'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 28
Guests: Kelly Kennedy, Richard Wolffe, Anne Kornblut, Jane Mayer
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The CIA says bin Laden is alive and well and reestablishing training camps in Pakistan. The Pakistanis say bin Laden is not there, and nobody's reestablishing training camps in Pakistan. The White House says bin Laden is still on the run.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you really have bin Laden on the run, how is he reestablishing training camps?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, that's a question - that's an intelligence matter that I'm not going to be able to go into.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You continually say the leadership's on the run...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, obviously, bin Laden establishes a training camp, then runs to the next place he's going to establish another training camp.
So some questions about intel, including how the director of National Intelligence says the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. So the right wing has to attack him now?
The military on the attack after the fiasco for outpatient Iraqi vets at Walter Reed. Who's getting punished for the rodent and insect infestation stories? Well, of course, the patients who told the media.
What's the entertainment media telling our society about torture and terror? The troubling series "24" takes an important step back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "24")
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: People in this country are dying. And I need some information. Are you going to give it to me, or do I have to start hurting you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Jack Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland, goes to West Point, at the commandant's request, to tell the cadets to forget what they see on TV, torture is bad, and it doesn't even work.
The torture of the Anna Nicole Smith legal process. Is it finally over with a ruling today?
And Hogwarts and all, "Equus" premieres in London, including actor Daniel Radcliffe's nude scenes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR: It was a risk. But it was an exciting one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You got it. Harry Potter shows us his magic wand.
All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
If told as a children's fable, what passes for foreign policy in the Bush administration these days could well be titled, "The Senior Administration Official Who Cried Wolfowitz."
Our fifth story on the Countdown, Vice President Cheney and the administration learning the hard way that if you squander your credibility in the pre-Iraq buildup, your subsequent quotations of intel will hold little sway on the world stage, and your subsequent attempts to manipulate intel will really require that you send intelligence officials fully marked scripts to read to the appropriate congressional committees.
And one more lesson for Vice President Cheney, when trying to leak something about yourself anonymously, do not suddenly switch your grammar into the first person, only two days removed from his meeting with Pakistani President Musharraf, the vice president failing to deliver both on results and on the attempt to spin his own visit, the government of Pakistan today saying, in effect, that the hunt for bin Laden is not Pakistan's problem, choosing to do that by refuting U.S. intelligence claims that the al Qaeda leader is even in Pakistan, let alone that he is setting up training camps near the Afghan border.
According to the interior minister of Pakistan, We will act on any such intelligence, but so far, they have not provided any.
With bin Laden still at large, it is getting increasingly difficult for the administration to continue to claim that the war in Iraq is the central front in the war against terror, on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the new director of National intelligence, Mike McConnell, describing the violence in Iraq as a civil war, the DNI further refusing to stick to the administration talking points by letting the softballs lobbed at him by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham just pass him by.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you believe the outcome in Iraq is part of the overall war on terror?
MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: A stabilized Iraq would be in our interests in terms of fighting the overall global war on terror.
GRAHAM: Do you believe that Iraq is a central battlefront in the overall war on terror?
MCCONNELL: The outcome of Iraq makes it - it makes it so today based on where we are today.
GRAHAM: Does al Qaeda believe that the outcome in Iraq is part of their overall strategy?
MCCONNELL: I wouldn't go so far as to say al Qaeda would necessarily believe that. Al Qaeda may have...
GRAHAM: Haven't they said that?
MCCONNELL: Well, they want to reestablish their base. And their objective could be in Afghanistan.
GRAHAM: OK. So you don't think al Qaeda sees democracy in Iraq as a threat to their agenda?
MCCONNELL: Well, you described al Qaeda as one large organization.
There are elements of al Qaeda in Iraq. And...
GRAHAM: And I don't want to use any more - Bottom line is, if we withdraw to Kuwait, what's the likelihood that al Qaeda-type elements would follow us to Kuwait?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Is it used around the home? Is it bigger than a breadbox? White House press secretary Snow choosing to spin that exchange By cherry-picking and elevating the words of one general over those of the nation's top spy chief.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you really have bin Laden on the run, how is he reestablishing training camps?
SNOW: Well, that's a question - that's an intelligence matter that I'm not going to be able to go into.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You continually say the leadership's on the run.
SNOW: Well, if you take a look also at statements that have been made by generals in recent days, that there was - you know, General Schoomaker the other day had a comment that I was asked about, which is, you thought bin Laden had been marginalized.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: President Bush and Vice President Cheney inviting lawmakers of both parties to the White House this afternoon to discuss the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, House Speaker Pelosi saying that the Democrats have long believed that country should be the focus of the war against terror, and that the bipartisan, bicameral meeting represented the kind of consultation that has been solely lacking on Iraq.
Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, of course, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Pakistan refuting the intelligence, arguably because it's easiest for them domestically to ignore that problem, but then you have the White House press secretary refuting, in essence, the director of National Intelligence, and the director of National Intelligence refusing to hit the softballs being lobbed at him by a Republican senator. Has the administration put itself in a position now where not only nobody believes anyone anymore, but everybody's agenda is clashing with everybody else's internally?
WOLFFE: Well, I guess there's a reason they call it intelligence. And we're seeing, I guess, some people inside the administration finding it hard to understand that they have a powerful director of National Intelligence who's out there in public, not like the old CIA chief. And he has to stand by these assessments they're putting out.
We discussed it when the NIE came out, the National Intelligence Estimate, about Iraq. Civil war was very clearly what they were describing in that NIE. And what you have, with Pakistan in particular, is a conflict between the politics of how to handle Pakistan and the intelligence, which points very clearly to the fact that Pakistan is not a clear ally in the war on terror.
So, you know, that's where the rubber hits the road. It's when the DNI starts talking about it.
OLBERMANN: And about the DNI, Mr. McConnell, Seymour Hersh's article in "The New Yorker" this week reporting that a big factor in his predecessor, John Negroponte's decision to leave his tenure as the DNI were these echoes of Iran-contra in the administration funding of the Sunni jihadists linked to al Qaeda from in Lebanon. Could this have been director McConnell's attempt to claim his independence, to say, You know what? This is more important than the administration's political ends?
WOLFFE: You know, I'm not sure about Negroponte's motives, and I'm not entirely convinced that Negroponte could find a way out of whatever happens in Iran by moving to the State Department, because clearly, the State Department is handling everything to do with Iran right now.
If there are military strikes, if anything does escalate in that way, he'll still have to deal with it. But I think Negroponte actually - intelligence and McConnell now are both asserting their independence. And as you pointed out before, a lot of that has to do with what happened in the runup to the war in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: But in a response to a question from Senator Clinton, Mr. McConnell said it will likely take Iran until 2015 to develop a nuclear weapon, making that threat seem something less than immediate. Did he really cut the president's legs out from under him about Iran with that one answer?
WOLFFE: Well, certainly it cut the legs out from under the hawks. And one of the most hawkish voices in all of this has actually been coming from Israeli sources, saying that the Iranians are much closer to getting a nuke than anyone thinks inside the administration.
I've got to say this. At the highest level inside the White House, they actually think their intelligence on Iran is very weak, even weaker than it was in Iraq. And we all know how that turned out, including the White House.
OLBERMANN: Well, I don't know, how could that be weaker? They've got the wrong country entirely?
OLBERMANN: This was a White House and an administration that, whatever else is true or false about it, prided itself on self-discipline. There was strife in the leadup to the war in Iraq, but we didn't hear about it until literally years later. What's happening here? Is that discipline unraveling?
WOLFFE: Well, it is to an extent. People are looking to defend their reputation. Remember, inside the intelligence community, they felt very compromised by George Tenet saying that it was a slam-dunk about Iraq. Tenet was also telling Powell that actually the case didn't really stack up in many ways.
So Iraq has been an object lesson for everyone. And you've definitely got people, who maybe before would have been quoted anonymously, now being much more open about saying how Iran - taking on Iran with military strikes just doesn't make any sense. That's what we're seeing now.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek," of course. As always, Richard, great thanks.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The veil of secrecy in which the White House tends to wrap itself finally managing to suffocate the common sense out of at least one official. It happened during said official's attempt to deny that the vice president had gone into his meeting with Pervez Musharraf this week in order to beat up on the president of Pakistan, the official insisting that he should be referred to only as a senior administration official.
That ground rule being established, let's take a look at what Mr. Anonymous had to say about Mr. Cheney's reported browbeating of the Pakistani president, quote, "That's not the way I work. The idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business."
Any guesses? Buehler? Buehler? Buehler?
Asked further about the vice president's suggestion earlier in his trip that House Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha were lending comfort to the terrorists, the senior administration official continued, quote, "What I said was that the al Qaeda strategy is based on the notion that they can break the will of the American people, and my point was that if we follow what I believe Speaker Pelosi really wants to do in terms of withdrawal, that that would validate the al Qaeda strategy. I was very careful in those words I selected. I didn't say, Give aid and comfort to terrorists. I didn't say, unpatriotic. I said it would validate the al Qaeda strategy."
