Thursday, July 17, 2008

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, July 17
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chris Kofinis, Dana Milbank, Rachel Maddow, Maria Milito

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

The money race for the White House. $52 million for Obama last month, and yet the total Democratic spending though is less than the GOP. What it has bought him? A whole disconnect, a national slide, a state-by-state stunner - Obama ahead in Missouri, in Colorado, in New Mexico, in Virginia, in North Carolina and competitive in Florida. Why is the disconnect? He is spending his money in these states.

On the road with Barack Obama: Brian, Charlie and Katie. The publicity spotlight is not necessarily the senator's friend, but at least it's inspiring any media envy from the McCain campaign.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been on a lot of trips around the world.

JILL HAZELBAKER, MCCAIN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: This trip is a political trip for him. It's one giant photo opportunity. It is not designed to inform his world view.


OLBERMANN: Yes, that trip to Baghdad where McCain was surrounded by the military with the airship over head and sharpshooters all around and he said, "You could walk around Iraq freely" - that was designed to inform his world view.

Who was this 1986 McCain joke designed to inform? Quote, "Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contently and to feebly ask, 'Where is that marvelous ape?'"

Campaign does not deny McCain told that joke while running for the Senate. He says he does remember it but doesn't deny it. They all just laugh it off as part of his authenticity. Once again, if Obama had said that, what would the media have done? What was Republicans have done?


MCCAIN: Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway.


OLBERMANN: And Worst: "Bill-O, The Clown" rationalizes not playing the Jesse Jackson eavesdropping tape, contradicting his rationalization for playing some of the Jesse Jackson eavesdropping tape.

All that and more: Now on Countdown.

(on camera): Good evening. This is Thursday, July 17th, 110 days until the 2008 presidential election.

When the GOP falsely accused Barack Obama of reneging on the promise to take only public campaign financing, its pretext was the reliability of his word. In reality, its complaint was about his competitiveness.

$52 million the Democrat raised in June, we're hearing (ph) today, and in our fifth story on the Countdown: That still puts him and the Democrats well behind the Republicans and it points out the real nub of the GOP complaint gist. It's the economics, stupid.

More over, Obama tonight is seeing results of the different ways he has spent the money tonight with startling poll numbers out of the swing states. Obama appears to have kept himself competitive in the money race with the Republicans, $52 million in June revealed this morning, on an average donation of only $68. That, we mentioned, that $52 million giving Senator Obama $72 million cash on hand, adding the Democratic Party's money, there is $92 million available right now to return a Democrat to the White House.

Senator McCain, meanwhile, far from hurting on the money front, despite having opted for public financing, in fact, far from it. Certainly, he raised only $22 million last month. What his campaign and Republican Party combined entered July with more than $102 million in the bank. Adding to the $42 million, McCain will receive each month in public financing, and that would give the McCain campaign a bankable war chest already over $208 million. Not surprisingly, Senator McCain does not appear to be all that concerned about having enough money to stay competitive.


MCCAIN: We've always had enough money to win elections and we'll win elections. I don't keep track of that kind of thing day to day.


OLBERMANN: Well, he said he's not an expert on the economy.

Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Did we learn today why Senator McCain could afford to opt for public financing and appeared to be taking the high road as he did so and perhaps why Senator Obama could not?

FINEMAN: Yes, I think it's a little bit of both, in both camps. I think there's no way that McCain could have matched Barack Obama in private fundraising on the personal campaign front. I think that Obama's on track to raise maybe $200 million to $250 million that way.

But I think McCain has made a virtue of necessity here because the Republican Party is coming, it already had cash in hand and is coming through with more. And, you're right, I think McCain is going to be competitive and, I think, Obama is going to raise a lot more on the private end. And, I think, in the end, both of these candidates are going to have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend. It's going to be a question of how shrewdly they spend it and where, as you were pointing out before.

OLBERMANN: There are a couple of subplots to this that are just as fascinating as this large, always impressive numbers. What explains, for instance, the change in Republican Party fundraising dedicated to McCain's candidacy? I thought this was something of the dry spigot. Did the GOP give up on the House and Senate and just concentrate on the White House?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it's a little bit of panic and a little bit of strategy, Keith. I think the Republicans look at the numbers in the House and Senate races, and realize there was never much chance that they were going to retake either chamber. And now, that looks like zero.

So, their only possible foothold remaining in Washington is to somehow try to hold on to the White House. That doesn't look like an easy bet right now either but I think it's a better bet than the Congress. So, I think that's part of it and, I think, the Bush family, the Bush entourage, the Bush pioneers, et cetera, have finally decided that they've got to help McCain out a little bit, and I think you're starting to see some of that from the Bush people.

