'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 31
Guests: P.J. Crowley , Dana Milbank, Joe Trippi
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Only in the American political maelstrom of 2006, the last Democratic nominee for president calls the sitting president stupid. And that president's people claim the insult is directed not at the president, but at the troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Education. If you make the most of it, and you study hard, and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The White House response, it's either too stupid to realize John Kerry referred to President Bush and not the troops, or it's too sharp not to try to turn it into more false-flag waving.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who've given their lives in this. This is an absolute insult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And Kerry's rebuttal, "I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece." Bring It On - The Sequel.
Even the first lady gets into the gutter, accusing Michael J. Fox of being part of the manipulation of people's feelings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL J. FOX: I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away. Or maybe I'm just supposed to go away. But I'm not going to go away.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tonight, Fox's newfound role as political fulcrum.
And the great campaign debate about drapes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of them in Washington are already measuring the drapes for their new offices.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A Countdown investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on phone): Washington, D.C., drapery store.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, hi, I'm wondering if any Democrats have been in your store looking for drapes to decorate their new offices?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And thereby hangs another tale, about the Bill Clinton-Chris Wallace interview, the punchline you have not heard, and which you will not believe.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRESIDENT Bill Clinton: It was a perfectly legitimate question...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Tuesday, October 31, seven days until the 2006 midterm elections.
Senator John Kerry has, in essence, called out President Bush for not being smart, not studying, and being intellectually lazy, and the president and his minions have replied by demanding Kerry apologize to the troops in Iraq. Kerry called them stupid, and they were too stupid to know he called them stupid.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, to top his own original remarkable comments, and the administration's equally remarkable missing of the point, intentional or otherwise, there is also Kerry's response, blistering with phrases like "crazy," "stuffed suit," "lied," "lie," "lying," "Republican hacks," "right-wing nutjobs," and "doughy."
We begin where the story did at yesterday's rally for the Democratic candidate for governor California, Senator Kerry charming the college-age crowd with tales of surfing before segueing into a series of one-liners about his former opponent in the 2004 race for the White House, Mr. Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: Yesterday, I was in the state of Texas. As you all know, President Bush used to live there. Now he lives in a state of denial, a state of deception.
I'm glad to be here with you, I really am. Thank you for the privilege of coming here.
We're here to talk about education. But I want to say something (INAUDIBLE) - Well, you know, education, if you make the most of it, and you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: In case it was not crystal clear that Mr. Kerry was referring to the Bush administration having gotten us into war with Iraq, the senator not only saying so himself this afternoon, but also having others close to him call reporters, like our own Kelly O'Donnell, just to make sure, the White House preferring, though, to stick with its own incorrect interpretation of the remarks, President Bush late this afternoon forgetting that neither he nor Senator Kerry is on the ballot next week during a rally in Georgia, and press secretary Tony Snow taking Senator Kerry to task at a White House briefing this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SNOW: Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who've given their lives in this. This is an absolute insult.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The senator's suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting, and it is shameful.
The members of the United States military are plenty smart, and they are plenty brave, and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.
Whatever party you're in in America, our troops deserve the full support of our government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The only evident difference between the final week of this campaign and that of the 2004 race for president, Senator Kerry's unwillingness to take the abuse. His retort almost melted the videotape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: If anybody thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq, and not the president and his people who put them there, they're crazy.
It's just wrong. This is a classic GOP textbook Republican campaign tactic. I'm sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate real policy, who won't take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes.
I'm not going to be lectured by a White House or by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who's taking a day off from mimicking and attacking Michael J. Fox, who's now going to now try to attack me and lie about me and distort me. No way. It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks, who've never worn the uniform of our country, are willing to lie about those who did. It's over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's call in our own Dana Milbank, also, of course, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
OLBERMANN: It's been two years since you and I have discussed an election in terms of Bush v. Kerry. But one week before these midterms, here we go again.
When you consider that the question about this briefing this morning was asked by Bret Baier (ph) of Fox News to Tony Snow, Fox News alumni, and that the president rewrote a section of his stump speech at the 11th hour in Georgia to include those comments about Senator Kerry, is there any question that the White House is not just enjoying a windfall here, but actually manufacturing a windfall?
MILBANK: Well, of course it's manufactured. It's sort of this made-for-Fox News Halloween thriller. It only runs in even years, but Karl Rove casts some spell. John Kerry turns into the Grim Reaper, and the Democrats all look as if they've seen a ghost.
