updated 5/29/2006 2:43:23 AM ET 2006-05-29T06:43:23

Guest: Joe Galloway

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

In cold blood.  The military‘s investigation into crimes against civilians in Haditha, published reports that United States Marines will be charged with the murder of innocent civilians in Iraq.  Renowned war correspondent Joe Galloway on this and his own heated e-mail exchange with the Pentagon.

On the road again.  Highways and airports all jammed up this weekend. 

We‘ll tell you why it will never get any better, well, this year, anyway.

The original hot for teacher.  Mary Kay and Vili share a tender moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just dumb.  You know, people that said they‘d prayed for us all those years, and...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  It seems the student has become the teacher.

And the claymate of the year.  Our own special visit with Idol wannabe Michael Sandecki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I really can sing (INAUDIBLE).  I‘m nervous as hell, and I got to pee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Clay‘s number one fan joins us.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It didn‘t work.  Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  And good evening.

I‘m Brian Unger, in for Keith Olbermann.

While some will always feel that any criticism of military conduct or policy during wartime is automatically unpatriotic, there are those who believe just as strongly that keeping silent amid atrocity is the more treasonous act, neither side questioning, not even for a moment, that the men and women willing to serve, willing to risk their lives for years on end, if they are lucky, are the true heroes of any conflict.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, this Memorial Day weekend, the voices of two military heavyweights making the choice to speak out.

One of them, the veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway, now challenging Donald Rumsfeld‘s management of the war in Iraq.  That‘s his final act before retirement.  He joins us in just a moment.

The other, John Murtha, the decorated war veteran turned congressman, who has possibly been proven right about one of his most recent and controversial claims.

We begin with Congressman Murtha, his contention that more than two dozen Iraqi civilians may have been gunned down in cold blood by U.S.  Marines being taken seriously at the Pentagon, where three investigations are now underway, looking into the charges.

And our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski has been following the story.

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JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Brian, Pentagon and military officials are predicting that these investigations could lead to murder charges against several Marines.

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MIKLASZEWSKI (voice-over):  In Haditha, the Marines are accused of going on a shooting spree, killing up to 24 Iraqis, including women and children.  Military officials tell NBC News that Five of the victims were reportedly shot as they were ordered out of a taxicab with their hands in the air.  The officials say that without apparent provocation, the unit commander, a Marine sergeant, allegedly dropped to one knee and opened fire on the unarmed Iraqis.

Marine reports first claimed the Iraqis were killed by an IED or enemy crossfire.  Several Marine commanders are reportedly now under investigation for a possible coverup.

Congressman and former Marine John Klein (ph) has been briefed on the Haditha investigation.

REP. JOHN KLEIN:  When you have Marines who have behaved so abominably as to allegedly shoot Iraqi civilians, I‘m not surprised that they would lie about it and cover up.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  If the allegations are true, how could this apparent atrocity have happened?  The brutal nature of the combat in Iraq has put Marines under tremendous stress.  Some Marines at Haditha were on their third tour.  But they must still obey the Geneva Convention to protect civilians.

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  The heat of combat is never an excuse for doing something that is morally corrupt.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Before heading to Iraq, Marines are trained not only in combat but also in cultural sensitivity.  Military experts say any breakdown in discipline usually indicates a breakdown in leadership.

COL. BERNARD TRAINOR (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS:  But that‘s where leadership and discipline and training comes in.  There‘s no excuse for violating the laws of war.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  At Camp Pendleton, California, today, a pre-Memorial Day ceremony for some 250 Marines from the base killed in Iraq.  It‘s also where some 19 Marines implicated in the deaths of Iraqi civilians await the military‘s investigation.

(on camera):  Military officials say the Haditha investigation should be wrapped up within several weeks, and the results will be devastating, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.  Thank you.

Another military critic whose voice carries great weight, that of veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway, who has covered numerous foreign conflicts over the past four decades, from Vietnam to Iraq.  He is also one of the rare civilians who has ever been awarded a Bronze Star for bravery.

It is with that resume, and only weeks away from retirement, that Galloway found himself debating the Pentagon about the defense secretary‘s handling of the war in Iraq, the incident sparked by a column in which Galloway profiled retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, one of those seven generals who stepped forward recently to criticize Rumsfeld, the defense secretary‘s top spokesman, Larry DiRita, firing off an e-mail to Galloway, telling him it was irresponsible to give General Riper a platform for his criticism of Rumsfeld‘s conduct, that one e-mail kicking off a series of combative exchanges between the two men, eight e-mails between them, in which they passionately debated Rumsfeld‘s management of the military and the war in Iraq.

