updated 4/11/2006 12:23:52 PM ET 2006-04-11T16:23:52

Guests: Joseph Wilson, Ray Richmond, Michael Musto

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

The concerted effort to discredit, punish, or seek revenge against a critic of the White House rationale for war.  The words, those of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the effort, he says, under the guidance of Vice President Dick Cheney, the target, Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.  He joins us tonight on COUNTDOWN.

That is not the way the president sees the concerted effort.  Today, he spins the declassifying of a secret National Intelligence Estimate as a gift of truth to the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That‘s what I wanted to see.  I wanted people to see the truth.  And thought it made sense for people to see the truth.  And that‘s why I declassified the document.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And, oh, by the way, turns out the shootist was once shot at.  The revelation of the vice president‘s time as an accidental target a decade ago.

Immigration, the protests continue and multiply.  One senator compares them to the civil rights marches of the ‘60s.

Nothing civil, and very little right, here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is a culture of payola, if you will, in the gossip industry.  This is obviously extortion, and not payola.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The FBI investigation into “Page Six,” the “New York Post”‘s pile of gossip.

And in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight, protecting the baby of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  She‘ll give birth in Africa so the lions can keep the kids safe from that most dangerous of predators, the long-toothed reporter.  Oh, here we go.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The president today did not merely insist he was justified in declassifying American intelligence secrets to rebut and perhaps falsely embarrass his critics, he insisted he was the truth-teller in the equation.  And his supporters again insisted today there were efforts by Iraq to buy uranium in Niger.

All this against the backdrop of the special prosecutor in Plamegate telling a court that the administration‘s actions were part of a, quote, “concerted action to discredit, punish, or seek revenge” against Ambassador Joseph Wilson for his criticism of the rationale for war in Iraq.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Ambassador Wilson joins us in a moment.  But first, the president‘s extraordinary explanation.  He told students at Johns Hopkins University that he wanted people to see the truth, again insisted that he couldn‘t really talk about the leak investigation, and then promptly really talked about the leak investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  There‘s an ongoing legal proceeding, which precludes me from talking a lot about the case.  There‘s also an ongoing investigation.  It‘s a serious investigation.

I will say this, that after we liberated Iraq, there was questions in people‘s minds about, you know, about the basis on which I made the statements, in other words, going into Iraq.  And so I decided to declassify the NIE for a reason.  I wanted to see people—people to see what some of those statements were based on.  So I wanted to see.  I wanted people to see the truth.  And thought it made sense for people to see the truth.  And that‘s why I declassified the document.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the parts of the document, the NIE, that were declassified and then revealed by Scooter Libby, namely the claim that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase uranium ore from Niger, had already been deemed at best dubious by Mr. Bush‘s own spy services.  A memo from the National Intelligence Council sent to the White House in January 2003 baldly stated that the story was baseless and should be ignored.

Yet the claim still made it into the State of the Union address and into Scooter Libby‘s arsenal.  And then, according to the testimony of the former “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller, Mr. Libby exaggerated, if not outright lied, about the importance of the Niger connection in the NIE, telling her it was a key judgment of the document and that Iraq was, quote, “vigorously trying to procure uranium.”

In fact, the claim was not a judgment at all, and the NIE contained nothing about Iraq vigorously pursuing uranium.

Also tonight, we know on which donkey special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is intent on pinning this tail.  In his court filings, Mr.  Fitzgerald says the idea of a campaign to discredit Ambassador Wilson was first floated by Vice President Dick Cheney, that Cheney specifically directed his chief of staff, Mr. Libby, to share information about the NIE uranium claim and Ambassador Wilson‘s trip to Niger, and that it was Mr.  Cheney who was the first to insinuate that said trip had been set up by the ambassador‘s wife, the undercover CIA agent, at the time, anyway, Valerie Plame.

As promised, joining us now, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER ACTING AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  Hi, Keith.  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  The president says today he declassified the NIE to show the American people the truth, yet the information that was in it had already been thoroughly debunked as, at best, wildly unreliable.

The White House says the president had been (INAUDIBLE) -- did not know it had been debunked.  Do you find that all plausible?

WILSON:  Well, of course, over the weekend, there was a lot of reporting that fleshed out the assessment of the total document, the National Intelligence Estimate.  I had known for a long time, since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report came out, that the Senate was informed in October of 2002, and the White House shortly thereafter, that, in the judgment of the CIA and the intelligence community, the British had stretched and/or exaggerated the case of uranium sales from Africa to Iraq.

The national intelligence officer wrote a piece in the middle of January, again, before the State of the Union address, in which he said, as you pointed out, the charge was baseless.

And all—the president, I think, is laudable in wanting this information to have come out.  I would have loved to have had it come out after my opinion piece appeared, because it would, of course, have substantiated what I said in that opinion piece.

Instead, Mr. Libby leaked certain portions of it, which were not sustainable by all the facts.  And my wife and I have had to endure a three-year smear campaign, orchestrated, as the filing says, by multiple sources in the White House and elements within the RNC and the right-wing echo chamber.

