updated 8/29/2006 11:51:26 AM ET 2006-08-29T15:51:26

Guests: Seth Temin, Lawrence Schiller, Mary Schiavo, Tom O‘Neil, Richard Wolffe

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

No match.  If the DNA is not the same, the case is lame.  John Mark Karr, has the saga come to an end?  His hearing in Boulder canceled, no charges filed, Karr released from custody, taken back into custody, now headed back to California to face charges there.  So no, the saga will not end, not tonight, anyway.  So we‘ll go live to Boulder.

Tragedy in Kentucky.  Details, simple and stunning, from the investigation into yesterday‘s commuter jet crash in Lexington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nothing of a better adjective to describe the emotion I have here is utter devastation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Forty-nine are dead, one barely alive.  And the question remains, how did Comair flight 5191 end up on the wrong runway?

And it is official, we have a leaker, we think, if he‘d just ‘fess up.  Richard Armitage, number two under former secretary of state Colin Powell, fingered by “Newsweek” magazine as the man who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame‘s name.

Katrina, one year later.  The president embarks on a two-day tour of the devastated Gulf Coast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  May be hard for those of you who have endured the last year to really have that sense of change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Parts of the region still in shambles, even as the Southeast braces for the arrival of Ernesto.

And the controversy surrounding the Emmys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you nervous?

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  Nervous?  What could possibly go wrong?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Some in an uproar over the timing of this opening skit.

Plus, all the details of who was wearing what and was with whom.  It‘s the Emmys.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

STEWART:  And good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.

Tonight, Boulder‘s district attorney has decided not to charge 41-year-old former schoolteacher John Mark Karr with the murder of, or even in connection with the murder of, JonBenet Ramsey.  That decision was triggered by DNA test results showing that Karr‘s buckle swab, cells taken from inside of the cheek, that DNA did not match the DNA found almost 10 years ago at the crime scene.

In other words, they say they can‘t prove he did what he said he did.

Despite an early report that Karr was a free man walking, John Mark Karr remains in custody tonight in Colorado.  Sonoma County is requesting his extradition back to California on the child pornography charges he faces there.

Now, in dropping their warrant for Karr‘s arrest, Boulder prosecutors revealed a treasure trove of information, some of it disturbing, about the investigation and how Karr actually came into custody.  We will get to that.

First, here is the entirety of what Karr‘s public defender had to say this very afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SETH TEMIN, PUBLIC DEFENDER:  The warrant on Mr. Karr has been dropped by the district attorney.  They‘re not proceeding with this case.

We‘re deeply distressed by the fact that they took this man and dragged him here from Bangkok, Thailand, with no forensic evidence confirming the allegations against him, and no independent factors leading to a presumption that he did anything wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How does he feel about it?

TEMIN:  That‘s all we have to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Of course, after close to two weeks of intense media frenzy and speculation, Karr was not the only one put through this.  And we are learning more about what he apparently did to put himself, the Ramseys, Boulder, the whole nation through all of this.

If your first reaction to this was something along the lines of, You‘ve got to be kidding me, you‘re not alone.  But hold off on that, because prosecutors have revealed much more about why they suspected Karr in the first place, why they took him into custody when they did, and why they are not charging him.  We are going to try to lay this out for you.

And MSNBC legal analyst Susan Filan‘s going help us.

Susan, I‘m going to run this down for viewers as people‘s motion to quash the arrest warrant.  You got a chance to read it.  So have I.  But want to get viewers up to speed.

Prosecutors revealed there were daily e-mails between Karr and Professor Michael Tracey, even a phone call with the Ramseys, that polices attempted to track.  During this time, Karr claimed asphyxiation was part of his sexual activity with JonBenet Ramsey, but that her death was an accident.  He also revealed he had started to be interested in other little girls, and that he was beginning to teach young children in Thailand, so bottom line, they really had to detain this guy.

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  They had to pick him up, Alison.  They had to pick him up when they picked him up.  The DA is coming under considerable criticism now for having acted rashly or having picked him up with little evidence.

But she had enough evidence at the time to make him a real person of interest, to—they did get DNA from him while he was in Thailand, by the way, she did send it to her person at the lab, and he said, Look, this isn‘t a good enough sample.  The sample that I‘m testing it against is a mixture.  The sample I need has to be a pure inside check swab.  They couldn‘t have gotten that from him without tipping him off that they were onto him.  And he was a real flight risk at that point.  He was also dangerous, because, as you said, he was starting to teach, and he did express interest in little girls.

STEWART:  And he was also quite crafty.  He wouldn‘t give them that DNA swab in Thailand, and then he did when they didn‘t have the proper kit.  So you have a sense that he knew what he was doing.

