Friday, September 11, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, September 11, 2009
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball

Guests: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Clarence Page, Jonathan Turley, Lawrence Korb


REP. JOE WILSON, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Go to and contribute to my efforts to defeat the proponents of government-run health care.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: It takes a much better actor than Joe Wilson to get away with faking sincerity.

Fighting health care reform at all costs. If it finally passes and becomes law, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota says his state still might not stand for it.

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY, (R) MINNESOTA: Depending on what the federal government comes out with here, asserting the tenth amendment may be a viable option.

O'DONNELL: What do the "tenthers" have against people with preexisting conditions?

The war in Afghanistan eight years to the day after the attack on our soil that provoked it. Prominent Democrats say more U.S. troops are not the answer to security problems there.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) MICHIGAN: We need a surge of Afghan forces.

O'DONNELL: CNN triggers a security scare in D.C. on September 11th. A Coast Guard exercise on the Potomac with the president nearby creates panic.

VICE ADMIRAL JOHN CURRIER, COAST GUARD CHIEF OF STAFF: This was a preplanned, normal training exercise.

No, I am not issuing an apology.

O'DONNELL: And the world of political apologies hits late-night TV.

CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: Obama accepted Wilson's apology and then invited him to appear before a death panel.

CRAIG FERGUSON, LATE NIGHT TV HOST: You know, he said his emotions got the better of him. Sometimes I want to have sex with a hooker, but I don't.


O'DONNELL: The joke is on South Carolina, yet again.

All that and more now on "Countdown."

FERGUSON: Oh, no, you did not!


O'DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell in for Keith Olbermann.

On this date in 2001, this nation rallied together in the wake of the worst attack ever to hit these shores. Eight years later, the pain of what happened that morning feels just as acute, but in our fifth story on "the countdown," the concept of working together toward a common goal for the public good, in this case, improving access to health care, has perhaps never seemed so distant.

Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst at Wednesday's joint address to Congress in which he called president Obama a liar for his claim that illegal immigrants would not benefit from health care reform appears to have become the new rallying cry for the right.

At a rally organized by Republican lobbying groups and attended by the Republican leadership, once the name of President Obama was uttered from the podium, the crowd breaking into a chant of "liar, liar, pants on fire."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night, we heard our president address this country -

CROWD: Liar! Liar! UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liar, liar, pants on fire!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were listening to hear specifics, we were listening to hear something new and we did not hear that.

CROWD: He lies! He lies!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a situation where we've got to speak up, we've got to speak louder on the behalf of the American people.



O'DONNELL: The First Amendment obviously on the side of both the crowd and the - and Congressman Wilson calling the president a liar, but the facts are not.

To clarify the president's point that the bill he signs will not apply to those who are here illegally, Chairman Baucus announced today that the Senate finance committee bill will include a clear proof of citizenship requirement with the full support of the White House.

Meanwhile, in the House, Democratic leaders plan to vote next week to admonish Congressman Wilson if he does not apologize to the Congress on the floor of the House.

Majority Whip Clyburn has asked Wilson to do so at least three times already. All have been ignored. Within the Republican ranks, Minority Leader John Boehner also pressured Wilson to apologize in the well of the House to no avail.

Congressman Wilson's office says he is taking the weekend to think it over.

Why the indecision? Perhaps because the cost-benefit analysis of contrition is by no means clear to Congressman Wilson. In Wilson's district, the congressman clearly hit a nerve with many of his constituents.

"Give Obama hell," one of them told "The New York Times." Another admitted that while the South Carolina Republican was "a mite disrespectful," she still supported him all the way.

But what was considered a safe seat for Congressman Wilson Wednesday afternoon is now a toss-up according to new numbers out today from Public Policy Polling.

Wilson's potential opponent, Rob Miller, is also out-raising him more than three to one in the wake of Wednesday night's incident, despite the congressman's best efforts to solicit donations.


WILSON: On these issues, I will not be muzzled. I will speak up and speak loudly against this risky plan.

The supporters of the government takeover of health care and the liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan.

They want to silence anyone who speaks out against it. They made it clear they want to defeat me and pass the plan.

I need your help now. If you agree with me that the government-run health plan is bad medicine for America, then I ask for your support. Please go to and contribute to my effort to defeat the proponents of government-run health care.


