'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Nov. 27
Guests: Craig Crawford, Jack Jacobs, Dana Milbank, Arianna Huffington, Paul Mooney
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
It is civil war in Iraq, not says the State Department, not says the Iraqi government, but after long and painful consideration, it meets the technical standards for civil war, and we must call it that, says NBC News. Is this the Walter Cronkite moment of the Iraq War?
Retired Colonel Jack Jacobs on the why and how the sectarian violence in Iraq qualifies for this fearful phrase. Craig Crawford predicts the impact, its relative position on the Cronkite scale, and the backlash. Dana Milbank on the impact on the president, on the latest leaks about the Baker commission report, and Mr. Bush's impending summit meeting with Nouri al-Maliki.
Mr. Bush thinks it is not civil war in Iraq, but it is too dangerous to meet Iraq's prime minister in Iraq.
Too bad the Bush presidential library isn't ready yet. They could have met there, half a billion for any presidential library? How many copies of "My Pet Goat" do they intend to buy?
The groom-shooting nightmare continues to unfold in New York City.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON: How many shots?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fifty!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Even the mayor sounds like he's beginning to believe it was excessive force.
And as the Michael Richards saga drags interminably on, how it has made an African-American comedian reconsider his use of that word - right, that one. Paul Mooney will join us.
Plus, what do you say after you say you're sorry? You say you're still sorry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL RICHARDS: I'm sorry, I'm very, very sorry to the African-American community for the upset.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now, apologize for that sentence structure.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
Good evening from Los Angeles.
"We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds," the observer began, exactly 38 years ago and nine months ago tonight. "To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic yet unsatisfactory conclusion."
And the observer's conclusion? "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy and did the best they could."
Our fifth story on the Countdown, after years of erring on the side of caution about Vietnam, Walter Cronkite, on February 27, 1968, truly matched his signoff, "And that's the way it is," and America never saw that war the same way.
Wishing neither to make an undue analogy nor be too introspective, but on the advice of a panel of experts, NBC News and MSNBC have today decided to call it in Iraq the way it is, civil war.
On (INAUDIBLE) sectarian violence on the ground in Iraq, in which more than 200 people lost their lives, the killing today continuing, police finding more than 75 bodies, victims of shootings and roadside bombings, the morgues already full, against that backdrop, the president heading overseas this morning for the second time in as many weeks to meet with NATO allies and the Iraqi prime minister, his administration chafing at the decision of this news organization and some others to begin calling the violence in Iraq what it has been for many months now, even years, a civil war, arguing that most of the bloodshed is contained in the capital city.
From a White House statement today, "The violence is primarily centered around Baghdad and Baghdad security, and the increased training of Iraqi security forces is at the top of the agenda when President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki meet later this week in Jordan."
In a moment, Jack Jacobs on the mechanics of the terminology.
First, let me call in our own Craig Crawford, also, of course, a columnist for "Congressional Quarterly."
Craig, good evening.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Without nave-gazing too much here, we hope we'd be having this discussion if it had been ABC's call, or CBS's, what do you think is the practical political importance of the decision to use these words in the mainstream media, civil war?
CRAWFORD: Well, it goes beyond NBC. I think, you know, the other news organizations who are joining this. We're going to see now news coverage that calls it what it is, and that is going to have an impact, because I think the administration responded so intently to this because they know that once the American people just really grapple with the fact that our troops are in the middle of a civil war that we can't control, (INAUDIBLE) imperative to get out, and get out sooner than later, just gets even stronger.
OLBERMANN: Lord knows nobody who watches this program does not already know that you're the author of an excellent book called "Attack the Messenger: How Politicians Turn You Against the Media." An administration saying it's not a civil war, a major mainstream news organization saying it is, and to describe it thusly henceforth, how do you expect the administration to respond? Does it turn to retribution in some way? Can we expect incoming here?
CRAWFORD: They already reacted swiftly in a statement attacking this use, this new use of the word "civil war." Let's look at what the administration wants to call it. They want to call it a new phase in sectarian violence. I don't think many Americans would go along with that attribution.
And then, you know, well, actually I, if these folks were designing road signs, Keith, they'd probably want to call a dead-end sign "Outlet free," or something. You know, this is where I focused in my book so much, is on the use of language, how Washington often uses language to conceal the truth rather than reveal it.
I was just reading the federal government's report on hunger, concluding there is no hunger in America, only food in security. This sort of thing is all over the place, and I think it's the media's job to cut through it and call things what they are.
