'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 16
Guest: Lawrence Schiller, Mo Rocca
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
One hundred and thirty-one days short of exactly a decade since the murder, since the life of a Colorado 6-year-old ended, since the life of her family changed beyond recognition, since the idea of what is news and how much transformed beyond repair.
There has been an arrest in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, MSNBC's exclusive report, a suspect detained in Thailand, our Denver affiliate's exclusive report, the suspect confessing to elements of the crime that have not been public knowledge. A further report, the suspect is or was a second-grade teacher, a convicted sex offender.
Our exclusive interview with the Ramsey family attorney, Lin Wood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIN WOOD, RAMSEY FAMILY ATTORNEY (on phone): I regret that I'm not able to hug Patsy Ramsey's neck today, but I take some real comfort in the fact that she knew that an arrest was close.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The extraordinary developments, after so much time, so much time that Patsy Ramsey died 54 days ago. But her husband says she was told about the suspect before she passed away.
The details from the reporter who broke the story, Dan Abrams, the perspective, how could they have finally found a suspect after so long, and about the family, how could so many have been so wrong, from investigative author and Ramsey murder expert Lawrence Schiller.
The continuing nexus of politics and terror. Former president Clinton says his successor may be, quote, "trying to play politics with this London airport thing."
And much-needed comic relief tonight. Which can most Americans most easily name, two members of the Supreme Court, or two members of Snow White seven dwarves? And claiming they overlap on Sneeze and Grumpy is cheating.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Good evening from Los Angeles.
Ultimately, this story does not matter. It cannot compare in importance to a sitting president accused by the previous president of trying to play politics with terror, specifically, the arrests in the purported liquid bomb plot. It does not even overshadow a would-be future president backing away from his own apology for an apparent ethnic slur by blaming media misinterpretation.
But in our fifth story on the Countdown, the news nonetheless resonates in a way that rivals even those stories, to which we will devote full and serious coverage presently.
But we begin with these extraordinary words from the coldest item in the cold-case file. There has been an arrest in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, federal officials naming the suspect as 42-year-old John Mark Karr, Karr reportedly a second-grade school teacher, also a convicted sex offender.
According to the Ramsey family attorney, Karr is originally from Conyers (ph), Georgia, near where the Ramseys lived before and after their time in Colorado. And when he was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, on unrelated sex charges, he also reportedly knew details about JonBenet Ramsey's murder that had not been publicly released.
The 6-year-old's beaten and strangled body was found by her father the day after Christmas in the basement of her home in Boulder, Colorado, nearly 10 years ago. Four months after their daughter's death, the then-district attorney there named her parents as prime suspects of the investigation.
The mother, Patsy Ramsey, lost her own life to ovarian cancer this past June. But her husband, John Ramsey, says she knew about the suspect before she died. He told the media in a written release that, quote, "Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case, and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development, after 10 years almost after - 10 years after our daughter's murder."
But Ramsey also told our Denver affiliate, KUSA, that he will not be sharing any more information on the case.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RAMSEY (on phone): Based on what happened to us, I don't think it's proper that we speculate or discuss the case. I think it's important that justice be allowed to run its course and do its job, and so I really won't speculate or discuss what I know or don't know.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The suspect, John Mark Karr, slated to return to the United States accompanied by an investigator from Boulder, Colorado, sometime over the next two days, perhaps. The district attorney's office says it will release more details in a news conference tomorrow.
This extraordinary story was broken early today by Dan Abrams, MSNBC's general manager and chief legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.
Dan, good evening. What's the latest?
DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the latest is that this arrest has been made. I mean, it is somewhat extraordinary, as you point out, to think that 10 years after this case was thoroughly examined, after, years after a grand jury thoroughly investigated the case, years after the public and the former detectives who went public, and a number of people who knew every detail about this case, described everything they knew, that finally there has been an arrest.
OLBERMANN: Dan, we'll be hearing, obviously, more about the family later. You spoke with John Ramsey's attorney earlier today. We'll be listening to that later. He told you that Mrs. Ramsey knew about the imminent arrest before her death. Did you get any indication, had the Ramseys been involved in the investigation into these developments that we learned of today?
ABRAMS: The Ramseys have been very involved in this investigation since day one. Initially, people were saying, Oh, they're involved in the investigation, because they're scared. People kept using that term "the umbrella of suspicion" that the Ramseys were under. That was the words of the investigators at the time.
