updated 8/7/2006 10:00:52 AM ET 2006-08-07T14:00:52

Guests: E.J. Dionne, James Bamford, Armistead Maupin

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

She tells him to resign.  He tells her he did not paint a rosy picture of Iraq.  Hilly versus Rummy, as the former first lady again insists he should become a former secretary of defense.

Is somebody trying to make Dr. Rice a former secretary of state?  Are neocons in the Bush administration actually siphoning secret intelligence to Israel in hopes of keeping the war going, the war Rice is ostensibly trying to stop?  James Bamford says so in “Rolling Stone.”  He‘ll join us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE NIGHT LISTENER”)

ROBIN WILLIAMS:  I read your book.  (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The new movie premiering today, “The Night Listener,” about media people who believe a young boy is in danger, and then begin to doubt the boy even exists.  Based on a true story that happened to my guest, Armistead Maupin, and happened to me.  We will tell you what really happened.

And your cell phone.  It could kill you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I never even think about it.  You know, I just—I just think it‘s clean.  I‘ve never cleaned it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  OK, so it can‘t kill you.  That was hype.  But there are more germs on it than on a toilet seat.  Your cell phone, it could give you yeast infection.

Or make you look like this guy, or give you deer ticks, or make you start head-butting the nearest Italian or the nearest anything.  First Friday, that means Oddball‘s plays of the month.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

At a time when the stakes in Iraq could not be higher, the challenge posed by the defense secretary could not have been more public, Donald Rumsfeld, before a national TV audience, all but daring Senator Hillary Clinton from New York to find documentation backing up her accusation that his view of the war has been unduly upbeat.

To quote him, “You‘d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I‘ve been excessively optimistic.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, a dickens of time translating into a matter of hours, before the workday was over  yesterday, Senator Clinton‘s office coming up with a dozen examples of the secretary having painted a rosy picture of the war in Iraq, submitting them for the record.

It was at that point she called on him to resign, events on the ground today in Iraq giving little cause for optimism, tens of thousands turnings out on the streets of Baghdad for a demonstration supporting Hezbollah, chanting, “Death to Israel, death to America.”  Your tax dollars in action.

Five busloads of Shi‘ite protesters ambushed on their way home, nearly 6,000 Iraqi civilians killed in the last two months of sectarian violence, the word “genocide” used today.  And that grim statistic a stark contrast to what Mr. Rumsfeld has been saying about the conflict all along.

A brief sampling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  It could last, you know, six days, six weeks, I doubt six months.

The residents of Baghdad may not have power 24 hours a day, but they no longer wake up each morning in fear wondering whether this will be the day that a death squad would come to cut out their tongues, chop off their ears, or take their children away.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D-IN), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  So my question, Mr.  Secretary, my final question, is just very simply, do you believe we‘re on the right course presently?  Or is dramatic action necessary to regain the momentum, so that we can ultimately prevail in what is a very noble and idealistic undertaking?

RUMSFELD:  I do believe we‘re on the right track.

Terrorists no longer can take advantage of sanctuaries like Fallujah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is Iraq going to be a long war?

RUMSFELD:  No, I don‘t believe it is.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV), APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE:  How can Congress be assured that the funds in this bill won‘t be used to put our troops right in the middle of a full-blown Iraqi civil war?

RUMSFELD:  At least thus far, the situation has been such that the Iraqi security forces could, for the most part, deal with the problems that exist.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  A pleasure now to call upon an old friend, E.J. Dionne, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, professor at Georgetown University, and, of course, columnist of “The Washington Post.”

E.J., good evening.

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Great to be with you.

I hope you don‘t have a lot of footage like that of me to show me.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we all could be hung up on that petard.  But the mere fact that the secretary felt he could say that he‘d never said something that anyone with low-speed dial-up Internet access could have disputed in a matter of hours, does that suggest how out of touch he might be?

DIONNE:  Well, you know, I was watching this the last couple of days and thinking back to those days a few years ago when people were saying that Rumsfeld was a rock star, and the same sassy, in-your-face, “Oh, my goodness,” he said when Hillary Clinton confronted him, that really worked when the administration was riding high, when people seemed to like this in-your-face style.

Now, the policy is falling apart, Iraq is in a mess.  And it‘s the kind of situation for which that old phrase, Your act is wearing thin, was invented.  It doesn‘t work anymore.  But it‘s exactly the same thing he used to do that made him popular.

OLBERMANN:  And few would dispute that where he has—whereas he might not be a rock star any more, he‘s still a brilliant and charismatic speaker, and that‘s an ability that‘s served him well over these years, all of his years.  But once that‘s gone, once that is, as you suggest, a tired act, is he left with anything?