OLBERMANN: And the other subplot. Deconstruct that $52 million June figure for Obama. Does it imply that there's more to be had or that's it or the Clinton people are not picking their part of it, or what is happening with that?

FINEMAN: Now, I think there's more to be had and I was trying to get out of the top Obama people this afternoon, their estimates for future months. And absolutely, they won't give them to me, but I think there's every reason to expect that he's going to be able to raise $250 million by Election Day.

He's got nearly 2 million campaign contributors now, Keith. And absolutely, astronomical number, not all of them from the Internet, maybe ¾ from there. He can keep going back to a lot of those people as he continues to expand and there's a kind of a crowd psychology that comes into play here. That big number that he raced today is, actually, I think, that's going to help him raise more money in the months ahead as the Clinton people and others say, "Yes, let's get on this train because it's moving."

OLBERMANN: And does it also suggest that because our $52 million pick up here, does that also mean that the reports of dissatisfaction at his base with some of his decisions in the last month were at minimum, overstated?

FINEMAN: Well, I think they're real, maybe a little bit overstated. And those people were never the major source of money to begin with, there were some but not all. I think the upset on the left maybe subsiding a little as Obama makes those speeches emphasizing the 16-month timetable.

And on the Clinton's side, I think, you're seeing the major donors beginning to give to Obama. And Web sites like fundraise (ph) and other place, not to mention word of mouth, are spreading the word that the top Clinton donors, even though they're not networking and browbeating other Clinton donors, they're making contributions now. The other people down the chain on the Clinton side will see that, and I think, eventually, virtually, all the Clinton donors are going to end up giving to Obama.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek," as always, Howard, great thanks.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And those new details tonight about how the Obama campaign has been and will be spending its money, joining forces with the party in setting up a fund that will automatically funnel the fixed portions of the contributions that the Obama campaign receives, to 18 individual Democratic state parties. Some of the new states on that list the Democrats now consider battlegrounds are surprising, maybe even shocking.

In alphabetical order, the full list of 18 is - Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. Many of those are standard swing states - Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New Hampshire, all places which were decided by 1 percentage point in the 2004 presidential election.

But, Alaska, Bush defeated Kerry by 25 points four years ago in Alaska. Indiana, it was Bush by 22. North Dakota, it was Bush by 27. And look at how some early polling is lending credibility to this strategy. The presumptive Democratic nominee with a slight lead in Missouri.

According to the latest poll conducted by Research 2000 for the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch," he's ahead in Kansas City, 48 to 43 statewide over Senator McCain. But the Republican trails by 16 points on the question in Missouri, which man could better handle the economy, 52-36. Those surveyed there still giving Senator McCain the edge when it comes to handling terrorism by similar numbers, 55-36.

Obama enjoys leads in key battleground states in the south and the west, those from the latest Zogby polling. In New Mexico, he's up by 16. President Bush won re-election there by a point.

Libertarians and conservative voters are making Bob Barr a factor in New Mexico. He gets 9 percent of the vote. Guess where that's coming from. Similar stories in Colorado, Bush won by five in the last election there, Obama is up by 16, Barr with eight. "Florida," says pollster John Zogby, "the rare state where Obama's support among Democrats is not greater than McCain's support among Republicans and it's a four-point McCain lead there, 43-39, despite all the hoo-ha over the primary.

And in two southern states thought to be in play this election, Obama's support among independents gives him a five-point advantage. In Virginia, 44-39, that's the overall number. Obama's nine-point edge in North Carolina powered again by the African-American vote, it's 47-38 overall and Barr figures in there, too.

Let's turn now to Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, who served as communications director for the campaign of Senator John Edwards.

Chris, good evening.


OLBERMANN: With all this focus on the national head-to-head matchup in the latest polling and how that tightened in the last month, has the media done a disservice by playing up those surveys when as anybody who didn't know this before, we learned in 2000, we actually decided the election based on who wins what state?

KOFINIS: Yes. I mean, part of it, I think, you know, politics in elections has become like a sport and the way you measure that is with money and polls. Unfortunately about, you know, the problem with national polls is it's about as accurate as my horoscope and that hasn't been very accurate lately.

I mean, the reality is, battleground states, you know, polls give, I think, a better flavor and a better indication of what is really going on the ground, where national polls, I think, kind of matters, they do keep you kind of an ebb and flow of what the electorate is thinking and they, sometimes, do pick up a particular event that maybe happening that doesn't play down to the state polls. But, overall, I think, the national polls tend to get overplayed and state polls underplayed.