FILAN:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  I mean, they—whatever DNA they got from him surreptitiously, or by consent, just wasn‘t adequate.  When he came here to Boulder, Colorado, the district attorney did get a court order.  And from that court order, they did get a proper sample from a cheek swab.  And that‘s what ultimately exonerated him.

Far from criticizing this district attorney, I think we should be praising her.  Had she ignored all this, she would have been a villain, because he isn‘t the (INAUDIBLE), the criminal that we thought he was.  She‘s now the villain.  She‘s really a hero, because she did it right, by the book, and she‘s not falsely accusing a presumed innocent man.

STEWART:  Let me follow up on something you said, that the lack of DNA match proof that he didn‘t do it, or just lack of proof that he did do it?

FILAN:  Well, I think it‘s really—you know, it‘s very difficult to prove a negative.  I think it‘s like a proof that he did it.  But the district attorney alluded in that statement that she—the motion to quash that you talked about that thanked the family, his family, for their intense cooperation, that suggests to me that they were able to convince her that he was, in fact, home in Georgia for that Christmas.

Now, obviously, if he was in Georgia, he could not be the killer.

STEWART:  Now, according to prosecutors, Susan Karr has been making self-incriminating statements, including some outright admissions of his involvement for months.  How come he‘s not being charged with something like obstruction or making false statements or conspiracy to trigger a media frenzy, at the very least?

FILAN:  Well, there‘s a difference between making a false statement to a federal official and making a false statement to a state official.  The state of Colorado doesn‘t have that same false statement criminal statute.  It‘s got falsely reporting.  In other words, if you call up and falsely report a crime, your house has been broken into, you‘ve been attacked, that‘s a crime.

But he didn‘t report this, remember.  They came to him, and he falsely confessed.  That‘s not a crime.

The other thing, even though there‘s no statute, were there a statute, may be difficult to prosecute him, because I think he believes that he did kill her.  In his mind, he isn‘t falsely confessing.

STEWART:  All right, bottom line, given what the DA Lacey had (INAUDIBLE) e-mails, suspicious past, are we as a people and (ph) Monday-morning quarterbacking this all the way around?  Did she have any other reasonable course to take here, in your opinion?

FILAN:  No other reasonable course.  To have let this guy slip away would have been an egregious violation of her responsibility to JonBenet Ramsey.  She had no other way of getting that DNA, which ultimately exonerates him, so he should be thanking her, really, other than to take him into custody.  Because if he knew they were coming at him for his DNA, he would have fled.  And we knew he was dangerous, because he started to teach little girls, and he expressed serious interest in little girls.  He was having relationship with little girl.  He‘s off the street.  He‘s not the killer.  She did the right thing.

STEWART:  Susan Filan, MSNBC legal analyst.  Thank you so much for walking us through it.

FILAN:  Thank you.

STEWART:  After sending investigators all the way to Thailand to get him, flying him home, wining, dining him, stopping off in California for an extradition hearing, today‘s decision not to charge Karr leaves us back where we started asking, Who killed JonBenet Ramsey?

Investigative journalist Lawrence Schiller wrote about the Ramsey murder in his book, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.”  He joins us tonight to give us a bigger picture on where the case is now.

And Lawrence, I read an article that you were quoted in about John Mark Karr, and you said that in this case, the DNA would prove crucial.  So what do you think now, given today‘s events?

LAWRENCE SCHILLER, AUTHOR, “PERFECT MURDER, PERFECT DOWN”:  Well, I‘ve always said the DNA would be crucial in tying a suspect to the scene of the crime.  You have to remember that somebody could have committed this murder, and the DNA in JonBenet‘s underpants is from another source.

You know, this is a pair of underpants that was manufactured in Thailand by coincidence, went through a packaging process, shipping process, wound up being sold, I think, through Bloomingdale‘s department store, and wound up in JonBenet‘s home.

I think it was very, very important that they place him in Boulder, and that they were unable to do.  As I said early on, this is a case where, if John Mark Karr committed this crime, he knows things that the police don‘t know, and that is, what was the murder weapon that was used?  What did he do with it?  Was it the flashlight that they found wiped clean of fingerprints and trace evidence?

What happened to the remnant of the tape that was used to cover her mouth, or the cord that was bound on her hands, and the missing piece of the paintbrush?  Was that used for digital penetration or not?

Lots of questions unanswered.  The killer has those answers, and the police want to know what those answers are.

STEWART:  Colorado Governor Bill Owens tonight released a statement blasting Boulder officials for the hysterics, his words, around Karr, and that taxpayer funds used to fly him from Bangkok.  Is Owens on target, in your opinion?  And what does he really gain by releasing this kind of statement?

