updated 11/29/2005 4:49:52 PM ET 2005-11-29T21:49:52

Guest: Jim VandeHei, David Gergen, Evan Kohlmann, Ken Bazinet

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

The CIA leak investigation.  Novak cooperates.  Wrong Novak.  Or is it?  Why is the special prosecutor quizzing a “TIME” reporter about her conversations with Karl Rove‘s lawyer?

The president runs for the border.  He pitches immigration policy while White House insiders pitch a fit over a news report blaming everything on White House insights.

What does this tape really show, private security firms in Iraq randomly shooting at Iraqi civilians, or doing their job protecting their Western clients?

Who‘s protecting England now that 24-hour-a-day drinking is legal.  A drunk‘s dream?  A policeman‘s nightmare?  Surprising early results.

And what the hell is that thing?  What the hell is that thing?  Oh, I know what that is.  It‘s a --  What the hell is that thing?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It is the breakthrough that all concerned with the CIA leak investigation have either been hoping for or fearing, word that Novak is cooperating with the investigation.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, we‘ve got your Novak right here, official confirmation that Novak will be testifying.  The only problem, it is not the columnist Robert Novak, he who originally published Valerie Plame‘s name.

Instead, it is “TIME” magazine reporter Viveca Novak, not Robert Novak, not even Viveca A. Fox from -- (audio interrupt) ... “TIME” revealing that Ms. Novak, no relation to Robert, or Viveca A. Fox, will testify in the investigation at the request of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Ms. Novak becoming the second “TIME” reporter to cooperate in this case, following in the footsteps of Matt Cooper, although, in her case, after considerably less litigation, as in none, the prosecutor interested in learning more about Ms. Novak‘s conversations with Karl Rove‘s lawyer, Robert Luskin, starting in May of 2004, when she was covering the investigation.

This is being interpreted as the first clear sign that the prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, might still be considering charges against Mr. Rove.

Time now to call in “Washington Post” White House correspondent Jim VandeHei, who knows this story and knows his Novaks.

Good evening, Jim.

JIM VANDEHEI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Hi, how are you doing?

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ve got them all in there now except Kim Novak.  “The New York Times” said this was the first tangible sign in weeks that Mr. Fitzgerald has not completed his inquiry into Mr. Rove‘s actions.  Even Ms. Novak‘s employers at “TIME” said his questioning of their own reporter showed that he was not kidding.

Does it seem to you to really have that much significance?

VANDEHEI:  It definitely shows that the investigation of Rove is ongoing.  I think we‘ve really got caught up in the idea of the trial, the impending trial of Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s former chief of staff, and the latest revelation from our reporter, Bob Woodward, that he had some role in learning about the Plame leak early on.

What it does show is that Rove remains a focus.  And if he were to be indicted—and it remain a big if—that would be a much bigger blow to President Bush, both practically and politically, than the Libby indictment was.

OLBERMANN:  Is there a way to ascertain if this is limited, in terms of its relationship to Karl Rove, to questions about what his attorney, Mr. Luskin, said?  And—or—is there also some concern about, well, now we‘ve gotten through the principals, and now we‘re talking to the attorneys of the principals?

VANDEHEI:  Well, I can‘t tip my hand too much, because we do have a story on this tomorrow that gives much greater detail on what‘s going on here.  But I do think that people close to Rove think that this testimony from a new Novak could help, not hurt, Karl Rove, and that that‘s why this has popped up at the last minute.

OLBERMANN:  We will look forward to that.  When he had his little flight-deck scuffle, as reported in your newspaper about a week ago, we asked here again, whatever happened to the other Novaks involved in all this?  Do we know less than we should about Robert Novak?  Or is there just nothing to know?

VANDEHEI:  He really has remained very secretive throughout this entire process.  We‘ve heard nothing from him.  The thing I‘d like to know is, who was that second source?  We know one of his sources was Karl Rove.  And we know that Bob Novak‘s not talking now, because Karl Rove remains under investigation.  So, you know, now we have these two secret sources out there whose identity are really crucial to solving this case, Bob Woodward‘s source and Bob Novak‘s source.

OLBERMANN:  In interviewing a reporter who is not directly involved in the original case, one who‘s merely covering it, could that signify a whole new phase of the investigation from Mr. Fitzgerald‘s point of view?  Presumably, he‘s plowed through all the primary reporters, the ones who dealt with Rove or Libby.  Now we‘re onto sort of the secondary reporters.

VANDEHEI:  Well, I sure hope not, otherwise I might have to start delivering pizzas at night to pay for a lawyer.  I don‘t think that that‘s what‘s happening here.  I don‘t think Fitzgerald wants to go after every single reporter who knows anything about this case.  I think it‘s unique because it was a conversation between a “TIME” reporter and Rove‘s lawyer, and that he thinks there‘s something significant, either damaging to Rove or exculpatory for Rove.

