updated 12/12/2005 1:31:06 PM ET 2005-12-12T18:31:06

Guest: Charlie Savage, Gary Mack, Joe Moretti

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

A main source who linked Iraq to al Qaeda before the war made it up to please his interrogators.  That much we knew.  Today we also learned he made it up to escape harsh treatment from his interrogators.

The CIA leak investigation.  Viveca Novak may not be Karl Rove‘s get-out-of-trouble-free card after all.  Her testimony reportedly conflicts with that of Rove‘s attorney.

The day after at Midway Airport, Chicago.  A child in a car struck by the sliding aircraft is dead.  Should that landing have even been attempted?

History for sale.  Pieces of the infamous fence on the grassy knoll in Dallas, up for auction.  But isn‘t there proof that there could not have been a shooter on that grassy knoll?  JFK assassination historian Gary Mack joins us.

And the Paris Hilton Christmas light display.  You‘ll meet the man who put it up and who put the ho back into ho-ho-ho.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

We have known for at least three weeks that the Pentagon has known for at least three years that Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libbi was making it all up, that when he told interrogators in 2002 that there were ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, the Defense Intelligence Agency thought he was doing so because he thought that that was what those interrogators wanted to hear.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the other shoe has dropped now in this story, new evidence that al-Libbi was making it up not so much to please his interrogators, but to get them to stop, so he could, as it was phrased today, escape harsh treatment, harsh treatment not exactly or explicitly a synonym for torture, but at best very close, al-Libbi‘s bogus confession repeatedly cited by the Bush White House as proof of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda.

It was coughed up only after he had been secretly handed over by the U.S. to Egypt for interrogation.  That process is called rendition.  Not that there were not enough clues along before today‘s “The New York Times” report, the U.S. intelligence agency flagging the evidence as likely nonsense in February 2002, more than a year before the invasion of Iraq.  And the fact that Mr. Libbi had recanted his confession has been known publicly for more than one year.

Also tonight, history directly connected to 9/11 that may also need significant rewriting.  If you thought the five-week warning provided by the August 6, 2001, intelligence memo stating that “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” was not sufficient time to ward off an attack, how about three years, U.S. officials warning Saudi Arabia in 1998 that Osama bin Laden might target civilian airliners, that according to documents obtained by the independent group National Security Archive through the Freedom of Information Act.

Joining me now, Charlie Savage, the Washington correspondent for “The Boston Globe,” who writes often about the war on terror and interrogation, and who has visited Guantanamo Bay three times.

Welcome back to the program, Charlie.  Thanks for your time.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Addressing al-Libbi first, the word “torture” is not used in that “New York Times” report today, but the term “harsh treatment” is, and it‘s attributed to current and former government officials.  Are these two terms synonymous, or are there shades of meaning here?

SAVAGE:  Well, torture is a peculiar thing.  It‘s a certain level of harsh treatment.  Just below that, the legal term of art would be cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, which is also illegal under international treaties.  And it‘s on a sliding scale.

What you will find is that we journalists use terms like harsh treatment, aggressive interrogation techniques, because we don‘t want to be accused of exaggerating the evidence, but we still want to communicate the meaning.  So that‘s in the eye of the beholder.  And that‘s the message you should take from “The New York Times”‘ use of the term “harsh treatment.”

OLBERMANN:  After three years of keeping people at Gitmo, of farming them out to other countries via this rendition process, do we have any idea yet roughly what percentage of the information the whole net supply has supplied, what part of it has been fabricated, what percentage of it has been valid?

SAVAGE:  Well, I don‘t have an answer about aggregate numbers and percentages.  Hopefully someone in the U.S. government has that.  But I‘m sure it‘s highly classified.

I can tell you that this is not the first time that we know that harsh interrogation techniques have generated bad information that got introduced into our system.

For example, there are three British Muslims, known as the Tipton three, who are former prisoners at Guantanamo.  And under harsh interrogation techniques down there, they admitted to being in a video with Osama bin Laden.  And only later did the British intelligence service prove that they actually been in England at the time that video was shot in Afghanistan.  So it couldn‘t have been the case.  They said that to make the harsh treatment stop.  And we believed it was true for a while until the other service came in and cleared their names.

OLBERMANN:  Timing...

SAVAGE:  So...

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sorry.

SAVAGE:  So there‘s plenty of evidence that aggressive interrogation techniques, torture, whatever you want to call it, is dangerous, because it can introduce bad information into the system.

OLBERMANN:  And this topic has been part of Secretary of State Rice‘s week.  She spent much of it in Europe trying to justify and clarify the administration‘s policy on torture or harsh interrogation or the other elements of the sliding scale to the European allies.  Based on her statements, does it appear that the administration policy has indeed shifted somewhat, and if so how?

SAVAGE:  Well, certainly superficially it looks like that.  Back in January, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate during his confirmation hearing that the Bush administration‘s legal position was that the convention against torture, which prohibits all forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, only applied to U.S. officials inside the United States.  And their hands were legally free to do whatever we wanted outside the United States.

