updated 6/14/2006 3:19:09 PM ET 2006-06-14T19:19:09

Guests: Dana Milbank, Ron McGill, Paul F. Thompkins

BRIAN UNGER, MSNBC HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Surprise, fresh of his Camp David strategy session, President Bush makes a day trip to the Green Zone, vowing the U.S. will stay the course in Iraq.  Will five hours on the ground help change the course of the war?  Or his poll numbers here at home?

“The Architect” beats the rap.  Karl Rove will not be prosecuted in the investigation into who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame‘s identity.  And as supporters gloat, critics stew.

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HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  This is probably good news for the White House, but it‘s not very good news for America.

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UNGER:  Can you hear me now?  Not if you‘re over 18.  High-pitched cell phone ring tones only teenagers can hear and teachers can‘t.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What does it sound like?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sounds (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sounds (inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Just one more thing can make you feel really old.  And are gators the new shark?  A slew of gator attacks has put southerners on the lookout.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We got to the point where alligators are becoming a nuisance.

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UNGER:  For now, the best advice for land dwellers, don‘t swim in ponds where gators live.

Actress Darryl Hannah stuck in a tree to save a garden in South Central while news choppers burn precious fuel to get the shot.  There‘s an action movie in there somewhere.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

And good evening.  Thanks for being with us.  I‘m Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann.

Two full days that would be spent in seclusion at Camp David so that President Bush could huddle with advisors about the U.S. strategy in Iraq.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN.  We‘ve been punked.  The high-profile war council meeting set up to provide a cover story that would allow Mr. Bush to make a surprise visit to Baghdad.

Not since he made a Top Gun landing on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier has one of his road trips seemed more theatrical nor has the mission itself seemed less accomplished.  We begin with the details on the president‘s day trip to the Green Zone from our correspondent Jim Maceda in Baghdad.  Jim?

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JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hello there.  Well, President Bush spent about six hours, in all in Baghdad‘s heavily fortified Green Zone today.  At the end of that trip, he said he was feeling good about the new Iraqi government and Iraq‘s prospects for the future.

(voice-over):  Only five minutes earlier, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had found out just how important his secret guest really was.  Then President Bush entered the ornate rotunda that was once part of Saddam Hussein‘s favorite palace to meet for the first time Iraq‘s new leader, not by videoconference call from Camp David as almost everyone had been told but face-to-face.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  I‘ve come not only to look you in the eye, I‘ve also come to tell you that when America gives its word it will keep its word.

MACEDA:  Helping Iraq take control of its future.  Maliki said he was grateful for the sacrifices U.S. troops have made and spoke confidently about bringing stability, finally, to his chaotic country.

“Our success is inevitable,” he said.  “God willing, all the suffering will end and all the soldiers will be able to return to their countries.”

Security here was so tight and Bush‘s trip so secret that even U.S.  embassy personnel didn‘t know who was coming.  They were told at noon today to go home.

Freeing up their office space and computers for the Baghdad press corps equally in the dark.

(on camera):  Behind the surprise and symbolism of Bush‘s visit, there are two new facts on the ground.  The death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the naming of a new national unity government, which it says is ready to tackle the insurgents.

(voice-over):  Both sides reportedly reviewed new strategies to improve security and reconstruction and build on momentum.

BUSH:  We‘ll continue to hunt down people like Mr. Zarqawi and bring them to justice so that .

MACEDA:  After a pep talk for hundreds of U.S. military personnel, President Bush left the palace and Baghdad the way he came, quickly and under tight security.

(on camera):  Wasting little time, Prime Minister Maliki is launching a major security crackdown in Baghdad tomorrow, including tens of thousands of Iraqi troops and police in the streets working in conjunction with soldiers from the 101st Airborne and the 4th Infantry Divisions, and they‘ll be launching very tough and major raids, says Maliki, on the worst insurgent areas in Baghdad.  I‘m Jim Maceda, NBC News reporting from Baghdad.  Now back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Jim Maceda in Baghdad, thank you very much.

The Tony awards coming two days too early to allow the White House advance team to qualify in the category of best stagecraft.  Secrets are something that this administration prides itself in keeping, this particular day in the life of the White House, requiring more white lies than most.  Everything you need to know about how this president rolls from chief White House correspondent David Gregory.  David?

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Brian, photo ops don‘t get any more elaborate than this.  A daring presidential visit into a war zone, a trip designed to create new hope for Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY (voice-over):  Air force one on approach to Baghdad, a secret trip in the works for weeks.  Political theater.  The president shown in the cockpit before landing designed to shore up support for the war at home and give a boost to Iraq‘s new leader.

BUSH:  I appreciate you recognize the fact that the future of your country is in your hands.

GREGORY:  The timing of the trip, aides insist, was driven by the completion of Iraq‘s unity government last week, not by the death of terrorist Zarqawi, but that provided an extra boost.  The emerging White House strategy stressed the importance of Iraqi leaders leading the country‘s turnaround.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT:  They want to see it take the lead in trying to find some type of political solution to the insurgency and sectarian strife.

