updated 9/13/2006 11:45:01 AM ET 2006-09-13T15:45:01

Guests: Craig Crawford, Thomas Ricks, Randy Gonigam

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

The president promises his 9/11 speech won‘t be political, then the president‘s 9/11 speech is political.  Then the president‘s critics attack the hypocrisy, then the White House is amazed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Did you listen to the speech?  To tell the president somehow he didn‘t get the proper tone to strike, while other people were making partisan points during the day, just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But he‘s the president, higher standards and stuff.  Never mind.

Bush-Lauer, part two.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

MATT LAUER, HOST:  Do you know of any Democrats that, in your opinion, are trying to or would like to appease terrorists?

BUSH:  I know Democrats who want to leave Iraq before the job is done, and that would be a terrible mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But have we already left Anbar Province in Iraq?  In the aftermath of the Devlin (ph) report, al Qaeda  in political control there.  We‘re joined by Thomas Ricks  of “The Washington Post,” who broke the story.

The tragic and the bizarre.  After she gives birth to his half-sister, the 20-year-old son of Anna Nicole Smith suddenly dies in her hospital room.

The good news, Britney Spears has apparently given birth.  No, wait, that‘s a panda.  Well, there‘s good news about Britney Spears and some pandas.

And Tom Cruise, he went to a Monday night football game.  See, he‘s normal.  Oh, crap, nobody got him the memo about not wearing a tie to a football game.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

This is Tuesday, September 12, 56 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

One day after the anniversary that was supposed to be above politics, and the speech that was supposed to be nonpolitical, no politics of fear, no politics of partisanship, nor politics of terror.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, in his fifth anniversary speech, the president chose not none, but all of the above.  And today he got hammered for it, an address in which the commander in chief managed to meld one of the most unifying events in recent history, the 9/11 attacks, with one of the most polarizing events in recent history, the war in Iraq, Democrats reacting angrily today, charging the president with using the anniversary of an act of war against the United States to make a case for another war entirely of his own choosing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER:  The American people last night deserved better.  They deserved a break from politics that honored the spirit of 9/11.  They deserved a chance to reclaim that sense of unity, purpose, and patriotism that swept through our country five years ago, feelings only the commander in chief could have inspired.

He should have tried to inspire.  He didn‘t.  Last night was not a time for a political speech, a partisan speech.  Sadly, it was a missed opportunity for President Bush, who obviously was more consumed by staying the course in Iraq and playing election-year partisan politics than changing direction for this wonderful country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Republican lawmakers in turn reacting to the reaction with more vitriol, House majority leader John Boehner actually saying of Democrats today, quote, “I wonder if they‘re more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people.  They certainly don‘t want to take the terrorists on and defeat them.”

At the White House this afternoon, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, forced to disavow Congressman Boehner‘s remarks, instead offering a defense to Democratic charges of partisanship, a defense almost worthy of Peewee Herman, virtually saying, I know you are, but what am I?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  Did you listen to the speech?  I mean, the fact is--  See, I got the whole—got the whole (INAUDIBLE)-- I know.  What‘s interesting is that you had a lot of people who were ready to punch the send button the moment the speech was over.  Fine.  They decided they‘d engage in partisanship.

But to tell the president, who spent extra time with family members, walking person to person to person, in New York and in Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C., that somehow he didn‘t get the proper tone to strike, while other people were making partisan points during the day, just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time to call in our own Craig Crawford, also a columnist, of course, for “Congressional Quarterly,” as well as the author of the book “Attack the Messenger.”

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Boy, we‘re in the heat of the season now.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we sure did get there quickly.  Is this overly complicated?  If a politician, any politician, advertises a speech as not political, and then includes politics in the speech, how could he not expect a backlash?

CRAWFORD:  He doesn‘t.  He may even want that backlash, Keith.  This is a great way to bait the opponents to come out and attack you.  Just mentioning Iraq in the speech, especially as much as they did, they had to know they would provoke the Democrats to this kind of reaction, and some in the media.  And that fires up the conservative base.

And I think that would have been the strategy, if it indeed it was a strategy, to provoke the opposition, by making this speech, at least in their minds, political.

OLBERMANN:  Are the Democrats getting caught with the wrong response in this?  I mean, to invoke him again, this kind of Peewee Herman debate, You‘re playing politics, No, you‘re playing politics, would not something of a little more substance be of use to the Democrats here, something like, you know, Iraq only became the central place in the war on terror because we let the terrorists into Iraq?

CRAWFORD:  True.  I think it‘s a more complicated thing for them to say, those that voted for it, and for authorizing the president to invade Iraq.  And some of them have been backing away.  Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democrat from West Virginia, this week had some interesting comments, noting that Saddam Hussein was not a threat, and seemed to imply that we probably shouldn‘t have conducted this war, or more than implied.  But he said, he also said, I cast a vote for it, and I was wrong.