Most legal experts think that‘s crazy.  Senator John McCain has introduced a bill to make it clear that, no, it applies everywhere.  And the Bush administration has been fighting that bill tooth and nail, Dick Cheney personally lobbying senators to stop it, Bush himself threatening to veto it.  Suddenly Rice, in a press conference at Ukraine, after being dogged by these questions, says, Oh, by the way, it‘s our policy now that the convention against torture applies to us everywhere in the world.

And so the question is, well, what did that mean?  Do these harsh treatments that we‘ve heard about, the threatening with dogs, sleep deprivation, mock drowning during questioning, is that illegal now?  Can CIA agents not do that to overseas prisoners?  They won‘t say.

So human rights activists who are monitoring this carefully are being skeptical.  They‘re not sure if this is for real or not.  And therefore the drive to get McCain‘s bill passed in the Congress continues.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Charlie, addressing the 9/11 attacks and that 1998 warning from the U.S. to the Saudis about bin Laden, put that in perspective for us.  The 9/11 commission never saw that memo?

SAVAGE:  As far as I know, they never saw it.  They certainly saw other memos eventually that were similar.  If you put your mind back, the Bush administration was fighting very hard to keep any of the classified evidence that there had been warnings linking al Qaeda threats to hijackings and airliners, though not to kamikaze flights into buildings, they always hasten to point out, which is true, in fairness, out of the hands of the commission or out of the hands of the public.

Eventually it all came out.  Here‘s another redundant paper, oldest one yet, as far as I know, making that claim.  So...

OLBERMANN:  “Boston Globe” Washington correspondent Charlie Savage. 

Great thanks for your perspective and your time tonight, sir.

SAVAGE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Investigation into what happened after former ambassador Joe Wilson made public his findings about Iraq‘s prewar weapons program taking yet another bizarre twist today.  The lawyer for a potential target of the investigation has himself become a key witness.

Karl Rove‘s attorney, Robert Luskin, deposed under oath last week by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about his conversation with “TIME” reporter Viveca Novak, when that chat actually took place proving crucial to Rove‘s defense, legal sources telling MSNBC‘s David Shuster that what “The Washington Post” first reported this morning, that their testimony might not match, was correct, Mr. Luskin dating the conversation to after his client‘s first appearance before the grand jury, Ms. Novak possibly sometime before.

For more on why this matters, David Shuster joins us from Washington.

Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Why is when they had this little chat as important as what they may have talked about?

SHUSTER:  It‘s significant because Bob Luskin, in order to get Karl Rove away from his indictment, which was expected six weeks ago, he said, Look, the reason that Karl Rove changed his testimony is because we got tipped off, I got information from Viveca Novak, I pressed Karl Rove, we found an e-mail, and he immediately volunteered to testify, went to the grand jury, updated his testimony to say, Look, maybe I did have a conversation with Matt Cooper about Valerie Plame, Valerie Wilson.

The reason the—this—the contradiction with Viveca Novak is significant is because she‘s testified, according to sources, that the conversation with Luskin came much earlier than that grand jury testimony Rove offered in October of 2004.  She‘s saying, Look, I had this conversation with Rove‘s attorney as early as March of 2004, and that would suggest, then, that Luskin‘s defense isn‘t holding up, that prosecutors may, in fact, be back to their original theory about Karl Rove, that he started cooperating, synching up his testimony once it became clear that Matt Cooper was going to testify.

And remember, two days after Karl finally went to the grand jury and said, OK, I had this conversation with Matt Cooper, two days before that, that‘s when Matt Cooper first got ordered to testify.

OLBERMANN:  If Luskin‘s revelation of the Novak-Luskin conversation is presumably all or most of what kept Karl Rove from being indicted through the first grand jury, does it follow that if the Luskin account falls apart because of that March-October timeline difference, that the result could be an indictment of Mr. Rove?

SHUSTER:  It certainly seems that way, Keith.  And Luskin himself has told us for several weeks now that Karl Rove remains under investigation, and that this is certainly a potential outcome.

But you have to sort of wonder still for prosecutors, it‘s still a tough call.  If they‘re going to charge Karl Rove with perjury or obstruction of justice, they have to prove intent, they have to show that when Karl Rove testified the first time to the FBI, the first time to the grand jury, and said I don‘t remember having this conversation with Matt Cooper, they have to show that Karl Rove knew at the time he was lying.

So it would still be a defense for Karl to say, I had a faulty memory.  It may mean that Bob Luskin refreshed memory defense doesn‘t hold up, but it‘s still a tough call for prosecutors.

OLBERMANN:  And a tough call for anybody trying to follow this is a motive or intent on Mr. Luskin‘s part.  Why would he bring this—pull this rabbit out of the hat if the rabbit, in fact, had different information than he did?