DIONNE:  Well, he‘s left with a job, because no matter who calls for his resignation, President Bush seems to stick up for him.  Hillary Clinton did this week.  Bill Kristol, one of the architects of this war, one of its biggest supporters, called for Rumsfeld‘s resignation a long time ago.  John McCain at one point called for Rumsfeld‘s resignation.

And so it seems like he has some crazy glue connecting him to this job.  It‘s very hard to see that Bush will get rid of him.

I think the reason is that when you go back and look at overly optimistic statements, the administration has made them from the beginning.  I keep going back to an interview that Tim Russert did with Dick Cheney on March 16, 2003, before the war started.  And Tim asked him directly, Will we need several hundred thousand troops?  And Cheney said, Oh, absolutely not, I disagree.  Will the Kurds and Shi‘a and the Sunni get along?  And Cheney said, You know, this is the best chance of, in any country, of achieving a success.

So this goes back right from the beginning.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we could talk about Mr. Cheney and blood circulation, but let‘s skip that for another conversation.  The Hillary Clinton part of this equation, let‘s turn to that.  She certainly seems not only like a Democrat who intends to run for president, but also one who now believes that taking on the administration on Iraq is the way to win, at least it is now.  Your thoughts on her?

DIONNE:  Well, a slight cynical but wise journalist friend of mine said this morning that Mrs. Clinton was looking at Rumsfeld, but she was seeing Ned Lamont.  And I think when you look at Lamont‘s success against Joe Lieberman, there is enormous pressure in the Democratic Party on—from the Democratic Party all its leaders to take on Bush for what Democrats, whether they supported the war or not, see as a failed policy.

Now, in fairness to Mrs. Clinton, she‘s been saying some critical things all along.  But I think they really were so striking, when you have Lieberman looking at a very strong chance of defeat in that primary next week.  Democrats want their people in Washington to stand up to the president.

OLBERMANN:  And yet her husband, the former president, just came back from a campaign appearance for Lieberman.  What is the split there?

DIONNE:  Well, I don‘t think there‘s a split, because don‘t forget, Mrs. Clinton has still not backed away from her vote for the war.  As far as I can tell, she has refused to say that vote was a mistake.  I think what you‘re seeing now is a lot of Democrats—many of them have been doing it for a long time—pivoting, and saying, whether you were for or against the war, it‘s very clear that the administration fought this war in a way that could never have worked.

And I think that‘s going to be the line right through the election, because it works with both sides of the party, and with a lot of people in the country.

OLBERMANN:  Say it was a mistake, but say it was somebody else‘s mistake.  E.J. Dionne of “The Washington Post,” the Brookings Institution, and Georgetown University.  Always a pleasure, sir.  Thanks for your time.

DIONNE:  It was great to see you again.  Take care.

OLBERMANN:  A growing body of evidence tonight that the neoconservatives inside the Bush administration who engineered the U.S.  invasion of Iraq might now be setting their sights on Iran, the fight between Hezbollah and Israel serving as a conduit, Sidney Blumenthal reporting on Salon.com that, with the president‘s approval, the national Security Agency, the NSA, is secretly providing intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah as it fires Katyusha missiles and other vehicles into northern Israel.

At the same time, Salon reports, hard-liners in the administration believe Secretary of State Rice is not doing enough to push the neoconservative agenda.

Joining me now to discuss that revelation is James Bamford, an expert on the U.S. intelligence community and the author of groundbreaking books on the NSA called “Body of Secrets” and “The Puzzle Palace.”  He now has an article on the prospect of war in Iran in the current issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine.

Mr. Bamford, thank you for your time tonight.

JAMES BAMFORD, “ROLLING STONE”:  No, my pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is the passing of secret intelligence  to Israel, with the approval of the president, a clear sign that the administration might be looking to widen the conflict in the Middle East, instead of trying to contain it now?

BAMFORD:  Well, it‘s not just intelligence.  If you remember, last week there was a major report about how the U.S. was rushing sophisticated weapons to Israel for use in the war.  So it‘s clear that the U.S., particularly the Pentagon, is pushing hard on behalf of Israel in this war.

OLBERMANN:  Is it Condoleezza Rice herself that the neoconservatives view as a threat?  Are they Colin-Powelling her?  Or would anyone holding the post of secretary of state prove threatening to this line of thought, because diplomacy really is the antithesis of regime change?

BAMFORD:  Well, I think Condi Rice is pretty much a protegee of Colin Powell, who they just couldn‘t stand as secretary of state.  And they would prefer to have John Bolton, our ambassador to the U.N., as secretary of state, a fellow neocon.