The only word he apparently did not select carefully is liberal use of the word pronoun "I."
Quick note to the senior administration official in question, who just might be Vice President Cheney, next time you want to conduct a background interview with reporters, sir, you might want to employ the third person. Call yourself "that guy" or "the vice president." Or "Mr. X."
In comparison, today's big drama in the Libby trial deliberations, anticlimactic at best, anticipation growing overnight regarding the note sent by the jury to Judge Reggie Walton late yesterday. What would they ask? And more importantly, what could it mean? the jury's question turning out to be rather confusing, about the technical legal language in count three of the charge, count three alleging that Scooter Libby lied to the FBI about a conversation he had had with "TIME" magazine reporter Matt Cooper two days before Valerie Plame Wilson was outed, Judge Walton responding to jurors this morning, asking them to clarify that question.
But by then, they no longer needed his help. They replied, quote, "After further discussion, we are clear on what we need to do. No further clarification needed. Thank you. We apologize," some taking the note as an indication that jurors have made it through two of the five charges against Mr. Libby and are now debating the third, or at least were debating it yesterday afternoon. But naturally, there is no guarantee that the jury is taking the charges in order. No verdict today, bottom line.
But a terrible verdict at Walter Reed Hospital, where those Iraq vet outpatients had to stay amid vermin and insects. The ones who blew the whistle are now evidently being punished by the military.
And with only 10 months until the primaries, Barack Obama gaining on Hillary Clinton, and, for the first time, Rudy Giuliani taking the lead against John McCain. An announcement from McCain, and the new polling, ahead.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It was only last week that we learned of the disgraceful treatment and conditions which some wounded vets were enduring in the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Within days, the Army sprang into action, vowing repairs and reviews and commending the media.
But today, in the fourth story on our Countdown, we're also learning now of additional steps the Army is taking, steps being taken against those wounded vets.
Specifically, wounded vets have been stripped of some of their First Amendment rights, ordered not to speak to the media any more, the Army also suspending previously planned media coverage, including projects by CNN and the Discovery Channel, also from now on, recovering vets will have to wake up every morning at 6:00, be ready for inspection by 7:00, even though most healthy soldiers no longer go through daily inspections after basic training.
And some have been ordered to observe the chain of command from now on when complaining about their living conditions or seeking help with their paperwork.
All of these developments being reported today, not by one of the news outlets that reported the Washington situation last week, but by the "Military Times" newspaper chain.
Let's bring in the reporter responsible for that, "Military Times" staff writer Kelly Kennedy, an Army vet herself, who's been chronicling vet treatment at Walter Reed for the last several months and doing a terrific job in doing so.
Thanks for your time tonight.
KELLY KENNEDY, STAFF WRITER, "MILITARY TIMES": Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Your story is based on statements made to you by anonymous soldiers at the medical hold unit. Is there any official confirmation, denial, any response to their claims?
KENNEDY: There is. They confirmed only that the soldiers will be moving from Building 18 to Building 14. But everything else, the public relations people denied. They said that there were no formations, and that there were no orders not to speak to the media.
OLBERMANN: So they're moving from 18 to 14. Is that for the reasons we'd hoped, that they're closing down 18, or remodeling it? It was the one with the particularly outstanding vermin and insect problem. Is that the reason they're being moved out of there?
KENNEDY: Well, that's what the Army says. The soldiers were under the impression that they were being moved, that the media would not have access to them, so the media would not be able to talk to them. And, of course, the Army did say that they need to move them out of Building 18 to refurbish it, to remodel it, and get rid of the mold and the mice.
OLBERMANN: The business about being prepared for inspection at the crack of dawn, wounded vets, is there any plausible explanation for that, other than they're being punished because they went, they went, to some degree, public?
KENNEDY: Well, the soldiers say that the Army says that they aren't requiring these formations, and I don't think they are any more. But it sounds like yesterday morning at 6:00 in the morning, people went through the barracks screaming, Wake up, wake up, wake up, and banging on doors. And the soldiers said they felt like they were in basic training.
But this morning that didn't happen, so I think that someone realized that that was a bad idea.
The soldiers also said that in a meeting on Monday, they were told that they would have inspections because there's going to be the investigation next week. And generals and civilians will be walking through that building, so it needs to be clean.
OLBERMANN: Do you, from your experience, and from the soldiers you spoke to, do you buy that explanation?
KENNEDY: I buy the explanation that the barracks need to be cleaned, but that if officials are walking through, they will need to keep it clean. I'm not sure I buy that there never was an inspection to begin with. The Army PAO said that the inspections would be unobtrusive, and that they wouldn't be at 7:00 in the morning. But that's not what it sound like happened.
