updated 11/27/2005 1:56:52 PM ET 2005-11-27T18:56:52

Guests: Dana Milbank, Tony Bruno

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

Democrats suggest pullouts or drawbacks, and they are hurting the war effort.  The Pentagon plans to drop troop levels by a third, and they are just being realistic.  Will 50,000 troops come home next year?  And will the administration explain it‘s just doing what the Iraqis are asking?

The big surprise from pro sports.  A star suspended by a team fed up with his divisive conduct.  He appeals to an arbitrator, and the arbitrator rules in favor of the team.  Terrell Owens, TO, gets the biggest TO ever, baby.

You have been asking about this guy, the youngest and most eloquent of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  What Thanksgiving means and will be like for Charles Evans.

And sure, when they get pardoned, it‘s on the news, but what kind of post-celebrity life is there for the national turkeys of Thanksgivings past?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The advice from Senator Aiken Of Vermont to President Lyndon Johnson about the quagmire of Vietnam was simple and direct.  Declare victory, and go home.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it appears that the 21st century version of that advice has been given to President George W. Bush about Iraq.  And it reads, in effect, Declare the Iraqis asked to you leave, and go home.

Secretary of State Rice quoted as saying troop withdrawals from Iraq will begin soon, anonymous senior Pentagon officials suggesting 50,000 out of 150,000 Americans there now could be here this time next year, all of it against the bizarre backdrop of a local TV interview in Nevada today in which the minority leader of the Senate mentioned in passing that he had heard somewhere that Osama bin Laden, quote, “may have died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan.”  Heard it on the radio.

Part of that interview in a moment.

First, “The Washington Post” citing anonymous Pentagon sources on plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by as many as three battalions by the new year, and to keep at least one brigade on standby across the border in Kuwait in case Iraq needs more help again.

There‘s also a tentative plan reported to reduce the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to fewer than 100,000 by the end of next year.

But one general told “The Post” the basic formula for redeployment is that one U.S. battalion can leave Iraq every time three Iraqi battalions and one Iraqi brigade are fully trained up to lead anti-insurgent operations, albeit with U.S. troops in a supporting role still.

In a series of broadcast interviews today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that a pullback will begin soon, that, quote, “The number of coalition forces is clearly going to come down, because Iraqis are making it possible now to do those functions themselves.”

She also said the Iraqis were stepping up.  “I think,” the secretary concluded, “that‘s how the president will want to look at this.”

Let‘s bring in national political reporter from “The Washington Post,” Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Withdrawing some troops almost immediately, redeploying others to stand by in Kuwait, sounds—maybe it‘s just me.  Sounds a little bit like the position offered, or suggested, by Congressman Murtha a week ago.

MILBANK:  It is strangely reminiscent of that.  The—you remember, it wasn‘t—it was only a matter of months ago the president was talking about a generational commitment to Iraq.  Now we‘re learning that that generation may be something of a fruit fly, or a rabbit.

But this is not a 20-year generational commitment we‘re talking about.  It sounds like everybody has agreed, whether you‘re John Murtha, whether you‘re George Bush, that we‘re going to cut.  It‘s a question of, Are we running?  Are we walking back slowly?  Are we just sort of trotting out of there?

But that‘s the interesting thing is, the hotter this debate gets, really, the policy is all the same, and that is, a substantial number of troops are going to be removed from Iraq in 2006.

OLBERMANN:  All of this was said to your colleagues at “The Washington Post” anonymously, because the plans are not for public consumption yet.  But I had heard a military officer say yesterday that this country is in the business of getting out of Iraq as soon as the Iraqis want us to.  Is that how the administration will make this look like they are not bending to opposition or criticism, to insist that we are just doing what the Iraqis want?

MILBANK:  Sure.  And it won‘t be hard to find Iraqis who will absolutely say that.  It‘s like, during the entire war, when people were saying, Will the president add more troops?  They were saying, Well, we‘re going to see, whatever the generals want.  And the generals know that they should be requesting whatever the president wants to give them, so it‘s somewhat tautological there.

That won‘t—there won‘t be much trouble there.  The president talks about that needing to meet certain hurdles, a conditions-based withdrawal.  But the main condition that we‘re talking about is the 2006 election. 

That‘s the real pressure that‘s on the president and his party right now.

OLBERMANN:  And the Iraqis who were at the Arab League meeting in Cairo on Monday asked for a timeline already.  So if they don‘t get another later version of that, they already have something they could hold onto there.

Now we have Secretary of State Rice chiming in on this in a couple of interviews.  There are terms like “gradual,” there are milestones like after the elections next month.  But is the whole thing unplanned, haphazard?  Or could there really be—is there really an unannounced long-term schedule for a series of withdrawals in the next, say, 13 months?

MILBANK:  Well, part of what the administration is saying is absolutely true, that they do need to reach certain conditions.  And it‘s all about how many Iraqi troops you can train to do the job.  It‘s always debatable as to how many of them are actually fit to fight.

What we‘re really up against here is, can they get things established to a point after the December elections so they can avoid a civil war?  If they can do that, then the faster the better that they can get out of there, because of the domestic pressure.