GREGORY:  The secretive overnight trip from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington to Baghdad required elaborate White House stagecraft.  Aides say the president‘s two-day summit at Camp David was cover.  He met with his Cabinet Monday, only the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense as well as a few aides knew the president would leave after dinner for Baghdad.

Today‘s Cabinet meeting in the green zone including the president on the scene was beamed back to Camp David to Bush Cabinet members left in the dark.

Today‘s trip and the one Mr. Bush made to Iraq on Thanksgiving Day 2003 are designed as big media events intended to highlight hope and progress during an unpopular war , but some theatrical flourishes, like the president‘s Top Gun landing on an aircraft carrier in 2003 under a “Mission Accomplished” banner have backfired.  A deadly insurgency followed the president‘s address.  The public is now skeptical.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR:  They will have a hard time changing attitudes in America about the war itself for a while because attitudes have hardened.  People now think—and have concluded sometime ago that this is pretty much a mess.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREGORY:  Some democrats dismissed today‘s trip as a face-saving attempt by the president and again pushed him to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.  Brian?

UNGER:  David, thanks.  Now, while it is too early to get a read on how this trip will affect public opinion, the first numbers are in on the death of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Forty eight percent of those surveyed by Gallup believe that the U.S. will win in Iraq up from 39 percent in April.

A poll from CBS News showing that Zarqawi‘s death had little impact, half saying the level of violence in Iraq will be unchanged because of it.  Sixteen percent of the opinion that it will increase.

For more on the big picture, time now to call in “Washington Post” national political reporter, Dana Milbank.  Thank you for joining us, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Bri.

UNGER:  Dana, as I watch the video feeding back from Baghdad, particularly the shot from inside a helicopter, the gunner framed in an open doorway, my first reaction, I couldn‘t help thinking that instead of securing President Bush shouldn‘t those troops have been securing the city of Baghdad for Iraqis?

I mean this mission is hardly over, right?

MILBANK:  Yes.  Not quite accomplished just yet.  You know, there is a certain bit of danger, in fact, my favorite image of the day was the press secretary, Tony Snow, and Dan Bartlett, the counselor to the president, in the helicopter with flak jacket and helmets looking as if they may be close to losing their lunch.

If that‘s the image that survives, this could be a bit of trouble for the White House.  More likely, it can‘t hurt to have the president being cheered by the troops there in Iraq.  I suspect people won‘t hold it against him.  I think the only question is does it really produce any benefit for him?

UNGER:  How does admitting that the Camp David war summit was merely a cover story for the president‘s trip help the White House convince a skeptical public that it is sincere in looking for a way to turn things around in Iraq?  The war council thing at least in part, a ruse.

MILBANK:  Well, it was a ruse, and I think they take great delight in telling about it.  My favorite part of that was apparently at 7:45 last night, the president said he was, quote, losing altitude, unquote, in the meeting and nobody found that unusual that the president would be asking to go to bed at that hour.

But he surprised members of his own cabinet and he surprised Maliki as your own report indicates who didn‘t even realize the president of the United States was in his country.  There again, that‘s sort of the inside baseball for us folks.

The images will be of the president on the ground there in Iraq trying to remind people of both the Zarqawi killing last week and the formation of that—the completion of the Iraqi cabinet which is really giving the president a substantial boost.

UNGER:  Dana, I also want to take a look at the president‘s latest job approval numbers heading in two different directions in the two different polls.  CBS with the president down two at 35 percent, Gallup with Mr. Bush up two at 38 percent.  Dana, is there a bounce here or no bounce?  What‘s going on?

MILBANK:  I think we‘re going to see a little bit of a Zarqawi bounce.  The Gallup poll is actually up seven points from early may.  So we see a bit of a move.  The president seemed to have bottomed out there last month.

That said, 38 percent is nothing to be very excited about, but clearly Bush has benefited from a large number of positive events in recent days, Zarqawi, the Iraqi government and then we should not underestimate this development with Karl Rove being let off the hook in the CIA leak case.

UNGER:  We‘re going to get to that in a moment, but in the course of one week, a top terrorist has been killed, the Republicans managed to hold on to Duke Cunningham‘s seat in congress, Karl Rove escaping indictment in the CIA leak case.  The question here, are the mid-term elections completely different looking at them today?  As they were compared to, say, just a week ago?

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s certainly taking a bit of a turn in the Republican direction.  There was always a doubt as to whether the Democrats were really serious in being able to take things over.

I think MSNBC‘s Tom Curry said it best at a press conference with Chuck Schumer this morning remembering that the president calls Karl Rove turd blossom, this is an example of a turd blossom occurring here in that the Republicans and this White House have been able to flower out of this muck that they have been in.

