updated 11/23/2005 11:22:06 AM ET 2005-11-23T16:22:06

Guest: Howard Fineman, Janeane Garofalo

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

The Schmidt has hit the fan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JEAN SCHMIDT (D), OHIO:  I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp.

He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oops.  Colonel Danny Bubp says he never gave Schmidt a message about Murtha.  He wouldn't want to disparage Murtha.  He would never call a fellow Marine a coward.

9/11, and the low-interest business-recovery loans.  Just another money grab.  Twenty million dollars winds up going to Dunkin' Doughnuts?

The annual pardoning of the turkeys, the president and the vice president doing the pardoning.  And there's a whole history to this.

But what's the history behind this?  Robert Novak in a shoving match aboard a flight to Chicago.  You watch Puppet Theater.  Somebody call Patrick Fitzgerald.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT NOVAK, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  I think that's bull (expletive deleted).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

And the metaphors just keep on coming.  The president, flying back from Asia, making it just in time for Turkey Day at the White House, Mr.  Bush and the vice president participating in the annual pardoning of the turkeys.  Insert your own joke here.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the ceremony, and the history of presidents and turkeys, courtesy of Brian Williams, in a moment.

First, the congresswoman who claims she was only quoting somebody else calling Congressman Jack Murtha a coward.  Today the individual whom she claimed she was quoting says he never said that.  You will recall, it began on the floor of the House this past Friday, a fierce debate over Congressman Murtha's call for a withdrawal from Iraq.  The war of words, ferocious enough even before Republican Representative Jean Schmidt of Ohio decided to make things very personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHIMDT:  A few minutes ago, I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th District in the House of Representatives.  He asked me to send Congress a message, stay the course.  He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIMDT:  Danny and the rest of America and the world...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIMDT:  ... want the assurance from this body...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHIMDT:  ... that we will...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  House will- the House will...

SCHIMDT:  ... see it through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the House will be in order.  The House will be in order.  The House will be in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  When the mikes went back on, Congresswoman Schmidt was forced to apologize for her remarks.  Today, taking things one step further, claiming she did not even know that Congressman Murtha is a Vietnam vet.  She apparently was not listening to what just about everybody else was saying during Friday's debate.

And adding insult to apology, the colonel she quoted, Ohio state representative Danny Bubp, is now denying ever having said what Ms. Schmidt said he said, a spokeswoman for Colonel Bubp telling “The New York Times” that although the congresswoman and the colonel did talk, quote, “He did not mention Congressman Murtha by name, nor did he (INAUDIBLE) mean to disparage Congressman Murtha.  He feels as though the words that Congresswoman Schmidt chose did not represent their conversation.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Murtha himself firing back, expressing confidence that his critics, specifically Vice President Dick Cheney, will agree with him eventually, Pennsylvania Democrat saying that the war in Iraq cannot be won on the ground, that he is just trying to prevent another Vietnam.  Other time, over time, rather, Murtha predicts Vice President Cheney will come to see that it way too.

Mr. Murtha would probably suggest Mr. Cheney is already very late coming to that conclusion.  Opinion polls suggest the majority of Americans now agree.  The question is, how late?  A new report tonight now claiming that the president was formally told by his own intelligence community as early as 10 days after the 9/11 attacks that those agencies had little to no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks or to al Qaeda.

That potential bombshell appearing in the “National Journal,” which is reporting now that the president was told just that in his daily intelligence briefing, his PDB, on September 21, 2001, according to what the publication calls “government records and current and former officials with firsthand knowledge of the matter.”

A former high-ranking U.S. intelligence officer familiar with the intelligence product after 9/11 says the PDBs and other reports would have been, quote, “far more nuanced” than described in the “National Journal”'s report.

More to the immediate point, perhaps, the “National Journal” also reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the White House for a copy of that PDB, as well as dozens of others, in its efforts to uncover whether the Bush administration misrepresented the intelligence in the months before the war, and the White House so far refusing to turn over those documents.

If the report is true, some might call all that a conspiracy.

Also on the political front tonight, Congressman Tom DeLay now calling the conspiracy case against him a miscarriage of justice.  The former House majority leader back before a judge in Austin, Texas, today, arguing that the charges should be thrown out of court, all because of a legal technicality, Mr. DeLay's lawyer arguing that the charges against his client were based on a 2003 law that was not even on the books when the alleged conspiracy supposedly happened in 2002.

The prosecutor in the case disputes that, saying the 2003 law was merely a clarification of already existent legislation.

A decision from the judge expected as early as next week.