But since then, with the help of their new attorney, Lin Wood - and I say new, meaning he was new as of about seven years ago, but he was hired three years or so after the murder took place - he went on the aggressive, on the attack, going after the authorities, going after the DA. And you had a new DA take over some years ago, who I think really did take this case on a different track.
OLBERMANN: When did that happen? And when specifically did the track really stop being directed at the Ramseys? Is there a way to pinpoint that?
ABRAMS: I think it's when this new DA took over a few years ago. You heard, suddenly, the DA announce, when she took over, that they were looking in other directions. You saw developments which seemed to indicate that it wasn't the Ramseys that they were looking at. And you saw a close relationship between the Ramseys and that DA, between the Ramseys' attorney and that DA. That was something very different than we'd seen up to that point.
From very early on in this investigation, the authorities focused on John and Patsy Ramsey as the suspects in this case, period.
Now, the Boulder police was then removed from the case. The DA took over the case. But the DA still had a lot of pressure from the Boulder police, who believed that likely Patsy Ramsey was involved.
When all of that became history, and then you have a new DA, and you have a new police department, and new people in it, you started to see more and more other leads investigated, and leading up to this point.
OLBERMANN: From DA to DNA, the case is nearly 10 years old. How surprising is the idea that a prosecution would begin now? How hard legally is it going to be able to do - be to prove anything after that length of time?
ABRAMS: It depends. It depends on what kind of DNA evidence they have. We have long known that there was DNA found in JonBenet Ramsey's underwear that up to this point had not been linked to anyone, meaning not linked to John Ramsey, not linked to Patsy Ramsey, not somehow connected to any of the police officers who were in the home, or anyone else who knew the Ramseys.
And that's why the family and those who support them have been so convinced there was an intruder. So we're going to have to see if there is any sort of DNA match. Exactly what did this person know that the public didn't know? I have to tell you, I find it hard to believe that there were many details of this case that were not publicly revealed. So we'll have to see.
But there is no question that this is someone that they have been focused on for the last few months. And, remember, that it has been for a long time that the Ramseys have been saying, Look at the convicted sex offenders, and now a convicted sex offender's been arrested.
OLBERMANN: Those details about those details, we may get some of them tomorrow. If not, I'm sure this story will play out in the weeks and months to come once again.
MSNBC's Dan Abrams. Dan, great reporting, great thanks.
ABRAMS: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This arrest is nearly a decade in the making, 10 years when everyone from John and Patsy Ramsey to their young son to a local photographer were suspects, officially or otherwise, in the little girl's murder.
Lawrence Schiller, who took a detailed look at the circumstances surrounding the murder in his book "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town" joins us tonight.
Mr. Schiller, good evening.
LAWRENCE SCHILLER, AUTHOR, "PERFECT MURDER, PERFECT TOWN": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: You have been following this case for at least six years.
Your reaction to the news of a suspect?
SCHILLER: Well, you know, we have a suspect. The irony here is that this man was arrested in Bangkok, which many people say is the sex capital of the world. The irony also is that the foreign DNA in JonBenet's pants were from underpants that were manufactured in Thailand. Now, those are coincidences. Maybe they have something to do with the case or not.
But we knew something was happening the day that Patsy Ramsey was buried, because Mary Keenan (ph), an elected district attorney, Boulder, Colorado, was at her funeral. And I believe that that day, we all commented on, Why is Mary Keenan here? Why is she paying this type of respect? I think it's because that day, Mary Keenan knew that an arrest was imminent.
We know that ICE, the immigration criminal enforcement division, was on this case. We know that people have been involved. And more than anybody else, Lou (ph) Smith, who resigned from the Boulder DA's office some nine and a half years ago, has been saying since day one, Look at the sex offenders. I interviewed him last November, and he said, The list is getting shorter. And very soon, we will have a short list.
We must also keep in mind that we should not convict the gentleman that has been arrested. We have to go through due process. We don't want to lynch him in the court of public opinion, like the Ramseys were lynched 10 years ago by the Boulder Police Department by leaking evidence. We have to be careful, one step at a time.
We have a suspect. He's an alleged killer. He has supposedly confessed to facts only known to the killer. That could be what the murder weapon was, where the actual death took place, why the garrote was made, how it was made. There are many, many facts, there are many, many unanswered questions, not because somebody has been withholding them. It is natural to have unanswered questions. And he may be filling in the pieces of the puzzle that have been missing for so long.