So I don‘t see this as portending something that‘s going to happen down the road for other reporters.

OLBERMANN:  So then presumably, we‘re also safe here.  If they‘re going to avoid the secondary reporters such as yourself, then those of us who are tertiary reporters who have been talking to you guys, the secondary reporters, we‘re certainly in the clear?  Or do I have to help you with pizza delivery?

VANDEHEI:  Boy, I‘d say we‘re all in trouble if they start talking to you about your conversations with me, who wrote about a “TIME” magazine reporter who talked to a lawyer who talked to Rove.

OLBERMANN:  From the point of view of Mr. Rove‘s and Mr. Bush‘s defenders in this, though, does it not seem like it has already reached that kind of level of absurdity?

VANDEHEI:  I mean, every single day, this case seems to get more bizarre and take all these strange twists and bring in all the different figures from Washington.  And it‘s really hard to tell where this goes.  I mean, you know, at this point, I don‘t think there‘s anything that would strike us as too absurd, especially with the involvement of reporters.

We‘ve never had something like this in Washington, where you have reporters and political figures so intertwined in the case like this.

OLBERMANN:  “Washington post” White House correspondent Jim VandeHei, with, as he mentioned more in tomorrow‘s editions of “The Post.”  We‘ll look for that in the late update tonight and in the paper tomorrow.

Thank you, sir.

VANDEHEI:  Have a good night.

OLBERMANN:  The entire “Post” newsroom, of course, still reverberating from the fallout of Bob Woodward‘s revelation that he too has testified in the CIA leak case, the timing of that revelation more than two years after the erstwhile Watergate sleuth was told about Valerie Plame by a Bush administration official, leaving a distinctly sour taste.  Some might say that sour taste is sour grapes, the paper‘s veteran national political correspondent David Broder reflecting on the consternation in the newsroom on yesterday‘s edition of “MEET THE PRESS.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

DAVID BRODER, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think none of us can really understand Bob‘s silence for two years about his own role in the case.  He‘s explained it by saying he did not want to become involved and did not want to face a subpoena.  But he let his editor, our editor, blindsided for two years, and he went out and talked disparagingly about the significance of the investigation without disclosing his role in it.  Those are hard things to reconcile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And it continues inside “The Post.”  Media reporter Howard Kurtz at the newspaper says he tried to get his own colleague, Woodward, to go on the record about Woodward, and was refused by Woodward.

Behind the investigation into the leak, a second investigation has seemingly begun into American journalism.

David Gergen has this issue triangulated.  He‘s been an adviser to four American presidents.  He‘s a professor at the JFK School of Government at Harvard.  And he‘s an editor at large with “U.S. News and World Report.”

Good evening, David.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Apart from the information that he did not volunteer in this, do you think Woodward‘s conduct is truly important here, and if so, why?

GERGEN:  Well, I think it‘s important when someone this, of this stature, makes the kind of mistakes he made.  And I think there were three.  And (INAUDIBLE) one, he did not, as David Broder just said on your—you know, to Tim Russert yesterday, and you reported in tonight, he did not disclose to his had own editor that he had (INAUDIBLE) had known all these things two years ago, so he kept—let his editor be blindsided.

Secondly, to go on the air and disparage the special prosecutor, without disclosing to his audience that, you know, that he was sitting on this, I think was a mistake.

And it just seems to me that then to issue a statement and not talk to his own reporters at “The Washington Post” is a mistake.

Having said all that, I must tell you that I‘m on the other side of this argument.  I‘ve known and watched Bob Woodward as someone in—from the governmental side.  I was there in the Nixon White House when people were around me like Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman and others, were excoriating Bob Woodward as a—you know, that he was a (INAUDIBLE) -- that his reporting with Carl Bernstein was complete lie, that it was all a vendetta to (INAUDIBLE) get Richard Nixon.

And it turned out Bob Woodward was the guy carrying the lantern seeking the truth.  And ever since then, my attitude toward him has been one of, that he is a guy who keeps government clean, for the most part.  I think he has made a major contribution to American journalism over these 30 years.  He made some mistakes here.  But we ought to judge him in the context of 30 years, not of three mistakes made over the last couple years.

(INAUDIBLE) we ought to see the complete man, not just this piece of his record.

OLBERMANN:  Something else on this piece of his record, and then we‘ll move on to the larger issues here.

GERGEN:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  This is fascinating, and it might even be relevant in the way news is covered these days.  One often goes without the other.  But on the Arianna Huffington blog tonight, there‘s a posting from Norah Ephron, who is, among many other things, the ex-wife of Carl Bernstein, who, of course...