O'DONNELL: Lots to talk about tonight with Clarence Page, Pulitzer-prize winning syndicated columnist for the "Chicago Tribune." Thanks for your time tonight, Clarence.


O'DONNELL: At that anti-reform rally, the Republicans could not control the base, and nor did they seem to really care about controlling the base.

The Republican leaders, they have not been able to get one congressman to just apologize to the Congress for obviously out of order behavior. What does that tell us about the state of the GOP and its leadership?

PAGE: Well, they're in a battle with themselves right now. It's like Boehner versus the base. John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, has been trying to persuade Joe Wilson to go to the well and apologize, they've been getting so much backlash nationally that the party doesn't need right now.

But Wilson is more concerned about back home, where he's getting some benefit from this controversy from his base.

But as you mentioned, Miller, his Democratic opponent, has made, what, $1 million in the last two days. It's like a telethon going on. I keep getting more and more of these reports of money going up and up.

There was actually - Miller did very well against Wilson last year. They were about three or four points apart in November. Miller benefited from a big surge of black voters with Barack Obama on the ballot.

I think that I would still give the edge to Wilson right now, but this is a fight that he doesn't want. Most politicians wouldn't want a fight like the going into reelection.

O'DONNELL: Now, the Democrats considering admonishing Congressman Wilson. Do they risk turning him into a martyr?

PAGE: Well, you know, I think if anything helps Wilson right now with his base, it is the criticism he's getting from outside of South Carolina.

A friend of mine who is a history major mentioned that Illinois presidents always seem to have trouble with politicians from South Carolina. But this seems to be another weird case of it here.

There is a rebellious spirit down there back in his district that you can see from people who don't think that he should have behaved the way he did in the actual joint session.

But, still, they're saying he said what's on people's minds. They think Obama's a liar, and in that sense, Wilson can rally a lot of support.

O'DONNELL: Well, the new poll numbers in South Carolina showing him in a virtual tie for reelection with Rob Miller, his potential opponent. Is he facing possibly the worst nightmare a lifetime politician can face, the possibility of a dangerous reelection?

PAGE: Well, it's to his advantage right now that the election is 14 months away. If it were being held right now, he would have good reason to be nervous, you're right.

He's got enough time over the next year for this to blow over and for him to get back to his conventional advantage that you would expect an incumbent to have in an off-year election when voters also tend to vote against the party that's in the White House. Not always the case, but that tends to be the trend.

O'DONNELL: And finally, Clarence, tell us, how does it land in the black community when a southern white congressman heckles the first black president of the United States in an address to Congress?

PAGE: Well, it doesn't sit well, as you well might imagine. I mean, it was interesting to see the cameras swing over. Look at the picture of Joe Wilson there that was caught in action and what you see, one white guy in a suit surrounded by white guys in suits.

I mean, as much as people say, well, race doesn't matter and I don't see race, blah blah blah, hey, Republican leaders can't be so naive that they don't see that that's not the kind of image that they want to put forth at a time they're trying to broaden their appeal.

So this is something that, as far as African-Americans are concerned, and a lot of other people - I've had more white people come to me saying, wasn't that outrageous, what happened? Don't you think that's racist? It's really quite remarkable.

I've told several friends, well, welcome to my world, you know. I get accused of seeing things through a lens of race, but that's kind of the way African-Americans have learned the hard way to see developments in America.

And you have to wonder, the first time somebody has called the president a liar to his face in a joint session, it had to be the black president.

O'DONNELL: The ever-wise Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune," thanks for being with us tonight, Clarence.

PAGE: Thank you, Lawrence. A real pleasure.

O'DONNELL: For more on the tone that's dominated the health care debate, let's turn to Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton university. Good evening, Melissa.


O'DONNELL: Melissa, we are today, eight years after the 9/11 attacks to the day when this nation pulled together to support its president in the midst of a crisis.

How did we reach the point in the interim where a congressman felt free to heckle the president, to call him a liar in the middle of an address to this nation?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, a little incivility is not necessarily a bad thing, which is to say, I know that there are many Democrats, many liberals, many progressives who wished that someone had stood up when Colin Powell was making his claim to the U.N., had stood up when Bush was making claims linking 9/11 to Iraq, and said, wait a minute, that doesn't sound right. That's dishonest.

Maybe not in the way that this congressman did, but it's not necessarily always a bad thing to have critique. In fact, I think part of what makes America great is our local flavor, our criticism.

