'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 21
Guests: Michael Wolff, Richard Wolffe
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war." As many as 100 Iraqi factory workers kidnapped north of Baghdad.
Another of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers murdered.
A U.S. sailor and seven Marines charged with the murder of an Iraqi civilian.
Iraq, June 21. What do we do now?
And while the family of one murdered U.S. soldier asked why he was there, the other speaks of pride and service and shares a message from their late son, Thomas Tucker.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PFC THOMAS TUCKER, U.S. ARMY (on phone): I love you, Mama. I love you. I love you too, Dad.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: News of the news, "a sad and bloody story," Mike Wallace calls it. Dan Rather's good-bye, day two. Hints of lawsuits and of another transition from legend to successor overshadowed, like it was last time, and the time before that.
They're also making me do a story about this guy and his new show.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What if we did a show where we could say...
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OLBERMANN: Shut up.
And your Comcast and AOL service professionals, alert, and dedicated.
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OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening.
History suggests that the only thing civil about any civil war has been its declaration. The terminology was in use in this country before the first shots out into the harbor at Fort Sumter in 1861. The British knew theirs was coming, and said so long before anybody raised a pikestaff two centuries before.
But in our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, that which even the war's defenders have acknowledged has loomed in Iraq for two years, perhaps three, has never come close to being formally named, until now. No prospect of avoiding civil war in Iraq, the words used today on the floor of the United States Senate. Those words in a moment.
They followed a day of horrors. More than four dozen Iraqis abducted in a single kidnapping for no other reason than they were Shi'ites. About 85 factory workers taken as they were being ferried home on a fleet of buses from work in the city of Taji, near Baghdad.
The area they were traveling through predominantly Sunni, large-scale abductions a feature of sectarian violence in the past couple of years, often resulting in massacres, although tonight, the kidnappers have reportedly released about 30 people.
And for the third time since Saddam Hussein's trial began in October, a lawyer on his defense team has been murdered, according to witnesses at the scene.
Hamis al-Obeidi (ph) was taken from his home in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad by people wearing Iraqi police uniforms. The head defense attorney says he believed they were Shi'ite militiamen, the body of Obeidi reportedly put in the back of a pickup truck and then driven around the streets of Baghdad, the men driving that truck shouting, This is the man who defends Saddam Hussein, much of what is unfolding foreshadowed in a memo issued to Secretary of State Rice from the American embassy in Baghdad, sent June 6, only hours before the president left on his surprise trip last Monday to the green zone, the cable painting a bleak portrait of danger and hardship faced by the embassy's Iraqi employees, including abductions, threats to women's rights, and ethnic cleansing, in the Senate, Republicans refining their sloganeering.
Those Democrats advocating redeployment but no fixed end date are charged now with cutting and jogging instead of cutting and running, one Republican chastising his colleagues, though, for the name-calling, and one Democrat uttering that most ominous, perhaps semiofficial, terminology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: This debate could transcend cynical attempts to turn public frustration with the war in Iraq into an electoral advantage. It should be taken more seriously than to simply retreat to focus-group-tested buzzwords and phrases like "cut and run." Catchy political slogans debase the seriousness of war.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Insurgency is not the big problem. It's a problem. The problem is sectarian violence, Sunnis killing Kurds, Kurds executing Shi'a, Shi'a mostly eliminating Sunnis. So let's just stop that. What's the deal here? No possibility of avoiding a civil war, in my humble opinion.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our very own Richard Wolffe, also senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
As always, sir, thanks for your time.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Keith, good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Let's start with those two words, "civil war." Their use right now seems limited to Senator Biden, previously Congressman John Murtha has mentioned them. Are those men alarmists, or are they right? Is this now civil war in Iraq?
WOLFFE: Well, it depends what you call civil war. I mean, there are clearly the elements of a civil war out there, the sectarian violence, the difference death squads and militia.
On the other hand, there's a unity government out there. And that would suggest that, at least on the political track, things are moving in a different direction.
But, you know, there are things in Iraq right now that look like the early stages of Yugoslavia, for instance. And nobody quite knows where it's going to go. You've got to hope that it doesn't really enter into full-blown civil war.
But the ethnic cleansing you're seeing, the mass kidnappings and killings, which have been there from the start, but are getting worse, these are all incredibly troubling signs. And sectarian violence, along with the criminal elements of the violence, is incredibly hard to get a handle on.
OLBERMANN: Given all that's happened in the nine days since the president's surprise and surprisingly upbeat trip into the green zone in Baghdad, is that junket now at risk of backfiring in the same way that the Top Gun Mission Accomplished thing on the aircraft carrier did three years ago?