SCHILLER:  You know, we came very close to be guilty of the same thing that nine and a half years ago the media was guilty of, and that was convicting potentially an innocent person in the court of public opinion.  We grabbed on that.

In Bangkok, you know, it was the media that insisted upon the press conference.  It was the media that hounded him.  And I‘m not saying the public doesn‘t have a right to know.  But look at it, on the cover of virtually every tabloid newspaper and magazine in this country, “The New York Times.”  We made headlines because we thought this DA was close.  She was doing her job.  She was following it by the book.

It‘s not for us to criticize us.  I think we have to look at the next time somebody is arrested, do we have a knee-jerk reaction, and do we put the next suspect on the front pages of every publication in the United States?

STEWART:  So Lawrence, if the actual killer is out there watching all of this, is he or she in a better or worse position?  Do you sense this will be an unsolved mystery, or is there a thirst for justice again in this case?

SCHILLER:  You know, a little bit of luck is what‘s needed here, an accidental mistake.  You know, Karr was very well read on this subject.  He knew it inside out.  If you search all the Web sites, you‘ll wind up with virtually every single crime scene photo that has been leaked and so forth.  People in the know know this case.  There are facts that the, you know, people don‘t know.  The killer knows a lot more.

STEWART:  Given all the suggestions about who killed this little girl, all of the events of the past, nearly past two weeks, does this case become harder and harder to prosecute because there‘s been so many alternative theories of this crime and so much speculation?

SCHILLER:  Of course it does.  The next person who might be charged with this crime, let‘s say he‘s charged because he had the ability to be there, there‘s evidence.  But his DNA doesn‘t match.  Of course it becomes harder.  Even if his DNA match, matches, you can‘t prove when that DNA was placed in JonBenet‘s underpants.  You know, DNA can match like a fingerprint, but you cannot say when it was placed.  And that‘s the problem with this case.  We don‘t know where that mixture came from.

STEWART:  Lawrence Schiller, author of “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.” 

Thank you so much for being with us.

SCHILLER:  Thank you for having me.

STEWART:  For complete coverage of the collapse of the case against John Mark Karr, tune in at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, for an MSNBC special report, JonBenet Ramsey, Case Dropped.  That‘s at 10:00 Eastern tonight.

But first, in this newshour, 49 people killed in Kentucky after a commuter jet tried to take off from the wrong runway.

And a year ago, he stayed away from the disaster zone, well, for days, frankly.  Now President Bush is touring the Gulf Coast on the first anniversary since Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A deadly commercial airline disaster in this country is so rare, the idea that a simple mistake, an avoidable one, could have caused the crash of Comair flight 5191, well, it‘s stunning.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, why did that flight take off from the wrong runway, one far too short for an aircraft of its size?  The co-pilot is the sole survivor, and is still in critical condition.

The investigation goes on, and details continue to emerge about that Sunday morning tragedy.  So imagine the eerie deja vu when it crossed the wires this afternoon that in Kentucky, another plane, a twin-engine Cessna with (INAUDIBLE) passengers, had crashed?  That plane went down near a town called Ned (ph).  It was in route from Texas to Hazard, Kentucky.  Officials say they haven‘t found any survivors yet.  Bad weather may have been the cause.

Weather not really a factor in the case of Comair flight 5191.

Our correspondent is Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Already, some answers from flight 5191‘s black boxes and control tower tapes.  The tower clearly told the Comair crew to use the longer runway, 22, and the crew acknowledged the order.  The plane continued to accelerate down the shorter runway, 26, until it barely lifted off and crashed.  And the lights on the shorter runway were off.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD:  There are lights on 26, and they were out of service at the time of the accident yesterday.

COSTELLO:  So why did the crew choose that darker, shorter runway?  The airport director tells NBC News the lights on the longer runway were working properly.  But did the recently modified taxiway confuse the crew into turning left onto the wrong runway?

JOHN COX, AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT:  This was a full crew, and both pilots will normally check runway alignment before initiating takeoff roll.  So there‘s some questions about how something like this could happen.

COSTELLO:  An unbearable tragedy for the families of the 49 people who died.  There was 16-year-old Page Wintress (ph), who‘d come to Lexington to buy a horse, Habitat for Humanity board member Pat Smith, headed to Mississippi to rebuild Katrina-ravaged homes, and local baseball star John Hooker (ph), taking his new bride, Scarlette (ph), on their honeymoon.

RUSTY RAY, CHILDHOOD FRIEND:  I grabbed both of them, gave them both a big hug at the same time, told them I loved them.  And that‘s the last thing I said to them.

