updated 1/17/2006 11:28:06 AM ET 2006-01-17T16:28:06

Guest: Richard Wolffe, Sean Salisbury

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann starts right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Gore v. Bush, again. 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. 

OLBERMANN:  Just more old-fashioned partisanship?  Not when it‘s Bob Barr joining Gore in that same complaint about NSA spying.  Not when it‘s Arlen Specter calling for a full investigation. 

Pakistanis want a full investigation of what was supposed to be the air raid on Ayman Al-Zawahiri.  He seems to be alive; 17 Pakistan civilians are very dead. 

You‘ve heard of the Duke of Earl and the city of Cleveland.  How about the fifth Duke of Cleveland, complete with his own castle?  Actually, he was a sex offender hanging out at a Minnesota High School. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And we looked it up, and his castle was—he spelled it wrong. 

OLBERMANN:  Way downtown, good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not even close.  Wide right. 

OLBERMANN:  That rare weekend of playoff football that exceeds expectations.  And the video you see so often it‘s imprinted in your genes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Certainly is a good walker.

OLBERMANN:  Welcome to the file tape hall of fame.  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening, Bob Barr and Al Gore, together again for the first time.  We don‘t tend to think of it this way, but the creations of the last two serious third political parties in this country defined the cliche politics makes strange bedfellows. 

1912 say Theodore Roosevelt split with the Republicans and his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft.  Roosevelt and the Progressive Party actually finished second in the vote that year. 

And in 1854 the Republicans themselves started as a third party, with disaffected Democrats abandoning their own sitting president and the Whigs, who had been in office until a year earlier, deserting en mass, putting aside their personal hatreds to create a one-issue party against slavery. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, this is not to say we‘re going to see another major third party brought into being this week.  But here is the fact.  Once and again, Bob Barr and Al Gore together again for the first time, at least in theory. 

Former congressman, now working to defend the Bill of Rights, all set to introduce the former vice president at a bipartisan event in Washington this afternoon at which Mr. Gore would deliver a speech challenging the Bush administration‘s expanse of executive power.  That was the plan, anyway.

Former Congressman Barr, scheduled to appear from a remote location, in reality experiencing technical difficulties.  Mr. Barr‘s satellite feed failing to work, making the man who won the 2000 presidential popular vote by 500,000 to wait onstage for several awkward minutes before someone else made the introduction. 

As for what followed, well, no one would say Mr. Gore has become a great speaker.  He has definitely become a more forceful one, ripping into the president on a host of constitutional issues, charging him with, quote, “breaking the law repeatedly and persistently,” and calling on Congress to launch an investigation into NSA wiretapping, since the legislative body can‘t be trusted to do any investigating itself. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE:  A special counsel should be immediately appointed by the attorney general to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that present him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the president. 

We‘ve had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice.  Patrick Fitzpatrick has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the executive branch has violated other laws. 

It should be a political issue in any race, regardless of party, section of the country, house of Congress, for anyone who opposes the appointment of a special counsel under these dangerous circumstances, when our Constitution is at risk. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For more on what to make of the Gore speech and the Bob Barr introduction that was only symbolic, time now to call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe. 

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK” CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House immediately dismissed Mr. Gore‘s speech as sour grapes, but does the big picture here, the bipartisan group that co-hosted the event, the intended, at least, participation of Bob Barr, does that mitigate the Gore was there factor to some degree?

WOLFFE:  Yes, and it also mitigates the “we‘ve seen Gore do this before.”  You know, it‘s not surprising the White House or the RNC dismissed this.  It‘s not surprising that Al Gore was so strident. 

But yes, the underlying politics is quite extraordinary.  Never mind Bob Barr and Al Gore.  What about Bob Barr and Arlen Specter?  You have different parts of the Republican Party expressing deep concern here.  The libertarian wing, the judicial purists like Arlen Specter. 

And this is a whole lot of trouble.  It means that the first round of pushback from the White House, the idea that the president is going to protect us, has really not gained much traction. 

OLBERMANN:  Even with Mr. Barr‘s support, and he did issue it in written statements, after the kind of satellite trouble that‘s all too familiar to hosts who appear on newscasts like this one, even with Senator Specter saying again yesterday there needs to be a serious inquiry, right now don‘t the political realities preclude that kind of investigation?

WOLFFE:  Well, they preclude the kind of hearings that—let‘s call them Alito-style public, question and answers going on for days.  I imagine that a lot of the hearings that we‘re going to—we‘re looking forward to are going to be held in secret and a lot of this information about this program is going to be withheld from us, and the public. 

But Senator Specter was very serious about it, and the president has had to change his tack.  He now says he‘ll cooperate with hearings, whereas before there was an idea that hearings would alert terrorists to sorts of methods.  So the game is shifting here, and this is a debate that is really out of the White House‘s control right now.

