updated 6/6/2006 10:56:32 AM ET 2006-06-06T14:56:32

Guests: Paul Rieckhoff; Maria Milito

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

The president goes to the wall on the gay marriage amendment, an amendment that has no chance of getting out of Congress, let alone getting ratified.  What the hell?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization.  And it should not be redefined by activist judges.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But getting it not defined by wasting Congress‘s time over an unpassable amendment, that‘s OK, then.  The politics of diversion.  Does that trick ever work?

The 9/11 warning story that wasn‘t.  How Judith Miller was tipped by a Bush administration source to a possible al Qaeda attack in this country that summer.  Why we, and the terrorists, never saw it.  Her former editor joins us.

Malmedy and O‘Reilly and Joe McCarthy, the continuing anger over a commentator who rewrote history, twisted a German massacre of American troops into an American war crime, and how he is echoing similar slanders from six decades ago from the infamous junior senator from Wisconsin.

And the story that won‘t go away, “American Idol” meets Tom Cruise and Katie Homes.  Catherine McPhee (ph), wedding singer for them, Scientologist, going to the mat, as Cat (ph) denies all that about Tom Cat Cat.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

As ever, Shakespeare put it best.  Sparks flying, dust kicked up everywhere over a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, an amendment the House won‘t pass, an amendment the Senate won‘t pass, an amendment the states will never get a chance to ratify.  It is, as Shakespeare put it, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, and oh, by the way, if it ever really did pass, wouldn‘t the religious right simply have mandated that gays and lesbians must continue, as the moralists like to phrase it, living in sin?

There‘s sin, and then there‘s sin-cerity, as the president once again actively pushed for a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, one of his friends telling “Newsweek” magazine that same-sex marriage has barely registered on the president‘s moral radar.  Quote, “I think it was purely political.  I don‘t think he gives a S-blank-blank-T about it.  He never talks about this stuff.”

Not that Mr. Bush‘s vice president cares much either, apparently, Dick Cheney‘s openly gay daughter, Mary, voicing her opposition to the proposed amendment for weeks now, and again during the day, the seeming indifference eclipsed only by the twists of logic the administration is now employing to explain why an issue it has ignored since the last election suddenly got important again, why, moreover, a gay marriage amendment would be synonymous with freedom of choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  In this country, people are free to choose how they live their lives.  In our free society, decisions about a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people.

The American people have spoken clearly on this issue, through their elected representatives and at the ballot box.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That containing just as much as discernible logic as White House press secretary Tony Snow, who compared the gay marriage ban proposed to civil rights legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Passes are not, as you know, Terry, there have been a number of cases where civil rights matters have arisen on a number of occasions, and they‘ve been brought up for repeated consideration by the United States Senate and other legislative bodies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you comparing this to various civil rights measures which have come to the Congress over the years?

SNOW:  Well, (INAUDIBLE), it...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A civil right?

SNOW:  Marriage?  It actually—what we‘re really talking about here is an attempt to try to maintain the traditional meaning of an institution that has maintained one meaning for a period of centuries.  And furthermore...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you comparing it to civil rights?

SNOW:  No, I‘m just saying that I think—well, I don‘t know.  How do you define civil rights?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not up to me, up to you.

SNOW:  OK, well, no, it‘s your question, so if—I need to get a more precise definition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You know, like past administrations tried to maintain slavery.

Time now to call in “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank, who had no connection whatsoever to my last remark.

Thank you for your time, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Good evening.  I prefer indentured servitude, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  The department of spin under the Buchanan administration.

I‘ve seen a lot of cynical things, but a president who apparently doesn‘t care is pushing a bill that isn‘t going to be passed for an amendment that is never going to be ratified by the states.  Are there people—is there a base somewhere who sees something else in this than that rather stark description I just gave?

MILBANK:  You‘re so cynical, Keith.  They are—they got 48 votes in the Senate when they tried this exactly two years ago.  They‘re hoping for 52 this time.  So they‘ll have this thing passed by the year 2014.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, the correct number needed is...

MILBANK:  We need 67, two thirds.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MILBANK:  And then they‘ve got another problem with that in the House.

But, of course, this is all about—the marriage protection amendment is really the Republican majority protection amendment.  And the idea is, you rile up the conservative base, boost the turnout.

The question is, will the conservative base fall for this one more time?  There‘s been not a whole lot of action on this since everybody got very excited about it in 2004.  In fact, 45 states now have some version of this protection on their own, without the feds doing anything.

But, you know, there were eight people up on the—demonstrating up on the Hill in support of this amendment today, and they said that same-sex marriage will lead to more masturbation.

OLBERMANN:  Well, on the same topic, I guess, the “Newsweek” report about the president‘s indifference here, is that sort of confirmed, in a sideways manner, by the fact that Mary Cheney is running around with impunity, criticizing the amendment?  If the White House really was behind this, would she not be silenced one way or the other?

