'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 7
Guests: Juliette Kayyem, Richard Wolffe, Ryan King
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
OK, this time we want the U.N. to handle it? North Korea's missiles of mass self-destruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's your choice, Kim Jong Il. You got the choice to make.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The gist of the president's remarks, one, Kim Jong Il, two, he has a choice.
Mr. Bush says he chooses to keep pursuing Osama bin Laden, even though somebody shut down the CIA unit dedicated to pursuing Osama bin Laden, while bin Laden's deputy now says, two of last year's London subway bombers trained at al Qaeda camps.
Officials here say they have interrupted a terror plot to wreck tunnels between New Jersey and New York City, plans so far advanced, that we apparently were not sure until after we announced it if the target was the Holland Tunnel for cars, or the PATH tunnels for commuter rail. Well, what's the diff? There were evildoers, and we caught them, whoever they were.
First it was shock, the medical condition, then shock the emotion, then Shock the video genre, and now "Shock" the magazine.
And they're running. The bulls on the streets of Pamplona are always just as youthful as the year before. Only the men in the stampede seem to get older with each new season. Possibly that's because they kill all the old bulls.
And just when you thought politicians were of no practical value, this reminder from Connecticut senatorial hopeful Ned Lamont.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Just let me talk.
This isn't Fox News here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAMONT: This isn't Fox News.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
It is being positioned as the kind of terror attack that New Yorkers have been fearing most ever since 9/11, a plot to bomb some of the heavily traveled tunnels heading into and out of the city, with an ultimate goal of turning Manhattan into a kind of terrorist version of flooded New Orleans after Katrina.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, the FBI today claiming it has disrupted just a scheme, but it has not yet answered a critical question, just how much was threat and how much was scare, considering that the physics are all wrong. Damaged tunnels do not turn into giant hoses, and also the fact the city is 10 feet above sea level, and extensive flooding would be, at worst, unlikely.
In a moment, assessing the actual risk posed by the alleged threat, with counterterrorism analyst Juliette Kayyem, as well as the political implications with our own Richard Wolffe.
But first tonight, we begin with the details, officials confirming that they had broken up a purported plot to attack some of the city's transit tunnels in an attempt to unleash some sort of torrent of water, "The New York Daily News" breaking the story in its Friday editions with the claim that the Holland Tunnel, the most downtown of the vehicle traffic tunnels to New Jersey, was the group's main target, the FBI disputing that report, saying the suspected plotters never specifically mentioned that tunnel in any of the evidence gathered, instead, that the alleged terrorists had their sights on the PATH tunnels, which bring commuter trains into the city from New Jersey, the purported ringleader of this plot, this man, 31-year-old Assem Hammoud, arrested in April at his home in Lebanon, U.S. counterterror sources telling NBC News that eight in all were involved, five of the suspects still at large, some counterterror officials dismissing the purported plot as, quote, "jihadist bravado," but an FBI official in New York calling it the real deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MERSHON, FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: The planning or the plotting for this attack had matured to the point where it appeared the individuals were about to move forward, were about to go to a phase where they would attempt to surveil targets, establish a regimen of attack, and acquire the resources necessary to effectuate the attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Extraordinarily enough, the alleged plot not even mentioned at Friday's presidential news conference in Chicago by either the president or reporters. Instead, the main topic of discussion, how best to deal with the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear program. The word of the day, diplomacy. His thesis, that diplomacy takes time, one member of the media corps challenging Mr. Bush on whether his policy has, in fact, strengthened the government of Kim Jong Il.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I could follow up, you say diplomacy takes time.
BUSH: Yes, it does.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it was four years ago that you labeled North Korea a member of the axis of evil, and since then, it's increased its nuclear arsenal, it's abandoned six-party talks, and now these missile launches.
BUSH: Let me ask you a question. It's increased its, that's an interesting statement. North Korea has increased its nuclear arsenal. Can you verify that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, intelligence sources say - if you can - if you'd like to dispute that, that's fine.
BUSH: No, I'm not going to dispute it. I'm just curious as to (INAUDIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our intelligence sources say that it's increased the number - its nuclear...
BUSH: (INAUDIBLE) dangerous...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... capability.
BUSH: Guy's got potential danger.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's increased its nuclear capabilities, it's abandoned six-party talks, and it's launched these missiles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why shouldn't Americans see the U.S. policy regarding North Korea as a failed one?
BUSH: Because it takes time...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What...
BUSH:... to get things done.
OLBERMANN: Let's call in terrorism expert MSNBC analyst Juliette Kayyem.