In fact, one of the fastest moving Internet clips was when Barney Frank called a woman at a health care reform debate a dining room table earlier. And people really thought that was great, that he was sort of showing a little spine, a little fire the Democrats had not seemed to show in August.

On the other hand, I think what has generally governed in the context of, for example, a president addressing a joint session is that you give respect and time to listen, and then you can make your rebuttals afterwards. So it was an inappropriate action.

O'DONNELL: You know, I started off in the work world as a substitute teacher, but I would hate to be a substitute teacher in South Carolina the day after our congressman heckled the president. Is there a teachable moment here, and whose lesson do you think it is to teach?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yes, well, you know, it's always a teachable moment. Actually, my daughter is eight - excuse me, is seven. But I was pregnant with her eight years ago when 9/11 happened.

And so this morning, I was talking to her about 9/11, I was talking to her about what September 11th meant and why it mattered to our country and how I felt on that day and how I felt about having her. So every moment in our nation is a teachable one.

I developed a kind of saying with my friends during the context of the election and we would say "Keep it Obama." And what "keep it Obama" meant for us was, you know, when things look like they're really kind of falling apart, when you lose your faith that the American process can work, you know, we can - whether you agree with Barack Obama politically or not, one thing you have to respect about him is that he's very even. He doesn't simply see his opponents as someone or something to get past. He actually takes people at their word. He listens to criticism.

And so if it's a teachable moment, it is that in this moment, we don't want to be like the congressman from South Carolina. We want to try to keep it Obama. And part of keeping it Obama means listening to the folks who we fundamentally disagree with.

O'DONNELL: We all remember it as a central part of Barack Obama's campaign for president to change the tone in Washington. He's still trying to change that tone, as he was with his speech Wednesday night. He's doing his part, including immediately accepting the apology, the halfhearted apology that Congressman Wilson offered his staff.

But do you see any hope that Washington is willing to follow Barack Obama's lead, and, as you put it, "keep it Obama"?

HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, you know, I am truly an optimist on these questions, but I suppose I also think that things move very slowly.

Part of the impact and the quality of the civil rights movement in the south in the late 1950s and early 1960s was its civility. And as people who were nonviolent protesters demonstrated their civility, it wasn't as though segregationists stood up and clapped and applauded and said, good job being civil. In fact, they pushed back, they brought violence, they brought anger.

But it was that decision to stay in a place of nonviolent direct action which ultimately changed the course of our nation. But it did take time.

So do I believe that we can be our highest ideals as a nation? Of course I do. Do I think we are performing that right now? Of course not.

O'DONNELL: Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton University, thank you for sharing your perspective with us tonight.

The lack of civility set aside, even if health care reform gets passed, the fight still won't be over. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, adds his voice to the tenther movement, which erroneously claims that the federal government cannot force changes in health care law on the states.

In D.C., a misunderstanding on the Potomac leads to a security scare. How CNN's coverage of the Coast Guard exercise today put D.C. on alert and grounded airplanes.

And the war in Afghanistan. As we remember September 11th, the attacks that sparked the war on terror today, a prominent Democrat says a surge is need, but not a surge of American troops.

Details ahead on "Countdown."


O'DONNELL: Coming up on "Countdown," the Republican governor of Minnesota tries to plead the tenth amendment when it comes to stopping health care reform.

Even though Tim Pawlenty is a law school graduate, we'll call in Law Professor Jonathan Turley to take him to school on something called the constitution.

And later, how a Coast Guard radio exercise triggered panic in D.C., leading to the grounding of flights, all ahead on "Countdown."


O'DONNELL: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty would like one day to raise his right hand and take the oath of office as president of the United States, to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States.

But right now he says he might consider opposing national health care reform by ignoring the constitution of the United States.

Our fourth story tonight, Pawlenty hops on the Texas bandwagon of not knowing the first thing about the tenth amendment. In a town hall conference call last night, Pawlenty was asked about using the tenth amendment to prevent Washington from imposing unfunded mandates on the states as part of health care reform.

Pawlenty latched on to the amendment, which is a favorite of the right, because it says, in effect, powers not granted to the federal government go to the states and the people. It's called -


PAWLENTI: I believe that amendment has been discounted to the point of making me very sad. Depending on what the federal government comes out with here, asserting the Tenth Amendment may be a viable option. I would say that's a possibility.

