'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 23
Guests: Jonathan Alter, John Henson; Mo Rocca
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
An election about a war, perhaps our first since Abraham Lincoln was president. Another poll tonight, another chunk taken out of this president's policy, a majority now saying there is no link between the fight in Iraq and the fight against terrorism.
John McCain's comment you may have seen but not heard, about how Americans were not given a full forecast of what was ahead in Iraq.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They were led to believe this would be some kind of day a at the beach.
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OLBERMANN: That was the McCain back-away. Today comes the McCain backlash.
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CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "Hardball": Do you believe that the people of Iraq, or at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators?
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OLBERMANN: Ah, that devil embarrassing video. The election may be decided by Iraq, but it may be decided on YouTube.
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SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: This fellow here, over here, with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is...
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OLBERMANN: How the vote will be influenced by Internet streaming.
Tom Cruise fired, day two, or, Tom Cruise quit, day two? Did he jump off the couch, or was he pushed? John Henson (ph) joins us.
And inside a macabre story, the macabre humor, the highlights, as week one ends in the saga of John Mark Karr.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) understand when you go to the bathroom there would be 20 people watching on it.
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OLBERMANN: That's right, snake on a plane.
And then there's this from "U.S. News and World Report." Our president, quote, "can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides," unquote. Mo Rocca joins us to analyze all the president's air biscuits.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Good evening from Los Angeles.
This is Tuesday, August 23, 76 days until the 2006 midterm elections.
And in our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, as if we needed further evidence that the administration's efforts to confuse the war on terror with the war in Iraq are failing, the latest public opinion polling providing it, a quarter more Americans, a majority of us, now believing Iraq has nothing to do with counterterrorism. That's more than did just two months ago, 51 percent of those surveyed by "The New York Times" of the opinion that the war in Iraq is separate from he war on terrorism, 32 percent believing the conflict in Iraq is linked to the larger struggle against terrorism.
This June, those numbers were split at 41 percent each, a Gallup poll taken over the same period reflecting the same trend, 55 percent approving of how the president is handling terrorism in the wake of the purported London bomb plot, on which there are new developments tonight, compared to only 36 percent now holding a favorable opinion of his leadership of the war in Iraq.
With numbers like that, it should not be surprising that a presidential would-be like Senator John McCain would wish to distance himself from the White House on this subject, Iraq, the Arizona Republican doing just that just yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: It grieves me so much that we have not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be. And it has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today, because they were led to believe that this would be some kind of a day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking.
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OLBERMANN: The curious part of that statement, quote, "Many of us fully understood from the beginning," a statement that more than implies that Senator McCain is one of the "us" to which he (INAUDIBLE) refers, curious because it stands in direct contrast to statements Mr. McCain made at the war's outset.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the people of Iraq, or at least a large number of them, will treat us as liberators?
MCCAIN: Absolutely, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: And you think the Arab world will come to a grudging recognition that we did what was necessary? I mean by that the moderate Arab leaders, the people that we have to deal with.
MCCAIN: Not only that, they'll be relieved that he's not in the neighborhood, because he has invaded his neighbors on several occasions.
MATTHEWS: I sincerely hope you're right, Senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Less curious but no less astounding, recent remarks about the war effort from Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, that senator, in an interview with a Tulsa newspaper, (INAUDIBLE) displaying the kind of optimism usually confined to putting on a show in an Andy Hardy movie, Senator Inhofe saying not only that the U.S. involvement in Iraq has been incredibly successful, but also that, quote, "What has happened there is nothing short of a miracle," Inhofe then adding that contrary to most reports, many Iraqis are actually pleased about the U.S. invasion, this from a man who once declared global warming to be, quote, "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." And we cannot stress this enough, he has visited Iraq 11 times.
Time now to call our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor of "Newsweek" magazine.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From the moment that the story first crossed the wires yesterday, it was clear that Senator McCain was trying to distance himself from the White House. But can he get away from the administration on the subject of the war on Iraq, given his previous comments? Can he feasibly portray himself as the maverick on this one?
ALTER: Don't underestimate his ability to portray himself as the maverick, even when he's been, you know, sound-bitten or had his neck strangled by videotape, as you just did.
Look, this guy is very skillful. He looks like a loose cannon, but what he does is pretty calculated. In this case, what he was able to do was to basically say, Look, I'm not, I may still support the war in Iraq, but I have problems with the way it was managed and the way it was talked about.
And because he has some credibility, having criticized Abu Ghraib and some other things in the last couple of years, I think he'll basically get away with it.