Let's go through today's various topic headers now with “Newsweek”'s chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Out of sequence.  The “National Journal” report.  There are two stories in this.  Do we know if the Senate Democrats are actually seeking that PDB from 10 days after 9/11?  And if it is as described, could its revelation be as bad as any recent news that the White House has encountered?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think the committee is definitely seeking all of those PDBs, and that's the real story here, I think, because both Republicans and Democrats want to know what's in them.  What this means is that the argument over how we got into the war isn't about to end anytime soon.

As for the specific PDB at issue here, the Bush administration and George Bush himself didn't argue the lead point when they were in the run-up to the war that there was a close relationship, a close working relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  They were focusing more on the presence of weapons of mass destruction.

Still, if this document surfaces, if it becomes public, you're going to get a sense of just how urgent George W. Bush was about trying to find some reason to go after Iraq.  This is the reporting that Bob Woodward emphasized in his book, “Plan of Attack.”  And it's increasingly clear, with each passing day and every surfacing document, that George Bush had his eye on Iraq from the very beginning, which again raises questions about the real reasons why we went there.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Clarke said the same thing.  Paul O'Neill said the same thing as well.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  But if it gets to be a political food fight over this, the arguments would be what?  That the White House would say, Well, the intelligence agencies got more intelligence later anyway, and the Democrats would say, Well, guess what?  Here's an example of some of the (INAUDIBLE) prewar intelligence we never saw, anything like this from September of 2001 that already said there was no evidence linking 9/11 and Saddam Hussein?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  Exactly.  You have both sides of the argument down there.  I think the more important point here is, politically, that Republicans have either grown tired of defending the president on this point, that is, who knew what when about what Saddam did or didn't have, and they've grown tired of that.  Either that, or they don't believe him anymore.

And either way, the crumbling of the president's Republican support is what's really key here, because my understanding is that these requests for the PDBs are being rather forcefully made, both by Republicans and Democrats.  And the Republican chairman of the committee in the Senate is going to have a harder and harder time, if not an impossible job, to prevent the committee from going ahead and digging even further.

OLBERMANN:  Let's turn over to Jack Murtha and Jean Schmidt again.  The guy she quoted denies he said that.  She claims she never knew Murtha was in Vietnam.  It happened to have come up couple of times during the debate, as I recall.

FINEMAN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And just to add to this, this quote from her swearing-in on September 6 is making the rounds today.  Let me read it.  “I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character.  It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate.”

Well, how true that is!  Is the only place she's going to get to walk now the plank?  Has she been thrown overboard?

FINEMAN:  Well, they were throwing her overboard within minutes of her having made that statement.  I was in the gallery of the House Friday night when that happened, and as I described on the show last Friday, I mean, the Democrats literally lunged into the aisles and down into the well to get her to take the statement down.

You know, within a few seconds her having made it, all the Republican leadership, including Tom DeLay, who materialized out of nowhere, were gathered around her, and basically telling her in no uncertain terms, she had to apologize.  They put the blame on her even though I think it wasn't a complete surprise that she said what she said.  I mean, when you get the microphone from the leadership, they have some rough idea of what you're going to say.

OLBERMANN:  Scapegoating can be done by your own people, not just by the others.

FINEMAN:  Yes, especially by your own people.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You mentioned Tom DeLay.  If you're going to try to get an indictment overturned on a technicality, the idea that the law you supposedly broke in 2002 wasn't on the books until 2003, that's a pretty good technicality.  Did his career and even his House leadership potential just get life breathed back into them today?

FINEMAN:  Well, they've been making that argument before.  And by the way, I always love to watch Tom DeLay.  Look at him smiling there.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE).

FINEMAN:   He's perfected that perfect-for-the-camera smile.

OLBERMANN:  Ever since the mug shot.

FINEMAN:  Yes, exactly.  Even the mug shot, he was smiling in.

But they've made that argument before.  The answer of the local attorneys, the prosecutors down there, is that there has long been, for decades, a general statute on the books in Texas making the—it a crime to conspire to send money around in this way.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of “Newsweek,” and always a welcome and smiling guest here on COUNTDOWN.  Thanks, Howard.  Have a good Thanksgiving.

FINEMAN:  You too, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And this is my smile here.

Segue.  Let's talk turkey.  How many members of the executive branch does it take to pardon a couple of turkeys?  Two, President Bush and Vice President Cheney on hand for the annual ceremony and photo op.  The official 2005 national turkey is named Marshmallow.  The runner-up is named Yam.  Smile of the cameras.  Everybody say, Avian flu.

