updated 2/28/2006 10:53:24 AM ET 2006-02-28T15:53:24

Guests: John Harwood, Robert Hagan, Craig Thomshaw

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

The cooling-off period.  Will the 45-day delay on the Dubai Ports World deal really tamp down the controversy, or will it just extend open season on the man who will ultimately say yea or nay, President Bush?

The neocon agenda.  It‘s dead.  Wishful thinking by Howard Dean?  No, the conclusion of Francis Fukuyama, the founding father of the neocons.  “Something,” he says, “I can no longer support.”

Can anyone, conservative or liberal, support this, an Ohio lawmakers bid to ban adoptions by Republicans?

Ted Baxter strikes again, day four of his petition to get this show canceled.

Baseball strikes again.  Seventeen heroes from its old Negro Leagues, elected to its Hall of Fame.  Its greatest living ambassador, Buck O‘Neil, is refused admission.  But they did elect two more white people.

And three great actors gone.  We will remember Don Knotts and Dennis Weaver and especially, from “A Christmas Story,” Darren McGavin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARREN MCGAVIN:  You used up all the glue on purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

To hit the cliche off the start, the living once again easy in the Big Easy tonight.  Tourists back on Bourbon Street for the penultimate night of Mardi Gras, only two days shy of the six-month mark since Hurricane Katrina devastated that city, a welcome distraction from the difficult road that still lies ahead there.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the politics of distraction taking a new twist tonight.  On the one hand, pre-Lenten partying in New Orleans, a brief respite from issues of rebuilding.  On the other, the disastrous federal response to the storm, just one of the distractions laying claim to President Bush‘s second term.

Bad news for the White House, it seems, coming in waves.  The president‘s point man on Katrina, the former FEMA director Michael Brown, once again proving to be a less-than-willing scapegoat, telling NBC News in an exclusive interview that he was hung out to dry.

And the controversy over the secret NSA spying program, meanwhile, unlikely to go away anytime soon, despite the administration‘s to make it go away, the White House today rejecting a call by Democrats on Capitol Hill for a special counsel investigation of the warrant-free wiretapping.

Dick Cheney‘s weekend of male bonding gone horribly wrong, leaving a mark that has not yet faded, the blowback not so much the result of the vice president shooting his hunting buddy as about the delay in informing the media about the accident, the White House buying itself a delay from the fallout over the Dubai seaport deal, 45 days‘ worth, announcing over the weekend that it will conduct a new security review of that transaction.

Of course, the president gets the final say, and his aides already foreshadowing that the final answer will be yes.

Iraq still plagued with problems too numerous to mention here, a U.S.  government report obtained by “TIME” magazine concluding that the litany of blunders in Iraq having more to do with poor planning by the Bush administration than even with the insurgency or the sectarian violence.

The long-term impact of Iraq on the National Guard here at home at the top of the agenda of the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, all 50 govs, including the president‘s brother, signing a letter to President Bush earlier this month, opposing cuts to the National Guard that are proposed in W. Bush‘s 2007 budget, for the president today, avoiding that sticky subject by thanking the governors for their support.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And I want to thank you for supporting our Guard troops.  Many of you have been overseas and have seen our Guard troops in action.  And I can‘t thank you enough for not only supporting the troops in harm‘s way, but providing great comfort to their families as well.

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OLBERMANN:  Let‘s call in “The Wall Street Journal”‘s national political editor, John Harwood, for some analysis.

Good evening, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: 

Hey, Keith.  Apologies in advance for the scratchy throat.

OLBERMANN:  I hear you.

It seems that when we talk now, almost every week the White House is trying to put out a new fire as the midterm elections are beginning to loom on that horizon.  Does the GOP have a remedy, a Band-Aid to all that we laid out just now?

HARWOOD:  Well, they don‘t really have an easy remedy, but they have a decision to make, Keith.  One of the things hanging over this year is, to what degree do Republicans think the way for them to get healthy politically is to run away from President Bush?  We‘ve seen that to some extent on Katrina, we‘ve seen it on this ports deal.

There are some others within the party who think the only way that they can truly change the environment is to help President Bush‘s numbers go up a little bit, and to try to hang with him and sort of all rise together, if you will.  But that‘s not working out so far, and it looks as if more and more Republicans are thinking the odds benefit them to put some distance between themselves and President Bush.

OLBERMANN:  And how much of that defection, such as it is, that we have been seeing lately can or should be traced directly to this port deals controversy?  Have the Democrats finally found a chink in the GOP stronghold on national security?

HARWOOD:  Keith, it‘s not often that Democrats can have a weapon or an issue to try to portray President Bush as Barney Fife on national security, but they‘ve got one in the ports deal.  You look at the polling, there were two new polls out today showing large majorities of the American people think this is a bad idea.