OLBERMANN: Just last week, the new defense secretary, Mr. Gates, praised the media in an exceptional - I mean, if not necessarily complimentarily, but exceptional as in unusual manner, praised the media for shedding the light on the conditions at Walter Reed, including places that don't ordinarily get praise from people connected to the Bush administration, like "The Washington Post," like NBC News.
Do you have an assessment? Was he being disingenuous? Or (INAUDIBLE) is, is the, is whatever happened to these, to these kids in Walter Reed something he doesn't know about? How - there seems to be a disconnect between those two things.
KENNEDY: I - my big question to this whole thing has been the GAO reports, the government accountability reports, documenting these problems with the disability evaluation system. Came out in March of 2006, so I'm not really sure how people could not know. I don't know that the media necessarily uncovered something that people didn't know about. There were congressional hearings, people came - soldiers came and talked about their problems there. So I'm not sure where that's coming from.
OLBERMANN: Do you know (INAUDIBLE) - are the promises that were made to clean this situation up from Mr. Gates and others in the military chain of command, were - do - have they been acted upon? Have, have measures been taken as promised? Have quick steps been taken to, to ameliorate the situation for these vets?
KENNEDY: I know the elevator was fixed in Building 18 on Sunday, the day that the "Army Times" and "The Washington Post" articles came out, the first ones. And they've been coming through and checking with the soldiers to see what needs to be taken care of in their rooms.
As far as the disability evaluation system, it does look like they're looking into it. And there was a Army Surgeon General report that found 87 problems with the system. So they've been looking at it.
OLBERMANN: At least that part of it seems to be happening.
Kelly Kennedy, correspondent for the "Military Times," ahead on this story, and really to the Public Good in capital letters. Thanks for joining us, and thanks for staying on top of the story.
KENNEDY: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: The Army is also now turning to a fictional character, Jack Bauer, to explain that torture is bad, after cadets apparently got the idea from the TV show that torture is good. That's not us saying that. That's the brigadier general of West Point saying that.
And, of course, from watching our TV show, you'd have to get the idea that all they do in Japan is build another new robot every other week. Yes, pretty much. The latest robot.
Ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: The professional wrestler, the former Ricky the Dragon Steamboat, turns 54 today. I did not misspeak there. His ex-wife got the rights to his name. Now, that's a bitter divorce. Anyway, he was actually born Richard Blood, which would seem to have been a perfectly sufficient name for a pro wrestler, but what the hell do I know about marketing wrestlers?
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in Tokyo, with the Countdown Cool-Ass Robot of the Week. And check this one out. Not only does it look like Optimus Prime, it also serves you drinks, vacuums the carpet, and folds the laundry, all this for just over $400,000. But it also does dishes. Now how much would you pay? As usual, the Japanese way ahead of the U.S. in the robot race. Or are they?
Oddball has obtained this video from the Internets of a robotic minifridge designed by John Cornwell, a graduate of Duke. It delivers a cold beer with the push of a remote control button. I think we may finally have found a winner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) to be a walking fridge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: To Lisensee (ph), Austria, where extreme divers may have found a way to make the sport of hockey interesting. They play it on the underside of the ice. Whoa, that is freaking. Nah, still kind of boring, actually. Players use sticks to try to whack a Styrofoam biscuit into an upside-down basket. They're allowed to check and charge, as in the above water version of the game. The players have to surface every 30 seconds or so to breathe. And the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine, well, they sent it out after the first period of the first game, and it just sank without a trace.
Finally to New York, where the rats have never eaten better. Another video this week, capturing the critters inside a Manhattan Au Bon Pain restaurant, a slightly more upscale night out for the vermin after a bunch of them were spotted at a Greenwich Village KFC last week. That place had passed health inspection the day before. New York Health Inspector Chester has not been available for comment.
Also tonight, are the presidential front-runners in danger of losing their leads? What, with just 10 months until the first primary, Clinton losing some ground to Obama? McCain behind Giuliani? McCain goes on Letterman to announce? Explanations ahead.
And theatergoers are shouting Bravo! after seeing a whole new dimension into Harry Potter on the London stage, his acting. Oh, yes, oh, yes, the acting. No, it's Daniel Radcliffe naked. We'll have the Mr. First Nighter report.
But first, time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Mayor William Stortz of Bristol, Connecticut. For the third time in a month, somebody has thrown a brick with a message attached to it at his car or at his home. I was nowhere near Bristol, Connecticut.
