Guest: John Dean, Bob Bernstein
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
And worse and worse it gets. Did the Bush administration bypass the special wiretap court because the court was refusing to sanction those wiretaps? Did the NSA spying include eavesdropping at the U.N.? And is, as our guest John Dean suggests, the president already guilty of at least one impeachable offense?
The good news for Mr. Bush, he's in bed with Anna Nicole Smith. Well, legally, anyway. Why the administration's top attorney filed arguments supporting Anna Nicole Smith's Supreme Court case. Be careful about getting yourself stuck supporting Anna Nicole Smith. Or, giving us the opportunity to run Anna Nicole Smith Supreme Court Puppet Theater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA NICOLE SMITH: He's freaking genius!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Oprah gets the bird. Oprah's plane gets the bird, a midair collision. She's fine. The bird, not so much.
And what's with the midair crisis of the day? Another one today. We think there's an ulterior motive here.
And what's the motive in the theft of the famous Mother Teresa Sticky Bun of Nashville?
Exclusive late-breaking blockbuster news on this story, and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
The bad news for President Bush, his decision to authorize off-the-books domestic spying without court supervision may induce congressional hearings, may have included eavesdropping on diplomats at the U.N., and may unleash murmurs about impeachment.
The good news, administration attorneys will symbolically be standing right behind Anna Nicole Smith when she tries to stand right in front of the Supreme Court.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, and what did Santa bring you for Christmas?
John Dean in a moment, on the spying, not about Anna Nicole.
The extrajudicial spying may be vastly wider than originally thought or than the president acknowledged 10 days ago, “The New York Times” reporting that the National Security Agency has been tapping directly into some of the main arteries of American telecommunications companies in its hunt for suspicious activity, apparently with the approval of those telecommunications companies, but not with the approval of any court.
The agency combing through phone calls and e-mails said to number in the millions, not all of them, obviously, the work of terror suspects. In acknowledging the eavesdropping last week, the president having said that only those suspected of terrorist ties were being monitored.
As for why the White House chose to bypass the judiciary, the “Seattle Post-Intelligencer” newspaper reporting that it may not have liked the courts' interference, government records showing that the secret federal surveillance court did not always rubber-stamp those requests, choosing to modify 179 out of the more than 5,600 applications for electronic surveillance submitted by the Bush administration, rejecting six outright.
And the blog The Huffington Post, noting that in 2003, British newspapers had reported that the administration had green-lighted surveillance of U.N. DIPLOMATS in New York prior to the invasion of Iraq, not for fear of terrorism, but in hope of gaining some kind of leverage as the U.S. sought U.N. support of the Iraqi venture.
These revelations prompting an outcry on Capitol Hill, congressional Republicans indicating off the record that they might launch a full investigation, Senator Arlen Specter of the Judiciary Committee having already said that he intends to conduct oversight hearings into the president's legal authority to approve such wiretaps.
Impeachment would seem to be a practical impossibility, what with same-party control of the White House, Senate, and Congress. But those murmurs have begun, certainly among the president's critics and opponents, and in the nation's newspapers. “The Oakland Tribune” has asked its readers in an editorial to donate 535 copies of George Orwell's novel “1984” so it could distribute one to each member of Congress.
And when it comes to law, impeachment, politics, and personal experience, perhaps no man living knows more about the subjects than my next guest. John Dean joins us now to weigh in on the latest scandal to engulf this president.
Good evening, John.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Bush's defenders on this have said, in fact, he himself has quoted Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution. It says, he says, that it gives him the authority, requires him to protect this country in any way necessary. Is that absolute?
DEAN: Well, I've never read Article 2 quite as broadly as it's being read now, and I've often thought what would have happened if Richard Nixon had said, Well, you know, what this is really about is my commander-in-chief power. That's why I'm breaking into Daniel Ellsberg's office, to see if he's passing out these Pentagon papers to the communists.
That's the parallel argument. It was probably the best defense that Nixon might have made, but he actually didn't even go that far.
OLBERMANN: I can remember well, though, that President Nixon's rationalization, and this was in the David Frost interviews three years after the resignation, on all of this was, if the president does it, then it is not illegal. Is there a legal or constitutional support for that idea? Is there something in how Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and ignored the Supreme Court during the Civil War that gives the president the right to define an emergency and declare what's necessary to deal with that emergency, all by himself?
