updated 4/28/2006 12:31:41 PM ET 2006-04-28T16:31:41

Guests: Tom O‘Neil; Amy Lehtonen; Pat Lalama; Chris Bliss

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  From Britney‘s baby sliding (ph) to Brad and Angelina to Karl Rove and Ken Lay.  The president‘s men may not be making babies in Africa, but instead making pit stops in U.S. courtrooms.  It‘s getting ugly out there.

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  No passport required, only common sense allowed.

More bad news for President Bush.  Gas prices rise as his poll numbers plunge, while his friends and advisers are grilled by federal prosecutors.  That‘s another storm.  FOX Newsman Tony Snow is the new face in the Bush White House.  Does a presidential pick prove that Hillary was right about that right-wing conspiracy?  Then, “American Idol”—it‘s the King Kong of American culture, but is the beast about to get shot down by a voting system that some are saying is rigged?

We‘re going to have those stories in just a minute.  Plus: He‘s more popular than porn, the Internet‘s most famous juggler (INAUDIBLE) 20 million views of his amazing act to the sounds of the Beatles‘ “Abbey Road.”  Internet phenomenon‘s here tonight in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

But first, the president may not be a believer in global warming, but when it comes to his standing with the American people, there‘s little doubt that George W. Bush is watching his public support quickly melt away, and with it, his hope that Republican allies on Capitol Hill can keep control of Congress.

Tonight‘s new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows a whopping 67 percent of Americans believe we‘re headed in the wrong direction.  And the president‘s approval ratings—they‘ve plunged to 36 percent.  Iraq, gas prices and the images of Ken Lay and Karl Rove marching into courthouses in Houston and Washington, D.C., only underscore the impression that this White House may not yet have reached its low point.

On one extreme, the president‘s conservative supporters are abandoning him in droves.  Big government spending, the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination that smacked of cronyism, his support of an Arab country running U.S. ports and the president‘s plan to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants, in the eyes of conservatives, has shaken his base.  On the other extreme, Mr. Bush has never had the support of Democrats and many independents, who believe he lied his way into Iraq.  He violated Americans‘ civil rights with spy scandals.  He carried himself with what he himself called that Texas swagger, and sided with evangelicals exclusively in culture wars.

Taken together, President Bush finds himself 21 points below where Bill Clinton was this time in 1994.  Remember, that was the year Republicans swept into Congress in a landslide because of the president‘s unpopularity.  Today, the NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll tells me that unless the political landscape changes quickly for the president, he can look forward to a Democratic Congress and two long years of investigations, censure resolutions and possibly calls for his impeachment.

Now, to get the inside story on the crisis gripping the Bush White House, I spoke earlier with “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman, and asked him about conservatives abandoning their president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, they‘re more passionate now, I think, Joe, because they‘re feeling spurned.  For a long time, they felt that George Bush was one of them.  And indeed, George Bush had spent his whole career convinced them of that and had done a pretty good job.  But now conservatives are worried about things like runaway federal spending—not the deficit, just that, but spending, the sheer amount of government spending.  It annoys many conservatives who consider themselves cautious on that.

There are divisions within the Republican base on immigration.  Do we welcome immigrants?  Do we build a wall?  And it seems an either/or proposition.  There are concerns about—among libertarian conservatives about the reach of government in terms of what it knows about people‘s private lives.  In terms of the war in Iraq, which way do we turn?  Do we stay the course in the war?  But how wide a war is it going to be?

So some of the divisions in the conservative ranks are newer, but they‘re deeper because they‘re more recent.

SCARBOROUGH:  And Howard, how damaging is it today, as this poll comes out?  You‘ve got two images that Americans are seeing all day, Ken Lay going into a courtroom in Houston and Karl Rove going into a courtroom in Washington, D.C.

FINEMAN:  Utterly devastating because on oil prices, the question is, What does the president do about energy?  Then you have to ask, Do you trust him to do the right thing on energy?  And also, Karl Rove‘s testimony shines a light once again on the whole question of whether ethics in government means anything in Washington these days.  And since the Republicans control both the White House and the Congress, they‘re the ones who are going to now have to answer for the ethics or lack thereof in Washington, D.C., just as the Democrats did, Joe, when you were running in 1994 against the then Democratic Congress.

SCARBOROUGH:  So I guess the question of the hour for the Republican Party is, Can George Bush, can the GOP turn it around?  And I‘ll be honest with you, Howard.  I mean, I don‘t see how they do it.

FINEMAN:  It looks difficult.  As I said, they still have time.  That‘s the only good news they‘ve got now.  The other good news they have is that the Democrats still are fumbling around to decide on a strategy and figure out what would be contained within it.  I mean...