If for any reason Marshmallow cannot fulfill the duties and responsibilities of being the national turkey, said duties and responsibilities will devolve to Yam.  This yearly ritual has a new twist this year.  Both turkeys will now to go Disneyland to serve as honorary grand marshals of the park's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Eric Estrada is off this year.

If you're looking for some kind of symbolism, you are not the first. 

Brian Williams now with the history of the presidents and their turkeys.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS (voice-over):  Seven Thanksgivings ago, President Clinton's turkey moment came as the House Judiciary Committee was considering articles of impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I do.

WILLIAMS:  Eight years earlier, George Bush Senior was gearing up for the Gulf War.  He spent that Thanksgiving with the troops in Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, Thanksgiving Day, 1990)

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I'd shake hands with you, but I got my hands full here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  President Reagan had a way with photo-ops, but this one came just one day after the Iran-contra story broke, a scandal that nearly sank his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you know about the contras, sir?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Jimmy Carter managed to avoid posing with a turkey in 1979, preoccupied as he was that Thanksgiving with the Iran hostage crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, November 1979)

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS:  Any encouraging news from Iran, Mr.

President?

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Gerald Ford wasn't talking about pardoning any turkeys on this occasion.  He was still taking heat for a more notable pardon just weeks earlier.

GERALD FORD, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... pardon unto Richard Nixon...

WILLIAMS:  President Nixon had his own troubles, of course.  This scene came just days after one of the largest antiwar rallies in American history, a stone's throw from the White House.

Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson's undoing.  He was a lame duck when he posed with this turkey two days after Nixon's election.

Five years earlier, John F. Kennedy did not live to see Thanksgiving. 

This ceremony took place just three days before his fateful trip to Dallas.

And it's worth remembering that 100 years before that, it was another soon-to-be-martyred president, Abraham Lincoln, who made Thanksgiving a national holiday at the height of the Civil War.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Brian Williams reporting.

Brian, of course, could also tell us that only one president we know of acknowledged on any kind of record that the annual photo-op with the turkey might not be all it was cracked up to be.  Who else but that eminent political realist Richard Nixon?  His 1970 appearance with the bird had been satirized by “The Washington Post,” which ran a picture if Nixon glowering at the bird and wrote of, quote, “what seemed to be a mutual dislike.”

On November 18, 1971, Nixon's ubiquitous and ultimately fatal secret tape recording system preserved for all time the meeting with his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, at which that year's turkey trot was passed on to the first lady.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It's turkey presentation time again.  And I thought we'd present it to Mrs. Nixon this time.

BOB HALDEMAN, CHIEF OF STAFF:  Because they're presenting a dressed turkey rather than a live turkey.  They finally wised up on that.  Totally asinine, bringing that wild turkey into the room.

NIXON:  Very good.

(LAUGHTER)

HALDEMAN:  I got you out of that.

NIXON:  The turkey story, it's so silly.

HALDEMAN:  That's a bad one anyway, I think.  First place, it's a very unsympathetic story.  People don't like the idea of killing...

(CROSSTALK)

NIXON:  A beautiful white-meat turkey.

HALDEMAN:  ... ... they put that beautiful bird there and say, I'm going to kill it and eat it, (INAUDIBLE).  And it's always a stupid picture.

NIXON:  Hoo-hoo, God.  All pictures with animals, except dogs.  King is the only good picture I've ever seen with a dog.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Despite the strategy of having Pat Nixon accept that bird, the papers ripped the president again in 1971.  So in 1972, the White House turned over the responsibility for accepting the national bird to the deputy special assistant to the president, a man named John Nidecker (ph).

And now you know why Richard Nixon hated “The Washington Post.”

Also tonight, he was billed as the most dangerous terrorist in years. 

First he changed the pronunciation of his name from Pa-DEE-ya to Pa-DIL-la. 

Today, the dirty bomber was demoted to terrorist trainee.  What happened?

And Bob Novak back making headlines, this time about an airplane fracas.  Puppet Theater beckons.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It has been argued, psychologically it can be assumed to be true, that after 9/11, large parts of our nation suffered a kind of collective case of clinical post-traumatic stress disorder.  It would explain the two parts to tonight's fourth story, the establishment of a system of low-interest loans to restore businesses devastated by the attacks, a system so poorly designed that much of the money went to businesses that were not in the least affected by the attacks.

And the detention of an American citizen conducted entirely outside the protections of the Constitution, and despite the fact that none of the supposed evidence against him could ever be publicly presented.

The finance in a moment.