DEAN: There's no question a president has what they call prerogative powers, and that's what Nixon was talking about with Frost. In fact, they were talking specifically about Lincoln in that exchange.
And it's a long-held belief that, indeed, it comes—goes all the way back to John Locke's thinking on executive powers, that there are inherent powers that nobody will put into a Constitution, that in case of an emergency, the president can exercise those prerogative powers.
What's interesting, Keith, is, every time a president does exercise his prerogative powers, he tends to get himself in trouble, whether it be JFK with the Bay of Pigs, whether it be Eisenhower with U-2 flights, whether it be Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson escalating Vietnam without congressional clearance, and Nixon's actions himself.
They all seem to get in trouble when they go into this area. And we see it again today.
OLBERMANN: You quoted in your book Justice Brennan, “After each perceived security crisis ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary.”
It would be sort of—I still think it would still be hard in many, many places, even in those areas in which the president is most fiercely criticized for this, to envision some scenario in which the terror issue will not sustain historical analysis.
Do you suspect that this will be merely lumped in there with the Red scare of the 1920s and the subsequent one of the 1950s and all the other reasons that the Constitution has been nudged aside for a time?
DEAN: Well, we don't have all the facts on this. And I don't think anybody's going to fault the president in his goal. The ends are certainly appropriate. He's trying to protect Americans from the threat of a terrorist attack, or the actual attack. No one can slight that.
It's the means that he's employed. Why, for example, hasn't he gone to Congress? If—he's been doing this for four years now, we've learned from the very first report that he didn't have in place initially protections. This is something they put in in 2004, thinking that, Well, if John Kerry does slip by, we could be in criminal trouble, so we'll put some protections in here, at least to look like we were doing it cautiously and carefully and protecting liberties.
But it was an afterthought. So why didn't anybody take care of this in four years? Why couldn't Congress—I haven't heard a good argument why Congress couldn't, indeed, have dealt with this issue.
OLBERMANN: There's also a kind of backwards way of looking at this that was put—in the electronic surveillance question that was put by a constitutional law professor quoted by “The New York Times,” who asked, in essence, if the Constitution directly authorized this kind of stuff, why would we even have this foreign intelligence surveillance court to review wiretap requests?
If Mr. Bush can just do this, or any president can just do this, why doesn't he just do this all the time by himself? Why have the court?
DEAN: Well, it does happen that we are a government of laws. And—theoretically, at least. And why do we need a PATRIOT Act if he has all these powers? If the—if anyone reads the Article 2 the way Bush does, Cheney, his former counsel, David Addington, and John Yoo do, there are just no powers they don't have in the name of defending the country against terrorism, and terrorism is an indefinite threat.
Therefore, they can do anything indefinitely that they wish. That isn't what I think the Constitution contemplates.
OLBERMANN: Put all this together for me. Are the president's actions authorizing the NSA to spy internally in this country, are they illegal, and do they, in fact, right now constitute an impeachable offense?
DEAN: Well, I don't think there's any question he's violated the law. He's admitted to violating the law. What he is saying, I have a good defense, and that is national security. I have this power to do this, or this very vague resolution that the Congress granted for my using force in dealing with Afghanistan and terrorists. I can read into that that it also includes collecting signal intelligence.
It's a stretch. So what does this all mean? Is it an impeachable offense? Keith, that is a purely political question, and only the House of Representatives can decide it in the first instance. And I don't think they're going to decide it against the president at this point.
OLBERMANN: Two years ago, when you were writing your book “Worse Than Watergate,” you entitled a chapter “Scandals or Worse,” and you listed 11 specific areas where trouble might be brewing. And then you wrote less specifically about two other areas of concern.
Let me just review those 13 points, if you will, quickly here. One, character issues would meet Mr. Bush's past conduct, service record, and what not. Two, his prior business conduct, how to get a company and your own ball club without really trying or paying. Number three, whether or not the vice president had been truthful about his own health. And number four, Mr. Cheney's past business conduct. Hello, Halliburton.
Five, the possibility of civil rights violations in keeping protesters out of the Bush and Cheney events. Six, the president's executive order dismantling the Presidential records Act. Seven, those pesky little national energy policy development meetings that Mr. Cheney had chaired. Eight, the president's effort to prevent a 9/11 commission.
Nine, the failure to update the continuity-of-government plan. Ten, the possible misleading of Congress about Iraq. Eleven, the leaking of Valerie Plame's name by the White House.
