updated 5/17/2006 11:33:35 AM ET 2006-05-17T15:33:35

Guests: Howard Fineman, Thomas DeFrank, Jonathan Alter, Michael Musto

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

Is every domestic phone conversation in this country a conference call?  Is the government listening in?  The president says, Of course not.  Is the government collecting records of all of our calls?  The president says, No comment.

No, no comment from the rookie.  Tony Snow breaks in as White House press secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We will neither confirm nor deny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s more than just slick, it‘s human.  No, Helen Thomas did not make him tear up.

Nor did this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE:  In 2000, when you overwhelmingly made the decision to elect me as your 43rd president...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Al Gore from the alternative universe visits our plane of existence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

GORE:  I have faith in Baseball Commissioner George W. Bush...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And if you think that was odd TV, imagine this.  She thinks he‘s the guest expert on legal battles over computers.  He thinks the TV interview is his job interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) a big surprise, anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A big surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And, oh, here we go.  How many things are wrong with this picture?  Back to driver ed for Ms. Spears.  Back to stories my producers are forcing me to cover.  Michael Musto helps.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Every White House secretary leaves a note of advice for his or her successor tucked into the pocket of an old FBI flak jacket, which is stuffed now full of such letters.  They‘ve been passed down in a tradition dating back to Ron Nessen, the NBC News correspondent who took the job for President Gerald Ford.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the latest newsman to serve as press secretary charting his own path for the job, Tony Snow both cordial and cagey at his first White House briefing this afternoon, taking a new tack on the matter of NSA data mining, not taking it personally when the questions turned personal, but managing to be personal.  The subject was his own fight against cancer.

We begin with the latest on domestic spying, though, Mr. Snow‘s boss, the president, saying today that the government does not listen in on domestic phone calls, but notably, not denying that the NSA is collecting the records of tens of millions of American calls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve been very clear about the principles and guidelines of any program that had been designed to protect the American people.  I‘ve also been clear about the fact that we do not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval, and that this government will continue to guard the—guard the privacy of the American people.  But if al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know, and we want to know why.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  However, two of the big phone companies, named by “USA Today” as part of that surveillance program, are denying having turned over any records at all, BellSouth now saying that its own internal review has determined the company has not provided bulk customer calling records to the NSA, nor does it have a contract to do so, Verizon, meanwhile, saying it cannot and will not confirm or deny whether it has any relationship to the NSA program, while claiming it never provided customer phone records to the NSA, the federal communications commissioner, meantime, demanding that his organization investigates which phone companies did what.

Confused yet?  Perhaps that‘s the goal of the entire exercise.  Remember that sound bite we just heard, in which the president seemed to confirm that the NSA is compiling phone records?  Tony Snow going on record in his first press briefing to claim that the president was not saying what he was saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In his news conference with John Howard, was the president giving kind of a backhanded confirmation of the stories that the NSA is compiling telephone lists?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  No, he wasn‘t.  If you take a

if you go back and listen to the answer he gave, he was talking about foreign to domestic calls.  The allegations in the “USA Today” piece, which we will neither confirm or deny, are of a different nature.  So no, he wasn‘t giving a backhanded confirmation.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS:  (INAUDIBLE), but why not declassify this?  I mean, the president did talk about the surveillance program a day after “The New York Times” broke that story.  This would seem to affect far more people, and it did sound like the president was confirming that story today.  He was answering Terry‘s question...

SNOW:  Well, if you go back, if you go back and you look, look through what, what he said, there was a reference to foreign to domestic calls.  I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program.  That is a decision the president has to make.  I can‘t confirm or deny it.  The president was not confirming or denying.

Again, I would take you back to the “USA Today” story simply to give you a little context.  Look at the poll that appeared the following day, while there was part of it said 51 percent of the American people opposed.  If you look at when people said, If there is a roster of phone numbers, do you feel comfortable with that?  I‘m paraphrasing, and I apologize. But something like 64 percent of the public was not troubled by it.

Having said that, I don‘t want to hug the tarbaby of trying to comment on the program, the existence of which—the alleged program, the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny.

RADDATZ:  But there are polls that show Americans are very concerned about this.

SNOW:  But the president—you cannot run—you can, you cannot, you cannot run a security—you cannot base national security on poll numbers.  As the president of the United States, you have to make your own judgments about what is in the nation‘s best interest.

Well, I did bring it up, because what you were talking about is how people were concerned about privacy issues, and I tried to relate to you what happened.

It was interesting, when people were given the specifics in that story, they did not seem to be terribly troubled.

(CROSSTALK)

HELEN THOMAS:  They are now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... the news coming out today that...

SNOW:  Well, that may have more with the way it‘s being spun than the way it‘s actually...