First, the detainee, and a huge change in his prosecution today, reported for us now by our justice correspondent, Pete Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Since he was captured in May 2002 at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Jose Padilla has been the target of the most serious terror accusations against an American citizen since 9/11, the first dramatically announced by the attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, June 2002)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or dirty bomb, in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  President Bush declared Padilla an enemy combatant, and since then, he's been held by the U.S. military in a Navy brig.  Last year, the government added more, saying Padilla planned to blow up apartment buildings in New York.

But tonight, Padilla is suddenly no longer an enemy combatant, and instead faces trial in Miami on entirely new charges, not from the military, but in regular federal criminal court.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting in violent jihad.

WILLIAMS:  He's now accused of plotting with this Florida man, Adham Hassoun (ph), and three others to recruit people in the U.S. and raise money for waging holy war overseas.

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT:  The organizations and the jihad movements that they sent money to ultimately ended up becoming part of al Qaeda.  But at the time that they were sending the money, they were all disparate groups.

WILLIAMS:  Why the sudden change in legal tactics?  U.S. officials say tonight they could never try Padilla as a terrorist bomber, because the evidence against him comes from captured al Qaeda members who cannot be produced in court, and statements from Padilla himself while in military custody with no lawyer.

And the government did not want to risk something else, a roll of the dice before the U.S. Supreme Court, where Padilla's lawyers are challenging the president's ability to declare Americans captured in the U.S. enemy combatants.  Attorney General Gonzales said today that Supreme Court case should be dismissed.

But Padilla's lawyers say they must keep fighting.

DONNA NEWMAN, ATTORNEY FOR JOSE PADILLA:  What stops the president from issuing another order and saying, Oops, enemy combatant, again?

WILLIAMS:  Law enforcement officials say they stand by their earlier accusations against Padilla, but it's clear tonight those will never be tested in court.

Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Justice Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Then again, if you're wondering, he does now call himself Pa-DIL-la and not Pa-DEE-ya.

And then there's the money.  Hundreds of millions dollars in low-interest post-9/11 loans designed for businesses figuratively or literally covered in the ash from the pyres of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, loans to a car wash in Chattanooga, to a tour bus company in Hawaii, to a perfume bar in the Virgin Islands.

But even those transformations of post-9/11 help into post-9/11 pork pale in comparison to the latest part of this boondoggle, $20 million in 9/11 low-interest loans just to Dunkin' Doughnuts.  And that company, along with many other recipients, never even knew where the money came from.

Our chief investigative correspondent is Lisa Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In 2002, Jeff Gentile received a government loan to open a Dunkin' Doughnuts in Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK, anything else?

MYERS:  He was recently shocked to learn that the government may have glazed over the rules.  The loan was supposed to go to businesses hurt by the 9/11 attacks.

JEFF GENTILE:  Not only was my business not harmed, my business didn't exist when 9/11 happened.

MYERS:  The Blue Ribbon Pet Salon near Seattle also didn't exist on 9/11.  The owner says her bank never told her these were 9/11 loans.

TRACEY YOUNGERMAN, BLUE RIBBON PET SALON OWNER:  Somebody screwed up, and we received money that came from a fund that we should never have gotten.

MYERS:  Neither of these businesses is accused of doing anything wrong.  But government watchdogs are investigating whether the $3 billion loan program was mismanaged by the Small Business Administration, or exploited by banks, which could make more money on these loans than on standard government loans.

One question, why did 29 Dunkin' Doughnuts shops and 54 Subway Sandwich shops get these loans?

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE:  Congress and the SBA appeared to be more interested in shoveling the money out than they were in actually making sure that they were helping people affected by the 9/11 attacks.

MYERS:  After the program got off to a slow start, an SBA official notified lenders, “It does not matter how severe the impact was, or how long it lasted, for a business to qualify.”  The SBA defends its handling of the loans, and says the money was for businesses across the country even indirectly hurt by the economic downturn after 9/11.

(on camera):  For example, the SBA argues it was absolutely appropriate to provide a loan to an Oregon winery.  Why?  Because after 9/11, fewer New Yorkers went to expensive restaurants, and sales of the winery's Pinot Noir dropped.

(voice-over):  But Gentile says his loan should have gone to a business actually hurt by the attack.

GENTILE:  Quite honestly, it makes me angry.

MYERS:  And he says it makes him worry what will happen when the SBA starts handing out money meant for victims of Katrina.

Lisa Myers, NBC News.  Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Moving from one purported scam to another, tonight, exactly how two prison escapees convinced a college campus that they were frat brothers displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

And an unparalleled paper massacre near Reno.  Dozens of directories destroyed by just one man.