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s not just Mary Cheney, it‘s Dick Cheney.  He made very clear that he thought this matter should be left up to the states.  Obviously, this White House goes into this with some ambivalence.  The compassionate conservative president has never made this a top priority.  So this is sort of necessity being—well, let‘s not get into the whole bedfellows business.

But that‘s the kind of situation we‘re in tonight.  And they‘ve got—they‘re facing a very dismal election in November, and it‘s very important to get out your most loyal supporters.

OLBERMANN:  Turning to the subject of borders, we had the big dog-and-pony show over the National Guard at the Mexican border couple weeks back.  Now it turns out there were these purported terrorists who were stung by Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the weekend.  Is it too late for Mr.  Bush to move the Guardsmen up to Niagara Falls and, you know, the Vancouver northwestern corner border?

MILBANK:  Well, they‘re—I understand they‘re going to be setting up a fence up there, and they‘re going to test for Canadian accents.  They want to see how you say “about.”

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MILBANK:  No, I mean, it‘s—the fact is, the—even the debate about the borders down in Mexico is going nowhere at this moment.  They‘re talking about not even naming conferees between the House and the Senate to try to resolve differences before September.

So we had all of this excitement about this emergency, and suddenly this emergency can wait until after summer vacation.

OLBERMANN:  Big picture here.  We had dictionary time with Tony Snow at that news conference.  We got this memo from the communications director, Dan Bartlett, to the press.  He‘s described all the progress that the White House has made on everything from Iraq to immigration, as if we, you know, we‘ve been out or something for the last five years.

But does the—does the administration, the White House, still believe its main, if not only, problem is getting its message out correctly?

MILBANK:  Well, I don‘t think that they believe that.  But it‘s the only thing that they can do something about right now.  So I—you had this sort of unfortunate thing where Dan Bartlett‘s memo says the economy is flourishing, and then the market‘s down 200 points today.  It‘s very hard to control reality.

What you see from this White House a lot more is a lot more press releases coming out setting the facts straight.  Many of the operations that the Republican Party used to do are being run out of the White House now to try to control the debate in that way.

Can‘t fault them for doing that, because it‘s about the only thing they can do.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I‘m waiting for the pres release about those eight protestors you mentioned.

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post,” on top of the breaking stories in Washington.  As always, sir, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Good night.

OLBERMANN:  From wedge issues, it‘s an easy segue to the pitching wedges that must come in handy at all those golf junkets and other free trips members of Congress seem so fond of taking, just so long as others are footing the bill.

Finally, someone doing the math on how big a bill it all adds up to, nearly $50 million over a span of just five years.

As our chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, reports, it does not seem to matter, in fact, whether a lawmaker is Democrat or Republican when it comes to loving a free ride.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Palm Beach, Florida, home to the legendary Breakers resort, and in 2003, Restoration Weekend, a gathering of policy makers and conservative activists.

At the event, Congresswoman Katherine Harris, who first failed, and later amended congressional forms to list who paid for the trip and the purpose despite nearly $1,000 in expenses.  She filed an agenda which lists panel discussions and four hours of free time each day for swimming, golf, tennis, and shopping.

The documents were uncovered by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, which found in a groundbreaking study that free travel for lawmakers is more common than you might believe.

WENDELL RAWLS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY:  We found that there seems to be a sense of entitlement in the congressional offices that they can travel first class and almost always, that they can travel in corporate jets at $25,000 a pop.

O‘DONNELL:  The center discovered that from January 2000 through June 2005, lawmakers from both parties and their aides took at least 23,000 trips, with a total value of $50 million.

Ethics rules require that such trips be educational or investigative.  But many were to vacation hot spots, at least 200 to Paris, 150 to Hawaii and 140 to Italy.

RAWLS:  And there‘s an awful lot of instances of black tie and cocktail dresses and spa treatment, and tennis, and golf, and dancing.

O‘DONNELL:  The biggest user of privately funded trail, Congressman Tom DeLay, the former majority leader, who traveled with Jack Abramoff to Russia in 1997 and Britain in 2000, playing golf at Scotland‘s legendary St. Andrew‘s.  Total cost, $127,000.

Another heavy traveler, DeLay‘s successor, John Boehner, who, according to “Political Moneyline,” received trips worth $157,000 to the Greenbriar resort eight times, Pebble Beach, California, and Edinburgh, Scotland, twice.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MAJORITY LEADER:  I‘ve got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town.

O‘DONNELL:  The Nuclear Energy Institute took Boehner to Paris, France, and Seville, Spain, and defends the trips.

STEVE KEREKES, NUCLEAR ENERGY LOBBYIST:  Yes, we exercise our rights to interact with members of Congress within the bounds of ethics requirements as they stand in place today.

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Lawmakers acknowledge they have a huge perception problem on this, so the House did pass a moratorium on such free travel until the end of the year.