SCARBOROUGH:  Do they need a strategy with a president that has a 32 percent approval rating?

FINEMAN:  They do need something.  They still need something.  They still need something.  And you know, the old line is, you know, Do the Democrats believe in anything?  The answer is, Yes, they believe in anything.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  And you know, they‘ve got to get their arms around some way to nationalize the election, to make it beyond merely what George Bush and the Republicans have done wrong.  They‘ve got to have something.

SCARBOROUGH:  “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, thank you so much for stopping by.

FINEMAN:  You‘re welcome, Joe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  And I do think they have something.  You know, like Howard, I‘ve always believed that you can‘t beat something with nothing in politics.  But in today‘s political environment, the Democratic leadership has wisely followed Napoleon‘s sage advice: When your enemy‘s in the process of destroying himself, don‘t interfere.

I asked Sen. Barbara Boxer if her party had a plan to retake the reins of power in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  It‘s a larger picture because when you‘re out of power, as we are—and you know this, we don‘t run the House or the Senate or the White House.  And the Court is now switching the other way, as well.  So we don‘t run anything.  And when you don‘t have a bully pulpit like that, what you need to do first is convince people that the status quo is not good.

SCARBOROUGH:  One of the few bright points for the president, if you want to call it that, in the latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll was the fact that Americans by a 2-to-1 margin blame oil companies instead of the president of the United States for high gas prices.  As you know, we‘ve have been trying to get somebody from the oil industry to come on this show and justify what they‘ve been doing over the past six months—absolutely no luck.

Have you made any progress at all in possibly bringing them back to the Hill, having them testify under oath and explain why gas prices continue to skyrocket?

BOXER:  Well, yes, we‘re making progress.  I heard today that our ranking member on the Commerce Committee, Dan Inouye, a leading Democrat and war hero and a wonderful man, is pushing Senator Stevens to bring back the whole issue of gas prices.

I will just say that day, I‘ll never forget when Maria Cantwell and I tried to swear in these execs from the oil companies, and Sen. Stevens said, We will not do that in this meeting.  Well, why not?  The fact of the matter is, we want them to tell the truth.  At the end of the day, they did not tell the truth.

But I want to get to your point.  I think the American people are right to blame the oil companies because they‘re saying, Oh, woe is us.  We had Katrina, we have instability in the world.  But yet if that was the case and they passed just the costs on to us, we wouldn‘t see this jump as we have seen, this unbelievable...

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s the issue...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Have you heard any explanation—I‘m not asking whether you believe it or not, but have you heard any explanation that comes close to explaining why, in a time of crisis, oil companies receive sickening profits and their CEOs get $400 million pensions?

BOXER:  I think we ought to have a windfall profits tax on that particular CEO, $400 million, even if it was 50 percent, we‘d have—we‘d be $200 million that we could ease the burden on our people.

But no, you see, the reason they can‘t really make the case with the American people is they‘re claiming that the problem is instability in the world, Katrina, all these problems.  But we look at their books and we see record profits.  If they were just passing on the cost, we would understand that.  We would understand it.  But they‘re passing on costs and these obscene profits.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Sen. Boxer, as always, thanks a lot for being with us tonight, and let us know if you have any—make any progress on bringing the CEOs from the oil companies to Capitol Hill.

BOXER:  I‘ll let you know.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Thanks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, amid chants of, The sky is falling, the sky is falling, history actually does provide the Bush White House with a little bit of reason to believe that political miracles can happen.  Ronald Reagan rebounded from a 35 percent approval to leave office as one of the most popular presidents ever, as did Bill Clinton, who say his approval ratings dip into the mid-30s before employing the canny strategy of getting impeached to facilitate his political revival.

So how does George Bush recover?  Well, I think he needs to do four things.  First, he needs to fire his entire staff, and then rehire only the ones who have the track record and the energy to face the next two years of political assault.

Second, put a top Democrat—I mean a real Democrat—in his inner circle.  You know, conservatives may come home this fall, but independents aren‘t unless George Bush shows some humility.

Third, he‘s got to veto a slew of spending bills this summer.  You know, Bill Clinton did it to force a government shutdown, even when he admitted the bills didn‘t spend too much money.  And you know what it‘s called?  It‘s called using the bully pulpit to make a point.

And fourth, tell Americans his exit strategy for Iraq.  Now, this is going to be painful for the president, but focus must be brought.  Americans must be shown a light at the end of the tunnel.  You know, this whole, We‘re going stay until the job gets done, is no longer good enough for the American people, whether it‘s the right policy or not.

Let‘s bring in now the executive producer of “The West Wing” and former Democratic strategist, MSNBC senior political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Lawrence, I‘ve given the president my advice.  Tonight, I want you to put on your political consultant hat and tell me what does George Bush need to do to save himself and the Republican Congress?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  Oh, I think he should go with the Scarborough program, Joe, but we know the guy.