But yet, supposedly a confession. We have to see if it holds up in court. We have to see what his defense is. We have to see what happens, step at a time.
OLBERMANN: Does the geography actually play into this, is that also conceivably a coincidence that he was from Georgia and the Ramseys lived there at several times?
SCHILLER: Well, you don't know. I mean, JonBenet was involved in pageants in Georgia and around the country. Sex offenders, from what I have learned in my years of being a journalist and a reporter, follow certain people. And then they give gifts to these people. They build a relationship with the people before they move in, whether it's a child, an adult, or whoever.
So we don't know how this person chose this victim, if, in fact, he is the person who committed the crime.
You know, we have all said that if this was a murder from outside of that house, it had to be somebody that was lying in wait, who became familiar with the home, because it was a very complex home. Maybe this gentleman was able to fill in certain pieces of that puzzle, you know, why the pen was used, why the paper was used, how the handwriting seems to be similar to Patsy Ramsey's. Did he study a shopping list that was found there that Patsy had written?
You know, when you say there are facts being revealed now that the public doesn't know, that doesn't mean the police even knew the answer, or even knew what the questions were. It may be that new information is coming to light that finishes a puzzle. And if so, that will be presented to a jury, and a decision will be made in court. Unless there is, of course, a plea-bargain and a conviction.
OLBERMANN: Lawrence Schiller, please stand by with us. We want you to help us analyze the second, almost equally ominous aspect to the startling news today, namely, the hell, private and public, of John and Patsy Ramsey, from that umbrella of suspicion to the news today and the decade in between.
Also, MSNBC's exclusive interview with the Ramsey attorney, Lin Wood.
And the other news of an extraordinary day, the nexus of politics and terror, a warning for President Bush and the GOP about politicizing the latest arrests in the London purported bombing case. That warning from none other than former president Bill Clinton.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The murder of JonBenet Ramsey at Christmas of 1996, the news media's seizing of the story and running with it for literally years, the assumptions, the presumptions, the substitution of speculation for analysis, they've all been pointed to as symbols of a cultural sea-change at the end of the 20th century.
Yet the coverage, and even the speculation, were mere echoes. There was the murder of a high-class prostitute named Helen Jewett, which tripled or quadrupled newspaper sales in New York in 1836. The hatchet killings of Andrew and Libby Borden - Abby Borden, rather, possibly by his daughter Lizzie, they got more coverage in 1892 relative to the technology and media available than did the O.J. Simpson trial just over a century later.
And you can rattle off the other names, the Lindbergh baby, the Black Dahlia, Leopold and Loeb, Dr. Sam Shepard. Victims and murderers and suspects, still prominent in the American psyche decades after the news about them stopped.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, JonBenet Ramsey may have been murdered in 1996, and her murderer may have been arrested in 2006, but her story, in a sense, could have belonged to almost any time in American history, especially for the suspicions it brought on her parents.
As Lizzie Borden was the only suspect in that investigation, as some thought, still think, the Lindbergh kidnapping an inside job, the finger of public accusation pointed at the family early, and never really moved away.
The Ramseys tried to answer, stepped into the public fray in a manner unprecedented at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS, May 1, 1997)
PATSY RAMSEY, JONBENET'S MOTHER: I'm appalled that anyone would think that John or I would be involved in such a hideous, heinous crime. But let me assure you that I did not kill JonBenet. I did not have anything to do with it. I loved that child with my - whole of my heart and soul.
JOHN RAMSEY: I did not kill my daughter, JonBenet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOOD:... deeply for this family, and I regret that I'm not able to hug Patsy Ramsey's neck today. But I take some real comfort in the fact that she knew that an arrest was close before she died.
I have as you know, urged publicly the innocence of this family, seeking to have them vindicated in a court of public opinion, just as I believe years ago they were vindicated in a court of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That from our exclusive interview with Lin Wood, which we will bring you at length in a few moments.
First, back to investigative author Lawrence Schiller.
Take us back, if you will, to what went so wrong in the days, the months, even the years after the murder of the girl? John and Patsy Ramsey became the focus of a police investigation then, obviously. Did they also become kind of a police obsession to the exclusion of other suspects, other evidence?