And one of the things that happens is, when you get an issue like this, that, to the ordinary person on the street is a no-brainer, no, we‘re not going to have a country in the Middle East controlling U.S. port terminals, even if the White House thinks this is a silly opposition.  It‘s very tough for politicians to get out from under that.

I‘ve talked to a couple of governors in the last few days who say, You won‘t believe the heat we‘re getting from constituents.  Talked to a Republican senator today who indicated he was likely to support the administration, but said, That‘s easy for me, because I‘m not up for reelection this year.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s—this thing is visceral.  This is not about the logic behind the thing, or even the security behind the thing.  But then that raises the question, are—is logic or something else being applied to a situation in which the decision here is to make a 45-day delay?  Does that just not extend how long people can react to it viscerally?  I mean, nobody‘s going to argue people out of their presuppositions on this, are they?  Not (INAUDIBLE).

HARWOOD:  Well, that‘s right.  But this is another sort of visceral judgment, that the administration is hoping that if you delay it 45 days, quiet down the whole sort of talk-radio storm and the storm in print, that the fever will break, if you will, and that when they get to the other end, if they have members of the White House, senior Republicans, who‘ve sort of been talked back from the cliff, saying, Well, now we‘ve been satisfied because of all these questions, that maybe they can get it through.

I think it‘s going to be a close call, because you‘ve got a lot of Senate seats up, and Republicans know that Democrats are going to cut ads that say, Hey, these are the guys who voted to turn our ports over.  That could be a very effective November advertisement.

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, in the interim, any slow news day, you‘ve got an automatic lead story, which is, what‘s the latest on the Dubai ports deal?

HARWOOD:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  Last thing here, there‘s another report on the Internet today, it‘s not the first one, concerning the long-term job prospects of the vice president.  The current events magazine “Insight,” conservative publication, quoting GOP sources that envision Dick Cheney retiring within a year.  This has been speculated about since well before the ‘04 election.  Is there, is this just more of the same speculation-wise, or is there some there there?

HARWOOD:  Keith, I don‘t think Dick Cheney‘s going anywhere.  There‘s been a lot of speculation that he would step down and Condi Rice would be put in position to run.  But I just don‘t think that‘s another decision, a confirmation fight, that the administration wants to take on.  And so I think we‘re not going there.  I think Dick Cheney‘s going to be there through the end of the term.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ll let the chips or the buckshot or birdshot fall where it may.

“Wall Street Journal” national political, John Harwood, feel better.

HARWOOD:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  And thanks for your time tonight.

Also tonight, the judge in the CIA leak case shedding some light on his wishes for that trial.  It is still more than 10 months off, if we‘re lucky.  But it‘s never too early to set some guidelines so people can start fighting them, Judge Reggie Walton issuing an order today allowing either party in the case to subpoena journalists or news organizations, by deciding this issue so early, the judge apparently hoping to give all reporters who may be asked to testify time to appeal, and the appellate courts plenty of time to hear those arguments, the judge also narrowing the requests from Scooter Libby‘s defense teem for the highly classified documents it wants to develop his defense.

Instead of granting the defense complete use of the president‘s daily brief memo, or PDB, Mr. Libby‘s lawyers must instead summarize the general subject matter of the documents and limit their use to three specific time periods.

As we mentioned earlier, day after tomorrow, think of it as if it were February the 29th, though there is no such date this year, will mark the six-month anniversary since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  Thus tonight, the images of Mardi Gras celebrations in the French Quarter undeniably heartening to see.

And yet, as Martin Savidge reports for us from New Orleans, it is hard to talk about any real comeback for the city when many of its citizens have yet to come back.

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MARTIN SAVIDGE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Bourbon Street then, Bourbon Street now.  The Ninth Ward then, and now.  Six months since Katrina, New Orleans is a town with two faces.  Mardi Gras, the Comeback City, and just blocks away, the city where most haven‘t come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

SAVIDGE:  Alon Samore (ph), then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But we‘re going to make it work.  Now, we‘ll be back.  Remember I said that.  I‘ll be back.

SAVIDGE:  And him now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s depressing that‘s what it is, it‘s frustrating.

SAVIDGE:  Homesickness brought him back for Mardi Gras.  Like many, he‘s had a head-on collision with reality, slow or no insurance payments, federal red tape—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I feel like I‘m lost.

SAVIDGE:  ... and the city‘s lack of a real plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Trying to figure out what to do.

SAVIDGE:  This was Margaret Tolliver (ph) when we first met.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I should have the right to come back in my home.

SAVIDGE:  But hanging on is wearing her out.

She got a FEMA trailer in November, she got the electricity for it last Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know what the future‘s going to bring.