OLBERMANN: Yes, as we've discussed many times, it looks like somebody read the book "1984" in a hurry, and jotted down a few notes and did things like this. I mean, Bull Run would have been a new phase in North-South relations in 1861 or '62.
But getting back to this point, you raised this earlier, media-wise,
can anybody put this genie back in the bottle? If you're at ABC or CBS or
CNN or "The Wall Street Journal," you have the NBC decision. There was a
reference, just matter-of-factly, in "The L.A. Times" reporting from Iraq
last Friday, referred to civil war, an editorial in "The New York Times" yesterday arguing for the use of the phrase, do you not have to just let enough time pass, and then adopt the language too, or you wind up looking like shills for the government?
CRAWFORD: I think so. I mean, at some point, someone argued the mainstream media's been very slow at doing this. But they bent over backwards for a long time to try to give the administration its due in how they wanted things characterized. And, you know, even on things like the coalition, (INAUDIBLE) calling it a coalition instead of U.S. forces in Iraq.
You know, there are so many, so many things (INAUDIBLE) the media's tried to do to give the administration what they wanted, and I think now it's just changing, and it's long overdue.
OLBERMANN: And as important, lastly, is the very fact that the organization here is now calling this a civil war. Are the many hoops that essentially we had to jump through just as important? It wasn't enough for us to say, Based on our reporting, it's raining outside, we had to bring in meteorologists and weather forecasters and everybody else, essentially. It would seem to be almost unprecedented for actual reporting to no longer be enough.
CRAWFORD: At some point, you know, the media has to remember, we serve the, you know, the reading and viewing public, and not the politicians. And so I think the, you know, trying to, with a White House that continues to be in denial about these things, I mean, if this were the African-American 12-step program, this White House hasn't even taken the first step, which is to acknowledge and define your problem.
In that environment, (INAUDIBLE) the media, yes, had to go through some of these hoops to justify what they've done, because we've got an administration that will not address what's actually going on on the ground, and is always trying to blame the media or anyone else who characterizes it in ways they don't want it characterized.
OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC, "Congressional Quarterly," and considerable research on how governments and media interact. As always, Craig, great thanks.
CRAWFORD: Yes, it's a never-ending story, I'm afraid.
Now, the technical end of this. Time to call in the retired U.S. Army colonel Jack Jacobs, Medal of Honor recipient for his service in Vietnam.
Good evening, Jack. Thanks for your time.
COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Critics of the NBC decision today claiming that the situation in Iraq is still a matter of interpretation, likened our use of this term to a stunt. You and I have discussed this before. You've used this term before. There are standards of definition for a civil war, correct?
JACOBS: Well, and they're unambiguous, too, armed factions trying to take over the duly constituted government of a country. If that isn't a civil war in Iraq, then I don't know what else you would call it, and you'd be wrong if you called it anything else.
And it's not a stunt. I mean, we've been talking about this for quite some time, upwards of a year or so. So I think it's nonsense. I think there is a civil war ongoing in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Any doubt in your mind that these standards have been tragically, have been met in Iraq? Is there any room for doubt?
JACOBS: No, none whatsoever. And I think that talking about semantics obfuscates the problem in a ways to fix it. So I think, you know, there's - as far as I'm concerned, there's no ambiguity whatsoever.
OLBERMANN: Other than the obfuscating quality of the semantics, is there any importance to defining it as a civil war? In other words, are there qualitative differences in how you deal with or fight a civil war, as opposed to how you would fight an insurgency or anything else that we might have been through in Iraq?
JACOBS: Well, at one level of analysis, it's important for the administration to say it's not a civil war, because it demonstrates that their policies have failed there.
At another level of analysis, it's often a matter of degree as much as it is anything else. I mean, if you're in the middle of a civil war, and you want to stop it, you have to pay close attention to killing or capturing all of the enemies of the government. We would have to put more troops in there. We'd have to be prepared to take more casualties, and also inflict ancillary damage on the local population.
And I think, in addition to that, the central government, led by al-Maliki, has no particular interest in our or their going after all enemies of the government. He is, after all, a Shia and gets some measure of support from the likes of Muqtada al-Sadr, who surely is an enemy of the government.
OLBERMANN: You use that key phrase, more troops. How many more troops would it take to essentially staunch a civil war? And if we're not willing to do that, is the administration essentially biding its time there in an effort to save face and not really impact the outcome?
