Wednesday, January 31, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 31

Guests: Dana Milbank, Flynt Leverett; Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

John McCain criticizes the Bush administration about Iraq. That would make it unanimous. He says he's not getting the information he needs. Mr. Bush versus Congress, day number - We've lost count.

Senator Biden may have lost count of how many mistakes he made on the day he starts his presidential campaign. He calls Senator Obama the first "mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He blasts John Edwards about Iraq, calls Senator Clinton's plan about Iraq a disaster, and right now, this man knows his disasters.

Which disasters will the administration face at the Libby trial? It was journalists' day. The latest from the courthouse.

And Boston, over these streets, over these houses, hung a pall of fear. Ten suspicious packages found. Counterterrorism forces mobilized, parts of the harbor and the Charles River closed. News networks go live. The packages? Parts of the ad campaign for the new movie "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." They've been there two weeks.

And Harry Potter, you forgot your invisibility cloak, boy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wouldn't turn off seeing Harry Potter, but I wouldn't necessarily go and watch him be naked on stage.


OLBERMANN: Of course, that's exactly what he will be next month in London.

And speaking of on stage and naked, Mr. Bush and Iran. And doesn't the president's rhetoric all sound eerily familiar?


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our struggle is not with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, we want them to flourish.



BUSH: The Iraqi people cannot flourish under a dictator that oppresses them.


OLBERMANN: Good grief, he's in reruns.

At least, it hasn't gotten like this.


BUSH: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of...




BUSH:... will continue to live in brutal submission.


OLBERMANN: Hasn't gotten like this yet.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Jiminy Christmas.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

Not since the British prime minister decided against committing his own troops to the escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq has President Bush lost as significant an ally in that conflict. Not since the senator from Virginia called a member of his opponent's staff "macaca" has a comment about race so dominated the day of politics.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the Bush administration managing to alienate its most passionate supporter of the president's plan for Iraq, Senator McCain, by failing to give him information he had requested.

On a parallel track, what Senator Joe Biden had to say about Iraq today on this, his first day as an official candidate for the White House all but drowned out by the unfortunate description he gave of his African-American opponent, Senator Barack Obama.

We begin with the president, Mr. Bush making an obvious attempt to change the subject to the economy by making a pilgrimage to capitalism's Mecca, Wall Street, where he criticized giant salaries and bonuses for CEOs, and was treated to spontaneous applause on the floor of the stock exchange, what might very well be the most friendly prescreened audience he has ever faced, Mr. Bush not bitter but arguably condescending when it came to explaining why, beyond Wall Street, a victory lap of the nation's economic performance was proving to be a hard sell.


BUSH: It's unsettling at times when you're at war. War's hard, war's difficult, it's negative. And so I'm not surprised that some of the good economic news is overshadowed by the difficult news out of Iraq.


OLBERMANN: Or, it could be that the economy for investors and executives is not the same economy for employees.

Back in Washington by late afternoon, more trouble waiting for the president. Senators John Warner and Carl Levin, the former and current chairmen of the Armed Services Committee, joining forces, reaching agreement on just one nonbinding resolution between them to criticize the Iraq plan.

That new resolution would vow to protect funding for the troops, Chairman Levin also reaching agreement with Senator McCain in asking the Bush administration for further information on the benchmarks the president has said he will hold the Iraqis to as part of his new plan, McCain and Levin, having quarreled last week over what the Iraqis have agreed to do, remaining united in their desire for concrete answers from the administration about what exactly those benchmarks would be, Secretary of State Rice finally responding late yesterday with a one-page document both men found to be woefully inadequate, lacking details and timelines, the senator saying in response, jointly in a statement, quote, "What Secretary Rice's letter makes abundantly clear is that the administration does not intend to attach meaningful consequences for the Iraqis' continuing to fail to meet their commitments. What has been said before is still true, America supplying more troops while Iraqi leaders simply supply more promises is not a recipe for success in Iraq."

Instead of withholding information, Senator Biden perhaps offering far too much, giving in to his self-admitted tendency to bloviate. Having launched his bid for the White House by declaring his candidacy on the Web this morning, comments made the old-fashioned way, through some guy from a newspaper, stealing all his thunder, Mr. Biden describing Barack Obama to a reporter for "The New York Observer" thusly.


BIDEN: I mean, you got the first sort of mainstream African-American.


BIDEN: Who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.

I mean, this - that's a storybook, man.


