'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 12
Guests: Max Robins, Jonathan Alter, Maria Milito, Bob Herbert, Sam Seder
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Turn your sets off there. Don Imus now fired from his radio show, effective immediately. Two affiliates had already canceled. Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone had said he was confident that the man who runs CBS for him would, quote, "do the right thing."
Inside the CBS decision, reaction to the dramatic fall of a broadcasting legend. Will others who trade in talk now restrain themselves? And is the career of Don Imus really over?
The Iraqi parliament cafeteria bombed inside the supposedly secure Green Zone. The president says the danger to American troops is one of the reasons we have to keep the American troops there, in danger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a type of person to walk in that building and kill innocent life, and that is the same type of person that is willing to come and kill innocent Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: If only the administration could eliminate them as thoroughly as it has eliminated the evidence in Gonzogate. Now the Senate subpoenas the supposedly missing Department of Justice e-mails.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Those e-mails are there. They just don't want to produce them. It's like the famous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The excuse from this White House, my dog ate my homework.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We screwed up, and we're trying to fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Just write that on a big banner and hang it out in front of the White House.
Fixing our nightmare in Iraq, a slightly higher priority among Americans than most politicians apparently think. John McCain, just back from flag waving in Iraq, latest poll among Republicans, Rudy Giuliani 29 percent, McCain 12, Fred Thompson 15.
And Sanjaya Malakar is apparently outpolling McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN IDOL")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sanjaya, you're safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Would you have ever bet that that guy would have outlasted this guy?
All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN IDOL")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was actually really good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
Head On, a headache remedy designed to be applied directly to the forehead. Its manufacturers try to sell it with possibly the most obnoxious commercial of all time, in which the product's name is screamed repeatedly at the viewer. Wednesday night, Head On pulled its commercials from "Imus in the Morning." When Head On thinks you are damaging its reputation, you can pretty much guess you are pretty much finished.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, finished he apparently is. And just because Don Imus's MSNBC show was already history, the finishing was not finished, CBS chairman Les Moonves saying, "The effect language like this has on young people, particularly young women of color trying to make their way in this society, has weighed most heavily on our minds as we made our decision," canceling Imus's radio program late this afternoon.
Imus's radio affiliates in Portland, Oregon, and Charleston, South Carolina, had already canceled the program during the day. His boss Moonves' boss, Viacom chair Sumner Redstone, had already said he was certain Moonves would, quote, "do the right thing" about Imus's program, syndicated to about 70 stations around the country. And this morning, Imus himself had said the cancellation of the MSNBC part of his broadcast meant little, because viewership was only a few hundred thousand. It was radio that mattered, because millions listened.
He spent what he did not know was his last radio show alternating between insisting his friends should not whine about media coverage of his shame, and also insisting that the coverage was hypocritical or showed hypocrisy. He used those words at least six times, while calling MSNBC unethical.
This from a man who believed he and his on-air staff were entitled to make sexual, racial, ethnic, or homophobic jokes about anybody and everybody, a man who reduced women staffers at MSNBC to tears, and conned one of them into coming on the air and saying embarrassing things about her co-workers, which led to her dismissal from the company, a man whose ethics were so high, that in the NBC case, at least, the traditionally distant nature of corporate America had to listen to the better angels of its nature, when virtually all the employees of a network and an entire news division said, We have understood that you haven't fired him the last 10,000 times, but you have to do it now.
The last word was that Imus was still to meet tonight at the New Jersey governor's mansion with Vivian Stringer, the coach of the Rutgers women's basketball players, and the players themselves, the ones Imus had called, quote, "nappy-headed hos."
Earlier today, the players appeared by satellite with Oprah Winfrey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "OPRAH")
ESSENCE CARSON, CAPTAIN, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM: It seemed like the world came down on us to be the focal point of such a remark. You know, it is just so sad, because no one actually pays attention to who actually won the game. And he didn't know he (INAUDIBLE) actually (INAUDIBLE) from, you know, a grateful team like Tennessee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As we explore what happens next, let's turn to Max Robins, editor in chief of "Broadcasting and Cable" magazine.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
J. MAX ROBINS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "BROADCASTING AND CABLE" MAGAZINE:
Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We'll talk big picture about shock radio and broadcasting in a moment.
First, is there any more to the radio part of the Imus story that we don't know? I mean, it takes a lot to get yourself fired in the middle of a charity radiothon.
