updated 10/11/2006 12:44:22 PM ET 2006-10-11T16:44:22

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Wendy Sherman

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

Fifty-eight percent of Americans now believe President Bush lied to get us into war in Iraq, 67 percent dissatisfied with the country’s direction, only 36 percent don’t think Speaker Hastert should resign over the Republican sex scandal, only 33 percent approve of the president, 10 percent of Republicans want to see control of Congress taken by the Democrats.

As they say on the sports scoreboard, it’s a final.  Not that the Foley scandal is, but still more twists to the nightmare.  Representative Kolbe of Arizona saw some of the Internet messages in 2000.  Republican House leadership met with and warned Foley last autumn.

In 2000, light-water nuclear reactors sold to North Korea by a firm on whose board of directors sat Donald Rumsfeld.  In 2002, North Korea, described as part of an axis of evil by an administration on whose cabinet sat Donald Rumsfeld.  In 2006, North Korea has now tested nuclear devices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   The proclaimed actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable, and deserve an immediate response by the United Nations Security Council.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Anybody ever heard that phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy”?

Celebrity comic relief, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and a rickshaw. 

The photographer says he may sue.

And a farewell, Buck O’Neil, not voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.  It was the Hall of Fame’s loss, now it is ours.  He is dead at the age of 94.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCK O’NEIL:  Don’t weep for Buck.  Oh, man, just feel happy, just like I am.  Be thankful, just like I am, that I can do and have done the things that I did do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  This is Monday, October 9, 29 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

And if one poll is even remotely correct, the majority of this country’s citizens now consider their president unbelievable, not just adjectivally, but literally.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the steady drip of scandal, Mark Foley, Iraq, Abramoff, and more threatening to sink not only the GOP hold on Congress, but also the party’s increasingly unpopular commander in chief, Mr. Bush’s approval rating falling to an all-time low in the newest Princeton Research poll for “Newsweek,” 33 percent, down from an already anemic 36 percent in August.

Only 25 percent are pleased with the direction of this country, leaving 67 percent that are not, a large part of the dissatisfaction due to Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq, his purported reasons for declaring war in the first place, a majority of those surveyed, 58 percent, in another “Newsweek” first, now believing that the Bush administration knowingly misled the American people in presenting its case against Saddam Hussein, knowing the—“knowingly misled” a pleasant euphemism, 66 percent saying the conflict has not made America safer against terrorism, a majority also of the opinion it was a mistake to go to war,  the past 24 hours, of course, bringing now a new fear to the nation’s psyche, that the war in Iraq could amount to a cakewalk compared to the nightmare of a military confrontation with North Korea, the Bush administration’s do-nothing diplomatic stance toward that country over the past five years bringing about Pyongyang’s first-ever nuclear weapons blast over the weekend, and apparently few options for responding to it, the mushroom cloud of the Republican congressional sex scandal further breaching what the GOP once called its Contract with America and its claim, always made elbows-up to the moral high road, 53 percent of those surveyed by “Newsweek” wanting the Democrats to win control of Congress next month.

That includes 10 percent of Republicans, if the election were held today, 51 percent of likely voters saying they would vote for the Democrat in their district, 39 percent would vote for the Republican.

The poll closed Friday, before the newest wave of significant developments in the mess that began with Mark Foley, and just continues to radiate outwards.

Here to bring us up to date on that, our own political correspondent David Shuster in Washington.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, office of Congressman Kolbe in Arizona, I gather, we have to revise that timeline on when, at least, one of Foley’s Republican colleagues knew about his behavior?

SHUSTER:  Yes, that’s right.  Congressman Jim Kolbe, who is a Republican retiring from Arizona, he has told several news organizations now that he indeed knew about Foley’s inappropriate contacts with pages as far back as 2000, and that he confronted Foley at the time.

The significance of all of this is that with Kolbe having seen the inappropriate messages six years ago, it means that the timeline that has been offered by House speaker Dennis Hastert gets pushed back by at least five years.  You’ll recall that the House speaker had said that the first lawmaker of any party, anybody that knew about Foley’s inappropriate behavior, knew that a year ago.  Now you have Republican Congressman Kolbe saying, No, I knew about it back in 2000.

The question is, did Kolbe tell the House leadership about it?  Or was this just a conversation that he had with Foley?  Kolbe is not making this very clear, but you can bet that this is a matter that the House Ethics Committee is going to pursue.

OLBERMANN:  And what about the range contained with this inappropriate behavior and contact itself?  Can we now eliminate that this was just a prank, nonsense explanation, there’s an ex-page claiming that he and Foley actually had sex?

SHUSTER:  Yes, that’s right.  An ex-page has told “The Los Angeles Times” that he started getting messages from Foley right after the page left Washington and that eventually Foley and this page did have sex, although by that time, the former page was 21 years old.