OLBERMANN: Late today, Senator Obama releasing a statement seizing on Mr. Biden's use of the word "articulate." Quote, "I don't take" - or "didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

By late afternoon Mr. Biden issued an apology. "I deeply regret any offense my remark in 'The New York Observer' might have caused anyone. That was not my intent, and I expressed that to Senator Obama."

Add it all up, and Senator Biden's hearings today, at which former secretary of state Kissinger testified, causing barely a ripple, (INAUDIBLE) Dr. Kissinger in subtle disagreement with the Bush administration, telling the committee that the U.S. should always be ready to negotiate, even with Iran and Syria, Senator Biden's comments about yet another Democrat rival's plans for Iraq, quoting, "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," and more about Senator Clinton and her plan for U.S. forces in Iraq, all that lost, almost, in the clamor.


BIDEN: She and I have been almost in lockstep on those of these foreign policy issues. But I think it would be a disaster if that is her plan, for one, cap the American forces. I think we should lower American forces. And two, cut off funding for the local Iraqi forces.


OLBERMANN: Let's call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Dana, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: You have a triage report from the circular firing squad? I mean, can Senator Biden get out of this, or does he declare today, and drop out tomorrow?

MILBANK: Well, let's hope he doesn't. We could have a year and a half of these, and we treasure every one of them, going back when he used so many words in his last run for president, he ran out of them, and he had to starting quoting Neil Kinnock (ph), the British labor leader, using his speeches.

Senator Biden has - this year said famously that he can win the presidency if he can be the best Biden I can be. And that that does not include running off his mouth at every opportunity, and his aides have told him to stop this. He's gotten repeated spankings in the press for this. He's trying to stop in public. He says, I'm going to hold myself to just a few minutes a day. And, it, you know, it's just sort of like an at addict falling off the wagon. And he's done it again, and with any luck for our business, he'll stay in the race and keep doing it.

OLBERMANN: Well, you can turn to the conservative media establishment for that, Rush Limbaugh, the Drudge thing, bloggers, who seem to be doing a lot of Biden-bashing today. How much of the outrage is driven by, say, actual outrage, I mean, the Edwards and Clinton remarks about Edwards and Clinton seem to be - have some more texture to them than the one about Obama. That just seemed to be a slip. But how much of this was really stems from a desire to inflict damage upon a Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee right now?

MILBANK: Well, that's exactly what it is. It's not inflicting damage on a Democratic presidential candidate. Nobody gives Joe Biden a chance of winning that nomination anyway. But he is the guy who's out there front and center and has been having these hearings criticizing the president on Iraq. So he's potentially quite a fat target for that reason.

I don't think there's much outrage on anybody's part there, certainly not on Obama's part. Nobody sees Joe Biden as a racist. They just see him as a man who just can't seem to, you know, get that governor in control in between his brain and his mouth.

OLBERMANN: How significant now, turning to the substantive stuff of the day, that Senator Warner and Levin have joined forces in regarding their antisurge resolutions? Is this (INAUDIBLE) is that the fact that it's going to be bipartisan more important than the fact that it may be less than, say, the Democrats or the other antiwar the war opponents would want?

MILBANK: Yes, that's what's usually important. It is still pretty early in this. We've got to wait and see who else is on board here in terms of the sponsors of the original two. It's very crucial to have, for the Democrats and for the Republican critics of the administration on the Iraq war, to have some sort of unity here. The White House strategy has been to throw out a whole bunch of resolutions, give, sort of muddy up the waters, confuse people as to what the votes are about.

This allows for a lot of clarity here. The White House was opposing this sort of thing. So we could have a very clear vote next week, if indeed Senators Hagel and Snowe and others decide to go along with this.

OLBERMANN: White House opposing clarity. It reads like a great headline for your paper.

To McCain now, he's been dropping in the opinion polls, he's down 8 to

10 points in the last month. Might that explain why he seems to have come

out against the president, even in that limited way, about Iraq, and not he

now suddenly he doesn't have enough information?

MILBANK: No, I don't think so. I think what's happening here is, in fact, this is part of the White House's strategy. McCain is getting behind an alternative resolution, to say, Hey, you better send us some more benchmarks. In fact, the White House would be very happy for the McCain resolution to pass, as an alternative to the harsher ones that Warner's talking about, that Joe Biden's been talking about.

So I think that McCain sort of wants it both ways, to criticize the administration on the one hand, but he, I, he remains the most ardent supporter of this surge.

OLBERMANN: Is that a tightrope?