WOLFFE: Well, not from the president's perspective, but maybe from the congressional Republican side of things. You know, the president didn't go to Baghdad, and I was there with him, and wave a sort of victory sign around saying, Everything's great. For sure, he was optimistic, based on really his sort of instinct, his gut judgment about the new Iraqi government.
But the reaction back home, when you saw the House debate this last week, was much more triumphalist, both about Zarqawi's death and the president's visit, and also about the new Iraqi government. It was a very different tone there from what the president was saying.
And obviously, you know, people were happy to see him, but there wasn't a lot of illusion that suddenly things were going to turn out right and everything was finished, at least from the White House. As I say, on the Hill, a different story.
OLBERMANN: Obviously everybody wishes that it could turn around that quickly.
The memo, this memo from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad that went to Secretary Rice that stated, among other things, that Iraqi workers at the embassy there don't even tell their relatives where they work. They're fearing reprisal against their relatives. They request press credentials so they don't have to announce that they work at the embassy at the checkpoint into the green zone every day.
How can the administration, in the light of that document, continue to say things are getting better when their own ambassador there has signed a memo that says it's simply not true?
WOLFFE: Well, if you talk to people, they'll say, There things are getting better, and things are getting worse. It's not a single track. Clearly, this memo paints a pretty grim picture of life inside the green zone. And it is a sort of strange bubble to live in. It's not surprising that the sectarian tensions of Baghdad would seep into the green zone.
But, you know, anyone, any media organization knows that has a presence in Iraq knows that the people who face the greatest danger are not the correspondents you see on TV or read in the front page of the newspapers. They're actually the local staff. And they face tremendous pressures. It's ironic they're trying to look like they're members of the press, because a lot of folks who work for the media don't want that to be known out there in Baghdad. They try and stay a much lower profile.
OLBERMANN: Mack (ph), within Capitol Hill, we mentioned Senator Hagel's independent streak and what he said during the debate. But in Pennsylvania, where Senator Santorum is down 18 percent in the polls in his bid for reelection, he has apparently declared that WMD has been found in Iraq. Is this desperation? Does he have information the rest of us don't? What's he talking about?
WOLFFE: Well, my understanding is, this is an old thing about traces of Saddam's old biological-chemical weapons, which, incidentally, were destroyed by the United Nations, so - or destroyed by Saddam himself. So, you know, I guess he's hoping that no one's paying attention.
And so much of the election debate about Iraq is based on that premise, that people aren't paying attention. I don't see how that helps the long-term thing here, which is that if the country's going to be committed to Iraq, both Democrats, Republicans, and independents, all of them, have to get behind this war.
OLBERMANN: Sort of like saying George Washington is in Valley Forge, or has been found there.
"Newsweek"'s senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe. As always, sir, great thanks.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The heartbreakingly sad consequences of the war driven home for the families of the two missing GIs found slaughtered this week in Iraq, as it has been for more than 2,500 families before them, the mother of one of those soldiers, Private First Class Kristian Menchaca, issuing a statement in Spanish that translated as, "I am against this war, and I feel very hurt about what has happened to my son."
The parents of the other, Private First Class Thomas Tucker, telling Ann Curry that for their son, the debate over the war was irrelevant. His mission was always clear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEG TUCKER, MOTHER OF MURDERED SOLDIER: (INAUDIBLE).
WES TUCKER, FATHER OF MURDERED SOLDIER: Yes, we are going to miss him.
ANN CURRY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Private First Class Tom Tucker was an all-American kid from central Oregon, who played the piano, fixed old pickups, and loved to ride motorcycles. His daredevil nature led him to work in construction, and eventually, the Army.
WES TUCKER: It was an adrenaline push for him. So it didn't matter if it was the Triangle of Death or whatever they're calling it. If that's where the action was, Tom wanted to be with the action.
And as far as fighting in Iraq, I'm sure that he might have been a little scared. But he took it on as a job, a job that needed to be done.
MEG TUCKER: That was very important to him, that people look up to him and know that he had done something worthwhile.
CURRY: Tom's mother, Meg, has a special keepsake from her son's time in Iraq.
MEG TUCKER: I asked him to leave me a message on the answering machine so I could just hear his voice, you know, if was out in the field and didn't get to call, or, you know, I wanted to just hear his voice.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PFC THOMAS TUCKER, U.S. ARMY: Hey, Mama, it's Tom. I love you. Love you too, Dad. I'm going on a little vacation, and I'll be back before you know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CURRY: One of the last calls from Tom came just 10 days ago.