SAVIDGE:  New Orleans‘ already reduced population may soon face a second exodus, as the frustrated give up and go.  That‘s a big worry for Johnny Blanchard (ph), who just reopened his uptown restaurant.

Of the 81,000 businesses hit by Katrina only half are back in business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The biggest question, I think, for our business is, can the population change sustain us in the long haul?

SAVIDGE:  And there‘s another big question.  Could it happen again?  The Army Corps of Engineers says it‘ll have New Orleans‘ levee system restored by the start of this hurricane season.

COL. LEWIS SETLIFF, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS:  The program is just over 40 percent complete.

SAVIDGE:  But there‘s only four months to go.

The city itself is struggling to stay afloat.  New Orleans is $120 million in debt, and somehow needs to find an additional $200 million just to cover things like police, fire, and garbage collection after the party‘s over.

(on camera):  So as they try to forget their cares this Mardi Gras, many in New Orleans are wondering if they and their city will be here next year, Keith.

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OLBERMANN:  Martin Savidge in New Orleans, great thanks.

From a city struggling to make it to a foreign policy facing the same kind of uphill battle, Iraq and neoconservative agenda.  One of the architects of neocon says it is in as much trouble as Iraq is.  We will hear from him.

And an unusual front in the culture wars, one state posing legislation to ban gay couples from adopting kids.  So another politician there answers by trying to ban Republican couples from adopting kids.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  It is just three months now since congressman and decorated vet Jack Murtha was denounced on the floor of the House of Representatives as a, quote, “coward” for having even suggested we make a quick exit from Iraq.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, now William F. Buckley is saying we should get out, and fast.  And a conflict-resolution organization with the improbable name The International Crisis Group issuing a warning today.  Iraq, it says, is on the verge of an all-out civil war between the Shia and Sunni populations, and the international community should prepare for the real possibility that the entire country could destabilize.

As MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, reports now, not only is this perceived as a failure of policy, but also as a failure of an entire doctrine.  And one of those who sees it that way is the virtual creator of that doctrine.

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NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

In Iraq today, the three-day-old curfew was lifted.  An uneasy calm after a wave of sectarian violence killed hundreds of Iraqis following last week‘s attack on the Shiites‘ holy shrine in Samarra.  Now Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war, and the reason is the failure of neoconservativism, says Francis Fukuyama.

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, AUTHOR, “AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS”:  It was an overestimation, I think, of the importance of American power in bringing about the, you know, democracy in general.

O‘DONNELL:  What‘s stunning is that Fukuyama is one of the leading architects of neoconservatism.  But three years after the invasion, he now says it was misused in Iraq.

FUKUYAMA:  You know, conservatism is as American as apple pie.  This is a long-standing tradition, this American idealism, to see ourselves as a model for the rest of the world.

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  So what‘s wrong?

FUKUYAMA:  You know, the problem, really, was the overmilitarization of the means.  I think we‘ve spread democracy through political influence, through the example that we set, through funding.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  In his new book, Fukuyama says the Bush doctrine, launching preemptive wars to defend America, it is now in shambles.

(on camera):  How have your friends, other neoconservatives, reacted to you speaking out?

FUKUYAMA:  I suspect a lot of people are sharpening their knives as we speak.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  He says his apostasy comes from growing frustration, a failure of planning, a need for realism.  First, Vice President Cheney claiming the U.S. would be greeted as liberators.

FUKUYAMA:  They expected to be down to 25,000 troops by the end of the first summer after active combat was over.

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Another example, a leaked National Intelligence Council assessment from July 2004 that warned Iraq would achieve “tenuous stability” in the next 18 months, or, worst case, could dissolve into civil war.

(voice-over):  Back then, the president dismissed the study.

BUSH:  And they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.

O‘DONNELL:  But even as some criticized the president, Mr. Bush today told the nation‘s governors gathered in Washington his strategy for spreading democracy will work.

BUSH:  The freedom agenda is a powerful part of our country‘s desire to lay the foundation for peace, and it‘s making a difference.

O‘DONNELL:  The president remains optimistic, even as critics charge neoconservatism has failed America, and needs to be replaced by a more realistic foreign policy agenda.

For COUNTDOWN, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There is some good news out of Iraq tonight.  Even though the second deadline set by the kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll has now passed, both the American ambassador to Iraq and the Iraqi interior minister say she is still alive.

But they do give convicting information about where she might be.  According to the ambassador, Iraq‘s interior ministry has information about where she might be held.  According to that interior minister, they do not know where she is, and suspect she may have been moved by her captors.

Iraqi police raided several homes on Saturday, hoping to find Ms.  Carroll before Sunday‘s deadline but found nothing.  The 28-year-old freelance journalist has been missing since gunmen killed her bodyguard and snatched her off the streets of Baghdad on the 7th of January.

