updated 12/1/2005 12:03:37 PM ET 2005-12-01T17:03:37

Guests: Mark Mazzetti, Michael Musto, Howard Fineman

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

First, it was a speech.  Then, it was an operation.  Then, a war.  Now, it‘s Iraq, the book.  The president‘s big speech, and the 35-page user‘s manual, “The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

Mr. Bush praises the growing independence of Iraqi forces.  Do the realities on the ground match the encouraging words?

And we are encouraging encouraging words.  The U.S. military secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish “news” stories, “news” stories actually written by the U.S. military.

Is this sports journalism?  Is it satire?  Is it sexism?

And the fattening of America.  Research now that doctors are having trouble giving people injections in the old gluteus maximus, because the average gluteus is too maximus, and the average needle is too short.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

After 987 days and more than 2,100 American lives lost, we are left with 35 pages, a document released by the Bush White House titled “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, excuse the snark, but is the implication here that we didn‘t have one of those already?  The mission not quite accomplished, President Bush today repackaging the strategy that wasn‘t, skipping the flight suit but not the fanfare at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, his speech breaking no new ground in terms of detail, presenting very little in the way of actual strategy.

But for that, we have those 35 pages.  What they say about how to win the war in Iraq may be entirely debatable.  But what they teach us about how to write in an outline format, getting a clear A-plus.

The president with something of the carrot and the stick today.  He says there will be withdrawals, there will not be a timeline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As the Iraqi forces gain experience, and the political process advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists.  These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington.

Some critics continue to assert that we have no plan in Iraq except to, quote, “stay the course.”  If by stay the course they mean we will not allow the terrorists to break our will, they‘re right.  If by stay the course, they mean we will not permit al Qaeda to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban, a safe haven for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on America, they‘re right as well.

If by stay the course they mean that we‘re not learning from our experiences or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they‘re flat wrong.

To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge.  America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander-in-chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The opposition party the first to cry out that the emperor is again not wearing any clothes, Democrats in Washington, for the most part, calling for specifics and substance in a Bush plan, claiming that speechifying will not be and has not been enough, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, West Point graduate and former paratroop commander in the 82nd Airborne, leading the charge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  It‘s going to take more than one speech to restore the credibility gap that the president is suffering over Iraq.

The president relied too much upon rhetoric, upon a laundry list of tasks accomplished, but not a coherent view of where we are realistically and where we must go to succeed.  It was more generalities than specifics.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  The truth is that the president draws a false line in trying to make his case to America.  The troops don‘t belong to his point of view.  They belong to America and to Americans.  They are Americans.  And the best way to protect the troops, the best way to stand up for the troops, is to provide the best policy for success in Iraq.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  The “Plan for Victory” backdrop which—against which the president appeared at the Naval Academy today, was no more accurate than the “Mission Accomplished” backdrop that he used over two and a half years ago on the U.S.S. “Abraham Lincoln.”  The president did not have a plan for victory when he went into his war of choice in Iraq, and that he did not have a plan for victory today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  At least one Democrat gave the president a tip of the cap, but not much more than that.  Calling it a positive step, Senator Joseph Biden added that he hopes the speech will signify, quote, “new candor” by the president on Iraq, adding, “The president did a better job laying out where we are and where we‘re trying to go in Iraq but failed to tell us how or when we‘re going to get there.”

The secretary of defense has a suggestion, one as simple as it would be seemingly effective, Donald Rumsfeld doing away with the insurgents by declaring he would no longer be calling them insurgents, taking “enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government” out for a test drive verbally, a change that Mr. Rumsfeld describes as no less than an epiphany.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Over the weekend, I thought to

myself, You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to

merit.  Why do you, why would you call Zarqawi and his people insurgents

against a legitimate Iraqi government with their own constitution?  It just

do they have broad popular support in that country?  No.

It was an epiphany.

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  I have to use the word “insurgent” because I can‘t think of a better word right now.  Take it...

RUMSFELD:  The enemies of the Iraqi, legitimate Iraqi government. 

How‘s that?

PACE:  Well, it‘s...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There have, of course, had been no saving GSAVE, the global struggle against violent extremism, once Rummy‘s boss, the president, continued to call the war on terror.  And while the national strategy document refers to insurgents or insurgency 14 times, in the speech today, mentions of the enemy outnumbered the I-word 28 to one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  ... taken from the enemy...

... share a common enemy...

... hunting for enemy fighters...

... victory against a brutal enemy...

