'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for June 29
Guests: Mo Rocca
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
With 329 Americans now dead in Iraq in just the last three months, the Democrats tonight say, Enough. Probably.
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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: We have many arrows in our quiver, and we are sharpening them.
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OLBERMANN: But are the arrows just for display, or is anybody goes to use them? The Democratic leadership promises votes to stop the war in the upcoming month.
The detainees at Gitmo, the Supreme Court votes to overrule itself from just two months ago. Now, it will listen to arguments about making sure the prisoners have the right of appeal. The military lawyer for Salim Hamdan, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, joins us.
The London bomb scare. A car discovered overnight in Piccadilly Circus, filled with canisters of propane and gasoline and nails, possibly to be detonated by a remote device, possibly a second vehicle connected to it.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the device had detonated, there could have been significant injury or loss of life.
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OLBERMANN: And how did they find it? Did a detainee crack? Did an illegal wiretap hit paydirt? No, an ambulance crew helping a guy who fell down in a nightclub saw smoke coming out of the car.
The threat from Rupert Murdoch to buy "The Wall Street Journal" and make it a right-wing national daily propaganda outlet, to try to shout down "The New York Times." This from a man who actually said...
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RUPERT MURDOCH, NEWS CORP.: There's progress in Iraq. All the kids are back in school.
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OLBERMANN: Tonight, part two of our profile of key (ph) Rupert Murdoch.
And Bill Frist pretended to adopt cats as pets, then used them for medical research. Rudy Giuliani's wife worked for a company that killed puppies. Mitt Romney caged his dog on his car roof for a 12-hour trip. And this speaks for itself. Mo Rocca joins us to answer, Why do Republicans hate America's pets?
All that and more, tonight on Countdown.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barney's got him a headache.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
When it comes to putting pressure on the White House to end the war in Iraq, Democrats in Congress would seem to have no problem with the first step, introducing measures that would bring the troops home. The hard part comes in actually having the spine to pass the legislation once President Bush starts threatening to veto it, and to generally badmouth the opposition when he does so.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, stopping the war, take two. When the president warned of a bloody, very difficult summer last month, he probably did not anticipate that the phrase might also describe his relationship with Capitol Hill, the Democratic leadership looking to redeem itself, announcing it would make a different legislative attempt to force a troop withdrawal from Iraq, and possibly to regain the favor of its disaffected antiwar base, House Speaker Pelosi saying she would seek a vote on a measure that would start bringing the troops home within 180 days, with a goal of complete transition into a noncombat role by April 1, 2008.
But this time, the move would not be attached to a funding bill, the Senate considering legislation of its own, the big hurdle there getting any measures to survive the 60-vote threshold needed to survive a filibuster, Speaker Pelosi confident that any hurdles could be overcome.
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PELOSI: The Republicans have the 60-vote barrier. The president has the pen. But we have the support of the American people, who want this war to come to an end.
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OLBERMANN: As for what Iraq might look like in the weeks ahead, "The Los Angeles Times" reporting that U.S. commanders there are planning a summer of stepped-up offensives against al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Iraq, in anticipation that Congress could soon seek to impose a timeline for withdrawal, 100 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq so far in the month of June, 329, 330 by some accounts, in the last three months, the deadliest quarter since the war began.
Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at "Newsweek" magazine.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: By not attaching their measures to funding bills this time, would that immunize the Democrats when the president tries to demonize them, when he inevitably vetoes this thing?
ALTER: Yes, I don't think the demonizing works. You know, the last time he vetoed this withdrawal bill, they didn't have the right - the votes to override the veto, but they had the upper hand politically. The politics on this, Keith, are changing really fast. You had Senator Lugar, who has now come out, Republican, former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, come out for changing the policy and getting out from within this civil war.
So President Bush is not a lame duck, he's a cooked goose politically. He has no legs to stand on. And it may be that July is a pivotal month in starting to wind down this war.
OLBERMANN: And yet, for the skeptics, who certainly have reason to be skeptical after what happened in the spring, what conditions might lend themselves to a Democratic capitulation down the line on any new measure to start bringing the troops home from Iraq? Because, to some degree, it did happen before.
ALTER: It really wasn't a capitulation. This is where, you know, I've had some disagreements with some Democrats on this. Some people in the blogosphere claimed, you know, that the Democrats cried uncle. They didn't have the votes. They may not have the votes now. We'll see. But this is a moving story, and it may be that they can get enough Republican support.
And that's where the real struggle is here, is to get Republicans to go along in order to break a filibuster and override a veto.