Go ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to declassify “Newsweek” chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

Howard, thanks for your time.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Sure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Nothing like having to stuff the toothpaste back into the tube on your first day on the job.  President‘s remarks on the NSA compiling a list of our telephone calls, Mr. Snow seems to dance around that.  Your impressions of his debut?

FINEMAN:  Well, my impression was that he was running around on the backfield a lot.  With Scott McClellan, you just had a guy who tucked the ball under his arm and, you know, fell down, didn‘t do much.  Tony Snow is trying to be a little fancier, he‘s trying to be a little more aggressive.  He leaves himself open when he does that, sometimes, I think.

I, I—well, he said at one point in that sound bite there, Keith, he said, “I wouldn‘t presume to declassify it.”  Whoops.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  That, that is confirming it.  I‘m sorry.  And so I don‘t think he helped the president there.  I think it‘s clear from his body language and from what the president said that they confirmed the thing.

OLBERMANN:  Now you know why Scott McClellan used that no yards and a cloud of dust offense that he always used.

FINEMAN:  Yes, it‘s—cuts down on your mistakes.

OLBERMANN:  Did the whole response to this little black phone book story shift here, by the way?  Did—it started as, as I recall, Everything we‘ve done here is legal, but between what the administration said and what the two phone companies have now said, does it now seem closer to, We deny having done anything in the first place?

FINEMAN:  No, I don‘t think so.  And, by the way, I should say, I think Tony Snow is trying to be more open.  He‘s trying to be a good guy.  He‘s trying to play ball, if you will.  But it‘s complicated on something like this, because everything he‘s talking about is classified.  And the whole notion of national security measures taken in wartime limit what you really can say.

So he couldn‘t pick a worse topic to have a modified attempt at candor on.

OLBERMANN:  Politically, the reports that phone calls made by reporters are being traced so that government employees who might leak information could be tracked down in that route, given that no reporters that we know of are working for al Qaeda, is this a risky political move to take?  Is this the one the American public stands up and goes, Wait a minute?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think the American public is going to stand up on behalf of the media anytime soon.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE), I know.

FINEMAN:  But I do think it‘s a dangerous precedent.  And I do think that it‘s the kind of poisoning of the well here in Washington that George Bush really can‘t afford.  I think it‘s clear that prosecutors have no compunction anymore, Keith, about subpoenaing reporters and about subpoenaing their records.

We don‘t enjoy any special standing under federal law, the First Amendment notwithstanding.  So I think they‘re going to plow ahead, and I think it‘ll make reporters even more fearful and more angry.

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, back to Mr. Snow and this very personal moment here, when asked why he was wearing one of those yellow plastic bracelets, because of his own battle against colon cancer last year, I want to get your reaction to this response.  Let‘s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  It‘s going to sound stupid, and I‘ll be personal here.  But...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m sorry.

SNOW:  No, no.  Just having gone through this last year—and I said this to Chris Wallace—was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It‘s my Ed Muskie moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Howard, Tony Snow went on to explain that the same kind of cancer that he‘d been fighting had claimed the life of his mother when he was just 17.  And he talked about the medical advances in the field that have been miraculous.

Are we so jaded by the last few press secretaries that we‘re surprised at hearing such candor and such emotion on opening day from the White House press secretary?

FINEMAN:  Oh, I think this is a special case.  Everybody knows that Tony was ill.  Everybody knows he‘s recovered.  Everybody wishes him well.  The White House press room can be a very unforgiving, very cold place. 

Washington can be a very cold, unforgiving town.

My heart goes out to him.  I congratulate him on his recovery, and the fact that he‘s willing to get in the ballgame like this.  And I think everybody‘s rooting for him on a personal level.

OLBERMANN:  And tomorrow, the use of the phrase “hug the tarbaby” will be coming the -- (INAUDIBLE) --  What did you mean by that, Mr. Snow?

FINEMAN:  That‘s probably another one he‘d like to take back.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, certainly.  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, as always, sir, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The big news out of court in the Scooter Libby CIA leak case, the potential, if not promise, of even bigger news to come, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald saying he would be meeting with his team Tuesday afternoon to review the case.  That signaled that he figures to still be in Washington as the grand jury in his case meets again, as it usually does, Wednesdays and Fridays, at the same time, Scooter Libby‘s legal team remaining ever vigilant in its pursuit of documents it has documents it has little chance of ever getting, lawyers for the former White House aide asking the judge in the case to force news organizations to turn over notes from its reporters, their reporters, attorneys for “The New York Times,” “TIME” magazine, are on NBC News arguing they have already turned over any documents that are relevant to the case.

Will Karl Rove be joining Scooter Libby on Fitzgerald‘s indicted list?  Questions about what was behind Mr. Rove‘s speech and the new talking point that you may not like the job the president is doing, but you still like him, even if the polls say you don‘t.