But based on what “The Los Angeles Times” has obtained from this former page, the messages that Foley was sending to this page were sexually explicit, while this page was a teenager, and that is part of the problem, according to investigators, that it’s not just a matter of whether Foley was then having sex, but the fact that he was soliciting or that he was asking pages or using sexually charged language and possibly trying to arrange liaisons.  That is a huge problem.

OLBERMANN:  We haven’t heard anything bizarre from Speaker Hastert today, but there are other members of the leadership that are, that are on the political defensive, to say the least?

SHUSTER:  Yes, Congressman Tom Reynolds is facing a hell of a reelection battle in upstate New York.  His district includes parts of Buffalo.  He has now released a campaign commercial in which he apologizes for his inaction regarding Congressman Foley last spring.  He says that he told Dennis Hastert about what he knew of Foley last spring, and as in his commercial, I’m trusted that others have investigated (ph).  Looking back, more should have been done.

A lot of critics are suggesting that the reason that Reynolds did not take further action was because Reynolds’ campaign committee, which is responsible for helping Republicans get elected, had received at least $100,000 from Foley.  Reynolds is saying that the money he was receiving from Foley had no impact on his judgment last spring.  In any case, the Democrat in this particular race, Jack Davis, is now leading in the latest polls.

OLBERMANN:  The House Ethics Committee and looking into this, the work began today.  Do we have a timetable yet for the investigation?  Is there a chance that it might take less than four weeks?

SHUSTER:  Well, some sources in Capitol confirm that the investigative staff of this committee has started conducting interviews, collecting documents, trying to establish timelines.  And some veterans of this process say that it is quite possible the investigation phase, or the interviewing phase, would be completed in the next couple of weeks.

But they say the problem is going to come when members of this committee have to start making judgments about who do they believe.  Already, we know that House speaker Dennis Hastert has said he does not remember being warned by Boehner and Reynolds last spring.

At a certain point, this committee’s going to have to decide who they believe, and that’s when everybody seems to think that this committee is then going to get bogged down and not be able to reach any conclusions for some time.

OLBERMANN:  In which time, presumably, the story gets worse and worse and worse, yes.  MSNBC’s David Shuster in Washington.  As always, David, great thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on where all this may lead Republican Party, let’s call in our regular contributor, “Newsweek” senior editor Jonathan Alter.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Are those who are now saying the GOP is finished in the rival publication of yours had “The Revolution Is Over” as its headline today, that the Republicans have given up on winning the midterms, are they overstating the case at this point?

ALTER:  Oh, yes.  I mean, they haven’t given up at all.  They’re about to dump a tremendous amount of money in a whole lot of different competitive districts, much more money than the Democrats have.  They’ve got their 72-hour program, which, in the days immediately preceding the election, they’ve got a very finely tuned ground game, or—which could be pretty effective for them.

And even though the odds against them maintaining control of the House getting worse by the day, it’s still too early to write them off.  It’s foolish.  I mean, politics, Keith, changes so quickly.  A week can be a lifetime in politics.  You got to be really careful about counting your chickens before you’re hatched—they’re hatched, if you’re a Democrat.

OLBERMANN:  Is it easier in some ways for the Republicans now because they seem to have dropped any pretext of carrying that (INAUDIBLE) that baggage of, of, of, being the ones on the high ground?  I mean, this one comment that Speaker Hastert told a conservative commentator, “If I fold up my tent and leave, then where does that leave us?  If the Democrats sweep, then we have no ability to fight back and get our message out.”

I mean, is that the real, if the Republicans have a crisis, is that it right now, that the sense of morality is gone, how you may have broken your promises is gone, the only thing that’s left is clinging to power for power’s sake?

ALTER:  Well, it’s always a grubby fight for power in politics.  And, you know, I’m not sure that the Democrats from their end are any less interested in hanging onto their power.  But the question is whether, what message they have to get out.  All they basically have to say now is that the Democrats are a bunch of weenies on national security.

But when you have a lot of people on your side of the aisle who are critical of your administration, it gets really tough.  Just today, Keith, Donald Gregg (ph), who was George H.W. Bush’s national security adviser and then his ambassador to South Korea, wrote a scathing, scathing denunciation of the Bush foreign policy in “The Washington Post,” basically saying, These people don’t get it.  It’s a “terrible mistake,” quote unquote, to only negotiate with your friends and not use any diplomacy with your enemies, which is the basic operating principle of the Bush foreign policy.  They won’t talk to Syria, Iran, you know, Hezbollah, North Korea.

They—it sort of defies the thousand-year history of diplomacy to say it’s only something you do with people who already agree with you.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  By the way, the Republicans might want to stay away from that word “weenie” that you used just now.

