updated 1/10/2006 10:37:44 AM ET 2006-01-10T15:37:44

Guest: Dana Milbank, Michael Harrison, Joe Carberry

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Supreme Court confirmation hearings begin, amid informed analysis that Republicans might pick a fight with Democrats over Sam Alito just to keep the focus off the Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay scandals, the Abramoff scandal now growing like the blob from the movies, potentially the biggest corruption scandal in American history.

The DeLay scandal still alive after another Texas court refuses to throw out the charges against him.

The charge against a popular dog food?  It kills dogs.

The forecast for greater Colorado Springs?  Chance of falling fruitcakes.

And chance of falling F-bombs?  Howard Stern makes the big switch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD STERN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  We've set our own limits.  I've set limits on myself.  I'm trying not to curse.

We love Keith, because Keith Olbermann said horrible things about Rush Limbaugh on his show, which we appreciate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I got to pay 43 cents a day to hear that?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STERN:  Ah, Keith, way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

And where do we start?  The most contention Supreme Court nomination in a generation, perhaps, or a burgeoning bribery scandal that is reportedly poised to spawn one of the biggest corruption investigations in American history?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN—well, how about we do both?

Full coverage of the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings in just a moment.

But we begin with the latest on the Jack Abramoff investigation, if only because we don't like it when either political party tries to influence what we do.

“TIME” magazine reporting that Republican officials are trying to do exactly that, so worried about lobbyist-turned-government-witness Abramoff that they have been laying the groundwork for a major battle over the Alito nomination this week, an effort to distract by enlisting outside groups to spend heavily on advertising, while getting the White House ready to bait the Democrats as the hearings heat up.

What has the Grand Old Party running scared?  Perhaps it is the notion floated elsewhere in the pages of “TIME” magazine, that investigators are viewing Abramoff as merely the, quote, “middle guy,” suggesting they have much bigger targets in their sights—though none who walk so well.

Possibly dozens of lawmakers in legal or political jeopardy tonight, one kingmaker already taken down, finally, over the weekend, the former majority leader, Tom DeLay, abandoning his effort to get his leadership post back, only two days before he was forced to abandon any hopes he might have been harboring that his legal troubles could soon be behind him, the highest criminal court in Texas today denying a request to throw out the money-laundering charges against Congressman DeLay, while refusing also to grant him a quick trial.

On a parallel track, the Senate Judiciary Committee gathering today on Capitol Hill in hearing room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, taking up the nomination of Samuel Alito to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court, the stakes specially high, as Justice O'Connor, of course, has often been the swing vote on controversial cases.

The president putting the Harriet Miers nomination firmly behind him by sending this nominee off to battle with a pep talk and a pat on the back.  Perhaps a little No-Doz would have been a better choice, the judge forced to listen to committee members for three hours.

They lectured him on what his confirmation hearings would really be about, the Republicans focusing on the parameters of the hearings, what a nominee can or cannot say.  Here's a hint, they don't want Mr. Alito to say much of anything.  The Democrats, meanwhile, attempting to turn the confirmation process into a referendum on presidential powers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  In a era where the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture, and is spying on American citizens, I find Judge Alito's support for an all-powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  We need to know, when a president goes too far, will you be a check on his power, or will you issue him a blank check?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Nominees shouldn't be expected to precommit to ruling on certain issues in a certain way.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Because judges may not issue advisory opinions, judicial nominees may not do so either, especially on issues likely to come before the court.

SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D-WI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Mr. Chairman, it simply cannot be that the only person in America who can't express an opinion on a case where Justice O'Connor cast the deciding vote is the person who has been nominated to replace her on the court.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  If we don't watch the way we treat people like Judge Alito, we're going to drive good men and women away from wanting to serve.

SEN. HERBERT KOHL (D-WI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Before we give you the keys to the car, we'd like to know where you plan to take us.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  The hearing taking us next to one senator who is not actually on the Judiciary Committee, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, introducing Alito, a fellow Garden Stater, to his colleagues.  And in case any of you have forgotten, this bears repeating—Senator Lautenberg is a Democrat.

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SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY:  Judge Alito's accomplishments in life are the embodiment of the American dream.  I'm honored today to introduce him to the committee.

He's a young man.  If the Senate confirms him for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, he could serve for three decades, or even longer, especially judging it from my point of view.

His decisions would affect our rights, the rights of our children, our grandchildren, and other future generations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Lautenberg stopping just short of entering an early yes vote for Judge Alito, rebuffing Senator Specter when the chairman asked if he was ready to make a recommendation on the nominee.

