updated 12/16/2005 9:14:02 AM ET 2005-12-16T14:14:02

Guests: Dana Milbank, John Dingell, Will Dana

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You can‘t answer that question without it being viewed in the context of an ongoing investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sometimes you can‘t, and sometimes you can.  The president is asked if he believes Tom DeLay is innocent of the charges against him and answers, “Yes, I do,” which would seem to constitute talking about an ongoing investigation.

A compromise constituted between Mr. Bush and Senator McCain on the no-torture amendment.

The No War on Christmas amendment hits the floor of the House of Representatives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN:  Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily, a fabrication straight from the mouth of O‘Reilly.  We will pretend Christmas is under attack, hold a vote to say, and pat ourselves on the back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Also, this just in.  There once was a man from Nantucket.

What a pair of hands.  The baseball catcher grabs the ultimate pop fly, and a New York newborn is safe after a three-story drop.

And the mavericks of the year, George Clooney, Kanye West, Cindy Sheehan, some group of “Rolling Stone” magazine.  Mick Jagger, Jack Murtha, Fiona Apple, and who, this guy?  What is this guy doing there?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It has such legal validity that even an administration critic on the level of commentator Lawrence O‘Donnell acknowledged, it‘s true, the White House claim voiced by the president, and about 227 times by the press secretary, that it cannot discuss the CIA leak case because it is inappropriate to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, well, apparently there are ongoing investigations, and then there are ongoing investigations, President Bush choosing to comment on the ongoing investigation into former House majority leader Tom DeLay, declaring he believes DeLay innocent, and the press secretary saying Mr. Bush can pick and choose which cases he comments on, because of, quote, “presidential prerogative.”

Oh, and somebody besides Mike Brown is now doing a heck of a job.

DeLay first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SPECIAL REPORT WITH BRIT HUME,” FOX)

BUSH:  I don‘t know whether I can expect that.  I hope that he will.

BRIT HUME, ANCHOR:  Why?

BUSH:  Well, I like him.  Plus, when he‘s over there, we get our votes through the House.

HUME:  Do you believe he is innocent?

BUSH:  DeLay?  Yes, I do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The White House today defending the seeming inconsistency, press secretary McClellan that saying Mr. Bush was employing, quote, “presidential prerogative” in choosing to comment on one case but not on the other, that the DeLay case was further along than is the CIA case.  It is?

And in another part of that same interview, in may be more omen than news, the last time we heard the president describe one of his point men this way, it was FEMA boss Michael Brown, now forever renamed Heck of a Job Brownie.  Would you believe Heck of a Job Rummy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUME:  Secretary Rumsfeld, how does he stand with you now?

BUSH:  Good, he‘s done a heck of a job.

HUME:  Is he here to stay, as far as you‘re concerned?

BUSH:  Yes.

HUME:  Till the end of your term?

BUSH:  Well, the end of my term is a long time.  But I‘m telling you, he‘s doing a heck of a good job.  I have no intention of changing him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A twofer.  More on both these points in a moment with Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.”

First, the Pentagon chief may be doing a heck of a job, but that‘s no reason for the White House to not have cut his legs out from under him, and out from under his own previous position, in the resonating debate over the use of torture in the so-called war on terror.  The president had, at one point, threatened a veto of a bill sponsored by Senator John McCain, specifically banning torture.

But as our White House correspondent David Gregory reports, this afternoon, the White House cut a deal with the senator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Good evening.

This really is an about-face by the White House.  With Congress squarely behind Senator McCain‘s torture ban, the president had little choice but to back away from his veto threat and make a deal.  This legislation bars cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners at home and abroad by both the military and the CIA.  The president and Senator McCain discussed it this afternoon in the Oval Office.

BUSH:  And we‘ve been happy to work with him to achieve a common objective, and that is, to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  What we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.

GREGORY:  In a concessions to the White House, this legislation would give CIA interrogators the same legal protection given members of the military who are accused of breaking the rules of interrogation, including legal counsel.  That‘s not the kind of blanket immunity that the White House wanted, particularly the vice president, who had made a personal appeal to members of Congress.

There are still some legal hurdles to get over in Congress, but this is expected to pass.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory at the White House.

Time now to call in “Washington Post” national political correspondent Dana Milbank for his take on all this.

Good evening, Dana.

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

Heck of a first segment you‘re doing here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, boy, now I‘m gone, too.

A lot of ground to cover tonight, the President Bush‘s very public about-face on torture today, is this a sign of weakness, or about how much political ground the White House has lost in the last year?  Was this common sense?  What happened?