You're starting to see more governors, including me and, specifically, Governor Perry, from Texas and most Republican governors express concern around these issues and get more aggressive about asserting and bringing up the Tenth Amendment.


O'DONNELL: The concept is called "nullification," or "state sovereignty," the notion that states can opt out whenever the federal government tries to exert a power not enumerated in the constitution.

Unfortunately, for Governor Pawlenty, nullification's heyday came before the civil war. Subsequent court rulings and laws empowered the federal government to enforce its laws, as it did when Arkansas tried to nullify the new federal law integrating American classrooms.

Since the election of a black president, dozens of states, primarily red states, have flirted with sovereignty, some actually passing legislation declaring sovereignty on what they consider state issues. Texas governor Rick Perry has even dabbled in succession talk.

So where does Pawlenty's state stand on sovereignty? According to the Minnesota Sovereignty Project, quote, "Sovereignty legislation got ignored and died in committee."

Of course, none of this addresses what the powers of the constitution does grant the federal government, so let's do that. Article one, section eight, "The Powers of Congress." "The Congress shall have power to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, to regulate commerce among the states."

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University. Thanks for your time tonight, Jonathan.


O'DONNELL: It seems a bit unfair to me to put up a real-life constitutional law professor against Governor Pawlenty, but let's go ahead.

Governor Pawlenty is, in fact, a distinguished graduate of the university of Minnesota law school, and he's backed down on his Tenth Amendment talk in the last 24 hours. So where do history and precedent leave us on this issue?

TURLEY: Well, the problem with those that are looking to the Tenth Amendment for support is that the Supreme Court really offers very little encouragement for these types of claims.

In a case called Gonzalez in 2005, the Supreme Court basically adopted a standard whether something bears a substantial relationship to commerce. And even before that, 1937, for example, the Supreme Court said Congress has to have the ability to deal with nationwide calamities.

And the court had interpreted what is commerce, what is economic activity, very, very broadly. In order to get to where these individuals want to go, they will have to plow through decades of precedent. That's going to be a rather tall order to ask, even from a fairly sympathetic Supreme Court.

O'DONNELL: Now, last month, Minnesota's most colorful politician, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, also endorsed invoking the Tenth Amendment, but said "it will only work if all the states band together." Now, that sounds a lot like that country that actually calls itself the United States of America, doesn't it, Jonathan?

TURLEY: You know, the interesting aspect of that is that many judges believe that the greatest protection for states' rights is political. So there are some justices in that group that say that, you know, President Obama cannot force this upon the nation. It's going to take a majority of both Houses.

And we've already seen quite effective campaigns against it.

And so if you can get all of these states to join together, presumably you can get their representatives to join together and oppose it. If they don't, then the way representative democracy works, the assumption is the majority of people do support it.

O'DONNELL: So to summarize before the countdown court, Professor Turley, what are the real hopes of the red states, in effect, nullifying the federal law that will come out from the health care reform legislation?

TURLEY: Well, I'm not going to say, you know, abandon hope all you who enter here. The Tenth Amendment is important. I happen to belong to a small group of social liberals that like states' rights. I believe rights are best protected when they're held closest to the people.

And there are some interesting aspects of this law that you really can't deny. I mean, it is interesting that Congress would require individuals to have health care, depending on what the language comes out as, even if they don't want - if they want to self-insure. So aspects of that raise some novel questions.

But against it is this huge weight of history where the Supreme Court has said that there are markets out there that Congress needs to be able to regulate.

One of the largest markets is the health care market, and it's affecting other markets. It's affecting the nation as a whole. And I think most judges will view it that way, that there's really no way to regulate this market unless you intervene in this fashion.

And so the odds are stacked heavily against them in terms of success.

O'DONNELL: I wish that was the final word on this, but I have a

feeling you'll be back talking about the Tenth Amendment as this year goes


Thank you very much, Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.

TURLEY: Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, the panic on the Potomac today. A Coast Guard training exercise transmitted over the radio gets picked up by CNN and mistakenly puts the capitol city on red alert on, of all days, September 11th.

And the war in Afghanistan - senior Democrats begin to draw a line in the sand for the commander in chief, no new troops.

That and more ahead on "Countdown."