Finally, Alito getting his chance to speak, telling the committee what he would bring to the nation's highest bench—in short, mass judicial experience, yet at the same time, a completely clean slate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  A judge can't have any agenda, a judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case, and a judge certainly doesn't have a client.

The judge's only obligation, and it's a solemn obligation, is to the rule of law.  And what that means is that, in every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires.

Good judges develop certain habits of mind.  One of those habits of mind is the habit of delaying reaching conclusions until everything has been considered.

It's been a great honor for me to spend my career in public service.  It has been a particular honor for me to serve on the court of appeals for these past 15 years, because it has given me the opportunity to use whatever talent I have to serve my country by upholding the rule of law.

And there is nothing that is more important for our republic than the rule of law.  No person in this country, no matter how high or powerful, is above the law, and no person in this country is beneath the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Including baseball players.  Anyone stumbling upon today's hearing on TV might have been forgiven had they wondered if the Senate was again taking up the subject of, say, steroids in professional sports, instead of a Supreme Court nominee.

Continuing a trend that was evident in the confirmation hearings of Chief Justice John Roberts in the fall, the members of this Judiciary Committee again sharing a noticeable fondness for baseball analogies, clearly stuck somewhere between Rafael Palmeiro's steroid pledge of last March and the Hall of Fame voting announcement of tomorrow afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

HATCH:  The fact that Judge Alito is such a baseball fan gives me even more confidence that he knows the proper role of a judge.

GRASSLEY:  Like Chief Justice Roberts, it appears that Judge Alito tries to act like an umpire, calling the balls and strikes.

SCHUMER:  If the record showed that an umpire repeatedly called 95 percent of pitches strikes when one team's players were up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you only have two more pitchers, and then you get a bat...

ALITO:  In my spare time I played baseball and other sports with my friends.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  “Washington Post” national political correspondent Dana Milbank, taking it one game at a time, and remembering to try to catch the story with both hands.

Good evening, Dana.

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

I'm already ready to balk.

OLBERMANN:  Again, this is why they would not let have—Washington have a big-league baseball team for 33 years, to avoid the baseball cliches.  We saw it during the Roberts hearings.  We see it again today.  What is it with the Senate Judiciary Committee and baseball references?

MILBANK:  Isn't it ridiculous?  I mean, at least during Roberts, we were still in baseball season.  Now we're, you know, approaching the Super Bowl here, and we're still doing it.  And I felt a little bit bad for Alito.

Now, don't forget, this is a guy who had in his chambers a life-size poster of Mike Schmidt.  So, OK, he knows baseball.  But still, he's constantly being reminded of all these—the baseball metaphors that Roberts did.  It was all about John Roberts, and poor Judge Alito could not come up with a compelling enough metaphor today.

OLBERMANN:  And the Redskins (INAUDIBLE) win a playoff game the way they played the other day, and you'd think they (INAUDIBLE), they'd get one mention in the Senate.

In any event, baseball references aside, the opening statements today were the equivalent of watching, I don't know, a nothing-nothing game for two innings with a bunch of rain delays here.  But if we view these as the trailer before the movie, do we have anything to look forward to?  Are we going to want to ask for the money back at the end of the film?

MILBANK:  I don't think so.  And admittedly, it was pretty dreadful today.  Every senator gets his 10 minutes to say exactly what you think he's going to say.

But there were signs that things could become contentious.  If you looked at Senator Coburn, Senator Brownback, the real bomb-throwers, they were saying, you know, This is all about Roe v. Wade.  We want this to be overturned.  He is antiabortion.  So in a way, as you mentioned in the introduction, they are trying to provoke a fight.

Now, the Democrats were holding back a little today.  They don't want to be seen as prejudging him.  But it's quite clear they don't like him very much.  So we're going to have—what this is, is really a chance for a real referendum in a way that Roberts really wasn't, on abortion, on executive authority, and that's going to be—it could even be a little bit of fun.

OLBERMANN:  Is it about both?  Is it about one rather than the other?  The lead-up to this seemed to be that abortion would be the whole thing, and yet there were indications in statements today that maybe it's more about executive power.

MILBANK:  Well, look, when Joe Biden talks about the elephant in the room, presumably he's talking mostly about abortion.  But I think what the Democrats are realizing, and it's probably pretty shrewd here, is that they lose a lot on the abortion argument.  They can be outmaneuvered here.

Whereas they think if they switch it to the executive power—They're spying on us, they're taking away our civil liberties—they think they might be able to get a broader appeal, bring in sort of the Lindsey Grahams, the civil libertarians on the right.

