Guests: Carl Bernstein, Simon Winchester, Paul Tompkins
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Offense from defense. The secretary responds, and the president reiterates his support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m the decider. And I decide what is best. And what‘s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Is it just me, or did that almost rhyme?
And could this ever happen? A congressional inquiry into not Plamegate, not Iraq, not Abramoff, but the entirety of the Bush administration? Carl Bernstein has just proposed exactly that. He will join us in an exclusive interview.
You know what today is the anniversary of, right? Yes, the day “Real People” premiered on NBC. Also, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. A century later, new figures still coming in on fatalities, and worse, new figures about how soon the next one will hit.
And the next story my producers are forcing me to cover has already hit. Breaking news. Katie Holmes has reportedly given birth today to Tom Cruise‘s child. And they‘re not telling us the gender. Or the home planet. Oh, here we go.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
“As we know,” he famously told a Pentagon news conference more than four years ago, “there are known knowns, there are things we know we know. We also know,” he continued, “there are known unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also,” he concluded, “unknown unknowns, the ones we don‘t know we don‘t know.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, if President Bush did not ask for Donald Rumsfeld‘s resignation after that, what the hell made anybody think he‘d ever ask for it? And besides the obvious, Operation Save Rummy, there‘s the larger battle over the war and the administration.
In a moment, Carl Bernstein joins us in a COUNTDOWN exclusive to discuss whether it is time for Senate hearings investigating the Bush presidency.
But first, the fight over Rummy himself.
Any mention of Iraq conspicuously absent from the laundry list of his own accomplishments cited by the defense secretary at his own defense—in his own defense at a news briefing today. Mr. Rumsfeld, defiant and deferential, refusing to engage his general critics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I‘m a little reluctant to start taking each piece of what people talk about, and—or the individuals involved. And I just am not inclined to be instantaneously judgmental about them.
There are important issues that are involved. There‘s no question about that. Change is difficult. It also happens to be urgently necessary.
The president knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men. “The graveyards of the world are filled with indispensable people,” quote unquote.
No. He knows that I serve at his pleasure, and that‘s that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not just who is running the conflict in Iraq, but also the road to war, especially the information or misinformation the administration used in selling the invasion, all parts of an equation that has another eminent voice raising the question of whether the Bush presidency is, in fact, worse than Watergate, that voice belonging to none other than Carl Bernstein, without whose reporting Watergate would have remained just a hotel, apartment, and office complex.
Now a contributing editor to “Vanity Fair,” he‘s taken a closer look at the Bush presidency in an article on the magazine‘s Web site. The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter joins us now.
Carl, good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “VANITY FAIR”: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: I appreciate I‘m asking you to summarize what you wrote 5,900 words on in “Vanity Fair,” but what are you proposing here exactly?
BERNSTEIN: That the disinformation and misinformation and unknown quantities of information are so great in this presidency that we need to have the kind of investigation by a distinguished committee of the Senate, such as we did in Watergate of President Nixon, so that we can learn what has happened in the presidency of George W. Bush. We don‘t know.
What we do know, primarily from people who have left the administration, and from journalists, and from the special prosecutor and others, is that almost everything important that we have been told by this president and by the men and women around him, has not been very truthful, and more often than not, if it‘s of importance, it has not been the truth, period.
That is a very distressing, terrible situation to be in, when—especially when you‘re at war, and you‘re going to war.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, Watergate was a machete fight for most of its life. But when we got into the role of the Senate investigation, and then the House impeachment investigation, it was less so. Is the kind of extensive partisan rancor-free investigation you‘re talking about even possible with same-party control of Congress? Or are we realistically talking in the land of the hypothetical here?
BERNSTEIN: I think it‘s a long shot, but I think it‘s possible, because I think that many Republicans have lost confidence in George Bush. They doubt his truthfulness. They doubt his competence. They‘re the ones who are talking to each other about what can be done about this presidency, about saving themselves in an election that increasingly looks like it might go to the Democrats.
So what I‘ve proposed in this article is that this might be, in this aberrant presidency, a great opportunity to rise above the culture wars, vote before the elections for an election, for a investigation that would be chaired by a Republican, like the Watergate Committee, which was chaired by a Democrat, and let‘s finally find out the facts in such a way that that light, shone on what has happened in this presidency, will determine the next step that is taken to deal with Iraq, to deal with Iran, to deal with George W. Bush.