OLBERMANN:  Multiple officials in the White House, to quote it exactly from Mr. Fitzgerald‘s documents that came out over the weekend, the vice president‘s named as a designer of the plan, we have Mr. Libby‘s name mentioned in there, Mr. Rove.  Even at this late date, are you surprised by how big this effort to discredit you and your wife allegedly was?

WILSON:  Well, I had been told a couple of years ago that it was a group of people around the office of the vice president.  I hoped then, and I hope now, that it didn‘t extend to constitutional officers, the president or the vice president.

I think we would benefit from their releasing the White House transcripts of their conversations with Mr. Fitzgerald, so we can all know precisely what they knew then and what they testified to.

OLBERMANN:  Do you believe that what the president said today amounted to an admission to starting this ball rolling, or this snowball going downhill?

WILSON:  Well, I think the president was well within his rights to declassify the entire document.  I would have loved that, as I said.  It was really just the selective leaking of portions of it that are—should be some—troublesome.

I‘d also point out, of course, that the declassification of the document was not matched by a publication of the document.  It was selectively leaked to one reporter, and it was a perpetuation, essentially, of the disinformation campaign that had been in place when they made the State of the Union address in the first place.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Fitzgerald still has not filed any charges that directly relate to the leaking of your wife‘s name or any other secret information.  He made it clear from the beginning of this that he was probably not going down that route.

If this is all we get prosecutorially, are you satisfied?  Do you feel vindicated?

WILSON:  Well, let me just say, first of all, that Mr. Fitzgerald has said repeatedly, both in the indictment and in subsequent filings, that Valerie was a classified officer, and as a consequence, she was covered by law.

And anybody who leaked her name is in violation of the national security of the country, even if it‘s not prosecutable.  It‘s the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.  It is what is called in the business a security violation.

I find it appalling that the president continues to retain on his staff these multiple White House officials who were involved in leaking her name, beginning with Karl Rove.  I believe he‘s betrayed the national security of the country.  I believe he and the others have betrayed the public trust of the country.  I can‘t imagine the president wanting them still on his staff.

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned earlier that today there were two more defenders of the administration who insisted still, today, that Iraq indeed tried to get uranium in Niger.  Can you clear this up for us?  Firstly, on National Public Radio today, Joseph DiGenova, who was an attorney in the Reagan administration, said that your original report on Niger, I‘m quoting him, “supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium,” end of the quote.  Did your original report conclude that?

WILSON:  Well, Mr. DiGenova has been wrong on so many things, and he‘s certainly wrong on this.  I never supported any such conclusion.

What Republicans tend to argue is that a meeting at which uranium was never raised might have supported the president‘s allegation that Iraq attempted to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Africa, again, where uranium was never mentioned.

But about Mr. DiGenova, who‘s an attorney in this town, he has also continued to say it‘s not clear that Valerie was a covert officer, despite the fact that it shows up in the indictment and in subsequent filings by Mr. Fitzgerald, and was in his press conference.  I‘m not sure that that‘s the kind of attorney that I would hire if I were in some legal jeopardy.

OLBERMANN:  Is that the same story as this, that was purported online today by Christopher Hitchens, whose reporting is on occasion very sound, he wrote that in February of ‘99, a man named Wisam al-Zahawari, Zahaiwai, excuse me...

WILSON:  Zahawi.

OLBERMANN:  ... Zahawi, was the Iraqi representative at that point of the International Atomic Energy Agency, paid an official visit to Niger.  He doesn‘t come out and explicitly say that that trip in ‘99 was to seek uranium, but his headline does.  It reads, “Sorry, everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger.”  Is there merit to the Hitchens story?

WILSON:  No.  Mr. Al-Zahawi, Wisam al-Zahawi, who is a man that I know from my time as the acting ambassador in Baghdad during the first Gulf War, in the first Bush administration.  He was ambassador to the Vatican, and he made a trip in 1999 to several West and Central African countries for the express purpose of inviting chiefs of state to violate the ban on travel to Iraq.

He has said repeatedly to the press, he‘s now in retirement, and also to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to their satisfaction, that uranium was not on his agenda.

OLBERMANN:  Ambassador Joseph Wilson, as always, sir, great thanks for taking the time to join us.

WILSON:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.

Even before today‘s revelations, the president was hurting on the credibility and competency fronts, a new “Washington Post” poll putting his job approval at 38 percent, 60 percent of those polled disapproving, 47 percent strongly disapproving, of the way he‘s handled the presidency, double the number who strongly approve.

Time to bring in MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Washington.

David, good evening to you.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  These poll numbers, they‘re pretty self-explanatory on the surface, but this little semantical dance today about the declassifying the National Intelligence Estimate, that he, at best, should have known was full of false information, is that expected to impact those poll numbers, those specific areas of the president‘s reputation?

SHUSTER:  Well, it could impact them.  And it could bring them down, Keith, to the extent that the American people see this as a further bolstering of the narrative they already have of this administration, and that is, the idea that this is administration that cherry-picks intelligence and plays by its own rules.