JACOBS: Well, I would have said some time ago that we needed, you know, maybe another 100,000, or a little bit more. And up until recently, I would have thought doubling the number of troops that are already there would have been adequate.
But I think, given the recent circumstances, I think a substantial number, several hundred thousand more, would be required. And furthermore, more significantly, would have to be a commitment to do things that we have not yet done, and that is to insinuate ourselves in - en masse into areas, and to kill or capture all the enemy, to move people out of built-up areas into camps where we work through them to make sure that before we return them to where they came from, that they're not bad guys, and so on.
It's going to take a great deal of effort. I don't think we're prepared to make that effort, and there's not a lot of time to do that. And I don't think the American population is ready for it.
OLBERMANN: And numerically, to do basically what we did in Vietnam and go in four years from 14,000 to 550,000, and you, you were there. You had a communist-controlled North, a more or less democratic South, filled with communist agents and militias. Did Vietnam technically meet the definition of a civil war? Did it come close? Or what (INAUDIBLE)?
JACOBS: Well, it was a completely different exercise. Don't forget, we had an internationally recognized border between North and South Vietnam. The bad guys came across the border from a number of different directions.
And I'll tell you, one significant difference that you don't find in Iraq is that we fought pitched battles against large units, companies against companies, battalions and regiments against battalions and regiments.
I was - I went back to Vietnam in 1972, and we're (INAUDIBLE)
fighting divisions against divisions with artillery and tanks. That's not
where you had decisive engagements. You don't have any of that at the moment in Iraq. And I think it's silly to think that we can accomplish it with what we have on the ground at the moment.
OLBERMANN: Jack Jacobs, retired colonel of the U.S. Army, now military analyst for MSNBC and NBC News. Great thanks for your insight.
JACOBS: Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: As always, great thanks for your time, Jack.
The White House says the deteriorating situation in Iraq is not civil war. So why is the presidential summit with Iraq's prime minister taking place outside of Iraq? The political implications of the crisis and the new terminology on the president.
And why rush to fix things there when you have a legacy and a presidential library to build?. Why W. is already focusing on his library, and a think tank, and record-breaking amounts of money he hopes to raise.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: President Bush will be traveling to Amman, Jordan, in two days to meet with the Iraqi prime minister, movement towards a new strategy in Iraq, another matter.
But in our fourth story on the Countdown, the administration may be positioning itself to accept the boldest recommendations likely to come out of the Iraq Study Group, dialogue with Iran and Syria, Mr. Bush stopping over in Estonia tonight ahead of a NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, with the two-day meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, set to begin Wednesday, cannot come soon enough, the administration's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, saying that Iraq had entered, quote, "a new phase," but denying that new phase was civil war.
Yet Mr. Hadley said that U.S. talks with Iran and Syria would be part of the discussion between Mr. Bush and the Iraqi prime minister.
Meanwhile, the full 10-member Iraq Study Group met today in Washington to debate its draft proposal. A timetable for withdrawal is expected to be a contentious issue. One element pushed strongly by the co-chair, James Baker, would likely be part of the final report set for sometime in December, those direct U.S. talks with both Iran and Syria.
Let's call on the "Washington Post" national political reporter and MSNBC analyst, Dana Milbank.
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Iran and Syria may have real value in this thing, but the electorate seems to have a simpler view of Iraq. What are the political implications if the president signs off on something, anything, that does not at least hint at troop withdrawals?
MILBANK: Well, we're not calling it withdrawal now. We have to call it a strategic redeployment from this increased sectarian new phase of skirmishing.
OLBERMANN: Very good.
MILBANK: There is really, in fact, no way to avoid that at this point. They've waited long enough that all other options have been exhausted, and, as has been frequently noted today, we're now have been in this conflict longer than the entirety of World War II.
It's not exactly clear what these withdrawals would be called for, but all other options in terms of troop strength increases, in terms of more training of the Iraqi soldiers, have all been exhausted.
OLBERMANN: The symbolism of this war, the symbolism of this administration, have been huge things. Is it going to echo that the administration doesn't think this is civil war, and also that it's having the president meet the prime minister of Iraq not in Iraq but rather in Jordan? Are these symbols that the public, let alone the politicians, can't avoid now?
MILBANK: Well, it's certainly not a symbol of confidence. If anything, it's suggests that we're not talking about a civil war but utter anarchy, so there's no particular place in Iraq where these leaders would be - feel safe being at a time when even there are bombings in the Green Zone.
