updated 8/3/2006 11:02:34 AM ET 2006-08-03T15:02:34

Guests:   Thomas Ricks, Susan Filan, Michael Musto

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

about tomorrow?

Haditha, the first official findings.  They are awful.  Twenty-four Iraqi citizens, including unarmed women and children, shot deliberately by U.S. Marines.  This from a Pentagon official who has seen the naval criminal investigative service probe.

The fallout, military and political, analyzed for us tonight by Thomas Ricks, author of “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”

In Lebanon, the Israelis did indeed run raids into the northeast, and in the south, in massive numbers, 8,000 troops on day 22.

The president is shrinking.  His annual physical confirms he‘s a quarter-inch shorter than he was last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You want to double the size?  Forget it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That wasn‘t about his height, it was about the big new administration innovation.  They‘re remodeling the press briefing room.  And senators are complaining that their senator-only elevator is carrying people who are not senators.  And the congressional cafeteria has stopped serving Freedom Fries.  Hallelujah, it‘s the dawn of a new golden age in Washington.

Not in Southern California.  Mel Gibson charged, three counts, but not with resisting arrest, nor with disorderly conduct.  The specter again raised, is he getting preferential treatment?

And the yucks treatment, late-breaking exclusive Mel Gibson video.  Look at him drinking water.  Look at him with women behaving totally appropriately.  But it‘s video from the night he went nuts.  It‘s breaking Mel, breaking Gibson, breaking news, damn it.

Full multinumber Mel Gibson team coverage.

And more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

On nights like this, would that all the stories were merely about Mel Gibson.  We will get to the charges against him.  You and I will probably be glad by then, for there are other charges, as of tonight, now officially supported by a Navy criminal investigation, and they are simply horrendous.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, they are also simply summarized by one word, the name of an obscure place in Iraq, Haditha.  All the evidence so far that a U.S. Marine unit there, having cracked after a roadside bomb killed one of its members, murdered two dozen innocent civilians.

Not the accusations of antiwar zealots, not the assertions of a congressman, today, remarkably, having been sued for speaking out, but the preliminary conclusion, rather, of the official military investigation.

In a moment, the analysis of Thomas Ricks, author of the damning new book “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”

First, the details, Pentagon officials saying today that the evidence so far indicates that the Marines deliberately shot and killed unarmed civilians, including women and children.  Whether the Marines will face criminal charges as a result of this, still to be decided.  Whether the officers in the chain of command tried to cover up the incident, still to be determined by a parallel investigation.

Public scrutiny of the incident growing this spring after Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania, himself a former Marine, asserted in May that he had learned from Marine Corps officials that innocent Iraqis had been killed, quote, “in cold blood,” the leader of the squad under investigation, Staff Sergeant Frank Rudrich (ph), today filing a civil lawsuit against Congressman Murtha, the charge, libel, lawyers for Sergeant Rudrich arguing that they will have a heck of a time walking into a courtroom with a presumption of innocence, quote, “because of what Congressman Murtha has done.”

They said this before it became clear today that their real problem will stem from what the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has concluded.

At the same time, the president of Iraq offering an optimistic timetable for when exactly Iraqi forces might be able to assume the job of securing their own country, President Jalan Talabani saying today that Iraqi forces will take over security of all provinces in the country by the end of the year, a task largely performed now by U.S. forces, his assessment coming at a time when the country is still reeling under the latest intense sectarian violence, at least 52 people, including two U.S.  servicemen, killed today, more than 70 having been killed yesterday in one of the worst days the war has seen, all of this dovetailing with the publication of a remarkable new book, which offers what will likely become the definitive account of our war there, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” serving up a devastating critique not only of how the Bush administration came to go to war, but also of how it and the U.S.  military has been bungling the occupation ever since.

Quoting from the book, “President George W. Bush‘s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy.  The U.S.-led invasion was launched recklessly, with a flawed plan for war and a worse approach to the occupation.  Spooked by its own false conclusions about the threat, the Bush administration hurried its diplomacy, short-circuited its war planning, and assembled an agonizingly incompetent occupation.”

The reviews of the book have been extraordinary.  The author is Thomas Ricks, senior Pentagon correspondent for “The Washington Post,” who‘s won two Pulitzer Prizes during his 17 years covering the U.S. military.

Tom, thank you for your time.  Good evening.

THOMAS RICKS, AUTHOR, “FIASCO”:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The news of the day first, the unnamed Pentagon official‘s revelation of the Naval Criminal Investigation findings, does it not transform Haditha from an awful allegation to a virtually confirmed war atrocity?

RICKS:  We‘re going to find out a lot more about Haditha in the months to come.  I‘ll make a prediction for you.  I—it‘s quite possible that some of those Marines may never be charged with murder, and that if they are, that they get off in the courtroom.

What you‘re going to find their defense lawyers arguing, I think, is, they were under the rules of engagement they had been given, that they were following orders, and that the problem lay not with these Marines, but with the chain of command above them.

OLBERMANN:  When incidents like Haditha, like Abu Ghraib, before it become public, would it be fair to say that the U.S. military, to some degree, leaves the rank and file troops hanging, in the way that that defense, that prediction of the defense would suggest, that we never get a backstory about training or leadership?