O'DONNELL: On this day in 1970, a cute subcompact car and a huge liability all in one - the Ford Pinto was introduced, earning a reputation as a rather volatile vehicle, given its tendency to burst into flames after rear-end collisions. "Time Magazine" would later go on to name it one of the worst 50 cars of all time.

So on that note, let's play Oddball.

We begin in Paris, where gastronomy is being taken to new heights. Now you and 21 of your closest friends can enjoy a nice relaxing dinner while harnessed to a platform and suspended 100 feet in the air. It's dinner in the sky, the latest luxury ding experiences. The 90-minute meal will set you back about 1,300 dollars per person. Careful with the wine. They don't yet have a restroom in the sky.

To Cleveland, Ohio, where fun is relative. And for 95 years, the good folks at St. Rocco's Church have been having their fun sliding up a pole slathered in grease. Whatever happened to Bingo night. Yes, grease is the word at the Parish Pole Climb. All you need is a 40-foot pole and five of your closest friends to slide to the top. If your team can beat the others and climb the pole in two minutes or less, you get 1,000 dollars and the pleasure of smelling like an over-worked Jiffy Lube mechanic for as long as you want.

And to Tel Aviv, with the latest bridal couture. For those brides to be afraid of commitment, the more temporary solution to the classic wedding gown. Now you can say I do in a dress made out of paper, very soft paper, toilet paper. Yes, it's all the romance of more traditional bridal wear, but with a built-in convenience factor. Up next, a handy wipe suit for your divorce proceedings.

Coming up on Countdown, the war in Afghanistan. As President Obama refocuses the war on terror where it started, some in his own party warn he should not be sending more troops in. What's next there when the security crisis deepens?

And later, sure, we've talked about the politics of Joe Wilson's extraordinary outburst this week. But what about all the punch lines? Joe Wilson meets the glare of late night.


O'DONNELL: As our collective national sorrow reaches eight years, the president and Congress face yet another possible escalation in a war that has lasted nearly as long. In our third story in the Countdown, once again, there is talk of benchmarks and exit strategies. This time on Afghanistan.

President Obama commemorated the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with remarks at the Pentagon Memorial, and with a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House earlier in the day. The president also penned an op-ed column in the "New York Daily News," saying, quote, "we are providing the necessary resources and strategies to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 and who have found safe haven in Pakistan and Afghanistan," end quote.

The top commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is widely expected to ask the president for additional troops. But President Obama had already ordered 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan in February, which will bring U.S. forces there to 68,000 by the end of this year. And the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, today said that the president should not send more troops to Afghanistan unless and until it nearly doubles Afghan armed forces. He told our own Andrea Mitchell that Congress awaits an assessment by the president.


SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We don't know what the Congress will do until we get a recommendation from the president and from General McChrystal. But I believe very strongly that when it comes to more combat troops, which are the people who are the most visible, with the greatest footprint, at the greatest risk in Afghanistan, that we should not, at this time, be committing to more combat forces until we have done what we need to do, and which I think most people believe we should do, which is to strengthen the Afghan army.


O'DONNELL: This after the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said yesterday, quote, "I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan, in the country or in the Congress."

But from some Republicans, unusual praise for the president on this subject. House Majority Whip Eric Cantor today saying, he applauded President Obama for his continued support for the Afghan war.

Let's bring in the senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and the former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, Lawrence Korb. Thanks for your time tonight.


O'DONNELL: Now, it seems the next major choice facing the president on Afghanistan is, indeed, going to be whether or not to send even more troops. Is that where we are?

KORB: Well, I think that's where we are. And I think Senator Levin said no more combat troops, but he did say you're going to need more troops for training. Remember, some of the troops that President Obama sent in there were for training. And I think the president will have to weigh the recommendation he gets from General McChrystal to decide more troops and what kind of troops.

O'DONNELL: And if Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Levin ultimately really do oppose the notion of additional troops, how difficult can this get for the president politically and perhaps even budgetarily, in terms of the budget for Afghanistan, even with conservative commentators like George Will on the right urging a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan?

KORB: Well, I think he's going to have to do what he did in health care, is make the case to the American people why we need to do this.

I think it's important to keep in mind that we're almost starting anew. The Republicans like, you know, Eric Cantor are hypocritical. The reason we have the problems there is because they ignored it for so long, would not honor the request that our commanders made for troops, and focused so much on Iraq, which had nothing to do with the events of 9/11.