But let’s move on.  “Congressional Quarterly”‘s reporting as well that it’s not just the House, now it’s also the Senate in play.  What implications does that have for the 2008 presidential race?

ALTER:  Well, you know, there’s some Democrats who are saying, Hey, it would be bad for us in 2008 to get the whole Congress in 2006, it would give us less to play off of.  You hear that.  To me, that’s overthinking this.  The reason that the, you know, the Democrats want and should want to get the Congress back is to provide some measure of accountability.

For more than 200 years, it was the job of the Congress to hold the executive branch accountable, even if it was in the same party.  This past Congress, for the last six years, for the first time in history, they decided oversight was not part of their responsibility.

So getting that back is not just a tactic en route to 2008.  And besides, Keith, there are so many other factors that will determine the 2008 election that to say that which party controls Congress will be determinative is way premature.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and, of course, MSNBC.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

ALTER:  Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And if you think the GOP is in trouble for their handling of congressional pages—sorry—that ultimately might be no more than a footnote compared to what the Republican Congress did on the very same day the Foley story broke.

“The Murder of Habeas Corpus,” a COUNTDOWN special investigation.  We promised it to you tonight.  The press of breaking news has altered our intentions.  We will bring it to you tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN, 8:00 and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific.

In the interim, there is another element to the Republican sex scandal.  Nothing could offend the Christian right more, correct?  Maybe not.

And the surprise that should not have been one.  North Korea claims nuclear capability.  The West sold them the equipment.  Secretary Rumsfeld was involved as a businessman.  President Bush called them evil.  He refused to negotiate.  You were expecting this was all going to get fixed by maybe Tinker Bell?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Evangelical Christians may differ on whether the blame in the Foley page sex scandal should rest also with congressional leaders.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, there is no evidence that they consider it a joke.  Well, one of them seems to, James Dobson, founder of the religious group Focus on the Family, suggesting that, quote, “The whole thing turned out to be what some people are now saying was a sort of a joke by the boy and some of the other pages.”  This came after (INAUDIBLE) Dr. Dobson’s standard-issue condemnation of Foley affair on his radio broadcast, the religious leader joining the likes of Michael Savage and Matt Drudge in quoting the joke or prank theory, absolutely all evidence, including the congressman’s sexual liaison with a former page, to the contrary.

Despite that, there is true concern among Christian conservatives.  Whether it translates into withholding their vote, changing it, or rationalizing it is another matter.

Our correspondent is Martin Savidge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  They are the backbone of the Republican Party, once as predictable as a sermon on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jesus is the healer.

SAVIDGE:  Christian conservatives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My beliefs are moral beliefs.  They’re biblically based.

SAVIDGE:  But some Republican strategists fear the Foley scandal strikes at the very heart of those core moral beliefs.

SHEILA HARPER, HENDERSONVILLE, TENNESSEE:  I kind of get the feeling that it’s just out of control up there, you know, because of what we’re hearing on the media.  You think, what are they doing?

SAVIDGE:  There’s worry Christian conservatives might stay away from the polls come November.

REV. ALBERT MOHLER, SOUTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY:  I think there’s no doubt that this has been a rather disheartening season for conservative Christians, when it has to do with events in Washington and beyond.

SAVIDGE (on camera):  Even just a small change in the voting habits of Christian conservative could have a huge impact on who wins and loses close congressional races.

(voice-over):  One place that’s true is Tennessee.  Democratic Representative Harold Ford, Jr., and Republican Bob Corker, according to several polls, are neck and neck, battling to replace retiring majority leader Bill Frist, a race Democrats believe could help put control of the Senate back in their hands.

But here in Tennessee, at least, Christian conservatives blame former congressman Foley, not the party.  Everyone we talked to said they’ll be there come election day.

JULIA LAWSON, MADISON, TENNESSEE:  I think those actions are horrendous.  And—but I don’t see its involvement in the political process.  That was an individual, not the political party itself.

DAVE MACY, GALLATIN, TENNESSEE:  I may have to hold my nose when I vote, but I’ll vote the Republican line, it’s the only way to go.

SAVIDGE:  Influential pastor Maury Davis (ph) summed it up best.

PASTOR MAURY DAVIS:  The disappointments that individuals may have with the Republican Party are probably outweighed by the disillusionment with the platform of the Democratic Party.

SAVIDGE:  If those sentiments are reflected nationwide this fall, it just may be the answer to a Republican prayer.

Martin Savidge, NBC News, Nashville.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From holding your nose to vote to kissing poisonous snakes.  No segue there whatsoever.  None.

And a lesson to the paparazzi, mess with Brangelina’s rickshaw ride and risk a oaken neck riff (ph) from the bodyguard.