Quoting one of the press secretary‘s e-mails, “What bothers me most about your coverage is your implication that the people involved in all of this are dumb or have ill intent or are so sure of what they know that the don‘t brook discussion.  That‘s the part you‘re just way off on, friend.  This is tough stuff, and we‘re all hard at it, trying to do what‘s best for the country.”

Now, as for how Joe Galloway responded, we thought it best to ask him to read his reply himself, Mr. Galloway telling the Pentagon spokesman that doing what‘s best for the country is what he has also struggled to do during 41 years of covering America‘s young warriors.

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JOE GALLOWAY, MILITARY CORRESPONDENT, KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

(reading):  “There are many things we all could wish had happened.  I could wish that your boss had surrounded himself with close advisers who had, once, at least, held a dying boy in their arms and watched the life run out of his eyes while they lied to him and told him over and over, You‘re going to be all right.  Hang on.  Help is coming.  Don‘t quit now.

“I could wish that in January of this year I had not stood in a garbage-strewn pit in deep mud and watched soldiers tear apart the wreckage of Kiowa Warrior helicopter shot down just minutes before, and see them tenderly remove the barely alive body of Warrant Officer Kyle Jackson and the lifeless body of his fellow pilot.

“They died flying overhead cover for a little three-vehicle Stryker patrol, which I had been riding with at the time.  The tears that I wept, standing there that day in that pit, feeling the same shards in my heart that I felt the first time I looked into the face of a fallen American soldier 41 years ago on a barren hill in Kuang Nai Province in another time, another war.

“Someone once asked me if I had learned anything from going to war so many times.  My reply, Yes, I learned how to cry.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Joe Galloway, the military correspondent for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, is also a co-author of the book ‘We Were Soldiers Once, and Young.”  He is kind enough to join us now.

Thank you for your time, sir.

GALLOWAY:  Thank you, Brian, glad to be here.

UNGER:  Sir, what‘s the response been in making public this e-mail exchange with Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita?

GALLOWAY:  The e-mails that I‘ve gotten are 99 percent positive and supportive, from veterans, from active duty military, from the general public.

UNGER:  And those military, are we talking officers?  Are we talking the rank and file?  Are we talking...

GALLOWAY:  All of them.

UNGER:  Really.  Now, I don‘t want to give the impression that Mr.  DiRita was not respectful in this exchange, or thoughtful, or just as impassioned in his e-mails, by portraying this as merely some kind of fight.  But given that this—we‘ll call it exchange of ideas—has become so public, was this how you expected to be heading into retirement next week?

GALLOWAY:  This just came along.  It happened.  I‘ve been criticized by Mr. DiRita for my columns in the past.  I‘ve been particularly critical of Mr. Rumsfeld‘s conduct of this war for the last three years, in my weekly syndicated column.  And he just provoked something that I had to do.

UNGER:  This exchange took place over a period of weeks, months?

GALLOWAY:  No, a couple of days.

UNGER:  A couple of days?

GALLOWAY:  Yes.

UNGER:  I want to move on to something else.  I‘d like to get your perspective on these civilian deaths in Haditha.  I‘m not of the greatest generation, not even of the second-greatest generation.  I was too young to fight in Vietnam.  I, like many in my generation, came closest to service by registering with the Selective Service when Ronald Reagan was president.  I did not volunteer for military service.  In fact, my generation has prospered greatly because of the service of others.

But I had a brother who served.  And in my career, I‘ve talked with hundreds of veterans, dating back as far back as to World War I, all the way up to the present.  And I know there are lessons to be learned from war and passed from generation to generation.  You reported from wars for 41 years.  In this Iraq conflict, are we using the wisdom that we‘ve learned from these wars past?

GALLOWAY:  Well, I would have to say no, we‘re not.  Mr. Rumsfeld, upon arrival at the Pentagon, declared the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine to be moot, to be outdated.  You know, our new generation of weapons made those simple rules that—of how you conduct a war.  Don‘t go to war without the American people totally behind you.  Don‘t go to war without knowing what you want to achieve.  Don‘t go to war without an exit strategy, when you‘re going to leave and how.  Don‘t go to war with less than what you need, go with more.

And all of those lessons were distilled from the bitter and harrowing experience of Vietnam , and they were put on display in the Persian Gulf War.  And the guy said, We don‘t need to follow those anymore.  We‘re going to create a new way of war.