OLBERMANN:  But is there a tipping point that changes that concept, either of a special counsel or a public set of hearings?  I mean, I don‘t know.  I‘m juts pulling this out of thin air.  If the NSA was spying on congressmen or something salacious like that, would it take that kind of degree and amping up of this story to make it more than it is right now?

WOLFFE:  Well, I don‘t think it has to be congressman.  Of course, the big warning light would be if journalists were eavesdropped on.  That‘s when we would really care about this story.

But to be serious, the president has described this program in very limited terms, that it really is just about people with known links to Al Qaeda. 

If it goes anywhere behind that, people who are maybe antiwar activists, for instance, or people who don‘t have an obvious link with Afghanistan other than they‘ve made a telephone call, then you could see some serious political repercussions there.  And this moving beyond some of the familiar characters. 

And we‘ve already seen senators from New Hampshire and other parts of the country, as well, Republicans, getting involved.  So it does have the potential to spread. 

OLBERMANN:  And we already know of Pentagon fact checking of the—at least, a Quaker Friends meeting in Florida.  So there is some spillover, whether it ties directly to the NSA or not. 

As to the political ramifications of this, today Al Gore, as we heard there, called for this NSA wiretapping and executive power issue to be part of every political campaign in this country.  Can the Democrats get anywhere with that?  I mean, the polling last week suggested there are many Americans who are still willing to sacrifice privacy in the name of security. 

WOLFFE:  Well, this is not an easy life for Democrats.  Remember, they have been vulnerable on national security before.  And it‘s an argument that the White House really quite enjoys.  They think the president won in 2002 and 2004 on national security questions.  So it does make—open them up to being vulnerable on that question of defending America. 

On the other hand, American voters have tended to like checks and balances.  And they quite liked the Republican Congress with a Democratic president through the ‘90s.  So you know, it‘s possible for Democrats to find a way through.  I don‘t think Al Gore‘s style is quite the way just yet. 

OLBERMANN:  One last question about the polls.  There‘s this one from the Associated Press with Ipsos, showing that when it comes to what issues Americans are worried about, it‘s no longer just the economy.  Just look at these numbers for a second and there‘s one question about this.

Twenty-five percent of those surveyed think that war in Iraq and Afghanistan is the country‘s top problem.  Twenty-one percent the economy, 14 percent now concerned about the problems faced by political leaders.  The number has tripled since July.

Is there a possibility that the stabilization, if you will, of the economy has actually worked to the White House‘s detriment?  That it‘s given people time to be worried about things that don‘t necessarily impact them personally every day?

WOLFFE:  Well, that‘s quite possible.  You know, John McCain said in 2000 that the only reason people cared about campaign finance is because things are going so well in the economy. 

You know, there is an opening there for Democrats to link the Republican leadership in Congress with the kinds of powers that we‘ve seen the White House claim for itself.  But again, it‘s difficult.  And it may be difficult to actually merge the two in the strident way the Democrats have chosen to far. 

But you‘re right; in some ways people only care about ethical problems when the worries that the pocketbook problems are off the table. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine, Richard Wolffe.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time. 

WOLFFE:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Gore also said today that the Jack Abramoff scandal was just the tip of that iceberg.  The former vice president thus reinforcing his rep for playing it close to the vest, has anticipated the Abramoff mess, forcing the congressman, Bob Ney, to abandon the chairmanship of one of the most powerful committees in Congress over the weekend. 

The Ohio congressman on the receiving end of a long list of gifts and favors from Mr. Abramoff, a list which may have included at one point, according to a new report in “TIME” magazine, a $10,000 donation in return for official acts. 

Senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers has more on the growing problems facing Congressman Ney. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Congressman Bob Ney faces so many allegations that his colleagues almost certainly would have stripped him of his chairmanship, had he not voluntarily stepped down.  Ney emphasizes this is temporary.

REP. BOB NEY ®, OHIO:  I‘ve done nothing wrong.  Absolutely nothing wrong.  But, there‘s a lot of people that are having some heartburn with all the publicity and, if they have heartburn, I can be the Rolaids.” 

MYERS:  Experienced prosecutors warn that Ney‘s problems almost certainly will get worse.  Lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to bribing Ney, providing a golf trip to Scotland and other favors in return for Ney‘s help with clients‘ issues. 

STAN BRAND, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  I can‘t think of a single case where the government has indicted the donor in a bribery case and not indicted the recipient. 

MYERS:  What‘s more, Ney‘s spokesman acknowledges that prosecutors also are investigating another Ney trip, a three-day jaunt to London in February of 2003. 

As first reported by NBC News, Ney‘s $2,700 trip was paid for by F.N.  Aviation and involved its director, Nigel Winfield, a three-time convicted felon who spent six years in prison. 