The insurgents would like nothing better than to kill them and their families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You thought we‘d have time for all 28?  No, no, better to spend those minutes with “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman, who will never be called an enemy of COUNTDOWN.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Going back months, the president has gotten nowhere with these speeches.  Did this one differ in substance?  Is it likely to differ in impact?

FINEMAN:  I think it differed a little bit in theatrics and substance.  I think the president, who seemed a little lost and off his game during the months of Katrina and bad news out of Iraq, summoned all of the theatrics of the White House to look good and sound good and be confident on the air, which matters politically.  You shouldn‘t dismiss that.  It was great theater, talking to the military culture of this country, which is unknown by all too many Americans, but very important.  So that was good.

I think in terms of specifics, he attempted to give some.  More important, he said he had a plan.  And you were right to ask, Doesn‘t that beg the question about whether he ever had one?  But if he didn‘t, it‘s better to claim that he‘s got one now than never.

And rather than give a specific timetable, I thought he was rather shrewd in using not dates and months or days, but milestones, when a certain number of battalions are trained, when the Iraqis can see the elections of December 15 work well.  Because that gives them a lot of leeway.

What I really think is going on here, Keith, is, George Bush is buying time till he begins a real and relatively dramatic draw-down of American troops.  But his real audience now are insurgents, terrorists, call them what you will, who are trying to disrupt the elections that are going to take place on December 15.

He wants to stay the course and be strong, at least until those elections happen.

OLBERMANN:  To that question of timetable, none for withdrawal.  But does the president, do you think, have a personal timetable that goes something like this, Make these speeches about the need for Iraqi self-reliance, then declare that there is increasing amounts of self-reliance, withdraw troops, repeat a few times, and then define victory and get out?

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s what I think is going on.  Now, there‘s a big debate raging here in Washington about what‘s going on in George Bush‘s head.  Is he really saying, We‘re there forever, and don‘t you cross me, and victory mean a peaceful Iraq, a democratic Iraq, a fully trained, 150 battalions of Iraqi troops?

I don‘t buy it.  I think actually there‘s a kind of subtle tug-of-war going on between Dick Cheney, who is the ultimate stay-the-course guy, and Karl Rove, who‘s still in there, still under investigation, but still influential, and he‘s saying, Look, Mr. President, if we don‘t begin this draw-down, and it‘s going to take place regardless, if we don‘t begin this draw-down, then you‘re going to lose at least one chamber of the Congress in ‘06 to the Democrats, and you‘re going to spend the last two years of your administration responding to subpoenas for explanations of how we got into the war to begin with.

OLBERMANN:  The perpetual investigation...

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  ... or government by investigation.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  Back to this today.  This is the rare presidential speech in which we can give a grade both in term of oral presentation and also a written submission.  What‘s with the strategy booklet?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think it‘s PowerPoint run riot, Keith.  I mean, it‘s got a lot of points and subpoints.  And it‘s good to try to be specific.  And I think Joe Biden was right to praise them for that.  But he‘s also drawing him into the briar patch by doing so, because the moment that the administration gets specific about the number of battalions that are trained, about the numbers that can be independent, everybody in the rest of the world is going to pounce on them and examine them, as NBC News did tonight.

The fact is, and I‘ve talked to some generals about this, and other experts, there are only two or three, at best, Iraqi battalions that are fully capable of operating truly independently of American help.  All the rest require varying degrees of American assistance, if not being led around by the hand by the Americans.

So when the president makes these specific assertions, he buys himself some time, but at the expense of having more questions to answer later, which is exactly what his critics want him to do.

OLBERMANN:  The report of which you spoke was by Jim Miklaszewski, and we will be playing that in just a moment.

There‘s going to be a series of these speeches in these two weeks before the elections on the 15th.  Are the speeches going to be repetitions of what we saw today, or will it be a variation of this speech, but with trading cards instead of a booklet?  Then the speech that comes with stickers, and the speech with a goody bag, like at the Oscars?  What are we going to see in the next two weeks?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think they‘re going to divide it up.  I think this one was about American resolve.  This was about presidential leadership and American resolve.  You know, we‘re not going to cut and run.  I think they‘re getting ready to trim and tiptoe, but, you know, we‘re not going to cut and run.

The next speech will probably be about more specifics of the Iraqi political situation, because they have an election coming up.  And again, I repeat, that since there are three or four speeches in the next two or three weeks, you know what the audience is here.  The audience is as much Iraq, and the insurgents, call them what you will, as it is the American people.

George Bush‘s numbers are terrible with the American people right now.  Two-thirds of the American people think the policy in Iraq is wrong.  Only one-third approve of George Bush‘s handling of the war and his presidency in general.

