'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 12
Guest: Paul Rieckhoff, Senator Christopher Dodd, Chris Cillizza, Michael Musto, Craig Crawford
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow. The president readying to twist the advice LBJ got about Vietnam, declare victory and stay in?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: (Inaudible) - said we're going to stay until the job is done.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Because the job will get done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But first the dog and pony show tomorrow night. Get the microphones ready for General Petraeus' plan, accepted with amazing alacrity by a president who claimed to have not known anything about it in advance. Mr. Bush withdrawing 30,000 troops from Iraq by June, troops who already had to come home by then, most of whom, who had to already be legally out of the military by then.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: The surge forces were scheduled to go home between April and mid July. That is absolutely right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Democrats react.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED SENATOR: This is unacceptable to me, unacceptable to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Chris Dodd joins us here demanding again a, quote, "firm and enforceable deadline" to bring the troops home.
Fred Thompson rising on the right to challenge Rudy Giuliani, bringing with him one small problem - he says he doesn't go to church all the time and won't talk religion on the campaign. Won't have much to say, will he?
Barbara Walters - Rosie O'Donnell's new book. She suggests it's time for Barbara Walters to retire. Would she really, really retire?
And Britney Spears at and after the Video Music Awards. No rehearsal, no panties, no talent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRITNEY SPEARS, POP STAR: Leave me alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You're right. To be fair, she did bring something to the performance - a margarita.
All that and more now on "Countdown."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're lucky she even performed for you bastards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): Good evening. Six years in and he can still leave you speechless. Our fifth story on the "Countdown," President Bush was not speechless. He was already rehearsing the one he will give tomorrow night.
This was yesterday. Even as he was meeting with congressional leaders and telling them, quote, "I think it's very important before I make up my mind that I consult with the leaders of the House and the Senate." Here is your consultation. We hope you enjoyed your consultation.
Not only the president's response at the conclusion of General Petraeus been written at the latest the day after the president became aware of those conclusions, but at the time rehearsals for the speech began and the congressional consultation was supposedly being conducted, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were still giving their assessment to Senators on Capitol Hill. The same assessment Mr. Petraeus insisted was not shared with anyone, including the president, until Monday morning.
Democrats were swift to come out today against the president's
proposal to bring back the 30,000 troops, offering legislation to bring
troop levels lower than pre-surge levels, and pointing out that what is
portrayed by the administration as a troop reduction was not only already
scheduled but was pretty much inevitable, given the length of deployments -
an assertion General Petraeus both acknowledges and denies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: The surge forces were scheduled to go home between April and mid July. That is absolutely right. But, you know, again, I could have requested more surge forces. And we certainly could have run it much longer again than, as I said, I've requested.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: More on that military assessment with Paul Rieckhoff in a moment. And Senator Chris Dodd will join us.
First, the administration's spin. Tony Snow spending his last live news briefing trying to sell the surge as successful and the troop reduction as a result of that success, and the war as not open-ended despite there is technically no end in sight.
SNOW: To say that you don't know when a war is going to end doesn't mean you think it is going to end. You don't know when the war is going to end because you don't have a crystal ball. There's an attempt to say if you don't have the crystal ball and you can't tell us when you're going to leave, it's an open-ended commitment. April?
BILL: You didn't answer the question, Tony, about the open-ended commitment.
SNOW: Yes, I am, Bill. It's a verbal game. It is a verbal game.
BILL: I don't think so.
SNOW: Okay. Bill, can you tell - yes, you do. You absolutely understand it's a verbal game simply because, if I can't give you an absolute date, you find it's an open-ended commitment.
BILL: I'm not asking for an absolute date. I'm just asking you if this is an open-ended commitment.
SNOW: I made the point to you.
BILL: It is an open-ended commitment, if we're going to stay until the job is done?
SNOW: Because the job will get done.
OLBERMANN: And his job now done, the outgoing press secretary may have inadvertently bolstered the Democrats' argument for a change in strategy in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: You have shifting realities at all times. And you respond to changing facts on the ground. The idea that you have an unchanging strategy, only a crazy person would fail to adjust strategy on a regular basis, based on the realities on the ground.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's turn to our own Craig Crawford, columnist for "Congressional Quarterly."
Craig, good evening.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, COLUMNIST, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: Doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Einstein's definition of insanity.
OLBERMANN: Only a crazy person would fail to adjust strategy on a regular basis. Is President Bush failing to adjust his strategy on a regular basis? He always adjusts it, but it's always the same one he had before.
CRAWFORD: Tactics change, Keith, but the strategy of keeping American troops in a combat role in the middle of a civil war is a strategy that has not changed, surge or not, Petraeus or not. And that, I think, is what it's really getting boiled down to on Capitol Hill is this combat role for U.S. troops in this civil war changing that is what Congress now, I think, might get focused on doing.