He‘s one of the greatest ambassadors any sport has ever known, and today major league baseball repaid Buck O‘Neil with one of the greatest sports snubs of all time.

And caught on tape, you are not seeing things.  Liftoff, we have liftoff.  They were OK.

Next, on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1841, future general Robert E. Lee and his wife celebrated the birth of their fifth child and third daughter, Eleanor Agnes, known in the family as Wig (ph).  What this has to do with anything will be self-evident in a moment, provided you can remember the name of the car that Beau and Luke Lee drove in the series “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Let‘s play Oddball.

Oh, call it Luke 2, Frank.

We begin outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with the COUNTDOWN car chase of the week, which you enjoy guilt-free, as always, because no one was seriously injured.  I say this now, because you will not believe me later.

Checking the Oddball scoreboard for the year, we can see it‘s cops 16, guys who think they can escape the cops, O-klahoma.  Two men in the car had just robbed a bank.  they had led the police in hot pursuit for more than 60 minutes at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour.

So how many miles did they travel?  Stay tuned for the answer, coming up later in the program.

But these rural roads were not built for your “Dukes of Hazzard” the

General Lee antics.  So after an amazing jump right about there—airborne

the driver loses control and smashes into a nearby tree.  Oh, my.  I say again, no one was seriously hurt.  The two men in the car were able to walk away from the crash, until they were arrested.

But now, this modern-day Thelma and Louise, who are actually guys and did not go off a cliff, but the jump was kind of the same, they‘ll be walking the line in the Big House.

To Italy, where, now that the Olympics are over, the citizens can finally relax and start smashing each other in the face with fruit again.  The annual festival town (INAUDIBLE) and horrible eye injuries that is the Battle of the Oranges.  Thousands turn out each February to commemorate some ancient uprising thing where they did this with rocks.

They chose oranges for the reenactment because they‘re slightly less deadly, and also an excellent source of vitamin C.  But I‘ve asked it before and I‘ll ask it again.  Orange you glad they didn‘t choose coconuts?

Finally to the Vada (ph) City Aquarium in western Japan, where the star attraction is clearly he trained Beluga whale show.  Hey, are you a big fat whale?  Are you a big fat whale?  Yes, you are.

All the whales here have talent, but there is one that people come from miles around to see, Alya (ph), the whale who can blow smoke rings.  Well, bubble rings, but, you know, still.  Alya‘s trainer says it‘s something some whales do in the wild, but they usually have to go to the surface to get the air.  Here in the tank, all he has to do is jam his scuba hose into her old blow-hole, and look at it go.

You know, Aquaman used to do something like this.  And where did he end up?  Just sayin‘, Alya.  Get an agent.

From animal theater to political theater, some Republicans in Ohio want to bar gays from adopting kids, so a Democrat has a proposal of his own, ban Republicans from adopting kids.

And he‘s the memorable father from a Christmas time classic, paying tribute to the late Darren McGavin.

That‘s ahead.

But first, COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Steve Jones of Shreveport, Louisiana.  Read in the paper something about the local Power Ball lottery had an unclaimed winning ticket worth $853,000, thought, I bought a Power Ball ticket.  Now, where did I put it again?  He found it under his bed.  It was the winning ticket.

Number two, TheCarConnection.com, out with its list of the wackiest street names in the country.  Its runner-up was the Heather Highland, Pennsylvania, artery named Divorce Court.  But its winner, from Traverse City, Michigan, Psycho Path.

Number one, the Roman professional soccer club UT Arad.  It traded one of its players, defender Marius Ciara (ph), to another team, Rego Horia (ph), and received in exchange 33 pounds of meat.  The player who was traded for the meat, Mr. Horia, got the message.  When you are traded for 33 pounds of meat, you need to retire from soccer and do what he did, take a job as a construction worker in Spain.

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OLBERMANN:  It is posited that they are unfit to be parents and should be prohibited from adopting children, because exposure to them could adversely affect a child‘s morality and social acceptability. In our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one Ohio state representative believes those unfit parents are gay people. 

One of his colleagues, though, a state senator has a different idea.  He wants to prohibit adoption by Republicans.  In a memo to colleagues soliciting support for his legislative proposal, Ohio State Senator Robert Hagan wrote, credible research exists that adopted children raised in Republican households, though significantly wealthier than their Democratic-raised counterparts, are more at risk for developing emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, an alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different that themselves. Senator Hagan adds, I‘ve spoken to many adopted children raised in Republican households who have admitted that well, it‘s just plain boring most of the time. 