We saw that in the case for war before the Iraq war began.  You saw that again three years ago in how they treated the previous guest, Joe Wilson, in trying to attack administration critics.  And you‘re even seeing that today in the very speech that we‘re showing now, the president, his description of what is happening in Iraq is at odds with what his own military commanders are saying there on the ground.

OLBERMANN:  Even Republicans have been asking for full disclosure by the administration on this topic, Senator Specter saying yesterday that the president and the vice president owe a specific explanation about what they did to the American people.  Is the president‘s admission about the declassification of the NIE going to be enough to cover the Republican response to this?

SHUSTER:  No, because even the Republicans are pointing out that the Bush administration in this case did not follow its own procedures.  The idea that the only people who knew about this declassification, the president, the vice president, Scooter Libby, that doesn‘t follow procedures.  A number of Republicans want to know, how come former CIA director George Tenet was kept in the dark?

Furthermore, there are lot of questions that even Republicans suggest go right to the heart of the president‘s credibility crisis, and that is, they‘re asking for the president to explain, why did he make those statements three years ago saying that he did not know of anybody in his administration who had leaked classified or sensitive information?  That‘s the problem many Republicans are having.

OLBERMANN:  Over the weekend, and this is the devil‘s advocate question here, the Associated Press was citing an unidentified lawyer, apparently knowledgeable about the case, saying that the president did not specifically authorize Mr. Libby to share that declassified information from the NIE.  We got another anonymous source in this, somebody leaking information about a leak investigation, information that‘s favorable to the president.

Given how utterly wrong the leak from Mr. Libby, who was then identified as a former Hill staffer, turned out to be, can anyone reasonably trust anonymous sources at this point?  Or should we just assume all of them have an agenda and their own versions of truth?

SHUSTER:  Well, I would think the latter, in fact, in this particular case, the source that is talking to the AP wasn‘t reasonable at all, because it doesn‘t make any sense that somebody the president would not want this information to get in the hands of the public or the media, but would say, Well, go ahead and declassify it.  Declassifying it does exactly that, so there‘s a contradiction.

But the other thing to focus on, Keith, and that is the next shoe to drop that many people here in this town believe is the whole idea of most of the conversation that Judy Miller remembers of her meeting with Scooter Libby on July 8 that was prompted by the vice president saying, Yes, you‘ve got the authority to talk to Judy Miller from the president, most of the conversation she remembers was not about the National Intelligence Estimate but was about Valerie Plame, about her identity, and where she worked at the CIA.

And furthermore, leading up to that meeting in June, the vice president and Scooter Libby had discussed where Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.  So a lot of people in Washington are buzzing about the idea, exactly what was the vice president‘s role?  What kind of instructions did he give to Scooter Libby as far as what to focus on in this meeting?

And secondly, did the vice president at any point in his conversations with the president make some sort of mention of this other information, not the NIE, but Valerie Plame‘s status at the CIA?  Did the president and vice president talk about that?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s the one small gap left in the timeline that has not been thoroughly mapped from everything from information to a global positioning satellite read.  Leap from the NIE to Plame, we‘ll see how that one turns out.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster, great thanks tonight.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And finally on this subject, as the septuagenarian Harry Whittington continues to recover from having been shot in the face by the vice president, he might be interested in a report out of Carlsbad, New Mexico, that Mr. Cheney himself was likewise sprayed by a shotgun blast likewise while out quail hunting in the late 1990s.  That, according to the mayor of Carlsbad, Bob Forrest (ph), who says the offending shot came either from himself or from his own twin brother.

They were out shooting with Mr. Cheney, who was then CEO of Halliburton, when one of them peppered the vice president-to-be, the mayor telling “The Albuquerque Journal” that Cheney was not hurt, but he was pretty peeved, quote, “He said, You guys watch where you‘re shooting.  He was very offended,” unquote, apparently so offended, he never went shooting with the brothers again.

Thus raising the eternal question, who‘s the victim and who‘s the villain?

That question also at the heart of more protests today, hundreds of thousands of immigrants on the streets of American cities.

And the management of “The New York Post”‘s gossip column compared to the Mafia as extortion charges are leveled at one of the gossipers.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A month ago, immigration in this country, nationwide, anyway, was, at best, a back-burner issue.  Today, after a series of examples of media hysteria followed by political opportunism on every side, we are here.

The FCC is investigating a fill-in talk-show host on a Phoenix radio station after he said that the easiest solution to all this was to shoot and kill all immigrants crossing the Mexico-U.S. border one night each week.  Nobody is yet sure if he was being serious or satirical.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, having heightened the panic that far, Congress went home last Friday for a two-week recess without any action.  Now, the action is on the streets, as are hundreds of thousands of those who would be the most directly affected.  Phoenix was just one of the locales for today‘s protests.

Lester Holt is there with this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  From border states, like here in Arizona, to unlikely places like South Bend, Indiana, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, illegal immigrants alongside their supporters stepped from the shadows.  Marching under the American flag, they demanded a place at the American table.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  U-S-A!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  U-S-A!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  U-S-A!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I want to send a message to the president.  I want to tell him we‘re not criminals.  We‘re here because we love America.