So we are seeing a little bit of that, but I think we want to be careful about proclaiming mission accomplished just yet.

UNGER:  That lovely moniker.  Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”  Thanks for joining us.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Brian.

UNGER:  The president‘s trip to Baghdad not the only surprise visit of the day, ABC‘s Bob Woodruff stopping by the office since the first time he was injured in Iraq in January.  Woodruff telling his colleagues he was eager to get back to work.

What the newsroom lacked in dry eyes it more than made up for in happy faces.

Also here, there‘s a good reason for Karl Rove‘s reinvigorated public attack on Democrats.  He‘s apparently in the clear over the CIA leak investigation.

These fellows, not so lucky.  Dozens of gators getting hunted and trapped in the Southeast after a slew of vicious attacks on human beings.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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UNGER:  Well, this is a big, big day for Karl Rove, who at the age of nine was an outspoken supporter of Richard Nixon‘s, he‘s as of this moment officially not a crook himself.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Rove getting the news that he, unlike Scooter Libby will not, repeated, not be indicted for lying to a grand jury in the CIA leak investigation.

Rove‘s attorney Robert Luskin informed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald late Monday afternoon that his client will escape charges.  The White House is reportedly elated.  Rove is reportedly delighted and justly so.  If you had admitted to discussing a CIA agent with reporters, in this case, Valerie Plame Wilson, but didn‘t get indicted for lying about it, like your colleague did, you‘d be dancing on your desktop too.

Let‘s recap.  Time after time Mr. Rove failed to tell investigators about his conversation with “Time Magazine” reporter Matt Cooper, that is until his lawyer was tipped apparently tipped off by Viveca Novak, a colleague of Mr. Cooper.

That prompting no fewer than five appearances by Mr. Rove before the grand jury to clarify his story, providing just enough doubt for that grand jury to conclude Bush‘s brain did not perjure all over itself, at least not in a way that can be proven.

Special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, no Kenneth Starr.  How did Mr.

Rove celebrate his good fortunate?  By a public Dem bashing, of course.  The good news from Rove‘s attorney dovetailing nicely with Rove‘s appearance at a Republican fundraiser in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Monday, the freshly unindicted Rove telling his fellow Republicans the Democrats were for cutting and running on the war in Iraq and tossing this grenade at decorated veterans John Murtha and John Kerry, quote, “They may be with you for the first shots but they‘re not going to be with you for the tough battles,” this from a political advisor who has never seen combat other than the political variety.

Let‘s call in MSNBC correspondent David Shuster.  Thanks for your time, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good to be with you, Brian.

UNGER:  David, as you reported, your sources seemed to indicate that Karl Rove would be indicted.  What happened?

SHUSTER:  Well, sometimes when you‘re trying to track a secret grand jury investigation, the legal sources, the defense lawyers who have witnesses in front of a grand jury, sometimes they get it wrong and that seemed to be the case in this particular case.  And of course we hate it when that happens, but going back to all of those defense lawyers today, with exception of Karl Rove‘s lawyer who said he would never be charged.  All of those lawyers said if they had the same circumstances all over again, somebody testifying five times before a grand jury, somebody who had the burden to stop the charges, somebody who had to testify for three hours the last time and by the way, he had the classification in the Libby case that almost suggested he certainly would have been indicted, the lawyers say they would have reached the same conclusion.

The issue is not that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald concluded the case was un-winnable, rather that it was not a slam-dunk and all these lawyers suggested that in a case where you‘re looking at a public official and whether prosecutor is going to indict a public official, that prosecutor usually has an extra burden, trying to make sure if they‘re going to bring this case to trial, they can certainly meet the obligation of beyond a reasonable doubt and that they are 99 percent certain, not 50/50, because they‘re dealing with a public official and you‘re dealing with a career making or possibly losing case if in fact you do lose it.

UNGER:  David, does this demonstrate some remarkable restraint from what seems to be a very straight arrow here, Mr. Fitzgerald, in this case for stopping now?

SHUSTER:  Well, what it underscores is that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is somebody who brings cases that he wins.  His track record is incredible when it comes to going to trial and winning, and it suggests that prosecutor Fitzgerald while he indicted Scooter Libby for whatever reason he had pause at the end, and remember it took him seven weeks to figure out that, you know what, maybe we shouldn‘t bring this indictment.

And again, the lawyers in this case who all predicted there would be an indictment with the exception of Karl Rove‘s lawyer, they all believed that in the end, prosecutor Fitzgerald felt that if he wasn‘t absolutely certain, if he wasn‘t absolutely certain that he could convince a jury that Karl Rove‘s mistakes were deliberate mistakes, not accidental mistakes, as Karl Rove has testified, if he couldn‘t be certain he could prove that, then it wasn‘t worth actually indicting Karl Rove and going to trial.

UNGER:  Certainly not the case with some special prosecutors in the past.  What was the key in turning this around for Mr. Rove?  And how much, you know, can it be credited to the work of his lawyer, Robert Luskin?