OLBERMANN: As the general acknowledged, these 30,000 troops were slated to come home anyway. The president always said this was supposed to be a short-term measure, this surge. So just how is he planning on selling an already planned withdrawal, a mandatory withdrawal because of the size of the military and the length of the deployments and the question of stretching it out too thin? How is he going to sell that tomorrow night as some kind of indicator of success on the ground?
CRAWFORD: It's really a small universe of people he needs to sell or is even trying to sell, Keith, and that is about six to eight Republicans in the Senate and maybe a baker's dozen or more House Republican lawmakers. These are the folks who are standing in the way of Democrat efforts to stop the war. They are the votes who sustain the president's veto.
If they change their minds at any point along the way, that's when it all unravels for him. And as long as he keeps them in line, gives them political cover with this surge working, with sending Petraeus to the Hill, and they hold the line, he's in good shape.
OLBERMANN: There is a new NBC News -"Wall Street Journal" poll tonight. 29 percent were worried that Congress would push too far for troop reductions but more than twice that total, 64 percent, were more worried the president will not make enough change on the ground to allow for troop withdrawals.
This mounting public frustration, every set of numbers is a little bit bigger than the last one, will it have an impact on the president's plan to keep status quo into 2009, to sort of force this on whoever succeeds him?
CRAWFORD: The only thing that will change this president's mind, it's painfully clear, is a change in those votes on Capitol Hill by Republicans. If he gets in a situation where Democrats can get to the 60 they need in the Senate and the numbers they need in the House to override a veto, that is the only thing that's going to change him.
OLBERMANN: The Democratic proposal, the one that's being formulated now to get more troops back home faster, given their track record on this subject this year, does that new legislation have any chance of succeeding? Can they buy out? Can they get out enough of those Republicans to come with them in the Senate?
CRAWFORD: I think they do have a pretty decent strategy here that might have a chance in that the new buzz phrase I've been hearing on the Hill, Keith, is "mission transition," change, adjust the mission as opposed to setting withdrawal timetables. In other words, get troops out of combat, emphasize force protection, counterterrorism, training, and not this combat role in the civil war. And that is something many Republicans are interested in.
What's good about it, constitutionally speaking, is Congress is in a better place to talk about changing a mission than fiddling with the tactics for executing a mission, and that is where it seems like a change in language only but it could be more than that. And, of course, the real crunch is going to come in whether this legislation, whether the Democrats can get any kind of firm timetable for withdrawal and bring those Republicans over. But right now I think they have a good shot, at least in the Senate, of getting the votes they need for something that's more about mission transition than withdrawal timetables.
OLBERMANN: So we're looking for a bipartisan mission transition coalition.
Our own Craig Crawford of "Congressional Quarterly." Great thanks, Craig.
CRAWFORD: Great to be here.
OLBERMANN: A grim reminder of exactly why more troops need to come home. On August 19th, seven soldiers stationed in Iraq penned an op-ed for the "New York Times" that read in part: "To believe that Americans with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counter insurgency is farfetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political, and social unrest we see every day."
At the time that went to press, two weeks ago, one of the writers was recovering from having been shot in the head. Then, day before yesterday, two more of them, Staff Sergeant Yance T. Gray (ph) and Omar Morrah (ph), lost their lives when the cargo truck they were riding turned over, joining the 3,772 other American troops who have now died in Iraq.
Paul Rieckhoff is the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and he joins us again tonight.
Paul, good evening.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF
AMERICA: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The late Staff Sergeant Gray (ph) and the last Sergeant Morrah (ph) and their colleagues evidently didn't - don't believe the administration's allegations of successes in Iraq. What kind of reaction are you hearing from troops in the theater to this Petraeus-Bush assessment, if that's really what it is?
RIECKHOFF: Troops are definitely not a monolithic voice but what I'm hearing consistently is people are concerned about the part of the discussion yesterday that hasn't been mentioned - that of Ambassador Crocker. Everybody knows that General Petraeus is going to offer a mixed opinion of what's happening on the ground in Iraq.
There's an old Iraqi saying that all the fingers on your hand are not the same, meaning that there are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle and it's a complicated equation. General Petraeus obviously focused on the good things, like what's happening in Anbar. And there is some progress there.
But nobody talked about the fact that Ambassador Crocker basically told us that there's no political progress at all. And that was the intent of the surge, to create the space, so we could have political progress. And I think that's the part of the argument soldiers are concerned about.
We're not going to be able to solve this alone. This is not a silver bullet solution. And we need to think about the political problems, not just the military ones.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, great operation, patient dies anyway, what did you have the operation for? The president keeps saying he's listening to what his commanders say yet he appears to be ignoring this Pentagon assessment that's due out next year. According to "Newsweek" it recommends a rapid reduction of American forces in Iraq, maybe up to two-thirds. Within the military family, again, noting the disparity of this but the serving in the recently serving that you've been in touch with, is there this sense Mr. Bush is only listening to people who echo what he has already decided to do?