SCARBOROUGH:  He won‘t do that, will he.

O‘DONNELL:  No, he‘s not going to fire everyone.  We know he‘s not going to come up with a new announcement about how he‘s going to handle Iraq.  I think he is going to pull out as many troops as he possibly can by October, you know, probably 50,000, if he can do it, and maybe more.  I used to think he was going to be able to pull out more.  Now I‘m not so sure.

No top Democrat, Joe, will go in there now.  The parties are too polarized and Bush is too weak, and a top Democrat going in there now would be going in to save a presidency, and that would be regarded as party treason for a Democrat.

SCARBOROUGH:  But what if the president picked up the phone and said to a senior Democrat, I‘m in trouble?  Let‘s say he called up Sam Nunn and said, I‘m in trouble.  This isn‘t about me.  I‘ve already been reelected.  I‘m here late (ph)  We need to make sure that the troops have our support. 

Come help me, Sen. Nunn.  Can Sen. Nunn say no to that?

O‘DONNELL:  Just say no.

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, David Gergen helped Bill Clinton.

O‘DONNELL:  I think Sen. Nunn would say no to it, and I‘ll tell you why, Joe, because the government is bankrupt, because the deficit spending has been so wild that Sam Nunn, who was a deficit hawk when he was in the Senate, would not be able to even figure out what to suggest to a White House that has dug this kind of financial hole.

It‘s an unmanageable situation.  And the vetoes of spending bills is a great idea, except for the fact that he would be vetoing spending bills written by his own party.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And I understand some of these senior Republicans would have to face the music back in their districts.  They‘re going to get reelected anyway.  You know, a rising tide lifts all boats.  In politics, that‘s certainly the case.  And it seems to me if his numbers go up, his party‘s numbers go up.

But look at these numbers.  This is the whole “right track, wrong track” question.  When Americans were asked whether they believed America was headed in the right direction or not, a whopping 67 percent said America was headed on the wrong track, only 24 percent said it was headed in the right direction.

You know what‘s so shocking about these numbers?  You compare these numbers with our economic numbers, Lawrence, and it‘s not the economy, stupid, anymore.  This is about the war, isn‘t it.

O‘DONNELL:  It is about the war, but even though the economy in general, the numbers are OK, pretty good, the problem is these gasoline prices, which is the single most visible killer...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  ... in the economy.  And in relative terms, historical terms, they‘re not that bad.  They‘ve gone up under every president.  They went up under Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton put a tax on gasoline.  You know, that‘s how free they were about moving the price in those days.

But this is haunting this president because he‘s from an oil state, because he used to be an oilman and there‘s this sense, you know, that he doesn‘t have the strength to stand up to this industry.  It‘s true that people believe the prices will go up, no matter what politicians say.  But this particular politician just has the wrong kind of history with the subject...

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it.

O‘DONNELL:  ... to be able to distance himself from it.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, you‘re exactly right, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  No doubt about it.  Most Americans think he‘s connected at the hip with the oil industry, and it‘s hurting him badly.  Hey, Lawrence, thank you so much for being with us.  I really appreciate it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  And coming up straight ahead, it‘s TV‘s 800-pound gorilla, but there are new questions tonight about “American Idol‘s” voting system.  Could it be rigged?  And will Tony Snow‘s appointment as press secretary help the White House get back on the right track?  Well, I don‘t know.  Is this reaching out to the Democrats?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s a new man behind the podium at the White House press briefing room, but is this really a new job for Fox News‘s Tony Snow, or does it prove the dark scenario that many have been whispering in bars for years, that there‘s a vast right-wing conspiracy out there to control the government?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... this vast right-wing conspiracy...

right-wing conspiracy...

right-wing conspiracy...

SCARBOROUGH (voice-over):  The president picks a spokesman from the network that Democrats love to hate, Fox News.  For the president‘s critics, the selection of Tony Snow as White House spokesman means the more things change, the more they stay the same.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  Now his job is to defend the president at the White House, when he‘s been defending the president on Fox.  What‘s changed?

SCARBOROUGH:  But what hasn‘t changed is the fact that Fox News remains the scourge of Democrats.  Their larger-than-life personalities have become targets of the left—Bill O‘Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Fox News president Roger Ailes, who also worked for the Bush 41 White House and faced withering attacks for a memo he sent to the president after 9/11.