That’s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1903, future baseball owner Walter O’Malley was born.  He’s infamous for moving the Dodgers out of Brooklyn.  But there’s an even better story, less frequently told.

On the last day of one of the seasons in the ‘60s, his general manager, Buzzy Bavesey (ph), goes into O’Malley’s office and said, We had a good year.  And O’Malley says, The hell we did.  We lost $2 million this year.  Bavesey staggers out into the office of a Dodger vice president, recounts what O’Malley has said, the vice president laughs.  But O’Malley says we lost $2 million, he tells Bavesey, he means we made $4 million last year.  We only made $2 million this year.  So we lost $2 million this year.

And therein is everything you need to know about sports owners.

Let’s play Oddball.

We begin under the sea off El Jiero (ph) Island in Spain, where artist Alfonso Cruz (ph) practices his passion, underwater painting.  Mr. Cruz says he covers his canvases in swimming-pool paint to make them waterproof and dives to the ocean floor to create his masterpieces.  He says it is there where he finds the inspiration for his paintings, which, oddly enough, are mostly desert landscapes and dogs playing poker.

Here we are in Thailand.  A new Guinness World Record has been set for kissing the old cobra, literally.  Snake charmer Kum Chai Buti (ph) kissed 19 different venomous king cobra snakes to break the record as a crowd of dozens watched on silently hoping to see some fang-on-face action.  A medical team standing by just in case.  But he was not bitten.  However, six of the snakes have developed cold sores.

Finally to Dallas for the big jalapeno eating contest at the Texas State Fair.  Rich DeLocus LeFevre (ph) was the big winner, downing 247 hot peppers, beating out the Black Widow, Sonia Thomas (ph), for the prize.  And you have to wonder just how much her flight home must have stunk, figuratively and literally.  No cash, no ribbon, just the horrible gastrointestinal reaction that necessarily ensues after you eat over 200 jalapeno peppers in one sitting.

Here’s the diplomatic equivalent of that.  North Korea has evidently entered the club of nuclear nations, as the Bush administration’s insistence on not talking with its enemies actually brought us to this point.

And the legendary diplomacy of this man, Buck O’Neil, his grace during the shocking oversight that kept him out of baseball’s Hall of Fame remains a lesson to us.  Our tribute to the late Buck O’Neil ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN’s (INAUDIBLE) the latest three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Dominick Emmanuel, spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi in India.  He says the telephone centers in his nation, help lines, IT desks from the U.S., that sort of stuff, they are dens of iniquity, young people, well educated, usually working all night and having sex, the women operators bringing condoms to work.

Well, that explains why they keep putting us on hold.

Number two Natasha Timarovic of Zadar (ph) in Croatia.  She was brushing her teeth.  She bent over to pull her—put her mouth directly under the tap to rinse.  That’s when lightning struck her house.  Ran right through her mouth and came out her backside.  She has burns, but she’s OK.  This helpful hint, buy a freaking cup.

Number one, Joseph Ledesma (ph), Justin Armijo (ph), and Robert Nuckols, employees at the Burger King in Los Lunas (ph) in New Mexico.  They have been arrested after two police officers realized somebody had put something in their burgers at Burger King, pot.  According to a spokesman, one of the officers, when he was eating his hamburger, he said, This thing tastes like it has marijuana in it.

All right, that’s not a good thing to do.  The arrests were probably deserved.

But here’s a question.  How did the officer know that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

*

OLBERMANN:  Nothing like calling somebody part of an Axis of Evil to get them acting like a part of and Axis of Evil. 

In our third story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, North Korea, the first member of the Axis of Evil to hold simultaneous membership in the nuclear club.  North Korea’s first nuclear test, yesterday, coming six years after President Bush took office and decided to drop the Clinton administration policy of engagement with the government of Kim Jong-il. 

A policy that, as reported three years ago by the British newspaper the “Guardian” and also by “Fortune” magazine, included the sale of two nuclear reactors made by a European company called ABB in 2000. 

ABB’s board of directors throughout the ‘90s and through 200 included one Donald Rumsfeld.  In the six years since then, Mr. Bush has refused to engage directly with North Korea, instead trusting communist China to safeguard America’s vital interests. 

China, one of the few countries in regular contract—contact with North Korea, it has consistently failed to dampen the nuclear ambitions of the North Korean dictator.   Today Mr. Bush showed no sign of recognizing that his signature policy of alienated and antagonizing North Korea has somehow failed to produced settlement. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W.  BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States condemns this provocative act.  Once again, North Korea has defied the will of international community, and the international community will respond. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Clinton administration had a North Korea policy coordinator as a special adviser to the president from 1997 until the end of Mr. Clinton’s term.  That was Ambassador Wendy Sherman.  Ambassador Sherman joins us now. 

