updated 5/22/2006 11:32:42 AM ET 2006-05-22T15:32:42

Guests: Mike Allen, Sharon Waxman, Paul Tompkins

BRIAN UNGER, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

America talk English, only?  Sayonara, pig-Latin.  The Senate votes to make English America‘s official language.

Plus, the Senate push to ban gay marriage picks up steam today.  Could these two right turns alienate the American middle?

What playing to the Republican base could mean for the president and voters come midterm elections.

“Baghdad E.R.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What we see here is trauma.  hardcore, raw, uncut trauma.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  A first look at the god, the bad, and the ugly from the new HBO documentary.

That new mystery thriller released this weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Don‘t get angry and scream and boycott. 

Othercott.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Read a books, talk to your family.  Better yet, go see “Over the Hedge.”  COUNTDOWN‘s guide to avoiding “Da Vinci” fever.

And the woman who avoided her own wedding.  Old crazy eyes is back. 

Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride, now turns single white female. 

You‘ll always have the landscaping, Jennifer.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

And good evening.

I‘m Brian Unger in Los Angeles for Keith Olbermann.

The 1992 Republican convention was widely regarded as a political disaster in which the party‘s social conservatives managed to alienate swing voters with their exclusionary rhetoric.  A new cultural war was launched, and, not coincidentally, it was the Democratic ticket that managed to win the ‘92 election.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, could it be ‘92 all over again?  The Bush administration, hoping to rally the base with a hard turn to the right on a host of exclusionary issues, some merely call them wedge issues, but most call them downright divisive, gay marriage and immigration among them.  The question, whether the strategy might do more harm than good, President Bush hitting the road Friday to stump for Republicans candidates, which doesn‘t look nearly as much fun as what he was doing on Thursday, dune-buggying along Arizona‘s Mexico border.  That‘s more like it.

The immigration debate taking its own hard turn to the right, the Senate voting to make American, rather, English, the official language of the land.

Correspondent Mike Taibbi has all the details, almost all of them in English.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At the New York Language Center in Queens, New York, they learn one language, English, America‘s national language, if the Senate amendment to a new immigration law passes.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  English is part of our national identity.  It‘s part of our blood.

TAIBBI:  But opponents say the bill‘s wording, “but unless otherwise authorized, no person has a right to have the government provide services or materials in any language other than English,” is aimed squarely at Hispanics, the bulk of this country‘s illegal immigrants.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER:  While the intent may not be there, I really believe this amendment is racist.

TAIBBI (on camera):  The official White House position is that command of the English language should be a requirement for citizenship.  The students who come to schools like this one already know that.

(voice-over):  But as the debate has turned nastier, with conservative commentators attacking a less restrictive amendment...

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  They vote to make English the, what, national language, then they say, Screw it, doesn‘t mean anything.

TAIBBI:  Immigrants concerned about their status are avoiding classes like these.

BARBARA DICK, NEW YORK LANGUAGE CENTER:  Because people are afraid. 

They don‘t know what‘s happening...

TAIBBI:  And while the national language amendment has mostly symbolic importance, some critics say it could kill the chance for any meaningful new immigration law.

DEBORAH NOTKIN, AMERICAN IMMIGRATION LAWYERS:  These kind of things are being used as poison pills to break down the legislation.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   This week, I nominated General Mike Hayden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Esta semana, bostule (ph) el General Mike Hayden...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAIBBI:  From the top of our government to the wording on our currency, to the signs and symbols in every direction you look, this has always been a multilingual country.  But in the current atmosphere...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE)...

TAIBBI:  The label of English as the official language is closer than ever to becoming the law.

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Now also on the far right‘s greatest hit list, gay marriage.  In case you‘ve forgotten, they‘re against it, not for it, they being the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tossing social conservatives a straight-as-an-arrow bone, the committee, voting along party lines, in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages like these.  How come we don‘t have video of the vote?  The committee meeting behind closed doors, but not, I repeat not, in a closet, one Democrat on the committee, Senator Russ Feingold, storming out as a result.  It did get ugly, committee chairman Arlen Specter bidding Feingold “Good riddance,” telling him, quote, “I don‘t need to be lectured by you.  You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I,” Feingold, however, with the last word, saying, “I‘ve enjoyed your lecture, too, Mr.  Chairman.  See you.”

That‘s right, Mr. Chairman.  Even during a political stunt, manners never hurt, the measure going next to the full Senate for debate, and a vote that has been scheduled for June 5.

We would never walk out on a chance to talk with “TIME” magazine White House correspondent Mike Allen.

Good evening, Mike.

MIKE ALLEN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Well, good evening, Mr. Brian.  Mr. Unger.

UNGER:  Mike, who is a bigger problem for the president, conservatives or Republican moderates?  Because if you look at his poll numbers over the last few months, which group has really deserted him here?