So who would official Washington have embraced as the new White House press secretary?  Well, Wolf Blitzer comes with a built-in nickname for the president, and Aaron Brown is reportedly looking for a new job.  Ted Koppel has some free time on his hands, and then there‘s Anderson Cooper.  But the Bush White House frown on metro—sexuals.  And then, of course, there‘s our own Keith Olbermann.  Nah.  Probably not a good fit.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS:  I am very excited, and I can‘t wait, and I want to thank you, Mr. President, for the honor.

SCARBOROUGH:  Instead, the president selected from inside the Fox News family, a move sure to aggravate a media machine that looks down on the cable news channel.  But if things get too rough on Snow, there‘s always the option of going into comedy.

SNOW:  One of the reasons I took the job was not only because I believe in the president, because, believe it or not, I want to work with you.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, right.  Already the master of spin, all we can say is, Good luck, Tony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

He is going to need it!  What a tough—that is the most thankless job in America.  Mamas, don‘t let your children grow up to be White House press secretaries.  It‘s ugly.

With me now to sort through all of this is Mike Papantonio, a former law partner of mine.  He‘s also a host of Air America Radio‘s “Ring of Fire” with Robert F. Kennedy.  I would guess, Mike, that you would think this proves there‘s a vast right-wing conspiracy, right?

MIKE PAPANTONIO, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Well, I don‘t like the term “vast right-wing conspiracy.”  The new term is “confederacy of mediocrity.”  I mean, here you have the perfect example of a president who always gravitates towards the mediocre, the same president that brought us Michael Brown, same president that‘s brought us Spencer Abraham for the Department of Energy.  He just can‘t help himself.  So he goes after a mediocre press secretary.

SCARBOROUGH:  What‘s mediocre about this guy?

PAPANTONIO:  Well, I mean, Joe, listen.  Listen.  Compare this guy to Pierre Salinger, a Pierre Salinger, a Bill Moyers.  Compare him to people like Marlin Fitzwater, people who were real journalists.  This guy‘s not even a journalist.  And so at some point, they have to quit dumbing down...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, but by whose definition, though?  This guy wrote for newspapers.  He‘s got a radio show.

PAPANTONIO:  Oh, come on!  Come on!

SCARBOROUGH:  He‘s got a TV show.

PAPANTONIO:  But do you know how America thinks of this guy at the end of the day?  This is the person for Fox News that was up in front of a camera with a straight face, telling America that, Yes, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.  Yes, Saddam Hussein is related to Osama bin Laden.  And you know what?  That kills his credibility.  This is the same guy...

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait a second!  Now, you supported Bill Clinton, didn‘t you?

PAPANTONIO:  Well, I supported Bill Clinton.  Of course, I did.

SCARBOROUGH:  Sometimes, you know, presidents make mistakes, right?

PAPANTONIO:  Well, no...

SCARBOROUGH:  Shouldn‘t we be forgiving...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... more forgiving towards Mr. Clinton?  And by the way, speaking of Bill Clinton, when you want to talk about mediocrity, I mean, Joe Lockhart is not a flaming supernova out there, is he?

PAPANTONIO:  I agree with that.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.

PAPANTONIO:  But we‘re talking about Tony Snow here.  Look, out of all the choices that this president—this presidency is spinning out of control, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I agree with that, Mike, but don‘t...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I agree with that, but don‘t you give Tony Snow credit for being—at least being more intellectually honest than, let‘s say, a guy like Bill Moyers.

PAPANTONIO:  Oh, come on!

SCARBOROUGH:  Snow actually used his position...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  You know he‘s a left-wing act.  Snow used his position to attack the president.

PAPANTONIO:  Listen, let me just tell you something.  Tony Snow is not credible.  Everybody‘s going to look at him as he‘s up there spinning the George Bush—George Bush needs credibility right now...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  So who do you pick?

PAPANTONIO:  He has—there‘s only 32 percent of the American public that believe in George Bush anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You think he‘s going to get Bill Moyers to go in there?

PAPANTONIO:  No, no.

(CROSSTALK)

PAPANTONIO:  Here‘s the point.  Here‘s the point.  For George Bush—for George Bush‘s situation, I suppose Tony Snow makes sense because the same people who‘ve been watching Tony Snow for the last six years are the same people who are now supporting this president.  So I guess, to that extent, it makes some sense.  To the extent that the press corps doesn‘t make any difference anymore—the press corps doesn‘t even know how to ask questions anymore.  They‘re not interested in news journalism anymore.  So he makes sense for the press corps.  The press corps doesn‘t care who‘s up there.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And I would guess, Mike Papantonio, since you work with them, only Air America truly cares about America‘s future, right?

PAPANTONIO:  Air America does care, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Very good.  Thank you so much, Mike Papantonio. 

Good to see you again.

PAPANTONIO:  Good to see you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  And now it‘s time for another “Flyover” of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  First stop, Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the local mayor was busted for speeding in his own home town!  The mayor‘s excuse?  Well, he claimed to be trying to catch another police officer, who he saw speeding.  Yes, try that one the next time you‘re pulled over.