OLBERMANN: All right. So, explain what we're seeing in the state polls. Obama is doing surprising well in some of the traditional red states, what explains - just take Virginia and North Carolina?

KOFINIS: Yes, there's two factors there, I would say, one is Bush. I mean, Bush has done more, I think, to destroy the Republican brand than the Democrats could have ever dreamed of. He has single-handily, I think, reminded people of what the last eight years and what a potential McCain administration would bring. And I think that is a really damaging thing. The loss of the Republican brand, I think, is really something that has lasting consequences in these red states.

And the other thing, to be frank, is Obama. I mean, here's a once in a generation candidate with a very powerful message of change, wants to take the country in a new direction. He is energizing and exciting people in these red states. He's bringing people over from the Republicans to consider voting for him and to vote for him. I think that is making these red states that should be traditionally, you know, Republican really competitive, and I would say, come November, they're going to be Obama states.

OLBERMANN: But does that translate practically to something like this he's opened 20 campaign offices in Virginia in some of the reddest of the red counties of that state, the areas that voted for Bush by 20, by 30 points - is that money being well spent there?

KOFINIS: Yes, I mean, the way I would describe that strategy is, in three words, bold, brash and smart. It's bold, not only you're putting a state like Virginia which traditionally votes Republican on the map, but you're basically going to force the Republicans and the McCain campaign to spend money on a state they thought was going to be in the bag a year ago.

It's brash because not only are you going into places like northern Virginia and trying to build the vote count there, you're going into the heart of the Republican counties, and trying to steal every vote that you can.

At the end of the day, it's smart. You know, Obama has enormous advantage in resources, an enormous advantage in excitement, an enormous advantage in the amount of people that want to go out and work for his campaign. Use them to your advantage. And that's what they're doing with these offices, they're not only doing that in Virginia, they're doing that across the country, in places like Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio. It's going to be a very smart strategy across the board.

OLBERMANN: Is that also Alaska, Indiana, and North Dakota, or is it an attempt to get him to spend money there, McCain that is, or is it Obama think he has a chance on those states?

KOFINIS: Well, I think it's a bit of both. It's not a question of, you know, I look at it this way - it's not simply about spending money, it's also about spending time. Probably, the most finite resource that a candidate has, especially with about 110, 117 days left, whatever it is, is time.

And if you force John McCain to go into states like North Dakota, Montana - if you could imagine that in October, you know, when October rolls around, that John McCain is spending time there, you will have an indication of how much trouble he is in. And the money, when you forcing them to spend money in places like Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, again, depletes his ability, you know, to really focus on the battlegrounds where they want to, which is places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and those kind of states. I mean, it really is a smart, aggressive strategy.

The part that I think is really telling, and I think this could be the really significant indicator is not only looking at places like Virginia on election night and saying, "Wow, that's going to be a key win," but looking across the board, all these Republican states, purple states, and all of the sudden, they start going towards Obama. You could see an Obama revolution, somewhat what we saw - very similar to what we saw in 1980 with Reagan and that is what I think the Obama campaign is going for.

This is a very bold, aggressive strategy and they have all the cards, you know, in their favor and that's what I think is really a testament to their campaign, to Senator Obama, and to their strategy.

OLBERMANN: And lastly and briefly, Bob Barr, 9 percent in New Mexico, 8 percent in Colorado, he showed up on the scoreboard in Virginia, have we underestimated the impact of that candidacy?

KOFINIS: I don't know if we understated, I think we overestimated John McCain's ability to really penetrate with Republicans. I mean, he's got some significant weaknesses. This is more about John McCain than it is Bob Barr.

OLBERMANN: Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the Edwards campaign, thank you, Chris.

KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign complains about the networks going on the Obama tour of Iraq and elsewhere, it turns out, it did not invite the networks on McCain's tour of Iraq and elsewhere. McCain's joke about rape, it turned somehow into evidence of his, quote, "authenticity."

Worst Persons: The TSA, John Ashcroft, and "Bill-O, The Clown."


OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign says it doesn't want to waste valuable time complaining about media coverage of the Obama campaign, that it wastes valuable time complaining about media coverage of the Obama campaign. The strange, weird response to reports that McCain told a rape joke during his 1986 campaign, not a denial, but a claim that making mistakes, somehow, makes McCain authentic. In which case, "Bill-O, The Clown," is the most authentic person in the world.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: When Senator Obama heads overseas tomorrow to visit Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain, he will be accompanied by a substantial media entourage including all three nightly anchors from NBC, ABC, and CBS, each of whom will be interviewing the senator and traveling with him. None of whom accompanied Senator McCain on his Iraq trip in March.

