'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 17
Guests: Derrick Pitts, Gregg McCrary, Catherine Crier, Jonathan Turley
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Unconstitutional. A federal judge in Detroit orders Bush administration eavesdropping on our calls and e-mails halted immediately. The administration appeals, invoking the purported liquid bomb plot, claiming there is proof the wiretaps stopped terrorists, and the proof is that the administration says it stopped terrorists.
If it could get worse, it has gotten worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MARK KARR: I was with JonBenet when she died.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: If it could get more disturbing, it has gotten more disturbing. The suspect arrested in the JonBenet Ramsey case speaks. It was, he says, all an accident, an accident in which he drugged and raped a girl. Yet John Mark Karr's wife offers an alibi for the night of JonBenet Ramsey's death, and the district attorney pleads for the presumption of innocence.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY LACY, BOULDER DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There is much more work to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What on earth is going on here? We are joined by Catherine Crier of Court TV and former FBI profiler Greg McCrary.
A planetary recount, Ceres, Charon, and 2003-UB313 may be in. Pluto may be removed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "STAR WARS")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may fire when ready.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Pluto on a bubble, "Snakes on a Plane." On the eve of the movie premiere, how much hype is too much hype?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: Keith, this is Samuel L. Jackson. "Snakes on a Plane" just might be the best motion picture ever made.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now, I can live with that amount of hype.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SNAKES ON A PLANE")
JACKSON: I have had it with these mother (expletive deleted) snakes on this mother (expletive deleted) plane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from Los Angeles.
It is not the day's most important news. Clearly, that would be a stunning ruling out of a Michigan court concluding that George Bush and his attorney general and his National Security Agency violated the Constitution by illegally intercepting our phone calls and our e-mails. We will cover that in depth in a moment.
But we invoke our unique format here.
The fifth story on the Countdown tonight, there is a man trying to convince us he killed JonBenet Ramsey nearly 10 years ago, while the only conclusion to draw from the actions of the authorities is that they are not really convinced he isn't making it all up.
Forty-one-year-old school teacher John Mark Karr arrested yesterday, a day after he had started to teach grade school in Bangkok in Thailand. Police there say Karr confessed to drugging and killing JonBenet Ramsey in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. But this morning, he would only allude to murder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARR: I was with JonBenet when she died.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened to her?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened in the last (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you playing with her? What happened?
KARR: Her death was an accident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Authorities in the U.S. refuse to share whatever evidence they might have against him, but one law official., speaking anonymously to the Associated Press, says Karr has been given a mouth-swab DNA test in Thailand, will get another test when he returns to this country.
However, Karr has not actually been charged with anything except violating procedures for being in Thailand, the Boulder district attorney handling the case asking the public not to jump to conclusions, insinuating that they may have been forced to arrest Karr before they had fully assembled the case against him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LACY: There are circumstances that can exist in any case which mandate an arrest before an investigation is complete. The primary reason for that is public safety. A secondary reason is fear of flight.
In short, exigent circumstances can drive the timing of an arrest.
I am not commenting on the particular nature of this investigation or arrest. There is much more work to be done now that the suspect is in custody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: John Mark Karr's relatives have now cast doubt on his confession. His brother claims Karr was researching a book on child murders, including that of JonBenet Ramsey and Polly Klaas. His father, who, until yesterday, thought his son was dead, says Karr falsely told him in 2001 that he was being investigated for the murder of Ms. Ramsey. And Karr's ex-wife, who divorced him after he was arrested for child pornography, told a San Francisco television station that Karr was with her in Alabama on Christmas night throughout the Christmas season in 1996.
To help try to sift through all this, I'm joined now by former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary.
Mr. McCrary, thanks for your time this evening.
GREGG MCCRARY, FORMER FBI PROFILER: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Balance these two conflicting statements for us. We were told yesterday that this man knew details about the crime not known to the public, but otherwise, he seems to evince all the classic evidence of a false confessor.
MCCRARY: Yes, that's what we have to be very careful of. And I certainly think caution is the way to proceed at this point with this whole thing. False confessions are not uncommon. People in law enforcement know this. People outside may be unsure about that. But every high-profile crime will have people come forward and falsely confess.
The old Lindbergh (INAUDIBLE) kidnapping back in the 1930s, over 200 people came forward and confessed to that. The Black Dahlia (INAUDIBLE) killing in the 1940s in L.A., over 30 people confessed to that.
So it shouldn't be surprising that someone would come forward.
The issue is, it isn't our job as investigators to believe or disbelieve, it's to find facts. And we've got to be able to link this guy to the crime or the crime scene, or else it may be nothing more than just a guy with this pathological need for some sort of notoriety.