Now, the fact that it's manufactured, the fact that John Kerry isn't on the ballot, the fact that it's sort of an odd interpretation of what he said doesn't really matter, because here everybody is talking about it today. So it has succeeded in reducing the Democrats' momentum, perhaps just for a day, get people talking about something else.
So it is - it may be a little bit silly, it's unlikely to shift an election anyway, but it is a distraction.
OLBERMANN: But there seems, though, to have been a pattern in this administration. Criticism of the administration is turned by the administration into criticism of the troops. But at the White House, at least regarding this, they don't really believe that Kerry attacked the troops, do they? I mean, they're not that - to use his words - crazy, and to use mine, they're not that stupid. They're pretending. Please tell me they're pretending.
MILBANK: Well, of course. But, I mean, the - you won't be shocked to learn that there's a lot of pretending that goes on in politics. And the truth is, Democrats aren't really angry with the White House for characterizing it this way, so much as they are angry with John Kerry for allowing this to happen, by botching that line.
Now, we can sort of have a sense of what he was trying to say. But if you look at what he actually said, this allows - my inbox was just filled today with one angry denunciation after another. They've even got the head of the American Legion involved here.
So John Kerry has had some trouble before when he sort of goes for the one-liner. Just a few weeks ago, he made his little ha-ha about assassinating the president at the White House.
OLBERMANN: Is, though, this that rarest of modern political controversies, the kind that might wind up firing up both sides equally? Because certainly Senator Kerry's response today, you would think, would get Democrats, the rank and file, lighting their torches and grabbing their pitchforks and heading for Frankenstein's castle, wouldn't it?
MILBANK: Well, that's a scary thought. The - this is really exactly what the Democrats wanted from John Kerry, but this is what they wanted in October of 2004, when it would really fire up, and instead of allowing himself to be Swiftboated, as he was.
Now, so John Kerry's gotten the message, similar to the way he has on Iraq, at least gotten a coherent point of view on it. The problem is, for the Democrats, it's happened too late. This is drawing attention to John Kerry. The 2006 election isn't going terribly well for Republicans. The 2004 election went quite a bit better for them. So this presumably benefits them quite a bit more.
OLBERMANN: But with all the firewood that it does provide Republicans, might there not be the proverbial rattlesnake hiding in that pile? Because no matter what Kerry said, no matter what the Republicans say Kerry said, what good does it do the Republicans to spend any of the last seven days of the campaign talking about Iraq?
MILBANK: Right. This is not like it's bringing us back to the September 11 period, when we're talking all about homeland security, about terrorism, where Bush is at his strongest - not terribly strong at this moment, but at his strongest. So the Democrats, if they are still talking about Iraq, that's why I say it's unlikely to have a fundamental effect on the election here. But distractions in very close races, the loss of a day or so of the Democrats' momentum, could have an affect here and there.
OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of MSNBC and "The Washington Post." As always, Dana, great thanks.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In addition to the not-so-Swiftboating of John Kerry, 2006 edition, the White House taking another page out of the '04 playbook today by also reverting to scare tactics in this, the final week of the campaign, a new applause line popping up again in the president's stump speech, again this week and again today, making its third appearance at this afternoon's rally in Georgia, Mr. Bush alleging that voting for the Democrats is essentially the same thing as voting for the terrorists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: However they put it, the Democrat approach comes down to this, the terrorists win, and America loses. And that's what's at stake in this election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That dramatic shift in tone by the president not translating to better job performance numbers for him, at least not yet. In our own exclusive NBC News poll out tonight, Mr. bush's approval number is still stuck below 40 percent, up only 1 point in the last two weeks, the fight for control of Congress exactly where it was two weeks ago, the greatest margin in the history of our poll favoring the Democrats.
Presidential swagger aside, Americans are still overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the war in Iraq, 54 percent now believing that removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth it, 61 percent now less confident that the conflict in Iraq will come to a successful conclusion.
But, of course, it is race by race that the balance of power will be decided next week, a new poll by Opinion Research for CNN showing that four key Senate races remain statistical dead heats.
Among likely voters in Missouri, the Republican Jim Talent and his Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill, are tied, in New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez holding a 7-point edge, still within the margin of error, in Tennessee, in that extraordinary race, the Democrat Harold Ford trailing Republican opponent Bob Corker by 8. Other polls, however, give Mr. Ford the slight edge.