And some of those Democrats haven‘t come forward and said that, like Senator Hillary Clinton has never actually said she thought the—her vote in favor of authorization was wrong.  So that makes it more difficult for them to attack the great premise of the invasion of Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  To invoke your book, it would seem that although we got a touch of that , they did not go full bore into attacking the messenger.  The White House called the media partisan to some degree for reporting on the Republicans calling the Democrats partisan, for calling the president partisan, for the president playing politics with the anniversary of 9/11.  Are we lucky here, or is that tomorrow‘s story, and we‘re going to have another bashing of the media?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think the Democrats are on the front lines right now, so those of us in the media get some of the collateral damage, perhaps, at most.  But I‘m sure we‘ll see plenty of it.  And it certainly is true, when the messages are this negative, the messenger‘s bound to get some of the flak down the road.  And the messages are negative, Keith, I mean, 90 percent of the television ads the viewers are seeing now in their hometowns in this congressional campaigns, 90 percent of them are negative attack ads against each other.

And so this is going to be a mean and nasty one.  I‘m calling this election the filthy battle for control.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  But Iraq is not politics, because the president is right, and everybody else is wrong, which is a sort of—I guess a boiled-down summary of what the president‘s been saying for the last week or two weeks or maybe three years.  But there‘s a conclusion that was in that speech that is inescapable, and all the other speeches in the context of the last week, that the war in Iraq is the reason we have not been—the principal reason, at minimum, the principal reason we have not been attacked again here by terrorists.

Does it not, at some point, even in the White House, sound less like a president talking, and more like David Koresh?

CRAWFORD:  It isn‘t a very logical path to follow, this, you know, fight them here, we fight them there, we fight them here, argument, and also it‘s a slippery (INAUDIBLE) path for the president, because, you know, Keith, it does raise the question, well, if we can‘t stop the terrorists in Iraq, and we don‘t seem to, how are we going to stop them at home?

And so I would think at some point they wouldn‘t want to connect those.

OLBERMANN:  And the recent developments in Anbar, which they attempted to respond to with a video press release from a general in the field there, who‘s suggesting we‘ve already lost a 50,000-square-mile area in Iraq, how do you go and sell Iraq as this principal thing, while we‘ve lost a principal part of the principal thing already?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, I think we‘ll get an experiment here in what happens when we pull out, pulling out of the province, if that indeed is what happens.  You know, the president has been undercut, not so much by Democrats attacking him, or the media, but by military experts within his own administration, within the Pentagon.

We‘ve had a couple of reports now in the last couple of weeks that are some of the most bleak assessments of what‘s going on Iraq than anything from any of the liberal magazines or anywhere else that the administration complains about.

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t tell him that.  Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” and MSNBC, always a pleasure.  Craig, great thanks.

CRAWFORD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  Not a sentiment we expect to hear expressed by the president about Matt Lauer.  It turns out there was even more to the testy, borderline rancid interview which we rebroadcast here last night.

The “TODAY” show host started this episode of it with a question we have asked here, about the demonization of Mr. Bush‘s critics as appeasers.  Conclusion, he would never question their patriotism.  His vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, his party leader in the House, and the portable public chorus would, but not him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

LAUER:  In recent speeches, you and Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld have seemed to indicate that people who are critics of your policy in Iraq are in some ways trying to appease terrorists.  Do you know of any Democrats that, in your opinion, are trying to or would like to appease terrorists?

BUSH:  I know Democrats who want to leave Iraq before the job is done. 

And that would be a terrible mistake.

LAUER:  But those Democrats don‘t see the war in Iraq as inseparable from the overall war on terror.

BUSH:  You can justify what they say.  I‘m just telling you that if this country leaves Iraq before the job is done, if we abandon those 15 million people who said we want to life freely, we will have given the enemy a tremendous victory.

I never question anybody‘s patriotism.  But I do question their judgment if they say, Let‘s have a (INAUDIBLE) with a timetable for withdrawal, or, Let‘s get out.  Now, there are some who believe we shouldn‘t have been there in the first place.  And that‘s fine.  I understand that.  But my job is to make sure people understand the stakes, Matt.  I understand it‘s politics, but this war is too important to let politics get in the way.

LAUER:  But if you agree with their premise for a second, and you‘re loathe to do this, that the war in Iraq and the war on terror, the overall war on terror, are separate—

BUSH:  I don‘t agree with that premise.

LAUER:  I‘m just saying, I know you‘re loathe to do that.  But if you look at it—

BUSH:  I‘m not loathe to do it, I just don‘t do it, because it‘s not true.