MEG TUCKER: I said, Well, I want you to get enough sleep, because I worry about you. He said, Mom, I've only been here for five months. These men have been here for a year. He said, I don't mind. I don't mind. I will do my share.
CURRY: While the debate over Iraq continues, for the Tuckers, Tom's mission was clear.
WES TUCKER: We don't understand the big political picture. We understand what's happened. And our son, as far as we're concerned, he has died for the freedom of everybody in the United States. We're very proud of our son.
CURRY: Even though details are still emerging about the brutal nature of Tom's death, Wes Tucker understands that his son is a casualty of war, and is surprisingly understanding towards his son's killers.
WES TUCKER: Our son was there doing a job. The people over there that did this, they are sons, and they're doing their job. I'm not trying to be cold. I loved my son dearly. But they're doing their job.
CURRY: In the depths of unimaginable grief, the Tuckers' most immediate concern is thanking those who've reached out to them.
WES TUCKER: We don't know how to tell these people thank you. This is probably the biggest small town that I have ever lived in.
OLBERMANN: Ann Curry with the Tucker family.
Also here, if Scooter Libby is not hurting for cash, what's the need for having a fundraiser for his legal defense fund? Did somebody sue over that goofy novel?
And somewhere between goofy and bloody, the split between Dan Rather and CBS. Mr. Rather is reserving the right to get his lawyers involved. Now this acrimony, the heat from it is hot enough to peel house paint.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: If political veteran and analyst Lawrence O'Donnell was correct, the money meant nothing, not because, as the legendary Ernie Kovacs observed, the money meant nothing because the money was nothing, but because the recipient is rich enough to cover all his legal expenses anyway, and this was really about money as a symbol of support.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, the $500-a-head fundraiser for Scooter Libby. There's Mark Corallo (ph), Karl Rove's spokesman, looking dashing in a blue shirt, big tie. Libby defense fund organizer Barbara Comstock, ravishing in white. There's former congressman Bob Livingston, who was forced to abandon his Clinton-era bid for speaker of the House after his mistress was outed.
And look, the president's former media adviser Mark MacKinnon, sporting the casual look. Even the former secretary energy, Spencer - secretary of energy, Spencer Abraham, in a natty brown suit. Also have Republican strategist Charlie Black, joking with our cameraman. That hostess Mary Matalin was there to park the cars. She kissed him hello regardless. And the guest of honor, of course, Scooter Libby himself, showing up early.
We sent a crew to this, showing up early and eager as a bear in a Japanese period piece novel.
Joining me now, MSNBC's David Shuster.
Good to talk to you, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To Lawrence O'Donnell's point, that this wasn't about money, it was about protecting the wounded elephant. Did you speak to any of the attendees about why they were there, raising money for a man who seems to have some?
SHUSTER: Yes, I did. I spoke to a couple of them. And one of them, who is a very wealthy, long-time friend of Scooter Libby's, said he was simply helping out a friend who, as he said, is now in the ditch. This particular donor said that he hadn't read any of the pleadings in the case and simply was helping out a friend, and that he pointed out he would not have given money to Scooter Libby if Libby had been charged with theft or greed.
Another donor that I spoke with said, Look, when you take a look at the Republicans who are at this event, this was a good business opportunity, this is a good networking opportunity to talk to some very influential people around town. And, oh, by the way, this person pointed out that he too was also sympathetic to Scooter Libby taking actions to try and protect his boss.
OLBERMANN: So in there is a warning to the next politician who will be charged with theft and/or greed.
Now, they raised - speaking of greed, at least, they raised $100,000 at this event. It's $2 million for the defense fund since he's been indicted. It's a lot of symbolism. Is it practically a difference? Does it, is it a difference between an adequate defense and something, a fund with which one might spend the prosecution into the ground?
SHUSTER: Well, good lawyers cost a lot of good money. And certainly Scooter Libby has some great lawyers working for him on this case. I think what it does, Keith, is, emotionally, it enables Scooter Libby not to have to dig into his own pocket to enable his lawyers to test out every possible legal defense, legal theory, they can come up with.
And that's something they have done in this case. They haven't won most of these motions battles, and that's a testament to just how tough a case Scooter Libby is up against. But again, it enables him to test everything out without having to feel that it's his own pocket where the hole is being burned.
OLBERMANN: They can buy him an umbrella. Where is the case right now? What do we expect to happen next? What's the - where does it stand legally?
