updated 3/15/2006 2:05:32 PM ET 2006-03-15T19:05:32

Guests: John Harwood, Howard Bryant, Michael Harrison

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

President in charge of the fall midterm elections, president in charge of Iraq, president in charge of nothing else?  Mr. Bush goes tunnel vision, so says a conservative magazine.  So who‘s watching the counterterrorism store?

And who‘s running the Moussaoui trial?  Now, says the prosecution, one of its own lawyers has been improperly coaching her own witnesses against the terrorist.  Oops.

Political irony in its most base but most enjoyable form.  Bob Woodward‘s editor in Watergate identified Bob Woodward‘s source in Plamegate, so reports “Vanity Fair.”

Heard about the book accusing Barry Bonds of using steroids?  No, I meant the other book accusing Barry Bonds of using steroids.  That‘s right.  There‘s a second set of accusations, including that in 1998 Bonds said he was going to steroid up, said it to fellow superstar Ken Griffey.

And, oh, here we go.  The great radio lawsuit, chapter 73.  Howard Stern attacks Les Moonves of CBS, again, on CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” CBS)

HOWARD STERN:  I feel bad for you.  You‘re a CBS stockholder and the “Loveboat” captain is busy running your network into the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Maybe now CBS can sue Stern over that too.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

I‘m reporting to you tonight from New York.  Good evening.

What history will say about the war on terror, the early years of the 21st century, we can barely guess.  The salvation of democracy, the sacrifice of democracy to unwarranted and politically exploited fear?  We don‘t know.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, this little piece of the historical record seems already to have been written.  It has a strange, misguided feel to it, and perhaps no trio of stories has ever underscored that better than on this day.

A report that in Plamegate, Bob Woodward‘s source was leaked by, of all people, Ben Bradlee.  A conservative people insisting President Bush has swept national security off his personal table to focus solely on Iraq and the fall elections instead.  And the case against the only men brought to justice for the 9/11 attacks evidently so weak that a government lawyer felt it was essential to improperly coach some of the witnesses against him.

To the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, first, the judge ruling that the government can continue to seek the death penalty despite startling revelations of misconduct by the prosecution, chief among them that a government lawyer had improperly coached several aviation security witnesses, e-mailing them transcripts from the trial so that they would not repeat the mistakes of earlier witnesses, a hearing today about that one transgression uncovering five more, including an attempt by that same government attorney to keep a potential defense witness from contacting the defense, and the prosecution‘s failure to inform its own witnesses of the judge‘s order not to follow news coverage of the trial, nevertheless, Judge Brinkema ruling only that all testimony about aviation security will be excluded from the trial.

Whether the president is even aware that the government‘s only 9/11 prosecution might be falling apart, questionable, according to a new article in the conservative magazine “Insight.”

It reports that President Bush is said to focus on only two issues now, Iraq and the upcoming ‘06 elections, delegating everything else to cabinet members and senior aides, a new poll from CBS News today suggesting it may not be wise for Mr. Bush to have put all of his eggs into one Iraq basket, the American public increasingly convinced the war effort there is going badly, with little hope of improvement, despite the president‘s many speeches about Iraq trying to sway public opinion, 71 percent of those surveyed saying that a civil war is currently underway in Iraq, another 13 percent believing that civil war is likely to break out there soon, a clear majority believing the U.S. will remain in Iraq for at least two more years, 27 percent of those saying the war will last another five years or more.

Time now to call in our old friend John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal,” also the new chief Washington correspondent for our sister network, CNBC.

Congratulations and good evening, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Thanks, Keith, it‘s good to be a part of the family.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the president.  When did “Insight” magazine turn into a Bush-bashing outfit?  And more importantly, what are the political implications of that story?

HARWOOD:  Well, really, Keith, it‘s only logical.  Think about this president, who, throughout his career, has been renowned for focusing on a small number of issues, staying on message.  And now he‘s really left with one issue that‘s going to determine the success of this presidency.

Conservatives like to say George Bush has been a president who made a difference.  How did he make a difference?  Most of all, it‘s clearly Iraq, and that is an initiative, given some of those poll numbers you mentioned earlier, that‘s in peril of being reversed in the short term and making him look bad over the long term.

So he‘s got to try to keep that on track.  And part of keeping that on track is keeping his Republican Party in control in the House and Senate after November.

OLBERMANN:  And if that report is correct, it‘s not exactly a great sea change in Mr. Bush‘s conduct.  I mean, hasn‘t he been all elections, all Iraq, all terror, since at least the Social Security reform plan went belly up?

HARWOOD:  No doubt about it.  Keith, think back to the president‘s State of the Union address just a few weeks ago.  Where was the passion?  Was it about the energy proposal to draw energy from switchgrass?  I don‘t think so.  It was about trying to take the fight to the terrorists.