The trip involved dinner and gambling at this London casino, with Syrian businessman, Fouad al-Zayat, a big-time gambler who owned F.N.  Aviation and says he wanted Ney‘s help selling airplanes to Iran. 

Ney‘s spokesman says the congressman knew nothing about Winfield‘s criminal history, and later briefed the State Department about the discussions but did not lobby anyone. 

(on camera) Still, this means that the corruption investigation involving Abramoff has expanded, to include trips set up by other lobbyists, unwelcome news for lobbyists and politicians. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And there was word late this afternoon that the former president, Gerald Ford, is back in the hospital, has been there since Saturday.  He‘s being treated for pneumonia.  The 38th president of the United States and second longest lived of all 42 of them is being treated with intravenous antibiotics at the hospital near his home in Rancho Mirage, California.  He is said to be doing well, resting comfortably. 

Mr. Ford is 92 years old.  A spokesperson says no further announcements were planned today. 

Tonight, the fallout from the air strike that apparently did not kill Al Qaeda‘s No. 2 man.  The anatomy of an attack that has left more than a dozen Pakistanis dead. 

And the homeless attacks in Florida.  After getting caught on videotape, two teens turn themselves in to police.  We‘ll have the latest on their day in court. 

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The latest attempt to take out Osama bin Laden‘s top lieutenant.  The nuts and bolts of that decision, the anger and fallout from the result.  It seems to have killed more than a dozen innocent Pakistanis but not Ayman al-Zawahiri.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When the news came last week that Osama bin Laden‘s chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, might have been killed by unmanned CIA rockets in Pakistan, when it first appeared last Friday, we greeted it here with more than a little skepticism.  After all, we had all heard that before, several times, and it had never turned out to be true. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, it now appears that was the case again this time.  There is still no evidence that Zawahiri was in the village in question at the time of the strike.  But the deaths of the women and children who were there has sparked outrage across Pakistan, putting in jeopardy the American relationship with a key partner in the war on terror. 

In a moment, the reaction from the ground there.  First, our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski with what happened—Jim. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, U.S. intelligence officials still don‘t know if they‘ve killed Osama bin Laden‘s top deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.  And new information today indicates that they unleashed an awful lot of fire power in their attempts to get him. 

(voice-over) U.S. officials tell NBC News that last week‘s air strikes on this Pakistani village were launched not by one, but three CIA Predator drones, which simultaneously fired Hellfire missiles at three separate targets. 

American military officials say CIA drones monitored the movements of Al Qaeda suspects at the village for two weeks before the attack.  It‘s not clear, however, if there was any human intelligence. 

U.S. counterterrorism officials today claim that shortly after the attack, the bodies of five dead were quickly removed.  Villagers claimed 18 people were killed, but reporters at the scene saw only 13 gravesites. 

But even if Zawahiri was there, where does the U.S. get the authority to use lethal force inside Pakistan?  Senior U.S. officials say that shortly after 9/11, Pakistan‘s President Musharraf agreed the U.S. could launch air strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan and only needed to inform the Pakistani government, not seek its permission. 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  We need to kill bin Laden.  We need to kill al-Zawahiri.  And we need President Musharraf‘s cooperation to do so. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  And exactly who gives the permission for pull the trigger?  Live Predator video is fed real time from Pakistan to the global response center on the sixth floor of the CIA, outside Washington.  From there, CIA Director Porter Goss himself would give the order.  But if he‘s not available, the deputy or assistant CIA directors five levels down can also order the strike. 

Former CIA Director James Woolsey says that kind of rapid response time is critical in today‘s war against terrorists. 

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  In wartime you can‘t have all the decisions made by the commander in chief, or you‘re going to lose. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  But it also raises the risk that things could go terribly wrong and innocent civilians are killed. 

(on camera) Al Qaeda still hasn‘t said publicly whether Zawahiri‘s, in fact, alive or dead, and the FBI is still awaiting tissue samples from that attack to try to compare it to Zawahiri‘s DNA—Keith. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Jim, thanks.  Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.

The streets of Pakistan filled with fury over the weekend.  Tens of thousands, not just protesting the deaths of civilians but seemingly shocked that their cooperation with American anti-terror efforts should have been rewarded in such a brutal fashion. 

Our correspondent, Jim Maceda is in Islamabad. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Four days after the deadly air strike, the picture on the ground remains as murky as the operation was covert.  But analysts say answers are giving to remerge to some key questions. 

First, how bad is the fallout?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (speaking foreign language)

MACEDA:  Potentially, very bad.  Already over the weekend tens of thousands of angry Pakistanis took to the streets. 

“Pakistan is a U.S. ally on the war on terror,” he says, “but not a U.S. state.” 

Today former President George H.W. Bush, now a U.N. special envoy, met with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to discuss relief from October‘s devastating earthquake. 