So certainly there's a conflict here, but it obviously, it goes beyond the sort of symbolic and the rhetorical.
OLBERMANN: But on rhetorical, in any event, Dana, we've been getting leaks out of the Baker commission for more than a month. But they're still, as of today, debating the key details. Is it possible somebody told them, Go back and change this? Are politics or pressure politics involved? Or was this the schedule for how they were going to make their decision before any of this stuff hit the wall?
MILBANK: You know, whenever Jim Baker's involved, there's obviously going to be politics. And this is the most extraordinary element, and even the most disgraceful element of the whole thing.
This group was formed back in the spring. Jim Baker convinced them to make the calculated political decision not to release any findings or judgments before the election. We're all now paying a tremendous price for that, because there was a time, perhaps, in the spring or summer, where people were saying one final major push really could make some difference in Iraq.
Very few people are saying that now. In fact, the colonel was sort of talking about those fading hopes or expectations that anything can be done.
So, yes, politics was very much involved. That was in the calculations before the elections. Right now, I don't imagine the group's being pressured so much one way or the other as they're out of good options, like the rest of us.
OLBERMANN: And we've already hit this with Craig Crawford and with Jack Jacobs, but this dance about how to describe civil war in Iraq, Mr. Hadley saying today a new phrase - a new phase, the NBC definition being what it is now, do you see the use of that term by mainstream media, first of all, spreading, and secondly, affecting the politics of the situation here?
MILBANK: Well, I'm sure it's going to be spreading. I don't know if it's going to be spreading as a matter of official policy. But, you know, individual reporters on the ground there are saying that's what they're seeing. So clearly, that will go on.
What's going to affect American opinion more than the nomenclature here is the actions that are causing the change in the nomenclature, the approaching 3,000 dead American troops there, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, the kind of footage that you've been airing tonight. Those facts on the ground are what's driving American opinion here.
OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post" and MSNBC. As always, sir, great thanks.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This is not sectarian violence, this is just ordinary Turkey Day holiday violence, Flaming Turkey Toss. And there are catchers at the other end?
And you might make an analogy between that and Michael Richards, but in fact, there might be deeper meaning to his sad saga, now that a prominent African-American comedian says he doesn't think anybody should use that language on stage. And he will drop it from his act. Paul Mooney will join us.
Ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1889, the Police Department of the City of New York issued to Curtis Brady, on the undertaking that it and he would not frighten the horses, the first-ever license to drive an automobile through Central Park. And it's all been pretty much downhill ever since.
Let's play Oddball.
And we begin in Bloomington, Indiana, for the post-Thanksgiving festival of athletic splendor and blazing poultry products that is fifth annual Flaming Turkey Toss. Look at them hammer throw, more than 60 people showing up to watch competitors toss the 12-pound turkey. There was a nine-pounder for the ladies. And both the Olympic and Scottish throwing methods apparently were acceptable.
Each turkey was fitted with a baby's onesie, doused with lighter fluid, set aflame, then thrown down the middle of a football field, a process only slightly less dangerous than deep-frying and eating one of these bad boys. Competition ran deep into the night, until one turkey landed on a neighbor's roof, and everybody ran. Could have been worse. There could have been guys trying to catch them.
To another celebration. It's the annual Monkey's Banquet in Lapuri (ph), Thailand, the one day a year when the city's 3,000 primates get a little monkey love. Usually confined to a big temple, on this day the monkeys have free rein of the city, and they feast on cookies and fruits and all the booze they can drink.
Yes, these monkeys are long-tailed macaques. And no, Senator George Allen of Virginia was not the honorary grand marshal.
Finally, to Mubanaswar (ph), India, where labor strife is the issue of the day. And like so many professionals in these troubled times, these guys have found their jobs eliminated, protesting the government for assistance. They are snake charmers. Their country has just outlawed snake charming. Most of these men have spent decades making a living in the snake-charming industry, meaning they are overqualified for most of the available jobs, out in this economy, anyway, these days, ours.
Of course, you'd think once a guy has tamed a poisonous deadly viper, he'd be perfect to handle the complaint hotline for an American computer company. Admittedly, it's a huge pay cut, but it would something, wouldn't it?
Speaking of charming, President Bush's fundraising job for the midterm elections is over, so now he's moved on to raising funds for his own presidential library. The goal, half a billion dollars. Is any legacy worth that much?