And for George Bush, really, the antiterror war and the Iraq war are conflated into one issue.  There‘s is certainly an argument that they don‘t have much to do with one another, certainly when we launched the war.

But that‘s how the president sees it, and he‘s got to prosecute that as effectively as he can.

OLBERMANN:  And as, I guess what you‘re implying there, focusing in on the one key term in this story, Iraq and elections, and nothing else, but the terror and the evildoers still get folded in under whichever he feels like of those two chapter headings, right?  If not, if it‘s not under Iraq, then it goes under the politics of reelect us or somebody will kill you.

HARWOOD:  Well, exactly.  And the security theme has been the hole card throughout his presidency.  But I just, Keith, left a dinner with Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party.

He‘s got a new poll that is telling him the Democrats cannot just

neutralize the security issue but win some points on it, because they think

this was taken, by the way, before the Dubai ports controversy—but that the doubts about Iraq and doubts about whether or not this administration has made Americans safer is giving Democrats more confidence to try to raise that issue against Bush and against Republican candidates.

OLBERMANN:  It may be the dumbest question ever asked, John, but if the president‘s all about the elections now, or half all about the elections now, is it simply so his side wins, or is there an element here that‘s more personal?  Could he actually be fearing that a Democratic Senate and Congress would really move to impeach him?

HARWOOD:  I think there‘s a small element within the Democratic Party, and certainly the activist base to the party, that might be interested in pursuing that.  But most Democrats know that‘s a blind alley.  Even if they take control, they don‘t want to go there.  They saw what happened when the Republican majority in 1998 went down that road against Bill Clinton.  It backfired.

So I really think, for the president, it‘s about having a—even a thin majority in the House and Senate that can sustain funding, can sustain troop levels, and not have Congress get in and really try to reverse the president‘s policy.  Republicans are distancing themselves and putting pressure on the White House, but they‘ve not bolted on Iraq, and he can‘t afford for them to.

OLBERMANN:  Let me finish with you where we began the newscast, the political aspects of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the sentencing trial.  We‘ve now got coaching of witnesses by a TSA lawyer.  Politically, could we, as a country, have looked more foolish during this trial, or is this about as Laurel and Hardy as it can get?

HARWOOD:  This goes, Keith, to the other point the Democrats are starting to raise in the wake of the Dubai ports deal, the Katrina disaster, the Harriet Miers thing.  Are these guys competent?  Let alone whether they‘re wrongheaded ideologically, but do they know what they‘re doing?  They think they‘ve got some mileage here.

And if this mistake by the prosecutor turns out to cost a death sentence in this case, that‘s going to be a big embarrassment to the White House.

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal” and now, coming to a CNBC near you.  As always, sir, great thanks.

HARWOOD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned, the identity of the mysterious source who gave Watergate‘s Bob Woodward a tipoff about the CIA agent at the center of the present-day leak scandal in the CIA might possibly have been revealed by his former editor, Ben Bradlee, the man who managed to keep the secret of Woodward‘s source Deep Throat for more than 30 years.

Just to complicate the story, Mr. Bradley says he revealed no such thing, “Vanity Fair” magazine reporting in its new issue that Mr. Bradlee, former executive editor of “The Washington Post,” says it is reasonable to think that Colin Powell‘s former deputy, Richard Armitage is the guy, the source, quoting Bradlee in “Vanity Fair” that “Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption.  I have heard about an e-mail that was sent that had a lot of unprintable language in it.”

The only problem, Mr. Bradlee says he does not remember saying that, telling “The Washington Post” in an interview that while he does know the identity of Mr. Woodward‘s source in this story, he does not recall making that precise statement to a “Vanity” reporter, “Vanity Fair” reporter, forgive me.  He has no interest in unmasking this source.

“I don‘t think I said it.  I don‘t know who his source is, and I don‘t want to get into it.  I have not told a soul who it is,” a spokesperson for “Vanity Fair” saying that the reporter who wrote that story, Marie Brenner, is traveling in India and unavailable for comment.

For more on what is literally a he said-she said, and why it might be prove significant in the case, we bring in MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  And good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  Ben Bradlee, the guy who kept Bob Woodward‘s secret of Deep Throat‘s identity, Mr. Felt, for more than 30 years, “Vanity Fair” alleging he gave up the CIA leak source in a matter of months.  Does not Ben Bradlee get the benefit of the doubt on this?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, Ben Bradlee told “The Washington Post” this morning, I don‘t think I said that.  I spoke with “Vanity Fair” tonight.  They said that the reporter, Marie Brenner, has Ben Bradlee on tape.

But listen, it may—this is not a game of gotcha that Ben Bradlee may have outed Bob Woodward‘s source.  Bob Woodward says that Ben Bradlee wasn‘t in the loop on who his source was in the CIA leak investigation.