Number two, John Harris, formerly of "The Washington Post," now the editor at Politico.com, that phrase "slow-bleed strategy" Republicans stuck on the Democrats for a couple of days before it faded out last week, the one all the leading Republicans claimed all the leading Democrats had actually used to describe the Democrats' plan for Iraq, Mr. Harris has today acknowledged that no Democrat ever said it. He thought it up and inserted it into one of his Web site pieces about Iraq policy.
And number one, Kevin Russell of Gary, Indiana, arrested at the Chase Bank in nearby Hobart for trying to cash a phony check, $50,000, made out to him and signed, "King Savior, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Servant." He had several other checks made out to him by God. Next time, sir, get it from him in cash.
OLBERMANN: With almost a year and a half to go until the 2008 nominating conventions, two separate polls showing signs of serious stirring among two important constituencies in each party's base. Our third story on the Countdown tonight, here come Obama and Giuliani.
Both polls in question, Zogby and an ABC -"Washington Post" poll showing Senator Barack Obama taking the lead over Senator Hillary Clinton in a key Democratic constituency, African-American voters. Zogby gives Obama 36 percent support among black voters, to Clinton's 27 percent. The ABC -"Washington Post" numbers, 44 and 33 percent.
More surprising, perhaps, the latter poll shows former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani doubling the support of fellow front-runner Senator John McCain, 44 percent to 21. In large part, the paper says, that is thanks to Giuliani's support among perhaps the key Republican base, evangelicals. And that is surprising, obviously due not just to Mr. McCain's assiduous courting of that base, but also to Mr. Giuliani's long-time support of gay rights and reproductive choice, perhaps the most important issues from the perspective of the religious right.
Let's turn to "Washington Post" political reporter Anne Kornblut to put some flesh on these figures. Anne, good evening.
ANNE KORNBLUT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Let's start with the simple one. Has Hillary Clinton lost some kind of edge among black voters, simply because Barack Obama has now had time to introduce himself?
KORNBLUT: Well, from these poll numbers, it does look that way. She had a distinct advantage as recently as December and January. She was - she had a double sized lead. She was 60-20 among black voters over Obama, and now that has reversed. He is now, as you mentioned earlier, in the lead. He's now leading her among African-American voters. And his campaign would say that this is because voters have had - African-American voters, all voters, have had more time to get to know him.
Her campaign would say that these numbers might be exaggerated and certainly aren't locked in.
OLBERMANN: Is there anything else in the polling regarding Clinton and Obama that suggests that kind of switch?
KORNBLUT: Well, the voters in here do say that they favor their candidate strongly. So - but, what it doesn't tell you is why people have gone from one to the other. So, no, there is not really a way to figure out people's motivations, just that they are now supporting Obama.
OLBERMANN: The other side of the equation; how is it that a conservative war hero, John McCain, after six years of largely carrying Bush water, or going further than him, and courting the evangelicals lately particularly, has seemingly lost their support to a twice divorced, pro-choice New Yorker, who supports gay rights? There seems to be something counter-intuitive there, to say the least.
KORNBLUT: That was really the most surprising number of all in this poll. I think everyone agreed. Our analysts looked at this and said, and people I talked to today looked at this and said that, as much as it is perhaps a sign of strong support for Giuliani, it could also be that people are just dissatisfied. They're dissatisfied with the war. They are fishing around. They are uncommitted.
Certainly, the numbers suggested that the support for Giuliani is not as strong as the support for Democrats, on the Democratic side is. So this could just be some early casting about, trying to figure out what they're doing, but not really locking in to him, just being dissatisfied with the others.
OLBERMANN: Does it say anything about Mr. McCain that while his official announcement is not supposed to be until April, he's - he went to David Letterman show tonight. They're going to play this this evening. He's already taped it. He said this tonight. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": Are you running? Are you going to announce that you're running?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The last time we were on this program, I'm sure you remember everything very clearly -
MCCAIN: - that we say. But you asked me if I would come back on the show -
MCCAIN: - if I was going to announce.
MCCAIN: I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Always an electric charge going through the audience when you hear that announcement. I mean, if Letterman had said that, there might have been a round of applause too. But that particular thing seems more out of the Arnold Schwarzenegger or John Edwards playbook. Is McCain revising strategy? Is he reaching out to other people at this point?
KORNBLUT: Well, I don't know. Come on, it's not exactly a surprise that he's announcing that he's running for president, and we're still going to have a big rollout speech in Sedona when he does his real announcement. But I do think that McCain is trying to lighten up a little, show the fun McCain that he was back in 2000 when he ran, that people seemed to like so much.