OLBERMANN: There has been a lot of talk, especially by the Republicans, about the Democrats being in disarray on the subject of Iraq, not speaking with one voice. Can that can now be said of the Republicans as well?
ALTER: Absolutely. I mean, you know, look, nobody knows how to get out. And so when people are confused as to where this all is going, more of the blame is going to fall on those who actually have the power to do something about it, Republicans. There really isn't any onus on Democrats for an exit strategy, because they can't execute one in the first place, they don't have any power.
So this is about Republicans, and how they're going to get us out of this.
OLBERMANN: So that statement that I made at the beginning of the program, is it too facile, is it too much of an oversimplification, or is the midterms that are 75 days hence in fact going to be an election about a war?
ALTER: I think they will in large part be a referendum on Iraq, because what you could call the great conflation of Iraq and terrorism is over now. Most people, unlike in the 2004 election, now understand the difference.
This could be a straight-up referendum. Do you think the war in Iraq is a good idea? If yes, vote Republican, if no, vote Democratic. And if that happens, then even though the electoral map is still really stacked against the Democrats, you really could see a change of control in at least one chamber.
OLBERMANN: If we have already seen in the last couple of days these two polls that now indicate a clear majority of Americans who agree with what you just assessed there, that there's no link between the war on terror and the war on Iraq, despite the considerable efforts by the administration to create that link, is it necessarily good news for the Democrats, or are they now somehow positioned (INAUDIBLE) into position where they have to prove they could do a better job protecting the country without having the power to do so before independents or Republicans might jump ship on the incumbents?
ALTER: Well, I think there - there'll be a lot of efforts by the Republicans to do that, to, again, throw the onus back on the Democrats. And we know, and we've talked about this before, that the Republicans are better at the basic blocking and tackling of politics.
You can see it in these press releases that they e-mail to us. They're just - they're tougher. You know, so they may be able to get away with that.
But it's kind of a preposterous idea, Keith, that somehow it's up to the Democrats to get us out of Iraq, or up to the Democrats to not turn our ports over to, you know, Dubai, or whatever. These are Republicans who have the power to do all of these kinds of things.
I think it's really important for the Democrats to remind the voters that this election is really about accountability, because there hasn't been any. The only way you can get any is to get at least one chamber of Congress. Otherwise, you can't hold hearings to hold their feet to the fire, you have no subpoena power, forget impeachment and all the rest of that, just getting basic answers to questions about why this administration has been incompetent.
In order to do that, you've got to get some control and some power back. And that's what this election is really about.
OLBERMANN: And we'll see it play out in the next two months.
Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" magazine, as always, sir, our great thanks.
ALTER: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This day in politics and terror also bringing the release of yet another suspect in that purported London bomb plot, the fourth out of the two dozen people arrested August 10 in the police raids in Great Britain freed today, the rest of the case now proceeding slowly, a judge today giving British police even more time to quiz 10 other suspects in connection with the alleged plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners, ruling those suspects can be held until the end of the month. The 11 remaining suspects have already been charged.
And from the nexus of politics and terror, it is a short trip to the nexus of politics and Tom Cruise, the Associated Press finding a private appointment in the official State Department date book of then-deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage with "Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward on the afternoon of June 13, 2003, only weeks before CIA officer Valerie Plame was outed.
While we are more curious than anyone, perhaps, to learn what Mr. Armitage discussed with Mr. Woodward, we're equally curious to learn why he also met that day with Tom Cruise. According to this screen grab of the datebook by another network, that would be CNN, Mr. Armitage met later that afternoon, that same afternoon, from 4:00 to 4:30 with Tom Cruise, Tom Davis, and Curt Weiland (ph), the latter two men believed to be affiliated with the Church of Scientology. They may have discussed couches. No word if Armitage was less than pleased with the behavior of Mr. Cruise at that meeting.
You already know Cruise is out at Paramount Pictures, but was he really fired, or did he quit, and the company simply decide to trash him as he went out the door?
Trashing yourself in the world of politics, the Macaca moment, emphasizing the new reality. You too could decide several close races this fall.
And the extraordinary report tonight from "U.S. News and World Report." We have a deliberately flatulent president. The booming salvos being heard up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. Mo Rocca will join me to analyze this bizarre story.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: This just in. It's apparently Wednesday. My bad.
There are certain moments in a politician's life that become forever linked with their careers, especially when that moment is recorded for posterity, like Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, Gerald Ford cascading down the steps of Air Force One, Howard Dean yelling, "Yeah!" after the Iowa primary.
