updated 1/20/2006 2:13:30 PM ET 2006-01-20T19:13:30

Guests: Kevin Sites; Ben Venske; Steve Emerson Father; Thomas Reese; Michael Musto

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

An apparent new tape from Osama bin Laden.  But it‘s audio only, no professional TV studio setting like the last one, 14 months ago.  And does he sound defensive?  He tries to rationalize why there have been no new attacks here.  He offers the U.S. a truce.  Is this less of a threat, and more of a plea?  We‘ll talk to Steve Emerson and Ben Venzke.

The plea from the mother of the American abducted journalist, Jill Carroll, and the firsthand story from another journalist who was briefly in her position in Iraq.  Kevin Sites joins us to tell of the day he was taken captive.

A surprise from the Vatican.  The Pennsylvania judge who ruled intelligent design was not science is right.  The pope is saying there is no contradiction between Catholic teaching and evolution.

And when will evolution find Paris Hilton?  She gives a deposition in a slander case.  We give you Paris Hilton Defamation Deposition Puppet Theater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Are you aware that the Page Six article was republished in various newspapers?  Were there U.K. publications?

OLBERMANN:  No.  There is stuff in London.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s hot.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

The headline on the Al Jazeera headline this morning, “Bin Laden Offers Americans Truce.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, that dubious offer, and everything else contained in a new audiotape from Osama bin Laden, airing today on the Arabic TELEVISION network, including the latest repeat of the threat that al Qaeda  is planning new attacks in the U.S.

Full analysis of the message with terrorism experts Steve Emerson and Ben Venzke in just a moment.

We begin, though, with more on the tape itself, the first communication from the al Qaeda leader in more than a year, the CIA now telling NBC News it has officially determined that the voice on the tape is indeed bin Laden‘s, Al Jazeera airing portions today, the full tape said to be about 10 minutes long, its release coming just days after a U.S. air strike in Pakistan targeted bin Laden‘s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and reportedly killed four other figures al Qaeda  instead.

The message today apparently aimed at the American public, bin Laden saying his desire to talk triggered by polls in the U.S. showing that the majority of Americans feel it is time to bring U.S. troops stationed in Iraq home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator):  We have no reservation against responding by offering a long-term truce under just conditions that we will fulfill.  We are a nation Allah forbade to lie and deceive so that both sides will enjoy security and stability and to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were devastated by war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The White House response to bin Laden‘s offer, press secretary Scott McClellan saying today, We do not negotiate with terrorists, we put them out of business.

More on this truce stuff in a moment.

First, an overview of the tape.  Let me call in Steve Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among us.”

Steve, good evening.

STEVE EMERSON, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The timing, it appears to have been, according to those who have listened to the Arabic version, recorded in December, but there are some people who think it was released in response to the rocket attack in Pakistan last week.  Do you think the timing is coincidental?

EMERSON:  It may be have (INAUDIBLE) been released because he wanted to distract attention from the success of that attack that killed, apparently, three to four of bin Laden‘s, or at least Ayman al-Zawahiri‘s top henchmen, including the top bin Laden bombmaker.  So it certainly took off from the front pages the success and accuracy of that attack.

The question is, when Al Jazeera received the tape.  They could have received it earlier than today or yesterday, we just simply don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  The technical falloff, or change, in any event, the last time we heard from him, he was in that—what amounted to an election central TV studio 14 months ago at the time of the 2004 presidential election.  Now there‘s just a scratchy audiotape recording.  Is that—what is that indicative of, do you think?

EMERSON:  Well, remember that bin Laden traditionally has had the Global Islamic Media Front, which is a very elaborate Islamic media organization that does a lot of video editing, very sophisticated.  And they‘ve enhanced the video and audio of the tapes that he‘s issued in the last four years.

We have not heard from bin Laden for the last 13 months.  This is the first time—in fact, as you probably are aware, in the last six to eight weeks there have been various pundits who‘ve said that he‘s been dead.  So this is the first time that he‘s actually surfaced.

This is an effort to show that he‘s alive, he‘s ticking, he‘s kicking, and that he‘s not dead, and that he is able to rally his troops.

But, of course, he does not want to (INAUDIBLE) -- have any electronic signature, Keith, of where he is, where his whereabouts could be traced to.  So he‘s going to keep his signature, his electronic signature, to a minimum.  And that‘s why it‘s very rudimentary of what he‘s actually produced electronically.

OLBERMANN:  The White House interpreted that transition from TV to audio as an indication that he‘s on the run.  Another theory I heard today was very similar to what you just said, that they—an audiotape is not only simpler but leaves fewer or no clues.  Is it possible that both of these things are on target?