OLBERMANN: This is a grim calculus, but is the hastening - is the quickening of the pace that you refer to a direct result of the body count, of this horrific number of 329 dead in the last three months?
ALTER: You know, I think it's less that than just people in Washington now know the surge isn't working. The policy is folly. It simply doesn't work to get in the middle of somebody else's civil war.
And so, I, you know, it's taken long enough, but even on the Republican side now, there's a sense that we do need to move in a different direction in Iraq. They're not going to do it right away. Even the Democrats are talking about a timetable of withdrawal in April of next year. But you're going to see, in the summer and into next fall, the beginning of some fundamental reassessment about whether we should be doing this.
But the Democrats need Republican votes. So that's where we want to really watch carefully, is to see who joins Senator Lugar and Senator Warner and some of the other Republicans.
OLBERMANN: We'll see if Lugar is the first through the gates there in bringing how many with him.
Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek." As always, great thanks. Have a great weekend.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And the president has suffered a setback in the defining legal battle of his presidency today, the Supreme Court, over his objection, announcing that in its next term, which starts in October, the justices will indeed hear a case brought by Guantanamo Bay detainees, a case poised to decide once and for all whether America's constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus, the right to challenge your detention in court, applies to those detainees.
Mr. Bush says detainees do not need habeas corpus because the military tribunals guarantee their rights. The decision to hear the case a reversal from April, the first such 180 in decades by this court. What changed? The court would not say, but a defense filing last Friday included a sworn declaration from a former member of those tribunals, the first insider to come forward with details of the secretive process.
Lieutenant Colonel Steven Abraham writes that several agencies stonewalled attempts to find exculpatory information. And when he sat as a tribunal judge, quote, "It was well known that anytime a panel determined that a detainee was not properly classified as an enemy combatant, the panel members would have to explain their finding to the deputy director. The focus of inquiry on the part of the leadership was, What went wrong?"
Let's turn now to one of the pivotal players in this battle, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, military attorney in the landmark case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which led Congress to create the tribunals, attempting to bring the administration into some kin of compliance with our Constitution.
Commander, a pleasure to speak with you again tonight, sir.
CMDR. CHARLES SWIFT: Good evening. Pleasure to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What happens now?
SWIFT: Well, now, the detainees are going to go ahead and brief for the Supreme Court, as will the government, and we'll hear arguments, presumably in October, maybe in November, when the court comes back into session to determine whether habeas corpus continues to exist in Guantanamo Bay after Congress's acts last fall.
OLBERMANN: How does the affidavit from Colonel Abraham change this battle and change the - perhaps the Supreme Court's perspective on what we're dealing with here?
SWIFT: Well, in one sense, it revealed nothing new. From the commission's perspective on the case that I've worked on, prosecutors had said the exact same thing, that they were stonewalled out of information, and agencies said they weren't going to give them exculpatory evidence. That was two years ago.
Abrahams, what his declaration does, is show what we already knew, from being down in the tribunals being held down there, that the exact same thing was happening in the so-called combat status review tribunals. And the irregularities with those tribunals, along with other problems, are one of the reasons the military judges presumably dismissed the cases in the military commissions.
The combat status tribunals just haven't lived up to their billing. And when Justices Kennedy and Stevenson said they waited and needed to see more, one only can presume that they've seen enough, and it's now time to act.
OLBERMANN: Colonel Abraham wrote that the tribunal panelists had to explain every ruling in favor of the defendants, which he did his first time out, and then he never sat on a panel again. Is that consistent with your own experience in dealing in this process?
SWIFT: It is, sadly. Though in my - in Hamdan's case, the - I was actually called as a witness, because I'd investigated his case. The panel had agreed that I should be a witness. And then the admiral who was in charge of the process said, Well, we're going to hold the tribunal today, on a day that I couldn't be there, and overruled the president's - of the panel's decision to give a continuance so that I could attend it.
We were going to wait five days, the admiral changed that around, and then argued that five days would have been too much a delay, after two years with no tribunal at all.
So, you know, the process wherein the commission - the - those combat tribunals were simply done again until you got the right result, so to speak, was one of the most glaring weaknesses in their process.
OLBERMANN: I have to ask you a hypothetical question that I'm sure you've heard phrased to you in some way and under other circumstances. We're going to talk about whatever this was that happened in London today. And I get hit with this question a lot, I'm sure you do too. When there is a terror scare somewhere in the world, as there was today, no matter whether it was legitimate or serious or this side of being a disaster or not, when people say to you, But these are the people you're defending, give me the answer that explains why that's such an erroneous conclusion.