Our next stop, Ohio State University, where reading conservative books can get you branded by the PC police.  Ohio State‘s librarian recommended that “The Marketing of Evil” be included as freshman required reading.  After that, three professors attacked the librarian, accusing him of sexual harassment for preferring the conservative book be placed on shelves.  You talk about the thought police!  Now other schools are bowing to the pressure and refusing to buy best-selling conservative books.

And finally, from sea to shining sea, in your local ballpark, the national immigration debate is singing a different tune.  A group of Latin musicians are planning to record a Spanish language version of the national anthem.  Organizers say they hope the Spanish version of “The Star Spangled Banner” will help Americans see how dedicated immigrants are, too.  Opponents say it‘s one more example of America losing their heritage.

That‘s another “Flyover” of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Coming up straight ahead: This guy may be the greatest juggler you‘ve ever seen, and he‘s making the rounds all over the world—on line, that is.

And does the best man or woman always win, or is the “American Idol” voting system rigged?

All that when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Former Enron CEO Ken Lay earned $106 million in 2000 -- you heard it right, friends -- $106 million in a year.  And rock legend Neil Young‘s latest song is called “Let‘s Impeach the President.”  Ah, the iron fist inside the velvet glove. 

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We‘re going to have those stories in just minutes. 

But first, it‘s time for “Must See TV.” 

And first up tonight, remember senior class cut day in high school?  Well, I bet it wasn‘t like this one.  At a high school in Greenville County, South Carolina, fist fights and beating broke out among the students.  This home video was released by authorities. 

And talk about a fight.  Over 1,000 people gathered to recreate a medieval battle in the Czech Republic.  They did it today.  And, my gosh, look at those fetching tunics.  Where can you get one of those, Michael? 

Then, holy smokes, Peruvian authorities declare a state of emergency as officials continue to plan for massive evacuations for towns close to a volcano that‘s been erupting there for a week now. 

And a controversy is erupting in “American Idol.”  It‘s just ended.  You know, a lot of people have been wondering whether the voting system can be trusted.  We have, of course, for sometime, we‘ve had so many people out there talking about how, you know, they‘re rigging this system, and how fans are rigging the systems. 

There is something called DialIdol.com that allows “Idol” fans to download software so they vote thousands of times using a computer modem. 

Let‘s bring in right now celebrity journalist Pat Lalama and “In Touch Weekly‘s” Tom O‘Neil. 

Tom, I want to start with you.  There has been a controversy for sometime over this voting system.  You said it was rigged several years ago.  Now we hear about Kellie Pickler possibly having her hometown supporters rig her competition.  But everybody else is basically saying she‘s the worst on “Idol.” 

How do you rig a system like this? 

TOM O‘NEIL, “IN TOUCH WEEKLY”:  Well, there have been 11,000 suspicious votes from a local telephone company relaying text messages on her behalf.  And what make this a little shady is that, normally, there are phone charges that go with text messaging, so while these express people‘s votes locally, there maybe somebody picking up the charge, if there is a charge here. 

Look, I asked the FCC just last year during the height of one of many voting scandals on the show if they were going to investigate this show, and they said, no, it is not an honest competition.  Our actual policy is to consider...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wait, what do you mean?  The government told you this is not an honest competition so they‘re not going to even bother investigating it?

O‘NEIL:  Yes, they consider it entertainment, like professional wrestling. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So they‘re think it‘s rigged, and you think it‘s rigged? 

O‘NEIL:  Well, I think it‘s rigged.  Yes, I think it‘s obvious.  And I think “American Idol” admits it all the time when they say they have no problem with repeat voting.  Where they draw the line is with speed dialing and power dialing, like this computer program you‘re talking about.

SCARBOROUGH:  But that‘s going on.

Let me bring in Amy Lehtonen.  And she‘s from our local affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina, WCNC. 

Tell me about the Kellie Pickler story that you all covered. 

AMY LEHTONEN, WCNC.COM:  Well, Kellie Pickler is from a small town called Albemarle in North Carolina, and it has a population of about 16,000.  So Kellie Pickler making it on “American Idol” is a really big deal. 

Every Tuesday night, downtown Albemarle has a big block party.  And a local phone company came in, and they set up free text messaging so anyone that‘s down there can vote for free for Kellie Pickler from that Pick Pickler phone bank. 

Well, I wrote a story about this on our Web site, WCNC.com, and I got an e-mail from a woman who said that she thought that this was cheating.  So, in turn, I wrote a blog about this, saying, “Hey, what do you guys think?  Do you think it‘s cheating if there is a phone bank for Kellie Pickler?”