GERGEN:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  ... (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Woodward at “The Post.”

GERGEN:  These things are all very convoluted, aren‘t they?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but it‘s always important just to people who are just...

GERGEN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... joining the story now.

GERGEN:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  She thinks that Bob Woodward may have downplayed the importance of Fitzgerald‘s investigation not out of any sense of nefariousness or hidden motive, but because Fitzgerald had not confided in him.  Let me just read you the exact quote.  “If you don‘t talk to Woodward, you‘ll be sorry.  I mention this not because it‘s precisely true—look at me,” she says—“but because it‘s an operating truth in official Washington.”

Is there any sort of sense that there might be a germ of truth in there, that this is about inclusion or exclusion?

GERGEN:  As much as I admire Norah Ephron, and I have long, a long history here of well of admiring her, I just don‘t agree with that conclusion.  I just don‘t see any evidence of it.  And it just seems to me that, look, Woodward is taking some whacks here.  Let‘s not hit him with things that are pretty farfetched.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We‘ll move on to today‘s news.  The idea that “TIME” had launched this extraordinary battle with Matthew Cooper to keep him from testifying, and then began to alter that only at the very last stage of it, but in the case of Viveca Novak, the magazine doesn‘t seem to have put up any kind of complaint, nor, apparently, has she.

Is the media collectively done fighting in this investigation, the, that perhaps in the post-Woodward feeling that perhaps fight implies that the reporter and the organization that she here, she works for might have something to hide?

GERGEN:  Well, I have to say, Keith, the combination of the Judith Miller story and the Bob Woodward story have been damaging to the press.  And I think it‘s, it‘s, it has left some scars, and in an environment where the trust of the press was already extremely low.  So we are in that landscape.  But I don‘t think we‘re really going to know the facts in the Novak case, really, this most recent one, if, you know, it‘s peculiar that she was, she‘s being called to testify about a conversation with a lawyer, and not with her, not with a, you know, White House person who‘s under investigation.

So that‘s, you know, and I‘m looking forward to seeing Jim VandeHei‘s story tomorrow morning.  But I don‘t think the press is throwing in the towel on protection of sources.  After all, Bob Woodward, that was the heart of what he was arguing, as I, (INAUDIBLE) he was trying to protect a source, as well, he was obviously trying to stay out of the investigation himself.

So I don‘t think—I think it‘s, unfortunately, on the Judith Miller case, you know, it‘s, it often said in the law, bad cases make bad law.  And in this case, you know, (INAUDIBLE), “The “New York Times” fell on its sword over a case now I think in retrospect, maybe they wish they‘d handled differently.  In fact, Bill Keller, the time, the “New York Times” editor, who says he wished they‘d handled it differently about when they championed her cause and then discovered that they didn‘t know all the facts either when they did that.

So this is a rough patch for journalism, just as it is for political leaders.  And I hope we can keep our heads about it.  We‘ve got some larger fish to fry here in this country than who‘s, you know, the (INAUDIBLE) the internecine little warfares that go on in Washington among the press people.

But as you say, they are, they‘re part of the passing scene.  You have to deal with it.  But I do think we‘ve got some bigger fish to fry.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE), and perhaps even a bigger fish to fry inside this little fishbowl, this issue that you just raised about the conversation between Ms. Novak and Mr. Luskin.  Does it worry you, from the experience of your four White Houses, that an investigation is now reaching out to the attorney for a potential defendant?  Does that trouble you at all?

GERGEN:  It‘s darn peculiar.  And I, listen, I, again, you have to go back and judge people a little bit by their history.  And Mr. Fitzgerald does have a history as a strong, good, positive prosecutor.  And so to say that he‘s overreaching without knowing the facts, I think, is unfair to the person.  It is peculiar.  But until we need to know a few more facts, I think, before you start hanging a guy.  You know, three weeks ago, people were singing his praises as being a, you know, very straight-up guy.

He clearly missed some things in his investigation.  I think he‘s an angry prosecutor.  I think he‘s angry that people didn‘t tell him the complete story, people didn‘t come forward.  And now he‘s going to be tough on it.

OLBERMANN:  You know the old joke about the universal solvent.  It‘s wonderful at dissolving things, but you can‘t store it in anything.  It eats right through it.

Former presidential adviser David Gergen, a pleasure to speak with you on a variety of subjects tonight, sir.

GERGEN:  Thank you, sir.  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, behind the scenes, reportedly, at the Bush White House.  He is supposedly getting advice.  He is supposedly ignoring advice.