And the reemergence of the man who got more votes than W. in the presidential race.  “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE,” and his new global warming documentary, promoting the film, or promoting another run for the White House?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is a phrase that was sometimes used by Christian conservatives on the issue of gay rights, Love the sinner but hate the sin.  Now, what sounds like a mutated version of that is being applied to President George Bush by his most trusted confidants, Karl Rove and Laura Bush.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the notion that the American public may not like everything the president does, but they still like the president, the problem, poll numbers simply no longer supporting that either.  On two Sunday morning news programs, the first lady begged to differ with job approval numbers for her husband.  “I don‘t really believe those polls,” she said.  “I travel around the country and I see people, and I see their responses to my husband.”

She also said it had been a, quote “very difficult year,” and the president‘s hard decisions, quote, “don‘t please everyone.”

Karl Rove spoke out Monday, apparently unconcerned that he might steal some of the spotlight from his boss‘s primetime address to the nation about immigration.  Mr. Rove was more explicit in trying to delineate a difference between Mr. Bush‘s job approval and his personal likeability.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF:  The polls I believe are the polls that we—that we run—that get run through the RNC.  And I look at those polls all the time.  The American people like this president.  His personal approval ratings are in the 60s.  Job approval is lower.  And what that says to me is, is that people like him, they respect him, he‘s somebody they feel a connection with.  But they‘re just sour right on the war, and that‘s the way it‘s going to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But as Mr. Rove noted there, personal approval ratings in the 60s for Mr. Bush apparently come only from a poll taken by the Republican National Committee.  In three recent mainstream news polls, the president‘s personal approval rating does come in slightly higher than his job approval rating, but even those so-called likeability ratings never top 39 percent.

Let‘s call in the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News,” Tom DeFrank.

Tom, thanks for your time.

THOMAS DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In saying that the president‘s personal approval is far higher than job approval, there‘s obviously an accuracy issue.  But is there also not one of relevance?  This is a new talking point, a new strategy.  What is its point?

DEFRANK:  Well, I don‘t understand what the point is, because I agree with you, Keith, it‘s really irrelevant.  It is true the president‘s likeability factor is higher.  It‘s not in the 60s.  I don‘t believe that number.  But it‘s certainly higher than his approval number, which is in the 30s.

But I do think it‘s irrelevant.  Clearly, even if you accept the proposition that a majority of the American people like him, it‘s not—it‘s not saving him.  And the notion that once Iraq settles down, or maybe a little something else good happens, and he‘ll be fine because people like him, is—that‘s just—nobody else except Karl Rove seems to believe that.

OLBERMANN:  And seemingly implicit in the remarks by both Mr. Rove and by Mrs. Bush, the idea that the president‘s destiny is now tied irrevocably to the war in Iraq.  People‘s view of the war certainly are sour.  The public is certainly pinning the fault on him.  Is drastic improvement in Iraq just about the only thing that could push his approval back up?  And even at this point, how much could it go back up?

DEFRANK:  Well, I don‘t know how much it could.  I mean, we‘re six years into a term, here, Keith.  I constantly ask the president‘s advisers, What is the momentum changer out there?  Tell me the thing that could really cause the president to have a monumental reversal of fortune from negative to positive.  And they all kind of fuzz and hedge and look at their shoes and stare at the ceiling.  I mean, clearly, if there‘s a dramatic turnaround in Iraq, that will certainly help the president.  But I don‘t believe at this point in his presidency there is a magic bullet beyond Iraq that could turn things around for him.

That‘s the problem he has with a lot of things, like immigration last night.  I mean, he can try to be a leader, and I think he was trying to be very leaderly last night, but what you‘re—when you‘re at 30 percent in the polls, it‘s pretty hard to do.

OLBERMANN:  Did that speech register anywhere?  Was there at least somebody taking umbrage somewhere over that sort of sotto voce reference to temporary workers having to learn English?

DEFRANK:  Well, I mean, some people think that‘s a good idea.  Others don‘t.  I mean, the problem was, the president was trying to check off boxes, a lot of boxes.  He wanted to have at least one box of policy that somebody would like out there, or some group or some political faction, but for every one of those that he got, somebody else didn‘t like them.

And so that‘s the problem with a comprehensive plan.  Your opponents can pick apart pieces.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask about Mr. Rove‘s remarks, their timing, the fact of them, since we have this continuing, He might be indicted storyline that is not seemingly going away, there‘s the chance that something he says could draw news coverage away from the president.  Do we know what he‘s doing here?  I mean, is he changing the subject?  Is he trying to reassure the president of his own loyalty in case this is his last chance to do so?  Is he whistling through a graveyard?

DEFRANK:  No, I know—I think that Karl, the president knows that Karl is very loyal to him, and visa versa.  I think Karl was really trying to shore up the base, the American Enterprise Institute being part of his conservative base, and many of whose members are a little queasy about what the president‘s doing these days.  He certainly wasn‘t planning to have a press conference.  But he did answer a couple of quick questions, and he stepped in it.