And the majority of the people said, no, it‘s not cheating, it‘s just the people in Albemarle supporting a hometown girl, Kellie Pickler.  But there a few people out there who do think that, yes, it is cheating.  And I just found out that, last night, a record 25,000 text votes were cast from Albemarle, from this Pick Pickler phone bank for Kellie Pickler. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Lalama, you‘ve had problems with “American Idol” from the very beginning.  Do you think—let‘s go back to, again, the voting problems over the past several years.  I mean, do you think Americans really care about it?  I mean, this is all about entertainment, right?  So what‘s the big deal? 

PAT LALAMA, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST:  You know, I look at it that way, because I mean—and Tom hit it right on the head.  Because when we were investigating Paula Abdul‘s alleged affair with that contestant, Corey Clark, and I spoke to the FCC, and they said, “This is not a contest.”  It does not fall under the guise of our rules that spell out how you abide by contest rules.

SCARBOROUGH:  Do, Pat, do Americans really care whether it‘s rigged or not? 

LALAMA:  I don‘t think so, Joe.  Here‘s the deal.  I mean, in the end, the playing field is even.  It‘s sort of like—you know, a good, old-fashioned American ingenuity.  If you can figure out a way to get your vote in there, you can get it in. 

It‘s not like “Quiz Show.”  You know, it‘s not like some two-headed telephone executive sitting in the backroom with horns on his head going, “How can we do this so we make more money?”  I think it‘s just the way the system works out.  It‘s clearly flawed, but I don‘t think there‘s anything really nasty or—you know, I just don‘t think it‘s total fraud, in the way that we might want to think about it.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, and Tom O‘Neil, again, you‘ve had problems with this voting system in the past, but you said it‘s like wrestling.  Well, there are millions and millions of Americans that absolutely love watching wrestling whether it‘s fake or not, right? 

O‘NEIL:  Yes, but this is different:  “American Idol” is an expression of the American dream.  Part of the reason that this show is so popular is me, as a viewer, believes that my view is being acted out through these telephone votes and the result that is choosing somebody who‘s going to go on to be a superstar.  That is a lie.

SCARBOROUGH:  So what you‘re saying is, Americans are spending their money that try to vote for their favorite contestant.  But in the end—again, and you still go back a couple of years ago with that whole Ruben-Clay controversy—you think, if “American Idol” doesn‘t like the results they get, they change them? 

O‘NEIL:  I wouldn‘t go that far, but there has certainly been evidence to suggest it, yes.  And that‘s why the FCC really should do an investigation.  But this is a British company.  They‘re off-shore.  They‘re protected from any of that.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, this isn‘t “American Idol‘s” first hometown voting controversy.  Two years ago, critics and fans were upset when Jasmine Trias made it into the top three.  Since Hawaii has its own time zone and the phone lines stay open for two hours after the show‘s broadcast, Jasmine‘s fans had more time to go to the phone lines. 

Here‘s a look at the numbers on May 9, 2004.  The population of Hawaii was 1.2 million people, yet the state registered—I love this—the state registered 1.3 million votes.  By comparison, New Jersey had a population of over 8 million registered votes.  Roughly the same number of votes. 

Pat, you know, that sounds like the old Saddam Hussein elections where he got 100 percent of the vote. 

LALAMA:  Well, you know what?  Come on.  I mean, we‘re not talking about hanging chads here and election machines that are rigged or don‘t work.  If anybody watches this show and really thinks it‘s a legitimate, by-the-book, every vote is registered and counted, that‘s crazy.  Don‘t teach your kids that that‘s what this show is about; this is entertainment.

But I do agree with Tom, that, you know, it‘s a little bit discouraging, because it started out as this “you can fulfill your American dream.”  But, you know what, ladies and gentlemen?  It‘s show biz.  Come on!

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s only show biz, in the words of John Lennon.  Thank you, Amy.  Thank you, Pat.  And thank you, Tom.  Greatly appreciate it. 

Let‘s bring in right now Rita Cosby.  She‘s, of course, the host of

“LIVE & DIRECT.” 

Rita, what‘s your lead story tonight? 

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Well, hi, Joe.  Tonight, we have a big one. 

We have brand-new details in the Duke rape case which could deal a severe blow to Reade Seligmann‘s alibi.  It deals with that photo, which the defense team showed to a lot of reporters showing the accuser leaving the party at 12:41 a.m. 

I will give you a hint, Joe:  We have caught a key witness making a major mistake regarding the dancers that night, and it could change this case dramatically.  We‘ve got what could be a bombshell revelation.  And that‘s at the top of the hour.  I hope all of you at home and, Joe, you tune in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I will be tuning in, Rita.  I may be eating crow by the end of this.  Thanks a lot.