He's been very downcast recently because of the war, and certainly with these poll numbers like this. And so I think he's trying to, you know, capture a lit bit of the old McCain, the maverick McCain who went and did fun things and said what he felt, as opposed to being the serious front runner.
OLBERMANN: One other thing about McCain's candidacy, Tom Ridge, the original secretary of Homeland Security, already announced his support of McCain, but he's going to be the co-chair of the Exploratory McCain Committee. Obviously Rudy Giuliani's national reputation, deserved or not, stems from what he was perceived as doing on 9-11. Does it matter if the country's first official counter-terrorist says, I'm supporting the other guy?
KORNBLUT: Well, I don't know about. He's, after all, just a surrogate. But it does show you what we see in the poll numbers too, which is that national security and leadership in national security are the most important issues. They appear to be trumping social issues in the Republican field, which is not something we've seen in the last two elections on the Republican side alone.
So I think you'll see some serious duking it out between, especially, Giuliani and McCain over national security issues. And that's one first sign of it.
OLBERMANN: Any indicator of how the dark horses are doing? Is there a self-fulfilling prophecy in these polls, or can a Mitt Romney or Bill Richardson still work their way into the lead in the groups?
KORNBLUT: Well, we've seen already people like Vilsack drop out, because they can't get above single digits and they can't raise money. That said, it's still - We keep saying this, but it's actually true: it's still a long way out. There will be people - whether it's Romney, who's still in single digits, or Richardson, there will be people who are able to go to the debates, maybe gain some traction that way. And we don't know what's going to happen to the front-runners. We have already seen them reverse themselves now.
OLBERMANN: Yes, this Letterman show tonight with McCain announcing will replay four times before the conventions. Anne Kornblut, of the "Washington Post," great thanks Anne.
KORNBLUT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, where is that invisibility cloak when the audience needs it? After all hope, Daniel Radcliffe finally bears all on stage.
And is this possible? Could Anna Nicole Smith be buried finally, and before James Brown? A team of judges weighs in on Judge Larry's decision. And the unfounded rumors about the fate of the late model's dog? Details ahead, but first here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this today.
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JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue introduced President Bush to the Republican Governors Association Meeting. And this sounded like a backhanded compliment.
GOV. SONNY PURDUE, GEORGIA: You know, Vince Lombardi once said that success is not about strength, it's not about knowledge, but it's about will. That's the leadership that President George W. Bush has provided. Thank you Mr. president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it's FedExed, it's absolutely, positively overnight? Not the case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His beloved and newly won Oscar is MIA. Asman won the award for his sound editing work on "Letters From Iwo Jima," but wasn't allowed to carry the Oscar on the plane, because it is considered a blunt object. So, he shipped it, but it never left L.A.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sky 9 hovered right over him after a 150-pound boulder crashed down the hill and into his car. Today, we were there when James and his new girlfriend Jenette saw that car for the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. How did you get out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you're going to Colorado - what are you going to do there? You're a city boy. What are you going to do in Colorado?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll find something to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: In London right now you can see Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter, playing a mentally disturbed boy, who likes to mutilate horses. Yet, in our number two story on the Countdown, it's not his character in Peter Shaffer's play "Equus" that's causing scandal, but the fact that he swears, smokes, and for a brief moment gets completely naked. Hundreds of theater fans and celebrities showed up to last night's premiere performance to see the horse, no doubt. Also there, our correspondent Dawna Friesen. And if you think Dawna was Friesen, think about Mr. Radcliffe out there, aux natural.
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DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After seven years playing a clean-cut boy wizard, Daniel Radcliffe has made a radical move, stripping bare on stage in a dark psychological drama about a disturbed stable boy who commits a brutal crime.
DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR: It was a risk, but it was an exciting one. You if you never took a risk, then that would just be diabolical. It would just be terrible and boring all the time.
FRIESEN: Radcliffe swears and smokes in the play, but makes no apologies for it, or for the nudity.
RADCLIFFE: It's not a big part of the play. It's probably four minutes at the most, I'm guessing. The implication in the papers was that it was going to be sort of gratuitous, which it's not.
FRIESEN: It was compliments all around last night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's astonishing. You keep forgetting, he's only 17.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Daniel Radcliffe has to be one of the bravest young actors to grace the stage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He certainly proved himself as a serious actor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you're just more absorbed in the whole play, as opposed to him appearing nude.
FRIESEN (on camera): Having Radcliffe in the cast is working magic here at the box office. Tickets are going fast. Almost two million dollars worth were sold before the play even opened.