SCHILLER: Well, you have to look at the bowl in which this heinous crime took place, Boulder, Colorado, a very affluent community, lot of wealthy people, and a little child, 6 years old, with a very unusual name, JonBenet, even spelled differently.
And then the release within days of pageant photographs of this child at the age of 5 and 6 parading up and down, child pageants, something which is common in the South, but really not known around the United States.
I believe that the combination of her name and the pageant photographs brought this to national news. JonBenet, a wealthy - comes from a wealthy family, her mother, a pageant queen. so people started to read into many, many things.
Now, the police, which were really a group of ex-narcotics officers that were now working homicide, who had very little homicide experience, and also a spousal abuse detective that was also working homicide, were involved in handling this case. These people looked at the family, as they should have, as the first circle of potential suspects. And as you know, in a good investigation, you work yourself out (INAUDIBLE) rings, one after another, until you hopefully find the tangent that matches the killing.
But the police never left that inner circle. And for months and months, they leaked information to publications all across the United States, including myself. And they felt that the Ramseys did it. They said, If we could get Patsy Ramsey in jail, they went to the DA, get her arrested, throw her in jail, she'll confess.
That isn't the way Alex Hunter ran the district attorney's office. So we had a natural conflict between very, very strong, conservative police department in Boulder, Colorado, and a very liberal DA's office. And that fueled the fire, and that brought this case to the umbrella of suspicion. The DA didn't give up, and the police didn't give up.
OLBERMANN: How recently do you think that was still true? How recently did they think they were going to turn a corner and be able to say, We got you, Ramseys?
SCHILLER: I think until Alex Hunter stepped down and wasn't reelected as DA. I think when Mary Keenan came in, she looked at the case completely different. She went back to Lou Smith, who was the original detective that said this was done by a sex offender, this wasn't done by the Ramseys.
If you look at these crime scene photos, and see how this child was garroted, a horrendous way of dying, and if you look at the blow to the head, the skull, and see how she was hit over the head, just as several grand jurors have told me, they couldn't believe that a parent could kill a child this way. You could slap the child, throw her against the bathtub, smother her, strangle her, but you don't kill a child this way.
And that is what Lou Smith believed, and he stuck with it, and he started with a list of over 160 sex offenders, and I think he or somebody else finally got to a short list. Now, whether this man is guilty or not of the crime is something we'll find out in the future.
OLBERMANN: Lawrence Schiller, author of "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town." Many thanks for all of your time tonight, sir.
SCHILLER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: The attorney Lin Wood has stood by the Ramseys' side in the face of all the media scrutiny and criticism. If this is a story that matters to you, you will need to see our exclusive interview with him.
And something that should matter to all of us, terror threats and politics, President Clinton warning President Bush about trying to make political hay out of the purported liquid bomb plot, while this president continues the campaign tour.
OLBERMANN: Countdown continues on an extraordinary night from Los Angeles.
If you have somehow not heard, 131 days shy of the exact 10th anniversary of her murder, 54 days after the death of her mother, a suspect has been arrested in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. We'll recap the headlines and bring you an exclusive and overwhelming interview with the Ramsey family attorney, Lin Wood. If this story interests you in the slightest, you can't miss his comments.
Also still ahead of us tonight, the nexus of politics and terror revisited, this time by former president Clinton, who suggests the administration may be trying to play politics with terror.
And there is a would-be president now playing blame the media after he called an American of Indian descent "Macaca."
And can you name just two of the nine Supreme Court justices? If you said Sleepy and Sneezy, you may be among a majority of Americans. Mo Rocca joins us to analyze the latest findings about how many of us know so little about us.
And the exclusive interview with John and Patsy Ramsey's attorney, Lin Wood, after the arrest of a suspect in their daughter's murder, when Countdown continues.
OLBERMANN: The word "shocking" has been used so much, so unjustifiably in the 3,551 days-worth of coverage of the murder of a little girl who became famous only in death that in this context is has seemingly lost all meaning. Yet news of an arrest in the case, nearly a decade later, has restored the meaning.
Our third story on the Countdown, we conclude our coverage of the shocking arrest in the murder of JonBenet Ramsey with an extraordinary interview with one of those who seemingly was long past being shocked, the Ramsey family attorney, Lin Wood. First a brief recap of today's extraordinary developments.