MILBANK: It sure is a tightrope. And McCain's in a very difficult spot, because, you know, every day another Republican enters the race there and is trying to appeal to the conservative base, and then he's got the Giuliani on his other side. So he's in a very difficult spot there.

Of course, all this will be irrelevant if, for some reason, things pick up in Iraq, or depending on what the situation is a year from now.

OLBERMANN: Well, there's where you use that headline, White House opposes clarity. Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post" and MSNBC. Clear as ever. Dana, as ever, great thanks.

MILBANK: But never called clean.

OLBERMANN: That's true.

And to paraphrase his old bit from "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," how will this all this affect him, Al Franken? He's decided to run for the Senate from Minnesota, so says a senior Democratic official from that state. Nothing confirmed from Mr. Franken's offices, but sources close to him had said that if we were to give up his Air America Radio show, that should be a clear indication he was intending to seek in 2008 the seat now held from Minnesota by Republican Norm Coleman.

Earlier this week, Franken said he was giving up the show in two weeks' time. Al will be the first comedian, or former comedian, to seek national office, unless you count all of them serving right now.

The current political drama in D.C., the Libby trial, good for a few laughs, no doubt, another day, another witness throwing Scooter Libby's memory under the bus. David Shuster takes us inside the court and onto the bus for the day's developments.

And have we learned the lessons of the Iraq war? Well, if you mean by learned we can recognize when the president is today saying the same things virtually word for word about Iran, yes, we have learned. Videotape evidence that will startle even the most cynical.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: So far, the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, has focused largely on the charges that Libby lied about his conversation with NBC's Tim Russert.

Today, in our fourth story on the Countdown, the trial's focus shifted to the charge that Libby also lied about his conversation with former "TIME" magazine reporter Matt Cooper, lied specifically by claiming that when he told Cooper that war critic Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, Libby also said this was based only on what he, Libby, knew from other reporters. Had that been true, it might have helped Mr. Libby fend off any criminal charges related to the leak by suggesting the information was already out there, mitigating Libby's culpability in blowing the covert status of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.

This trial, as we already know, pivots not on the leak, but on whether Mr. Libby was honest during the investigation of the leak. According to Mr. Cooper, on the stand today, Mr. Libby was not.

Tracking the proceedings for us yet again, MSNBC's David Shuster.

Good evening, David.


OLBERMANN: What did Matt Cooper tell the jury today, and how will it affect the defense for Scooter Libby?

SHUSTER: Well, Matt Cooper testified that Scooter Libby confirmed for him that Valerie Wilson did in fact work at the CIA, and that Libby never said anything, or even implied, that Libby's information came from other reporters.

And this is a big problem for Scooter Libby for a couple of reasons. First of all, at the grand jury that was investigating the outing of Valerie Wilson, Libby testified he may have spoken about Wilson with Cooper but was clear in telling Cooper that Libby only knew the information about Valerie Wilson because it came from other reporters.

And Libby also testified that he did not know for a fact, at the time of his conversation with Matt Cooper, that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA.

The problem with this is that five government witnesses have already testified that Libby knew that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA well before Libby's phone conversation with Matt Cooper.

Secondly, Matt Cooper testified that if he had any inkling from Scooter Libby that Libby's information was based on any reporter's, Cooper testified he, Cooper, would have never used any of this information.

So what was Scooter Libby's motive? Well, prosecutors are convinced that Scooter Libby, in pinning this on reporters, was somehow trying to block investigators from truly understanding what was going on in the office of the vice president, in the crucial week leading up to when Valerie Wilson was outed in that column by Robert Novak.

OLBERMANN: Tonight, as we understand it, the court is considering the possibility of letting prosecutors introduce as evidence statements from Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, made about Libby and about Karl Rove after the leak investigation was under way. What is that about?

SHUSTER: That's about prosecutors trying to get at the state of mind of Scooter Libby, the reason that they believe Scooter Libby had a motive to lie. And what they're talking about is the idea that Scooter Libby wanted to make sure his testimony in the investigation was in line with what the White House was saying publicly at the time.

Keep in mind that in the fall of 2003, when the CIA referred the Scooter Libby - referred the Plame leak for a criminal investigation, the White House, and in particular President Bush, were under tremendous pressure. The president had said publicly that nobody was involved in this. If anybody was involved, they would not be working at the White House. And Scott McClellan was also making public statements to that effect.

So when McClellan then publicly stood up at the briefing room and said Karl Rove was not involved in this, but didn't say much about Scooter Libby, Libby and Vice President Cheney wanted to correct the impression that was left that Libby may have been involved. And so they wrote out talking points for McClellan, urging McClellan to essentially publicly clear Scooter Libby.