MATT WOLF, THEATER CRITIC: If people are going to see this production to discover whether or not Dan Radcliffe has a life beyond Harry Potter, the answer to that emphatically is yes.
FRIESEN (voice-over): But Harry isn't dead yet. Radcliffe is heading back to Hogwarts. The fifth Harry Potter film is out in July, and Radcliffe begins shooting the sixth this summer.
Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: Harry Potter and the unexpected stare toward his crotch in the next film. What we believe is the final decision in the legal wrangling over Anna Nicole Smith's dead body eclipsed for a few moments this afternoon by an Internet rumor that her famed dog Sugar Pie had joined her in that great beyond.
Leading off Keeping Tabs tonight, first about Ms. Smith, a Florida appeals court upholding the outcome of the Judge Larry Show, that the court advocate for Ms. Smith's infant daughter should decide where Ms. Smith should be buried, and that the last ascertainable wish of the deceased was to rest next to her late son in the Bahamas. Smith's mother had sought the right to bury her estranged daughter in Texas. The baby's advocate, Richard Milstein, has scheduled Smith's funeral, in the Bahamas, for Friday morning.
Fortunately we do not have to deal with such somber rights about Anna Nicole Smith's dog. It was reported from the Bahamas that Sugar Pie had not only been run over and killed, but run over and killed by a news vehicle. It turns out the dog is just fine. This relieves us then of having to ask these questions: what was the cause of death; was the dog on any drugs; can Howard K. Stern make any money off a dead dog; who was the real father; will there be a legal battle over where to bury Sugar Pie; and, of course, will the loser in the who gets to bury Anna Nicole Smith battle get to bury Sugar Pie as a consolation prize? All moot now. Sugar Pie is not dead.
And Antonella Barba is not kicked off "American Idol," at least not for the naughty photos of her that surfaced on the Internet. The executive producer of the so-called reality show says that any decision to get rid of the New Jersey singer will be in the hands of voters alone, and the two male judges who "USA Today" cornered at the Playboy mansion, and I'm not making that part up, agree. Simon Cowell opining, if the public wants to keep her in, they will keep her in. Randy Jackson adding, nobody is clean in the entertainment business. Well, you guys would know.
From reality TV to a dangerous blurring of the lines between reality and TV. Why Jack Bauer has to go to West Point to tell American soldiers in training that torture is bad. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to an unnamed woman substitute teacher at Pleasant Grove Elementary School in Jefferson County, Alabama. Filling in in a fourth grade classroom, she got a little overmatched and a lot overzealous. She scotch taped one boy's mouth shut. She scotch taped four other fourth graders to their seats. Don't worry, she won't be back teaching there, unless she brings more tape.
Our silver medalist tonight, the folks at one of the Borders Bookstores in New York City, prominently displaying our ABC colleague Bob Woodruff's new book "In An Instant," complete with a sizable price discount sticker, 30 percent off, with the sticker on the corner of Bob's head. After what happened to him in Iraq, you couldn't have put it in the other corner, or at the bottom, or something? Come on.
But our winner, Melanie Morgan of KSFO, an ABC radio station in San Francisco, whose program director had to formally correct statements on the air about billionaire financier George Soros made by the station's sleep deprived morning hosts, led by the reprehensible Ms. Morgan. Co-host Lee Rogers had said that when Soros was a teenager in occupied Hungry, he had, quote, apparently very cheerfully and willfully went to work for the Nazis. A sidekick named Tom Brenner added, he just kind of complied willingly.
Ms. Morgan added that Soros had done so, quote, in order to further his own career. The station's program director went on the air during their show to say the remarks and others were not accurate and that the station regrets that they were broadcast. OK, a first step. Now get out there, pal, and admit the station regrets everything Melanie Morgan has ever said is not accurate. Melanie Morgan of KSFO, the ABC radio station in San Francisco, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: To anyone curious as to why atrocities like Abu Ghraib might have happen, and could happen again, this message from former and current soldiers, turn on your TV. In our top story on the Countdown, the concern that U.S. troops could be influenced by successful use of torture on shows like "24" is no longer hypothetical. According to former Army Specialist Tony Lagaranis, who was discharged in 2005, his unit did get inspiration from fictional drama. Quoting him, "interrogators didn't have guidance from the military on what to do because we were told that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply anymore, so our training was obsolete and we were encouraged to be creative. We turned to television and moves to look for ways of interrogating."
Which is exactly what the Dean of West Point Military Academy, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan was afraid of it, and why he and three interrogators visited the set of "24" to ask the producers and writers to stop portraying torture techniques as effective and acceptable. The show's star, Kiefer Sutherland, has since agreed to come talk to the cadets at West Point, to help teach them that torture is wrong.