RICKS:  The rank and file called that problem different spanks for different ranks.  It has been a problem in the past.  Abu Ghraib was an example where they—it was blamed essentially on a few very low-ranking reservists.

I think Haditha‘s different, partly because an Army general, Lieutenant General Peter Corelli (ph), the number two U.S. officer in Iraq, has said, Let‘s look at the leadership issues here, let‘s not just blame it on the low-ranking frontline soldier.

So you have the criminal probe of what the soldiers did.  And by the way, I don‘t want to excuse what they did.  I‘m trying to put this into context of military leadership issues.  And Corelli ordered a separate investigation by General Bargewell (ph) of how the leadership prepared those troops, trained those troops, and led those troops.

And that‘s a very good thing to do.  It‘s a problem the U.S. military has not faced up to, I think, really, until now in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Haditha and Abu Ghraib before it have been dismissed by many as isolated incidents, bad apples.  In your reporting for this book, you spoke with more than 100 senior military officers, you had access to about 30,000 pages of official documents.  Did your research lead you to that conclusion?  Were these the isolated incidents we‘ve been led to believe?

RICKS:  It surprised me, because I didn‘t expect to really dwell on abuse when I began writing the book.  The more research I did, though, the more of those interviews, the more legal documents I read, the more I saw there was a real pattern of abuse across many units in Iraq, especially early on.

And it wasn‘t just troops behaving badly, it was troops that were not given the tools, conceptual tools, the training, to do the job.  So you had guys kind of making it up as they went along.

In the 1st Armored Division, for example, troops were told to deter looters.  Some of them decided the best way to do that was to make them cry.  So when some soldiers in Baghdad caught a father and his two sons one day, they said to the father, Which of your sons should we shoot?  And his father said, as most would, Shoot me, please.  They said, You don‘t get to make that choice.  And they took one of the teenage sons around to the other side of a truck and fired a weapon past his head.  And they made them cry.

That—what those soldiers did was wrong.  But it‘s what happens when you put soldiers in impossible positions and don‘t give them the training they need, and the numbers of troops they need to get the job done.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to spend much more of our time here tonight talking about the run-up to the law—the war, and the false conclusions that led to the invasion.  A lot of that ground has been covered extensively already.  But you wrote something in your book that during the prewar analysis process—let me quote this, “We used intellectual acrobatics by simultaneously worst-casing the threat posed by Iraq, while best-casing the subsequent cost and difficulty of occupying the country.”

In trying to figure out what to do now there, do you think the administration and the Pentagon are still doing that?

RICKS:  I‘m not sure they have the energy left for those sort of acrobatics.  I think, for them, this has become a kind of trench warfare, where they plod on, asserting that the media has got it wrong and they‘ve got it right, despite the evidence with the passage of time that the media has actually covered this thing much more accurately than U.S. government official statements have.

OLBERMANN:  Will we ever get the democracy we supposedly went in there to create?

RICKS:  I think there‘s a small chance.  At the end of my book, I say a 5 percent chance of coming out with a stable democratic pro-American ally in the war on terror.

I think there‘s a somewhat larger chance that we‘ll get an acceptable solution.  I‘m not sure that‘s going to happen, though, if we simply keep our current posture, and if we don‘t look seriously at our mistakes, if we don‘t get the U.S. government system working, get some congressional accountability, get some hearings, have the military look seriously at its own flaws and shortcomings, especially by generals.  Until now, generals have been off limits for criticism, even inside the military.

Here we are, deep into a war, and not one single general has been relieved for incompetence or failures.  Contrast that to the beginning of World War II, when General George Marshall, then the Army chief of staff, relieved over 100 senior officers.

So I think we could do a series of things that began with looking at this war seriously and trying to figure out how to do it better that might make for a better outcome.

OLBERMANN:  To that point of accountability, just today the defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld, did not change his mind about testifying publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow.  Senator Clinton had asked him again to do so, saying it would be more appropriate, that he said it would be more appropriate for him to brief the Senate privately.

You wrote in the book about Mr. Rumsfeld and his colleagues, and I‘m quoting it again, “While the nation was at war and American soldiers have been dying, the Pentagon top civilians were estranged from the Army‘s leadership.”

How much of that estrangement, how much of that friction still exists?

RICKS:  I think quite a lot.  One of the things that struck me about this book since it‘s come out and since excerpts ran in “The Washington Post” recently, is that I have not received a single negative e-mail from soldiers in Iraq.  They have said, Thank you for doing this, thank you for asking these questions.  One battalion commander wrote to me that what I say in this book is finally saying publicly what he and his comrades have been saying for a couple of years privately.

But as to Rumsfeld saying he‘s not going to testify, he‘ll say that, and Congress is willing to take no for an answer.  We had—in other wars had hawks and doves.  In this war in the Congress, you have the silence of the lambs.

OLBERMANN:  As to Mr. Rumsfeld, as to President Bush, are either of them in touch with the reality of what‘s on—going on still on the ground in Iraq?