O'DONNELL: And within this context, how should we view the election irregularities in Afghanistan, which certainly don't help the cause politically? But should we be separating that from the military operation in Afghanistan?

KORB: No, I don't think you can, because at some point, we're going to have to turn it over to the Afghan people, if we have enough security forces. And you're going to have to have a government that can provide security and can provide justice. And until you do that, that's a big problem. And I think that's almost even more critical than the number of troops, to ensure that you get a government that has the support of the people and is not corrupt.

O'DONNELL: The Obama administration has reached out to Congress and to the staff, and has asked them to draw up a list of benchmarks, 50 benchmarks that it can use to measure success in Afghanistan. Is that the way to approach this?

KORB: Well, I think you have to be careful with benchmarks, because you get back to the Vietnam era of body counts. And I think you've got to look more at the qualitative. Some would be helpful, if you can cut down the number of Afghan civilians that are dying, for example. You cut down the number of improvised explosive devices.

But I think you have to be very careful, because it's not a quantitative thing, it's really a qualitative. You can double the number of Afghan security forces, but the real question is, how effective will they be?

O'DONNELL: Now, if we were to get the key benchmarks that you'd want to use right now, in terms of making - for the president to make his decision, what would they be?

KORB: Well, I think it would be the support of the Afghan people, were you able to provide more security, particularly in the south and in the east, the areas where the Taliban has come back, and how long will the troops have to remain there until the Afghan security forces are ready? I think that's the key thing.

We found out in Iraq that it's one thing to have a number of troops, another thing to have them be effective. And while I commend Chairman Levin for trying to double the number, I don't think that that can be done as quickly as he seems to feel it can be.

O'DONNELL: Lawrence Korb, former assistant defense secretary, now with the Center for American Progress, thank you for joining us tonight.

KORB: Thank you for having me.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, today's security scare in D.C. The Coast Guard's not apologizing for the incident on the Potomac. CNN's not apologizing for creating the scare that led to some grounded flights. We'll explain how it all unfolded.

And also ahead, some Friday night levity. We'll show you how late-night TV reacted to Joe Wilson's embarrassing antics during the president's speech.

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, how Glenn Beck is trying to take the fringe parts of the right and make them mainstream in his 9/12 event in D.C. tomorrow.


O'DONNELL: Eight years ago today, the tactic was to fly airplanes into landmarks of American power. The strategy was to create a fear that would last long after the fires stopped burning at Ground Zero. And today, in our number two story, eight years later, because the previous administration left al Qaeda free to try again some day, the strategy worked again. And what should have been a minor local incident sent a momentary panic, or at least a chill, through the national fiber.

NBC's chief justice correspondent, Pete Wilson, has the story of how a routine training exercise by the Coast Guard got reported as something else entirely because it happened on a river the president happened to be crossing on his way to a memorial ceremony for 9/11 victims at the Pentagon, on a day that still has the power to make some people panic.


PETE WILSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the crews of the U.S. Coast Guard's fast patrol boats, it was a normal day, a routine training drill like this one on the Potomac River between two Washington bridges, and not far from the Pentagon and National Airport. As part of the drill, a Coast Guardsman said, on an open Marine radio channel, that a suspicious boat refused an order to stop.

"Bang, bang, bang," said one of the exercise participants.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: There is other news that we need to get out to you. In fact, breaking news right now.

WILSON: A few minutes later, CNN, hearing the radio call and seeing Coast Guard boats maneuvering, reported that shots had, in fact, been fired.

PHILLIPS: This is pretty incredible. I have to say, as the story is developing here and I learned that rounds had actually been fired.

WILSON: Based strictly on the news report, the FBI scrambled a response team and nearby National Airport stopped all takeoffs for nearly half an hour, delaying 17 flights.

But there was no suspicious boat on the river. No shots were ever fired. It was all a drill. The Coast Guard said it owed no apology.

VICE ADM. JOHN CURRIER, US COAST GUARD: We're charged with seven by 24, 365, all day, every day, all weather, security and safety on the maritime interests of the national capital region. We train every day.

WILSON: But Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the Coast Guard, ordered a complete review and the Coast Guard said it would look into conducting such a visible training mission, while President Obama was traveling back and forth across the river, on the day of the 9/11 anniversary.