OLBERMANN:  For two and a half years, though, as you suggested there, the White House line has been, We‘re in this for the long run, generationally.  Can this administration reverse that position, in effect, without getting proverbial egg all over their faces, without having that Vermont senator, Senator Aiken, quoted back at them 30 years or so, or 35 years after he gave that advice to LBJ?

MILBANK:  Oh, I—fortunately, I think he‘s dead now.  But the egg on the face will come internationally, and that would be in terms of the damaged reputation of the United States.  There‘s really—it‘s not a political problem at home.  The public wants the United States out of Iraq.  They‘re not going to hold the president to account for not staying there longer.  So he‘s free on that account.

Of course, it‘ll be embarrassing overseas.  But that embarrassment has already been done, in the sense that the world perceives that the United States has not been successful there.

So we could, I guess, always bomb Al Jazeera if that were necessary.

OLBERMANN:  We stopped worrying about the embarrassment a long time ago.

The national political reporter of “The Washington Post,” Dana Milbank.  Great thanks for joining us, and happy Thanksgiving.

MILBANK:  You too, thanks.

OLBERMANN:  The news about the intended, if not precisely planned, troop withdrawals may, in fact, explain the increase in vitriol from the administration towards the media lately.  You got to make it look like you are not caving in to your critics, whether the elected ones or the electronic ones.

Case in point, the vice president again this week, while scaling back the administration‘s attack on the Vietnam vet and congressman, Jack Murtha, he turned on a far easier target.  Guess who?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Within hours of my speech, the report went out on the wires under the headline, quote, “Cheney Says War Critics Dishonest, Reprehensible,” end quote.

One thing I‘ve learned in the last five years is that when you‘re vice president, you‘re lucky if your speeches get any attention at all.

But I do have a quarrel with that headline, and it‘s important to make this point at the outset.  I do not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror or any aspect thereof.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The media misrepresented his stance.  When he referred to the wires, that would be the Associated Press.  He also referred to himself as Cheney there, leaving aside the fact that the vice president went on in that same speech to add “corrupt” and “shameless” to the adjectives “dishonest” and “reprehensible.”

Here‘s what he had actually said five days ago which produced that original headline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  The suggestion that‘s been made by some U.S. (INAUDIBLE) that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Not only sounded like the words “dishonest” and “reprehensible” in there, but also with context and everything.

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” contributing editor Craig Crawford.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Ah, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain over there.

OLBERMANN:  Well, what—yes, exactly.  What‘s different about this one than about any of the other stuff we‘ve seen, or you and I have talked about, or you have written a book about?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, I‘m ready to write another chapter just out of this speech, almost.  It was quite a bell-ringer for me.  To suggest that quoting him accurately in a headline is somehow a bias, I suppose he‘s saying, is a little bit of a stretch, to say the least.  I mean, I—it‘s a new standard of bias, malicious direct quotation (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  When you hear people talk about the mainstream media, folks who watch Fox News think the mainstream media is everybody else but Fox News.  People who listen to Air America think the mainstream media is Fox News.  But you never hear people talk about the Associated Press.  And that‘s who he‘s referring to.  They‘re like the electric company.  Whatever we might do with the electricity, most of it still comes from them.  There‘s nothing more mainstream in news world.

Is it smart for anybody to attack the Associated Press?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I do think this one rang so hollow.  And I think a lot of the old rhetorical tricks that were so evident in this fairly short 19-minute speech are beginning to ring hollow, and as far as the (INAUDIBLE) I mean, the wires, and the Associated Press in particular, are, you know, right down the middle when they do analysis.  And they label it.  And—but, of course, Cheney knows that any attack on the media finds a home, because it‘s—there‘s a receptive marketplace out there for turning the tables on the press.

OLBERMANN:  But is the vice president getting more desperate when he attacks reporters?  Because when he said this, “One might also argue that untruthful charges against the commander in chief have an insidious effect on the war effort itself.  I‘m unwilling to say that.”  I mean, Craig, the old Dick Cheney, he wouldn‘t have tried the “I‘m not saying this but some people say” ploy.  I mean, (INAUDIBLE) you just got the guts to come out and say, You‘re wrong.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, yes, I think so.  I think he is becoming aware of his

of the low approval ratings with the public, and maybe a little bit gun-shy.  But he‘s still got a few zingers in there.  I mean, that was quite a

that is a classic old, old trick in politics, Keith, you know, to, you know, take a personal slam against somebody and try to make it seem more high-minded because you‘re quoting someone else and distancing yourself from it.

The president actually did that in China in one of his remarks, said that, I heard somebody say that it‘s unpatriotic to criticize me.  I reject that.  But I don‘t know who he was quoting, who he claims had said that.  But that is a classical trick, to get a message out without being the messenger.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s also a classic media trick.  I don‘t know how many times I‘ve heard (INAUDIBLE) that exactly that same way.

CRAWFORD:  Very true.  Yes, very true.