But lobbying reform has stalled with the Senate.  So, for now, it‘s still legal.

For COUNTDOWN, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Norah, thanks.  The Boehner of Seville.

From abusive power to abuse of the truth, Fox has now corrected the

doctored O‘Reilly transcript about Malmedy.  But where is the apology from

O‘Reilly?  We know where the anger is from Iraq veterans over the

reference.  We‘ll hear from one of the most prominent of them.

And could reporter Judith Miller have broken a story in July 2001 that might have changed history, might have altered 9/11?  We‘ll talk to the editor who worked with her on the warning that never came.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s almost exactly the same revisionist history that pointed a finger at Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s administration long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, that the government either knew the attack was coming, or helped to facilitate it in order to further its own agenda.

Sixty-plus years later, that argument is being applied to 9/11, 500 conspiracy theorists gathering in Chicago over the weekend to argue that the Bush administration trained the hijackers and blew up the twin towers.  That may be a lot stronger stuff than most Americans can contemplate, let alone believe.

But what‘s hinted at in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN has a far higher level of acceptance, the idea that enough people in the establishment knew something of what was coming, that somebody might have done something to alter or thwart the attacks, perhaps merely by revealing what they had heard.

A source apparently told “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller that al Qaeda was planning something big, but the story never ran.  In July 2001, Miller was working on a series of investigative pieces into al Qaeda when an unnamed White House source gave her a tipoff, telling her about an NSA intercept between two al Qaeda operatives who were lamenting the lack of response from the U.S. to the bombing of the U.S.S. “Cole” in 2000.  According to Miller, her source shared that, quote, “One al Qaeda  operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don‘t worry, we‘re planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.”

Miller said she took the tip to her editor, Stephen Engelberg, but that because she could not find out who the operatives were or where the conversation took place, they decided not to go with the story until they found more details.  But they never found them.

Quote, “Washington being Washington, and the counterterrorism world being the counterterrorism world, I was soon off pursuing other things.  I simply couldn‘t nail it down with more specificity.”

What happened two months later, we all know all too well.

Miller‘s then-editor at “The New York Times,” currently the managing editor for the newspaper “The Portland Oregonian,” Stephen Engelberg, joins us now.

Mr. Engelberg, thank you for your time, sir.

STEPHEN ENGELBERG, FORMER “NEW YORK TIMES” EDITOR:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  Can we apply the logical fallacy here, event A happens, in this case event A doesn‘t happing—happen, no story based on this tip happens.  Event B then happens.  Obviously it‘s 9/11.  That does not necessarily mean event A caused event B.  Or do you think a second source on that one tip would have actually changed things?

ENGELBERG:  It‘s hard to say.  I mean, one thing that you have to keep in mind is that in that period of history, July of 2001, there were an enormous number of tips floating around.  The United States government, on the July 4 weekend of that year, was very, very worried that al Qaeda was going to attack an American embassy overseas.  And we heard a lot about that.

And they were still quite nervous at the end of July when this tip came in.  So this was not sort of an isolated thing that we only heard one of.  This was one of, you know, a number of things that we heard about al Qaeda.

And the question was, you know, how reliable is it?  And if it‘s reliable, what is the government doing about it?  And we never got to even the second question, because we weren‘t able to confirm the first part of it.

OLBERMANN:  What would have happened if you had, in some manner or way, gone with a one-source story hinting at a domestic terror attack or a terror attack of some great prominence from al Qaeda in July 2001?  I mean, we hear that phrase, pre-9/11 thinking, these days until we get nauseous from it.  But there was a different mindset about that.  Would it have been taken seriously, do you think?

ENGELBERG:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  Perhaps.  I mean, you certainly can spin a scenario that way, because the government already had so many other things in its hands, perhaps one last little nudge from a newspaper like that might have caused them to put together various pieces of the puzzle.

I mean, remember, we have Moussaoui in Minnesota, who gets arrested in August.  We have the flight training in Phoenix.  We have the CIA and FBI losing track of the two guys who came in who were living in California.

I mean, there were so many pieces of evidence out there that perhaps, sure, if we had done something, you never know, perhaps this would have just been the last little straw that broke the camel‘s back.

OLBERMANN:  Bill Keller, who was the managing editor of “The New York Times” at the time, told the Internet reporter Rory O‘Connor that he‘d never heard anything about the al Qaeda attack tip from either you or from Ms. Miller.  Is that true?  And if so, you‘ve alluded to the number of tips at that time and the great generalized concern.  But who made the call not to shoot that up further up the power structure?  And what was the basis for it?

ENGELBERG:  Well, I reported directly to Bill, and it wasn‘t really a big decision.  I would bring him things that I felt had some reality behind them.  And this particular tip, we didn‘t really have much to go on.  We had two guys talking somewhere in the world about a possible al Qaeda attack.  And the questions I asked Judy were, OK, which two guys, where are they, or is it two guys in a bar, or is it, you know, Ayman Zawahiri?  I mean, we needed to know before we would even have anything to discuss with Bill, you know, what we had.  And we didn‘t have much.