So it's potentially a better tactic than the same old tired abortion argument.

OLBERMANN:  What was Lautenberg doing today, any idea about that, besides the New Jersey obvious connection?

MILBANK:  Isn't he terrific?  He's, like, 80 years old, and he's still the class clown.  It's sort of a pastime there in the Senate that the guy from the home state gets to introduce him.  Even Bayh did it for Roberts and voted against him.

But Lautenberg is fiercely partisan, and you could see he was just relishing the opportunity.  He was there with the former New Jersey governor, Christie Whitman, who was also having a bit of an off-day.  She introduced the judge as President Alito, and then later told reporters she had been governor of New York.

OLBERMANN:  An apt moment to change subjects.  The Tom DeLay thing, why now, why over the weekend, or should we be viewing this as a testament to his tenacity that he lasted this long, without finally surrendering that lingering last claim on the House majority leadership?

MILBANK:  Well, certainly, a lesser politician would have folded a long time ago.  And it is, in that sense, a testament to his staying power.  I think you can see it as just sort of reading the handwriting on the wall.  At the beginning, it was just sort of rebels like Chris Shays in the Republican Party saying, Replace him.  Then you had others speaking out, Newt Gingrich.

And he's—Tom DeLay is a vote-counter first and foremost.  And he was saying, This is just—I'm not going to have the numbers here.  I might as well pull out before they dump me.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, Dana, we just sort of touched on this, this report out of “TIME” magazine, that Jack Abramoff may be just the middle guy.  That has all kinds of implications here.  But the speculation about it that raised the stakes and the level of fear in Washington, to what degree?  I mean, why is that suddenly something over which there's a conclusion, at least in some quarters, the Republicans might pick a fight over Alito with the Democrats just to throw up a smokescreen about?

MILBANK:  Yes, it's not just the “TIME” magazine story, it's the notion that if they—Abramoff would—they'd allow him to cop a plea here, when they had so much against him, presumably it's a lot of congressmen involved, whether that's half a dozen or whether that's a dozen or more of them involved.

Now, certainly, the Republicans are not saying this openly, but you could definitely get a sense today—they were running to the microphones during the break and after the hearing, saying, Listen to all these outrageous things the Democrats are saying here in prejudging this nominee.

In fact, the Democrats were trying to pull back a bit, so as not to be drawn into this fight, at least just yet.  And you saw some of the Republicans really pushing for this.

The thing the Republicans and the president would like the most is to have a protracted fight about Alito, perhaps even have a filibuster.  Then win or lose, you've changed the subject away from Iraq, away from Abramoff, away from DeLay, to something where he wants to talk about.

OLBERMANN:  Fascinating to see which way they play it, both sides.

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, pleasure having you on the newscast.  And take the first two pitches, and then try to hit to the opposite field.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, one week after the Sago mine explosion in West Virginia, and it still can get worse and still more painful.  Escape for the trapped miners was possible, only they would never know about it.

And an important day in media history, to what degree we'll have to see.  Howard Stern's most-heralded debut, on satellite radio.  And we will bring you there.

You're watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Cliches become cliches because contained within them are elements of recurrent truth.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, in the wake of the West Virginia mining disaster, giving new relevance to the maxim tonight that hindsight is 20/20.  We all know that hundreds more could have been saved from “Titanic” if the lifeboats had all been filled before they were loaded.  At least three-quarters of the fatalities of the worst subway accident in American history could have been saved if the head office hadn't turned the third rail back on.

And tonight, news of a similar awful if-only from those coal fields.

As Tom Costello reports, for the dead miners, escape, safety, life, was less than 2,000 feet away.

Tom, good evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening to you.

The governor of West Virginia is promising a thorough investigation and a public review, in which all of this will be open, he says.  And he's also asked Davitt McAteer, the former head of the Federal Mine Safety Administration, to be his personal liaison with the investigation to assure that he's up to date on everything as it's happening, and to ensure that the investigation, in fact, stays focused on finding the cause.

In the meantime, questions today about whether the 12 miners who died might have, in fact, been able to survive had they started walking out of the mine.  Of course, they were trained not to.  However, it now appears that they were stuck in the one portion of the mine that had poisonous gas and heavy smoke.

(voice-over):  It is the tragic irony that will forever haunt the people associated with the Sago mine disaster.  The fresh air was only 1,500 to 2,000 feet away from the miners who thought they were trapped.  If they had simply tried to walk out, they probably could have made it.

CEO Ben Hatfield spoke to NBC News in an exclusive interview.