OLBERMANN:  But lastly, in this new thing that just happened late this afternoon about politicians and the media, how would you like to be the newscaster in Reno, Nevada, who sits down to tape a public affairs show with Senator Harry Reid, and the guy makes a joke about Osama bin Laden, mispronouncing it, by the way, and this happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His approval rating might change.  It‘s in the 20s.  He‘s not (INAUDIBLE) somebody you want to go have dinner with.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I understand that Osama bin Laden‘s numbers are higher at this point.  But that‘s just a poll I heard.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER:  And who (INAUDIBLE) do that he, you know, died in the earthquake that they had in Pakistan, seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Really?

REID:  Uh-huh.  And if that‘s the case, I‘m (INAUDIBLE) certainly with anyone harm.  If that‘s the case, that‘s good for the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, yes, oh, by, oh, the way, Mr. Interviewer, Osama might be dead.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Now, the interview says—the interviewer said afterwards that Reid told him afterwards that he had heard this on the radio.  And I need to clear this up.  He did not hear it on my show on the radio.  Reid‘s office has said he was just speculating or he was repeating something he read in the papers.  He doesn‘t have a secret briefing, he doesn‘t have info other people don‘t.  Nobody mentioned the fact that Senator Reid he had a little stroke last August.

But this is—this is, this is interaction with the media in an entirely different sense of the word, isn‘t it?

CRAWFORD:  I mean, that whole interview, you know, I heard this, I heard that.  I mean, you know, one reason we have a media is try to confirm stories so that we‘re not just talking about gossip.  I mean, I mean, gossip sometimes is news you can remember.  And it has a shelf life of its own.

But, you know, I think also, you know, it‘s sort of sad, in a way.  This is the minority leader of the Democratic leader of the Senate.  I guess the White House shares so little intelligence with him, he‘s getting his information from the radio in his car.

OLBERMANN:  Or maybe just one only he can hear.  We‘re not sure.  But, I mean, it is, the point about sourcing, 100 percent of bloggers are saying tonight, This is too poorly sourced for to us run with it.  And you just put it on Nevada television, and by extension, national TV, it‘s on the Internet right now.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, I mean, the—it‘s kind of like they said in “Broadcast News” in one time, you know, say, You crossed the line, didn‘t you?  It‘s, like, well, they keep moving the sucker, don‘t they?  The standard for confirmation and proof are just almost nonexistent.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I think we need to ask the senator for Sunday‘s football finals while he‘s at it.

Craig Crawford, author of “Attack the Messenger,”  Thanks for your time tonight, and happy Thanksgiving.

CRAWFORD:  You too.

OLBERMANN:  Happy Thanksgiving.

CRAWFORD:  You too.

OLBERMANN:  All right, take care.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it has not exactly been the smoothest of holiday getaways.  We‘ll take another look at how the biggest travel day of the year is unfolding, and get your travel forecast, if any.

And when was the last time this happened?  A pro athlete suspended for being a bad teammate takes it to arbitration, and the arbitrator rules for the team and against the player.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As we looked ahead to anticipated horrific Thanksgiving travel, and the show-sheltered start of the Christmas shopping rush last night, Jackie Moretzky (ph) of NBC Weather Plus and I stumbled onto what may be the only immediate option for those shoppers, online gift certificates.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it is both better and worse than we thought last night.  We begin with the worst.

Exhibit A, the gas tanker explosion on the Washington, D.C., Beltway that shut down I-95 in both directions most of the day.

Exhibit B, more unseasonably early snowstorms.

Back to Weather Plus in a moment.

First, from O‘Hare Airport in Chicago, our correspondent Kevin Tibbles helps us to find the silver lining.  Kevin?

KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, the Thanksgiving weekend holiday exodus is in full swing at O‘Hare, other airports, roadways, even railways across the nation.  And the big news tonight, in spite of a little winter weather out there, things are going smoothly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIBBLES (voice-over):  The first taste of winter in Chicago this morning as snow slowed the estimated 2 million travelers planning to use this city‘s two airports this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We know that it‘s not under our control, so it‘s a lot better for us to just roll with the punches.

TIBBLES:  But by and large, a headache-free travel day, thanks to innovations like self-serve kiosks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every year, the technology gets better.

TIBBLES:  Technology too makes for more productive waiting.  Michael Carr (ph) is e-mailing a term paper to his professor.

MICHAEL CARR, TRAVELER:  I have a long layover.  So I have time to fill.

TIBBLES:  In New York, also busy, also running smoothly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were anticipating the normal nightmare, and we got here pretty quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Clearly, today is going to be a very slippery one.

TIBBLES:  In the Midwest, a cold blast and snow means a treacherous trip tonight for many drivers.

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Especially near the Great Lakes, some areas could get as much as two feet of snow in those heavy lake-effect snow bands.

TIBBLES:  Still, around the country, there‘s something to be thankful for at the pumps.

MATTEW PARKER, ATLANTA MOTORIST:  Hopefully, it‘ll stay at least this low, if not lower, for at least quite a while.

TIBBLES:  The 31 million holiday motorists are still paying more than last year.  But...

JUSTIN MCNAULL, AAA:  The good news for motorists is, they‘ve fallen 85 cents since the records we hit over Labor Day.

TIBBLES:  Still, high fuel prices have many rediscovering travel by train or by bus.

