updated 3/23/2006 10:56:01 AM ET 2006-03-23T15:56:01

Guests: Richard Wolffe; Helen Thomas; David Brock; Paul Lepiane

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

The latest battle in Iraq is actually in Wheeling, West Virginia.  The president is not in a flight suit, but he could have been, for Operation Attack the Media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It seems our major media networks don‘t want to portray the good.  They just want to focus—

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   I know you‘re frustrated with what you‘re seeing, but there are ways in this new kind of age enable to, being able to communicate that you‘ll be able to, you know, spread the message that you want to spread.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The latest from the Battle at the “TODAY” show, and the assault at the White House press room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Helen after that brilliant performance at the Gridiron, I am—

HELEN THOMAS:  You‘re going to be sorry.

BUSH:  Well, then, let me take it back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Helen Thomas joins us.

Another O‘Reilly threat, this one to a newspaper, “The Dayton Daily News,” apologize for referencing the Andrea Mackris scandal, or he, quote, “would resort to their bully pulpit.”

From lost souls to lost bags, a quarter of a million suitcases we will hand over to the airlines and never see again, until they wind up here at the Island of Lost Luggage.  But maybe there is hope.  There has been a Vivie sighting.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Our colleague Craig Crawford points to the day in 1988 when the first George Bush sandbagged Dan Rather during a live interview on CBS as the moment, the moment of the process of blaming the messenger became a central ingredient in American politics.  The actual origin of attacking the media certainly goes back to the “nattering nabobs of negativism” speech of future felon Spiro Agnew in 1969, probably to the Alien and Sedition Laws under President John Adams, maybe even to the case of the Colony of New York versus John Peter Zenger in 1734.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, whenever it started, it sure as heck ain‘t finished.  And how well or how poorly the war in Iraq might be going, the one here on our soil, the government versus the news, has just escalated anew, and it is approaching the carpet-bombing stage.

Exhibit A, Wheeling, West Virginia, where Joe McCarthy started his string of the most memorable speeches.  Today‘s stop on the George W. Bush I Am Nothing If Not Deeply Misunderstood Express.  Say goodbye to that brief experiment of letting just anybody ask questions unscreened.  This was almost an entirely military audience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It seems our major media networks don‘t want to portray the good, they just want to focus—

BUSH:  Just got to keep talking, and one of the (INAUDIBLE)-- there‘s word of mouth, there‘s blogs, there‘s in Internet, there‘s all kinds of ways to communicate which is literally changing the way people are getting their information.

And so if you‘re concerned, I would suggest that you reach out to some of the groups that are supporting the troops, that have got Internet sites, and just keep the word, keep the word moving.  It‘s—and—that‘s one way to deal with an issue without suppressing a free press.  We will never do that in America.  I mean, if the minute we start trying to suppress our press, we look like the Taliban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A kinder, gentler version of what we heard yesterday from Mr. Bush, suggesting that the media is getting played by the insurgency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  In spite of the bad news on television—and there is bad news.  You brought it up.  You said, How do I react to a bombing that took place yesterday?  That‘s precisely  what the enemy understands is possible to us do.  And I‘m not suggesting you shouldn‘t talk about it.  I, I, I‘m certainly not being—you know, please don‘t take that as criticism.  But it also is a realistic assessment of the enemy‘s capability to affect the debate.  And they know that.  They‘re capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Members of the media‘s own right flank also getting in on the act.  Case in point, conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham claiming on the “TODAY” show that the few reporters still willing to go to Iraq are not man or woman enough to leave their hotel rooms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY,” NBC)

LAURA INGRAHAM, TALK SHOW HOST:  The “TODAY” show spends all this money to send people to the Olympics, which is great, it was great programming.  All this money for “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?”  Bring the “TODAY” show to Iraq.  Bring the “TODAY” show to Tal Afar.  Do the show from the 4th ID at Camp Victory.

And then, when you talk to those soldiers on the ground, when you go out with the Iraqi military, when you talk to the villagers when you see the children, then I want NBC to report on only the IEDs, only the killings, only the reprisals.

To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military, to go out with the Iraqi military, to actually have a conversation with the people, instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hours later, Ms. Ingraham, sharing her thoughts with Ted Baxter himself, by which time some sane person had reminded her of the death of our own David Bloom at the war‘s outset.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST:  Is it your opinion that NBC News spins the war negative?

INGRAHAM:  I think that the coverage of the war by NBC that I‘ve really focused on, especially since I was in Iraq last month, to me, it seems bizarrely focused only on the IEDs, only on the latest reprisal killings that are taking place.

O‘REILLY:  Do you think NBC News is actively trying to undermine the war in Iraq?

INGRAHAM:  You know, I‘m going to keep watching it.  You know, I know there are brave people.  David Bloom was over there covering the war when he died, practically.