SHUSTER:  I think it all can be credited to Bob Luskin who at the 11th hour last fall, stopped what seemed like a certain Rove indictment.  Luskin offered new information to the prosecutor.  He convinced Karl Rove to let the investigation to keep going and again to testify seven weeks ago.  What Luskin did was he essentially put his foot in the door and was able to keep the door open just enough for new information to come in and to put new information in front of prosecutor Fitzgerald that for whatever reason convinced him not to go forward.

UNGER:  Let me ask you this.  Do you think Rove will wind up testifying against Scooter Libby and is there any chance there was a deal struck between Rove and Libby on that point?

SHUSTER:  Well, as far as any talk of a deal, there‘s new information of any sort of deal especially between Libby and Rove but also between Fitzgerald and Rove, the issue, though, about testimony is interesting, because Karl Rove is part of a crucial narrative against Scooter Libby.  So it‘s quite possible that either the defense or the prosecution would call Karl Rove in as part of this narrative and that‘s where again it could get interesting for Karl Rove, because given all the testimony that he‘s had to give so far, if he has to get up on the witness stand in the Scooter Libby trial, you‘ve got the same circumstances of Rove having had a foggy memory before, having said things that might help a prosecution, but also having information that might possibly help Scooter Libby.

So it becomes very complicated for Rove, and I‘m sure that‘s a situation that certainly the White House would like to avoid.

UNGER:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster, thank you for your time.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

UNGER:  First there was the smoking chimp, now the drinking monkey.  Who will save these monkeys‘ souls?  “Oddball” ahead.  And the soon to be ex-Mrs. Paul McCartney now on the legal war path against the British tabloids threatening to sue over pictures of her alleged pornographic past when COUNTDOWN continues.

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UNGER:  I‘m Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann this week.  Bringing you the latest political news, updates from Iraq, and now even something more sobering, fat, drunk monkeys from India.  Let‘s play “Oddball.

We do not kid about monkeys on COUNTDOWN ever.  Kampur (ph), India, this is Bano (ph), the monkey with the drinking problem.  Locals say it started more than 20 years ago when truckers would give Bano their half empty beer bottles as a joke.  Well, who‘s laughing now monkey enabler?

Bano now starts every single morning with a trip to the liquor store and then Bano gets to drinking.  The 34-year-old monkey is clearly out of shape and drunk most of the time, but residents say Bano is happy.  Just don‘t talk back to Bano in the late afternoon unless you‘re holding a banana daiquiri, of course.

Now to indoor India, now for another exciting episode of pimp my rickshaw.  And the owner of this kickin‘ tut-tut (ph) says he sunk his life savings into turning the everyday small choking taxi ride into a five-star luxury experience for the customer.

Inside the rickshaw is a television, a DVD player, chilled beverages, a telephone and a box full of deadly pit vipers.  Don‘t open that box.  It‘s definitely the sweetest pimp-shaw on the road today and well worth for three cents and two fang rights for any American taking a cross town ride in rush hour.

And finally to Newfoundland, Canada where the community is gathered to witness the world‘s only two-toned lobster, that‘s right, half orange, half green.  You think you‘re excited, check out this guy who hangs around the fishery quite a bit.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve been around the fishery quite a bit and I‘ve never heard of anybody who‘s gotten a lobster this kind of shape before, different colors, but never completely bilaterally symmetrical with the orange and green.

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UNGER:  That fellow is ecstatic.  Experts believe that the lobster got half cooked but escaped from the pot, killing the chef with his good claw, then freeing back to the ocean.  Now, when I say experts believe that, I mean I‘m kind of just sort of hoping that, for a much better story.

A slightly more dangerous form of aquatic life responsible for doing this to a Florida swimmer.  He felt a bump and naturally found a gator attached to his skull.

And Britney Spears unapologetic about the way she lives her life, in fact, downright defiant with an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer.  A snippet of that ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the fine folks of the Department of Homeland Security, we‘ve reported before that they‘ve had issues with their own security at headquarters, and apparently they still do, this week they allowed a man to enter the building with a fake I.D., a fake Mexican I.D.  With the address of 123 Fraud Boulevard.  No worries, I‘m sure they‘re doing fine protecting all of us.

Number two, Michael John Page of New Zealand, he‘s been arrested after police found huge bags of marijuana in his car.  His license plate may have helped give them away.  It reads THC4ME.

And number one, Adam Thompson of Whitefair Lake (ph), Minnesota, police say he and his friend, Anthony, brought a cooler of beer with them to the golf course, put it in the back of the golf cart while they played.

When they drained the cooler, police say Thompson and his friend Anthony took full advantage of the roving beer girl in a golf cart service.  Later, police arrested Thompson for DUI after he crashed the golf cart and then ran over his friend Anthony.

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UNGER:  Its name is derived from the Spanish el lagarto, meaning the lizard or what anyone living near a swampy marsh calls the American alligator. 