Make sure you tune in to see Rita “LIVE & DIRECT,” coming up straight ahead at 10:00. 

Up next here, though, in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, one of my favorite rock legends, Neil Young, has a new song that rocks President Bush.  I‘ve got issues with the subtlety of it. 

And have you heard of Chris Bliss?  Well, people all over the world can‘t get enough of him on the Internet, and we‘ve given him a passport to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, coming up, straight ahead. 

But first, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY‘s “Heroes and Villains.”  You remember that Harry Truman saying, “The buck stops here”?  Taking that kind of responsibility, let me tell you, man, that‘s a sign of great leadership. 

But when it comes to Ken Lay, personal responsibility is not a character trait the ex-Enron chief possesses.  This week, the man responsible for one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history placed the blame on everybody else‘s shoulders. 

Listen to his testimony.  He said it‘s the media‘s fault, it‘s the workers fault, it‘s the short-sellers fault, it‘s everybody‘s fault but the man Enron shareholders paid millions of dollars every year to do one thing:  protect Enron. 

Instead, it appears Mr. Lay was willing to take the perks of leadership and $106 million in 2000 but not the burdens. 

Let me tell you what, friends.  With that kind of leader, it‘s no wonder that Enron crashed and burned like no other corporation in American history. 

Ken Lay, he‘s tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY villain. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  He may be the greatest juggler in the world.  Well, at least he‘s the best we‘ve ever seen. 

This video clip from his Web site, ChrisBliss.com, is one of the most e-mailed videos to ever hit the Internet.

Now, if you‘ve never seen comedian and juggler Chris Bliss, you‘re in for a treat.  Chris joins me now. 

And, Chris, we‘re going to tell everybody your story in a minute, but first, if you could, give us a little demonstration. 

All right, Chris Bliss, everybody.  That‘s fantastic. 

You know, when I saw that “Abbey Road” thing you did on the Internet, I had no idea how you were going to be able to handle Ringo‘s drum solo at the end and the guitar solo.  But it‘s—I mean, how did this get started?  I mean, you‘re a comedian by trade.  What happened here?  You‘re bigger than most porn stars on the Internet.

CHRIS BLISS, COMEDIAN AND JUGGLER:  Well, it‘s just curious that you would know that, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I mean, from what my lighting directors and stage managers tell me. 

BLISS:  Yes, I am the Jenna Jameson of juggling acts right now, according to the download numbers.

SCARBOROUGH:  You are, you are. 

BLISS:  But it started in January.  This thing has been sitting on my Web site for about four years.  That was shot at the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in 2002. 

And it‘s just been sitting on the Web site.  And sometime in January, I started to get a trickle of e-mails from people, “Hey, we love this thing.”  And apparently somebody went to the site, took the URL, pasted it into an e-mail, sent it to all of their friends, and all of them sent it to all of their friends, and pretty soon, you know, I‘ve got 10 e-mails a day, 20 e-mails a day.  At the peak, it was probably 300 e-mails a day. 

And I‘m paying for all these downloads.  I‘m going crazy.  We finally shifted it over to Google, and now it‘s their problem and not mine, so...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, fantastic.  Well, so you‘re a comedian by trade, though, right?

BLISS:  Yes, I‘ve been doing stand up for the last 18 years now, so—

I went to “Tonight Show” and stuff.  It‘s interesting.  I asked the “Tonight Show,” after the fifth or sixth time, I said, “Hey, I got this other thing,” and they said, “Oh, that‘s very nice, but, you know, keep doing the stand up.”  And I thought, oh, good, I made the right decision here, and then all of a sudden this thing happens out of the blue, so...

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you never know what‘s going to hit. 

BLISS:  No, you don‘t.

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s talk, though, about something that you‘re involved in that you‘re very serious about. 

BLISS:  Well, and that‘s the greatest benefit to me.  I started back in August.  I started a nonprofit called MyBillofRights.org. 

And the idea was that I was trying to find something positive to do, because the mood of the country has been so divisive.  And I was thinking, “This is like a bad marriage.  People are just talking back past one another, and everyone‘s lost a sense of common values, and even of common decency.” 

And I‘m thinking, well, when you‘re marriage is in trouble, go back to your vows.  And I thought, well, the Bill of Rights, that‘s our vows.  That‘s the promise we made to ourselves as a nation.  And I thought maybe we should put up some monuments to the Bill of Rights outside every state capital in the country, and it turns out there‘s not a single monument of the Bill of Rights anywhere in America.

SCARBOROUGH:  And that‘s great, because it‘s not divisive.  I mean, you‘ve got all these fights over Ten Commandments.  You have all these other symbols...

BLISS:  And this is our...