OLBERMANN:  Tea leaves on Mr. Rove‘s status after the revelation that Mr. Fitzgerald is in town?

DEFRANK:  Well, you know, we‘ve been playing this game for quite a long time, Keith.  I mean, some people think he‘s going to get indicted.  A lot of other people say, No, that‘s ridiculous.  But as this should have been resolved a long time ago.  He‘s—nobody—I think—I think Mr.  Fitzgerald and the grand jury know, and I think anybody else who tells you they know, including his lawyers, are not correct.

OLBERMANN:  Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

DEFRANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A new view also on the worst day in modern American history, newly released video showing the moment of impact when American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2000.  Two security cameras rolling at 9:38 a.m., the exact moment when the hijacked jetliner hit the building, killing 125 people inside and 59 passengers and crew on board.

The videos were used in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, finally just released under the Freedom of Information Act, one of the cameras capturing what Pentagon officials say is the nose cone of the 757 entering the video, a frame, only a heartbeat, before impact, the plane itself traveling at 530 miles per hour.

The man who could very easily have been president on 9/11 suddenly jumping back into the public spotlight.  Does he want to be president on 1/20/09?

And another story my producers are forcing me to cover.  Britney Spears meets the parenting police yet again.  How many things do you see wrong in this picture?

An answer ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Twenty years now since a moment so startling, even for television, that those who had already tuned out network drama sat back and said, I‘ll be damned, the night on “Dallas” that Bobby Ewing, killed off the year before in hit and run, suddenly emerged from the shower in his home alive and well, his wife, Pam, and millions of viewers suddenly realized that the entire plotline of the preceding season was just a dream.  And we can promise you that kind of shocking impact with our next item.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Actually, I was lying there.

We begin in Madrid‘s Las Ventas (ph) bull ring with some images of the great Spanish bullfighter Eduardo Gallo (ph) taking the bull by the --  Oh, he‘s got him right where he --  That‘s --  OK, I‘m uncomfortable now.  Owie, owie, owie.

In a completely unrelated story, hey, look at all those hot dogs.  It‘s the big annual Chicago-style hot dog rally, featuring the two main events, the hot dog-eating contest, and the hot dog-making contest.  We hope it‘s not in that order.  Thousands turned out to watch the competitions as 30 of the area‘s fastest dog eaters powered down as many tube steaks as they could, then rushed to get one of the event‘s 28 -- into one of the event‘s 28 Port-A-Potties.

And to Menlo Park, California.  And this is Paul.  P-A-U-L.  That‘s him, running behind his robot car, Tommy.  It‘s a completely automated buggy.  Tommy is automated, able to steer through a course without a human passenger using sensors and GPS tracking technology.

Finally, somebody is trying to give us the vehicle we were promised by the Jetsons all those years ago.  Paul says he envisions a future full of Tommys, and a future full of Tommy owners running behind their cars.  Help, Jane.

And then there‘s the man erroneously accused of claiming he invented the Internet, Al Gore‘s remarkable “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” presidential address.  Is it just part of a campaign to promote his new movie, or is he again hoping to make a real presidential address?

Speaking of TV appearances, this man shows up to be interviewed for a job at the BBC and winds up being interviewed on the air at the BBC.  Surprise.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Huang Chun-Yi of Taiwan.  He‘s 94.  Asked the secret of his longevity by local media, he explained, It‘s collecting pictures of beautiful women and gluing them in a scrapbook.  At 94, he says he has more than 100,000 such pictures.  Says looking at them, quote, “has helped to retain my sharp eyes and ears.”  See, now, I always heard it hurt your eyes.

Number two, Angel Tarazon of Columbus, Ohio, broke into a appliance repair company‘s van.  He was on his way out with the loots and tools.  That‘s when he discovered the child safety locks.  Police found him, still inside, trying to figure out how they unlocked.

And number one, Dr. John C. Veltman of Martinsburg (ph) -- Veltman of Martinsburg, West Virginia, arrested on a DUI after he just missed a gas main, hit a tree, hit a building twice, and struck an officer.  Drunk driving a backhoe.  He also sassed everybody, quote, “I am a blanking medical doctor,” he reportedly said to a deputy, “and you are below me.”

No truth to rumors he added, “And who you callin‘ a backhoe?”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Not to get to astrophysical on you but String Theory poses an explanation for the existence of everything in which an individual subatomic particle is shared by a bunch of different universes.  Same tiniest sized piece of matter and it‘s in our universe and somebody else‘s and maybe somebody else‘s, et cetera.  Kind of like a cosmic timeshare. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, we may have the first proof its name is Al Gore.  It appears that we may have been visited by an Al Gore string that has spent most of its time in another universe and is now, just now, emerging into ours. 