However, once the White House went down this road in its PR strategy in the fall of 2003, they were stuck with the strategy in 2004, a presidential year. And if Scooter Libby had gone to investigators and said, OK, I didn't do anything criminal, but yes, I was involved in (INAUDIBLE) disseminating some information I learned about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters, that information, had it come out, would have contradicted what the White House was saying publicly, and that, of course, would have been a huge political problem for the White House in 2004, a presidential election year.

As a result, the White House and Scooter Libby, their actions were essentially forcing Fitzgerald to get to reporters to find out what was happening. By the time that litigation was finished, the 2004 presidential campaign was over. But now Scooter Libby, of course, faces some major legal problems as a result, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, we just getting the late news that prosecutors want the jury to hear seven hours, David, of audio recordings of Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony. So our thoughts and prayers go out to the jurors in advance of that, and also to the reporters like David Shuster, who will be standing by and listening to all this.

SHUSTER: Thanks. Yes, we'll need those tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Good luck, and bring your earplugs.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thanks, David.

From faulty prewar intel to a real-life terror scare, Boston's roadways shut down today because of suspicious packages that turned out to be an ad campaign, miniature billboards for a movie. Boston terrorized by Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Some parents terrorized by these pictures, to say nothing of the younger readers. The actor who plays Harry Potter is showing off his Voldemort.

That and more ahead on Countdown, suckers (ph).


OLBERMANN: Two birthdays to note, one of the actress Kelly Lynch (ph), who, we've been delighted to find out, is a regular viewer. She should in turn be delighted to find out that she is and will always be four days younger than me. To a birthday that will numb the brain of countless sports fans, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, once the boy strikeout wonder, is 60 years old today, 60.

Let's play Oddball, if we can.

We begin in India, the world's leader in developing the transportation technology of tomorrow. Look, everybody, it's a floating bike. That's what inventor Dwarka Prasad Charafia (ph) says this thing is. Seventy-five-year-old man says his invention can be used on land and sea and is perfect for when the village floods in the rainy season. He also has floating shoes if you're more of a walker than a cyclist. They also come in handy in a flood. He's saving his best one for last, one that lets you sit. It's an invention he calls the rowboat.

Now, here are three men in Japan smelling their cell phones. You sick freaks. Oh, wait, this is another one of these weird Japanese fetish deals. It's the latest in mobile phone technology, the smellular phone, phones that smell like stuff. Users can choose from a variety of scents, with names such as Ocean, Aqua, Mystic, Exotic, Barnyard, Outhouse, Robin Williams. An innovative idea at a price, but owners of cheap phones can still get in on the action without spending a fortune. Just slap some ham on the back of your phone and wait for the battery to overheat.

No segue here. When you hear the president talk about Iran, do you have this weird sensation you heard him say exactly the same stuff about Iraq? It is only because you did. An extraordinary tale of the tape, next.

And out of the frying pan into a fire. Rumors that Paula Abdul might be out at "American Idol" to be replaced by Courtney Love. What, Liza Minnelli is busy?

Details ahead.

But first, but first, time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He will conduct a hearing tomorrow at his Senate Commerce Committee into baseball's decision to sell its cable and satellite package of out-of-town games exclusively to one satellite provider.

Number two, the "Fort Worth Star Telegram," which actually ran this story in Sunday's paper after what was presumably the slowest news day since the last dinosaur perished. Quote, "Four Towels, Ashtray Taken from Motel 6," complete with a map of the location of the Motel 6 in Eulis (ph), Texas. A police report, the story notes, did not have the dollar loss in theft.

But number one, William Yosses chosen by the first lady, Laura Bush, as the new executive pastry chef at the White House. And you can't make this stuff up. Besides the culinary accomplishments of Mr. Yosses, he goes to work for the Bushes having written the best-selling cookbook, "Desserts for Dummies."


OLBERMANN: It has been a haunting undertone to the new year; at moments the start of 2007 has sounded like the end of 2002, or the start of 2003. It's been as if you could just substitute one letter, an N for a Q. And all that President Bush once said before he took us to war in Iraq war being recycled as what he's been now saying about Iran.

Our third story on the Countdown, your ears and your instincts are not deceiving you. It feels that way because it is literally, almost word for word, the truth. We'll play you the tapes in a moment.