What George Bush is trying to do, I think, is be tough and be strong, to do what he can to support the legitimacy and success of the elections on December 15 in Iraq, because everything else flows from that.  The reasoning behind beginning to withdraw troops depends on a successful election in Iraq on December 15.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll see what the response is by the ETLIGs, the enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government.

Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of “Newsweek,” as always, sir, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  You‘re welcome, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  President says there are at least 40 battalions of Iraqi troops taking the lead on the battlefield.   But in reality, how ready is that fledgling army to take on the ETLIGs?

And a disturbing allegation of subterfuge and propaganda, an “L.A.  Times” investigation revealing the Pentagon paid Iraqi newspapers to print pro-American stories written by U.S. military personnel.  We‘ll have one of the authors of that report.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If the president‘s threshold for leaving Iraq depends on Iraqi forces being able to go it alone, the question becomes, how ready are they now to fend for themselves?  Figuring that out, about as difficult and arbitrary a task as they come.

Luckily, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski does the math for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a ceremony today on the Syrian border, the U.S. military handed over some of its combat operations to the Iraqi army, timed perfectly to President Bush‘s speech on Iraqi security.

And the president said today there are more than 120 Iraqi army and police battalions in the fight.

But in reality, how capable are they?

U.S. military officials say only one Iraqi army battalion is combat-ready enough to conduct operations on its own without American help.

President Bush admits that‘s true, but...

BUSH:  Not every Iraqi unit has to meet this level of capability in order for the Iraqi security forces to take the lead in the fight against the enemy.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  True.  But out of 100 army battalions, only 33 can actually take the lead in combat operations, and that‘s with U.S. help.  The rest can only provide backup for the Americans.

But Pentagon officials say the biggest gap in Iraqi security is not the army, but the Iraqi police.  The officials say the central government has no control over many police units, which have been infiltrated or taken over by Shi‘ite militias.  Those militias are suspected of using their authority to kill or torture Sunnis.

In some areas, police corruption is reportedly random.

JEFFREY WHITE, MILITARY EXPERT:  The police have been a disaster from the beginning.  And we‘re trying to bring them out of that now.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  In fact, it is now a top priority for Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who‘s in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  The hardest part‘s going to be to create a ministry of the interior that isn‘t widely received as being incompetent, corrupt, and, indeed, a Shi‘a militia thinly disguised as a federal police force.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  The capabilities of Iraqi forces are critical for the withdrawal of American troops.  And one senior Pentagon official says it‘s time for the Iraqis to stand up and deliver.

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, they used to call it drive-time radio show in Los Angeles, the Freeway Club.  The car chase of the day is back.

And remember when Colin Powell said there were mobile biological weapons labs in Iraq?  Well;, maybe what we were seeing were actually this, mobile strip clubs, weapons of mass silicone.

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for a segment of dumb criminals and gratuitous video, voted worst segment on the worst show on TV by some guy who e-mails us every night.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Oh, it‘s back, the COUNTDOWN Car Chase of the Week.  We‘re in Los Angeles, no duh.  Three individuals wanted for armed robbery have added another act to their repertoire, felony evasion.  We haven‘t had one of these in a while.  But checking the ODDBALL scoreboard for the year, we can see it‘s cops 47, guys who try to escape the cops, nada.

You‘d think the chances would not be great for these dopes, given their poor choice of vehicle for the competition, but today we found out just how tough a Toyota Corolla can be when it‘s driven by a guy with two strikes on him already, certainly outlasted one passenger, who decided right there to say, Check, please, at the first sign of spike strips.

Shortly after, the chase looked to be over, when the driver decided to ditch the overheating Toyota and jack another vehicle at an intersection.  Whoops, that really didn‘t go quite as well as he would have hoped.  There he is, attempting the jack.  No, no, (INAUDIBLE), pardon me, excuse me, pardon me, pardon me.

But back to plan B, the little Corolla that wouldn‘t quit.  After a few minutes, this delinquent desperado got the car started and was back on the road, high-speed evading, until it stalled again, overheating.  Got around the car, got around the other cop car, and then the thing overheats again.

But this guy must have been on the phone with Click and Clack, because the “Car Talk” guys were able, or somebody was able to talk him back into it after it stalled one more time, and he was back on the road again.  Only for a while, because it stalled again.  And this time, this time they figured, we‘re going to need the pepper spray.  So it‘s handcuffs for Mr. Never-Give-Up and a female accomplice down there.  He is headed off to a place where the only stalls he‘ll have to worry about are in the community shower.  That would be the Big House.