In Virginia, Senator Macaca himself, George Allen, is down by 4. The Republican incumbent, who appears to be in the most trouble here, Mike DeWine of Ohio, trailing by 11 points now among likely voters.
For more on what all that really means, let me call in Joe Trippi, MSNBC political analyst and, of course, political consultant known perhaps best for the successes he shared as campaign manager for Howard Dean in 2004.
Joe, thanks for your time tonight.
JOE TRIPPI, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Great to be with you, Chris -
Keith, I'm sorry.
OLBERMANN: That's all right. Bush versus Kerry II, Electric Bougaloo, in a moment.
But first, has the political climate changed sufficiently? Barack Obama said it about a week ago, the 9/11 fever may have broken, American voters might not be swayed by a strategy that alleges that a vote for a Democrat is the same thing as a vote for al Qaeda, given the - all that's happened in Iraq for the past two years, how many thousands more have been killed, a variation on vote for Democrats, and you die, might be seen as the hollow scare tactic that it is?
TRIPPI: Yes, I think it's appropriate for Halloween, but that's all it's going to get them this time. I mean, you look at your own numbers, your NBC poll that just came out, you look at the people who want Democrats running Congress now, and there's, you know, just running away from the president in terms of how he's running Iraq. Rumsfeld's not a name that's getting anybody the (INAUDIBLE) - people want him to resign now.
I mean, there's nothing really going well for them. And the American people have seen these scare tactics over and over again, they're just not going to work this time. You don't see it - I mean, when you look at Virginia, I mean, we shouldn't be in the race there. But we're in it. And Montana, I mean, these are places where Democrats are really doing well, and it's because, I think, the policies have failed, the public's refusing to accept the scare tactics. It's not working. And I think you're seeing a big move here for Democrats.
OLBERMANN: National sentiment aside, though, it's an election, obviously, as you mentioned, ticked off a few of them that will be decided race by race, between the inclination of voters to stick with their incumbent no matter what the rest of those lawmakers in Washington are doing with the gerrymandering, with all the rest, do you think it's still likely that the Democrats would succeed in taking back one or both houses of Congress?
TRIPPI: I think they're - the odds are right now that we're going to do very well in the House. I think we're going to take that. I think, you know, the Senate, it's just sitting there by a thin strand right now in terms of Republicans being able to hold onto it.
And I think, you know, none of what's happened in the last day or two is helping the Republicans. I mean, you don't see George Bush going to Tennessee to campaign for Corker. They're sending Laura in there. And then - Laura Bush there. And then you've got Bill Clinton is actually going to Tennessee.
So you see, you know, the - you see that the president's going to places like Georgia, to turn out basically the Republican base, and they're not, they can't get him into these swing states, because he's going to hurt their candidates. So I think this is going to be a big night for the Democrats if this keeps up.
OLBERMANN: This flap over John Kerry, calling - he didn't use the word "stupid," he used all the other ones, but essentially calling President Bush stupid, and the president coming off as too stupid to realize that Kerry called him stupid, is there an element of desperation in the White House efforts to make this election again Bush versus Kerry, that it's wholly absent of any new ideas or new approach, so that they're going to revert to the only strategy they can be sure works?
TRIPPI: Well, a couple of - for the last couple days, they've been saying, all politics is local, these are all going to be decided by local personalities. Now, they're trying to turn it into a national referendum on something John Kerry said. It may be a national referendum, but I think it will be one on what George Bush's administration has failed to do, and its incompetence and its failed leadership.
And so, yes, I mean, I just think this is a really desperate move by them to try to nationalize an election. And they're helping to nationalize it around Iraq and the Bush failed policy. So I actually think, in the end, this is going to turn around and bite them where they don't want it to bite them, which is about time, (INAUDIBLE).
OLBERMANN: Now, whatever he said, they're still talking about Iraq.
MSNBC political analyst, former campaign manager for Howard Dean, Joe Trippi. Great thanks for your time tonight, Joe.
TRIPPI: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And this programming advisory. Tomorrow night here, a special comment. There is a code by which we as Americans have always lived. Between trying to link Democrats with terrorists and distorting Senator Kerry's remarks, the president has now violated that code, a code that is fundamental to who we are. My special comment tomorrow night on Countdown, 8:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific.
But first, tonight, Michael J. Fox on his mission to promote stem cell research, and the latest criticism of it and him from the first lady.
