updated 8/21/2006 11:02:00 AM ET 2006-08-21T15:02:00

Guests:  Dana Milbank, Jack Levin, David Waldon, Paul F. Tompkins

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

A snake on a plane.  John Mark Karr en route to the U.S. to face justice in the JonBenet Ramsey case.  If Karr’s bizarre admission gave you the heebie-jeebies yesterday, prepare for another reptilian attribute.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA EADS, FORMER STUDENT OF JOHN KARR:  He was just really strange.  There was this one little girl who would always sing to.  And he would just rub on them and hug them and stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  John Mark Karr’s creepy-crawly history revealed.

And the most important question remains, did the guy even do it?  Let the backpedaling begin.

But who put the brakes on President Bush’s domestic spy program?  A federal judge, who based her decision on some old document called the Constitution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  Take that, security moms and NASCAR dads, who, according to new data, are walking out of the GOP tent.  Dana Milbank joins us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SNAKES ON A PLANE”)

SAMUEL L. JACKSON:  I have had it with these mother-(expletive deleted) snakes on this mother-(expletive deleted) plane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  We’ll talk to the mother-(expletive deleted) author of a new mother-(expletive deleted) book about snakes on a plane.  Yes, there’s a book already, and snakes everywhere are outraged.  When will the ophidiophobic exploitation end?  We’ll talk to the man who wrote the book based on a movie that hasn’t even opened yet.

And Paris Hilton set a Guinness world record for what?  The answer lies deep inside the mind of Miss Hilton.  We’ll take you there, because we’ve been everywhere else.  Paul Tompkins guides on the very brief journey to the core of Paris Hilton’s brain.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

And good evening.  I’m Brian Unger in Los Angeles.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.

“I killed JonBenet Ramsey, but it was an accident.”  That’s the claim that set the world on fire, except in those parts of the world that really are on fire.  We’ll be getting to some of that news, if it doesn’t involve this 10-year-old murder case, in a bit.

But in our number five story today, John Mark Karr’s statements and his past continue to rack up questions and contradictions, and all of them highlight the inherent dangers of an entire nation playing amateur detective about a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a Thai confession.

Danger number one, doing to Karr what was done to the Ramseys without the benefit of a trial, presuming him guilty.  Danger number two, giving too much weight to statements about what Karr said when they come from a Thai police officer, who was actually talking about a documentary he once saw about the Ramsey case.  Never a good sign.

That said, there are intriguing reports that Karr may have been unwittingly e-mailing the cops when he thought he was corresponding with Patsy Ramsey.  We’ll get to that in a bit.

We start with a quick update on the day’s developments from Mike Taibbi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Bangkok, Thailand, a retraction by police officials of their claim that Karr said he drugged his victim before sexually assaulting her, and then killing her.  More confusion over the so-called confession that puts more pressure on prosecutors to assemble a believable case.

BOB GRANT, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  It all hinges on what happens with the DNA sample.  Now, we’re not going to know that for a number of days, maybe a month.

TAIBBI:  No DNA match would be a huge problem.  Even bigger would be corroboration of Karr’s ex-wife’s claim, and she’s said to be looking for photographs to prove it, that Karr wasn’t even in Colorado when JonBenet was murdered.

MICHAEL RAINES, ATTORNEY FOR KARR’S EX-WIFE:  She sincerely believes that there was no Christmas any time between approximately 1989, when they were married, and the year 2000, when her husband was not with her and her family at Christmastime.

TAIBBI:  Lara was Karr’s second wife, and she was 16 when she married him.  She would divorce him when she learned he was being investigated for incidents related to child pornography.  His first wife, only 13.  And those facts help paint Karr as a likely suspect, along with his claimed work in a half-dozen countries as a tutor for girls JonBenet’s age, and the bad reputation he’d built up, as in Honduras, where officials told NBC’s Telemundo that he was strict, with a bad temper, and no friends.

And there were the e-mails to college professor Michael Tracey, some published by “The Rocky Mountain News,” that led to his arrest.  In one, he talks about “JonBenet, my love, my life.”  In another he writes, “Sometimes little girls are closer to me than with their parents or any other person in their lives.  An arguably very sick person, but a killer?

LARRY POSNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER:  This case comes together beautifully if he’s the murderer, or it falls apart in a hundred ways within a week.

TAIBBI (on camera):  The DA, of course, is being very, very cautious, but one early test of Karr’s credibility could be a handwriting comparison between the rambling three-page ransom note left at the murder scene 10 years ago and a note that Karl wrote to a classmate in a high school yearbook, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Mike Taibbi in Boulder.  Thank you very much.