BEN HATFIELD, CEO:  If they had known it was only 1,500 or 2,000 feet of smoke, certainly they could have come on out, and yes, they could have been saved.  And that's just a tragedy that is unavoidable, and horribly sad.

COSTELLO:  Unavoidable, because the miners did exactly what they were taught—hunker down, build a barricade to keep good air in, and await rescue.  They had no way to know they were sitting in the only portion of the mine without good air.

Meanwhile, across the street from the mine, prayers and good-byes for the 12 men they lost a week ago this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It's really been rough.  It's just been hard. 

It's been hard for all of us.

REV. MARK FLYNN, BUCKHANNON UNITED METHODIST CHURCH:  These people believed that they and their loved ones were in the hands of God, no matter what happened inside that mine.  And their faith touched me deeply.

COSTELLO:  The people here have now buried six of their own.  More funerals are planned for this week, while doctors say Randy McCloy, the sole survivor, is now able to breathe on his own.

DR. JULIAN BAILES, NEUROLOGIST:  We're looking for him to begin to arouse and open his eyes.  He was beginning to do that a little bit before we had to sedate him.  So we're looking for a progressive awakening and neurological improvement.

COSTELLO (on camera):  Randy McCloy remains in a coma, and also in critical condition.  The coma is no longer medically induced.  They've now brought him off of the sedatives, and so they are quite literally waiting for him to wake up, so they can assess his neurological responses.

Keith, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Tom.  Tom Costello in West Virginia.

A nightmare tonight in—for dog owners across the country, contaminated pet food.  There is a recall, but not enough people know about it.

And the much-needed lighter news.  I told you, don't build the freeway on top of the geyser.

Wash your car, mister?

COUNTDOWN continues.

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OLBERMANN:  And we are back.  And as we do each evening at this time, we adjust the collar on the shirt, and then pause the COUNTDOWN of the day's real news to check in on the weird people, the animals, the dumb criminals—you know, the good stuff.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in India, where this is either a doggy talent show, or this guy's breath is a bit too strong.  Get away from me, get away from me, get away from me!

About 270 breeds participated in the annual Ganeshdapur (ph) dog show.  German shepherds jumped through hoops, some of them flaming—the hoops, that is—and various other dogs did various other acts.  Not a one of them as impressive as Twiggy the water-skiing squirrel, back on tour this week, proving the real money is on the boat-show circuit.

Good thing Twiggy stayed out of Santee, California.  He and his little boat would have been shot skyward at a few thousand pounds of pressure per square inch.

Mr. Science, is the water coming out of a fire hydrant strong enough to lift a minivan?

Evidently it is, Timmy.

The driver of the family truckster accidentally backed over the hydrant and got the free undercarriage wash for about 20 minutes, until the fire department shut off the water.

What a pretty image that is, though.  The minivan came back down, and we can all thank goodness that no one was hurt.

Finally, to Fort Sumner, New Mexico, where this is all that remains of the home of Mr. Luciano Mares (ph) after it burned to the ground.  Mares says he was the victim of a little bit of instant karma after he decided to dispose of a mouse he found in his home by tossing it alive into a pile of burning leaves in his yard.

The mouse, in one final, desperate act, escaped from the pile and ran, burning, back into the house, and in the best tradition of self-immolation, burned the place to the ground.

That's right, he was a suicide mouse.  The house, everything inside, and a truck in the driveway were a total loss, to say nothing of the fried mice.

Gametime (ph) video so bizarre, we had to find out more.  The great fruitcake toss.  Foul ball.  A live guest ahead.

And it is now official, Howard Stern without the iron fist of the FCC.  A new era in radio kicked off this morning.  We will take you to your front-row seat for history.

Those stories ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Jim Curtin of Philadelphia.  He's auctioned 600 cartons' worth of his Elvis Presley memorabilia.  Final sale price is around $2 million.  Why'd he do it?  You leave the Elvis clothes, said his girlfriend, or I'll leave you.

Thank you.  Thank you very much.

Number two, Marilyn Christian of Leesburg, Virginia, convinced that her cat had been killed by her neighbor's dog.  She talked the neighbors into giving her fur and saliva samples from the dog, then sent them to a DNA lab, along with the body of her dead cat.  The lab established a link of some kind, but there were no witnesses, so there have been no charges.

But take heart, Ms. Christian.  CBS can always use another spinoff for “C.S.I.,” and we think you've just given it to them.

Number one is Dr. Celia MacLeod, gynecologist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn in England.  Well, she will be Dr. Celia MacLeod next fall, after she completes her sex change.  Dr. Celia MacLeod, gynecologist, is currently a man, a man named Dr. Colin Fones (ph).