ROBINS: It does indeed, Keith, and I think it really does speak to the most important thing is the bottom line here in why he was fired. I mean, I'd like to think that your bosses at NBC and Les Moonves was listening to all his employees who were outraged by what Imus, as you said, quite rightly, has been doing for years. This isn't the first time. This isn't an isolated incident, and that they pulled the plug on the guy.
I think the minute advertisers started pulling out, as you noted at the top of the show, Imus's days, hours, on the radio were numbered.
OLBERMANN: Do we have an idea just how bad that advertiser issue was? The last thing I'd heard as of yesterday, before it became an academic issue at NBC, was that the count of advertisers who'd pulled out - this was for the whole picture, not just radio or television - but that it was approaching triple digits. Have you heard the same thing?
ROBINS: Yes, I've heard the same numbers, Keith. And I think that that really - that meant it was all over. Really, the marketplace is what rules here. And in saying that, it does say something about how that marketplace has changed, and how there is increasingly less tolerance for this kind of just unfunny, stupid, racist banter.
OLBERMANN: That big picture, is there a sea change in this? There was a disc jockey in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, who heard what Imus had said and declared it his phrase of the day, and anybody who called in to his show and said "nappy-headed hos" got a prize. That was this Tuesday. It was considered edgy. Wednesday, they fired him. Today, Imus was fired for the second time in two days. Did a bunch of the shock jocks and commentators just wake up to an entirely new world?
ROBINS: I don't really think so, Keith. I mean, and I don't think they should. I - look, I'm the editor in chief of a magazine that has a 75-year tradition of defending broadcasters' rights and the First Amendment. But we also have rights as listeners, as people who own companies, advertisers, what they're going to put up with and what they're not going to put up with.
So I don't think we need to be in a - I'm glad that there's a lot of diversity of opinion. But you do have to ask, what's too far? And I say, you know, you let the market decide. I - and I - I mean, I think this was the right decision here, but I don't think we should go out there and start, you know, passing laws or the FCC should get involved in saying what you can and cannot say on the air.
OLBERMANN: Well, if you - as you recognize, the marketplace and the idea of, oh, the advertisers got him. The advertisers are just sort of a refraction of public opinion anyway, so there's - there is something still self-regulating about a marketing in those place (ph). But how does that apply to the big guys in this, the people whose language or racism or sexism or just tone was seemingly grandfathered in, much the way Don Imus's was? What about Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage? Any change anticipated in any of those areas?
ROBINS: I think we should all listen closely and see. I mean, I - and I got to think that they are going to be scrutinized a lot more closely today than they were 48 hours ago.
OLBERMANN: And Al Sharpton walked out of his meeting with CBS today saying he couldn't trust that company while it still employed Imus. And Sharpton and Jesse Jackson both trying to talk to all the big media companies right now, trying to, I think the phrase taking advantage is not an inappropriate or unfair one, but taking advantage of these circumstances to say, Hey, you know, by the way, the other problem is that you have few people of color in television and radio in key positions. They've been pushing it for decades.
Is there some indication that this will now be approached the way the National Football League approaches, if you must interview minority candidates for coaching jobs? Will there be an actual push in broadcasting to try to correct that seeming imbalance?
ROBINS: I'm not really so sure that will happen. I think that there's a lot more diversity in executive suites and on camera and on air and what we see in primetime than there has been. I mean, I think, and I think that continues to change.
Certainly, there's room for more change, and I think the better off the medium of television is, the industry of television is, the more voices that are heard. And there's certainly room for more of it. I don't know if Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are the best advocates for this.
OLBERMANN: J. Max Robins of "Broadcasting and Cable" magazine. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
ROBINS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let's look at the twin firings in an even bigger context. And for that, my pleasure to turn now to Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist for "The New York Times," who's also had considerable TV experience his belt.
Bob, thanks for your time tonight.
BOB HERBERT, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" (on phone): Keith, I appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: A very simple question. Why did this happen when other occasions did not result in a guy getting fired from both network and - network television and radio?
HERBERT: Well, I think, for one thing, the phrase itself was just so noxious that it was shocking. I mean, I think the phrase is something just shy of the N-word, frankly. And then the fact of who was his target. Even before the Rutgers basketball team had their press conference, people were outraged over the fact that these were college students who were just gratuitously slammed by this comment.