Now, in our fourth story on the Countdown, such defining moments are now instantly and prolifically available for everyone to watch over and over again, thanks to the Internets.
Take 71-year-old Senator Conrad Burns of Montana. This video of him falling asleep during the Senate farm bill field hearing on August 17, a hearing which he himself convened, has already been viewed more than 61,000 times on the Web site YouTube.
And now there's more embarrassing footage for the senator to contend with, video obtained by his competition in the Senate race showing him joking about his Guatemalan roofer, Hugo, the same roofer who, back in June, Burns implied, might be in this country illegally.
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SEN. CONRAD BURNS (R), MONTANA: (INAUDIBLE) Hugo. I'll call you back, Hugo. I'll call you back, OK? OK. That's Hugo. Hugo is a nice little Guatemalan man who's doing some painting for me in Virginia. No, he's terrific, love him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Of course, Senator Burns isn't the only politician whose poor jokes are now instant Internet classics. As our correspondent David Gregory reports, when it comes to trapping politicians through their own words, there is no better web than the World Wide Web.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Virginia Senator George Allen recently learned firsthand about the changing political landscape. At a campaign event, Allen made an off-the-cuff racial slur, "Macaca," when he spotted an Indian-American staffer from his rival's campaign.
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is...
GREGORY: In the past, such an unscripted moment may have gone largely unnoticed, but not in the era of YouTube, an increasingly popular Web site where you can post video for the world to see.
For politicians, the Web site has turned campaigns into reality television.
Here's Democrat Joe Biden speaking about Indian-Americans.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. That's really -
I'm not joking.
GREGORY: And, of course, the president is a frequent target.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my state of the - my State of the Union, or state - my speech to the nation, whatever you want to call it, speech to the nation...
GREGORY (on camera): YouTube is just the latest entry into a political landscape that's been dramatically changed by the Internet, where you never know who's watching or what they're doing with the material.
(voice-over): But some politicians have decided, if you can't fight it, join it, attempting to raise their profiles on the Web with younger voters. Senator Evan Bayh has posted his own profile on the social networking site Facebook.
But former White House media adviser Nicole Wallace is skeptical of all this new exposure, fearing in particular that YouTube's popularity will make politicians even less spontaneous.
(on camera): Your fear is that this creates candidates as robots.
NICOLE WALLACE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE MEDIA ADVISER: I think if we get to a point in politics where politicians can't be human, then they move farther away from us. And I think that that's a dangerous thing. I think that's something we should all guard against.
GREGORY (voice-over): Anna Marie Cox, who came to prominence as a political blogger, disagrees.
ANNA MARIE COX: The difference here is that politicians will get caught more. But shouldn't people who do stupid things be held accountable for them?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)
ANNOUNCER: Ned Lamont, another flip-flop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: In a new campaign era that is anything but politics as usual.
David Gregory, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: The difference is, soon everybody will be caught doing something wrong.
Nothing (INAUDIBLE) - nothing usual about the new headline from a sober and judicious newsmagazine, the president likes fart jokes and is known to, quote, "cut one," unquote, for laughs. See what the stink is all about with Mo Rocca.
And from breaking wind to flying fish, who needs a rod and reel when these guys are this proactive?
That and more, ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1947, Margaret Truman, daughter of the president, an aspiring concert singer, gave her first outdoor performance here at the nearby Hollywood Bowl. Three years later, when one of her concerts was ripped to shreds by the music critic of "The Washington Post," her father sent a handwritten note in reply, which warned that if he ever met the critic, quote, "You'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter down below."
On that offkey note, let's play Oddball.
We begin once again with some outsourced odd news from the village of Hyaderabad (ph) in India, where 29-year-old student Naga Prasad (ph) is your new Guinness world record holder for most continuous hours spent typing. Look at him type, 111 hours he spent typing nonstop, an original compilation on the relations between India and Pakistan that he calls "A Tale of Two Nations."
The finished product is more than three pages long. Never said anything about him being a good typist.
To Dixie County, Florida, way down upon the Sewanee River, where we've got an urgent sturgeon situation. It's breeding season, and these fish are jumping crazy. So far, six people have been injured by flying fish which have leaped into the boats and whacked them. Wildlife officials are urging extreme caution. How about staying off the river? Of course, there was a couple of guys in Brazil we found on the Internets who say, Suck it up there in the Sewanee River, you ain't seen nothing yet.
And that's how evolution began.