But perhaps what‘s most interesting is that, again, there is focus on Richard Armitage, who was Colin Powell‘s deputy at the State Department.

Now, there has been a lot of buzzing and guessing in Washington for a long time, who was Bob Woodward‘s source?  Who was Bob Novak‘s source?  And a lot of the speculation has been that it was Dick Armitage, or that it could have been Vice President Dick Cheney.  And we know that Dick Armitage is an old friend of Bob Woodward‘s.  He had been the source for other material that Bob Woodward has written.

So it‘s not a huge surprise, in many ways, in that the headline may have been overplayed.  Look very closely, too, at what Ben Bradlee said.  He said that Armitage may be been the source is a, quote, “fair assumption.”

OLBERMANN:  Norah, why does it matter in terms of the investigation?  Does it indeed matter in terms of the investigation?  Does it matter who Bob Woodward‘s source was on this, and if so, why?

O‘DONNELL:  It could matter, and the reason is, it changes Fitzgerald‘s chronology.  Remember that when Fitzgerald announced the indictment of Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s former chief of staff, he said that Scooter Libby was the first government official to disclose Valerie Plame‘s identity.

Well, now we know that whoever Bob Woodward‘s source was, was the first to disclose it, and that Bob Woodward was the first reporter to learn about that.

Now, Libby‘s attorneys argue this is a bombshell, and that this shows that Fitzgerald‘s case has holes in it.  Other people say it may not be that big of a deal, because a lot of people here in Washington know each other.  A lot of people know a lot of different things.  Some have argued that it shows that it doesn‘t mean there was a White House conspiracy to out Joe Wilson‘s wife, Valerie Plame.

But one lawyer I spoke with today who is familiar with this case says that those two things could exist at once.  The White House could be trying to discredit Joe Wilson, and at the same time, other people may have known about Valerie Plame‘s identity and been speaking with reporters about that.

OLBERMANN:  Backstop me on this.  Is it necessarily true that Woodward‘s source is Robert Novak‘s other source?

O‘DONNELL:  That—Bob Novak has alluded to that in a speech in the last couple of months, that it‘s probably the same source, that the two of them have the same—one of the same—remember, Bob Novak had two sources.  So it could be that they have the same source.  It could be that it‘s Dick Armitage, it could be someone we don‘t know.

I have to tell you, I‘ve been plugging people who say they know who it is, and they won‘t tell me.  They won‘t leak it to me.  So that‘s all I‘ve got for you.

OLBERMANN:  OK, and the whole case has been about leaks and motivations for leaks.  And is there any significance to the fact that the reporter from “Vanity Fair” is close friends with the, the, another key figure in this case, for Judith Miller, formerly of “The New York Times”?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, the reporter for “Vanity Fair” was friends with Judy Miller.  She gave, threw her a party before she went to jail.  But this was a piece in “Vanity Fair” about how this has had a chilling effect on reporters.  And she disclosed it in the article.  So I think that that‘s probably fair.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.  Back to the phones, get somebody to tell you.

O‘DONNELL:  I will call you immediately, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks.  Well, at least so I know.  Thanks very much.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  From the political to the military fallout of the war, a new book reporting that commanders on the ground knew they were dealing with a different kind of enemy in Iraq, insurgents.  But the brass refused to listen to them, and even threatened to fire those who warned of this.

And the chorus accusing Barry Bonds of steroid use growing louder tonight, a second book coming out claiming the slugger shot his mouth off about his plans to shoot up.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was the first war with its own preinvasion catchphrase, “shock and awe,” carefully enough crafted, colorfully enough designed that it even resonated with our former colleague Peter Arnett.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, it probably should have been shock and—aw, crap.  New reporting tonight that the highest levels of the U.S.  military considered the possibility that Iraq would put up only a nominal defense against the actual invasion, that the real trouble would come later from insurgents, but that it dismissed it, and nearly dismissed the general who warned most loudly about it.

Details from our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The White House and Pentagon promised shock and awe, but a new book, “Cobra II,” describes a U.S. military command that was itself shocked by Saddam‘s paramilitary, the Fedayeen, nonuniformed militias in pickup trucks with AK-47s, the roots of today‘s insurgency.

MICHAEL GORDON, CO-AUTHOR, “COBRA II”:  They thought that if you take Baghdad, the war is over.  In reality, you‘re just entering a new phase of the war.

MITCHELL:  Author Michael Gordon portrays a Pentagon constantly second-guessing its own field commanders.

(on camera):  So they didn‘t listen to their generals in the field.

GORDON:  I think they didn‘t learn the lessons of the early battles. 

And I think we‘re paying a price for that today.

MITCHELL (voice-over):  From hundreds of interviews and classified documents, the book lists critical warnings that were dismissed.  For instance, the Pentagon thought its bloodiest battles would be with Saddam‘s Republican Guard.  Instead, it melted away.  But a Marine intelligence officer warned that the Fedayeen hit-and-run tactics would persist.