OLBERMANN:  Do you find any inconsistency between the decision-making process on that story and the decision-making processes on the later Judith Miller stories about WMD, the ones that her name is now inextricably linked to?

ENGELBERG:  Well, I was, you know, long gone from the “Times” by the time most of that material appeared.  And I think “The Times” itself has said in its Editors‘ Note that  if they had it all to do again, they might have proceeded a little differently.

Certainly, when I was there, Judy was, you know, encouraged by her bosses, including me, to vet this kind of stuff five different ways to Sunday.  I mean, you know, one doesn‘t want to go out with anonymous sources and panic everybody without a very, very good reason.

OLBERMANN:  Stephen Engelberg, the managing editor of the “Portland Oregonian,” formerly of “The “New York Times,” great thanks for sharing this with us.  We appreciate it.

ENGELBERG:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  From September 11 to the war in Iraq, Bill O‘Reilly caught in a huge error trying to justify the purported atrocities in Haditha.  Now Fox is backtracking.  But there‘s still no apology from the man who made the mistake.

And the mistake that still has two families reeling.  Dora Van Rine (ph) brought to her rest, but only after her loved ones thought she had been the lone survivor of a fiery car crash more than five weeks ago.

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1823, George Thorndike Angel (ph) was born.  Apart from that classic middle name, who want to be Keith Thorndike Olbermann, for instance?  He was the founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  And as you will see presently, we could use him right now.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Miami, Florida, for the regional qualifying heat of the 2006 National Chihuahua Race.  And look at them run.  Have to cross that red finish line, guys.  Shouldn‘t be this hard.  Come on.  Oh, here we go.  You‘re going to --  No.  Oh, what the --  Yes, we have a winner.  It‘s a 1-year-old pup named Carolina, and she‘s going to the national championship race in San Diego.  Clearly, this competition was just not about sheer speed but about which of these thoroughbreds wanted it more.

And none of those other little rats seemed to want it at all.  Mr.

Angel, where are you?

To the Austrian city of Erl (ph), for the annual festival of funny hats, heavy drinking, and dislocated knuckles.  It is the Alpine Championships of Finger Wrestling.  This is a sport that dates back to the 17th century, which is really less like wrestling and more like finger tug-of-war.  Two combatants sit across the table, each man with a heavy rubber band looped around his bird finger.  First guy to pull the other across the table or rip the rubber band off wins the match.  If the finger comes off, everybody has to a chug a beer.  Otherwise, all the residents just point at the town sign with their fingers and say, Our name is Erl.

(INAUDIBLE) to Melbourne, Australia, where young Rory Matthews says he has no friends around to practice rugby with, so he plays with his alpaca, Chickie.  Ah.  Course, Chickie seems less interested in the ball than he does in attacking little Rory.  But hey, it‘s the kid‘s only friend.  Don‘t tell anyone.  Actually the bumping is good training and gives Rory a toughness advantage over the other kids, who haven‘t had the chance to practice against farm animals.

We‘ve all seen this story before.  With just minutes left in the big championship game, Rory‘s going to sprain an ankle.  Coach will be short his star player, game on the line.  Chickie, you‘re up.  It‘ll be just like “Airbud,” except nobody will die of rabies this time.

Also here, a week and still no apology for having taken the side of the Nazis instead of the Americans regarding one of the worst war crimes of the 20th century.  Now veterans of Iraq are incensed over O‘Reilly and Malmedy.

And who‘s going to cash in big on the shots of little Shilo?  Tabloid mania turned into charity.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, Vassilus Paleokostas, in prison at a high-security facility in Athens, serving 25 years for kidnap and bank robbery.  Wanted to get out, so he called his brother.  But there was no complicated plot here, like on that goofy TV series.  The brother simply hijacked and then landed a helicopter in the middle of the prison compound.  Paleokostas and a few others got on board.  They all escaped.  Prison authorities said they thought their place was being inspected by their bosses.  Well, it will be.

Number two, criminology students at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale.  They went to their mock crime scene in a local park, and there found a dead guy, a real one.  Natural causes, they think.

And number one, Monty Cole, private pilot from West Virginia.  Three thousand feet in the air, headed for Gallipolis, Ohio, when he had to make an emergency landing because there, emerging from the instrument panel of his single-engine prop, was a four-and-a-half-foot-long snake.  Call Samuel L. Jackson.

(singing):  Snakes on a plane, snakes on a plane.  You‘ve got those snakes on a plane.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Malmedy, given the controversy stirred up by that one word in 2006, one can only shudder at what it must have entered in 1945.  That was when America learned that just before Christmas of the preceding year, German S.S. troops had slaughtered 84 American soldiers who had just surrendered to them in that place, the Belgian town of Malmedy. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, as promised now, a follow-up on the inversion of the story of Malmedy by Bill O‘Reilly of FOX News channel, who has twice claimed that it was Americans who killed German prisoners there.  The follow-up unexpectedly includes the controversial post-war senator, Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin and the re-rewriting of history.  Firstly that re-rewriting.