The question is not Donald Rumsfeld and his terminal disingenuousness talking about two or three people who might have criticized him, as opposed to the biggest revolt of generals in the nation‘s history, six people, three of whom served directly under him, all of whom were concerned with the war in Iraq.
We‘ve never seen anything like this. We‘re in a war in the wrong country. You know, it was Donald Rumsfeld that -- 24 hours after 9/11, said, Should we also hit Saddam Hussein, now that we‘re going after bin Laden? He wanted to go after him right away.
We‘re in a war in the wrong country. We‘ve made a fundamental, you know, mistake. And now, somehow, Republicans know this too, we‘ve got to come out of this as best as possible.
And until we know the facts, from these people who have never been willing to be honest with Congress, who have claimed invest—executive privilege and national security stuff, authorized torture, denied they authorized torture when it‘s right there on a piece of paper drawn up by the president‘s counsel, we need to have a real investigation about what did this president know, what did this vice president know, what did this national security adviser, what did this secretary of state know, and when did they know it?
OLBERMANN: I would assume that almost everyone, no matter their political point of view, hearing you speak this way, or reading the piece in “Vanity Fair” on the Web site, would say, Be realistic about this, there‘s a Republican—you‘re proposing a Republican Senate investigate a Republican president.
Are you suggesting that there is enough going on under the surface of the glacier that if one or two Republicans were to come out in support of something like this, that there would be a quick enough changing in public positions of all the others that something like this could occur before the midterm elections in November?
BERNSTEIN: Two things to keep in mind. One, it was Republicans that really cast the decisive votes for articles of impeachment that dispatched Richard Nixon. It was Barry Goldwater, the great conservative, who went to the White House and told Nixon he had to go, he was going to be convicted in the Senate. It was the Republicans who rose above partisanship, that made the system work in Watergate.
And we have that opportunity now. It would take 12 or 13 Republican votes, maybe 14, to vote for an investigation. And this thing would pass. If they don‘t, and the Democrats win a majority of the Senate, then I would think there will certainly be an investigation. And if the Democrats win the House, I think there will be an impeachment investigation that can be, you know, back into the kind of ugly partisanship that we saw in the Clinton impeachment.
We need a dispassionate look at a terrible situation created by some people who maybe were in over their heads, who simply were unable to be truthful. Maybe they got caught in situations that they didn‘t foresee. There might be some very human reasons. There might be some Freudian reasons.
But we have to find out who did what, and what the policies are. For instance, we didn‘t even know about this NSA illegal wiretapping until the guest that was just on Chris Matthews‘ show, James Risen of “The New York Times,” came up with the stories, now won a Pulitzer, about a totally illegal, it would seem, usurpation of power by the president under the guise of national security, the kind of thing that Nixon—there was an article of impeachment against Nixon for wiretapping.
You know, we‘re talking serious business here. Now, there might be reasons, because of we‘re fighting a war on terror, that some things have to be done differently. But an awful lot of this would appear to be for political advantage, et cetera.
OLBERMANN: The author and journalist Carl Bernstein, whose article calling for Senate hearings on the Bush presidency can be found now on the “Vanity Fair” Web site, and it‘s an extraordinary read.
Carl, we appreciate your time, and obviously your perspective, sir.
BERNSTEIN: Good to be here, thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
The defense secretary, with no greater defender than his boss, President Bush, coming to the aid of his aide once more today. But while Mr. Rumsfeld‘s job appears secure TFN, others in the administration could soon be on the way out, leaving either voluntarily, or after being pushed.
But as chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, reports for us tonight, is changing around a few of the players really enough to bring substantial change to the White House if the policies being implemented by those staff members remain the same?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you made it a practice of not commenting on potential personnel moves.
BUSH: Of course I did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You‘re calling it speculation (INAUDIBLE)...
BUSH: You can understand why.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)...
BUSH: Because we got people‘s reputations at stake.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Today, the president was caught in the Rose Garden defending the most controversial member of his cabinet.
BUSH: I‘m the decider. And I decide what is best. And what‘s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense.
O‘DONNELL: A distraction at a time when Mr. Bush is trying to project a fresh start and jump-start his presidency with new chief of staff Josh Bolten.
BUSH: And of course he will bring different recommendations to me as to, as to who should be here and who should not be here.