So that's what made it a big story, I think, initially. And then, as more attention was paid, it became pretty clear that Imus had this long history of racist, sexist attempts at humor. And I think the landscape has changed. I think that we're in a different place in this country than we were 10 or 15 years ago, when you talk about the way we look at people who are of different races, or the way we look at the sexes. And I think the show has become an anachronism, frankly.
OLBERMANN: The debate, the outrage resulting from the remarks have in essence become the largest national dialogue about race in America since the one we all thought we were going to have after Hurricane Katrina and really did not. If the devastation of that entire largely African-American city did not spark that dialogue, did not necessarily improve the situation, why should we think that the uproar over these five syllables will create that dialogue?
HERBERT: Well, I never thought that we'd get that dialogue after Katrina, frankly. I mean, I liked the - I thought television did a great job in covering Katrina and the flooding and that sort of thing. And it was one of TV's prouder moments. But I did think that once the people who were suffering were off camera, that that issue would pretty much die down in terms of the national conversation.
This might be different. I mean, in a weird sense, the fact that Imus is so famous, and that we're talking here about entertainment, which is always a much bigger issue in this country than public policy issues, usually, I think that it may hold people's attention, and this may be a story that has legs.
I hope so, because I think that the more attention that is paid, the more people will realize how egregious some of the things are that are occurring in this society under the rubric of entertainment.
OLBERMANN: Is this different because of the guests as much as of the host, because of the tendrils that go out for his program? It's not necessarily - (INAUDIBLE) presidents on that show, but journalists, politicians, members of government who once validated him by appearing there. Do they now have to make good sort of retroactively for having enabled this program to go on as long as it did?
HERBERT: Well, I don't know if they have to make good, but I do think that the stature of his guests is one of the major reasons the story has had - has gained such prominence. So - and I think now that Imus is so toxic, that people will be giving much more thought to appearing in venues where this kind of - these kinds of comments - I mean, I'm reluctant to call it humor, because I don't see anything funny, for example, about "nappy-headed hos." I mean, it's supposed to be a joke. I don't get what the punchline is.
So I think that it'll be difficult for someone who is outrageous in that sense to get respectable guests on their radio or television show.
But what I do think might happen is that I think that there - I think that the public, and I put this in the column today, I think that the public has been ahead of the politicians and the people who have been defending Imus on this issue. I think the broader public does not like this kind of stuff, whether it's on Imus or whether it's in the hip-hop culture, or wherever. I think that there's been overkill here, and people are tired of it and reacting against it.
And that's frankly why the sponsors have been pulling the plug on the show. If there was, like, plenty of money still to be made, and this was just a flap that was going to go away, and the public wasn't really outraged, I don't think you would have seen the sponsors heading for the exits the way they have been.
OLBERMANN: Nothing like voting with your wallet.
Bob Herbert, the op-ed columnist for "The New York Times." Great thanks for your perspective.
HERBERT: Keith, thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: What is next for the man himself in the middle of all this? Don Imus has bounced back from personal problems decades ago that would have knocked over an entire forest. What happens to him now?
And the other headline of the day, a brazen attack in Baghdad, inside, deep inside the fortified green zone, inside the Iraqi parliament. Yet some say security is still improving there.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: In the late 1970s, Don Imus was, by his own admission, so out of it from drugs and alcohol that he called in sick 100 times in one calendar year. That's twice a week.
I was a personal witness in 1978 to his tortured inability to negotiate his way from the sidewalk of New York's East 67th Street into the lobby of Channel 5 television here, because there was one glass door facing him from the street, and then inside, another one to his left into the lobby, and he was paralyzed with confusion by them.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, is a guy who can come back from that kind of haze to work another 29 years in radio and TV really finished just because he's been suspended twice and fired twice in a span of only four days?
"Don" Donald Imus, Jr., was born in 1940. After a stint in the Marines and a time as a brakeman on the Southern Pacific Railroad, he talked his way into radio at Palmdale, California, in 1966. Three years later, he was in Cleveland, two years after that, in New York, presenting, between the rock and roll records, a satirical irreverence perhaps summed up by the title of an album he released of his best radio bits called "1,200 Hamburgers to Go," from a bogus phone order to a fast food restaurant he did live on the air one day.
After the comeback from cocaine and vodka, his music show gradually evolved into a current affairs program, which was nationally syndicated as of 1993, and when this news network signed on in 1996, became televised for the first time, all of it after years of broadcasting from the edge of the precipice, crashing down after what he said about the Rutgers women's basketball team a week ago yesterday.