EMERSON:  I think (INAUDIBLE) both of those things are on target.  And the third thing that I think we should keep in mind is that he now obviously now feels a little bit more secure than he has in the past.  Obviously, the fact that he kept quiet for 13 months meant that he was feeling a bit insecure, that maybe he felt that there was some (INAUDIBLE) closing in on him.

Now that he released this tape meant that he felt secure enough to release it and maybe perhaps move from where he was when he made the tape, which apparently was early December 2005, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going to go into detail with Ben Venzke in a moment about this specific aspect in here about this supposed truce.  But give me your overview on what the implications of the use of that term relative to the United States, what those implications are.

EMERSON:  Look, he‘s speaking to various audiences here.  He wants to

appear reasonable to the European audiences, to the Muslim world.  But he‘s

also trying to appear reasonable.  He believes, based on his poll readings

and he‘s doing obviously a lot of Internet readings, because he‘s not (INAUDIBLE) picking up hard copies of newsmagazines, he feels that he‘s apparently got the ability to appeal to half the American public.

And so he thinks that if he talks about a truce and appeals to their sense of what the truce is, maybe he can get them to basically sew a tremendous amount of dissension in the American body politic.

But his sense of what a truce is is a lot different than what our sense is.  His sense of a truce is a total surrender.  His conditions are withdrawal from Iraq, withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the U.S. is a total defeated party.

OLBERMANN:  And he‘s also done what a lot of people do politically here, merging the entire Iraq and counterterrorism issues, which is, of course, not the way all the polls suggest, as well.

The terrorism analyst Steve Emerson.  Steve, great thanks for your time tonight.

EMERSON:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  And as to that word “truce,” it is not the first time bin Laden has used it.  In April 2004, offering to make peace with Europe just after the Madrid bombings, and 15 months before the ones in the subways of London.

Let‘s turn to another expert al Qaeda watcher, Ben Venzke, CEO of Tempest Publishing and its intelligence group, Intel Center.

Good evening, Ben.

BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Hi.  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The truce, not that anybody would make one with al Qaeda, but what do we infer from the mention?

VENZKE:  Well, it fits into a much greater approach, a strategy of al Qaeda, that we saw with the London bombings and this truce offered to Europe in April the year before, where if they provide Ayman al-Zawahiri has been quoted as seeing, He who warns is excused.

It‘s giving, al Qaeda giving an opportunity to whatever its targets may be, in this case the United States, the opportunity to change, the opportunity to follow their advice.  And what it does, it allows them, after an attack, if there‘s a mass casualty event, many Muslims or other Arabs killed, it allows them to say, Look, we gave them a chance to change, we gave them numerous opportunities.  We can‘t help it if they don‘t follow our advice.

And then they move forward and execute an attack.  So it fits into the justification and warning process for attacks.

OLBERMANN:  So in some sense, is that a PR, or recruitment move to the Muslims who would ordinarily be alienated by the fact that, that there, that there were so many unwarned attacks and events?  Is that, is it that message, that idea of the truce, this sort of straw dog that he uses just for his own people, or the people he wants to be his own people?

VENZKE:  Well, whenever they do these things, there‘s typically multiple audiences.  Certainly that is one, for recruits, for critics, for fundraising, for other people that support the organization, perhaps not by directly being members, but in other ways, as well as in terms of just general popular opinion, both in the Middle East as well as what they think might go for popular opinion in Europe or the United States or elsewhere.

So it‘s an effort to make them look more reasonable, to make them look more rational, rather than just randomly going out and blowing things up with no rhyme or reason or purpose.

OLBERMANN:  Does the reference to a truce tell us anything about what kind of information he‘s had access to?  Steve Emerson just said he‘s obviously been doing his reading on the Internet.  But in somewhere here, somewhere here, whatever he—his information is, he seems to have mistaken a disillusionment with the war in Iraq with a separate issue clearly for Americans, that is, counterterrorism.

Does that tell us that he‘s getting some information but not a very clear picture?

VENZKE:  Well, you know, I think as we see every day in the news, when you‘re looking at different people, people interpret things many different ways, even within, just within the framework of American society.  I think when al Qaeda‘s making targeting decisions, when they‘re writing these communications and statements, they are doing it through their perception of events.

And it could very well be the case that they have an overwhelming access to information and polling and articles and popular discussion in America, and that‘s just what their perception of events is, as opposed to them only having limited pieces.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, about the references in there to the latest threats here, he references the explosions in European capitals and says, “The delay in similar operations happening in America has not been because of the failure to break through your security measures.  The operations are under preparation, and you will see them in your homes the minute they are through.”