El Salvador.  You think we‘ve got dumb criminals?  These two masterminds were caught trying to rob a bank by tunneling in from a nearby abandoned house.  Part of the tunnel collapsed on them.  The two criminals popped up through a hole in the busy city street in front of the bank, where two police officers happened to be standing.  And, oh, by the way, they were buck naked.  They said it was hot in the tunnel, so they took their clothes off.

Uh-huh, whatever you guys say.

To Japan, the worldwide leader in wicked cool robots, where, once again, boys, you have outdone yourselves.  This robot expo specialize in machines designed for the service sector.  I know what you‘re thinking, and you‘re a bad, bad person for thinking that.  She‘s an Animatronic guide robot.  She gives directions and stuff.

I‘ll take three to go, please.  No need to wrap them.

Other ‘bots included little fellows you can control with a cell phone.  And that bionic suit guy, and—well, no, he appears to be a human.  Well, that‘s about it.

Finally, to Denver for a reminder that the people who wash the windows on the skyscrapers are drastically underpaid.  This is video taken just after two workers were rescued from their scaffold, which had broken loose in the high winds.  The rig repeatedly smashed the side of the building.  It rained glass hundreds of feet to the streets below.

Firefighters were able to rescue the workers by dragging them into the building through one of the window holes that that thing itself broke.  They were not seriously injured, which, of course, is great, because now somebody‘s got to go out and fix those windows.

Also tonight, back to Baghdad, and a disturbing new report about the so-called free press in that country, that the Pentagon paid newspapers there to publish American written propaganda.

And breaking big-bottom news.  Looks like the human race is getting too big for the traditional medical injections the old gluteus maximus.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, researchers at the University of Pavia in Italy.  They say romantic love actually releases a hormone into our bloodstreams, nerve growth factor.  Fifty-eight percent of their research subjects who are just fallen head over heels showed high nerve growth factor levels.  The problem, after a year, all of the nerve growth factor levels, all of them, were back down to normal.  Well, that explains the world.

Number two, Scott Nelson of Helena, Montana, distraught that a 573-foot, one-lane bridge over the Missouri River, built in 1904, was to be destroyed.  He contacted the department of transportation there, and he tentatively asked if he could have it.  And they said, This is amazing.  We‘ve been hoping somebody would call and ask to take it, so we didn‘t to have to destroy it.  He‘ll put it up somewhere on his property.  Where?  Well, he‘ll just cross that bridge when he comes to it.  Ha, ha, ha, ha.

Number one, Jerry Garcia.  Yes, he‘s not just Grateful Dead, he‘s dead-dead.  But his toilets live on after him.  Garcia‘s three commodes and other parts of his old house are being auctioned off for charity.  Starting bid, $500 for porcelain.  Hey, man, that‘d make a great bong, man.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Winston Churchill said it, history is written by the victors or perhaps those wanting to be the victors.  In out number three story on the COUNTDOWN, our government once again accused of using our tax dollars to create fake journalism in this case, planning its own stories in Iraqi newspapers.  Not as slick as the video news releases or the Armstrong Williams case here.  But according to a report in today‘s “Los Angeles Times,” widespread and well organized, nonetheless. 

There are dozens of the articles, according to the report, written by American military personnel and often appearing in Iraqi publication as straight news, paid for by the U.S. military in an operation that was, until now, secret.  The article have headlines like “Iraqis Insist On Living Despite Terrorism” and “More Money Goes To Iraq‘s Developments.”  The pieces originated with so called information operations troops who write story boards that often include anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials, quotes that are of dubious authenticity. 

Many pieces, though superficially factual, omit information damaging to the U.S. or Iraqi governments.  They are then translated into Arabic.  The placement and payment facilitated by a defense contractor, the Lincoln Group, with all ties to the U.S. military carefully concealed. 

The timing of this not good.  Just yesterday Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stressed the importance of Iraq‘s free press. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  The country is—has a free media.  And they can—it is a relief valve.  There are 100 plus papers.  There are 72 radio stations.  There‘s 44 television stations.  And they‘re debating things and talking and arguing and discussing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Evidently, they all have what they call in the profession, rate cards.  In some cases, the Information Operations Task Force as it is call, has simply bought the news organization itself, like an Iraqi newspaper.  Or taken complete controls with a radio station, neither outlet identified to the public as a military unit, all part of a psychological operations campaign that echoes one planned by the Pentagon back in 2002 that would have disseminated truth and none truth.  That came under heavy criticism and was shut down. 

Neither the U.S. military, nor the Pentagon itself would confirm to NBC new, that the U.S. paid Iraqi news outlets.  But the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John Warner told MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews on “HARDBALL” that his committee will investigate today‘s report. 