O‘DONNELL: Today, Rob Postman was in as the new head of the Office of Management and Budget, but more may be out with the new shakeup, including Treasury Secretary John Snow, deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin, communications director Nicole Wallace, legislative director Candi Wolff, and press secretary Scott McClellan.
BUSH: I also understand what happens in Washington, you know, there‘s a little flicker of gossip starts moving hard, and people jump all over it.
O‘DONNELL (on camera): Still, any shakeup will largely deal with the communications office and legislative affairs. But advisers say, don‘t expect major changes in policy.
CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The biggest thing that‘s weighing down the president‘s approval is the public‘s perception that we‘re mired down in Iraq, that we‘re not making progress in Iraq. Now, changing the White House staff won‘t solve that.
O‘DONNELL: So even as the White House promises...
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a time to refresh ourselves and reenergize the team.
O‘DONNELL: Until the president addresses Americans‘ deep concerns about the strategy in Iraq, Mr. Bush may not be able to rebound from the lowest approval rating of his presidency.
For COUNTDOWN, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in Washington.
OLBERMANN: Norah, thanks.
How wounded is the GOP? Senator Rick Santorum is behind in the polls, ahead in the money race, and has been mentioned on “The Sopranos.” But we‘ll ask Lawrence O‘Donnell, do the Democrats really have a plan?
And that music means just one thing. Tom Cruise has officially spawned. Full team coverage ahead. And then, I will fire the team.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It would be the kind of publicity a politician could never buy, an endorsement by one of America‘s highest-profile fictional characters on one of the country‘s most-watched and most respected TV dramas, except for this.
The endorsement was from fictional mob boss Tony Soprano. And in it, he said he agreed with the politician‘s position that gay rights could lead to sex with dogs.
And oh, by the way, the politician was identified as, quote, “that Senator Sanitorium.”
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, if Senator Rick Santorum‘s mentioning on “The Sopranos” Sunday night does not sum up the conditions of some key Republicans heading into the fall midterms, I don‘t know what does.
Santorum‘s staff told the “The Philadelphia Daily News” that the office were not going to dignify that comment by commenting on it, even though the remark is not that far from some of Santorum‘s rhetoric on the subject several years ago.
The senator has other things to worry about in fundraising for November‘s reelection ballots against Democrat Bob Casey. He leads two to one, but nearly a quarter of the $3 million he has raised this year came after a fundraiser with President Bush. And while the president is still good when it comes to money, he may not be good for a campaign.
In the polls, Senator Santorum trails his challenger by double digits.
That the Democrats seem to be in an extraordinary position this fall is obvious even to Republicans. But is a bottomless presidential pinata enough to overturn control of the House or Senate, or both? Is there a coherent and cohesive Democratic strategy for the fall?
Who better to ask than a Democratic strategist. Lawrence O‘Donnell, also, of course, a contributor to “The Huffington Post,” and an executive producer of the NBC drama “The West Wing.”
Good evening to you, sir.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is it not fair to say that in the cases of Senator Santorum and President Bush as prime examples, that the Democratic strategy for the fall right now amounts to, Look at what these guys have done, and we‘re not them, vote for us?
O‘DONNELL: That would work in this case. Santorum is an aberration for Pennsylvania politics. He‘s very far to the right of Pennsylvania. Look, Arlen Specter is the other senator from that state, a very moderate Republican. Republicans think of Specter as a liberal. And that‘s the tradition of Pennsylvania.
Santorum replaced a liberal in the landslide that—in 1994, which was basically an anti-Clinton landslide for Republicans.
You know, the most common commercial that was run in the House races, when the Republicans won the House for the first time in four years, was a 30-second spot which had a picture of your congressman that morphed into a picture of Bill Clinton at the end of the 30 seconds.
And so they were really running on a purely anti-Clinton platform. There was no national cohesive message for the Senate Republicans when they won back the Senate. And there wasn‘t for the House Republicans when they won back the House.
There won‘t be for the Democrats. You know, the press can wait all year for that. The press would really love to have one, because it would make covering the campaigns easier, but it‘s not going to happen.
OLBERMANN: Did—are you not counting, though, on the same—in that situation, the same people who were, to some degree, repulsed by the, you know, anti-Clinton campaign to not be repulsed by an anti-Bush campaign?
O‘DONNELL: I don‘t think this time you‘ll be able to run a specifically overt anti-Bush campaign. That commercial won‘t work well this time, because that what you need this time are voters who actually voted for Bush two years ago. That‘s what Democrats need to win in the states where they can win back some Senate seats and where they can win back some House seats.