O‘REILLY:  So you don‘t know whether they are or not.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know.  I think the media obviously has an element underneath this that really despises Bush, and it‘s blinding them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, ask American voters, at least ask more than just the prescreened, and a very different picture emerges.

In the latest poll from CBS News, only 23 percent of those surveyed actually believe that the president is describing the situation in Iraq accurately.  Sixty-66 percent say he‘s painting things better than they actually are.  Six 6 percent say he‘s painting them worse.  Compared to the 59 percent who think the media is reporting things either accurately or better than events warrant.  Only 31 percent of the opinion that the media is making things sound worse in Iraq.

Perhaps the very same 31 percent in the same poll who approve of how the president is handling the situation there.

There is also the reality check provided by the journalists currently reporting from Iraq.  Our correspondent Richard Engel, speaking not only for his colleagues but for all members of the media who do, yes, do, leave their hotel rooms every single day in putting together this behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to get the story and still get out alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Every day in Baghdad, reporters suit up.  Flak jackets are part of the uniform here.  Just this week, a bomb killed Iraqi police in front of our bureau.  We went to report from the scene.  But before heading out, I practiced what we would be doing with our crew.

(On camera):  The roadside bomb is hidden in this drainage ditch, so maybe you‘d be low down by it.

(Voice-over):  So we would be faster, and limit our exposure on the street.

(On camera):  The roadside bomb was hidden in this manhole.  Iraqis see every day these kinds of attacks and assassinations.

(voice-over):  For the U.S. military‘s perspective on the war, we join embeds, becoming part of a unit for a day, a week, or more.  Often, it‘s quiet, until—

(on camera):  There is still a lot of fire coming at us, some of it‘s exploding—

(Voice-over):  But more is going on here than bullets and IEDs.  Just this week, NBC News interviewed Iraqi officials, visited hospitals, playgrounds, and Iraqi homes.  But reporting on everyday life is increasingly dangerous.  That‘s because life here is getting more dangerous.

When my colleague Don Teague tried to do a story about the reopening of a school—

Even daily tasks are a risk.  NBC News acting bureau chief Carl Bostick was heading to pay bills when he almost drove into this.

CARL BOSTICK, NBC NEWS ACTING BUREAU CHIEF:  I thought that this was it.

ENGEL:  Another major threat is kidnapping.  Nearly 40 reporters have been taken hostage so far.  Three, including American Jill Carroll, are still being held.

So foreign reporters often have to rely on the phones and our network of Iraqi reporters to go where we cannot.

But even staying in our office can be dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need a doctor.

ENGEL:  And, like several media organizations, the NBC News bureau has been bombed twice.

(On camera):  Increasingly, it seems that the challenge is not to find stories—there are plenty of stories here in Iraq—but to find ways to report them, and live to tell about it.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s analyze the restarted war against the media on this with Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” magazine.

But before we do, a note about Laura Ingraham‘s comments.  I‘ve known her a long time.  I‘ll in fact give you the caveat that I‘ve known her socially.

But that hotel balcony crack was unforgivable.  It was unforgivable to the memory of David Bloom, it was unforgivable in consideration of Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, it was unforgivable in the light of what happened to Michael Kelly and what happened to Michael Weiskopf.  It was unforgivable with Jill Carroll still a hostage in Iraq.

And it‘s not only unforgivable of her, it was desperate, and it was stupid.

As promised, a calmer voice, no doubt, in the person of “Newsweek” magazine‘s White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s one thing to question if the media‘s being representative in its reporting from Iraq.  But with this, frankly, paranoid tone set by the administration and enacted by people like Laura Ingraham, is that what we‘re left with about Iraq, defending the actions conducted in this nation‘s name with desperation and stupidity?

WOLFFE:  Well, look, you‘ve got to have more darn sight more respect for people like Richard Engel and the dozens and dozens of reporters who risk their lives, literally, every day for the story than you have for people like you and me sitting in a studio, or Laura Ingraham sitting in a radio studio, and commenting on this.

No matter how often they do their flying in and flying out and talking to troops down on the ground there, it‘s much, much harder living in Iraq.  So that‘s the first point.

The second point is, what are people thinking here?  Of course, the media focuses on bad news, on death and violence.  First of all, this is a war which has been hugely expensive in terms of blood and treasure.  And secondly, that‘s the way life is.  It‘s not a bias of the media.  If it was a bias, then why has cable news talked about murders?  Why don‘t they have whole shows that talk about childbirth?

You know, it just doesn‘t work like that.  So it‘s incredibly naive, it‘s partisan, and it‘s ironic for people who claim to be rooting out bias to start saying we should be biased in how we report the war.

OLBERMANN:  Amen.