The joke, meant to skewer a legislative proposal that is anything but satire, a bill introduced into the Ohio state legislature that would prohibit gay men or women from adopting children or acting as foster parents.  Sponsored by state Representative Ron Hood of Ashville, cosponsored by Cincinnati-area representatives, Ohio already bans same sex partners from joint adoption.  Advocates are pushing for ballot initiatives banning gay adoption in as many as 16 states, just in time for this year‘s congressional elections.

This despite the fact that 520,000 children are in foster care nationwide right now according to the North American Council on Adoptable Children and 120,000 of them available  and in need of immediate adoption.  The sponsor of the Republican adoption ban of 2006, State Senator Robert Hagan of Youngtown, Ohio joins us now. Thank you for your time tonight sir.

STATE SEN. ROBERT HAGAN (D) OHIO:  Thanks for inviting me Keith, glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Do you worry that we‘re at such a divided state in politics today that some Democrats will look at your proposal and deliberately ignore the joke and support it.  And some Republicans will look at your proposal and deliberately ignore the joke and lash out at it?

HAGAN:  Yes and yes.  Some of my Democratic colleagues would like to support it and some of us including myself, have strange feelings about Republicans and how they act and how they would bring children up in this world.  And some Republicans of course—I don‘t know where they‘re at on half these issues.  I‘m kind of embarrassed, in fact, that they offer these absurd pieces of legislation, but Keith, this is what happens in legislatures across the land.  They‘re divisive. They‘re pieces of legislation that not only divide people, but put wedges between us politically and it could in fact backfire in some cases.  But the fact is, I‘ve touched up most of this with a little bit of humor, so that at least they can see the absurdity in the whole process. 

OLBERMANN:  But your state‘s house speaker, who is a Republican, has already said that this anti-gay adoption bill is not going to go anywhere as long as he has anything to say about it, so why bother with a response that someone is clearly going to latch onto and subtract the humor from?

HAGAN:  That‘s today and tomorrow with term limits, you have legislators Keith, new people coming in with pretty much new and same ideas.  And I say that jokingly, but they keep recycling the same ideas.  The speaker of the house was an adoptee and he‘s a very funny humorous guy.  He said that he was raised in a Republican household and a Democrat household and he ended up as a Republican, his brother, biological brother was raised as a Democrat or raised as a wolf, so there‘s obviously some distance between the two of them.  And I think it‘s kind of funny.  But the mere fact is he has a sense of humor. He understands the process and hopefully he will kill this bill.  But I certainly wanted to show that the absurdity of it all was basically why I introduced it. 

OLBERMANN:  Are there statistics - you just told this story apocryphal story about the raised by wolves and all the rest of that, but are there statistics about kids adopted by gays and gay couples and how they turn out and whether the homes are better or worse or no difference? Is there information?

HAGAN:  Well, Keith, the only information I have relative to the believing that gay couples are just as suited as heterosexual couples is the American Academy of Children‘s Doctors and those doctors and some others have said quite frankly that they do a commendable job and an equal job.  But that‘s not the real issue here.  In Ohio alone Keith, we have—

I think there‘s 2,900 young kids waiting for adoption and 19,000 that are in foster care.  That‘s the real issue here and parenting is the real issue here.  And playing these games about dividing people is not acceptable.  And I certainly want to do everything I can to show the absurdity of it.  Is my bill absurd? You betcha.  Is his bill absurd? Absolutely.  Does he have scientific proof that gay couples cannot raise children? He does not.  Do I, that Republicans are bad parents and have some problems psychologically? I don‘t have any scientific proof.  I have a couple of ideas that they‘re bad, but it‘s not scientific. 

OLBERMANN:  Ohio state Senator Robert Hagan, good luck with getting it through people who don‘t see the humor in it and great, thanks for your time tonight. 

HAGAN:  Thanks for seeing the humor Keith, appreciate it. 

OLBERMANN:  If you do not look behind that headline, Senator Hagan‘s bill would seem like the ultimate expression of a feud between the political parties.  While we‘re on the subject of feuds, let‘s give you the headlines of day four of the Bill O‘Reilly petition to get this show canceled and replaced by a Phil Donahue redux. 

Ted Baxter has spoken again.  But perhaps the oddest development comes not from Fox nor MSNBC, but from CNN.  Howard Kurtz‘ media program, “Reliable Sources.” He spent part of a segment called the media minute covering this, that‘s right, CNN‘s coverage of Fox‘s attack on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN:  Fox‘s Bill O‘Reilly must really be annoyed with his MSNBC rival Keith Olbermann talking all those shots at him.  He would prefer the very liberal Phil Donahue. 

BILL O‘REILLY:  In the interest of fairness, we have a petition on billoreilly.com to bring Phil back.  And how upset is Olbermann?

OLBERMANN:  Bill O‘Reilly has launched an on-air campaign and an online petition to get this newscast canceled.  Not very.  Olbermann loves this feud.  Happy days are here again, the sky‘s above are clear again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Maybe both of them just can‘t help themselves. 