This is what Mr. O‘Reilly said during an argument with General Wesley Clark over the purported atrocities at Haditha in Iraq last Tuesday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  In Malmedy, as you know, U.S. forces captured S.S. forces who had their hands in the air and they were unarmed and they shot them down.  You know that.  That‘s on the record, been documated (SIC). 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  FOX News had scrubbed clean O‘Reilly‘s remarkable misstatement, his second on this subject in just under eight moths.  Its transcript of O‘Reilly‘s remarks had him saying, quote, “In Norman, as you know, U.S.  forces captured S.S. forces, etc.”  that rewriting yesterday‘s newspaper is the electronic version of what George Orwell prophesized in his novel “1984.”  Well, good and real news here, after we called out O‘Reilly on FOX on both his slander of dead American soldiers and their attempt to hide it, on his newscast last Thursday they changed it back last Friday.  It now reads as is should have all along.  As O‘Reilly said it, “In Malmedy, as you know.” So we can get back to the focus, which is why Bill O‘Reilly has twice turned the dead victims of Nazi war atrocities into American war criminals, and perhaps worse, offered no apology nor clarification other than a tepid 24-word dismissal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  In the heat of the debate with General Clark my statement wasn‘t clear enough, Mr. Coldwell, after Malmedy, some German captors were executed by American troops. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  O‘Reilly‘s blase response to his own malicious remarks suggests he still has some doubts about the truthfulness of the story of Malmedy, a battlefield crime so horrific that it led to the prosecution of 73 German soldiers and officers.  Turns out others have preceded him down this road of anti-American doubt, a series of speeches, articles and lawsuits in this country in 1949 suggested that evidence and confessions of those German soldiers who admitted what they had done at Malmedy had been obtained under torture, torture by American-Jewish prosecutors and servicemen.  Malmedy, the murder by the S.S. of 84 american soldiers who had just surrendered had been transformed into some sort of Jewish propaganda plot and an ad hock investigation was launched by the Senate Armed Services Committee.  One of its members was an obscure junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy.  But within five months of its formation, that senate sub-committee on which McCarthy served had found nothing to support the charges that Malmedy was a fiction.  Its senior members, republican Raymond Baldwin of Connecticut and democrat Estes Kefauver of Tennessee determined that the medical evidence was to the contrary and that the only thing supporting the charges was prejudice and a desire by some in the German-American community to blunt the impact of the then ongoing Nazi war crimes tribunal. 

That‘s when Senator Joseph McCarthy quit the committee and accused Senator Baldwin and Kefauver of quote, “whitewashing the investigation.”  Senator Joe McCarthy and evidently Bill O‘Reilly believe that the real victims in the story of 84 American servicemen at Malmedy, the real victims were the Nazis. 

Judging by reaction to just the first part of our coverage last week, I‘m not the only person enraged by O‘Reilly‘s twisting of the tragedy of Malmedy and in the bigger picture twisting it into some kind of indecipherable defense of what happened, whatever happened at Haditha.  So, too, for one, the executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff, himself an Iraq veteran. 

Thank you for your time, sir.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIR.  IAVA:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I guess that big picture question; however he screwed up the details, how is Bill O‘Reilly, self-described patriot, defending American troops in Iraq by invoking the World War II massacre of any kin? 

RIECKHOFF:  He‘s not.  Not at all, and I think what he‘s doing is really shameful, I think he needs to step up and accept responsibility for his mistake and stand up in front of the country and say I apologize, I screwed up and what I said was not in the best interest of our troops of any generation.  This was in direct attack on the legacy and the history, the proud history, of all the World War II veterans in this country, and think it‘s really shameful to try to twist it into some convoluted argument to dismiss Haditha is really twisted.  I think he just needs to be upfront about it, say he screwed up and apologize.  That would be the right thing to do.  I think we‘ve seen this type of behavior from the president, we all see where that‘s gotten us, so I think it‘s about time somebody stepped up and claimed responsibility for their actions and just ask for an apology. 

OLBERMANN:  To the detail of Malmedy and how first,  60 years ago Joe McCarthy tried to turn this S.S. bloodbath into an American war crime and now how casually Bill O‘Reilly has done nearly the same thing, is that just a bizarre coincidence or does it underscore a lot of what you have seen among those who are waving the flag, the fastest, and singing the anthem the loudest, relative to how they really feel when it comes right down to it about the troops? 