COSTELLO (on camera):  Tomorrow at 6:00 a.m., investigators will try to recreate the final moments before the crash, to see how well the crew could see when they were taxiing, and why they chose the wrong runway.

Tom Costello, NBC News, Lexington, Kentucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Joining me now, the former inspector general for the United States Department of Transportation, currently an attorney with Motley Rice (ph), Mary Schiavo.

Thanks for your time tonight, Mary.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: 

Thank you.

STEWART:  Obviously, the investigation is ongoing, but how does a mistake like this happen?  A pilot simply heading down the wrong runway?

SCHIAVO:  Well, most aviation tragedies, and I think this one will not be an exception, it is never just one item.  I think what we will find here is it was a combination of the recent renovations to the runway, the fact that that project wasn‘t completed, they had additional signage and lighting to do, the fact that the center line runway lights were out on the runway they were supposed to use, as were the lights at the end of the runway, the far end of the runway.

Now, I think those will all play into the facts, and not the least of which is the consideration that the same thing happened, a tragedy was averted, though, in November of 1993.  The pilots and the air traffic controller realized the mistake at very last minute, and managed to stop the takeoff roll.

So there will be several factors, and not the least of which is, what did the construction really do to the airport, in addition to how did the pilots not check their compass heading?

STEWART:  This airport, let‘s give people a sense of what was going on at that time, not busy, it was 6:00 in the morning on a Sunday.  It was a regular flight, happened every week, was the only the third flight to take off.  So what would happen in terms of communication from the controller in the tower to the pilot, that there could be this miscommunication?

SCHIAVO:  Excellent question.  What probably happened, and they already know this, because they pull the air traffic control tapes from the tower and save them, and when something happens.  But the air traffic controller probably gave them clearance not just to taxi into position and hold, but to actually taxi into position and do their takeoff roll at their discretion.  So once the tower gave them that clearance, they were free to get on that runway and roll.  And the controller probably turned his or her attention to next flight that he was—or she was handling that day.

STEWART:  Is there enough redundancy checks in the system?  I was listening to NPR this morning, and one flight aviation expert said, you know, you‘re really supposed to call back and forth more than once.

SCHIAVO:  That wouldn‘t have helped here.  And that‘s a very good plan.  In fact, that‘s one of the recommendations of the NTSB and of the FAA, to cut down on these runway mistakes.  They are on the increase.  There‘s one every day.

But here, they would have read back, and it‘s called the pilot readback, they would have read back, you know, (INAUDIBLE), you know, cleared for takeoff, runway 22.  They would have said, you know, runway 22.  I believe that‘s where they think that they were, and that was—so that wouldn‘t have made a difference here.

By the way, accidents, runway accidents happen, and 40 percent of the time, it‘s after they have given a pilot readback.

STEWART:  What are the questions that the co-pilot, the sole survivor, what are important questions that need to be, hopefully, can be asked of this man?

SCHIAVO:  The most important one, what did you see?  The cockpit voice recorder will tell us what they said.  The flight data recorder will tell us everything of 200 and some parameters on this plane, how everything was set on the plane, the headings, the engines (INAUDIBLE), and the engines apparently worked fine.

But what did you see is going to be very important.  Was a mistake, if they were distracted or careless, or was it a really that the airport was so very confusing after this construction that many of the lights were out on the runway they were supposed to use, that the taxiways had changed, and that the project wasn‘t completed with all the signage and lighting.  What did you see? is going be the most important question.

STEWART:  Mary Schiavo, former inspector general for the United States Department of Transportation.  Thank you so much, Mary.

SCHIAVO:  Thank you.

STEWART:  In light of what happened in Kentucky, was it insensitive to show this in the opening skit of the Emmys last night?

And the British solution to a rodent invasion, distract the rats with a beautiful chick.

That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I am Alison Stewart, sitting in for Keith Olbermann as we reach that special place in COUNTDOWN between stories four and three.

We take a break from all the real news to have a little fun watching silly people do stupid things.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in London, where there‘s nothing sexier than a beautiful British model locked in a glass cage with a pile of garbage and a bunch of sewer rats.  The Brits say they are super-rats, actually a new breed of London vermin growing at an alarming rate, indirectly by the terrorists.  No, not little rodent training camps in the mountains of Afghanistan, homegrown super-rats.

The city has removed most of the garbage cans from the streets for security reasons, and as a result, littering way up, which has led to more and bigger rats.  Environmental officials thought long and hard about how to solve this complex problem.  They came up with a hot blonde in a box of rats.

Susavelina (ph), Finland, home of the seventh annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships.  A huge turnout for the competition this year that allows folks to line up, grab a cell phone, and chuck it as far as they can for fun and prizes.  OK, it‘s not their own phone.  So what do they care?  The winning distance this year, a new record, 292 feet.