MILBANK:  Yes, I mean, let‘s get rid of the notion that this is some sort of a compromise here.  The president did do an about-face on this.  This is one of the biggest victories for John McCain since the New Hampshire primary.

I wouldn‘t say that it‘s necessarily a sign of weakness.  It‘s a sign of common sense.  You know, you have 91 votes in the Senate, 300-something in the House.  It‘s a veto-proof majority.  It‘s going to become law eventually, anyway.  You might as well get on board.  That‘s very much what the president did, first opposing the Department of Homeland Security and then realizing it‘s going to happen anyway, jumping on board.

OLBERMANN:  On the other matters, we now know that President Bush believes that Tom DeLay is innocent of the charges against him, and that he believes he can choose to comment on one legal case but not on another.  Does the White House explanation of this, this presidential prerogative, have any legal, or even press relations merit?  Or is this just a catch-all for, You can‘t tell me what to do, I‘m the president?

MILBANK:  Yes, I don‘t imagine it has any legal merit, but it certainly has press relations merit.  Now, just think of it, it‘s a perfect answer, really.  And Scott was being honest, said, Why do you make an exception?  Well, presidential prerogative.  Why‘d you go to Iraq?  Presidential prerogative.

It would be the perfect answer to any question.  Of course, when you get into a situation like this, and you‘ve obviously violated your own principle of not commenting on these things, just say, Well, he‘s the president, and he does what he likes.  And, of course, that‘s the true answer.

OLBERMANN:  That assumes that there was a principle involved, as opposed to simply a case-by-case policy, which may be what it turns out to be now.

Another part of this same interview, the Donald Rumsfeld part of it, to which you alluded as we said good evening, if I‘m working for this president, and I hear the phrase, You‘re doing a heck of a job, twice, I pack.  But obviously, that was not secret code to Mr. Rumsfeld, you know, you‘re on your last legs here.  But could it instead have been an indicator that the president‘s kind of tone deaf about this stuff, that he could have that something that has entered the language as a catch-phrase, it‘s the Where‘s the beef? of his administration, and he hasn‘t realized it, to use it again, twice, about the secretary of defense?

MILBANK:  It‘s possible.  He probably does know it, because it‘s been all around.  But this is one of those tics that he has.  I don‘t know if you‘ve noticed, every time he has a press conference with a foreign leader, he says, Good job, good job, to the guy right after it.  And it‘s not like President Putin needs to be told by the—by our president that he‘s done a good job in the press conference.

It‘s just something that comes out of his mouth each time.  How is he doing?  Heck of a job.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t think he said that, by the way, about good job when he was trapped in that door that would not open.

Last point, as we said, so much to talk about.  We‘re just hitting the highlights.

The White House dismissed Robert Novak‘s claim, it addressed it today, the thing he said in North Carolina on Tuesday, that the president knows who leaked the identity of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, who I mentioned before, was here last night, told us last night that if Mr. Novak was confident the president knew, then he, Lawrence, is confident that Novak has unusual access and insight into this administration, and Novak is a good authority on whether or not the president knows.  Do you agree with that?

MILBANK:  I guess so.  I must say, it‘s a rather baffling development.  The other interesting thing is, Novak seems to be suggesting that his source is the same as Bob Woodward‘s source, which knocks out a lot of theories that Woodward‘s source was somebody who is critical of the war, like Richard Armitage, in the first place.  So I think the best thing to do is use my reporter‘s prerogative and say I have no idea.

OLBERMANN:  “The Washington post” national political correspondent Dana Milbank, and his many prerogatives, one which of was to leave his Santa habit home tonight.  As always, Dana, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  The major item on the White House calendar for this date, of course, taking place more than 6,000 miles away, election day in Iraq, millions across that country lining up to cast their votes amid the threat of violence, turnout at levels that should put American voters to shame but probably will not, the success of today‘s balloting, and the challenge of building a viable government in its wake, crucial to plans to start bringing American forces home.

Richard Engel has our report from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  More than 10 million Iraqis today put their mark on history.  Turnout was so high—officials estimate at least 65 percent—that polls stayed open an extra hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), democrat.

ENGEL:  A record turnout, and relatively peaceful.  On Iraq‘s first free election day last January, suicide bombers killed 40 people.  Today, five people died in mortar attacks.  And today‘s vote was much more representative.  Kurds lined up in Kirkuk, so did Shiites in Basra.

But this election for parliament will be remembered for the Sunni participation in central Iraq.

ADNAN PACHACHI, IRAQ NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE:  The government that will be—that will come as a result of this election will have a legitimacy which no other government in the history of Iraq has ever had.