SHUSTER:  And that gets today the a, (ph) Keith, that Karl Rove was certainly in the legal crosshairs six weeks ago.  This may have been Luskin‘s last card to play to try to keep Karl Rove from getting indicted.  But it is curious that he would throw this card down.  It would work in the sense that Rove wasn‘t going to get indicted at the time, but you got to wonder why Luskin would throw this card if he wasn‘t entirely sure—certain what Viveca Novak would say.

Remember, his lawyer, remember, lawyers usually only introduce information when they know what the witness is going to say.  For Luskin to play this card, to suggest to prosecutors, Go talk to Viveca Novak, she‘ll prove to you that, in fact, Karl Rove was offering testimony as soon as he got his memory refreshed, for there to be a conflict now strikes a lot of lawyers in this case as really very surreal.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it was Clarence Darrow was the first one on the record, I think, from about the 1890s saying, As a lawyer, never ask the question if you do not already know the answer, word for word.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster, good work, and great thanks for your time tonight.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And this programming note, that you can catch more of David‘s reporting on this story as part of a “HARDBALL” special report, “Unraveling the CIA Leak Case.”  It will air this Sunday at 7:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.  Be there, aloha, and given the guidance thus far, bring your attorney.

Also tonight, the crash investigation in Chicago.  Should the Southwest Airlines 737 have been OK‘d to land in those snowy conditions?  And was the crash a matter of time, given the problem of short runways at Midway and other airports?

And the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a piece of history from that fateful day in Dallas now being auctioned off.  But the auction item may only be important if you subscribe to the conspiracy theories, and the conspiracy theories may have been disproved.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With 22 days remaining, we can only hope this will go down as the year of catastrophic weather for this country, at least for this generation.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Hurricane Katrina was bad enough.  Now, with winter still officially nearly two weeks away, storms more associated with mid-February affecting half the country, probably the chief cause of the near-disaster at Midway Airport in Chicago last night.  The aftermath there presently.

First, the big, stormy picture, from our correspondent Rahema Ellis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAHEMA ELLIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today, nearly a third of the country was digging out after the fast-moving but hard-hitting storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s beautiful.  Best time of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anywhere I walk, the wind blows the snow in my face, no matter which way I go.

ELLIS:  Heavy snow, up to a foot in some places, caused airport delays and cancellations from Washington to Boston.

(on camera):  Here in New York‘s Central Park, a tape measure shows the snow adds up to about five inches.  It‘s pretty, but it‘s also caused lots of problems.

(voice-over):  It turned into a slippery, slushy mess causing widespread accidents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People are side-swiping all over the place.  It‘s slippery.

ELLIS:  A powerful storm, says NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins, because it had a one-two punch.

BILL KARENS, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  We had a lot of tropical moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico, and at the same time, we had record cold air in the Midwest.  And those all collided, and along that whole path of the storm is where we saw the heavy snow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Christmas without snow is not the same.

ELLIS:  The same freezing storm system pounded parts of the Midwest earlier in the week and is blamed for at least 11 deaths in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Ohio.

Ice was to blame in Dallas when an 18-wheeler slid out of control, slammed into an SUV, and burst into flames.

Tonight, many caught in a major storm, and the official start of winter is still 12 days away.

Rahema Ellis, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And perhaps one of the casualties of that snowstorm, a 6-year-old boy killed when a Southwest Airlines jet skidded off the runway at Chicago‘s Midway Airport.  The boy was not on the plane, he was in a car pinned beneath it.  As Katie Dooda (ph), a passenger aboard that flight, told us last night, All of a sudden, it seemed as if we were in the middle of an intersection, which, as Kevin Tibbles reports, is exactly what happened, and exactly the problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Daylight revealed the uncontrollable path of Southwest 1248.  The flight approached Chicago‘s Midway at the height of the season‘s first big storm.  Mike Abate was buckled in his seat.

MIKE ABATE, PASSENGER:  It was poor visibility, because you couldn‘t see any lights.

TIBBLES:  After circling the airport while ground crews plowed the runways, the Boeing 737 touched down amid blowing snow and just three-quarter-mile visibility.  It skidded, slamming through a noise barrier fence and into the street, hitting one vehicle, pinning another underneath.

MAHDI ABDELGADER, WITNESS:  They were yelling, Help us, help us, but there was nothing we can do, because the plane was, like, 75 percent was on top of that car.

TIBBLES:  Six-year-old Joshua Woods of Leroy (ph), Indiana, was killed.  The plane‘s flight recorders were recovered.

ELLEN ENGLEMAN CONNERS, NTSB:  Air traffic control reported runway braking to be fair on most of the runway and poor at the end.

GARY KELLY, CEO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES:  There are no indications that there were any maintenance problems with that aircraft whatsoever.

JIM TILMAN, AVIATION ANALYST, THE TILMAN GROUP:  It‘s not the kind of airport you just make your ordinary landing in.