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OLBERMANN:  There is no record of it, but in all likelihood, on February 23, 1455, as Johannes Gutenberg prepared to roll the presses of the first mass-produced book, some people were telling him there's no future in this, pal.  And, people will always prefer hand-made books.  And best of all, Johannes, who the hell's going to pay for a book, when they can get a free story-telling from the town memorizer guy. 

Our third story in THE COUNTDOWN, Howard stern has probably never before been compared to the inventor of movable type printing, only time will tell if the comparison is apt or silly.  But something sure changed in media this morning. 

Stern, after more than a quarter of a century as a free commodity on radio took his shock jock show into uncharted territory on Sirius Satellite Radio.  Fifty bucks for the hardware, $12.95 for the subscription, $500 initially for Stern, and last week he got $220 million in stock. 

The freedom to swear at will came with the deal.  Tough his cast used it liberally, he was himself rather circumspect today.  He also gets his own news team, alert uniformed reporters in mustard yellow Century 21 real estate style blazers who twice a day will produce live radio newscasts not for him, but about him, who look like they're ready to be converted into a pro-Stern militia, if needed. 

So here was the big moment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD STERN, RADIO HOST:  Let me get down to it.  Let me tell you what's been happening since the last show, so we can get up to date with one another.  First of all, Sirius announced, I think about a week ago, that they went over the 3.3 million mark. 

ROBIN QUIVERS, RADIO CO-HOST:  Yes, in subscribers. 

STERN:  Which is awesome for us, because it means our fans are actually signing up.  They miss us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Stern also held a news conference this morning and carried it on his show.  A master stroke of publicity and a hell of a way to kill 90 minutes of airtime, incidentally.  We all took notes.  You may recognize the first non-Stern employee to ask a question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STERN:  We love Keith, because Keith Olbermann said horrible things about Rush Limbaugh on his show, which we appreciate because he's making sense and fighting back.  And also said some nice things about me. 

OLBERMANN:  In this new format, do you worry that you're not just a trailblazer for what you want to do, but you're going to be followed by the Rush Limbaugh's of this world who will then be able to charge for their product as well? 

STERN:  Let me tell you something, I feel that this is the culmination of a dream for me.  And this represent a dream for all broadcasters, including Rush Limbaugh, including yourself and everyone in this room.  When management now holds you by the balls and says there's no place for you, now there's a place to come. 

Sirius Satellite Radio represents the future for all broadcasters.  All this new technology enables us, when management gets rid of us for whatever their hideous reasons are, we have opportunities.  And I am shocked by the broadcasters that I speak to who are threatened by new technology.  We should all embrace this. 

George, who is the hottest male reporter here?  if you would point him out. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Unquestionably, Keith OLBERMANN. 

QUIVERS:  George likes Keith.

STERN:  Way to go. 

QUIVERS:  You could get lucky, Keith. 

STERN:  If you're lucky, you'll get a lap dance. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, George.  Certainly will change those “Star Trek” reruns for me.  Though his first paid for Howard show is raunchier than the broadcast variety, the Associated Press counted 172 swear words over the four hours. 

It was also much more serious, much more about free speech and the marketplace serving as a censor for what the American public does and does not want to hear. 

Was this the equivalent of the day Home Box Office went national in the '70s as HBO?  Or the equivalent of when William Paley hocked his possessions in the '20's to by a decrepit Philadelphia radio station just before a radio boom?  Or did Howard Stern just invest everything he has in eight-track tapes and Beta Max machines. 

We'll be Calling Michael Harrison, editor of the talk radio publication, “Talkers Magazine.”  Michael, thanks for your time. 

MICHAEL HARRISON, TALKERS MAGAZINE:  Good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this the future or is Stern the only one who's going to see money out of it? 

HARRISON:  Stern is going to see a lot of money out of it.  He's successful no matter what happens, but I think it is the future and the future is now.  That doesn't mean A.M. and F.M. are dead.  That means there is A.M., F.M., and satellite.  Once upon time, there was only A.M., then there was F.M.  Now there is satellite, then there is going to be Internet.  After that, there will be something else.  We have to redefine in the 21st century what we think of that institution known as radio.  It's audio broadcasting, it's programming.  How it gets to you is irrelevant. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously it's relevant in the sense of who's going to make money off of it.  That last big shift in broadcast media was about 25 years ago, when cable started to come to the fore, and I can still recite the executives that told me not to quit my job at a radio network to go to work at a place called CNN, because all news television would never work and nobody would ever pay for TV. 