Co-author General Bernard Trainor.

GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, CO-AUTHOR, “COBRA II”:  Tommy Franks, the central commander, considered they run a speed bump on the way to Baghdad.

MITCHELL:  And when the Army‘s field commander, General William Wallace, told reporters he wanted to stay and fight the Fedayeen, and that the enemy was, quote, “a bit different than the one we war-gamed against because of these paramilitary forces,” Washington exploded at his remarks and his caution, and Wallace was almost fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There he goes.

MITCHELL:  Later, when Baghdad fell, the authors say Franks was so confident, he asked for a plan to withdraw all but 40,000 troops in six months.

(on camera):  They were wrong.

TRAINOR:  Of course they were wrong.  They were wrong right from the start.  The Republican Guard didn‘t play a major role in the war itself.

MITCHELL:  The Pentagon refused to comment, and the White House insisted that the war was run from the field, not from Washington or Central Command.

(voice-over):  But the authors say that‘s exactly what happened, and why America is still at war three years later.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, just what are the young ladies of Lithuania using for shampoo?  A Rapunzel.  Enough with letting the hair down, OK?

And oh, no, children, Chef is abandoning “South Park,” and apparently Scientology is to blame.  Goodbye, Chef.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The historical record of stuff that happened on this date is an endless treasure trove of contradictions and impish juxtapositions.  It‘s the birthday of Howard Stern‘s producer, Gary Delavate (ph), the famed Bobabooie (ph).  He‘s 74.  It‘s also the day in 1941 in which Xavier Cugat and his orchestra recorded Desi Arnaz‘s future hit, “Bobaloo (ph).”

On that loud, pulsing note of coincidence, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Kedanaiai (ph), Lithuania, where we meet Ms. Emilia Lepaskate (ph), shown here brushing her award-winning four foot, two inch golden locks.  She‘s the big winner of the fifth annual Miss Longest Hair Pageant.  We do mean big.  Not only was hers longest, it was the most beautiful, plus, she pulled the locomotive the furthest with it.

Organizers say the contest is a chance to celebrate the traditional hairstyle in a time when more women are going with shorter dos because they‘re more practical than, say, that, not to mention safer around airplane propellers.

Most of the runners-up had hair more than a foot shorter than the winner.  Many left disappointed.  They all took some solace in the fact that each of them from behind still looks like Cousin It from the Addams family.

To Nagoa (ph) now, for another episode of those amazing Japanese robots.  This is Reemon (ph), designed to work in hospitals and nursing homes picking up the patients and moving them around.  It‘s the latest technological marvel from the worldwide leader in automatons, and yet another slap in the face to the American robot industry, which has thus far brought us Rumba.

The more impressive Reemon will lift Grandma through the use of 320 sensors in his arms and his chest.  He‘s still in development, so at this point, he can only lift about 30 pounds.  He also refuses to clean bedpans.

Also tonight, the Barry Bonds book-of-the-month club.  Well, book-of-the-week club.  Another steroid finger pointer.  This one says he told another star he was going to start doing it.

And Howard Stern blasts the boss of CBS on CBS.  Do you smell something suspiciously public relations-ish here?

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, two burglars in Toronto, Barat Nakopan Arumagan (ph) and Akilayn Subramanayam (ph).  They are accused of breaking into pay phones, disabling the alarm system, and making off with the quarters, dimes, and nickels, $21,400 worth.  My goodness, that‘s more than 85,000 quarters, which is what they‘ll have to pay me to try to say their names again on TV.

Number two, Thomas Burns of Newcastle, P.A.  He‘s made a federal case out of it, out of a traffic ticket, tied up in a jam caused by road repairs.  He flipped the bird at a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation worker, and the police sent him a ticket.  The case was dropped, but Burns is suing anyway for malicious prosecution.

Number one, an unnamed 30-year-old woman from Dumaira (ph) in Dubai.  She and an unnamed British man will each serve a month in jail and then be deported for having had sex in a car parked outside her father‘s house.  Just when you thought had you‘d heard everything about Dubai ports.

Police say the woman‘s father discovered the couple when the car horn suddenly sounded in the middle of the night.  Turned out she had actually accidentally bumped into it during the festivities.  Talk about blowing your own horn.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If there are any more books written about Barry Bonds using steroids Oprah Winfrey will have to recommend one of them and for us to get any more detail about why the San Francisco Giant slugger supposedly turned to enhancing drugs after 13 seasons of cleanliness there would have to be tapes of the conversation.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, for the second time in as many weeks a new book not only accuses Bonds of setting his records while juiced it virtually pinpoints the day he made up his mind, reportedly.  This one says when Bonds decided he told a fellow superstar and long-time friend about it, Ken Griffey of the Cincinnati Reds.