Finally to Syracuse, home of the New York State Fair and this year's giant-sized butter statue. Can't be entirely sure here, but it appears to depict a mother knocking back a big bottle of booze while two children kneel down before her, perhaps begging Mom to stop drinking.
We'll check on that for you. I could be wrong.
Folks come from miles around to see the statue, an American family made of 100 percent butter, as opposed to real American families whose bodies are about 60 percent butter.
We don't know what Tom Cruise is made out of, but Paramount claims whatever it is, they don't like it any more. They insist they fired him. He insists he quit. Who knows the real answer?
And one week and counting in the international saga that is John Mark Karr's connection or lack thereof to the JonBenet Ramsey murder. We'll look back at the circus on both sides of the Pacific.
And we're keeping track of a live news conference, set to begin any minute, from lawyers who have advised Karr in the past. A major announcement, something about what he's going to eat for dinner. We don't know, but we'll let you know when we know.
All that ahead.
But first, time now for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, officials of the Tokyo subway system. They have denied "Harper's Bazaar" magazine permission to advertise the October issue of the Japanese edition on the subway walls. They've branded it too stimulating for our young people. The ad shows the cover. The cover is the same one that ran in this month's American edition, Britney Spears nude and pregnant. Tokyo, what exactly is wrong with your young people?
Number two, farmers in a town in Jang-tsu Province in China. They noticed that as their friends and relatives passed away, there were fewer and fewer townspeople attending the funerals. So they turned to a promotional tool. They hired strippers to perform at the funerals. Talk about going to a better place.
And number one, Mardin Azad Amin, who tried to joke his way out of an embarrassing situation at security screening at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, when a suspicious-looking object was found in his luggage, he explained it was a bomb. The screener went and got a supervisor and asked Mr. Amin to repeat what he had just said, so Mr. Amin did, this time chuckling as he said, It's a bomb.
They arrested him. He could get three years in jail. What kind of object in your luggage would be so embarrassing that you'd prefer authorities think it was a bomb? How about the squeeze bulb for a penis pump? Ladies and gentlemen, when we reach our desired altitude.
OLBERMANN: First, we don't see pictures with Tom Cruise's daughters now we don't see motion pictures with Tom Cruise. Our third story on the Countdown, it may or may not be dominating your thoughts but here in Hollywood, it remains all the talk. Was Tom Cruise fired by Paramount and not just by Paramount, but by the chairmen of the company that owns Paramount, or did he really just quit to go off in a different direction inspiring the head of Paramount to make up the story about firing him? Hollywood insider John Henson will join us in a moment; first we're going to interrupt this before we get to our correspondent James Hattori because there are developments tonight concerning the alleged suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey case. Two attorneys who have been advising, though not representing John Mark Karr, holding a news conference right now outside their law offices in San Jose. Here Jamie Harmon and Patience VanZandt.
JAMIE HARMON, ATTORNEY: And as far as we are able to do so. First, regarding the status of our relationship with Mr. Karr.
QUESTION: Could you tell us your name?
HARMON: Yeah, I'm Jamie Harmon. This is Patience VanZandt. This morning as of about 11:15 we were officially retained to represent Mr. Karr in connection with all of his legal matters. We have so informed the California and Colorado authorities.
Second, this is probably the much more interesting part, regarding the timing of Mr. Karr's anticipated transport to Colorado; we have repeatedly attempted to learn from both the L.A. County Sheriff's Department as well as the Boulder County District Attorney's Office when Mr. Karr will be transported to Colorado. The L.A. Sheriff's Department has refused to provide any information to us at all and quite frankly I think the reason for that is that they don't know.
We have also received a communication this afternoon from Boulder County from the D.A.'s Office, Pete McGuire (ph), who is one of the prosecutors involved closely with this case, and Mr. McGuire he has informed us that he is "unable to share" with us any details concerning Mr. Karr's transportation to Colorado. He also indicated that he does not expect a first appearance in Boulder for Mr. Karr sooner than next week, early next week.
It's been very difficult to communicate with Boulder County about this case in any way, shape or form. I'm sure most of you are finding that to be true, as well. It's somewhat baffling for us that they won't communicate with us. I do understand there are security concerns about his transportation, but the botTom line at this point is they are telling us they don't expect him to arrive in Colorado much before early next week. OK? And that's it.
QUESTION: Jamie, can you say your first name and spell your last name, so we can get it on the record.
HARMON: Sure my first name is Jamie, it's spelled j-a-m-i-e. This is Patience, her name is spelled p-a-i-t-e-n-c-e. My last name is Harmon, h-a-r-m-o-n, hers is VanZandt, v-a-n capital z-a-n-d-t, one word.