Firstly there‘s his new movie, it‘s about the dangers of global warming titled “An Inconvenient Truth” and soon to play at the Cohen Film Festival.  The Al Gore we had previously known in our universe was not Mr.  Excitement.  The movie this other Al Gore made was such a triumph it received standing ovations when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE:  The Arctic is experiencing faster melting.  If this were to go, sea level worldwide would go up 20 feet.  This is what would happen in Florida.  Around Shanghai home to 40 million people.  The area around Calcutta, 60 million.  Here‘s Manhattan, the World Trade Center memorial would be under water.  Think of the impact of a couple hundred thousand refugees and then imagine 100 million. 

(voice-over):  We have to act together to solve this global crisis. 

Our ability to live is what is at stake. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And then there was the “Saturday Night Live” appearance.  It was former SNL writer, Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci, once explained there was proof of one of these parallel universes which had its own earth, the only difference was that on that earth when you flushed the toilet the water went down the opposite way.  On the other earth that Mr.  Gore was on that difference was a little bit different.  Guess who won the 2000 presidential election there? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

GORE:  Pleasure.  Good evening my fellow Americans.  In 2000, in 2000, when you overwhelmingly made the decision to elect me as your 43rd president, I knew the road ahead would be difficult.  We have accomplished so much, yet challenges lie ahead.  In the last six years, we have been able to stop global warming. 

(LAUGHTER)

No one could have predicted the negative results of this.  Glaciers that once were melting are now on the attack.

(LAUGHTER)

As you know, these renegade glaciers have already captured parts of upper Michigan and Northern Maine, but I assure you we will not let the glaciers win. 

(LAUGHTER)

Right now, in the second week of May, 2006, we are facing perhaps the worst gas crisis in history.  We have way too much gasoline.

(LAUGHTER)

Gas is down to 19 cents a gallon and the oil companies are hurting.

(LAUGHTER)

I know that I am partly to blame by insisting that cars run on trash.

(LAUGHTER)

I am therefore proposing a federal bail-out to our oil companies because, hey, if it were the other way around, you know the oil companies would help us.

(LAUGHTER)

There are some of you who would like to spend our money on some made-up war.  To you, I say what part of lockbox don‘t you understand?  What if there is a hurricane or tornado?  Unlikely, I know, because of the anti-hurricane and tornado machine I was instrumental in helping to build.

(LAUGHTER)

But what if—what if the scientists are right and one of those giant glaciers hits Boston?  That‘s why we have the lockbox.  As for immigration, solving that came at a heavy cost and I personally regret the loss of California. 

(LAUGHTER)

However, the new Mexifornia economy is strong and el presidente Schwarzenegger is doing a great job. 

Baseball, our national pastime still lies under the shadow of steroid accusation.  But I have faith in baseball commissioner George W.  Bush when he says we will find the steroid users if we have to tap every phone in America.

(LAUGHTER)

In 2001, when I came into office, our national security was the most important issue; the threat of terrorism was real.  Who knew that six years later Afghanistan would be the most popular spring break destination or that Six Flags Tehran is the fastest growing amusement park in the Middle East and the scariest thing we Americans have to fear is Live from New York it‘s Saturday Night. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So there are two and a half theories here, one that there really is an Al Gore from a parallel universe, two that there isn‘t, it‘s the same guy and he‘s making a political come back or B trying to sell a movie.  Pleasure to now bring in Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” magazine senior editor, author the author of “The Defining Moment:  FDR‘s 100 and the Triumph of Hope.” 

Jon, thanks for joining us. 

JONATHAN ALTER, SR.  EDITOR “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Thanks very much, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, parallel universe Al Gore or same Al Gore running again or simply Al Gore simply trying to hype his film.  Pick one of the above. 

ALTER:  Well, I‘d say it‘s all three of the above, possible.  But, you know, Al Gore has always been a pretty funny guy, funnier than Bill Clinton off camera.  He didn‘t write that script obviously, but he‘s had a pretty good sense of humor it was just that the stiff Al Gore that we all know got in the way of 2000.  It was awkward; he didn‘t talk about global warming.  I remember interviewing him shortly before the election and trying to get him talk about global warming and he wouldn‘t do it because he thought, apparently, that it would cost him Michigan or some other states.  So, now he is trying to make up for lost time and make what can really only be described as a Nixon style comeback.  Remember Nixon, incumbent vice president lost narrowly in 1960 to JFK, waited eight years and then made a comeback. 

OLBERMANN:  Does every misstep that this administration takes, the one in this universe, make another Gore presidential campaign that much more feasible? 