ALLEN:  Brian, if you want to get to 51, 52, which is what you need to do in 435 congressional districts, you need both.  And that‘s why this is always a balancing act.

Brian, as you know, during the president‘s reelection race, went pretty hard toward the right.  The president came out and made a statement about gay marriage, something that we didn‘t expect him to do, something he didn‘t seem particularly enthusiastic about, a gay marriage amendment to the number of states who were obviously hopeful to turn out for Bush-Cheney.

But you—the idea is to try and do that without scaring suburban soccer moms outside of Philadelphia.  And so that‘s why, a lot of times, issues like this are pushed on Christian radio stations, very specific radio stations.

Now, Brian, what‘s going on here that‘s interesting is, the president is actually being very cautious about these issues.  On that English-only issue, and Brian, out there on my native Left Coast where you are, that may seem like a divisive issue, but to a lot of people in America, that‘s very sensible, the idea that this is the reason the White House said they‘re for this is it‘s an assimilation tool.  People are likely to be more prosperous if they‘re fluent in the language of the country where they‘re doing business.

And so the idea is to push them along.  Now, the White House got a little teasing about this today, because somebody pointed out to the press secretary, Tony Snow, that the president‘s very remarks about that were on the Web site in Spanish.  Why weren‘t they there in Polish or some other language?  And the White House came back with some sort of technical answer about that.

But if you‘ve ever seen the president speak Spanish or (INAUDIBLE) speak French, you probably know why he would be for that.

But on other parts of the immigration question, the president has not been throwing, as you say, the bone to the far right.  If he wanted to do that, in the speech the other night, he would have said, Let‘s focus on security, we can think about guest-worker program later.  Instead, he said, I want both.  His staff has said that he will sort of insist on both to sign a bill.

And real quickly on gay marriage, Tony Snow, very cautious about that today.  Of course, the president‘s for it.  He campaigned on it, a measure restricting the definition of marriage.  But you‘re not going to see the president doing much campaigning on it.  And Tony Snow said today, Priorities?  Why wouldn‘t list the priorities?

So he‘s leaving himself a little rooming maneuver, not making any promise the president‘s going to go out and barnstorm on that issue.

UNGER:  Last I checked, English was sort of unofficially the official language out here in Los Angeles. as well.

But let me ask you this.

ALLEN:  Los Angeles.

UNGER:  What‘s the downside in telling social conservatives, You know what?  We‘re going to get back to you after November.  Realistically, who are they going to vote for?  Not the Democrats.

ALLEN:  Well, Brian, I think that‘s a very astute point.  And my former “Washington Post” college E.J.  Dionne, had to call him today, saying that it would be safer to offend conservatives, because in the end, you‘re going to have them to the moderates, who you need to win back.

Of course, the concern, Brian, is, you know, is that the conservatives, evangelical Christians, will stay home, just won‘t vote.  Of course they won‘t vote, go vote for a Democrat, just as this week, the chairman of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, Rahm Emanuel, said that he was buying time on Christian radio station to remind (INAUDIBLE) these voters of all the things Bush has not done for them.

But that may be something of a stunt, not likely to get a lot of those.

So the secret is to lure over a few of those moderates.  And one of the Bush precepts is that there aren‘t that many of them, so they want them, but they don‘t spend that much time on them.

But you still have to have your people out there.  You can‘t have your red-blooded, red-state Americans stay home.

UNGER:  Perhaps room for a moderate Republican in the presidential race.

But Mike Allen of “TIME” magazine, thank you so much for your time.

ALLEN:  Have a beautiful weekend, Mr. Unger.

UNGER:  Thank you very much.

The Bush administration‘s tactics in the war on terror making it hard to make friends in the world community, a new report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture making the case for a complete shutdown of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, detainees at Gitmo rising up against their guards on the same day that the report was released.

The U.S. military tactics in Iraq also are under fire, specifically an incident in November in which 15 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed.  Now, at the time, the U.S. military said they had been hit by a bomb, or killed in a firefight.  Now it appears they may have been shot in cold blood by U.S. Marines, as a prominent critic of the war, Congressman John Murtha, has charged.

Correspondent Robert Moore of our British partner ITV News has been following the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT MOORE, ITV NEWS (voice-over):  On November the 19th last year, the Iraq war came with a vengeance to the town of Haditha.  But the evidence is growing it was not just a tragedy, it was also a crime.  Crucial eyewitness testimony was provided to ITV News from a young girl who survived the shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through interpreter):  We were all crying, but the Americans were also screaming.  They were shouting at my father before they killed him.

MOORE:  Imad Walid (ph) survived the attack, and speaking to an ITV news camera six weeks ago, she recounted how American troops massacred her family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They kill people, then they say sorry.  I hate them.