So what's next?
Sam Seder is a veteran of radio and comment, host of "The Sam Seder Show" on Air America Radio.
Sam, good evening.
SAM SEDER, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So is Don Imus's career over, or is it just these two jobs?
SEDER: You know, I think it's really a function of what he wants to do. I mean, he could, probably - he could - I'm sure there's somebody out there who would give him a job. It's just a question of whether or not he's willing to take a massive pay cut and really a pay cut in stature. I mean, from my perspective, I think he enjoyed the notion of the media elite, and, frankly, some of the political elite showing up on his show.
And I'm not sure that he can get those people any more.
OLBERMANN: Boake Carter, I always like to invoke this story, most popular newscaster of the late '30s, summarily dismissed one day by CBS, largely because he was, in essence, making the news up. He got another job at Mutual Radio, same year, not the same platform, not the same money, but he could still work. Dr. Bob Harris, who was a famous weatherman in radio and TV in New York City, one day his boss gets this anonymous letter from an old classmate. Dr. Bob not only didn't have a doctorate in meteorology, he'd never finished college. Fired on the spot, and the next Monday, he's back on the air in New York City at another station for more money.
If he wanted to continue, even if it were a different set of circumstances, with Imus, could he?
SEDER: You know, I think so. It's sort of tough right now. I mean, because you've got Sirius and XM right now trying to merge. So I don't know if the - you know, XM, for instance, would be willing to step up and put him on satellite and give him the type of money he wants.
I mean, I suppose - look, people put on all sorts of things on radio. And I'm sure he could find a job somewhere, even if it's a local morning show, I guess. It really comes down to, is he willing to take a huge cut in pay and stature? And frankly, at his age, I don't know if he is.
OLBERMANN: Apart from all of this sounding like a sort of live reenactment of this classic '50s film with Andy Griffith called "A Face in the Crowd," about a yokel who becomes a TV influence and then gets caught muttering under his breath about the audience and gets fired from the absolute pinnacles of the industry, are there lessons in here? Is there something about this situation that you and people who are on the radio every day are going to be thinking about in the context of what happened to Imus?
SEDER: Well, I mean, I think the real lesson here is that you can't really have your cake and eat it too. I mean, if you're going to accept the cachet that comes with talking to, you know, pillars of our society, to a certain extent, I mean, people who are genuine influence peddlers in this country, then, you know, you can't speak like this. You can't express these type of racist views.
And I think basically, you know, I think the other lesson is, is that you can't get away with it anymore. I mean, I think this is a function of the Internet and increased cable coverage. You know, maybe 10 years ago, he could have said this thing, and it would have just sort of floated away in the ether. But now people hear it and record it and replay it.
OLBERMANN: All right, then I'll ask you the $10 million question, how does Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage get away with worse than what Don Imus said?
SEDER: I'll tell you (INAUDIBLE) - well, I think one, there's a certain expectation that they're going to hear it more from Limbaugh, although, you know, he and - Dick Cheney was on his program several weeks ago. I listened in to Limbaugh today, and he's already warning his audience that they're going to be coming for Limbaugh next. And I think, frankly, he's got to be a little bit worried now, because the bar has just been raised.
I mean, corporations have said, We're not going to tolerate this anymore. And the next time Limbaugh slips up, and which I think is inevitable, I think you're going to see the sort of same type of reaction.
OLBERMANN: The best thing I've heard in a couple of days.
SEDER: I hope so.
OLBERMANN: From your lips to God's ears.
Sam Seder of "The Sam Seder Show" in Air America. Great thanks, Sam.
SEDER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Alberto Gonzales has somehow still managed to hold onto his job. Who'd-a thought he'd outlast Imus? But the scandals he's involved in continue to grow and embarrass the administration. Now the White House trying to explain why it can't turn over e-mail evidence about him. There's another subpoena flying.
And some much-needed comic relief, the rapping squirrel.
Stand by. Countdown continues, probably.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1947, a florist in Indianapolis, Indiana, and his church-secretary wife welcomed their son into the world, David Michael Letterman. Nineteen forty-seven, 2007. Good God! If you still think of him strutting out on the stage in chinos and sneakers and bushy hair, you better sit down. Makes him 60 years old today. Happy birthday, David Letterman.