RICKS:  One of the things that struck me on my last trip to Iraq earlier this year is, I don‘t think the U.S. military, broadly, is in touch with the realities on the ground in Iraq.  I sat one day and looked through a classified database of, quote unquote, “significant activities” in the part of Baghdad that I live in when I‘m there.

By the way, it‘s a myth that reporters live in the green zone.  I don‘t know of any reporters living in there.  We live out in the so-called red zone, the rest of Iraq.

I was looking through the database from our area, and I realized it didn‘t have half of the violence that I heard.  What it covered was threats to Iraqis, and threats to U.S. troops.  But it didn‘t cover all the other things that go on, intimidation, rapes, robberies, murders, the general pervasive atmosphere of violence that is now covering much of Baghdad.

OLBERMANN:  Thomas Ricks, the senior Pentagon correspondent for “The Washington Post,” author of the extraordinary book “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”  Great thanks for your reporting, great thanks for joining us, sir.

RICKS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  There has been no diminishing, meantime, of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah across the small country of Lebanon, Hezbollah launching its largest attack on Israel to date, at least 160 rockets sent across the border.  One reached 45 miles south of the Israeli-Lebanese border, and another killed an American-born Israeli in a kibbutz near Nahariyah.

Israel began a massive new ground attack against Hezbollah, sending 8,000 troops into southern Lebanon, while overhead, Israeli jets continued to bomb suspected Hezbollah areas close to the border, killing at least 15 civilians in the process.

In the northeastern part of Lebanon, Israeli airborne troops raided the town of Baalbek during the night.  The fight centered on a hospital, which Israeli forces believed was a Hezbollah base in disguise.  The Israel army says it captured five fighters, killed 10 others.  But Hezbollah says the captured people are not members of its group.

As we suggested, by this point in the hour, Mel Gibson is almost comic relief.  There‘s a serious point tonight as prosecutors have now announced charges against him.  Why, if he was so much trouble during the arrest, did they file just three minor counts against him?

That‘s next.

And Washington, D.C., may be described as officially loopy from he heat, from the president roasting the media, to the return of French fries on Capitol Hill.

Crazy details ahead.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To read the information obtained by the Web site TMZ.com, you‘d think Mel Gibson must be going down, and he must be going down hard.  Not only was he clocked doing more than 85 miles an hour on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, but when the deputy tried to arrest him, he bolted towards his own car, had to be restrained and handcuffed.  Then he launched into his infamous series of anti-Semitic insults and a threat to the officer.

Once at the jail, he struggled against the cuffs again, allegedly tried to urinate on the floor of the cell, insulted a female deputy, threw a phone against a wall, and eventually blew a 0.12 blood alcohol level.

But our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Gibson is only facing three charges and an absolute maximum sentence of six months, the L.A.  County district attorney charging him with one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence, another of driving while having a blood alcohol of .08 or higher, and a vehicle infraction for driving with an open container of alcohol, in this case, tequila.  If convicted on everything, he could get six months in county lockup, could.

But right now, Mel Gibson is out on his own recognizance and facing arraignment September 28.

To analyze what all this means, I‘m joined by MSNBC analyst, former prosecutor Susan Filan.

Thanks for your time tonight, Susan.

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Say that‘s Mel Anybody in Malibu, and he acts up in that way, as has been described.  Even assuming he does not get the Rodney King treatment, they charge Mel Anybody with only three minor offenses?

FILAN:  Well, there‘s really two ways to look at this.  You know, if they threw the book at him, are they being extra-hard on him because it‘s Mel, or if they go easy on him, did he just dodge a huge bullet because it‘s Mel?

The long and short of it is, there‘s a ton more motor vehicles offenses that they could have charged him with, but those are just infractions, like speeding and maybe reckless driving.  The other misdemeanor charges he‘s facing wouldn‘t necessarily have him serve any more jail time, wouldn‘t necessarily give him more of a criminal record.  And there may be technical defenses.  I know you guys hate when we talk like lawyers.

But there may be technical defenses, like resisting arrest.  Was he commanded to get out of his car, or did the officer say, Mr. Gibson, would you get out? a request versus a command.  He escaped from custody.  You kind of have to be an inmate in a penal institution.

So it may be that the prosecutor took a good look at this and said, I‘m not going to go down in flames and look like a jerk, overcharging this on things that I could lose.  I‘m going to stick to the safe ones that I can surely prove.  And you‘ve any doubt about proving them, Mel Gibson has actually confessed to the world.  I mean, you can use that against him at a trial.

OLBERMANN:  But we already know that the initial report from the sheriff‘s office was that there was an uneventful DUI arrest, and this, to put it mildly, was a slight understatement.  Naturally after that, in the story followed, there followed charges of favoritism and coverup.  (INAUDIBLE) are we facing that again?  And would that not lead a prosecutor to say, Hey, we better throw as much as of the book at him as we have?

FILAN:  Well, here‘s the thing.  Maybe they‘re just more laid back in California, and maybe by their standards, this is uneventful.  But I don‘t think so.  This wasn‘t uneventful.  This was eventful.  But does it then translate into more criminal charges?

