updated 10/27/2006 10:48:48 AM ET 2006-10-27T14:48:48

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Thomas Ricks, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? And the roulette wheel of excuses turns up 23 red, 23 red, that would be, Blame the media. The troops suffer as another grim milestone is reached in Iraq.

The deciders suffer through another day of questions about, What’s the plan in Iraq, if any?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Just a second, just a second, just a second, just a second.  We ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And you work hard, it’s hard work.  And whose fault is Iraq’s bristling at the American announcement about benchmarks for the new government’s progress?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think the problem is, we had a case of bad reporting that sort of ran out of hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  How about that?  Twenty-three red comes up twice in the same day.

How will things come up on November 7?  Polls continue to say the sun rises in the East, and the Democrats in the midterms, but Bush’s Brain has his own polls.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, BUSH SENIOR ADVISER:  You’re entitled to your math, I’m entitled to the math.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Could the election day math come up short for the GOP because of one of its own ads?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold, call me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The backlash from the racist commercial in Tennessee designed to beat Harold Ford.

Superpowers may not just be for the comic books and the movies any more, science trying to let us see through walls, levitate, and make our brains so large that they might even dream up a hit 8:00 p.m. network scripted television show.  Kevin Federline already thinks he’s all that, his incredible claims about his, quote, “popularity,” unquote.

And how’s Naomi Campbell’s rehab going?  Well, she allegedly hit a drug counselor, but she didn’t hit her with a phone, so that’s an improvement.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.  This is Thursday, October 26, 12 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

The only penalty apparent in the Bush administration’s purported plan of establishing benchmarks for the government of Iraq, insulting anyone who dares ask what the consequences are of failing to meet those targets.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld telling reporters to just back off when pressed today about the contradictions inherited in its—or inherent, rather, in its stated policy of deadlines for progress in Iraq, the conflict for which he is responsible continuing to spiral out of control.

In a moment, “Fiasco” author Thomas Risks—Ricks, rather, on the rhetoric versus the reality.

But we begin tonight with the latest on the ground in Iraq, four Marines and a sailor having died today of injuries suffered while fighting in a stronghold of Sunni insurgents, bringing to 96 the number of U.S.  troops killed there this month, officially crossing the plateau, the deadliest month of the year, the third deadliest of the entire war.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon, the defense secretary on the defensive from the very outset of this afternoon’s news conference, Mr. Rumsfeld chafing at the tone of the reporters, the top military civilian also suggesting that any questions raised about the administration’s plan to set benchmarks for the Iraqi government are politically motivated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD:  It’s a political season, and everyone’s trying to make a little mischief out of this and make, turn it into a political football, and see if we can’t get it on the front page of every newspaper, and find a little daylight between what the Iraqis say or someone in the United States says or somebody else in the United States says.

And, I mean, it is not complicated.  You’re looking for some sort of a guillotine to come floating down if some date isn’t met.  That is not what this is about.  This is complicated stuff.  It’s difficult.  We’re looking out into the future.  No one can predict the future with absolute certainty.

So you ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult, that honorable people are working on these things together.  There isn’t any daylight between them.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  But given the record, Mr. Secretary, can you blame us for the tone, expressing some skepticism?

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD:  That’s your job.  You can express all the skepticism you want.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Benchmark has been laid down in terms of security forces and the like.  They—the Iraqis have been unable to meet them.

RUMSFELD:  That is just false.  That—we should -- (INAUDIBLE), just a minute.  That is false.  Every time a security benchmark has been laid down, the Iraqis have failed to meet it.  Wrong.  Just isn’t true, and it would be a shame if people walked out thinking it.

Just a minute, just a minute.  Now, why do I say it’s wrong?  Well, first of all, it has the benefit of being true that it’s wrong.  The Iraqi security force training program that we have laid out has been proceeding in a orderly, reasonable way.  When we said that they would handle the bulk of the security for the last election, they did.  They—we were on the outer cordon, they were handling it in the inner cordon.  And they did a good job.  The election took place.

I mean, to say every (INAUDIBLE) security, I mean, that’s—there’s people ranting like that up on the Hill, but that is just wrong to say that.  It’s not even—it isn’t even close to being true.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  (INAUDIBLE) in numbers, but not the ability to stand up and take control.  It was evidenced here.  General Casey said as much in the fight to retake Baghdad, that when the U.S. military called on the Iraqi military to provide forces to assist in that operation, they provided only a small fraction of what is needed.