LAUER:  If you look at it from their point of view, though, the people who don‘t think they‘re the same thing, do you know any Democrats who want to cut funding for the war on terror?

BUSH:  I know people who want to cut funding for Iraq.  And that in itself will weaken our capacity to win the war on terror, in my judgment.  And that‘s the debate.  Now, look.  I understand people saying, Well, Saddam Hussein didn‘t order the attacks on America, I understand that.  But one of the lessons of 9/11 is that we have got to deal with threats before they come to hurt us.  All of us saw a threat in Saddam Hussein, not everybody, but a lot of people, including the United Nations Security Council, Matt.

And the threat was this.  He was a state sponsor of terror, he had

used weapons of mass destruction, he had the capacity to make weapons of

mass destruction.  He had attacked his neighbors, he killed thousands of

his people.  He was a threat.  He was given the choice, and he chose not

to.  And so we enforced the demands of the world.  And now the question is-

LAUER:  But by those same standards, though, on the—

BUSH:  Now, the question is, will we have the will to succeed in Iraq now that Saddam‘s gone?

LAUER:  Put some of those same standards onto Iran next.

BUSH:  Sure, I‘d love to.

LAUER:  (INAUDIBLE) President Ahmadinejad, how is he different from Saddam?  Saddam Hussein, you say, was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  the United States believes that Iran is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction.  Saddam Hussein sponsored suicide bombers in Israel.  We know that Iran has an army, Hezbollah, to—

BUSH:  You mean, (INAUDIBLE) if they might have, he might—Iran might have been part of an axis of evil.

LAUER:  OK, exactly, so—

BUSH:  And so therefore, (INAUDIBLE)-- they‘re both threats.

LAUER:  OK, but why are we—

BUSH:  But not every—

LAUER:  ... talking diplomacy with Iran, and why did we attack Iraq?

BUSH:  (INAUDIBLE), that‘s a good question.  Not every threat is you deal with militarily.  Matter of fact, military option is the last option for a president.  There‘s a difference between 17 U.N. (INAUDIBLE) -- or 16, however many U.N. resolutions there were on Iraq, and we‘re just beginning the diplomatic process here.  I certainly hope we never have to use our military again.  On the other hand, if diplomacy fails, the United States has got to, you know, has to leave all options on the table.

I‘m confident diplomacy can work, particularly if the Europeans and Russia and China continue to send a clear message to the Iranians.

LAUER:  I said the Iranians want to acquire weapons of mass destruction, which is really repeating what your administration has said.  And given the sense of (INAUDIBLE)...

BUSH:  (INAUDIBLE)...

LAUER:  ... the accuracy of intelligence, especially after Iraq, do you have a smoking gun?  Do you have a firm piece of evidence that proves to you, and could prove to the American people, that the Iranians indeed are enriching uranium for weapons purposes, not for peaceful purposes?

BUSH:  Well, I think the most compelling evidence was that which is found by the IAEA, was the international inspection body, that there is evidence of an enrichment program going on outside of the protocol that the Iranians agreed to.

LAUER:  And so you think that‘s...

BUSH:  So we‘re worried about that they‘ll be developing a bomb.  And it‘s very important for the world to take this threat very seriously, and we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Matt Lauer with the president.

But is the White House taking the threat on the ground in Iraq seriously and realistically?  The message is, Stay the course.  But in the huge Anbar Province, word from our military is that we‘ve already lost there politically.  Thomas Ricks of “The Washington Post” joins us.

And it shatters not the earth, but just the life of a notorious celebrity.  As Anna Nicole Smith gives birth, her 20-year-old son dies in the same hospital, in her room.  What in the world happened?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the growing complexity of the growing phenomenon of terrorism in the rest of the world.  In Syria, which is not a U.S. ally in the war on terror, due in part to its support of Hezbollah, Syrian security agents put their lives on the line today to defend the American embassy.  One Syrian guard gave his life in repelling today‘s attack on the embassy in Damascus, a group believed to have ties to al Qaeda suspected of carrying out the attack.

Gunmen armed with grenades drove a van loaded with explosives up to the embassy and started shooting.  The gunfire reportedly lasted as long as half an hour.  Three of the four attackers were killed, one was wounded, and one is presumably now being interrogated for information within the limits of Syrian law.

But it may well be our ostensible allies we have to worry about in Iraq.  As we told you yesterday, a secret report from the top Marine intelligence officer in Iraq‘s Anbar Province concludes that Iraq‘s majority Shia government has failed to establish a solid presence in that Sunni region, leaving Al Qaeda in Iraq to fill the political vacuum.