Now to the government battling the media, the signs of that that we saw today.  The old joke is, don‘t get into an argument with the guy who owns the ink factory.  Some of our leaders, Nixon, Agnew, a lot on the far right recently, have won temporary victories in that kind of fight, but long term, they‘re 0 for forever.  Has anybody in the administration looked at that all-time record, said, This is not a good finisher?

WOLFFE:  Well, right now, the goal is to fire up the base.  And actually this is successful in firing up the base.  You can rank it alongside the sort of impeachment talk that people are stoking up as well.  You know, it‘s a common enemy.  And at a time when the Republican Party and conservatives in general are feeling very disillusioned about the war and about their president, you‘ve got to find something to rally around.  Beating up the media is one of those.

OLBERMANN:  Monday the president shocked a lot of people by opening the floor in Cleveland to questions from folks who did not agree with him.  Yesterday the president shocked a lot of people by opening the floor in the White House press room to questions from Helen Thomas, who‘ll be joining us in a few minutes, by the way.

Judging by the event today, military families, lot of chamber of commerce, in West Virginia, I‘m gathering this great experiment is over.  Are we not likely to see more of this watch Mr. Bush take on all comers kind of thing?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think it‘s kind of self-defeating if it is, because actually the president got some very good reviews for taking questions and for being feisty in his response.  When it comes to something when the president makes news for calling on a questioner, that‘s where we are.

I think they‘re going to actually do more of the opening for questions thing.  The problem is that who they hand out the tickets to.  They can‘t predict the questions, but they can skew the audience, of course, by giving out tickets to party supporters, activists, as a kind of reward for being loyal.

OLBERMANN:  Is it fair to say, ultimately, on this, that the fundamental disconnect regarding the White House is this, that even if the media did get entirely Pollyanna and we had live coverage of every supermarket opening in Iraq, that right now, a decisive majority of Americans would still be responding to that by saying, Great, we‘re happy for them, but it‘s not worth more of us dying?

WOLFFE:  Well, up to a point.  You know, I think American public opinion has actually been very consistent on this war.  Right from the outset, the polls said two years, and no more.  That‘s how long we think this should go on for.  They got to the two-year mark, opinion started to slide.  I don‘t think it really matters what we say.  People have the good sense to understand there‘s a huge—this is hugely more costly than it was meant to be.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s Richard Wolffe, providing the voice of reason tonight.  And I think greatly for it, and as usual, thanks for your time, sir.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And perhaps no one has felt the attack-the-messenger strategy more directly than Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, the reporter with a front row for nine presidencies, joins us next.

And the battle over the Scopes monkey trial was joined in Dayton, Tennessee.  The newest battle of Bill O‘Reilly versus Bill O‘Reilly has now been joined in Dayton, Ohio.  Details ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Helen, after that brilliant performance at the Gridiron, I am—

HELEN THOMAS, JOURNALIST:  You‘re going to be sorry.

BUSH:  Well, then, let me take it back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president, calling on Helen Thomas at yesterday‘s news conference for the first time in more than three years.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, was she, in fact, the first pitch in the administration‘s latest blame-the-media campaign?  Ms. Thomas, veteran White House correspondent, now columnist, will join us presently.

By the way, the last time the president called on Ms. Thomas, November 7, 2002, 133 days before the invasion of Iraq.  She asked the president yesterday about his rationale for the increasing likelihood that there would be such an invasion.

As for yesterday‘s question and the president‘s answer, parts of both.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS:  I‘d like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime.  You—every reason given—publicly, at least—has turned out not to be true.  My question is, why did you really want to go to war?

BUSH:  I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you, as a lifelong journalist, is that, you know, I didn‘t want war.  To assume I wanted war is just, is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.

THOMAS:  (INAUDIBLE)--

BUSH:  No, hold on for a second, please.

THOMAS:  (INAUDIBLE)--

BUSH:  Let—excuse me, excuse me.  No president wants war.  Everything you may have heard is that, but it‘s just simply not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As promised, great pleasure to welcome the dean of the White House press corps, Hearst columnist, but, just like me, originally, with the once-great United Press International, author of the forthcoming book “Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public,” Helen Thomas.

Thanks for your time tonight.

THOMAS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Did the president answer your question yesterday?

THOMAS:  No.  And I think that the country, the world should have an answer to that.

OLBERMANN:  He went off on a tangent about the adjective, or rather the verb “want,” as if you meant want as in --  He‘s very good at that, is he not?

THOMAS:  Well, he also talked about Afghanistan mostly.  He didn‘t want to talk about Iraq, because it‘s a very simple question.  Why are we in Iraq?  And I don‘t think he can answer that validly.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s sort of the second half of the question that you asked on—in 2002, the last one that you got in there.  Let me—permit me the odd experience of quoting you to you.  The question was, “Mr. President, what is the logic on your insistence on invading Iraq at some point, which may someday have nuclear weapons, and not laying a glove on North Korea, which may have them or may produce them, both of which, of course, would be against international law?”