Two and a half years after trying to squash the true story of Pat Tillman's death, the Pentagon admits it misinformed six other soldiers' families about the deaths of their loved ones.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Even for Rush Limbaugh, it was embarrassing, not merely mocking a victim of a terrifying degenerative disease, not merely accusing that victim of exaggerating it, not merely reminding any listener of his own history by referring to going off medication, but being videotaped while he said so.
In our fourth story on the Countdown, the saga of Michael J. Fox's political advocacy of stem cell research, bipartisan advocacy, that has included doing commercials for the likes of Republican Senator Arlen Specter, and now someone may have gone deeper into the muck even than Limbaugh himself, someone of previously nearly impeccable reputation asked about Mr. Fox and his political advertisements.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA BUSH: It's always easy to manipulate people's feelings when they're - especially when you're talking about diseases that are so difficult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: One wonders where she might have gotten the idea that, quote, "It's always easy to manipulate people's feelings."
With Mr. Fox, our chief White House correspondent, David Gregory.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How are you?
FOX: David, good to see you.
GREGORY (voice-over): Monday morning, Columbus, Ohio. Week two in the political crossfire for Michael J. Fox.
(on camera): Do you feel like you've been roughed up?
FOX: You know, the only thing that (INAUDIBLE) is if, you know, you bring the message, and you hope to discuss it on its merits. But this being American politics, it's not going to happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)
FOX: What do you in Missouri matters to millions of Americans, Americans like me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is moving all around and shaking, and it's purely an act.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY (voice-over): In his most pointed rebuttal yet, Fox answered those critics, including Rush Limbaugh, who later apologized for suggesting that Fox was faking his tremors.
FOX: I guess I'm not supposed to speak with you until my symptoms go away. Or maybe I'm just supposed to go away. But I'm not going to go away.
GREGORY: Later, Fox argued it would be wrong to hide his symptoms.
(on camera): The symptoms are part of the message, right?
FOX: The reaction, it's almost appropriate in a way, because that's the point. Of course, here we are, we're doing this, and we're dealing with these illnesses and these symptoms and these conditions, and we, you know, we have two choices. We either are ourselves, or we just go away and we send polite notes.
GREGORY (voice-over): Fox explained that the symptoms critics claimed he manipulated by going off his medication were actually the result of his medication. The drugs make him shift in his chair, but they prevent the tremors.
FOX: I want comfort. I just want to be comfortable. I don't want be to bouncing around, I don't want to be, you know, spilling my drink, I don't want to be, you know, driving myself to the point of insanity trying to (INAUDIBLE) or shave or, you know, any of that stuff.
GREGORY (on camera): But it looks like it's exhausting.
FOX: Well, it is exhausting.
GREGORY (voice-over): At times, so is the politics of stem cell research. Opponents of using embryos left over in fertility clinics for stem cell research, including the president...
BUSH: It crosses a moral boundary...
GREGORY: Argue it's wrong to take a life in order to save lives.
FOX: But still, hundreds of thousands of these potential lives are being destroyed routinely, and they have been for years.
GREGORY (on camera): This is a wedge issue now, and you are a lightning rod.
FOX: By most polls, 70 percent of Americans are in favor of this issue. So, in a way, it's put up or shut up time. I mean, if you really believe this, you know, we're waiting for you.
GREGORY: We see your optimism, we see your courage, your commitment, your activism. What don't we see?
BUSH: I get scared. And I guess that's about it. I - there's not much people don't know.
GREGORY: For people who look at you and they say to themselves, He looks like he's gotten worse, have you?
BUSH: Sure, it's a progressive disease. I'm not going to get any better.
For me, unique to my situation, it's a gift, it's a gift that keeps on taking, but it's a gift.
GREGORY: And you wouldn't go back?
BUSH: I - no, I wouldn't go back. The path it's put me on has been so amazing. And again, I have so many blessings. I have a great family that I'm sure are with me, and I have a great relationship with my kids. And my wife is fantastic.
And I don't have to worry about my employer, and I don't have to worry about my insurance. And I don't have to worry about being in a situation where my disease makes me unsafe, because I have people around me that will ensure my safety.
And those are all big things. And a lot of people don't have those things. And I appreciate that, and understand that, and I'd like to help them.
OLBERMANN: Michael J. Fox with our White House correspondent, David Gregory.
And one qualification and clarification there. After his quasi-apology, Rush Limbaugh came back and repeated the claim that Fox was exaggerating his symptoms for political purposes.
Speaking of those showing grace while under attack from the GOP, there's simply unbelievable postscript to the Chris Wallace ambush interview of former president Clinton.