So they‘re—at every chance they can, I think they‘re going to try to undermine her, and she‘s pushing to get a peace settlement as soon as possible, and I think they would like to delay it as long as possible.

OLBERMANN:  By the mere fact, though, that Iraq has not and is not going and doesn‘t seem to be in the future going to be going the way the neocons had planned, does that not detract from their credibility about regime change anywhere else, particularly in Iran, even if it‘s as simple as wanting a do-over?  What would make destabilizing that country and the process of that turn out any differently than the process in Iraq has?

BAMFORD:  Well, they‘re on an entirely different plane, I think, than most people.  And I don‘t think this deters them at all.  They‘ve had this goal for years, for a decade, at least.  In 1996, they came up with the clean-break plan, which was an outline for how Israel would basically get rid of Iraq and Saddam Hussein and move into Syria, Lebanon, and on to Iran.

I think they‘re trying to carry out this plan.  It was written by the person who‘s now the Middle East adviser to Dick Cheney, and the person who was in charge of the war in Iraq, largely, Doug Feith at the Pentagon, in addition to the person who is head of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle.

So this has been a plan that‘s been in the works for a long time.  And I think now it‘s their chance to see a possibility for this to come to fruition.

OLBERMANN:  Is there an irony in all this, that Hezbollah‘s greatest ally in the region right now might not be Iran, but given that rally we saw in Baghdad today, that it might turn out to be the Arab Shi‘ite majority that we have installed in Iraq?

BAMFORD:  Well, that‘s certainly one irony.  Another irony is the fact that it was Ahmed Chalabi, the darling of the neoconservatives, that was used to gin up all the phony information to help us get into this war so that they could put Chalabi in there as president of Iraq.  And now it turns out that the FBI is investigating Chalabi as possibly a spy for Iran.

So the ultimate irony would be if this was a plot all along by Iran, using Chalabi, to get the United States to get rid of their worst enemy, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and make Iraq very convenient for a new Iranian government, a Shi‘ite-dominated government.  And that‘s basically what‘s happened.

OLBERMANN:  Sooner or later, if you deal with faith-based facts, you‘re going to trip on something.  National security expert James Bamford, great thanks for joining us tonight.

BAMFORD:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  No rest in the Middle East, of course.  At least 28 farm workers killed in Lebanon today while Hezbollah rockets pound deeper and harder into Israel.

And also tonight, the story of Tony Godby (ph) Johnson makes it, in a form, to the big screen, to thousands of people who believed in his book and believed his book, including me, was that of a teenaged boy dying of AIDS.  In actual life, he was a middle-aged, perfectly healthy woman named Vicky.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A new dimension to the Mideast fighting is tonight‘s fourth story.  The dimension is dimensions, size,  Israeli air strikes expanding the combat zone deeper into Lebanon today.  More in a moment on just how deep.

And 200 Hezbollah rockets landing further into Israel than they ever have before.  They are using new rockets as well, packing 50,000 ball bearings, not the sort of munition one uses for the purpose of taking out infrastructure.

Hezbollah killed at least three people in Israel today, including some in Arab towns.

Filling us in now on the toll Lebanon paid, our Beirut bureau chief, Richard Engel, reporting from Tyre.

Richard?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF:  Keith, Israeli air strikes here in Tyre have intensified tonight at the end of one of the deadliest days in Lebanon so far.

(voice-over):  Lebanese troops and paramedics struggle to separate the dead from the debris after four Israeli bombs killed at least 28 farmers.  They‘d been loading peaches and plums into a refrigerated container near the border with Syria.  Empty fruit baskets lay beside a row of their bodies.

Israel said it targeted a Hezbollah weapons depot.

MIRI EISEN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON:  The buildings that we attacked, we did not know had any people in them.  If we had known that they had people in them, any civilians, and any uninvolved people, we would not have attacked.

ENGEL:  But there is a dispute about what happened in two southern villages today.  Lebanese security says Israel flattened two houses with 58 people inside.  Tonight, Israel denied it targeted the villages.

Human Rights Watch today, after an investigation, lowered the estimated number of civilians killed in by an Israeli air strike in Qana on Sunday from more than 50 to 28, with 13 still missing.

But with more than 700 dead, most of them civilians, there is a lot of anger here.

“Does the world want to see more massacres?” asked this man.  “The world is silent.  It‘s unbelievable.”

Lebanese were also shocked Israel overnight destroyed four bridges near Beirut.

KHALED MANSOUR, U.N. SPOKESPERSON:  This was the only road, safe road for us, and the only equipped road, so to speak, so trucks can move in from Syria and come down to Beirut and then to the people who are displaced, or to the people who are still in the south.