RIECKHOFF: Yes, absolutely. Even within the high ranks, not everyone agrees with General Petraeus. And President Bush has a history of blowing off military advice from people who disagree with him, from General Batiste to General Eaton, going all the way back to Colin Powell. He doesn't listen to people who disagree with him. And I think we're all concerned with the overextension of the military, which is ultimately going to drive this discussion.
Tomorrow night President Bush may go on announcing he's drawing down 30,000 troops. It's not because it's a strategic goal, it's a practical necessity. By the end of this discussion he may take credit for the sun rising.
Yesterday the "New York Times" was great in saying it's like dropping an object and taking credit for gravity. There's a total disconnect here.
OLBERMANN: Incidentally, on that point, because the surge stretched the military to such a capacity the troops have to rotate in April, if nobody is there at that point to stand in their stead, what happens between April and the June 2008 target date of this withdrawal? What happens to the troops who were supposed to come home in April? And where are their replacements? Who are their replacements going to be?
RIECKHOFF: That's a great question. The problem is if we extend the surge beyond the spring of 2008, we have to extend Army active duty units to 18-month tours or have a serious conversation about the draft.
What's going to happen down the line? Are we going to have people doing nine and tenth tours as we go years into this war? About 80 percent of our non-deployed National Guard and Reserve units are at their lowest possible level of readiness. In many ways, we're putting all our eggs in one basket.
Growing up as a military person, we all played the board game of Risk and I think it's clear President Bush never played that game. He doesn't understand we have other threats to think about beyond Iraq and in many ways we left our back door wide open.
OLBERMANN: As usual, stuck on Madagascar with all of your troops there. Neither General Petraeus nor the president seems to be willing to speculate or hint on what is supposed to go on beyond that troop reduction date, that June 2008 finish line there, even minus the 30,000 surge troops. Is the reality going to be the same then as it is now that the military, if not already overstretched, is on the verge of being overstretched June 2008?
RIECKHOFF: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's continuing to run the wheels off this machine. We never increased the size of the active duty substantially after 9/11. We send the same people back over and over again. We've seen recruiting numbers suffer, retention rates area stress and key factors of morale, like suicide rates and divorce rates, are at an all-time high. So we can't continue this pace. The operational tempo here is unsustainable and ultimately I think that's what's going to really drive our troop numbers inside Iraq, thankfully because the generals, I hope, will make that case to the president.
OLBERMANN: Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. As always, Paul, thanks.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A quick reminder, the president's address to the nation is tomorrow night at 9:00 eastern, 6:00 pacific. We'll have full pre-speech coverage here on "Countdown" leading up to that address. And then Chris Matthews will join me after the speech for analysis.
Now what are the Democrats doing and why are the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals surprisingly relevant? Senator Christopher Dodd, of Connecticut, our special guest.
One of his former Senate colleagues with two big surprises. Fred Thompson in the polls but Fred Thompson not in the church.
You are watching "Countdown" on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The Democratic leadership in Congress today announced that the Petraeus-Bush plan to end the surge by next summer is not enough troops home with not enough speed.
In our fourth story tonight, what are they going to do about it? The Senate is expected to take up legislation next week. Anti-war Democrats in search of Republican allies are even now carefully counting out votes and delicately calibrating positions in a process that would certainly be appreciated by fans of Tibetan sand painting. Because like those ephemeral creations, any congressional bill tying President Bush's hands in any way will die within completion thanks to a Bush veto.
Democrats forsaking, to some degree, the power given them by the Constitution, the only power that can bring the war to an end, the power to stop funding it, instead pushing the line that 60 votes are needed rather than some sort of willpower or bipartisan coalition mission transition to do so.
One of the most steadfast war opponents joins us here, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, Democratic presidential candidate, and author, which we'll get to in a moment.
SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: What can you and your party do to stop this president at this point?
DODD: I think we have to speak with clarity on all this. I don't want to get involved in the decision of what our missions are going to be here. That's the mission - if you're going to accept there's a mission on the ground, trying to run that from the halls of Congress, I think, is dangerous.
My view is, look, we ought to set a time certain for beginning redeployment and a time in which it's concluded to do it safely and securely. I would advocate between now and next April, to have two brigades a month, I'm told by planners, this can be achieved. This has to come to an end, in my view. You can argue about the statistics on the surge and create space, didn't it create space.