SHUSTER: Well, so far, there have been a number of pretrial battles over evidence and documents. And what's happening next is, at the end of the summer, they will start the battles over witnesses, the scope of the testimony from witnesses, what they can and cannot testify to. And then the trial, of course, is in January.
But again, we're sort of in the middle of the lull, if you will. At a certain point, there'll be these battles getting closer to the actual trial in January.
OLBERMANN: Back to the fundraiser, the big burning gossip question. Do we have any idea whether Mary Matalin's husband, (INAUDIBLE) Democratic strategist (INAUDIBLE) James Carville, was banned from the house? We know about the supposed line they have on the floor of the house, past which politics is not supposed to be spoken. What's the deal with that?
SHUSTER: Well, I talked to a friend of James Carville tonight, and he said that Mary Matalin loves to entertain at their home, that James Carville is used to this, and that actually enjoys seeing some of her friends. This particular friend of Carville pointed out that Carville doesn't usually talk politics with this crowd. And if he does, it's in a sort of good-natured ribbing sort of way.
And likewise, Mary Matalin will go to James Carville's events and also try to avoid talking politics. So they certainly have the arrangement worked out. And friends of the couple say that they seem to pull it off pretty easily.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I just, I, either case, in either direction, this is, this is apolitical. In either direction, I'd check them for wires if I saw them at my party.
MSNBC's David Shuster, great thanks, as always.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Ah, if only Mr. Libby had been able to get to Wales in time for this. It was raining money, literally. Traffic and weather together.
And Simon Cowl (ph) and Countdown together, the gun is pointed at my head, and the tape in the machine is being guarded from my evil hands as we speak. The "American Idol" scold has a new show. Thus I have a new reason to both kvetch and retch.
Ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It can be argued that this is the birthday of the New York Yankees. On June 21, 1904, the two-year-old team was still officially called the New York Islanders. But when New York traded for an outfielder named Patsy Daugherty (ph), "The Boston Herald" newspaper ran the headline, "Daugherty, a Yankee." Daugherty had been, of course, a star of the Red Sox world champions the year before, and the Yankees got him for a rookie named Bob Unglaub (ph) and some money, starting a tradition of ripoffs of the Red Sox that has lasted a century plus one year.
On that note, let's play Oddball.
Speaking of money falling out of the sky, checking Oddball weather, we begin in Aberswyth (ph), Wales, where it's partly cloudy with a chance of cha-ching. Witnesses say a man drove past this intersection, yelled, Who wants free money? and then tossed 20,000 pounds, or about $37,000, out his car window.
Welsh closed-circuit TV captured the ensuing mild-mannered collection of the dough by stunned pedestrians and that little Wiener dog there you see on the left. He ate some. The unnamed 40-year-old money-tosser would later be arrested for traffic violations stemming from the incident. (INAUDIBLE) police are asking for the money back. They've also asked for world peace and Jimmy Hoffa.
To Bogota, Colombia, where Cesar Lopez teaches us, when life hands you machine guns, you don't make war, you make escopatadas (ph). Roughly translated, these here are guntars (ph), part AK-47, part guitar. Cesar hoped turning a deadly weapon into a six-string would convey a strong message of peace in a country mired in 40 years of internal conflict. The United Nations has taken note of Cesar's invention, has asked him to display his guntar at their headquarters in New York. While the guntars may help promote peace in Colombia, I think we'd all like to know, can they also promote rock and roll?
Can guntars promote rock and roll? OK, that would be a no.
Finally, to Kankringan (ph), Indonesia, and the lush greens and friendly fairways of the Marapee (ph) Golf Course. You'll love the stunning design, the peaceful atmosphere, the beautiful landscape, including that smoldering volcano. Run for your lives! Talk about a hazard. That's Mount Marapee, and it's just a John Daly tee-shot away from the golf course. Local villages have been evacuated for some time, but this golf course has somehow managed to remain open, in spite the deadly stream of ash and gas that began in April. Somehow I'm sure tee times are still available.
(INAUDIBLE) rumors that that's where CBS offered to hold Dan Rather's farewell party. The smoldering volcano that is his messy departure now escalating into possible legal action.
And the AOL customer who might have thought about a lawsuit. All he wanted was for the customer rep to cancel his service. Why that took 21 minutes.
But first, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Michelle Westzel, the Eldridge, Iowa, woman adopted at age 4 days, has found, after a considerable search, her birth mother. In fact, she already knew her. They had worked together at a hair salon a decade ago.
Number two, parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Bayonne, New Jersey. They are recovering from a moment worthy of "The Omen." Anybody who dipped their fingers in the font of holy water at the church and then made the sign of the cross wound up with these supernatural-looking stains on their clothes. But it had nothing to do with Damien nor Gregory Peck or even Julia Stiles from the remake. Somebody had mixed the holy water with bleach.