ENGEL:  In Fallujah, the heart of the Sunni resistance, a city U.S.  Marines have invaded twice, officials say voter turnout was 70 percent, compared to just 2 percent last January, when Sunnis boycotted the polls, leaving them without a say in the current government.

“We made a big mistake last time,” said one voter, “which we are now correcting.”

Many people here told us they‘re voting with one goal in mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  To get the Americans, all the foreign forces, out of Iraq.

ENGEL:  In a Shiite neighbor in Baghdad, voters welcomed Sunni participation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It means more unity, better hope for a better government.

ENGEL (on camera):  Iraqis are calling this their national unity elections, and hope it is a turning point, ending nearly three years of relentless violence.

(voice-over):  Tonight, election worker counted ballots, but official results might not be known for two weeks.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the fallout from the news that the Pentagon has been spying on antiwar groups here in the U.S.  Lisa Myers will have the shocked response from shocked Defense Department officials, who are just shocked that people in their agency (INAUDIBLE).

And the so-called war on Christmas now has hit Capitol Hill, in the form of a House resolution.  And in reply, and in protest, a poem.  No, I‘m not kidding.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One of the problems with history, it has been observed, is that so many of us don‘t bother to learn it, and thus we are condemned to repeat it.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, when, during Vietnam, it turned out the Pentagon was doing this, even the Nixon administration got apoplectic and ordered it stopped.  The military has no right, privilege, nor entitlement to spy, study, or document U.S. citizens peacefully protesting a war within this country.

But there it is, the TALON database, a Pentagon program logging the efforts of such threats to the democracy as a Quaker educational meeting in Florida.

Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers broke this story and reports tonight that it has hit the fan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Today, Pentagon officials admitted that some of the information on antiwar protesters included in this secret Pentagon database should never have been on the list in the first place.

A Defense Department spokesman also announced a thorough review of domestic intelligence operations and refresher classes on how to properly collect and store intelligence, especially involving U.S. citizens.

The database of suspicious incidents obtained by NBC News includes legitimate potential threats, such as someone taking pictures outside a recruiting station, and a lookout for a suspected al Qaeda terrorist.

But it also contains information on antiwar meetings or protests, including this group‘s peaceful discussion at a Quaker Meeting House.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA:  Well, we‘ve seen this movie before during the Vietnam War.

MYERS:  This top Democrat overseeing U.S. intelligence operations says the Pentagon appears to have gone beyond legitimate collection of intelligence to protect U.S. forces and facilities.

HARMAN:  The notion that appropriate protest activities consistent with the First Amendment would harm our troops is farcical, and it is not the kind of work the Pentagon should be doing.

MYERS:  Privacy rights advocates say the Pentagon must do more to correct its mistakes.

EVAN HENDRICKS, PRIVACY RIGHTS ADVOCATE:  The Pentagon needs to start notifying people that, We collected information about you illegally, and here‘s the information that we have on you, and start the process of purging that out.

MYERS:  Tonight, Pentagon officials say, as far as they know, no military personnel was sent to spy on or infiltrate antiwar groups.

Lisa Myers, NBC New, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  What we need running the military is more people like this guy, passerby, right place, right time.  The baby catcher is a baseball catcher and a trained lifeguard.

And up your nose with an artistic hose.  Some call this art.  Others would simply call it animal abuse.

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now.  And in 30 years on radio and television, I‘ve seen a lot of bad things, but honestly, I‘ve never seen anything like this first piece of videotape before.  I mean, if you like elephants, or if you like painting, you‘re going to be disgusted.  That‘ll keep them watching.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin at the zoo in Portland, Oregon, where Rama, the elephant, and his handlers are busy making art.  That is, if you consider jamming paint up Rama‘s snout and pointing him at a canvas to be art.  I call it sneezing.  Hoping this is not lead-based.

The paintings Rama is making through the bars of the cage are unique.  Here‘s hoping that after a couple more days of this, Rama decides to stuff his handlers up his snout too.

To Japan, where you always want to be confident that the police force is prepared for any contingency, which is why the Tokyo force held this drill, apparently to do battle with the bad guys from “Mad Max.”  See, New Year‘s Eve is fast approaching, and over the past few years, it has become a bit of a local tradition for thousands of motorcycle gang members to run amok all over the city from dusk till dawn.

This year, police will be armed with paintball guns.  Now, of course, they will not stop any of the running-amok part, but they will help mark up the motorcycles and pirate cars to help identify the bad guys later on.  So we‘ll be sure to let you know how that idea works out.  Smashy, smashy.

COUNTDOWN investigating a Christmas claim, the man who celebrates Christmas every day apparently only does it in front of the cameras, for a fee.