That's next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Before tonight, we have never dedicated a regular segment of this show to 18th century Scottish folk music.  Just never thought it would be very interesting.  Now, I'm pleased to report, we still don't have that segment.  But we have the next best thing.

Let's play Oddball.

No, it has nothing to do with our story from Trucky Meadows (ph), Nevada, with a dude ripping phone books in half.  Look at him go.  It's the ultimate test of strength, and Mr. Ed Don't Call Me Mr. Ed Or I'll Tear Your Head Off Shelton, he's going for the world record.  And he crushed it.  Fifty-six Yellow Pages torn asunder, all to help to bring more attention to the important issue of phone book recycling.

Remember, only you can prevent outdated phone books from stacking up.

To Budapest, where 130 competitors battled it out in the first-ever world championships of Rubik's Cube.  Cubers young and old raced to finish the maddening little puzzle first for fun prizes, bragging rights, and, of course, chicks.  The event featured speed cubing, one-handed cubing, blindfolded cubing, and cubing one-handed while blindfolded after being shot with a TASER.

I'm sorry to say there were no finishers in that category this year. 

But we do have a highlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do it.

Oh!  (INAUDIBLE)!  Oh!  It hurts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh, it's just so easy.

Give thanks if you don't have to travel anywhere along the East Coast for this holiday.  There is big weather and big headaches ahead.

Speaking of big pain, Robert Novak is back in the news, this time not for a first-class leak, but rather for a fight in first class.  Robert Novak Puppet Theater is ahead.

First, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Mark Kopsy (ph), a Katrina evacuee, now living in North Lake, Illinois.  Out shopping for their Thanksgiving turkey, he and his son came across a car on fire.  An elderly couple trapped inside.  Mr. Kopsy (ph) could not get the door open.  Couldn't break the glass in the window.  Finally it dawned on him.  He used the turkey, a 20-pounder.  Smashed three windows, saving the lives, no doubt, of the 89-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman.  Wow!

No. 2, Richard Griffiths, you know him, Uncle Vernon from the Harry Potter films.  He was on stage in London for a matinee Saturday when the same woman's cell phone went off for the third time during the performance.  Mr. Griffiths stopped the play and asked her, “Is that it?  Or will it be ringing some more?”  He then asked her to leave, and a mighty roar of applause went up from the crowd. 

And No. 1, Parker Houghtaling of Sanford Hill, New York.  Three years ago, he was waiting for a New York City subway train on the platform at 51st Street Station, leaned out to see if it was coming and got hit in the head by it. 

Now I've been hit in the head by a New York City subway train.  So I know the experience smartens you up in a hurry.  Or maybe not. 

Friday, Mr. Houghtaling was waiting for a metro north commuter train at the suburban station in Poughkeepsie, New York, when he, yes, leaned out to see if it was coming and got hit in the head by it.  He is, surprisingly, OK.  Mr. Houghtaling is 30 -- 23 years old.  Though nobody quite knows exactly how!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back me up on this.  We haven't had a trouble-free holiday travel season since about the time we all switch from horse drawn sleighs to model T's. 

On our third story in the COUNTDOWN, of course, if we acknowledged this we'd never go anywhere on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year's.  And then—well, then the meteorologists win.

We'll check in short, weather-wise on what is shaping up as a bad long weekend, at least in the east, with Jackie Meretsky of NBC Weather Plus. 

First travel-wise, or lack of travel-wise, from our correspondent Michelle Kosinski in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):   It's been one of the worst weather years ever in this country.  Mudslides and fires in California, Midwestern tornadoes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, my God!

KOSINSKI:  Northeastern floods and a record hurricane season that brought us Katrina. 

FEMA lists 43 major disasters this year affecting 29 states.  Now, a disaster is exactly what this week's holiday travel may become as the northeast faces yet another storm. 

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  After the last four months with all the deadly hurricanes and the deadly tornadoes, people get really nervous any time you mention a powerful storm system.  And unfortunately, the timing couldn't be worse with this one heading right towards our Thanksgiving holiday. 

KOSINSKI:  This system could drop several inches of snow on parts of New York, New England, and the Great Lakes, just as millions of people hit the road and head to the airport to travel for the holiday.  New York City's Port Authority expects nearly five million people to pass through the city.  It is watching the forecast.

TIFFANY TOWNSEND, NY AND NJ PORT AUTHORITY:  They'll have a big effect on the way travel goes this weekend.  There might be some delays, might be some cancellations. 

KOSINSKI:  Many travelers, though, don't have a choice.  It's the holidays, and they have to get home. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It's not going to stop anything.  I mean, we have to do what we have to do. 