Now, law and order junkies may presume that John Mark Karr wants to be caught at something, for either the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, or for lying about murdering JonBenet Ramsey, or for merely wearing very high-waisted pants.

What would make any man confess to a murder he didn’t commit?  We’re going to try to answer that question in a moment.

But first, correspondent Michelle Kosinski has put together a look at the man, guilty, famous, or both, who supposedly has confessed to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Long before he applied to teach in Thailand, before he had three sons of his own, children seemed to play a large role in John Karr’s life.  Today’s “Rocky Mountain News” reports that Karr married a 12-year-old when he was about 18, living in Alabama, where he was raised by his grandparents.

The Associated Press reports that his teen bride had the marriage annulled a year later.  She claims she feared for his life when she married him.  And that at age 23, Karr married a 16-year-old, that they had twin daughters named Angel and Innocence who died the day they were born.

That marriage ended with a restraining order that kept Karr away from his ex-wife and their sons.

Karr’s teaching career didn’t go far either.  In 1996, the year JonBenet Ramsey was murdered, Karr was fired after 15 days as a substitute teacher at an elementary school in his hometown of Hamilton, Alabama.  A parent complained about inappropriate conversations Karr allegedly had with his students.

BRAVELL JACKSON, MARION, ALABAMA, SUPERINTENDENT:  It was an anonymous call that I got, but then I got some other information at a later date, that, after investigating, I decided what—to do what I needed to do.

KOSINSKI:  Monica Eads was a second-grader then but says she remembers John Karr well.

EADS:  He was just really strange.  He would always call the little girls up to his desk.  And he—there was this one little girl who would always sing to.  And he would just rub on them and hug them and stuff.  It was really strange.

KOSINSKI:  Karr went west to Marion County, California, again substitute teaching, and again fired.

BOB RAINS:  We had the guy here a couple days.  His teaching wasn’t up to our standard.

KOSINSKI:  Next, Petaluma, California, fired a year later, the same year Karr is charged with possessing child pornography.  He fled after a probation violation.

Karr’s ex-wife said he had developed a fixation on the JonBenet Ramsey case, researching it online.  His father said Karr wrote a lengthy college paper about it, and e-mailed extensively with that University of Colorado professor, e-mails so disturbing the professor went to police, who tracked Karr down a day after prosecutors say he started a job there teaching second-graders.

Karr says this teacher’s story ends as her killer.  But investigators caution that too may not be exactly what it seems.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Michelle Kosinski reporting for us.  Thank you very much.

The case of John Mark Karr is already the trial of the century of the millennium, and it hasn’t even started yet.  The only way this story can get bigger in the popular media is if it involves snakes.

And now to those e-mails Karr unwittingly exchanged with police, the Associated Press today quoting Ramsey lawyer Lin Wood as saying police intercepted Karr’s e-mails to Patsy, and in late May, asked if she would meet with Karr.  Whether that request was triggered by Karr’s e-mails, we do not know, but we can speculate, just like boulder DA Mary Lacy told us not to do.

Here to play with us tonight is Colonel Mustard in the den—excuse me, criminologist Jack Levin in Dedham, Massachusetts.

Jack, thank you for joining us.

What does this exchange between police and Karr tell you?

JACK LEVIN, CRIMINOLOGIST:  Well, first of all, I think it’s important that the police knew about him months before now.  It’s not as though they came upon him a few days ago, when he was in Thailand.  They knew about him long before that.

And it seems to me that, you know, hopefully, we’re talking about not just a confession, but some kind of physical evidence at the crime scene that implicates him, or the fact that he knows certain things about the crime that only the killer would know.

It—you know, I’m going to tell you something.  The DA’s offices had bungled this case for the last 10 years.  I hope they don’t bungle it again by extraditing a guy 12,000 miles based on what he—we might call a confession.

UNGER:  There are a couple of theories out there.  And I’m sure you’ve heard them, guilt or false confession.  And I want to play one of Karr’s statements and get your reaction to exactly what he is saying.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARR:  I was with JonBenet when she died.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What happened to her?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What happened in the last (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Were you playing with her?  What happened?

KARR:  Her death was an accident.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  So Jack, in your—you’re, you’re, you’re a criminologist. 

Was this a, was this a confession?

LEVIN:  No, I don’t see it as a confession at all.  You know, if you, if you look at the e-mail messages that Karr sent back and forth in his conversations over years with Professor Tracy in Colorado, you see that Karr lived a—had a rich fantasy life.  And he actually believed, apparently, that he was still with JonBenet Ramsey.

So just because he says that he was with her when she died doesn’t mean anything to me.  I don’t know whether you could call that a confession.  I think it’s just another part of his delusional thinking.