And “Rolling Stone” magazine releasing its list of the mavericks, renegades, and troublemakers, 2005.  George Clooney, John Murtha, Kanye West, and Keith Olb --  Who?  What?  Huh?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Sir Trevor McDonald, anchor of our favorite newscast around here.  It‘s ITV‘s “News at 10:30” from England.  He retired tonight after 30 years at the network, 15 anchoring that newscast.  His entire farewell consisted of saying, “Good night, and goodbye.”  No retrospective, no speech.  That‘s why it was our favorite newscast.

Number two, Nathaniel Radzicki (ph) of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  He gets no quarter for us after he allegedly attacked his girlfriend.  But he does get a point for originality after reportedly hitting her with a cactus.

And number one, speaking of offbeat criminals, Richard Lee Simmons, Richard Lee Simmons, of Salisbury, North Carolina.  Police, seeking him on suspicion of robbery, could not find him anywhere.  Using a helicopter and dispatching tractor dogs into the woods, they could not find him.  Finally somebody thought to check what is evidently an exotic hideout.  And they found Mr. Simmons hiding in his own house, in fact, hiding in his own bed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We readily admit to making things up sometimes here on COUNTDOWN.  Of course, we always emphasize that we have made them up, because we‘re not just honest about it, we‘re also smug about it.

But when a fictional controversy concocted to drive the ratings and stuff the wallets of a couple of cable fatheads who do quasi-newscasts makes it all the way to the government, then we must protest.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, run for your lives.  The war on Christmas has reached Capitol Hill.

Congress chose to spend part of one of its last days before the holiday break debating Resolution 579, offered by Mrs. Davis of Virginia, Mr. Bartlett of Maryland, and Mr. Goode and Mr. Jones of North Carolina, a proposal, quote, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected,” and suggesting that the House, quote, “One, recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas, two, strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas, and three, expresses support for the use of these symbols and traditions.”

The ridiculousness proved all too much for one congressman, John Dingell of Michigan, who used his time on the floor to read a little poem expressing his feelings about House Resolution 579 and his feelings about the Big Giant Head who started this imaginary war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN:  ‘Twas a week before Christmas, and all through the House, no bills were passed about which Fox News could grouse.  Tax cuts to the wealthy were passed with great cheers, so vacations in Saint Bart‘s soon should be near.  Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds, while visions of school and homes danced in their heads.  In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan, and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.  Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.  Americans feared we were on a fast track to—well, wait.  We need a distraction.  Something divisive and wily.  A fabrication straight from the mouth of O‘Reilly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The mail continues to pour in a frightening rate about the Christmas controversies.  What many do oppose is banning the word Christmas.  Come on, even Santa‘s appalled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Shut up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DINGELL:  We will pretend Christmas is under attack.  Hold a vote to save it and pat ourselves on the back.  “Silent night,” the “First Noel,” “Away in the Manger.”  Wake up, Congress, they‘re in no danger.  This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go, from churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.

What we have is an attempt to define and destroy it.  When this is the season to unite us with joy.  At Christmas time we‘re taught to unite.  We don‘t need a made-up reason to fight.  So on O‘Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, on those right wing blogs.  You should sit back and relax.  Have a few eggnogs.  Tis the holiday season.  Enjoy it a pinch, with all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight, a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O‘Reilly, happy holidays.  Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the crack staff amplified in this presentation, the congressman‘s poem, that that was his work.

And also, by the way, after 40 minutes of debate on that Christmas resolution, the House decided to postpone further proceedings on the motion.  I‘m sure it will be the first thing on the agenda come January. 

Representative Dingell joins me from the Capitol.  Thanks for some of your time tonight, sir.  We appreciate it. 

DINGELL:  Thank you.  Ho, ho, ho.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  As you pointed out in that poem, there are a few more important things that need to be sorted out in Congress before Christmas than this imaginary attack on Christmas itself.  How did Resolution 579 ever get to the floor, let alone take up 40 minutes of taxpayer time there?

DINGELL:  Well, I have no idea.  Christmas should be in churches, in the hearts and souls of men.

Christmas is with Easter, one of the two most precious and sacred days of Christians, Catholics and Protestants.  It is a day that has special meaning to me, where I attend Mass and spend time with my family.  And I don‘t think we need to defend it.  What, I think, we need to do is to practice it. 

OLBERMANN:  Have you seen any evidence that there‘s actually any kind of attack on it other than in the minds of the people who have been spreading this story for ratings and book sales?