HOLT:  Today in Atlanta, an estimated 50,000 demonstrated, met by some of their opponents along the way.

In Tucson, Arizona, police were on alert for counterprotesters from the group Border Guardians, who, over the weekend, had burned Mexican flags, while today in Dallas, a small plane carrying an antiamnesty banner crashed.  The pilot survived.

In Washington, where lawmakers have taken a spring recess from the immigration reform debate, people like Fani Portillo (ph), an immigrant from El Salvador, joined the crowd, keeping it on the front burner.

FANI PORTILLO:  All what we want is to have a place to live and to bring food for our tables.

HOLT:  Today‘s marches were designed in part to give faces to the immigration debate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It feels really good just, you know, support all my people in here.  I like it.

HOLT:  Jorge, a Phoenix plumber, has been in this country illegally for 11 years, leading his family in today‘s march because he says he has paid his dues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I pay taxes, I pay bills, we sent the kids to school.  I take all responsibilities of any American.

HOLT:  Only his youngest of four children is here legally.  His eldest daughter, 20-year-old Sylvia (ph), attends a public university, but without documents, faces an uncertain future in America.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s like my hands are tied, like, there‘s doors that open for opportunities, but I have to let them pass by.

HOLT (on camera):  Underscoring the importance of this march and perhaps the strength of the movement itself is that so many that people who came and marched today have spent years hiding from the limelight for fear of deportation.  Today, at least, they‘re more afraid of legislation that could criminalize their status.

Keith, that‘s it in Phoenix.  Let‘s send it back to you now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Lester Holt reporting.  Great thanks.

Also tonight, Hollywood royalty is celebrating a big day.  No, this is not the wrong tape.  That‘s Cheetah, Cheetah, Cheetah from the movies.  Used to date Gwyneth Paltrow.  You know, Cheetah.  And speaking of Ms.  Paltrow, she and hubby are parents again.  The first-born was a girl named Apple, the new one is a boy, and, judging by his name, he‘s also apparently a marketing opportunity for Dad.

Details ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  April 10 looms large for two legends of American journalism.  In 1841, Horace Greeley began publishing “The New York Tribune,” later as “The Herald Tribune,” one of the most revered papers in the nation.  And in 1847, Joseph Pulitzer, future publisher of “The New York World,” founder of the Pulitzer Prize, was born.

Neither paper still exists.  You know why?  Not enough coverage of monkeys.

Let‘s play Oddball.

The last words of Horace Greeley, “Not enough monkeys.”

In Palm Springs, the 74th birthday celebration of Hollywood‘s most famous monkey.  No, not Mickey Dolans.  That‘s Cheetah, the original Cheetah, the chimpanzee who has lasted into his eighth decade despite the confusion of having been named after an entirely different species of jungle animal.

Cheetah starred as himself in more than a dozen Tarzan movies in the ‘30s and ‘40s before drug addiction and a series of high-profile poo-flinging incidents brought his acting career to an end.  Nothing but diet soda and cake these days, which seems healthy enough for a primate.  At 74, Cheetah is the world‘s oldest living chimp.  He‘s had two paintings hang in London‘s National Museum of Art.

He looks like a monkey, and he smells like one too.

And at the Ocean Park Aquarium in Hong Kong, they‘ve devoted an entire wing to nature‘s most fascinating and most icky sea creature, the jellyfish.  Forty-five hundred square-foot building will house more than 1,000 of the translucent blobs of goo.  Officials say people come to just stand and stare at them, like a big lava lamp, only stingy.

In an unrelated story, here‘s a rule of thumb when it comes to cute baby turtles.  One cute baby turtle, aww.  A thousand cute baby turtles clambering all over each other across an Indian beach, run for your safety!

The same advice might be given if you spy a representative of “The New York Post”‘s “Page Six.”  It‘s going to cost you, either in red-hot bad publicity or in cold cash.  The billionaire who says he was the victim of extortion by a “Page Six” staffer offering to keep him out of the column at a cost.

And perhaps a more troubling media story, if it was the Duke lacrosse rape case, how come the DNA tests of all the players just came back negative?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Thomas Vocedes of Wasau, Wisconsin.  He‘s been sentenced to six months‘ probation for hanging underwear off the rearview mirrors of as many as 50 county vehicles.  Caught on tape, as the local account pus it, Bras and panties of all different sizes.  Some of the underwear is new, and some seemed to be worn.  Yes, seemed.

Number two, Judge Florentino Floro of a court in suburban Manila in the Philippines.  He‘s off the bench now.  They tolerated his decision to conduct healing sessions in his chambers, but when he started explaining that he could now see the future after cutting a deal with his, quote, “dwarf friends,” unquote, they took away his gavel, to say nothing of his belt and his shoelaces.