And then, as I said, less formally, 12, what you quoted Orin Gross (ph) as saying, “Terrorism presents its real threat in provoking democratic regimes to embrace and employ authoritarian measures.” Sounds kind of like a forecast of this NSA spying story.
And lastly in this group here, efforts by Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney to expand the powers of the presidency.
I'm gathering that, two years later, you'd probably say we should be watching numbers 10 through 13 most closely. Or is there something new on the list?
DEAN: I think 10 through 13 would be a good place to start. And I think if, for example, the composition of the Congress changes in the House or the Senate in 2006, it's going to be Katy, bar the door. This administration has an awful lot of things they're going to have to explain.
I think this is coming right out of the vice president's office, Keith, and he sold the president on what to do. This is something that Dick Cheney's wanted to do since he left the White House as chief of staff, and he's about doing it now. And he's doing it with a vengeance.
And I'm not sure the Congress is going to tolerate it if they lose control of the Congress.
OLBERMANN: Well, to that point, obviously, a Republican Congress will not be impeaching a Republican president, so the fall midterm elections have already—there's no news here to say they're shaping up as a referendum on the president.
But apply your political experience and your impeachment experience here. If you're the Republicans, are you best advised to embrace this now, to say, Hey, vote Republican this fall, or the Democrats will impeach George W. Bush?
DEAN: I think it's dangerous for some Republicans, and I think some Republicans have realized that. They don't want to—they didn't want to, for example, have a vote if they could avoid it on many of these controversial issues. They're trying to avoid them right now like a plague.
They know the politics of this. They know the American people do not like to lose their civil liberties. It's still a story that is just starting to catch on and be broadly embraced and understood. It's a complex story. But people do get wiretapping. That's one of those issues they understand. Richard Nixon was impeached for it. He claimed national security. The Congress said, No national security. I think we got a parallel situation.
OLBERMANN: Nixon White House counsel and Findlaw.com columnist John Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate,” which is now a much easier read, because much of what he said might happen in there has happened.
As always, sir, great thanks for your time and your insight.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The presidential legal news is not over. This may not get him impeached, lord knows what it could get him, in the case the Supreme Court will hear about Anna Nicole Smith. The administration attorneys have decided on which side their briefs should drop.
Rule number one when you claim you've been misquoted, make sure there is no tape of what you said. Why this gentleman and the other gentleman from Fox are complaining about us, and how they evidently forgot rule number one.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It was strange enough to contemplate already. Anna Nicole Smith going to the Supreme Court and not traveling there inside a big cake, all the while trying to remember the words to “Happy Birthday to You.” Now it has transcended even that ludicrousness.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Miss Smith's biggest support may come from the current presidential administration. Oh, yes, like this is the first time she's ever relied on Bush.
Correspondent Kevin Corke now from the White House. Kevin?
KEVIN CORKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, a strange pairing, Keith, to say the least. On the one hand, you have the former “Playboy” Playmate, Anna Nicole Smith, who, some would argue, has made a career of being larger than life. And on the other hand, you have a White House that could actually end up defending her before the high court.
(voice-over): The case has it all, sex, money, and fame. And now Anna Nicole Smith, no stranger to the unusual, will try to make the most of it in collecting possibly hundreds of millions of dollars from the estate of her late husband.
Smith married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II in 1994 when he was 89 and she was a 26-year-old former topless dancer. Marshall died a year later, and there's been a big fight over his money ever since, pitting Smith and her late husband's son, Pierce, a fight that will now go all the way to the Supreme Court, with the Bush administration siding with Smith.
Smith lost a previous round in state court but won a judgment in federal court. And in the latest filings, the Bush administration argues that the justices should protect federal court jurisdiction in disputes.
A high-stakes case with a Texas-sized jackpot on the line.
(on camera): And we'll likely find out next month sometime if the U.S. Solicitor General will be able to join Smith's attorneys when they argue before the high court on the 28th of February.
Keith, back to you.
OLBERMANN: Kevin Corke at the White House for us this evening.
By all accounts, reports, rumors, and innuendo, Ms. Smith indeed plans to attend the February 28 court date. There will be no cameras there, of course, at the Supreme Court, but there can always be Anna Nicole Smith Supreme Court Puppet Theater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll hear argument now, number 041544, (INAUDIBLE) Marshall against E. Pierce Marshall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court, petitioners are before (INAUDIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey.