The Pentagon today released video of the Marine commander in Iraq responding to, but not exactly disputing, that assessment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Recent media reports failed to accurately capture the entirety and the complexity of the current situation in al-Anbar Province in Iraq.  The classified assessment which has been referred to was intended to focus on the causes of the insurgency.  It was not intended to address to positive effects coalition and Iraqi forces have achieved in the security environment over the past years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A Pentagon release just one month ago quoted General Zolmer himself as saying, “The Iraqi people must step forward and accept their freely elected government if there is to be peace in the country‘s troubled Anbar Province,” end quote.  “There will not be a coalition victory against the insurgents.  That is a problem for the national security forces and the national government.”

It should come as little surprise, then, that the Pentagon is unable to effectively kill the story.  It was first reported yesterday in “The Washington Post” by our guest, senior Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks, also the author of “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”

Mr. Ricks, thank you once again for some of your time tonight.

THOMAS RICKS, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Is the U.S., in fact, losing its grasp on Anbar?  And if so, why?

RICKS:  Well, Colonel Devlin‘s report—he‘s the senior Marine intelligence officer in Anbar—says that they‘re effectively stalemated militarily.  The U.S. military can control whatever ground it‘s standing on, but really can‘t extend security beyond that.

And meanwhile, the situation is (INAUDIBLE) -- is deteriorating both politically and socially, and no economic progress is being made.  So he‘s kind of saying we‘re stuck out here, we‘re kind of at a standstill, we‘re not moving forward, and it‘s kind of saying the emperor has no clothes.

OLBERMANN:  If that were not bad enough, the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, report that came out yesterday quotes the Defense Intelligence Agency as saying that the December 2005 elections appeared to heighten, and heighten, the emphasis there is ours, sectarian tensions and polarize sectarian divides.  In that statement, is the GAO telling us that this cure for terrorism, democracy, that Mr. Bush keeps advocating, can actively make things worse in Iraq?

RICKS:  Yes.  A lot of experts have been saying for a while that elections are the last thing you have when you set up a new democracy, that you need to build civil institutions and build social trust.  And then, after people have achieved a sense of normalcy in their lives, going to work, going to school, being able to shop without being bombed or killed for their religious beliefs or their ethnicity, that‘s when you can start moving towards forming parties and elections.

By hold elections first, the argument goes, what we did was emphasize sectarian differences, because people voted along their religious beliefs.

OLBERMANN:  The White House metric for success in Iraq seems to be based on training Iraqis to take over.  How much should we worry that we‘re actually training Shia security personnel whose loyalties lean sectarian, rather than federal, and thus we are fueling Sunni reliance on militias and even leading them to turn to Al Qaeda in Iraq?

RICKS:  We should worry a lot, because when I was out in Iraq earlier this year, that‘s one of the things that advisers said to me is, we are training these guys, we‘re very confident that we‘re training the army, and they‘ll support the central government, more or less, but we‘re very worried about the police.  Big chunks of the police in Iraq, they said, are really just militiamen inside police uniforms, which is to say politely, death squads.

OLBERMANN:  So Anbar Province is, in the assessment of the military experts there, not regainable?  Is it a lost province?

RICKS:  I think what Colonel Devlin was trying to say was that it‘s really going nowhere as it is, that they‘re kind of—and it‘s sliding back politically and socially.  And so they‘ve created this hole that has been filled by Al Qaeda in Iraq.  So it is kind of a negative, because in 2003, there were people there who were allies of ours, willing to stand up.  But the American government, for whatever reason, has not been able to protect them.

So those mayors, police chiefs, governors, have been killed or intimidated, and are no longer around.  So we have fewer available allies than we did three years ago.  So, yes, what he‘s saying is, this isn‘t going well out here, we‘re sliding background.  I‘ve got to read it between the lines as saying, Hey, guys, let‘s not stay the course for the next two years, let‘s try something different.

OLBERMANN:  While we have you here, I must ask you about this bombing in the attack in Syria, in the embassy in Damascus.  This is a tough one to try to evaluate.  We‘ve got a Ba‘athist government, seemingly evildoers, that defended our embassy from Sunni extremists, seemingly evildoers.  Assuming we‘re not doing nuance any more, who do we root for here?

RICKS:  Yes, it was kind of watching a game between the Diamondbacks and like the Dodgers, I don‘t care about the outcome particularly.  I think what you need to look at here is, this is the Middle East.  It‘s incredibly complex.  Look at Iraq and the war on terror.  Yes, Iraq is now part of the war on terror, but which part is it?  When Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the main figures in the government we created, is also a major backer of Hezbollah, and, in fact, recently mounted a large demonstration in favor of Hezbollah.

So when you go into an Arab nation and occupy it, you wind up with some pretty strange bedfellows.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed you do.  Thomas Ricks of “The Washington Post,” great reporting on this story in particular.  Thank you for that.  And thank you for your time tonight.

RICKS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  A minor political controversy, speaker of the House, plus National Anthem, should equal nothing newsworthy, unless he forgets the words.