TIBBLES:  Veteran pilot Jim Tilman says with today‘s jets, there is little room for error, because Midway‘s runway is only 6,500 feet long, and it‘s not alone.  Detroit‘s Coleman Young is just 5,090 feet long, John Wayne Airport in California, 5,700 feet, Reagan National, 6,800, and La Guardia, 7,000 feet.

(on camera):  At 14 airports, the FAA has installed crushable concrete buffers to help planes stop.  There are also plans underway to extend runway safety margins at hundreds of airports.

TILMAN:  If something doesn‘t change radically at Midway Airport, we could have a repeat of this same situation on another day.

TIBBLES:  Today, as Mike Abate revisits the site, he thinks of his own children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anytime you have kids, it just gets tougher.

TIBBLES:  And of the child who died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You feel for that family, you know?  You know, you can‘t imagine what they‘re going through.

TIBBLES:  Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Which brings us to the week‘s other big aviation-related story, the shooting of Rigoberto Alpizar at Miami International Airport.  Two developments in that story tonight.

First, this.  Surveillance video from the Qito Airport in Ecuador as Mr. Alpizar, on his way back from a religious mission, began what he thought was a trip home to the Orlando, Florida, area.  It‘s notable for two images, this one, in which he passes through security at Qito without incident.  But also, supporting the contention that he was acting erratically throughout the long flight, getting into an argument with someone else in line to board the plane headed back to the U.S

Also, a third passenger on the flight has today spoken in Mr.  Alpizar‘s defense.  The federal air marshals who shot him said that he made a bomb threat.  But now a third witness claims that Alpizar never used the word “bomb,” at least not while he was on the plane.  Jorge Poreli (ph), an Orlando architect aboard American Airlines flight 757, has told the New York newspaper “Newsday,” quote, “I can tell you, he never said a thing in that airplane.  He never called out he had a bomb.”

Previously, John McAlhaney, a construction worker, said he never heard Mr. Alpizar utter the word “bomb,” echoing another passenger named Mary Gardner (ph).  But Detective Juan del Castillo with the Miami-Dade Police, which is conducting the homicide investigation here, says people on the plane other than the air marshals, including one of the pilots, are backing up the marshals‘ contention, saying they too heard the bomb threats.

None of us have heard those confirmations, however.

Time for some much-needed comic relief.  This video is only funny because it‘s not our legislature.  Democracy, South Korean style.

And forget happy holidays at the mall.  This would have to have Bill O‘Reilly fit to be tied.  Or very, very interested.  Who you calling a ho-ho-ho, when COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and for the final time this week, we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news and brawls in Washington for a brief segment of wacky video and brawls in other countries‘ governments.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Another lesson in international poli-sci.  It‘s the parliament of South Korea again.  On the agenda today, an education reform bill that allows special committees consisting of parents and teachers to nominate one-third of a school‘s board of directors in an effort to improve the transparency of school management.

Yes, it may sound boring, but it‘s issues like these that inspire vigorous debate in parliament.  That is the lifeblood of the democratic process.  And if you study very carefully, you can see someone‘s lifeblood all over that guy‘s suit, just to the right of center there.

To Miami, where a home security camera captured Mr. Danny Beneditt‘s (ph) Chrysler 300 pulling into his car hole.  Nothing odd about that, except there was no one behind the wheel.  Yes, you heard me.  Beneditt can clearly be seen walking away from the vehicle to grab some garbage when the ghost car suddenly drives forward into the back wall of the garage.

Beneditt says the Chrysler company sent technicians out, but they didn‘t find anything wrong with the car.  And then the technicians disappeared.  Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo.  So what did happen that night?  Could it happen again?  And, dude, where did you get those sweet rims?

Finally, to Brazil where they‘ve come across an anaconda so big, it took seven men to truck it away.  This one had a cow in its belly when they found him.  They know it was a cow because it came back up.  Kind of like John Voight did in the worst movie in modern history.  I think it was called “Big Snake.”  No, “Anaconda,” that‘s right.  Well, whatever.  We got Angelina Jolie out of the deal, so never mind.

This mammoth creature—that‘s the snake, not Angelina Jolie—was released into the Patanaeva (ph) River, where it can eat as many cows as it can find.

Also tonight, a piece of American history hitting the auction block.  But just Hollywood relevant to the Kennedy assassination are pieces from the fence at the grassy knoll at Dealy Plaza in Dallas?

And a new way to make sure Santa does not bypass your house this year, a Paris Hilton holiday display in the front yard.  Cranston, Rhode Island, hello.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Banana Boy, he‘s a character played by Chris Phelps on a TV show in Glens Falls, New York.  As Banana Boy, Mr. Phelps wears a yellow banana suit and a Lone Ranger mask.  He was filming a knife-fight scene on a Glens Falls street the other day when the police arrived.  They didn‘t recognize Banana Boy as the TV superhero he is, so they drew their guns and arrested everybody.  One-Adam-12, one-Adam-12, we have a banana armed with a switchblade knife.