Well, he‘s created a war that sure looks like Vietnam to me, in many aspects.

UNGER:  Sir, the Marines and their families from Camp Pendleton have undoubtedly sacrificed greatly in this war.  I went to their Web site this morning, and you can see a tally of deaths of Marines stationed there.  They had served honorably.  They continue to serve with bravery, to the extent anyone who hasn‘t been to Iraq can‘t fully understand.

Is this incident in Haditha what Republican Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it was, the actions of one squad in one city on one morning?

GALLOWAY:  Well, obviously that‘s a true statement as far as it goes. 

But, you know, when you put soldiers and Marines under the kind of

unrelenting pressures of continued deployments to combat—not one, but

two or three or some people coming up on a fourth tour in combat—this is

this puts a lot of pressure on.  And discipline can break down, not just one time.  There wasn‘t just one My Lai in Vietnam.  There were other incidents, there were other things like this.

Civilians are in the middle.  They get caught in this, and then, you know, there are accidental ways that they get hurt.  But to go and murder them, because you have snapped, is unconscionable.  You know, it has to be investigated, it has to be prosecuted.  This is a clear violation of the law of war, the rules of engagement.  We don‘t do this.  We‘re Americans.  We‘re not supposed to do this.

UNGER:  So it‘s your contention this is about leadership, then.

GALLOWAY:  It always is.  There are no bad units, there are no bad soldiers, there are only bad leaders.

UNGER:  Sir, thank you very much.  Joe Galloway, until next week, the military correspondent for Knight-Ridder.

Thank you for your insight, and best wishes for your retirement.

GALLOWAY:  Thank you, Brian.

UNGER:  This political footnote, that Air Force General Michael Hayden was confirmed by the Senate to be the new director of the CIA, the vote not even close, 78 to 15.  One notable no vote, Republican Arlen Specter, who said he was protesting the administration‘s failure to fully brief Congress on intelligence operations.  You will recall that General Hayden was in charge of the NSA when the warrantless wiretapping program was started.  He will be sworn in next week.

The unofficial start to summer brings the obligatory holiday weekend getaway coverage and barbecuing tips.  But what‘s different this year?  Experts say travel to your barbecue destination will be a nightmare, not only this weekend, but all summer long.

And it‘s happy anniversary time for America‘s original hot for teacher duo.  Mary Kay and Vili make it through one year of marriage.  We‘ve got the exclusive celebratory interview.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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UNGER:  And not to be a downer, but the numbers aren‘t looking great for Memorial Day weekend.  Compared to one year ago, gas prices are up, you know, way up.  And if you‘re planning to fly somewhere, well, as I like to say on my imaginary airline, there‘s a middle seat, with your name on it.  As for your baggage, you may want to give it a teary goodbye kiss before you check it.

It‘s going to be the worst summer in history for baggage problems, at least according to the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, Congressman John Mica of Florida.  Maybe he‘s being a downer, because our correspondent, Janet Shamlian, says that Americans are doing the planes, trains, and automobile thing anyway.  Janet?

JANET SHAMLIAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Brian.

Gas pries are up close to a dollar from last year, but that hasn‘t stopped the holiday exodus here in Chicago or elsewhere  While the cost of getting away is up, so are the number of people willing to pay it.

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SHAMLIAN (voice-over):  It‘s the first splash of the season.  From the rapids near Keystone, Colorado, to the fast lane through Terre Haute, Indiana, on the road to the Indy 500, it‘s that annual but unofficial passage into summer, Memorial Day weekend.  This year, there‘s nothing traditional about it.  A gallon of gas is running about 75 cents higher than a year ago, turning road trips into budget-busters.

Tony Jackson spent almost $300 filling his RV.

TONY JACKSON:  It makes a pretty healthy dent in the checkbook.

SHAMLIAN:  Beyond the road, the sky‘s the limit on higher-priced travel.  An advance purchase ticket is up about $40 from last year, if you can find a seat.

(on camera):  And trains too.  This Zephyr leaves Chicago today and arrives in San Francisco on Sunday, a ticket to ride, $260, $20 more than just a few months ago.

And once you get where you‘re going, it‘s not over.  Those high fuel costs are passed along everywhere, even out here on the water.

(voice-over):  But we‘re going anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s the highest water we‘ve had in almost 10 years, and so we‘re really excited about that.

SHAMLIAN:  AAA says more than 37 million Americans will travel in some form somewhere over the next four days.