Yes, Helen, is that why it took him so long to call on you again?

THOMAS:  Well, I don‘t know.  I mean, I think I‘m persona non grata with him at times.  But it was nice that he called on me yesterday.  I enjoyed it.

OLBERMANN:  A lot of people tried to analyze why he did that, why he called on you finally yesterday.  And I guess—well, it‘s a guess, but it seemed to be a pretty widespread guess—

THOMAS:  I think he was trying to be nice.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, really?  You don‘t think—

THOMAS:  Smoke the peace pipe.

OLBERMANN:  Do you think that there might have been an element in here that was similar to the reason that he let the critics ask him questions from the floor after the speech in Cleveland, to show that he could take it?  Do you buy that?

THOMAS:  No, really.  I think that he‘s speaking now before very sanitized audiences.  I know they asked him tough questions in Cleveland, but nevertheless, you can tell the audiences are basically on their side.  A press conference, he takes more of a chance in this question about it.  But I think most of all, you know, the press has played ball.

OLBERMANN:  Clearly, though, it—whether or not the press has played ball, another attack has been launched on the media about Iraq.  Certainly, it seemed to be that way today in West Virginia.  Based on your experience, that kind of stuff works short term but not long term, right?

THOMAS:  That‘s right.  The truth, you know, is— we will prevail at some point.  He has to say why we‘re there, why we‘re dying there, why we‘re killing there.  I mean, it‘s—no country should survive under it without the real answers.  It is ours to reason why, not just to do and die.

OLBERMANN:  Would you agree with this, from your experience, you mentioned that he opens it up at the press conferences and seems to interact.  Mr. Bush seems to enjoy the parry and the thrust with the media, he seems to like the combat.  But the people working for him and with him seem to be or would be happy to hit everybody in that press room of yours over the head with a blunt instrument.

THOMAS:  Well, that‘s probably true.  And I—you can‘t blame them.  They‘re very protective.  They want to be sure—I always think that staffs always think they‘re smarter than the president, and that‘s true.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly here, you mentioned the press corps playing ball.  Is it playing ball less than it was—

THOMAS:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... are we waking up?

THOMAS:  Yes.  I think the press is finally coming out of its coma and realizing what their job is, to be very skeptical, to keep asking the questions.

OLBERMANN:  Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, great thanks for your time tonight.

THOMAS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  From attack the media to attack the coyote.  Cool.  They appear to have made an action movie out of the “Road Runner” cartoons in New York.

And the numbers are in on how many bags the airlines lose.  But when they lose, somebody else wins.  We‘ll take you to the store where they sell your stuff.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s William Shatner‘s birthday.  He‘s 75.  Seventy-five?  Well, parts of him are.  Whatever.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in New York‘s Central Park with the COUNTDOWN Coyote Chase of the Week.  Not since the 1981 film “Wolfen” has the park seen this kind of action.  Wiley E. Coyote, Super Genius.

He was spotted two days ago on the Upper East Side.  Apparently the Road Runner‘s got a little place on 83rd and Lex.  Officials finally tracked him down today near the skating rink in Central Park.  And after a brief chase over the river and through the woods, they brought him down with an Acme brand tranquilizer gun.

Dude, I just wanted to play some alternate Frisbee.

Miamisburg, Ohio, hello.  There, the only problem with the drive-through window of a local check-cashing joint is, they don‘t a drive-through window.  No one was injured, including the drunk behind the wheel of that truck when it slammed through the front of the place, the clerk jumping out of the way to avoid being hit.

The driver, he‘ll be paying not by check but by packs of cigarettes where he‘s going, the Big House.

And finally, a shocking update on the video of a man we believe to be Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.  All right.  We don‘t have an update.  We just wanted to play the tape again.  Again, we cannot independently verify that that was actually Silvio Berlusconi.  We found this on the Internets, as you know.  So it could simply be some other creepy groping balding guy in a $1,000 suit, leaving a government building with a bunch of security guards getting into the limo.  We just can‘t be sure.

Speaking of creepy groping guys—show writes itself, often—Ted Baxter strikes again, this time grossly mischaracterizing a local Ohio newspaper as pro-child molester, all because it reminded people about Andrea Mackris, Andrea Mackris.

And hope for the little whippet who ran away after the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.  Vivie may be alive and well and circling the Long Island Expressway.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Stephen Sinnott of Liverpool, England, probably would have gotten away with it, probably would have gotten to keep the $40 grand in disability benefits for the shortness of breath that affected his ability to walk more than 50 yards, if he hadn‘t joined the Penny Lane Striders‘ Club and begun to run half-marathons.