Our fourth story on the Countdown: According to "Newsweek" magazine, perhaps, that was because the McCain did not even invite them. A trifling difference that is not stopping the McCain campaign of accusing the media of favoring Senator Obama.

Spokeswoman Hazelbaker is saying, quote, "In every campaign, time is a finite resource, so it is unproductive to spend it worrying about the way Obama is covered. That being said, it certainly hasn't escape us that the three network newscasts will originate from stops on Obama's trip." She then went on to accuse Obama of using the entire trip as a campaign rally.


HAZELBAKER: This trip is a political trip for him. It's one giant photo opportunity for him. It is not designed to inform his world view.


OLBERMANN: McCain himself initially refuting that claim on his bus today, then saying he will let other people judge whether Obama is on a campaign trip, before finally deciding that if Obama holds political rallies in, say, Europe, that it is a political trip. He didn't say anything today about the potholes.

Obama's campaign responds, quote, "It's clear that the McCain campaign is getting nervous about being on the wrong side of the Iraq debate. First John McCain wanted Barack Obama to travel with him to Iraq and the campaign used the occasion to raiser campaign cash.

Now, his campaign is calling Senator Obama's trip a 'campaign rally overseas.' The McCain campaign should stop worrying about Barack Obama's travel plans and start focusing on addressing the pressing challenges that the Bush-McCain foreign policy has made worse," unquote.

Joining me now, our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the "Washington Post."

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be traveling with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thank you very much. Just to recreate that thing, we just do this little bump as if we're hitting a bat.

In this one, with that statement, does the Obama campaign has some sort of point here because they hit, the McCain have a point here about Obama and vice versa? The McCain's criticized Obama for not going to Iraq and now, essentially, they are criticizing him for going to Iraq. One or the other, yes?

MILBANK: Yes, this is a case of being hoisted by your own petard. McCain was b basically daring Obama to go repeatedly, almost taunting him for having not gone to Iraq. In addition, he took the trip himself, in fact, it was just recently on another foreign trip, McCain was down, shall we say, campaigning in Mexico, and unfortunately, it came that he had to roll out his jobs position while down in Mexico. So, he's left in a very difficult position of criticizing Obama, who definitely seems to have turned a potential weakness to his advantage here.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And there's another problem with this about suggesting here that the networks are unfair to McCain by originating their newscasts along this trip, when apparently no suggestions to the networks, or invitation was ever made to the networks to come along in a trip in March. That's something of a disconnect, too, or am I making too much of the facts?

MILBANK: Well, it is. I'm not sure they would have come anyway because let's remember what was going on there. It was at the height of the Democratic contest, a very gripping story here. So, that's not reflecting any bias against John McCain. That was where the action was here.

Now, McCain, as far as I can remember, has really never complained about press bias before. In fact, he has frequently referred to the press as his base. So, it's kind of a difficult argument for him to get out and make.

OLBERMANN: Well, but they are, he is not making it personally and even disagreeing with the spokesperson who does, the spokespeople are still doing it. They have decimated the number that since June on the nightly newscasts, the three major networks spent roughly 114 on Obama and roughly 48 minutes on McCain, and if volume is the only metric, the criticism is fair. The question becomes to you - is volume the only metric?

MILBANK: No, and in fact, volume isn't a metric at all. I mean, as you well know, the reporters are interested in the story and are covering where the news is. So, the developments in the Obama campaign trying to consolidate, finally getting the Hillary supporters on board has been a big story here. That could obviously change as things develop during the campaign.

But, I think, the process may or may not have a bias in favor of Obama. It definitely has a bias in favor of being with the frontrunner at particular moment in time. There's a perception, right or wrong, right now in the media that Obama is in a very solid position. So, the network anchors believe they are heading overseas with the next president.

OLBERMANN: Also, Czechoslovakia, Sunni versus Shia, cigarettes in Iran, rape jokes, is there a danger if the McCain implies that it wants more coverage, be careful what you wish for?

MILBANK: Well, sure. There's a danger of both ways. I mean, you can imagine, while the entire world's spotlight is on Obama if he has a pratfall while overseas, if there's an equivalent of a Reverend Wright or a Rezko pops up, there's definitely two edges of the story.

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the "Washington Post," watching the sword carefully for us. Thank you, Dana.

MILBANK: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Shark surgery, I'm telling you, when Kathryn Higel says the latest scripts for "Grey's Anatomy" is steak, she's not kidding.

And wish we were kidding, but we have to take you back inside the head of "Bill-O, The Clown." Don't worry what that shows.