UNGER:  The “New Times” in Florida today is reporting that Professor Michael Tracy, who also corresponded with Karr, has pointed police down dead ends in the past.  What’s your take on Tracy’s role?

LEVIN:  Well, that’s a really interesting question.  I’m sure that Tracy is not a killer, but I have to say that he has—some people might say that he’s obsessed with JonBenet Ramsey.  I mean, he’s got three documentaries.  He’s writing a book about the case.  He communicated back and forth with Karr for a long period of time about JonBenet Ramsey.

I understand, I’m a professor too, I understand.  You try to get the real world into the classroom.  And this journalism professor’s doing that.  But I’m afraid that some people might see him as a suspect someplace down the road.

UNGER:  Let me quickly ask you, the Associated Press today is quoting an Alabama official who says that Karr’s first children, twin daughters, died the day they were born because they were delivered at home, apparently by Karr himself.  Can you help all of us, America, not freak out?  What is that?

LEVIN:  That’s astounding, that’s what that is.  That certainly, the first thing I think of is that he may have killed them, and certainly that would mean that if he killed JonBenet Ramsey, it’s not his first victim.  He seems to have had an obsession with children.  He’s clearly a pedophile.

I think he saw himself as a child.  He identified with Michael Jackson’s image, maybe not the reality, but the reputation, and with Peter Pan.  He married very young girls.  He really saw himself as childlike, I think.

UNGER:  Well, Jack Levin of Northeastern University, thanks for your expertise.  Thanks for being with us tonight.

LEVIN:  Thank you.

UNGER:  President Bush lashes out after a judge tells him he can’t have his wiretapping program.

And will security moms walk out on the GOP at the polls?  New evidence more Americans aren’t feeling safer.

And experts continue to look for any evidence of talent of any kind from Paris Hilton as her new album is about to debut.  She makes the “Guinness Book of World Records.”  America definitely not safer.

You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  It’s as if both sides of the ongoing national security debate aren’t even arguing the same topic.  President Bush, debate team captain of those who believe anyone who does not support the domestic spying program simply does not understand the nature of the world we live in.  Now go to your room.

Federal Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, meanwhile, representing those to believe the Bush administration simply does not understand the nature of the U.S. Constitution.  No dinner for you.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, terror politics 101, apparently cross listed in the course catalog under both political science and prelaw.  Day two of the fallout over Judge Taylor’s ruling, bringing the first words on the top from the president.  Let’s just say he’s angry, strongly angry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would say that those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.

You might remember, last week, working with the great (INAUDIBLE), the people in Great Britain, we disrupted a plot, people trying to come and kill—kill people.  The—this country of ours is at war, and we must give those who are—whose responsibility it is to protect the United States the tools necessary to protect this country in a time of war.

The judge’s decision was a—I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree.  That’s why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately.  And I believe our appeals will be upheld.

We—I made my position clear about this war on terror.  I, and by the way, the enemy made their position clear yet again when they—when—when—when we were able to stop them.

And I—the American people expect us to protect them.  And therefore, I put this program in place.  We believe, strongly believe it’s constitutional.  And if al Qaeda is calling in to the United States, we want to know why they’re calling.

And so I made my position clear.  It’ll be interesting to see what other policymakers—how other policymakers react.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  We should say strongly, there’s a lot more at stake here for the president than just his ability to wiretap without warrants at will.  The fear card that used to be the trump card with the so-called security moms and NASCAR dads is now showing signs of morphing into a joker, a Pew poll for “The Washington Post” finding that married women with children—those would be your security moms—are more inclined to vote Democratic than at any time since the 9/11 attacks, a 12-point margin, 50 percent to 38 percent.

Bad news when you consider that 56 percent of married women with children voted for Mr. Bush in 2004.

There are also signs that the Talladega Nights of George W. Bush could be over, the vote of NASCAR dads now said to be up for grabs, in large part because of high gas prices and American soldiers dying in Iraq.

Time now for the pit lane political analysis of our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.

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

Good evening, Brian.

UNGER:  It’s been a full week now of tough talk on terror from the president and the rest of the administration.  If this were a poker game, and that would be great if it were, but if it were, is there a risk that the terror card has been overplayed here?

MILBANK:  It’s more than a risk, it’s becoming sort of a pretty much well-accepted fact.  Now, we don’t want to get carried away.  This is working for some people.  That Pew poll that you mentioned found that 2 percent of Americans think that terrorism is the main thing they want to be hearing about from voters in the midterm election.

So the President Bush is definitely—has a good chance of grabbing almost of that 2 percent.  The problem is, that leaves about 98 percent for the Democrats to take a shot at.