ENGEL (on camera):  Israel claims that all the attacks on convoys, roads, and bridges have eliminated 95 percent of Hezbollah‘s ability to resupply.  But all the damage has made it almost impossible for aid convoys to reach the south, where they‘re needed most.

(voice-over):  The U.N. and Medicins sans Frontieres both turned convoys around, saying they had no access, and it was too dangerous.

(on camera):  Aid workers say they do have supplies, They do have supplies, but with no way to distribute them, they just sit in warehouses, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Richard Engel in Tyre in Lebanon.  Great thanks.

Also tonight, the germ counter.  Apparently you are better off putting a toilet seat or the bottom of your shoe to your ear, Maxwell Smart, anything except your cell phone.

And move over, Virgin Mary on a piece of toast.  We got Jesus on a crustacean.  Unto us this day a prawn is born.

Ahead, on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In a parallel universe somewhere, the three major television networks are NBC, CBS, and Dumont, ABC, because, after struggling through the early ‘50s, they went under, 48 years ago today on August 4, 1958.  In this universe, of course, ABC survived its woes, and it was Dumont that went bankrupt on that day, even though it owned powerful station across the country, and its talent included Jackie Gleason, and it had the first contract to televise NFL games.

Just a little reminder to Fox, as we say, let‘s play Oddball.

And away we go.  We begin in Reno, Nevada.  The heavy gambler is here, security camera video from the Mont Bleu (ph) Casino showing a black bear roaming the halls.  I think that‘s a pit boss chasing him around.  Careful, Yogi, that guy has broken kneecaps for far less than trespassing.

Officials say the 150-pound bear entered through a loading dock and only toured the casino for a couple of minutes.  But he still managed to lose almost $800 playing acey-deucey.

To California.  Once again, the face of Jesus has appeared, this time on the side of a shrimp.  Clearly, it‘s a prophecy of the coming $2.99 all-you-can-eat buffet at Chuckie‘s Seafood Shack.  The photos were sent in to the local television station by a man who was preparing dinner when he noticed that this little fellow looked just like Jesus, tail and all.  He believes it‘s a sign, a sign to sell this on eBay.

Finally, more video we found on the Internets, this of Australian shopping channel host Tim Stackpool demonstrating a new product that makes cookies.  Except they come out looking like something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM STACKPOOL, AUSTRALIAN SHOPPING CHANNEL HOST:  Now, what this is doing is, it‘s pushing down the cookie mix.  When you‘re (INAUDIBLE) and doing all that sort of stuff, decorating cakes, this is where this will (INAUDIBLE)--

(INAUDIBLE).  I‘m making cookies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE).  (INAUDIBLE), he‘s crying.

STACKPOOL:  I got to make them (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s actually cookie dough for those who need diet motivation.

Extra-special Oddball tonight, from soccer players head-butting each other to a horse‘s butt butting a horse‘s head.  Oddball‘s Plays of the Month.

And from odd to just plain wrong, the woman who fooled thousands of people, including me, by pretending to be a dying boy author.  It has now hit the big screen.

Those stories ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Ned Flanders, next-door neighbor on the animated sitcom “The Simpletons.”  “Simpsons,” Diddly.  He‘ll be honored at this year‘s Green Belt Christian Arts Festival in Cheatenham, England, with Ned Flanders Night.  Why?  Because a Christian magazine says Flanders is more associated with the faith there than even Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa.  It is the 10th year of Flanders celebrations in England.

Number two, Sandy Fontaine of Bedford, New Hampshire, reworking an old axiom this week into, When life hands you global warming temperatures, make cookies.  Fontaine has taken advantage of the heat wave to bake chocolate chip cookies on her dashboard of her parked car.  And (INAUDIBLE) was not using that thing the Australian guy makes, either.

She says if it‘s 95 out, it will reach 200 in the vehicle.  So just smoosh the dough on the dashboard and return a short time later to a sweet-smelling interior and fresh-baked cookies on the dash.  (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).

Number one, 74-year-old Pat Niple of Columbus, Ohio.  I‘m guessing on the pronunciation there, but I probably got it.  She‘s just been told by the Department of Motor Vehicles that she can no longer keep her personalized license plate because it‘s now considered obscene.  They say her plate, which reads NWTF, the initials of her Northwood Tree Farm, she‘s had it for 10 years, but it means something entirely different, especially on the Internet, these days.