But it‘s the airlines that are clearly the happiest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is a very full flight today.

TIBBLES:  Travelers no longer influenced by 9/11 are filling up flights in record numbers, even though prices are up about $40 over last year.

TERRY TRIPPLER, CHEAPSEATS.COM:  If trends continue, when the airlines look back at Thanksgiving 2005, this could be the weekend the pendulum started coming back.

TIBBLES (on camera):  Now, all the attention gets focused on Sunday.  While many people left early to beat the rush, everyone wants to get home on that day, so many of the flights are already sold out.  If you miss yours, you may not get to back to work for a couple of days, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Kevin Tibbles at O‘Hare.  Great thanks.

As promised, we get the latest now on the extreme weather causing havoc at this hour from NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins.

Good evening, Bill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  Well, good evening, Keith.

The travel problems are in the Great Lakes all the way through the Ohio Valley, and soon in areas of the East Coast, especially the northern mid-Atlantic states.  We have a stripe of snow here, all in white, from Detroit, Michigan, down through Cleveland into Pittsburgh.  Those are all locations where it‘s currently snowing.

And now it‘s even begun to snow as far south as Virginia and Washington, D.C.  So I-95, if you‘re taking a late-night drive maybe early in the morning between New York and, say, Washington, D.C., it could get a little bit slippery.  And we all know how busy that‘s going to be early tomorrow morning.

The other big story is going to be the heavy lake-effect snows.  As we go throughout, it looks like Thanksgiving Day and Friday.  Traveling on the New York State Thruway from about Rochester through Syracuse and all the way through Buffalo, and then south down to Cleveland on I-90.  At times it‘ll be snowing so heavily that the road‘s probably going to be impassable.  So if you have any travel in this location, be careful.

And we also expect major airport delays from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to Buffalo and Syracuse over the next two days.  That‘s by far the worst area for your Thanksgiving travel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Bill Karins and his magic maps.  Thanks.

We all celebrated when the turkeys were pardoned at the White House.  But do you know what happens to them after the pardons?  A shocking COUNTDOWN investigation.  Well, it‘s shocking because we conducted an investigation.

No “Turkey C.S.I.” needed here.  These are just strange people on a weird mission, and we‘re thankful for the cameraman who captured it for us.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for the segment rated just below Brussels sprouts on the list of Americans‘ top 100 Thanksgiving favorites again this year.

Let‘s play ODDBALL.

Beginning in the nation‘s capital, where one day after our great president was compassionate enough to pardon two Thanksgiving turkeys, a dozen more ungrateful birds have shown up by bus to make big, fat, noxious spectacles out of themselves.  But as they march on the Capitol and the White House, chanting “Save our hides, eat more sides,” it became clear these were not ordinarily turkeys.  Clearly, these birds were propaganda tools of the side-dish cartel.

Big side-maker Country Crock put them up to it.  They say it is to bring attention to hunger in the U.S. this holiday season, especially for sides.  The company plans to donate 10,000 pounds of mashed potatoes to the needy this year.  Maybe it‘s for a good cause after all.

But what about the fate of these birds?  Oh, I‘m terribly sorry.  We should have probably warned the kids about that in advance.  Actually, this 42-pound turkey is from Lamars, Iowa.  It is the biggest bird on the farm of Lois Spaulding (ph), and she just wanted to show it off before she donated it to the local church for the local holiday feast.  The turkey would have made a short speech, but apparently left his head in his other pair of pants.

Finally, a Thanksgiving story free of all that sappy donating-to-charity stuff.  It‘s the Artie‘s New York Deli Turkey-Eating Contest, the annual celebration of gross and wasteful gluttony in the heart of Times Square, eight champion eaters, each racing to finish a 10-pound bird in 12 minutes without choking to death on a wing bone or something.  Don‘t look at the competition.  Never look at the competition.  Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas won yet again.  She‘s the Terrell Owens of the competitive eating circuit.  Small in stature, but with a really big mouth.

Also tonight, last year he got flashed by Nicolette Sheridan.  This year, he just got disappeared by an arbitrator.  The Terrell Owens story, the real one.

And the 9-year-old who made such an impression during the Katrina disaster.  We‘ll tell you how Charles Evans and his family are faring as the holidays loom.

Those stories ahead.

But first, now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Ruth M. Siems.  “New York Times” reporting today that the Indiana home economist has passed away at the age of 74.  The timing is extraordinary, the day before Thanksgiving, this is.  She was the inventor of StoveTop Stuffing.

Number two, an unnamed drunk in Santa Cruz, California.  So blitzed was he, police suggest, that he came out of a bar and jumped into the back of what he just assumed was a taxi, and, in fact, it was the back seat of the police cruiser of county sheriff‘s deputy Esther Blackman (ph).  It‘s a good night when the drunks jump into your black-and-white.

Speaking of which, number one, Matthew Wyman of West Roxbury, Mass., pulled over there for suspected drunken driving.  Police asked him to recite the alphabet as part of a sobriety test, to which he replied, It‘s been years since I‘ve done that.  Can I have a math problem instead?  What about state capitals, hopefully for 200, Alex?