TERRY TRIPPLER, CHEAPSEATS.COM:  The higher ticket prices have not kept people back.  They are still booking.  They‘re booking right now for thanksgiving and Christmas.

SHAMLIAN:  The cost of a good time, emptying wallets, but filling a need for a chance to take a break.

(on camera):  And if the gas prices aren‘t enough, if a car rental is part of the trip, travelers are going to feel it.  Rental car rates are up almost 20 percent in the last year, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Janet Shamlian in Chicago, thank you very much.

Now, one thing you won‘t see on the highway this Memorial Day, Steve Vouth (ph).  Remember him?  The 400-plus-pound guy who took 13 months to walk across the country?  Turns out it could all be one big fat scam.

And the coolest video of the day, a volcano erupting underwater.

Yes, this will be an irresistible Oddball.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

And we pause our COUNTDOWN now of the day‘s real news for a brief segment of weird news, cool video, and dumb criminals.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin under the sea, 1,800 feet deep of the shores of the Mariana Islands, where scientists witnessed the violent eruption of a rare underwater volcano.  Look at it go.  Release the cracken (ph).  Ocean explorers working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration picked the perfect time to visit the Marianas‘ so-called Ring of Fire, because it‘s the eruption off-season, you know?

They got this view out the side window of their submarine, tons of rock and sulfur spewing from the volcanic vent as thousands of area fish scrambled to avoid being poached.  Best vacation ever.

Now, if you think that was something, check out this water main break in Roxbury, Mass.  Look at that go, isn‘t that pretty spectacular?  Maybe not as spectacular as watching Madonna sing on a mirrored cross.

So how about a towering implosion?  How about two at once, in Bellingham, Washington?  The 500-ton concrete structures had been used to hold acid to make wood pulp for a paper company.  We haven‘t seen such a large receptacle of acid go down since Timothy Leary died in 1996.

Finally, to Palm Beach County, Florida, where police are on the hunt for this female bank robber, who has struck at least twice this month.  She really shouldn‘t be too hard to find, considering she walked into this bank and put her big mug right in front of the security camera before putting on a mask and then robbing the teller.  And then that mask is made of clear plastic.  We call her dumb, but she‘s still on the loose, now, isn‘t she?

Traditional first wedding anniversary gifts are of the clock or paper variety.  In honor of the Mary Kay-Vili anniversary, COUNTDOWN celebrates by giving them nearly seven minutes of our show.  Can you say exclusive?

And it was perhaps the moment of the “American Idol” finale.  Forget the singing, forget the votes.  It was the Clay Aiken freakout.  We got the guy behind the moment of the week.

That‘s ahead.

But first, time now for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the Lower Burrell School District in Pennsylvania just suspended a student for three days because he shared some of his Jolt caffeinated gum with another kid.  The superintendent says that‘s a violation of the school‘s controlled-substance policy.  Kid, if you want caffeine, go to the school soda machine just like everybody else.

Number two, Corey E. Randle of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  He‘s been arrested after his 6-year-old son showed up at school with 25 bags of marijuana in his backpack.  Dad accidentally stashed them there, and Randle told police he‘s been dealing the drugs for a couple of weeks to get money to pay for cigarettes.  I‘m committing a crime to be able to afford to kill myself.  That‘s fantastic.

But number one, Donald Tashkin of the University of California at Los Angeles.  He‘s announced the results of the largest-of-its-kind study in history, revealing the connection between marijuana smoking and lung cancer.  The study says there is no connection, even with heavy smoking, and that the marijuana may even have protective effects.  Yes, like you forget to buy cigarettes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Now, whatever you want to call Mary Kay Letourneau, she was a trailblazer for ultimate tabloid fodder.  Before we every heard of former model turned teacher, Debra LaFave, molesting one of her 14-year-old students, before we even saw the videos that a 27-year-old Pamela Rogers text message her 13-year-old lover, before we saw this mugshot of 44-year-old Linda Ann McBride charged with molesting a teenage boy, there was only one, one that immediately conjured up all the cliches of older women meeting young boys.  Though, unlike the plethora of women that made headlines since, Mary Kay Letourneau actually married her victim.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, one year after their nupeshals, she and her new husband Vili Fualaau sat down with Matt Lauer. 

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MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There was truly a love against all odds.  He was a sixth grader in suburban Seattle, she was a star teacher and married mother of four.  What began as a mentorship quickly developed into a sexual affair.

MARY KAY LETOURNEAU, FMR. TEACHER:  I allowed it to happen. 