So that has to be tread a little bit more carefully. And basically, the Democrat has to stand there as the alternative to the Republican, who, in effect, got Iraq wrong, who‘s wrong on stem cell research. Stem cell research is a very big issue in some of the swing Senate states.
Claire McCaskill, the Democratic Senate candidate in Missouri, is using it very well. It‘s on the ballot in Missouri. She‘s in a very strong position against incumbent Republican, and my bet is on her at this point because of a bunch of issues that are not going to work nationally for the Democrats, but she can make work in Missouri.
OLBERMANN: Is there a cohesive strategy for the midterms about Iraq that says what the Democrats will do, as opposed to what they will not do?
O‘DONNELL: No, you won‘t hear anything cohesive. You won‘t, there won‘t, no voter will be walking around saying, If I vote Democratic this time, here is what will happen in Iraq. That‘s an impossible message for them to try to advance.
The commander in chief is still in charge of what happens in Iraq, so the Democrats wouldn‘t be able to affect anything anyway, even if they got the, you know, the both bodies back, the House and Senate. All they‘d really be able to do is investigate, what Carl Bernstein was talking about earlier, you know, how this mess in Iraq was created.
So this is not something the Democrats are going to be able to sell. The public knows that Iraq, in its current circumstance, seems to be unsolvable by American politicians, that the question is simply, how long are we going to hold on, and in what way, and at what points and for what reasons are we going to let go in Iraq?
And they know that no politician sitting in Washington today knows the answer to those questions, that they‘re all feeling their way toward whatever is going to be the end of the Iraq involvement.
OLBERMANN: Lawrence O‘Donnell, political analyst, political strategist, also of “The West Wing” and “The Huffington Post.” As always, sir, great thanks for your time.
O‘DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From political car wrecks to the real thing, the art of the rollover. This is a contest. He meant to do that.
And breaking news, apparently official now. There is a Tom Cruise Scientology baby. You can retire the human adult-sized binkie to the Hall of Fame. The baby is reportedly jumping up and down on the couch as we speak.
Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Melissa Joan Hart has a birthday today, the actress, the “Sabrina the Teenaged Witch” actress, Melissa the teenaged something from the Nickelodeon cable series. She‘s 30, the big three-oh. To quote the 17th-century poet Robert Herrick, “Gather ye rosebuds as ye may.”
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in London for the greatest event in motorsports, the United Kingdom Rollover Championships. Wheee. Rolling over is intentional here. Attempts judged on distance, elevation, and artistic presentation. Lots of smoke, and good neck injury always worth a few bonus points as well. This year‘s winner, number 735, it‘s upside down now, trust me, 735. Wayne Jury (ph) credits a lifetime of training for his victory, and all those years of driving while impaired have finally paid off.
To Japan, where you may have heard they had a lot of snow this winter. But one resort community making the best of the situation, turning a mountain of the white stuff into an extremely dangerous tourist attraction.
Officers in Toyama (ph), or officials, rather, in Toyama, have carved a 22-mile hiking path into the 60-foot deep snow, creating a vast canyon trail that is expected to attract more than a million visitors. We bring you this story tonight in Oddball because when this thing collapses, we won‘t be able to play this funny music anymore, will we?
Finally, if your tootsies are sore after a 22-mile stroll through a snow canyon, keep walking till you get to Hakonei (ph) in Japan, where this hot springs resort has a footbath filled with tiny little carnivorous skin-eating fishies.
It‘s the latest craze on the Japanese spa scene. Submerge your feet, and let the little garalufa (ph) fish eat your troubles away. They have no teeth, so they only nibble away at your little flaps of dead skin, until the inevitable day arrives when they realize that the living meat near your bone is far, far more tasty. Ahh-haha.
Also tonight, 17 years since the last big earthquake in the San Francisco area, 100 years ago to the day now since the quake that destroyed the entire city. Are today‘s residents at greater risk than those of a century ago?
And an unexpected actual bit of news in the Duke story. A past brush with the law for one of the accused players.
These stories ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, police in Oklahoma City blocked off the intersection of Bryant Avenue and 59th Street, spent seven hours imploring the suspected drug dealers holed up inside the house to talk to them, begin a dialogue. They got no reply. Finally, at 3:30 in the morning, officers decided enough was enough. They went in. There was nobody there. Which explained why nobody had answered.