Thanks for your time again, Juliette.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, TERRORISM EXPERT: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Not for a moment doubting that people want to blow up tunnels in New York and elsewhere, but aren't the mechanics of that plot all wrong? You put a hole in a tunnel, the tunnel eventually fills up with water, it doesn't projectile-flood the higher ground. Whoever these guys were, does it look like had the slightest idea what they were doing, or they didn't have it?
KAYYEM: I think they had no idea what they were doing. And all we can determine from the FBI press conference then, the New York press conference, is that they talked about this, but the FBI even admitted today there was no surveillance plans, they did not purchase anything, that there were no attack plans.
I mean, they were so - this was basically, they were listening in on phone conversations from these guys, not to suggest that they weren't dangerous, but any good investigation would not have gone public at this time.
So if it's true that these guys were the real deal, shame on "The New York Post" for releasing it, and I hope the administration investigates this leak. And shame on the Department of Homeland Security, which has been telling us for the last two months that New York is no longer a target.
My fear, though, is that we're so far into the cry wolf stage that you nor I nor maybe anyone out in the field can assess the veracity of some of these press conferences, because, you know, here we go again.
OLBERMANN: And it usually is in these, this, these cases, things like "The New York Post," this was "The New York Daily News," so we'll have...
KAYYEM: Excuse me, excuse...
OLBERMANN:... (INAUDIBLE). But don't worry, there's plenty of blame to go around on these. But their original report identified the target as the Holland Tunnel. Then the FBI said, No, we think they meant the Hudson train tubes. As I said, the physics don't add up. The story breaks on the exact anniversary of the London subway bombings. Am I being a wretched cynic again, or is this all very convenient for those people who would benefit from Americans being in a constant state of anxiety or apprehensiveness?
KAYYEM: I think that's right. I mean, I think that the fact that this was on July 7 suggests that whoever knew about this investigation - so let's assume, for the sake of just assuming, that this was a real investigation where people were very concerned. Whoever leaked it, leaked it clearly to play on the fears going on in London and play on our own fears about what could happen to New York.
So shame on them.
And if this was not a real investigation, how this became public, why we get into this breathless frenzy of, Oh, the next attack, like we were two weeks ago in Miami. I mean, we should all, Americans, have to really sort of raise an eyebrow at each of these press conferences, once we look into it, once we investigate what's going on, suggests that maybe these were crazy people, bad people, maybe they were actually not saying what the FBI says that they were saying.
But nonetheless, I mean, there's a, I think it's right to be skeptical at this stage, given both the anniversary and the fact the FBI even admits, you know, they don't even know what tunnel was being attacked.
OLBERMANN: Is there a silver lining in this, that of all the threat news this past week, that it seems to be surreal, if not improbable, the North Korean long-range nuclear missile that lasted 42 seconds, didn't even get off the - get out of the general area, let two - let alone to Alaska, now this plot that sounds like nobody thought it through at all. Should we be at all heartened by what seems to be blissful incompetence?
KAYYEM: I think so, and I hope so. I mean, this is - I think the lesson of this week ought to be that we are, you know, people make mistakes, our enemies make mistakes, and we should not constantly be in crisis mode all the time. And I think what you saw today at the press conference was an administration, a president who has been telling us for five years, under, telling us diplomacy is not good, it doesn't work, undermining international institutions. And then, all of a sudden, coming up to the limits of his own philosophy, right, that now, all of a sudden, we are at a stage where I think we should be concerned, I don't think we are in a crisis with North Korea, we should be concerned, and he's having to reinvigorate the diplomatic mode.
Whether North Korea's able to do it now or next week, or whether these, the stupid terrorists are suddenly replaced with the smart terrorists.
OLBERMANN: Juliette Kayyem of the JFK School of Government at Harvard, who knows the topic, and also is providing a voice of reason for us. As always, great thanks for both.
KAYYEM: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let's look at the other end of this story. For more on the politics, either driving the release of this news or merely dominating its aftermath.
Time now to call in our very own Richard Wolffe, who is also, of course, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Richard, thank you for your time again.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I, (INAUDIBLE), the purported plot to bomb the PATH train tunnels, even though the physics don't work on the subsequent flooding that was intended, the North Korea missiles that don't go off, and the first anniversary of the London bombings, is this a milestone week for an administration that might be looking to keep control of Congress in November by, at least in part, taking advantage of, if not creating, fear?
WOLFFE: Well, we've seen reports of plots before in election years, and warnings about plots. I'd separate out the North Korea side of it, on the one hand, though. North Korea has never been in the administration's control. Clearly, the diplomacy isn't really in their control, either. And so, you know, while there's a lot of election-year politics based around the drumbeat about the - defending the homeland, about the threat of al Qaeda, which is real, but, you know, obviously some of these plots seem farfetched or at least in their very early stages.