MOORE:  The allegation is that the rampage was conducted by U.S.  Marines seeking to avenge the death of a U.S. soldier killed alongside this nearby road earlier that day.  Until yesterday, Imad‘s was a lonely voice testifying to a terrible crime.  But now a powerful figure in Washington has backed her account.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D):  Eighty percent of the Iraqis want us out of Iraq.

MOORE:  Congressman John Murtha, a decorated Marine Corps veteran, now says he too believes an atrocity took place.

MURTHA:  There was no firefight.  There was no IED that killed these innocent people.  Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them.  And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.

MOORE:  As the military continue to look into what happened last November, it‘s been revealed that three Marine Corps officers have been suspended.  Lieutenant Colonel Chessani, Captain McConnell, and Captain Kimber were all serving in the battalion that is under investigation.

So six months on, and the truth of what happened in Haditha appears to be slowly emerging.  And all of it backs the account given by locals of U.S. Marines apparently out of control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  That was ITV‘s Robert Moore reporting.

An HBO documentary highlights the challenges military doctors in Iraq face every day.  “Baghdad E.R.” offering closure to some families, anguish for others.

And the controversy and the headlines surrounding “The Da Vinci Code.”  It‘s finally open, and not a moment too soon.  Maybe we can all stop hearing about it.  Are you getting a headache from all the hype?  We have the pain reliever.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the realities of war.  In a moment, a visceral visual reminder of the cost of war in Iraq.

But first, an apparent resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, resulting in some of the worst fighting there since the 2001 invasion.  In the past few days, a series of car bombs in attacks in the south and eastern parts of that country have left over 100 people dead, among them an American civilian, who was training local police, the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat, and at least 15 Afghan policemen.

President Hamid Karzai says the insurgency is coming the mountainous border region with Pakistan where Taliban militants and Osama bin Laden are presumed to be hiding.  It‘s unclear what this recent upsurge in violence might do to U.S. plans to hand over military duties in those areas of Afghanistan to NATO later this year.

As of Friday morning, over 18,000 American soldiers had been wounded in Iraq, 2,455 have lost their lives.  Many of their families never knew the whole circumstances surrounding their loved ones‘ deaths.  Now, a new documentary detailing the harsh realities of a military hospital near Baghdad has helped bring at least one grieving mother some closure.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny explains.  Monica?

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Brian, after her son was killed in Iraq last year, Paula Zwilliger (ph) was left with too many unanswered questions.  Now, thanks to two filmmakers and an unexpected turn of events, a grieving mother is able to focus on the positive, her favorite memories with her son.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA ZWILLIGER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ:  He says, Mom, you‘re the best. 

And that was it.  And I‘ll hang onto those words forever.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  It was the last time they spoke.  Weeks later, Paula Zwilliger buried her son, Lance Corporal Robert Minninger (ph), at Arlington National Cemetery, without knowing how he died.  The only details, the 21-year-old Marine suffered injuries in an IED attack while on patrol in Fallujah five months into his first tour of duty.

ZWILLIGER:  There‘s a pain of losing a child in war that I really don‘t wish on my worst enemy.  And to not have answers, you just accept it.

NOVOTNY:  But after the initial shock wore off...

ZWILLIGER:  We realized there‘s a window here, 17 hours when we didn‘t know anything, but there was no information.

NOVOTNY:  Seventeen hours between the time of injury and the time of death.  For five months, it remained a mystery, until she received a call from a documentary filmmaker who had been working in Iraq.

ZWILLIGER:  He says, We actually have footage of your son.  And I said, How much footage do you have?  He says, I can put you at his bedside.

NOVOTNY:  The documentary, “Baghdad E.R.,” a film capturing the brutal realities of life and death inside a military hospital in Baghdad‘s green zone, offering a harsh glimpse of surgeries, amputations, and the casualties of war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BAGHDAD E.R.”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We just had two more American soldiers come in, killed.

NOVOTNY:  For Paula, the footage did what circumstances could not, bring her to her son in his final hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hang in there.  Yes, OK.  Keep going.  Keep doing it.  Keep fighting.  Keep fighting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVOTNY:  What do you miss most about your son?

ZWILLIGER:  Oh, oh, God, (INAUDIBLE).  Everything.  Everything.  I miss him, his laughter, his presence.  I look back, and there‘s so much, there‘s just—there‘s no words that can describe it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BAGHDAD E.R.”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So close now, you know?

As much as I, you know, want to see him live, it‘s just not going to be in his cards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVOTNY:  The film already causing controversy, the footage so raw many military families say they will not watch.

But for Paula, the decision was personal.