Titled “Love Me, Hate Me, Barry Bonds and the making of an Antihero,” the latest literary bullet has been fired by the man antigay anti-New York comments of former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker.  The reporter is former “Sports Illustrated” staffer Jeff Pearlman.  “ESPN: The Magazine” excerpting Pearlman‘s book in the issue hitting newsstands this week, echoes of the motive revealed by two “San Francisco Chronicle” reporters in their new book, “Game of Shadows” that Bonds was fed up by the attention of Mark McGwire when he broke the single season record in 1998 and in the following off-season, at the Florida home long-time friend and protege, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Reds, he revealed his plans to Griffey and three other men to begin a regimen of quote, “hard core performance enhancing drugs.”

Author Pearlman insists Griffey was not his source but he quotes Bonds as saying to Griffey the other, quote, “I had a helluva season last year and nobody gave a crap.  Nobody.  As much as I complained about McGwire and Canseco and all the bull with steroids, I‘m tired of fighting it.  I turn 35 this year.  I‘ve got three or four good seasons left and I want to get paid.  I‘m just gonna start using some hard-core stuff and hopefully it won‘t my hurt my body.  Then I‘ll get out of the game and be done with it.”

We know this much for certain, your chance of getting hit by a book about Barry Bonds using steroids, falling off a store shelf as just decreased to about 6 to 5.  Joining us now for the latest twist on Bonds, staff writer for the “Washington Post” himself author of “Juicing the Game,” Howard Bryant.  Thanks again for your time, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Hey, Keith how is it going?

OLBERMANN:  Not badly except I can‘t catch up on my reading here.  Apart from the fact that if Mr. Bonds wants to himself write about what he did or didn‘t use in the way of steroids he damn well better hurry up about it.  What‘s the impact of the second book?  Does it kind of verify the first one?

BRYANT:  You know, it‘s really funny for me I have actually come around on this and I‘m starting to wonder if this is actually the witch hunt that Barry Bonds and everybody seems to think it is.  I actually think there is nothing wrong with going after Bonds on this because he was one of the guys.  He waved his finger at everybody and essentially said find the proof or leave me alone.

But, I don‘t think singling out Bonds on this is actually the story.  I still think there is no possible way that you can look at Bonds without looking at the entire decade.  And one of the things that juicing the game did that I wanted to talk about wasn‘t the individuals as much as the culture that created it.

OLBERMANN:  But don‘t you think that unofficially, anyway, the other main villains of that culture that you described and described in the book have already to some degree been gotten.  I mean, Mark McGwire cut his own throat at that congressional hearing a year ago this Friday.  He may not be in baseball‘s Hall of Fame based simply on his I don‘t remember ever playing baseball comments.  Sammy Sosa was squeezed out, in essence.  Raphael Palmeiro crashed and burned.  He‘s gone.

Weren‘t these guys in some very real way punished if not officially brought out before a mob of some sort?  At least they were handled in some way?

BRYANT:  I think.  And I think Bonds is next.  And I think that‘s one of the reasons why bonds is such a flash point is because it‘s tough to tell whether or not Bonds is getting all of this attention because he is the guy who is so close to breaking these records or if it‘s because people think he is such a bad individual to cover and also just to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

But, certainly there is something about Bonds—and I think that the Mark Fennerwad (ph), Lance Williams book is—I thought that that book is really going to push things forward because it‘s got the actual details of what Bonds said he did not do.  I think there is value in that.

What I wonder about in terms of the value of this story going forward is is there something more to be said about Bonds, the individual?  I actually am very concerned about this whole notion of taking down the individual but leaving the culture in place.  I don‘t understand how you can focus on the individual but not the mechanism.

OLBERMANN:  In the Fennerwad and Williams book from last week, the excerpts anyway that we have seen, they were damning to Bonds obviously.  In these quotes to Griffey, do you sense that some people might feel a little bit more sympathetic to Bonds.  You mention the prospect of a witch-hunt.  I don‘t want to make him to be a victim on this issue that sense his place in history, that his legitimate accomplishments to 1998 were being erased or being obscured by cheaters and nobody was stopping the cheaters, that‘s palpable by now, isn‘t it.

BRYANT:  It‘s palpable but it doesn‘t explain or it doesn‘t condone the fact that he says ok everybody else is cheating and that‘s why I‘m going to do it.  I think that‘s one of the problems in this decade in the first place.  And I also think that one thing when you really look at this decade and when you look at Bonds, listen, everybody knows that that was a flash point.