A disturbing video from the streets and roads outside Baghdad.  Somebody tapes themselves shooting at Iraqi drivers.  Is it self-defense?  Is it sport?  One security contractor is investigating.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If your closest advisers were described by one of the top-circulation newspapers in the country as being in denial and blaming everybody else, you might head for Mexico too.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the president tries to change the national conversation.  Mr. Bush pitched his immigration proposals today, not in Mexico, but near it, Tuscon, Arizona.  He‘s heading for El Paso tomorrow.  Calls for tougher border security, along with a guest worker program, which he wants Congress to pull off the shelf.

Whether this would impact the broader political scenery is another matter, a report in “The New York Daily News” today saying the president is essentially digging in.  “It is everybody else‘s fault,” says one source, described as a Republican insider, “the press, the gutless Republicans on the Hill.  They‘re still in denial.”

“The staff,” and other sources quoted, “basically still has an unyielding belief in the wisdom of what they‘re doing.  They‘re talking to people who could help them, but they‘re not listening,” meanwhile, the Democrats, depending on your viewpoint, making either a cynical political play or an act of generosity, or maybe both.  They have picked New Orleans for their spring meeting come next April.

Back to “The New York Daily News” report, and its co-author, White House correspondent Ken Bazinet.

Mr. Bazinet, thanks for your time tonight.

KEN BAZINET, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This is not the first piece in your paper that describes, in very specific terms, with a lot of quotes, a White House that‘s seemingly refusing to admit reality into any of the various equations of life.  Not questioning the sources or the story, so much as noting that there really has not been much else like this reported elsewhere.

At what distance are these sources?  And if they‘re card-carrying members of the Washington GOP establishment, what do you think their motives are in speaking, and speaking so bluntly?

BAZINET:  Well, I can tell you, my colleague and boss, Tom DeFrank, is probably the best-sourced reporter when it comes to this White House, simply because of the amount of time he‘s spent on the beat previously with “Newsweek.”  He‘s very close to an awful lot of folks who, I think it would be fair to say, are kitchen cabinet members of top staffers, as well as the president.

This story, I think, is very interesting, because it is sourced also inside the White House, which is very—it‘s very different for this White House, since they are notoriously quiet and march lockstep and very rarely speak out of school.

OLBERMANN:  So this environment that we‘re seeing, and is described today, do these sources see that environment as influencing Mr. Bush?  Or is Mr. Bush influencing the environment?

BAZINET:  Well, Mr. Bush is doing what he always does.  He is a man in charge, and there‘s no second-guessing or questioning that.  What I will tell you is that the president is someone who, I think, is not necessarily listening to advice inside or outside of the White House, again, those kitchen cabinet advisers, when it comes to changing course.

So I think with our story today, what you‘re seeing is a technique that has been used certainly in previous administrations and is—and now, I think you might see more of it in this administration.  And that is, Let‘s see if we can influence the president by maybe just speaking a little bit out of school, and letting folks know, letting the president know, specifically, that, you know, we think we have to change a step or two here, sir.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure that all those who are not contributing to these stories are just delighted to read them.  Do you have an idea of the reaction, and whether or not those people who might be trying to send a message through your reports are getting response?

BAZINET:  Well, I can‘t speak for our sources, because we‘re staying away from them, as you can imagine, out of respect for them.  But I can tell you that my e-mail inbox today was a delightful wakeup call.  And I did play a little bit of tag with one top White House official, whom I admire and respect quite a bit.

But at the end of the day, DeFrank and Bazinet are not exactly the kind of reporters who are going to divulge sources.  And we certainly stand by that story.

Primarily, we—I think, you know, what gives that—what gives the story merit is the fact that you haven‘t seen a lot of change out of the president.  He has been saying pretty much the same thing for an awful long time.  And the game plan has been, Admit nothing, show no fear.  And what you will have is, otherwise, you know, it‘ll look like we have done something wrong.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s the Benjamin Franklin for-want-of-a-nail kind of story, because if you‘re not going to listen to people outside, and you‘re not going to bring people inside, because that might look like an admission of failure or need, then you have this circle that does not allow anything to change, correct?

BAZINET:  Absolutely, absolutely.  And it‘s—you know, I have to admit, up until a point, it‘s worked, up until the CIA leak probe.  And then, I think, the hinges came off a few doors.

But—and at this point now, the president‘s getting an awful lot of advice from, you know, many different quarters.  But it‘s a lot—you know, I can only compare to it Don Mattingly suggesting that A-Rod suggests, you know, changes his grip.  But, you know, A-Rod still has to hit the long ball.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t get those sports references.

BAZINET:  (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  Ken Bazinet, the White House reporter for “The New York Daily News,” thanks for joining us, sir.

BAZINET:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Is this a sign of the apocalypse?  A barking panda?  Fun with paint.  Of course, that‘s not necessarily the way he sees it, is it?