You know, the international situation again, operates outside the political context, and I just don't see - if you looked at the questions coming out of the heartland today from Chicago reporters, it wasn't favorable about North Korea or about Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Back to the tunnel news, is it a win-win politically because it underscores the idea of a threat again? And if that doesn't really register with people, at minimum, someone in the administration can now complain about another New York newspaper revealing classified information?
WOLFFE: Well, I don't know. The press conference, they didn't seem too happy about the release of the information. So I'm not sure - you know, it wasn't the administration itself. Obviously, these were law enforcement people who were saying this kind of thing.
My feeling is that there is some sort of threat fatigue, really. Some of these plots seem not as important as the threats that are coming out of the battlefield in Iraq, or about North Korea's missiles. And again, those questions in Chicago really reflected that.
The question is, how threatened do people feel by what's going on with purported things in the homeland, comparing to what they see every day coming out, the reports in Iraq?
OLBERMANN: On this topic of terror, the president in Chicago also addressed the continuing pursuit of Osama bin Laden, and the story, from earlier this week, that the CIA had, sometime back, closed its all-purpose Osama bin Laden-only CIA unit. Let's listen to what the president said, and then I have a question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears that the CIA has disbanded the unit that was hunting him down. Is it no longer important to track him down?
BUSH: Yes. I, it's just an incorrect story. I mean, we got a - we're, we're, we're at, we're, we're, we got a lot of assets looking for Osama bin Laden. So whatever you want to read in that story, it's just not true, period. Absolutely. No ands, ifs, or buts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Richard, it's, the use of that phrase, "It's just an incorrect story," but he's the only one who's disputing it. The CIA didn't dispute that it's been closed down, no one else in authority has done that. What, what, where's the disconnect?
WOLFFE: Well, you know, if, and if you listen to what he said, the follow-up was, we have plenty of assets looking for bin Laden. Those original reports about the closing down of this office said that there were assets still looking for bin Laden. But this dedicated team had been disbanded.
So, you know, it's a situation that is actually fairly familiar to those of us who've had stories shut down by the administration, or had the administration tell us that other stories were wrong. Saying it's an incorrect story is actually the kind of blanket statement that doesn't tell you anything specific. Was the whole story incorrect? Was a part of it incorrect? You know, it opened up as many questions as it answered.
OLBERMANN: The story might have been true, but your grammar was bad, therefore the story was no good. Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent of "Newsweek" magazine, and, of course, an MSNBC analyst. As always, sir, great thanks.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The administration facing another hurdle in its attempt to sell the all-is-well-in-Iraq line to the American public, as our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, reports. The very first part of the investigation into whatever happened at Haditha in Iraq is now complete, and it does not look good.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Keith, a U.S. military investigation has found that a number of Marines, including several officers up the chain of command, either falsified reports or failed to investigate evidence that U.S. Marines may have deliberately killed civilians in Iraq.
A dozen Marines are under investigation in the killings of up to 24 civilians, including women and children, at Haditha last November. The Marine Corps first reported that the civilians were killed by an improvised explosive device. But the military's own photographic evidence strongly suggested that the civilians, including those women and children, were deliberately shot and killed.
Top U.S. military commanders in Iraq must now decide if anyone tried to cover it up, and whether they should face disciplinary action or criminal charges, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon. Great thanks, Jim.
One programming advisory. Try to join us on Monday night's Countdown. My special guest here will be Nixon White House counsel John Dean in his first TV interview about his remarkable new book, "Conservatives Without Conscience," which posits that today's leaders of the right really aren't conservatives in the traditional American political sense, but rather simply authoritarian personalities who have co-opted part of our political spectrum. John Dean, "Conservatives Without Conscience," Monday night here on Countdown.
Also here in this program, a year after the terror bombings in London, and al Qaeda is suddenly claiming a hand in the subway bombings there.
And from the truly shocking to the shocking truth about being shocked, Americans are apparently becoming addicted to the initial shock value of scary, exciting, and disgusting things.
Like this newscast.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The second set of suicide bombers in London last summer failed utterly. As their schemes came apart, they fled. A few even left their explosives and other evidence in the street. Their efforts resulted only in the later mistaken shooting of an innocent electrician by police, who had lost the real suspect when one of their lookouts left his post to go to the bathroom.
But in our fourth story on the Countdown, the first set of suicide bombers are still, a year still after 7/7, wreaking havoc in London. Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, now says two of them were trained at one of al Qaeda's camps.
Solemn remembrances and simmering anger and anxiety, covered for us by our correspondent in London, Dawna Friesen.
DAWNA FRIESEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, there was silence, two minutes to reflect and pay tribute to the 52 who died.
The images from that day are as unforgettable as they are horrific. Four bombs, three on the Underground, one on a bus. All four bombers, caught on security cameras hours before, died in the blast.