Number two, Chicago Bears‘ football players Owen Kreutz and Fred Miller.  They‘ve now been fined $50,000 each by the National Football League, this after they got into a fight, and Kreutz broke Miller‘s jaw, a fight which took place at the FBI shooting range in Chicago.

Speaking of which, number one, basketball superstar Shaquille O‘Neal of the Miami Heat, now Officer Shaquille O‘Neal of the real Miami Heat.  Sworn in as a member of the Miami Police Reserve, he will work part-time for a dollar a year, and he is now permitted to carry a police firearm, which is expected to reduce the number of flagrant fouls he suffers underneath the basket during the games.

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OLBERMANN:  When 25 years ago last night, John Lennon was shot and killed, a desperate and valiant effort was made by the ER  staff at Roosevelt Hospital in New York to save him, to no avail obviously, but they did save a piece of his dignity.  All the scrubs worn by the medical staff, all the sheets, all the written records were   destroyed or sealed away so that no one would be tempted to sell any of them.

Our third story in the “Countdown,” such restraint is not the norm in terms of historical artifacts.  Recent auctions have seen hair, reportedly Elvis Presley‘s, sold at amazing prices and the Montgomery city bus on which Rosa Parks took her stand was auctioned.  And the gun with which Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

And now part of the infamous grassy knoll.   You do not have to be a JFK assassination expert to know about the grassy knoll.  Virtually each of the thousands of conspiracy theories suggesting Oswald was not the lone killer places a shooter or shooters on the grassy incline to the right of the president‘s motorcade, usually placing them behind a picket-like fence at the back of the knoll.

Next week, in an Internet auction, two of the posts from that  fence will be sold, the minimum bid $5,000 each.  One of them is described as the badge man post, the post next to which some people see in photographs of the scene,  a man in a uniform of some   sort, a badge shining in the November light aiming a gun towards the passing motorcade.  As of yet, there have been no bids on either grassy knoll post.

That will probably change, although there is the slight hope that nobody‘s bidding because at least some parts of all the conspiracy theories, though they have achieved legendary status, just don‘t hold up to the most elemental of investigations.

For instance, isn‘t there virtually conclusive proof that President Kennedy was not shot from that grassy knoll?  And thus, that those two fence post pieces would seem to have no more connection to the  assassination than say a blade of grass from the grassy knoll or as part of the area near where Abraham Zapruder stood to shoot his heartbreaking home movies?

Let me take the opportunity of calling Gary Mack, who is now the archivist of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.  And long before that, before it came into existence, one of the foremost of the unofficial investigators into the president‘s assassination.

Pleasure to speak with you, sir. 

GARY MACK, THE SIXTH FLOOR MUSEUM:  Thank you, Keith.  I appreciate being here.  

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s starts at the grassy knoll.  There‘s lots of photographic evidence, I think, that could suggest that there was somebody near that fence, maybe with a badge, maybe with a gun.  But isn‘t there something more important that gets overlooked here?  Wouldn‘t a shot from the grassy knoll have hit President Kennedy from the side  and not from the back or the front?

MACK:  That‘s true.   It‘d be like at a 90-degree angle.  Several of the witnesses in Dealey Plaza, especially those closest to the president at the time of the shooting, thought at least one of the  shots may have come from the front.

The problem is there are only two locations where someone  could hide.  And one of them doesn‘t work at all.  That‘s the famous triple underpass, which was directly ahead of Kennedy.  All of the people on top of the underpass were identified.  They are all railroad workers.

But then the grassy knoll was off to the right side, virtually perpendicular to the line of travel.  And if Kennedy had been hit from the side, he‘d be knocked over to his left.

The autopsy photographs and X-rays show that the damage to  President Kennedy‘s head was in the right front of the skull.   The doctors of Parkland Hospital, they thought the damage was at the right rear.  So that‘s one of the reasonable questions people can ask.  

The problem with the Kennedy assassination is there‘s no hard evidence of anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald.  

OLBERMANN:  Could somebody have shot at the president from the grassy  knoll and missed?  Is there any evidence to suggest that, or any witnesses who suggest that? 

MACK:  Well, you know, if there was a big plot to kill President   Kennedy, you would hire a guy who never misses.

OLBERMANN:  Mm-hmm.

MACK:  And so it‘s hard to imagine a shot from only 100 feet away would miss, but you know, things happen.  Things happen. 

OLBERMANN:  I will confess to having been a dedicated conspiracy  theorist until Gerald Posner book “Case Closed” came out in 1994.  And I still wonder about the forensics, and front or back on the shots, and the thousands of improbable details that as you mention  things happen.

But I can‘t get any conspiracy theory I‘ve ever seen to stretch around one point that Posner hammered home.  If there‘s a conspiracy, somebody has had to have placed Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas Book Depository where the archive is, where the museum is.  Somebody got him that job with that intent, but the timeline doesn‘t work, does it?