As MSNBC report first, a suspect taken into custody in Thailand, our Denver NBC affiliate, KUSA, then reported that that suspect had confessed to elements of the crime, elements that are still not known by the general public and that an investigator from Boulder, Colorado would be bringing the suspect in back to this country perhaps in the in the next few days. Then unnamed federal officials told the "Associated Press" that the suspect was a 42 -year-old American elementary school teacher named Kohn Mark Karr who had once lived near the Ramsey family in Georgia, that he was already being held in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges. And John Ramsay, father of the murdered girl, issued a statement saying that before her death on June 24 of this year, his wife Patsy had been told of the identification of a possible suspect in her daughter's death.
And now Dan Abrams' exclusive interview with the Ramsay family attorney, Lin Wood.
ABRAMS: You have come to know Patsy Ramsey very well. I know from talking to you over the years, I know from taking to the Ramsey's over the years that you view this as a personal cause on your part. How do you feel about the fact that now someone else has been arrested?
LIN WOOD, RAMSEY FAMILY LAWYER: I will tell you, Dan. I care deeply for this family, and I regret that I'm not able to hug Patsy Ramsey's neck today, but I take some real comfort in the fact that she knew that an arrest was close before she died. I have, as you know, urged publicly the innocence of this family, seeking to have them vindicated in a court of public opinion just as I believe, years ago, they were vindicated by a court of law, not indicted by the grand jury in 1999, a federal judge, here in Atlanta in March of 2003 in a 93 page ruling, finding that the evidence in the case was that an intruder killed JonBenet.
And then in April of 2003 when district attorney, Mary Lacy issued a statement agreeing with the conclusions of Judge Corns (ph). And yet that news that was exculpatory that should have vindicated the family in the minds of objective people, really was not conveyed by the media, the frenzy around the case had pretty much subsided.
Obviously today is another step toward their complete and full vindication and exoneration. So it's a - it's an emotional day. It's just difficult to say that one would celebrate. It's a day that I believed should occur, and I guess it's still kind of a hard to believe that it actually has occurred.
ABRAMS: And how about John Ramsey? I know you've talked to him about this. You know, when you have been under what the authorities describe as an umbrella of suspicion for 10 years in the killing of your own daughter, this has got to be a moment, a day, that is just overwhelming?
WOOD: Well, I tell you - John - I spoke with john right after I spoke with District Attorney Lacy, and John Ramsey continues to this very day to exhibit the same type of dignity and grace that I have seen him exhibit privately and publicly for the many years I have had the privilege to know him and represent him.
John and Patsy lived their lives knowing they were innocent, trying to raise a son despite the furor around them. And I got to tell you the story of this family is a story of courage, and at the same time a story of an American injustice and tragedy that ultimately people will have to look back on and hopefylly learn from.
ABRAMS: Let me ask you this, and this again is a broader question. What do you think happened here? I mean, why do you think then that John and Patsy Ramsey became the primary suspects so quickly? Was it just the combination of the Boulder Police Department and how the Ramsey's responded initially in a particular way? Do you have any theories?
WOOD: Well, I've said many times over the years that clearly this investigation in its initial stages was handled by individuals in law enforcement who were totally inexperienced in homicide investigations, who jumped to conclusions as opposed to correctly following the evidence. Obviously the Ramsey's in the exercise of their right, as I would urge any American citizen to exercise, sought the advice and protection of lawyers. The public perceived that as an act consistent with guilt, when it is in fact, not at all inconsistent with innocence.
And I think the media frenzy that was led by accusations of guilt filled with the most obscene false accusations against this family, from calling them pornographers, to child molesters to devil worshipers, I think the public's mind was so poisoned against this family that no one was able, for too many years, to take an objective look at the evidence and the people that have looked at that evidence, that are experienced, have all been unanimous. The federal judge in Atlanta, District Attorney Mary Lacy, unanimously have all found that the evidence in this case was that an intruder killed JonBenet. But that type of exculpatory information simply does not get the headlines like the accusations get.
ABRAMS: And so finally, again, let me ask you on one more personal note, because you and I have had so many conversations about this and I'll tell the public, you have screamed at me at times about this case.
WOOD: Only when you deserved it, Dan.
ABRAMS: Yeah. You have yelled at the top of your lungs about this. You have taken this so very personally, that your effort to demonstrate that John and Patsy Ramsey were innocent. And I know you've done this with many reporters and others who've spoken about this case. Threatened them. You have done this with a single-handed goal, and that was to ultimately prove that they were innocent. Is this the most important case of your life at this point?