Can I have my tip from the lap dance now?
This guy, this guy's a freaking genius. And -- Wait. You are—you are the Supremes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You thought that was bad? There are Papal Puppet Theaters, Burt Reynolds Slap of Producer Puppet Theaters, and endless Michael Jackson Puppet Theaters ahead, and they're all part of our year in review, COUNTDOWN's Favorite Things 2005, this Friday night at 8:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific. Be there. Aloha.
And from buns to bun. The heavens brings us a sticky bun in the shape
of Mother Teresa, but now somebody has gone and stolen it. The great bun
hunt, ahead on COUNTDOWN
OLBERMANN: Back now, pausing the COUNTDOWN/ And if you saw The Best of Oddball hour we ran last night, A, a kind thank you for your kind remarks, and B, time to start refilling the larder with a supply of goofball video for the year ahead.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in Shimla (ph), India, where the forecast calls for angry deities. It's the ancient event Narmiga Yagna (ph) event. It happens only once every 12 years. What does Narmiga Yagna translate to in English, you ask? Why, human sacrifice, of course. Only someone did not tell this guy.
Nobody dies anymore, but they still send one lucky local volunteer hurtling down more than 900 feet of rope into a pit, where his predecessors used to break their necks, die, and satisfy the vengeful and angry gods. Wheee!
But in these enlightened times, of course, they said, Fill the death pit with Jell-O Brand Jell-O Pudding. Nobody dies, and afterwards the whole town has a tasty treat to snack on. The gods remain vengeful and angry.
And then there are the news gods and their latest obsession—
Breaking news now, airliner in distress. Frontier Airlines flight 263 into LAX. Can the pilot avert disaster? There's a warning light indicating that a cargo door may be open. This is nearly as dangerous as if they discovered the big airline logo was beginning to peel off and might just fall onto the Hertz Rent-a-Car courtesy bus.
Yet all the cable news networks carried this live, for the drama. Wow. That's a hairy landing right there, isn't it? Not even a puff of smoke. Nobody was injured, or even noticed.
But I'm being told there is a Delta flight—actually, there's a Delta flight approaching Atlanta Hartsfield, and it's run out of coffee! They're clearing the runways! A Delta passenger jet about to land in Atlanta with no coffee on board!
Stay tuned for further details.
You know what this is all about, don't you? You know why there's this sudden mania to show airplanes in crisis, right? I'm thinking the airlines are doing this. They call us up, they tell us there's something that sounds like an emergency, and really there isn't. And for the next 20 minutes, every network you watch has live pictures of their plane, live pictures of their airline's name in big letters like this.
Oh, honey, which airline should we fly to Tucson? The name is on the tip of my tongue. Frontal? Frontme? Frontsky?
So if Oprah Winfrey had a midair emergency, is that a publicity stunt, or just a bid for a little free air roadkill?
Speaking of roadkill, thin skin from two of our worst persons in the world. One of them says I misquoted what he said. Unfortunately, what he said was on tape.
All that ahead.
But first, now here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Emilio Rinaldi of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In 1945, he was 12 years old, and accidentally got shot in the stomach by a friend, and they patched him up at the emergency room at Memorial Hospital in Berlin, Wisconsin. And his family being poor, they—well, they skipped out on the bill.
Last week, Mr. Rinaldi sent the hospital a check for $500, because he is now a wealthy retired insurance agent who serves on the board of directors of the Eau Claire hospital.
Number two, an unnamed 45-year-old Albanian man who police (INAUDIBLE) went on a pickpocket—a pocket-picking rampage—try that again in English—went on a pocket-picking rampage at a Christmas party in the Berlin in Germany. Where did he slip up? No, not by trying to say pocket-picking. He slipped up because he tried it at the Berlin police department Christmas party.
Number one tonight, Tamir Shehata of Egypt. He finally wed his fiancee of three years. And at the reception, one of his guests came up to him and said, Tamir, you do realize that your wife is a man, don't you? The missus promptly confessed to being an 18-year-old guy named Ahmed who said he was going to tell Tamir during the honeymoon and kind of was hoping he'd consummate the marriage anyway.
Ahmed is under arrest, and as for Tamir, listen, pal, I can understand that you never saw “M. Butterfly” on Broadway, but what, they don't have movies where you are? You didn't go see “The Crying Game”? Stephen Rea went through all that, you didn't even pay attention to him?