But for many Pakistanis, the air strike squandered all good will towards America and damaged Musharraf‘s credibility. 

And why would Zawahiri even be inside Pakistan, as alleged?  Most importantly, experts say, because he can hide in remote tribal areas along the Afghan border, protected by loyal fighters who, like his wife, are ethnic Pashtuns. 

Some Pakistani intelligence sources believe Zawahiri was to attend a festive dinner with his wife‘s relatives the night of the attack in the village of Damadola.  But he changed his mind and sent aides, instead. 

What do Pakistanis really know about the attack?  Very little.  It seemed to take the country by surprise.  Government officials claim they had no warning.  Even former intelligence chief General Hamid Gul, who worked closely with the CIA for years, said he was shocked. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They are responsible for the action, and then Pakistan is not taken into confidence. 

MACEDA:  But other counterterrorism sources tell NBC News that with 50,000 security forces along the Afghan border, Pakistani agencies must have been in the know. 

And finally, could the intelligence have been phony? 

(on camera) Pakistan‘s five intelligence agencies with different agendas compete with each other.  Intelligence is often sold to the highest bidder, and corruption runs deep. 

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  And that is why that sometimes an operations fail like with the case of Ayman Al-Zawahiri. 

MACEDA:  Failed, unless Zawahiri was killed.  But that remains the biggest unanswered question.

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Islamabad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, it isn‘t all serious.  It isn‘t all important.  It isn‘t all 21st century, either.  What is this, the music video for the song “Sleigh Ride”? 

And the NFL playoffs delivered to the fans in a big way this weekend.  We‘ll take a look at the critical moments at the end of the Colts season and the late announcement from the NFL about that controversial replay ruling.  You will not believe it. 

COUNTDOWN continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nothing better than crazy animal video to break up the serious news day, especially video of that craziest animal of them all, man.  More pictures of people you should be glad you aren‘t.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin on the Hinder Mountain (ph) in Germany for the animal festival of back injuries.  That is the Gaisek (ph) Sleigh Race. Dozens of teams building old-timey sleighs take part in the competition.  The rules are simple, get down the 1,000-meter slope fastest on a sled with no brakes and no steering mechanism. 

Yes, it‘s the added danger of death or dismemberment that makes the event such a big hit.  The best seat in the house is clearly around the big jump.  Whee!  On the final straightaway, where huge crowds gather to see the airborne sleds and look at the guys who will never walk again.  Whee!

To Tamil Nadu in India.  I don‘t want to question the bizarre activities people do in the name of religion, but this just seems to be a bit out of order. 

It‘s part bullfight, part scavenger hunt.  The major attraction, the annual harvest-festival.  This is supposed to be a thanksgiving celebration for the animals who have helped on the farm all year round.  So they tie a bag of money to the bull‘s horns and set the bull loose in a crowd.  Great.

Remember, the cow is sacred to these people.  I hate to see what they do to the animals they don‘t like.  The bright side, for the animals anyway, more than 200 people were injured.  That‘ll learn you.

Finally, to Taiwan, where the Chinese New Year is fast approaching and many residents are preparing for the year of the dog by taking their pooches to fortune tellers. 

Pet owners lined up for the opportunity to sit with their dogs as a woman banged a stick, hoping to get a glimpse into their furry friends‘ future.  In cue with the music there.  Very nice. 

Will Rex get a promotion this year?  Will he meet a nice cat?  Will he be cloned?  Only the knitting needle knows for sure. 

And you‘ve lived with it all your television life, with the news breaks about the obese, the economy, the price of gas, even the price of strippers, it‘s the file tape that makes the story sing visually.  Tonight, we open the file tape wing of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame. 

And after a perfect start, literally, an awful finish to the Super Bowl dreams of the Indianapolis Colts. 

More on these stories ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.  No. 3, police in Virginia Beach, Virginia, were on the lookout for a stolen box of rocks.  No ordinary rocks: moon rocks.  A meteorite sample and a lunar sample, stolen from a car near the Oceana Naval Air Station there.  Value, nobody knows.  Six years ago a NASA flight patch which was just dirtied with some moon dust was auctioned off for $310,000. 

No. 2, Steve Williams, the service manager of Lochs Traffic Controls (ph).  He put up a new bilingual road sign in Cardiff in Wales in the United Kingdom.  In English it reads “Pedestrians look right.”  The Welsh translations below reads “Pedestrians look left.”  Gee, thanks. 

And No. 1, Ralph Peterson, Ritman Senior High School (ph) in Rockingham (ph), North Carolina.  To increase attendance by typically cut-happy juniors and seniors, he‘s giving each kid who goes a week without skipping anything an entry in a sweepstakes.  The prize winner gets a 2006 Chevy pickup. 