OLBERMANN:  No ordinary arbitrator could have just made football‘s most controversial figure disappear.  Only an arbitrator who is a magician so gifted that he‘s actually appeared on the cover of “G.E.” magazine. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, NFL star Terrell Owen has had his suspension, in effect, his firing by the Philadelphia Eagles upheld by arbitrator Richard Block, the magician.  The most talented receiver in the game evidently will not play the game again this year.  At least this year. 

In a moment, Tony Bruno of Sporting News Radio joins me to discuss the controversy that has jumped from the sports pages to the news pages. 

First the story of T.O., a man distinguished until five seasons ago by nothing but talent.  Then he took on America‘s team. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Twice having scored touchdowns against the Cowboys in Dallas, Owens raced to midfield and struck a pose atop the home team‘s logo.  Three seasons ago, perhaps, was when the football world split into those who thought Owens was an enthusiastic if unpredictable star and those who thought him a clown. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just makes the pass.  Touch down!

OLBERMANN:  Following a touchdown on “Monday Night Football,” Owens produced a Sharpie pen from his sock, autographed the ball, and handed it to someone sitting in the stands in Seattle.  It turned out to be his own financial advisor. 

Two months later, he tried to top himself, celebrating a touchdown using the pompoms of a San Francisco cheerleader. 

TERRELL OWENS, NFL PLAYER:  I‘m definitely feeling like I‘m going to fit in real nice here. 

OLBERMANN:  In 2004, Owens‘ relationship with the media became fateful or maybe fatal.  In a magazine interview, he suggested that a former teammate was gay.  Then for television, he made his biggest most controversial mark to that time. 

OWENS:  Oh, hell!  The team is going to have to win this one without me. 

OLBERMANN:  Ironically, Philadelphia would have to try to win without him.  He was injured not long after that sketch.  The Eagles reached the Super Bowl even though Owen did not play a minute in the postseason. 

After they lost the Super Bowl by three points, Owens complained that quarterback Donovan McNabb was inexplicably tired in the fourth quarter. 

Nonetheless, as 2005 began, he was insisting that his seven-year, $49 million contract was insufficient to, quote, “feed his family.”

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS‘s “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  If I was the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, I would say, “Look at this.  Terrell Owens, my God.  He lived up to everything we thought he would and that‘s why we paid him so much money.” 

OLBEMANN:  By the time of training camp last summer, Owens was hinting at a hold-out.  When he did report, he argued with Coach Andy Reed and was suspended for a week. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you say happened?

OWENS:  Andy, two sides to every story. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s your side?

OWENS:  No comment. 

OLBERMANN:  Just three weeks ago, it all fell apart.  On November 3, Owens complained to a reporter that the Eagles had not properly celebrated his 100th career touchdown the week before.  He also said the team would be better off with Green Bay‘s Brett Farb quarterback instead of the injured Philadelphia starter, McNabb. 

The next day Owens conducted perhaps the briefest news conference in sports history. 

OWENS:  I‘ve had an opportunity to talk with the Eagles organization, and I have learned that the team does not recognize individual achievements.  They have been brought to my attention that I have offended the organization and my teammates.  Therefore, I would like to apologize for any derogatory comments toward them.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  The team had insisted he apologize directly to quarterback McNabb.  He did not.  That same day, Owens scuffled with a former Eagles player, Hugh Douglas, at the team‘ training facility.  And on Saturday, the fifth, the coach announced Owens would not play in the next day‘s game. 

On the seventh, perhaps more additional reasons not yet publicly known.  Owen was suspended for three more games. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And he‘ll not be returning to play for team even after the conclusion of that suspension. 

OLBERMANN:  The players‘ union filed an appeal on his behalf and 13 hours of testimony was taken last week in which the union insisted the punishment was the most severe in football history and totally unjustified.  Owens sought reinstatement or to have his contract voided so he could sign with yet another team. 

Today, the arbitrator ruled otherwise.  The Eagles were within their rights to pay Owens but not play him, quote, “due to the nature of his conduct and its destructive and continuing threat to the team.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Few know the complicated dynamics of Philadelphia football or the realities of pro sports like my next guest, the aptly named host of the Tony Bruno show, or extravaganza, if you prefer, on Sporting News Radio.  He is celebrating, if that‘s the right word for it, 25 years as one of my best friends.  And he‘s in the sports video game Madden NFL 2006, which I find hard to believe.  At any event, Los Angeles, California, hello!

TONY BRUNO, HOST, SPORTING NEWS RADIO‘S “TONY BRUNO SHOW”:  How are you, Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Honestly, with the string of victories by players in all sports in these kind of situations, Tony, did you think the arbitrator was going to rule at least partially for Owens?

BRUNO:  I thought there‘d be some sort of, after five days, I mean, Judge Judy could have done this thing quickly if that‘s what they wanted to do.  Or Judge Wapner.  Bring him back.  Five days.

But you know what?  I guess the law is the law.  The Eagles could suspend him for four games, which they did.  And then they can tell him to go home for the rest of year as long as he‘s paid. 