In our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, America‘s reptilian TV sensations, they‘re solitary and territorial and it seems like a common sense to stay away from the swamps and ponds that they inhabit.  But with the human population on the rise and ever expanding and the domain of the alligator shrinking day by day, well, something‘s got to give.  In a moment, we‘re going to talk to an expert from the Miami Metro Zoo who studies the prehistoric beast and can explain the recent human meets alligator phenomenon.  Bur first NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski has the story of a man who survived an alligator attack not before getting his head clamped in the jaws of death. 

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MICHAEL DIAS, ATTACKED BY ALLIGATOR:  The gator tried to get a hold of me this way and when it bit down, came down to here.  Just like a boat slamming into me really hard and...

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  No boat, this bite came from a gator 5-1/2 feet long.  Michael Dais was in waters he‘s loved since childhood, Rock Springs Run near Orlando.  It was full of people and he really didn‘t know what hit him. 

DIAS:  And I turned around to yell at somebody and instead I saw the white belly of a gator on top of me. 

KOSINSKI:  He says he grabbed the gator‘s leg and it took off while Dais yelling out in warning and bleeding badly made it to shore. 

DIAS:  And got a little tear also. 

KOSINSKI:  It‘s not lost on him, but three other people across Florida were attacked and killed by alligators during one week last month.  One young woman was jogging near a park, another was by a backyard canal, and a third, like Dais, was snorkeling in a popular swimming hole. 

DIAS:  There‘s a small indent here on the snorkel, so this might have played a part in deflecting his bite. 

KOSINSKI:  Wildlife experts say now, with so little water in their natural habitat, gators are traveling farther into ever more developed areas and mating season makes them aggressive.  Gator after gator has been pulled from neighborhoods.  Florida has extended its hunting season, and for the first time, Monday, Alabama‘s governor established one. 

GOV.  Bob Riley ®, ALABAMA:  We got to the point where alligators are becoming a nuisance. 

KOSINSKI:  And in a seasons when people are wanting to cool off and jump in that water.

WILLIE PUZ, Florida FISH AND GAME:  Don‘t crouch down by the water‘s edge.  And if you‘re swimming, swim with a partner or swim with a group, because alligators are normally shy and timid towards people. 

KOSINSKI:  Unfortunately, a crowd didn‘t protect Michael Dais, but he sure feels lucky. 

DIAS:  It could have been a lot worse.  It could have just killed me outright if it had the chance or had the right kind of angle.  It‘s just like, I was just lucky it was my head—my skull.

KOSINSKI (on camera):  And the question has come up again and again, are there too many gators?  Biologists say, you know, they‘re still a protected species, so the numbers are far fewer than they once were, but their habitat has shrunk as humans have increased, so the state of Florida Wildlife Division still wants to keep assessing the situation because they want to strike this balance between nature and the safety of people.  Back to you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Now to get an expert‘s perspective on the recent gators problems in Florida and elsewhere, let‘s call in Ron McGill, director of communications and herpetologist of the Miami Metro Zoo. 

Thanks for joining us, Ron. 

RON MCGILL, MIAMI METRO ZOO:  Pleasure to be here, Brian.  Thanks for asking.

UNGER:  I see you got a little friend there.  Is that guy a fair comparison to what we might see in a swimming hole or a canal in Florida? 

MCGILL:   Well, certainly here now, this is probably one of the most common size.  This is about a four-foot alligator, very , very common.  You know, there‘s over a million gators now in the state of Florida.  The problem is, you know, with the recent drought that we had, a lot of those gators have moved inland and to rural areas, into our lakes.  We‘ve got a lot of lakeside communities here in South Florida.  We‘ve got a canal system that is basically like a freeway system for these guys, they can get on and off all kinds of ramps there.  So really these animals have tremendous potential to spread throughout the state and that‘s why we‘re having a lot more conflicts. 

UNGER:  Why aren‘t you nervous holding that little creature right there?  I mean, look, he‘s got his little mouth open.  He looks like it could just snap back and, you know, bite you in the.

MCGILL:   You know, I think the alligator gets a bad rap.  This is not an animal that is necessarily a mean animal, you know, it‘s not a very bright animal.  You‘re looking at a skull, behind me here, of about a 15-footer.  Keep in mind, a 15-foot animal can weigh over 1,000 pounds and has a brain the size of a walnut.  This is an animal that doesn‘t have a lot of room for creative thinking, it reacts on instinct.  So, the animal here really isn‘t a threat to human beings.  I mean, it certainly could bite you, it certainly could do harm to you, but any of these animals in the wild, like Michelle mentioned in her piece, they‘re naturally afraid of humans. 