Is any suspect worth 50 shots? The groom shooting in New York. Calls for the police commissioner to go.
But first, time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, outgoing secretary of defense Rumsfeld. Confidants say he couldn't care less. But a White House source tells "Newsweek" that the president will wait until after December 29 to officially accept Rumsfeld's resignation, because that's the day the secretary would become the longest-serving secretary of defense ever, passing the record set by LBJ's man, Robert McNamara. Yes, that's the name you want to be linked with throughout history.
Number two, the kid at the Burger King in Boise, Idaho, who was not hallucinating when he claimed two guys ordered the drive-through from a pair of zambonis. The city says two employees of the Boise City Ice Skating Rink have been fired now for driving the ice-resurfacing machines out of the arena and to the fast-food place. Top speed, five miles an hour.
Number one, Bob Kearns, president of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. He's insisted that one of the residents there remove this Christmas wreath from the building or face a fine of $25 a day. Kearns told the association's five-member review board to order the removal. Each refused. He fired them all.
Here is a closeup of the offending wreath. Bob Kearns claims this is an antiwar protest, possibly a satanic symbol. Hey, earth to Bob Kearns, it's a peace sign. For Christmas, you know? Peace on earth, good will to men?
OLBERMANN: Well, if the signature image from George W. Bush's presidency is going to be that video of him continuing to read the book "My Pet Goat" to school children while the 9/11 attacks were still in progress, why shouldn't there be a $500 million George W. Bush presidential library.
Our third story in the Countdown, that is the fund raising price tag, half a billion, which will buy you a lot of historical spin. Sources telling the "New York Daily News" that Mr. Bush and his loyalists hope to raise that unprecedented figure, part of which should fund the actual library, the rest for one of the so-called think tanks. This one, according a source described as a Bush insider, would be called the Institute for Democracy. It would hire conservative scholars and, quote, give them money to write papers and books favorable to the president's policies.
Sources say the fund raisers would solicit mega-donations of 10 and $20 million dollars a piece from cash cows, such as wealthy heiresses, Arab nations, business leaders. The location, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, still needs to be pinned down, which is especially important, according to one source, since, quote, you can't ask people in Dallas for 20 million until they are sure the library won't be in Waco. The rest of the cash would come from smaller donors, who could cough up only 25,000 to five million each.
Joining me now the founder and editor of the HuffingtonPost.com, also author of "On Becoming Fearless," Arianna Huffington. Thanks again for your time Arianna.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: When the fund raising goals for the Clinton library were
announced, 100 million at first, then 200 million was mentioned, the right
wing went nuts. He's trying to white wash his own history. He's trying to
re-write the history books. In that contest, what would any president need
with 500 million dollars for his library?
HUFFINGTON: Well this has been, without a doubt, the most disastrous presidency of modern times, so he, obviously, will need a lot more money to white wash what actually happened. I mean can you imagine the Iraq war wing? What is going to happen? Will visitors be given rose colored glasses before they enter and have floral flowers thrown at their feet? Really, it's going to be very hard to white wash this presidency and maybe that's why they think they need half a billion dollars.
OLBERMANN: Visitors to that wing, Arianna, would be greeted as liberators. But are we seeing, in terms of this, as a bigger picture than this one library, could we be seeing a tipping point here? Are we going to need a federal law to cap spending on presidential libraries? Because by the year 2050, could we not have half a dozen of presidential libraries and think tanks that are spending millions to try to prop up the image of their name sakes, trying to re-write history for men who have long since ceased to be part of the political picture?
HUFFINGTON: Well Keith, as you know, we've been told again and again by constitutional scholars that money is speech and therefore we'll never be able to cap donations. But what we need to demand is transparency. We need to demand that the donors, including the mega-donors that you mentioned to this fund raising feast, will have to be known to the public.
It is unconscionable that right now you can have donors, captains of industry, wealthy heiresses and Arab nations giving 10 to 20 million dollars, as has been announced, without the public knowing who they are. After all, this president may be a lame duck president, but he's still the president. He still has an awful lot of public policy that he can put up for sale at the White House and that's why we need to know who they are and what are they getting in return for these huge donations.
OLBERMANN: Obviously we have no formal announcements being made. These sources were simply talking to Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News, whose stories do tend to pan out pretty much the way he writes them. Nevertheless - But are the supporters of George Bush wise in even revealing, off the record, plans for a presidential library of this kind of dimension right now, in this point in this presidency?