And what the heck is this? The White House is now Le Chateau Blanc?
Where, where - you moved it - you didn't tell anybody?
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1954, separatists in Algeria rose against the French, who had occupied that country since 1830, eventually winning their independence eight years later. Why do you care?
Let's play Oddball.
Because we begin with a Halloween nightmare come true for the likes of Bill Orley. It's finally happened. They've moved the White House to France. No! Damn you secular progressive activist judges and your - No, wait a minute. It's just a replica. Thank goodness for that, Bill O. would have had to boycott the president.
Built in the Perigord (ph) region of France just a few years after our own White House was built, it is believed by some that Thomas Jefferson himself brought over a set of plans from Washington. I'd make a joke about the idiot who lives in the French house, but our administration would then twist it and accuse me of attacking some troops (INAUDIBLE).
Now, a dream come true for the likes of Keith Richards. Someone has invented a contraption to help aging rock stars climb up coconut trees without falling down. Developed at the University of India, the machine puts that country once again at the forefront of worldwide technological advances and it provides a much needed shot in the arm for the flagging coconut industry. Now, if they can figure out an easier way to open the damn things.
Also tonight, the Pentagon looking to polish up its image, launching a brand new super-secret P.R. machine, even while boss man Donald Rumsfeld's approval ratings slide into almost nothingness.
And the prime minister of Iraq kicks U.S. guards out of Sadr City. And the commander in chief getting desperate when it comes to relevant on attacks on the opposition, resorting to campaign arguments about interior decorating?
Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day.
No. 3, passengers aboard the Virgin Train's express from Houston Station in London to Manchester, it stopped during a downpour in city of Rugby because the windshield wiper broke. Passengers were then startled to hear a voice over the public address system ask if anybody onboard knew how to fix it? Is there a window washer in the house? Is there a window washer in the house?
No. 2, an unnamed burglar in Hildesheim in Germany who left police a vital clue, an unmistakable tip, in fact. While searching the burgled office for fingerprints, they found instead the tip of the burglar's finger, which he had cut off while breaking through the office window.
No. 1, Eric De Jersey of Guernsey in England, twice previously convicted of exposing himself in public, he has apparently used his time served to dream up better excuses. Arrested again, he told the court he was not flashing he was simply holding a jumbo hotdog. You wish!
OLBERMANN: In all the debate about a remark about Iraq, less attention has been paid to several remarkable developments about Iraq, less attention has been paid to several remarkable developments in Iraq.
In our third story in the Countdown, President Bush putting U.S. troops under the command of Iraqi politicians, despite the fact that the president had blasted Senator Kerry in 2004 for his suggestion that he might consult with other counties before deploying U.S. troops abroad.
Today U.S. troops in Iraq left their checkpoints in Baghdad's Sadr City at the command of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Asked about that, after the fact, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did not know whether it had even happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: You know, I tend to validate things first and get on the phone and find out precisely what took place and what the reasons were and - rather than expressing the kinds of adjectives and adverbs and.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Take your time.
Also today, the "Associated Press" reported that while soldiers in the field still clamor for resources, the Pentagon is pouring new resources in to a new public relations - a secret public relations effort. The strategy, "develop messages for the 24-hour news cycle," try to get friendly faces on TV news and the internets.
When asked how many staffers, how many taxpayer dollars, the Pentagon's reply, none of your business. This push, too late to affect the latest NBC -"Wall Street Journal" poll showing record highs and lows in America's feeling about Mr. Rumsfeld. Only 26 percent have any positive feelings, half the nation, a record high, 49 percent has very or somewhat negative feelings.
And although we are told that the Pentagon is capable of determing the guilt or innocence of every detainee, a new report from the Army says it ca not even be sure about the circumstances of everyone of its own casualties. The Army says families of seven soldiers were given false information about those soldier's deaths.
Corporal Pat Tillman, the most well-known of these. His family still fighting for the full truth. But also, less well-known fatalities like Lieutenant Andre Tyson, and Specialist Patrick McCaffrey of the National Guard.
Our next guest spent more than a decade as a Pentagon spokesman, retired colonel P.J. Crowley is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
P.J. welcome back. Thanks for your time.
P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: A pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What is the appropriate function for Pentagon public affairs and what is not appropriate?
CROWLEY: Well, I mean, certainly the Pentagon is the largest bureaucracy in the world. Like any institution, whether it's the military or Microsoft, it should be communicating with the American people and through the media, it's the best way to do that.