The prosecutor‘s got to be so careful not to get swayed by the hullabaloo and all the inflammatory bigotry and the nonsense that doesn‘t necessarily go to any criminal charge.  I mean, he can‘t be charged with hate speech, don‘t forget the First Amendment.  His speech didn‘t necessarily rise to the level of a threat.  It‘s hate speech, which is criminal, if you target someone with bigotry and threaten them with harm.  That didn‘t happen here.

So the prosecutor‘s got to keep his or her head screwed on superstraight, not to try to show the world that they‘re going to be supertough on Mel, or that they‘re going to go easy on him.  He‘s just got to play it fair and square, down the middle of the road, and stick to the facts that he can prove in a court of law.

By the way, this will never go to trial.  Mel‘s going to cop a plea so fast your head will spin.

OLBERMANN:  All right, so then there are two technical quick questions here, 30 seconds each.  Any chance that we‘re going to hear that audiotape of the exchange between the deputy and Gibson, that it was recorded?

FILAN:  Probably not, although you could do a Freedom of Information request and maybe get it.  It would come in at trial.  There‘s not going to be a trial.

OLBERMANN:  There is an arraignment in September, at least there‘s one scheduled for the 28th.  Would Mel Gibson be there?

FILAN:  Nope.  He can get through this whole thing without ever appearing in court.  And very likely not going to be there.  And his attorney has filed appearances.  They‘re going to appear for him.

OLBERMANN:  Well, they can‘t appear for him on TV, though, can they?

FILAN:  Nope.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC legal analyst Susan Filan.  Great thanks, Susan.

From the legal picture to the cell-phone video, the new images of Mel Gibson‘s last night out before they came after him.  Mel mayhem continues.

And some of the most amazing machines ever, and by amazing, we mean it‘s amazing anybody would bother to think them up, let alone build them.  That‘s right, a machine that spreads peanut-butter spread on a sandwich. 

Like, you can‘t do this yourself.

Oddball‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ask any American on what day did John Hancock put his John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence, and you‘ll get the standard answer, July 4 of 1776.  Uh-uh.  That formal signing, seemingly immortalized in the Trumbull painting, took place exactly 230 years ago today, August 2, 1776.  July 4 was just the announcement, the PR move.  Even on August 2, though, only 50 of the 56 signatories bellied up to the scroll.  Thomas McKeon didn‘t sign until 1781.  Hey, you‘re late, buddy.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

And we commence with another episode of Oddball‘s Amazing Machines, beginning in the streets of Paris, hosting a special exhibition this summer featuring the latest in technological marvels designed to make your life easier here in the 21st and a half century.  Take this crazy drum machine thing.  Finally, you can perform your own Tommy Lee-style drum solos with a compact machine about as small as your average wheat combine.  And the French love it.

Are you tired of having to spread your own Nutella (ph)?  Well, here‘s a tiny little machine that spreads your Nutella on the bread for you, and it only takes about 15 minutes to make a sandwich.  What will they think of next?  If you‘re wondering what the heck Nutella is, it‘s kind of like peanut butter, only it was endorsed by Kobe Bryant, and it‘s much more disgusting.  (INAUDIBLE) kind of like peanut butter.

Once again, the Japanese are way ahead of the French.  These guys appear to have built themselves an imperial land walker in their garage.  Not quite as nimble as the George Lucas version.  In fact, this one seems to move like maybe it‘s had too many preinvasion beverages at the Ice Planet Hot Hotel Bar with Mel Gibson.  But, as we always say, who are we to complain when all we‘ve got is rhumba (ph)?

Just kill it and eat it already.  And it‘s Oddball bonus night.  First we showed you the Japanese crotch-kicking machine last night.  Ow.  Tonight, answers to all the burning questions you‘ve expressed to us, foremost of them, Why?

And to the similarly bizarre headlines out of D.C.  from the presidential roast of the press, to presidential faces to his height, the return of congressional French fries.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

But first, time for our list of top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, House majority whip Roy Blunt of Missouri living up to his name, explaining that if his party continues to control Congress, he and his other leaders will continue to ignore any signs of global warming.  Quoting, “I think the information is not yet adequate for us to do anything meaningful,” said Congressman Blunt just before a passerby dissolved into a big puddle of goo as Washington broke its all-time temperature record of 103 degrees on Monday.

Number two, Derek Pittman defending himself against a DUI charge in Carlyle, Pennsylvania.  His principal argument, he was not driving.  He was drunk, he says, but Mr. Pittman was in the passenger seat.  He had briefly taken control of the wheel with one hand, while his buddy used both of his own hands to hold a very large sandwich, from which he took a very large bite.