The questions are twofold. One, are we safer today, vulnerable, less vulnerable? Are we going to get the Iraqis to come together and try to be a nation state? The answer to both those questions is, no, we're not safer, we're not more secure. And no matter what General Petraeus said yesterday and Ambassador Crocker, there's no indication Iraqis are any closer to forming that kind of reconciliation necessary for them to survive.
So in my view, it's time for us to pull our troops out of Iraq. That does not mean we disengage from the region. There are things that we can be doing there. The idea we're going to stay around in perpetuity almost is very trouble to me and, therefore, I think we have to be clear about a date certain.
OLBERMANN: How do you do it? If you're going to just discuss defense spending next week, why not take the plunge and say, other than to keep them safe and assure their safe conduct home, we're not funding anything else for this war?
DODD: I'll be proposing exactly that. I don't know how many votes I'm going to get here and I suspect not going to be enough certainly to survive a presidential veto. But I think the absence of clarity, of trying to always find language here that will bring you 51 or 55 ends up inevitably sort of supporting the continuation of the mission.
And so I would much rather see us speak with clarity and certainty about this issue and offer the real opportunity, which I believe is the case, Keith, that if the Iraqis truly understand that our military presence in the middle of their civil war is coming to a close here, that may just be the incentive that's been missing here for them to decide religiously and politically to get together. If it doesn't, it can't get much more chaotic in my view and, frankly, $10 billion a month, not to mention the lives lost, has to come to an end.
OLBERMANN: Does the Democratic Party at this point risk losing that vast majority now of Americans who want us out now? Do they - do you run collectively - I'm not saying you personally - but do you collectively run this idea that in some parallel to the way the White House is clearly stalling to stay there, that some Democrats at least want to stall so that this is part of the 2008 campaign at all costs?
DODD: It would be a tragic mistake. And I think you hit it on the head. What I suspected was going on yesterday and today that will happen tomorrow night is just to keep this going long enough for this president to leave office and hand off this problem to his successor here. That's buying time here. That's an awful price to pay for the people who lose their lives, come back permanently injured, not to mention draining our treasury.
I don't know of anyone who believes that our military presence is going to resolve the civil conflict inside Iraq. And I come back to the fundamental question that every president must ask himself or herself, are we safer? Are we more secure? How vulnerable are we?
And I would argue that we're less safe, less secure, and far more vulnerable. We've turned Iraq into a Petri dish for Jihadists as a result of our presence there militarily. I have great respect for the military and the job they've done under the circumstances. But until we Democrats speak with clarity on this issue, I think we're going to hurt ourselves. I think we're going to be, in a sense, enabling the situation to persist.
OLBERMANN: And also defining who we are as a people. I mentioned your new book. It would seem to have, at first blush, very little to do with the current political scene, "Letters from Nuremberg," which is your father's correspondence with your mother, serving at the Nazi war criminal trials.
Something left off page 23, let me read this exactly. "On the morning of December 13, 1945, my father presented to the court an argument that has an eerie connection to the president. He charged the Nazis, among other heinous crimes, with the apprehension of victims and their confinement without trial, often without charges, generally with no indication of the length of their detention." That rings with ominous resonance now, does it not?
DODD: It does, and the rule of law was what it was all about. Remember Winston Churchill - the Soviets wanted to summarily execute the defendants at Nuremberg. Interestingly, it was Henry Stimson, the Republicans secretary of war, along with Ben Roseman, Robert Jackson, my father and others, who argued for a trial here.
It was a great line of Robert Jackson's at the opening of that trial in which he says, "Four great nations flushed with victory, stung with injury, stayed the hand of vengeance by voluntarily submitting their captive enemies to the judgment of the rule of law." The greatest tribute that power ever paid to reason, in a sense. So despite the appetite for vengeance here, they had a trial and actually gave people an opportunity to present evidence and a case.
It was the moral high ground, in a sense, for us, protecting that rule of law and from which the architectures, which did so much to advance our interests and the interests of relative stability in the post-World War II period, were created by that trial.
And to watch today, walking away from the very rule of law, at a time giving terrorism a greater victory as troubling and as disturbing as the victory was six years ago in a sense with the damage done here. By walking away from the principles here we do far greater damage. The book has relevancy and the letters are to my mother but they're epistles to this generation as well.
OLBERMANN: And you quoted Supreme Court Justice Jackson last year during the debate over the infamous Military Commissions Act. I want to read that one again. He told that court that, "We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record in which history will judge us tomorrow."
This leads me to a question, I think is asked a lot on the Internet, but I've never seen it on print or in television or in broadcast radio or any of these things. Do you think there is a possibility that even if it's just by history, some of our leaders today might face, in a courtroom or just by history, a kind of Nuremberg trial for what has been done in the name of this country in the last six years?