RUMSFELD:  OK.  Look at it this way.  Have there been instances, many instances, when the Iraqi security forces have been able to do precisely what was intended, and what was predicted?  Answer, yes.  Have there been instances where they were not able to do what was predicted and hoped for or intended?  Answer, yes.

That means your question, your statement, your assertion, is flat wrong.  You said every security benchmark has been missed.  That’s not true.  They’ve done a darn good job.

(CROSSTALK)

MIKLASZEWSKI:  (INAUDIBLE) too precise.

RUMSFELD:  Too precise?  (INAUDIBLE) inaccurate.

(CROSSTALK)

MIKLASZEWSKI:  ... in the terms of their ability...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD:  ... just retract it.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  ... in (INAUDIBLE) -- in their terms—in the terms of their ability to provide for their own security, there are many times when the U.S. has called upon them, where they just haven’t stood up.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD:  Well, wait a second, wait a second, wait a second.  There are many times, there are some times, there are some times where they took over something, didn’t work, and people had to go back in and help them.  No question.  And take it back.  I’ve said that from the beginning.  That’s part of this process.  It is not a smooth road.  It’s a bumpy road.

We know that.  We’ve said it repeatedly.  There’s no surprise to it.  But anyone who runs around denigrating the Iraqi security forces and minimizing their capability is making a mistake and doesn’t understand the situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are the people of Baghdad safer than they were six months ago?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good night, and good luck.

As promised, I’m joined now by the military correspondent of “The Washington Post,” Thomas Ricks, also, of course, author of one of the definitive works on the conflict, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq.”

Thank you again for some of your time tonight, sir.

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

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, as we saw there, and the full news conference was, you know, got this point across even better, he came as close to losing it as we have seen in any of these news conferences over the subject of benchmarks, when it was raised in the context of the previous ones set for the Iraqis, which they did not theoretically meet.  He said, obviously angrily, that that was not even close to being true.  Is Mr. Rumsfeld numerically correct about Iraqi defense forces in service, but realistically incorrect, because of how many of those were not useful?

RICKS:  Well, there was a basic problem there, which is, you can count the numbers, how many people you have in uniform, and that’s what the U.S.  has tended to do in Iraqi, count the inputs.

But what the reporters are looking at, and also what Iraqi civilians are looking at on the street, is the output, how much security and safety do I really have here?

And that’s the contradiction that Rumsfeld didn’t address in a final shouted question from a reporter, Is Baghdad safer now than it was six months ago? because nobody will tell you it is.  Baghdad is much worse than it was six months ago.

OLBERMANN:  To the new point here, did the secretary do anything to clear up any of the confusion over how consequence-free the benchmarks are, and how they would differ from previous attempts to hold the Iraqi government accountable?  Are the benchmarks meaningless, or do they just appear that way?  Are we missing something in this?

RICKS:  Well, confusion, in some cases, is not necessarily a bad thing.  There’s a lot of talk about benchmarks.  I believe the president used the word more than 10 times in his press conference yesterday.  But what they’re doing is saying, Oh, we’re establishing benchmarks, but we’re not going to really tell you how they work or what they are.  They’re simply kind of a road map.

Which raises the question, yes, is this simply one more set of ambitious goals that won’t be met?  Which has been the history of the U.S.  experience in Iraq over the last three years.

OLBERMANN:  The prime minister, Mr. al-Maliki, said some pretty bold things yesterday, including that as a sovereign nation, no one can impose timetables on Iraq, and that he did not know about the raid on Sadr City the other day.  And at the same time, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, said today that despite all that, it was the media misreporting what the prime minister said.

Does it sound to you, in the words of Secretary Rumsfeld today, as if there is no daylight between both nations on this point, at least?

RICKS:  Well, there clearly is some friction there.  But if you don’t like the facts and if you don’t like the message, then you can—and you really can’t refute them, then what you do is, go after the messenger.

They hadn’t been doing that for a while because they had been conceding, as the president did yesterday, that the situation in Iraq really is quite dire.  For a long time, they are saying the media’s not telling you about all the good news.  Well, now, they’re just saying, We don’t what the media is saying, we don’t like your questions.

OLBERMANN:  Between the president yesterday and the secretary today, did you hear anything from the administration this week that would lead you to change your assessment that the U.S. involvement in Iraq would still qualify as a fiasco, or has the administration righted its course and begun to fix the—or even realistically address the fiasco?

RICKS:  I’m surprised at the number of people in the military that have told me that the title of my book is too optimistic.  The situation has clearly gotten worse.