DINGELL:  I found no weakness of Christmas or Christians in my house, my family, my friends, my constituents, the people I serve in southeast Michigan.  It is a sacred time.  And it‘s a time when, thank God, we celebrate the coming of the Lord.  And we worship his doings and deeds.  And we thank him for his salvation to us. 

OLBERMANN:  Back for a moment to 579, it was only postponed.  Nobody -

there was no actual vote on it.  Could this actually turn up on the floor again after the New Year?  Is more time going to be wasted on this?

DINGELL:  Oh, it was voted on today.  And it passed overwhelmingly.  And its defect is not that we are for or against Christmas.  Christmas, thank God, is a reality for us.  But Christmas also is something that we should celebrate in our hearts.  And Christmas is very, very precious.  There is no attack on Christmas. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned, in your poem and thus endeared yourself to our staff permanently—Mr. O‘Reilly of FOX News, obviously the real problems of society are a little too complicated for him to deal with, so he and poor John Gibson have fixated on this thing.

Would it surprise you, sir, that as they have warned us about this rush to change Merry Christmas into Happy Holidays, that the biggest transgressor in the area might be FOX News itself?  I mean, they sold O‘Reilly Christmas decorations and called them Holiday ornaments for your Holiday tree.  And instead of a Christmas party this year their parent company has just held a Holiday party? Did you know about that?

DINGELL:  Well, I really can‘t make a good comment on that because it‘s always been Christmas trees, Christmas time, Christmas day, Christmas ornaments, Christmas gifts.  And it is a time of worship and happiness and prayer to the Lord.  And it is a day on which we celebrate the coming of the dear Lord Jesus to save us and to rise again on Easter. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there also, not to it, as well, sir—I‘ve always thought that this was a unique thing, perhaps, in human existence, that there is a—they‘re kind of hand in hand.  There is a religious Christmas and a secular Christmas going on simultaneously.  And the greatest thing about it is that you can participate in one or both or neither as you personally see fit. 

DINGELL:  Well, that‘s one of the great things about this country.  You know, we‘re not just Christians or Catholics or Protestants or Jews or Muslims or whatever.  We‘re everything.  But we‘re one country.  And we all love this country.  And it gives us all extraordinary freedoms for which we are all grateful to the Lord.

And it does something else for us.  It gives us the opportunity to worship our God in our own way.  And to find our own way to salvation. 

OLBERMANN:  Representative John Dingell of Michigan, Congressman and poet.  Thanks greatly for your time tonight and, in advance, Merry Christmas. 

DINGELL:  Thank you.  Ho, ho, ho.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of Christmas related scams, it seemed perfectly aboveboard when on December 2, we made Andy Park our number two news maker of that day.

After all, Agence France Presse, a well respected international news agency, had reported this British man had celebrated Christmas every single day for the past 12 and a half years.  And that he did the whole thing., turkey dinner, Christmas presents and watching the traditional Queen‘s speech on DVD.

But, then, certain things didn‘t seem to add up.  How could he afford all this? How come he wasn‘t morbidly obese from all those Mince pies? How come we only heard about him during the holiday season? This demanded a “Countdown” investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice over):  Our suspicions began when the German TV network ZA DA F (ph) went to visit him celebrating Christmas.  And its people came back with a distinctly punked feeling.

First off, the man asked for 200 pounds for the interview.  That‘d be about $350.  Then he asked for more money.  Then he screwed up his own shtick about his supposedly endless Christmas.  When asked about the amount of food he‘s eaten over the last 12 and half years of continuous celebration, he first said...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY PARK:  I‘ve eaten at least 9,800 turkeys over the last 12 and a half years.  At least 313,000 sprouts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  But when asked the same question three minutes later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDY PARK:  I‘ve been celebrating Christmas now for 12 and a half years.  That means I‘ve eaten 9,800 turkey, 250,000 Brussels sprouts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Pick one of the above.  It is either 313,000 Brussels sprouts, or 250,000.  By the way, he told another news outlet, it is 109,500 hundred sprouts.  And turkey? That‘s not turkey on your plate, pal.  That would be chicken.

And apparently it is not the first time he‘s supplanted poultry.  The British “Daily Mail” went to visit him earlier this month, and he was eating chicken then, too, claiming the turkey was still frozen.

Eating turkey every day for 12 years, and he doesn‘t have it thawed out yet.  His local newspaper, “The Wiltshire Times” tell us it has given up trying to do any stories on this man.  Apparently, their photographer has shown up at his house several times, unannounced, in hopes of catching him celebrating.  Yet, Mr. Christmas has not even let him in the door.

So what exactly is going on here? This might shed some light.  His latest video for his latest Christmas single.  And it is just about as bad as his Christmas sweater.