Yesterday, the video farewell of one of the bombers surfaced. In it, al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, claims two of the bombers trained in al Qaeda camps.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you have witnessed now is only the beginning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FRIESEN: His thick Yorkshire accent a chilling reminder his hatred was home-grown.
(on camera): Police have, they say, foiled three, possibly four terrorist plots since last July, have 70 active investigations under way, and say they have at least 1,200 suspicious people under surveillance.
(voice-over): But one year later, no one has been arrested in connection with July 7.
CRISPIN BLACK, FORMER BRITISH INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: A rough rule of thumb is that for each bomber, you have three or four helpers. And the worrying thing about the 7/7 plot is, we haven't got any of those people.
FRIESEN: There have been mistakes, botched raids, an innocent man killed, all leading to a dwindling of trust in the police.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) from the British police shooting people at left, right, and center, OK...
FRIESEN: In this Leeds suburb, where three of the four bombers lived, there's a feeling the community is under siege.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are they going to raid my house next? What happens if I run away, will they shoot me?
FRIESEN: So is Britain any safer today?
PETER CLARKE, METROPOLITAN POLICE: I think the only sensible conclusion to draw is that the threat in London and in the rest of the United Kingdom is very real.
FRIESEN: Apart from a few visible signs of tighter security, daily life has changed little.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The world has to continue. Life has to continue.
FRIESEN: Never forgetting, but not giving in to fear.
Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: Also here, a far less pressing crime under way on the streets of Indiana. Yes, it's a bronco chase down a freeway.
And it's not a crime in Pamplona, but maybe it should be, dozens of unreasoning, irrational animals running through the streets, to say nothing of all those bulls.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: July 7, 1987, the anniversary of the day Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North began his testimony before the joint House-Senate Iran-contra hearings. Wow, 19 years, long time to go without telling the truth at all.
Let's play Oddball.
And speaking of equine rear ends, there's two of them now. It's the Countdown horse chase of the week, and you are looking live at dashcam video from the Boone County, Indiana, Police Department. Clearly, this part of the video has been played so many times back on the station house VCR that the tape is almost worn out.
Clean those heads.
Luckily, Oddball was able to rescue the video and preserve it for the ages. The two horses, which had escaped from a travel trailer and hoofed it down I-65, showing reckless disregard for the rules of the road, refusing to pull over until one of them is sideswiped by a police cruiser. Cops tied the two ne'er-do-well nags to the guardrail, and soon enough, they were back on their way to a place where they won't be causing anyone any trouble, the glue factory. No, no, the Big House.
It's a farmhouse, really. Never mind.
To Bopal, India, where for once we're not talking about industrial gas nightmares. No, once again it's just World Cup fever, inspiring people to attempt to make the sport of soccer more interesting. And by George, I think these guys have done it.
It's still the world's game, only with Mad Max-style torso injuries. See, in motorcycle soccer, when you see a player rolling around on the field grabbing his knee, he's not faking it to get a penalty against the other team. It's the fact that he no longer has a knee.
If you can play soccer on vehicles, why shouldn't you be able to play Shakespeare in a parking lot? And why shouldn't authentic, self-proclaimed rednecks sing to you for a price? Meet the masters of both Shakespeare and Larry the Cable Guy-isms in "Keith Olbermann's America."
But now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Allen Heckard of Portland, Oregon. He is suing basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Nike and Nike founder Phil Knight for $832 million. Mr. Heckard says he's been defamed, permanently injured, and has suffered emotional pain and suffering because he looks like Michael Jordan. So he's suing, instead of, say, getting a job as a celebrity lookalike, instead of letting the hair on his shaved head grow out, instead of wearing some other brand of tennis shoes besides, you got it, Air Jordans?
Number two, Ellerly Hines of Aberdeen, Ohio. He could have been sent to jail for breaking into a gas station there. Instead, the judge said, Stand outside the station for five hours holding this sign, and we'll call it even. The sign read, "I robbed Citgo and got caught within three hours of the crime." The judge did not order Citgo to put up a sign saying, Our industry is overcharging you every day, and we ain't never got caught.
Number one, Mai Phat Sau Ng Hin Ruoi of Hanoi in Vietnam. Now 19 years old, he has managed to have his name changed legally. His father named him that after the government fined the dad 6,500 dong for having had too many children. Mai Phat Sau Ng Hin Ruoi means "fined 6,500." The problem for the young man, Mai Phat has changed his name to something that in English sounds wonderful, Golden Dragon, but which, in Vietnamese, is, Mai Huang Long. Mai Huang Long.