What are they complaining about?  Now, what the--  Oh, I get it.  So on the license plate, though, she can still use Niple?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Had a train not been late, I never would have had the time to read the newspaper article about “the” book, but there it was, a piece about an astounding memoir of a teenage boy dying of AIDS, the victim of horrific child abuse.  His spirit and optimism still intact after a brief lifetime living in a world of nothing but shattered glass.  I read the book, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” but Tony Godby Johnson in one sitting and within weeks I was Tony‘s phone pal, baseball buddy, advocate, consoler, counselor, and adopted brother.  It was heart-breaking.  Until I noticed one day that when Tony‘s mother or doctor came on the phone with him, none of their voices ever overlapped.  One spoke then the other, then the first again.  Think about it.  That‘s not the way real-life conversations work. 

And then there was the Saturday night when as the background of the frail voice of the boy supposedly down to his last t-cell, I heard laughter and car noises echoing up from the street.  “Oh, I have the window open,” said a person so sick he had been permitted no visitors in a year.  That‘s when I hired the private detective. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, I was not the only one whose heart lead him into the Tony Godby Johnson scam, Mr. Rogers, Oprah Winfrey, the author, Armistead Maupin all of us figured it out eventually but only Mr.  Maupin figured out what to do with the fact that there was no Tony Godby Johnson, just a woman named Vicki Fraginals playing the roles of Tony and Tony‘s mom and the live-in doctor.  Maupin made it into novel, “The Night Listener” and now it‘s a movie that opens today.  He‘ll join me in a minute, first a clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi it‘s Pete Logan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was impressed by your book. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So it‘s really you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why wouldn‘t be it be. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m sorry to cut this short.  He‘s a very sick boy.  He doesn‘t have very long. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It must be very hard for you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m worried about Pete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you think it‘s possible that they‘re being a little melodramatic here?  It seems so over the top. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why would someone do that? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know.  Money, maybe?  To sell a book? 

There‘s ways to prove this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, as promised.  Armistead Maupin.  Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ARMISTEAD MAUPIN, “THE NIGHT LISTENER”:  Thank Keith, nice to meet you, even this way. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Is there anyway to tell anybody who didn‘t read the “Rock and a Hard Place Book” or didn‘t talked to what you and I believed was Tony Johnson, just how compelling his story was? 

MAUPIN:  Well, I think I was especially vulnerable because this kid was supposedly dying of AIDS, and was going to be dead in six months, and my partner at the time was and is HIV positive and my best friend was on the verge of dying, so I was especially compelled by the notion of this teenager who was a straight identified—a straight kid, who was very gay friendly, I‘m a gay man and it was amazing to see that he had no homophobia and there was something really charming about him on the telephone.  He was a real spirit, as you know, someone you could talk to for hours and he was never depressing and always self-effacing and funny.  And the story, I think, had a way of growing because of our own imaginations.  If you recall, his book itself is not very graphic, but we would hear these stories from other people and I think your own imagination makes it seem—you know, builds in it that way. 

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned how it came to me that there was something wrong here.  When did you realize this was not what it seemed to be?

MAUPIN:  You know, my partner came in about six months into the conversation and talked to Vicki for the first time, he had been talking to Tony.  And he spent about five minutes with her on the phone and then turned to me and said, “Don‘t you think there‘s a strange similarity in their voices” and as a matter of fact I had noticed that because on one occasion I said, “Oh hi, Tony” and she‘d said, “No, no, no, it‘s Vicki.  Don‘t say that to Tony he hates being mistaken for his mom.”  Well, that worked on me because I remember what it was like to be 14 and I didn‘t much like that either.

Yeah, then as soon as he said it could see it clearly, but had no way of proving it.  And fortunately the storyteller in me took over and I was just fascinated by the sort of real-life mystery that I‘d found myself in the middle of. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, and me too.  And just to clear it up, the mother-son relationship was supposed to be adoptive, so there was no inherited sound-alike quality there.  But did you—when you figured this out, or began to figure it out, did you try to tell others about this.  I mean, there was an “Associated Press” reporter who swore she had met Tony and I remember calling some of her associates at the “AP” and tell her—them, listen, I actually hired a private detective to check this out, there‘s no little boy living there, it‘s a woman.  She has a history of insurance fraud and she‘s got two fat daughters and the “Associated Press” people said “No, no our reporter is never wrong.”  Did you reach out to other people who were involved in this? 

MAUPIN:  Yeah, well, I spoke to the editor at Crown Books, to David Groth (ph) and said please don‘t let this go any further, because I don‘t want to be doubting a child who‘s reporting child abuse, but do you know anybody who‘s actually met Anthony Godby Johnson, and he got up and closed the door and sat back down and said “You‘re going through the same thing I went through six months ago.  But I can assure you he exists and he‘s a little bit like god, you just have to believe in him.”  That reporter, by the way, for the “Associated Press,” wrote me after “The Night Listener” came out, she read a review of it and I think she assumed the whole thing had been put to bed and she sort of said, “You took the courageous way.  I didn‘t quit know what to do and I ended up leaving my job.  I quit journalism because of it.”  And I don‘t know what happened with her or exactly how she—how she was persuaded to believe this, but she was. 