He‘ll be able to listen to “Penny Lane” and all his other favorite Beatles tunes in jail the next year.

Number two, the city fathers of Orlando.  Bird population was just destroying Lake Eola, messing in trees, polluting the lake with their droppings.  So the city cut down the trees on Bird Island at Lake Eola, and all the birds moved into the city itself, and they are now carpet-bombing Central Avenue.  They‘ve even had to put up signage reading, “Caution, Entering Bird-Dropping Area.”

Number one, Emilio Dominguez of Great Fork, Connecticut.  Police there have accused him of robbing a drugstore.  They say he stole two dozen containers of Secret deodorant and stuffed them down his pants.  Perhaps he was just back from the Orlando bird-dropping area.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was the philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche who suggested for every man there exists a bait which he can‘t resist swallowing.  For Bill O‘Reilly, that bait is anyone who disagrees with or mentions anything that he considers offensive.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the latest lure to catch his eye?  No, not us for a change.  Rather, the local newspaper in Dayton, Ohio.  His outrage started with Andrew Selva pled guilty to child molestation in Franklin County, Ohio.  As part of the plea bargain Judge John Connor gave him five years probation.  The governor, the attorney general and O‘Reilly called for the judge to be taken off the bench immediately.

But an editorial in the “Dayton Daily News” asked the government not to ignore the evidently inappropriate lightness of the sentence but just to remember to go through the proper judicial channels noting that, quote, “Governor Taft, Attorney General Petro and Mr. O‘Reilly should realize on a very personal level the importance of a legal system not inflamed by the politics of the moment.  Mr. O‘Reilly was sued by a female colleague for allegedly making sexual harassing telephone calls.  Governor Taft recently had his own run-ins with the law for ethics violations.  Mr. Petro has been accused of soliciting political contributions from lawyers who receive state contracts.  All three men could have been destroyed by a rush to judgment of the kind they are now inciting.”

That editorial elicited this response from the Big Giant Head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Time now for the “Most Ridiculous Item of the Day” and perhaps the most vile and irresponsible editorial I have ever seen in an American newspaper, the “Dayton Daily News” personally attacked the governor of Ohio, the attorney general of that state and myself for calling for the ouster of Judge John O‘Connor.

The editor of the “Dayton Daily News” Jeff Bruce apparently believes Connor should not be sanctioned for giving probation to a child rapist and is smearing anyone who disagrees with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To which Jeff Bruce clarified, “The say only two things happen when you wrestle a pig.  You get muddy and the pig enjoys it.

“Here‘s what‘s really happening.  Mr. O‘Reilly is upset with the newspaper because in an editorial we referred to his recent legal history in which he was accused of sexual harassment.  His producer threatened that unless we give an apology they would resort to their bully pulpit.  That‘s what they‘ve done.  This isn‘t about being soft on child molesters, it‘s about Bill O‘Reilly getting even.”

Surprisingly enough, Mr. O‘Reilly had to respond again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  The consequences of child sexual abuse, the FACTOR now has a list on billoreilly.com, the media organizations we deem soft on child predators, we saw Vermont newspapers in Bennington and Rutland protect Judge Edward Cashman and now in Ohio, the despicable “Dayton Daily News” has actually launched personal attacks on the Ohio governor, the attorney general and myself for attacking the Judge Connor who gave a child rapist probation.

The editor of the Dayton newspaper, Jeff Bruce, is also lying about a conversation he had with us and has called me a pig.  He‘s quite a guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Many of us have had the fickle falafel of fate pointed at as.  Al Franken, Andrea Mackris, even me.  Lots of historical facts of course, but perhaps the combatant who has lasted longest in the joust joins us now.  Bill O‘Reilly would probably think me his best friend when compared to David Brock, the president of Media Matters for America.

And David, I would hope that you would take that as a compliment.  Thanks for joining us.

DAVID BROCK, MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA:  Thanks for having me on, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is this typical for O‘Reilly?  Mischaracterize what someone said, smear them and then when they respond smear them and mix in some righteous indignation and insist, I never resort to personal attacks?

BROCK:  Absolutely, Keith.  As you know, we at Media Matters closely monitor the O‘Reilly shows, both the television and radio shows and this is absolutely part of a pattern.  In this case there is a gross misrepresentation by O‘Reilly of what the paper said.  They didn‘t say what they said he said.

And this is a part of dishonest pattern of media criticism on his part.  And we have documented other cases of, particularly, attacks on local newspapers on this subject of child sex offenders saying the “Houston Chronicle,” for example, thought a child sex offender law was too hash, when that‘s not what the “Chronicle” said O‘Reilly had to admit he was wrong.