I mean, when he got the job and when the Kennedy.

MACK:  No.

OLBERMANN:  .motorcade route was established, those don‘t match.  

Can you talk us through that? 

MACK:  Not at all.  Oswald was hired on the 15th of October, which was weeks before anyone had any idea what the specific stops were on Kennedy‘s trip to Dallas.

And in fact, it was a week before the assassination, Friday November 15th, when the local people in conjunction with the Secret  Service and the Dallas police, figured out where Kennedy was going to speak.

I mean, you can‘t have a plot to kill the president until you   know where the motorcade is going to go.  And you can‘t tell the motorcade‘s route until you know where he‘s going to stop.

So as it turned out on Monday, the 18th of November, the decision was made that Kennedy would speak at the Dallas Trade  Mart, which is north of downtown.  So the route had to go toward the north at some point.

If he had spoken on the south end of town, at the - at another building, then the car would not have been anywhere near the depository.  The problem is all these decisions were made four or  five weeks after Oswald had already gotten his temporary job. 

OLBERMANN:  So the only conspiracy theory that involves Oswald at all, that could just be—just avoid being punctured by the facts as we know them, wouldn‘t it have to be one in which somebody gets Lee  Harvey Oswald a job at the Texas School Book Depository, and then that same somebody, or somebody they‘re working with, decides that the president would drive right past it?  I mean, does it not have to be a conspiracy on that level if there‘s any conspiracy at all?

MACK:  Well, it gets so unwieldy and so unworkable and hard to manage.  I mean, if you‘re going to have a plot to kill the president, you wouldn‘t even want to hire a guy like Oswald, who didn‘t have any references.  I mean, he wasn‘t known as a shooter.  He wasn‘t known publicly as a violent man.  We know now that he beat his wife on occasion.

So it‘s hard to fit Oswald into a plot with anybody.  So either Oswald did it all by himself, or Oswald wasn‘t involved at all, which of course is what he said.  And that‘s why the public has this continuing fascination with who killed President Kennedy, because some of these things just don‘t seem to gel very well.  

OLBERMANN:  And your fascination with this, have your views on this changed over the years?  Where do they stand now?

MACK:  Well, I think they change most every day.  I mean, I read all the theories.  And I try to keep up with both sides of the story because the Sixth Floor Museum has to present honest, factual,  straightforward information.

And there‘s new information coming out all the time, but there‘s  nothing that says, oh, no, it  wasn‘t Oswald, it was Bill.  You know,  there‘s nothing like that—at least not yet. 

OLBERMANN:  Back to the original point, the auction of the pieces of the fence posts from the grassy knoll.  If this were not your profession now, would these be items that you would be interested in?  Do they have historical significance?

MACK:  No.

OLBERMANN:  Or is this a red herring?

MACK:  No, there‘s just nothing to it at all.  The fence has been replaced many times over the years, because unfortunately, tourists  tend to take them.  They shouldn‘t.  You know, they should come into the museum and buy a postcard or buy a book or something.

Oliver Stone rebuilt that fence almost in its entirety in 1991 for his JFK movie.  Then in 2000, the city of Dallas tore down his fence and built a new one.  It‘s—Dealey Plaza is a city park.  And that‘s why that was done.

OLBERMANN:  Mm-hmm.

MACK:  So there‘s a—you know, there‘s a 40-year history of the fence parts being replaced over and over and over again.  So there‘s no telling what this gentleman has. 

OLBERMANN:  So a little bit of a provenance being raised here, in addition to our brief discussion on the assassination itself.

With Gary Mack, one of the foremost assassination historians, archivist of the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, thank you for your time, sir.  And thank you for all of your investigations over the years. 

MACK:  Thank you.  I appreciate it. 

OLBERMANN:  From historical conspiracy theories, to ones of the customer service variety, it certainly seems like a conspiracy to keep from ever getting to talk to a real live human.  Now a new Web site helps you  navigate the computerized maze that is automated answering. 

And surprise celebrity news.  Matt Damon is no longer a  bachelor.  What led to today‘s hurry-up wedding?  Something to do with the calendar?  Hmm?  Hmm?  All that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s meant to be a jolly time of year, full of festive cheer and goodwill, but it there‘s one thing guaranteed to totally destroy all those warm and fuzzy holiday feelings, it‘s trying to get the perfect present for that special someone and hearing “press one for sales, press two for directions.”

And our second story on the “Countdown,” finally one man takes on the challenge of saving us from that voice-prompt purgatory.   Press three for Katie Couric‘s report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANTA CLAUS:  Ho, ho ho, Merry Christmas.  

KATIE COURIC, NBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  With the holiday season upon us, get ready for the crowds, travel delays, and a lot of waiting on the phone.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  In order to provide with you the very best service possible, please select from the following options. 