I‘m joined now by the co-author of the “L.A. Times” piece, Mark Mazzetti.  Mr. Mazzetti, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

MARK MAZZETTI, LOS ANGELES TIMES:  Good evening.  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  So this works how?  I gather it is not somebody in uniform walking up to a newspaper office and saying run story X and we‘ll pay you money Z, right? 

MAZZETTI:  That‘s right.  The average U.S. soldier couldn‘t walk into an Iraqi newspaper and pose as a journalist and say please run my story.  So, what these information operations troops are doing is writing up, as you said, story boards, which are basically depictions of events, whether it‘s a U.S. raid in Anbar Province Iraq, or it‘s a thwarted suicide attempt.  They then turn these story boards into news stories through the help of Iraqi staff of a group called the Lincoln Group, which is a defense contractor.  And they translate them into Arabic.  And they then get them placed in newspapers around Iraq. 

OLBERMANN: With a little greasing of the palms somewhere.  How does that part of it work?  Do we know?

MAZZETTI:  Well, we talked actually to several newspapers in Iraq.  And it works in different ways.  Sometimes, someone posing as a journalist comes in and says, we want to you place this story.  Here‘s X amount of money.  It‘s anywhere between $50 and $1,500, depending on the newspaper and depending on how much convincing the editors need. 

OLBERMANN:  In response to your story today, the military official in Iraq would not address money but he did admit that they are running something there to, in his term, help get factual helpful information about ongoing operations into the Iraqi news, but insisted that every one of the details is factual.  Are we running two information services there, one with straight news for free and one with propaganda for pay-offs?  Or is this two different views of the same program? 

MAZZETTI:  Well, we think that there‘s one.  And in our story today, we didn‘t characterize the stories as misinformation or untruthful or false.  We said these things are grounded in the truth.  And so we think that the information operation‘s troops are writing up events that did in fact happen.  Now, this is sort of one side of events that certainly put a very pro U.S. spin on it.  But at the same time, you know, this is not deliberate military deaccepting. 

OLBERMANN:  Judging the ethics of this, here those video news releases were formally investigated and formally called improper—improper propaganda, but Iraq is a different place.  Corruption is endemic.  Rumors and even folk beliefs seem to be built into the way Iraqis communicate with each now and even under Saddam Hussein.  Are Iraqis outraged by this?  What is their reaction?  Have you been able to tell?

MAZZETTI:  Well, we haven‘t actually been able to see today—the story came out today.  It is hard to tell the man on the street opinion.  But certainly there was a certain degree of outrage among the press, people we spoke to in Iraq.  And we‘ll see how this trickles down. 

There is an interesting sort of, I guess, some could call it hypocrisy here.  Where the State Department on the one hand is training Iraqi journalists in the basic tenets of Western media ethic and free press.  And then, on the other hadn‘t, you have the Pentagon running this kind of operation.  It strikes many as very interesting, to say the least. 

OLBERMANN:  Tell if you can, quickly, the more cynical response from one of the editors that you cited who just found out about this and didn‘t realize that—well, tell the rest of that. 

MAZZETTI:  Well, actually one person we talk to said he proved—professed no knowledge of this.  But he said if we had known the Americans were behind this, we would have charged a lot more. 

OLBERMANN:  Mark Mazzetti, defense correspondent for “The Los Angeles Time,” it‘s an important and a good story.  Thank you for joining us tonight, sir. 

MAZZETTI:  Thanks a lot.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, sports.  You bet.  That was no ordinary tour bus waiting outside the Tampa Bay Bucs game the other day.  Strippers to go. 

And an outrageous allegation against Michael Jackson from a British tabloid.  To wit, is that cocaine in your pants or are you just happy to see me me?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Strippers as tailgate entertainment at a Sunday football game.  Female players breasts as a reason to support your local college soccer team.  And big bottoms as a medical hazard for your hypodermic needle.  Yep, I won two Edward R. Murrow Awards.  COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The connection between sports and strippers goes back to the beginning of sports.  We‘ve had athletes get in trouble at strip clubs and strippers running on to the field to kiss athletes and strippers marrying baseball umpires and at least in a movie, an ex-stripper winding up owning a team.  But in our number two on the COUNTDOWN, just when thought there couldn‘t be something new in this area, it is strippers in the parking lot of the stadium. 

Our segment, the “World of Wide Sports,” begins with Jeff Patterson of our NBC station in Tampa, WTVJ (sic) on the day that the situation outside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers changed from tailgating to just tail. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF PATTERSON, WFLA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As the Bucs were getting to play the Bears at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, undercover Tampa police officers walked through a parking lot outside the stadium.  They found a big black bus that wasn‘t there for transportation. 