OLBERMANN: But that question of facts, could he really have studied this case so intensely that he'd be able to deduce secret facts that were being withheld or were not known by the investigators?
MCCRARY: Well, that'll be the key. In other words, it's the - the post-confession investigation has to be very vigorous. And a true confession will reveal that. In other words, an offender will be able to tell you things you don't know or lead you to evidence you don't have.
For example, in this case, if he can explain what the murder weapon was to use to bludgeon her and take that, take the investigators and show them where that weapon is, that counts. That's going to be heavy. Or if we can get DNA, if they can put his DNA at the scene somehow, something like that is really what's needed to corroborate.
If they can't do that, it's going to be a real struggle to, you know, to think that he may actually have been involved.
OLBERMANN: This on-camera performance today, and the extraordinary semi-confession, it's apparently not that unusual in Thailand. Here, obviously, here we are just shocked that he even appeared on camera so - almost so casually.
But in this he said - never said, I killed her. Why would he claim to have been there alone with her at the moment of her death, and yet not take that last step to assuming responsibility for it?
MCCRARY: Well, because it keeps the hook set. If he is looking for notoriety, it's the same years that he's - same reason he sent these e-mails for four years to the professor in Boulder. It's toying with this, it's fantasizing, it's teasing, it's taunting.
Real killers, if you remember the BTK case, a real killer, he was taunting police, but he was giving you true facts that definitely validated the fact he was the killer. Now, when we have someone taunting but not giving us the real facts, well, we have to be a little bit suspicious. But again, we can't either believe or disbelieve, we got to drill down and find out what the facts really are.
OLBERMANN: The Associated Press had this exclusive interview with Mr. Karr today. Let me play part of this, in which he said he'd written to Patsy Ramsey and apologized, then get your assessment of this. Here's he tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARR: I've contacted the Ramsey family, especially before Patricia passed away. I conveyed to her many things, among them that I am so very sorry for what happened to JonBenet, and it's very important for me that everyone knows that I love her very much, and that her death was unintentional, and it was an accident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) he loved the girl. He contacted the family.
Does any of that follow any pathology you're aware of?
MCCRARY: Again, it's, it - to me, it's more consistent with those who want to inject themselves in an investigation in some sort of a manner. I've certainly seen killers talk family, you know, in a very cruel and sadistic way. It's really unusual to see something like this.
So again, it would - you know, we have to drill down and get the facts on this thing.
OLBERMANN: Former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary. Great thanks for your time tonight.
MCCRARY: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: John Mark Karr has confessed, and on camera, no less, that he killed JonBenet Ramsey. And yet authorities have not charged him with the murder.
Help figure out where this case is and what legal challenges still lie ahead, I'm joined by a Court TV anchor, Catherine Crier.
Good evening, Catherine.
CATHERINE CRIER, ANCHOR, COURT TV: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Let's start at the end here. Has another Boulder district attorney screwed this up?
CRIER: I'm suspect of this suspect. Why in the world would you go to all the way to Thailand and her two excuses or reasons were that she offered, one was a flight risk, and two, public safety.
Was there some e-mail that he sent to Michael Tracy, the professor, that said, I'm about to kill another child? Was there something along that line that they could claim public safety? The fact that he'd become another second-grade teacher, were they afraid he would molest children? That still doesn't give rise to flying over and arresting him for a case that, at least thus far, we see no nexus at all, other than his semi-pathetic confession to the JonBenet Ramsey murder.
OLBERMANN: Is there some necessity here that, that, that we're not being permitted knowledge of? Some necessity in the Boulder district attorney's office that they have some evidence that says the ex-wife's statement about him and where he was at Christmastime 1996 is false? She says they were together in Alabama.
CRIER: Well, thus far, we've gotten a lot of leaks, a lot of information from people. She came out and said, He was with me, he was in school down there from '96 to '98, I knew where he was. And remember, he obsessed about the Patsy Ramsey case. So I expect that, when the crime occurred, she can probably recall him becoming somewhat fixated, as well as the fact that they had small children, and if Daddy wasn't home for Christmas, she probably remembers it.
OLBERMANN: Let me play you something else that district attorney Lacy said and get your reaction to it. Here's that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Lacy the district attorney's office, in conjunction with many other law enforcement agencies, has spent the past few months locating, identifying, and finally, yesterday, arresting Mr. Karr.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Catherine, there, there's nothing in there about gathering evidence against Mr. Karr. What in the world is going on here?
CRIER: Absolutely. This really triggered it in my mind. She is reading a prepared statement. She is being very (INAUDIBLE) circumspect with her choice of words. Locating, identifying, and arresting says nothing about putting a case together against this man.