Number one, James B. Lancaster of Culman (ph), Alabama, in jail after holding up the People‘s Bank of North Alabama in the town of Lacy‘s Spring (ph).  Police caught Mr. Lancaster just 90 minutes after the holdup, largely because he was the latest to violate our rule number one of bank robbery.  While he remembered to take the $7,000 in cash with him when he exited the bank, he did not remember to take his personal bankbook with him.  He left it at the scene of the crime.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Lord knows that lawmakers in Washington are more squeamish than ever about so-called gifts in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal, but there is no law against an old fashioned perk.  Now in our No. 3 story on our COUNTDOWN tonight, the wheels of self-restraint have seemingly come off along the Potomac.  Maybe it‘s the heat, maybe it‘s the fact that this the birthday of the man who designed the screwy place, Pierre Charles L‘Enfant, but the president is getting shorter and so are the tempers of the senators.  We start with them.

Special elevators for senators are getting overcrowded by “the others,” the tax paying populace, pushing into the elevators.  What maybe the 17th or 18th greatest deliberative body on earth, the griping has begun.  Complaints about senator-only elevators invaded by the un-elected, like staffers, lobbyists, tourists, sometimes even the media.  Please wipe your feet. 

When about 10 reporters boarded one of these elevators with Senator Hillary Rodam Clinton recently, Senator Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum reportedly said “No, no, no come on.  Come on.”  Yeah, see if you still have that attitude about non-senators if you lose in November. 

Weighty changes in the House, meanwhile, in the basement cafeteria, “freedom fries” and “freedom toast” have quietly reverted back to being french fries and french toast.  Representatives Bob Ney and Walter Jones had led the charge to recast those menu items more than three years ago.  It was the ramp-up to the invasion of Iraq and they were angry that France was not bellying up. 

And today marks the end of the White House briefing room as we know it.  They‘re shutting it down for renovation or as reporters there call it, “building it for the first time.”  The occasion brought in press secretaries from previous administrations as well as a surprise visit by the renovator in chief. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look forward to welcoming you back here in, I guess, six or seven months?  Is that right?  Nine months? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re setting no timetable, Mr. President.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mel Gibson be forgiven? 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  Is that Sam Donaldson?  Forget it, you‘re a has-been.  We don‘t have to answer has-been‘s questions. 

My best moment in here is when my press conference ended.

I can‘t hear you.  I‘m over 60 just like you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s call in “Washington Post” national political reporter, MSNBC analyst, Dana Milbank, who was smart enough not to be in Washington on August 2. 

Good evening, Dana. 

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The senate elevator problem first, who are the outsiders and why are they invading the personal elevator space of my senator? 

MILBANK:  It‘s an outrage.  And not only that, you have to—when you get on an elevator with a senator, you have to ask permission, “may I join you.”  I‘d like to add it goes in—the same thing goes in the House and they have their subways that you can‘t get on unless they give you permission when they have vote either.  But there‘s this story, I fear it may apocryphal, but  go fer from the “Love Boat” served some time in the House of Representatives.

OLBERMANN:  Fred Grandy.

MILBANK:  Fred Grandy, and apparently a page was summarily fired when Grandy got on the elevator and the page asked lido (ph) or promenade deck? 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope it‘s no apocryphal.  French fries are back in the House cafeteria.  Sponsors of freedom fries have not faired too well, speaking of becoming toast, Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio, hanging on to his political life because of these Abramoff ties.  Walter Jones of North Carolina did a complete 180 on the war, called for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.  Was there a curse of the freedom fry and freedom toast? 

MILBANK:  Well Keith, I decided to investigate so I came down here to Walter Jones‘ district, which happens to be in the outer banks of North Carolina.  I‘m hearing very few complaints about the freedom fries issue.  I think it‘s playing quite nicely.  It is possible it‘s because we need the French help in Lebanon right now is the reason they‘re trying to make this switchover, but I—memory serves, I think we still have freedom toast being served for breakfast. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, something‘s being served up.  Dana, the president made out pretty well with the results of his annual physical.  He gained only five pounds, still well lower than his height would suggest the absolute limit.  His blood pressure, his cholesterol are good, but a year ago he was 5 feet 11-3/4 inches.  Now he‘s 5 feet 11-1/2 inches.  One of the president‘s quarter inches is missing.  Hey, wa happen?

MILBANK:  It is troubling.  He‘s also gained five pounds, so I think we could say he certainly is carrying the weight of the world.  That would explain something.  The more curious part of this is, the French prime minister, de Villepin, recently had a physical and he grew a quarter inch. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, so it‘s some sort of international accord there. 

MILBANK:  Quite possibly. 

OLBERMANN:  And whether shorter or taller, the president stumbled a little bit coming off Air Force One on Monday, made a face that was remarkably similar to the one he made when the baby was screaming at him a couple of weeks back, and also the one last year in Beijing when he couldn‘t get out of a news conference because of a locked door.  Would you attempt to find the thread for us here, politically? 

MILBANK:  I‘m sure you‘re wanting me to make a cheap pun about stumbling in the polls or his losing political footing here, but I‘m not going to do that for you.  He was in danger of doing, sort of the full Jerry Ford there, I think he caught himself enough.  Usually he uses the handrail, so he seemed to have slipped this particular moment.  But I think you can be quite confident that he doesn‘t do it again.  We don‘t know for sure how often that face is made.  It‘s possible that the National Security Council gets it each morning, as far as we know. 