QUESTION: Is there any truth to the fact that he was not in Colorado at the time. He was in Georgia (INAUDIBLE)
HARMON: I haven't heard about this today. Is this new information?
QUESTION: Yeah, well one of the brothers talked about it a bit today.
HARMON: Well, I want to - you should be aware, if you're not, that one of the brothers retained a talent agent to represent him. One of the brothers and father, I believe, have retained this talent agent and they are now attempting to put all kinds of interesting information into the media. And I don't know how much of it is true and how much is not true. We haven't received any photographs.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) for your services?
HARMON: We don't talk about that's privileged information.
QUESTION: You have been retained by the family - by Mr. Karr himself and if so, tell us why he has come to you (INAUDIBLE).
HARMON: I can't tell you why, but that would require us to disclose confidential information. But it is Mr. Karr who has hired us.
QUESTION: Previous relationship is that you represented him earlier.
HARMON: Patience did?
PATIENCE VANZANDT, ATTORNEY: It was I who represented him in 2001.
QUESTION: Your relationship with him.
HARMON: My relationship with him now is that I'm and I became his lawyer this morning. I met with him with Patience over the course of the few days we were in Los Angeles and developed a rapport with him.
QUESTION: Are you in communication with this person (INAUDIBLE)
QUESTION: So you have no idea what they are doing in that respect?
HARMON: Well, I have some idea what they're doing, I don't have to talk to him to a to know what they're doing, but I haven't spoken to him, nor do I intend to.
QUESTION: Miss Harmon you had actually criticized the Sonoma County authorities for not releasing any of the taped conversations or e-mails until just recently. Can you elaborate on that?
HARMON: I did?
HARMON: Apparently not. I haven't criticized the Sonoma County authorities about absolutely nothing. OK?
QUESTION: Can I say something? There are some people who have been critical of the two of you and some statements you've made previous to being his - when you were his legal advisers, such as getting on the record being very clear about an intelligent, lucid (ph) person he is, same person who makes an very incriminating statement about - that kind of ties your hand - ties his lawyers hands down the road when you make those kinds of statements. People have been very critical of how you - about what you two have been saying (INAUDIBLE).
HARMON: I think there is an element of - out there who is critical of that and to me, that sort of criticism is ridiculous. We're talking about a crime that occurred 10 years ago. So his state of mind as pf today or yesterday, which is the time that I was referring to him and his state of mind 10 years ago are completely different issues.
QUESTION: Well, we're talking about a few days ago when he made some very incriminating statements about himself.
HARMON: Yeah, his incriminating statements were made days before I met him. So, and I can't say under what circumstances those were made. I know when I spoke to him - when we spoke to him together, his statements were lucid and clear.
OLBERMANN: And it gets curiouser and curiouser. Jamie Harmon, who you heard speaking there, and Patience VanZandt, who are now the attorneys for John Mark Karr in the case of the State of Colorado vs. Mr. Karr. We'll continue to monitor that news conference to see if anything of substance is said. In the interim, let's go to correspondent Michelle Hofland who is standing by in Boulder, Colorado where the media and, I guess, the state are awaiting the eventual arrival of John Mark Karr.
Michelle, did that news conference give you any additional insight into what we might expect next in this bizarre case?
MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: We've all been waiting to find out when John Mark Karr is going to be transported to Colorado and we thought that it might be within the next couple of days, but now, apparently, what they were saying, this is the first that we heard of it, that it might be early next week.
But, Keith, what we understand according to Los Angeles is they have 10 days to bring him here from the time that this whole thing started, that would be two weeks from today that he would be brought here. According to some of the legal experts that we spoke with, it could be that the district attorney here is intentionally dragging her feet in all this to bring him here, and the reason why, Keith, is so that her investigators have more time to investigate Karr, to see if he really is a killer. So, that could be what's going on, according to the legal experts here.
OLBERMANN: Michelle Hofland at Boulder, Colorado, great thanks. That will constitute our No. 3 story on the Countdown. Let's just recap if briefly. Jamie Harmon and Patience VanZandt are now the attorneys for John Mark Karr. They had previously represented him, in fact, Patience VanZandt, as a public defender in Sonoma County, California had represented him when he was charged with possessing child pornography there, in 2001.