ZWILLIGER:  This is a gift that not every parent is able to get during a time of war.  It gave me a way to say goodbye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  As for the military, the Army surgeon general, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, sent out a memo several days ago to medical military personnel, warning them the film could prompt flashbacks or nightmares among some veterans.  But the Army did grant the filmmakers 100 percent access, and the film is now being screened on bases across the country.  It premieres Sunday on HBO, Brian.

UNGER:  Wow.  Those are some of the most vivid images, I mean, we have seen since this began.

Is this a political film?

NOVOTNY:  You know, it‘s interesting, because both the filmmakers and the executives at HBO say absolutely not, this is not a political film, not antiwar or not pro-war.  But certainly some critics have argued that if you‘re simply showing these soldiers in such horrific circumstances—and believe me, the images that you just saw were really just the most minimal, I mean, there are really some tough, tough scenes in this film.  But, you know, they say that you could say that that‘s antiwar.  But filmmakers say no.  They say to understand the heroism, you have to see the horror.

UNGER:  Very powerful.  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  Thank you very much.

Time for a break from the serious news of the day for a look at the, well, not so serious.

Is it time for the Eiffel Tower jumper dude to get a new hobby?

And looking for a new hubby, Jennifer Wilbanks finally gets ditched by the guy she basically left at the altar a year ago.  Not even eHarmony (ph) can find this runaway bride a new love.  It would be tricky.

That‘s ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Hello, I‘m Brian Unger, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.

And it‘s not all hard news tonight.  In fact, there‘s a plethora of weird news, strange video, and, well, dumb criminals that need covering, and we‘re just the ones to cover it.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Paris, France, where, look out, there‘s a guy jumping off the Eiffel Tower.  Not to worry, folks.  He‘s just world-famous base jumper Johann Verblut (ph) making his fifth illegal leap from the 986-foot monument.  Oh, Johann, you‘ve done it again.  You truly are king of the Eiffel Tower.

This time, Verblut snuck into the tower before closing time, and hid out all night, climbing to about 800 feet high and jumping at dawn with a parachute and a camera on his head, and presumably a brain in it.  Tower officials have recently been touting a new state-of-the-art security system, with infrared cameras and a high-tech alarm system.  And clearly, that was worth every franc.

Now, here‘s a guy painting with his nose.  Look at him go.  It‘s Rambabu Sachiburu (ph) of India.  And they call him, well, the nose painter, probably.  In the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, children, they come as far as the next street over to see the man the “Guinness Book of Records” calls possibly the best nose painter on earth, if we kept records on that sort of thing.

The kids all clear out when it‘s time for the artist to clean up, if you don‘t want to be around when old Rambabu, when he‘s huffing turpentine.

And finally, we can‘t decide which of these is more impressive, the 17-pound cabbage, grown by Annie Crapps (ph) in South Carolina, or this house in Ogden, Utah, full of 70,000 Coors Light beer cans.  Annie Crapps‘ big-ass cabbage, Ogden, Utah‘s crapload of beer cans?

I got to go with the silver bullets here, although that really is a big cabbage.  The tenant of this town home left them all behind when he moved out, he lived there for eight years, and apparently had a bit of a drinking problem.  The cans were all over the house, two feet deep in every room.  The landlord says he‘s now returned all 70,000 cans for the deposits, and he‘s keeping the $14.

Tens of millions have read the book.  It seems there have been

millions of headlines in protest.  The “Da Vinci: hype, will the mystique -

and, for some, the misery—finally fade now that it‘s finally playing on the big screen?

And the controversy surrounding September 11 on the big screen.  The trailer for Oliver Stone‘s “World Trade Center” is now in theaters, and some say it‘s just too intense.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, 20-year-old Joel Fish of Queensbury (ph), New York.  He‘s been arrested for breaking and entering a funeral home in the middle of the night.  He was found in the morning drunk and passed out inside one of the coffins.

Number two, James Otis Denham of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the world‘s least sophisticated art thief.  Police say he stole a rare 1630 Rembrandt etching from the home of a collector, then got caught trying to sell it down at Torchie‘s, his local bar.

And number one, two unnamed female workers in Britain who were fired this week for watching porn on their computers at work in a sausage factory.  You know, this gives me an idea for a movie.  Really.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  So, here are the cliff notes.  Leonardo da Vinci, the great artist, the renaissance man, he was part of this super secret society and they were trying to protect like a really super secret—yeah, and that secret, the super duper one is that Jesus of Nazareth got together with Mary Magdalene, started a whole super secret royal bloodline and the Catholic Church just hated the idea because they knew that Jesus had never been anything but a gentleman.  So and the Catholic Church spent like hundreds and hundreds of years hiding the truth and now, for no particular reason it‘s all coming to a head I our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN. It‘s the “da Vinci Code” more or less, and there are actually protests about this wild plot coming out as a movie.  Our correspondent is Bob Faw. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FAW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The runway best seller struck a cord, but this film which denies Jesus as divine and portrays the Catholic Church as evil has many conservative Christians storming the ramparts. 