And she cautioned us all, there's much more work to be done. In that regard, for her to have gone over there, and I may be wrong, she may have this guy dead to rights, but for her to go over there and have this very high-profile arrest without having some important links between this man and the case will astonish me.
OLBERMANN: Are you getting a hunch, as I am here, and I'm a layman in this situation, but I'm basing it totally on the news coverage. Is this too high-profile an arrest? Could this be an attempt to smoke somebody else out? Or am I just crazy on that estimate?
CRIER: Well, there are all sorts of violations that you would be committing, unless this guy was going along with it for some reason, which I doubt sincerely. There has been no movement in this case except for these e-mails, this sort of side conversation we've just learned about. So I would be real surprised if that was the motivation. But that would provide a better ending than I think this case is going to.
OLBERMANN: Court TV's Catherine Crier. As always, Catherine, great thanks for your time.
CRIER: You bet.
OLBERMANN: To the hard news of the day, and it certainly is going down hard at the White House. The Bush administration's warrant-free wiretap program, a federal judge says it has to stop, it has to stop now. Analysis on the import of a ruling of unconstitutionality with Jonathan Turley.
And a necessary but disturbing look at the horrors of 9/11, the lessons from the latest released 911 tapes from that ineffable morning.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: From the moment in December when "The New York Times" first revealed the existence of the government's secret warrantless surveillance program, nearly anybody who'd actually read the Constitution at some point believed it would be only a matter of time until a court of law ruled such spying to be patently illegal.
Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, the matter of time took just 35 weeks, the Bush administration's first attempt to politicize today's judicial smackdown taking mere minutes, federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruling in Detroit today, becoming the first to strike down the National Security Agency's program, ordering it stopped at once, although how fast that is is yet to be determined, calling it an unconstitutional violation of privacy and free speech rights.
Quoting Judge Taylor in her 43-page opinion, "Plaintiffs have prevailed, and the public interest is clear in this matter. It is the upholding of our Constitution."
Within the hour, though, unnamed senior White House officials pointing out to NBC News that the ruling comes just one week after the purported London bomb plot, in which they claim telephone surveillance was used to gather intelligence, by name, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, also evoking the British arrests in a written statement.
Quote, "Last week, America and the world received a stark reminder that terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people. We could not disagree more with this ruling," Justice Department, meanwhile, indicating it will do all it can to fight the ruling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, a district court judge in Michigan ruled that the program was unlawful. We disagree with the decision, respectfully disagree with the decision of the judge. And we have appealed the decision. And we - there is a stay in place, and so we will continue to utilize the program to ensure that America is safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now to assess the impact of the ruling today, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University.
Good evening, Jonathan.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks. Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Domestic spying by the Bush administration has many fangs. Is this specific to the wiretapping of the international calls and e-mails, or is it broader than that?
TURLEY: Well, it's broader in a couple of ways. One is that the court here is rejecting the authority that the White House has used, not just for the NSA surveillance, but a number of other programs.
It's also broader in its implications. As you know that most of us thought the question of the unlawfulness of the program was the easy one. I mean, we, we - despite what Gonzales says, that the authority is clear, no one else seems to be able to see it.
The real tough question is what we would do about it. If a court of appeals upholds this judge, it means that the president could well have committed a federal crime, not once but 30 times. And so that's the difficult implication.
OLBERMANN: The response to this from the White House, there's nothing, of course, like claiming you have secret proof that you stopped all sorts of bad things by rewriting the Constitution. But the conservatives are already making hay out of the fact that Judge Taylor here was an appointee of President Carter.
Where does the case go next legally. And in following it, do we have to follow the personal politics of the judges, or are there any judges who are just judges any more?
TURLEY: Well, that's what's really distasteful. You know, this is not the first judge to rule against the administration. But every time a judge rules against the administration, they're either too Democratic or they're too tall or too short or they're Pisces. I mean, it - you can - all this spin, this effort to personalize it, is really doing a great injustice to our system.
If you look at this opinion, it's a very thoughtful opinion. The problem is not the judge. The problem is the lack of authority. You know, when Gonzales says, I've got something back in my safe, and if you could see it, you'd all agree with me, well, unless there's a federal statute in his safe, then it's not going to make a difference.
OLBERMANN: The administration tried forever to get this suit dismissed on the ruse of state secrets. But, but Jonathan, do we, do we really think the country would dissolve into a bowl of Jell-O if the courts threw out the administration's national security rationale for, for wiretapping? Had we ever noticed this in the past, when previous administrations have cited national security of the most urgent import? Do you recall the country ever going out of business or the safety of the citizens ever just vanishing?
TURLEY: Well, you know, there is this appearance of, Let's keep fear alive. You know, and, you know, how we read the Constitution will depend upon how close we are to the London arrests.