So there it is Andy Park, media hustler.  We‘re obviously outraged on behalf of ourselves and all other media giants who got even slightly taken in by this clown.  So indignant that we have this warning message for Mr.  Park, from no less an authority than the president of these United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Fool me once, shame on me.  But the fool can‘t get fooled again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From won‘t get fooled again to the kids are all right, as fire envelopes their home.  A mother tosses her newborn 30 feet to the ground, and the catch of the day is captured on surveillance video.

And fresh from the big split with Nick, is Jessica Simpson going to be appearing on one of  a...

All that and more ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is a clich’ so old that it may have originated in 19th century pulp fiction.  Firemen, save my child.  And the anguish inside that oldest of phrases is all too often real, sometimes gets lost in the translation.

But there it was in New York City and in our number two story on the “Countdown” tonight.  A fire and a mother and a newborn baby on the third floor, with surveillance cameras filming it all, and a passerby who happened to be an amateur baseball player.  A catcher.

Those are the components of an extraordinary story.  And “Countdown‘s” Monica Novotny joins me now with it. 

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

When the only way out of a burning apartment building is the window, and you‘re holding a baby, and you‘re three stories up, you pray for a miracle or maybe a hero to save you.  This New York City family got both. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRACINDA FOXE, MOTHER:  I prayed before I dropped him.  I didn‘t really want to drop him.  They kept saying, “Drop him.  Go ahead.”  But I had to do it.  I had to save him.

NOVOTNY (voice over):  A mother‘s prayers answered.  After fire and smoke trapped Tracinda Foxe and her one-month-old son in their third floor apartment in the Bronx, she was forced to drop him 30 feet in the frigid cold. 

FELIX VASQUEZ, RESCUER:  The mother was saying, “Help me, help me, please.  Catch my baby.  Catch my baby.  Please, somebody, help me.  Help me.” 

NOVOTNY:  And waiting in exactly the right place at the right time, Felix Vasquez, a New York City housing supervisor, who plays for the local baseball team, where practice has paid off. 

VASQUEZ:  I‘m a good catcher.  And it happened to be that I used my skill at the right time.  Now they can‘t say I didn‘t catch anything.  I did.  I caught a good baby, a healthy baby. 

NOVOTNY:  His grab captured by a surveillance camera. 

VASQUEZ:  There was an instinct and then a good reflex on my behalf. 

NOVOTNY:  As it turns out, Vasquez also happens to be a former lifeguard.  So when he saw the infant wasn‘t breathing after the three-story fall, he was able to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  Moments later, firefighters raced to rescue 30-year-old Foxe. 

DENNIS MARTIN, FIREFIGHTER, NEW YORK CITY:  We rushed in up to the third flood, up the stairs, came in, got in the apartment, which was really heavily charred.  Smoke down to the floor.  So we got her, got a mask in there for her, managed to calm her down.

NOVOTNY:  A happening thanks to a hero, who‘s now family.

VASQUEZ:  She actually asked me to be the Godfather of the baby.  And I accepted. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Mr. Vasquez called his catch a miracle.  Just in time, he says, for Christmas.  The mother and baby were treat at a local hospital, release, and are now recovering with family.  Keith -- 

OLBERMANN:  Godfather?

NOVOTNY:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.

“Countdown‘s” Monica Novotny.  Great.  Thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s just another reminder, how silly are the contents of our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  Still, here we are.

And she‘s already been on TV playing a newly wed housewife.  After a couple years marriage to Nick Lachey, she probably had to be pretty desperate, so it seems like a natural.  Jessica Simpson to appear on episodes of the skankathon “Desperate Housewives.”

Spotted, according to TV‘s “The Insider,” having lunch with one of the show‘s stars, Eva Longoria.  Witnesses reporting Longoria paid the tab and a grateful Simpson thanked her for, quote, “making me laugh.”  You know how much I need that right now.  No comment from Simpson‘s people.

A spokesperson for “Desperate Housewives” insisting there are no plans for the singer to visit Wisteria Lane, with or without Chicken of the Sea.

To another marriage made in haste, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline in the new website that, in its name, contains a suggestion to Ms.  Federline, “DivorceKevin.com.”  The site, featuring the pre and post-Federline pictures of the Pop Princess, is the creation of Little Rock, Arkansas D. J., Jason Cage.

Beside the photograph of Ms. Spear, sporting a hat tastefully embroidered with, “Seize the ass,” it includes a petition already signed by more than 9800 losers—visitors.  The goal is to, quote, “remove the boil that is Kevin from herself,” Spears and her payroll.

DivorceKevin.com launched nearly a month ago before Miss Spears reportedly kicked her hubby out of the house and had his car towed from their property.