They say, as you may have just heard, in the live coverage of the news conference from San Jose that they don't know when Karr will be transported from a jail here in Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. Perhaps, as Michelle mentioned, maybe next week. But they also said - Jamie Harmon did anyway, we did not hear Ms. VanZandt, they - she indicated she had no comment, even no knowledge of the report that busted across the networks this morning of exculpatory photos of Karr in Alabama at Christmas in 1996, at the same time JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in Colorado. So, as we said, the curious story gets curiouser and your curiouser. John Mark Karr has attorneys.
Will there be attorneys in the No. 2 on the Countdown tonight? Tom Cruise exits stage right from Paramount. Did he jump off the couch or was he pushed?
OLBERMANN: Lots of hard to believe news tonight from Tom Cruise sunk at Paramount to a headline in "U.S. News and World Report" that the president of the United States relies on flatulence to break the ice with new staffers. What the hell kind of world are we living in? - Ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: So what now with Tom Cruise? Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, he and Paramount have split faster than did he and Nicole Kidman. Did they fire him or did he quit? Where is the truth? Is it as hidden as little Suri? John Henson joins me in a moment, first the details from our correspondent James Hattori.
JAMES HATTORI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After making movies together that grossed $6 billion worldwide, Paramount has decided a new production deal with Tom Cruise is a real mission impossible.
TOM O'NEIL, "IN TOUCH WEEKLY": This is the decline of the biggest star in Hollywood history.
HATTORI: The studio not only cut him lose, Viacom chairman, Sumner Redstone says Cruise's recent controversial and sometimes odd public behavior hurt it's box office.
TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do.
HATTORI: Incidents like his love-sic couch jumping on "Oprah," his criticism of actress Brooke Shields for using anti-depressants.
CRUISE: Where's her career gone?
HATTORI: Redstone told the "Wall Street Journal" "We don't think someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot." He estimated that Cruise's behavior cost $100 to 150 million in lost ticket sales for "Mission: Impossible 3."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really about power in Hollywood, and it's very unusual that this kind of combat is revealed so strikingly.
HATTORI (on camera): What happened to Cruise is the latest symptom of big studios increasingly worried about the bottom-line, determined to rein in costs and their star's behavior.
(voice-over): Last month Lindsay Lohan was rebuked by a film exec who claimed excessive late-night partying caused her to miss work. Disney recently slashed its staff and decided to make fewer movies, while some studios will now only hire one big star per film to save money.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What they're trying to do now is cut back on what they give them in advance and cut back on what they give them at the back end.
HATTORI: But Tom Cruise's producing parter, Paula Wagner, tell NBC NEWS that Cruise has made Paramount plenty of money. He calls Redstone's comments about Cruise "Outrageous, disrespectful, insane and irresponsible to shareholders."
She says they're putting together a venture to make movies with private investors, something, she says, they've dreamed about.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Cruise, I'm sure will make just as much money financing his own pictures as he could from a studio.
HATTORI: And get the chance to prove he's still a top gun in Hollywood.
James Hattori, NBC NEWS, Los Angeles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A pleasure to be joined now by the host of TV Guide Channel's "Watch This," John Henson.
John, good evening.
JOHN HENSON, "WATCH THIS": How you doing, Keith. Nice to see you.
OLBERMANN: There was one more particularly remarkable line in that report, the Viacom chairman, Mr. Redstone, telling the "Wall Street Journal," "we don't think someone who effectuates creative suicide and costs the company revenue should be on the lot." First we had the Lindsay Lohan blistering and now this. I mean, Luis B. Mayor wouldn't have talked trash like that. Have we entered a new era in Hollywood?
HENSON: It's interesting that this has taken on such a high school kind of vibe. I'm have expecting Sumner Redstone to give Tom Cruise a call and say it's not you, I've changed, we can still be friends. You know, this is sort of like the prom king and prom queen splitting up. It really doesn't matter who's right and who's wrong, the bottom line is the relationship isn't working.
Sumner Redstone is a very old school, fiscally conservative man and Tom Cruise is, bottom line, probably the most new age movie star the world has ever seen and the size and scope of movie deals, both in salary and in back end have gotten out of controlling and I think what we're seeing is a little bit of backlash and studios wanting to move almost towards an NBA-style salary cap, so that they're not forced to take these enormous gambles. I think what Paramount wants to avoid is, you know, the New York Knicks center Eddy Curry starring in "Mission: Impossible 4: Izaya (ph) Wins."
OLBERMANN: That would be mission impossible, but that's another subject all together. Whether Tom Cruise got caned or Tom Cruise quit, did anybody see the separation coming, John, had there been any hints about this, any reporting?
