERNEN, "SQUAWK BOX": These numbers are staggering and me of "Entourage and Aquaman" when they finally got the numbers there. It's hard to beat the record, but it did. At the weekend box office "Pirates" priorities plunders the box office making a record $132 million in it's first three days at the box office. The previous three day record was "Aquaman" at 120 plus, which just beat out the 115 million which was set by "Spiderman" back in May of 2002.


OLBERMANN: Lastly in "Tabs," one of the great movie and TV actors has died. Bernard Hughes who's career stretched from 1934 through 2000. He did everything from six years as a doctor on the soap opera the "Guiding Light" to a harrowing performance as a psychotic doctor in the Paddy Chayefsky movie "The Hospital." He guest starred on everything from "Route 66" to "Blossom," but it was his star turn it the Broadway play, and later movie, "Da" as the ghost of an unendingly optimistic but unmotivated Irish widower. That will probably be his most remembered performance. It got him a Toni Award. Barnard Hughes died in New York City on Tuesday four days shy of his 91st birthday.

Vladimir Putin ready to host the world's most powerful leaders. Will they ask him, what the hell were you thinking when you did that? Matt Lauer did. I'll ask Mo Rocca. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

The Bronze to Alexander W. Schoppmann a German businessman who found a new airline called SmintAir which will provide flyers gourmet food and ash trays. SmintAir is short for Smokers International Airways.

The silver shared by Mark Marano and Matt Dempsey, they're the press flacks for the Republican staff on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Put out a press release blasting the global warming documentary the Discovery channel is running on Sunday. They don't have any fact to dispute what's in it so they smeared the host, former "NBC News anchor, Tom Brokaw's lack of objectivity and balance on the issue of global warming appears to have tainted his upcoming documentary," they wrote. They add that viewers "should not expect a scientifically balanced view of the climate." That's right, boys, Tom didn't include the falsehoods, the lies, and the crap. And your tax dollars paid for that press release, by the way.

But, our winners Bill-O and Laura Ingram. She rips the "New York Times" on his show for printing a photo Secretary Rumsfeld's vacation home. He responds "That was awful, awful." They never mention that Mr. Rumsfeld gave the "Times" permission to take and publish the photo or that now even the Secret Service says publishing it represented no threat to anyone or anything. But Bill-O, Laura, as always you know better. Better than Rumsfeld, better than the Secret Service.

Bill O'Reilly and Laura Ingram, my nightmare, today's "Worst Persons in the World."


OLBERMANN: It is the oldest cliche in the political book, the candidate kissing the baby. The parameters vary from nation to nation, but not in many countries would kissing the stomach of a 5-year-old be considered within the cliche, certainly not when you explain "I just wanted to touch him like a kitten."

Our No. 1 story on the Countdown, Russian president Vladimir Putin with any oopsy that begins to look like something you might refer to the D.A.'s office over here. Seems we are not the only ones who found this image very, very disturbing when we showed it to you in late June. Web users who also wanted to know just what the hell he was thinking, asked Mr. Putin about it in an internet chat last week and his answer "He seemed to me very independent, sure of himself and at the same time defenseless, so to speak, an innocent boy and a very nice little boy. I tell you honestly, I just wanted to touch him like a kitten and that desire of my ended in that act." Matt Lauer has just asked him about it again.


MATT LAUER, "TODAY" SHOW: This picture, you've been asked about it, you've seen it. Are you surprised that the fact that this has now made the rounds and is being seen all over world?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): For me it's a surprise that such a reaction has followed. I can just repeat what I said. I just like the boy very much. He was very independent, pretty, and serious and at the same time was a child completely defenseless as all children that require special attention and require affection towards him. So, it was an emotional gesture, nothing more.


OLBERMANN: In Soviet Union - the Russian newspaper "Izvestia" tracked down the kid and identified him as Nikita Konkin (ph), little Nikita actually really liked Putin so much so the he has not bathed since the kiss and wants to be president one day himself. But before you breathe a sigh of relief, consider this, "Izvestia" is half owned by the Russian government, and Nikita shares the same name as the (INAUDIBLE) Russian leader Khrushchev and you can make a bad joke about people going weeks without bathing, anyway, et cetera.