OLBERMANN: You'll understand the premise, say nothing of the pun, I
have to explain Joe Papp to you. He started a Shakespeare workshop in New
York in 1954 and with in three years the city of New York gave him
permission to present the plays of the Bard on a stage in the city's fabled
Central Park. Shakespeare in the Park, an original outrageous idea to make
the plays truly accessible. Later topped by Shakespeare in the Parking lot
it's a pun and all part of our third story in another edition of that gendering down the hallway that is this nation and falling down the stairs hitting a different bone on each step and each landing, the segment we call "Keith Olbermann's America" this time with Shakespeare in a Parking Lot. If you don't like Shakespeare, coming up there's also the self-proclaimed, singing rednecks Erick, Oklahoma.
But first to Countdown's senior asphalt acting analyst, Monica Novotny.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, during the summer in New York City, people stand on line for hours hoping to by tickets to see a performance of Shakespeare in the Park and as is typical in the city, there are usually too many takers, not enough tickets. But we found the alternate alternative where you can get your Bard on and find a parking spot all at the same time.
SHANNON MARSHALL, ACTOR: It's meant to change and influence lives and people and what better way than to bring it right here, tight here in the parking lot.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): It turns out all the world is a stage, even when it's a parking lot. For 14 years now, summer in New York City's lower east side means the latest production of Shakespeare in the Park-ing Lot.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've set up the perfect place to do it.
NOVOTNY: With permission from the Department of Transportation, the Drilling Company, a local theater group takes over this municipal lot Thursday through Saturday nights.
HILTON CLANCY, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: At night, a lot of the cars move and there's all this space that was being unused. So, as far as New York actors were concerned, that was an opportunity.
NOVOTNY: A chance to do it all in public. Actors retrieve their sets from the basement of a neighborhood bar, set the stage, apply makeup, even arrange the cheap seats and they're all cheap, because tickets are free, as are the modern amenities.
CLANCY: We've got more dressing rooms than most theaters have, because we've got a dressing room over here at McDonald's, we've got a dressing room here at Kentucky Fried Chicken and the newest dressing room that we have is one over here at Starbucks.
NOVOTNY: The audience, which they say can top 100 on good night, includes passersby and neighborhood fans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You really feel you're part of the production.
NOVOTNY: Tonight's performance, "The Tempest."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My father was the Duke of Milan and a prince of power.
NOVOTNY (on camera): One thing you don't have to worry about here is turning off your cell phone. Because unlike in the more traditional theater, that's not a rule. The actors here say in a city this loud, cell phones ringing are the last thing they need to worry about.
JAMES DAVIES, ACTOR: We have garbage trucks come by sometimes. We have ambulance sirens, we have kids riding their bikes and riding their skate boards and it's a challenge.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): One the audience doesn't seem to mind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ambiance, a very different ambiance, but it's ambiance.
NOVOTNY: And while the play's the thing, it is impossible to forget it is a public lot, which could mean parking tickets or the unkindest cut of all.
CLANCY: There was a guy here who was actually attacking another guy with a knife.
NOVOTNY: But all's well that end's well, even here.
DAVIES: It is a little nuts, but you can remember that the reason why we're here, we're here to tell a story, we're here entertain. It's not all that much different from a Broadway show.
NOVOTNY: Not that much different. There are several theater groups throughout the country who also perform or have in the past performed their own versions of Shakespeare in Parking Lots. So, if you're interested, you just might be able to find a group near you. And as we pointed out, the performances in New York City are free but they do pass a hat at the end of each evening and they say they can get about $100 on a good night. Obviously they're doing it for the love it not for the money - Keith.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, stabbing at the plays, usually reserved for the newspaper critics, Monica, thanks for...
NOVOTNY: That's actually a true story.
OLBERMANN: I'm sure it is. Thanks very much. From a parking lot of New York's lower east side to a road less traveled, literally, the great open lanes of Route 66 in one of the many towns along it, that has been nearly deserted. There in a little brick building about half way between Oklahoma City and Amarillo or if you prefer, just about 35 miles west of Elk City, you'll find the Russell's, they are rednecks - singing rednecks.
Don't look at me like that, that's what they call themselves. And once
again it's Galen Culver of our affiliate, KFOR, who has found these people
somewhere and brought them home, back into the loving, yodeling arms of
"Keith Olbermann's America"
GALEN CULVER, KFOR REPORTER (voice-over): When the south wind blows along the 100th meridian, it brings more than just dust from Mexico. All sorts of things blow right up Main Street in the town of Erick to the front door of the oldest brick building around, where inside Harley and Annabelle Russell are almost always waiting.
HARLEY RUSSELL, SINGING REDNECK: How's that sound out there in TV land? Is this a great state or what?
(SINGING) The shadow of your smile.