And speaking of bad singing, there is now a second offspring of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.  The word apparently official now from Federline himself.  Run for your safety.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  “The whole aim of practical politics,” the sage observed, “is to keep the populace alarmed and hence clamorous to be led to safety by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”  Who said that, Michael Moore, George Orwell?  Try H.L. Mencken, in 1921.  Today marks the 126th anniversary of the birth of the man who may still be our finest combiner of thinking and writing.  He also said, “If, after I depart this veil, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”  You have your instructions.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin in Bagner Regis (ph) in England, the epicenter of modern aviation this week, as its hosts the 28th annual International Birdman Competition.  Look at them fall.  Dozens of contestants showed up with their aerodynamic contraptions and horsie suits to take a run at the title, release rotation splash.  The rules are elegantly simple, just leap from the edge of the pier and try not to die.  The winner of the event used a hang glider to fly 277 feet.  After him, it was a 27-way tie for second place, with a distance of nothing.

But in the end, most people had a grand old time, and only 14 of them drowned.  Ha!  No, no, I‘m kidding, 10 people drowned.  Kidding.  Nobody drowned.  The sharks ate them.

To Washington, where Congress marked the September 11 anniversary yesterday by joining together once again on the steps of the Capitol to sing the National Anthem.  It was a solemn and respectful event that would not have made “Oddball” had Speaker of the House Hastert just backed away from the microphone a tad or remembered the words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS HASTERT, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We‘ll be accompanied by the United States Marine Corps Band. 

(SINGING) Oh, say, can you see by the star spangled barely high.  What so proudly at the twilight‘s last gleaming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh say can you see by the star spangled—well, there‘s your problem right there.  Ladies and gentlemen, how about a big hand for the congressman from Illinois, Enrico Palatso. 

Here‘s one way to improve your singing voice, sward swallowing.  Trust me, he sings like a meadow lark.  Like a meadow lark that caught in the gears of a combine.  Ramash Kasara (ph) Indora—no excuse me, Ramash Kasara (ph) from Indora, India.  He is the third most famous sword swallower there.  For just $22, an appearance, you can see him Ramash swallow up to 11 swords at once.  He‘s been doing it for 30 year, and after 30 years he says, (INAUDIBLE).

Also tonight, from an unreal life to heartbreak that is too real.  Days after giving birth to a daughter, her 20-year-old son dies in the hospital while visiting Anna Nicole Smith. 

And Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes show up at a Washington Redskins game

shhh, nobody tell then they‘re frighteningly overdressed.  Details ahead, but first time no for COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers of this Day.”

No. 3, General Manager Garth Snow of the New York Islanders hockey team.  Last year he was the backup goaltender of the New York Islanders hockey team, his first big move in his new gig in management, he signed the guy he used to be the backup for, goalie Rick Pietro to a guaranteed contract that through the season of 2021 -- 15 years, 15 years, $67.5 million.  Reaction from another executive in the NHL quoting one of them, “It means the owner is a moron.” 

No. 2, Kenneth Elmore, dean of students at Boston University.  He says the school will clamp down on swearing and other bad speech at B.U.  sporting events, even throwing B.U.  students out of B.U.  arenas, if necessary.  Fortunately this does not affect Cornell University hockey games in which the traditional chant of disapproval for the visiting school, no matter which one it is “screw B.U.” 

And No. 1, veterinarians at the World Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Some visitors complained that a goldfish on display at the museum was very disturbing to them because a cyst had grown over one of its eyes.  So they operated to remove the growth and they put it back in the pond.  That‘s what they say anyway.  There‘s always the chance that they just flushed it down the toilet and bought a new one at the pet store, just like mom and dad did. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In her role as the mother of a newborn daughter or of a nearly fully grown son has seemed incongruous, it‘s not your fault, nor mine.  Little that Anna Nicole Smith has done in public has lent itself to images of motherhood or stories of sadness.  But in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, both of those aspects of life have collided horrifically, in a hospital room in the Bahamas.  There, the widow of a man 63 years her senior, who has gone to the Supreme Court as part of her bid to get his money, who has pitched weight loss drugs and gone to awards show podiums seemingly under the influence of other kinds of drugs, came is faced to face with an awful reality—the death of her son in the very room in which she was recovering from the birth of her daughter.  Our correspondent is Peter Alexander. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For a woman who‘s found both fame and heartbreak before our eyes, Anna Nicole Smith‘s friends says her son Daniel has always the grounding force. 

ANNA NICOLE SMITH, CELEBRITY:  Guess what the lizard has to do?  He has to go roller-skating. 

ALEXANDER:  In just 10 years, Anna Nicole transformed herself from a small-town stripper to the wife of an elderly oil tycoon.  She made international headlines fighting for her late husband‘s billion dollar fortune, all the while battling both weight and addiction. 