SWIFT: It's an erroneous conclusion for exactly the reasons that Colin Powell set out on why to close Guantanamo Bay. Our strength is the rule of law. More and more, these scares are coming from homegrown organizations. And Guantanamo Bay, and our failure to follow (INAUDIBLE) processes and set ourselves out as the good guys, the guys who are on the side of the rule of law, continue instead of suppressing al Qaeda to actually grow it, or grow the movement, as it angers more and more people around the world.
This is a hearts and minds battle. And part of winning the hearts and minds is to use the process of law. It's our greatest strength, their greatest weakness, and we keep not playing up to our strengths.
OLBERMANN: Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift, the U.S. Navy defense attorney representing the Gitmo detainee Salim Hamdan. A pleasure to have spoken with you again tonight, sir. And as I said when we shared the same stage in Boston, pleasure to be in the same country with you, sir.
SWIFT: Thanks very much, Keith. Have a good evening.
OLBERMANN: Be well.
It was not a tortured detainee who led London police to two parked cars filled with combustible components today. It was an emergency medical technician who noticed the smoke coming out of one of them. Was it even a car bomb?
We are advised that this newscast makes the smoke come out of Rupert Murdoch's ears. Fire up the grill, Rupe. Part two of our profile of the man who wants to turn "The Wall Street Journal" into a print version of Fox Noise.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The Bush administration's twin mantras for war in Iraq, that we need to go outside the Constitution to interrupt terrorism, and that we need to fight terrorists there so they do not follow us here, turned on their twin heads early this morning by a chance discovery in London, not by an interrogation unit, but by an ambulance crew attending to an injured man near Piccadilly Circus, noticing what appeared to be smoke come from a Mercedes parked outside a nightclub, what we now know to have been an explosive or combustible device that had failed to detonate.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, the details of the plot, whatever they were, still emerging at this hour, a second car inspected by authorities because it had been illegally parked, so they towed it, both vehicles said to have contained inflammable materials, what we know in just the first car to have been several propane gas canisters described as patio gas canisters, nails, and around 50 gallons of gasoline, officials saying that the cell phone that was part of the first car bomb, if it was a bomb, had received two incoming phone calls.
It failed to initiate any explosions before police managed to disable it. The cars, parked within blocks of each other in the heart of London's theater district, at the height of the summer tourist season, the timing, 36 hours after a new prime minister had taken office, a week before the anniversary of the July 7 subway bombings there.
Let's turn now to Larry Johnson, former CIA officer, was a deputy director of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism under the first President Bush.
Larry, thanks again for some of your time tonight.
LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The mechanics of this, you got dozens of surveillance cameras blanketing this area, might be the most-photographed area in the world, as the cars are parked. There's 50 gallons of gas in the first car, camper-sized canisters of propane, meaning they're used by campers, and some nails. What happens if you actually manage to spark this device?
JOHNSON: It's going to do a lot of damage to the interior of the Mercedes, but it's not - this is not one of the car bombs or truck bombs we see going off in Iraq.
I mean, what's really striking about this, Keith, is, today you had two nonbombs in London, and we had at least five bombs in Baghdad, in which U.S. soldiers were killed in one of those. So it's just - I think it's sort of out of proportion. This was an incendiary, this was not a high explosive.
OLBERMANN: I've read and heard nothing in any of the coverage here, nothing in these news conferences, about a detonating device apart from a cell phone. What was supposed to cause this thing to blow up? Because if we can put together car bombs with half a tank of gas and some propane and an old cell phone, then every drunken Hollywood starlet is a potential car bomber, isn't she?
JOHNSON: Right. Well, I think the fuel, the petrol, the 50 gallons, if you set that on fire, that fire can spark an explosion in a propane tank. But I've seen those go off, and when they go off, it's an enormous boom. It splits the tank. But you're not going to get fragments and projectiles like a hand grenade going off. So you wouldn't want to be in the car when it happened, but, you know, if somebody was within, you know, 20, 30 feet of it, they would have ear damage, but not much more.
OLBERMANN: So we're not talking about shrapnel, then?
JOHNSON: Correct. This is not a shrapnel-causing device. And clearly, the folks who put this together, you know, we're looking at yuppie terrorists, at a minimum. They can afford a Mercedes, but they couldn't afford enough money to get a decent class in how to make a bomb that would actually go off. Thank God.
OLBERMANN: Or steal one.
JOHNSON: Thank God.