And number one, Thomas Robinson. He's the accounting professor from Florida, who had been identified by a DNA research lab as being a direct descendant of the 13th century Mongolian warlord, Genghis Khan. Like us, Mr. Robinson had his doubts, so he had a second lab test his DNA, and it told him he was not related to Genghis Khan. How about James Caan? Shaka Kahn? Connie Chung? Well, whatever, this news does make Professor Robinson an ex-Khan.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: How, as the old sarcastic joke goes, are we supposed to miss you if you won't go away? In yesterday's dueling news releases, the tension hidden beneath the faint niceties fairly leaping off the pages, you probably thought you heard the last of Dan Rather's departure from CBS. But in our third story in the Countdown, not so fast, kemo sabe. The story of the acrimony is coming off faster than an argyle prom dress on a West Texas prom night. The newspaper the "New York Observer" reporting Mr. Rather has not agreed to settle remainder of his contract with the bloodshot eye, thus he will continue to be paid through November. Oh, like that's a bad thing for him.
But more ominously it also says Rather did not agree to either a nondisclosure agreement nor a promise ruling out legal action by him against the network. The "Philadelphia Inquirer" meanwhile, quotes an unnamed CBS correspondent who purportedly said "Dan's bitter, he feels like he's been pushed out the back door. This transition has been absolutely brutal for him. He's tried entire identity to this place, and now this place is saying. We don't need you anymore."
Wait there is more, Rather, "...believed that at the 11th hour, (CBS News President) Sean (McManus) would call and make some kind of deal and he'd stick around."
And it worsen still. At the Promax & BDA TV promotions conference in New York in the afternoon, 88-year-old CBS veteran, Mike Wallace told a panel audience that he expects Rather will tieon sign on with Mark Cuban's HDNet and added Rather's departure was "A sad, bloody story. He is going to find his place. We are going to hear from Dan."
Thank goodness all this is going smoothly. CBS chief executive, Les Moonves, spoke at a media event in the afternoon saying, "I'm sorry it ended the way it did. There was no bigger role for him to play anymore." With Dan Rather hovering like the bloody ghost of Banco, possibly into what was to be the new dawn of the golden age at CBS News, the debut have Katie Couric on or about September 5. To assess the damage, I'm joined by CNBC's Michael Wolff, also of course, as "Vanity Fair" columnist. Thank you for your time, sir.
MICHAEL WOLFF, CNBC: Nice to be here.
OLBERMANN: Why is this going so poorly? Why is there a story about Dan Rather possibly suing CBS?
WOLFF: Well, my gut that is that Dan Rather won't sue CBS, but Dan Rather will continue to hate CBS and in all fairness CBS hates Dan Rather, so this is a blood score for both of them.
OLBERMANN: Is that blood score going to bleed over into this tormented debut of Katie Couric. I mean, we think of it as in the fall, but it's actually, if they stick to that September 5 schedule, it's 76 days from now.
WOLFF: Well, I think one of the reasons they wanted Dan out of here and they pushed Dan out, they made Dan go, let's not mince our words, they blocked the door from him coming in, is that they don't want him near Katie's arrival. This is a new day. CBS begins and entire - CBS News begins an entirely new chapter and they certainly don't want Dan Rather around to remind them of it's storied past.
OLBERMANN: If they had, in some way, maintained him in some composite with "60 Minutes" in some sort of compromise between what he wanted and they wanted would it have been safer? Because it sounds like he will be with this Mark Cuban cable network, a HDNet and could conceivably be on the air and being able to throw his stones from there, as Katie Couric starts.
WOLFF: I don't think that's the way they thought of it. I mean, I think they thought as you just don't want Dan Rather literally in the building. You don't want him as part of CBS News, you don't want to recall what was.
OLBERMANN: But, is it - there's a certain irony to me in this that, and it's bizarre considering how many true veterans remain at CBS who lived through this before. This scenario played out with the same degree of discomfort, if not the same degree of warfare, not only when they game Walter Cronkite the bum's rush in '81 to make room for Dan Rather, but you know, 20 years before that, and when they phased out Edward R. Murrow and he went to the Kennedy Administration. Does nobody learn from history anymore, or was it deliberate?