OLBERMANN:  Or it could also be that same thing that we saw with Secretary Rice with the hand on the forehead, where it turned out she was had the weight of the world on her forehead, turned out she was just brushing her hair back.

But last thing, about this White House briefing room renovation.  It‘s supposed to take nine months.  Well, this will be a welcome birth of a new place or will the White House view it like “Rosemary‘s Baby?” 

MILBANK:  We are very suspicious about whether they‘re going to have us come back in there at all despite all the promises.  So, I suspect it‘ll be sort of the “Big Dig” timeline, you know, double the time and the cost of the whole thing.  What I‘m worried is about it they‘ll inadvertently locate it under the tidal basin or something.  The real question has been for years, are they trying to kick the press out of the White House and we‘ll find out. 

OLBERMANN:  You will like being out on the lawn with David Gregory. 

It‘s nice out there, especially in midwinter. 

Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post.”

MILBANK:  I‘d do his makeup.

OLBERMANN:  And MSNBC, thank you for letting us interrupt your fact-finding vacation. 

MILBANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Could this be the impetus needed to fix Washington?  We alarmed you with this last night, tonight we‘ll alarm you more with the contest.  Yes, as serious journalists we made calls about the Japanese crotch kicking machine. 

Speaking of a quick kick to the crotch, the expiration date on wacking Mel Gibson is still far, far in the future.  We‘ll give Michael Musto his turn to sit career shiva (ph) with tonight, details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “LATE NIGHT”:  As everyone‘s heard by now, Actor Mel Gibson was arrested for drunk driving in Malibu last week.  During the arrest he made some very shocking anti-Semitic remarks.  To night, on our stage, we have a poster for Gibson‘s movie “Lethal Weapon 4.”  Here to destroy the poster is a traditional Jewish delicacy, a giant potato krepa (ph).  Let‘s do this right now.  Let the music begin.  Let‘s go.  Here we goes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dennis Cruise and Steve Marsh put something under the hood you won‘t see in any other ‘36 Chev. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Underneath the hood I got a coffee pot, right here, and that‘s the overflow tank for the radiator. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The 50 on the hood refers to the approximate horse powe, the (INAUDIBLE) ornament just holds down the jet ski part. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re fun toys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This llama rides in a mini van and everyone seems to want a kiss. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  One year he was just kissing me all the time. 

This year he won‘t even look at me. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Things that defy or defy explanation, but we‘re going to try.  Japanese crotch kicking, the game show, the TV game show.  And mad Mel, first video from the night in question and the analysis of the fiasco from the seasoned perspective of Michael Musto.  I won two Edward R.  Murrow awards, and I think I hear the committee calling and asking for them back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The members of the crack staff at COUNTDOWN are as patriotic as the next person.  Mom, apple pie, baseball, amber waves of grain, rockets bursting in air, all that stuff makes our hearts swell with pride.  Except that one guy over there.  I‘m watching you.

(LAUGHTER)

But as great as the old U.S. or A.  is, there is one other country to which we all owe a greater debt.  Our No. 2 story on COUNTDOWN, the fine nation of Japan, which produces something like 502 percent of all the world‘s “Odd Ball” video and nearly 100 percent of its truly original brutal television programming.  What other nation builds, for instance, robots that look like samurai warriors or advocates a good bath in curry to revive your senses and soften your skin, or provides foot spass complete with little fish to nibble away, in a kind of organic exfoliation?  But as much as entertainment as Japan provides with cool science and strange beauty treatments there‘s one arena in which it really kicks our American butts:  Game shows.  COUNTDOWN‘s senior Japanese TV correspondent, Monica Novotny joins us again with the latest update on this. 

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.  Those video clips are the very best of the e-candy that sweetens the internet, these day.  So we did our own COUNTDOWN investigation.  Now it turns out the stars of many of these clips are comedians, well known in Japan who, for some reason, are willing to be publicly humiliated, in fact that their job. 

Our latest favorite, back by popular demand after an appearance on last night‘s “Odd Ball.”  That‘s right you asked for it, you got it, the “pain game.  We‘ve determined that this clip is part of a musical variety show called “Hey, hey, hey, with Downtown.”

“Downtown” is the name of the comedic duo that hosts the show.  Apparently they like to throw a few funny skits into each program and, I guess, this is one of them. 

OLBERMANN:  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

NOVOTNY:  The contestants are also comedians who have to say tongue twisters and if they mess up, they take the hit.  This show is actually one of the more popular shows in Japan and has been running for many years. 

OLBERMANN:  They have this, we have Howie Mandel. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  Oh, ouch.  All right.

OLBERMANN:  Same feeling you get.  OK, sorry.

NOVOTNY:  All right, and can you imagine these people actually do this to be celebrities? 

OLBERMANN:  I know a lot of people in this building who would do this to get on television at all—yes. 

NOVOTNY:  Some people feel like.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, I know, it‘s the same—I know.  You and me both, kid. 