Are the executives just as wrong about pay radio and is Howard Stern now, as I suggested in that question to him, is he now going to be followed by every morning jock and the talkers like Limbaugh and Hannity and all the rest? 

HARRISON:  Many of them already are on satellite as well as terrestrial radio.   I think the strength in satellite is their music programming.  I think that you're going to see music migrate from F.M.  Radio to satellite already is there.  Those many, many channels programmed deep into each genre, commercial free, that's the real attraction. 

Howard Stern and the talkers are really the cherry on the top of the sundae.  What you're going to see is the F.M. dial is going to be where all the talkers are going to be; the A.M. will be where all the esoteric and the eclectic and the specialty programs will be—foreign language programs, how-to programs. 

It will open up A.M. and F.M. Radio for talk, music will leave F.M.  radio, go to satellite, and on top of that you will have the extra attraction of some of the talkers being there.  That's what make satellite radio so strong.  It doesn't depend Stern.  Stern is a catalyst.  He's getting a lot of news, he's creating his own news, but the fact of the matter is, it's the music that's going to make satellite radio successful. 

OLBERMANN:  Newscasts about himself, in fact. 

This morning he was insistent to the point of being almost tedious, which he rarely is, about the freedom, about artistic expression, about how this is the way for people to choose what their kids should and should not hear, rather than have corporate management decide it for them. 

But if this is a success, won't the big corporate companies come in and buy satellite radio, just as they bought cable?  In ten years will Sirius or X.M. or some other satellite operation be owned by Disney or GE or some other mega media corporation? 

HARRISON:  I predict that Disney and all the big corporations will be owned by Sirius.  It's going to go that way and what is all this talk about Sirius and XM not being corporate.  That's a Stern concoction, that's Stern creating showbiz myth. 

Stern is a big-time, highly paid corporate guy, whether you like it or not.  Sirius and X.M. are corporate.  Democratized broadcasting and populist broadcasting is going to happen on the Internet and in pod casting.  This is all just showbiz shtick.  So don't buy into that, Keith. 

Sirius is big time corporate broadcasting.  That satellite didn't get up there for nothing.  It didn't just happen with a balloon.  It took a lot of money and this is corporate stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, if you think it's $720 million over five years is high-priced. 

Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers Magazine, thanks for joining us tonight.

Important news also this evening for every dog owner.  Without even knowing it, you might be poisoning your pet.  Toxic dog food is out there still, we'll have the details.

And an NBC exclusive, the 16-year-old from Florida explains his personal field trip to Iraq.  Those stories ahead, but first your COUNTDOWN top three sound bites.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:                  It's great to be here with Laura.  She is a fantastic mom.  She understands something very interesting.  All education begins at home.  And I can remember her reading to our little girls, all the time.  Occasionally I did, too, but stumbled over a few of the words.  Might have confused them.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was the first thing Gloria McNeill (ph) saw in her backyard Sunday morning. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh my God, that is an emu. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Minutes later Lloyd was going in for the emu takedown. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA):  Thank you, Judge Alito you may be seated. 

And we welcome whatever opening comments you care to make. 

JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO:  (coughing)  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.  I am deeply honored to appear before you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If tonight's number two on THE COUNTDOWN were about people and not pets, there would be unspeakable grief, nationwide outrage and uncounted defendants awaiting trial.  As it is now, there are at least 76 canine deaths, immeasurable guilt from their owners and an apology from a manufacturer. 

Our correspondent, Dawn Fratangelo reports, despite a company recall millions of dog owners may still be unaware that they may be unknowingly feeding their dogs poison. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWN FRANTANGELO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  Seven year old Jasper is undergoing treatment to save his life.  The golden retriever is among dogs in 22 states that were fed contaminated food. 

Jasper's owners, Robert and Janis Lugo, also gave the food to their other dog, Minnie.  She died last night. 

JANIS LUGO, DOG OWNER:  Our baby trusted us to take good care of her, and we poisoned her.  We didn't mean to do it, we didn't know we were doing it, but that's what happened. 

FRANTANGELO:  On December 20, Diamond Pet Foods recalled 800,000 bags of dog and cat food packaged under the names “Diamond,” “Country Value” and “Professional.”   Tests showed dangerous levels of a fungus in corn used in the food can cause fatal liver disease in dogs. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What we see initially are dogs that stop eating, dogs that become lethargic and start to vomit. 

FRANTANGELO:  Still, three weeks after the recall, veterinarians at Cornell University are seeing an increase in the number of dogs affected. 