Saying that the “Hartford Current” in Connecticut opposed mandatory minimums.  When you look at the editorial they didn‘t mention mandatory minimums so this is part of a patter and also the attacks on his critics.  We have him on the record and we have a video on our Web site at mediamatters.org where he is on the record saying he doesn‘t do personal attacks and then we have several clips of calling John Kerry a sissy and saying Barbara Boxer is a nut and calling Media Matters vile and despicable.

OLBERMANN:  As I pointed out here before, if he didn‘t do personal attacks he would be a mime.

Do you think having watched this as carefully as you that something is escalating within him?  First there was the threat to the callers to his radio show who mentioned my name.  They are going to get the Fox police after them then the threat to the “Dayton Daily News” demanding an apology and then that he gave the email of this man, Jeff Bruce on TV on Monday.  This stuff is bordering on harassment now.  Does the emergency brake on the O‘Reilly Express seem to have broken off to you?

BROCK:  It‘s always hard to explain what goes on in Bill O‘Reilly‘s mind.

OLBERMANN:  If anything.

BROCK:  I‘m not really going to try to do that.  But I think it is fair to say in the past couple of years Bill O‘Reilly has gotten more scrutiny and more people are aware of dishonesty and the serial lying that goes on that show and that he systematically is misinforming the public and that he doesn‘t seem to have a lot of humor about that criticism but the criticism is entirely valid and people can go to our Web site and see we reproduce the audio and video transcripts of every item we do and it‘s so it‘s all their for people to see and it‘s all documented and clearly he is not comfortable with the scrutiny.

OLBERMANN:  Here on this program we have probably spent too much time chronicling what he does but he does just toss up these soft balls at us and it‘s too much fun.  But give me the serious answer to this.  Why does it matter?  Why does he merit monitoring or scrutiny?  What threat does he pose?

BROCK:  Well, I think the serious answer is the “New Yorker” has a profile of the show this week called the “Fear Factor” and they say that O‘Reilly today occupies in cable news world the same position that Walter Cronkite occupied for network news.

So clearly he has an impact, he‘s affecting the public debate, he‘s the face of Fox, which is the top capable-rated channel.  You know very well that studies have shown that Fox viewers were systematically misinformed on really important things.  They falsely believe that Saddam was tied to 9/11.

So all this matters.  And by the way, Bill O‘Reilly has popped up lately on the “Today” show.  So this is not just a matter of Fox, it‘s a matter of really documenting that he‘s misinforming the public and we think media matters.

OLBERMANN:  We heard about the “Today” show thing.  That got around the building but just so people know in case they don‘t, your history with him or the Media Matters history with him, when he refers to the rest of us echoing leftwing smear merchants, he‘s referring to your site, isn‘t he?

BROCK:  He is.  And on three occasions last fall he‘s specifically talked about our site as the worst political smear site in America and has called our staff vile and despicable ankle biters and it is the case that it is our mission to document the falsehoods on that show and we post all of that to our Web site at mediamatters.org and we view ourselves as a resource but our research can be checked by others.  We have never said he said anything that he didn‘t say.  So we are very accurate in that.  So that‘s really the history that he hasn‘t been systematically n this way monitored and analyzed before and it‘s clearly getting to him.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s clearly for the public benefit, we thank you for it.  And it‘s a good thing he didn‘t use any personal attacks in describing Media Matters for America.  David Brock of that organization.  Great thanks.

BROCK:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  If you are thinking his wheels have fallen off Mr. O‘Reilly‘s baggage cart, funny you should call that image to mind.  How many bags are permanently lost by the airlines each year?  We‘ll take you where they wind up.  Right there.

And I can make a series of unfortunate segues here but I‘ll simply say Joan Rivers tries Internet dating, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It has been compared to sending your children off on his - or your child off on his or her first day of school.  A long road, the effects of which you cannot predict.  The safety of which you cannot assure.  That moment, equal parts anticipation and fear, you turn your beloved baggage over to the ticket agent at the airport.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the data is out for 240,000 of us, that moment of trust and hope isn‘t actually a farewell; 240,000 pieces of luggage a year we will never see again.  Until the airlines declare it unclaimed baggage and some guy in Alabama ends up selling your underwear for $0.49 a piece.  Our senior baggage correspondent Monica Novotny has made it back from the island of lost luggage with this sad, sad story.

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith.  Good evening.  Well, the good news is your lost luggage isn‘t completely lost.  You just can‘t ever get it back.  But other people can.  In fact, we found a place—the place in Scottsboro, Alabama, where shoppers get to pick through your stuff and buy it at a deep discount for themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You just never know what you are going to find here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s just an addiction, a devotion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Every day is like Christmas.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Welcome to the land of the lost.  If you ever wondered what black hole the airlines dropped your baggage into this is it, the unclaimed baggage center.  A 40,000 square foot warehouse home to a 35-year-old family business that has contracts with most major airlines to buy the bags that remain unclaimed for more than 90 days.  A team unpacks the bags and sells your lost stuff for at least 50 percent off retail.