WOLFF: Well, the answer, of course, is that nobody ever learns, but perhaps the more important point is that these guys weren't around to learn and I think that's an interesting point here is that CBS is a new organization. CBS actually is literally just become a new company. Les Moonves, who has been around at CBS, but he is now in the position of it is literally his company. He wants to take over, he wants to prove that he's in charge. As a matter of fact, that's what do you when you take over, you prove that you're in charge. What better way to prove it than just get rid of the old, usher in the new? Which is another important point that they get rid of the old, and Dan Rather is old and he's not the only old person on "60 Minutes" who's being shown the door.
OLBERMANN: Ironically, of course, Walter Cronkite is still easily remembered and still a presence in the executives - the news executives, anyway, who got rid of him are not.
But let me ask you a final question on the last twist that might be in here, I want to know if you think it is. It's presumed that the final bad note from Dan Rather's career was going to be the Killian Memos, might be overshadowing himself in that area now? Is it a sour note on top of a sour note at the end?
WOLFF: Well, I mean, I think it's a sour note that goes on that's held and continues to play. This is all part of the same affair. You know, I mean, I don't - Dan clearly has not gotten over his resentments about how that affair was handled, how he was treated, the whole entire resolution of that event and of his career itself. I mean, I think that - I think it's very likely that Dan is going to carry a grudge for a good, long time.
OLBERMANN: We'll see if it's grudge that's televised or simply talked about. Michael Wolff, of "Vanity Fair" and CNBC, great thanks for joining us.
WOLFF: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Will Simon Cowell's, "American Idol" magic for FOX also work for NBC? Could I possibly care less about this story?
And headlines and punch lines after an AOL rep refuses a customers request to just cancel my service. Please just cancel my service. Cancel my service. Can't you just cancel my service? It's all caught on tape. Detail ahead, but first your Countdown "Top 3 Sound Bites" of this day.
BARBARA BUSH, FIRST LADY: A typical day at the White House, we get up about 5:30, the president gets up and goes in and gets the coffee and brings it back to me in bed. Very nice of him. And then...
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regard that, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After grabbing Brown's wallet, the knife-wielding thief received an unexpected and unwelcome surprise.
WILLIE BROWN, VET: He said, "I got a knife. Don't move." I said, "what?" He said, "I got a knife."
"OK. You got a knife." Then I shot him. He said, "whoops." I said, "Too late to say whoops now. (INAUDIBLE) whoops to this .38."
BOB REDELL, KNTV (voice-over): In this lovely geared you'll find plenty of peace.
A piece here, a piece there, all victims of Peter Dematto's (ph) carnivorous plants.
PETER DEMATTO (ph), PLANT OWNER: This is a bunch of Venus fry traps.
REDELL: It's not what you think. This is glue the plants secrete to catch their prey.
DEMATTO: Insects get very drunk and intoxicated from drugs that are in the nectar before they topple down into the pincher.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Simon says ahead. If it's Cowell, see the executives jump. I jump off. But if it's AOL's Simon Logo, apparently its customer service agents are savagely beaten if they let a customer cancel his account. The taped call that will have you laughing and throwing things at your TV at the same time. That's next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: And once again the roulette wheel of life turns back to the stories my producers are forcing me cover. Although it is partially your fault because whenever we run this "American Idol" crap, you and hundreds of thousands like you watch. So our No. 2 story in the Countdown, the new "American Idol" spin-off, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... premiers on NBC, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Simon Cowell, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, David Hasselhoff crying, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, Maria Menounos, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!
MARIA MENOUNOS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): TV reality's most lovable bad guy, Simon Cowell.
SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL" JUDGE: It wasn't great.
I really, really, really hated that. Sorry.
MENOUNOS: He's the idol maker. King of America's biggest hit, and quickly becoming the crown prince of all reality with 14 shows either on air or in production throughout the U.K. and America.
His newest project, where he is strictly a backstage presence, "America's Got Talent." A come one, come all, talent free-for-all, that's a cross between "American Idol," "Star Search," and "The Gong Show."
MENOUNOS (on camera): Where did the idea for this show come from?
COWELL: Because I loath rules and regulations, I absolutely hate rules. I thought, well what if we did a show where we just said there are no rules? And that is a show I would watch.
MENOUNOS (voice-over): It's not just the show the public scenes to be interested in, it's Cowell himself. From coast to coast, sea to sea, the question is asked...
COWELL: I would classify that as quite mediocre.
MENOUNOS: Is Simon Cowell in real life like he is on TV?
COWELL: Karaoke, with a capitol K.
MENOUNOS (on camera): How do I put this a nice way? I guess I won't. You are a little snarly (ph)?
COWELL: Your real personality comes out, but it wasn't sort of planned in advance. I mean, I'm quite normal, really.