KOSINSKI:  But this year, with several airlines cutting the number of flights, even as more people are flying, many flights are absolutely full, meaning some delays could last longer than holiday leftovers. 

Michelle Kosinski, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And I'm joined now by meteorologist Jackie Meretsky from NBC Weather Plus. 

Jackie, good evening.  How bad is it going to be?

(WEATHER REPORT)

OLBERMANN:  I have been in western New York at Thanksgiving time with a foot of snow coming, and I had to shop.  I know the drill.  Stay home and get people IOU's. 

JACKIE MERETSKY, NBC METEOROLOGIST:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  Jackie Meretsky of NBC Weather Plus.  Great thanks. 

MERETSKY:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, we've told you about them and their Katrina scam.  Now you get to meet the two stranded frat brothers.  If they really were in Lambda Chi Alpha, it was in the chapter at the state penitentiary. 

And another way to avoid jail time, plead guilty.  The student seducer makes news by what she pleaded to. 

Those stories ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICOLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  As the Iraqis take control of their own security.  And you saw an important handover today in Tikrit in Iraq.  This is the lavish palace that once housed Saddam Hussein's mother. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  And of course, everybody loves turkey.  And you have the turkey, and a lot of people will bake the turkey.  A lot of people will broil the turkey.  A lot of people will pan fry the turkey.  A lot of people will deep fry the turkey.  But not everybody likes to cook turkey.  For example, Vice President Dick Cheney plans to have the CIA torture his. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you build it, they will come.  That's what Jody Pendarvis hopes will happen at his UFO welcome center. 

JODY PENDARVIS, ALIEN AMBASSADOR:  I am actually the ambassador to the aliens.  This makes it homier, OK?  They like a lot of butter where they come from.  Root beer goes up their nose.  So that's why they like the root beer. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Two career criminals in New Orleans pulling off an unbelievable con, convincing an entire campus fraternity that they were fellow frat brothers, displaced by the hurricane.  That's next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We first told you this story last week, but we should have seen it coming last September.  In the confused, heartbreaking, waterlogged chaos of the days and weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans, this was probably inevitable.  Escaped convicts, passing themselves off as displaced students at Tulane University in New Orleans and, speaking metaphorically, anyway, hitching a free ride on the evacuation bus. 

And in our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, how this ended, with these two guys turning all of this kind of road company edition of “Animal House.”  That we could not have foreseen and that we turn over to our correspondent, Kerry Sanders. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  During the Katrina crisis, with New Orleans underwater, law enforcement stretched thin, residents fleeing across the nation, two men showed up on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville with a student I.D. from Tulane in New Orleans.  The Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity opened its doors and hearts. 

PATRICK DAVIS, LAMBDA CHI ALPHA FRATERNITY:  They had very credible stories.  They presented themselves as just true brothers of this fraternity. 

SANDERS:  But they were far from fraternity brothers.  Twenty-two-year-old Zacharie Arabie and 31-year-old Steven Ridge were two enterprising inmates in a Louisiana prison.  They escaped using a popsicle stick to pick a cell door lock.  They wound up in Knoxville, attending fraternity parties, even dating co-eds. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They were very generous with their money. 

SANDERS:  The duo, who were spending time for forgery and armed robbery, allegedly had resumed their old lives, too.  Ridge was arrested after trying to pass off forged $10 bills at this gas station.  Arabie was picked up outside the college library. 

Police believe both men obtained $4,000 in Hurricane Katrina aid. 

Real Katrina victims in New Orleans are outraged.

KAREN COHEN, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  My life has pretty much fallen apart here, and these guys are having a great time. 

SANDERS:  Back on campus, the experience, of course, in life, no one signed up to take. 

BRETT SKYLLINGSTAD, LAMBDA CHI ALPHA FRATERNITY:  I'm definitely going to second-guess every other person.  And it's sad. 

SANDERS:  Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Apparently, the only thing you have to fear more than people who don't belong in your school are the people who do.  That's our segue into our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs. 

Debra Lafave, the 25-year-old Florida teacher accused of having sex with a 14-year-old student, has pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery.  She thus avoids jail time.  It's three years of house arrest, seven years of probation. 

Also part of the deal, she registers as a sexual predator, gives up her teaching license and cannot profit from selling her story. 

Negotiations on the plea deal had stalled over the summer.  Her attorney saying jail would be too dangerous for someone as pretty as his client.  Just like school, apparently. 

And tonight, one of the great journalists of our era is dead.  Hugh Sidey, who intimately covered the presidents from Eisenhower to the current Bush for “TIME” magazine, has died of an apparent hard attack. 