UNGER:  Dana, that sound bite we just played, it sounded as if President Bush was—he argued that Judge Taylor and those who agree with her are saying that the administration’s domestic spying isn’t an effective program, when, in fact, what she ruled was that it isn’t a constitutional one.  Can’t the domestic spying program be both effective and illegal?

MILBANK:  Sure, and it can also be effective and legal.  That’s why this whole debate is something of a false issue.  Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has proposed making this part of the law.

We haven’t heard anybody, even Ned Lamont, you know, antiwar candidate, is out there today saying, Well, I have no problem with this, I just want it to be made part of the FISA, the existing laws there.  So we are sort of having this false debate here as to whether the program is effective or not.

We’re not hearing a whole lot of people actually dispute that it’s effective, it’s just a question of, does the president have the power to do this all by himself?

UNGER:  And now on to some of this research, reading into it, it seems as if the so-called security moms don’t actually feel any safer.  Could what’s really troubling here be for Republicans that this crucial block of swing voters no longer believes in the Bush administration and their ability to make it safer?

MILBANK:  Well, it could be the case.  The poll shows that they are (INAUDIBLE) -- they’re distrusting both parties.  On the Democratic side, they believe that the Democrats are more likely to be weaker on terrorism, but they believe the Republicans are more likely to lead us into more wars.  In fact, they believe that by an even larger margin.

So basically, you have a wide segment of the populace feeling that neither side quite gets it right.

But if you even take terrorism as an issue off the table, then you’re talking about Iraq, gas prices, other issues that by definition at this moment are favoring Democrats.

UNGER:  Dana, is it—it’s—is it a little hard to believe that NASCAR dads, still overwhelmingly Southern,  still overwhelmingly white, and, last we checked, entirely male, is it hard to believe that they’re going to abandon President Bush and the Republican Party?  I mean, I’m—is my skepticism well founded?

MILBANK:  Yes, I, no, I find it hard to believe as well.  And in fact, we shouldn’t get too carried away, because if you talk to the people who really handicap this, they say if the election were held today, Republicans would still keep control of both the Senate and the House, albeit by a lower margin.

What’s happening here, you know, soccer moms, security moms, NASCAR dads, it doesn’t matter who they are.  They could be Uzi uncles or Christian cousins.  When you—the president is at 37 percent, you are losing support from everybody.  So that’s really what’s happening here.

UNGER:  Dana, and from your vantage point, do you see the Democrats gearing up here?  And what are the vibes that you’re picking up there in Washington (INAUDIBLE)?

MILBANK:  The very early time for the election to—season to be in full speed ahead.  The truth is, when you talk to Democrats, they’re so used to messing this up in the end.  They’re quite confident they’re going to do it again.  The Democrats are sort of like the Chicago Cubs.

UNGER:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “The Washington Post,” so good to talk to you.  Thanks a lot.

MILBANK:  Thanks a lot, Brian.

UNGER:  Coming up, the latest installment of weird things happening overseas.  Bullfighting with a twist.

And air travel with a twist.  Snakes on the brain, rather, on a plane.  After all the hype, will America be swept by the movie’s F-ing catch phrase?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Hello, I’m Brian Unger in Los Angeles, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.

Once again, the COUNTDOWN elevator stops at the secret floor between the third and fourth stories for a brief trip into the wide world of weird news and cool video.

Yes, let’s play Oddball.

We begin once with a—again—once again with our award-winning segment, strange things people do in other countries.  And that’s not to say plenty of weird stuff doesn’t go on in this country.  I mean, here’s a picture of a cat in Indiana whose owner has blinged him up with some fancy gold teeth.  The other cats think, well, he’s dope.  Paging PETA.

This is easier to understand, it’s Casobendo (ph), Argentina.  It’s the big annual Bandanna Bullfighting Festival, a chance for Argentinians to torment animals in a big stadium to honor the goddess of something or other.

The bull is released with a bandanna tied to its horns as fleet-footed young lads try to remove it without being trampled, gored.  Not sure how many people were injured this year.  We can only say, not enough.

And to Jakarta, where thousands have gathered to celebrate Indonesian independence day by trying to climb greased tree trunks, to reach the fabulous prizes at the top.  Not sure if that is a metaphor for Indonesian independence or what, but these guys sure do want that free bike.  It’s a team event, groups of three men, shirtless and covered in lubricant, struggling together to climb a greased pole in full view of 1,000 people.

Don’t worry, it’s all good, clean fun, Senator Santorum.  Nothing to get worked up about.

This however, is definitely something to get worked up about.  What happens if we find actual snakes on an actual airplane?  We’ll find out from the Department of Homeland Security.  Yes, your tax dollars at work. 