I don‘t understand why people have a problem with it.  That‘s business.  You and I know.  We‘ve seen a lot of peculiar individuals in the history of sports with all kinds of quirks and bizarre behavior. 

OLBERMANN:  Stop talking about me like that.

BRUNO:  This is a tragedy.  Well, yes, we‘ve seen delusional people in our business a lot of times, you and myself included.  But I‘ve never seen a guy in all the years I‘ve been covering sports, Keith, as delusional and as completely out of touch with reality as this guy. 

He‘s a great player and now he‘s doing the worst thing possible to his career, is putting himself out of the public eye, which is what he lives for. 

OLBERMANN:  But what happened to him?  Because as I suggested, this was a fairly, seemingly fairly average, in terms of comportment, athlete until that day in Dallas when he decided it was a good place to go to celebrate his touchdown, the Cowboy logo at the center of the field.  What happened?

BRUNO:  You know, being one of America‘s premier Dallas Cowboy bashers, that was one of my favorite moment in Terrell Owens‘ career. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

BRUNO:  But no, I mean, it‘s all about getting yourself attention.  And there‘s no doubt this guy loves the attention.  But I think he made the wrong—he played the wrong card.  He played the “I want to renegotiate, go out and hire a high-powered agent who‘s going to get my deal ripped up,” and it blew up in his face. 

And I think all the subsequent comments that he made to the limited number of people that he would speak to always turned out to be the wrong thing.  It‘s not about freedom of speech.  He can say whatever he wants.  It‘s about selecting the time to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. 

And now this is one of those cases of our old friend Nick LeCarr (ph) would say, there are no winners here.  The Eagles are a disaster.  And Terrell Owens‘ career is a disaster now. 

OLBERMANN:  But will he get that message, that it is a disastrous situation and he has to do something to modify his behavior?  Or will there continue to be people around him saying, “No, no, no, no, you‘re right and everybody else is wrong”? 

BRUNO:  We only could hope.  I mean, you would think if this guy is going to be 32 next month, he‘s going to go through a season without playing another game.  And then hopefully at the end of the year, he‘ll be released or they‘ll try to trade him, and he‘ll try to go somewhere else. 

But he won‘t get what he had.  The contract that he complained about, he‘s not even going to get a deal that good next year.  Hopefully, somebody wants him.  Hopefully, he sees the light and go out and do what he does best, which is play football, which is all we care about. 

OLBEMANN:  Is there a broader message here, do you think?  I mean, a lot of people, when he was originally suspended, just the sportsman-like question, “Where‘s the sportsmanship in that?”, suddenly came to the fore again.  Is there some sense that there‘s a tide turning against the “I, me, I, me, I, me” athlete?  Or is this an aberration, a one-time ruling?

BRUNO:  I think anybody who plans to do this in the future in sports realizes that‘s it‘s changed.  The employee no longer gets the benefit of the doubt. 

In the old days, the baseball player, the football player, the athlete who wanted more money, the fans would side with the athlete and always go against the employer.  It‘s changed now.  And in most businesses, the employee always gets the benefit of the doubt; the employer is always the bad guy.  In this case, the employer turned out to be the good guy.  T.O.  turned out to be the bad guy, which is not the way it really works in the real world.  Is it, Keith?

OLBERMANN:  I was just going to say, this ruling means that in the future, both you and I, when we get into these situations, we‘re screwed.  Right?

BRUNO:  I think we‘ve already been in these situations before.  We‘re not as delusional as Terrell Owens, I don‘t think, yet.  Are we? 

OLBERMANN:  Well, probably because neither of us has ever appeared in something with Nicole—Nicolette Sheridan.  That would have changed...

BRUNO:  Although I have stomped on the Dallas star before.  Nicolette Sheridan and I are having dinner tonight here in L.A., so thanks for asking. 

OLBERMANN:  I see you‘re being delusional again, Tony. 

BRUNO:  That‘s what I do.  That‘s who I am. 

OLBERMAN:  What happens to him?  Is somebody else going to hire him next year?  Is he going to play in the NFL next year?

BRUNO:  I think so.  I mean, everybody thinks that they can take a guy, he‘ll learn his lesson, he‘ll go out there, do what he does, play football and stop being ridiculous and get rid of Drew Rosenhaus and go out there and make a good living and enjoy life and play football and be in the public eye, which is what he lives for.

He‘s not a trouble maker; he‘s not a guy in trouble with the law.  This is the part that makes it ridiculous.  This guy is not a bad guy from what I understand.  He‘s just a guy who‘s delusional, like some of us.  Like most of us who then get it and then realize that it doesn‘t matter whether we‘re here or not.  The world moves on, doesn‘t it? 

OLBERMANN:  Wow!  He has a chance to learn that at 32 as opposed to as old as you are, as old as I am.

BRUNO:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Tony Bruno, the host of “The Tony Bruno Show” on Sporting News Radio.”  Have a great Thanksgiving, you rat bastard. 

BRUNO:  Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And of course, if I mentioned Tony‘s show, I have to mention, well, it‘s not mine but the one I‘m going to be on every day.  This programming reminder that my once, current and future partner Dan Patrick and I will be co-hosting the 2 p.m. Eastern hour of Dan‘s show, his show, his show, his show on ESPN Radio five days a week starting next Monday.  Be there.  Aloha. 