BILL TODD, TAMPA POLICE:  They were supplied alcoholic beverages and then given the opportunity to purchase lap dances. 

PATTERSON:  $20 for a topless woman, $40 if she were totally nude.  The bus is plain, painted black and dark inside.  A banner on a van parked nearby advertises the bus is from the Deja Vu Strip Club on State Road 60. 

(on camera):  Tampa police say there are often families and children that used this parking lot before Bucs‘ games.  But they say the activities going on inside the bus were anything but family friendly. 

TODD:  I don‘t understand what justification they thought they could come on to someone else‘s property and perform this, being in that type of business and bringing it to a family environment. 

PATTERSON (voice-over):  Tampa police arrested 11 people.  The manager of the bus, several men acting as bouncers and the dancers.  Christina Ostroff, Katrina Suing (ph) Wolf, Nohelia Terrell and two other women. 

Police seized the converted bus, inside a disco ball and a dancer‘s pole.  Police also charged two of the women with performing an unnatural and lascivious act. 

TODD:  The undercover officers observed at least two of the young ladies, while engaged in lap dancing, began performing oral sex for the patrons on each other. 

PATTERSON:  The bus is from Deja Vu.  Police say their investigation reveals, they‘ve performed this act before at four other Bucs home games this season. 

Jeff Patterson, News Channel 8. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And our apologies to Jeff for getting the call letters wrong, WFLA is our Tampa affiliate. 

From the not so frozen tundra of the Tampa pro football franchise, not anymore anyway, to the obscure environment of the Johnson County Communicate College women‘s soccer team.  At the school outside Kansas City, the woman‘s squad got some unusual publicity in the form of a photo of two of its player on the front page of the college newspaper, “Goals Gone Wild,” reads the headline, which you have to admit is pretty solid satire.  It is the caption beneath that causes the controversy, quote, “Four reasons to support,” unquote, the team. 

The school‘s athletic director said he was shocked.  The paper‘s editor says the players saw the picture before it ran, had no complaint.  He did not say whether or not they also saw the sophomoric joke about support. 

And lastly in sports, there are the role models from the pro games.  There‘s more Barry Bonds news tonight.  The baseball slugger whose knees and reputation were severely injured this past season says he is going to reshape his physique next season.  Listed officially at 6‘2, 230 pound, but previously in the 240 neighborhood, Bonds says that come spring training of next year, he‘ll weigh 200.  Take the stress off the knees, don‘t you know,  lose 30, 40 pounds.  That athletes who stop taking, oh, anabolic steroids often experience immediate and spectacular weight loss is just a coincidence. 

Thank goodness for illicit drugs.  They again provide an easy segue into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news “Keeping Tabs.”  And despite a British report, there is no good reason to believe the Santa Barbara County Sheriff‘s Office is again investigating Michael Jackson for a, quote, 40-pill a day habit.  Former county sheriff Jim Thomas tells NBC News that two good sources tell him, there is no such investigation by the current D.A. Tom Sneddon, such was reported by the British tabloid “The Sun,” which says Jackson is hooked on anti-depressants and pain killer and also quoting, “was seen falling flat on his face after injecting himself with a mystery drug,” unquote. 

The paper also claims that during a raid two years ago, traces of cocaine were found in Jackson‘s underwear.  Wow!  Given the underwear options, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.  He could have been accused, for instance, of being glib. 

Tom Cruise still seemingly intent on moving into “Whacko Jacko” territory has now been officially ripped by the American College of Radiology for having bought that sonogram machine to take pictures at home of his unborn child.  A patient safety issue, it says, and maybe a legal one, too.  At the same time, Cruise is on a worldwide tour promoting his latest mission impossible movie.  And in Shanghai, he was apparently so troubled by jet lag or the international time zone or something that the mission impossible was getting the date right.  He was wrong by like a month. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR:  When are we going to get married.  When?  You want the exact date and the exact place?  The color dress?  The designer?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s focus on the film itself. 

CRUISE:  We haven‘t set a date yet.  But it will happen this year. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This year? 

CRUISE:  No, no.  Next year.  Next year.  That‘s right.  November, December.  Yes.  Next year.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of being so last year, there‘s George Michael, the singer so infamously arrested in the men‘s room of Will Roger‘s Park in Beverly Hills, you know, Will Rogers, I never met a man I didn‘t like.  He‘s getting married.  Britain‘s civil partnership act goes into affect three weeks from today.  Michaels said, he and his long-time partner Kenny Goss will be, quote, “doing the old legal thing.”  It will be relatively soon after it comes in, probably early next year.  He said he will not be doing, though, the whole veil and gown thing.  A veiled reference to Sir Elton John who announced his intention to marry his long-time partner David Furnish (ph), the very day the law comes into force, the 21st, giving the world an excuse to run this video again of Elton‘s visit to good, old Taiwan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

ELTON JOHN, SINGER:  Rude, vile pig.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is my country. 