HUFFINGTON: Well, it shows how unaware they are of what is going on in the public mood at the moment, but at the same time if they're going to be about to launch a fund raising effort, they have to announce it. And the question is, what is going to be the end result of that. I think there has to be a real public outcry about anonymity. That's the one thing we can demand, because after all you, may remember, even with Bill Clinton, when you had the disclosure that Frank Rich's widow - not widow, sorry - ex-wife had given 450,000 dollars, and when that was disclosed, after Bill Clinton pardoned Mark Rich, there was an enormous amount of outrage. So the question here is what are they going to be getting, these donors, in exchange for the big bucks that they are going to be giving to the library.
OLBERMANN: And I'm just going to say a few words and just throw you this softball and you swing as hard as you want on it. The George W. Bush think tank?
HUFFINGTON: Well, you know, it's actually kind of funny because, after all, you can imagine a Ronald Reagan think tank, because you may disagree with his policies, but there was some philosophy, there was some theory behind it. George Bush has been all over the map. He started against nation building, then he was for nation building. He was for preemptive war, now he is for diplomacy. There is no real consistent theme, except circumventing the constitution, mistrusting international conventions and basically not believing in the rule of law when it suited him.
OLBERMANN: Arianna Huffington of HuffingtonPost.com. As always Arianna, thanks for your time. Good to talk to you.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, 50 shots rang out and a groom is killed on his wedding day. Now New York City police are denying that that constitutes excessive force.
And a shocking split, Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock, just mere months after saying, I do. Seeing that hat, how could we all not see this coming?
That is next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Sean Bell was meant to be married last Saturday, instead he was killed in a hail of police gun fire, 50 rounds worth, after he left his own bachelor party.
In our number two story in the Countdown the anger in New York City today swelled, calls for the police commissioner to resign, calls from the mayor to investigate.
Our correspondent Mike Taibbi reports this is literally not a black and white case. The victim was African-American and so was at least one of the cops.
MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Protesters counted the shots, 50 in all, a number New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg today called, deeply disturbing.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: It sounds to me like excessive force was used.
TAIBBI: Force used Saturday morning at 4:00 a.m., when 23-year-old Sean Bell left his bachelor party at a Queens, New York club that was under surveillance because of complaints about drugs, prostitution and guns. Sure enough, an under cover cop, who had been inside, called his back-up team about a possible gun arrest, someone in the group with Bell. Next, according to the police, the under cover officer approached Bell's car. Bell drove forward, hitting a cop and then a minivan filled with other responding cops, and then ramming the minivan again.
The undercover fired 11 shots at the car. Four other cops, 39 more, killing Bell and wounding his two passengers, all three unarmed.
(on camera): Some police experts use terms like contagious or sympathetic firing to explain incidents like this one, when so many shots are squeezed off.
(voice-over): New York's police commissioner says training has some impact.
RAYMOND KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: We stress when officers go to the range that they fire no more than three rounds and then they look and they assess.
TAIBBI: But while one expert on police response said the officers who fired on Bell's car reacted to a real threat and that even 50 shots were not excessive.
DR. MARIA HABERFELD, JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: It was absolutely justified, the police officers, and if asked, I would testify on their behalf.
TAIBBI: The mayor is not lining up with his police officers just yet. He said there are questions about whether race was a factor, that while at least three of the cops are non-whites, all three victims are African-American and, the mayor said, blameless.
BLOOMBERG: From what I know, there is no evidence whatsoever that they were doing anything wrong.
TAIBBI: A wedding day that took a tragic turn, the blame still to be assessed.
Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: That's a sharp turn into our nightly round of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, where the good people of Muncie, Indiana are about to get a taste of the D list on their police force. As part of a new reality show, celebrities will train as reserve police officers, then go out on real calls with the regular cops. Run away. They'll even be supplied with guns. This will go well. Ask Shaquille O'Neal.
Among the officers in training, Jack Osbourne, son of Ozzy, Latoya Jackson, sister of Michael, and Erica Estrada. Mr. Estrada apparently given the impression that he will get credit for the California Highway Patrol. That gives him a professional advantage over the other contestants. Actually I made the last part up.
Great news tonight for Borat. After three different weddings, Pamela Anderson is divorcing her husband of less than four months. Apparently that is the length of time it takes to form irreconcilable differences. Anderson, summing up here marriage woes on her website with an almost Haiku like announcement. Quote, divorce, yes it's true, unfortunately impossible.