RIECKHOFF:  What it underscores is a detachment.  He dismissed General Clark, he dismisses history, and I think we all understand how high the stakes are with regard to the allegations at Haditha.  We need people to get down to facts, we need people to trust, people like General Clark who got extensive experience as a four-star general, people who‘ve been on the ground in Iraq who can help us understand this complex issues.  Haditha is going to have global implications around the world no matter how it turns out, we understand that.  We need to let the investigation run its course.  And Mr. O‘Reilly‘s role in this is really not helping the case.  This is not the Natalie Holloway case.  We need to get down to brass tacks here, find out what went on and let a thorough investigation run its course and keep the American people informed with people from a position of credibility like military veterans, like General Clark, not like Bill O‘Reilly. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, as you‘ll hear O‘Reilly say, he‘s in combat, meaning he covered a shootout once.  Military history is this very useful tool in analyzing war of the present day.  You can go almost to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you want and try to figure things out, but it has to be used really carefully, doesn‘t it?  I mean, if you  say, Malmedy, where Americans slaughtered German prisoners or maybe it was after Malmedy, what‘s the difference?  When you reach for a military parallel to Iraq, you have to be a lot more accurate.  You have to be precise, don‘t you? 

RIECKHOFF:  I think you do and I think you have to be careful and you have to be responsible.  And I think that‘s what we all have to do as this Haditha case unfolds.  We have to be responsible, we have to be accurate, we have to give people the benefit of the doubt.  But there‘s no disputing what happened at Malmedy and trying to twist it and have some kind of revisionist history is really irresponsible.  You know, I think he needs to issue an apology, we all ask that, all the veterans of our country ask that, and I think it‘s the responsible thing to do.  And if he wants combat experience, I think he should take his butt over to Iraq.  I know he hasn‘t been there yet.  Even Al Franken‘s been there three times at this points.  And if he‘s really concerned about supporting the troops and understanding the complexity of what‘s going on over there, he should cover it.  That‘ll be plenty “fair and balanced” for all of us.

OLBERMANN:  Can‘t get him past west of Sixth Avenue, I don‘t think you‘re going to get him to Iraq.  Tell me, thought, this last point is piling up, but since he brought Malmedy up for the second time last week and I‘ve heard from relatives of the Americans who were murdered there, actual descendants of victims and they are hurting from this in a way that I and maybe even you can‘t, would it be really over the line to throw that infamous question back at Bill O‘Reilly, tell me, sir, why do you hate our troops? 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I don‘t know what the right question is, but I know the right demand is an apology.  And I think that he owes that to all our troops and he especially owes that to the World War II generation.  My grandfather served in World War II and I know how proud of his service he was, and we all know how difficult that time was.  And I think he owes them an apology.  It‘s the responsible thing to do and if he really supports the troops he should support the veterans and listen to what they have to say and understand history and be responsible and be accurate, that‘s the best way to support our troops is to be accurate and understanding in the way you represent the coverage of this war and our understanding of it. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  Great thanks for your time and thanks for your service to this country. 

RIECKHOFF:  My pleasure, sir.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And a heartbreaking case of getting the facts wrong, the memorial service for the young woman mistakenly thought to be the loan survivor of an automobile accident in the Midwest five weeks ago. 

And in per theater revenue, which Hill led the Hollywood box office numbers this weekend?  Get Al Gore‘s star ready for the walk of fame.  Who knew?  Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They thought she had survived, that it was their friend, their daughter whom they were nursing back to health, instead after a tragic accident and then a tragic mistake.  They had buried Laura VanRyn.  That‘s next this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One young woman dead and another injured beyond recognition and only after five weeks did anyone realize that both of them had been misidentified.  Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, goodbyes for a daughter whose family thought she had survived a disastrous car accident.  Our correspondent it Janet Shamlian.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A tragic accident more than five weeks ago was on Sunday, relived all over again. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Laura, I miss you so much. 

SHAMLIAN:  But instead of the get well, this was a fair well to Laura VanRyn, the college student everyone thought survived a fatal van crash that killed five others including, it was believed, fellow student, Whitney Cerak.  Laura‘s boyfriend spent days at the bedside of someone he didn‘t even know. 

ARVIN LINENGER, LAURA VICTIM‘S BOYFRIEND:  I saw her, her hands, her feet, her complexion, and I couldn‘t believe that it wasn‘t her. 

SHAMLIAN:  For weeks the VanRyns kept vigil in a Grand Rapids hospital along side a child who was not their daughter, while the Cerak‘s mourned a daughter who wasn‘t death. 

EMIL FRANK, WHITNEY CERAK‘S GRANDFATHER:  It was the most tremendous funeral that we‘ve ever been at.  We had about 1,600 people there, and the church and it was the most uplifting service I‘ve ever been at. 

SHAMLIAN:  Whitney‘s name was on the grave marker but Laura‘s body was beneath it.  Eventually, confirmed through dental records and by Whitney herself who wrote her name at a nurse‘s request.  Her grandfather is caught between emotions. 