There are two possible interpretations there, I guess, at the extremes, one, as one news organization phrased it today, that that‘s the most explicit threat ever to the U.S.  And on the other end, the idea that he sounds desperate in there, as if he‘s making excuses for why there has been nothing here since 9/11.  Is it either one of those, or somewhere in the middle?

VENZKE:  Well, we‘ve gone back, and we‘ve looked at every single statement, communication, going all the way back to 1992, and looked at patterns and changes in language and different things like this.

One important piece of this is a very different sense of time than what you would typically have in the United States.  If I make a threat against you and I don‘t carry that out in, say, a day or two, at most two weeks, everyone‘s going to think I was just full of hot air.  I wasn‘t, I wasn‘t really serious about it.

For al Qaeda, they can make these threats and act on them a year or two later.  And one of the clearest examples is the European truce offer, and which they followed by the attacks in London about 13, 14 months later.  And then they referenced it in almost every single communication and speech following the London attacks, (INAUDIBLE), Look, we warned you, we told you we were going to do it if you didn‘t follow the truce, so now we did.  It shouldn‘t come as a surprise to you.

So it‘s those different perceptions of time that I think make it difficult for us to understand a lot of these issues.

OLBERMANN:  But in saying that, is there something in there that says that he is responding to the reality of the fact that nothing has happened here, almost as someone that we would be familiar with would respond to criticism?

VENZKE:  Yes, I think the point here is, if we look at all of their messages, there has been a focus on attacking U.S. allies, there‘s been a focus on attacking Arab countries.  Right now, in the last 15 months, we‘ve seen a focus on the United States.

So I don‘t think—I‘m inclined to think it‘s not a response to that criticism or the feeling that they haven‘t done anything.  I think they have now shifted more focus to the United States, unfortunately.

OLBERMANN:  Ben Venzke of Intel Center.  Many thanks, Ben.

VENZKE:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, another new tape of a different kind.  It‘s of American journalist Jill Carroll on the eve of the deadline set by her abductors.  And her mother spoke today.

And another athlete goes into the stands, this time supposedly to protect his wife from a fan.  Less than 24 hours later, there‘s been a suspension and a lawsuit.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  One of the true horrors of war is getting used to it.  On occasion, we can be jolted back to its awful reality, such as when the mother of an American journalist taken hostage must publicly plead for the life of her daughter.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, on the eve of her abductors‘ deadline, the race to secure Jill Carroll‘s release.  Al Jazeera, airing a new, unnerving image of the young reporter with her captors today, taken apparently off the same tape that it had received two days ago from her kidnappers, less than two hours after that video aired, Ms. Carroll‘s mother appealing directly to her captors, who have threatened to kill her tomorrow unless the U.S. releases the eight Iraqi women now being held as prisoners in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY BETH CARROLL, HOSTAGE‘S MOTHER:  To her captors, I say that Jill‘s welfare depends upon you.

And so we call upon you to ensure that Jill is returned safely home to her family, who needs her and loves her.  Jill‘s father, sister, and I ask and encourage the persons holding our daughter to work with Jill to find a way to contact us, with the honorable intent of discussing her release.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Iraq‘s deputy justice minister saying today that six of the eight Iraqi women in captivity would be released next week, expressing that any release would, quote, “not be part of any swap with any kidnappers,” the White House press secretary, Mr. McClellan, disputing that today, saying no prisoner release is imminent.

Our next guest with unique insight, perhaps, into what Jill Carroll is going through.  Former NBC News correspondent Kevin Sites has been covering the war in Iraq since it began.

On April 11, 2003, only weeks into the conflict, while he was reporting for another news organization, he and his crew were held captive at gunpoint for several hours by Fedayeen Saddam guerillas in northern Iraq.  These days, he is a correspondent for Yahoo! News and joins us now from Damascus, Syria.

Kevin, thanks for your time.

Turning to Ms. Carroll‘s predicament first, what do we know about her captors?  They call themselves the Revenge Brigades.

KEVIN SITES, YAHOO! NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Keith, no one knows anything about these guys right now.  They‘re pretty much a blank slate.  And that‘s probably why there‘s not a lot of information coming out of there.

Now, I‘ve heard from some intelligence sources that there has been kidnapping for hire.  Some of the groups that we think are doing the kidnapping may not actually be doing the kidnapping under their name.  And so it‘s quite a confusing situation.

One thing is clear, being kidnapped, being held captive, is the scariest thing that can happen to you in covering a war.  When it happened to us towards the end of the invasion of Iraq, I can tell you, just pleading for my life, trying to make a connection with your captors while that‘s happening, it‘s a humiliating thing, but it‘s also a very mind-clearing thing.  You‘re so isolated at that point, and I can only imagine what she‘s going through right now.