ROBERT KNIGHT, DIR. CULTURE & FAMILY INST.:  This isn‘t just a little misguided theology, but a dagger in the heart of the Christian faith.  I don‘t think Christians ought to put down money to see a film that blasphemes their lord. 

FAW:  Later this week, Knight and others will urge a nationwide boycott.  The strategy, a former nun, Barbra Nicholsy (ph), who coaches Christian screen writers in Los Angeles.

BARBRA NICHOLSY (ph), FORMER NUN:  There‘s going to be a little magic angel moment. 

FAW:  That movie goers should go see a different film.  She calls it “Othercott.”

NICHOLSY:  Don‘t get angry and scream and boycott, “Othercott,” let‘s all go to “Over the Hedge” and send a signal this is the industry, this is the kind of thing we want from you. 

FAW:  The Catholic Church is fighting fire with fire, image for image.  The U.S. Conference of Bishops starting a website and preparing this docudrama, “Jesus Decoded.” 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jesus wasn‘t married, there‘s no evidence for it. 

FAW (on camera):  Knowing the controversy could generate interest and boost ticket sales, Hollywood is trying to stay above the fray, is even using humor. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr.  Hanks, I was wondering.

(voice-over):  A parody with Tom Hanks on “Saturday Night Live.” 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In all that creative process, did ever wonder what it would feel like to burn for eternity in hellfire? 

(LAUGHTER)

FAW:  But for many congregations, this is no laughing matter. 

REV.  JIM GARLOW, SKYLINE WESLEVAN CHURCH:    Father, God, it‘s a joy to obey you. 

FAW:  Still this pastor preaches the film could be a vehicle for churchgoers to reach out and touch the unchurched.

GARLOWL  So, even though the “de Vince Code” movie and book are disastrous, historically, the fact it if the church seizes this moment, which I think the church should, it opens all kinds of doors for us. 

FAW:  So, a blockbuster looms and the Christian community is divided. 

Whether this is a golden opportunity or sacrilegious sham.

Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  OK, joining me now, the Hollywood correspondent for the “New York Times,” Sharon Waxman.

Thank you for your time, Sharon. 

SHARON WAXMAN, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Sure. 

UNGER:  Let‘s go to the hype first.  Within one mile of my Los Angeles apartment, there are 43 opportunities for me to see the “da Vinci Code” just today, 43 screenings at two theaters. 

WAXMAN:  Wow. 

UNGER:  At one theater, I think it‘s showing 25 minutes apart.  Now, someone, and I don‘t think it‘s the Catholic Church, really wants me to see this movie.  I mean, have you ever seen anything like this? 

WAXMAN:  Well, this has become typical of the summer blockbusters, they want anybody who has a notion that they might want to see the movie at any moment, well, should have every available opportunity, so when you have movies like this one, like “Spider-Man 2” and the next one, “Spider-Man 3,” you‘re going to see these movies opening on 4,000 screens, which is huge, and that‘s why you have—I don‘t know where you live, but that 43 opportunities is a lot, but that‘s not so atypical for these big event  movies that—they have to take a lot of money in that first weekend, and that‘s how they‘re going to do it. 

UNGER:  And to the controversy, Sharon, apparently there are some actual boycotts going on today, and director Ron Howard is taking it all very seriously saying this is all a work of fiction.  If you think the film‘s going to upset you, don‘t go—don‘t go see it.  But aren‘t there other studio types, and the ones not in front of the cameras, who are just jumping for joy at whatever controversy they can scare up of this? 

WAXMAN:  I think that what they were hoping to do, both Sony and Imagine, the producers who made the movie, was to guide the controversy, was to contain it for as many months as they could and to try and mollify some of these detractors of the book and the movie by having a website where people could talk about the issues and even people who disagree where they could post—could make certain postings, and I think that you‘re right, yeah, they were going—they were hoping to use the controversy to help fuel the hype and fuel the, you know, propel the movie into the headlines, which it, in fact, it has done, but they wanted to do it at the right moment, which is at a time when people can go to the theater to see what all of the fuss is about. 

UNGER:  Yeah, I didn‘t want to get into the weeds about movie marketing, but I guess it‘s too late now. 

WAXMAN:  Well, it‘s the same, I mean, that‘s one in the same.

Yeah, does the hype backfires, though, is here a threshold or a tipping point where, it just backfires and people are sick, you know, sick to death of hearing about it and they change their minds about going?  Or is all.

WAXMAN:  Gee, I wonder if that might be you?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNGER:  Well, I‘m looking, at there‘s 43 opportunities I still have 32 today.  I can still get to it.