CULVER: Born in Erick and blown away by the wind, Harley Russell landed back home years ago.
H. RUSSELL: Well color of my dreams.
CULVER: He bought the grocery store and tried all kinds of businesses inside. Harley was stuck for something when the winds blew Annabelle his wife his way in 1987.
H. RUSSELL: A couple of ladies walked in and this was one of them and I stood up and I said ladies, can I help you and this old gal says, "Well, we just want to get off the freeway and stretch our legs." I says "Baby, you came to the right place."
(SINGING): On the wings of a snow white dove.
CULVER: Years later a tour bus from England blue in while Harley and Annabelle were singing. After that, more and more people began stopping in here for a song or a joke.
H. RUSSELL: We're loud. If you don't think so, ask anybody in town.
They can hear us all the way out to the cemetery.
CULVER: The Russell's became the Mediocre Music Makers. Erick suddenly became the Redneck Capital of the World to thousands of Route 66 travelers.
H. RUSSELL: I'll tell you what, people - I can't tell you how good people treat us. It's I never been treated so good in my life and I'm 58-year-old.
(SINGING): A wistful little star.
CULVER: All winter long, the Russell's have been practicing and waiting for the south wind to bring the first buses in. They come from all over Europe and the U.S. now, to see what must be in their mind's eye, authentic Americana. Dig deeper than the low-brow comedy and it's here, all right. Two people genuinely happy to have the wind blow them visitors from all over the globe.
(SINGING): The shadow of your smile.
CULVER: For Countdown, I'm Galen Culver in "Keith Olbermann's America."
OLBERMANN: And proud of it. From old school America to new school America, the weird videos on the internet feeding a nationwide obsession with shock value. They've now got a magazine about it.
Talk about desperate housewives, the ladies of "The View" replace Star Jones at least for now, with an almost "Idol" and a former teen soap star. Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's "Top 3 Sound Bites" of this day.
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, CONNECTICUT: And I'm going to do it with people in both parties.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thirty seconds Mr. Lamont.
NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATE CANDIDATE: You did it with people in the Republican Party who supported that energy bill there wasn't one other New England Democrat that supported that bill.
LIEBERMAN: Did you know those two.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hold on.
LAMONT: Let me talk, this isn't FOX News, sir.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans, moving from India . You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin Doughnuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. To -
I'm not joking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is (INAUDIBLE) ice cream.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's milk, sugar all the usual stuff, but add two hot sauces, plus habanjaro (ph), chili, and (INAUDIBLE) pepper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to sign a waiver.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a waiver.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow. It hurts all the way down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not bad. No, it's good. I like hot food, so that's good. No, I'm good. No, I'm good. Woo, that's warm. (INAUDIBLE).
OLBERMANN: The shocking story behind America's shocking obsession with being shocked. It'll be a shocker. And the annual festival of stupidity in Pamplona: The bipeds versus the bulls. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Crossing the line, it's something we try to avoid here on Countdown. When it comes to using pictures or stories that clearly cross into the realm of bad taste, we try and stay away. Now, we'll take you right up to the line, we'll hold your hand and peek over the precipice of poor judgment. Sometimes we'll erase the line with our foot while you're not looking. Thus, will you see this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, ga, ya ya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Numero cinco. And you'll see this.
And of course, you will see this.
But in our No. 2 story, that's as far as we'll go. You'll want a more, and a lot of Americans apparently do, shocking look, at things. There is a magazine called "Shock" where they will show you just about everything elsewhere others will not. Our correspondent, Peter Alexander, is shocked, shocked to find that shocking is going on here there.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the battle for attention, going over the top rarely fails. Now, at the top of the heap, or maybe the bottom, depending on how you look at it, "Shock" magazine. For a price of a couple of candle bars, "Shock" offers you a different kind of rush.
MIKE HAMMER, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF "SHOCK" MAGAZINE: And it gives you an uncensored viewpoint of the world around us. It's meant to be a mirror or a reflection of that world and sometimes that mirror isn't the prettiest thing in the world to look at.
ALEXANDER: "Shock" makes the tabloids look tame. Some call its images gutsy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But to me this is informative.
ALEXANDER: Others, grotesque.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my goodness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ewww!
ALEXANDER: Many of them are too graphic for TV.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's really disturbing.
ALEXANDER: But shock value has been a nearly fool proof formula for success. On the big screen, the "Saw" series raked in $140 million. And on-line, YouTube fans watch 70 million videos each day.
(on camera): For some people it's not enough to see it, they have to be a part of the shock. Just consider one of the most popular attractions here at universal studios, Hollywood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is crazy goings on. Well, that is just fun
and games "Fear Factor" style
ALEXANDER (voice-over): These contestants are actually park guests who volunteered to get into the action.