And, believe me, I have heard that story and I didn‘t put it in my book because I really couldn‘t verify it the way that I guess Jeff has.  And, so, it‘s not just McGwire.  It was McGwire, it was Sosa and everybody knows when you start thinking about who received the credit for baseball coming back, you think McGwire, you think Sosa and Barry Bonds was better than both of them.  And what‘s really, interesting, Keith, when you start thinking about the revision now, notice that people are talking about Ken Griffey as the truly great player that he is when truly during the decade people didn‘t mention Griffey at all.

OLBERMANN:  Joe Rogers (ph) of the “Chicago Tribune” reported last week that Bonds and the baseball commissioner Bud Selig met on the subject of steroids two years ago and Selig offered him this way out, fess up and I will go easier, if not easy on you if you don‘t and we catch you later I will come down on you like a ton of bricks.  Phil was on this show last week, and I‘ve heard this again twice in the last week from baseball circles that Bud Selig could very well suspend Barry Bonds before the baseball season starts next month.  Have you heard that?  Do you think it‘s going to happen.  Do you think there are two books out here about Bonds and steroids would influence Selig on this?

BRYANT:  I have heard it but I have a hard time believing you can really suspend a player.  How do you single out Barry Bonds based on two books?  I think that, once again, this comes down to the commissioner having the stamina and the will and the courage and all those different things to investigate the decade, to go back and see who did what, to find out the extent of it all.  I mean, don‘t you have to investigate yourself if you are going to suspend someone?  I mean can you really suspend somebody based on two books?  That doesn‘t sound like the Players‘ Association would go for that.  And it also doesn‘t sound like it‘s very just.  How do you single out Bonds without looking at the entire picture?  I don‘t see how that‘s possible.

OLBERMANN:  But Howard he has got four major league baseball executive vice presidents doing the investigation.  What more fairness could you want?

BRYANT:  The fairness is to go after those teams that knew about it for the last 13 years, too.

OLBERMANN:  And a point that Bonds and many players made and Jose Canseco made last week.

BRYANT:  Absolutely right.

OLBERMANN:  We‘re in agreement.

Howard Bryant at the “Washington Post.”  Great thanks for your time tonight.

BRYANT:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And if the whole Bonds things get any weirder still it just has.  From the through the looking glass world of sports memorabilia, a current auction is featuring a vintage 1987 Barry Bonds “Say No To Drugs” autographed model sweatband, an echo simpler time we were worried about was if the players were stoned, doing coke, hopped up on goofballs and bennies.

Bidding for the ironic item was $174 at last check.  This much is clear.  After his body building in the last seven years, the thing will no longer fit around Barry‘s wrist.

There was not enough science in sports and in chemistry we can now add in computers with the new discipline of bracketology, the scientific means of gambling on the upcoming basketball tournament and the grand old man of “60 Minutes” calling it quits.  Do you know how old he is?  He is 206.  Those stories ahead but now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three soundbites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s hockey season and in Las Vegas that means the Wranglers.  And fans know home games usually mean more than just great hockey action they also mean giveaways.  The Wranglers have hosted everything from Elvis Glasses Night to Mullet Wig night.  Now comes Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.  “Don‘t Shoot!  I‘m human.”

JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST:  Do you like show business gossip?  Did hear about this?  Harrison Ford has reportedly proposed to Callista Flockhart with a huge two carats ring.  That doesn‘t sound like much, two carats, but you‘ve got to remember, she only weighs three carats.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Jason do you mind if I call you J Mac?  I call him J Mac.

You probably didn‘t realize the impact you were going to have on people all across America and around the world when you made those six threes in a row.  I kind have gotten off the courts these days because I‘m getting old but if I got back on the courts I need a lesson on how to rotate that ball.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Brown University, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah State, Villanova and Wake Forest, the original participants in the first ever NCAA basketball tournament.  Eight schools a couple of whom today could not get in to what we once know as March Madness without tickets.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN.  It‘s all changed since 1939 an estimated $4 billion of productivity will be lost in the American workplace over the next two weeks that‘s about $0.50 for every story that will be reported about the event and here is something you didn‘t know.  People gamble on it.

As our correspondent Mark Mullen reports we are a long way from jump balls at center court and Brown getting to the final eight.  The bracketologists are now using computers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s called March Madness.  Sixty-five college basketball teams with a ticket to the big dance.  A slot in the NCAA Tournament.  On Thursday the games begin in earnest but the real March Madness has already begun.

DAVID CUSSON, MARCH MADNESS FAN:  You have got the brackets and everybody fills one out water cooler material so phenomenal.

MULLEN:  At sports bars and offices there is a fierce competition to pick the right winners in the tournament‘s so-called brackets.  It‘s spawned a science called bracketology.

JOE LUNARDI, ESPN.COM BRACKETOLOGIST:  We want to know who is getting in, who is getting out.  Who has the biggest gripe and who is going to win it all.

MULLEN:  Some teams are known power houses, others long shots creating the tantalizing tournament atmosphere full of upsets.  Everyone has a chance on and off the court from small schools to the person who picks their brackets by the color of the uniforms.