SMITH:  I was honored to be on our next performer‘s new video. 

ALEXANDER:  While America focused on her in the tabloids, in court, and on reality TV.

SMITH:  Hi, it‘s Anna Nicole.

ALEXANDER:  Few may have noticed Daniel by her side.  And that‘s where he was this weekend when he unexpectedly died. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At this stage police have launched an investigation into the passing of this young man. 

ALEXANDER:  The 20-year-old was with his mother at this hospital in the Bahamas, Sunday, just days after she gave birth to a baby girl, his half-sister. 

INDERA SAUNDERS, “NASSAU GUARDIAN”:  Sources tell us he had a massive heart attack while in the room with Anna Nicole Smith.  She was frantic and she was an emotional wreck.  Crying and she pushed them aside to try and revive him herself. 

ALEXANDER:  An autopsy is now underway, but Bahamian investigators say there were no signs of foul play.  And a Smith family friend tells NBC NEWS Daniel was not a drug user.  This is one of the last known photos of Anna Nicole and her son, described as sensitive and shy.  Anna Nicole‘s website says she‘s absolutely devastated, calling him her “pride and joy.” 

BRYAN ALEXANDER, “PEOPLE” MAGAZINE:  This was not your typical soccer mom, but she cared deeply for Daniel. 

ALEXANDER (on camera):  Anna Nicole was just 17 when Daniel was born.  She met his father at a fast food restaurant where they both worked in rural Texas.  Daniel was only a few months old when his dad took off, leaving Anna Nicole to raise him alone. 

(voice-over):  Now she‘s left raising her baby girl by herself.  She hasn‘t identified the child‘s father.  At a time when Anna Nicole should be celebrating a new life, she‘s instead dealing with a parent‘s deepest loss. 

Peter Alexander, NBC NEWS, Hollywood. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The previous most recent shock touching a celebrity life, the death of Steve Irwin.  In Australia tonight, there‘s apparently a bizarre form of revenge going on. 

And look, pandas.  What you need, a new story with this?  Just video of pandas somehow became insufficient at some point?  OK.  They‘re taking over the Chinese government.  How‘s that?  Details ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is what it looks like, air guitar.  Perhaps an underestimated art form, or it is a form of music?  Ochi Yosuke of Japan took home the title of World‘s Best Air Guitarist. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He is perhaps one of the most popular street performers in the world.  He‘s been strumming on his guitar in cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, briefs and nothing else for eight years. 

NAKED COWBOY, STREET PERFORMER:  (singing) I‘m naked cowboy.  Keeping it real for you.

JON STEWART, “DAILY SHOW”:  Perhaps the rekindling of Bush‘s interest Osama bin Laden is a sign of how far we‘ve come in the last five years.  We‘ve progressed through all five stages of grief.  First, there was denial. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He‘s the ultimate parasite who met his match. 

STEWART:  And then anger. 

BUSH:  I don‘t care.  Dead or alive, either way. 

STEWART:  And of course.

BUSH:  I couldn‘t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Pandas gone wild! -- the population resurgence.  Brittany gone wild! -- begging for an In-N-Out burger on the way to give birth.  Cruise gone wild! -- the pro-football version.  And “Girls Gone Wild!”—the lawsuit.  I might be an alarmist here, but I think a theme warning is merited.  COUNTDOWN gone wild! -- ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not like they‘re bumper to bumper on the planes, like the buffalo in the American West, but in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, you know those fears that the giant panda would be extinct within the next like, a month.  There‘s 3,200 of them all of a sudden.  And as you will see in this report from Mark Mullen in Sichuan Province in China, they‘ve even built their own panda action adventure park and taken hostages. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  China‘s Panda Play Pen has never been this crowded.  At the Wulong (ph) Giant panda Center in rural Sichuan Province alone, there is 16 panda toddlers, a dozen newborns, not to mention a couple of moms-to-be.  Like Yu-Yo who‘s closely monitored with the latest ultrasound equipment every two days to make sure nothing goes wrong during pregnancy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We can find two fetus in early time.

MULLEN:  The program‘s hoping for a record 20 births this year. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is big wishes, big hope for the white panda.

MULLEN:  Just a few years ago the pandas‘ habitat of bamboo-rich mountains in China was under threat from deforestation and fires, leaving just 1,500 pandas in the wild. 

(on camera):  Today the number of pandas is double, thanks to an effort to replant the forest with bamboo, generally that‘s their favorite food and not my shoe, and also the most successful breeding program in the entire world. 

(voice-over):  For pandas, making babies naturally is tough to begin with.  The females are fertile just three days a year, and when they are, many males, like Ling-Ling, here on the left, aren‘t in the mood. 