Then, they call him Dr. Z, and apparently he isn’t some cute new old geezer gimmick unlike the creepy dancing Six Flags guy.  No, this one actually runs a company.  That story ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  The “Titanic,” the “Hindenburg,” “Airport ‘77.”  Now what these disasters lacked we can now say safely, were snakes.  On a boat, snakes on a blimp, snakes on actor, George Kennedy.  It’s not enough to hit an iceberg, but hit an iceberg with snakes on the poop deck, now that’s a movie.  James Cameron consider that a free story idea from the folks at COUNTDOWN for “Titanic Two.” 

Our third story to night, the ultimate disaster thriller finally bringing herpetologists and aviators under one roof, “Snakes on a Plane.”  So poplar, even before its release in theaters today, that it spawned a new language term.  “Snakes on a Plane” can now be used in conversation as a substitute for “What you going to do?  That’s life.”  For example, I slept with a hooker and got a sexually transmitted disease.  Well, man, that is just “Snakes on a Plane.”

And the line in the film that was specially added just because fans really wanted to hear Samuel L. Jackson say it.  Well now, everybody is saying it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR:  Enough is enough.   I have had it with these mother (BLEEP) snakes on this mother (BLEEP) plane!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get these mother (BLEEP) snakes on this mother (BLEEP) plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I’m sick of these mother (BLEEP) snakes on this mother (BLEEP) plane!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ain’t no mother (BLEEP) snakes on this mother (BLEEP) plane.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I’ve had it with these mother (BLEEP) snakes on the mother (BLEEP) plane!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER: Oh, classy Americans.  And aside from that ubiquitous catchphrase, the movie produced songs, blogs, t-shirts, parodies, there’s even a book about it.  The author, David Waldon, joins me now. 

Thank’s for your time tonight.

DAVID WALDON, AUTHOR, “SNAKES ON A PLANE”:  Thanks for having me, Brian.  I appreciate it.

UNGER: Sure thing.  Hey, we called the Transportation Safety Authority, the administration, to ask about procedures for dealing with the actuality of snakes on a plane, and they actually said, “We’ve been waiting al day for a call like yours.”  This can’t be good for airline security.  But the bottom line is it’s up to the airline.  Now, in your research have you found out whether it’s even possible to have a whole plane full escaped poisonous snakes onboard?

WALDON:  Well, as we know these days, Brian, anything’s possible on a commercial aircraft, but basically not really.  Actually, one of the bloggers I spoke to the book, he did a whole blog entry where he called several different airlines, asking them about their snake on a plane policy.  As you can probably imagine, most of them said no, although one did direct him to their animal desk.  They actually had an animal desk, that they have a number for.  It’s also interesting to note.

UNGER: Who’s got an animal desk?

WALDON:  An animal desk.  Yeah, believe it or not.  and the other thing to note is that there actually are specific policies for putting snakes on planes in the cargo hold which is probably one reasons why the 450 snakes that actually appear in the movie, were taken to Vancouver by a van instead of plane.

UNGER: Let’s go to the movie.  I want—“Snakes on a Plane” is actually out in theaters.  Have you seen it?

WALDON:  No, I am going see it tomorrow.  Because I have to find out—I have to know what all the hub-bub’s about myself.

UNGER: Now have you—what can you tell us about full film.  Is it going live up to all this hype?

WALDON:  What’s interesting is, you know, it’s already been out, it was—it actually came out last night in a lot of locations and actual final real buzz is actually quite good, in fact it’s getting some pretty decent reviews.  The “New York Times” liked it, “USA Today” like it, and the “AP” gave it three-and-a-half stars.  So, it looks like it might actually be a decent movie. 

I think what’s happening is that the criticism are reviewing the movie in the proper spirit.  They’re looking it not as an Oscar contender, or even as a movie that’s supposed to be good, but as a movie that’s suppose to entertain.  And if entertains by being bad or cheesy, so be it, but they’re having a good time. 

I think they’re also seeing it not in a sterile screening room like they usually do, but also in the theaters with all of the fans who are obviously getting into the spirit of the thing.  That might be plus (ph)for the reviews as well.

UNGER: David, you wrote a book about this.  When did you write your book, the movie’s not even out yet, and the book, is it on newsstand—I mean, can you go to the bookstore and get this?  You’ve already got it out there.

WALDON:  It’s on the bookstore—it’s in the bookstores, it’s on Amazon.com.  I wrote it during the entire month of June, more or less, and it was basically interviewing a lot of the major bloggers and people who had contributed stuff on line and just asking them about why—what they did and why they did it.

UNGER: Uh-huh.  Hey, just a quick question, are the people who like “Snakes on a Plane,” are they Republican or Democrat?  What do you find?

WALDON:  You know, I kind stay away from politics on this case.