LUNARDI:  I was in a poll one year and lost to a cocker spaniel who picked all the teams with dog nicknames.

MULLEN (on camera):  Many sports fans looking to win office polls for bragging rights returning to high tech methods to get an vantage and it‘s becoming clear the bracket is now a racket.

(voice-over):  There are Web sites that for a fee will help organize office pools and help you pick the right brackets.  Hard core fans use them to crunch statistics for weeks in advance doing more math on March Madness than on their tax returns.

LUNARDI:  The level of it in it I will be honest with you has far exceeded even my wildest expectations.

MULLEN:  For purist there is one saving grace, whatever science, method or computer which claims to successfully predict the bracket, the winner of the tournament will ultimately be decided by a bunch of college kids throwing a ball through a hoop.  Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From bracketology to Scientology, that‘s the segue tonight into our nightly round up of entertainment and celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs” and there will be no more quote “salty balls” unquote.  Singer and staunch Scientologist Isaac Hayes has quit “South Park.”  He provided the deep voice for the lusty chef on the cartoon series.  Hayes says he quit because “South Park” has gone too far in ridiculing religion and he says there is a place for satire and but there is also a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry ends.

But series creator Matt Stone calls it a sudden case of sensitivity.  Stone says Hayes never had a problem with the show lampooning Christians, Jews, Mormons or Muslims over the last 10 seasons but when Scientology was the focus last fall Hayes found that intolerant.

No decision has been made as to the future of Chef.  O my god they killed Chefy.

Mike Wallace is quitting not “South Park” but “60 Minutes.”  The 87-year-old reporter says he is retiring at the end of this TV season.  Wallace has been with “60 Minutes” since the very beginning in 1968.  He first joined CBS in 1955.  He started in radio during the second term of President Roosevelt.  Franklin, not Teddy.  Even though a year ago he said he would retire only when, quote, “my toes turn up,” Wallace said today retirement is all his idea.  That he is not getting pushed out, that he still will maintain an office that CBS headquarters just in case he is needed for anything.

And if you have not gotten enough of me by now just watching COUNTDOWN tonight you can get more of me on Comedy Central.  Instead of asking the questions I will be answering them again, this time on the “Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert.  Guess what?  Bill O‘Reilly came up for some reason.

That will be on Comedy Central at 11:30 this evening Eastern Time.

Tomorrow the “Al Franken Show” on radio at 12:30 Eastern and on Thursday I‘ll be at the Chuckle Hut in Minot, North Dakota.

In media news that doesn‘t have anything to do with me Howard Stern vs. Les Moonves one more time only this time it‘s on Mr. Moonves‘s own network that‘s ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze tonight: Bill Shalo (ph), county coordinator of Douglas County, Minnesota.  He has apologized for this for telling the local newspaper the “Springfield Echo Press” that henceforth all its stories about the county had to be submitted to him for fact checking and approval by the county or no county official would ever speak to the paper again.

Somewhere some exec at Fox News is snapping his fingers and saying shuck.  The runner up the tell evangelist Pat Robertson again telling by now benumbed TV audience that quote, “The goal of Islam, ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not, is world domination.”  He later clarified this by saying he only meant radical Islamist extremist.  Details, schmetails, right, Pat?

Tonight‘s winners Northwest Airlines.  This was inevitable, probably.  The airline saying on many of the flights if you do not want to get stuck in the middle seat, that seven-inch wide thing designed for really small third graders, it will cost you an extra 15 bucks.  That‘s right.  You want an aisle seat you pay the blackmail, $15 please.  Fifteen dollars.

Coming soon it will cost you an extra three bucks per flight if you want to sit down.  Northwest Airlines, today‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Feuds are fun.  Sometimes, though, feuds are also fabricated.  Is that what we‘re seeing here?

Fifteen days ago Howard Stern sued by CBS for a reported $218 million, one day ago Howard Stern trashes CBS and is chairman Les Moonves on the “Late Show” on CBS.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, wait a minute.  Stern did talk about the atrocity, the abomination, the sacrilege having allowed CBS to do a remake of the classic movie “Network” with the CBS chief executive Mr. Moonves playing the role of Arthur Jensen, the network head played in the movie by Oscar nominee Ned Beatty.

The rest of his wall to wall guest spot, a harangue against Mr.

Moonves, called him that third rate love boat anchor - or actor, rather.  Howard‘s appearance was before CBS filed that lawsuit against him, but presumably it could have been cancelled.  In a statement, CBS admitted as much.  Quote, “We did not stand in the way of Howard appearing on our airwaves.  We believe his appearance was a desperate attempt to distract attention from the facts of the case.  However CBS might characterize Mr.  Stern‘s appearance, what it got was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD STERN, RADIO HOST:  I call this the, “I hate Les Moonves tour.”