With only 180 pandas in captivity, Wulong (ph) scientists use DNA to safeguard against inbreeding, and combined with the latest fertility techniques, they produce health babies with a survival rate close to 100 percent. 

Another success, the setting free of a Wulong (ph) panda in to at wild.  That one release may not seem like a big deal, but the implications are enormous.  It showed that researchers now are hopeful that this beloved bear, which has roamed the planet since the age of the dinosaur may not be destined for extinction, too. 

Mark Mullen, NBC NEWS, Sichuan Province, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And from animals that clearly deserve our love because evolution has made us find them cute, to animals we hate because they are gross and icky.  Officials in Australia report that at least 10 stingrays have been found killed, in sometimes multiplied in several separate incidents.  Official deny it, but there are concerns that the wave of attacks may be misguided retaliation for the death last week of Steve Irwin. 

A spokesman for Irwin‘s group urged Australians not to engage in stingray profiling, they emphasize that most stingrays are peace loving and law abiding and that the one that killed Irwin was a violent extremist. 

Onto our roundup of nightly celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”

And Britney Spears has reportedly given birth to baby boy No. 2.  No, that‘s no his name.  Various tabloid sources reporting that husband, Kevin Federline, drove Spears to the hospital early this morning.  He is now quoted as confirming the birth to “Access Hollywood.”  “Live and Style” reporting, Ms. Spears had food cravings on the way and actually wanted to stop at In-N-Out Burger.  We‘re told Federline did not want to and the misses apparently agreed to hold off after she was assured that at the hospital she would be able to get a cesarean. 

The company that makes those “Girls Gone Wild” videos pleaded guilty today in a Florida federal court.  This was not the crime in question.  I don‘t think it was this either, at least not in Thailand.  I‘m sure I‘ve got it written down somewhere.  Oh here we go.  Failing to maintain proof of age and identification for the young “thespians” who appear in the videos.  Sometimes it is alleged in scenes of a sexual nature, apparently. 

The company admitted to poor recordkeeping during 2002 and 2003, and if I might say from a critical point of view, it really showed in their work from that era.  Accordingly, it has agreed to pay a fine of $2.1 million, which really isn‘t so bad when you consider they could have lost their shirts. 

Katie Couric‘s boffo debut ratings can now be filed under “the week that was.”  Just as she did once for the “Today” show, last Ms. Couric helped yet another NBC program to No. 1, unfortunately for her the program was NBC NIGHTLY NEWS with Brian Williams.  In the week since Ms. Couric‘s debut on the “CBS Evening News” and the shattering of recent records, she has lost 45 percent of that initial audience and the program has fallen back in to third place, as of last night. 

Meanwhile, Meredith Vieira debuts in Couric‘s old spot tomorrow on the “Today” show.  Tomorrow‘s program is being seen as a milestone in TV‘s history, both the launching of the new Vieira-Matt Lauer era of “Today” and more importantly, we‘re finally bring to a close the ubiquitous ad campaign, announcing the start of that era. 

Oh, but this will never end.  Tom Cruise tries to look normal by wearing a suit at a football game. 

And the Chicago Bears victory that cost a Bears‘ about $285 grand.  Putting the “da” back in da Bears.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

And again, you can read along with me at home.  Seriously, the book dealers on the Web keep tinkering with the price.  It‘s like the fickin‘ stockmarket.

The Bronze tonight, to Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, we are all for the Humane Society, but this may be a stretch.  Mr. Pacelle has told a conference that to emphasize animal rights he suggests not calling them dogs anymore, but calling them “Canine Americans.”  Down, Sparky!

The Silver goes to Amanda Lynn Livelsberger of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  She has pleaded guilty to providing—giving her now 13-year-old a decidedly inappropriate reward for finishing his homework these last two years.  After he‘d finished he would get to sit there and smoke pot with mom.  OK, let‘s go back to the beginning, here, mom. 

But our winner tonight, David McMenemy of Sterling Heights, Michigan.  He‘s not only accused of trying to ram an abortion clinic with his car and then trying to blow it up by lighting his car on fire, but of also being a moron.  The women‘s clinic he rammed in Davenport Iowa does not offer abortions and does not offer abortions referrals.  It‘s just a women‘s clinic.  David McMenemy, anti-abortion nut-bad accused of trying to destroy clinics that don‘t even offer abortions or abortion referrals, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you think politics makes strange bedfellows you‘ve never heard about pro-football.  How the efficiency of his own Chicago Bears defense cost an Illinois furniture dealer nearly $300,000, and how the wandering business eye of the Washington Redskins introduced Tom Cruise to Monday Night Football.  The costliest shutout in gridiron history in a moment with the man who had to pay up. 