ALTER:  I think it does.  But he has a lot that is stacked against him

and that might actually prevent him from running.  It‘s not clear that he‘s

you know, that he‘s definitely going for it.  He‘s hired Roy Neil, who‘s a well known political strategist who used to work for him, which is a sign that he‘s at least thinking about it.  If you see him losing a lot of weight, Keith, it will be another sign that he‘s thinking even more seriously about it.  But I don‘t think that you can have this same kind of second ax that we saw in the 1960‘s when Nixon came back.  My sense is if you look at the polls, for instance, in that CBS/”New York Times” poll, Gore was actually below Bush, as was John Kerry.  It‘s not clear people want him back.  You know, people don‘t want, it seems and this will hurt Hillary, too.  They don‘t want to go Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton or Bush, Clinton, Bush, Gore either.  They‘re looking for something new and that‘s where there‘s this opening for fresh faces now. 

OLBERMANN:  But, even if we were to get to that preliminary stage of it, if there would be a Gore candidacy, there would first have to be a showdown against his former boss‘s wife, right?  I mean, if the new Al Gore actually come roaring out of the pack, would anybody get in his way?  Are we not looking at Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at least testing the waters here, and not to say—not to mention all those untested possibilities you just referred to.

ALTER:  It could get really fun, Keith.  There‘s a lot of bad blood between the Clinton and Gore camps that‘s left over from 2000.  So you could see a Hillary/Al race.  It‘s entirely possible.  It‘s too early to say it‘s likely, but it could happen, stranger things have. 

OLBERMANN:  Give me your estimation here about—you said that we don‘t necessarily have the same kind of second ax in American politics that we—that Richard Nixon took advantage of.  But what—the 2008 election, if Al Gore won in 2008 as the democratic nominee, there would seem to be two groups that would have an opportunity to get a do-over, one being the voting public who I‘m sure asked now would probably choose the other way around, if they were actually given a choice, but the second one would be Al Gore who could possibly run a campaign based on Al Gore rather than 5,000 different advisors, correct? 

ALTER:  That would be nice and that‘s clearly what he‘s trying to do now is to let Gore be Gore, see the flesh and blood and Gore, Al.  Instead of the contrived Gore that we‘ve seen in the past.  Remember, with the Nixon analogy, you did see what they called the “new Nixon” in 1968.  So you can reinvent yourself sometimes in politics, but I‘m not sure that Gore, for all of his talents, and he is extremely well qualified for high office, I‘m not sure that he has the political chops, you know, the kind of theatrical skills that I argue in my Roosevelt book, are really essential to being a successful candidate and president.  So I just—I‘m not sure he has got the moves to actually make this comeback to be nimble enough and supple enough to do it, but it would be awfully fun to watch him try. 

OLBERMANN:  If he got the speech writers from SNL and some serious equivalence of it, I think he might have a pretty good shot.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek,” author of the excellent FDR biography, “The Defining Moment.”  Thanks for your time, sir. 

ALTER:  Thanks a lot. 

OLBERMANN:  Hey, is your name Guy?  Are you here for the interview? 

He was and then again he wasn‘t.  How some confusion at the BBC put the

wrong Guy on live TV.  And if Richard Hatch thought “Survivor” challenged

his skills wait until he gets a look at prison survivor.  Details ahead on

COUNTDOWN

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The wrong guy named Guy grabbed from the green room and

thrown on the air.  Britney Spears finally uses a car seat and puts it in

the wrong way.  And Richard Hatch on the wrong side of the law, now he is

headed to the big house.  Those stories next, this is COUNTDOWN

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sometimes it seems as if live television exists merely to enable mistakes, especially in news.  Sports casters dentures have fallen out on live newscasts.  Reporters have accidentally electrocuted themselves on live newscast.  A cable news network president once ran screaming to the control room, swearing all the why via the shortest route, right behind the anchors hosting the live newscast.  Our No.  2  story on the COUNTDOWN, this one however, seems to have taken the cake.  The BBC‘s all news channel in England put the wrong man on the air, all because there was two men named Guy in the building that day.  Both of them were there for an interview, one for a TV interview about computer music download lawsuits, the other for a job interview about working in the IT department. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So what does this all mean for the industry and the growth of music on line?  Well, Guy Kewney is the editor of the technology Web site, “Newswireless.” 

Hello, good morning to you. 

GUY GOLMA, WRONG GUY:  Good morning. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And, freeze.  Slowmo replay.  See the look of horror on the guest face?  That‘s because we isn‘t Guy Kewney.  The guy on the right is Guy Kewney and he‘s sitting in the other waiting room at BBC headquarters watching the interview unfold.  He had a certain degree of amazement, nonetheless.  The man is the chair is Guy Colma—or guy Golma, a graduate from the Congo who‘s waiting for a job interview for a tech position.  Are you Guy?  Are you here for the interview?  He was so he said so and a BBC Producer grabbed him, took him into the makeup room, and then put him in the guest chair.  Despite his shock, to say nothing of the makeup, which should have been his first clue, Mr.  Golma did not correct the anchor, but tried valiantly to answer her questions even though English is not his first language. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Were you surprised by this verdict today? 