OLBERMANN: At the end of June, we began to devote about 90 seconds out of each news hour to a feature called the “Worst Persons in the World.” The mighty and anonymous alike have made the list. From Robert Novak to Scott Peterson to the Ronald McDonald who held up a Wendy's.
And up until now, though well over 200 have earned the dishonor, we've never had a complaint. Our number-three story in the COUNTDOWN, we have a complaint. Evidently John Gibson and Bill O'Neill of Fox News don't like being considered among the worst persons in the world, even though they clearly are.
O'Reilly first. He was funnier. Last week the big giant head did some sort of year-end wrap-up of his rants and distortions, it was a kind of self-loofahing of congratulation for the nightly disaster his program means for the truth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Speaking of disasters, our competitor at MSNBC is a notorious smear merchant. So far this month, December, the FACTOR's third rerun at 4:00 in the morning has beaten MSNBC's original 8:00 program more than 50 percent of the time. Unbelievable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A couple things here. We never claimed O'Neill's program doesn't draw vastly more viewers than does this one. To borrow a phrase, “Hey, 800 billion flies can't be wrong.” But it is curious, isn't it, that he brands me a smear merchant yet instead of trying to refute just one of the hateful things we've quoted him as saying or doing, he instead turns to the ratings? That's probably because the only things we've smeared O'Reilly with have been his own quotes. To borrow another phrase, when you're as guilty as he is, change the subject.
Unfortunately, I now have to change the subject to John Gibson. And this is greatly painful because I really don't know why he's decided to try to destroy himself. But he has. O'Reilly is one of those blissful idiots who can rationalize anything, that doing this enough usually results in a nervous breakdown is well-known and his clock is clearly ticking in that regard.
But even he is not so functionally stupid as to deny saying things that are preserved on tape, which is what Mr. Gibson is doing. Let me flash it back to the day he made the worst persons list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLI)
OLBERMANN: But the win e and this one comes with great personal pain because we were friends when he worked here and thereafter. John Gibson selling his new book about this phoney baloney war on Christmas. John revealed a very ugly side to himself. He is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nut bag terrorists think.
“I would think,” Gibby said on a syndicated radio show, “if somebody is going to be—have to answer for following the wrong religion, they are not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.”
I tell you which religion john thinks is the only one that's right, but what's the difference? It's not the faith that's the issue. It's the intolerance. John Gibson, today's worst person in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: John first complained about that on his radio program, then he went to town on television. “I find myself being misquoted or the actual words I've said taken way out of context in order to build outrage against me,” he said. “I'm called,” he said, “names like fathead and the worst something or other for things I really did not say. Today, one of my former colleagues repeated a misquote to justify saying some truly disgusting things about me. Condescendingly he tisk tisked that he used to like me. I doubt it. Otherwise why would he be so willing to believe trash?”
Well, John, I believed it because it's true and it's on tape. I'm afraid John is, at best, suffering from amnesia. At worst, he's just flat-out pretending something never happened. John Gibson's remarks about religions being wrong and those who believe them having to answer for them came on a show hosted by a Janet Parshall. Broadcast by Salem Radio Network on November 17. And the remarks are on tape. The Web site mediamattersforamerica has a transcript and audio link and I'm afraid there's no ambiguity whatsoever.
JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS HOST: The whole point of this is that the tradition - the religious tradition of this country and that the same sense of tolerance that's been granted by the majority to the minority over the years ought to go the other way, too.
Minorities ought to have the same sense of tolerance about the majority religion, Christianity, that they've been granted about their religions over the years.
JANET PARSHALL, RADIO HOST: Exactly. John (ph), I have to tell you, let me linger on that word tolerance, because first of all, the people who like to promulgate that concept are the worst violators. They cannot tolerate Christianity as an example.
GIBSON: I know that.
PARSHALL: And number two, I have to tell you, I don't know where they held this election and decided that tolerance is a transcendent value. I serve a god who, with the finger of fire, write he will have no other gods before him. And he doesn't tolerate sin, which is why he sent his son to the cross, but all of the sudden now we jump up and down and celebrate the idea of tolerance. I think tolerance means accommodation, but it doesn't necessarily mean acquiescence or wholehearted acceptance.
GIBSON: No. No. No. If you figure that - listen, we get a little theological here and it's probably a bit over my head, but I would think if somebody is going to be - have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to .