(on camera):  The toxin can be so potent just one meal can destroy a dog's liver, even less for puppies like Sadie here.  And it's taken weeks for owners and even vets to hear about the recall. 

(voice over):  The word is finally spreading, with vets like this one in Chicago telling client about the dangers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Many dogs have gone into liver failure. 

FRANTANGELO:  Diamond Pet Food says it will reimburse pet owners for any bill and says it acted as quickly as possible. 

MARK BRINKMAN, DIAMOND PET FOOD CEO:  I wish we could replace the family pet.  That can't be done.  Short of that, we want to do everything we can to make that as bearable as possible for the customer. 

FRANTANGELO:  Minnie, the golden, was just four years old. 

ROBERT LUGO, DOG OWNER:  She just was loved everyone. 

FRANTANGELO:  The Lugos are heartbroken and relieved.  Their other dog, Jasper, will go home soon. 

Dawn Frantangelo, NBC News, Chicago. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  For more information on dog and cat food specific brands that might potentially be poisoned, which states have been affected, log on to our Web site at countdown.MSNBC.com. 

Dogs or at least dog doctors provide a segue tonight into our regular round up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  The veterinarian at Neverland has released the hounds on Michael Jackson.

Martin Dennis, an owner of a veterinary hospital in Santa Clarita has sued Jackson.  He says he has helped Jackson obtain and treat animals on the 2,700 acre ranch for 15 years.  Flamingos, giraffes, elephants, orangutans, Culkin brothers, you name it.  

Mr. Dennis says the only thing he has not seen is a check.  He sued, claiming Jackson owes him $91,602 in back veterinary fees, and five cents.  The first hearing in the suit is in May.  Live coverage on all networks. 

Also in California, it's official now, nobody can understand even a glimmer about what Arnold Schwarzenegger is saying.  This is not about politics, this is not about Austrian accents.  It's about his apparently diminishing skills aboard a motorcycle. 

Gone is the epic speed merchant of “Terminator II.”  Replacing him, a guy who drove his Harley-Davidson with side-car into a vehicle backing out of a driveway at slow speed with his son along for the ride, and needing 15 stitches in his upper lip. 

Schwarzenegger's son was fine, so too the driver of the car.  The California Democrats were unhappy to hear that the emergency doctors at St.  John's Hospital in Santa Monica had merely put the stitches in the governor's upper lip, rather than taking the opportunity to sew both of his lips together. 

Then there's the story of Farris Hassan's weeks off.  You will recall he is the Florida high school student who, for some reason, decided to take a little field trip to Iraq.  Home safe and sound now, the 16 year old junior is now telling his story exclusively to MSNBC's Rita Cosby, including the harrowing tale of how his 15 minutes of fame began a little early. 

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FARRIS HASSAN:  I believe one of the news organizations released information that I was actually staying in the as-Rashid Hotel.  That frightened the military a lot.  I'm sure at some point Abu Musab al-Zarqawi checked his Jordanian hotstuff mail at Yahoo and saw the story.  He's probably the last person you want knowing who you are and where you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Farris,     there's always the chance that he was just as scared of you as you were of him.  You can see the whole story of Farris Hassan's excellent adventure at the top of the hour, with Rita Cosby, “LIVE & DIRECT.” 

Something else dangerous, standing-down wind at the 11th annual Great Fruitcake Toss.  A holiday gift so hated, there's a whole festival focused on getting rid of it.  That's ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for worst person in the world.  The bronze, fittingly enough to U.S. Olympic skier Bode Miller, who has revealed that he has often skied drunk, even in competition.  That there are no rules against it, that he may do it again.  Great. 

Our runnerup tonight, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, cheering the news that a theater in Sandy, Utah, had canceled at the last moment, the opening of that gay cowboy movie “Brokeback Mountain.”  Ms. Ruzicka told reporters that the cave-in, quote, “Tells the young people especially that maybe there's something wrong with this show,” unquote. Or ma'am, maybe it tells them that maybe there's something the Utah Eagle Forum and bigotry.

But the winner tonight, Brian Lewis, the press flack at FNC, that's FOX News Channel.  He responded to the fact that we had called out his company again on its latest set of on-air news atrocities, but telling “The Associated Press,” quote, “Perhaps Jeff Zucker should think twice about tying his future, not to mention the reputation of General Electric, to an unstable ratings killer like Keith, who uses an NBC property for his personal attacks.”