GOLMA:  I‘m very surprised to see this verdict to come on me because I was not expecting that.  But I came, they told me something else and I‘m coming (INAUDIBLE) a big surprise, anyway. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A big surprise? 

GOLMA:  Exactly. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah.  Yeah. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Pretty clear there that the big surprise Mr. Golma was referring to was not the verdict, but rather his appearance in the live TV interview.  The BBC apologized for the mix-up, even brought Guy Golma back on News 24 to ask for his take on the whole experience.  He said he was very shocked, but when he realized what was happening he just thought he needed to keep on going.  The real Guy Kewney also called to say he was equally flabbergasted. 

(BEGIN AUDIOTAPE)

GUY KEWNEY, EDITOR, NEWSWIRELESS.NET:  It was one of those moments that you think good God, what‘s going on?  There can‘t be another bloke called Guy Kewney, and if there is, he certainly can‘t be the editor of “Newswireless.”

(END AUDIOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And the job that Mr. Golma was actually there to interview for, he still has not heard whether he got it or not.  Come on, team player like that, follows instructions, doesn‘t ask questions, give him the gig, make him management. 

Got a job for him here.  An easy segue then to the entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs” and 51 million people watched Richard Hatch win $1 million in the final episode of “Survivor” in 2000, including, apparently so did the IRS. So, why didn‘t he pay the taxes on the winnings?  He‘ll have 51 months to think about that.  Mr.  Hatch is sentenced to four years and three months on the charge of filing a false tax return, a harsher than expected sentence from Judge Earnest Torres, who says it was clear to him that Hatch had lied repeatedly during trial.  The former motivational speaker who became known worldwide as “the fat naked guy” was a master manipulator in his “Survivor” island stay, bit in the end refused to form the most important alliance; he walked away from a plea deal that would have given him a minimum sentence. 

And what does a celebrity do when she realizes she‘s forgotten to get her mom a mother‘s day gift?  Well, one idea is for her to say she did get her one, a big one, but somebody.somebody, stole it, yeah, that‘s the ticket.  I‘m sure that‘s not what happened with Paris Hilton.  No, no, no, a spokesman for the heir‘s says Paris Hilton spent hours putting together a $10,000 mother‘s day gift pack, that‘s nice to mention the price.  It was filled with Christian Dior shoes, sunglasses, handbags, and perfume but the delivery person put the pack down at the front gait to ring the intercom and a bandit in a passing car did a drive by gift snatching, leaving mom giftless and if you believe that there‘s a sopranos episode you need to see. 

Who ran off with the common sense of Britney Spears?  Not the curlers in public in this shot, the baby.  The baby is facing the wrong way and slumped out of the car seat.  Another story my producers are forcing me to cover.  I‘ll be joined by Michael Must.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze shared by Mark Yost of “American Spectator” and David Asman of FOX News.  Asman says the heart and mind of a lot of journalists covering Iraq quote, “Isn‘t in the war and if that‘s the case they are not going to report a lot of heroism.”  To which Yost says, “A lot of times people are reluctant.  They‘re somewhat embarrassed by people or feel lesser of themselves by people who do incredibly heroic things.  So the reporters then don‘t report heroism.”  That‘s right, boys that‘s why the media covered up all the heroism on Flight 93. 

The runner up, this time, Consumers Energy of Flint, Michigan.  Customer Jacqueline Williams owed the utility $1,662.08, she had to scrounge to pay it.  She should have paid it sooner, obviously.  When she got to the office she found she was exactly a penny short.  The bill 1662.08, she‘s got 1662.07.  So they cut off her electricity for seven hours until she got the other penny to them. 

But the winner, well, we have flip sides on the same issue, here.  Mayor Troy Anderson of Waldron, Arkansas accused of patronizing a prostitute, paying for the sex partly in cash and partly by giving the woman a discount on her city water bill.  Hey, baby, how‘d you like me to read your meter?  Mayor Troy Anderson of Waldron, Arkansas today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was such a cliche of the 90‘s it became the plot line of a famed episode of “The Simpson‘s” in which Homer rockets to the top of the charts with barbershop quartet song version, “Baby on Board.”  It was once ubiquitous car signs.  The No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, it‘s time to staple one of them to the forehead of America‘s favorite unsuccessful, multitasking celebrity mom, Britney Spears. 

This is the newest picture of mom and young Sean Preston Spears Federline.  We‘ll come back to this in a moment.  First the historical record, February 6, when ma Spears was first photographed driving with the then five-month-old boy, not in a car seat, but on her lap.  Take the wheel, kid, don‘t drive angry.  She explained she was fleeing the terrifying crush of the paparazzi, worried about the boy‘s safety—look, at this rate, he‘s going to grow up with a flinching problem. 