FRANK:  Couldn‘t laugh, but you cried because it was so unbelievable and to think that she was alive was beyond our—even our anticipation.  But we accepted it.  But for hours, I just—inside of me, it was just boiling over.  The joy that I had that she was alive. 

SHAMLIAN:  As both families in two hometowns come to terms with the truth, the overwhelming joy of one is matched only by the devastating grief of the other. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She brought more joy to us than we could every imagine. 

SHAMLIAN:  The VanRyns created a blog, posting updates on what they thought was Laura‘s progress.  It‘s where they and the Cerak‘s now write about Whitney. 

FRANK:  She is doing quite well.  And wanted to put on some lipstick and the nurse was going to do it, and she‘s say no, I can do that myself.  And she called the nurse and she said and the nurse asked her what she wanted, she says “talk.”  And so I don‘t think she knows where she‘s been at.

SHAMLIAN:  Two families bonded by both grief and joy, where each knows exactly how the other feels. 

LINENGER:  And to Laura Jean VanRyn, I love you with all a man could give. 

SHAMLIAN:  For today, Janet Shamlian on NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No segue possible to our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  But the weekend box office totals are in and a decent crop of moviegoers split with some cash to see “The Break-Up,” the romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, racked up $38 million in ticket sales during its premier weekend.  Not bad, but “The Break-Up” was averaging $12,000 per screen, per movie theater on 3,000 screens, nationwide, and in that category it was soundly beaten by “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary that fleshes out Al Gore‘s slide show on global warming.  That film‘s per screen average was $17,000.  The former vice president truly packing them in.  “An Inconvenient Truth” jumped from 22nd to ninth place when it expanded, from four screens nationwide to 77 and that roll out, no doubt, far from over. 

And another comparison for those of you keeping score at home, or even if you‘re alone, it was almost a year ago that “Mr. And Mrs.  Smith” opened, that moving starring Jennifer Aniston‘s ex-husband, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  It pulled in $50 million.  So, Ms.  Aniston can top Jolie‘s box office, no apparently her media savvy.  Now, Jolie and Pitt confirming previous reports that they will sell the rights to photographs of their newborn daughter, Shiloh.  The money going to charity.  Shiloh Pitt.  The pictures were taken during a private session.  The couple saying in a private session, the couple saying a statement, quote, “While we celebrate the joy of the birth of our daughter, we recognize that two million babies born every year in the developing world die on the first day of their lives.  These children can be saved, but only if the governments around the world make it hight priority.” 

Forget Tuesday and 666 is the sign of the apocalypse, about the confluence of my two least favorite stories?  It‘s “American Idol” meeting Tomkat.  That is a sign of end times (ph).  That‘s ahead.  But first on COUNTDOWN latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze to the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier Baseball League now offering at concession stands a special food item, a bacon cheese burger, but instead of a bun it‘s got a Krispy Kreme doughnut cut in half.  For those of you whose cholesterol is zero or less. 

The runner up, 18 million American drivers and you know who you are! An insurance company got more than 5,000 drivers to take a 20 word written exam drawn from the various state license tests.  One in 11 of drivers nationwide failed.  A quarter believed they are legally permitted to not wear seat belts under the right circumstances, and 100 percent of them appear on the road daily between Manhattan and Secaucus, New jersey. 

But our winner, Mayor Mike Fahey of Omaha, Nebraska, there were howls of protest when his city‘s counterterrorism budget was raised by 62 percent by the federal government, while New York City‘s was cut by 40 percent.  Mayor Fahey knows why there are complaints.  He told the local newspaper there‘s just a little bit of sour grapes going on. 

Mr. Mayor, just one question, after 9/11, were you one of those “today, we are all New Yorkers guys?”  The Mayor Mike Fahey of Omaha, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  My producers, who for the sake of arguing will be referred to henceforth as Sacko (ph) and Bansetti (ph) have, for a long time now forced me to do Tom Cruise stories, but once I got a week-long pass on Cruise by agreeing to do a segment on “American Idol”—one! Since then, more than one “Idol” segment.  None of the mails in my family were ever good business men, so here‘s my new deal.  Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN becomes the now debated report that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes want “Idol” runner-up Katherine McPhee to sing at their wedding and in return I get to fire my producers. 

Hollywood.com claiming that Cruise and Holmes have secretly asked Katherine McPhee to sing at their wedding.  A source close to the couple says, quote, “Tom and Katie have become Katherine‘s biggest fans.  They think she‘s destined to become a singing legend.”  Yeah, good judgment there too.  Ms.  Holmes reportedly met Ms.  McPhee at the L.A.  Church of Scientology when Ms.  McPhee was there with her boyfriend.  The singer told Ryan Seacrest that she did take a couple of courses when she was dating a scientologist, but that she‘s no longer affiliated with the organization and she essentially denies reports that she has been asked to perform and the Cruise/Holmes wedding, if and when that ever happens. 