First the Washington Redskins lost to the Minnesota Vikings 19-16 last night.  But at least they got to do it in front of the parents of the Suri.  Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes join team-owner Daniel Snyder in the owner‘s box and boy does she look happy about it.  Along with Cruise‘s daughter, Isabella and son Connor.  Mr. Cruise because the first non-announcer or official to wear a tie at a game since Tom Landry retired. 

Suri, apparently, remained in the Potomac home of Daniel Snyder, where the Cruise family has been staying.  It was Snyder and other investors who stepped in to finance Cruise‘s production company after Paramount Pictures through Viacom‘s Sumner Redstone, so publicly dismissed him.  But now apparently the good times are rolling again.  Cruise and Holmes went to the Snyder-owned Six Flags Amusement Park in Washington, Sunday, with Mr.  Snyder and his family, and everybody wore a tie. 

And then there‘s another businessman, Randy Gonigam.  He got all inspired when the star linebacker of his team, the Bears, boasted that his would be the best defense in the NFL this year.  Mr. Gonigam made his customers in Illinois a deal.  Anybody buying furniture from his store over the Labor Day weekend would get their goods for free—a full refund, if those Bears shut out the hated Green Bay Packers in the season opener, day before yesterday.

And what, after all, were the odds of that happening?  Packers hadn‘t been shut out for 233 games.  Even the vaunted Bears had not whitewashed anybody since 2001.  It‘s a final, Bears 26, Packers nothing.  It was the first for Green Bay quarterback, Brett Favre, the first shut-out that he‘s been on the wrong end of in his 16-year career.  And a low, low price—in deed, the very lowest price possible for furniture buyers at the World Furniture Mall in Plano, Illinois.  Mr. Gonigam joins us now from World Furniture Mall. 

Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

RANDY GONIGAM, BEARS FAN:  Thanks for having me on.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t see a going out of business anywhere, so I take it you managed to weather this huge giveaway.  How‘d you do it? 

GONIGAM:  Oh, everything is going to be just fine.  We did have the presence of mind, prior to the event, to take out special event insurance, so in the unlikely happening that the Bears would actually pull off the shutout, we had an insurance company that covered most of the losses. 

OLBERMANN:  So, but what inspired you to make this particular offer, of all—I mean, fans are fans and we sometimes think irrationally about our teams, but this is putting an awful lot of money where your mouth, is it not? 

GONIGAM:  Well, I was just, I was trying to come up with something fun to do on our Labor Day weekend sale, and at the same time I was following sports pretty closely and I was stating to get interested in the Bears season and I saw where Brian Urlacher had made the comment that the Bears had the best defense in the NFL. 

And we‘ve heard a lot of those kind of comments before, a lot of team have, and they don‘t always seem to be able to back up what they say, so I thought it would be fun to, in a way—in my own way, challenge the Bears‘ defense to see if they were really as good as touted and saw that the Green Bay was the first game on the schedule this year and, as I know you‘re well aware, that‘s a huge rivalry out here. 

And going into the season, you always think that your team‘s going to be better than it is, so I figured Bears fans would be awfully eager to say to me, oh, we think the Bears can shut them out and look to buy their furniture on Labor Day weekend. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, at least you challenged the Bears‘ defense, because obviously the Packers didn‘t, particularly.  Do you think this is Urlacher‘s fault or is it more Brett Favre‘s fault that you‘re in the situation that you found yourself in here? 

GONIGAM:  Well, I guess we‘ll find out a little more this weekend when they play Detroit, but it certainly didn‘t look like Green Bay put up much of a fight. 

OLBERMANN:  As you watched that game, and watch the minutes tick a way, and Green Bay had not scored and Brett Favre did not look like the player that everybody‘s grown accustomed to, were you adding up the receipts from Labor Day weekend?  I mean, just talk me through those—that last quarter.

GONIGAM:  Oh, there‘s no question.  And really, at the start of the fourth quarter, at that point, I really had no doubt that the Bears were going to go all the way and shut them out and that my phone was going to start ringing right away.  And even with the—I got to say, even with the insurance that we had on the promotion, that kind of thing, it‘s still a very odd feeling to sit there and think about, oh, boy I‘ve got to give all this money back to our customers, that kind of thing.  I‘ve got to write all these checks to cover this, and gee, what if I didn‘t get the right insurance? 

OLBERMANN:  Going to do this again? 

GONIGAM:  You know, this has been so much fun and it‘s going to be more fun when we actually hand out the checks to people, that this particular promotion, I think it‘s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but we‘ll always be looking for something that might have the same kind relevance and same kind of fun for our clients. 

OLBERMANN:  Randy Gonigam of World Furniture Mall.  And there is at least all this free publicity.  Great thanks for your time, sir. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN, for this the 1,228th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, 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.

END   

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