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST:  I‘ll just regarding Mr. Moonves and myself currently, we have never done been happier.

STERN:  What he has got in mind for you—He could sue you after he leaves like he is doing to me.

Leslie Moonves has taken the stockholder‘s money, your money if you‘re a stockholder and filed a frivolous lawsuit.  The lawsuit is an attempt to cover up what‘s going on in the radio division.

And he‘s doing something good, though, for the network.  They ate going to do a remake of the movie, “Network” and Leslie is putting himself in the movie.  That should bring everybody way up in spirits.

And what he has done he fired Dan Rather and booted him to the curb.  He fired the head of “60 Minutes.”  This is what he has done.  He has taken $57 million for himself, Dave, and I got news for you.  This guy is not going to shut up and I am certainly not going to be bullied by him and I‘m happy to be on your show.  Maybe for the last time, I don‘t know.  But you know what?  I am more than happy to point out what this guy is doing with the company.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I am joined now by the editor of “Talkers Magazine,” Michael Harrison.  Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

MICHAEL HARRISON, “TALKERS MAGAZINE”:  It‘s a pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m missing something here.  CBS sues Stern.  Stern blames Moonves.  Letterman put Stern on CBS, Stern blasts Moonves.  Moonves didn‘t prevent it.  Was that a slip up or is Mr. Moonves publicity out of this which the rest of us cannot perceive?

HARRISON:  Maybe he is getting publicity, but perhaps he is not the kind he was hoping for.  It‘s show business and you have to admit it‘s pretty wild stuff.  CBS wins either way and they got great programming.  Stern, they continue to exploit him, they get ratings for the Letterman show.

Moonves, I don‘t know what his psychology is, but Stern clearly is coming out of this the winner, at least in the court of public opinion.

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s where I wonder if there is a real feud here, and believe me I know my own feuds or if there is really just good P.R. for both sides.  Listen to this clip from right before Stern and Letterman were about to discuss the actual lawsuit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STERN:  Can I just say something, though?

LETTERMAN:  Sure.

STERN:  I don‘t want to make a joke about it because to me ...

LETTERMAN:  That are explains the t-shirt then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A t-shirt that shows Les Moonves and his wife, the CBS News anchor.  Stern says, look, the attention on me died down before the lawsuit and now I‘m back in the spotlight.  We may not be able to find what you pointed out.  CBS wins because they get programming out of it and they are still suing him.  Does Stern lose in all of this in any way unless he actually loses the lawsuit?

HARRISON:  Unless he loses the lawsuit which I don‘t think he will based on a strict legal study of it, I don‘t think he is going to lose.  Stern wins.  Stern is getting publicity.  Stern thrives this type of thing. 

It keeps him in the news and he is always there.

CBS, on the other hand, and Moonves on the other hand, are a corporation, and corporate executives.  They have a different role and it‘s two different species media entity competing with each other.  Stern has nothing to lose except the lawsuit which is doubtful that he is going to lose.  CBS has everything to lose.

OLBERMANN:  I have to note though.  One thing I did not get was the shot at Moonves for wanting to play Arthur Jensen in a remake of “Network.”

Arthur Jensen it‘s the personification of TV evil in that movie.  The guy who yells at the Peter Finch character, “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and you will atone.”

For a TV executive to want to play that role, that‘s admirable self satire, isn‘t it?

HARRISON:  Maybe Moonves is emerging as the new personality of modern times and maybe he will wind up being the next Howard Stern.

OLBERMANN:  Lost in all of this, give me your impression of the guy who sort of sneaks through all the time.  David Letterman has had 93 controversies in his career.  He has had fights with NBC, with Madonna, with Oprah, with Drew Barrymore flashing him and now in the middle of this.  And he‘s always the innocent bystander.  He is always the passerby who gets interviewed and says, I don‘t know.  We had to have known this was going to happen.  He is a genius at this, is he not?

HARRISON:  Letterman and Stern working together.  This is the height of reality radio television.  The fine line between entertainment and news.  There is no line anymore between entertainment and news.  No, you are absolutely right, Keith.  Letterman is a genius.

OLBERMANN:  And Stern getting this to keep the hype going about his transfer to satellite radio?

HARRISON:  Absolutely.  Stern‘s big role right now is the poster boy, the Milton Berle of satellite radio and she keeping that going.  This couldn‘t be better for him.  Stern—History is going to look back on Stern and people will be awe struck by his creativeness and ability to just be out there no matter what it is.

OLBERMANN:  Michael Harrison, the editor of “Talkers Magazine.”  Great thanks for talking with us tonight.

HARRISON:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1048th day since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.  Our MSNBC coverage continuing now with RITA COSBY, LIVE & DIRECT.  Good evening, Rita.

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

END   

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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