But, of course, with the phones getting smaller and the rampant steroid problems in the sport, the number is pretty much meaningless at this point.  (INAUDIBLE).

Also tonight, it is one of the sore points of his presidency, the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.  Now, one year later, President Bush is in the region with the message he just wants to help the still-devastated area.

And on the eve of Katrina‘s New Orleans landfall, Ernesto approaches the American coast.

Those stories are ahead.

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

Number three, Deric Gendron of Boston, Mass.  He was arrested Saturday night for assault and battery on a police officer, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace.  At least he was dressed nice.  A drunken incident occurred at a wedding reception, and he was the groom.

Number two, residents in an apartment building in Yongche (ph), Taiwan, they all stopped drinking their tap water after a few days of tasting and smelling, well, it just looks funny.  Didn‘t take long to figure out what the problem was.  Yes, dead guy in the rooftop water tower.  That would be a problem.

STEWART:  And No. 1, Darrel Newburger that‘s him there on the left, da ve rryl knew-burger.  He is the vice president of the local Country Club homeowners Association, OK, take a good look at this picture.  He was arrested for walking the streets of his neighborhood naked at 8:00 in the morning.  People look a picture.  Police showed up after numerous people called to report seeing a large partly-shaved sheepdog in the area.  Look at the picture. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  When it comes to how the Bush administration is likely to be remembered, Hurricane Katrina and the CIA leak investigation both make the short list, the short listed titled “Not Shining Moments.”  Conveniently in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, both are also at the forefront of tonight‘s political news.  On one front, President Bush paying a visit to the Gulf Coast on the eve of the unbelievably destructive and deadly hurricane‘s anniversary. 

On the other, new information tonight about the much sought after person who leaked the name covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, to the press.  We‘ll begin with the Gulf Coast. 

One year later, President Bush, back Biloxi, back to remind the people who lived there the destroyed and businesses that the federal government is there to help.  Back to deciding the state and local officials for their role in the recovery, too.  The president‘s comments today, a high wire act expressing amazement at how far the region has come while simultaneously asking for patience that the finish line is still in the distance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W.  BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Obviously there is a lot of work to be done.  But the federal government had a very important role to play, and we‘re playing it.  But so does the state and local governments whether it be here in Mississippi or in Louisiana.  The citizens of our country and the citizens of this region have had an important role to play and this storm was so big it requires, uh, you know, all aspects of American life to help the people here.  It was a massive storm. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Earlier this month a poll found 2/3 of Americans still disapprove of the president‘s handling of Katrina.  His overall performance rating also took a hit today, in a new poll from the folks at “Newsweek,” only 36 percent of those surveys approve the job that the president is doing, a dip of two points since earlier this month. 

Now the other big news story on the political beat, an answer to one of Washington‘s biggest mysteries since we found out “Deep Throat” was Mark Felt—Who leaked the name of covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame, to the press?  The case apparently solved tonight.  “Newsweek” investigative reporter Michael Isikoff reporting that Richard Armitage, the former No. 2 official at the State Department acknowledged to prosecutors that he gave columnist Robert Novak the classified information that Ms. Plame worked for the CIA, but said he did not know that she was a covert operative.  As for Novak, he has never publicly devolved the identity of his source, but over weekend that didn‘t keep him for calling out his source. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT NOVAK, FOX NEWS:  I want to say one thing that I have not said before and that is I believe that time is way source for my source to identify himself. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  For more on both stories tonight, time to call in our COUNTDOWN contributor, Richard Wolffe, who also happens to be the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.” 

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening Alison.

STEWART:  Richard, how does the president go to the Gulf, show support for the rebuilding effort without reminding everyone about, well, the sad federal response and churning up the infamous phrase “Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job?”  What does he have to do in the next two days, Mr. Bush? 

WOLFFE:  Well, he has to do three things, basically, he has to show that he cares, he has to show that he‘s doing something, and he has to show that he as a sense—a real sense of what is going on the ground.  And the reason he has to do those three things is because those were the things he didn‘t do a year ago.  So, every time he goes out there and talks about the work that‘s being done, and all the things being down, there is this reminder in people‘s heads that he wasn‘t in touch, as I reported a year ago—he had to have his aide baurn DVD of the nightly news on the night the convention center appeared on everyone‘s screens.  So he wasn‘t in touch and he has to try to erase that memory.  But you‘re right, every time he talks about this, he evokes it again, whether he‘s talking about the money or the poor people on the ground, or the fact that rebuilding is still a long way off. 