The events in Balad about 10 days ago, when you had sort of this (INAUDIBLE) militias going after civilians, that’s the whiff of a full-blown civil war that a lot of people are worried about.  And it was—it’s a very bad sign, probably the most significant event since the demolition of the Golden Dome Mosque last February.

If we have more of those, we’re going to really start on that slide into a full-blown civil war, and that’s really a troubling prospect.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, do you have any gauge on that, (INAUDIBLE), you know, how many foreign fighters are actually left, in comparison to Shi’ite and Sunni militias?

RICKS:  Foreign fighters have really never been that big at any point of a factor, except in Fallujah, when they kind of concentrated.  Every battalion or brigade commander I’ve spoken to on the ground in Iraq, when I ask them about foreign fighters, they said there are no more than 2 percent of the people he’s apprehended.

OLBERMANN:  Thomas Ricks, the military correspondent for “The Washington Post.”  As always, our greatest thanks for joining us, sir.

RICKS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Elsewhere tonight, the Republican whipmaster general apparently figures that public opinion about Iraq won’t ruin the party, Mr.  Rove saying his math proves the GOP will keep both houses of Congress.  He calls it, in fact, the math.

But in that calculus, is this a plus, a minus?  Is it an F for the whole course?  How the Harold Ford miscegenation ad may have blown up in the GOP’s face.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the broader picture, all the polls say the same thing, people don’t approve of this president, don’t approve of this Congress.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, when it comes to how those sentiments might play in midterm elections, the devil is in the details, the latest Zogby-Reuters poll finding that 44 percent of people favor a Democratic candidate, over just 33 percent for a Republican candidate.

Those are generic numbers.  They do not factor in incumbency in an individual district or state, slate voting, all the rest.  But that 11-point difference isn’t bothering Karl Rove either.  Earlier this year, he shifted his focus away from running the day-to-day White House policy towards looking at the broad strategy for keeping the Republican Party in power.

And as he told Robert Siegel of NPR, he apparently has his own method of predicting the outcome of this election.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “ALL THINGS CONSIDERED,” NPR)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:  We’re in the homestretch, though, and many would consider you on the optimistic end of realism about (INAUDIBLE)...

ROVE:  Not that you would be exhibiting a bias or...

SIEGEL:  I, I, I, I...

ROVE:  ... anything like that.  You’re just making a comment, right?

SIEGEL:  I’m looking, I’m, I’m, I’m looking at all the same polls that you’re looking at (INAUDIBLE)...

ROVE:  No, you’re not.  No, you’re not.

SIEGEL:  (INAUDIBLE)...

ROVE:  You’re not.  I’m looking at 68 polls a week.  You may be looking at four or five public polls a week that talk about attitudes nationally but that do not impact the outcome...

SIEGEL:  I’m looking at name races between...

ROVE:  ... (INAUDIBLE)...

SIEGEL:  ... certainly Senate races (INAUDIBLE)...

ROVE:  Well, like the poll today showing that Corker’s ahead in Tennessee, or the race, the poll showing that Allen is pulling away in the Virginia Senate race.

SIEGEL:  Leading Webb in Virginia, yes.

ROVE:  Yes, exactly.

SIEGEL:  But you’ve seen the DeWine race and the Santorum race and the...

ROVE:  I, I, I, I don’t want to—Yes, look, I’m looking...

(CROSSTALK)

ROVE:  ... I’m looking at all these, Robert, and adding them up.  And I add up to a Republican Senate and a Republican House.  You may end up with a different math, but you’re entitled to your math, I’m entitled to the math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To help us figure out what on earth “the math” is, I’m joined by NBC political analyst, senior editor for “Newsweek” magazine, Jonathan Alter.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Many things are frightening to a lot of people about Karl Rove, but perhaps nothing could be scarier than hearing him refer to “the math,” because suddenly, you—as I’ve already done once, you almost invoke Stalin talking about how it’s who votes that counts, it’s about who counts the votes.

What is “the math” supposed to mean there?

ALTER:  Well, I think he’s referring to those 68 internal polls that they have.  You know, the National Republican Congressional Committee has a lot more money than the Democrats, and so they have commissioned a lot of polls.  And it’s true that these national polls don’t tell you what’s happening in individual districts.

And you could have a phenomenon here where people say, you know, Throw the bums out, but not my bum.  You know, I saw him at the barber shop last week, and he’s OK.  So we have to be very careful here about comparing apples and oranges.  And, you know, Rove is obviously spinning, and you can’t expect him to say anything else, but that they’re going to win.  And yet he does have a broader view of the playing field than the public does.