CURRIER: This is very instructive for us. And we're going to back through this. We're going to review our own protocols, our own procedures.

PHILLIPS: Happening in the Potomac.

WILSON: But the White House spokesman said the reporting made matters worse.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I do wish that some of the people that reported that incident might have taken a little bit of time to check and see whether what they were reporting was accurate.

WILSON (on camera): Tonight, CNN says it would have been irresponsible not to report what it saw and heard. But this whole episode shows that eight years after the 9/11 attacks, this is still a city on edge.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.


O'DONNELL: The ugly joke that is Congressman Joe Wilson. As if Governor Mark Sanford wasn't bad enough for the image of South Carolina, now late-night TV unleashes on the gentleman from the Palmetto State, next on Countdown.



O'DONNELL: To the top of the Countdown. In our number one story, the week that was for the latest in the long line of colorful South Carolina politicians. Today's "Washington Post" reminds us that Congressman Joe Wilson comes at the end of a long line of South Carolina politicians that have been caught behaving badly.

In fact, it was South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks who beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane on the Senate floor in 1876. At least Senator Sumner got the first underwater tunnel in Boston named after him. On that same Senate floor in 1902, South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman slugged his debate partner in the jaw. In 1964, Senator Strom Thurmond wrestled a colleague to the ground to delay a vote. And in the 1970s, the swinging 1970s, Congressman John Jenrette and his wife were caught making love behind a pillar on the steps of the Capitol building.

Of course, the current chief executive of South Carolina, who knows for how long exactly, is Appalachian trail expert Governor Mark Sanford. And to be fair, South Carolina is also the home state of Stephen Colbert, who, as of this hour, has managed to remain apparently scandal free. His show is on hiatus this week, which means he was forced to sit idly by, leaving the comedic drubbing of Congressman Joe Wilson to the rest of his late night talk show brethren.


JIMMY KIMMEL, TALK SHOW HOST: I am so angry, because someone has disgraced the south. And you know - don't you boo.

JIMMY FALLON, TALK SHOW HOST: I went out to dinner with my wife last night. We went to this place downtown everyone talks about. It's called Babo -


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": This guy from South Carolina, a Congressman, begins to heckle the guy. I thought, OK, so now Governor Mark Sanford is the second most embarrassing politician from South Carolina.

CONAN O'BRIEN, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Republican Congressman Joe Wilson has apologized for calling President Obama liar during his speech on health care. Yes. Obama accepted Wilson's apology, then invited him to appear before a death panel.

CRAIG FERGUSON, TALK SHOW HOST: What about a little bit of stand-up. The president should go out and hone his material in some comedy clubs or something to deal with hecklers. Obama should have said, hey, buddy, did I come to your state and knock the wiener out of your governor's mistress?

KIMMEL: It's amazing. This guy was able to sit through seven years of President Bush telling him everything in Iraq is fine, without a peep, but last night he yells out you lie.

FERGUSON: Back when George Bush was president, Democrats in Congress, to be fair, they would occasionally go, boo. But President Bush never took it personally. He just thought Congress was haunted.

KIMMEL: Even his fellow Republicans were horrified. He apologized immediately after the speech. He said he was watching "Gossip Girls" on his iPod.

LETTERMAN: The category. Top ten South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson excuses.

Number ten, shouldn't have gone tailgating before the speech. I guess not.

Number nine, Ashton Kutcher put me up to it.

Number eight, was trying to impress that hell cat Nancy Pelosi.

Number seven, thought I was in the audience at "Maury."


KIMMEL: In case you missed it, when the speech aired live, they didn't have a camera on the guy. But they went back and they put the camera shot in. Look at this.

OBAMA: For those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants, this too is false. The reforms - the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, sorry, Mr. President, I was talking about my favorite month. And it's not August, it's not September. It is July!

LETTERMAN: You don't scream you lie. I mean, remember the time, it happened to John McCain. Remember when he hollered bingo?

FERGUSON: You don't stand up in the middle of Congress and go, oh, no, you did not! What the hell is wrong with you? You know, he said his emotions got the better of him. Sometimes I want to have sex with a hooker, but I don't.


O'DONNELL: That will do it for this edition of Countdown. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. And now our MSNBC coverage continues with "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Bingo! Good evening, Lawrence. Thank you very much. Great job tonight on Countdown. Good to see you.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Rach.