But first, the headlines breaking in the administration's 50 running scandals - Bushed!

Number three: Library-gate. Yesterday, we told you of the lobbyist who worked for Homeland Security, demanding donation of $250,000 to the Bush Presidential Library as a bribe to get in to see senior administration officials.

Now, more trouble at the future home of the library. While efforts by Methodist groups to rescind the offer to rent the space for the library by SMU, Southern Methodist University, failed, the same group seemed poised to pass a resolution designed to keep the public policy institute at the library, utterly separate from the church and the university. The resolution will force the school to maintain its quote, "integrity," even with the Bush Library on campus. And good luck for that.

Number two: Justice-gate. It turns out the Bush politicizing of everything when further than even the attorney general of that time, John Ashcroft could stomach, testimony to the House today that when the job opened in 2003, Ashcroft offered the White House a list of five different candidates to have the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel. But within hours, Chief of Staff Andy Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales rejected all of them.

They wanted one guy, the guy who drafted the torture memo, John Yoo. So, the other five of them, all of them Republican lawyers with good Republican records were eliminated from consideration.

And number one: Appeasement-gate. What will Mr. Bush make of this? A western power has decided to establish a diplomatic presence in Iran for the first time in three decades, describe as a halfway house before an actual embassy is placed there. This western nation's diplomats can now be assigned to Tehran even though the country is still run by the same extremists by whom Mr. Bush said, somebody who negotiating with them, like Obama, "would be guilty of appeasement the way Europe was guilty of appeasing the Nazis."

Who has done this evil and short sighted thing? Who is making diplomatic overtures to the people Bush sees as this modern day Hitlers? Who is towing the Obama line about negotiating? Us, the State Department, United States government, Bush administration.

Hey, Mr. President, if you want to let Senator Obama run your foreign policy for the next six months and three days, that will be fine by the rest of us.


OLBERMANN: Best in a moment, and, of course, he's the man to write a new commercial jingle for McDonald's, he once held the place up.

First, on this date in 1935, the actor Donald Sutherland was born. His great work in "Mash," "Klute" and "Ordinary People" comes immediately to mind. If you want chills, listen to his narration of parts of H.G. Well's "The War of the World's" for a series on the Learning Channel called "Great Books."

On that note, let's play Oddball.


We begin in Milan, in Italy, where the rest of the band was not sure it would work out when they hired a 62-year-old monk to front the heavy metal outfit. That was before Fratello Matallo (ph) showed off his pipes.

Friar Cesar Bonitzi (ph) is a member of Milan's Catholic Hapusin (ph) order of Monks by day and a heavy metal singer by night. Known by that stage name, Fratello Matallo, he and his band just released their second album. Bonitzi says his music is now about converting people. It's about life. The monk cites Metallica, Megadeth, Ronnie James Dio and the pope as major influences.

To Byron Bay, Australia and disturbing video of a large, man-eating shark smoking a cigar under water. Is that you, Rush? No. That's a nurse shark, which has swallowed the business end of a steel hook on a stick. A team from Sea World was tasked with removing it. Once out of the water, the ten foot long shark was held down as a 10 inch PVC pipe was shoved down its gullet. That was supposed to help how? A doctor was then able to safely reach in and remove the hook. Safe and sound, the shark was returned to the wild. The operation was considered a great success, even though there is still no sign of the Kitner boy.

Finally, back to Minsk in Belarus for an Oddball update. Sergei Schmolik (ph) was the referee found with an extra wet whistle during a soccer game broadcast on live TV. That would be him pitching backwards on the pitch. He was escorted off. A league punishment was to be handed out this week. Now, we find out from a report on a video sharing blog that the Belarus Soccer Federation has banned him for life.

We're not saying we completely trust this blog report. Oddball will, in fact, stay on top of this story. If the blog is wrong, we will issue a retraction, and run the video yet again.


OLBERMANN: How a joke about being raped by a gorilla that John McCain allegedly told 22 years ago has been transformed by his people into something of a testament to his so-called authenticity.

And an Emmy for hosting "American Idol" because it's a reality series. Uh-huh. These stories ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best patriotic gesture, NASA, testing new inter-stellar waste disposal systems. It's running low on a relevant waste substance, but because it contains mostly liquid, but also some random tiny solid, can't really be simulated: urine. So it's asking its own staffers, NASA people, to donate. For the next two weeks, NASA is conducting a urine drive. You don't have to go to the place. They have enough people there.