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, do you know, does she speak Arabic?  I mean, drawing on your own experience in that scenario, how crucial is it, how crucial was it, to have someone there who was literally speaking on your behalf, speaking their language?

SITES:  Well, it‘s absolutely critical.  And that‘s a part of the isolation that the kidnappers made happen.  When they actually took her, they killed her fixer, her translator, immediately.  So Jill was not only isolated physically, but psychologically as well.

I only met her once in Baghdad, and I do understand she speaks some Arabic, but I‘m sure that the kind of technical things that they‘re saying, the types of negotiations that are going on, she probably feels very isolated from that kind of conversation.

In our particular instance, they took our fixer out, the Fedayeen, to kill him as well.  And we tried to make a connection.  We grabbed his arms and legs and held onto him and said, He‘s our father, he‘s our father, not literally, but trying to show he was more than just an employee to us.  And in that particular situation, they realized they needed him to negotiate, to talk with us.  And eventually, he actually turned the situation and secured our release.

OLBERMANN:  So in this situation, short of all eight of those Iraqi women prisoners being released by tomorrow—which seems very unlikely, given all the circumstances—are there other means in which she may be released, if this is an abduction for hire?  Is this, could this turn out simply to be a cash transaction that might save her life?

SITES:  Well, I‘m not certain about that.  I mean, there‘s a lot of details that we don‘t know, specifically, who‘s taken her.  Even though they‘ve given us a name, we don‘t know anything about them.

But what she needs to do, just as her mother did today, she has to make contact with her captors.  She has to let them know that she‘s a human being, that she‘s not an object.  It‘s very easy to dispose of someone if they think of you as an object.

But even though these men may be wearing kefiyahs or balaclavas, she has to break through that somehow and let them know that she‘s a person.  Her mother did that in the speech today.  She acknowledged the power of the captors, that they had control over her life, and that in that particular instance, she pleaded for their life, acknowledging their power, saying, Please ensure the safety of our daughter.  That‘s critical.

Now, the other thing is that the numbers are in Jill‘s favor.  As far as I know, most of the women that have been kidnapped, the Western women, there has only been one that has been killed, and that was Margaret Hassan.  That was—she‘s the director, or was the director, of CARE.  And I think she was killed last year, towards the end of the Battle of Fallujah.  And it was a gruesome killing.

But so far, most of the western female captives have been released.

OLBERMANN:  And to your knowledge, Jill Carroll‘s mother‘s comments would have already been received, would have already been heard by her captors?

SITES:  The insurgents are so savvy, they‘re very aware of what‘s going on the net, what‘s going on in Western media.  So it‘s probably a good bet that it has been translated.

And in my opinion, that was a perfect move, again, acknowledging their power, trying to show that she‘s a person that isn‘t interfering.  In fact, in some ways, probably is the best person to tell their story.  And that becomes a bargaining chip in itself, that she becomes more valuable alive than she is dead.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope so.  Kevin Sites, currently of Yahoo! News, great thanks for your time.  Stay safe, Kevin.  Thanks.

SITES:  Thank you, Keith.  (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, politics makes strange bedfellows.  What about evolution making strange bedfellows?  The Vatican newspaper praising a ruling that is critical of intelligent design.

And if Greenpeace volunteers to move that dead whale of yours to a museum at its own expense, do you ask questions, or do you just give them the whale and hope they don‘t have an ulterior motive, like this one?

All that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and once again we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news and serious issues for a brief segment of stupid news and gratuitous issues.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Kiev, with another one of those crazy winter ice swims.  But this one is different.  Mr. President, good afternoon.  The president of Ukraine, Victor Yuschenko, and the other guy with him appears to be wearing a rhinestone Speedo.

Speaking of beached whales, this 10- to 20-year-old finback apparently died of natural causes in the Baltic Sea, washing up on a beach in Germany.  While officials tried to figure out what to do with it, the animal rights group Greenpeace showed up with a crane, offered to transport the whale to the German Oceanographic Museum at its own expense.

Why, what a nice gesture, and so unexpected.

Yes, they lied.  Greenpeace activists instead drove to Berlin and dumped the 20-ton whale carcass on the front steps of the Japanese embassy as a protest against whaling.  That‘ll get your attention.  Takes a couple parking spaces.

The rotting 55-foot dead whale has actually become something of a tourist attraction now.  Big crowds have shown up to snap pictures of the whale and let their kids climb on it.  But a Japanese embassy spokesman reportedly called the local sushi restaurant to complain, We didn‘t order this.