The problems in now, humans are feeding these things, they see them in the backyard and in the canals, say look at the alligator, let me get bread, look he comes to me and eats out of my hand and everybody thinks it‘s cute.  It‘s against the law and the bottom line is these things are turning against people because they start associating people with food.  So, you have a compound of problems.  You have animals coming in from the draught looking for food, people giving them food, now they‘re associating people with food, and now it‘s going to get even worse because now we‘re in the breeding season.  And let me tell you something, an alligator full of testosterone is bad news—bad, bad news.  They get aggressive, they‘re territorial and then later on in the season then you got the females who are going to be laying their eggs in a nest, and, you know, crocodilians, alligators and crocodiles are the only animals that actively protect their nests.  They‘ll kill anything that comes by the nests. 

So if you have an alligator who‘s come in out of the Everglades, is now nesting off the shore of a canal and happens to be building a nest where you might have a bike path or jogging path and somebody comes jogging by that nest, she‘s going to attack that person.  So, there are now problems that a lot of people need look at, however, it‘s not like, you know, “Jaws.”  People saw “Jaws” and all of a sudden you couldn‘t go in the ocean.  Be realistic, be calm and realize that these things are not the monsters people make them out to be. 

UNGER:  That little gator in your hand actually looks like it‘s smiling and I know this is not completely funny, but when you look at the victim in the setup piece, I think his name is Mr. Dias, we played just before you came on, he was bitten on the head.  And is that unusual for someone to survive an attack like that to the head and do alligators go for the head like that? 

MCGILL:   It would be unusual if it was an eight, nine, 10-foot alligator.  My understanding is it was a 5-1/2-foot alligator, just a little bit larger than something like this.  That‘s an animal that can surly give wound that‘s going to require the sutures that that gentleman received, however it‘s not an animal that‘s going to kill you.  Everything has to be put in perspective.  You know, again, this alligator thing, it‘s certainly something we need to be weary of, we can‘t go swimming with these animals, we can‘t feed these animals, we can‘t make them our pets, but in reality, bees can be a lot more dangerous. 

UNGER:  You know, I don‘t think I‘ll ever be in peril with an alligator anytime soon.  But just help me out here with the, sort of, alligator for dummies handbook, if I do get into a little scrap with one, what do I do to get away from the thing? 

MCGILL:   Well, you know, the best thing to do, and I know it‘s lot easier said than done, is to keep calm.  Because alligators, again, are not very intelligent animals, they‘re instinctive, they don‘t have very weak places, their entire system is covered by osteoderms—he‘s getting a little upset, that‘s why he‘s hissing—covered by bone, the only weak place that they really have are the eyes.  If you have the presence of mind to take your thumb or your finger or something and really just dig into those eye sockets, that would be your best chance.  It‘s most likely going to have the alligator release you. 

UNGER:  Thumbs in the eye sockets, OK. 

MCGILL:   It sounds graphic, but I‘m just trying to give you the best advice. 

UNGER:  No, that sounds helpful, I mean, for people in arrears who are

have them, it‘s valuable.  Let‘s just leave it at that.  And I hope you‘re safe there with the hissing one, there. 

MCGILL:   We‘re fine, we‘re fine. 

UNGER:  Ron McGill, director of communications with the Miami Metro Zoo.  Thank you so much for joining us and sharing. 

MCGILL:   My pleasure, Brian. 

UNGER:  Speaking of animal wranglers, firefighters get called in to extract a creature from a Los Angeles tree, the activist and actress, Daryl Hanna. 

And a new weapon for teens who want to talk in class, a cell phone ring that they can hear and teachers can‘t.  Those stories ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Forget bells and buzzers, music now signals when students change classes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We let kids bring in rock music, but kind of with the advent of the rap era, we kind of started getting some music that we just couldn‘t find acceptable. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No parental advisories here, just classical and jazz. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s pretty much like elevator music sometimes also, so, it‘s not really fun to listen to. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sometimes it‘s a very bad or slow song, it can put you to sleep. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Meet Jack, a 10-year-old 10 pound orange tabby.  Jack became hey superhero last Sunday when he chased a black bear out of his yard and up a neighbor‘s tree. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The bear is afraid of the cat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And by the looks of things, Jack is pretty proud of himself. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He does look pretty proud of himself, doesn‘t he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah, he‘s just taking his turf, that‘s his territory. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Carlos, congratulations, how do you feel out there today? 

CARLOS MARMOL, CHICAGO CUBS:  Well, I feel great, you know, talked to my mother this morning, she wake me up, like, well, you taught me you got to go get it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Looks like we got to get him a towel, here. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  It‘s an evolution in cell phones, a ring tone that only teenagers can hear and the evolution of actress Daryl Hannah, from mermaid to tree-dweller.  That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  As if teachers didn‘t have it bad enough, kids shooting spitball, kids ditching class, kids addicted to methamphetamines, the list just got longer and high tech.  In our No. 2 story, there‘s a new weapon used by teens in the classrooms of America, a new sonic weapon, best illustrated in this clip from “Beneath the Planet of the Apes.”  Let me just set this clip up.  The folks in the skull caps, those are the kids, and actor James Franciscus, let‘s just call him the teacher. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES FRANCISCUS, ACTOR:  How, she helped me to break out of Ape City. 