LAUER:  After school administrators received an anonymous trip, Mary Kay was arrested in February of 1997.  Just three months later she gave birth to a daughter.  Vili, still a child himself, was the father.  That August, Mary Kay pled guilty to charges of child rape.  Just months later.

LETOURNEAU:  I give my word that it will not happen again. 

LAUER:  Taking mercy.

LETOURNEAU:  Help me.

LAUER:  .Judge Linda Lau handed down a suspended sentence, but ordered Mary Kay not to have any contact with Vili.  Shortly after, the two were discovered in a car at 3:00 a.m.

JUDGE LINDA LAU, SEATTLE:  These violations are extraordinarily egregious. 

LAUER:  This time she‘d return to prison for her full seven-and-a-half-year sentence, pregnant again.  Through it all, they pledged to stay faithful to one another. 

VILI FUALAAU, LETOURNEAU‘S FMR. STUDENT:  I would like to be with her and start off where we left off. 

LAUER:  Now, nearly 10 years after Mary Kay and Vili‘s affair began, it is a marriage.  The couple recently celebrated their one-year anniversary.  On Thursday I had an opportunity to speak with them. 

(on camera):  Talk to me a little bit about how this last year has gone.  I mean, any new marriage requires adjustment, but I would imagine the circumstances surrounding your marriage, in particular, may have required more than normal.  Describe it for me. 

LETOURNEAU:  We started with nothing, and there was something nice about that, but it was also very, very difficult and it took a lot of time, because our priority was—and is to build a home for all of our children.

LAUER:  Let me just ask you if there‘s someone watching this interview right now, Mary, in particular, who still is shaking their head about this relationship, saying you know what, there‘s just something wrong, what would you say to that person? 

LETOURNEAU:  We‘re just really good people, loving our family. 

FUALAAU:  I would say that she‘s done her time.  She‘s done seven years and there‘s a lot of other male rapists out there that do six months and they‘re out. 

LAUER:  Let me ask you where you stand in the process of gaining full custody of your daughters. 

FUALAAU:  We have been awarded custody, we‘re just in a natural transition and they spend nights with us and nights with their grandmother, and as soon as this school year is over, which is coming up pretty soon, then they‘ll be home full-time with us. 

LAUER:  I have a 5-year-old, Mary and Vili, and you know, from time to time he asks me those questions, you know, how did you meet mommy and things like that.  What, at their ages have you shared with them and what haven‘t you shared with them? 

LETOURNEAU:  Audrey, our 8-year-old, she just recently—she doe this with my son and his girlfriend also, she started with them and said tell a story, how‘d you meet?  And so I—I don‘t know.  I was expecting it to come our direction. 

LAUER:  Well, how honest were you with her? 

LETOURNEAU:  I was actually very honest with her.  She already knew that her dad was a student of mine.  I said well, I had a hunch that he really liked me and—but I was trying to ignore him. 

LAUER:  There was a time, Mary and Vili, where your pictures were on fronts of newspapers and on television shows, and so when you all go out now as a family, do you ever get the sense that there are whispers behind your back? 

FUALAAU:  Sometimes.  I get that feeling probably, like, 50 percent of the time when I walk to the grocery store.  I always fell like the cashiers are whispering something about me.  But I just—pretty much just—you know, so what.  You know, I‘m here to—I‘m grocery shopping like everyone else. 

LAUER:  Do you think, Mary in some ways, the fact that you two are still together after this year of marriage, proves some of the naysayers wrong? 

LETOURNEAU:  We‘re just working hard to be a family.  It does feel good that people do—they say congratulations to us and there‘s a lot of heartfelt emotion from people, just—people that said they prayed for us all those years and... 

FUALAAU:  Don‘t cry. 

LETOURNEAU:  Anyway, so about—I think there were more people with us than the loud voices that were having opinions that you‘re talking, like, right now, that maybe misjudged. 

LAUER:  There‘s a 22-year age difference and I would imagine, when you first met that was pronounced, even though you two clearly hit it off in some areas.  Obviously, besides the two adorable girls you have, what do you have most in common? 

FUALAAU:  Outlook on life, people, and the way we live. 

LETOURNEAU:  We both have an appreciation for art and music. 

LAUER:  All couples fright from time to time from time to time.  What do you guys fight about? 

LETOURNEAU:  We don‘t fight.  Do we? 

FUALAAU:  She‘s really bad at directions. 

LETOURNEAU:  Here‘s what it is, I‘m really good at directions, and I expect him to be better, and I don‘t expect to have to give the kind of directions that he needs.  That would be a little fight right there. 