Let's play Oddball.
From slightly nuts to M.C. Nuts. Yes, M.C. Nuts, that's the name of the new rapping squirrel mascot of Cumbria in England. Cumbria, the home of the great poet William Wordsworth, celebrating the upcoming 200th anniversary of his extraordinary poem, "Daffodils." And what better way to honor a poetic masterpiece than to have a guy in a big rodent costume belt the thing out in rap?
A spokesman for the tourist board says he's hoping this updated version will last another two centuries. And if that spokesman keeps his job for another two hours, I'll eat five acorns.
To India, where we meet the Monkey King of Sasaram (ph). That's what they call Mr. Dadan Singh (ph), a worker at the temple there for 15 years. The monkeys recognize their king and swarm around him whenever he shows up. Locals believe he may possess a special ability to communicate with the monkeys. Either that or his pocket is full of bananas.
OLBERMANN: One day things are supposedly improving in Iraq. The next day the parliament cafeteria is bombed. The president says those same people that carried out the bombing will come to America to attack us.
And Sanjaya survives on "American Idol" to annoy us for another week. Details ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, an unnamed woman arrested in Durrant (ph), Texas, picked up walking in the middle of traffic, bloodshot eyes, evidencing intoxication. Asked if she was high on some kind of drugs, she told officer Rocky McDaniel, quote, I am. It is the holy spirit and a little bit of marijuana. Asked if she had any left. She replied, not enough to get you high, but I know who to go for more, Jesus.
Number two, Katie Couric of CBS News, broadcast a video essay online, her notebook about your local library, which began, Hi everyone. I still remember when I got my first library card. Only it wasn't her library card. It wasn't even her essay. It had been plagiarized by a producer from the "Wall Street Journal" and she read it anyway. Her next online notebook, Hi everyone. I am made entirely out of green cheese.
And number one, Rudy Giuliani on the campaign trail in Montgomery, Alabama, asked a series of extraordinarily tough questions, how much do milk and bread cost? A gallon of milk is probably about 1.50 he said;
4.19 in New York, 3.39 in Alabama. A loaf of bread about 1.25, 1.30, he said; 2.99 in New York, two dollars in Alabama. Now we know he will never make it as a contestant on "The Price Is Right."
OLBERMANN: So much for the increased security that was supposed to come with the escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq. Our third story in the Countdown, a bombing in the heart of Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the first after more than four years, outweighing any claims of purported progress being made there. A suicide bomber blowing himself up in the cafeteria of the Iraq parliament.
It is thought he may have been a legislator's body guard, dressed in a business suit, carrying a briefcase. At least eight killed in the explosion. The attack coming only hours after a truck bomb exploded over a major bridge in that city, collapsing the steel structure, sending cars toppling into the Tigris River below. Another 10 killed there.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, senators McCain and Graham, briefing President Bush on their recent trip to Iraq, including that infamous visit to a Baghdad street market under heavy guard, where Mr. Graham bought five rugs for five dollars.
In the wake of today's bombings, the lawmakers commented that the so-called surge is still in its beginning stage. President Bush himself condemning the bombing with a variation of his standard "if we don't fight them there, they will follow us here" line. Only this time, it seemed to be something along the lines of, better they blowup Iraqi lawmakers than American civilians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a type of person that will walk in that building and kill innocent life. That is the same type of person that is willing to come and kill innocent Americans. It is in our interest to help this young democracy be in a position so it can sustain itself and govern itself and defend itself against these extremists and radicals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at "Newsweek Magazine." John, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi Keith.
OLBERMANN: In his comments, the president tried to link the Green Zone bombing to terrorist attacks here. When you consider that the bomber looks to have worked as the bodyguard of a lawmaker there, probably a Sunni insurgent, unlikely ever to strike here. Does this not make the president's efforts to paint this war in these continuing 9/11 terms look really desperate?
ALTER: You know, it does to me. We have already seen this thing, where we are attacked on 9/11. Nineteen of the hijackers are Saudis, so what do we do? Do we bomb Saudi Arabia? No we bomb Iraq. You know, it is this weird projection on to a different target that we have seen a lot of in the last six years. Imagine, Keith, that during the American Civil War if the British had a debate about whether to intervene in our civil war. And one of the arguments that they used was, look, if we don't settle this civil war they are having in the United States, those Confederates might come to England and try to kill us.