Number two, Chief Ralph Copley at the fire department of Wadsworth, Ohio. A new home there went up in flames. As they tried to contain it, the owner fled. It turned out the basement contained $700,000 worth of marijuana plants. “It was unreal,” said Chief Copley. “In 24 years, I‘ve never seen a fire quite like that.” Seen it? Not smelled it, seen it?
Number one, Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii. The state legislature there has passed a bill and sent it on to her, reestablishing as Hawaii‘s official fish the humuhumunukunukaafuaa, the humuhumunukunukaafuaa is also known as the humuhumu fish for short, or, if you‘re a Hawaiian fan of “The Honeymooners,” it‘s known as the hummina-hummina-hummina fish.
OLBERMANN: It has been known for decades that in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, city fathers actually had photographs of the damage doctored. They wanted eastern investors and insurers to believe that most of the destruction had been caused not by the quake but by the result of fires. The premise was you could always improve fireproofing and firefighting methods. There was nothing you could do about stopping seismic activity. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, as of today it‘s exactly a hundred years since the great quake. More ominously for the city‘s current residents it‘s exactly a hundred years since the last earthquake even approaching that size hit the area. It isn‘t just due, it‘s decades overdue.
More on that in a moment. First, we‘re learning now that not only did the leaders of the 1906 era fudge the photos, they also underreported the fatalities and by nearly 3,000. At the exact moment of the centennial, 5:12 a.m. Pacific Time this morning, sirens echoed through the streets of San Francisco in remembrance of the tragedy. Thousands of people packing the streets to honor the event with a moment of silence and a memorial ceremony. And as George Lewis reports tonight, thanks to the painstaking research of one local librarian, we‘re now only beginning to understand just how many need to be memorialized.
GLADYS HANSON, RETIRED SAN FRANCISCO LIBRARIAN: These are some of the dead.
GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Retired San Francisco Librarian Gladys Hanson has been at this for 40 years. Going after the names of each and every person who died in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. All carefully catalogued. Her way of honoring the victims.
HANSON: It started out because of the dead and now it‘s really a scientific study.
LEWIS: It‘s detective work. Using records from the city, old directories, family documents.
You‘re kind of reconstructing 1906 San Francisco block by block?
HANSON: That‘s right. I‘m rebuilding San Francisco.
LEWIS: In the chaos that followed the earthquake, local newspapers estimated the death toll at around 500. As she combed through the old records Gladys Hanson realized there was something terribly wrong with the city‘s official death count. Here in China town for instance it listed only a dozen dead. She knew the actual death toll was far higher than that.
That‘s because San Francisco‘s leaders downplayed the disaster, not wanting to frighten away investors needed to help rebuild the city.
HANSON: Another fireman.
LEWIS: As Gladys Hanson worked, the list of dead grew. And more names turn up daily. When Dan Collins of Orlando, Florida, read about her on msnbc.com, he remembered an old insurance ledger he got from an earthquake survivor. Gladys was thrilled today when we handed her an email from Dan.
HANSON: It‘s things like this that get you excited. Keeps you moving.
LEWIS: This afternoon, Gladys Hanson quietly paid her respects to the dead. Now officially numbered at 3,400 and counting. Thanks to one very persistent librarian.
HANSON: It‘s like representing 3,000 plus people and they‘re all saying give us a place.
LEWIS: George Lewis, NBC News, San Francisco.
OLBERMANN: We‘re joined now by Simon Winchester, geologist and author of “A Crack in the Edge of the World.” Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
SIMON WINCHESTER, AUTHOR, “A CRACK IN THE EDGE OF THE WORLD”: A
OLBERMANN: All things considered from the growth of the population, the creation of the unstable landfill area known as the marina on the one hand and on the other hand the improved construction techniques, the awareness of seismology, is the average San Francisco resident at greater risk today than he was on the morning of April 18, 1906?
WINCHESTER: I think he is, yes. There are far more of him for a start. Essentially 10-fold increase in the population of the area that‘s underlined by the two most dangerous faults which is the San Andreas Fault on the west and the Hayward fault in the east. And both of them, because neither of them has been relieved by an earthquake for a century, are ready to rupture. As I‘m sure you know, the U.S. geological survey has said that the Hayward fault which underpins Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, there is a 67 percent probability of it rupturing in the next 25 years, giving a magnitude six or above earthquake. If that were to happen there, where the housing stock is really substandard and the bridges and the infrastructure are really not earthquake proof, then there would be a major catastrophe.