And is this a sign of the end times?  Brits allowed to drink in pubs around the clock, 24 hours a day.  Could there be a silver lining, or are they just all so drunk that we can see their auras?

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and as we do each evening at this time, we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for a brief segment full of strange animals outside the Beltway.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Japan, where pandas roam free in the streets.  Actually, they seem to be shirking some sort of leash law here.  That‘s Columbo, the panda puppy.  Don‘t worry, Mr. Senator.  There was not any bear-on-dog activity here.  It‘s just a really good dye job.

Columbo is a poodle-Maltese cross whose owners said inking him up to make him look like a panda just made sense, because the dog always had stains around his eyes anyway.  Yes, how many times have all of us have heard something like that?  Now, anyway, he‘s just the cutest thing going, an international superstar, the only panda in the world who tries to mate with everything he sees.

But the dye only lasts about a month.  So barring another paint job, Columbo will turn back into a pumpkin about the end of December.  Then you‘ll find out who really loves you, Columbo, and it is not going to be pretty.

To Latvia for a real top dog, Anka, the world‘s number-one guard dog, number one guard dog.  And that‘s his real hair color, thank you very much.  The Belgian shepherd beat out dozens of dogs from NATO member countries to win the organization‘s top honors.  Clearly, the most superior dog in the hurdle jumping, crawling through smoke-filled tunnel, fetching a stick, and give me your paw competitions.  Come on, give me your paw.  Good boy.

He‘s lost in the cabinetry.

Finally, to Chile, where the whole country is talking about the mysterious rooster that acts like a hen.  How does it act like a hen?  Well, it lays eggs.  How‘s that for starters?  That‘s the report, anyway.  His owner, this guy, says he rooster has laid 10 eggs, each one filled with egg whites only, no yolks.  How California cuisine.  A Chilean veterinarian says a—there is a 95 percent chance this bird is a hermaphrodite, possessing both male and female sex organs.  Of course, there‘s a 3 percent chance that the veterinarian is also a hermaphrodite.

Also tonight, former NFL star Michael Ervin (ph) in trouble with the law again, his explanation sounding a little bit like that dog owner‘s story about why he keeps painting his dog.

But up next, civilian drivers shot at in Iraq.  Is somebody playing a deadly game?  Or are security contractors protecting themselves?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, the unnamed French fisherman lost at sea for 20 days, finally rescued 800 miles out in the Caribbean.  The crew of the Dutch frigate that found him reported that he immediately asked—seriously—immediately asked if they could give him a croissant.  Hello Mr. Cliche.

Number two, again, we do not have the name, and there are a lot of crazy memorabilia items out there.  This some guy has a George Bechts (ph) jock strap bronzed on a plaque.  But in an auction of every item imaginable left inside the now being destroyed Busch Stadium in St. Louis, somebody has paid $2,174 for the urinal from the bullpen. 

And number one, that Amtrak train you might have seen blowing through—north through Fredericksburg, Virginia on Thanksgiving, that was an new Amtrak logo you saw on the front of the locomotive, it was a real bird—a bald eagle—a live bald eagle.  It was hit by the train or the train hit it or something happened.  And the bird got stuck.  The alert crew contacted the local bald eagle expert.  The bird was rescued and is in good health now.  And will, of course, be charged $37 for the fare!

Thank you for riding Amtrak Northeast (INAUDIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It looks like private security guards shooting, seemingly at random, at passing vehicles on the road to the Baghdad Airport, all of it captured on video, video that reportedly first appeared on a Web site that is unofficially linked to a British contracting firm called Aegis Defense Services.  And you and I are paying Aegis defense services $293 million as part of a contract awarded by the Pentagon last year.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, to borrow the headline from the newspaper that reported all this first, “the Sunday Telegraph” in London: “Trophy Video Exposes Private Security Contractors Shooting up Iraqi Drivers.” 

But is the video what it seems to be?  We know only this much, it is a montage of shootings with Elvis Presley‘s “Mystery Train” as a musical background.  An expert will help us try to explain it.

First, we better show most of it to you.

The Web site that first posted that tape, according to “the Sunday Telegraph,” was Aegisiraq.co.uk which states, this site does not belong to Aegis Defense Limited, it belongs to the men on the ground who are the heart and soul of the company.  The company is now investigating the video.  And has, quote, “established a formal board of inquiry in cooperation with the U.S. military authorities to investigate whether the footage has any connection with the company.  And should this be the case, under what circumstances any incident took place.”

We contacted the Pentagon.  It said it is unaware of any investigation over here, but cannot speak for any possible investigation by the U.S. authorities in Baghdad. 