Well, great.  Now I‘ve sung on all news TV networks.  We also have news of a small cottage industry creating petitions.  Here‘s the original one on O‘Reilly‘s Web site. You could read the names of who had signed it, until they took that page down because some of the names seemed to be fictitious.  Mr. Keith is Great from Faloofah, Montana, for instance, Look at My from Ratings Drop, North Carolina, someone identified simply as Falafel N from The Shower, Wyoming and Andrea Mackris from How‘s Your Cash, PW.

Why did they take those down? Wait, there are at least two other petitions now in play, one at the Web site the DailyKos urging Fox news Chairman Roger Ailes to fire O‘Reilly for quote, willfully distributing inaccurate information about such things as the 9/11 Commission, hurricane Katrina, Planned Parenthood.  There‘s another at the Huffington post saying its signatories have become increasingly worried about the health of the host of your 8:00 p.m. EST show and suggesting Fox hire to replace Mr.  O‘Reilly, Phil Donahue.  But the headline and then we‘ll drop this topic for the night, appears to be something of a palace coup within the walls of Fox news itself. Late this afternoon, newscaster Shepard Smith seemed to surprise Mr. O‘Reilly with a live camera in his own newsroom. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And take a live look in the back of the newsroom.  The floor mat says the spin stops here, look at that, O‘Reilly is schooling somebody on his staff.  Turn it over to (INAUDIBLE) his long-time assistant.  Now he‘s asking the cameraman, you‘re not putting me on television, are you? There is angst (ph). No, O‘Reilly‘s angry.  Where is Olbermanm?  Let‘s just throw something at Olbermann, Bill.  See you in a minute. We love you Bill. Thank God for you. She likes it too.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, here we go.  She enjoys it she likes it, too.  She likes what? Anyway, Mr. Smith seems not to have gotten the memo about not mentioning me by name on Fox.  And if you‘re wondering about that process and its origins incidentally, back in 1998, Mr. O‘Reilly tried to mention my name and he mispronounced it, Olbermann, just par for the course.  Remember the slogan, Fox, not facts. 

Also tonight, major league baseball holds its last special hall of fame election for players and executives from the segregated Negro leagues.   The shocking results, 17 are elected, including two white team owners,  but not including the famed ambassador of baseball, Buck O‘Neil. 

And what many of the unofficial Diana sleuths have been saying for years turns out to be officially the truth.  The driver who crashed the car in which she died was living a double life.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  He was an overnight celebrity at the age of 83, turned into one of the faces of baseball by the Ken Burns documentary.  Buck O‘Neil, a living link to the great stars who had been prevented from reaching the major leagues because of the color barrier that would not fall until 1947.  Himself, Jackie Robinson‘s teammate with the legendary Kansas City Monarchs, later their manager. 

Even now at the age of 94, one of the great ambassadors in any sport.  And at our number two story in the COUNTDOWN today, baseball might as well have told Buck O‘Neil to get lost.  This was the day the game elected to its hall of fame 17 heroes from the era of the Negro leagues, the last such election scheduled, ever, and Buck O‘Neil was not elected. 

A special committee first selected 94 candidates, then pared it down to 39 finalists, today announced the 17 inductees.  O‘Neil did not make the cut, nor did Minnie Minoso, himself prevented from playing in the majors until he was 27 years old because of the color of his skin. Minoso, playing most with the Chicago White Sox, went on to record the sixth highest batting average in all of baseball during the prime of his career 1951 through 1963.  

Snubbing Minoso and O‘Neil apparently for all time is extraordinary enough, but only baseball could make it worse. In honoring the Negro leagues, it managed to exclude O‘Neil and Minoso, but it did elect two white people.  James Leslie Wilkinson was the founder of those Kansas City Monarchs, Jackie Robinson‘s team before he broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Wilkinson was a white businessman. 

And today‘s election also had a hall of famer out of Ethel Manley (ph). She was the owner of the Newark Eagles of the Negro-American League.  It sounds almost impossible to believe, but she too was white.  She was married to a black man and she pretended to be as the term was then, passed as a light-skinned black woman.  Most of the 17 electees today were entirely deserving. Such legendary figures as Sal White (ph) and Biz Mackey (ph) and Jose Mendez (ph) will achieve in death and in the hall something they were denied in life. 

But just to twist the knife a little further into Buck O‘Neil, the special committee elected Alex Pompez (ph), owner of the New York Cuban‘s team in the ‘30s and ‘40s, also an organized crime figure, part of the mob of the infamous ‘30‘s gangster Dutch Schultz, indicted in this country and in Mexico for racketeering.  He‘s in the hall of fame for all time.  Buck O‘Neil is not.  It‘s not merely indefensible.  For all the many stupid things the baseball hall of fame has ever done, this is the worst. 