MENOUNOS: Any hidden talents of your own.
COWELL: I'm being serious. I'm hopeless at everything.
MENOUNOS (voice-over): Everything, that is, except being himself.
COWELL: Once you know that you get bored, then life's OK. Because you just go, right, I can't do this anymore.
MENOUNOS: Taking control has launched his career and put the Brit with the old school pool. Front and center in the eyes of the public and the lens of the paparazzi. Something he feels comes with the territory.
MENOUNOS (on camera): You have a pretty good relationship with the paparazzi.
COWELL: There is a pact you sign, you know, that if you go on TV people are interested in you. They may want to take your picture and stuff like that. So when I hear celebrities bleating about invasion of privacy, and they keep taking my pictures, well, then don't go on TV. Because no one's taking pictures of my accountant? Right?
MENOUNOS (voice-over): But his accountant is plenty busy. Cowell is worth a reportedly $90 million with an entertainment empire spanning two continents, 14 shows, and more that 70 top 30 records.
MENOUNOS (on camera): Were does it all end? You know, where do you put your feet up, at what point?
COWELL: Well, the day it stops being fun is the day you have to stop. I just enjoy the buzz so much. You know, and I love it.
MENOUNOS (voice-over): So much in fact, that he hasn't taken the time to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
MENOUNOS on camera): Did you eat your grapefruit?
COWELL: Do you know, I didn't know they were grapefruit. And I do like grapefruit.
COWELL: Well, let's go and get one.
MENOUNOS: OK. You're exploring.
COWELL: Yeah. My last day here, and I just found the grapefruits.
MENOUNOS (voice-over): It's a rare oversight, but he's not taking his fame and fortune for granted.
MENOUNOS (on camera): You are or have become the ultimate powerbroker. How do you balance all the power?
COWELL: Let me tell you something. There is only one group of people in the world who have power. That is your audience. They control you. You cannot control them.
MENOUNOS (voice-over): And that's OK, Simon says, as long as he's reaping the benefits.
OLBERMANN: An easy segue then into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." Vacation time for Britney Spears and husband, Kevin Federline. A room with a view, the hitch, it's two separate rooms, with two separate views. Even that an understatement if we are to believe "In Touch Weekly." The couple recently enjoyed a getaway on Aqua Island in Miami, Florida where they met Aquaman, but Miss Spears rented two separate houses at cool $250 grand. A friend says, "She did it to get away from Kevin." And it worked. Federline reportedly jet skied and later partied at a South Beach club without her. But Spears wants the appearance of a happy marriage, so she, Federline, and little Sean made nice at the beach. As for Miss Spears recently telling Matt Lauer that her marriage was awesome. An FBI polygraph examiner says that her eyes indicate she might have been lying. The gum chewing didn't help much either. And that make-up and that hair...
And more proof, if any more were needed, that TV companies are nearly out of ideas, RDF USA, which brought us the reality show gem "Wife Swap" is brining us a new comedy featuring Cory Hame and Cory Feldman. In their '80s hayday, the two Cory's adorned the bedrooms of teenaged girls throughout the nation. They starred in such memorable capers as "The Lost Boys," "License to Drive," "Blown Away" before they were blown away and faded into obscurity for the last decade.
But producer Greg Goldman is expecting the show to be a hit, saying the long-standing friendship between the two actors means the chemistry between them, "Just pops off the screen," like much like Mr. Hame a on the left now appears to be popping out of his clothes.
From reunions to an unbelievable split. The headache, the heartache that it took for just one customer to be parted from his AOL account. But first time for Countdown's latest list of nominee for "Worst Person in the World."
The bronze goes an unidentified family from Utah, vacationing in Saskatchewan, Canada. They stopped briefly at a gas station in Rose Town, Saskatchewan so dad could look at the map. A little while later their trip they realize that when they stopped at that gas station, their 16-year-old daughter, thinking they are filling up the tank, got out of the car and went into the gas station's convenience store, which is where they left her when they started up the car a few seconds later. They didn't realize she was missing until they reached the city of Swift Currents, Saskatchewan, 96 miles away.
The silver, Jody Brian Miner (ph) of McCray, Georgia, he found a checkbook at the Dingus McGee bar in States Borough and decided to pay for his drinks by forging one of the checks. The checkbook, of course, belonged to, that's right, the bartender from whom he had bought the drinks.