OK, there‘s only two things I can do to even have a chance of getting through this.  One, we‘ll have a friend of my appear as the expert again, two we‘ll call this “Breaking News, “which requires the services of new announcers, Stewie Griffin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEWIE GRIFFIN, “FAMILY GUY” BABY:  Oh, here we go, “Breaking News.”  Probably something about Britney Spears or knowing Keith, about some baseball card.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And part two, let‘s bring back the mid-day host at New York‘s classic rock station, Q104.3, Maria Milito. 

Hello Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3:  Hi, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  So, here are the stories that Cruise and Holmes want Katherine McPhee to sing at the wedding, but now she says, “No one asked me, you know at least from management side, as far as I‘m concerned.”  All right, I don‘t know what that means, but should we reading between the lines at all here?  I mean, could somebody have asked her through a scientology mind meld or something? 

MILITO:  Exactly.  Yeah, well no, I think Katie Holmes met her at a scientology meeting, now how random is that?  A just happened to fall in love are with her and asked her to sing at the wedding?  I mean come on.  How random?  I think she‘s a scientologist.  She says, well, I dated somebody, so I dabbled in it and just in the one or two meetings you went to, Katie Holmes happened to be there.  Come on.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I mean, until this baby arrived, I would think Katie Holmes didn‘t have anything else to do most of the time, she could have been to all scientology meetings in southern California, but... 

MILITO:  Right, but how random that Katharine McPhee just happened to go to the same place that she went to?  Right, because don‘t they meet in different places?  Kind of, you know.  Not just like one scientology meeting hall. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right, all 35 people show up to... 

MILITO:   In one hall. 

OLBERMANN:  If they reall—if Tomkat are and or is in the market for a wetting singer, is there any evidence that really would limit their choices just to scientologists?  Does that like eliminate William Hung and the good singers in the world? 

MILITO:  Well, I think if you want to stick with scientologists, they should have Isaac Hayes and John Travolta.  Think about it.  Isaac Hayes can sing “Shaft” and John Travolta can sing “Let Her In.”  Wouldn‘t that be fun? 

OLBERMANN:  Nice.  Yeah, Tom wouldn‘t get that, necessarily. 

MILITO:  No, I don‘t think he would. 

OLBERMANN:  Could this Cruise/Holmes wedding with Katherine McPhee, you get the convergence of three things, could this the sign, is this the signal to the scientologists everywhere to rise up or leave the planet or whatever they‘re supposed to do at the moment of.

MILITO:  Maybe, like give it maybe or stop talking about it?  Maybe, I think so.  They could do better than having her singing at their wedding. 

OLBERMANN:  A follow-up to the other “American Idol” story from last week.  The fight we talked about.  The son and the mother, here, the son Cory Favreau who was suppose to have hit his mother a sharp cross-shaped object attached to a bicycle chain.  The mother, Jan Chagnon, now claiming that her son was just messing up her hair.

MILITO:  Yeah, I read that. 

OLBERMANN:  And he happened to have the bottle opener in his hand and the bottle opener was a free gift that she got with two packs of Camel cigarettes and the judge let Mr. Favreau out of jail until his assault trial on the condition he stays away from drugs, alcohol, and his mother.  Shouldn‘t the judge also have taken away their TV viewing rights? 

MILITO:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  Their TV?

MILITO:  Absolutely.  They should be throwing out the television and have to have 50 feet within the trailer away from each other.  She stays on the left side, he says on the right or outside.  I mean, come on.  She says he was patting her on the head.  I always pat my mother on the head with a bottle opener and a bicycle chain. 

OLBERMANN:  Looks like somebody patted him on the head and patted him level, if you‘ve see the picture of him.

MILITO:  Ah, yeah.  Yeah, he needs to go away.  He definitely—they both need to go away. 

OLBERMANN:  And speaking of going away, there‘s this—“U.S. News and World Report” says the press secretary to Laura Bush wants to get the finalists to visit the White House she was Taylor Hicks‘s ninth grade English teacher. 

MILITO:  I know.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s the last straw, here.  “American Idol” meets the Bush administration, right?

MILITO:  Yes, it is the last straw.  Especially—I read a quote and she said “He used to bring that darned harmonica to class all the time.”  Yeah, it‘s the last straw.  But, I still have to watch and you will too in January.  But, it‘s the last straw. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this—all this an attempt to keep the shows in the public spotlight until the series resumes? 

MILITO:  Well, we have to do this until January, then.  That‘s a long time. 

This is a controversial season, I think for them.  And it‘s everlasting. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, yeah, controversial. 

MILITO:  We‘ll see what pops up next. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, well, it‘s not going to pop up here. 

MILITO:  Oh, you never know. 

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito, of New York‘s Q104.3.  Thanks for making this stuff just a bit more palatable. 

MILITO:  Well, thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Sure.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,131st day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Scarborough Country, Joe good evening.

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

END   

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