WAXMAN:  Right.  Well, I think it‘s something that marketers in Hollywood really keep in mind, which is that it‘s a very delicate balance trying to create as much hype and noise around your movie as possible, to create an event, create controversy if you can use it for your benefit.  But you don‘t want to go too far because then some cynics, perhaps likes yourself, might be sick of it and say, you know, I don‘t even care about the movie anymore, I‘m just so sick of hearing about “da Vinci Code” or I‘m so sick of hearing about Tom Cruise or I‘m so sick of hearing about Angelina Jolie that I‘m just not even going to even pay attention to this movie.  So, that is—it‘s a balance, and you know, we‘ll find out how audiences react to that. 

UNGER:  I thought I heard you say the word cynic.  I just.

(LAGHTER)

UNGER:  There was Martin Scorsese‘s “The Last Temptation of Christ” Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion of the Christ,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” they supposedly had a Christ-like figure, now.  Two of those films get huge numbers, on of them, the Scorsese picture didn‘t, despite all the controversy surrounding it, but... 

WAXMAN:  That‘s a surprise, I mean, that was a very different kind of controversy, there you really had—you didn‘t have a divide Christian community, as the reporter was just describing, you had a monolithic, very angry reaction from Catholics, from Christians, and the Christian movement wasn‘t what—then, in the 1970s, what it is today, but, you know, it‘s a little bit apples and oranges because the whole rise of the blockbuster—you know, was sort of—it‘s a different era, so you can‘t really compare the box office numbers and “The Last Temptation.”  It wasn‘t meant to be an event film like the “da Vinci Code.” 

UNGER:  Sharon Waxman, thank you for talking to this Hollywood cynic. 

WAXMAN:  Any time.

UNGER:  Sharon Waxman is correspondent for the “New York Times.” 

Now, if you braved the crowds to “da Vinci Code” this weekend, there‘s a good chance you‘ll see the trailer for the new film depicting September 11.  Oliver Stone‘s “World Trade Center.”  Some theatres warn the preview might be too intense for audiences. 

And NBC‘s pulling out the stop for its version of “American Idol” this summer.  Regis Philbin‘s the host, but wait until you hear who the judges are.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  First it was “United 93,” now it‘s “World Trade Center.”  Will there be a backlash on the September 11 movies on the big screen?  And bad news for Jennifer Wilbanks, the fiance that stood by her side has now bolted.  All that and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Some moviegoers felt ambushed when trailers of “United 93” played I movie theaters in New York City.  And some theater managers stopped showing it, but the actual film about the plane that crashed Shanksville, Pennsylvania, performed surprisingly well on its opening weekend after universally strong reviews.  Now comes “World Trade Center” from the same director who brought us history bending films like “Nixon” and “JFK,” not to mention for some the nearly unwatchable “Alexander.”  And whatever the merits of “World Trade Center,” its trailer debuts this weekend.  In New York, our correspondent is Ralph Penza. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RALPH PENZA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The movie is based on the true story of rescue workers at Ground Zero, and stars Nicolas Cage. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re prepared for everything, but not this.  Not for something this size, there‘s no plan. 

PENZA:  One of those rescue workers is Scott Strouss, now a retired police officer and advisor on the movie, also portrayed in it. 

(on camera):  Scott, why did you decide to be an advisor on this movie? 

SCOTT STRAUSS, NYPD, RETIRED:  To make it accurate, as accurate as possible. 

PENZA:  Is it?

STRAUSS:  Yes it is, absolutely is.  It‘s a story about five police

officers that went into a tragic incident and, unfortunately, two survived

only two survived, and you know, it‘s a great story.  Their story should be told. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can still see the light. 

PENZA (voice-over):  The issue, whether now, almost five years after 9/11 movies should be made about the attack on the United States that claimed some 3,000 lives.  One 9/11 family member put it this way:

“The use of 9/11 footage and stories should be limited to documentaries.  They are inappropriate for use in a commercial way because ultimately it means they are being used as a from of entertainment.”

MICHAEL SHAMBERG, CO-PRODUCER, “WORLD TRADE CENTER”:  As producers to try to make a film that tells about the best of America and the best about Americans that day, it‘s an honor to have that possibility. 

PENZA (ON CAMERA):  What do you hope people will take away from it? 

SHAMBERG:  The realization that we weren‘t defeated, we weren‘t knocked down, we were still standing, the country came together. 

PENZA:  But in the end it will be up to millions of moviegoers, here in New York, and across the nation.  Do they want to see actors portraying the events of 9/11? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. No. I don‘t think so. 

PENZA:  No movie? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No. I think it should be strictly news. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  To have actors portraying all those people and -

maybe it‘s a bit too soon. 

STACEY SHER, CO-PRODUCER “WORLD TRADE CENTER”:  We told the World War II stories, and less than five years, actually during World War II.  It‘s always hard to relive these things, but it‘s important for us never to forget what happened that day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not generally an Oliver Stone fan, but you know, I‘m willing to give it a try. 