OLBERMANN: Yes, or steal one, as has been (INAUDIBLE) implied here by the police. But what does alarm you about this, other than the media's kind of nodding-head doll coverage of this?
JOHNSON: Well, I think the other thing that alarms me about it is that we're so ho-hum when we have this body count piling up every day in Baghdad, where daily there are bombs, car bombs, truck bombs going off, and everyone is like, Well, OK, you just get used to it. And you have a nonevent in London, and we're going to battle quarters and beginning to give the old hairy eyeball to every Muslim, when it's not even clear yet that - You know, all we know is that these were people who could afford a Mercedes. That's the extent of what we know about this so far.
OLBERMANN: The practical stuff that maybe should be worrisome, obviously, there are terrorists, there are people who want to do horrific things. No question about any of that. But the idea that we need to fight the terrorists in Iraq, got to fight them there so they don't follow us here, whatever this was in London today, they were already presumably there, unless this was the graduating al Qaeda bomb squad class, which they need remedial work. I mean, does that logic about fighting them there instead of here even hold together slightly tonight?
JOHNSON: No, not at all. In fact, what we know is that the U.S. conflict over there, U.S. involvement over there, is aggravating the problem, not calming it. So I think what we need to do is continue to rely upon good intelligence, good police work, but ultimately, you know, neighbors watching out for each other.
OLBERMANN: Where, besides you, are the skeptics who know what they're talking about in this? Is there a problem with expertise on television about terrorism that nine out of 10 guys who come on TV have a vested interest in there being terrorism, otherwise their counterterrorism companies wouldn't exist any more?
JOHNSON: Keith, we saw about three years ago General Richard Myers, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, say that the threat of terrorism was the greatest threat we've faced in this country in the United States since the Civil War. And what we know factually is that fewer than 50,000 people, not just Americans, but all people worldwide, have died from international terrorism since 1968. We lose 50 million people plus in World War II, and we have someone like General Myers saying that this is the greatest threat?
It's a threat, but we need to put it in its proper perspective and go back and remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It's the fear. If we allow the fear to conquer us, and allow the fear to drive us to do things like allow Guantanamos, like allow torture, then we ourselves become victims to that very thing which we say we're trying to fight.
And that's - you know, I think big deep breaths, remain calm, and let's stop with some of the alarmist behavior.
OLBERMANN: Larry Johnson, former CIA officer, former counterterrorism officer. Great thanks, Larry. We appreciate it.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: But remember, no matter how much the government might scare you, keep buying products. The iPhone is here. Turns out to have been a bad day to introduce the ultimate mobile device, correct?
And your tax dollars in action, the elephant street cleaning team. I'm thinking there's also something counterproductive about having elephants walking through the street cleaning up garbage. Maybe exactly what that is will come to me.
Next on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: On New Year's Eve, he once said, resonating around this network particularly, people in New Jersey stay up till midnight and watch their hopes drop. Sixty years ago today in Brooklyn, actor and comedian Richard Lewis was born, and consequently, the world would improve ever so slightly. Happy birthday, and much love, Prince.
On that note, let's play Oddball.
We begin in Ayutaya (ph), Thailand, where local officials have come up with a solution to both the lack of ready labor and the litter problem, elephant street cleaners. There are now six pachydermers - pachyderms patrolling the area, meandering around the popular tourist destination. This might be a counterproductive situation, please, given the amount of stuff each elephant puts out every day. It's still unclear if the town is net cleaner or net dirtier.
To the Internets, where, much like the Star Wars kid behind - before him, the Dramatic Chipmunk, or prairie dog, or shaved guinea pig, well, whatever the hell that rodent actually is, it's also become everyone's favorite clip to edit. Roll em.
"Ironside." That's enough.
A man who used his own editors and reporters to dig up dirt on his business rivals, a man who thinks Brit Hume does a straight newscast, a man who threatens government officials, the man who was this close to taking over "The Wall Street Journal," part two of the Rupert Murdoch story tonight.
And Republicans and kittens and puppies, using adopted kittens for medical experiments, caging a pet dog on the roof of a car for a 12-hour trip. These stories ahead.
First, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, dumb criminal of the day, Branden M. Tingey of Wilmington, Delaware. Years ago, he'd been fired as a manager at a restaurant there, so he decided to break into the place, break into the safe, and take some of the night's revenue with him. That's where they found him, using the restaurant's computer, going online, looking for instructions on how to break into a safe.