STEWART:  All right, my next question is a fine line between realistic and craft.  There‘s going be an election in 71 days.  Last Thursday Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid, he was in New Orleans.  What is the Democratic strategy with regard to the danger zone—the zone in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, and is there danger in seizing on the Gulf destruction as a political issue? 

WOLFFE:  I‘m not sure there is to much of a downside for them.  I mean, remember the Democrats are feeling very burned with most things to do with national security.  They feel they can only criticize up to a certain point for fear of seeming weak on national security.  Katrina poses none of those problems for them.  And it has become emblematic of a whole range of problems with the Bush administration. 

That again, the president has worked hard to overcome, but they are still there, questions of competency, again about compassion and so, you know, the downside is really for, I would say, democrats in Louisiana, people who may fell angry at incumbents, generally.  But for Democrats nationally, I don‘t think there are not too many downsides. 

STEWART:  Let‘s turn to that claim that Richard Armitage, No. 2 to Colin Powell, leaked the name of Valerie Plame to the press.  What could have possibly been his motivation? 

WOLFFE:  Well, a couple of things to remember here.  It‘s kind of become so widely repeated that Colin Powell and Rich Armitage at the State Department were critics of the way the war was conducted, or the run-up to the war was conducted.  You‘d think they disagreed with everything.  They didn‘t.  They actually were forceful advocates about weapons of mass destruction.  They really believed they were there.  They didn‘t like the way the administration was planning for the post-war, but Joe Wilson was out there criticizing the case of the weapons of mass destruction.  He was also, sort of, out of his channel pretending to be a Start Department official and sort of puffing himself up, and I suspect—I haven‘t talked to Rich Armitage, although I reported a lot on Colin Powell at the time, I suspect they didn‘t like the fact that he was out there with such a high-profile, sort of pretending to be a State Department official when he wasn‘t and undermining their case as much as Dick Cheney‘s. 

STEWART:  As for Robert Novak, we heard that piece from “Meet the Press” where he wouldn‘t name his source, but his should come forward.  Is that common for people to shame their sources into revealing themselves?  Why would he do that? 

WOLFFE:  No, it is not common at all.  And remember, Novak has said that he testified knowing that Fitzgerald had spoken to his source.  So, this is a sort of parlor game, I mean, obviously Novak has been around longer than any other journalist, pretty much in town, and I guess he feels he can set the rules here.  There are no hard and fast rules about how to out your sources and this is a particularly peculiar one, I think. 

STEWART:  I would agree you on that front.  “Newsweek‘s” Senior White House correspondent, and MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, always great to speak to you. 

WOLFFE:  Anytime. 

STEWART:  Nearly a year ago, Hurricane Katrina not only destroyed a swath of the Gulf Coast, it also destroyed many people‘s faith in the government‘s ability to handle such a disaster.  We‘ll take a look back at how it all went wrong. 

And the king of reality TV getting a rude reception from the audience during the live Emmy‘s telecast.  Those stories are ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh my goodness. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Middle schoolers in lab coats at Lipscomb University trying to solve a fictional crime. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s got be a weapon somewhere. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hardly your traditional summer camp experience. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m tired of, like, swimming, and I wanted to try something different this year. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Like searching for a murder weapon. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh my god.

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “LATE NIGHT”:  By the way tonight‘s Emmy gift basket, if you‘re interested, is valued at $51 thousand.  Yeah.  The gifts include a cell phone, a DVD player, and a gift certificate to Olive Garden worth $50,000. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a look back at how it became one of the worst natural disasters in American history. 

And the first hurricane of this season was Ernesto, now that storm is on the path to the U.S. That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In case it has slipped anybody‘s mind, it is still hurricane season.  One year ago, we were in the thick of Hurricane Katrina coverage and 365 days later officials are gearing up for another storm.  Ernesto put hurricanes at No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN.

Southern Florida is already midst of preparing for the storm, stocking up on food, boarding up the windows.  Some counties have already canceled school tomorrow.  Ironically, Florida‘s greatest hope may lie in Cuba.  The longer Ernesto stays over Cuba, the weaker it may get.  Right now Ernesto is forecast to leave Cuba some time overnight.  When is where it does go will have much to do with how much strength it picks up tomorrow before it‘s projected landfall in Florida. 

Although President Bush‘s trip to Mississippi today was designed to send a message that this time things will be different, the fact remains that before Katrina, President Bush redefined the entire nature of Federal Emergency Response, no longer a cabinet level function.  Local governments now bear the brunt of it.  The president said today that‘s because local officials know what they need best.  While the president has changed who will be responsible for the future, Brian Williams has been reporting on what we know now about who was responsible then.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As Katrina built up steam, the warnings were clear. 

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CTR:  One of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States.