And you get a car!  And that‘s all I got. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nick and Danielle Harper probably set the tone for the weekend in the football playoffs.  He‘s a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts who called 911 Saturday afternoon complaining of a puncture wound to his right knee.  She is his wife, and not long after police had arrested her accusing her of battery with a deadly weapon and criminal recklessness.  Turns she had been waving a filet knife at her and a folding knife at her husband 24 hours before his team was to face the Pittsburgh Steelers for a birth in the AFC championship game.  Clearly Mrs.  Harper had misunderstood that familiar football term, take a knee. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, sometimes football playoffs feel like that, they don‘t live up to expectations and then sometimes they produce weekends like this one just past.  The Chicago Bears, the league‘s best defensive team surrendering a barrel full of points in an epic 29-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers last night. 

The Seattle Seahawks, losing their star running back Sean Alexander to a concussion early Saturday, nonetheless holding on to beat Washington 20-10.  The Denver Broncos becoming the first team ever to beat New England‘s magical quarterback Tom Brady in a playoff game since Brady was a high school baseball catcher, devastating the defending champion Patriots 27-13. 

And the Indianapolis Colts, who a month ago today were 13-0 and working their way towards the first unbeaten season since 1972, lost at home in the final seconds to the underdog Pittsburgh Steelers in a 21-18 barnburner that offered everything except factory cash back.  To talk about that game, a pleasure to be joined from ESPN‘s “NFL Live” and “Monday Night Countdown,” longtime NFL quarterback and former intern in the sports department at KTLA in Los Angeles, Sean Salisbury.

Good evening, my friend. 

SEAN SALISBURY, ESPN “NFL LIVE”:  Hey, how are you doing buddy?

OLBERMANN:  We could talk about that game for a month, but let‘s break it down to four key things.  First of them, with 5-1/2 minutes left, it was a 21-10 Pittsburgh upset, already a great game and it was iced by what appeared to be this interception of Peyton Manning by Troy Polamalu, except the referee studied the videotape and said this was not an interception.  How wrong were they?

SALISBURY:  Very wrong and the NFL has stated that.  But Keith, you

can see it with the naked eye, I feel like I‘m watching Mr. Magoo was the

official on the field.  You can‘t miss that call.  If we‘re going to hold

players and coaches to a high standard, and organizations and fans then we

got to hold officials and if they‘re getting any other playoff work then I

we need to get them out of there, because they don‘t deserve to go further, because you can‘t miss big plays in big games like that.  Now, I know officiating‘s hard, Keith, but that was a blatant interception, it wasn‘t close.  And if you‘re going to rely on replay, and that‘s going to be your crutch and you still miss it, then we need to make some changes.  A horrible call, almost cost the Steelers. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, and late in the afternoon the vice president of officiating said that the, ref.  Pete Morelli, actually made a public statement saying it was said wrong, that the call on the field should have stood.  And we‘re thinking—they didn‘t say this, but we‘re thinking in the replay booth they may have been watching the “Playboy” channel, we‘re not sure. 

So all right, so now the Colts go down and score after getting the ball back there and make it 21-18, but with 90 seconds left, Steelers sat Payton Manning, fourth down and 16 and they‘d iced the game.  Even the coach, Bill Cowher, always tells his players don‘t jump up and down on the sidelines.  He starts jumping up and down on the sidelines, the premature jocularity.  So the Steelers are at the Indianapolis four, there‘s an icing touchdown coming up, the give the ball to the surest handed guy on the league, Jerome Bettis, and he fumbles.  How is it possible that he fumbles and that the end result of this is the quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger of the Steeler making the season‘s saving tackle?

SALISBURY:  Ben Roethlisberger will never make a bigger play, unless he does the same thing in the Super Bowl.  A lot of guys, Keith you know this, would quit on the play.  He didn‘t quit on the play and he saved his team and Nick Harper for a touchdown.  But I—you know, at first I was jumping around in the newsroom, why don‘t you take a knee if you‘re Bill Cowher.  But then you give it to one of the most reliable players of all time, and Jerome Bettis, a great hit by Gary Brackett, the linebacker, put his helmet right on the ball, which doesn‘t happen very often.  So, at first I questioned it, but you know what, you give it to your guy, they were aggressive the entire game.  I don‘t have a problem with the call.  They just got lucky, because it would have been a bummer for us to have that been Jerome Bettis‘ last carry of what has been a brilliant career. 

OLBERMANN:  But of course at that point, we didn‘t know what was going to happen next, and the Colts still had a chance to force overtime, a 46 yard field goal attempt by Mike Vanderjagt who three years ago he ripped his coach, Tony Dungy, ripped his quarter back Payton Manning, for not performing when it counted and he went clank from way downtown and afterwards, Vanderjagt, by the way, said that “From the Polamalu interception reversal to Jerome‘s, (meaning Bettis‘) fumble, everything seemed to line up in our favor.  I guess the Lord forgot about the football team.”