The hard news details of the day first. Both Iraqi and U.S. officials continuing to suspect Iranian involvement in the January 20th attack in Karbala that claimed the lives of five Americans, on which more to come. But last night Mr. Bush used words, ostensibly intended to assuage concerns that he is trying to provoke a clash with Iran.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some are trying to take my words and say, well, what he is really trying to do is go and invade Iran. Nobody's talking about that.


OLBERMANN: In fact some people are talking like that, specifically the very same conservative think tanks which pushed for the Iraq war as part of an aggressive U.S. policy of regional transformation throughout the Middle East. So if Mr. Bush's words fail to convince, it may be because he used similar language, very similar language in 2002, at a time when critics suspected he had already decided to invade Iraq. Consider the similarities between the phrases Mr. Bush uses now about Iran and the ones he used in 2002 about Iraq.


BUSH: The Iraqi people cannot flourish under a dictator that oppresses them - threatens them.

Our struggle is not with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, we want them to flourish.

Iraq is land rich in culture and resources and talent.

And the Iranian people are proud people, and they've got a great history and a great tradition.

If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will remain unstable. The region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom and isolated from the progress of our times.

One of the things that the Iranian government is doing is they've begun to isolate their nation, to the harm of the Iranian people.

Hopefully this can be done peacefully.

I believe we can solve our problems peacefully.

All options are on the table.

All options are on the table.


OLBERMANN: But it's not mere rhetoric that echoes down to us from 2002. Strategically, diplomatically, Mr. Bush is pursuing the same course now that he did then, disengage from discussion, marshal international condemnation, convince the world that the enemy in question aids and abets anti-American terrorism now, and that it poses a grave potential threat in the future.

In 2003, when Mr. Bush still exhibited thorough optimism about Iraq, he spoke quite openly about what would come next.


BUSH: We support the advance of freedom in the Middle East because it is our founding principal and because it is in our national interest. The Middle East presents many obstacles to the advance of freedom and I understand that this transformation will be difficult. The way forward in the Middle East is not a mystery. It is a matter of will and vision and action.


OLBERMANN: But the logic has since become inverted. Back then American success in Iraq was supposed to lead to success in Iran. Now we are told that we must succeed with Iran to ensure our success in Iraq. But even standing on its figurative head, the administration's conclusion remains inviolate; something must be done about Iran.

Let's bring in the National Security Council's former senior director for Middle East affairs, Flynt Leverett, now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Great thanks, once again, for your time sir.


OLBERMANN: The accusations are well known, but does it shock you to hear just how close the president's rhetoric about Iran is compared to his past rhetoric about Iraq?

LEVERETT: No, because in many ways the rhetoric in the run-up to the war on Iraq worked. The president singled Iraq out to justify military action there on three particular issues, Iraq's links to terrorism, including what were alleged to be direct links to al Qaeda, its weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and it's regional meddling, that was making the region unstable.

And if you look at the rhetoric on Iran right now, Iran is being singled out for basically the same things, its links to terrorism. The president basically, in the State of the Union Addressee, equated Iran as a Shia version of al Qaeda. Of course, there is the nuclear issue and concern about the Iran's weapons of mass destruction ambitions. And then the president is accusing Iran of regional meddling, being the principal source of instability in the region, much as he did with Iraq in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2005.

OLBERMANN: Focusing in about the Karabala raid, attackers disguised as Americans. They were wielding American-style M-4's and they had stun grenades that were used only by U.S. forces. Reportedly they were able to monitor Iraqi communications. They got through Iraqi checkpoints. Obviously that's Iran, right?

LEVERETT: Well, I think it's very clear that Iraqi militias and Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been getting better. They have had the benefit of daily live ammunition training, courtesy of the U.S. military, the best military in the world. And it is not surprising, I think, that they would be getting better, more capable, more sophisticated in their tactics. That does not prove that Iran was responsible for this raid.

Now, Iran has certainly done bad things in the region. It has been a bad actor. It's possible they're linked to this raid, but there has been no hard evidence put on the table of that. I think it's important to keep in mind, though, that if at some point there is some hard evidence that linked Iran to this, keep in mind the context. The president of the United States has accused Iran of fomenting attacks on U.S. forces. He is building up American military forces there, and he's ordered the capture or killing of any Iranian that is found in Iraq.

And there are five Iranians who were detained out of a diplomatic compound in Irbil last week. There is a kind of symmetry between five Iranians detained by U.S. forces and the five American soldiers who were unfortunately killed in this raid.