The Pentagon spends more money than anybody else. We have, you know, 2.5 million of our best and brightest in uniform and the American people should have a day-to-day account on what the military is doing on its behalf. Usually when the Pentagon says it has a message problem, it's really unhappy with the story that's being reported the media. In the case of Iraq, for example, you've had Secretary Rumsfeld, on a regular basis, has said, the media has the story wrong. Of course the media has the story right which is why you see the polling data that you reported on earlier.
OLBERMANN: Does it seem odd to you, though, that the Pentagon would be setting out in a new way to try to correct the record on the same day that the Army says its own communication flaws lead to seven families getting false information about their loved one's deaths? Because if the miscommunications were innocent miscommunications, shouldn't we expect them to cast the Army in a better light or a worse light about equally, but they consistently favor the Army? I mean, how credible is that explanation?
CROWLEY: Well, certainly at one level, you know, the Pentagon is not nimble and it's facing this new accelerating, wide 24-7 media environment and it's trying to adapt. You know, that said, you know, the military is a traditional institution and while it does a lot of things well, every once in a while, particularly with respect to, you know, situations, friendly fire, where people have made mistakes, the system seizes up. And that's what happened, you know, in the case of these families, particularly the Tillman family, the system failed the Tillman family, flat-out.
OLBERMANN: Did the system seize up today, relative to Sadr City? I mean that tape of Mr. Rumsfeld, a moment ago, saying he'd have to pick up the phone for find out if the prime minister of Iraq ordered U.S. troops out of those checkpoints in Sadr City. How is it that the most unilateral administration that any of us have probably lived through has got American soldiers taking orders from Iraqis who are probably taking orders from this Moqtada al Sadr?
CROWLEY: Well, I guess with Mr. Rumsfeld we have another known-unknown, I guess. I mean, this is less a military problem than it is a political problem. Obviously, within the military you have civilian control and we're living and working and fighting in Iraq and the Iraqis should have a say about the military does.
But this is primarily a political problem in that if you look at solutions in Iraq, and they're fleeting and there are no good answers in Iraq, of course, one of them has to be disarming the militias. The state does not have a monopoly on the use of force and this is a critical problem and a source of instability.
Unfortunately for the United States, when you look at Mr. Maliki, part of his base, you know, is al Sadr and the Mahdi army and what politician get reelected by trying to disarm his base?
OLBERMANN: Mr. Rumsfeld also said something today that we haven't' discussed, that he expect the U.S. will have to train more than the 425,000 Iraqi security forces that were originally targeted for December. At the same time, the "L.A. Times" reported that a growing number of officers think timelines for withdrawals would be a good idea. Mr. Bush would never tell us before the election on this, but what is your best bet for the 8th of November, more troops in or more troops out?
CROWLEY: Well, I certainly don't think that there are going be more U.S. troops. One, we don't have them and two, if you add troops to the situation in Iraq, you continue to feed the perception of occupation that drives at least some of the violence, you know, we see.
The Pentagon has played a little bit of a numbers game on Iraqi security forces. It's not so much the numbers as their capability. And what we're seeing whatever the number, it's going to take longer where an Iraqi security force, policeman or military can replace a U.S. soldier. That's real problem. I think the military has it right, that in some fashion, you've to put more pressure on the Iraqi government to break through, you know, the current logjam and try to get some things done.
OLBERMANN: An extraordinary situation continues to get more so. P.J. Crowley, senior fellow and director of National Defense and Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress. Good to talk to you, sir. Thanks for your time.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: It was an unfair ambush question about 9/11 that prompted an indignant response from President Clinton a little moreover a month ago, but it's what we're just learning happened after that Chris Wallace interview that turns out to be the real surprise.
And after 35 years of hosting the "Price is Right," the question to Bob Barker tonight, is the time also right?
That's next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It's not just what Chris Wallace did to him, but truly what President Clinton did after that infamous interview that speaks volumes. A Countdown exclusive and also a specials investigation. Mr. Clinton's successor showing signs of strain. The Democrats are measuring for new drapes in Washington, the why are all the interior decorators denying that? That's ahead, this is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: The late Mickey Mantle delighted in telling of the vision of his own death, after his life spent largely having to sign his name on anything that held still and some things that did not. Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, former President Clinton can probably now empathize with the late baseball star. We are informed by impeccable sources that the infamous Chris Wallace sandbag interview of Mr. Clinton for FOX New, last month, has an untold punch line, which you will find hard to believe.