DODD: Well, I hope not. I'd hate to see it come to that in a sense. We've walked away and lately are opposing the International Criminal Court, the very institution that that generation, that greatest generation, were the architects of. And so to be disassembling the very structures, in effect, which we created and served us so well and those who embraced our values, to now walk away from that, the U.N. system, the Geneva Conventions, the whole issue of habeas corpus, is a great setback and, hence, there's a reason to be standing up.
I've been asked the question, what's the first thing do you on January 20, 2009, if you're elected president? The first thing is restore the Constitution, tragically.
OLBERMANN: Senator Chris Dodd's new book, "Letters from Nuremberg." It is a remarkable historical effort. It has remarkable relevance in our lives today. And there's an also unexpected warm, human story of his parents' love for one another. It's a great book. It really is.
Good luck with it and the campaign. Thanks for coming in. Good to see you, sir.
DODD: Thank you very much. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And then there are the cartoon. Britney Spears at the Video Music Awards, there was no rehearsal and, we find out, there was no underwear.
As the old saying goes, there's never a cardboard cop around when you need him. There is one next, here on "Countdown."
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1880, the legendary American writer and thinker Henry Lewis Menkin was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Among the millions of wards he wrote, high estimates 70 million, low 10, were these; on the dumbing down of the electoral process from his column in the "Baltimore Sun" on July 26th, 1920, "all the odds are on the man who is intrinsically the most devious and mediocre, the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the noting that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents more closely the inner soul of the people. We move toward a loft ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts desire at least and the White House will be adorned by a down right moron."
Check please! On that note, let's play Oddball.
Eighty seven years ago he wrote that.
We begin in Akon, South Carolina, where the justice is swift and just two dimensional. This is a cardboard cutout of an Akon police officer propped up next to a road where Akon speed demons have been running wild. Well, not anymore. Akon police Lieutenant David Tumo explains the goal of the funny, interesting, and serious technique.
DAVID TUMO, AKEN POLICE: You know, interesting and funny, but it's serious. So we didn't do it to be funny. We did it to try to slow people down.
OLBERMANN: And, as you can see, it's working just fine. That's nice police work, boys.
To Columbus, Ohio, where this guy doesn't like his lawyer. Wendell Hollandsworth, who claimed to be injured in jail awaiting trial, was wheeled into court for his hearing for charges he committed robbery during a church service. This little stunt got the perp a little taser action. It hurts. Also the Hannibal Lecter treatment. Mr. Hollandsworth was strapped into a chair, a wheelchair, forced to wear a spit guard that could double for granny panties.
His attorney was not seriously hurt, went on to defend Hollandsworth on the robbery charges. As to the assault charges, he won't need an attorney for those.
Bad news for and from the latest darling of the far right; Fred Thompson says he does not go to church regularly. Well, there goes the theocracy. And here returns the Rosie O'Donnell-Barbara Walters feud.
Details ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN's top three news makers of this day. Number three, Congressman Jim Walsh of Onandoga, New York; funny, when the Democrat Brian Baird of Washington State came back from Iraq and said the surge is working, it got massive attention from the far-right lunatic fringe. But now Congressman Walsh has gotten back from Iraq and said, before I went I was not prepared to say it's time to start bringing our troops home. I am prepared to say that now. It is time.
That didn't get a lot of attention from the right, possibly because Congressman Walsh is a Republican.
Number two, Harrod's Department Store in London, which now says it has discontinued its special security arrangements for a pair of diamond encrusted sandals priced at a 120,00 dollars. To discourage thieves, the store had borrowed a live, poisonous cobra. A great photo-op, a great stunt, but what if the burglar had brought a gun or a mongoose?
Number one, Forrest K. Bissonette out of Englewood, Colorado. Something about the thrill or the challenge of the bank robbery apparently shuts off part of the brain to many of those who try it. Mr. Bissonette, for instance; under arrest after he handed the teller at the Bank of the West the obligatory this is a hold up note, a not which he had written on the back of one of his own checks.
OLBERMANN: In our not too distant past, moms the nation over advised their kids the same thing - two thing not to talk about in public, politics and religion. In our third story, the COUNTDOWN to 2008, well, that boat has sailed. But even in these fractured political days, the sometimes lethal combination of politics and religion is usually avoided, especially by politicians. Not Fred Thompson; the former Tennessee senator finally jumping into the pool last week, sending ripples through the polls and giving the front runner among the Republicans, Rudy Giuliani, reason to tread some water.
The latest NBC News poll showing Thompson in a statistical dead heat with Giuliani. The result showing a six-point leap for Thompson - whoever Johnson is - since July among voters who prefer Republicans. Even better news for Thompson in his recent CNN poll, it's a virtual tie. Thompson trailing Giuliani by a one percent margin among registered Republican voters.