Number two, Denise Aughney of Ogden, Utah. She was a secretary for a school foundation, and she figured out how to take home a little money of its - a little of its money for herself. She embezzled $1,120,000. Now, she has written to the Webber (ph) school district, saying she hopes it's changed its policies and its auditors too, so, quote, "This is not so easily done again." Yes, that's exactly what they want from you right now, lady, a scolding.
And the same for number one, Jane Balogh of Seattle. She was about to plead no contest to a charge of making false statements on a voter registration form. She claimed voter registration was too easy, too easily corrupted, so she registered her dog, Duncan. She was about to take the punishment when the election officials in Washington state announced with great satisfaction that her decision proved the system works. No, it doesn't, points out the scolded Miss Balogh, who has now pleaded not guilty, because Duncan the dog is still registered to vote.
OLBERMANN: In 1976, Rupert Murdoch bought from its family ownership what had been for 30 years the country's strongest, self-proclaimed liberal newspaper and promised not to change it. It was the "New York Post." It can now no longer be described either as liberal, nor even as a newspaper. Our third story on the Countdown, 31 years later, Murdoch wants the "Wall Street Journal" and is negotiating with its family owners on editorial control.
According to "Time Magazine," if Murdoch succeeds in his bid, quote, "he would like the newspaper to be a national counterpoint to the "New York Times" in setting the country's agenda." Quoting Murdoch, "my worry about the "New York Times" is that it's got the only position as a national elitist general interest paper. So the network news picks up its cues from the Times and local tapes do too. It has a huge influence. And we would love to challenge it."
Huge influence, exactly what everything Rupert Murdoch touches is geared to do, from his political connections to his newspapers and TV stations and so-called fair and balanced noise channel. Even though, as we've seen in part two of our study tonight of Rupert Murdoch, he constantly denies any bias.
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Fair, balanced and unafraid.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): When asked by "Time Magazine" whether the Fox News Channel expresses his political views, Murdoch replied, quote, yes, no, yes, and no. The commentators are not. Bill O'Reilly is certainly not. Geraldo Rivera certainly not. But Brit Hume and his team on the nightly news, yes. They play it absolutely straight.
Absolutely straight? Here is Brit Hume on the prisoner abuse in Gitmo.
HUME: I think that these kinds of problems and accusations and so forth grow out of a community that stretches from the American left through much of Europe to enemies across the world, from which terrorism springs, who want the world to believe that America is what's wrong with the world.
OLBERMANN: And while we are at this, here is Rupert Murdoch himself after the invasion of Iraq.
RUPERT MURDOCH, NEWSCORP OWNER: Tremendous purpose in Iraq. All the kids are back in school, 10 percent more than when Saddam Hussein lived there. There's 100 percent more fresh water.
OLBERMANN: And Murdoch does not just use his media empire to influence the populace, but also to help him acquire even more media. Back in 1984, when Murdoch was trying to buy "Time Warner," the "New York Times" reported that he, quote, "assigned a Post editor and two reporters to help his lawyers unearth information about Steven J. Ross, the chairman and chief executive officer of Warner."
Murdoch says he does not remember doing that. But if he did, then it was wrong. But as the "New York Times" points out in its latest investigation into Murdoch, he used the "New York Post" once again to do his dirty work when he went after the Nielson Company 20 years later, in 2004. When Nielson's new ratings technique showed some of Murdoch's ventures, particularly minority programing, doing badly, he pulled out all the stops, using lobbyists and Republican allies to introduce a bill to stop the change, sending the bill's proponents at least 144,650 dollars in donations, while simultaneously running anti-Nielson headlines in his "New York Post" tabloid and manufacturing a grassroots opposition that included people such as the Reverend Al Sharpton.
Things got so bad, the head of Nielson, Susan Whiting (ph), hired a bodyguard. She later accused Murdoch of using even nastier tactics, charging that two of his flacks, including his own son, said they would do, quote, everything possible to discredit you and the company in Washington. Murdoch also did something similar to the then FCC chair Reid E. Hunt (ph) during the Clinton administration after he started investigating whether Newscorp Broke the law in starting up the Fox Broadcast Network.
The "New York Times" citing two former FCC officials saying that Murdoch, through his lobbyists, told Mr. Hunt's chief of staff that the FCC chairman couldn't, quote, get a job as dog catcher if he touched News Corp TV stations.
But most of Murdoch's methods of political persuasion appear to be more subtle. For example, through his publishing company, he has sold books written by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Trent Lott. Each sits on the Commerce or Judiciary Committees that monitor the media. And senator Lott's book deal happened just months before he backed down on a Congressional effort to limit media ownership to 35 percent of American homes, allowing that level to be set instead at 39 percent; 39 percent, the exact number of houses Mr. Murdoch's interests reach.
Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, Senator Chuck Hagel also have book deals with Murdoch, as once did Newt Gingrich, now a Fox News contributor, a 4.5 million dollar book deal, to be precise, inked just as Congress was looking to redraw media ownership laws. Murdoch later fired the book's editor for the Gingrich deal, saying it was uneconomical.
Finally, there are the direct financial incentives to all politicians. The "New York Times" again reporting that "an analysis of campaign finance records show that since 1997, Republicans have received only a slight majority, 56 percent, of the 4.76 million in campaign donations from the Murdoch family and the News Corporation's political action committees and employees.
And while he donates millions to the lawmakers of America, Mr. Murdoch has given little back to the actual people who made him those millions here, the viewers and readers who buy his products. According again to the "New York Times," "by taking advantage of a provision in the law that allows expanding companies like Mr. Murdoch's to defer taxes to future years, the News Corporation paid no federal taxes in two of the last four years. And in the other two, it paid only a fraction of what it otherwise would have owed."
"During that time, Securities and Exchange Commission records show the News Corporation's domestic pretax profits topped 9.4 billion dollars.
OLBERMANN: Almost the price of an iPhone. Well, it's here, cell phone, MP3 player, blender, washer, dryer. And wait until you see what it costs.
Britney Spears shows some restraint, unfortunately it's not in personal conduct, It's a restraining order against her own mom. That's next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It's come to this: the guy at the head of the line in New York City waiting to buy his iPhone at exactly 6:00 p.m. prevailing local time tonight was an inveterate compulsive publicity hound, Greg Packer, known as New York's official man on the street interviewee.
But in Philadelphia, the third guy on the line there had a little better resume, Mayor John Street. He's a gadget junkie and he got in line yesterday to great criticism, because not only was he on the taxpayer's dime at the moment, but the guy standing in for him when he actually had to duck out to do city business somewhere was from his city security detail. He claims the city has benefited mightily from my interest in technology. Presumably this means all other Philadelphians will get a chance to borrow Mayor Street's new iPhone.
Because in our number two story on the Countdown, it's here. People who stood in line for days finally burst through the doors of the Apple Store in the Big Apple at 6:00 this evening. The phones selling at 6:00 p.m. in every time zone, sweeping the country like some digital New Year's Eve minus the Dick Clark.
No injuries reported unless you count this Fox noise reporter, who was interviewing one of the iPhone guinea pigs, when a passerby mysteriously lunged for the equipment she was holding, and not the equipment the expert was holding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to create a mob scene, but he's got one. Now, we're going to need some security around here, probably.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only four people got to test this out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And where is Fox security when you actually need it? Anyway, back to the iPhone, I point. Our correspondent, George Lewis, is at the Grove Mall in Los Angeles as the minutes click down until the West Coast witching hour. George, good evening.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Keith, I feel kind of like Gollum. I have the precious in my hand here. An iPhone which was loaned to me by one of the Apple guys, who is standing right off camera, ready to take it back the minute I finish talking here. People have been waiting out in the hot California sun all day to get their hands on one.
The scene is similar across the country, long lines at Apple and AT&T stores. Tonight, we're told that the computer glitch at AT&T caused a lot of people at their stores not to get instant credit approval when they handed over their plastic. But AT&T tells us that has been cleared up.
Apple is billing the iPhone as an all-purpose device that will let you surf the web, let you send and receive email, let you play your tunes, let you play your videos, and oh yes, it takes and receives phone calls too. So it's a phone, it's an iPod. It's a number of devices all wrapped up in one.
And the promotional hype has just been over the top. I was asking the Apple people, was there this sort of buzz around the iPod when they introduced that and sort of revolutionized the music industry. And they pointed out, the iPod was introduced just a few weeks after 9/11, so there was not this kind promotional hype and promotional buzz.
So people are obviously reacting. Apple is hoping to sell 10 million units in the first year. Some forecasters think they'll sell a million of them in the first weekend, the way things are going.
The downside of the device is that it operates often a fairly slow data network, not the highest-speed data network. So surfing the web takes a little bit of patience. The other drawback is the battery is built into the unit. It's sort of like an iPod in that regard. But it's your phone, so there's no spare battery to go to. Keith?
OLBERMANN: George Lewis at the Grove in Los Angeles. I'm afraid you have to give it back now. Many thanks, George.
LEWIS: Yes, I do.