And number one, Patricia Donohue, a teacher in New Lenox (ph), Illinois.  One of her fourth-grade students desperately needs a kidney transplant.  None of his family members is a match.  His teacher, Ms.  Donohue, tested.  She‘s a perfect match.  So she will be donating one of her kidneys to her 10-year-old student.  And you think you have a great teacher.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was nearly four years ago when the infamous gossip session of “The New York Post,” “Page Six,” which, incidentally, almost never appears on page six of the paper—What‘s up with that? -- the item noted that I had attended a Philadelphia Phillies-New York Mets game at Shea Stadium, went on the field before the game to talk to the players, then sat in the press box and kept score of the game. 

Understand this:  Me going to a ball game is about as rare an event as the sun coming up.  In Florida last month, I went to 17 of them in 16 days.  So, there seemed to be no point to the item, until you remember that “The Post” is owned by the same people who own FOX television.  And the baseball story enabled “The Post” to mention that I had—quote—“strolled off my job” the year before at FOX Sports, an absolute falsehood that implied I had quit the job. 

They took me off the air, and they had to pay me every penny they owed me.  It was “The Post” using its gossip column to rewrite history and make FOX Sports look slightly better and me slightly worse.  On the vengeance scale, it was pretty small, but it still registered on that scale.

And, as our number-three story on the COUNTDOWN underscored, it was the tip of the iceberg.  Gossip, especially as practiced at “The New York Port,” is played out in a brutal arena of revenge and favor-trading, and, as Janet Shamlian reports, even cash. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a country that can‘t get enough of the rich and famous, gossip sells.  Every move of the red carpet royalty follows. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “EXTRA”)

ANNOUNCER:  Teri Hatcher in tears. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAMLIAN:  Bold-faced names are the stock and trade of “The New York Post” gossip spread, “Page Six,” famous in its own right, its named dropped in the HBO series “Sex and the City.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SEX AND THE CITY”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  You‘re on “Page Six.”

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Oh, my God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAMLIAN:  Now “Page Six” is playing out on page one, and it‘s not gossip anymore.  It‘s a possible federal crime, extortion. 

The FBI is probing whether Jared Paul Stern, a longtime freelancer for “The Post,” demanded more than $200,000 from billionaire businessman Ron Burkle, in exchange for favorable coverage.  The meeting was videotaped.  And a reporter at “The Post”‘s arch nemesis, “The New York Daily News,” says he has seen it. 

WILLIAM SHERMAN, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  He said, it‘s kind of like the mafia.  A friend of mine is a friend of yours, saying to Burkle, if you‘re with me, you‘re part of the family. 

SHAMLIAN:  Stern denies the claims.  “The Post” has suspended him and says it‘s cooperating with the investigation. 

And now hard questions and perhaps harder truths about the business of gossip.  Is it rigged or real? 

MIKE WALKER, “THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER”:  I mean, there‘s no question it goes on.  I think this—I do think this is an extreme example.  I do not think that goes on every day.  I do not think every journalist is out there on the take. 

SHAMLIAN:  But they are all after a story, and this one is now everywhere. 

Janet Shamlian, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The gossip wars and bribes are such that “The Post”‘s rivals are celebrity rumor-mongering at “The New York Daily News,” not exactly a stable full of Edward R. Murrows themselves, are reporting, with glee, that staffers and “The Post”‘s “Page Six” routinely accept lavish gifts from people they write about favorably. 

More stupefying, the story about the possible extortion by “The New York Post,” guess which organization is claiming it broke it first on its Web site?  Correct.  “The New York Post.” 

For some perspective, I‘m joined now by Ray Richmond, longtime TV critic, entertainment columnist of “The Hollywood Reporter.”

Ray, nice to talk to you again. 

RAY RICHMOND, ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST, “THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER”:  Hey. 

How are you doing, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Not bad, except for this stuff here.

Let me ask you the devil‘s-advocate question first. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  If you were to tell the average American from the ‘50s

that some game shows on TV were rigged, they would be shocked.  That was a

an entertainment scandal.  If you tell the average American today that -

that gossip sheets could be fueled by payola, would—should they, would they care?

RICHMOND:  Yes.  Well, not—not only would they not be surprised. 

They probably wouldn‘t care a lot.

I mean, “The New York Daily News” threw this on page one, because they could and because it was the—you know, it was—it was their—their version of—of, you know, being able to smite their own enemy. 

But, yes.  No, everybody knows that that is—as you said, this profession is not filled with Murrows, you know, that—that gossip is exactly that.  It‘s gossip.  It‘s the—it‘s the toy department of journalism.  And, in fact, it has always had kind of a murky reputation, to begin with. 

OLBERMANN:  This instance is, as the guy from “The National Enquirer” said, with great reason there, it‘s—it‘s obviously over the top.

But is—isn‘t the cash, or the amount of cash, or the fact that it was cash really relevant?  Aren‘t the—the lesser irregularities here, the favors, the gifts, the paybacks, tradeoff to keep—get somebody in or get somebody out of the column, aren‘t they just as bad?  Isn‘t it just a question of degree? 

RICHMOND:  I think it is a question of degree, Keith. 