COURIC:  Anyone with a phone and the need for some answers will tell you dialing customer service these days usually means entering a maze of computer-generated recordings. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sorry, I didn‘t catch that.  Where would you like me to direct your call? 

COURIC:  They‘re called Interactive Voice Response Systems used by more than 80 percent of large companies, and spoofed here on “Seinfeld”.  

KRAMER, “SEINFELD”:  Hello, and welcome to Movie Phone.   If you know the name of the movie you‘d like to see, press one. 

GEORGE, “SEINFELD”:  Come on, come on.

KRAMER:  You‘ve selected “agent zero”?

GEORGE:  What?

COURIC:  But what‘s funny on TV can be maddening in real life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s never right.  It‘s extremely frustrating.  You just hit zero, and double-zero to try to get to an  operator.  And now that doesn‘t even work.  

COURIC:  Paul English, a software entrepreneur from Boston,  has had enough.  He‘s created a website to help customers bypass all those annoying prompts and go straight to a real person. 

PAUL ENGLISH, SOFTWARE ENTREPRENEUR:  I just became very frustrated myself with how difficult it is to talk to a human with a company that I‘m paying money.  

COURIC:  His website called “The IVR Cheat Sheet”, reveals the secret sequence of numbers those automated menus.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Welcome to Dell. Your call may be recorded. 

COURIC:  Like this one for Dell Computers.  In order to speak with an actual human being, a caller must hit option one.  Dial a seven-digit extension, press option one twice more, then option four, and then option three.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you for calling Dell.  How may I help you? 

COURIC:  Easy, right? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, do you have the website  address?

BLONDIE:  (singing) Call me. 

COURIC:  Anything to reach out and touch someone, and not   something. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How may I help you?

OLBERMANN:  And then just like that, you‘re talking to Singapore.  We segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs by noting that while I was covering the 1999 Oscars, Tom Hanks, Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon pulled me over the hedge and onto the red carpet, in the process alarming security guards and   breaking the cummerbund of my tuxedo.

Mr. Damon is now married, which doesn‘t have anything to do  with that story.  I just felt like telling it.  He and his girlfriend, Luciane Bozan, exchanging vows during a private ceremony in New York  today.  The actor‘s publicist announcing the union this afternoon.  In attendance, the bride‘s seven-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.  Affleck was not there.

This is the first marriage for Damon, who met his bride while she was tending bar in a Florida night spot.  No confirmation of the rumor that the quicky ceremony was inspired by the new Mrs.   Damon‘s delicate condition.  “Access Hollywood” reporting that she might, in fact, be pregnant.

On the other hand, there are Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.  The celebrity website TMZ.com reporting that Simpson may not have the stomach for a divorce.  Better buy one of those ab   cruncher machines.  The website reporting neither Mr. or Mrs. has made the next necessary legal moves to actually dissolve the three-year marriage.  Ms. Simpson not even having gone so far as to protect her continued and significant earnings to which Mr. would be  entitled to half.

A source telling the site that the relationship between the two remains congenial.  And it‘s Ms. Simpson‘s father/manager driving the divorce.  Jessica, TMZ.com reports, just feels overwhelmed by it all, you know, like she was by Chicken of the Sea.

Paris Hilton will make a full and rich appearance in  COUNTDOWN presently.  But first perhaps her feud with Nicole  Richie has brought bad karma with it.  Hilton split with her fiance   Paris Latsis a few months ago.  Now it is Richie‘s turn.  Richie and her fiance, professional club DJ Adam Goldstein, had ended a  nine-month engagement.  The two had dated for a year prior to that.  Richie‘s publicist said the break-up was in the works for several days, but provided no further details.  But happy, happy, joy, joy, the next installment of “The Simple Life” will start shooting early next year for E! Entertainment, not FOX.  And with Richie and Hilton safely   separated.

Each will take turns playing a wife and running a house—why  am I still reading this?  Especially when there‘s much more disturbing Paris Hilton news.  You want to talk assault on Christmas?  That‘s not the Virgin Mary in the front yard there, Rhode Island.  That ship sailed a long time ago.  That‘s ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘S list of today‘s three  nominees. 

We‘ve got them titled “worst person in the world.”

The bronze goes to the Cartoon Network.  No, not the fine folks who bring you the reruns of “The Family Guy” or bring you “The Boondocks” and all that.  This is the ring of marijuana dealers in New York City who call themselves the Cartoon Network, and who DEA officers busted up this week mentioning in passing that these guys not only sold pot to thousands of customers, they delivered it.  

Runners up, the police who work for the Dallas Rapid Transit Service.  According to witnesses quoted by the newspaper, “The Dallas Observer”, late last month, they arrested a man named Todd Lyon for jay walking across the railroad tracks.  The problem is the  witnesses say he was not jay walking.  And the cops hit him and hit his 14-year-old son and cuffed him and took him to jail, where he languished for 11 days because he could not make bail before he finally pleaded out just to go home for jay walking.