But our winner, manager Ozzie Guillen of the baseball world champion Chicago winner the White Sox, as part of an ongoing feud with local sports write Jay Mariotti, Guillen told a group of about two dozen reporters at a White Sox game that Mariotti was a piece of blank and a blanking blank. The last blank was a very common disparaging term for gays. It is at least the second time Guillen has described somebody that way in public. Just to ratchet this up a bit, Guillen claims it was not sexual reference, it was about courage, and he's not bigoted. He says, he has gay friends, goes to WNBA games, went to a Madonna concert, and plans to attend the gay games in Chicago. Just keep digging that whole for yourself, Oz.
Ozzie Guillen, today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: It is one of the more searing oxymorons of the modern age on a par with deafening silence of military intelligence: Customer service. Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, two classic examples of it or the lack of it recorded for posterity and distributed for all of us to enjoy. In a moment, a conversation between a man trying to cancel his internet account and the AOL employee who never can say goodbye. But first one customer's homage to his experience with the technician, he says, was sent over by his local Comcast cable company.
OLBERMANN: What happened to the guy's air conditioner?
Then there's the case of blogger, Vincent Ferrari, he wanted to cancel his America on Line account, he says, because he really didn't use it much anymore. And having read horror stories all over the internet about an appalling state at AOL customer service, he said he decided to record the whole exchange and post it on the web. If you've ever spent anytime trying to get through to any customer call center, this experience will sound excruciatingly familiar. Not only did he endure five minutes of automated messages, then 11 minutes on hold, but when he did finally get to a human, this happened.
AOL: Hi, this is John at AOL. How may I help you today?
VINCENT FERRARI, CUSTOMER: I want to cancel my account.
AOL: Sorry to hear that. Let me pull your account here real quick. Can I have your name please?
FERRARI: Vincent Ferrari.
AOL: You've had this account for a long time.
AOL: Use this quite a bit. What was the cause of wanting to turn this off today?
FERRARI: I just don't use it anymore.
AOL: You have a high-speed connection, like the DSL or cable?
AOL: How long have you had that?
AOL: Well, actually I'm showing a lot of usage on this account.
FERRARI: Yeah, well a long time ago, not recently
AOL: OK. I mean is there a problem with the software itself?
FERRARI: No, I don't use it. I don't need it, I don't want it. I just don't need it anymore.
AOL: So, when you use this, I mean use the computer, is that for business or for school?
FERRARI: What difference does it make? I don't I don't want the AOL account anymore. Can we please cancel it?
AOL: Last year with 540 - last month was 545 hours of usage.
FERRARI: I don't know how to make this any clearer. I'm just going to say it one last time. Cancel the account.
AOL: Well, explain to me what's wrong?
FERRARI: I'm not explaining anything to you. Cancel the account.
AOL: Well, what's the matter, man? I mean, we're just - I'm just trying to help here.
FERRARI: You're not helping me...
AOL: I am trying to...
FERRARI: Listen, I called to cancel the account. Helping me would be canceling the account. Please help me and cancel the account.
AOL: No, it wouldn't actually.
FERRARI: Cancel the account.
AOL: Turning off the account...
FERRARI: Cancel the account.
AOL: Would be the worse thing that...
FERRARI: Cancel the account.
AOL: OK, because I'm just trying...
FERRARI: Cancel the account. I don't know how to make this any clearer for you. Cancel the account. When I say cancel the account, I don't mean help me figure out how to keep it. I mean cancel the account.
AOL: Oh, I'm sorry, I don't know what anybody's done to you, Vincent, because all I'm...
FERRARI: Will you please cancel the account.
AOL: All right, someday, when you calm down, you're going to realize all I was trying to do was help you and it was actually in you best interest, so...
FERRARI: Wonderful, OK.
OLBERMANN: Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life. Counting the five minutes negotiating, it took Vincent Ferrari 21 minutes on the phone before his account was finally canceled. AOL has promised to do better, so one of our producer pals at CNBC decided to try to cancel his account, took him 45 minutes. AOL also says it has now fired John, the operator there, and it's apologized to Mr. Ferrari and it's issued this statement. "This was an aberration and a mistake, and we have to manage these incidents down to zero as best we can. That means improving our already strong safeguards in place today, and maintaining rigorous internet and external compliances methods. We can do better - and we will."
You can't even make the statement brief.
That's Countdown for this the 1, 147th day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. This programming advisory about tomorrow night's newscast. We will have a world exclusive, Connie Chung breaks her silence after her unlikely farewell in song in that dress, she exclusively speaks to exclusively us about what the heck she was thinking, exclusively here on count exclusively down. And I'm gong to try to make her cry. Well, at least make her whisper something to me.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "Scarborough Country," Michael Smerconish pitch hitting for Joe, once again. Michael, good evening.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END