Let me get the perspective now with television personality, author, and political historian, Mo Rocca.

Mo, thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Your book "All the President's Pets" was about pets, as in animals, not pets as in heavy petting. But let me ask you about the later, here. Have you have heard of a world leader doing something like this in public involving a child?

ROCCA: Well, of course the kissing of young children and babies by powerful men has been standard since era of Jackson - Andrew Jackson I mean in this case. So, there's nothing strange about it at all. I mean, Andrew Jackson, "Old Hickory," popularized badge, banners, and baby kissing as a way of showing that he was one with the people. This practice abruptly stopped with candidate William Howard Taft in 1908 when he swallowed a toddler whole. This happened in Cincinnati. He was from Ohio, the voters didn't hold it against him, he still carried the election.

So, nothing strange at all. But I do have a quibble with the premise of your question. Public displays of affection between presidents and their pets have been quite common in the past. James Buchanan used to make out with his Newfoundland, Laura, fully. He was from the state of Pennsylvania, have Rick Santorum sensitivity on the issue.

OLBERMANN: Oh, I get it.

ROCCA: And Teddy Roosevelt used to kiss the toes of his polydactyl cat, Slippers, the practice that he termed "Shrimping."

OLBERMANN: The kiss itself might have been a little creepy, but the explanation of the warm and fuzzy feelings that made it want to do this, it made it a little worse did it not? I mean, he reminded him of a kitten and we have these additional images. We've now got a cat dragged into this as well as a 5-year-old child?

ROCCA: A little bit strange, yeah and the kitten reference makes sense especially since they sent the child scratching post from the Kremlin right afterward. The problem here is the vague nature of the kiss. There's little clarity here. If it were an affectionate raspberry, say, we wouldn't worry about this at all, we wouldn't be talking about it. On the other hand, if it were a tender lingering kiss, I think we'd dispatch "Dateline's" Chris Hanson right away to catch that predator, and believe you me I would make the cookies, you know, for this expedition. But it's not clear what kind of a kiss this is. Now, you know, legality of it aside, it remains to be seen what the Russian's equivalent of the FCC, if it already hasn't been disbanded, will do about this. Because if you notice in the tape he lifts up the child's shirt first, so the child is topless for a moment, then he kisses the child. So, it's a combination of Janet Jackson and the Madonna-Britney kiss here, so that's a lot of rubles. Do they still use rubles?

OLBERMANN: I think they do, but other cultural issues relative to this country and that one. Are we missiling something perhaps? Is that - is that a Russian tradition that we're not aware of? I mean, Mr. Putin seems in public, at least, baffled by the attention. Is it common for Russians to kiss each other's children's bellies rather than top of the forehead?

ROCCA: It is indeed. Here's the rub, as recently as the presidency of Boris Yeltsin, presidents would ask permission before kissing the stomachs of young boys. That's all changed with the rollback in Democracy in Russia and that's the problem here. There's an additional problem and it turns out that Russia society is as ageist as our society is. You never see Putin kissing the belly of a Babushka woman. It just doesn't happen.

OLBERMANN: There has been an implication.

ROCCA: And it's unfair.

OLBERMANN: Yes, that's true. There's an implication in this that it might have been a P.R. stunt to make Mr. Putin seem more approachable before the G-8 Summit, but would it have backfire completely, wouldn't people want to keep away from him now?

ROCCA: You know, I think it was more of a preparatory move to acclimatize the G-8 members, the leader, to what greeting is going to await them when they actually get to Russia. I think that Putin fully plans on kissing the stomach of seven of eight leaders. He, of course, will head-butt Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, yeah.

OLBERMANN: A beautiful finish. That's right, we're replacing, for the most part, the kiss on each cheek for the...

ROCCA: I'm very ticklish down there.


ROCCA: By the way, have you ever tried to kiss the stomach of a cat?

Very difficult.

OLBERMANN: No, and nor am I going to try. Television personality, Mo Rocca, always a pleasure, sir. Thanks for the history lessons there.

ROCCA: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,168th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "Scarborough Country."

Joe, good evening.