WILLIAMS:  One National Weather Service meteorologist even dispatched a prophetic Katrina bulletin, warning: “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks.”

Yet despite that dire of a warning, to a lot of people it seemed as if few in government had been listening.  So what went wrong in those first crucial days?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I can‘t get out.  How am I gonna get out?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m scared.

WILLIAMS:  Thousands were stranded for days at the Superdome and at the New Orleans Convention Center, all in squalid conditions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get us out of here! We want to get out of here!

TONY ZUMBADO, NBC NEWS CAMERAMAN:  There‘s nothing offered to them. 

No water, no ice, it‘s getting very crazy in there and very dangerous. 

WILLIAMS:  Among the causes: A delay by state and city officials in ordering a mandatory evacuation for New Orleans until 19 hours before landfall. 

Another cause: A lack of buses.  Louisiana Gov.  Blanco waited until after the storm hit to ask FEMA for buses.  They didn‘t begin to arrive until four days after landfall.  Meanwhile, dozens of city-owned school buses that could have been used for rescue were trapped under water.

The second big failure was the levees.  Three hundred fifty miles of levees and floodwalls were supposed to protect New Orleans, but they failed and allowed the Ninth Ward and so much more to wash away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Over 80 percent of the city is flooded. 

WILLIAMS:  At first, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers insisted it was not their fault.

LT.  Gen.  Carl Strock, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS:  The intensity of this storm simply exceeded the design capacity of this levee.

WILLIAMS:  But the experts started to investigate, and the facts began to turn up major flaws in the design, including weak soil that designers had ignored.

The third devastating factor was government mismanagement, a complete breakdown in coordination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No food, no water.  I mean, the bear necessities. 

WILLIAMS:  FEMA had only one official inside the New Orleans Command Post when the storm hit.  FEMA Director Michael Brown seemed tragically out of touch.

(ON CAMERA):  Where is the aid.  It‘s the question people keep asking us on camera? 

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR:  The federal government just learned about those people today. 

WILLIAMS (voice-over):  Governor Blanco admitted she waited too long to requested federal troops. 

GOV.  Kathleen BLANCO, NEW ORLEANS:  I really need to call for the military and I should have started that in the first call.

WILLIAMS:  In the end, too few accepted the blame. 

(on camera):  Who bears the responsibility for this? 

BROWN:  Well, I think that we all do.  If we do not learn from this, then shame on us. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  That report from Brian Williams who will be discussing Katrina and other issues with President Bush in an excusive interview airing tomorrow on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS.

On to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, that‘s “Keeping Tabs.” 

Kevin Federline, master thespian! All right.  The hip-hop wannabe hasn‘t even released his debut album, but he‘s already spreading his “talents” of acting.  K-Fed has reportedly been cast in and episode of “CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation.”  It‘ll be the acting debut for the 28-year-old hubby of Britney Spears.  Federline told “People” magazine, “It‘s the first time, yo, I‘ve actually had a speaking role, yo.”  I added the yos.

I just wonder that there might be a reason for that, anyhow, Federline will be playing a menacing teenager who harasses a CSI investigator.  Of course listening K-Fed him sing might feel like harassment. 

Tom Cruise has reportedly lined up some new money for his production company from the chairman of a string of national amusement parks.  Cruise has made a deal with a group of investors that include Daniel Snider, the owner of the Washington Red Skins, who is also the chairman for Six Flags Incorporated.  The “Los Angeles Times” says the two year agreement would give Cruise less than $3 million annually to finance, staff, and overhead costs for his production company, but Cruise and his partner—business partner, Paula Wagner, had reportedly turned down a $3 million a year deal from Paramount before he was so publicly fired, or dismissed, by Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone, last week.  Maybe Six Flags will let him put up those Scientology tents.  Just thinking. 

The opening scene from Sunday night‘s Emmys was meant rip (ph) off on the series “Lost.”  Maybe funny during Saturday‘s reversele, but maybe inappropriate Sunday given that a real plane crash just happened that morning.  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight, is TV‘s annual festival where TV people give other TV people shainy statues.  It‘s not unusual for the Emmy Awards to start off with a painful attempt at comedy, but last night‘s opening tape piece was a little painful for some.  Just hours after that plane crash in criecrie, host began the Emmy awards like this. 

Today, nbc said it regrets any pain caused by the sketch.  As it turned out, O‘Brien went on to mock his own net work with a song devoted to its kneelson woes.  Things were not all bad.  24 picked up fox‘s first best drama award.  Who won is who lost is not always the real story behind the Emmys.  We have tom with us tonight.  Let‘s start with the awkward plane issue.  They said they might not have aired the beginning had their known about the plane crash in Kentucky we told you about earlier, host Conan O‘Brien began the Emmy Awards like this.