Back to the new shot.  How many things are wrong in this picture?  Well, he‘s in the car seat, but he‘s facing the wrong way.  Babies less than a year old or under 20-pounds in weight are supposed to be facing backwards.  That‘s the California Department of Motor Vehicle code‘s strong suggestion.  Now, Sean could be a big-ass baby, so give them the benefit of the doubt on that.  But whether he‘s facing forward or backward, north or south, he should note be sliding out of the car seat like that.  Oh, and ditch the curlers, momma.  I‘d like to apologize to our guest, Michael Musto, columnist of the “Village Voice,” for having already begun the snark without him.

Sorry, Michael. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  I don‘t accept that apology. 

OLBERMANN:  Can we just fax her a list of the top five ways to avoid getting your baby hurt in your car? 

MUSTO:  No, she‘s already turned her fax machine into a TV tray, but we‘ll have to call here.  We‘ll get her number from President Bush.  But look, at least the kid sort of was in a seat this time, and that‘s not easy to do while you‘re breaking water with another kid.  And at least she had Kevin the trunk, the acoustics are better in there.  No, no, no, look, Britney needs to learn one thing.  Here‘s what we should fax or call here, same rule as when you‘re watching a Britney Spears movie, like “Crossroads,” you don‘t face forward.  Don‘t look at the screen, as it were.  Everyone, turn your head away. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, realistically, the worst that could have happened to her was a $371 fine, which she‘s not going to get, anyway, because the cops didn‘t see her driving that way, but her lawyer comes out and says she was, quote, “In total compliance with California law with the forward facing blah blah blah.”  Doesn‘t anybody give these people good advice anymore?  How much better would it have been for her if the statement from the lawyer was, like all new mothers, Britney is learning and she—as she goes and she appreciates all the concern, it takes a village of fans to raise a child.  Would this not be a sympathetic story instead of another hostile one for her? 

MUSTO:  Yes, but dream on.  Publicists are paid to lie.  Through the years, publicists have told me Whitney Houston is not on crook, Clay Akins dating a woman, and Ethyl Merman was a woman.  The publicicsts—when they tell the truth, which they never do, their nose gets bigger, so why they all have these little tiny brown noses and big bank accounts and kahunas (ph).  They spin more than Stevie Nicks and that infernal shawl.  You remember Stevie Nicks.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, I do.  That‘s why I‘m laughing.  All right, that‘s a nice segue here because we‘re remembering what Ms. Nick‘s hair looked like at its apex. 

MUSTO:  Turn your head.

OLBERMANN:  What up with the curlers? 

MUSTO:  Exactly.  She should be arrested just for wearing curlers in public.  That‘s the real offense, here.  And if you look carefully, that‘s not even Britney Spears, that‘s my Aunt Ludibell (ph) from “Dog Patch.”  No, no, no, it‘s Britney, and obviously she‘s trying to get that Kevin Federline effect, eventually, in her hair, or she‘s using the curlers to kind of keep in the brain matter.  She doesn‘t realize a simply bobby pin would suffice. 

OLBERMANN:  Lost in this to some degree, Regis Philbin covered this story on his show.  And the “New York Daily News” and the “New York Post” both had these headlines that were take offs on “Oops!...I did it Again” and apparently he thought this was some sort of incredible coincidence and then Kelly Ripa had to explain to him that that was the title of her last good song.  I mean, even I know that.  Are there people who are actually immune to the Britney Spears phenomenon who have lived their lives without Britney Spears in it? 

MUSTO:  No, just Regis.  He‘s a little out of the loop.  He need to be sat down and told, look, Reg, remember the blond, busty woman who sang “Diamonds,” that was Marilyn Monroe, then in the ‘80s there was the skinny one who spoofed that, that was a person named Madonna, and then she ended up kissing a lady named Britney Spears.  But, you know what?  Even without the back story, this did seem like a coincidence to me, because I thought that at least one of the headlines would go with another Britney title like, “I‘m not a girl, not yet a woman, I‘m a doof.” 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s only thing here.  Just the only thing missing from all this—The Kabbalah references.  “I longer studying Kabbalah,” it‘s on her Web site now, “my baby is my religion.”  Should religion or motherhood be most insulted by that remark? 

MUSTO:  I think both, but basically Britney‘s say that Sean is the new holy child.  You know, but Jesus used to face backwards in the car seat.  I don‘t get that comparison.  It‘s not the Kabbalah part that seems to bother Britney, it‘s the study Kabbalah.  She‘s not a big studier.  She can‘t even read the ingredients of a macaroni and cheese box. 

OLBERMANN:  Jesus use to walk, by the way.  We know that from the writings.  The only—the one and only—the only Michael Musto.  Well, that‘s obvious.  The one and only Michael Musto.  As always sir, great thanks for your time.

MUSTO:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,111th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues next with a special MSNBC live presentation, the New Orleans mayoral debate as anchored by Chris Matthews.

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

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