OLIVER STONE, DIRECTOR “WORLD TRADE CENTER”:  Let the film speak for itself because it‘s a rugged, and yet has tenderness in it—a great tenderness at the heart. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  And with that, we move on to the celebrity and entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs.”  And the new show created by “American Idol” Simon Cowell.  It‘s one step closer to your living room.  There‘s one more.  “America‘s Got Talent,” it debuts on NBC in June.  Regis Philbin will host the verity show which will be a lot like “American Idol” but more juggling.  And the three judges have been selected:  British media figure, Pierce Morgan, Grammy award-winning singer Brandy, and Mr.  Living proof that America‘s got talent, himself, David Hasselhoff.  Oh, the pressures of performing before Germany‘s favorite lounge act are going to be enormous!  You won‘t want to miss it. 

Meanwhile the career of “American Idol‘s” biggest star continues to skyrocket.  William Hung has been crowned king of the big annual Castroville, California Artichoke Festival.  The 23-year-old media sensation will ride on a float in the big artichoke parade on Sunday, and promise to perform new versions of “Surfing USA” and “Achy Breaky Heart.”  Achy breaky artichoke heart.  That‘s good, Mr.  Hung, you are the new rock and roll chameleon.  I believe your 15th minute of fame is upon us. 

From 15 minutes of fame to 15 minutes of infamy.  The runaway bride a year after her cross-country sprint finds herself on the singles market.  What took Jennifer Wilbanks‘ fiance so long to leave?  That‘s next, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP.  STEVE KING ®, IOWA:  They are 12 feet high, they are 10 feet high.  Pick them up with a crane or the excavator, swing them in place.  Now, we can build a—we can build a mile of this a day.  It is 12 feet high, either 10 foot wide panels.  Oh, there are some folks that actually could find a way to get over the top of this wall.  I‘m going is to leave that just lay.  You‘ll get the idea.  We have a little wire here on top.  We got to do something that‘ll actually stop the flow of human traffic. 

And I will say this wall itself will be 90 percent effective. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right after the break we‘re going to interview Eric Weihenmayer who climbed mount in the world, Mt.  Everest.  But he‘s gay, I mean, he‘s gay—he‘s blind, so, we‘ll hear about that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  That‘s ahead in the break, a look.

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW” HOST:  They may have found Jimmy Hoffa.  Ten FBI agents armed with shovels, dug up a farm after a tip it might contain the teamster leader‘s remains.  Of course many myths surround Hoffa‘s disappearance.  Some say he‘s buried at the end zone in a Giant‘s Stadium, some say he was dumped in Lake Michigan, some think he is alive an in new Hampshire having an affair with a volunteer fireman that he calls “Johnny Cakes.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Now, I know this will come as a shock to many of you, especially because the relationship always seems so stable and perfect, but Jennifer Wilbanks and John Mason are kaput as a couple.  Only this time, he called it quits.  A friend of Mason telling “People” magazine that quote, “I think John realized there were fundamental differences in their personalities that he wasn‘t going to be able to deal with.”  And it only took him a year after she faked her own abduction to get out of marrying him, to figure that out. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, faced with potential and all the run away wide-eyed bridal fun, one last look back. 

First, she disappeared days before her wedding in April, 2005 sparking a massive manhunt in her hometown of Duluth, Georgia.  Keith Olbermann, presciently noting that quote, “Every photo I‘ve seen of this woman, she looks like she‘s about to run or something,” end quote.  Which is exactly what she did, something—special, running to New Mexico then making up a story about being kidnapped before finally copping to cold feet.  When she showed up at the airport to go home, she provided this priceless image by hiding her face with a natty afghan rug.  Then she her penance for wasting police time in Duluth, mowing the lawns as community service and using those wide, wide eyes to their best effect. 

But perhaps the most compelling part of the runaway bride debacle was the fact that her fiance, John Mason, still wanted to marry her.  And MSNBC was prepared to go all out on coverage on the eventual nuptials, so prepared COUNTDOWN even got this promotional spot ready it go. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Will she show up this time?  Will he show up this time?  Will the brushing bride wear white or throw on the old blanket?  Find out in nine days with “Wandering Eyes 2:  The Return of the Runaway Bride.” 

MSNBC‘s special 24/7 blowout wall to wall, unrelenting coverage begins

tomorrow morning in Georgia with an unrifled panel of experts to cover

every aspect of the story, plus our correspondents will be covering all the

local train stations and bus depots just in case there‘s a return to

flight.  It‘s the COUNTDOWN to the return to the wedding that never

happened, but it gripped the nation because she ran away on a bus to Vegas,

but now she‘s back and they‘re getting married on August 12, only on MSNBC

and most everywhere else. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Now, this is a true tragedy that we will now, apparently, never get to cover the Wilbanks wedding unless she can, you know, find some other poor schmo to marry her. 