And in the break out early primary states the polling requires even more attitudinal adjustment, with Giuliani running far behind Mitt Romney in Iowa and behind Thompson in South Carolina. Then there's the catch. Thompson has told South Carolina Republicans he's, quote, right with god, but does not go to church, except when he visits his mother and does not want to talk about religion in the campaign.
Analysis of a Republican world turned upside-down now from Chris Cillizza, whose blog "the Fix" is at WashingtonPost.com. Chris, good evening.
CHRIS CILLIZZA: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Can any Republican get the minimum needed support from the theocratic end of the party if he says I don't go to church regularly?
CILLIZZA: I think the issue with Thompson here is that for social conservatives it's part of a narrative of questions. You know, before he got into this race there were a lot of questions over did he or did he not lobby for a group that was trying to loosen federal regulations on abortion. That's not a good thing in the eyes of social conservatives. This church thing, I think, in a vacuum probably isn't all that problematic. But if it plays into a broader narrative about is this guy really as conservative as he says he is, I think that's a lot more problematic.
OLBERMANN: Somebody in the Romney camp had attacked Mr. Thompson as a skirt chaser. Is the Thompson camp now braced to have the church attendance quote thrown at him from Giuliani? Because if Thompson has tied Giuliani, Giuliani is certainly going to throw something at him.
CILLIZZA: Let me disagree slightly, only because I think the Giuliani people are really loving this back and forth over this website that the - it was tied back to the Romney campaign - attacking Thompson. I think Giuliani would prefer to stay above the fray. I think the reason he stayed as high up in the polls as he had is because he hasn't really been attacked. If you think about the campaign, it was McCain versus Romney. Then McCain went away.
Now it looks like Romney versus Thompson. Meanwhile, Rudy sits there and stays above the fray, and I think looks less political. The less political you can look in this day and age is probably for the best.
OLBERMANN: On to the Democrats, the Hillary Clinton campaign now deal with the sort of trouble that makes anyone's rivals smile with that knowing awareness it could happen to them at any moment. She has to give back nearly 900,000 dollars, has to by her own judgment, raised by Norman Hsu, this fugitive for years after he was convicted of swindling voters. He raised money from a long list of Democrats.
But how could it happen and how damaging has it been or is this a blip on the Clinton march?
CILLIZZA: Again, I go to that in a vacuum, I don't think it's all that damaging. But as a narrative it's potentially damage for her. Everyone knows about the campaign finance irregularities in the Clinton administration. It's one of lasting legacies of the Clinton administration. Hillary Clinton does not want - she wants to remind voters she was part of the Clinton administration for the balanced budget and peace at home and all those things. She doesn't want to remind them that she was there for the Monica Lewinsky and the campaign finance troubles.
This reminds them of one of those things, so it's not good. I think that's why you're seeing her returning - 850,000 dollars is not an insubstantial amount of money, when you talk about fund raising. I think she's taking such a drastic step because she wants to close the story down. She wants to say, any money that this guy gave me or helped raise is now out. We didn't know about it. It's not going to happen again, and hope the story ends there.
OLBERMANN: The other story, Chris, Barack Obama in Iowa, ironically enough in Clinton, Iowa - and what a headline that offers people - but he delivered what his campaign called this major policy speech, basically told Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney they would never get support for a war with Iran, called for our allies - for the U.N. to step in and prevent bloodshed when we pull out of Iraq. It sounds like he's still trying to polish these foreign policy credentials. Is he making headway on that?
CILLIZZA: You know, I think the fundamental dynamic we're going to see - it used to be past versus future. Clinton was focused on the future. Obama on the past, in that he had not voted for that 2002 use of force resolution. I think we're moving to a stage where we're going to see Clinton's experience versus Obama's judgment. That's what he tried to draw the contrast on today.
Hillary Clinton knows a lot about Washington, but she fundamentally made the wrong pick when it came to this vote. I'm a newcomer in Washington. But I had the judgment to get it right the first time. I think that's the dynamic we'll see play out up to January when we finally get some votes.
OLBERMANN: Chris Cillizza, the author of the "Washington Post" political blog "The Fix," as always, Chris, great thanks for your time.
CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And never mind Thompson versus Giuliani or Clinton versus Obama, what about O'Donnell versus Walters? And even for Bill-O, this was an extraordinary display of callousness. He might literally be tonight's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Breaking news indeed. Rosie O'Donnell's new book contains a stunning revelation about her most famous co-star on "The View." That's right, in our number two story tonight, it turns out that ABC's Barbara Walters is old, 77 years old, to be exact. O'Donnell's new book not only mentions that fact, it says specifically, quote, "Barbara at some point, a person gets tired. It's inevitable. Everyone has to go. And Barbara Walters is almost twice my age. At some point it becomes necessary to step back."