Number two, best comeback, Tamien Bain, one of the finalists in the competition to create a new jingle for McDonald's. Fourteen years ago, Bain was a different kind of finalist at McDonald's. He held one up and went to jail for 12 years.

And number one, best qualification to become a presidential candidate's top economic adviser, Phil Gramm. On top of everything else, "Huffington Post" reporting that Gramm once helped to finance soft core porn movies. He invested 15,000 dollars into a film called "Truck Stop Women," and 7,500 into another called "White House Madness," which featured a Richard Nixon character, who wandered around the West Wing naked.

At the Internet movie database, Gramm is, in fact, listed as producer of "White House Madness" and as executive producer of "Truck Stop Women," a movie in which a reviewer logs the constant female toplessness, but, quote, an unfortunate dearth of bottomlessness. All of which brings a new meaning to Mr. Gramm's recent lament, we've sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining.


OLBERMANN: It is hard to know which is more astonishing, that John McCain does not outright deny he told a joke in 1986 about a woman who enjoyed being raped by a gorilla, or the defense by that McCain's campaign offered today for that joke and others. Our third store tonight, first the so-called joke: quote, "did you the one about the woman who was attacked on the street by a gorilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die. When she finally regains consciousness and tries to speak, her doctor leans over to hear her sigh contentedly and to feebly ask, 'where is that marvelous ape?"

That was 1986. Here's today's non-apology from a spokesman who said, McCain does not recall telling the joke, not that McCain didn't, couldn't, wouldn't tell the joke, but, quote, "he's long said he has said and done things in the past that he regrets. You've just got to move on and be yourself. That's what people want. They want somebody who is authentic and this kind of stuff is a good example of McCain being McCain."

Apparently a rape joke is authentic McCain. Authentic also in his jokes about war with Iran, a war that would kill Americans, and, as McCain joked on camera, Iranians.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've learned that the exports to Iran increased by ten fold during the Bush administration. The biggest export was cigarettes. Given that the supposedly -

MCCAIN: Maybe that's a way of killing. I meant that as a joke.


OLBERMANN: McCain is often praised for self-deprecation. He now also has a record of picking on those who are close to him, his own staff, and those unable or less able to defend themselves, the elderly, even before he began to join their ranks, and frequently, it seems, women, including not only his own wife, with an I stopped beating my wife line earlier this year, with an unrepeatable word years ago, which he denies, but also, as we mentioned, rape victims and even an 18-year-old, Chelsea Clinton, McCain's target of choice for a 1998 Republican audience for a joke about how ugly she was, a joke that also attacked another woman, Janet Reno, a joke for which McCain later had the decency, if not the authenticity, to apologize.

Let's turn now to MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, host of her own program weeknights on Air America. Good evening, Rachel.


OLBERMANN: A McCain spokesman writing this off as authenticity, but if you're telling hurtful jokes about victims, isn't authentic the last thing you want to be. Who defends a rape joke, saying, in effect, lighten up; I did mean it?

MADDOW: I interviewed Ben Smith from about this today. I called him specifically to ask about that, because I almost couldn't believe that that would be a campaign's response to something like this. That a campaign would respond to their candidate being accused of having joked about how much women loved being raped by saying, that just shows how authentic he is; that's just McCain being McCain. What Ben says is that they really meant the McCain being McCain explanation as a generic, general response to the sadistic and mean comments that McCain has made like this over the years, but it's not specific to the rape joke, which completely leaves the problem as it is.

Essentially, they're still saying, this is authentic McCain. This is McCain being McCain. If you want him to be president, you should know that he likes to pick on women and mock 18-year-old girls for their looks. It implies that they think that his sadistic streak is part of what we ought to like about him.

OLBERMANN: Well, that's called appealing to the base. Yesterday, McCain was asked whether he would fill out the NAACP survey. He said he fills out literally every survey. It was a quote, literally, but not the AFL-CIO survey on working family issues, not the American Association of People With Disability survey, has not responded. Not even a survey from Project Vote Smart, which was one of the groups he sat on their board until he refused to answer their survey.

If you throw in the rest of that record, and the pastors he threw under the bus, where is he in terms of authenticity capital? How much does he actually have at this point?

MADDOW: If anybody's interested, there's a kind of fascinating presidential campaign that could use some reporting right now. It involves a candidate who changed his position on Bush's tax cuts, who changed his own lauded position on immigration reform, who changed his position on whether or not U.S. troops should leave Iraq, if the Iraqi government ever asked us to, changed his position on whether Afghanistan needs more troops, who changed his position on torture, who changed his position on which football team's linemen he named when telling his torturers something to put them off the scent of the real name of his squadron.