UNGER: So they’re apolitical snake lovers is what you’re telling me?

WALDON:  I think they—I think—yeah, that’s one thing we can agree on as a country.  Red state, blue state, we all love snakes and we all probably don’t want to get snakes—on a plane with snakes.

UNGER: I’ll leave that one alone.  The huge Internet fan response to just the title of the film, there, it’s was “Snakes on a Blog,” numerous rap parodies, and videos like, “Stakes on a Train,” “Raccoons on a Space Shuttle,” “Foxes on a Kayak.”  Will all of these incredibly creative spoofs of “Snakes on a Plane” stop now that the actual movie is out?

WALDON:  That’s going to be interesting to see, Brian, because, as you said, this is kind of it.  The movie is out.  People can see it.  What is next?  What next is probably going to be a sequel, for one thing.  I mean, the movie is probably going to have a great opening weekend, a great and DVD business.  The sequel is probably inevitable.  And that gives people a whole other area to go.  What will be the sequel?  Will it be simply, “Snakes on a Plane Two” or will it be “Snakes on a Train,” or “Camels on a Boat?”  The possibilities are endless.

UNGER: You know, what the real question is, David, is will they show “Snakes on a Plane” on a plane?

WALDON:  I think that might be the only place in the world where you will not see this movie, is on plane.

UNGER: Can we talk about the phrase really quickly, this mother f-ing snakes on the mother f-ing plane?  Is that going be like Chappelle’s “I’m Rick James, Bitch?”  Is it going to get old real fast? 

WALDON:  Well, everything gets old real fast, but I think that the actual use of the phrase, like you described it earlier, as kind of a variation of blank happens, you got something you have to deal with, could last a lot longer.  I’m waiting for moment when President Bush on a press conference in the Rose Garden, some one will ask him about Iraq and he’ll just shrugged his shoulders and say, “Snakes on a plane, man.”

(LAUGHTER)

UNGER: David Waldon, author of the book “Snakes on a Plane.”  Thank you for your time.

WALDON:  Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

UNGER: Sure thing.

From that marketing success to a marketing flop, the story behind the star of the new Daimler-Chrysler ads.  Who is that guy?  And why the ads seem to be failing miserably. 

And so much for a pleasant divorce.  Heather Mills now taking her split with Paul McCartney to an all new low, details ahead.  But first, here are COUNTDOWN’s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is not something you see every day and that’s exactly what some people are trying to change.  Most of the members of the San Francisco Tsunami Swim Club synchronized swimming team, are men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of people chuckle and then the laughing goes away and they’re like oh, my god, you know, I had no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

MARK PHILLIPS, CBS NEWS:  We have a planet.  Or do we?

SIR PATRICK MOORE, ASTRONOMER:  UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A planet it isn’t.

PHILLIPS:  The man who wrote the book on Pluto says there may be dozens more out there just like it.

MOORE:  (INAUDIBLE) more planets, a lot more things larger then Pluto, a whole mess of them.

PHILLIPS:  Where does it stop?

MOORE:  Exactly, where does it stop?

PHILLIPS:  It starts with having to rewrite the textbooks maybe and over over again.  Mark Phillips, CBS NEWS, London.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  How long has it (LAUGHING) been since you’ve seen someone wearing a monocle? 

I’m Bob Scheiffer at CBS NEWS, we’ll see you right here tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Well, Paris Hilton has set a new world record.  Yes, worthy of Guinness, those folks, they don’t miss a thing there. 

And a new ad so many people can’t figure out, it’s actually driving sales down.  It’s not the “apply directly to the forehead” thing.  No, this could be the death of Dr. Z.  That’s next and this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  You know, it may have been one of the worst marketing blunders in history when Coca-Cola introduced New Coke in 1985 after 99 years of not tampering with the flagship formula.  But 79 days later, amidst outrage, the company brought back the original formula and sales surged.  So maybe it wasn’t such a blunder after all.

In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight, ranked against that, a goofy advertising pitch by Daimler-Chrysler maybe small potatoes, but when it relies on a bizarre leading man called Dr. Z and when actual sales plummet, it may be time to switch to snakes.  Everybody knows that.  Our correspondent is Michelle Kosinski.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  You know him as Dr. Z, a rough rider with his own brand of cool, old school mustache...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is that mustache real?

KOSINSKI: And no non-sense German accent.  Dr. Z is not an actor. 

He’s actually chairman of Daimler-Chrysler.  Dr. Dieter Zetsche and main pitchman for this $225 million marketing campaign.  The commercials have been running for the last month, the same month that Chrysler saw U.S.  sales drop 37 percent. 

DR. Z, DAIMLER-CHRYSLER:  Any more questions?