LAUER:  Yeah exactly.  So you have, you know, almost a decade of turmoil behind you and now you have a year of marriage, successfully, behind you, and you have a lot in the future.  What are your hopes and dreams from this point on? 

FUALAAU:  The best next step would be to finally find a house. 

LETOURNEAU:  There‘s something really life giving about the whole process of looking for a old home. 

LETOURNEAU:  Do you envision having more children? 

LETOURNEAU:  And I don‘t really think.

LETOURNEAU:  Yeah. 

FUALAAU:  Yes. 

LETOURNEAU:  Definitely. 

FUALAAU:  A boy. 

LAUER:  Vili and Mary, I appreciate your time.  And again, let me just say congratulations on your year anniversary. 

LETOURNEAU:  Thank you. 

FUALAAU:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  And presumably we‘ll see them at their fifth anniversary next.  Now, there is a celebrity couple that finally could be kaput.  Reports that Britney Spears has finally thrown out her dancer/rapper/sperm donor husband. 

And scandal from the “Fat Man Walking”, it turns out he may not have exactly walked all the way across America.  Those stories ahead, now here are the COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The way we know her, the way we love her, Britney spears. 

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The pose that Britney‘s is in right now is full show mode, so the heaving chest is exactly how she would be singing a song, as you would see her if she was in a shot (INAUDIBLE). 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I really love the heaving chest thing, I think it‘s really cool. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah, it looks a lot like her, especially like the breathing on her chest and all that, that‘s hot. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  First it was a break in this case, the case at the counter of Bongo Java that held the shellacked pastry known as the “Nun Bun.”  The bun was stolen on Christmas day.  Now there‘s a break in the criminal case of who did it.  A letter and a picture sent to the “Tennessean,” from who else?  Hu Dunet, of course. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he should give the darn thing back and shut up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fans of Birmingham‘s Taylor Hicks gathered as he tried to make his dreams come true. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re here to see Taylor win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They call themselves the “Soul Patrol,” drawn to the 29-year-old by his prematurely agree hair, his spastic dancing, and his buttery voice. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t talk on the phone, I don‘t accept calls, and everybody knows not to call me at that time. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s got soul. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  From “Fat Man Walking” to fat man fabricating.  And from Claymate of the month to Claymate for life.  There‘s going to be some heavy lifting ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  It was the feel good story of the Spring, an overweight man, fighting the flab and fight his own daemons, embarks on a momentous quest across America on foot.  But in our second story on the COUNTDOWN, it now appears that the “Fat Man Walking” may actually just be a big fat liar. 

In April 2005, 40-year-old Steve Vaught, having serving time for vehicular manslaughter after hitting and killing an elderly couple was depressed.  He weighed 410 pounds and his marriage was in trouble, so he embarked on a long walk, a really long walk, from his home near San Diego to New York City.  It took him 13 months and frequent stops, but finally he crossed the George Washington Bridge into the Big Apple and wracked up at the “Today Show” with sit-down with Katie Couric. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATIE COURIC, “TODAY SHOW” HOST:  Well, on Tuesday he finally made it, 3,000 miles by foot, surrounded by a pose of followers who tracked his odyssey on the Fat Man Web site.  And look who‘s walking into our studio right now.  Steve Vaught, finally made his way, as we mentioned, to New York City and he‘s here to tell us a little bit about his journey. 

You comment home at Christmastime, which some people wonder does that affect, sort of, the integrity of your goal, since you—I know you always came back to where you stopped walking, right?  But once in a while you went to hotels, et cetera, right?

STEVE VAUGHT, FAT MAN WALKING:  Right.

COURIC:  Do you feel, by the way, that that did affect the integrity of your journey or your mission? 

VAUGHT:  No. Because this thing was never about a start or a finish line or about achieving little goals, it‘s about life overall and it‘s about struggling through adversity.  And there‘s been good moments, there‘s been moments that have been, you know, spectacular for me, and there‘s been low points.  There‘s been points where I got into a place and I didn‘t leave for days at a time, because I was so depressed.  That‘s the process that you need to go though.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Only it turns out that the so-called process wasn‘t what was advertised.  According to the “Washington post” both his soon to be ex-wife and a documentary film crew who leant him a camera for his journey, say it‘s doubtful he actually walked all the way across America.  Among the red flags, the fact that he was apparently in Albuquerque, New Mexico, one day and then 117 miles away in Santa Rosa the next.  His wife, who filed for divorce midway through Vaught‘s journey, explains the discrepancy thus:

“I know what he told me.He said, ‘I walked all these miles around Albuquerque.‘ He skipped ahead to Santa Rosa and counted the miles in Albuquerque to getting to Santa Rosa.”