And the other shoe, today, dropped from the October 6 incident in which 17 members of the Minnesota Vikings football team cavorted on, what had been up until then, a mom and pop cruise ship on Lake Minnetonka.

Quarterback, Dante Culpepper, tackle O‘Bryant McKinney, cornerback Fred Smoot, and runningback Moe Williams, each charged with three misdemeanors, indecent, disorderly and lewd or lascivious conduct.  Plus, one charge of Moe Williams.

The four players face a maximum of 90 days in jail, a fine of $1,000 per charge.  Since the PR disaster, the Vikings, of course have won six straight games and returned to playoff contention.

There‘s one more twist to all this.  The U.S. Attorney, who reviewed the case, is named Tom Heffelfinger.  Heffelfinger is a distinctive name.  All who bear it are believed to be related to a group of master pottery makers from Hoffelfinger in Switzerland.  That would include William Pudge Heffelfinger, who by coincidence, was the first professional football player.  He got $500 to play for Allegheny against Pittsburgh in November 1982.

And then there‘s the verb, to heffelfinger, which might be related to the Viking‘s naughty cruise.  Although, we ought to stop the story right there.

Rolling Stone magazine out with its 2005 year-end list, 18 mavericks, renegades and troublemakers.  Every one from Kanye West to Cindy Sheehan to Keith—who? That‘s ahead.

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

The bronze goes to us.  “Countdown” identified Neal Boortz as last night‘s runner up.  The radio babbler wrote some ludicrous racist predictions before the execution of Tookie Williams.  And we showed a picture, not of Neal Boortz, but rather of the distinguished former Georgia Senator Max Cleland.

How this happened, how we could have gotten it any more wrong, I would need an hour to tell you.  Suffice to say, we‘re very sorry, Max Cleland.  Very, very sorry.  You are one of the best people in the world and, thus ineligible for this list.

The runner up, the Ford Motor Car Company.  Actually, they are only on the list because they corrected what they had done that had gotten them on the list in the first place.

Roughly, mild mannered list of worst people tonight.

Ford had caved in to pressure groups.  Announced it would stop advertising Land Rovers and Jaguars and other brands of cars in gay publications.  Today Ford announced, it made a mistake.  It will resume the advertising.

So the winner tonight, star-crossed Westchester, New York County District Attorney and Senate candidate Jeanine Pirro.

The “New York Daily News” reports that, right after the funeral mass for slain New York City policeman, as the cop were still standing at attention and the coffin was being placed in the hearse, Ms. Pirro was reportedly seen laughing and chatting with another politico.  Oh, dear.

Jeanine Pirro, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Somebody told me I was in the year-end issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine.  And I saw it on the newsstand and looked at the cover image, and I said, “No, that‘s not me.  That‘s another NBC Universal employee.”  Kong, comma, king.

Then they explained it to me.  It‘s their list of 18 mavericks, renegades and troublemakers for the year 2005.  And it‘s our number one story in the “Countdown,” for the simple and simply inescapably egotistical reason that, somehow, I‘m one of them.

“Rolling Stone‘s” picks include movie stars and musicians, but also ordinary people who, as Michael Moore put it in his introduction, dared to say something real.

Kanye West, Renegade of the Year, chosen for one unscripted comment about President Bush that he made during the NBC Live Hurricane Karina special.  Something well enough remembered around these parts.  I don‘t have to go quoting it again.

George Clooney, Maverick of the Year, in two movies this year.  He took aim directly at how our country‘s dependency on foreign oil corrupts its involvement in the Middle East.  In his depiction of a CIA agent in “Syriana” and implicitly at today‘s fear mongering and media manipulation by reminding us of the battle between Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy in “Good Night and Good Luck.”

Also, Cindy Sheehan, Troublemaker of the Year, re-igniting war protests with her vigil outside the president‘s ranch in Crawford, Texas, waiting for Mr. Bush‘s answers about why her son, Casey, died in Iraq.

And then 15 other guys, including me and Mick Jagger.  I bet he‘s confused.  “Who in the hell is this guy.”

I‘m joined now by Will Dana, the managing editor of “Rolling Stone.”

Thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

WILL DANA, MANAGING EDITOR, ROLLING STONE:  Oh, thank you, Keith. 

Thanks for having me here. 

OLBERMANN:  So I‘m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I am trying to figure this out.  Clooney, Sheehan, Mick Jagger, Keith Ledger, Congressman Murtha, Kanye West, me.  I‘m looking at this list and I‘m saying it‘s Sesame Street time.  One of these things doesn‘t belong here.  What on earth am I doing on this list?