Today, NBC says it regrets any unintentional pain caused by the sketch, which was, of course, taped before Sunday‘s airplane crash.  As it turned out, O‘Brien went on to cause some intentional pain for NBC, itself, mocking his own network with an entire song devoted to its Nielson woes.  Things weren‘t all bad for NBC, which picked up “Best Comedy” for Steve Carell‘s show “The Office.”  FOX‘s “24” meanwhile, picked up that network‘s first “Best Drama” award and for Keefer Sutherland, “Best Actor.”

Of course who won and who lost isn‘t always the real story behind the Emmys, which is why we have “In Touch” magazine‘s senior editor, Tom O‘Neil with us tonight.

Tom, let‘s start with that—this awkward issue.  I know a local general manager from a Louisville station said, they might not have actually aired the beginning of the Emmys had they known about the “Lost” plane crash sketch.  Of course, that‘s a very local sensitivity.  You were there last night.  Was there any reaction to the sketch during the show or after? 

TOM O‘NEIL, “IN TOUCH”:  No, I am baffled by this, Alision, and I was back in the pressroom, in fact, I‘m one of the M.C.s of the pressroom, because I‘m the author of the only book every written on the Emmys Awards.  And in that room, by the way, were reporters and TV critics from ever major newspaper.  I‘m sure the Kentucky “Louisville Courier Journal” was there, I‘m just guessing, but I‘m sure—none of us made this connection at all.  What sparked it was late last night, Matt Drudge on the “Drudge Report” suddenly posted some comments from these people in Kentucky saying how insensitive could they be in Hollywood, this is just typical of those Liberals, just showing contempt for the flyover states—and suddenly this whole brouhaha explodes. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the others and sticking it to the boss?  What was behind Conan O‘Brien‘s decision to spend so much time sticking it to his own network?  What did he gain by that?  Except maybe a call from the boss this morning.

O‘NEIL:  I think that was the real shock, because this wasn‘t just any routine tweaking NBC, he‘s mocking them.  He‘s saying, you know, we screwed up, we lost “Friends” and all these top TV shows, and we‘ve gone from No. 1 to No. 4 in the rating, and this song goes on and on and on.  It‘s ridiculing of his network.  I thought it was brilliant for NBC to let this go on because it sets up this mischievous tone for the Emmys that says, you know what, the lunatics are in charge of the asylum, let‘s just have fun. 

STEWART:  All right, if you had to assign adjectives to describe the reunion of “Charlie‘s Angels” during the Aaron Spelling tribute, what would it be? 

O‘NEIL:  Preposterous.  A show that never won an Emmy Award is suddenly in the spotlight here because the Emmys have a guilt trip about Aaron Spelling who they treated with contempt throughout his life.  And meanwhile, we have a kind of “Dynasty” type drama going on right in front of these gals where mommy and the daughter of Aaron Spelling, the wife and daughter of course, Tori and Candy, were on opposite sides of the auditorium not speaking with each other. 

These “Angels,” by the way, these “Angels” have not been seen together in over 10 years and there are all kinds of rumors about behind the scenes feuds. 

STEWART:  Well, you saw that little attempt of handholding there, that little “Kumbia” (ph) moment that just went over like a led baloon.  Let‘s talk about going over like a lead balloon.  I want to play you a clip of “American Idol‘s” Simon Cowell coming on stage.  Take a look and listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Simon cowell.

(APPLAUSE)

(BOOING)

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Thank you.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Did he actually just get booed on live TV? 

O‘NEIL:  You‘re supposed to boo Simon, that‘s part of the shtick.  But there is a little subliminal thing going on here that few people pick up on.  The—“American Idol” is so unpopular at the Emmy‘s, it‘s never won.  In fact, I think next year if it gets a few more nominations and losses again, it‘ll be the biggest loser in Emmy history.  I think they‘re very jealous in Hollywood of this British show that is the most successful show, financially, on television. 

STEWART:  All right, bigger picture.  Last 30 seconds we have.  A lot of people were winners, they took home statues.  But who was the bigger winner overall?  Any particular network or genere? 

O‘NEIL:  Yeah, I think the “24” wins for series on the drama side and for Keefer Sutherland for actor were shockers.  The thrillers genere of TV and in films at the Oscars get no respect.  You‘ve got to go back to 1968 to “Mission:  Impossible” which was the last time a thriller won a top award.

STEWART:  Tom O‘Neil, senior editor for “In Touch” weekly magazine, great thanks as always for joining us.

O‘NEIL:  Thanks.

STEWART:  And that is COUNTDOWN, I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Joe Scarborough and SCARBOROUGH COUNTY.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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