But Steve says he did walk the whole way and that he withheld his coordinates during the days it took him to walk through eastern New Mexico for quote, “security reasons.”  Another discrepancy, Steve says he lost 100 pounds on his journey, but Pierre Bagley, a documentarian, who is making Vaught‘s journey into a movie told the “Washington Post,” quote, “If he lost more than 40 pounds, I‘m a rock.”

And Steve Vaught now?  He‘s lost his book deal, he‘s living in a San Diego motel, and has no plans beyond promoting his Fat Man franchise in order to fight childhood obesity. 

From the “Fat Man Walking” to the blond girl the good excuse for her current weight issues, Britney Spears leading the celebrity and entertainment stories of “Keeping Tabs.”  And is this the end for K-Fed?  Well, if you believe British tabloid newspapers with bare breasted women on the page three, then it very will might be the end.  The “Sun” reporting that pregnant Britney has thrown out the parasitic Federline, leading to renewed speculation that the two may be nearing divorce.  The tab quotes (inaudible), always trustworthy, reporting, “K-Fed has spent the last three nights with friends in Sherman Oaks, California, while Britney has stayed home in Malibu.”  She got the better address.  Meaning either things have taken a turn for the worse or he‘s just out on another bender.  We‘ll be searching for K-Fed to get to the bottom of this very, very important story. 

Meanwhile, the world is awaiting the spawn of the other pregnant super-babe, Brangelina is eight month—or eight days from her due date, supposedly.  As Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie ride out their final week in Africa in their African country of Namibia, an anxious population awaits the go-ahead to begin showering them gifts, including this guy—hey, that‘s—is that K-Fed right there.

And finally, there are the ups and downs of former survivor Chris Daugherty.  A million dollar winner on CBS, a $34,000 a year road worker for the Ohio Department of Transportation.  But it turns out the Ohio DOT has taken issue with the month off he took to be a contestant on the TV show.  They say Daugherty filed a false claim that he needed time off to treat stress and depression, but then hopped a plane to “Survivor: Vanuatu Island of Fire.”  He‘s back on the job fixing potholes now but is facing disciplinary action, even possible termination depending on the outcome of a department hearing.  Bring your torch, pal. 

And what‘s it like to meet your idol?  Apparently it results in some kind of seizure.  Clay Aiken‘s No. 1 fan joins us ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Now duets are not the easiest thing to pull off, especially with singers.  There‘s got to be a give and take, a harmony, some kind of understanding between the artists so they an make beautiful music together.  In the No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, maybe that‘s why this week‘s “American Idol” finale was so memorable.  One pairing was in a league of its own, more on that had a moment. 

Some of the other duets worked, some didn‘t.  Like the bizarre song stylings of finalist Katherine McPhee and Meatloaf.  She actually looked sort of scared and he seemed a bit, how should be say, you know, off his game.  For a good reason, it turns out Meatloaf doesn‘t not remember any of it.  He suffers from terrible stage fright and says, and the entire episode is a blank.  Meatloaf claims he remembers getting the two-minute warning before his performance, then the next thing he recalls is afterwards when he sat down and began crying like a baby.  Wait a second.  Isn‘t that Hasselhoff?  Is Hasselhoff crying?  Kitt, help!

Anyway, the unforgettable moment was not the crowning of another Idol, but when Michael Sandecki won an award for his, quote unquote “impersonation” of Clay Aiken and then was invited to sing.  Now, joining me now from the—what I call the.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SINGING)

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  OK, now joining me from the most authentic moment of the “American Idol” finale, the enthusiast that made us get a little misty and it‘s not Hasselhoff.  Oh, my god! He‘s here!

See, that‘s me being as excited as you were. 

MICHAEL SANDECKI, CLAY AIKEN IMPERSONATOR:  You could be a little more enthusiastic, gosh. 

UNGER:  It was terrible.  It was entirely ineffective.

SANDECKI:  Where‘s the shaking and the “oh, my god?” 

UNGER:  I‘m going to go home and work on it after the program. 

SANDECKI:  OK, do that for me. 