If you're trying to catalog John McCain's authenticity as a candidate, there is a fabulous collapse happening right now in American politics, that is just waiting to be catalogued, if anybody is interested in covering it.

OLBERMANN: Let's say I'm not and I'm more interested in where he stands, actually, in terms of women's groups and women's issues. When this joke came to light back in 1986, at that point, even then, women's groups were associating it with his then poor record on those issues. Has he improved on the substance in the intervening decade?

MADDOW: Well, he's improved to the extent that sometimes the things that he's saying and his campaign are saying that are not true about his record - sometimes those falsehoods about his record are better. For example, Carly Fiorina recently said that John McCain would support requiring insurance companies to cover contraception if they also covered Viagra. She implied McCain would support that. Turns out, he voted against that.

John McCain suggested recently that he is all in favor of equal pay for equal work, so that women get paid the same amount as men would do for doing the same job. He suggested that he's been in favor of that and his record reflects it. The problem is that he's voted against that every time he's had the chance to do so. So, his falsehoods about his record are getting better for women all the time. What he's actually done in his actually positions are not improving.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the WWTMD question. What would the media do if this had been a joke from 1986 that suddenly came to the surface that had been told by B. Obama?

MADDOW: We would be in 24 hour special coverage right now, right, just trying to keep up with the media juggernaut on this. I mean, what we've seen so far to compare this to, in terms of something crude, is Jesse Jackson saying something off camera about Barack Obama and that gets four days plus of coverage. For something like this, it's here or you have to check the blogs.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, who may now repeat that old advertising punch line, I got my job through the "New York Times." Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Oh boy, an Emmy Award for the host of "American Idol."

They give awards for that show? I thought they only gave out ear plugs. That's a Woody Allen joke. Back we go, boys and girls, to the Bill-O the clown show. Worst persons in the world next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Finally, just what "American Idol" needs, a bus full of protesters at every audition. That's next, but first time for our number two story, Countdown's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. His opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee this morning included this doozy, he's reviewed testimony from prior hearings and, quote, "I must admit, it's been difficult for me sometimes to distinguish between what I, in fact, recall as a matter of my own experience and what I remember from the accounts of others." In other words, he can't tell the difference between the truth and what other people have told him was the truth. Don't forget stuff you just dreamt. That can mix you up big time.

Our runners up tonight, the good old TSA, the Transportation Security Administration. Its terrorist watch list reportedly up to 1,101,308 names. Investigative reporter Drew Griffin was critical of it during a report. Griffin now reports that starting on the 19th of May, he has been on the list. His check ins have been delayed or otherwise encumbered on his last 11 flights. First rule of watch list is you do not talk about watch list.

The TSA insists to him, quote, if there's any thought or shadow of a thought that TSA somehow put you on a watch list because of your reporting, it is absolutely fabricated. That just might be true. Like me, reporter Griffin used to work at KCBS TV in Los Angeles. It's alumni list, which is probably larger than the TSA watch list, may have just been merged into the TSA list.

But our winner, the star of the Bill-O the clown hour; if he could spend the energy he wastes on rationalization on something useful, he might be able to cure a disease. First, he violated all precepts of journalism by playing that tape of Jesse Jackson referring to cutting off Barack Obama's privates. Then when it leaked out from somebody working on the Bill-O the Clown hour that Jackson had also used the N-word, Bill-O went on another Fixed News show actually that as to that part of the tape, he had, quote, held it back because it was not relevant to the general subject, one civil rights leader disparaging another over policy. And the reference to the nuts, that was reference how?

Jackson, without nuts, said Obama was, quote, talking down to back people. That wasn't disparaging enough? Just another moment of self-righteous, self-contradictory nonsense from the neighborhood nut job. Bill-O the clown, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: It has taken six long years, but finally an angry nation has risen as one and responded to the "American Idol" series in the only truly justifiable way, with a bus full of protesters. Our number one story on the Countdown, where the geeks, the self-delusional and the tone deaf wanna-be's assemble, so will there also be the "American Idol" truth tour. Sponsored by the Writers' Guild, it has been arranged to send a message about the exploitation of reality show writers, who are not protected by the contracts of the guild, those guys there.

Sort of "Survivor" meets Norma Ray at the Cow Palace, the San Francisco Cow Palace in Daily City, California. It might even think people see the logical disconnect in the show's five prime time Emmy award nominations, in its inexplicable category, outstanding reality competition program. For five years, "Idol" has lost to "The Amazing Race." Likewise, Ryan Seacrest, the host, is vying for best host in short subjects - reality, sorry, really, not short. Nothing's short.