GIBSON: And that's fine. Let them. But in the meantime, as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us without causing trouble and I think most Americans are fine with that tradition.
OLBERMANN: Now, there is always the possibility, however remote, that that wasn't John Gibson but merely some kind of professional John Gibson impersonator, in which case that guy is clearly the worst person of all time. Or there's an evil twin thing going, maybe. Otherwise, that's really the whole shebang right there, that phrase “wrong religion” actually sounds worse in context, isn't it?
It's the same kind of misunderstanding and perversion of religion to which we react in horror when we see it in terrorists who have twisted religion for their purposes. Might have been some commentators on some all access al Qaeda show on al-Jazeera talking about infidels.
And by the way, don't you get this creepy feeling of embarrassment
when somebody is trying desperately to be holier than now promptly
misquotes the Bible? “I serve a God who, with a finger of fire,” you just
heard Janet Parshall say, “wrote 'he will have no other Gods before him.'”
Actually, Miss Parshall, as any of us who have actually read the Bible know, the First Commandment is “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” That's not just a difference in pronouns. He's demanding exclusivity from those who believe in him. Nothing in there saying other people can't serve other gods in which they believe.
Sorry. I've strayed from the main topic probably because it is awful painful, whether he thinks me insincere or not, I really did like Gibby, hardworking here, always there, able to cover a shift or help out in any way he could. Now, instead, he's denying he said despicable things, things that where recorded for posterity and worse he is now trying to blame those hateful things on me. Ordinarily, when somebody gets caught saying to something as intolerant as this, their choices are A: to apologize, B: to resign, or C: to make sure there's no tape and try to lie their way out of it.
John, unfortunately, chose D: blame it on somebody else. The audio clip is the definitive answer, and I would hope John would have the self-respect to acknowledge what he said and to leave the airwaves for good, because between the remark and the denial, he has, sadly, forfeited his right to stay here.
Speaking of time to retire, first it was trouble in California, now in his homeland too? Why one Austrian town is trying to rid itself of Arnold Schwarzenegger and what he's doing to go along with it.
And Oprah Winfrey's midair surprise. Her private jet forced to make an emergency landing. Those stories ahead. But first here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This season, gift giving has gone to the dogs. There are $60 dresses for the dog who likes to dance to a $300 pet stroller for pooch who prefers to ride. And for the family member with a discriminating palate, there's gourmet dog food. Actor and animal lover Dick van Patten has created Natural Balance Eatables.
DICK VAN PATTEN, ACTOR: We have Chinese takeout, we have hobo chili.
I like the Irish stew the best, but they're all good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Van Patten told us it's dog food that's good enough for people.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
ASHRITA FURMAN, GRAPE CATCHING RECORD: My friend and I have been practicing every day for the last month. And in the beginning, when we started, we couldn't even do 30 grapes. And so, every day we got better and better, so it's a very satisfying feeling to be able to kind of break the record.
BRIAN ANDERSON, SHARK BITE VICTIM: Like this dog biting or a dog bite would bite your ankle or something like that? And just grabbed my foot and then I looked—I was like, what? It's pretty bad. It went into the bone. There's a bone chip in there. So, they're kind of worried about infection. I had 70 stitches. And I have got to be real careful the lacerations don't fill up with blood. But it feels really good.
(MUSIC - “MACK THE KNIFE”)
OLBERMANN: It was the line by which he will be remembered, even considering his later appropriation of “Saturday Night Live's” “girly man.”
“I'll be back.” Except, in his own town in Austria it's probably now closer to “I'll be back when hell freezes over.”
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the world of wide sports, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger v. his native city over a football stadium. The California governor quietly asked officials in the city in Graz, Austria to rename Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium. He did this almost immediately after city officials there began their efforts to pull his name off the building.
In Austria, capital punishment is illegal, and in that city, Graz, the official slogan is “City of Human Rights.” That Schwarzenegger would not commute the sentence of Tookie Williams was the last straw for the locals there, taking advantage of the Christmas lull, the letters spelling out the very long stadium name were pulled down overnight Sunday.
Now Schwarzenegger has returned Graz's highest reward, the ring of honor, and he is also expected to give back his dad's Nazi mem—whoops. Never mind. Didn't say anything about that.
In a more bizarre sports story still tonight, Jeff Reardon, who is sixth all time in saves by a baseball relief pitcher, has apologized after he was arrested in Florida for allegedly having held up a jewelry store. The now-50-year-old four-time all-star allegedly walked into a store in Palm Beach, Florida yesterday, handing an employee a note saying he had a gun and wanted cash. He reportedly got $170. He did not have a gun.