Kid Rock and Ms. Anderson were engaged four years ago, then broke up, then spent their summer getting married, first in France in July, then in Beverly Hills at the beginning of August, then again in Nashville. The quick turn around between marriages, plural, and divorce, definitely surprising at least one publication today, this month's issue of GQ Magazine, the same one that includes the Men of the Year, including me, named Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock the newly weds of the year. You won't see them at the dinner Wednesday night.
Speaking of divorcing couples, getting dumped by Britney Spears has not hurt Kevin Federline's ego. He has now decided the only reason people dislike him, well not because of him or his work, but because of who he married. He's espoused this new theory on stage at the Hollywood House of blues, in response to the question posed by a member of his posse, why does American hate you, Mr. Federline replied, quote, maybe because I took their queen. I am America's most hated.
America's queen, you mean Char Jackson? There may be something profound in the Michael Richards story. Comedian Paul Mooney wonders if anybody should use the N-word in their act. He will join us next.
But first, time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze goes to Joseph Clark of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. He was driving around all night, allegedly with a suspended license, and his girlfriend and his 4-month-old daughter and some marijuana in the car, when he spotted what he assumed was a deer standing motionless in the meadow. So he did what you or I would do, he drove into it. Fortunately the deer was actually just a decoy being used by three game wardens to catch illegal hunters. Mr. Clark said he just wanted to bumped the deer. Of course, he bumped the decoy hard enough to send it flying 30 feet.
Speaking of things made out of wood, our silver tonight goes to Bill-O, whining about something about the Bay Area in his not so widely read newspaper column. He wrote, quote, I coined the term San Francisco values and well understand they have little to do with democracy. Be quiet fat head. The computer search engine Nexus shows Bill Early first using it last month. A California congressman used it in a campaign as early as 1996. You coined it and you got a Peabody Award for it.
But tonight's winner, Linda Crosshauer (ph), the National Science Teachers Association president. Laurie David, co-producer of the Al Gore movie "An Inconvenient Truth," and wife of the actor Larry David, tried to donate 50,000 DVD copies of the movie so science teachers could show their students. She said they e-mailed back that they couldn't accept the DVDs because, among other things, doing so would place, quote, unnecessary risk upon the National Science Teachers Association capital campaign, quote, especially certain targeted supporters. Who might they be?
Who wouldn't donate lots of money to the Science Teachers Association if it accepted copies of "An Inconvenient Truth," try Exxon Mobile and Shell, which had already donated millions to the association and the American Petroleum Institute, whose own movie the association happily accepted and distributed. It's called "Fuel-Less, You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel." I got Copernicus and Galileo on the phone. They say the Earth revolves around the sun. What hang up on them? All right, I'm sorry, we have taken millions from the Flat Earth Society. Linda Crosshauer, president of the National Science Teachers Association, available at the right price, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Just when you thought the Michael Richards story had degenerated totally into a feeding frenzy that would consume the former Seinfeld star, then regurgitate him, then consume him anew, the saga may have unsuspected depth and importance.
Our number one story on the Countdown, should any comedian, should anybody, use the so-called N-word in public when equality and dignity is the goal, why is it OK for some people to say a particular word, any particular word, but not others. It's a question being asked not of African-American entertainers, but by at least one of them, Paul Mooney, a past guest on this news cast, who was alongside Michael Richards as Richards apologized yesterday, and who will join us again in a moment.
First, the overview of the Richards saga from our correspondent Keith Morrison.
KEITH MORRISON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was, as they call it, Chocolate Sunday at L.A.'s Laugh Factory last night. Young black urban comedy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man that stuff made me mad.
MORRISON: On the very stage made so famous by Michael Richards the other day, so where better to ask, are Richards accepted?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think the apology was so pathetic. It was so not genuine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he should have said what he said.
He should have thought about it before he said it.
MORRISON: Richards' latest appeal for understanding was a pilgrimage Sunday morning to the Reverend Jesse Jackson's radio show.
REV. JESSE JACKSON, ACTIVIST: Do you consider yourself a racist?
MICHAEL RICHARDS, ACTOR: No.
MORRISON: So, from what deep place did the racist rant spring? Well, said Richards, he really hasn't figured that out yet.
RICHARDS: That's why I'm shattered by it. The way this came through me was like a freight train.
MORRISON: He said he's seeing a psychiatrist for help and then, just for the record, outside the studio, he apologized again.