Sidey began reporting from the White House in 1955 for “Life” magazine before moving to “TIME.”  He later became its Washington bureau chief and wrote its regular column, “The Presidency,” from 1966 through 1996. 

He covered the Kennedy assassination 32 years ago today in Dallas. 

Mr. Sidey was considered a gentleman journalist.  He gave respect readily, even to a room full of high school students, including me 32 years ago.  And no matter how critical his portraits, his subjects respected him back. 

A statement issued today by Nancy Reagan: “I have lost a dear friend, and America has lost one of its most trusted journalists.”

Hugh Sidey was 78 years old.

And obviously, forgive the error on the map.  The Kennedy assassination 42 years ago today. 

Also tonight, a journalist of another kind.  He's already outed a CIA agent and stormed off the CNN set.  Now word that Bob Novak had some sort of incident with a fellow plane passenger.  That's ahead. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN'S list of today's three nominees for the title of “Worst Person in the World.” 

The bronze winner, the European printers of the 100 peso notes for the Philippines.  In the latest batch, they have misspelled the name of the country's president.  She's Gloria Arroyo.  They have spelled it Gloria Arrovo. 

Runner up, Gilberto Carnoale of Soverato in southern Italy.  He had escaped from house arrest.  Chased by local police, he decided to hide in a local church, where the other shift of local police were attending mass. 

But the winner, Brian Latuszek, charged with aggravated robbery in Chicago.  He was captured after he fell, leaving the bar he had allegedly just robbed.  He had stuck the joint up with a gun shaped object.  It turned out to be a ham sandwich, molded into the shape of a gun.  For besmirching the good name of the real ham burglar, Brian Latuszek, today's “Worst Person in the World”!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Among them, the CIA leak investigation story, the Scooter Libby indictment, the Judith Miller saga, the Bob Woodward surprise and prewar intel imbroglio have been the lead items on this newscast for something like 787 consecutive days.  But one person has been missing from the headlines.

Our No. 1 story in the countdown, what about Bob Novak? 

Talking about all this CIA leak stuff without talking about Robert Novak is kind of like talking about the great Chicago fire without talking about the apocryphal Mrs. O'Leary's cow. 

Novak, if you've forgotten, and there's every chance you may have, was the first to publish, in not the first to know, that the wife of the former acting ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, was Valerie Plame of the CIA, specifically the CIA's covert effort to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists. 

So how is it that he isn't in the news?  In a moment Janeane Garofalo will join me to try to explain how the columnist and TV commentator has kept his head while seemingly all those around him, from Libby to Judith Miller, have lost theirs. 

First, alert the media.  There's been a Novak news sighting.  The “Washington Post” reporting today that Novak got into a scuffle with a fellow passenger as they were boarding a Chicago-bound flight from Washington on Saturday. 

The paper quotes its unofficial mascot on the flight, who it says, says Novak “cut in front of another passenger while entering first class.  The guy protested and laid a hand on Novak, who responded by socking him and threatening to knock his teeth out.”

The “Post” reports that Novak was on his way to Hawaii to watch the University of Maryland basketball team play in a tournament there.  It also quotes Novak as dismissing the incident: “Some guy pushed me and I pushed him back.  That's all there was to it.”

The reporter then asked if Novak had learned anything from the experience.  “No,” he replied.  “Nothing.”

Wouldn't you like to see that?  This, of course, is where the new journalism comes in, and that can only mean Robert Novak First-Class Puppet Theater. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey.  Watch it, Bob. 

OLBERMANN:  Don't you touch me.  Don't you touch me unless you have a subpoena.  I'll knock your teeth out.  I'll tell you another thing, mister, did you know that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife is CIA operative Valerie Plame?  Huh?  Huh?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As ever, we remind you that events depicted in puppet theater may or may not have happened that way and may or may not have been embellished, just for the hell of it or out of spite. 

To look more seriously at Novak, slightly more seriously, let me call in Janeane Garofalo, actress, comedian, host of “The Majority Report” on Air America Radio.

Good evening, Janeane. 

JANEANE GAROFALO, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Hello, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let's start with...

GAROFALO:  That's the new journalism?

OLBERMANN:  I'm afraid so. 

GAROFALO:  Oh, OK. 

OLBERMANN:  At least here it is. 

GAROFALO:  I'm sorry.  Go ahead.  What were you going to say?

OLBERMANN:  I don't have enough money for real puppets. 