Now, to discuss the dramatic development, I‘m joined once more by Paul F.  Tompkins, on of the regulars on the VH1 program, “Best Week Ever” and he‘s an expert on runaway brides to New Mexico. 

Thanks for your time, Paul. 

PAUL F.  TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  I am happy to provide my expertise, Brian. 

UNGER:  Paul, it always seemed ridiculous that John Mason still wanted to marry Jennifer Wilbanks, Paul, after she so famously, you know, ran away.  Why do you think it took him so long to figure out that this relationship was, you know, just doomed to failure? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, you know how sometimes you‘re not quite sure you‘ve been insulted until much later?  You know, it‘s possible that after a year went by, John Mason may have said aloud ,in his home, “Hey!” But, I think a much more likely scenario is that Mason realized it would be so much more satisfying to wait a year to say the words, “in your face! No bride runs away from John Mason.”  Is the dish best served cold, Brian. 

UNGER:  I see the logic behind all of it.  Now Paul, now given the fact that Wilbanks, you know, ran away and that Mason actually took her back, do you think anyone will take a chance on love with either of these two characters again? 

TOMPKINS:  Absolutely.  All they have to do is move to Hollywood, California, because people get married here like nobody‘s business.  The screening process, apparently, is not that rigorous.  You might even be allowed to be related, I‘m not really sure.  But, the great news for them is that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn will be available in to six to eight months, and slightly less great news, is that Britney and K-Fed will be available in 45 minutes. 

UNGER:  Is it true that there‘s kind of like a rotating dating pool out there, everybody just eventually dates everyone?  Is that how it works?

TOMPKINS:  You know, it‘s wide enough that you can‘t see it with the naked eye, but I think a picture from space would reveal that, yes, our celebrities are as inbred as English royalty. 

UNGER:  We‘re going to look into that satellite photo a little later.  Hey, Paul, this is the latest in a spat of couples breaking up, the most famous being Paul McCartney and Heather Mills who blamed the collapse of their marriage on media, their intrusiveness.  Do you think the media attention, lavished on the Wilbanks/Mason, you know, match up played a similar part in the destruction of their relationship or was it just irreparably flawed anyway? 

TOMPKINS:  I don‘t know if Wilbanks and Mason can say that it was media pressure, unless flipping out about whether to have disposable cameras on the tables at the reception counts as media pressure.  But, I do want to say this about the McCartney thing.  When a former Beatle is saying that the media attention is overwhelming for him, you got to imagine there‘s probably something else going on there.  You know, I think that maybe there was trouble early on and, you know, imagine how hard it is to break up with anyone under normal circumstances, but it‘s a million times harder to break up with someone who only has one leg.  You know, a gentleman waits four years. 

UNGER:  Uh, wow.  The um, OK.  Hey, um,

TOMPKINS:  It‘s Emily Post, Brain, it‘s Emily Post. 

UNGER:  Yeah, that‘s what I thought, too.  I don‘t want to be cynical here.  Does this mark, Paul, the end of all the fun, that COUNTDOWN had at Jennifer Wilbanks‘ expense?  I mean, I don‘t mean, you know, I know you‘re not a producer on this program, but I think—I mean have we heard the last of her? 

TOMPKINS:  No. We‘re going to have so much more fun.  The catch is, we have to wait until the year 2021, 15 years from now when a cybernetic Pat O‘Brien will resurrect Wilbanks and Mason from—Buttafuoco-like from the national memory grave.  And I hope to see you then, Brian. 

UNGER:  Well, these people do have a tendency to sort of pop up on all kinds of pop culture venues like VH1, for instance.  That‘s your turf, right? 

TOMPKINS:  That‘s right.  They better stay off it. 

UNGER:  And then.

TOMPKINS:  I‘m just saying to Wilbanks and Mason, if “Hollywood Squares” calls, take the call. 

UNGER:  You think so?

TOMPKINS:  You don‘t need to be taking up my air time. 

UNGER:  All right.  You‘re drawing the line there.  No one messes with VH1, is that what it is, and “Best Week Ever?”

TOMPKINS:  That‘s correct, Brian. 

UNGER:  Comedian Paul Tompkins, thank you so much for your time, sir. 

TOMPKINS:  Thank you, Brian. 

UNGER:  A reminder to join us again at Midnight Eastern, 11:00 p.m.  Central, 9:00 Pacific, for the late edition of COUNTDOWN. Until then, a special presentation of “Lockup:  Inside Anamosa.” 

I‘m Brian Unger, Keith Olbermann returns on Monday.  Have a great weekend.

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

END   

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