Do I read this correctly, Sean, three years ago he was blaming Dungy and Manning and now—new he‘s blaming god for that missed field goal?

SALISBURY:  Yeah.  Yeah, and I—and don‘t count on him being in a Colt uniform next year.  But, I didn‘t know you could throw Jesus under the bus.  But, I guess the good Lord hates kickers just like the rest of us do.  But when you‘ve got a chance, now you can question the play calling, you got to kick it through, there can be no excuses.  You know, what nobody likes to here this in sports, it‘s called “choke.”  And all of us have done it at some point.  That‘s exactly what he did.  Indorse, perfect snap, perfect hold, he pushed it, it‘s one of those things that that sometimes you—be careful what you wish for and, Mike, I don‘t think the Lord cared what kind of helium was in the football. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, dropped by the Colts, he‘s got more to worry about that he might get excommunicated.  Last point, I‘ve been looking for this in the highlights and the write-ups somewhere and I hadn‘t seen it until we went back and looked at the tape, here, manually.  The third quarter, when they sacked Ben Roethlisberger, who has a bad thumb, missed part of the season, due to it, his arm got hit from behind, he only threw the ball a couple of times in the second half, but look in front, No.  93, Dwight Freeney of Indianapolis, when they‘re down, he‘s pulling on Roethlisberger bad right hand.  They‘re holding hands there, he‘s not singing “Kumbaya.”  Was that a deliberate attempt to try to hurt Roethlisberger in an area that he was already vulnerable?

SALISBURY:  I think Dwight Freeney is a very clean prayer, but frustration sometimes sets in, Keith, and I—I mean, I‘ve been down at the bottom of piles, and Lord knows I couldn‘t run, so I got sacked a lot or hit a lot, you know, well, people will grab places that you really don‘t want them to grab.  And if you know somebody‘s got that sore thumb, why wouldn‘t you, if you don‘t think you‘re going to get caught? Obviously, Ben was able to come through it and I think he‘ll be ready to go.  A little bit of nerve problem, but he‘s played so well, I wouldn‘t worry about it.  But those are the things that happen at the bottom of pile all time, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Briefly Sean, can you put Pittsburgh into the Super Bowl with that hand?

SALISBURY:  Yes, he can.  I think he‘s over come it, he‘ll wear a glove outdoors again against Denver.  Yeah he can, although he‘s going to have to go through a very underrated, real good football team.  Think it‘s going to be great final four, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I think it is.  ESPN‘s Sean Salisbury, the only man I‘ve ever worked with whose team won the Grey Cup as champions of the Canadian football league.  Thanks for crossing networks for us, Sean. 

SALISBURY:  Hey, it‘s my pleasure.  Thanks for having me on. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll talk to you soon. 

SALISBURY:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, he claimed to be the Duke of Cleveland.  In fact he was a sex offender hanging around a high school, which is where the guys on the student newspaper figured him out. 

And you knew this would happen, a reader upset by the James Frey memoir controversy may be starting a class-action lawsuit against the author.  Details on these stories and first a special edition of “Sound Bites of the Day” in honor of martin Luther King, Jr. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Dr.  King‘s mission, vision, and purpose must not be lost to the twists and turns of failing human memory. 

(SINGING)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS:  What would he think about Katrina? What would he think about all the people that were stuck in the Superdome and the Convention Center?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On this day each one of us needs to be working to complete the dream of Dr.  King, the work is not yet finished. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  After three homeless men are beaten in Florida with one dead, two teenagers are in court as is a wannabe teenager who pretended to be something called the fifth “Duke of Cleveland.”  Those stories ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is one life‘s few constants as is, perhaps, true with no other age group, we are almost always either being shocked by a crime against a teenager or shocked by one by a teenager.  Our No.  2 story tonight, one of each.  In a moment the sex offender who tried to pass himself off a—at a high school as British royalty.  But first two teenagers in custody in the Florida homeless beating.  Our correspondent in Fort Lauderdale is Michelle Kosinski.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You really do get a sense of how young these teenage suspects are, especially when you see them for the first time in court, facing a judge and compared with all the other inmates around them.  In particular the 17-year-old, right now, charged as a juvenile with aggravated battery.  And not charged with exactly the same things at this point as the 18-year-old suspect. 

The 17-year-old is not, right now, accused of murder.  As a juvenile he‘ll be held in detention for 21 days, that‘s the maximum the judge could have ordered.  And the judge also ordered that he get a psychological evaluation.  The 18-year-old suspect, though, Brian Hooks, is at this point, as an adult, charged with premeditated murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. 