RICHARDS: I'm sorry. I'm very, very sorry to the African-American community for the upset.
MORRISON: If the way he said it seemed odd to some, the contrition was real, said Jackson, who saw in the whole business a silver lining.
JACKSON: Just maybe in a strange way, Michael's meltdown can contribute to reviving an appropriate national dialogue that can bring broader healing.
MORRISON: And, well, one black comedian known for sprinkling the N-word quite liberally through his act vowed that he would stop.
PAUL MOONEY, STAND UP COMEDIAN: Michael, he cured me. He's my Doctor Phil.
MORRISON: Though last night at the Laugh Factory -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what came out of his heart came out of his mouth.
MORRISON: - the healing hadn't quite begun.
Keith Morrison, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: And, as promised, I'm joined now by comedian Paul Mooney.
Thanks for your time tonight, Paul.
MOONEY: Oh, thank you.
OLBERMANN: So this brought up, in your mind, the appropriateness of anybody using that word or words like it on stage?
MOONEY: Yes, as far as the apology, I mean, when Michael - I've known Michael for over 20 years and the apology on David Letterman was - what he did was attend. The apology didn't match what he did on the stage. And he has got some penance to do, and I've talked to him privately in a room and I'm convinced that he is truly sorry. He regrets it. He didn't know he had these feelings and they came out. They were suppressed, I guess.
It wasn't a comical performance. It was a mental breakdown. This was crazy. I had heard about this and then when I saw it, I'm not easily shocked. I went into shock. And then I talked to him, because I had to know for myself. I mean, he really - when he grabbed me physically I could feel he didn't want me to leave the room and he was really sorry. And he had said that some white people had told him that they agreed with him and that they were behind him and it freaked him, because he doesn't want to be the head of the clan. And he knew that wasn't him.
And there was a whole bunch of things going on with the audience attacking him and they hurt him and he wanted to hurt them. And then he went through a lot crazy stuff. I'm not making excuses for him. What he did was horrible. And, I mean, I've used that word, but differently, and I wrote for Richard Pryor for 32 years. And Richard used the word. And we wanted to not to give the word power. We wanted to de-power the word and blacks in the community use it in a different way and the hip hoppers use it and I was caught up in that and so now I'm reformed and I'm a recovering N word-cohalic.
So, I've been there and I've done that and that was the first time I was outside of myself, because that video put me into such shock about the word, such evilness and it was used as a weapon. And the weapon was powerful. It was like a nuclear blast. And I don't want to be connected with that sort of evil and I don't think - I mean, I had people respond violently towards him. They don't want to forgive him. And we are all human beings. We all make mistakes. And if the healing process has begun and we've started this movement, no more N word, and the Laugh Factory is the first club. You can't say the N-word, you'll get fined if you do. And it is like myself, I'm not going to do it. I'm not caught up in that anymore.
I was outside, I saw myself. I saw myself differently and I don't like that word and I'm not going to use it. That is me. I'm not going to use it any more. And I'm not going to use the B-word anymore. It is time for us as black race to not be tolerated. We have to be celebrated. And I want to celebrate my blackness. And I want to take back my power, because my ancestors were kings and queens and I want to bring that back and I want to bring back the dignity. All people, because the Latino kids, the white kids, the young black kids, the Asians, all of them use that word, and it's something that we perpetrated and we put out there and made it an equal opportunity word and it's not, and I want to just lock it up and I want to suppress and forget about it, and let's move on to better things.
OLBERMANN: Do you think there is any kind of difference, because you have so many comedians, I mean Margaret Cho comes to mind, Carlos Mencia, even Sacha Baron Cohen does an anti-Semitic character and he's Jewish. Is there a difference between, you know, using that term horribly and using it as part of a comedy act? Or are you saying now it doesn't matter anymore?
MOONEY: Yes, it doesn't matter anymore. There is no use for the word anymore. There is no use for any of that. As a country, we have a lot on our plate and I don't want us to internalize and not be attacked by some outside force - and by inside with our people, because we are different and we have to learn to love and get along and because we've got bigger things on our plate and I don't want that to happen. We have people that over in the war and they have to come back to hear that word an racism, it would be crazy.
OLBERMANN: Paul Mooney, wise words indeed sir. From everything from Chappelle Show to the original Saturday Night Live in his own career and battle at the comedy clubs. Great thanks Paul, good luck with this.
MOONEY: OK, thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,304th day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq. Reporting from Los Angeles, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END