WOOD: It is without a doubt one of the most important cases in my life, Dan. I got to tell you, I was - two weeks ago I had the privilege of standing next to Richard Jewell, who was falsely accused by the media of the Olympic Park bombing. I was able to satnd beside Richard Jewell when he was given a commendation for heroism Governor Sonny Perdue, the governor of Georgia. And that was a pretty special day from the standpoint of being Richard's lawyer and fighting almost 10 years for that day to come when he'd be recognized as a hero. This day and what I have experienced in representing John and Patsy Ramsey is right up there with the way I felt when I saw Richard Jewell accept that commendation.
These are special people, Dan, that I represent. And they're individuals who were never charged with a crime, but yet were tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion. And it's mighty tough when you're fighting for folks who don't have the protections of the legal system in terms of being formally charged with a crime, but yet you find yourself fighting some law enforcement, and fighting a lot of media folks trying to urge their innocence. And so, I wouldn't try to say that this was the most important case. I can only tell you that it has been a privilege to represent this family. It's been a privilege to represent Richard Jewell and I am mighty glad that I had the chance to do it.
OLBERMANN: Lin Wood with Dan Abrams. Also tonight, playing politics with terror, not a conclusion from this reporter, an accusation by former President Bill Clinton.
And a prospective presidential candidate goes from saying he didn't know what the ethnic slur meant to apologizing if the man he said it about was offended to apologizing for how the media misinterpreted the word. Dana Milbank will join us for both of those stories. This is Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The "Nexus of Politics and Terror." The administration called out by former President Clinton for trying to link this latest terror scare in Britain to supposed success in Iraq. That's next, this is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Some nights the political metaphors can be hard to come by and some nights they simply write themselves. Our second story on the Countdown, going whole-hog into the "Nexus of Politics and Terror" now apparently, literally, does mean going whole-hog. President Bush ostensively putting the breaks on his summer '06 terror tour to hop a Harley today at a motorcycle factory in central Pennsylvania, after metaphorically ridden the British terror arrests for a week.
The purported London bomb plot, the war on terror, and al Qaeda all back to forming the bulk of Mr. Bush's remarks early this evening at a fundraiser for the Republican candidate for governor in Pennsylvania, former Pittsburgh Steelers player, Lynn Swann. Even as Scotland Yard was saying tonight from London that a second suspect in the purported plot, one arrested yesterday, has now been released.
Meantime Mr. Bush's predecessor in the Oval Office taking him to task for publicizing terrorism. Former President Clinton criticizing the Bush administration for linking the purported London bomb plot as the war on terror to the war in Iraq.
Quoting Mr. Clinton, "I don't think the foiling of that London bomb plot has any bearing on our Iraq policy.the Republicans should be very careful in trying to play politics with this London airport thing, because they're gonna have a hart time with the facts."
Dana Milbank of the "Washington Post" joins me in a moment for more on that, and on the fluidity of the facts in the case of Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia.
Last Friday, on videotape, Allen called a young man of Indian decent, "macaca" before welcoming the American-born citizen to American. Senator Allen's use of that word "macaca," twice, now threatening to derail his designs on the White House because of the obscure word's multiple meanings, any one of which could be construed as a racial slur. The senator has issued many apologies. Today two Republicans assosciated with the senator's campaign told the political journal, "Hot Line" that the senator was, in fact, trying to say both the word "mohawk" and the word "caca" in some kind of mash-up that means, well you can guess what it means.
The latest actual statement from the senator, "I'm concerned that my comments.have been greatly misunderstood by members of the media.Yesterday, I apologized to anyone who may have been offended by the misinterpretation of my remarks."
As promised "Washington Post" national political reporter, Dana Milbank joins us now.
Good evening, Dana.
DANA MILLBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": Hello Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senator Allen in a moment, because we want to give him a chance to change the story again, but first, pretty much the entire White House on the campaign trail today, the president, the vice president, the first lady. A. their party's been taking a pounding in these campaigns, B. the purported terror plot arrests happened, C. the administration's big three hit the campaign trail - coincidences?
MILBANK: I expect by the end of the week we'll have the White House pastry chef out there and possibly the gardener. In fairness to the White House, a lot of these are fundraisers, and they are organized well in advance, just so you can round up all the people who are going to give you the money. It's not the events themselves, it's the message that's being put out there, and it's that you should be very afraid and you should be particularly afraid that the Democrats are not going to protect you.