In San Francisco, itself, on the west side of the bay, it‘s true. The buildings around where I‘m speaking are generally speaking made of steel. They will sway back and forth depending on of course the strength of the earthquake. But the housing stock won‘t. The housing stock hasn‘t been improved. And so given the huge numbers of people here, there would once again be a major catastrophe. So know, they are a great deal less safe than they were in 1906.
OLBERMANN: To the degree that the same geological survey estimate that you referred to, and obviously it‘s variable based on time of day. But it suggests in essence that a repeat of 1906 could kill 4,000 people in San Francisco. Is there anything to do practically to lower that number?
WINCHESTER: Well, I‘ve maintained ever since I started research on this book that the one country in the world on which they should model their behavior is Japan. Japan, for 2 ½ millennia, have survived essentially innumerable earthquakes. It lives in as seismically a dangerous corner of the world as California. They with their mother‘s milk know what to do in the event of an earthquake. Every prefecture, every village, every community has got highly competent, well-trained people, tons of supplies, in the event of an emergency.
Still in places like California, people are in denial. They think that a glass of seven year old Blanc is the answer to all their problems and that is not going to help. Maybe 10 glasses but one glass won‘t. This is a dangerous place, the people are in denial and they should snap out of it. Maybe this earthquake will be the jolt that they need. Metaphorically speaking of course. And maybe they‘ll start to take earthquakes more seriously than they have.
OLBERMANN: Lastly here, given the infrastructure of that time, the city and the state did an extraordinary job of getting help to the survivors, against the odds there in 1906. Given what we saw in New Orleans last year, could we match that kind of response today?
WINCHESTER: I don‘t think so. I mean, New Orleans was a shambles compared oddly enough to what happened in 1906. In 1906, President Roosevelt and William Taft, the secretary of war, dispatched aid to the city within hours. Congress met to approve the money 4 o‘clock the following morning. All the tents in the possession of the American army were pitched in San Francisco for the 225,000 homeless people within a week. This kind of response in1906 was almost peerless. Sure, there are one or two details which weren‘t wound up perfectly, but compared to Katrina, it was a laudable effort. Given the evidence of Katrina, it doesn‘t look as if America can handle it very well again.
OLBERMANN: Simon Winchester, the author of “A Crack on the Edge of the World.” Also I should mention while we have the chance here, the author of an extraordinary book on another topic called “The Professor and the Madmen.” Which if you have not read, you must. Many thanks for your time, sir.
WINCHESTER: You‘re very kind. Thank you, sir. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the players are named in the Duke Lacrosse indictments and one has a previous arrest in a case of violence. And Tom and Katie have a baby. Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric? No? Oh yeah, somehow I forgot. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had a baby. Those stories ahead but first your COUNTDOWN top three sound bytes.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Working folks said I kind of lend my expertise to try to convince a child that science is cool. Sometimes—you might remember those days when you were in middle school. People said science isn‘t cool. Science is not only cool, it‘s really important for the future of this country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is upsetting. I mean, especially since I didn‘t know he was pounding me in the back of my head.
OLBERMANN: He being the Easter bunny. Erin says the bunny and Frechette jumped her Saturday night after Frechette decided to close 15 minutes early and took off with the bunny.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I went over and talked to her, I was like hey, it‘s only a quarter to 8:00 and you still could be taking pictures. And at that time she sucker punched me in the face.
OLBERMANN: Art McClure takes off his Easter bunny head and joins in.
He says to protect Frechette, his wife.
JAY LENO: The big story continues to be those seven retired generals that have come forward and called for secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld to step down. That shows you the difference between the administrations. You know, Bush can‘t control the generals, whereas Clinton could never control his privates. You know what I‘m saying?
OLBERMANN: The rape investigation at Duke University has long since crossed the double yellow line of news into pure tabloidism. But periodically an actual fact emerges from the speculation and such was the case today. Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN as the names of the two university lacrosse players indicted in the case were revealed. It proved that one of them was arrested last year after three young men shouted anti-gay slurs at another man in Washington and then punched him repeatedly. Our correspondent at Durham, North Carolina, is Ron Mott. Ron good evening.
RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. Investigators say both players were identified by the accuser by their photographs. But defense attorneys say they will be able to prove their clients are innocent.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you guys have anything to say?