Let's start with the scuffle, or as they would call it in the circles of his favorite basketball team, no harm no foul.  Do you buy this story?  Could this really just have been passenger rage or might there be something darker behind this?  Could that have been Joe Wilson or Pat Fitzgerald or James Carville or Bob Woodward's source trying to start something with Robert Novak?

GAROFALO:  No, but there's definitely something darker behind this.  Bob Novak, or I like to refer to him as Nosferatu, because he—although he's less likable than Nosferatu. 

But he, like a lot of partisan hacks for today's Republican Party and today's conservative moment, which is neither Republican nor conservative, they seem to be operating by a lot of dark forces or inner tensions or just cantankerousness that is evident in the way that they do business with politics.  And everything with them is a zero sum game. 

So I believe that Bob Novak, spiritually, like a lot of other right-wing partisan hacks, are always on the verge of punching somebody.  Are always on—they always behave as if they've just been cut off in traffic.  That's spiritually where they are all the time, and they have an anger management problem that then they just pretend is Republican or conservative politics. 

OLBERMANN:  So—so that brings us—I mean, that brings us back to the broader point that I mentioned at the beginning of this segment.  How in the world has all of this CIA leak story unfolded without Robert Novak getting indicted or reprimanded or fired or just mentioned?

GAROFALO:  Well, probably because Karl Rove is the one that leaked the information to him, like Karl Rove used to leak information to him during the governor's race in Texas about the Bush campaign.  And I would think that Karl Rove is protecting himself.  And so Bob Novak is protecting him.

Or Bob Novak is just so unpleasant that they would rather avoid dealing with him than follow the letter of the law. 

OLBERMANN:  Let him go rather than drag him here and have him testify. 

GAROFALO:  Yes, he's just so unpleasant.  It would like be dealing with Ann Coulter.  You know what I mean?  I think that people would rather see justice miscarried than actually have to talk to Ann Coulter or something like that.

OLBERMANN:  Lord knows I would vouchsafe for that latter point. 

It appears that the newspaper column that he does is going to continue, but his TV career is not.  He stormed off the set at CNN shouting, “B.S.,” only he didn't do the abbreviation, at James Carville in August.  And he's not been on the air since. 

And even “The New York Post” reported two weeks ago that he's not going to be on the air again.  His contract apparently expires in the new year, and they're just going to let it fade out. 

So he did lose the TV gig.  On the other hand, the gig he lost was at CNN, which is in kind of flux at the moment.  So is losing a gig at CNN a punishment or is it a reward?

GAROFALO:  It's neither.  Actually, a punishment would be if you're forced to go work at “FOX & Friends” morning show.  That will be a cruel and unusual punishment.

OLBERMANN:  The punishment is watching “FOX & Friends.”

GAROFALO:  That is bad enough. 

OLBERMANN:  There you go.

GAROFALO:  Watching it is bad enough.  Being on it is akin to water boarding in a way.  Not to take away from the severity of water boarding.  But if you've ever seen “FOX & Friends” or have been on it, you know that it's a really, really unpleasant place to be.  So that would be the punishment. 

But how he remained on television as long as he did, really, is sort of a mystery.  But that goes to show, again, there is no quote/unquote liberal bias in the media.  There is definitely a right-wing bias in the media that protects these bullies and these again hacks, for lack of a better word, that are so clearly motivated by other things than journalism.  And—and why they were interested in journalism in the first place is just as mysterious. 

OLBERMANN:  The other option, of course is—and I believe in this as much as I believe in the one you just brought up.  I also believe in long-standing bureaucratic network clerical matters.  But we can go into that when there's more time and another subject.

I've got about 45 seconds here.  When this is all over, how or if we will remember Robert Novak, your thoughts on that?

GAROFALO:  Well, hopefully as a cautionary tale: what kind of trouble you can get into by following the lead and be counterfeit stories of partisan right-wing hacks and basically stenographers like Bob Novak or Judith Miller or the FOX crew.  Things like that.  It actually leads to tremendous trouble. 

OLBERMANN:  What would you do if he took a swing at you or pushed you out of the way?

GAROFALO:  I guess fall down.

OLBERMANN:  I don't...

GAROFALO:  I don't know. 

OLBERMANN:  I don't know, Janeane.  I think you could—I think you could probably take him.  I've seen him.  I think you could probably—whoever this guy was, he must not have been in shape or anything.  That's what I'm thinking. 

GAROFALO:  I have no idea. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Janeane Garofalo of “The Majority Report” on Air America and many other venues, as well.  Thanks for your time.  All the best, Janeane. 

GAROFALO:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That's COUNTDOWN.  I'm Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose, especially if you run into Bob Novak.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, live and direct. 

Good evening, Rita.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,