Here to help put this video in to at least some kind of context is MSNBC terrorism analyst and the founder of globalterroralert.com, Evan Kohlmann.  Good evening, Evan. 

EVAN KOHLMANN, GLOBALTERRORALERT.COM:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Your first impressions of this tape?  What exactly are we seeing here?  Those were shootings.  Any way to tell what they were and whether they were justified? 

KOHLMANN:  I think there are two thing to be said about this video.  Number one, I don‘t begrudge private contractors from the right to self-defense.  Supposedly, these videos were taken on the road between Baghdad and Baghdad‘s Airport, which is probably one of the most dangerous roads on earth. 

In one three or four-month period, there were 150 separate attacks on that road, Including Many suicide bombings perpetrated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  These attacks target convoys of western vehicles.  They look for when vehicles slow down at check points, at stoppage points and they try to attack them. 

So look, if you‘re a contractor, and you have a vehicle headed towards you at 60 miles an hour, you only have a few seconds to make that decision.  It is either your life or theirs.  It could be a suicide bomber.  It could be an Iraqi family rushing to the hospital. 

And these incidents happen with the U.S. military as well.  Just last week in Iraq, a U.S. military convoy fired on a civilian vehicle, killing four, including two kids north of Diala (ph) because it was a suspected suicide bomber. 

That being said, I think that you draw a line when you compose a video, edit it and add music to it.  If the people who filmed this video are the same individuals who added music to it, not only are they sick and twisted, but what is more, is that they are doing tremendous disservice to the United States and great Britain in Iraq. 

Not just for private security contractors, but this video is going to be picked up by terrorist groups.  It‘s going to be picked up by extremists, by the insurgents, and it‘s going to be used to kill more contractors, U.S. troops, it‘s going to be used to recruit people to do this.  So, you know, the stupidity here is in and of itself apparent. 

OLBERMANN:  Are civilians, civilian contractors, beholden to the same criteria as the U.S. military and other forces there when it comes to making that judgment call about self-defensive shooting in a circumstance like this tape seems to suggest? 

KOHLMANN:  Well, supposedly, they operate under the same rules as the U.S. military.  However, there really isn‘t anyone to check. 

And what the Iraqi government says is that in a number of these cases, up to 60 different incidences of similar attacks going on.  There‘s really no way for them to verify what happens on the ground. 

Most of the time, the private contractors leave.  They don‘t hang around waiting for somebody else to barge in on the situation.  They deny a lot of times what happens. 

So there‘s no compensation for the Iraqi families.  And there‘s no answers to exactly what happens.  We don‘t really know. 

Again, I don‘t begrudge these private contractors the right to self-defense.  If I knew that every vehicle approaching me was potentially a suicide car bomb loaded with hundreds of pounds of explosive, I would be a bit jumpy, too.  But there‘s a big distinction between self-defense and then broadcasting something as a trophy video. 

This is sick.  It is twisted.  And it‘s absolutely no different from what Abu Musab al-Zarqawi does.  He broadcasts suicide bombings and glories the killings of civilians.  We should not be a party to that same kind of propaganda. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll keep investigating this.  The founder of globalterroralert.com, Evan Kohlmann, as always, great thanks for your time. 

Elsewhere in Iraq, the return of that country‘s most popular televised event: the trial of Saddam Hussein.  With the former butcher of Baghdad back to his usual belligerent self, showing up to court with a copy of the Koran and a slew of complaints, angrily telling the judge that he had to walk up four flights of stairs in chains while carrying the heavy holy book because the elevator wasn‘t working. 

The judge calmly replied that he would ask the police to make sure that did not happen again.  And Saddam Hussein shouted at him, you order them around, not ask them anything.  He went on to complain that his guards were foreigners, that his papers and a pen had been taken from him. 

Finally he settled down.  The first witness took the stand posthumously.  His testimony had to be delivered by a video message that was taped before his death.  The trial has now been postponed a second time, to next week, to allow the defense team to replace two of its attorneys who were assassinated after the opening session of court in October. 

Back here, Terrell Owens got into so much trouble at work that some of it has spilled over to the arbitrator who upheld his suspension by Owens‘ football employers. 

Speaking of trouble, Madonna reaching a musical milestone, but does she have it in her to top Elvis?  And if so, can she get it out or is it stuck there?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Michael Irvin‘s conflicting explanations for the discovery of a drug pipe in his car, a martial artist explanation for why he‘s towing his car, but not using his hands and England‘s explanation for permitting drinking 24 hours a day.  Sports is next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is the dog ate my homework of addiction.  A drug pipe found in the car of the former NFL star and now TV analyst belonged to a friend of his who he is trying to help quit the habit.  Or in another version, it belonged to his own brother.  That he has a track record of drug abuse and other run-ins with the law even as a broadcaster is just an unfortunate coincidence here.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Michael Irvin leads our nightly round-up of the world of wide sports. 