HENSON: I think if you understand the industry, the writing was on the wall. Tom Cruise has clearly alienated himself from his viewing public. Your approval rating directly translates to your earning potential, it's not unlike a president's approval rating. And starting from his divorce of Nicole Kidman, just prior to their 10 year anniversary, to the rumors of him casting Katie Holmes as his next relationship, through the much publicized Oprah Winfrey incident, Brooke Shields, Matt Lauer. I mean, he locked horns with Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer got around - got along with Katie Couric, I mean, he's like, what do you want from me for god's sake?
OLBERMANN: Is there.
HENSON: I think it.
OLBERMANN: John, do you think there's a consensus in this, this is the largest factory town known to man, everybody talks about the same thing. Has Hollywood decided whether he jumped or was pushed by Mr. Redstone?
HENSON: Well, it's interesting. Whether you believe it was, you know, the chicken or the Scientologist who made the decision, I think the issue is this is sort of like Terrell Owners leaving the Eagles. Somebody is going to play Jerry Jones, here, and pick up Tom Cruise, because he is a very talented actor, he is a well-known movie star worldwide and bottom line is there are only so many personalities that can do what he's done.
Seven of his last movies have grossed over $100 million at the box office. He's 12 for the last 14 in the $100 million mark, that is an enormous slugging percentage financially and somebody will be willing to dive on that grenade. Whether or not he's able to can create a new business model, and as he said, get independent hedge funds to put together a $100 million revolving credit line for him and create, in effect, a new business model for movie stars, remains to be seen. You know, if he does, look for other people to follow.
OLBERMANN: John Henson of TV Guide Channel, great thanks. And great thanks to you and your employers for keeping us informed there at TV Channel.
HENSON: Thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: Keeping you informed on presidential fart jokes. There may be no winds of change breaking in the Bush administration, but reportedly there is a lot of breaking of wind. Mo Rocca joins me for a remarkably loud and embarrassing story, next.
First, time for Countdown latest list of nominees for "Worst Persons in the World."
The Bronze to the National Football League it is reportedly considering dismissing Bryant Gumbel who was to do play-by-play of games on the NFL's own TV network. Gumbel claims the league's current commissioner owned a leash on which he kept the executive director of the very pliant Football Players Union. Mr. Paul Tagliabue called Gumbel's comments "uninformed and quite inexcusable." No truth to rumors that union head Gene Upshaw called the comments, "Roof. Ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff."
Our runner-up tonight, Jeff Williams, an astronaut on the space station talking back to earth. He gave away the secret name of the next generation of NASA spacecraft that are supposed to take us back to the moon in the next decade. He mentioned Orion during a communication that NASA was supposed not to allow to be heard publicly. So, actually he'd get the silver for worst person not in the world, right?
But our winners, the staff of the Burger King of Newton, Massachusetts. John Michael Jesset (ph) was hit by a car outside the place at dinnertime a week ago, he was thrown from his bicycle and fortunately got nothing worse than scrapes on his knee, arms and hands and a bruise to his ankle. So says his mother, he staggered bloodied, but unbowed, and asked for some ice for the ankle. The clerk offered him a small cup full of it and said "That'll be 99 cents plus tax!"
The chowder heads at the counter at the Burger King in Newton, Massachusetts. Today's "Worst Persons in the World."
OLBERMANN: Our No. 1 story today comes from august publication, "U.S. News and World Report," so if your sensibilities are offended, please complain to them. Rather than summarize their recent scoop, I will read it directly to you. Quoting a top insider, the report says President Bush is:
"Still a funny, earthy guy who, for example, can't get enough of fart jokes. He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting new young aides."
There you have it. For the first time since Lyndon Johnson showed photographers the scars from his gallbladder surgery and reported phoning his tailor to talk about the relationship between suits of clothing and bunghole, we're talking about the highest elected orifice in the land. Evidently now, when you sign up to work at the White House, the presidential salutation is fluctuation. We readily admit this may not be the most important, I was going to say earth shattering story, not like global warming, for instance, or the price of gas, or a backdoor draft, or the hunt for SBDs.
We contacted the White House for its reaction to the report. Spokesperson Eryn Witcher said they, "deny it whole heartedly." However a Countdown analysis of previous denials reveals that historically speaking whoever denied it, supplied it. When we decided to pursue this story, only one presidential historian came to mind, television personality, Mo Rocca, the author of "All the President's Pets.
Mo, good evening.
MO ROCCA, COMEDIAN: Thank you, Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: Is the president personally guilty of personally violating federal emission stands.