OLBERMANN:  I think, in fact I think I do.  The story I heard was that more than likely one of the daughters of this woman, Vicki Fraginals, was dressed up, swaddled, basically, in clothing and sort of just presented as Tony, that you could see just from the doorway.  So she may have actually thought that she‘s met a little boy and it was just a large little girl who didn‘t speak.  Which explains.

MAUPIN:  Yeah, I think she had suspicions, as did we all.  And of course there was that photograph that we all got sent very early on so you had a visual to go with that audio on the phone. 

OLBERMANN:  In the cathartic process of turning this into a novel, why did become something as dark as the novel was and even darker as the movie appears to be?  There‘s a real kind of threaten quality to this.

MAUPIN:  Yeah, I think I just took it and ran with it.  I mean, I‘ve never said it‘s anything other than a novel.  It is fiction.  What Gabriel Noon does in the novel and in the film didn‘t happen in real life.  But the idea, the whole thing, I was completely creeped out by it.  I don‘t know about you, but once I figured out what was going on, my mind went everywhere.  I couldn‘t imagine, first of all, why somebody would do this, until I started thinking about it as a pathology and that made more sense because it was quit clear that it was a 24-hour operation.  She had to inhabit that child at all times given the number of people that were talking to him and had close relationships with him on a regular basis. 

OLBERMANN:  My thought by the way, was, hey, at least there‘s one less kid dying of AIDS. We can take that away from it.

MAUPIN:  Yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  I just (INAUDIBLE) at that point.  The one positive there. 

MAUPIN:  Yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, Tony never asked for money and Vicki, the mother, never asked for money, but they used to talk and this doctor character used to talk about black market drugs to fight his AIDS or his bronchial problems, or his t-cell count or any of the other side things and I volunteered to pay the cost of some of these, a couple thousand bucks whatever it was.  Did you get sucked into that too or did anybody else, do you know? 

MAUPIN:  I never did.  I waited for that to happen, but I never did.  But I know, I‘ve heard of other people who did and it was a lot more than a few thousand bucks who gave her money to take care of the kid, supposedly, in the facility somewhere.  But it didn‘t happen with me.  I think she had a brilliant way of adjusting to whoever she was talking to, knowing exactly how to push, you know, one thing or the other. 

She actually, by the way, she named the character in the book.  I told Tony, you know, Tony-Vicki that I was going to writing this book because I was hung up on writing it.  I‘d already accepted an advance from both my British and American publishers.  And I was afraid that once the book came out, then—and there really was a kid on the other end, that I would really be in a real bad situation, so I told him what I was doing and he said, well I‘m a big boy, I know what a fiction is.  There‘s a lie and the truth contained in that phrase, and so she named him.  She said, “I‘d like to name him Pete.” 

OLBERMANN:  Well, lastly, I‘ve always been reluctant to talk about this.  I just thought OK, I found out the truth, I don‘t need to disabuse others of what they believe, but I finally decided, when I have to be a fool I‘d rather be our kind of fool than Vicki‘s kind of fool. 

MAUPIN:  Absolutely, I have no regrets whatsoever.  I was acting out of human kindness and I don‘t think nobody has a reason to be ashamed for doing that. 

OLBERMANN:  Armistead Maupin the author of “The Night Listener,” now, as they say, a major motion picture.  A pleasure to talk to you, sir. 

MAUPIN:  Great to talk to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Great thanks for joining us tonight. 

MAUPIN:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  And also tonight, cell phones.  Not just annoying, not just ubiquitous, a new study says they can make you sick and not just from the ring.  We‘re talking literally, here.  And the defense of Mel, day nine.  Today‘s rationalization:  He can‘t be anti-Semitic because his publicist and bodyguard are Jewish.  Let that sink in.  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Cell phones that can kill you! Well, make you sick. 

Excuse can kill you! Well, make you ill.  Crazy videos that can kill you!

Well, actually not, it‘s just enough to shake a hairless squirrel at. 