That's really immaterial. In a country like ours, it is as important, if not more important, how we do things, as it is what we do. And we can't uphold the system of law, the rule of law, if we violate it.
And, you know, here, I think one of the most important things that this judge did is to say, Look, I'm looking at whether you have authority to do this. And I can do that without looking at all of these secret documents you're referring to. You need to show me a statute. You need to show me part of the Constitution. And I think she was absolutely correct in that.
OLBERMANN: And the Constitution, not just a, say, Arlen Specter-sponsored law that would permit this according to the Congress, correct?
TURLEY: Well, if Specter goes forward with that absurd bill that he wrote with Dick Cheney, I would be surprised. I mean, if they actually move this into a secret court after a judge found the president was acting unlawfully, it will be the whitewash of the century.
OLBERMANN: It hasn't been a long century yet, so we'll see. Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University. As always, sir, great thanks for your time.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the quest to get into the "Book of World Records," it lit up the night sky. By himself he did this, and underestimated the outcome. He may have already been lit up himself.
And the movie that has set the Internet ablaze, "Snakes on a Plane" finally opens tomorrow to superstardom red-hot status before anybody's even seen it. Countdown's senior hype correspondent, Monica Novotny, will investigate.
OLBERMANN: There is some dispute on the exact date, 44 years ago yesterday, they apparently told him, 44 years ago today, they apparently made it public. But this is the anniversary of the week that the Beatles changed drummers, firing Pete Best and replacing him with, of course, Johnny Hutchinson (ph). Johnny Hutchinson was the drummer from a band called The Big Three, and he pinch-hit for one Beatles performance until they brought that guy Ringo in. So there.
On that note, let's play Oddball.
And we begin in Plymouth, England, which is, coincidentally, nowhere near the birthplace of Ringo Starr, which was Liverpool. But it is the new home of the Guinness world record for most bottle rockets launched at one time. Oh, this should be (INAUDIBLE), 55,000 of them sent screaming into the night sky by a professor at the 10th Annual British Fireworks Championship at Plymouth University. They appeared to be very few duds.
Afterwards, the professor said he was surprised by the size of the explosion. Were you now? What exactly were you expecting from 55,000 bottle rockets, a little sparkle show and then we all go home? Thanks for burning down the whole town, pal. Lucky Ringo wasn't hurt.
Meanwhile, in New Delhi, nothing says Oddball like a bunch of Indian long-haul truckers having themselves a condom party. Woo-hoo. It is an organized effort to get truckers to protect themselves, to help slow the spread of disease. So AIDS workers handed out condoms to the guy at a local truck stop and let the boys familiarize themselves with these things. And as you see, they seem to know just what to do with them.
I don't think we're going to have to worry about these guys at all.
Like Mel Gibson finds out today whether he's going to be spending any time behind bars for his DUI and subsequent debacle.
Also tonight, difficult lessons from the past, the newest audiotapes from 9/11, and the messages contained in them for us all.
But first, time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, actor Haley Joel Osment facing up to six months in jail now if convicted on charges stemming from a one-car accident in this state in July. Misdemeanor possession of marijuana while driving, having a blood alcohol level higher than .15 percent, and the most serious charge, being seen driving a '95 Saturn.
Number two, "The New York Times." The newspaper announces in today's edition it has hired a Hollywood talent agency to help it cash in on film and TV projects based on articles appearing in the paper. Two early "Times" movie suggestions, Jason Blair: The Truth, Maybe. And a film tailored to the radical right, Bring Me the Head of Bill Keller.
Number one, the hybrid mutant evil monster thing found dead over the weekend in Turner, Maine. It was hit by a car while it chased a cat across the road. Nobody's sure what it is. Residents, though, believe the hellish creature is the same beast that has terrorized them for at least two years, killing area dogs and cats and shrieking horribly in the night.
An expert today says he thinks it's just a wild dog. Who you going to believe, some expert, or a bunch of hysterical locals?
That there is a devil dog hound from hell. End of story.
OLBERMANN: We are now just 25 days away from five years, the fifth anniversary of an event so unprecedented that we still do not now all of the ramifications, we probably still do not know all the truth. We seem to learn a little of both, one painful drip at time. Our third story on the Countdown tonight, there are still more 911 tapes from 9/11.
The tragic truth, we had already known the day after, confirmed anew, therein. Not just authorities at the Trade Center, but even 911 operators followed standard procedure for a high-rise fire and told those who would ultimately parish to stay where they were inside the doomed buildings. Our correspondent is Dawn Fratangelo.
DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Calls powered in is from so many rescuers just wanting to help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you need us, I got a bunch of young guys working with me and we're eager to help.