UNGER:  You will give me a few tips, though, during this discussion.  One thing I noticed is that you didn‘t really get to finish the song.  That you didn‘t get to sing it in its full glory and that‘s why this show exists, for many reasons, but we want to give you the opportunity right now.  Would you like to just, you know, belt out a couple of things that is we didn‘t get to hear? 

SANDECKI:  OK. 

UNGER:  Really? 

SANDECKI:  Yeah.  That‘s cool.

UNGER:  Go ahead. 

SANDECKI:  Want me to do like.

UNGER:  Yeah.

SANDECKI:  .the first two or three lines from the thing that we did? 

UNGER:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, treat us. 

SANDECKI (SINGING):  I can‘t lie.  No more of your darkness all my pictures seem to fade to black and white . 

UNGER:  OK.  Thank you very much.  We could go on, but we just don‘t have that much time.  Let me ask you this question.  Were you thrilled to see Clay Aiken or were you annoyed that you couldn‘t just do your thing?  Because I saw Seacrest coming over to you and sort of pulling you over and saying a couple of things to you. 

SANDECKI:  Actually when Seacrest pulled me over, he was just like are you OK?  Like they were checking on me, making sure I wasn‘t going to pass out on stage or anything, because they said if Seacrest wasn‘t there I would have fallen and busted my head.  But, I was thrilled.  Back in August when I auditioned, “Idol” asked me what my biggest dream was and I said it was to do a duet with Clay Aiken and I did it on the finale.  I was ecstatic, I didn‘t know how to take it. 

UNGER:  Was he nice to you, Clay, when he came out. 

SANDECKI:  He was cool.

UNGER:  He was hard to recognize because he had that haircut. 

SANDECKI:  Right, and that‘s why I took a double glance (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but I finally - I was like oh, my god!

UNGER:  Yeah, I mean, it was a little shocking. 

SANDECKI:  Yeah, it‘s like.

UNGER:  Now, you‘re wearing your hair short.  Will you be getting the mop? 

SANDECKI:  No.

UNGER:  Let‘s just call it the mop.  The Clay mop.

SANDECKI:  I‘m going to stick with the regular Clay Aiken haircut, the original, because people said I‘m cute, so I‘m going to leave it like this. 

UNGER:  Now this experience, obviously, has been—you‘re never going to forget this, Mike.  You auditioned and you came in and you didn‘t actually succeed in the audition and you had to go to the bathroom really badly and said to Simon can go out and urinate, right? 

SANDECKI:  Correct. 

UNGER:  And you did and you came back.  But, what happened after that? 

It didn‘t lighten the load for you did it? 

SANDECKI:  Well, I actually ended up running up and down the hallway like five times before I could even run back into the room because they couldn‘t catch me before I made it to the bathroom.  I took off and they‘re like hold up, we got to re-do the shot.  So, I had to re-do the shot, I ran back in there and they‘re just like, OK, sing, no if ands and buts.  And by that time I was just like, I‘m tired.  Oh god, I‘m ready to go home. 

UNGER:  Now Michael, where you going after this?  Like where does your career—is it doing the—is it just on this—is it taking off like a star that you across the—what‘s happening? 

SANDECKI:  Well, right now I‘m speaking to a agent, he‘s very, very positive. 

UNGER:  All ready, the agents coming at you for the 10 percent? 

SANDECKI:  One agent is planning on sending me a copy of a contract tomorrow.  So, it‘s like, I‘m just like hey, more power to me. 

UNGER:  You mean, you‘re telling me that Hollywood‘s already got their hands in your pocket? 

SANDECKI:  I don‘t know about Hollywood. 

UNGER:  That‘s what they do.  Be very careful.  By the way when you were back stage, did you see Meatloaf? 

SANDECKI:  No, I didn‘t get to meet Meatloaf. 

UNGER:  You didn‘t so you can‘t really testify as to whether he was... 

SANDECKI:  I know when saw at the rehearsal it looked like him and Katherine weren‘t really getting along, she looked really scared and Meatloaf like he got mad first, and that was when me and Garret the Cowboy and all them were in the back room. 

UNGER:  Sure.  Michael Sandecki, it‘s been quite a week.  Everyone at COUNTDOWN wishes you the best of luck. 

SANDECKI:  Thank you so much. 

UNGER:  Thank you so much for coming in.  You should get some rest.  That does it for the Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  A reminder to join us again at Midnight Eastern, 11:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 Pacific for the late edition.  Until then, a special presentation of “Lockup: Inside New Mexico.”  I‘m Brian Unger, have a great holiday weekend, we‘ll see you back here on Monday. 

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

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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