Moving from that controversy to the endless controversy surrounding the death of Princess Diana in Paris in 1997, in a higher quality of fodder tonight for conspiracy theorists, it‘s official. The driver who crashed her car was indeed a French spy.  That item topping our list of celebrity and entertainment news in keeping tabs. Chauffeur Henri Paul was blamed for the crash by the French police who contended he was drunk and on drugs while driving at high speed. 

Now the government has revealed that many investigators have surmised over the years, that he was also working for the domestic arm of the French secret service around the time of the accident.  The British team reinvestigating the crash is asking the intelligence agency for all files pertaining to Henri Paul to see if he was working for it the night of the crash.  But sources tell the “Times” of London that that because of the quote, incredible bureaucracy of the French justice system that request is so bogged down, the investigation might not be finished until 2007. 

Speaking of endless investigations, there‘s Britney Spears.  Put that in the segue hall of fame.  The pop tart rushing to a Malibu hospital late last week, the Spears camp saying the trip was made to care for her infant son who was apparently constipated maybe from sitting on mom‘s lap while she drove.  That sugar coated tale though is allegedly just that, a story.  A source telling Jeannette Walls of msnbc.com that the real reason for the visit, Ms. Spears was once again with child.  She was throwing up and had stomach cramps says the source. Not true, says a spokesperson, not pregnant.  Maybe she had just been listening to her husband‘s new rap recording. 

Also tonight, an awful weekend for film and TV.  Three beloved stars are gone, including the actor who was the centerpiece for the new classic “Christmas Story.”  That‘s next.  But first on the COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world.  (INAUDIBLE) distillery in Scotland, today it turned out 12 barrels of whiskey, according to a recipe unused since the 17th century. The stuff is 92 percent alcohol.  Three years ago our Secret Service admitted it had been monitoring that distillery because the difference between distilling high alcohol whiskey and making chemical weapons was quote, just a small tweak. 

The silver to the international soccer star David Beckham, who says he‘s struggling to help his son with his math homework.  His son is six years old.  Says Mr. Posh Spice, quote, it‘s done totally differently to what I was teached when I was at school.  So that remark also takes care of any grammar homework that Beckham junior may take home.

But the winner, him again.  On the air, he actually reproached his guest Mike Farrell.  You lose credibility when you use personal attacks.  Mr. Farrell pointed out that Billy might have discovered that some gain credibility using them to which O‘Reilly replied, I don‘t do personal attacks here, mister.  We don‘t do personal attacks. Well, other than calling Neal Gabler a rabid dog and Ralph Nader a loon and Bill Moyers a fanatic and Barbara Boxer a nut, Jimmy Carter a fool and John Kerry a sissy.  I got a suggestion, Bill, start another petition.  Demand that somebody give you your credibility back.  Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s worst person in the world. 

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OLBERMANN:  It is a film that has gradually sneaked up on everybody and become the “It‘s a Wonderful Life” of this generation. For 24 hours every Christmas, a cable network simply plays and replays and re-replays the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story.”  Tonight, in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the actor who was the center of that new classic who provided the gravity without which the wild saga of a 1940s childhood in Indiana would have seemed a little silly is gone.  Darren McGavin has died.  We will reflect on his passing and “A Christmas Story” in a moment. 

First if you believe in that stuff about death coming in threes, it was a horrible weekend. Don Knotts passed away late Friday night at a hospital in Los Angeles. Generations have come and gone since his last appearance on the “Andy Griffith Show,” yet his fidgety character Deputy Barney Fife is among the immortals of entertainment.  He had a huge second hit as the would be swinger landlord with the late John Ritter in the series “Three‘s Company.”  It was a departure from his earliest nervous persona which began on the original “Tonight Show” with Steve Allen in the 50‘s.  He was reprised in films like “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” and “The Reluctant Astronaut.”  Don Knotts was 81 years old. 

Today came news that his TV contemporary Dennis Weaver has also died.  He also came to prominence as a TV deputy, as the limping sidekick to James Arness on “Gunsmoke.”  Then came “Gentle Ben” and his role as a New Mexico lawman on assignment in New York, “McCloud.” And perhaps his finest moment as the innocent driver menaced by a seemingly living tractor-trailer truck in the TV movie “Duel,” directed by Steven Spielberg more than 30 years ago.  Like Don Knotts, Dennis Weaver was 81. In fact, they were just 47 days apart. 