In London, a new trend is emerging among the young and in love, couples ditching the traditional gold wedding bands in favor of rings made from the bone of their own skulls, bioengineers crafting the rings from tissue grown from bone samples taken from the skull.  Lean over.  Matt Harrison here has taken part of the project.  That‘s not Matt, (INAUDIBLE) the face is Matt.

He says this way is far more romantic, because he‘s giving his bride a part of himself.  And please, everyone, after that exchange of vials of blood with Billy Bob Thornton, don‘t anybody tell Angelina Jolie about this.

Also tonight, hey, you in the uniform, you got a ticket for that seat in the stands?  Another player into the stands already.  A suspension and a lawsuit and legal paperwork so stupid it can be covered in only one way.  Here comes Paris Hilton Defamation Deposition Puppet Theater.

First, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Matthew Mueller of Ravenna, Ohio, an insurance scammer, they say, wanted to collect $20,000 on his 1997 BMW.  Reported it stolen.  In fact, he simply had rented a backhoe, dug a hole, and buried it.

Number two, Robert Cole, convict in New South Wales, Australia, an escaped convict.  Not only did he chisel a hole in the prison wall so he could escape, but he lost 30 pounds so he could fit through the hole.   Authorities warn he is considered armed and very hungry.

And number one, Johnny S. Martin of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  A relative called the state family court to tell them Mr. Martin had been killed in a bar fight in 1979.  It turns out it was a sham so Martin could get out of paying child support for his two kids for the last 26 years.  He is alive and now under arrest after having clearly redefined that term, “deadbeat dad.”

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OLBERMANN:  The cheap prosecutor, Tom Stewart, the special prosecutor, Williams Jennings Bryan, the defense counsel, Clarence Darrow and especially the defendant John Scopes would probably not believe this, they were the principles in the famous “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925.  It pitted the teaching of Evolution versus the Bible and organized religion. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, today, unofficially, at least, the teaching of Evolution and organized religion are on the same side in the debate over the advocacy of the so-called Intelligent Design Theory.  With caution and ambiguity, the Catholic Church did not direct religious edict on this, but two months after the director of the Vatican Observatory had declared Intelligent Design isn‘t science, thought it pretends to be, the current edition of the official weekly Vatican newspaper includes an article by an Italian professor of Evolutionary biology.  It piece praises a Pennsylvania judge for having ruled against the teaching of Intelligent Design there, quoting, “If the model proposed by Darwin is not considered sufficient, one should search for another.  But it is not correct from a methodological point of view to stray from the field of science while pretending to do science.  It only creates confusion between the scientific plane and those that are philosophical or religious.”

Joining us now, by—Vatican expert, Father Thomas Reese, the former editor in chief of “America” the national Catholic weekly magazine. 

Thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

FATHER THOMAS REESE, VATICAN EXPERT:  Certainly. 

OLBERMANN:  The defenders of Intelligent Design look at this article by the Professor Fiorenzo Facchini in the Vatican newspaper and say so what, that‘s not a papal statement on this, it‘s just an article.  Can you explain the politics and the nuance of what an article in the Vatican paper means? 

REESE:  Well, an article in the Vatican newspaper is, you know, cleared by Vatican officials and published, so it‘s considered to be, you know, not infal—certainly not infallible church teaching, but an indication of the views of the Vatican on this particular topic, or at least views that they respect and they consider this man an intelligent biologist who—whose views are in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church. 

OLBERMANN:  In his installation in April, Pope Benedict said that human beings are not a casual and meaningless product of Evolution and then in November one of his closest of the cardinals to him, Cardinal Schwamborn said some things seemingly opposite.  He said, “I see no difficulty in joining belief in the creator with the theory of Evolution, but under the prerequisite that the borders of scientific theory are maintained.”  Now this article which seems more like the latter statement than the first.  Is the Catholic Church yet speaking with one voice on this or is the process, pardon the pun here, is the religious process still evolving? 

REESE:  You know, I think the problem is in communicating the difference between science and philosophy and theology.  The church has accepted that -- as Pope John Paul II has said, that Evolution is more than a hypothesis.  This is something that is now accepted science, and the Catholic Church doesn‘t have a problem with that.  We have hundreds of schools, colleges, universities, high schools, grammar schools, run by the Catholic Church in the United States, and this is not an issue. 

We teach Evolution in science class.  In theology class, in philosophy class we teach that God in the creator of the universe.  The problem is with people who look at the Bible from a very fundamentalist point of view and see the Bible as something that‘s a science textbook.  Whereas Catholics look at it and say yes, it teaches us that God is the creator.  It also teaches us that we should love one another, but it doesn‘t teach us how God created the universe.  That‘s the area of science. 