Many thanks for your time tonight.

AMB.  WENDY SHERMAN, FMR.  NORTH KOREA POLICY COORDINATOR:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If self fulfilling prophecy might be a strong a term for this, is the sense of shock and outrage on this administration’s part also inappropriate?  How could anyone not have seen this coming? 

SHERMAN:  Well, I quite agree with you.  The administration should have seen this coming.  In fact, when President Bush took office and we were in a very intense negotiation to stop the development of missiles in North Korea and missiles are important because they deliver nuclear weapons.  And the Bush administration decided to not pick up the cards we had left on the table even though Colin Powel, at the time, thought they were pretty good, he got overruled by the president of the United States, as we know when he sent them out in the middle of press conference to say, nope, we’re not going to follow Clinton, anything but Clinton.  And a result of that, we now have a 400 percent increase in the amount of plutonium and the number of nuclear weapons that North Korea has under the Bush administration policy. 

OLBERMANN:  In Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” the candidate, George Bush is quoted as asking the Arabian Prince Bandar in June of 2000, “Why should I care about North Korea?”  Why did he not care?  And other than the obvious change of the world here today, why should we care now? 

SHERMAN:  It’s very hard for Americans to imagine they should be worried about North Korea.  Most people don’t know where it is.  It’s lead by a rather strange leader that people don’t understand.  There’s no oil, there appears to be no immediate impact on people’s lives.  But if North Korea had nuclear weapons several things—and they do—several things are going to happen. 

There may be a nuclear arms race in the Korean peninsula that means Japan may decide it needs nuclear weapons.  Might be that South Korea decides that they need nuclear weapons.  I don’t think nuclear weapons and more importantly, North Korea, now that it has four, six, eight, 10 nuclear weapons, can test them, but they can also sell them, they may not be secure enough and terrorists might get a hold of them or the fissile (ph) material for those nuclear weapons.  And I think we’d all agree there is nothing more terrifying for Americans than terrorists with their hands on nuclear weapons. 

OLBERMANN:  Two years ago—I want to play this clip here, Mr. Bush rejected his opponent’s advocacy of direct U.S. talks with North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We began a new dialogue with North Korea one that included not only the United States, but now China and now China’s got a lot of influence over North Korea—some ways more than we do.

As well we included South Korea, Japan, and Russia, so now there are five voice to speaking to Kim Jong-il not just one.  And so if Kim Jong-il decides again to not honor an agreement, he’s not only—uh—doing injustice to America, be doing injustice to China, as well.  And I think this will work.  It’s not work if we open up a dialogue with Kim Jong-il. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, two years after, “I think this will work” North Korea has tested its first nuclear device.  What happened and what conceivably positive could happen next? 

SHERMAN:  Well, there’s no doubt that it’s good to have many voices, as we did during the Clinton administration, telling North Korea this isn’t the way to go.  But North Korea, at the end of the day wants regime survival, and they think the only country that can guarantee that is the last remaining superpower, the United States.  And so they want direct engagement with North Korea and the United States and although, ultimately, President Bush did finally breakdown and allow a very able negotiator, Chris Hill, to have a direct conversation in the middle of those six party talks, Ambassador Hill had nothing in his pocket and you cannot negotiate with nothing. 

Now we’re in a very difficult place because we have very gone deep in the hole and that isn’t just those nuclear weapons and blast today.  It is about how we get out of this and after all the condemnations and after the sanctions, all of which are necessary because North Korea has to know there are consequences.  Ultimately we have to get back to talks and somewhere in there somehow there have to be direct talks with the United States.

OLBERMANN:  Is a blockade feasible or that would just make it worse? 

SHERMAN:  I think that is one of the sanctions that’s going to be in front of the Security Council.  The blockade is not going to stop North Korea from transferring nuclear weapons if it decides it wants to.  Plutonium can be a size of an orange, you can put it in a suitcase and take it across a border, you do not need a ship coming out of a port to do that.  So, although The Proliferation Security Initiative, as the Bush administration policy is called, is a useful technique, it’s not want to stop North Korea from having its nuclear weapons and transferring some of that technology if they want to. 

OLBERMANN:  Ambassador Wendy Sherman, great thanks for your perspective and your time tonight.

SHERMAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Quick note about another administration bogeyman, Cuba’s acting leader, today, denying a report in “Time” magazine that President Fidel Castro has contracted cancer—terminal cancer and will not return to power.  Castro handed over powers, supposedly temporarily, to his brother Raul in July.  This week’s “Time” quoting a U.S. official, saying Castro will not be coming back.  He had intestinal surgery in late July.  Cuba has not released specifics about the ailment.  His brother, today, said Castro is “not dying” and he is in fact “Getting better all of the time.  Working more everyday.” 