(on camera): Why did you want to shock others?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just something I would never do.
Something out of the norm for me, so I jumped on board and went with it.
It was fun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are bull parts.
ALEXANDER (voice-over): Why the fascination, the answer may be in your brain.
DR. ERNEST NOBLE, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY: You look at these horrible pictures, you get excited - a thrill. Maybe it's a negative thrill, but still a thrill. And that's the initial kind of thing that you get, the shock value.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shocking.
ALEXANDER: As for the magazine, highbrow critics may dismiss it as shock and awful, but its publishers hope to take the low road all the way to the bank.
Peter Alexander, NBC News, Hollywood.
OLBERMANN: And thus an appropriately shocking segue into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs," And the bevy of guest hosts for Star Jones' seat on "The View" including the singer Brandy, who as already filled in for the recently ousted Ms. Jones, as well as Kelly Monaco from "Dancing with the Stars." Star, no pun intended. But rumors about other guest hosts include "American Idol" runner-up, Katherine McPhee. The celebrity website Tmz.com reporting that one, she'll have to get over her bought of laryngitis and bronchitis, first, but she may have a shot at it. Shannon Dougherty of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame, also reportedly in line. All guest hosts will rotate through by early August, but the real tryouts to replace Ms. Jones are not scheduled until Rosie O'Donnell as joined the show in September since it is a good guess that Ms. O'Donnell will have something to say about it.
I'm hoping for Craig Kilborn. Fingers crossed, Craigers.
Meantime Tom Cruise has turned up in this year's Emmy nominations, however indirectly. The episode of "South Park" that pokes fun at Cruse, nominated for best animated program. Cruise was reportedly so angry about the "South Park" installment, he demanded that the Comedy Central network not air it again in reruns. The episode called "Trapped in the Closet" skewers Scientology and makes implications about Cruise's sexual orientation, besides which, it was not as funny as the Emmy nominated episode of "Family Guy."
Other irreverent homages to Cruise continue. Last week a minor league baseball team in California, the Lake Ellsinore Storm put on a so-called salute to the actor in honor of the silent birth of his girlfriend, Katie Holmes, the team had a silent inning, no batters announced, no music played, no baby showed up. And they also gave away this, the Tom Cruise bobble couch, commemorating his singular performance on Oprah.
Speaking of poor planning, it's the biggest annual celebration of idiocy in the world. Running with the bulls in Pamplona. Go bulls! That's ahead, but time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."
The Bronze goes to Sean Hannity of FOX News. Wednesday he complained about the lack of media coverage of, and the president's silence about, the Hoekstra Santorum weapons of minor discomfort, the discovery of 15-year-old deteriorated mustard gas shells in Iraq. "Why is nobody paying attention to what was the biggest story in the leadup to the war," he asked. Possibly because Mr. Bush's former head of weapons inspection said those were less deadly than the bug spray you have in your garage. Sean has always wanted to be on this list. Sean, I hope you're happy now.
Our runner-up, John Carr, of County Donegal in Ireland fined 102 bucks and assessed two points on his license for speeding, for doing 43 in a 30 mile-an-hour zone. Doesn't seem like a big deal until you learn that Mr. Carr was driving the hearse in a funeral. Hey, buddy, exactly who was in a hurry?
But the winner, William Allen Cunningham of Atlanta. This past January, his two kids, a three-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl had to go to the emergency room with food poisoning, then they had to go back a second time, then a third. Police have now charged Mr. Cunningham with deliberately feeding them soup he had mixed with antidepressant drugs as part of a scheme to sue the Campbell Soup Company. Usually when I say this, every show, I don't mean it. This time I do.
William Allen Cunningham of Atlanta, today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: As ever, it was the "Monty Python" boys who summed it up perfectly. A newscaster, played by Eric Idle reads the lines with dramatic seriousness.
"Many people are increasingly worried about bullfighting. They say it's not only cruel, vicious, and immoral, but also blatantly unfair. The bull is heavy, violent, abusive and aggressive with four legs and great sharp teeth, whereas the bullfighter is only a small Spaniard. Given this basic inequality, what can be done to make bullfighting safer? We asked Brigadier Arthur Farquar-Smith, chairman of the Well Basically Club.
And it's John Cleese in the Brigadier's outfit. He starts by saying, "Well, basically" and then explains, what we must do now is use devices like "radar to locate the bull and SAM missiles fired from underground silos, to knock the bull over. Then I would send in Scottish boys with air cover to provide a diversion for the bull, whilst the navy came in round the back and finished him off."