Irvin who pleaded no contest to felony cocaine possession in 1996 and who was arrested for marijuana possession four years later, was pull over for speeding in Dallas Friday morning, his wife in his car with him.  He was charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. 

He says he had put the pipe in the car—there were no drugs, just the pipe, after his unnamed troubled friend left it in Irvin‘s house on Thanksgiving.  But the police report obtained by the Web site thesmokinggun.com says that when asked by officers about the pipe, Irvin originally said, quote, “it is my brother‘s.  He left it in here.” 

Officers also noted on the report, marijuana residue and plastic baggies.  Whoever it belonged to, friend or brother, rather than just throw it out, Irvin said he had planned to drive to a public dumpster and dispose of it there because people go through the garbage at his house. 

Michael Irvin now works as a football analyst for ESPN.  Dan Patrick and I spoke to him on the radio this afternoon and pressed him about the obvious solution here, taking a voluntary drug test. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL IRVIN, FORMER DALLAS COWBOY:  Yes.  I understand that.  Yes. 

DAN PATRICK, ESPN RADIO:  So, you would do that? 

IRVIN:  Well, if it is legally, it‘s not a problem, I don‘t have any problem doing that. 

PATRICK:  Legally, you don‘t...

IRVIN:  I don‘t know the legalities of it.

PATRICK:  You want to clean up...

IRVIN:  Right.  I do. 

PATRICK:  ...your image.

I mean, the perception here is, right? 

IRVIN:  Yes, do I, Dan. 

PATRICK:  Isn‘t that the best way to go about it? 

IRVIN:  I think that‘s the best way to go about it.  But still, I‘ve been in some legal battles.  And I know the twisting and the—the twisting all that stuff when it comes to the legalities of things.  So certainly when I talk to my lawyer, we will address all of those ways to clear my name. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  ESPN has not announced any disciplinary action against Michael Irvin.  And he was still on the air this evening. 

Not so for Terrell Owens, of course, and not so for the arbitrator now who ruled against him.  Owens he is the receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.  He was suspended for having slammed his teammates, ripped his coach, fighting with a former players.  Richard Block was the arbitrator who upheld the suspension last week. 

Now, the football player‘s union says it will exercise its right to fire Block from the list (AUDIO GAP)  ...seem to be disappearing.  Theirs was once the marquee job in baseball.  But they‘ve already been turned down by prominent figures like Lou Panella.  And now they‘re going to talk to Grady Little, fired by the Boston Red Sox as manager as he infamously left starting pitcher Pedro Martinez in too long during game seven of the 2003 American League playoffs against the New York Yankees. 

The other Dodger candidates reportedly include former big league manager Jim Pergosi (ph), a long time coach named John McClarren (ph).  Also, Nick Lachey, Aaron Brown, and Louis “Scooter” Libby. 

And perhaps even this guy who we found on the Internet.  Meet Mr. Tu Gin Chang (ph) who rounds our sports report by pulling a truck across a parking lot in Freemont, California with his penis. 

According to one local account, quote, “he first tied a strip of blue fabric around his penis and testicles and tugged to make sure it was on tight.”  Editor‘s note, this was not part of the performance.  Resuming the report, an assistant then kicked him hard between the legs before he latched himself to the vehicle.  Editor‘s note, neither was that. 

That will teach to you leave it in park. 

Mr. Gin Shang (ph) who says he is 50-years-old, wound up moving the truck several yards with his, you know.  He says if you pay him, he can teach you this and other parts of the martial art he calls iron crotch. 

I‘ll pay him not to teach me.  How is that? 

It is this kind of range of sport stories that Dan Patrick and I bring you every day at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific on ESPN Radio.  From Michael Irvin and a possible drug test to a guy who has never heard of a toe line or a bungi chord.  Be their there, aloha. 

See, Dan had his lunch with him in that shot. 

And now that part of the entertainment that often has its private parts out in public, but is rarely creative enough to pull anything with them.  Our nightly round up of celebrity and showbiz, “Keeping Tabs.” 

Perfect example, Madonna.  Can she pull a truck?  I don‘t think so.  But her new song “Hung Up,” now up to seventh on the billboard hot 100 singles chart has allowed her to tie the record of 36 top 10 songs in a career set by Elvis Presley.  Thank you very much.  Who of course died with his private parts out in public in a manner of speaking. 

Elvis had 36 top 10 hits from “Heart Break Hotel” in 1956, through “Burning Love” in 1972. 

“Hung Up” is Madonna‘s 36th.  Her first in nearly five years.  36th in a career spanning three centuries. 