So lots of ways I can go here, but since they use ratings the way rich people use money, just a thought here, Bry.  How are those ratings doing for “Geraldo Rivera At Large”, “Nanny 911, “Arrested Development,” “Stacked,” “FOX Sports Net,” “Bones,” “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” “Titus,” “Wanda at Large,” “A Minute with Hooper,” “Cedric the Entertainer,” “Pasadena.”

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OLBERMANN:  “That '80s Show,” “Normal, Ohio,” “The Tick,” “Cracking Up,” “The War at Home,” “Popeye's Voyage,” “FOX and Friends,” first.  Bill O'Reilly's viewers under the age of 90.  All right, well that's about half the list.

Anyway, to our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, of all the yuletide traditions, it is probably the most beloved and reviled.  The fruitcake.  It has a longer shelf-life than radioactive carbon 14.  Nobody likes eating it, and for reasons only known to them, grandmothers can't resist giving it as a gift. 

So one small Western town has defined convention and embraced the hated desert, not as a source of food but as a source of sport.  Welcome to the 11th Annual Fruitcake Toss in Manitou, Colorado.  An all-out distance competition with the added bonus of completely destroying any lingering fruitcake remains.  You can throw 'em, catapult 'em, launch 'em, even shoot them out of an air gun.  The only rule is, no fuel.

Some people use golf clubs, others used sling shots.  One pitcher even managed to miss the target entirely, sending the crowd ducking for cover.  Incoming!  And one team managed to propel a fruitcake further than ever before, using a bicycle-powered air pump to charge up a nomadic gun and sending a one pounder 1,116 feet, thus breaking both the record and the fruitcake.  One of the men who made the monster cannon joins me now with his contraption.  Joe Carberry, thank you for your time tonight.

JOE CARBERRY, BROKE FRUITCAKE TOSS RECORD:  Good evening, how are you doing, Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Pretty good.  All right, show us how the bad boy works.

CARBERRY:  All right, like a little—I got it all fired up here for you you.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Sir.

CARBERRY:  Five, four, three, two, one.

OLBERMANN:  And off it goes into the night.  A trail of fruitcake blazing against the night-time Colorado sky.  How far did that go, would you guess? 

CARBERRY:  Probably about 300 meters, so close to 1,000 feet.  We're shooting—we're shooting on the order of about 1,200 to 1,000 feet so, yes, just shy of a quarter mile, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What—I see there's a car coming in the opposite direction that apparently made it past the fruitcake, so you didn't hit the car, but what would happen if you hit somebody—if somebody was standing at the other end of where you shot that?

CARBERRY:  Well, Keith, I've got my team members here, Mike, Jack and Josh, and Greg, who couldn't make it here tonight, but, this thing is designed to put fruitcake out at about 200 miles-an-hour, coming out of the barrel, so it's flying pretty fast.  And it will do a lot of damage. 

The fruitcake we shot just now is just over a pound.  That's a lot of kinetic energy.  You have a whole team of Boeing engineers here that have been working on this.  We've got a system where we get on this vintage exercise bike, pedal it using a 1955 compressor pump here to pressurize the tank here.  We'll pressurize the tank to about 60 pounds per square inch, open her up and let her fly.  And you've got, as you can see, that thing was out of here like a shot.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that moved.  But as you—if you did get hit with it, there would be damage, but not as much damage as if you tried to eat it.  So what motivated you to build a fruitcake cannon with this kind of firepower to it? 

CARBERRY:  Well Keith, again, this is a bunch of Boeing engineers.  We've been doing this for about five years.  A few years ago, we had a—we had a—we had a slingshot.  And that didn't work too well.  We got a cold snap and basically we got beat by a bunch of Girl Scouts. 

And we said Boeing engineers can't do that, so what we decided to do was come up with this cannon, against it's all human powered and we have no weather constraints, as you can see.  It's about 20 degrees here now.  And that fruitcake really went flying.

OLBERMANN:  So having landed on a methodology, do you have—are you going to try to improve it next year or do you go for some other means of fruitcake expulsion system?

CARBERRY:  Well, we're trying to avoid our wives divorcing us or becoming fruitcake widows.  So we might just try to work on tweaking this a little bit.  The bike sort of sacrificed its life in the pursuit of fruitcake launching this past Saturday.  So we'll probably rebuild the bike and even make a couple more improvements.  But we're pretty happy with our design.

OLBERMANN:  Next year, try to get one that leaves the state.  Joe Carberry, one of those who reigned triumphant at the Great Fruitcake Toss in Manitou, Colorado.  Congratulations and please point that somewhere safe. 

CARBERRY:  Thank you, have a good night, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good night to you.  That's COUNTDOWN.  I'm Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT.”  Good evening, Rita.

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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