But back to Mickey Mantle for just a moment. He liked to tell interviewers like me that he dreamt he had died and to his shock, he had gone to heaven. "St. Peter is waiting for me at Pearly Gates," Mickey would say, "And he tells me God wants to meet me. So he takes me to him, and he says 'gee, God I'm surprised I'm here the way I lived my life,' and God says "well, I know all about that and I'm sorry, but you can't stay. But I have a favor to ask you before you go to the other place.' And I say" Mantle continued, "what's that, God." And God says, "Can you sign these six dozen baseballs before you go?"
If you somehow have not figured out the punch line yet, just bear with me a moment. You will recall that President's Clinton's interview with FOX News was taped on September 22. In the weeks beforehand, in hopes of landing the interview, FOX's Chris Wallace had e-mailed the Clint office transcript of several on-air comments he had made in defense of Clinton, relative to the ABC movie of the week, "The Path to 9/11." Wallace also agreed to one ground rule, that the Clinton folks asked for, that the interview be roughly half about the former president's charitable efforts, the Clinton Global Initiatives. Instead it turned almost immediately into an attempt to smack down Mr. Clinton about 9/11. An attempt in which the would-be smack downer, Mr. Wallace, became the smack downee?
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Do you think you did enough, sir?
BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: No, because I didn't get him.
CLINTON: But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all of the right-wingers that are attacking me now. They ridicule me for trying. They had eight months to try, they did not try. I tried. So I tried and failed.
So you did FOX's bidding on this show, you did your nice little conservative hit job on me. What I want to know.
WALLACE: Now, wait a minute, Sir, I'm asking a question.
CLINTON: No, no.
WALLACE: You don't think there's a legitimate question?
CLINTON: It was a perfectly legitimate question, but I want to know how many people in the Bush administration you have asked this question of?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Minutes after that, after that verbal brawl that in retrospect seems to mark a turning point in the energizing of the Democrats in the 2006 campaign. After Mr. Clinton's righteous anger and Mr. Wallace's sputtering defense, as microphones were being detached and glares were being exchanged, Mr. Wallace turned to President Clinton and said, and we're a paraphrasing, "I know you probably won't want to do this, but I ask all of my guests, would you autograph my show's guest book?"
Yep, after that thing, Chris Wallace asked Bill Clinton for an autograph. And the punch line to top the punch line: President Clinton signed it graciously.
FOX News incidentally had no comment on this story. We wish them well.
On to our round-up of celebrity and tabloid news, and after half a century in televisions, more three decades of that with the "Price of Right," Bob Barker has announced his retirement. He will retire in June of next year. After 35 years of hosting the "Price is Right," 50 years on TV, "I will be 83 years old on December 12," he said, "and I've decided to retire while I am still young."
Baker, who began his TV career, obviously, in 1956 hosting "Truth or Consequences" said he had been considering retirement for at least a decade, but was having too much fun and of course he was having too much trouble guessing the exact number.
And Madonna, again with the religious iconography, but this time it's not crosses and her hanging on them, but rather her dressing up the boy she's adopting from Malawi with Kabbalah bling.
Little David Banda has been wearing a red string bracelet associated with the religion, confirmed, this is, by Madonna's representative, Liz Rosenberg, and msnbc.com's Janet Walls, citing Kabbalah literature, says that the bracelet deflects "the unfriendly stare and unkind glances we sometimes get from people around us." Not that Madonna and her posse have ever been the subject of that sort of thing.
Also tonight, the drapery defense. How the president is literally trying to tell the Democrats it's curtains. The special investigation. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World.".
The Bronze to Paul Burgess who writes this to the left in an op-ed in the Virginia newspaper, the "Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star." "I hate your lying guts." He uses variations of the word "hate" 10 times in the piece, but the most remarkable is the opening paragraph. "When I was speechwriting at the White House, one rule was enforced without exception; the president would not be given drafts that lowered him or the office, by responding to the articulations of hatred that drove so many of his critics." Wait, you mean this president? In this White House? In this dimension?
Our runner-up, Wade Horn, assistant secretary for Children and Families at the federal department of Health and Human Services. He's the one explaining to newspapers why the department is extending its arguments on behalf of sexual abstinence to, not just teens anymore, but people between the ages of 20 an 29, even though the National Center of Health statistics reports that more than 90 percent of people in their 20's have already had sex. Kind of an uphill battle you picked there, Wade.