But the show's creator, Joel Surnow, who you may remember skipped out of that meeting with the general in Hollywood, in order to have a conference call instead with Fox noise channel head Roger Ails, is adamant that "24" does not influence people. He has said as much to Jane Mayer of the "New Yorker," who joins us now. Great thanks for your time tonight.
JANE MAYER, "THE NEW YORKER": Great to be here.
OLBERMANN: I want to get your impression on Kiefer Sutherland's action in a moment here. But first about Mr. Surnow and - he told you - let me make sure I'm quoting him exactly here from your piece, "Young interrogators don't need our show. What the human mind can imagine is so much greater than what we show on TV. No one needs us to tell them what to do. It's not like somebody goes, 'oh, look, what they're doing, I'll do that,' is it."
Apparently, he was 100 percent wrong on that and even the people at West Point knew that, right?
MAYER: Well, that is certainly what the people at West Point have said, that the soldiers are getting completely inspired by the show "24" to try to copy what they see on the TV show every week. And there's a torture scene almost every week on the show. So, I think what, you know, Joel Surnow was trying to say is that, you know, you don't need a TV show to inspire sadism. You've got that, maybe, as part of human nature. But what the TV show does do is it kind of normalizes a certain sort of behavior and makes it look acceptable.
It is almost like an advertisement for torture every week.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I don't think a psychoanalyst's have named this phenomenon yet. Maybe it will be called TV disconnect or something. You work in an industry in which advertisers pay billions of dollars a year to try to influence viewers, yet everybody is inclined to think your show does not influence viewers. And yet, Mr. Surnow has kind of an advanced form of this. "24" does not influence people to torture, yet he was involved in launching this conservative comedy show on Fox News with really an express purpose to influence people. Did you gather at all from him that he realized that that might be a very heavy rationalization to carry around for any length of time?
MAYER: I think that he is rationalizing it fine. He seems to be happy with the justification. He has kind of let himself off the hook on this. But you're right. I mean, there is a complete contradiction. The advertising industry would not exist if television did not influence people. I mean, companies spend millions of dollars just for placing their products on these shows. Obviously, the TV show influences people's behavior.
It is funny because conservatives have made this argument for a long time about sex being shown on television. And I think pretty much, at large, the society has decided they don't want to see certain types of racial stereotypes and smoking and alcohol, and other kinds of things that influence people's behavior. So what West Point was saying is, torture is actually influencing soldiers here.
OLBERMANN: The recruit who said he was told the Geneva Convention no longer applied, could he have gotten that impression by accident, or did one of his trainers or superiors literally tell him that?
MAYER: Well, I interviewed Tony Lagaranis. He was an Army interrogator in Iraq. He said he was told that directly by his supervisor. It is not surprising really. Because after 9/11, you remember, President Bush said that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terrorism suspects. And so, you talk about what kind of suspect did the soldiers encounter in Iraq? Well, a lot of time there's been this merging in the rhetoric, anyway, of the Bush administration, saying it's a war on terror in Iraq.
So, you are dealing with suspects who could be argued were terror suspects. It was completely confusing to the soldiers. And I think, in that void, that is when they turned to popular culture, because they really weren't sure what the rules were.
OLBERMANN: So, back to Kiefer Sutherland, who from my experience is a good guy with a great conscience, and he's actually going to talk to these kids at West Point like McGruff the Crime Dog coming in to give a speech. But if he says torture is bad, but his character on TV is still torturing somebody every week on "24," are the cadets more likely to ignore him and just listen to his character?
MAYER: Well, you know, you could make fun of him for basically saying, I am not a torturer, I just play one on TV. But, in truth, I think it is a great gesture that he is making. And the problem is, while he might be reaching a class or two of cadets at West Point, the show reaches 15 million viewers every night.
OLBERMANN: And does that, in fact, desensitize those other viewers, the ordinary civilians who are watching it?
MAYER: Well, it's one of those things that it is very hard to tell. It is a long argument about popular culture's affect on thinking in America. But certainly according to the dean of West Point, it is having a big effect. It is particularly hard for this show because it always wraps itself up as a very uber-patriotic show. And now you have the real patriots saying, hey, this is a toxic environment you are creating for real soldiers.
OLBERMANN: I don't think the brigadier general is some sort of left wing lunatic. Jane Mayer of the "New Yorker Magazine," great thanks for the reporting and for joining us tonight.
MAYER: Glad to be here.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,417th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. 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