Speaking of which, reality bites for a number of other celebrities tonight, from the A-list to the D-list. Comedian Andy Dick joining the mug hall of shame, arrested early Wednesday for groping a teenage girl and pulling her top down. Moments earlier, at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, the 42 year old comedian was caught on tape being taunted by a gaggle of patrons. Apparently not altogether with it, he threatened to assault his tormentors with a bottle of catsup.

Life not much easier for Vern Troyer. The actor of Mini Me fame broke up with his live in girlfriend and sex tape co-star, now can't get her out of apartment, possibly because she's too tall. Perhaps he feels some kinship with Mr. Dick, because she's taken to heckling him and calling him names around the house. Check mate, Mini Me, who plans to take legal action and evict her.

And Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt also in danger of over-staying their welcome in Nice, in France. Residents there protesting outside the hospital where Jolie gave birth to twins last Saturday. Why would they do that? Because the town's mayor seems to be more focused on the blessed babies than he is on solving a local high profile murder.

All that serves as preface to the honor and privilege of welcoming my next guest, the mid-day host of classic rock radio station Q-104.3 here in New York, Countdown's very own "American Idol" princess, Maria Milito. Do you hear, by the way, like a PA system?

MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3: I think so.

OLBERMANN: Something's going crazy here. WGA, protest, protest, protest. Are these protests going to help "American Idol" in terms of the ratings or has that ship sailed?

MILITO: Did it jump the shark? I don't want to say that. It didn't jump the shark. But they're changing Idol a little bit, by the way, and maybe this will help it.

OLBERMANN: Going to make it good?

MILITO: No, actually, this is a bad move I think. They're going to show fewer auditions. That's what a lot of people watch. Yes, that's the best part. But now they say - remember last year, you had to play an instrument? You didn't have to, but if you did, it would add. Now, they want people with stage presence. I think that's a little weird, because last season they were too professional, right? A lot of them had recording contracts that didn't work out. Now they want people with stage presence. So I don't know, maybe the eight season might be it.

OLBERMANN: Well, does Ryan Seacrest get his Emmy? What's the premise of him being nominated for any such reward.

MILITO: The show does do well.

OLBERMANN: No, no, no, that's for excellence in performance. That's not for good ratings.

MILITO: Look who he's up against. Hello? I mean, probably Howie Mandel's going to win. That's what I think. That takes a lot of talent to do "Deal or No Deal."

OLBERMANN: He won't shake anybody's hand at the award ceremony. We know that for sure. Let's broaden your kin here. Give us a little bit. Introduce some of these other topics. The mug shot from Andy Dick. It was a nice smile there.

MILITO: Evil looking.

OLBERMANN: It's so hard to tell, is that a good thing for his career or a bad thing?

MILITO: That's his career, isn't it? Being arrested, yes, mug shots.

I think he wakes up and says, what should I do today, my agent? Should I

urinate in public. Should I take off some 17-year old's top. But I

thought his mug shot looked a lot like Jack Nicholson in "The Shining,"

'Here's Johnny.'


OLBERMANN: All right, the story in Nice, this attention not being paid to the murder victim, versus the Jolie/Pitt babies; who wins?

MILITO: I love this because here's the deal: the guy is still dead. The guy is dead. He's dead yesterday. He's dead today. Oh my god, we have these twins. Welcome. Now, the mayor doesn't have a warrant of arrest to show. So let's show the two citizenship papers. So the Jolie twins win. The guy's going to be dead tomorrow, then send the cops out. What are they all up in arms for?

OLBERMANN: What a practical solution you have to this. Do it tomorrow. It's not like the trail might go cold.

MILITO: What's a day? It's France, they do everything slow. Come on.

OLBERMANN: We have to take time off. Hand me 17 cigarettes. I'm part French. I can make that joke. This one I don't understand. Mini Me and his ex-paramour and the co-star in the sex video; he dumped her. She won't move out. I don't want to say anything disparaging about him and the nature of this relationship, but what is his complaint? Do you know?

MILITO: I think he wants her out because - she broke up with him because I think he cheated on her. But she won't move out. I think she has nowhere else to go, first of all. She also said this is the first guy she ever lived with. I'm thinking, I hope he doesn't have a dog or a bunny. I'm thinking fatal attraction going on.

OLBERMANN: I hope he doesn't have a dog either, because it might be a threat to him.

MILITO: That, too. But I'm thinking -


OLBERMANN: Maria Milito of New York's classic rock station Q-104.3, great thanks as always, and thanks for brining the echo, too, whatever the hell that is. That's Countdown for this the 1,905th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.