By the time police caught up with him, either in a mall parking lot or in an adjoining restaurant, Reardon was apologizing to them and offer nothing resistance. His attorney says Reardon is still grappling with the death last year of his 20-year-old son due to a drug overdose, that Reardon himself is taking as many as five different antidepressant drugs, had had an angioplasty just before Christmas and that day had been drinking. All of that in one body.
Jeff Reardon, who spent 16 years in the Major Leagues without their being so much as a report that he'd gotten into an argument with anybody, has been released on bail of $50,000.
On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” And o, that the slap happy news executives had had this to put on the news live. Oprah Winfrey's plane has been attacked by a duck! Well, we're not sure if it was a duck, but it was a bird of some kind.
Winfrey's private jet forced to return to the municipal airport in Santa Barbara, California, that's the jet, after the plane's windshield was cracked after it collided with a bird shortly after takeoff yesterday. The accident, a fairly common one, especially for smaller aircraft. Winfrey and her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, were not hurt, but neither did they get the chance to eat the bird.
“Marry me, Oprah,” used to be one of David Letterman's jokes. But to a woman trying to get a restraining order against Letterman, it was secret code. Colleen Nestler of Santa Fe, New Mexico, somehow managed to get a temporary restraining order issued against Letterman last week saying he had to stay at least three yards from her at all times. But the judge who granted that order today reversed himself, lifted it.
Ms. Nestler had alleged since 1994 Letterman had been using coded words during his broadcasts and gestures and, quote, “eye expressions,” unquote, to show that he wanted to marry her.
Today, of course, when asked for proof of her allegations by Judge Daniel Sanchez, she could offer none. She only said that if Letterman or his people got near her, she would quote, “break their legs.” She later said that comment, quote, “is not a threat.”
Before you laugh about this, this kind of illness is so prevalent that even I once had a viewer who thought I was proposing in code. It is scary, scary stuff.
One of the great character actors, part of the glue holding Hollywood together has left us. Vincent Schiavelli has died at age 57. The name may escape you, not the face. That's Vincent Schiavelli. He was Salieri's valet in “Amadeus,” one of Jack Nicholson's inmates in “One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest,” an ornery subway ghost in the movie “Ghost,” and a bit player in seemingly every film from “The Great Gatsby” to “Batman Returns.”
He was also a noted chef. He'd published a book of recipes. Vincent Schiavelli died of lung cancer yesterday in his home in Sicily.
In the opening scene in “Amadeus,” Mr. Schiavelli's character is seen trying to soothe Salieri by offering him sugared cakes. A bizarre connection. Also tonight, a Christmas morning caper launching a nationwide hunt for a bun. Have you seen this sticky cinnamon pastry?
But first, COUNTDOWN looks at today's three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.” We'll give you the address to complain to in a moment.
The bronze tonight goes to Santa Claus. Well, not the Santa Claus. People who usurped his identity like the idiots who trotted a guy in a suit and got on TV and insisted Santa is a Republican. And it's the same as if they said he was a Democrat. Also the security people at a Jakarta hotel who dressed up as Santa as they used metal detectors to look for car bombs over the weekend no doubt traumatizing any six-year-olds who happened to be in the cars. Thanks a lot, boys.
The runner up, Mr. Jesus Christ. No, not the Mr. Jesus Christ. This was the former Jose Luis Espinal of New York City whose petition to legally change his name to Jesus Christ was granted by the judge. The judge explaining the state can only deny an application if somebody with the same name objects.
But the winner, Stalin. The dead dictator of the Soviet Union. You've got to be pretty bad to win the honor 52 years after you die. Yet there you have it. The newspaper “The Scotsman” revealing the discovery of Stalin secret plans dating from the 1920s to create a stalwart fighting man for Red Army.
Quote, “insensitive to pain, resistant—and indifferent about the quality of food they eat,” they quoted him as saying. No, he was not proposing to draft Englishmen into the Soviet military. He wanted to breed through artificial insemination a cross between humans and chimpanzees, which explains this guy. Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. AKA Stalin. Today's worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: Fish stick Jesus, the grilled cheese Virgin Mary. Lauded, vilified, scoffed at, then auctioned off on eBay. But never stolen.