I mean, you have got—the fact that it was $220,000 that—that Stern is alleged to have tried to extort, you know, almost gives me slightly more respect.  At least he didn‘t do it for a dime.  At least he actually tried to aim big. 

(LAUGHTER)

RICHMOND:  But, you know, the—but the bottom line is, yes, it is degree. 

There is still a huge culture of payola in this business, you know, whether it‘s huge buckets of—of holiday gifts at Christmastime or, you know, free trips, free hotel stays, in some cases, some believe even, you know, a—a screenplay deal with a studio in order to get favorable treatment, massaged treatment, as it were, although the bottom line, really, is that, you know, you—you don‘t have the same—nearly the same power in these gossip sheets as you used to have in the Hedda Hopper days, in the Walter Winchell days. 

You know, I mean, these people, they have to share space now with 24-hour entertainment news on TV, wall-to-wall blogs on the Internet.  So, you know, that‘s what—Stern‘s biggest mistake was in thinking that he had real power here over a billionaire. 

OLBERMANN:  The columns, nonetheless, even though this is not Walter Winchell‘s day or Hedda Hopper‘s day, these are still bludgeons at times. 

Let me tell you a quick story.  Last year, as the ratings here began to pick up, the “Page Six” folks called here for a comment on story which was 100 percent false.  It was predicated on somebody overhearing my agent on a train from Washington to New York on a cell phone.  I pointed out to them, my agent lives on a West Coast on a mountain.  She hadn‘t been on a train from Washington to New York in something like 10 years.

So, then they came back the next day.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  They changed it to somebody affiliated with my agent.

And, then I said, yes, well, but my agent works solo.  She doesn‘t have anybody affiliated with her.  This went on and on for two weeks.  Literally, each time I had proof that their story was wrong, they changed the story slightly.  And, finally, they ran it as a blind item:  Which newscaster, blank, blank, blank, etcetera.

And my point in going through this, when it comes to gossip, why do newspapers, why do other publications, why do television programs suspend the basic tenets of journalism? 

RICHMOND:  Because they can, number one. 

They can report blindly.  They can report anonymously.  You know, to some degree, the entertainment trades, where I work as well, are allowed to do that.  For the most part, the trades don‘t use that to abuse journalism tenets and ethics.  But you find it more so in the gossip world, because, you know, without—without being able to have—throw anonymous sources in there and—and the kind of murky backroom deals that they make all the time, they would have nothing. 

The public has shown an—you know, an insatiable appetite for this stuff.  So, they figure they have got to—they have got to figure out a way to get it in there one way or the other.  And, you know, the—the problem is calling this journalism.  To some degree, gossip really is not journalism. 

OLBERMANN:  One caveat on that—we have a gossip columnist who works on MSNBC.com named Jeannette Walls.  And this is not to—to—to pat her on the head or anything, but she treats her topics like she was covering the Vatican.  She takes it seriously, journalistically.

In any event, Ray Richmond of “The Hollywood...”

RICHMOND:  That kind of frightens me. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, yes, but—but better that than this. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Ray Richmond from “The Hollywood Reporter...”

RICHMOND:  True enough.

OLBERMANN:  ... thank you for your time tonight, Ray.

RICHMOND:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  From lecturing newspapers about gossip, we will switch to our segment devoted to gossip. 

Hey, hey, hey, hypocrisy. 

You want a picture of the new arrival of the Pitt-Jolie household? 

Reportedly, you will have to get past the lions first. 

And the reason it sometimes pays not to over-cover a story, the purported rape at Duke University, the DNA tests of all the lacrosse players, they‘re all negative.  Was it one long con job?  Why did we all assume the worst? 

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Was it a rush to judgment at Duke and in the media?  The DNA evidence is in.  And defense lawyers say it completely clears the Duke lacrosse team.

Thus, perhaps turning to lions to protect your baby from the paparazzi is not as crazy as it sounds, even if you are Angelina Jolie.

The story is next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not as if Natalee Holloway turned up working at a Starbucks in Aruba, having decided to move there because she liked the place, but the surprise among those following what may have been totally erroneously called the Duke lacrosse rape case is near total tonight—the season canceled, the coach resigned, 46 DNA tests of every white player on the team.

And, in our number-two story on the COUNTDOWN, every one of them, all 46 DNA tests today came back negative, no match. 

Our correspondent Martin Savidge is in Durham, North Carolina, with details. 

Martin, good evening. 

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

It was nearly three weeks ago that the 46 members of the men‘s lacrosse team for Duke University were asked and did submit DNA tests—or samples, that is.  And it was late this afternoon that those DNA results finally came back. 

And there was a clue as to how they came back when, Mike Nifong, who is the district attorney, the men who asked for those tests to be done, the man who also had said publicly that they would definitely say who was guilty or innocent, decided a no-comment on the test results.  But the defense attorneys came out quick.  And this was their response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WADE SMITH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  No DNA material from any young man tested was present on the body of this complaining woman, not present within her body, not present on the surface of her body, and not present on any of her belongings. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE:  So, obviously, what they‘re getting at there is that because none of the accuser‘s DNA was found not only in the woman, but on her body, and on none of her clothing, then, the defense attorneys are maintaining that there was no rape that took place. 