Also tonight, we met him during the height of the human catastrophe after Katrina.  Now nearly three months later, we‘ll look at what Thanksgiving will be like for Charles Evans. 

Just when you think you can‘t get any weirder, Tom Cruise with an early holiday gift for his future wife.  Think taking some pictures of the baby.  Not a camera.  Pictures of the baby before it‘s born.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A boy whose earnest wisdom captured the nation‘s attention during the Katrina debacle.  Where is little Charles Evans now?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you haven‘t thought of them with the 40 days of Thanks-mas-year upon us now, it‘s time to.  Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the mega holiday for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Two news developments today. 

FEMA has pushed back the deadline for evacuees still in hotels to get out.  Now they have until January 7.  The agency has also cut a deal with the lender Fanny Mae to place evacuees in 1,500 houses rent-free for the next year and a half.  They are houses upon which the lender had foreclosed. 

We‘re not sure if Charles Evans is going to get into one of those houses.  Once you‘ll see him, you will remember him and you will be hoping he will.  An update on Katrina‘s most admired survivor, from our correspondent, Campbell Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

CAMPBELL BROWN, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A 9-year-old settling into a new life in Dallas, Texas. 

CHARLES EVANS, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR:  Cool!

BROWN:  We first met him almost three months ago.  Charles Evans was one of thousands trapped at the New Orleans Convention Center, desperately trying to get out of the city. 

EVANS:  We just need some help out here.  It is so pitiful.  Pitiful. 

Where are we going to be?

BROWN:  He was living here on the street with his great-grandmother Ophelia until they were finally evacuated to Texas, finding temporary shelter with cousins Kevin and Diletta Morrow (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We had a lot of people that saw him on the news. 

And they were so in love with him, you know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can I have a hug?

EVANS:  Uh-huh.

BROWN:  Donations have made Charles‘ new life possible.  He and Ophelia now live here.  A donor has paid the rent for several months.  Even Hollywood came calling, inviting him to appear on the Emmy Awards. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This here is my new friend, Charlie Evans. 

BROWN (on camera):  Were you nervous when you went out there?

EVANS:  It was very exciting.  I enjoyed meeting the stars like Halle Berry. 

BROWN:  But it has been tough as well.  The trauma of Katrina has taken an emotional toll, and Charles is struggling in school. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s tried to adapt with what‘s going on, the changes and everything.  School is different.  Our school district is a little bit, I think, advanced compared to New Orleans. 

BROWN:  And the money is running out.  Like so many Katrina victims, in a few months, Charles and Ophelia will have to find another place to live. 

For moment, though, he is just a little boy. 

EVANS:  So when other people give stuff to me, I like to tell them happy turkey day. 

BROWN:  And he is happy to have a home for the holidays. 

Campbell Brown, NBC News, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

OLBERMANN:  Now a hard left into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

I don‘t care about Tom Cruise or Katie Holmes.  But every time I get out, they pull me back in. 

He‘s gotten her an early Christmas present, a sonogram machine.  Of course, it is a sonogram machine.  Why leave prenatal photography to the pros?

During an interview with Barbara Walters for an ABC special—that‘s an interesting word to use—set to air later this month, Mr. Cruise revealed the purchase.  Ms. Walters asked him if he‘d be operating the apparatus himself to which he replied yes.  Further interrogation exposing such information as the box office star does not know whether the child is a boy or a girl and that when he looks at the sonogram, he sees, quote, a little baby. 

A glib little baby.  You‘re glib, baby, you‘re glib. 

There really is only one celebrity who could follow that.  Michael Jackson is being sued again.  This time the plaintiff is former adviser Dieter Wiesner.  Mr. Wiesner, who served briefly as Jackson‘s personal manager before being fired, claims he was fraudulently sold the rights to merchandise of Jackson‘s image, by Jackson. 

Those rights had already been sold to somebody else.  That person sued Wiesner, who eventually settled and acquired the legal rights to peddle the King of Pop.  It cost him $9 million.  He‘s now suing Jackson for $64 million. 

Of course, if you‘re talking about Jackson‘s physical image, well, there are member enough different ones of those to go around for everybody, right?

Behind a Thanksgiving photo-op tradition.  Sure, the White House‘s national turkeys enjoy a high profile pardon every year.  But COUNTDOWN finds out what happens to them after that.  That‘s ahead.

But first, time for our list of today‘s nominees to carry the title of “Worst Person in the World.” 

The bronze winner, Henry Shmerber, a cement worker of new homes in Eugene, Oregon.  He and his colleagues had just finished a house, and he celebrated, as he does always this time of year, by setting up a deep fryer in the new house and cooking a turkey.  The deep fryer caught fire and burned the brand new house down. 

The runner up, Mr. Tipsword (ph), first name not known, a 77-year-old hiker who broke his leg in the wilds of Arizona and had to crawl several miles to escape a 250-acre wildfire that broke out in the region.  So how does that make him one of the worst?