OLBERMANN: Moving on now from technology that's a marvel to marbles, or the loss there of, Keeping Tabs, our nightly look at celebrity and entertainment news. And Britney Spears said to feel betrayed like totally by her mother for presuming or pressuring her, rather, to enter Promise, the celebrity rehab center last February. According to TMZ.com, she also blames her former manager and her soon to be former husband Kevin Federline, but believes post partum depression, Prozac and too much paparazzi were her real problems, not drugs or booze.
Britney Spears firing her manager and recently seen handing her mother some kind of papers, leading to speculation of a legal order to grandma to stay away from the grand kids.
And the passing of ABC News movie critic Joel Siegel reported tonight after a long battle with colon cancer. Joel Siegel part of the "Good Morning America" teem for a quarter century. A local TV movie critic for at decade before that, a critic who knew the business he was criticizing and had written jokes for the 1968 campaign of Robert Kennedy, writing for advertising and radio, even writing a play.
The only Broadway critic ever nominated for a Tony. He also founded Guilda's (ph) Club to help families stricken with cancer, named after the comedian Guilda Radner, who also died of cancer. The ABC News website headlining Joel Siegel's obituary, a good life lived with humor and insight. He was 63 years old.
And why is it Mitt Romney and not Mutt Romney? Perhaps because he once took his dog with him on a 12-hour car trip. The dog was caged on the roof of the car. Republicans versus their own pets.
That's ahead but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. The bronze to Amtrak. It's employees, on one of the Arizona runs, decided that 65-year-old retiree Roosevelt Simms was drunk and disorderly. So they ordered the train to stop in a national forest and kicked Mr. Simms off. He has now been found at Williams, Arizona after three days in the wild. He wasn't drunk and disorderly on board the train, he had gone into diabetic shock.
The silver to CNN, which has made a programming switch in the 8:00 p.m. eastern time slot for this next week. Summarized in his blog by Joe Klein of "Time Magazine", employee of the company that owns CNN, Chairman Richard Parsons, and of the same high school I went to. Writes Joe, quote, the world is a bit after mess right now and CNN gives us Glen Beck. Please, Mr. Parsons, sir, is this any way to show respect for your, our viewers? Can't we, like, try a week of smart, see how that works? Just asking, your devoted employee, Joe Klein.
Now that's how a Hackly (ph) man writes. Yale alma mater, sing we now thy praise and glory.
And the winner Coulter-geist. Yes, we have laid off her on this latest unforgivable stuff about John Edwards, because kind of Bill Maher had escalated it about Dick Cheney. And they're both wrong when they talk about violence. But now she says about her hate-filled appearance on "Hardball", I doubled the ratings of the lowest-rated cable news show on Tuesday by agreeing to go on for a full hour, a mistake I won't make again.
Trust me, it was our mistake. Ann's mistakes were, "Hardball" is not even close to being the lowest rated anything. And she didn't double anybody's ratings. The combined demo rating for the day before on Hardball was 257,000 viewers. The combined demo rating for the day she was on was 270,000 viewers.
Ann Coulter is worth exactly 13,000 viewers, or maybe not. Maybe the extra 13,000 were watching because there wasn't a good rerun of "The Gilmore Girls" playing on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. Coulter-geist, today's Worst Person in the World!
OLBERMANN: No matter how grand it's ambitions, politics often has the feel of a dog and pony show, so it's a good idea to be kind to the animals. In our number one story on the Countdown, a disturbing trend though, good old pets and other animals mistreated by the grand old party, most prominently the case of presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and the Irish Setter.
This week's "Boston Glob," an otherwise heartwarming account of a family vacation for the Romneys back in 1983. When Romney loaded up the white Chevy station wagon with his wife, his many kids, all the luggage. But what to do with Shamus, the family's Irish Setter. Well, evidently, there was not much room left inside, so Mr. Romney put Shamus in a dog carrier and secured it to the station wagon's roof rack.
We have no actual photograph, but you get the idea. Romney even fashioned a wind shield for the carrier, considerate of him, but also crucial, since he was driving from Boston to Ontario, a 12 hour trip. Now, more than two decades later, comes the blow back. The president for People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals saying, quote, "If you wouldn't strap your child to the roof of your car, you have no business doing that to the family dog."
Let's call in television personality Mo Rocca, also author, of course, of "All the President's Pets." Mo, good evening.
MO ROCCA, AUTHOR, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S PETS": Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That part of the story we haven't shared yet, poor Shamus made a mess on top of that car during the trip. Mr. Romney had to pull over, had to hose off the wagon and the dog. It's been noted, by the way, that Massachusetts law prohibits transporting a pet in an unnecessarily cruel or inhuman manner. PETA president called it torture. Does this tail pose a little problem for the former governor's presidential chances?