OLBERMANN: Eighty-three days to go until the election, have the midterms actually kicked off already? And would they normally have interrupted the president's vital vacation to kick off this early?
MILBANK: Well, the midterms began the day after the election in 2004. So what's happening here is since the disruption of that plot in London, the Republicans see an effort to change the debate. The debate had been going in the Democrats' favor, so what you're hearing again, and as Karl Rove predicted you would, is this message of terrorism over and over again. I think it's a matter of time until the whole JonBenet lead turns into an al-Qaeda business.
OLBERMANN: Former President Clinton's remark about politicizing terror, those statements are remarkably telling, are they not?
MILBANK: Well, I think what he is doing is voicing the Democratic message here in a way, as unusual, that other Democrats have not been able to say. They're saying, look, if you are saying this is about al Qaeda, then why do we have seven times the number of troops in Iraq as there are in Afghanistan if al Qaeda is actually the problem? That may be a cogent. The problem is it's a very hard one to make for the voters and it's hard to compete with that sort of visceral appeal of the Cheney argument that the democrats just can't protect you.
OLBERMANN: Do you expect that the democrats to follow Bill Clinton's lead on this? Will we be hearing more people, at least, attempting to point these two things out?
MILBANK: Well, I think they are attempting to, but you know, as I say, it's sort of a bank shot. It's very difficult to make these points. They've been trying over and over again to disentangle Iraq from the war or terror, generally. By and large they had lost that. They were making some grounds here, and it is possible the administration will now return itself to that stronger ground.
OLBERMANN: All right, if you are Senator George Allen, is there any way to undo the damage of his macaca remark? Does not now pinning it on the media ring hallow and also encourage the media to keep updating the story?
MILBANK: Well, we've gone from the mullet to the mohawk, then to the mohawl-caca. What's happening here is that, I think, Senator Allen is in a very bad position. It's not going to hurt him, he's going to most likely win his reelection as a senator. But when we're looking at the presidential race, it is not good if the people in Washington are saying, look, his he a racist or is he just done something extremely dumb. You don't really want to be in either of those camps right now, but I think we're looking at a dramatic gesture here, maybe the senator might want to actually put his hair into a mohawk.
OLBERMANN: And then have somebody turn around and make the inference using the mohawk and caca combined was a reference not to someone being a crap head, but having a crappy haircut, right?
MILBANK: It would be a very sensible demonstration.
OLBERMANN: It may be argued that he has one already, but we'll leave that for the fashion stylists.
Dana Milbank of the "Washington Post" and of MSNBC on another busy day in the political world. As ever Dana, great thanks.
MILBANK: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, who you calling Dopey, Sneezy? A new survey find Americans are more familiar with the "Seven Dwarves" than with the nine Supreme Court justices.
Mo Rocca, with whom everyone is familiar joins us when Countdown continues.
OLBERMANN: Tonight we take five minutes from the hurey-burley of an exceptional day for an unfortunate development to report. You and I are idiots. That's right, our No. 1 story, the apparent death of conventional wisdom in this country. All right, and I apologize for calling you an idiot if you were in the minority in a recent poll that showed who could name the three branches of government or two Supreme Court justices or one British prime minister. The polls findings, among others, 77 percent of Americans could name at least two of Snow White's dwarfs, but only 24 percent could name two Supreme Court justices. Interesting footnote, the top vote-getters, Dopey and Grumpy - the dwarfs.
Three out of five Americans could name Homer's sons, but only one in five could name one of Homer's epics. Fortunately, the same poll found that Taylor Hicks could be identified by only one in four people. Unfortunately my producers have now committed me to try and tell the other three.
There is a serious undertone this, of course, it was Thomas Jefferson who said, "whenever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their government." No, not the guy Sherman Hensley played on "All in the Family" and the "Jefferson's," the they guy who wrote - never mind.
We'll drop the serious and go for the other. Here to accelerate our slide into disaster is the author of "All the President's Pets," television personality, and historian, Mo Rocca.
Mo, good evening.
MO ROCCA, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Thanks Keith. Do you think George Allen meant to say maraca?