Well, his son said Mr. Tipsword (ph) had already broken his leg before the fire and he‘d started a small camp fire to get warm.  Then he fell into it, scattering the embers and starting the 250-acre wildfire that he had to crawl away from. 

But the winners, those fine folks behind the intelligent design nonsense.  Because of them, the new exhibition of the work of Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in New York cannot find any corporate sponsors.  The corporations are afraid they might tick off the intelligent design guys. 

The folks who dreamt up intelligent design, the same people who brought you the world is flat, the earth is at the center of the universe, and let‘s burn a scientist at the stake today.  Today‘s worst persons in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Upholding the suspension of Terrell Owens may or may not mark a sea change in the conduct expected of athletes.  But certainly, tonight‘s No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN suggests something has just changed in our attitude towards another group of turkeys, namely turkeys. 

Turkeys becoming not Thanksgiving dinner but rather Thanksgiving parade grand marshals, and one turkey outside of Chicago becoming, even after death, a literal lifesaver. 

We first told you about this last night.  The 20-pound bird that had just been purchased by former carnival worker and Katrina evacuee Mark Copsy for the family‘s Thanksgiving Day dinner.  As he and his 12-year-old son left the supermarket with the bird, they saw an elderly couple trapped in a burning vehicle.  Unable to open the doors or smash the windows on their own, Copsy turned to the only thing available. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK COPSY, RESCUED COUPLE WITH FROZEN TURKEY:  We had to get them out somehow.  And you know, nobody could open up them doors.  I said, “Cover your eyes.”  And I just used the turkey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The two victims, a married couple, aged 89 and 90 respectively, are still in critical condition but they are alive. 

As are Marshmallow and Yam, those the national turkeys pardoned yesterday by the president but for how long?  For how long?  What happened to all the other pardoned turkeys of past holidays?  I‘m joined now by COUNTDOWN‘s chief poultry investigation correspondent, Monica Novotny. 

Good evening, Monica. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you for that. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome. 

NOVOTNY:  Keith, good evening.

Today marks the beginning of a post-pardon depression for our feathered friends, because although Marshmallow is only 18 weeks old, if he‘s anything like his predecessors, living out the rest of his life won‘t take very long. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YVONNE JOHNSON, FRYING PAN PARK:  The presidential pardon is not a guarantee of immortality. 

NOVOTNY:  It is the curse of the pardoned poultry.  Many White House turkeys freed of their dinner table duties die within a year. 

JACK HANNA, ANIMAL EXPERT AND NATURALIST:  The domestic turkeys are bred to grow fast and taste good. 

NOVOTNY:  Unlike wild turkeys, which could live 10 to 12 years and tend to be leaner, faster and more like, well, birds...

HANNA:  Those things could fly like a b-52. 

NOVOTNY:  ... the White House birds are commercial turkeys, raised to fulfill a destiny in your dining room, not to live long and prosper. 

HANNA:  They‘re fed a lot of food very quickly so they can grow very quickly.  A commercial bird, it has a hard time just standing up. 

NOVOTNY:  But the folks at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, say the real problem is Frying Pan Park in Virginia, retirement home to the presidential turkeys for the last 15 years. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The mortality rate for a pardoned turkey at Frying Pan Park is appalling.  These birds are keeling over dead within just a few months of arriving there.  And the reason for this is that they‘re being shoved into a small, dark shed and forgotten about. 

NOVOTNY:  Here at the Frying Pan, feathers are ruffled over PETA‘s accusations.  They say they work hard to keep the turkeys happy and healthy.  Remember last year‘s winners, Biscuits and Gravy? 

JOHNSON:  This is Biscuits.

NOVOTNY:  One year later, Biscuits defying the odds.  Gravy not so much. 

JOHNSON:  Gravy passed away in July. 

NOVOTNY:  As for this year‘s birds... 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Marshmallow and Yam were a little skeptical about going to a place called Frying Pan Park.  I don‘t blame them. 

NOVOTNY:  So instead, in order to allow more Americans to see them, they‘re going to Disneyland, retiring to the big mouse house, and the clock is ticking. 

HANNA:  I was going to pardon my turkey, but I can‘t really pardon him because he‘s already—he‘s already in the freezer. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  The birds that have died at Frying Pan Park are buried there, though employees won‘t tell us where. 

As for the 256 million turkeys who were not pardoned, 45 million of

them will be on platters across America tomorrow.  And by the end of this

year, Americans will have eaten 5.5 billion pounds of turkey meat in 2005 -

Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Do they call it Frying Pan Park for the reason I think they call it Frying Pan Park, because they‘re out of the fire and into the Frying Pan?

NOVOTNY:  They bury their turkeys and not eat them. 

OLBERMANN:  But why did they call it Frying Pan Park?  You‘re the chief investigative poultry correspondent.  You don‘t know why they calling it Frying Pan Park?  You could have taken the day off.  We didn‘t need this here!

Speechless.  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, as always.  Thanks, and happy Thanksgiving. 

NOVOTNY:  And to you. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  And to you as well.  Our MSNBC coverage now with Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT.” 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Good night and good luck. 

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

Copy: 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.

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