NOVOTNY:  Now, there‘s more where that comes from, of course.  Next up, from a different show, now see this woman, she‘s stumbling here.  She‘s actually an actress, she‘s not hurt, don‘t be alarmed.  That guy, who just fell in the hole, is a well known comedian who‘s been set up to be embarrassed by those are the other comedians—those are the guys who were watching and laughing.  The woman, of course, just pretending that she‘s hurt.  I don‘t think the guy is pretending, though.  You‘ll see there are a couple of reaction shots.  He does not look happy.

OLBERMANN:  Now, this answers the question, what happened to Ashton Kutcher? 

NOVOTNY:  Ouch.

All right.  Yeah, you can—see, he‘s not hurt. 

OLBERMANN:  Right.

NOVOTNY:  He‘s not really hurt.  But I don‘t—yeah, he‘s definitely not laughing.  But his buddies think it‘s really cute.

OLBERMANN:  Everybody else is. 

NOVOTNY:  Yeah.  All right, from another show, this one focuses on pranks, just like this one.  And we‘ve got a few clips from this show.  These victims, though, are just regular people, they say, sort of an extreme candid camera.  This is all about just scaring the heck of everybody. 

OLBERMANN:  Typical day in the office for me. 

NOVOTNY:  This show—now watch this.  That too feels like a typical day.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a typical day in the office for me. 

NOVOTNY:  Now, apparently this show aired for the first time years ago, but the clips have become so popular from this one episode, that they continue to air them.  Watch the wall.  Yeah.  Youch.  All right.  Also we have a couple more clips, supposedly featuring unsuspecting victims, but we can‘t be sure, but we know they‘re not comedians.  They‘re just looking for a relaxing sauna, instead, it‘s a trip down the slopes.  Yeah.  Yeah, they‘re not dressed and that is snow. 

OLBERMANN:  This is part of a training program at any Japanese firm, isn‘t it?  To prove your loyalty to the company? 

NOVOTNY:  All right, real quickly we‘ll go back to where we started to “Hey, hey, hey with Downtown.”  This time it‘s a clip featuring local celebrities in a library where they agree to be tortured, but they have to remain quiet, shhh, throughout the humiliation.  You may recognize that gentleman who just got the hair plucked out of the nose, he‘s apparently a famous kickboxing champion.  Now this show, “Hey, hey, hey with Downtown,” was compared to me from a Japanese pop culture expert at COUNTDOWN. He said, you know, with those all those whacky clips and people talking about them.  So, there you go. 

OLBERMANN:  Good, I mean, -- maybe Dana Milbank can go on. 

NOVOTNY:  Well, humiliation is clearly the theme.  We don‘t want to put Dana up to that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, OK.  No, no, but that‘s my job here.  Monica Novotny, COUNTDOWN‘s senior Japanese TV Watching Correspondent.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Adagato (ph).  On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”

Michael Jackson is in a new legal dispute with his lawyers.  The former pop star claims he had fired them, but in a letter to the judge who‘s hearing a financial claim against Jackson, his own legal team said it had not been paid and none of them could even get the client on the phone.  “Mr. Jackson has failed to respond to every e-mail and telephone message left for him over the past four weeks,” that from the former pop star‘s now former lawyers. 

Mr. Jackson‘s previous former lawyers dropped him in November claiming they were not being paid and that they couldn‘t even get him on the phone.  Our efforts to get his side of the story ended when we couldn‘t get an outside line. 

The sometimes accurate “New York Post” reports that Angelina Jolie hit the restaurant at the Hollywood Roosevelt recently with a unique off-menu order:  Women.  Settle down.  Jolie allegedly told the restaurant she wanted a female server only to bring her halibut and salad.  The reason, Anderson Cooper.  No, apparently male waiters gawk at her too much.  That wouldn‘t be Anderson Cooper anyway. 

Jolie seen here—he‘s not a waiter—seen here in a previous attempt to discourage male gawking did not respond to the newspaper‘s request for comment.  It‘s nice we finally have at least one movie star honest enough to admit they get woman just for the halibut. 

What would Ms.  Jolie think of Mel Gibson‘s special remark to female officer or his behavior around women?  We covered the charges, now we‘ve got the trash.  You‘ve seen the pictures, we‘ve seen the puppets.  Now the video has surfaced of Mel before the arrest.  All that and Michael Musto too. 

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

The bronze to an unnamed 38-year-old man from the Amazon region of Brazil pulled over by police for a routine check outside a native reservation in Rondonia.  He seemed nervous and had reason to be, he had 666 rough diamonds stashed in his underpants.  No, officer, no, I can‘t walk a straight line. 

The runner up, Harold Gray of Gofort, South Carolina, we do not begrudge him having won a $100,000 lottery prize just 20 days after he‘d won a $250,000 lottery prize.  We begrudge him this quote, “I feel like I have a horseshoe stuck up my behind.”  Mr. Gray, perhaps you‘d like to meet our friend with the diamonds from the Amazon.