Or, in our No. 1 story in the Countdown, we can just stick to the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. The newscast's policy has been for the last four years to root for the bulls. See, the human-like bipeds volunteer for this, the bulls who do not get asked, get a few scant minutes to try and poke a few people before they are led to merciless slaughter. Members of our species are often gored, occasionally suffer sever injuries, while every bull always die. And thus, do we root for the bulls.
In a moment, we'll be joined by a veteran of the run from Pamplona, but first a recap of day one's action. The bulls came out of the gates with a head of steam at the 22nd mark proving the inconvenient truth to mankind, these bulls had gore on their minds and they weren't thinking of global warming.
At the curve known to the cognoscente as Tenderloin Corner, where the bulls often struggle to pivot on the slick cobblestone, this day was no different. Bipeds and bovine piled up alike, as the huge beasts scrambled to four hooves. It was a clean race after that, the finish line being the famed Plaza de Toros, that were the day's most severe injury would occur. A 31-year-old man from New York tossed boy a cow during a mock bullfight, suffering paralysis from the waist down, a sad turn of events, that obviously no one is happy about it. But of course all bulls still wound up going to heaven.
On the phone with us from Pamplona Spain, Ryan King who runs a travel company called Spyns, joins us now. He was at day one of the running, didn't take part, but has several times in the past and will again later in this session.
Mr. King, thank you for your time.
RYAN KING, SPYNS: Thank you for having me. I'm a great fan of the show.
OLBERMANN: Thank you. I know you didn't run on this first day, but based on your past experiences can you give us a word picture? I mean why is this - is this like trying to dodge loose railroad box cars or what is it like?
KING: What I explain to my clients is it's like running the New York marathon with cow running through the middle. So, it's their decision as to whether they want to run or walk. There is a certain element of danger.
OLBERMANN: I've mentioned this several times. We don't necessarily root against the people who do the running, but we root for the bulls here, it seems like the odds are stacked against them. Is there any sympathy for them on the part of the runners or the spectators?
KING: Absolutely. The people who are watching from the stands, from the safety are actually rooting for the bulls, they like it when it gets a little bit exciting, say when one bull turns back, but it is safe. They do quite a lot to prepare the ground so that no one's going to slip or fall. They check beforehand, they get any people who are sort of overly intoxicated or running with cameras so they prevent them from running. So, there's a safety element to it. But once in the ring, it's everyone is rooting completely for the bulls and when the matador is either injured or where there's a close call, there's yells of ole coming up from everybody.
OLBERMANN: This year we had someone from New Zealand get a goring in the thigh, someone from Pamplona was trampled. In the times you've run, have you ever been injury and what kind of injuries have you seen when you've been out there?
KING: No, none. I mean, you certainly hear - it's almost impossible
to see anything while you're running and so - you can only see two people
in front, two people behind, and then all of a sudden there's a bull behind
you. And so, it's difficult to see exactly what's going on. And it's just
you're running on pure adrenaline and panic. But, today was one of the busiest days. At the beginning of the festival, there were 3,500 people running on a half mile course that at its widest is about 25 feet. So, you can imagine that injuries that are more or less inevitable and it's something that the people from Pamplona expect.
OLBERMANN: Is there an opening day kind of extra quality or quantity to this? Is it like all the wannabes show up today and then the crowd thins out as the thing moves along?
KING: Definitely. As it festival progresses, it gets increasingly more Spanish, so more locals will attend. The first two days, today's run and then tomorrow's run will be mostly crazy tourists like myself. And I will be running in probably in about three hours from now, I'll be getting up to go down and prepare for the run.
OLBERMANN: Of course getting up in the middle of the night to do a phone interview back to the United States is the perfect preparation to put your life on - at risk on the streets of Pamplona.
KING: Well, I will do anything to put my life on the line for the news and for your viewers.
OLBERMANN: That's - all right. Explain, finally, this injury that we had, this awful paralyzing of the New Yorker, not in the actual running. Cows in the bullring afterward. Do you know what that was about?
KING: Well, they do this everyday and it's called the veania (ph) and they'll let one small bull, that's about, you know, sort of half the size of the ones that are actually in the run. And it's more like a rodeo-type, where people are running around the arena. It's supposed to be fun, they file down the horns so that it's a little bit less dangerous. And from what I understand, and this is sort of unconfirmed, is that it was just a freak accident where the bull reared it its head and then tossed this man and unfortunately he's to have sustained pretty serious injuries. And everyone on this side is definitely have thoughts go out to both him and his family.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. The fall will get you if the bull does not. Ryan King, connoisseur of the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona, joining us by phone from that fabled town. Good luck.
KING: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this, the 1,163rd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
Just a reminder, join us again please at Midnight Eastern Time, 11:00 Central, 9:00 Pacific for the late edition of Countdown. Until then, a special presentation of "Lockup: Inside New Mexico."
I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END