OLBERMANN: Is there anything, in sum, to the president's premise that it is Iran attacking us by proxy in Iraq, and if so, how does this jibe with the facts that 99 percent of all attacks on U.S. troops occur in areas controlled by the Sunni militias, which are largely funded not by Iran, which is Shia, but private Sunnis in U.S. allied states like Saudi Arabia?

LEVERETT: Well, that's right; the Sunni insurgents have been a much bigger problem, in terms of inflicting casualties on U.S. forces than the Shia militias have been. But at this point I don't think this is really about a detached analysis of on the ground reality in Iraq. It is about making a case to the American people and to the international community on how bad Iran is, so that the conditions are there, should the president take a decision down the road to use military force against Iran. He has prepared the way, rhetorically.

OLBERMANN: Flynt Leverett, the former member of the National Security Council, now senior fellow at the New American Foundation, our great thanks for joining us again.

LEVERETT: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: Forget the manufacturing of a threat from Iran. We've got a real terror problem on our own shores from the Cartoon Network. It shut down Boston today. A movie promo shut down Boston. Do we blame it on the ads or on paranoia. And they've arrested somebody?

And on what do you blame this? How do you explain to your 12-year-old that Harry Potter is on stage and he's not wearing pants? That and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: How fitting, Boston police now say one person has been arrested in what began as a terrorism scare across that major U.S. city. Though the type of culprit has turned out to be different, perhaps, than what authorities originally supposed. But cable news networks and local television were captivated and breathless, with rampant speculation about improvised explosion devices, commonly used in Iraq, suddenly turning up here in the U.S.

In our number two story on the Countdown, who was responsible? Not al Qaeda, not Hamas, the Cartoon Network. At approximately 2:30 eastern this afternoon, breaking news of four suspicious packages in Boston, two of them at bridges, one actually attached to a structure beneath the span of the Boston University bridge. Concerned calls about the packages, having been made to police around 1:00 this afternoon, but a fifth package police had already detonated. It contained evidence reportedly of an electronic circuit board, elements supposedly consistent with an improvised explosive device, and IED.

Authorities said that the detonated device did not contain actual explosives. Well, it did after they exploded it, but I'm getting picky. The device at the Sullivan Square Subway and bus station, located under Interstate 93, caused the temporary shut down of the highway. They just blew it up once, by the way. Shortly before three this afternoon, reports from a local TV station that police were fanning across Boston and environs to calm the fears of residents and to assure them that police had the situation under control.

Meanwhile, with all the cable networks covering developments live, major roadways in Boston had been shut down. Subway service between Boston and Cambridge had been suspended, albeit briefly. One of the train system's busiest lines halted, and the U.S. Coast Guard closed off a section of the River Charles as the investigation proceeded. Speculation about the provenance of the mysterious devices continued all day, while the black trucks lining up in Boston Common were described as the bomb squad, all part of Boston's emergency response plan, which authorities had rightly put into action.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Boston Police gave the all clear at about 3:30 as the word hoax surfaced. The electronic devices, as many as nine in Boston alone, two in surrounding towns, turned out to be part of a marketing campaign for a feature film version of an animated TV show called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." "Aqua Teen Hunger Forcers" to the rescue.

Turner Broadcasting, owners of the Cartoon Network, apologizing for the packages, which they described as magnetic lights that posed no danger. Those circuit boards were imprinted with images of the shows characters. For example, the talking shake and the obnoxious fries, and the icon there on the left, the moononite (ph), all part of a Turner Broadcasting outdoor marketing campaign in ten cities.

The devices have been in place in those cities for two to three weeks. Reminiscent of a bomb scare in southern California that turned out to be simply audio chips that started playing an advertisement when you opened up a newspaper vending box. Authorities are not happy. One politico suggesting tonight that any marketers who dreamt this up needed to go into another line of work. No snarky reply, suggesting that any official who could not tell the difference between this moononite and a bomb needed to go into another line of work.

And lastly this just in, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" has been innovated by the reruns of "Family Guy." So it's a regional conflict now.

Bender from "Futurerama has WMD. I'm telling you. From the reign of error to the reign of Miss USA, marking our segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Tara Conner's substance abuse issues go well beyond alcohol. In an exclusive interview with our own Matt Lauer, Miss Conner admits she has used cocaine. The 21-year-old Miss USA says it's a relief to reveal her drug use, after rumors swirled in the media. Conner spent 31 days in rehab after nearly losing her crown last month because of inappropriate behavior in several night clubs in New York City.