But the winners, an unnamed man from St.  Mary‘s, Pennsylvania and two women from Kersey, Pennsylvania, they were held up at gunpoint in Buffalo, New York by two young men who had promised to give them a tour of the city if they met them at an intersection of Best Street and Michigan Avenue.  Ordinarily we try not to blame the victims here, but perhaps the time of the promised tour of the city should have been a tip off to the Pennsylvanians who got ripped off:  2:25 a.m.  Three not so bright tourists in Buffalo, today‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEWIE GRIFFIN, “FAMILY GUY” BABY:  Breaking news.  Oh, this should be rich.  Must be something with monumental, earth shattering importance or they wouldn‘t have that earth there, shattering.  See it shattering?  It‘s earth shattering breaking news.  Oh, do tell me! Tell me! Tell me!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And stunning news it is.  News that will surly come as a shock to anyone living five light days away from planet earth.  Our No. l 1 story, our nation‘s continuing dependence on Mel Gibson‘s developments.  Of course, there were today‘s criminal charges, three counts, nothing more serious than misdemeanor drunk driving, having an elevated blood alcohol level, having an open container of liquor in his car, maximum total sentence six months. 

There will, inventively be more developments.  We‘re about due for another apology, for instance.  But today also brought this new video from the night of the incident, obtained from TMZ.com.  Yes, the Zapruder film of mad Mel mania.  It not so clearly shows Gibson drinking Galvanina bottled water.  That‘s right, refreshing Galvanina, perfect for ineffective attempts of sobering up before you drive home.  And the perfect beverage to serve your guests when you‘re sitting shiva (ph) for your movie career. 

Joining us tonight to help us through the grieving process, our old friend, “Village Voice” columnist, Michael Musto.

Michael, thank you for being with us at this difficult time. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tell me, you think Mel can resurrect his career are these charges the final nails in his coffin? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, he‘s being crucified.  No look, any body can come back except Star Jones.  But this is going to be a struggle.  So, Mel has been groveling, he‘s been playing the victim, “I was suicidal” he has been buying up every dealia (ph) in town to show he love Jews.  Look, he might actually do it as long as his next movie isn‘t an epic film in an epic obscure Mayan dialect—oh it is?  Sorry, career‘s dead.

OLBERMANN:  Sorry, it‘s a final.

MUSTO:  It‘s kaput.

OLBERMANN:  Buried in the day‘s legal news was this TMZ video shot the night of the arrest.  Does it tell us anything about the case or Mel Gibson or about how really unreliable cell phone cameras are? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, it shows you cell phones should be used for what they were made for, playing Ms.  Pac Man.  I mean, this is darker than that Pat O‘Brien shadow kissing montage.  It‘s like an art house movie.  It‘s ridiculous, but it does shows you that Mel seems kind of happy, right?  Which kind of blows his whole suicide excuse.  He‘s only unhappy at one point where the bleep him and he‘s saying this water tastes Jewish.  He‘s really elegant.

OLBERMANN:  The website, Gawker, is quoting a publicity seeking hair expert who says that Gibson‘s behavior is typical of a male starting to lose his hair.  Hair loss, virulent anti-Semitism, I‘m missing the extrapolation there.  Do you know what it is?

MUSTO:  Well first of all, he‘s not losing his hair.  He has a full head of hair plugs.  But, if you have to get those put in, you do start to resent Jews with hair.  You know, Yasmine Bleeth, Dustin Hoffman, Gwyneth Paltro‘s half Jewish, she has a half a head of hair.  Mel is also very short.  He resents Elliot Gould, a tall Jew.  His worse nightmare is Harvey Fierstein, a gay Jew with a lot of hair. 

OLBERMANN:  Yasnine Bleeth.  All right, “Us” magazine put this together this computer composite showing the Gibson progression, as the put it, from hunk to drunk.  Take us through this as we see it.  From hunk to drunk  to what next? 

MUSTO:  I think to the Dunkin‘ Donuts where he‘ll do community service.  The “Bunk” his next movie.  The monk which he‘s going to have to become.  And the chunk I‘m going to start blowing, because I just don‘t care. 

OLBERMANN:  Was it disconcerting that we did not get another apology from him?  That breaks a streak.

MUSTO:  Yeah.  I think he learned from the Dixie Chicks that you stop at six.  You know, they‘re still calling me in the middle of the night, “Sorry to bother you Michael, but we‘re sorry that we said we were sorry about we were sorry.”  Shut up.  There‘s only one person at this point who should still be saying I‘m sorry and that‘s Tom Cruise‘s daughter and where is she, by the way?  That‘s off topic.

OLBERMANN:  She‘s out drinking with Mel Gibson. 

MUSTO:  Water.

OLBERMANN:  If the drinking was day one of this, we‘re at day seven, we‘ve had these headlines, give us a little crystal ball look here.  What do we think the headlines of day eight, tomorrow are going to be on this? 

MUSTO:  I think Russell Crowe rejoices.  I may be psychotic, I don‘t mind Jews much.  And then a side bar on female sergeant selling sugar boobs to “Playboy.”  This will get you the Edward R.  Murrow award, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t think so.

Maybe not.

I don‘t think it would get me the Ed Begley Jr.  award.  The one and only, Michael Musto.  Always invaluable where there are celebrities in crisis. 

MUSTO:  Shalom.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,189th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with a very special edition of “Scarborough Country” ahead for all of us.  

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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