FRATANGELO: And those in dire need of it, like a Melissa Doy (ph), trapped on the 83rd floor.
911 DISPATCHER: Hold on one second please.
MELISSA DOY (ph), VICTIM: I'm going to die, aren't I?
911 DISPATCHER: No, no, no, no. Ma'am, ma'am, say your prayers.
And we're not going to - we're going to think positive because you've got to help each other get off the floor.
FRATANGELO: A portion of Doy's recording was played at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. this time the entire 24 minute conversation was released, the dispatcher staying on the line even after Doy loses consciousness.
911 DISPATCHER: Melissa? You're going to be fine, they're going to come get you. Uh, uh, uh... oh my god.
FRATANGELO: Those trying to get there, Fire Chief Dennis Devlin.
DENNIS DEVLIN, FIRE CHIEF: Yeah, well I got to get a rundown of the companies, we're in a state of confusion.
FRATANGELO: He, like so many first responders, had trouble communicating.
DEVLIN: Because we have no cell phone service anywhere because of the disaster.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
DEVLIN: I need you to call division three.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Division three.
DEVLIN: And have the messenger van bring all the additional handy talkies he can.
FRATANGELO: Captain Patty Brown was able to report he was on the 35th floor trying to get people out.
CAPTAIN PATTY BROWN, FIREFIGHTER: Yeah, there's numerous civilians in all stairwells. Numerous burn injuries are coming down, I'm trying to send them down first. Apparently, it's above the 75th floor, I don't know if they got there yet, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
BROWN: Three truck, and we're still heading up, all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
FRATANGELO: Brown and Devlin were among 343 firefighters and paramedics killed on September 11.
(on camera): Family members who fought for the release of the tapes say they offer missing links about loved ones, and lessons about the failures of that day.
(voice-over): Retired firefighter, Al Fuentes, listened to the final words of his fallen colleagues, many hampered by poor technology.
AL FUENTES, RETIRED FIREFIGHTER: I was there, I was part of it. I made my mistakes. I'm willing to look in the mirror, I'm willing to learn. I hope we are.
FRATANGELO: One dispatcher listed the many fire companies responding.
911 DISPATCHER: Engine 209.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, zero, nine.
911 DISPATCHER: Engine 212.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, two.
911 DISPATCHER: Two, seven, nine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, seven, nine.
911 DISPATCHER: Two thrity.
FRATANGELO: It was the first time Sally Reganhard (ph) learned her late son's unit was among them.
SALLY RAGANHARD (ph), MOTHER: That is more information than I have been given by the city of New York in five years.
FRATANGELO: More voices from the 11th, chaotic, confused, and consoling.
911 DISPTACHER: Keep praying. And they'll be in there soon.
You're going to be fine.
Dawn Fratangelo, NBC NEWS, New York.
OLBERMANN: Meantime, the woman who prompted the emergency diversion of a transatlantic flight yesterday, appeared in federal court in Boston, today. Fifty-nine-year-old Catherine Mayo of Braintree, Vermont, was held on charges of interfering with a flight crew on United 923 from London destined for Washington. Federal officials had dismissed any actual terror ties shortly after the flight landed. Today her lawyer said she has "some serious mental health problems." According to an FBI affidavit, Miss Mayo pushed against the aircraft's bulkhead during the flight, passed notes to flight attendants, made comments which alarmed them. The captain ordered her restrained with plastic cuffs after she had urinated on the floor. Two F-15s escorted the plane to its landing at Logan in Boston. Today and FBI spokesman confirm a screwdriver and lighters were found in her bag. She will stay in jail until another hearing next week.
From real airplane scares to the Hollywood kind, on the eve of the premiere, Samuel L. Jackson joins us to talk about those mother-blanking snakes on that mother-blanking flight.
And everything you learned about the planets growing up, forget it.
We have nine planets in our solar system or eight, maybe 12. Science!
Ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: "Snakes on a Plane," planets in a galexcy, Berry Bonds
in a pickle. Samuel L. Jackson has already informed us there are too many
of the snakes. Are scientists about to inform us there are too many of the
planets? Barry Bonds is going to get informed on, perhaps. Keeping our
eyes on the skies, next on Countdown>
OLBERMANN: If you are one of the benighted whose many natural awes and curiosities toward science has been beaten out of you, good news. We're gratuitously adding celebrities to our No. 2 story: The planets.
Astronomers are proposing the first official definition of the word "planet": Massive enough to be round and orbiting a star without itself being a star or a moon. This definition means confusion, controversy, and change. How so? Consider John Goodman. Massive enough to be round, but he has not orbited a star for years. Planet or not a planet?