ROCCA: Well, the problem here isn't global warming, really the issue is safety. Tests show that that flatus of more than half of American males contains a large amount of methamphetamine. Methamphetamine is very flagmanible. Now, if the president wants to light his farts in Crawford, Texas, that is prerogative, it's private property. It's probably an effective way of clearing brush, but the White House is the people's house, it's taxpayer financed, that's how it's maintained, there are too many valuable article that could be lost if the president decides to engage in some good old boy fun.
OLBERMANN: Always the historical perspective on that. Thank you Mo. I want to play one of the Mr. Bush's campaign promises from 2000 for you and then get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Swear to not only unuphold the laws of the land, but uphold the honor and the dignity of the office to which I have been elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Which misdeed do you think Americans would more easily forgive a president? Breaking a campaign promise or breaking wind?
ROCCA: Well, Americans understand that presidents are human beings and any student of history can tell that presidents have been farting since the dawn of the Republic. Zachary Taylor died after drinking in ice cold pitcher of milk and consuming a bowl of cherries under the broiling sun, essentially he ripped one so big it killed him.
Martin van Buren, very fastidious, he practically invented the one-cheek sneak. Harry Truman was known for burning rubber, Clinton would float one every now and then, Reagan would cut the cheese, Carter would grind the peanuts. The issue here with Bush and his floating air biscuits is that it corroborates sort of the image of a reckless frat boy president. You can, as you pointed out, hear him saying, "We can't find the WMDs but we knew who supplied the SBDs" I mean, it's not a good image, it reinforces something unhealthy. Or it's actually, healthy, I suppose.
OLBERMANN: By the way, Martin van Buren's people are on the phone and we're negotiating with them now about with them now about what you just said.
You're a study - a student of this presidency and the facial expressions and the body language of president. Let's go through photographs of Mr. Bush and you can tell us - give us whatever insights you might have about each moment. First one, is he really seeing the barking spider there?
ROCCA: That's more formally known as barking spider, hidden dragon, yes.
OLBERMANN: No. 2, was this a southbound raspberry and only he knew about it at that point.
ROCCA: Uh, well, that's actually the one-cheek sheikh sneak, right there, it's a node to nod to multi-culturalism there, yes.
OLBERMANN: This next third one, there was a booty burp on this occasion or did he just spot a reporter he didn't like.
ROCCA: Oh gosh, I think that - I think it's a booty burp, let's call it that?
OLBERMANN: No, 4, is this a pooty-toot directed at his predecessor?
ROCCA: That's what it looks like, yes. That's what it looks like and remember his farther, and I can see right there, his farther is - knew to stay away from broccoli, which creates a lot of flatulence. So the farther was much better on the score.
OLBERMANN: Right, there might be a big supply of Beano in the White House. We don't know. And perhaps the most infamous photograph of this presidency, the electronic box shot from the 2004 debates. Mo, is that actual just a battery powered flatulence simulations generator there?
ROCCA: No, it's actually a room deodorizer, right there, that's he's up on the small of his back, higher than the of his back, but that's what that's there for, yes. It's a Renewzit (ph), I think. Is that what it is?
OLBERMANN: That could be it. We got one more here. Is this further evidence of another tail wind scandal.
ROCCA: No, that's, oh, well, oh, that right there? Yeah, that looks a little bit like the pooh-pooh platter, right there, yes.
OLBERMANN: Last question here for you, the nickname that Mr. Bush has for his top advisor, "Turd Blossom," he used language like that to describe violence in the Middle East to the "New York Times" reporter, is there an unhealthy fixation on this subject?
ROCCA: Well, I want to make sure I'm not taking it out of context. I want to speak very specifically here. On this issue, it appears that President Bush has his head up his ass and I'm speaking very technically, here. Now, it's remarkable the way his aides have managed, through the use of CGI and computer graphics to make it appear as if his head is not up his ass.
OLBERMANN: Television personality Mo Rocca.
ROCCA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And once again we'll emphasize not macaca, always a pleasure speaking to you.
ROCCA: That's right, thank you.
OLBERMANN: Thank you for your insight.
Let's recap the hours' braking news, no pun intended there. Jamie Harmon and Patience VanZant have announced that they have been hired to respect the suspect John Mark Karr in the JonBenet Ramsey case. They say they do not know when their client will be transferred from here in Los Angeles to Boulder, Colorado. They now have added that they have encouraged him, though, to stop talking.
That's Countdown for this, the 1,208th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. From L.A., keep your knees loose. I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTY. Joe, good evening.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END