You remember that Thursday morning there were three attacks in a row right in the same area.  That one that was videotaped, showing two young men brutally beating a homeless man with bats, that man survived, but ended up seriously hurt in the hospital, along with another victim.  And then a third victim from that early morning attack spree ended up dying from his injuries.  But again, right now, only the 18-year-old is charged with murder.  And what this does in court today is gives us a sense of where we were in the process, what exactly those charges are at this point in a crime that stunned this community. 

CAPT.  MICHAEL GREGORY, FORT LAUDERDALE POLICE DEPT.:  Everyone saw the footage.  I believe everyone is affected by it in their own way, their own emotions came out in it.  We‘ve heard from the community. 

KOSINSKI:  Detectives have mentioned the possibility that other young people could have been involved in this beating spree.  Remember at this point only two people are charged and there‘s been no mention of any motive or any information.  Police said that the two were not giving statements to police and the investigation is continuing.  Back to you, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Michelle Kosinski in Fort Lauderdale, great thanks. 

Then there are those criminals whose sickness makes them invent cover stories that are almost too ludicrous not to believe.  We‘ve heard of the “Pope of Greenwich Village,” the “Prince of the City” but as our correspondent Lisa Daniels reports, people at a Minnesota high school actually fell for a predator who claimed to be the fifth Duke of Cleveland. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  His real name is Joshua Adam Gardner, behind bars for violating his probation as a conviction sex offender.  A conviction he says he didn‘t deserve. 

JOSHUA ADAM GARDNER, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER:  I had a 15-year-old girlfriend at the time and didn‘t realize it was against the law. 

DANIELS:  No matter, now 22, Gardner‘s under arrest for using the internet and hanging out with minors in a plot that‘s hard to believe.  Gardner went on campus at the high school in Stillwater, Minnesota, last month posing as a 17-year-old prospective student and member of Britain‘s royal family. 

MATT MURPHY, CO-EDITOR, STUDENT NEWSPAPER:  When he first came to the school, we were blindsided by him.  As the story progressed we were completely, completely shocked. 

DANIELS:  Gardner told high school kids, including these journalism students, that his name was Caspian James Crichton-Stuart, IV, the fifth duke of Cleveland, and he even had business cards to prove his dignity. 

GARDNER:  Becoming Caspian, you know, you get that respect, and people just look at you, they don‘t look at you in that way that they would look at a sex offender. 

DANIELS:  As the fifth duke of Cleveland, Gardner assumed an English accent and claimed to hang out with British royals and American celebrities like Josh Hartnett and Hillary Duff. 

KARLEE WEINMANN, CO-EDITOR, STUDENT NEWSPAPER:  We initially thought some of his claims seemed outlandish and farfetched.  Things he would say about partying with American celebrities or fencing with Prince Harry or Queen Elizabeth, herself, telling him to clean his room in his palace. 

DANIELS:  So student reporters started investigating the duke on the internet. 

MARISA RILEY, REPORTER, STUDENT NEWSPAPER:  And we looked it up and his castle was—he spelled it wrong. 

DANIELS:  It wasn‘t long before the young journalists made a disturbing discovery. 

CHANTEL LEONHART, REPORTER, STUDENT NEWSPAPER:  We finally searched him in a sex offender database and his name and mugshot came up and it was just weird.  Just kind of blown away.

DANIELS:  The students reported their findings to authorities who arrested Gardner for violating terms of his supervised release.  Yet Gardner‘s still willing to demonstrate that fake accent that got him in so much trouble. 

GARDNER:  Well, you know, the dogs and the bones of the situation of being in jail and everything are really bad, you know. 

MURPHY:  If we had not pursued the story, who knows what else this guy would have done. 

DANIELS:  A big break for budding journalists, but a bad break for a troubled young man. 

GARDNER:  I‘m just sorry.  I didn‘t mean to hurt anybody.  You know, that‘s the one thing I can‘t emphasize enough. 

DANIELS:  Lisa Daniels, NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From fake student to alleged fake memoir, a neat segue into our nightly round up of celebrity news and gossip, “Keeping Tabs.”  And author James Frey is not only engendering anger and outrage for having embellished and sometimes made up parts of his memoir, tonight he‘s also whipped up the possibility of a class-action lawsuit. 

Pilar (ph) Moore and mother of two from Illinois says she felt cheated after finding out that “A Million Little Pieces” might contain a million little exaggerations.  She now wants to file a suit class-action suit against the book‘s publishers alleging consumer fraud.  No word what kind of damages the suite might seek.

And now that they‘ve finally come out in the open about their impending parenthood, though not about their relationship, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are no longer ducking cameras.  The couple, traveling very publicly to Haiti, for the anniversary of a charity that Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean set up in his homeland, last year. 

They visited the school, a jail, and popped into a quick party before coming back to the states over the weekend.  The latest video providing the first real visual proof that what Miss Jolie confirmed last week, that is something in the pit of her stomach. 