From deep international schisms to a headline that can provide hope for us all.  Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie together again.  Let’s see Madeleine Albright pull off something like that. 

And a Paparazzo gets a little too close for comfort to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in India.  When good rickshaw rides go bad.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Rickshaw rides and paparazzi do not mix.  But Paris Hilton and Nicole whatever her name is, are mixing again.  And we will bid farewell to the late baseball icon, Buck O’Neil.  That’s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Normally it’s celebrities complaining that the paparazzi are hounding and abusing them, but in our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, tables turned after a photographer tried to snap a shot of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in India, who found himself instead on the business end of their bodyguard.  There are threatened lawsuits, there are freedom of the press issues.  But as our correspondent, Dawna Friesen reports tonight, best of all fracas (ph) was recorded for posterity by another camera crew. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As Hollywood’s hottest couple, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt can’t, it seems, escape the limelight, even in India. 

On Sunday, what was to be a private auto rickshaw ride with their son Maddox, turned into a media circus.  Private security guards had warned the paparazzi to back off, but when one photographer kept snapping and this is what happened.  The photographer is thinking of suing. 

SAM RALPH, PHOTOGRAPHER:  Well, I have every right to be here.  I knew it would be disrespectful to take pictures inside the hotel and I know they wouldn’t like this, but it was outside anyway and doing my job along with everybody else. 

FRIESEN:  It’s all a bit amusing to the locals who do not know what the fuss is about.  Jolie and Pitt are in India filming “A Mighty Heart” based on the book by Marianne Pearl, wife slain journalist Daniel Pearl. 

JESSICA CALLAN, “SHOWBUSINESS” WRITER:  You kind of feel sorry for them but you kind of don’t because, you know, they’re worth absolutely millions and they’re big movie stars. 

FRIESEN (on camera):  Photographers are said to be staking out their hotel from dawn to dusk and can earn upwards of $1,000 for a picture of the family. 

(voice-over):  Which means the cameras will always be rolling whether what they capture is flattering or not. 

Dawna Friesen, NBC NEWS, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  A different kind of celebrity couple, formally best friends forever, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, providing the segue into our nightly roundup and celebrity and tabloid news.  Seems their feud might be over. 

Stop the presses, phone your mother, Hilton and Richie have gone out to eat.  And it wasn’t the old In-N-Out Burger either, it was Dantannas’s Stake House in West Hollywood, California, last night.  The to arrive together in Miss Hilton’s Range Rover.  TMZ.com account actually describing a frenzy, “Not seen since Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan met in Geneva in 1985.”  Harvey Levin, one of your writers apparently drank all the Listerine in the office.  No word on what they ate, but after dinner they engaged in some side-by-side text messaging while they waited for the valet to bring in the car. 

“Nicole, can we scare up son congressional pages on this thing or what?”

And Anna Nicole Smith’s life continues to unfold in the Bahamas including accusations that her residency application there was fast tracked via the expediency of cold hard cash.  Both photographer Larry Birkhead and lawyer Howard K.  Stern have said they are the father of Ms. Smith’s one-month-old daughter.  Mr. Birkhead says that Smith fled to the Bahamas to avoid his paternity claim.  He didn’t say anything about whether or not she fled there to avoid him.

There are even accusations that Ms. Smith moved to the top of the list in her residency application by delivering a $10,000 check to the Bahamian immigration minister, but that minister, Shane Gibson says Ms. Smith’s residency took three months.  He described that as quick, but says the same thing for a wealthy Czechoslovakian financier back in 1995, which should put all those notions of favoritism to rest.

Lastly tonight, we will remember the career, the life and the example of the one-and-only Buck O’Neil, including my last interview with him.  That is ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

Good news out of Wal-Mart.  The newest sales numbers from their list of political and social sciences books, “Worst Person in the World” N. 2 and that other thing Bill Orally wears a windbreaker, No. 3. 

The Bronze, speaking of which, here come the reviews.  Bill-O has slammed the Cleveland “Claim Dealer” for publishing a negative review of his novel.  I actually wore a windbreaker to my book cover photo shoot because the reviewer works for a progressive media watchdog.  But Commander Porthole could not identify one thing factually incorrect about that review.

Bill, your book socks.  Some people are going to buy it anyway.  Shut up and take the check and then send Andrea Mackris her 30 percent of whatever it is. 

Our runner up, an unnamed newlywed, the groom, who unwittingly triggered a biochemical weapons scare in Halle in Germany.  Police cordoned off a large area and examined, for two hours, a small supply of gelatinous goo left by the side of a road.  It was J-E-L-L-O, Jello, leftover from dinner.  The groom evidently didn’t like it, he threw it out the car window on the way to the honeymoon suite.