ROCCA: You know, in Massachusetts, if you harm an Irish dog, you get the chair. You should also point that out. Of course it poses a problem. We are a nation of dog lovers. The only person that can be happy to hear this is LBJ, smiling from the grave. He's finally off the hook for holding his beagles up by the ears. In Romney's defense, he said that Shamus the dog enjoyed the fresh air. And Romney did make sure to shellac the dog with the same stuff he uses on his hair. So it's not like the dog's hair got messed up.
OLBERMANN: Couldn't even move if used enough of it. On the other hand, does unintentional harm to pets sit a little bit better with the populous? Because we the president, the famous video of him dropping Barney on his head. The president isn't too popular to begin with, but was the Barney incident a factor in his ratings slide?
ROCCA: Well, the Bushes have historically treated their pets very well. I think everybody in both parties would agree with that. But remember Bob Woodward recorded Bush saying this about Iraq, quote, I will not withdrawal, even if Laura and Barney are the only ones supporting me, end quote. Which can only mean one thing, Barney stopped supporting the Iraq policy, so Bush dropped him on the tarmac.
OLBERMANN: And that was followed by Senator Lugar, who followed Barney's lead.
ROCCA: Right, ouch.
OLBERMANN: To the darker side, Bill Frist admitting in an autobiography that while he was in medical training in the 1970's, he use to adopt cats on the premise of making them pets and then use them in medical experiments. Even he described that as heinous. Do you think that had something to do with his decision not to run for president?
ROCCA: It sounds like an evil scheme hatched by dogs. The worst parts is that nobody cared about the fate of these cats. They were like hookers. It was horrible. This, by the way, is why we need a foster cat system for cats, to vet, if you will, perspective adoptive parents before they are permanent parents.
Quick factoid, by the way, Ida Mckinley, wife of William Mckinley, had four Angora kittens, two named after Spanish diplomats. And when the USS Maine went down, she drowned two of the cats, the two with the Spanish names and that is true.
OLBERMANN: This is an unfortunate segue then, because there was the report from a couple months ago about Judith Nathan, who is married to Rudy Giuliani, who had demonstrated surgical products during the 1970's for a company that used puppies in demonstrations for surgical staplers. She didn't do those demonstrations herself. Her husband says she's a wonderful woman, of course. But Republicans, the 1970's, practicing on animals, was this some kind of evil e that we are just now learning about?
ROCCA: Remember, Cruella de Nathan only loaded the stapler. She would tell you, first ladies don't kill dog with staplers, something like that. I think there was a lot of frustration about Watergate. This was a way to take it out. They took it out on the dogs.
OLBERMANN: The current president, again, back to him and his chief guru. Karl Rove joking at the correspondents dinner that he likes to, quote, tear the tops off of small animals. You know, you think of this as a joke now, but there seems to be an unfortunate theme here. Are they trying to show off they can't be pushed around by animals?
ROCCA: Absolutely, yes, that fearsome gang known as al Qaeda and the Chipmunks are on the run. By the way, I'm pitching that to al Jazeera, the animated show. It's got hit written all over it.
OLBERMANN: Out of left field - this doesn't have anything to do with presidents. But given your expertise on pets, the Paris Hilton question, from her relationship with her Chihuahuas, can you determine what her politics would be if she understood the difference between Democrats and Republicans?
ROCCA: Right, if she did understand. We don't know if she's a Democrat or a Republican. All we know is that she's upset about the immigration bill collapsing, because she's convinced that Tinkerbell will now be deported. And I think her chihuahua - that's really where she's at right now. She's just woe begotten over it.
OLBERMANN: Do we have any other presidential possibilities using dogs the way, say, Richard Nixon used Checkers, some sort of positive way, where nobody gets hurt, except maybe the public?
ROCCA: Oh gosh. Well things are a lot more now, of course, because you have these dogs being sacrificed for supposedly surgical advancements. And, by the way, it should be noted, Richard Nixon had the only Irish Setter, I believe, in the White House. So that is not a good portent for Mitt Romney.
OLBERMANN: Yes, especially if the dog's still on the roof somewhere.
ROCCA: He crossed state lines, by the way. It makes it a federal crime.
OLBERMANN: Might have to get the Mann Act involved in this too. Mo is the author, of course, of "All the President's Pets," and so much more. Great thanks Mo.
ROCCA: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,521st 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