OLBERMANN: Yeah, I just wanted to be clear on that. I said Mo Rocca and not macaca. There are two areas of ignorance here, obviously cultural events, current events. We'll start with the cultural. Does it matter and if so, why does it matter that more Americans know Homer's son is Bart than know about Homer's epic being the "Odyssey?"
ROCCA: Well, I think it's unfortunate, but I think the fault really lies with the fans of epic poetry in this country. They have a hero, Homer who was a superstar in his day, a blind poet. Why don't they produce a biopic starring Jamie Foxx as Homer. I mean, you know, there are ways to popularize the classics. And remember that the "Odyssey" was originally meant to be sung, it was not meant to be read. Why didn't anyone convince Taylor Hicks to sing from, say, Book 22 of the "Odyssey" where Telemachus and Odysseus stab all of Penelope's suitors and then slice evil goat herders into tiny pieces? Why didn't Katherine McPhee sing to Meatloaf about the psyclops (ph) in the final episode? I mean, there ways here to educate Americans.
OLBERMANN: The simple sons did the "Odyssey" and that didn't work. Second area of ignorance, current events. Does it matter, and if so why does it matter that more American know the "Seven Dwarfs" then the justices of the Supreme Court?
ROCCA: Well, and on thing that you didn't point out is that a majority of respondents identified Antonin Scalia as Justice Grumpy.
It's a problem. I mean part of it is that in 1938 when "Snow White and the Seven Dwars" came out it was not only a blockbuster, but represented a revolution in the animation of real realistic humans. And so, you know, the dwarfs in comparison the justices are just far more fleshed out. You know, there's a reason that people can identify very few of the justices. Now some of them are more distinctive than others. Scalia, of course, is "Grumpy," Ruth Bader is "Doc," and John Paul Stevens because if his age is "Sleepy." I'd say Alito, since he's chunkiest one is probably "Happy" and of course Clarence Thomas is "Bashful."
OLBERMANN: Yeah, currently.
And by the wear when the dwarfs stand on each other's shoulders, as we just saw there, they are appearing to wear Supreme Court robes. Now, there is another instance of this actually playing into our political system. Let me play this sound bite of a presidential candidate displaying his knowledge of current events in 1999. He was asked about four global hot spots. Let's listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the president of Chechnya?
GEORGE N. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, can you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the president of Taiwan?
BUSH: Yeah Lee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the general who's in charge of.
BUSH: Wait a minute, is this - is this a - is this a 50 questions? The new Pakistani general has just been elected he's a - not elected, this guy took over office, he appears he's going to bring stability to the country. And I thing that's good news for the.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you can name him?
BUSH: General. I can name the general.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's.
The new prime minister of India is, uh - no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Uh, no.
ROCCA: The Taiwan answer is so smart. Any time a standardized test, when you're asked to name a famous Taiwanese person and you don't know the name, choose Lee.
OLBERMANN: That's it. Can you think of the consequence at all that could stemmed from that candidate's level of knowledge? Is that being reflected at all in the current world affairs?
ROCCA: Gosh, I can't imagine how. I mean, look to be fair, when that clip took place it was as at the dawn of the game show craze in prime time with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" So, I mean look, the Bush's are very good at going with the flow and knowing what the public wants at election time.
OLBERMANN: Is it all owing to the fact that there's too much knowledge out there? I meant there was a local station here in Los Angeles that did this story last night, beat us by 24-hours, I might add, talk about being slow on the uptake.
OLBERMANN: When they asked people on the street about the Supreme Court justices, most mentioned Rehnquist, but somebody said Scalito. Is that just information overload for folks?
ROCCA: That's a busy person who is multitasking, you combine Scalia and Alito, I guess there. And its better than combining Scalia and Ginsburg, that's Scinsburg and that sounds really weird.
Look, yes, there is too much information out there out there. People
need to turn off the computer, me included. Tom Wolf called the Internet -
compared it to knitting for idle hands, there. They need to go to the theater. Come to New York and see "History Boys," it's a great play. And if you're going to stay on the Internet go to YouTube and do a search for a clips on Homer. Maybe somebody shot him singing that poetry and you can watch it in your office and learn something.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, we've been sitting on that for several thousand years, it just showed up on YouTube.
OLBERMANN: Television personality, Mo Rocca.
ROCCA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Thanks for you your time tonight, Mo.
ROCCA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That is Countdown for this the 1,203rd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
Our MSNBC coverage continue next with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. From Los Angeles, keep your knees loose. 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