But tonight’s winners, FOX News again on the “Beltway Boys” program, they again misidentified a politician’s just like when they identified Mark Foley as a Democrat on O’Reilly’s show.  This time it was in a poll, there it is, showing Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse beating the shine-ola (ph) our to Republican Lincoln Chafee in the Senate race in Rhode Island, only as you see, they identified the leader, Whitehouse as a Republican and Chaffee as the Democrat.  Erroneous! Erroneous! All right FOX News, it’s time to fess up, you guys have developed a case of Democrat envy.  Obviously at the moment that’s perfectly understandable.  Put some Visine in your third eye and you’ll be fine.

In the interim, FOX News Channel today’s “Worst Persons in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The story is legendary.  Baseball John Jordan “Buck” O’Neil, then age 93, was walking back to his hotel in New York City about a year ago when he and a couple of friends passed an attractive woman, apparently in her 30’s wearing a bright red dress.  The friends entered their hotel, which is when they noticed was no longer with them.  He was back down the street exchanging laughs with the woman.  When O’Neil retuned they asked him if he knew her.  “No,” he said, “but one thing in life, you never pass up an opportunity to talk to a woman in a red dress.” 

Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight, Buck O’Neil died Friday night from cancer of the bone marrow and congestive heart failure, both only diagnosed within the last month.  We were privileged to be on the planet at the same time he was. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  The day Buck O’Neil born was in Carrabelle, Florida, November 13, 1911, William Howard Taft was president of the United States and Richard Nixon’s mother was not yet pregnant with him. 

Enrico Caruso opened the opera season by singing “Ieata” (ph) in New York with Arturo Toscanini conducting.  And baseball fans in Philadelphia were still celebrating their athletics’ World Series win over the New York Giants keyed by the amazing performance of third baseman, Frank Baker, now nicknamed “Homerun Baker” for having hit not one, but two homeruns in the series. 

There were, of course, no African-American players in the World Series, nor on any other major league team, nor in the minor, nor had there been for 27 years, nor would there be for another 36.  And in Carrabelle, Florida, and in Sarasota, where he would grow up, African-American children did not go to the same schools as the white children did.  And so Buck O’Neil would not have a chance to go to Sarasota High School nor the University of Florida.  His chances would have to come on the celery fields of Sarasota and the baseball fields. 

Buck O’Neil was a natural first baseman and a natural hitter, playing ball for a few dollars a game helped him to work his way through Edward Waters College in Jacksonville.  And in 1934, he began an odyssey through the segregated Negro Leagues, reaching their big time just in time for their heyday, the Kansas City Monarchs.  “Satchel” Paige and Jackie Robinson among his teammates, and black baseball’s first World Series championship his accomplishments.  But he was already 35 when Robinson was chosen to integrate the major leagues and already player manager in Kansas City.  Too late to cross the color line as a player, too soon to cross it as an executive.  So instead he became developer of player talent. 

His proteges included Elston Howard, the first black player, later MVP of the New York Yankees, and Ernie Banks, who became Chicago’s legendary Mr. Cub. 

ERNIE BANKS, “MR.  CUB”:  I’m in the Hall of Fame because of Buck O’Neil.  I spent many time and many years with him.  He’s a scout and a teacher.  And he saw something in me when first arrived with the Kansas City Monarchs that I didn’t see in myself.  And he’s that type of person.  He can really pull the skills that a person has out.

OLBERMANN:  As integration put the Negro Leagues out of business, Buck O’Neil became one of the major league’s first scouts with the Cubs in 1956.  He had already bought them Banks he would later find them other Hall of Famers like Billy Williams and Lou Brock and later day stars like Joe Carter. 

And in 1962 after the suggestion of Banks, O’Neil became baseball’s first black coach spending the season in a Chicago uniform and a dozen more working with the minor leagues.  And there the story might have ended.  Buck O’Neil, triumphant, if obscure in overcoming.  But he wanted the overcoming to be remembered as one of the founders of the Negro League’s baseball museum in Kansas City, he helped open a window to history. 

As one of the stars of the PBS documentary, “Baseball” in 1994 he became an overnight sensation at the age or 82.  And he was a tireless campaigner to get more and more of the forgotten heroes of the Negro Leagues into the baseball’s Hall of Fame. 

In 2001, baseball finally announced a special committee would convene.  It would research all candidates and five years later, give a simple yes or no vote on each.  One vote for all time, you are either in or never to be eligible again. 

The election of Buck O’Neil, by now baseball’s senior ambassador, with 65 years in the game an a million fans for every year, was a foregone conclusion.  Except when the voting was announced last February, 17 men and women, two of them white, had been elected, Buck O’Neil had not. 