And thank goodness more pictures of that couple surfaced, because until then this was all we had.  At least it inspired us to open a new wing on the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame.  We‘ll cut the ribbon on the file footage exhibit next.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze to whoever runs the jury duty computer in New Bedford, Massachusetts it has summoned Kalee Reynolds to serve.  Kalee is two years old.  The explanation, a local census form was screwed up and her birth date was entered as July 4th, 1776.  Well, that makes her 229 years old.  You wanted a 229 year-old to serve on the jury?

The runner-up, Kelly Houston—hello—affirmative action officer of Greenwich, Connecticut, accused by the wives of former New York Mets players, Bobbie Bonilla and Sheila Foster, with discrimination after they were denied admittance to an exercise class at a beach there last June.  Ms. Houston it was not discrimination, it was that Ms. Bonilla and Ms.  Foster did not have the residency cards required to use the Greenwich Beach.  Then, according to the newspaper, the “Hartford Current” somebody discovered an email Ms. Houston had sent three weeks earlier to organizers of the exercise class, suggesting they cut back on the number of black participants in the class.  Oops!

But the winner, the assistant referee in a Swedish hockey league game between Sveg IK (ph) and Husing Garnisgaik (ph) players on both teams couldn‘t figure out what the referee‘s hand signals meant.  Then he started drooping his whistle.  Finally a few of them skated close to him and noticed the smell on his breath.  He was drunk.  They sent him home after the second period.  Well, a similar story would explain what those football refs where doing over the weekend, here.  The assistant referee in the Swedish hockey league, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  She was the woman who we saw every time gas prices went up last summer who got me started on this.  Day and night, week after week there she was.  A story about another 12 cents per gallon, we‘d show her.  The same woman filling up her tank.  No, it was not an amazing coincidence, it was a staple of the news industry:  File footage.  Our No.  1 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, then came last week in a confluence that endlessly run video of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, stiffly stomping down a Washington street as if his pants had been starched.  Followed moments later of the endlessly run videotape of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie holding portable lights of some sort.  Up in there.

It all came together just about then.  The newest part of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame is open for business.  Let the search lights solute opening night at the wing of “Filed Footage.” 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Seen this a lot lately? Of course you have.  It‘s the latest and greatest file tape of Jack Abramoff.  He‘s in the news a lot, but we seem to only have this one shot.  Well, also this shot too and a little bit of this one.  But we have to show them over and over and over as you we talk about the man at the center of one of the biggest Washington bribery scandals in decades. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He certainly is a good walker. 

OLBERMANN:  More or less the same thing happened last year with Judy Miller getting into the car.  Sorry, it was all we had.  Her friend, Scooter Libby on the crutches, all we had.  Shot of Brad, Angelina, all we had. 

For every news story there is a finite amount of videotape which is where we keep the best stuff in the very special place, the File Footage Wing of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame. 

Doing a story about smoking? Well, you‘re going to need the machine that sorts cigarettes.  Talking about the economy, the national debt, the rising price of milk, cue up money being printed.  Same guy pumps gas for every oil prices story.  The same stripper‘s dance for any one of those stories.  Then there‘s the downer cow that falls every time on cue.  And what terrorism report would be complete without Al Qaeda on the monkey bars?

This one is known worldwide as the “beret shot,” and this is a personal favorite of ours, doughnuts.  Best file tape ever. 

Some other specimens just make you think, such as fat people, no faces.  Each time we show that to you, the viewer stops paying attention to the story at hand and wonders, did these people know they were being photographed? And did the camera man know he was cutting off their faces?

What about two lesbians kissing on their wedding day which we play every single time there‘s a story about same sex marriage.  Who are these women? Are they even still together? Do they constitute the only women couple that got married last year?

People sneezing, people smoking, fast food, young people in the park who must be in their 50‘s by now.  Illegal immigrants coming under the wall circa 1970‘s, nice pants, pal.  Saddam firing his gun, pills being sorted by a big machine and of course the reclining Osama.  A story for every tape and a tape for every story.  They sit in the place of honor in the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame awaiting usage either one at a time or case, just maybe the day will come when the stars align, for the greatest all file tape story ever told, that day when the National Security Agency discovers Al Qaeda terrorists are using millions of dollars made on illegal cigarettes to sneak into this country and attack us for being fat, lazy, sinful people so obsessed with sex, celebrities, prescription drugs and doughnuts—oh, that‘s good tape—that we allow rampant corruption in our government, hanky-panky in the Oval Office and cows falling down and stuff.  What the story will be, no one knows.  At the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, we have all the tapes and we‘re ready!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Animals, legends, festivals, “Star Wars” geeks, apologies, mugshots, and now the file tape exhibit at the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame. 

That is COUNTDOWN I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck. 

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “LIVE AND DIRECT.” 

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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