This all began exactly four weeks ago tonight at a party the lacrosse team had off campus.  The African-American woman had been hired as a dancer to perform there.  And it is then that she says she was attacked and raped by three white team members. 

The district attorney has said, hey, DNA or not, he could go forward and prosecute this case.  Tonight, the defense attorneys are saying he should not do that.  But we wait the final word—Keith.   

OLBERMANN:  Martin Savidge reporting from Durham—great thanks, Martin. 

From real-world CSI to the contrived world of FOX prime time and the entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs.” 

And I don‘t mean to ruin the surprise for any fans of “24,” but it

appears Jack Bauer is either going to live or be a ghost, because Kiefer

Sutherland has signed on for three more days on the hit show.  And, of

course, by days, I mean seasons.  That‘s a little inside “24” joke for you

the star signing a reported $40 million deal through 2009, guaranteeing Kiefer Sutherland will have at least three more really bad terrorist-fighting weekdays, with each episode representing one hour of each day. 

We‘re still, of course, waiting for the more realistic installment, such as the hour Jack sits down for lunch, and a special two-parter:  Jack gets halfway to work, but has to go back home because he left the iron on. 

Speaking of ironing, did you happen to notice how clean and pressed Melanie Griffith looked at the Golden Globes?  Neither did I.  Maybe that is why she‘s being sued by the guy she hired to create that look.

Hollywood stylist Niklas J. Palm has filed a $26,000 suit against Griffith, her daughters, and, for good measure, her husband, Antonio Banderas.  I never liked that guy.  He says he failed to receive any payment for designing the “Working Girl”‘s Golden Globe look, which more accurately might be described as a “Golden Girls” look. 

Palm says he was also stiffed on a promised shout-out from the red carpet.  That was part of the deal.  According to the suit, Griffith was supposed to mention his name when reporters asked about her gown.  But she took credit for, again, herself.  And, then again, sir, you may want to cut your losses right there. 

From the red-hot glare of the red carpet to the shiny white teeth of the big lions—Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly leaving nothing to chance for their bun in the oven, birthed in Africa, so the child can be protected from the media—by guard lions?  Michael Musto roars in next.

But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world. 

The bronze tonight to the fans of the Italian soccer team Inter Milan.  As supporters worldwide will do, they hastened to the airport to greet their heroes as they came back from a victory on the road at Ascoli, and they attacked them.  Despite the win, Inter Milan was mathematically eliminated from the league‘s championship, and some of its fans pelted them with rocks and other debris. 

The runner-up, an unidentified motorcycle cop outside in the San Fernando Valley, outside Los Angeles, gave a jaywalking ticket to a pedestrian who took too long to cross a five-lane-wide street, a street where the duration of the walk signal is apparently way too short.  The pedestrian, facing a $114 ticket, is 82-year-old Mavis Coil (ph). 

But the winner, Dr. Mary-Ellen Bidi (ph) of Tampa.  She has been fined $20,000 for operating on the wrong part of the patient‘s body—again, three times now.  She‘s a hand surgeon.  The latest gaffe, she cut into the wrong finger. 

Well, I‘m an expert in hands, not fingers.  You know George Carlin‘s old joke how there has to be literally a worst doctor in the world, and somebody has an appointment to see them tomorrow?  Might be the one. 

Dr. Mary-Ellen Bidi (ph) of Tampa, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you follow the technology news and you hear about this Bill Gates/Steve Jobs compromise on operating systems for computers, and I remind you that Gwyneth Paltrow had a little girl whom she and her husband named Apple, and then I tell you she has just given birth to a boy, obviously, you would expect that they named him?  Right.  Windows. 

Our number-one story on the COUNTDOWN, no, as logical as that sounds, they went another direction, as, reportedly, are parents-to-be Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  Their direction involves lions.

Paltrow and hubby, Chris Martin, of the band Coldplay have a son.  The daughter nearly, 2, got the name Apple because Ms. Paltrow liked the biblical angle, she said, which would explain her newborn brother‘s name, not Windows, but Moses.  It just so happens daddy‘s band also recorded a song called “Moses.”

Now, as to Pitt and Jolie, as rumors swirl that pictures of their still-to-come offspring could fetch $5 million from a tabloid, extreme preventive measures reported by a newspaper in Namibia for the picture of their offspring.  The Afrikaner paper “Die Republikein” says the couple will relocate into the African wilderness for the birth of their child, due May 18. 

See, I keep my subscription going to that publication.  There, lions will protect the newborn from the swarms of aggressive paparazzi. 

Pitt and Jolie‘s baby is not the only most un—most wanted unborn celebrity.  The first photo of the firstborn for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes also reportedly in high demand.  How there couple plans to keep the noisy media from disturbing the child‘s psyche is yet unknown.  After all, Tom Cruise is the devout Scientologist who believes in silent birth.

Clearly, step one, keep both “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto and me away from the delivery room. 

Michael, good evening.