Then there are the subcategories. Smaller planets would not get their own classification. We even have double planets defined as those which orbit a shared center of gravity. We can confirm that big, giant heads will remain asteroids, no matter how much an enormous asteroid they might be.
All which may well leave you pining for the days when knowing the planets was so much easier.
(on camera): The nine planets in our solar system easily remembered with the mnemonic device; My Very Enigmatic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies. But what now? A bunch of scientists want to take aware your pie.
Is Pluto a planet? Scientists agree that yer-anus is a planet -
Uranus, sorry - agree Uranus is a planet, but Pluto has always had its detractors. Some say it's too small, others claim it's just right. And because the scientific community has never agreed on the definition of a planet, Pluto has remained in the textbooks, but up for debate.
Right now a committee in the Czech Republic is deciding the fate of Pluto, deciding whether or not the scientific community is going to give Pluto the "Old Yeller" treatment.
Of course, the last time we saw the elimination of a planet, was Alderaan.
GRAND MOFF TARKIN, STAR WARS: You may fire when ready.
PRINCESS LEIA, STAR WARS: What?
OLBERMANN: Blown up by the Death Star and the galaxy almost fell into the hands of the dark side. You remember, that was live team coverage. Now after years of debate, a compromise has emerged. Two sets of plants, the larger variety, the first eight, and the small-fries, or the "Plutons" of which there would be four: Pluto, Saris, something called "2003 UB313" - which is not to be confused with UB40 - science geeks also nicknamed that one "Xena" - could have been worse, could have been Zenu...
TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: You're glib.
OLBERMANN: And finely there is Charon.
CHARO, CUCHI-CUCHI: I got to get going. We're I'm going? What am I going to do? Help!
OLBERMANN: No, no, that's Charon, with an "N."
If that committee, meeting in the Czech Republic approves the new
plan, we would have a new 12 planet solar system. A much longer mnemonic
device and enough out-of-date text-books to cover the surface of yer-anus -
OLBERMANN: What always happens when you make a joke like that one?
The teacher shows up. Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, joins us once again.
Thank you once more for your time, sir.
DERRICK PITTS, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE: Yes, my pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Why should anyone care exactly what we call the rocks orbiting the sun?
PITTS: Well, you know, what goes on with this is that everybody likes to have some sort of a way of categorizing these unknown objects, you know, especially for our planets that are very far out at the edge of the solar system. It give us feel more familiarity, it makes us feel more comfortable with these unknown distant objects. So, it helps for us to have a good definition of what a planet is, and it helps if we can have names that we can all agree on that we think are nice names.
OLBERMANN: And what happens if we don't have that. I mean, if tomorrow's kids grow up thinking there are 12 or even dozens of plants, are they going to change the way they view science?
PITTS: No, I don't think it'll change the way they view science. I think what'll do for them, Keith, though, is it will let them know that the solar system is still a place where there's a lot of discovery taking place. And even for planets, this can be true and if we look at the way the solar system is structured it would be great for us to be able to say that there are these many planets that we sort of consider the classic planets, but now that we have better tools, we've been able to discover other objects further out that need to be properly classified and here's what we call them. I think kids would be fine with that.
OLBERMANN: Derrick, why does it matter whether a planet is round, in particular?
PITTS: Well, if it - ecause of the gravitational implication, really is what's going on here, it indicates that the plant has enough mass to be able to pull itself into a nice round shape, and therefore, is big enough to be a planet. So, if we didn't do that, we'd have objects that have much smaller, with all sorts of jagged edges and it just wouldn't fit the right characteristics for what a planet should be like.
OLBERMANN: Is that why I'm round? Never mind. Pluto is the Roman god of the Underworld. Charon, the ferryman who brought the dead to the Underworld - is there something we should know here? Is there a pattern developing with these names?
PITTS: Yeah, there actually is. There's a set, sort of, convention that's used, if you will, that allows us to name planets, using names that all belong to the same family, or in this case, the same story. In this mythological story, all of the names that will be used for Pluto and its moons all have to belong to that same family of story - stories about the underworld. And in fact, if we look at the moons of Jupiter, I think it is, all of the moons of Jupiter are named for characteters in Shakespearean plays and the opposite side of the moon, the back side of the moon, those craters back there are all named for Russian scientists and philosophers. So there's a set way in which the International Astronomical Union sets up these names.
OLBERMANN: Sounds like it's set the way they feel like at the given moment. But, are we going give a - get that other one a better name than 2003 UB313? Can we just call it Derrick or Keith?
PITTS: I think we certainly should go for one of those. I'm rooting for the Derrick, I think.
OLBERMANN: Ah, yeah. All right, do - do - all right, is this is final count whether it - whether we say officially eight or 12? Are these going to be the final numbers or are some of our descendents going to be revisiting this in 200 years?