On her blog Miss O'Donnell writes that she has been in contact with Miss Walters since sending her the book and that the book did, in fact, hurt her feelings. O'Donnell sent a copy of the book to Walters, with a note saying how much she loves her. On "The View" Walters herself said she has read the book and prefers to concentrate on the love, which, in a nutshell, is why Barbara Walters will be doing this for another 77 years.
None of this means, of course, that the media are not free to trump this up into another O'Donnell feud like, well, the Trump-O'Donnell feud or the Hasselbeck-Hoff whatever feud thing.
An easy segue into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, with Owen Wilson reportedly having said no thanks to the whole rehab thing. After checked out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, Wilson had been advised by those closest to him to check into a rehabilitation facility, according to "In Touch Weekly." But he decided against it.
Wilson has been in rehabs twice before, reportedly recognizes he still needs help. So he has hired a sober companion to keep an eye on him. According to the magazine, at a cost of 750 dollars a day, the sobriety buddy will stay with the actor night and day.
John Stewart will get another whack at the Oscars. He has been named as host for next year's Academy Awards. Of course, Mr. Stewart hosted the show in 2006. Ellen Degeneres did it more recently. Now it is Stewart's chance to take on the Hollywood behemoth once again. Oscars producer Gil Cates said Stewart was terrific. While Mr. Stewart was more analytical, saying, quote, I am thrilled to be asked to host the Academy Awards for the second time, because, as they say, the third time's the charm."
The Video Music Awards, the VMAs, and to use Oprah Winfrey's word, the JJ; new revelations by and about the artist formerly remembered as Britney Spears. That's ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's latest list of nominee for Worst Person in the World. And a quick note, last night's bronze winner, the director of national intelligence, Admiral Mike McConnell, has corrected his testimony that information leading to the arrest of three purported terror suspects in Germany was the result of the elimination of those pesky wiretap warrants from the FISA Act. He has acknowledged that the data was, in fact, collected under the old law that still required those warrants. Thank you, sailor.
Tonight's bronze to Mr. Sofoporn Yosograyof (ph) of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Owner of the restaurant 84 Thai Food; one of his waiters and ex con gone straight named Juan Canales (ph) was opening up for the lunch crowd Monday when he heard a woman in the parking lot yelling for help that she had just been car jacked. Mr. Canales rushed to her assistance, was confronted by a car jacker brandishing a knife. Mr. Canales grabbed a two by four, knocked the man to the ground.
After the police came and the would be victim gave her grateful thanks and the alleged perp was hauled away, Mr. Canales' boss, Mr. Yosograyof, told the heroic waiter that he didn't like all the attention and the commotion he caused and promptly fired him.
Our runner-up, Arina Bergantie (ph), spokeswoman for Fixed News. Chris Aarons (ph), the new editor of Media Bistro's website did a story on this newscast victory in the demo rating last Friday night over Bill-O and our jump to number two in the demo for all of cable news the last two nights, and he e-mailed Miss Bergantie for a comment. Her reply, quote, does Media Bistro know you're on two payrolls? MSNBC and theirs?
Actually he's not, Miss Bergantie. He left MSNBC in January and it's not like he's been president of our alumni association. But, remember, just because you're paranoid does not mean we're not all out to get you.
But our winner is Bill-O. And sadly this is not funny at all. Assessing the testimony of General Petraeus, O'Reilly has now said that Petraeus, quote, sincerely believes that American forces can improve things in Iraq. The problem is the U.S.. A, is likely to lose another 1,000 killed in the process. So the question for every American, he densely continues, becomes is that sacrifice worth it? My feeling, he answers, is that we should allow General Petraeus the resources he needs within a year's time.
So having acknowledged that had a year's time means 1,000 more American deaths, O'Reilly is in favor of it. OK, Bill, you endorse the deaths of 1,000 more Americans. Where do we start? Who is first? Do you want to volunteer some members of your family? Your friends? If you're not willing to endorse sacrificing some of them, don't you dare tell other parents and other Americans they have to sacrifice some of theirs. Bill O'Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Britney Spears' less than perfect performance at the Video Music Awards has now been explained. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it's all our fault. The hungry, unfeeling media, and those heartless MTV producers, who virtually pushed her on stage knowing she wasn't ready, and her very own assistants, who made her wear blonde hair extensions, instead of brown ones.
Yes, and when Miss Spears went out after the show with no underpants -
OK, here is where that whole theory falls to the ground. She may have to bear some of the responsibility, never mind baring her you know. In fact, it was her lack of rehearsal that scared away illusionist Chris Angel, according to the sources of "Access Hollywood."
Mr. Angel was prepared to make Spears disappear in a mirror. Please, Mr. Angel, would you reconsider? And when Miss Spears did finally show up for a rehearsal, she still had a frozen margarita in her hand, that according to the "New York Post." She then refused to perform the more difficult dance moves. Later she reportedly tried to bury her sorrows with a night on the town but without underwear.