Darren McGavin was a little older. He was 83.  His TV roles ran the gamut from the routine Mickey Spillane‘s “Mike Hammer” in the ‘50s to comedic, “Murphy Brown”‘s father in the ‘80s to the cultish and the bizarre, the “Nightstalker” in the 70‘s.  That last series has been cited as the inspiration for everything from the “X Files” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  But when all is said and done, it will probably be as the old man, little Ralphy‘s father, Mr. Parker in the compilation of the memories of the American satirist, Gene Shepherd (ph) for which he will be remembered. 

Each year, each time it‘s shown, “A Christmas Story” gets seemingly a little funnier and McGavin‘s performance seemingly a little better, whether swearing in indecipherable rage at the forever smoking furnace or insisting the major award he‘s just received must be Italian because the box is marked fragile, for finally producing his son‘s dream Christmas present, the red rider BB gun, Darren McGavin seems to represent fatherhood, fatherhood at least as seen by a 9-year-old boy.  We‘re joined now by the LA Bureau chief of “TV Guide,” Craig Thomsaw, thank you for your time tonight sir. 

CRAIG THOMSAW, TV GUIDE:  I‘m glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Let me start with the context of that picture.  Am I right about this? Much like, “It‘s a Wonderful Life” has “A Christmas Story” kind of sneaked up on people and became a Christmas ritual? 

THOMSAW:  It‘s kind of the perfect Christmas movie for cynics who don‘t want to admit you‘re cynics because they have no angels, no Santa, no talking barn animals.  It‘s just what Christmas is supposed to be.  You got a family, Darren McGavin, really was the centerpiece for it because he‘s kind of that dad you wish you always had who would be gruff and mean, but still kind of gets you what you want in the end and takes you out for Chinese food at the end. 

OLBERMANN:  After the dogs next door steal the turkey.  I suggested before that for all the work of the kids in this film, Ralphie himself there and Flick getting his tongue stuck to the frozen pole, if you don‘t have Darren McGavin in there as the representative of the seemingly, the entire adult world, most of this would have been just silly and a kid‘s flick.  Give me a real assessment of his work in the film. 

THOMSAW:  He could have done it as—I remember the first time I saw it thinking all right, it was another story about the mean dad and he gets his comeuppance in the end.  But he played it as a realistic dad, again the one you wish you could have had who was kind of tough but actually cared for his kid and also had great taste in art as evidenced with the lamp.  You always wanted to have your dad appreciate fine art like that.  He was the one who really made it real.  He didn‘t make it just some crazy fable.  He made it real and made you kind of want to be a part of that family. 

OLBERMANN:  To your knowledge, did Darren McGavin like that film? Did he like being identified for that one role? An old friend of mine before she passed away was Elizabeth Montgomery and I traveled with her on a couple of occasions and she never got to go more than five minutes without somebody asking her to switch her nose like she did on “Bewitched.”  Did Darren McGavin get that kind of recognition for this film and could he abide it?

THOMSAW:  We could, although it came after “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” which is probably equally in everybody‘s mind I think when you remember Darren McGavin.  That was another role that could have been nothing, but his sense of humor, his choice of suits because apparently that he, he chose that Kolchak outfit.  He kind of made that character his own too.  You don‘t often get to have two roles like that in a time.  You sometimes can just be remembered as the third guy from the left in a dinner scene somewhere, but he had two of these great roles.  Who wouldn‘t want that? That‘s kind of great break if you‘re an actor. 

OLBERMANN:  How can you do that though?  As almost everybody gets that kind of intense identification with an audience based on one character.  You get it with one character.  You don‘t get multiples.  There is nothing in common.  The old man and “Kolchak the Night Stalker” have nothing in common other than Darren McGavin.  What does that tell us about him as an actor?

THOMSAW:  It says what I always liked him in anything that he did, a guest appearance, whatever it was, he just seemed like a regular guy.  In Kolchak, he seemed like ultimately a funny guy but a regular guy you could see sitting next to in a bar after he killed the vampire. He‘d tell you he killed a vampire and you would actually believe it because he just seemed like a regular guy.  The dad in “Christmas Story,” same thing, a very realist guy that you could see sitting with the next day.  He tells you the story about the dogs taking the turkey and you would enjoy it because he just seemed like a guy you want to know.  There‘s a continuum there.

OLBERMANN:  No matter how absurd, maybe that‘s the continuum, no matter how absurd the situation might have been, he pulled it off somehow. 

THOMSAW:  You just wanted to know him.  A lot actors, you wanted to know the characters, but I always felt like I wanted to kind of know him too. There was just something about him that kind of shown through everything he did. 

OLBERMANN:  Darren McGavin who throughout the decades I‘m sure to come will be remembered by TV and movie audiences who never saw him in anything else and will recall this great film.  Helping us remember Darren McGavin.  Craig Thomsaw, of “TV Guide,” helping us remember Darren McGavin tonight,  Craig, thanks for your time sir. 

THOMSAW:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1033 day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees lose. 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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