What‘s the best thing have you ever gotten here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just a Bill Blass suit that I got here for 20 bucks which fit me like a glove.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  So on the surface this sounds like a gigantic flee market or garage sale but it‘s a little more than that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Absolutely.  It really is.  We get designer things all the time.

NOVOTNY:  Very high end stuff?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Very high end.

NOVOTNY:  All right.  Give me some examples.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A couple of Hermes scarves, Valentino shoes.  A couple of Togleter handbags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have gotten a digital camera here and Playstation 2s.  Xboxes.

NOVOTNY:  Sixty percent of what is salvaged and sold here is clothing, used clothing.  Now if that sounds a little unsavory don‘t worry because they have one of the largest dry cleaning facilities in the state here and they swear that everything is dry cleaned, even these.

BRENDA CANTRELL, UNCLAIMED BAGGAGE SALES DIRECTOR:  We launder and dry clean more in one month than an average dry cleaner does in a year.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  The center receives 7,000 new items each day.  In addition to the clothes you will find the obvious travel items and the not so obvious.  There is an international department and one for musical instruments.  Trombone, trumpet, clarinet, Swiss Alp horn?

How did you guys figure this one out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We had a great team a lot of research.

NOVOTNY:  Or you can just make it up, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We have been known to do that few times, too.

NOVOTNY:  So have we.

And for the ladies ...

CANTRELL:  This is 15 carrots of emeralds and nine carrots of diamonds set in platinum.

NOVOTNY:  Even the employees are customers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My bracelets, my ring, my beads, my earrings.

NOVOTNY:  Some pretty good ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My watch.  Everything except my wedding ring.

NOVOTNY:  And speaking of wedding rings.

NOVOTNY:  There are a lot of wedding bands and a lot of men‘s wedding bands, mostly men‘s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mostly men‘s.

NOVOTNY:  Why are men packing their wedding band?  What‘s going on?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I wonder how they explain it to their wife when they get home.

NOVOTNY:  One million bargain hunters make it here each year and while shoppers say they feel they feel bad for people who lost their luggage they don‘t feel that bad.

(On camera):  How much did you spend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Five hundred bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A good deal is a good deal bottom line.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, if you have lost luggage in the past, don‘t get any big ideas about a trip to Alabama.  The chances that you actually would find yourself is pretty slim.  The store is restocked as often as 20 times a day.  Keith?

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny with her second in her series of award-winning exposes.  Great thanks.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of trying to sell off unclaimed goods, there‘s Joan Rivers.  That‘s how we segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  The 72-year-old celebrity fashion cop and comedienne Joan Rivers on the market.  Rivers says she and her assistant created a profile on match.com.  She said we didn‘t even get a wink.  If you are a man between the ages of 65 and 75, remember this, Ms. Rivers used to be the official guest host of “The Tonight Show” and you are going to be hard pressed to match that on a date unless you want to go out with Burt Reynolds.

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith just missed the cut.  He turns 58 on Sunday.  Besides which, he‘s about to undergo surgery.  Recent concert cancellations have raised questions as to which band member might have been ill but today the publicist for the group says Tyler will be operated on for undisclosed reasons that will force Aerosmith to cancel all remaining dates in its North American tour.

And the missing dog mystery.  Developments tonight in the search for Vivi, the Westminster champion.  One of her owners joins us.  That‘s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze tonight, Judge Stanton S. Kaplan of Broward County, Florida.  When convicted traffic offender Tank Carter turned himself in to begin a sentence a month late, Mr. Carter explained he knew he had done wrong and was prepared for the judge to increase his six month jail term but he had a reason.  His brother Tyrone played in the Super Bowl for the Pittsburgh Steelers and he just had to be there.  Judge Kaplan reportedly said, yeah, right, and increased Tank Carter‘s sentence from six months to five years for driving without a license.

But Tank Carter‘s brother Tyrone did play in the Super Bowl for the Steelers.  The judge increased his sentence by 10 times.

The runner up, Christopher Killian (ph) of Tulsa, stopped by a local watering hole, left his four year old son in the car, telling him to stay in the car or monsters would eat him.  The kid braved the threat, eventually went looking for dad in the establishment and found him inside the strip club.  Dad has been arrested.  No doubt he was inside looking for the kid‘s future step mother.