OLBERMANN:  And what is your opinion on this, in a broad sense, the push to make this Intelligent Design theory part of public school curricula around the country.  It seems to be exclusively American, is it politics being interfered with by religion or religion being used by politics?  What is the nature of this, in your opinion? 

REESE:  Well, I think it‘s a little bit of both.  I think there are many people—I mean, I‘d say—the people—the American people are a religious people.  They would like to see religion respected by public officials, by schools, and they fear that our schools are becoming so antagonistic towards religion that they‘re reacting against that.  And I think that the people pushing Intelligent Design and Creationism are absolutely wrong.  I think they‘re mixing science and philosophy.  I think we ought to have some philosophy classes in our public schools, teaching ethics, teaching, you know, what we can know about God through reason, and we could even have courses about religion, not teaching a faith, but history courses about religion, you know, and its impact on American society.  After all, the declaration of independence mentions God, we have “In God We Trust” on our coinage.  Religion has had a tremendous impact on politics.  All of these things can be taught without teaching religion and pushing religion down the throats of children. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s have that ethics class five days a week.  Father Thomas Reese, the former editor in chief of the national Catholic weekly magazine, “America.”  Great thanks for your time and insight, sir. 

REESE:  Certainly.

OLBERMANN:  Shifting gears dramatically from all things holy, to holy cow, it‘s Paris Hilton under oath.  The transcript of her deposition in a defamation lawsuit that‘s so bizarre, we can only bring it to you only by magic of Puppet Theater. 

And first the player went into the stands to defend his wife from a fan, then he explained the fan was drunk, now a player has been fined and the fan has sued for slander.  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  The basketball player stormed into the stands, he says, to protect his wife.  He has already been suspended and now sued.  And Paris Hilton in lawsuit with a deposition so bizarre that only Puppet Theater can do it justice.  And reminder of our schedule, 8:00 and Midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 Pacific, Monday through Friday.  This edition of COUNTDOWN continues next.

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OLBERMANN:  It might seem like a pro athlete goes into is the stands to confront a fan about once a week, but it is clearly not everyday when the athlete in question headed for seats because he thought his own wife was in danger, or when that athlete happens to be the president of the National Basketball Association Player‘s Union.  Or when the fan says he‘s going to sue that player for $1 million. 

Our No.  2 story in the COUNTDOWN, the crowd of last night‘s Knicks/Bulls game in Chicago was 21,268 -- 21,269 if you count Antonio Davis of the Knicks.  During overtime Davis suddenly dashed over the scorers‘ table, in Chicago, and raced to where his wife, Kendra, was sitting.  His coach, Larry Brown, said Davis thought he saw his wife falling back, although there‘s no evidence that there was any physical confrontation between Kendra Davis and an unidentified Chicago fan.  For his part, Antonio Davis never raised his hands and left the scene as arena security arrived.  All he has said thus far is, “I witnessed my wife being threatened by a man that I learned later to be intoxicated.  I saw him touch her.and I know I should not have acted the way I did, but I would have felt terrible if I didn‘t react.  There was no time to call security, it happened too quickly.”

But the fan has now identified himself and said that Davis‘ description of him quote, “A lie,” 22-year-old Michael Axelrod said he was not drunk, he was just booing a call at Davis‘ team, when Kendra Davis came up and put both her hands on his face and tried to scratch him.  Axelrod said he never touched Mrs. Davis and that he called security.  “I was glad he was done hitting me,” Axelrod added, “but I didn‘t want her to hit anybody else.” 

Other fans say Mrs. Davis with on her feet cheering throughout the game and some had asked her to stop blocking their view of the court.  His attorney says Axelrod will sue the Davis‘ for slander and seek $1 million. 

With last season‘s brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, and many Pistons fans still echoing throughout the league, the NBA tonight suspended Antonio Davis for five games.  That‘ll cost him about $700,000 in salary and said that five games was a light suspension, citing the mitigating circumstances which Mr. Axlerod suggests are not so mitigating, at last as far as the misses is concerned. 

In last year‘s melee, Ron Artest of Indiana was suspended for 73 games, teammate Steven Jackson for 30, Jermaine O‘Neal for 25, and they each also face criminal charges. 

The most trenchant observation about this may have come from former NBA star, now TV analyst, Charles Berkeley, who joined Dan Patrick and me on ESPN radio this afternoon.  What the league should investigate, Barkley suggested, is why anybody was on their feet cheering wildly at a game between the 13-24 Knicks and the 16-22 Bulls. 