Another regular resident of “Keeping Tabs” is back tonight.  Russell Crowe would probably agree that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.  As late as last week, he was complaining that the media was making too much out his arrest in New York City last June for having thrown a telephone at a hotel concierge.  Phone for you, buddy! 

Crowe had just pleaded guilty to the charge earlier in this month.  So asked to be a presenter at the Australian Oscars Saturday night, With What does Mr. Crowe walk out on to the stage?  A big clunky looking phone. 

If there are any problems, and you do get up here and go on too long, he warned the nominees for the Australian Film Industry Awards, then hello to my little friend. 

Oh, I get it!  We were making too much of it.  You were not making too much of it!  Oh! 

(INAUDIBLE) Mr. Crowe, around-the-clock drinking is now in effect in England.  Why lawmakers think it could stop binge boozing. 

And the very unexpected early returns of their experiment.  That‘s ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for coveted title of worst person in the world.  Not many at the bronze level. 

The unnamed fan who ran out on the field yesterday during the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles football game and dumped his mother there.  Well, scattered her ashes.  She was a lifelong Eagles fan.  No complaint about that point.  It‘s kind of bizarre, but it happens.  But consider, this is not like getting your ashes scattered at Yankee Stadium, or the Los Angeles Coliseum.  The Eagles only opened that ballpark two years ago. 

The runner up, the four masked men who held up a struggling business that had just reopened in the Gaza Strip, its zoo.  Carrying Kalashnikovs, they stole a lion cub and two parrots.  We are told helpfully by Reuters that the two parrots speak Arabic. 

But the winner, Ronald MacDonald of Manchester, New Hampshire.  That‘s his name.  Ronald MacDonald.  M-A-C.  He‘s 22-years-old.  He, too, is accused of theft.  In his case, robbery at his place of employment.  Where did Ronald MacDonald work?  Wendy‘s!  Ronald MacDonald‘s, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  News came last week that of all the nations in Europe, the one with the biggest cocaine problem is Great Britain.  So what a perfect time to extend that country‘s drinking laws to permit (AUDIO GAP)...

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, only the British could come up with this kind of tortured logic. 

A, the traditional last call is 11:00 p.m.  B, so the customers binge drink in the last 30 to 90 minutes.  They then go out and destroy the peace and quiet or themselves or innocent bystanders, therefore D, they won‘t binge drink if you simply eliminate last call. 

And no, legislators were all sober when they passed this legislation which went into effect over the weekend.  Our correspondent in Bubbly London is Keith Miller.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This is certainly the season to be jolly.  But in Britain, a dramatic increase in excessive drinking has called the government to rethink the law.  The government want to end scenes like this when heavy drinkers pour into the streets at the traditional closing time of 11:00. 

In the first major overhaul of alcohol serving laws in 80 years, pubs, restaurants and night clubs no longer have to close at 11:00 p.m. 

(on camera):  More than 70,000 drinking establishments have applied for the extended hours.  And some have been granted licenses to stay open 24 hours a day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s nice to go out and get a beer when you want to. 

MILLER:  The argument is that later closing times will lead to more civilized drinking.

OISIN ROGERS, PUB MANAGER:  I think it probably will, actually, because there won‘t be such a rush to get the drinks finished by 11:00. 

MILLER:  (AUDIO GAP) Alcohol abuse is costing Britain $3 billion a year.  Binge drinking has become a national embarrassment with three in five men and one in five women consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol. 

Another problem, alcohol-fueled violence.  After midnight, 70 percent of emergency room admissions are alcohol related.  Police say last call in Britain is a problem no matter what the hour. 

JEREMY PAINE, POLICE SUPERINTENDENT:  People will be spending more money on alcohol and drinking more to excess, then there will be more violence.  There‘s no doubt about that.

MILLER:  The government is spending millions of dollars in an anti drinking campaign, but it‘s unlikely to influence how much people drink. 

HELEN SYMONS, ALCOHOL CONCERN SPOKESWOMAN:  We‘re going to see the same drinking patterns that we have now, but happening later into the night.  

MILLER:  The change in the drinking law may alter forever how the British socialize.  The government is hoping its citizens will be sober enough to enjoy it. 

Keith Miller, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So the first weekend of this was an unmitigated disaster, right?  They‘re still putting out the bodies of those Brits whose blood alcohol counts were so high they spontaneously combusted, right?  Nope.  In Bournemouth, in Dorsett, where 51 different bars are licensed to serve round the clock, police said Friday night was quieter than usual.  Same in London, in New Castle and Noddingham and Liverpool.  So maybe that‘s the solution, no last call.  While we‘re at it, no minimum drinking age.  As the commercial says, brilliant!

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

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

END   

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