The experts, some with conflicts of interest, like books they had written about their own favorite candidates, others with grudges against the Negro League’s museum, turned Buck O’Neil away through their and baseball’s eternal shame. 

Seemingly the only man who did not see it that way, though, was bucking O’Neil himself. 

He volunteered to speak about all of those who were voted in and their induction in Cooperstown, New York last July.  That month he became the oldest man to play in a professional game, drawing two walks in the all-star game of the minor league, the Northern League.  Throughout the summer he continued a tireless schedule, crisscrossing the country to attend Negro Leagues commemorations to speak, to meet fans, and then in August he checked himself into a Kansas City hospital with exhaustion.. 

I last got the privilege of speaking with Buck O’Neil on March 1, just after that Hall of Fame vote that broke our hearts, but not his.

There are a lot of us in the Buck O’Neil fan club who are or who were really angry or really broken hearted that the election turned out the way it did.  But you very obviously and very publicly are not.  Why aren’t you?  

BUCK O’NEIL, BASEBALL LEGEND:  Well, you know, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get in, but I think the people that was on that committee, that did the voting, they were voting just what they thought it should be and I can’t hold that against anyone.  I did have a chance, you know.  If I hadn’t had a chance, now I would have been bitter, just like, oh, I couldn’t attend Sarasota High School.  They didn’t give me a chance, but with this, they gave me a chance to get into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.  I just didn’t make it. 

OLBERMANN:  What do suggest those of us who admire you do about our disappointment? 

O’NEIL:  Well, I do not know what you can do, really, as far as me going into Cooperstown.  But I thank all of you that you feel the way that you feel.  And I feel that I could be in Cooperstown.  I think that put the numbers down.  I put the numbers up that would lead you into the Hall of Fame, not on the fields.  Now, a lot of people they are talking—they were talking about other things I accomplished off of the field, which is wonderful, but, listen, I play, you know, I played a year and made one error and I hit the ball, I just happened to be a line drive hitter, not the homerun hitter.   But I drove in the runs; I could do all these things. 

But I think, you know, with me, my greatest accomplishment might have been starting the Negro League Baseball Museum, here in Kansas City, which tells that story.   So, if it’s to be one day I might be in the Hall of Fame.  But I just want to thank all of the people that felt the way that they are feeling right now.  But don’t weep for Buck.  No man.  Just feel happy, just like I am, being thankful, just like I am, that I can do and have done the things that I did do. 

OLBERMANN:  I’m not going to try to talk you out of being OK with this.  If this cup is half full, god bless you we could learn a lot of that from you.  But I do want to ask you this, Ernie Banks said last night that he thinks the work of that special committee is not done yet, that it should not be disbanded, that it has more people to elect and honor from the Negro Leagues and whether it is Cannonball Dick Redding or it’s John Donnellson or it is Minnie Monsoso or it is Buck O’Neil should there be another vote next year?  

O’NEIL:  Well, now, had I been—had I been elected, I was going to preach, because I think everybody was on that list was qualified should be in the Hall of Fame, really.  And that’s what I was going to preach if I had been in.  But now I can’t preach that because they would be thinking I’m just preaching for Buck O’Neil.  

OLBERMANN:  Well, I don’t think anybody would ever think that.  I have been asking for three nights now if the voters who did not vote for you or for Minnie Minoso, would identify themselves and at least explain what they were thinking.  The voters all say they’ve been asked by the Hall of Fame to keep their voting confidential, Hall of Fame spokesman told me that’s not true.  They can talk if they want to.  Do you have an opinion about that?   Should they explain why they did or did not vote for anybody in particular including you? 

O’NEIL:  They should if they wanted to.  If they wanted to explain why they didn’t vote for Buck, yes, they should, they should have that privilege to do or not to do.   But, I don’t see why they wouldn’t explain why they didn’t.  I don’t know why they would or wouldn’t.  But we’ll see.  Maybe somebody will come and say something after while. 

OLBERMANN:  Buck I said this 10 years ago when we sat down to talk about Jackie Robinson, I’ll say it again, it’s an honor just to know you, sir, and thank you for everything you’ve done for baseball, thank you for everything you’ve done for this country.  

O’NEIL:  The pleasure’s all mine and I thank you very much for having ol’ Buck on here to talk a little.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And by the way, I’m still going to push to get you into the Hall of Fame anyway. 

O’NEIL:  Hey, don’t stop.  Keep it up.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

O’NEIL:  You’re welcome. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That we can promise, Buck.  I’m not so sure about the not weeping and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. 

That’s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,255th since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I’m Keith Olbermann, can’t do it as well as he did, but I’ll try it anyway, goodnight and good luck.

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

END   

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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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