But our winner, this guy, Alfredo Martinez, arrested last night in Reno, Nevada after his car was spotted weaving across the lanes of a local highway. Mr. Martinez was not driving. He had turned the wheel over to a designated driver, his son. Mr. Martinez's son is seven years old.
Alfredo Martinez of Reno, Nevada, today's "Worst Person in the World."
OLBERMANN: President Bush may in fact lie awake at night worrying about interior decorating. You may remember his last attempt at window dressing, that banner reading "Mission Accomplished" hanging from the rafters of the USS Lincoln on May 1, 2003.
Our No. 1 story on Countdown, and now the drapes. In between attempts to link them to terrorists, Mr. Bush has, of late, spent much of his time attempting to link Democrats premature jocularity. Specifically, of redesigning, in their minds, the offices of the House majority leader and the various committee chairman.
But just as when the president insisted "177 of option party said, 'you know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.'" And then the White House couldn't even name one, let alone 177.
This whole idea of Democratic drape measuring does not really hang together.
(voice-over): In this extraordinary election year, there has been no shortage of wild and unsubstantiated claims. You see it in the campaign ads.
ANNOUNCER: Ron Kind spent your money to study the masturbation habits of old men.
OLBERMANN: You see it in the debates.
Look in the camera and tell the people how much time you spend doing your job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look in the camera and tell the people how much time you spend doing the job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your time is up.
OLBERMANN: And yes, even from the president himself. And this time, it's about the drapes.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a matter of fact, some of them in Washington are already measuring the drapes for their new office.
(INAUDIBLE) they're up there in Washington already kinda picking out their offices and measuring the drapes.
They're measuring their drapes.
People start measuring the drapes.
Some of them were measuring the drapes.
They're measuring the drapes.
My new office looks beautiful. I think I'm going to have size drape there, this color.
OLBERMANN: But are Democrats actually preparing to move in? Are they actually picking out colors and measuring drapes before the American people make their will known? We decided to find out. So using the Google the new telephorn, we tracked down a few Washington, D.C. draperies. The very stores that would have to supply the very window treatments for an incoming representative or senator. Each declined to be on camera for this reporter. So here is a re-enactment of those telahorn calls.
STORE: Washington D.C. Drapery Store.
Countdown: Yeah, hi. I'm wondering if any Democrats have been in your store looking for drapes to decorate their new offices?
STORE: Uh, no.
Countdown: Well, how about, like, Jack Murtha?
Countdown: Uh, John Conyers?
Countdown: How about Nancy Pelosi?
STORE: Mmmm, no.
Countdown: OK, bye.
OLBERMANN: Based on this research, one might call the president's claims a finally woven silk and taffeta fib. Others might say a simple rhetorical device. Luckily, responsible journalists have avoided turning these claims into talking points.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democrats are practically in the Capitol building right now measuring for drapes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They picked auto the drapes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Picking out their furniture, picking out the drapes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the media seems giddy right now, everyone's picking out the drapes and carpet colors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You made the statement that your opponents, Democrats, picking out the drapes a little bit too early.
BUSH: That's right.
OLBERMANN: Well on the talking points, maybe not so much.
Surely however, the president's claims do not come without a healthy heaping of irony. After all, he is well versed in prematurely adorning government property. And to his credit he does know a thing or two about the decorating responsibilities inherent when changing power.
BUSH: I wasn't even sworn yet and the fella called me on the phone and he said "what color rug do you want in the Oval Office?" Turns out that president's - he got to know presidents design their rugs.
OLBERMANN: And when the rug decision, his first decision in office, became too much for him, the president punted.
BUSH: I said, Laura, how about helping to design the rug.
OLBERMANN: Thus this investigation yields the ultimate enigma, will the Capitol Hill curtains, chosen by Republicans; remain on the windows, metaphorically thriving in concert with the Oval Office rug of the president? Or will the Democrats seize aesthetic and legislative control, providing a decorative adversary to Mr. Bush's floor coverage? In short, come this November 7, will the carpet match the drapes?
The decision, America, is yours.
OLBERMANN: What about shades or blinds? Isn't anybody going to think of the blinds?
That's Countdown for this, the 1,277th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.
A reminder, tomorrow night, hear a special comment, how the president's distortions of the remarks of Senator Kerry and the continuing attempt to link Democrats with terrorists have violated the code central to our country's history and our purpose - tomorrow night here on Countdown.
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