This is a civil war that is going on in Iraq. Now are there some bad al Qaeda there? Absolutely. Do we need to figure out who they are and kill them? Yes. They want to kill us. But most of the combatants here, the vast majority of them, are Sunnis and Shiites fighting a civil war. What the president says is just a horrible misrepresentation of the state of affairs on the ground.
OLBERMANN: A question about timing, how long does the White House or Senator McCain, in this case today, get to claim the so-called surge is in the beginning stage. This is the longest beginning. There have been entire presidential administrations that have not lasted this long.
ALTER: Well, I think, as a factual matter, Senator McCain is right that not all of the brigades have landed in Iraq. So for whatever reason mobilization does take a while. And the full surge is not yet in place. So we do have to wait for that to play out. But I'll tell you one thing, if Senator McCain considers this progress, I don't know what regress would be. Things are not going well.
OLBERMANN: The violence in Baghdad, there is extraordinary awful stuff today. Relative to the proposed White House war czar job, it's going to be even tougher to fill it today than yesterday, because of this.
ALTER: Yes, it's very hard to fill this job. You have already had some prominent generals who have said no. But I think they will, because there are a lot of very patriotic Americans who, if the president of the United States asks them to do something, to serve their country, even in an impossible mission, they will answer that call. You do have to respect their patriotism for doing so.
So they will get a czar, but, you know, it seems to me kind of a ridiculous position to have created. The president should be the czar of this policy. It's not like he has more important things to do.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that is that term commander in chief. The war continues to do this numbers on Senator McCain's numbers in the White House numbers. The "LA Times" poll that came out; he is trailing not only Rudy Giuliani by more than double, but he is behind Fred Thompson, who has not even declared that he is an actual candidate here. The senator said yesterday, he would rather lose a campaign than the war in Iraq. The way things are going, is it looking like he is going to lose both.
ALTER: Could be. You know, there is that famous line from the 19th century senator Henry Clay, where he said "I would rather be right than be president." Well, the John McCain is going right now, he may be neither. You have to respect Senator McCain on one level, in that this is not something that he is doing for political reasons. On some of his issues, these other social issues, he is pandering and trimming, in order to try to get votes.
He is not doing that on Iraq. This is his genuine view, but it's a little tragic, because you know that he actually believes that we need many more troops. So here he is lashed to a policy and to a president he doesn't particularly like and he will probably go down with him.
OLBERMANN: Yes, this if this is a political stance, he needs to correct it and take a new stance as quickly as possible. Jonathan Alter, of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, great thanks.
ALTER: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As the White House tries to spin Iraq, it has also got a new e-mail dilemma to spin. Congress subpoenas the missing Gonzales-gate emails. One senator issuing a subpoena charging the evidence is there. The White House does not want to find it. And a giant of the literary world is gone. The impact and life of the author Kurt Vonnegut. That and more ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: On April 11, 1974 the House Judiciary Committee voted to subpoena the White House Nixon tapes. Exactly 33 years and one day later, in our number two story on the Countdown, the Senate Judiciary Committee has authorized subpoena for the Bush White House after an embarrassing but convenient admission from that White House that it routinely destroyed e-mails, many of them related to the firings of those eight federal prosecutors.
The Democratic chairman of that committee, Senator Leahy, not alone today in comparing the lost e-mails to the infamous 18 and a half minute gap of President Nixon's tape recordings. The White House admitting late yesterday it erased perhaps thousands of emails sent through a private email server. On report putting the estimate at millions of emails.
The messages, key evidence in the investigation of how partisan politics played a role in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys working at the Justice Department of Alberto Gonzales. Of course, in this technologically advanced age, it is a lot easier to say you have deleted an email than to have actually completely deleted it, meaning the White House either worked really hard to break the law and keep evidence from Congressional investigators, or the emails may still exist and could still possibly be found.
Senator Patrick Leahy of the Judiciary Committee not buying the White House version of events that the messages are gone forever.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I don't believe that. I don't believe that. You can't erase emails, not today. They have gone through too many servers. They can't say they have been lost. That is like saying the dog ate my home work. It doesn't work that way. Those emails are there. They just don't want to produce them.
It is like the famous 18-minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes. They say they have been erased or misplaced. They are there. They are there. They know they are there. We will subpoena them if necessary, and we will have them. Because now, when they suddenly are facing meaningful oversight, they say they can't produce the information. They have the information. They have to bring it out and show it to the American people.