KOSINSKI:  Yeah, What happened?

JEAN HALLIDAY, “ADVERTISING AGE”:  I mean what are you selling? 

Are you selling German engineering?  Are you selling a deal?  Are you selling a funny guy?

DR. Z:  It’s a joke.     

KOSINSKI (on camera):  Market research shows that many viewers just didn’t get it.  That 80 percent thought Dr. Z was a fictional character and it didn’t even always translate that there was a discount going on.

Chrysler says it’s all good.

JASON WINES, CHRYSLER GROUP COMMUNICATIONS:  It’s created exactly the kind of buzz we were looking for.  We’ve had double digit increases on the web—web traffic, and that’s been going through and spending lots of time talking about our products.

KOSINSKI:  It wouldn’t be the off-beat ad campaign to flat line.  Remember the rats selling Quiznos subs two years ago?  That made plenty of people lose their appetites.  And this one, which just made people feel, well, not young.  Even this tiny cult hero...

GIDGET, DOG ACTRESS:  Yo Kiro Taco Bell.

KOSINSKI:  Caused sales to jump nada.  Daimler-Chrysler’s spin?

JIM HALL, AUTO INDUSTRY ANALYST:  The people that don’t consider Chrysler, that may consider them now, and that’s half the battle right there.  Because there’s a saying in the industry, if no one considers your car, you don’t sell any. 

KOSINSKI:  Well, not everyone is buying a car.  The company is succeeding in redefining its image and that takes time hoping Dr. Z might grow on you before you tune out. 

Kr.  Z:  Auf wiedersehen.

KOSINSKI:  Michelle Kosinski, NBC NEWS, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  And now turning to our regular round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

It only took three months for the divorce of Paul McCartney and Heather Mills to go from amicable to bitter to bad reality TV show.  Sources telling the “London Daily Mail” that the soon-to-be-ex-Mrs.  McCartney and her entourage are toting around video cameras, catching everything that happened between her and Sir Paul, including when he locked her out of his home the other day. 

Friends of Heather Mills insists she is not going make a documentary out of the breakup, that she’s just videotaping everything to record a diary showing the paparazzi who follow her.  Note to Ms. Mills, add snakes.  If you’ve got some.

Turning to another material girl in trouble.  Madonna a is being threatened with jail if she doesn’t sanitize her act.  This is her crucifix, a prop she used for shock value at her show in Rome.  The Italians may have tolerated it, but the Germans say nein.  Prosecutors in that county say such a display would be against the Insulting Religious Beliefs Law.  So, police will be at her concert in Duesseldorf Sunday night, ready to arrest her if she brings out the crucifix.  But the whips and the chains, the leather and bondage, all of that, that’s all fine.  This might finally explain why David Hasselhoff is so poplar over there. 

From problems for Madonna to praise for Paris.  The Hilton heiress makes her way into the “Guinness Book of World Records,” next to that fat guy who was burried in a piano case.  You have about three minutes to guess why.

UNGER:  And finally, on this day in 1997, Shamsher Singh of Punjab, India, he had his beard officially measured at six feet from the end of his chin to the tip.  This is the longest beard on a living male, securing his place in the “Guinness Book of World Records.”  And now in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, a new August 18 entry to add next to Mr. Singh’s beard, Paris Hilton. 

And for what you ask?  Well, how about something she can do with, say, tongue.  No?  That record belongs to Al Gliniecki who tied 39 cherry stems into knots in three minutes.  He is not pictured here to protect his covert CIA status.        

Does Paris Hilton have the loudest scream?  No. But Jill Drake of the United Kingdom does.  Just look at her go here. 

(SCREAMING

Does Ms. Hilton have the world’s strangest diet?  Sorry, that’s Michel Lotito from France who eats two pounds of metal per day.  But Paris Hilton has been named the World’s Most Overrated Person or MOP for short. 

Here’s NBC’s Ann curry on Paris Hilton’s latest foray into pop culture and into your brain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Our idol, we love her.  She’s so hot.

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Paris is burning. 

Paris Hilton that is.  And she’s now looking to heat up the music industry.  On Wednesday, fans lined up outside a music store, here in New York City, where she made a personal appearance to promote her debut CD entitled “Paris.” 

Hilton is counting on her music to let the world know that there is more to her than what’s been seen on TV.

PARIS HILTON, WORLD’S MOST OVERRATED PERSON:  People just, they don’t really know me.  They see me on “Simple Life” they think that’s really who I am.

With the reality sufficient show, a steamy ad for a fast-food restaurant, a feature film, and a famous homemade video about Paris’ party life.  It’s no wonder everyone feel feels as though they know Paris.