COUNTDOWN plays of the month from “Oddball,” ahead.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As it is in politics, thus is it in television news ratings.  There is nothing more appealing, nor influential than an opportunity to scare people.  As our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight: 

Cell phones, ubiquitous bionic new organs attached to our hands and ears carrying microbes that can make us sick.  Well, as a story, that‘s a no-brainer.  We can‘t prove it, but we have to know someone got this story, and is someone going to make some money off it?  Cell phone wipes.  “Can you hear me now” disposable ear buds.  At least a breathless TV news primetime special.  In the meantime, brace your inner Felix Unger, or your Adrian Monk, with this sober and entirely journalistic repot from our correspondent, Rehema Ellis. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There are more than 200 million cell phones users in America.  And according to a study, they‘re all talking dirty.  Talking, using dirty cell phones, that is. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I never think about.  I just think it‘s clean. 

I‘ve never cleaned it. 

ELLIS:  That may change now an online cell phone company, headquartered in Britain, had a scientist take a closer look at what‘s on cell phones.  Surprisingly, there found there‘s more bacteria on your cell phone than a door handle, a computer keyboard, the bottom of your shoe, or even a toilet seat. 

And according to the study, keeping the phone in a warm, cozy spot, like a hand bag, pocket or a briefcase makes the germs grow even faster, increasing your chances of getting sick.  So, what to do?  Dial a phone, the retailer that commissioned the study says clean your cell phone, and recommends buying a new one more often. 

(on camera):  Well, all this news about cell phones may be unsettling, it‘s unlikely people will actually toss this thing out or go back to using a payphone.  After all, the dirt you know is probably safer than the dirt you don‘t know. 

(voice-over):  Besides that, doctors say the stuff on your cell phone isn‘t all that bad. 

DR.  EDWARD CHAPNICK, MAIMONIDES MEDICAL CENTER:  I don‘t know that we can get anymore sick from the cell phones then we can‘t get from any other surface that we have contact with over the course of the day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have no problem with my mobile phone being dirty.  I‘m sure it probably is. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m not going to lick it or put it in my mouth or do anything like that with it. 

ELLIS:  Good thing, because that might make you sick. 

Rehema Ellis, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!

If you didn‘t already feel dirty, let‘s cap that off with our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment stories, “Keeping Tabs.” 

And you knew it would come to this.  In the Mel Gibson case, the latest excuse:  Some of his best friends Jewish.  That‘s the latest today from the ongoing, odd Gibsonian defense by FOX News channel.  To be specific, it‘s the “Some of my best personal assistants are Jewish” defense.  The fiction and cartoon news channel is reporting that Gibson has both an Israeli bodyguard and a Jewish publicist.  That‘s the best they can do in Hollywood?  One bodyguard and one publicist?  Heck, I can top that without doing any research. 

MSNBC has learned that Gibson‘s most recent movie, centered on a positive portrayal of a certain famous Jewish man.  Of course, look what he did to the poor guy. 

Anyone prone to buzzing is positively abuzz with new speculation that Tom Cruise will Mary Katie Holmes this weekend.  The two, reportedly, have been spotted at the Scientology celebrity center in California where outdoor tents and other decorations have gone up.  But, this just in.  COUNTDOWN‘s crack—crick investigative unit has learned the center is actually scheduled to host it‘s 37th annual gala this weekend.  Come on suckers, everybody knows the wedding will be had on the planet Nastra.  And though COUNTDOWN‘s “crick” I-team has failed to turn up any sign of the Loch Ness Suri, Cruise‘s ex, Penelope Cruise, yesterday said, she has seen the baby, adding, “These aren‘t the droids we‘re looking for.  You can do about your business.  Close the door, Wilbur.  It‘s cold.” 

Back on this planet, barely, all creatures great and small, make it into the “Oddball” plays of month, July edition, that‘s ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze to the poor man, Michael Savage.  Neal Boortz trotting out that stock defense that the economy is doing well because a majority of those making minimum wage are teenagers.  But the Bureau of Labor Statistics, George W. Bush, president, says he‘s off on that -- 75 percent making minimum wage are adults.  Boortz still has an answer for them, “How incompetent, how ignorant, how worthless is an adult that can‘t earn more than the minimum wage?  You have to be really, really, really be a pretty pathetic human being to not be able to earn more than the human wage.”  So, Boortz, you‘re making minimum wage? 

The silver, the BBC and the producers of its new comedy series, “Time Trumpet,” it includes a sketch called “The Terrorism Award” it features Tony Blair being assassinated, a plane being crashed into the houses of Parliament and a Hamas bombing in Tel Aviv.  Politicians from both parties there are asking for a cancellation or at least a dialing down of the terrorism ha-has. 