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OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, the custody fight over Danielynn Hope Marshall Stern Birkhead leading off our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Today a last ditch effort to avoid legal fisticuffs. Lawyers for Larry Birkhead, revealed as the baby's daddy by a DNA testing Monday, and lawyers for Virgie Arthur, Smith's mother, meeting privately today in the Bahamas to discuss visitation arrangements.
Miss Arthur wants some form of custody of Dannielynn Hope. She is seeking an out of court agreement before scheduled closed custody hearing tomorrow. Howard K. Stern, named as the father on the birth certificate, has already vowed not to fight Birkhead's sole custody. If talks with Mr. Birkhead fail, Miss Arthur says she will continue to seek joint custody in court.
Meanwhile the custody of the role of Anna Nicole Smith has been settled. Willa Ford, a fellow former Playboy model, former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant, host of a show called "Pants Off Dance Off" will play the antagonist in the independent feature "Anna Nicole." The film will cover Smith's life from the age of 17 until her death. No word on when production starts, or how Meryl Streep took the news that she had been passed over.
And this most incongruous of segues; although the author might well have laughed at it. Anna Nicole Smith gets a movie; Kurt Vonnegut will get some nicely worded Obits. When the allies bombed Dresden, Germany during the Second World War, the resulting fires were so all consuming that only seven prisoners of war held there survived. One of them was Kurt Vonnegut, who emerged from his work detail at an underground meat locker, known as Slaughterhouse Five, never to see the world the same way again.
But the novel he finished 24 years later combined, by that same title, "Slaughter-House Five," combined elements of social commentary, philosophy, even science fiction, and was embraced by a generation disillusioned by the Vietnam War. Vonnegut wrote 14 novels, including "Cat's Cradle" and "God Bless You Mr. Rosewater," as well as plays and essays.
He has been called an iconoclast, and the 20th century's Mark Twain. None of that a sufficient description of the man, nor his work. But in 2003, speaking of the looming war in Iraq, he said that President Bush's policies were, quote, nonsense. Quoting further, "I myself feel that our country, for whose constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. It has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low comedy, Keystone Cops-style, coup d'etat imaginable."
Mr. Vonnegut was also once the assistant managing editor of the Cornell University Student Newspaper, the "Daily Sun," on December 7th, 1941. He and a few colleagues rushed out what they believed was the first newspaper extra about Pearl Harbor, at least the first in the state of New York, and were he said, later telegraphed a list of all of the battleships sunk in Hawaii, followed by another telegram from the war department, asking the paper not to print any of those names out of patriotism.
As Vonnegut wrote, we suppressed it. Were we wrong? He told later staffers, quote, the "Cornell Sun," thank goodness, showed me what to do with my life, and I did it. Kurt Vonnegut is dead now. He was 84-years-old.
From that pinnacle of American culture to its pits. Sanjaya hitting on Jennifer Lopez next. But first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
On a thin day, even a good person can win the bronze. Karen Tumulty, of "Time Magazine," posting on the magazine's political blog, noting that Senator Clinton's condemnation of Don Imus and support for Rutgers and women's basketball team there on here website was curiously placed. Quoting Tumulty, "hmm, and right next to that respect for Rutgers, send a message link on her website, is a big red one that says contribute. Sisterhood is powerful." Expect that the big red contribute button is always in the same spot on that web page and most other presidential candidates have identical big red contribute buttons on their sites too.
The silver to Mark Wiens, the chief financial officer of Menu Foods. He sold about half of his stock holdings in the company on February 26th and 27th. Three weeks later Menu Foods had to recall most of its pet foods after the poisoning incidents. The 14,000 shares he sold, sold for about $90,000 and are now worth about $54,000. A spokesman claims it was a total coincidence, and Mr. Wiens, quote, feels just awful this link has been made. You bet he does.
And our winner, Hao Quo Chi (ph), a technician from the Best Buy Company's so-called Geek Squad computer repair team. 22-year-old Sarah Vasquez and her mother from City of Industry, California have sued the company, claiming Mr. Chi did more than come to their house to fix the laptop. The suit alleges that he put his cell phone in Miss Vasquez's bathroom and recorded video of her showering.