MOTT: In handcuffs, the two Duke Lacrosse players were led into jail around 5:00 this morning. Indictments unsealed today spell out the details of first degree rape, sexual offense and kidnapping charges faced by 20 year olds Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann. While neither player was required to show up for today‘s initial court hearing, Finnerty did any way.
Defense attorneys say they can prove both players were gone by the time of the alleged assault. Through ATM receipts, fast food receipts, evidence of a cab ride, and card swipes at a dorm.
KIRK OSBORN, READE SELIGMANN‘S ATTORNEY: It‘s hard to put in words the unfairness and the injustice of this indictment. We look forward to showing that he is absolutely innocent as soon as we can.
MOTT: As for the prosecutor, District Attorney Mike Nifong, he says a third lacrosse player is still being pursued. And that it had been my hope to charge all three of the assailants at the same time. But legal experts say the prosecution may still hold an advantage.
PAUL ROTHSTEIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: When it‘s a group event, there are more potential witnesses. There are people who the state can flip over to their side in return for a promise of leniency.
MOTT: It‘s Finnerty‘s second run-in with the law this school year. Last November he was arrested outside this hotel in Washington, D.C., for assaulting a man who said he was attacked without provocation. Finnerty agreed to perform community service. In Durham, reaction at Duke and North Carolina Central University, where the 27-year-old accuser is a student, was mixed.
KRISTEN PALMER, NC CENTRAL UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I think they might get away with it. Just because they have money.
SEYWARD DARBY, DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I think there are a lot of people who just want it to go away, are ready for it to be done and reach a fair and just resolution.
MOTT: Both players are free tonight after each posted $400,000 bail.
They‘re due back here in court the middle of next month. Keith?
OLBERMANN: Ron Mott in Durham, thank you.
No tasteful segue possible to our entertainment stories of KEEPING TABS so we will not even try. But the good news is, the world has been spared from seeing a Colin Farrell sex tape. The bedroom video starring Farrell and ex-girlfriend Nicole Narain had been the subject of a court battle for months. Farrell accusing Ms. Narain of trying to cash in on the x-rated tape by selling it through a third party. “New York Daily News” now reports the estranged lovers and their respective lawyers convened an Easter Sunday summit and agreed on a settlement that will keep the tape from being released. Bittersweet news really.
And the Barry Bonds saga continues on two fronts. “The San Francisco Chronicle” reporting that the trainer, Bonds‘ team, the San Francisco Giants, has been subpoenaed to testify in the investigation into whether or not Bonds lied to a grand jury. And there is the second instance of the fan or a fan throwing something at the beleaguered slugger. A reminder of that old clich’ about being nice to the folks you meet on your way up because you‘re going to meet them again on your way down.
Last night, during the Giants-Arizona diamondbacks game in Phoenix. 23-year-old Mark Gregerson was arrested for throwing a small plastic tube at Bonds. His mother says it was a container of the muscle reliever “Icee Hot.” She also says she knows her son did it and she knows why. Bonds was her son‘s favorite player when Gregerson was a child, she says he even went to an autograph show and waited in line to get Bonds‘ signature, but that Bonds was “a total jerk” to the boy, even reducing him to tears.
All of which means I better be careful after all these jokes, 20 years from now, little Cruise-Holmes Jr. will probably beat the crap out of me. The greatest birth in western civilization since yesterday.
That‘s ahead but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world. The bronze tonight the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. It sent its 50,000 members a brochure on estate planning complete with a toll-free number. As part of the epidemic in this country of misprinted toll free phone numbers. The number actually connected to a foot fetish phone line. Well, that is one way to spend your estate.
Tonight‘s runner-up, Steve Forbes, publisher, former presidential wannabe explaining to Fox News that, “When we have the confrontation with Iran, the good news is the price of oil will drop. Probably around $15 a barrel.” Chaos, tension, war, great. Just so long as gas prices drop.
But the winner, Kimberly Williamson Butler, candidate for mayor of New Orleans. We mentioned her before, she had on her Web site a photo of herself not in New Orleans but at the French Quarter exhibit at Disneyland. And the giveaway was the Disneyland garbage can near the center of the stage. And now she has changed the photo. The new photo of her in New Orleans? No, the same one only without the Disneyland garbage can, because lawyers at Disney said they were looking into the situation. Kimberly Williamson Butler, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: Important enough to blow off the story we‘ve been advertising all day, important enough for us to break format, change the number one story, important enough for me to fire an entire row of my producers. Tom Kitten has arrived.
Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have had their child today. The child is a girl. Named Suri. If you had Suri in the pool, you‘re our winner. Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry when I take you out in the Suri. The baby is 7-pounds and 7-ounces. So let‘s recap Suri Cruise, the child of actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, born today, a girl, 7-pounds, 7-ounces. Tom Cruise‘s spokesman confirming and additionally the situation is 20 inches long. The baby is 20 inches long or if you prefer, one foot, eight inches long. Still no news about the binky. To discuss the monumental importance of this breaking story, I am joined by Paul F. Tompkins, an authority on this subject as one of the regulars on the VH1 program “Best Week Ever.” Great, thanks for your time tonight Sir.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Thank you very much. Thank you, Keith for treating this with the gravity that it deserves, because we‘re all a twitter here in Hollywood. I‘m the only one working here today, everyone‘s taken off work to go shopping for gold and frankincense and such.
OLBERMANN: They‘ve named this baby Suri. If you Google that name the first thing that pops up is a site for Suri alpacas, a kind of llama. Did Tom and Katie here just out apple Gwyneth Paltrow. That‘s not Gwyneth by the way on the screen, that‘s an alpaca.
TOMPKINS: The gauntlet was thrown. You know, if you‘re going to name your baby after a fruit, we‘re going to go after an obscure animal and then see how you do. Then they went to Moses for the next baby? I‘m sorry but Tom and Katie are already in the lead.
OLBERMANN: That‘s it, they‘re going directly to God for the name of the second child.
OLBERMANN: There‘s another way to look at this Suri thing, S-U-R-I would be a partial anagram of the name Cruise as in Tom if you dropped the C and the E. Are we thinking maybe that‘s where he got it from or is it an abbreviation for something from scientology?
TOMPKINS: Well you just sent a shiver up my spine, first of all. Secondly, this could be something scientological, it‘s a little, you have to be careful though because you can‘t go with something like Xenu because there‘s an X. People will know right away. If you want to be subtle about it, then you have to dig deeper into some of the lesser known characters in L. Ron Hubbard‘s science fiction work.
OLBERMANN: Or South Park. Hold on here Paul, there is more breaking news.
Cruise‘s people have put out a press release, apparently the name has as its origins “In Hebrew meaning Princess or in Persian meaning red rose.” So that‘s the explanation there. Moving on and quoting directly from “People Magazine” here, Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have welcomed their first child together. That may just be an odd bit of phrasing there, but you welcome a child? You not gave birth to? Don‘t you welcome conventioneers and members of the Kiwanis club. Will that not just fuel those internet tabloid rumors that this whole pregnancy was a sham and they really just adopted a baby off the internet or something?
TOMPKINS: Well, you know, obviously you have to meet your child eventually even if it comes out of you. So, I think that welcome is an appropriate phrase. I don‘t think that‘s going to fuel these rumors about the adoption. I think it‘s the really poorly constructed series of fake pregnancy bellies that are going to keep that alive.
OLBERMANN: You could also say, welcome and you have mail. The only other baby that generated this much excitement obviously since the birth of several leading religious figures is the one that is being expected by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. What can they do to out show Holmes and Cruise here after this birth?
TOMPKINS: Well, I guess have an affair immediately with someone else. Maybe start an open marriage. I mean, obviously Brad and Angelina will have to explain to their baby someday how they met. So I think if Tom and Katie really want to ratchet it up, they should start tea parties in their house on a regular basis.
OLBERMANN: That‘s an excellent suggestion. There‘s one loser in all this clearly. This is not an exaggeration or a joke here. Brooke Shields gave birth earlier today. We are not sure that she beat Katie Holmes to the punch here in the birthing pool, but she certainly is getting a ripple through her videotape. Is the affect that we just saw there. She‘s been completely out shown once again by, upstaged by Tom Cruise.
TOMPKINS: Well you can bet Brooke will be calling Katie every single day for months asking how are you feeling today. A little sad? A little depressed today? How are you feeling today? That‘s when caller ID is really going to come in handy.
OLBERMANN: It‘s normal to feel sad. Feel sad. Paul F. Tompkins from VH1‘s “The Best Week Ever.” Let‘s hope this will not be it many thanks.
TOMPKINS: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1083rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose, welcome and to the new Holmes Cruise baby, goodnight and good luck. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “LIVE AND DIRECT.” Good evening Rita.
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