JOHN:  Rude, vile pig.  We would love to get out of Taiwan.  It is full of people like you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Certainly, whoever would steal a famous actor‘s star on the Hollywood walk of fame would have to be a rude, vile pig.  Custodians of the walk today unveiled a replacement for the star honoring the great Gregory Peck.  The original was literally cut out of the sidewalk near the intersection of Hollywood and Gower (ph).  The vandalism required—somebody had a cement saw.  It is only the fourth star stolen since the stars began to be embedded in the sidewalks in 1958.  The others, Jean Autry, Jimmy Star and Kirk Douglas. 

Also tonight, Queen may have insist that “Fat Bottomed Girls” make the rocking world go around.  But it appears the medical world is not quite ready for them.  That‘s ahead.

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

The bronze goes to Bill O‘Reilly.  He has solidified in his status as this generation Joe McCarthy.  Just like the “Red Baiter,” he now has his own list.  His Web site reads the following media operations have regularly helped distribute defamation and false information supplied by far left Web sites.  The list, “The New York Daily News, “The St. Petersburg Times,” and MSNBC!  You call it defamation, Bill.  We call it precise quotes from your show. 

The runner up.  Bill O‘Reilly.  On “The Today Show,” no less.  Now how did that happen?  Says, quote, “these pinheads running around going, get out of Iraq now, don‘t know what they‘re talking about.  These are the same people before Hitler invaded in World War II that were saying, he‘s not such a bad guy.”  Watch.  That will turn up tomorrow on his list of defamations.

But tonight‘s winner, Bill O‘Reilly!  You know this whole attack on Christmas nonsense that he made up?  Some sort of fantasy in which the liberals are coming to your town to force you and your family to not call it Christmas anymore?  The fantasy that we can‘t say Merry Christmas, but you can only say Happy Holidays?  The thing designed to stir up religious hatred and paranoia in this country?  Guess what they‘re selling over at the FOX News online store?  The FOX News holidays ornament?  And the O‘Reilly Factor Holiday ornament.  Who is trying to change Merry Christmas into Happy Holidays?  Bill O‘Reilly, that‘s who.  Today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Here it is in doctor ease.  The amount of fat tissue overlying the muscles exceeds the lengths of the needles commonly used for these injections.  But here is out number one story on the COUNTDOWN, in the parlance of the street, your butt is so big that the shot isn‘t getting through to you anymore.  You heard me, research on this and a celebrity angle no less with the caveat that I don‘t really have much credibility throwing stones on this particular subject.  I leave you instead in the capable and svelte hands of our senior international tuchus correspondent Monica Novotny.  Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s lovely.  Good evening, Keith. 

According to a study done by Irish researchers, women may be missing out on medication due to the size of our backsides.  So, ladies, if your derriere is more J-Lo than Gisele, this news will definitely bum you out. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Getting to the bottom of a bad situation, when your glutious is too maximus for the medicine.  Researchers says women with rounder rumps aren‘t getting the medication they need because standard sized needles are no longer long enough to cut through the cushion. 

Painful but true.  In order to be most effective, drugs like pain killers and vaccines must be injected into muscle where far more blood vessels are found.  But when doctors in Ireland administered shots which each included an air bubble into 25 women, a C.T. Scan revealed the bubble and thus the meds only reached the buttock muscle in two of them.  The other 23 faced the potential of infection and irritation.  Bummer. 

The larger problem behind all this: obesity.  Sadly, the only solution for the well endowed back side, a longer needle.  So, when it‘s time to eat, it may be time to turn the other cheek, otherwise...

JAY LENO, TONIGHT SHOW:  The medication just stays in your butt.  So you may die, but apparently your fat ass will live forever. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, the problem is not limited entirely to women.  Men were also part of the study.  They did better, but still not great with just over half of the men receiving the medicine with a standard sized needle.  I‘m done.  Please don‘t ask me any questions. 

OLBERMANN:  More JELL-O than J-Lo. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes, yes. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny doing the goofy work on one of our stories.  You can go home now. 

NOVOTNY:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we can all guess the future relative to this, the company you want to invest in is the business of enlarging seats on public transportation and widening doorways in buildings.  What about right now?  What about our greatest natural thing?  Our Celebrities?  Time it was the avoir depoit (ph) of say Jackie Gleason was a rarity, are we heading to new dimensions as it were? 