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

Pitt and Jolie.  The headline about the baby in “New York” magazine reads, “Not since Jesus.”  Isn‘t that a little over the top, even for gossip columns in magazines? 

MUSTO:  I think they meant not since Moses.  But we will get to that later.

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  No, I think, actually, they are commenting on the hyperbole of the frenzy around this baby.  But I think it‘s huge. 

When two celebrities get together and have a baby, it‘s bigger than, like, eight mere mortals.  If Liz and Dick had had a real child, she would be bigger than, I don‘t know, Carrie Fisher.

And let‘s face it.  Brangelina are gorgeous.  I mean, she is so pretty.  And so is Angelina.  And, if they have a kid, it is going to be like a Precious Moments figurine, but with attitude and with vials of blood.  It is going to be irresistible. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, on to the subject of the lions keeping the paparazzi from snapping photos of the baby.  I mean, if it‘s between African lions and British tabloid reporters, I‘m not sure it‘s a shutout.  Some of those British tabloid reporters are just unstoppable.  Are they going to get through and get the pictures anyway? 

MUSTO:  They‘re pretty rabid.  But it is going to be a tossup. 

But I guess Angelina is a witch with a wardrobe.  So, she went for the lions.

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  And, somehow, lions instinctively know that paparazzi bad, celebrities good.  So, let‘s protect the celebrities.

Even in the lion community, from what I hear on the grapevine, there are celebrity lions.  They are on the cover of “Catmopolitan” magazine.

OLBERMANN:  Oh.

MUSTO:  And they‘re revered and protected from the hyenas holding—no, no, no.

Look, this is ridiculous.  And if Brangelina are advocating killing off bad members of the media by rabid wildlife, I will go for that.  I like that.  I will give her the name—them names, Judith Miller, the guy from “Page Six,” a lot of people. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I was going to mention the “Page Six” folks.

MUSTO:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks for taking care of that for me.

This—this—this couple has been frequently photographed with her adopted children, which he then adopted.  Why would they be more protective of a biological child?  I mean, they‘re going to catch hell from the adoptive community, among other things, right?

MUSTO:  Because its theirs.  And parents lie.  Oh, you are all special, because you are chosen.

Baloney.  They only like the ones that they actually had. 

And, look, these people are going to trot out Maddox and Zahara with signs.  Get your free pictures.  It‘s Maddox and Zahara.  Meanwhile, this little Pitt-Jolie is going to be pulled by celebrity lions in a covered wagon.  It‘s totally hypocritical.  But Maddox and Zariah don‘t mind—or Zahara—what is her name, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Zahara. 

MUSTO:  Yes, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re thinking of the terrorist Zawahri.

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  Whatever.

But they don‘t mind, because they actually like to be photographed. 

They have already signed up with an agency. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, speaking of liking to be photographed, Catherine Zeta-Jones, you remember her, before she went into commercials, and Michael Douglas, you remember him from the last century.

MUSTO:  Sex addiction.

OLBERMANN:  They...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  They sold their rights to the baby photos to—supposedly, to calm the storm of paparazzi, to just, you know, give the highest bidder and just organize this thing.  Is that something that Pitt and Jolie might do? 

MUSTO:  Yes.  I think they will take this new baby Jesus out of hiding and sell it to either “National Geographic” or “Namibian In Touch.”

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  And I do think that it‘s a wonderful experience for a newborn human to have your first experience be cementing a deal and being a deal-maker for your parents to get in another magazine. 

But I‘m sure the money will go to charity.  Angelina is a goodwill ambassador.  And I think she—I hear she is going to give the money to Sally Struthers‘ new campaign, to feed starving Hollywood mothers. 

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  You know, “One Snickers for Angelina, 100 for me.”

OLBERMANN:  You—you mentioned the—the marketing opportunity there. 

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin named their son Moses.  A, might put a little pressure on the kid, I‘m thinking.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But, B, naming him Moses, when daddy‘s band had a song called “Moses,” is this self-promotion gone mad?  Why not just name the kid Coldplay and get it over with? 

MUSTO:  No.  At least they didn‘t name it after one of Gwyneth‘s movies, like “Sylvia” or “Bounce.”

And I have heard the song “Moses” by Coldplay.  It‘s a very sweet song, if not as sweet as Moses supposes his toes are roses.  That‘s a better song. 

But, look, I‘m just—I am hoping that Moses did not part the Red Sea when he was actually born.  You know what I‘m saying?

And I do think, to just keep moving here...

OLBERMANN:  Hey.

MUSTO:  ... and get back some taste, I think she should have named the kid Orange, so, then, when—when people said which kid do you prefer, she could oh, it‘s say apples and oranges. 

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  Finally, a good one.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  I am still going with Windows.  It just would have been a nice...

(CROSSTALK)

MUSTO:  You‘re sticking with the Windows.  Good for you.

OLBERMANN:  What the heck.

The one and only Michael Musto, always making sense out of the senseless...

MUSTO:  Ciao.

OLBERMANN:  ... for us.  Ciao.  Many thanks. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,075th 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 continues 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.

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