PITTS: Oh, I think we're going to be revisiting it in 10 months not 200 years because as the equipment gets better, we'll discover other objects that are out beyond the orbit of Pluto and Xena and UB2313. We'll find other objects out there, without any problem at all. So, I think the number - I think it's going turn into My Very Excellent Mother Just Sat Upon Nine Pizzas That We Though Had Pepperoni But Now We Discover - You know, it's going to go on that long eventually.
OLBERMANN: Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer and mnemonic device inventor at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and soon to be sole owner and property of Planet Derrick!
As always sir, great thanks for your time.
PITTS: Get your real estate now, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
Oddly enough, our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs" also starts with a strangely shaped object of unknown origin that may or may not deserve its current title. That would be Barry Bonds.
While again insisting that personal trainer, Greg Anderson, testified before the Grand Jury investigating whether Bonds lied about using steroids, prosecutors today revealed formally, for the first time, that Bonds is a target of their inquiries.
Mr. Anderson, meantime, has, for the second time, refused to testify. The judge says he has yet to decide if that means another jail term for Anderson for contempt. The first one was a few weeks long, he could go in for the life of the newly convened Grand Jury, as much as a year or a year-and-a-half if he again refuses to testify.
Whether it was his aggressive media handlers or merely the tumbling dice of news, Mel Gibson's DUI and subsequent anti-Semitic rant certainly fell off of the top five pretty quickly. Not 40 miles from here, today, Gibson entered a plea of no contest to a charge of driving with a blood alcohol level of at least 0.8 percent. Under the terms of his deal, Gibson has been placed on probation, is required to complete three months of alcohol counseling, he also has to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings five days a week for the next four-and-a-half months, thee days a week for the following seven-and-a-half months. Gibson will not have to serve any jail time, but if he violates the terms of the probation, they can take away his freedom and that shirt.
And a versatile and gifted actor who recently did a sharp an amusing turn on HBO's "Entourage" has died and died young, shocking the film industry here in Southern California which overflowed with his friend. Bruno Kirby is dead. He may be best remembered as the best friend in two Billy Crystal comedies, "When Harry Met Sally" and "City Slickers," but many think he stole the "Godfather Part Two," playing the role of the young Clemenza, and in rye opposition to Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam." He was even in the TV pilot for "M.A.S.H." the legendary "This is Spinal Tap." Most recently he played the fictional producer of the movie "Shrek" in the HBO comedy series "Entourage," but he died Monday of complications related to leukemia. Bruno Kirby was 57.
There is one more entertainment story tonight and there's no avoiding it. The first Hollywood big-budget picture influenced, perhaps, over taken, but the Internet. Samuel L. Jackson joins us to explain the fascination with "Snake on a Plane." That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest nominees for "Worst Person in the World."
The Bronze tonight to reporter, Dave Clark of KCAL television here in Los Angeles. We mentioned the death of Bruno Kirby, Mr. Clark reported on in Tuesday night, he kept a smile plastered on his face throughout. Rather strange for an obituary. Worse still, he got celebrity reaction at a Hollywood premier by walking up to actors like Jennifer Tilly who did not know Kirby had died. He asked them what they thought of Bruno Kirby and then they gave warm, but unknowing answers and he interrupted them by saying, "He just died" and then playing their shocked and even distraught answers on the air. It was pathetic.
Our runner-up, Country singer Troy Lee Gentry apparently trying to build up country boy street cred. Gentry has a videotape of himself hunting, chasing down, and killing a black bear with a bow and arrow. He's been indicted now and is facing four years in jail because police say Gentry actually bought a tame black bear for about $4,000, killed it in a pen then edited the videotape to make it look like he's Troy Lee, bear hunter. Instead of jail time, why don't we just give the bears a collective second chance?
But our winner tonight, Bill-O! Even for him, this is inexplicable. He's criticizing yesterday's coverage of the arrest in the JonBenet Ramsey story. The former "Inside Edition" is criticizing coverage of the first actual development in this story in about nine year. Last night he told his radio listener, today, "I did my regular program then when to credit at the end of the show for five minutes into a developing fluid story. Our competition did 40 minutes on this. Forty minutes on nothing four-zero."
No. 1 we're doing a newscast, here. You are doing a - well frankly I don't know what the hell you're doing, but please, please don't criticize people in the actual news business, you don't have any credibility in it.
No. 2 on tonight's show, Bill-O's lead story: Ramsey, 45 minutes on it. Forty-five. Bill, no wonder you were fired by ABC News, CBS News, channel seven on Boston, and "Inside Edition."