Let‘s call in Dr. Michael Musto, columnist of the “Village Voice” and of course, when I say doctor, I mean Michael is not a doctor, but he is, as of right now, playing one on TV.  What‘s up, doc?

MICHAEL MUSTO, VILLAGE VOICE:  Hi, Keith.  Please keep the camera from here on up.  Because my butt is just horrendous tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  And you me both, fella. 

MUSTO:  There‘s a big needle in it. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to the celebrities in a moment.  First the big psychological issue.  This was a study based out of Ireland.  And I gather you would agree from personal observation that the malady junk is in the trunkus is relevant here too? 

MUSTO:  It‘s totally relevant here.  In fact, this study was probably based on American tourists in Ireland pigging out on stew.  Let‘s face it, Keith, except for the cast of the O.C., Americans are grotesquely, vulgarly large.  Vulgarly is not even a word.  But frankly, you know, we need stealth bombers to even get medicine anywhere muscles in most of Americans outside of New York and L.A.  And we need them for Iraq.  That‘s a much more important issue. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s particularly delightful of course is the research‘s suggested solution here, longer needles, like you know, a city block longer.  Nobody is saying eat a salad.  Wouldn‘t that be more the way to go? 

MUSTO:  You‘re right.  You‘re right on the head with the absurdity of this whole situation.  It‘s like saying don‘t lose weight, we‘ll just get longer needles.  It‘s ridiculous.  It‘s like telling students, don‘t study harder.  We‘ll just make the books shorter. 

However, there is some kind of sanity to this approach, because one look at a big needle coming towards my butt and I am willing, totally willing to lose weight and whittle away my butt, whatever it takes to get that needle away from me. 

OLBERMANN:  You may start running.  So, there you go. 

Let‘s play a celebrity lightning round addition of big needle/little needle.  And we‘ve already invoked her name a couple of times, at least in the acronym.  Let‘s start with Jennifer Lopez. 

MUSTO:  That‘s an amazing coolo (ph).  I think she would need Cleopatra‘s, needle which is the 3,000 foot ancient Egyptian obelisk in Central Park, or maybe fill the Chrysler Building with antibiotics and just start ramming away. 

OLBERMANN:  Mary Kate Olson. 

MUSTO:  I would say a toothpick with a Swedish meatball.  Tiny little thing.  And double task.  You inject her with the toothpick and make her eat the Swedish meatball. 

OLBERMANN:  Good.  We get to kill two birds with one stone. 

And speaking of two birds, Ashley Olson. 

MUSTO:  She needs something very small and thin.  How about Mary Kate? 

OLBERMANN:  Finally making good use of her. 

Lest we forget that men have back sides as well.  All right, Brad Pitt. 

MUSTO:  Oh, a gigantic devilish syringe wielded by Dr. Jennifer Aniston. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, yea.  Very nice.  And Jack Black.  I don‘t know that

he‘s really our foremost celebrity, but he counts here 

MUSTO:  Maybe one of Belushi‘s old needles as a reminder.  I don‘t know.  Or, in fact Cleopatra‘s needle thing again.  But disinfect it. 

OLBERMANN:  Courtney Love.  . 

MUSTO:  Well, the needle is already in there.  So just refill it with something legal. 

OLBERMANN:  And the other end of the stick as it were, Calista Flockhart? 

MUSTO:  Oh, for her, it‘s such a tiny little buttock that you just rub something, antibiotic on your hand slap her.  That‘s what Harrison Ford does, it goes right in. 

OLBERMANN:  Where the veins, when they see you in the neighborhood, the veins call out to you and say, yo hoo, I‘m over here.

While we have you, and while we have this  topic here, a couple of back-ups on this list.

Michael Jackson?

MUSTO:  Oh, I would get a big syringe labeled sanity.  We need to inject some sanity into that situation.  Maybe some pigment, too.

OLBERMANN:  Tom Cruise?

MUSTO:  That big needle with Brooke Shields‘ old postpartum depression medicine.  He‘s having a baby.  He‘s going to be depressed. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  And he can take pictures of himself too, now with the sonogram that they don‘t want him to have anymore. 

Michael Musto of the “Village Voice” who has now officially been thrown out by the American Medical Association.  And we got through this without actually making any pain in the butt jokes.  So I think we both deserve credit of some sort.

MUSTO:  And without lowering the camera angle to my gigantic buttock with the big needle.  Thank you for that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, thank you for that, Michael.  Good night.

MUSTO:  Bye-bye.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Read (INAUDIBLE).  Good night and good luck.

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

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