The Best Buy Geek Squad brochure notes it sends only agents you can trust. Hao Quo Chi of Best Buy, the Geek Squad, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Inevitably, even accidental celebrities turn out to believe in their schtick far too much. In our number one story on the Countdown, yes, Sanjaya Malakar made it through another week on "American Idol." But apparently, he is not content with climbing the Idol heap, or with making little girls cry with his on-stage magnetism. The 17-year-old is now ready to reel in older married celebrity women, like this week's Idol mentor, Jennifer Lopez.
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SANJAYA MALAKAR, "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: I definitely hope that Jennifer Lopez picked up on our passion and maybe I will get her number later, and we won't have to tell Mark Anthony about any of this.
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OLBERMANN: The oh-factor aside, Idol producers are complicit, of course, in squeezing the Sanjaya phenomenon for all it is worth.
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RYAN SEACREST, "AMERICAN IDOL": Sanjaya, sit down for the moment. I will get back to you. Sanjaya, would you please stand up.
MALAKAR: Hello again.
SEACREST: Hi there. No, not yet, we are not ready. Sit down. We'll come back.
Sanjaya, I have been telling you to sit all night long. Now sit down again, you are safe.
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OLBERMANN: It was Haley Scarnato who got last night's boot. Simon Cowell had said she was smart for wearing the least amount of clothes possible, apparently not smart enough, or perhaps not unclothed enough.
Let's turn now to our own "American Idol" princess, the mid day host of New York's classic rock station Q-103, Maria Milito. Good evening my friend.
MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3: Hello, and how cool is it that I called that here, on your show, before it happened.
OLBERMANN: I was just going to say, you picked last night's parolee.
MILITO: Look at that.
OLBERMANN: Once again, Sanjaya Malakar not even in the bottom three?
MILITO: No, top five.
OLBERMANN: Is it getting too predictable? Is that the kind of poison pill the show wants to avoid, predictability?
MILITO: Here's the deal, OK, I think the singers are like in a B-list and A-list. Now next week I'm predicting that Phil is going to go, the guy who's bald with the big ears. I think he is going. He is still one of the B-team. After that Sanjaya is going up against the A-team. So it's going to be very interesting. Because then - I mean, the people who have been eliminated are not as good as the A-team. So I don't know. I think he is going to go far but I don't know.
OLBERMANN: So George Peppard is going to win and Mr. T and the rest of the A-Team? Is that right?
MILITO: They probably sing better than he does.
OLBERMANN: I wouldn't be a bit surprised. And now, of course, it doesn't matter, because it is all fake. Because the speculation about voter fraud - ABC news pointed out that there are computer programs you can download that make 1,200 calls a minute. And the execs from Idol saying that no amount of speed dialing can effect the millions of votes cast each week.
MILITO: They also claim that they can trace the calls where they come from. It's like, show us the money, where is this stuff? Let's see it.
OLBERMANN: Nonetheless, do they want the voting transparency or do they not want it?
MILITO: I don't think so. I think they are being very secretive. They claim all the time that everything's legitimate, and we have the equipment that can see where the calls are coming form. But I never hear about it or see what it is. Right, nobody does. So, I don't know. I think they are being a little secretive. It kind of goes back to the conspiracy theory. But now it's going to be like put up or shut up, because as he gets -
Now, he is top five. It's going to go even higher with him. I don't know. Show us the money with this.
OLBERMANN: All right, so now, if you put up a big sign there next week that says vote for Sanjaya or Jennifer Lopez has to go out on a date with him. How would that turn out?
MILITO: That is disgusting. That was just gross.
OLBERMANN: Like that was not gross enough last night?
MILITO: That was very gross last night. He's a little cocky now, I mean, because he expects be - go sit down, you are safe. He is a cocky kid. But it is America's fault for creating that with him, because he can't sing. So he relies on his hairdos, his outfits, his cockiness now.
OLBERMANN: Now, his hair; he has been offered 5,000 dollars from K.F.C. if he gets a bowl cut. What is that?
MILITO: Well, actually, I think somebody should have advertised on the Mohawk he had a few weeks ago. Right, that was big enough for a billboard.
OLBERMANN: I think he has already gotten his hair cut using a bowl, like we used to do as kids. Our own "American Idol" princess, Maria Milito, mid day host at Q-103 in New York City. Hey, you ever done morning talk radio by any chance?
MILITO: Shut up. Shut up.
OLBERMANN: Thanks as always.
MILITO: Shut up, thank you.
OLBERMANN: That is Countdown for this the 1,460th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From New York, 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