But the winner—Jessica Sandy Booth, an 18-year-old woman under arrest in Memphis.  She spotted a brick of cocaine in a home she was visiting.  She decided she wanted it.  So she allegedly hired a hit man to help her break in, kill the four residents, and steal the  cocaine.

Bad news for her, part one, the hit man was an undercover cop.   Bad news for her, part two, the brick of cocaine she saw was actually a block of queso fresco Mexican cheese.  Jessica Sandy Booth, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the good old days before the plot to convince you that there is a plot to undermine Christmas, the major annual holiday disputes usually focused on outlandish, outdoor decorations, you know, houses so festooned that the lights emit this humming sound or cause the street lamps to dim all over the county.

And in our number story on the COUNTDOWN, how could you object to Christmas lights that feature an individual who represents the key spirit of the holiday?  Giving.  And who seems to personify  unwrapping, or who embodies stockings hung with care?

Of course, I‘m referring to Paris Hilton.  The Hilton holidays display is the artistic brainchild of designer Joe Moretti of Cranston, Rhode Island.  It‘s an annual tradition of Mr. Moretti‘s that being the non-traditional holiday display, 38,000 hot pink lights, eight-foot tall portraits of the hotel heiress, and one of her little dog too, smothering the front lawn.

Neighbors giving the d’cor mixed reviews.  Some already accustomed to similar past homages to Madonna and Princess Diana, Martha Stewart.  Others believing it to be completely inappropriate for the holiday season.  Certainly somebody drove by and vapidly said, “That‘s hot.”

I‘m joined now by the man behind the giant illuminated woman, Joe Moretti.  Mr. Moretti, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

JOE MORETTI, CREATED PARIS HILTON HOLIDAY DECOR:  Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  Why Paris.

MORETTI:  From Cranston.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, thank you.  Why Paris Hilton?

MORETTI:  She‘s hot.  She‘s an heiress.  She‘s a millionaire. 

Why not?

OLBERMANN:  Why not, I can buy that.  Some people may think of Paris Hilton and think glamour or celebrity or stupidity, but most of them will at least fleetingly think of that sex tape in that great Gene Shepherd holiday movie, “A Christmas Story” when the family unwraps the lamp made in the shape of a woman‘s.

MORETTI:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  .stocking leg.  Little Ralphie describes it as the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.

Is that not kind of what you‘ve got there?

MORETTI:  Yes, kind of.  I don‘t know if that crazy, but it‘s on that idea.

OLBERMANN:  What have people said to you about this?  What have you heard personally about your - about this year‘s display?

MORETTI:  Actually, all excellent comments, how people, they love it, look forward to it.  They - it‘s a tradition.  So they really - a good, positive feedback.

OLBERMANN:  Your display also gives rules about how to be a Hilton.  What are they and why did you include them?

MORETTI:  They‘re just quotes from Paris‘ book.  And whoever, lots of American girls, they - you know, want to be rich, thin, pretty and blond, and be an heiress.  So these are the rules that they can practice and see if it gets them to be Paris or at least a millionaire.

OLBERMANN:  Is - give me a feel for - I‘m talking at the beginning of this segment here about that annual thing in most towns, where there is some stretch of the neighborhood or stretch of the town where everybody goes whole hot with holiday lighting.

Is Cranston like that?  Is your part of Cranston like that?  Or are you the undisputed king of exotic displays?

MORETTI:  I think I‘m the king.  They don‘t even bother, the neighbors.  It‘s - there‘s enough lights here.  And they do very minimal with lights around me.

So I think maybe I‘m the king.

OLBERMANN:  What do you like?  Do you go and tour and look for other people‘s displays?  Is there anything that you‘ve seen that you like that isn‘t your own display?

MORETTI:  Just when I visit the city.  There‘s no place like New York for Christmas, for the visuals, for the lights, the displays, the creativity.  And unfortunately, around here, there‘s not much of that.  It‘s just the Santa Clauses, the red and green, snow men.  So not really.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  So you‘ve got your own giant Paris Hilton to look at anyway.  So are you thinking about.

MORETTI:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  .next year now, given this tradition of Martha Stewart and Diana and now Paris?  Have you got an idea of who‘s next, next year?

MORETTI:  I do.  It‘s color is all planned out.  And the subject and design is all planned.  And I just want to say poor Martha.  Last year, you know, jail time.  She didn‘t even get nearly as much attention as Paris, but next year is all planned out.

OLBERMANN:  But you‘re keeping the identity a secret, is that what I‘m gathering here?

MORETTI:  Yes.  All throughout the year, neighbors and people that know me constantly - you know, oh, what are you doing?  What are you doing?  And they try to guess.  And I don‘t tell anything until it‘s done.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we wish you the best of rest of the season and hope everything stays upright there.  Thank you for sharing that with the world, I think.  Joe Moretti and the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.  Good night, Joe.  Thank you.

MORETTI:  Thank you, good night.

OLBERMANN:  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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