She has moved to a different apartment in New York and now has a pageant chaperone living with her. Tara Conner's first live interview since leaving rehab is tomorrow more than on "Today." In addition to her alcohol and drug use, she's also expected to talk about the Playboy rumors and react to Donald Trump, Rosie O'Donnell feud, a feud which began over her before it became another promotional stunt, likely to cause terror fears in major American cities.

Also tonight the entertainment world has lost one of its most prolific writers. Sidney Sheldon died after complication from pneumonia. There was hardly a medium in which he did not write, from stage, the big, the little screens and novels. Sidney Sheldon was the creator and producer of "I Dream of Genie," a show which won him an Emmy Award. He also won an Oscar and Tony, but Mr. Sheldon writing novels was the most fun he had ever had. Sidney Sheldon was 89-years-old.

He couldn't have written an odder career path for young Daniel Radcliffe. If you're worried about being type-cast as Harry Potter, is the solution to do a London stage play with nude scenes. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three nominees for Worst Person in the World.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma at the bronze. At a meeting of most of the senators to discuss global warming, his fellow Republicans Gregg and McCain agree it's a real thing and a threat. Mr. Inhofe insists it's just an Al Gore campaign platform plank. Quote, he thinks that's his ticket to the White House. Mr. Gore's not running. Where do we get these guys? Are we paying our senators enough?

Runners-up, the Flinchere (ph) County Council in Wales. It had a problem, the rock salt it spread on its roads after snow storms was occasionally being licked off by local sheep, so the council switched to a different kind of salt, a salt made out of sugar, so now the same sheep are licking that up twice as fast as they licked up the salt-based stuff.

But the winner, correspondent Julie Banderas of Fox noise channel, appearing on Bill O'Reilly's yuck fest last night as a guest expert on TV news. This is a woman who two years ago was covering toilets overflowing on the local newscast. She explained, quote, NBC has lost over two million viewers since Peter Jennings stepped down and then Tom Brokaw, his show has lost about, I don't know, two million viewers. Actually Tom retired more than two years ago and the fall off since then has been, at worst, negligible. And Peter Jennings was on ABC, not NBC, and he passed away.

This makes Miss Banderas exactly the kind of expert Bill-O loves. Julie, does the red light mean the camera is on or off, Banderas, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: Harry Potter, your Nimbus 2000 is showing. The number one story on the Countdown, Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who has played Potter since they started making movies out of the books, has thrown his producers, his fans, Ginnie Weasley, and every 12-year-old girl reader a big curve. He is going to go on-stage in London next month in the nude. From Hogwarts to warts and all. Yes, I know he upgraded brooms to a Firebolt.

More on this in a moment. But also filed tonight under bizarre career moves, Courtney Love, that would be rehab happy Courtney Love, is rumored to be joining "American Idol" as a guest judge. A so called source saying Idol producers will make Miss Love the replacement for the clarity challenged Paula Abdul.

And then there's this Kevin Federline has raised the ire of America's fry cooks with his portrayal of one in an upcoming Superbowl ad. More on that presently.

But as promised, first more on the new insight into Mr. Radcliffe's Harry Potter. Our correspondent is Dawna Friesen.


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After seven magical years playing Harry Potter, actor Daniel Radcliffe is revealing himself in a whole new light. Gone are the round glasses. In fact, everything is gone. These are publicity shots for Radcliffe's latest role in a racy West End, London play called "Equus." In some scenes, he is completely nude. It might make some actors reach for an invisibility cloak.

Radcliffe plays a raunchy stable hand in a controversial play that was first performed in the 1970's.

MATT WOLF, THEATER CRITIC: It could not be a more different role. I can see that if you want to transform yourself, and transform the perceptions of you, this is one way to go.

FRIESEN (on camera): A complete departure from the wizardry of Hogwarts, a chance for the 17-year old to reinvent himself, and not be forever type-cast as Harry. This is his professional stage debut in a role that is dark and dangerous.

WOLF: It is a pretty daunting task for any young actor, particularly an actor with no experience of handling a massive role eight times a week.

FRIESEN (voice-over): The play has not opened yet, but some parents are already angry, telling Harry Potter fan sites they will boycott future films.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wouldn't turn me off to see Harry Potter, but I would not necessarily go watch him be naked on stage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm sure Hermione's jealous.

FRIESEN: For those who prefer him as Harry, he will be back. The fifth Harry Potter movie comes out this summer.

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.