Not so for that sticky bun which bears the likeness of Mother Teresa. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it's been taken on the very day that makes the crime most offensive. No, not day two at the Hostess Bakery thrift shop. Christmas.
The cinnamon bun was stolen early Sunday morning from the Bongo Java coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee removed, nice as you please, from its unlocked glass case. The nearby donation jar and cash register untouched.
The bun has drawn tourists to the coffee shop since it was discovered by a customer in 1996 with its apparent resemblance to Mother Teresa. It even inspired t-shirts, pray cards and mugs sold at Bongo Java until Mother Teresa herself contact the shop's owner before her death in 1997 asking that coffee shop not profit from products with her name.
She also had a sense of humor about it and from then on the pastry was known as the Nun Bun.
Joining me now the owner of the Bongo Java coffee shop, Bob Bernstein.
Mr. Bernstein, good evening. Thanks for your time.
BOB BERNSTEIN, NUN BUN VICTIM: Well, thanks for having me on.
OLBERAMANN: I'm assuming that there's no chance we're dealing with coincidence here someone was just hungry or somebody just had a yen for a nine-year-old cinnamon bun, right?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I don't know too many people who are interested in nine-year-old cinnamon bun that was shellacked about six, seven times over the years but you never know in this world.
OLBERMANN: Shellac fiends might be roaming through Tennessee as we speak. But tell us what you saw when you went to your place on Christmas morning.
BERNSTEIN: I got woken up early Christmas Day by the manager at my house knocking at my door and telling me to get to the shop. By the time I got there, the police had already got here, the locksmith was already fixing the door and basically the door was off the hinges and somebody broke in and all they took was the Nun Bun. And it was kind of shocking to all of us.
OLBERMANN: So what do you do now? Is there an investigation underway? Where do you take it from here?
BERNSTEIN: Well, yeah, the police are investigating. Somebody—a private citizen, just such our customers offered $1,000 reward already. And we'll probably be doing something within the next couple of days. And the story never ends. I know it sounds silly. Everybody is taking all of this time and attention for a cinnamon bun but this cinnamon bun over nine years has really helped build this community here in Nashville and here at this coffee house.
OLBERMANN: And unlike all these other things, you didn't sell it.
The money that does come in goes to charitable purposes. Is that right?
This is not like one of those eBay jobs?
BERSTEIN: Well, no. I've been real proud of the staff and myself in what we've done over here. We've kept it low key. We've kept it as a community thing. We didn't really try to profit. Yes, we've sold t-shirts over the years but for nine years, we've probably sold 500 or 600 t-shirts. It's not like anyone is getting rich off of this thing. It's really something that brought the community together. People come and bring their friends from out of town. It's just been a good humor thing. As you said in your intro, Mother Teresa herself was laughing about this bun up until the week she died. She was talking about this bun and laughing about it.
OLBERMANN: Would you be willing to take it back no questions asked?
BERNSTEIN: Oh yeah, I mean, no problem. We'd take it back and, you know, it was—as suspicious I look at anybody that brought it back, we'll take it back and go on our business and we'll install our security cameras and locks and everything we probably should have had in the first place and we'll go on.
OLBERMANN: There's one other possibility here and I don't know if you've considered it, it's a sticky bun that did look like the late Mother Teresa and it did disappear on Christmas morning. Could we be dealing with a miracle here? Could it simply have been taken up, as it were?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I—you know, anything is a possibility. My only doubts to the theory would be the broken front door and the alarm going off. I would think it was—I would think Mother Teresa would have access to our pass code at the alarm. It's a good theory but I'm just not sure if I'm buying that one.
OLBERMANN: And we do not expect to see it on—turn up on eBay somewhere. Maybe someone didn't like the idea of it? Is that what maybe you're thinking?
BERNSTEIN: I'm hoping it doesn't show up on eBay or maybe I am just so we can find it. We've been checking eBay constantly. We actually found someone—an artist did a picture of the Nun Bun and put it on eBay with the words “Thou shall not steal” on it. It tells me people across the country are getting into the story, having fun with it and enjoying it.
OLBERMANN: We know you're not having fun with it. We wish you the best in finding it. Bob Bernstein owner of the Bongo Java coffee shop, currently missing his Mother Teresa sticky bun and good luck on the bun hunt. Thanks for your time.
BERSTEIN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Jane Velez-Mitchell in for Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT.” Good evening, Jane.
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