DANA:  Well, you know, around the office we just loved your Death Metal album.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks.

DANA:  And the way you were spitting blood?  Really cool. 

OLBERMANN:  So that was it?  It‘s a typo-  typographical error?

DANA:  Yes.  No, no, no.  We—Well, you know, I think Katrina did it for you.  And you didn‘t cry on the air, which we appreciated. 

OLBERMANN:  I try to avoid it whenever possible.

As I said, I‘m flattered by it.  It was a—we just did a news commentary that seemed to be necessary at the time, and the circumstances that required it.  But, on the other hand, as a result here, I‘m sharing a page with Bob Saget.  What‘s with that?

DANA:  Well, you‘ve got to hold the picture up because that‘s—what we heard was that the rabbit wanted to meet you and so we thought we would put you guys together. 

OLBERMANN:  And Bob‘s in there for what reason? Can we explain that?

DANA:  Well, I mean, he‘s not in there for the same principled reason a lot of the other guys are in there.  But I think that when one of most—

America‘s most beloved dads turns into the most filthy vial comedian on the face of the earth, that merits a little attention. 

OLBERMANN:  And he‘s proud of it, we might say.

DANA:  And he‘s proud of it, yes.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not like he was hit by lightning and suddenly became this way.

DANA:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  He tells the joke and he tells the worst version of the joke in that movie, “The Aristocrat,” right?

DANA:  Yes.  And that‘s just the beginning.

OLBERMANN:  This would, as the last part of the conversation suggestion, it would extensively seem to be a currents event oriented list.  But Saget is in there and Bren (ph) Cohen.  And my favorite is Seth McFarland, who is the guy behind “The Family Guy.” What exactly are the criteria for this list?

DANA:  Well, you know, it‘s people who are pushing the envelope.  People who are pushing back against this sort of conformity, corruption, stupidity that seems to be raining across America now.

People who, you know, as Michael Moore said, seemed real.  You know, that‘s not easy to say.  And, yes,  this list—It was kind of a lousy year in a lot of ways.  You know, war, disasters, the sputtering economy and, you know, we looked around and wanted to have something that we could feel a little better about, you know.  And we thought these guys who are up there, you know, they‘re fighting the fight and they‘re getting in the face of the people running the country. 

OLBERMANN:  When something nice like this happens—and let me belatedly and formally thank you for including me in this.  You read the whole thing very carefully.  One thing I noticed, with the introductory piece and with the 18 individual articles with the banner on the cover, it just refers to us mavericks, renegades, troublemakers.  Nowhere does it say the best mavericks, renegades, troublemakers.  You did mean it as a, like, best, right?  Not the worst?

DANA:  Oh, yes.  I think we meant it—Oh, and I guess you could say the worst.  That would be a different list.  And there probably were people who actually did make a lot more trouble on the other side of the coin.  But we didn‘t choose to celebrate them. 

OLBERMANN:  Was there somebody that didn‘t make the cut?  Because 18 is just such an unusual number for a top list of any kind. 

DANA:  We‘re trying to make 18 the new number.  The top 18. 

OLBERMANN:  Maybe we can do some sort of commentary and sell the point of 18. 

DANA:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Has there been any reaction to this? I mean, haves have any of the people, besides me, called you up and said, “What am I doing on this list?”

DANA:  Well, we‘re all going over to Clooney‘s house later if you want to come.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

DANA:  In Italy on his jet.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

DANA:  Where‘s your jet?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, my jet is with—is when I‘m number one on the list I suppose. 

DANA:  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  And Mick Jagger?  Just explain what Mick Jagger is doing on there?  Because it might not be too fresh to everybody?

DANA:  Well, he, on their last album, The Bigger Bang, he had a song called My Sweet Neocon, which took some of the sharpest and most direct hits at Bush and Cheney we‘ve seen anywhere in pop music.  And, yes, we thought that was kind of cool.  And Jagger had not written a meaningful song in quite awhile. 

OLBERMANN:  Since the Nixon Administration?  I don‘t know.  About half way through his career. 

DANA:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Will Dana is the managing editor of “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Thanks for the interview again.  Thanks for the kind words.  And I hope you sell a ton of those magazines, pal. 

DANA:  OK, well, get higher on the list next year, and thanks a lot. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll do what I can.

DANA:  OK, bye, bye.

OLBERMANN:  And we should mention also, in fairness, that in the issue, there‘s also a full-page ad for Anderson Cooper.  They had to buy their way in.

It‘s “Countdown.”  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues with now with Rita Cosby, tonight live and direct from Los Angeles. 

Good evening, Rita.

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

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