SCARBOROUGH:  ... religious symbols.  But, again, this is something again that everybody shares. 

BLISS:  Well, it‘s America‘s sacred document.  It‘s one of our great gifts to the world.  It‘s one of the first human rights documents.  It‘s a fault line in human history between the divine right of kings and the inalienable right of the individual. 

And I thought:  Let‘s get this started.  And we‘re having a great deal

the greatest joy for me is that this video is bringing attention to this project.  The State of Arizona is about to become the first state to approve placement on the Capitol grounds, and then we‘re going to go ahead with the finishing of the design. 

We want to do 51 individual sites specific, because it‘s about individuals.  We don‘t take corporate money, and we only take individual contributions up to $250, because I want 100,000, 150,000 -- I mean, this has to represent the people, otherwise it‘s just words.  And so far, the response has been just incredible, the letters and the comments from people.  It‘s really been heartening.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thank you so much. 

BLISS:  Thank you, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Greatly appreciate it. 

And coming up next, I‘ve got issues with one of the stars of the hit TV show, “The Lost.”  Why she is choosing jail time over community service?

But once again, I want to bring in Chris Bliss.  Chris, how about some more juggling as we go to break?

BLISS:  All right, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, I‘m Joe.  I‘ve got a feeling, and I‘ve got issues. 

First, I‘ve got issues with Washington fitness instructor Glenn Makl.  Now, according to “Roll Call” newspaper, the Bush twins endured an early morning aerobics class, only to be rewarded with attacks on their daddy. 

At the end of the 45-minute workout, Makl held up a “Bushisms” DVD and said it contained some of his favorite attacks on the president.  Makl then impersonated George W. 

Hey, fair enough:  It‘s a free sweaty country.  But this guy sounds like he‘s a few dumbbells short of a complete set for having the first twins in his aerobics class and not recognizing the dudes in the back suits that were lining his walls.

And I‘ve got issues with actress Michelle Rodriguez from the show “Lost.” After pleading guilty to driving under the influence, a judge gave her the choice of community service or jail time.  Her decision:  jail time!

Rodriguez, who plays a cop on the show, could have taken the opportunity to serve her community and to show that even Hollywood starlets would rather contribute to their communities than spend five nights in jail, but Rodriguez said nope. 

And I‘ve got issues with rock legend Neil Young, lately showing the lyrical subtlety of an iron fist inside a velvet glove.  His latest song is entitled “Let‘s Impeach the President.”  Yes, that‘ll keep them guessing.

Young uses Bush sound bites, while a choir chants, “Flip-flop, flip-flop.”  And, you know, I can forgive Young for attacking Alabama in his past.  Heck, Lynyrd Skynyrd did.  I can even give you a pass for being a Canadian.  What‘s that “aboot”?

But I just don‘t know how long this Neil Young fan can stomach Cortez the Killer positioning himself as a Michael Moore of rock and roll.  I mean, what‘s next, using songs by the Who to sell pick-up trucks?

We‘ll be right back with your mail.  Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, Michael, check that out.  See if that smells like anthrax to you. 

It‘s time for the mailbag.  Let‘s start in New Jersey with Tim.  He writes in, “Dear Joe, the oil companies have made and are making billions in profits, but they continue to say the market sets the price.  They‘ve done their best to keep America paying the bare minimum?  That‘s a complete, utter lie.  They know they‘ve been price gouging, and I‘m waiting for Congress to take action against these oil barons, just like they did when they brought down the monopolies, trusts and tycoons.  It‘s time for Congress to stop caring if they get re-elected and get back to basics: 

serving the American public‘s interest.”

And we get this letter from Robert Arend from Pennsylvania.  He writes in about “American Idol.”  He says, “What‘s ruined ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,‘ once the most popular show on TV, will eventually kill ‘American Idol.‘  Overexposure and especially the switch from contestants viewers could identify with, people like themselves, to players who are already rich and famous.  Why would I root for a celebrity to win in life when he‘s already won?”

And finally from Barbie in California, Barbie writes in, and she says, “I just want to let you know:  I‘m so pleased with the new timeslot.  Preparing dinner out here in California is much more enjoyable when I can catch your show.”

Hey, Barbie, thank you so much.  I don‘t know how you pronounce that last name, but just a quick reminder:  It‘s time to check the steaks. 

And, listen, we want to hear from you in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Was it anthrax or not?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, no.

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, clear, great.  You can send your e-mails and foreign objects to Joe@MSNBC.com.  That‘s Joe@MSNBC.com.  And, please, include your name and your hometown. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks so much for being with me.  I really do appreciate it.  Stick around, because “LIVE & DIRECT” with Rita Cosby starts right now.

Have a good night.                                                                                             

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

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