One can only imagine Brad Pitt rushing into a crowded movie theater to defend Angelina Jolie if a patron was loudly questioning whether either of them can really act or to reclaim a sonogram of their unborn child.  That providing our segue into nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

A little more than a week since official word that Jolie is carrying Pitt‘s child.  A sonogram of the fetus was listed on eBay until said listing was pulled down yesterday.  According to “Court TV” Ebay warned the unidentified seller of the potential illegality of the deal and discouraged bidders from purchasing the sonogram on their own.  Its authenticity could not be verified, but bidding had reached $500.  Tom Cruses‘ home sonogram kit has not been implicated.

And to an entirely different kind of pit, a kidney stone, William Shatner‘s kidney stone, also auctioned, sold for $25,000.  Shatner exclaimed, “This takes organ donors to a new height or a new low.”  He also boasted that the stone was big enough to wear to your finger and that, quote, “If subjected it to extreme heat it might out to be a diamond.”  The official bid was $15,000, but Shatner scoffed saying his “Star Trek” tunics fetched more than $100,000 when auctioned.  Shatner passed the stone last fall after being in such dire pain that he had to leave the set of his series, Boston legal.  The $25,000 will go to Habitat for Humanity which builds houses, of course, giving new meaning to the phrase “beam me up Scotty.”  Sorry.

The buyer was the same online casino that bought our Michael Jackson puppets last year.  Speaking of which, we have new product for them to bid on.  Paris Hilton Defamation Deposition Puppet Theater.  She testifies under oath in a lawsuit, some of her words defy analysis even by the one and only Michael Musto, though he will join us and try.

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the “Worst Person in the World.”  The bonze going Andrei Kornilov, Elephant trainer of Russia‘s Around the World Circus.  They‘re having a really cold winter there, 22 below at times, so to keep them warn Mr.  Kornilov is giving his elephants buckets of vodka.  Apart from the medical implications, one of the elephants responded by swinging his trunk wildly and then promptly broke the circus‘ only heater.  Good work.

The silver, the school board at McHenry Community High School in Illinois.  It has expelled a 16-year-old Derek Kelly for drawing gang signs.  Of course what he drew was a crown, a cross, a spider web and his initials “DLK.”  The school board assumed this had something to do either with the Latin Kings gang, “LK” or the Latin Disciples Gang, “LD,” even though he is not a gang member, and oh by the way, the drawing he did was in his own notebook. 

But the winner, Glenn Beck, the radio talk show host to whom CNN gave a show on Headline News, calling him “conversational, not confrontational.”  On the radio he had a mock contest to see which public figure was the, quote, “biggest prostitute.”  Among the selections possibilities, Cindy Sheehan.  Beck said, quote, “That‘s a pretty big prostitute there.”  Then his producer corrected him and Sheehan should be called a quote, “tragedy pimp.”  Bring me back on camera for a second so I can talk to my friends at CNN, directly, the ones who gave me my first break in TV. 

Guys, about the “Glenn Beck Show,” from personal experience, maybe you should bail on this right now.  Two simple words, Michael Savage!

Glenn Beck, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.  The quote has been attributed, apparently incorrectly, to everybody from Mark Twain to Abraham Lincoln.  But tonight in our No.  1 story, it has again been proved by Paris Hilton.  She has been sued by her ex-fiance‘s ex-girlfriend.  Zeta Graff alleging Ms.  Hilton lied slanderously to the gossip pages of the “New York Post” about a confrontation last summer between the two at a London nightclub.  Hilton was deposed in the case this past November.  Today, our friends at the web site, tmz.com obtained the transcripts of the deposition, 218 pages of pure genius.  Well, pure Paris. 

In a moment, we‘ll get the bewildered reaction of Michael Musto.  First, samples from the worst day a lawyer could ever have.  Actual quotes from the transcript recreated in.  “Paris Hilton Defamation Deposition Puppet Theater.” 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you aware that page six article was republished in various newspapers?  Were they U.K.  Publications? 

PARIS HILTON, HEIRESS:  No, there‘s stuff in London. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You didn‘t see any of the republications? 

HILTON:  I was in Europe the whole summer and all there is like French.  I didn‘t see anything because it wasn‘t in America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you recall seeing Zeta Graff at Cabaret before that? 

HILTON:  Huh-uh. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have to say “no.” 

HILTON:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were saying huh-uh and shaking your head, but you have to say the word, “no.” 

HILTON:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You don‘t know the name? 

HILTON:  I meet so many people.  I don‘t even know some of my friend‘s names. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why don‘t we just mark that article as an exhibit because I want to ask you some things about what is alleged in that article. 