But tonight‘s winner, the makers of Clorox, part of a direct marketing scheme, they sent boxes of samples of Clorox Disinfectant, Clorox Gel and Clorox Disinfectant Wipes to an elementary school in Golden, Colorado.  The school gave the samples out to the kids.  Since the packages of wipes had pictures of little girls on them, some of the kindergarteners and first to fifth graders used the disinfectant laced towels on their own faces.  Nobody was hurt.  Clorox says the school screwed up.  The samples were supposed to be handed out to parents who, as you know, spend a lot of time at school.  The Clorox Company, today‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  History fairly bulges with stories of dogs and cats missing for weeks and months and even years suddenly showing up on their owner‘s door steps even when their owners have changed doorsteps, moved 1,000 miles away without telling Fido or Fluffy.

Just the interest in one particular lost dog is anything but gratuitous and it may be anything but fruitless.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there has been a Vivi sighting.  A half dozen of them, in fact, each giving hope to the owners of the Amelia Earhardt of lost show dogs.

Having just competed in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the prize-winning whippet, Champion Boheme C‘est la Vie, escaped her travel crate at JFK Airport on February 15 and she has been on the run ever since evidently in the New York borough of Queens.  More than 100 volunteers have participated in the search, 30 psychics, a trained pet detective with two search dogs who tracked Vivi 10-miles north of the airport.  The wayward whippet spotted on March 11th at Basely Pond Park, that on 192nd Street and 45th Avenue.  March 15th, Vivi in Flushing at Utopia Parkway.  Later that week at Bayside at 210th and 45th Ave.  Over the weekend she made her way to Bagley Avenue and Auburndale Lane before moving on to Flushing Cemetery and as recently as 11:00 a.m. this morning Vivi was spotted at the Queens Botanical Gardens.  One might think she is simply trying to get to Shea Stadium in time for the New York Mets home opener on April 3rd.  All of this hopeful news indeed for one of Vivi‘s owners, Paul Lepiane.

Mr. Lepiane, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

PAUL LEPIANE, VIVI‘S CO-OWNER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  You were just in New York.  Vivi‘s other owner is in New York now.  What‘s the latest you heard?

LEPIANE:  The latest is she was sighted again this afternoon and Jill, her other co-owner got over as quickly as she could, but Vivi had already moved on. 

OLBERMANN:  So you are convinced it‘s her?  Have you had to sort through legitimate sightings from bogus ones or has everybody pretty much been on the money here?

LEPIANE:  No—A few bogus ones, but several that are really legitimate and people described her specifically.  And it‘s all sort of making sense.  She is in the same neighborhood and so we are really, really hopeful.

OLBERMANN:  About that subject of the neighborhoods, I understand the pattern of the sightings makes sense because Flushing in Queens; the Flushing neighborhood has this bustling Asian community and has had for a long time.  Will you explain that?

LEPIANE:  Well, not so much that specifically, but there is lots of parks, there is green belts that border to neighborhoods and there is areas she can get away from busy streets, yet still be able to find food, maybe in people‘s back yards.  They have found several place where is people leave food out for their dogs and Vivi can sneak in eat there, but not be trapped by fencing and stuff which is to our disadvantage.

OLBERMANN:  Was there something about the familiarity of the smells of Asian cooking that would have drawn her to that area?  Did I read that correctly?

LEPIANE:  No, that‘s not correct that I know of.  One thing that might have drawn her there is somebody has a privately owned stable, but there several horses and Vivi lives with horses.  So that would be attractive to her, we think.

OLBERMANN:  The winter in the east in the New York area has largely been mild, but there have been some awfully cold nights lately, some heavy snow.  Are you surprised that your dog has survived so long on her own under the weather conditions?

LEPIANE:  Yes.  I am except that when you get there like when we were at JFK Airport or walking around these Flushing neighborhoods, there lots of open garages, open buildings and places where she could get out of the weather and be fine.  That‘s very encouraging to see all that.

OLBERMANN:  You offered a reward for her safe return.  Why do you suppose it‘s that she has been seen so often, but nobody can catch her other than the obvious fact that pretty much she can outrun a car?

LEPIANE:  Right.  I think she is kind of in survival mode which most lost dogs go into and whippets are really, really great at it.  And that means not to be captured by anyone.  And so people get close and she moves away from them.  If she is in a backyard eating and sees someone coming, she can dart away before they can really do anything about it.  So even though she is not afraid of people, she is keeping her distance at this point.

OLBERMANN:  You expect to get her back, don‘t you?

LEPIANE:  Yes.  Considering we went about a month without one verified sighting we were going on hope at that point, but now in the last week or so we had several.  And they are al in the same neighborhood and we are really, really hopeful that eventually she‘ll get in someone‘s backyard and they can just go out and close a gate, or go in a garage.  That sort of thing.

OLBERMANN:  Paul Lepiane.  Hopefully next time we talk to you you‘ll be reunited.  Thanks.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,056th day since declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.

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