OLBERMANN: And who could follow that but "Village Voice" columnist Michael Musto, also author, of course, of "La Dolce Musto." Good evening Michael.


OLBERMANN: So Mr. Radcliffe as bad boy, as naked boy. He also appeared in HBO's comedy "Extras" this week, playing a version of himself, trying to pick up women who were twice his age and walking around with a condom at the ready. Obviously he's got to think about his post-Potter career, but doing this, is he hastening that day? Is going to be the ex-Harry Potter soon?

MUSTO: No, I think this is all a very smart move. I mean, being stuck in one of these family franchises, like Harry Potter, is lucrative, but it can be extremely stifling. Let's not forget that Julie Andrews for years has been showing her breasts in movies to kind of break the curse of Mary Poppins, and that's kept her relevant, I feel. And Doris Day years ago, on the other hand, turned down "The Graduate" because it messed with her career. She has been eating out of garbage pails ever since. So I say bravo Daniel. Show us your gauntlet of fire.

OLBERMANN: Yes, Julie Andrews has been doing that to passers-by too.

I don't know if you knew about that.

MUSTO: Yes, there's not even camera's around.

OLBERMANN: The Harry Potter websites, as we heard, have reportedly received these e-mails from concerned parents, and one was quote in there, "We, as parents, feel Daniel should not appear nude. Our nine-year-old son looks up to him as a role model." Obviously, if they're sitting in the front row of "Equus" at London, they're really going to be looking up at him, but otherwise, is that an over-reaction on these people's parts?

MUSTO: Absolutely, I mean, how about the fact that the character he plays blinds six horses. That's much more upsetting than the fact that he's showing his booty. How about the fact that the horses themselves are hot. I mean, if Catherine the Great were alive, she would be the first in line. (INAUDIBLE) And worst of all Keith, how about the fact that this play is utter Ca-Ca? I saw it as a kid. I've been a little twitchy ever since.

It just is pretentious psycho babble schlock (ph).

OLBERMANN: Mr. Radcliffe's spokesman has said - let me quote this exactly - "Daniel does not want to step away from Harry Potter, but he does want to show he is a rounded actor, capable of very different and diverse roles." Are there other, simpler ways that you could prove that you are rounded?

MUSTO: Oh sure. He could have done a Dana Plato (ph) and ODed. He could have done a Todd Bridges and maybe kill somebody in a crack house. Or an Adam Rich, and keep that horrible bowler haircut. I think Daniel is doing pretty well a recovering child star. I mean, being a naked stage actor is looking better all the time, isn't it?

OLBERMANN: All right, let's switch over to the other way you could go, which is turn into Kevin Federline and this ad, not, sadly, for Fed-Ex, but for an insurance company. Let's play it first.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federline, fries.

ANNOUNCER: Life comes at you fast.


OLBERMANN: So he is finally going to get the audience he has so richly not deserved. Ninety million people are going to see that commercial.

MUSTO: Well, first of all, that's going to disturb children. But yes, I mean, Britney got nine people for the movie "Crossroads." I was one of them thank you. I'd like my money back. He is getting a captive audience of 90 million. I actually don't feel those people will stay captive. They would need "Clockwork Orange" devices on their eyes lids to keep them open and pointed toward the TV. I actually predict that when this commercial comes on there will be the biggest massive, en masse bathroom break in American history. The country's going to be on a brown alert.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the people in Miami have already been warned about flushing simultaneously. Now we'll quickly get to Courtney Love and "US Magazine" saying that the executive producer of Idol called her to possibly replace Paula Abdul. And she said, yes, he called. He was wondering if I was interested. I thought it was kind of weird, but brilliant. And now he has issued a statement saying - this fellow Lithgow (ph) - that he never made the phone call.

So did Courtney Love just have a hallucination about becoming an "American Idol" judge?

MUSTO: I would imagines so, but I think it's perfect, because "American Idol" now is rehab for celebrities. I hear that Isaiah Washington's going to be a judge, along with Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson. And if this did happen with Courtney, it's perfectly wonderful, because you wouldn't even have to tell Paula. You wouldn't even have to remove Paula, just leave her there. Bring Courtney in. You wouldn't even have to tell Courtney. Just tell Simon to adjust his barbs.

OLBERMANN: And maybe then Courtney Love could move on to playing opposite Daniel Radcliffe in "Equus" in London.

MUSTO: That's disturbing.

OLBERMANN: That is disturbing. The one and only Michael Musto, great thanks for your time tonight Michael. That is Countdown for this the 1,389th day since the declaration of the mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.