HILTON:  Ok.  I am so hungry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was a Constantine Sucalus (ph) with you?  How about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have to say “no.” 

HILTON:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are shaking your head. 

HILTON:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I know you are shaking your head, but you have to actually say it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Your companion that night whose first name is Terri, do you know his last name? 

HILTON:  It is like a weird Greek name like Douglas. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Few could follow an act like that.  So we turn to one who can, “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto. 

Good evening, Michael. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s hard to see where to start here.  They only speak French in Europe, she doesn‘t know that U.K.  includes England, she‘s so hungry.  But I‘m thinking that the real Paris Hilton is included the unforgettable quote, “I meet so many people I don‘t don‘t even know some of my friend‘s names.” 

MUSTO:  Well, it is confusing when you‘re as wildly popular as she is, and in fact I hear she broke up with Nicole Richie, because she kept calling her Douglas for some reason.  Paris once slipped and called her mother dad and mom said, “How did you know?”  And I once, believe it or not, caught Paris talking to herself and saying, you‘re so dumb Nicky Hilton.  It‘s confusing. 

OLBERMANN:  What we showed there doesn‘t include another part of this deposition when her lawyer had to explain to her the difference between her left shoulder and her right shoulder.  The assumption has long been the lights were not shining too brightly upstairs in this particular Hilton head.  But did we know that she didn‘t know the difference between left and right? 

MUSTO:  There actually was a sign of that when in the porno video the guy keeps saying, “Paris, lift up your right leg” and she lifts up her left arm, but they worked around that.  It worked out fine, but now she know how to get it all straight.  Right side, Chihuahuas, left side subpoena. 

OLBERMANN:  Aha.  There‘s one thing that you hear which merits some defense, that thing at the end where she seems to say Douglas is a Greek name.  She‘s asked in the deposition the deposition about a guy Nacreous Douglas.  So, she‘s not that stupid.  But the problem is, isn‘t it that even when she is not that stupid, she still winds up sounding that stupid? 

MUSTO:  Oh yeah, I mean, even if she said E=Mc2 it would sound really dumb.  Even if she said—in the movie “Grizzly Men” the barren tundra is a metaphor for Timothy Treadwell‘s soul, it would sound dumb.  So, I think that‘s why she actually says dumb stuff because it‘s going to sound dumb anyway.  Why not, right, Doug—Keith?  So, like, why not, right? 

OLBERMANN:  Barren Tundra, I used to date him.  Lost in, of course, the nonsense of the deposition is the case itself.  Did she really—do we know this?  Did she press to have the gossip mongers of the “New York Post” make this Graff woman look bad? 

OLBERMANN:  Oh no, I‘m sure she didn‘t do it even though there are e-mails between her and the publicist afterwards that says touche, job well done, we conned the press.  Even though her publicist wisely had Paris sign a waiver, at the time, saying that she was putting out these lies, not him, because he knew they‘d be libel, to be sued for libel.  I think Paris only signed that to be nice.  But then again, I also think she‘ll be Oscar nominated for “House of Wax.” 

OLBERMANN:  Which probably just she thought it was an autograph. 

MUSTO:  X. 

OLBERMANN:  Looking over the transcript, don‘t you think there should be immediately optioned to some sort of low-budget movie or a sitcom or reality show or Broadway play?  The last time I deposed Paris or something? 

MUSTO:  Or the movie called “It‘s All Greek to Me.”  Or perhaps a book called “Je m‘appelle Paris (I was Named After the Capital of Germany)” or maybe a reality show called “American and Too Idol.” 

OLBERMANN:  What at this point could Paris do positively or negatively to surprise you? 

MUSTO:  Oh, let‘s see, register to vote, read a book, go to a museum, go to a nunnery, have sex without a camera in the room, I don‘t know, go away basically.  Go away. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you feel that at any point, as I do sometimes, that you know, the job that you‘re doing might not be the ideal job and then something like this comes along and you realize it could be worse, you could have been one of the lawyers in the room that day?

MUSTO:  I think the lawyers are getting more highly paid than I am and as much as a story like this drives me further into the cesspool of despair, I‘m going to just rise above and say I‘m really happy to be your new Paris Hilton reporter, because it beat “American Idol” and Angelina Jolie. 

OLBERMANN:  Senior Paris Hilton correspondent, Michael Musto, our island of sanity in the crazy sea of celebrity news.  As always sir, great thanks.

MUSTO:  I‘m hungry.

OLBERMANN:  Me too, let‘s just shut this down.  That‘s COUNTDOWN, I‘m Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose.  Goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “Live and Direct.”

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

Copy: 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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