CURRY:  With a reality TV show, a steam ad for a fast-food restaurant, a feature film, and famous homemade video, plus Paris’ party life.  It’s no wonder that everyone feels they know Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She’s rich and she’s skinny and blond and beautiful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And she’s a party girl so she’s always out and around.

CURRY:  Some agree that life as a Hilton heiress looks pretty good.

JOE LEVY, “ROLLING STONE”:  Why are people fascinated with Paris Hilton?  Well, she’s pretty, she’s extraordinarily rich, there are no rules holding her back.  This is the kind of a life that people wish they could lead or think they want to lead.  

CURRY:  With this new CD, the rich party girl hopes that people will finally get to see and hear the real Paris Hilton.

HILTON:  Now I want to do something that really comes from me, that’s why I love doing—I love writing music, I love being in the studio and this is like my real passion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Well, we really need to over think this and joining me to help me do that is comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who is a contributor to VH1’s “Best Week Ever.” 

Hello, Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  Hello Brian.

UNGER:  I like your pocket square.

TOMPKINS:  Thank you very much.

UNGER:  And by the way, a spokesman from the “Guinness Book of World Records” said that Ms. Hilton was chosen as the most overrated person after they looked at several magazine polls asking readers about their least favorite and most overrated celebrities.  Paul, is this fair?

TOMPKINS:  I see—I don’t think it’s fair at all.  I think it’s a matter of the category not being correct, because most overrated celebrity, absolutely, but most overrated person?  Most overrated as a person, what about people like Hitler?  You know what I mean?  Like as a human being, rather overrated I would say. 

UNGER:  Yeah, very overrated.

TOMPKINS:  Not quite up to snuff.  But here’s the thing, you can you say all you want about Pairs Hilton and that she’s gotten terrible reviews for her acting and that her personal life has been torn apart by the tabloids and maybe she doesn’t seem like such a nice gal, but I bet this album she’s got coming out is going to change absolutely everything.

UNGER:  Why do you think that?  I was going to ask you, I think she said it’s going to be a success.  I think she says, “I travel all over the world and I go to the best nightclubs and hear the best D.J.’s and I know what’s going on in the music scene.”  And the first single, already, a catcher, “Stars are Blind.”  Is this genius here?

TOMPKINS:  Yeah well—you tell me.  I mean we’re—right now we’re in the process of redefining our solar system, and so it’s timely.  That’s great.  She’s anticipating trends.  But then, I wouldn’t be surprised if science didn’t come out and say that stars, in fact, are blind and maybe she’s the first one saying this.  We have no evidence that they can see.

UNGER:  Paul, if Ms. Hilton becomes this huge pop sensation or pop star, and goes on tour, do you think she will be as good as Madonna?

TOMPKINS:  I think she’s going to be even better, Brian, and here’s why.  Because Paris is going to do away with all the crucifixes and the controversy and get back to the roots of this type of pop music which is all about back up dancers and lip synching.  We don’t need all the window dressing.  You know what I’m saying?

UNGER:  I know.  Why confuse it?  Is that what you’re saying?  Just keep it pure?

TOMPKINS:  Exactly.  Let’s just see somebody up there faking it so we can dance.

UNGER:  You know, she’s called herself, Paul, the Marilyn Monroe of our generation. 

TOMPKINS:  Sure.

UNGER:  She says, “I meet a lot of mothers and they come up to me and they tell me how much their daughters look up to me.”  Paul, should we be worried?

TOMPKINS:  I don’t see why we should be concerned at all.  I mean, I can’t think of any examples, let’s say even in the last 10 years or this week why it would be a bad idea for little children to be sexualized.  Like, I’m really scratching my head, why anybody would have a problem with little girls looking up to Paris Hilton.

UNGER:  Hey Paul, she’s given up sex for a year she said, shouldn’t we be sort of commending her for that kind of restraint?

TOMPKINS:  On the surface, yes, but it depends on how you define “sex,” it also depends on how you define “giving up” and probably depends on how you define “a year.”

UNGER:  Um, Paul, it is always so good to have you to give us that insight, because we just can’t find it anywhere else.

TOMPKINS:  My pleasure, Brian.  Very quickly, Brian, are the two fat guys on the motorcycle still in the Guinness book?  I haven’t seen this latest issue.

UNGER:  They are.  I’ll give you a copy after the show.

Oh, thank god.  Thank you, Brian.

That’s going to do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN, I’m Brain Unger in for Keith Olbermann.  Have a good weekend everyone.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

Good evening, Joe.       

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY:  Hey Brian, good evening.  And I must say I’ll never think of the words “giving up” and “sex” the same way again.

UNGER:  You know, I love

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

END   

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