Wait, wait a minute.  Stop it! I can‘t understand you.  You‘re all screaming at me at the same time, I can‘t separate it!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  You know in a meeting this morning, producers insisted that that clip would illustrate this growing problem.  Now I‘m just not so sure.  But it is a good movie.  But there is a new stealthy tool in the epic struggle of teacher versus student.  A silent killer that threatens attention spans and study plans around the nation.  Well, killer‘s a little strong.  Here‘s the bottom line.  If you can hear this—you‘re OK.  You‘re OK.  If you can‘t, you‘re just old.  Prepare for mayhem.  NBC‘s Lisa Daniels has the details. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The newest sound in ring tones isn‘t Eminem or u2, but a kind of secret ring that only kids can hear.  This is what the Mosquito ring sounds like when played on a computer.  A frequency so high that most adults can‘t hear it.  As adults age they lose ability to hear high pitch sounds. 

DR. RICK A. FRIENDMAN, HOUSE EAR INSTITUTE:  It‘s the upper end of the inner ear that seems to age first.  So the older you are the poorer you hear higher frequencies. 

DANIELS:  The problem is it helps kids use cell phones in places they shouldn‘t like school.  They‘re betting the teacher won‘t hear the ring.  The idea began in England, ironically as a way to chase unruly kids away. 

HOWARD STAPLETON, INVENTOR, THE MOSQUITO:  A shop local to me was having very bad problems with a particularly unruly gang of teenagers so I originally put the first prototype together to assist my local shopkeeper. 

DANIELS:  But tech savvy students, like David Herzka soon found another use for the Mosquito. 

DAVID HERZKA, HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN:  I did a search on it and generating the sound using the software and transferred it to my phone and then I was able to transfer it to other people‘s phones. 

DANIELS:  We hit the streets with phone in hand. 

(on camera):  OK.  The phone is ringing.  Tell me if you can hear this, listen carefully. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t hear a thing. 

DANIELS:  Do you hear it? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah. 

DANIELS:  What does it sound like? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Boooo. 

DANIELS:  That‘s what it sounds like? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah. 

DANIELS:  What does it sound like? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (MAKING SOUND)

DANIELS:  What is it? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (MAKING SOUND)

DANIELS (voice-over):  So will the new ring tone give kids the upper hand?  It‘s doubtful.  But then again how can adults fight back when there‘s nothing to see or hear? 

Lisa Daniels, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Now if they could just develop a technology that allowed only teenagers to hear Britney Spears, adults could be spared a great deal of oral pain.  Topping our list of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” Mrs. Federline speaks out exclusively to NBC News hitting us, baby, one more time, telling Matt Lauer she has no apologies for the way she behaves because she‘s a wife and mother now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRITNEY SPEARS, MUSICAL ARTIST:  I don‘t allow anybody to change me.  I still walk out of my house in rollers and take walks.  I do not care what people think.  And I think that‘s the thing, why they keep on talking is because they know they can‘t touch me. 

MATT LAUER, “TODAY” SHOW:  So you have a little bit of a blank-you attitude about it now? 

SPEARS:  Yeah, basically.  I mean, you have to.  I mean, I have to live my life.  I have a family now and I just think it‘s absurd, you know, to let other people influence the way you live. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  More blanking from Miss Spears later this week on “Dateline,” Thursday.  And the soon-to-be ex-Beatles wife, Heather Mills also fighting back, she says she will be divorcing Paul McCartney and will suing the British tabloids that are “Intent on damaging” her reputation.  They‘ve had a field day with Miss Mills since she and McCartney announced their separation last month, publishing pictures of her in explicit poses with a man.  Mills says it wasn‘t porn, the pictures were for a German instructional sex guide.  One paper even report that she worked as a high priced call girl when she was still in her 20s, but Mills‘ lawyers says that is “untrue and highly defamatory.” 

No, this is not Daryl Hannah, the actress on the set of her new movie, this is Daryl Hannah the activist getting pulled out of a tree by L.A. law enforcement.  That‘s ahead, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Today, having your career up a tree is no longer a metaphor in Hollywood, it‘s a real conscious career choice.  The place, an urban garden near downtown Los Angels in a walnut tree, 40 feet off the ground, an idyllic setting for the actress Daryl Hannah who is up there in the leafy goodness in righteous solidarity with farmers. 

Now in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN Miss Hannah has been pulled out that tree, extract, evict, just generally sent packing.  But not before news copters can rush to the scene to see if the actress would hold on, digging her nails into her woody perch. 