Bill O'Reilly, today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: It's not the snakes, the 1974 horror movie called "Snakes" about a guy who wreaks vengeance with his pet snakes did so poorly they renamed it "Fangs." Not the plane, two years ago, the movie "Soul Plane" did so poorly that star Snoop Dogg briefly thought about give being up smoke.
Now, in our No. 1 story in the Countdown, now it's the combination, snakes and the plane. The first movie, the title which alone sparked Internet frenzy, a frenzy which in turn sparked the rewriting of the film and a rush to rip the whole thing off. There's even a thing out now call called "Snakes on a Train."
Countdown's senior "Snakes on a Plane" correspondent, Monica Novotny has been following this story since long before the snakes were even on the plane and on the eve of a premier now, she joins us.
Monica, good evening.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening. We have a few clip from "Snakes on a Plane" that we're about to share with you, but this film was not screened for the press, so we have no idea whether or not it's any good. But, we sat down with the film star, Samuel L. Jackson, this week and he says there's no reason for concern that it's impossible to over hype this film because it delivers exactly what it promises.
SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR: You know all those security scenarios we ran, well, I'm smack in the middle one we didn't thing of.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Who would have thought snakes and planes? This weekend two of our biggest fears collide at the box office. After months of Internet hype, days of re-shoots inspired by online fans, designed to take the snakes from PG-13 to an R-rating, bloggers will finally get to hear the dialogue that they helped to write just for star, Samuel Jackson.
NOVOTNY (on camera): They wanted a specific line and they - and that was all about you. Can you tell me what that was?
JACKSON: They know they couldn't get that line in PG-13 movie, you know, even though, when we was shooting I was having difficulty being on a plane full of snakes saying "gosh-golly-gee" all the time.
NOVOTNY: So, what did you say?
JACKSON: It was like, OK, Sam, you had enough and that enough of these mother (BLEEP) on this mother (BLEEP) plane."
NOVOTNY (voice-over): The online buzz building for months, thanks in large part to blogger Brian Finklestein.
BRIAN FINKLESTEIN, BLOGGER: You know exactly what you're going to get when you go to see this movie. It's going to have snakes, they're going to be on a plane, there's probably going to be some biting.
NOVOTNY: The website garnering almost one million hits since January. A treasure trove of gossip, fan-made posters, even homemade clips of what auditions might have looked like.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to kill those snakes.
There are snakes on the plane.
I don't know what kind of airline you're running here, but you got a reptile problem.
NOVOTNY (on camera): Did it surprise you, this Internet buzz and the fact that it stuck?
JACKSON: I've been totally surprised that it's lasted and held on and gotten bigger.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): New Line, the studio behind the film took notice, ordering the reshoot now inviting Finkelstein on an all-expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for the film's premier. You too can join in on the serpent mania, bid on snakes on toast, on eBay. Even order a customized phone message from Jackson himself.
JACKSON: Gee, this is Samuel L Jackson. "Snakes on a Plane" just might be the best motion picture ever made.
NOVOTNY: But will the buzz equaled box office bucks? Hard to say, but if there's a sequel, Jackson just may be there.
(on camera): Are you scared of snakes at all?
JACKSON: Not snakes. I have a greater fear of not going to work than anything else.
Enough is enough. I had it with these mother (BLEEP) snakes on this mother (BLEEP) plane!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shh, did you guys hear that?
NOVOTNY: And that are story about Samuel Jackson wanting to be a part of this film based on hearing the title, that's true. However, Jackson says his agents would not allow him to work with the real snakes while on set, so he stuck with the mechanical ones, but the snake trainer did use about 500 real snakes for the film, 50 of which were venomous. The film opens tomorrow in some cities you can catch it tonight - Keith.
OLBERMANN: I understand he also worked with a couple of rubber snakes, which sounds like cheating. Did anybody have any mishaps with the real ones?
NOVOTNY: Yeah, well, of course, there you know, there has to be with 500 snakes on a set. I mean, when we spoke to the snake handler, he said you don't train snakes, you train the people around them. As good as they though, they did indeed lose on snake on the set one day for two hours. If you can imagine that. Apparently they finally found it inside the cushion of a plane seat. The snake had managed to get in through a hole that he said was about the size of someone's pinky finger. So, yeah, they did lose a snake.
OLBERMANN: Well there it is, there's the title for the sequel. "One of our Snakes on a Plane is Missing," it's perfect. Better than this "Snakes on a Train" nonsense.
NOVOTNY: Snakes in your seat.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, thank you. Oh yeah, never mind.
Countdown's senior hierological aviation correspondent, Monica Novotny, great thanks as always and keep watching the skis.
That's Countdown, for this the 1,204th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished in Iraq." 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