But tonight‘s winner, Coultergeist! Having already used a homosexual slur to describe Al Gore and to suggest Bill Clinton is gay, why she has not been banned from this network I do not know.  Her new column is question and answer format.  Question:  Does Hillary Clinton have a good chance in 2008?  Coulter‘s answer:  Good chance of what?  Coming out of the closet?  I‘d say that‘s about even money.  So, it‘s slightly lower then, than the odds that you‘ve never seen another adult naked and you‘re a 45-year-old virgin with an Adam‘s apple?  Coultergeist, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The first Friday of the month is always a special time for us, the time for the highlights of “Oddball” from the previous month.  More so tonight, though, because this is the 114th anniversary the day police in Fall River, Massachusetts arrested Lizzie Borden on the charge of having murdered her father and her stepmother with a hatchet.  And murdering then while, we should add, the police in Fall River had been holding their annual picnic and clam bank.  Lizzie was acquitted in 45 minutes.  But history still wrote the rhyme, “Such-n-such gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41” and used her name.  With that reminder, the today‘s breaking news is tomorrows joke. 

Here are “Oddball‘s” plays of the month for July. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  We begin in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And we begin in Tallinn, Estonia. 

We begin in Pamplona, Spain where you can always tell it‘s almost time for the running of the bulls when the naked PETA protesters show up.  The event is designed to call attention to the horrible cruelty suffered by the animals in this town each year, but actually it only serves to get the party started.

To Frisco, Texas, where a local Planning and Zoning official had herself a little run-in with the local police all captured on dash-cam video.  It began when she was pull over for suspected drunk driving.  Suspicion was sort of confirm Ned when she mistook the gas peddle for the break and the park for the reverse. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get out of the car! (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I love my car. 

OLBERMANN:  In case you missed that last bit, that was the offer saying how much he loved his car.  Hey, take a look at her Benz, pal.  That‘s going to cost a fortune.  Your car, geez!

We begin in Cleveland where residents of one suburban neighborhood are wondering what is this freakin‘ thing roamin‘ around our yards.  Most people think the animal looks like squirrel with a bad case of the mange, a disease caused by mites.  But wildlife officials say, no, no, it‘s just a freaky little baby hippopotamus.  Actually, it‘s possible I may have read that backwards.  Well, what‘s the dif?

To the Internets and that vast treasure trove of whacky video has provided us with yet another gem.  Do you ever watch any of those home shopping channels?  I mean, really watch them?  Oh, you should. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, while we‘re doing that, let me show you something really impressive.  No picture—remember the picture of the horse I showed you earlier?  Well, here it is blown up.  This is a big horse.  Order now, you get the camera, you get the printer, 4x optical zoom.  Snyder lens, photo printer, SV card, look at that horse.  The bushy tail, the big teeth, the hooves.  OK, my producer‘s here just told me this isn‘t a horse, it‘s a butterfly.  Actually, it may, in fact be a moth. 

OLBERMANN:  In fact, it‘s Rorschach test, pal, and you just failed. 

It‘s a COUNTDOWN horse chase of the week and you are looking live at dash-cam video from the Boon County, Indiana, police department.  Clearly this part of the video has been played so many times back on the station house VCR that the tape is almost warn out.  Clean those heads!

ANNOUNCER:  And they‘re off for the 2006 Horseman‘s Park season.  Scoot-Scoot moving up along side of Dazzling Gerard (ph) and here they come into the stretch.  And the starting gate has not moved.  The starting gate was not moved.  Well, hold on (INAUDIBLE) tickets. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a guy dressed as a deer, scaring the crap out of his sleeping friend.  Yes, just another in a series of stuff we found on the Internets, part of a growing trend wherein morons scare the bejesus our of their moronic friends, family, and coworkers, videotape it and then upload it on the interweb for us all to enjoy.  Because, really, the only thing better than giving your good friend a heart attack with the old Linda Blair in the maze trick, is publicly humiliating them afterwards. 

However, do to inherent danger, possible heart condition, common decency, stuff like that, “Oddball” only kind of encourages this kind of behavior.  Oh, what great pals these people are. 

We go back to the Internets to wrap up the week of Zinedine Zidane, clearly the best thing ever to happen to the game of soccer, also been nothing short of inspirational to the armies of wise archers and troublemakers across the World Wide Web. 

Finally we head to that treasure trove of odd video known as the Internets where we all try to keep track of all the latest viral video trend.  This one‘s been around for awhile.  Jackasses doing donuts in their cars, set to music, loaded into the interweb for other jackasses to view and vote on.  But you‘ve all been one-upped by some kid in the Middle East with the strongest thighs we‘ve ever seen. 

The guy must spend hours on the Stairmaster. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look at that horse, the bushy tail, the big teeth, the hooves. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s what a little acid will do for you.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,191st day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose.  Goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “Scarborough Country.”    

Joe, good evening.

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

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