It was all part of a protest in support of 350 farmers who have used of the 14-acres as a garden over the past decade.  The owner wants to convert the property to just what L.A.  needs, a warehouse, securing a judges eviction order, last month.  But Hannah and others squatted in solidarity, some of them chained themselves to one another or to the trees.  Hannah opting for going up the tree.  She‘d attached herself to a fellow protester, but she waived and raised her fists in solidarity, as she was peaceably removed and grounded.  Thirty-nine protesters were arrested including Ms, Hannah.  The COUNTDOWN staff has breathed a collective sigh of relief that the scene didn‘t play out like this. 

That is not Miss Hannah.  That—as we‘ve seen on this show many times, that bear was not hurt.  I think Miss Hannah is fine too when she left that tree.  But here you can see this diva, right here, had to be given what is called the circus treatment there with that little trampoline.  Joining me now, comedian Paul F.  Thompkins.

Paul, hello.  How are you, sir?

PAUL F. THOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  I‘m good, Brian.  Thank you for having me. 

UNGER:  You know Hollywood better than anyone. 

THOMPKINS:  Of course I do, yes. 

UNGER:  We think we‘ve established a anthropological timeline of Daryl Hannah‘s evolution from a sea dweller to land mammal.  Here, of course, Hannah as a mermaid, to wing winged creature, to walking up right to tree-dweller.  Paul, how would you put this evolution into showbiz terms for us, if you could? 

THOMPKINS:  Well, think if it as, it‘s something, obviously, more advanced than a People‘s Choice Award.  It‘s not quite as advanced as an Oscar, so it‘s sort of like a Golden Globe.  But, it‘s certainly a far cry from anything as primeval as a Tony Award. 

UNGER:  Well, can you pinpoint for me exactly, according to your sources, when Daryl Hannah started walking on land? 

THOMPKINS:  Well, it‘s easy to see, right after “Splash” she made “The Pope of Greenwich Village” and she‘s clearly walking around on land in that.  And it‘s certainly interesting to historical scholars, anthropologists today, because that was the beginning of the devolution of Mickey Rourke.  He was just beginning his greasy slide with that film. 

UNGER:  These have been a couple of two dramatic days in Hollywood, Paul.  First we learned, first, that Superman is not gay, and now we learn that Miss Hannah is a tree-dwelling creature.  Will the industry be able to absorb all of this? 

THOMPKINS:  Well, they will and we all have to hope that eventually they will and keep positive, because the thing that happens in Hollywood is the first thought, of course, is how does this affect me?  Do I need to fire someone?  Does Daryl Hannah being in a tree mean she‘s doing better than I am?  And then you get past all those things, you‘re able to absorb the significance of what‘s just happened.  It‘s like when Russell Crow threw that phone in that guys‘ face, it took months to realize the important thing is that, oh, Russell Crow can use tools. 

UNGER:  Paul, we‘re no experts here at COUNTDOWN.

THOMPKINS:  No.

UNGER:  But if they had just shot her with a dart gun or something and put out the trampoline, wouldn‘t that have been a lot more efficient?  I mean, did anyone consider that?

THOMPKINS:  It‘s not—Brian, of course it‘s been considered, but it‘s not sporting.  It‘s simply isn‘t done.  I mean, a beautiful rare creature like Daryl Hannah, you want it to be a clean capture and you want to have—you want to gave Daryl Hannah a sporting chance.  If you shoot her with a dart, if she falls the wrong way, you just end up having to crush in her skull with a rock. 

UNGER:  Paul, firefighters had to use chainsaws and this cherry picker to cut away the branches and it took, you know, quite sometime to get her out of there.  With Hannah‘s remarkable powers of evolution, it‘s possible she could have just sort of walked away from a fall, kind of like this cat. 

See, if it had kind of—imagine that‘s Daryl Hannah and then she falls down and then just scurries away like that.  Again, we‘re not experts or anthropologists here or naturalists or anything like that, but is that possible that that could have happened? 

THOMPKINS:  No, if Daryl Hannah falls out of a tree, she is just going to get up off the ground and run away.  And not for the reason you think.  The really is that the worst kept secret is that Daryl Hannah has hollow bones and could have flown away on a nice summer breeze.  This was first discovered on the set of “Steel Magnolias.”

UNGER:  Is there going to be a trend.  Are we going to see other actors participating in this protest over there and climbing these trees?  Is this just the beginning of tree-dwelling? 

THOMPKINS:  I think we‘re going to see more people will try to get into trees and I think we‘re going to see her terrible tree accidents.  It‘s going to be sad, a lot of today‘s actors just don‘t have the capacity to figure out how to get up a tree.  They think it‘s magic and they‘re scared. 

UNGER:  I‘m sure their agents might be able to help them out with that.

Paul F. Thompkins, comedian and regular on VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.” 

Thank you so much for joining us.  That‘s COUNTDOWN.

THOMPKINS:  Brian, I always love when we have to stretch.

UNGER:  I‘m Brian Unger in for Keith Olbermann.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with a view from “Scarborough Country,” Good evening Joe.

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

END   

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