Still she does have her defenders. Disgruntled VMA loser Kanye West saying - no, no, all he said was she was exploited. He didn't say the other thing again. And then there's this Britney fan, Chris Crocker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CROCKER, BRITNEY SPEARS FAN: She hasn't performed on stage in years. Her song is called "Gimme More" for a reason because all you people want is more, more, more, more! You're lucky she even performed for you bastards. Leave Britney alone!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Ambassador Crocker. And, by the way, that reliable bad performance hater, Simon Cowell, said, quote, I would have given her bigger shorts.
Let's bring in Michael Musto, columnist for the "Village Voice," and expert on this subject. Michael, good evening.
MICHAEL MUSTO, "VILLAGE VOICE": Leave me alone.
OLBERMANN: That was a better performance than Britney Spears.
MUSTO: That's not saying much.
OLBERMANN: And so was this woman on Youtube. That was fantastic.
MUSTO: That's a man, Keith. Anyway, let's keep going.
OLBERMANN: Really? Let's begin with what might be called the food and beverage theory, that she reportedly ordered some chow and some margaritas when she got to the hotel in Vegas, and she went down to rehearsal an hour later, and began axing these tough moves? So what do we have here, sleepy, lazy, tipsy?
MUSTO: Sleepy, lazy, tipsy; put those together, you have sleazy. No, she's just a little rusty, my Britney. I love the girl. Performance, it turns out, is not like bike riding or shaving your head. It doesn't automatically come back to you. And apparently the food went immediately to her hips and the booze definitely went to her head. She was so hazy. The only time she came alive during the whole thing is when she grabbed that male dancer's crotch. She was like, I know this part.
OLBERMANN: Another afternoon with a dancer at a pool somewhere coming up.
MUSTO: The spice of life.
OLBERMANN: Apparently she had something else going on here, in terms of her behavior with people around her. She was reportedly difficult. The story is that she paid 10,000 dollars for her stylist to do these brown hair extensions. But she lost the battle to assistants who wanted her to be blonde. And she was supposed to wear a corset that would have covered up more, but she complained it wasn't sexy enough. Is it safe to say that turning this performance around rested on more than brown hair and a corset?
MUSTO: Yes, but I think it would have helped. The brown hair would have matched the pubes we were seeing. The outfit was like two band-aids made out of tinsel for a stripper with bite marks. This woman had three years to come up with a new image, she comes out with the same street walker thing, just chunkier. Take more time off.
OLBERMANN: You said those broobs? Were you referring to the yokels who are out there in the audience. Moving quickly on, "US Magazine" has it's own source - everyone has a source - saying that Spears ran off stage right after the performance yelling, oh, my god, I looked like a fat pig, and she was inconsolable. So she was really just ahead of the curve here? She was the first to criticize herself in that way?
MUSTO: I think we all were. We were all in unison saying oh my god, she looked like a fat pig, because we're mean. But Britney's monologue kept going. I hear she was heard to say, and I lip-synched badly and I don't think I was even lip-synching to my own voice. This is going to be like a Milli Vanilli scandal. And I grabbed that guy's crotch too hard. He's going to sue. And that bitch, Alicia Keyes, can really sing. I hate her. But at least she has a fat ass, too.
OLBERMANN: There are pictures - and we won't show them. I imagine we could - of Spears hitting the Vegas strip Sunday night, hours after that performance, you know, with an entourage, but without underwear. She was hanging out with her brother, so to speak, so does that not make that evening a little bit more wholesome?
MUSTO: Not at all because just like Angelina she is boffing her brother. No, I'm kidding. This is not even a moral issue at all Keith. She's only not wearing undies because she can't afford them anymore with all these lawsuits from K-Fed. At least with her hanging everything out, everything will be fresh for the courts. She's going to have to show that thing.
OLBERMANN: Maybe it has its own attorney. We've got a couple numbers to run by you lastly here, Michael. Seven million people watched the VMAs, which was exceptionally up from the year before. According to a poll in L.A., 49 percent of people think she should retire. Her new single "Give Me More" debuted on the charts at number 69. Do a little numerology. Make sense of all the data.
MUSTO: This all makes sense to me. A lot of people watched the show. A lot of people think she should retire. There's no discrepancy. The 69 thing is not the dirty thing you might be implying, Keith. In fact, it brings to mind that nice old joke about the Chinese couple having sex and at the height of passion, the man says to his wife, oh, I want number 69. And the wife says - the wife says, you want beef with broccoli now?
OLBERMANN: The one and only Michael Musto.
MUSTO: I'm turning into Sarah Silverman.
OLBERMANN: Great thanks. Well, that's COUNTDOWN for this the 1,596th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. Up next MSNBC live with Dan Abrams. 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