OLBERMANN:  Certainly, that’s true.  Does he have a broader view of the playing field than the Democrat do, are the Democrats getting outpolled (INAUDIBLE)?

ALTER:  Yes, they are definitely getting outpolled.  There are many districts where the only recent poll is the NRCC Republican poll.  I was just in one in New Jersey the other day.

So the Democrats are basically saying, Look, we don’t want to spend our money on polls, because they’re expensive.  We want to put that all into the get-out-the-vote operations, because they know they’ve got a gap to close with Republicans on election day.

The Republicans, in the last three elections, have perfected this Rove idea of what they call the 72-hour program, where they really mobilize in the last three days before the election.  And it’s worked very well for them, and it might be worth, you know, a few points in several races, unless the Democrats can get their act together on what they call GOTV, get out the vote.

OLBERMANN:  So if that mobilization process does not provide the results that Republican leadership is expecting, is Rove in trouble if that goes badly, if they lose the House or the Senate, or both?  Is there some necessity for him to predict with waving banners that his math is the math, regardless?

ALTER:  No, no.  He’s in trouble, and his reputation is harmed if they lose both, because everybody’s expecting them and has been expecting them to at least hold the Senate.  But if they lose the House, you know, the way the expectations game gets played, that’s already been factored in, and I don’t think that’ll tarnish Rove’s reputation that much.

Remember, you know, he’s not infallible.  He almost blew the 2000 election.  He sent Governor—then-Governor Bush out to California for days on end, when California was beyond reach for the Republicans.  And Al Gore, as you remember, won the popular vote.  If he had carried the election, Rove’s reputation would have been destroyed in 2000.

So I do think that you might see the limitations of what’s called Rove’s base strategy, where instead of having his president move to the center, unify the country, he rubs the wounds raw in order to mobilize the base.  That’s the game they’ve been playing.  That’s been the nature of our politics for the last six years.  And it might be that those politics are coming to a close.  We’ll see a week from Tuesday.

OLBERMANN:  And a week from Tuesday, in 30 seconds or less, if you had to pick one thing that’s going to influence those final decisions and it—in the—in the voting booths, is it Iraq, is it Foley, is it the economy, or is it event X that hasn’t happened yet?

ALTER:  I don’t think it’s Foley anymore.  That’s run its course.  The economy is not working for the administration.  I think it will be Iraq, that, at the end of the day, this will be a referendum on the war in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine. 

Great thanks for joining us tonight, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, he has been the target of one of the most vile GOP ads out there, and that is saying something.  Yet for Representative Harold Ford, running for the Senate in Tennessee, it may have turned into, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words might actually help me.

And speaking of broken bones, there are no amazing jumps here, it’s just a bike literally going over a guy in a field.  That’s the news.  Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

We’re back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Caught me fixing my collar.

All kinds of birthdays on October 26, Senator Hillary Clinton, Trotsky, Sears from Sears and Roebuck, Jackie Coogan, who played Uncle Fester, Seth McFarland from “Family Guy,” Bob Hoskins, and somebody else whose name escapes me.

Let’s play oddball.

This guy will fix your collar for you.  We begin in Kandahashi (ph), India, where 22-year-old Agit Kumar Nyak (ph) has a belly of iron, and he wants the “Guinness Book of Records” people to know about it.  He stretched out in the yard and let 40 motorcycles drive over his tummy-tum-tum, and balanced a huge boulder on it while (INAUDIBLE) banged away at the thing with heavy sledgehammers.

Then, a light meal, followed by a big bucket of water hanging from the skin of his neck.  OK.  You’re just showing off now, Agit.  Let’s get rid of that video in a hurry.

To Tokyo, for the COUNTDOWN cool-ass robot of the week.  It’s Papero (ph), the world’s first babysitting robot.  Equipped with a high-tech computer and two cameras, the little thing can interact with the kiddies, it can even take phone calls from the parents who want to check in on the little one.  Of course, the first time they tried it outside the lab, Mom and Dad came home to find Papero on the couch, making out with the garbage disposal, while the kids were upstairs trying out the cigarettes.

And finally, more disturbing video from St. James Park in London, where apparently we have the only pelican in the world who prefers pigeon to fish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, my God.  Jesus Christ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, you don’t see that every day.  No extra charge for that.  I’m thinking that we might need a more strongly worded sign for this bird.

Do you secretly dream of being able to fly like a pigeon or soar like a pelican?  Science says your dreams may be coming true.

And speaking of flying high, we’re not sure what Mr. Britney Spears has been smoking, but he’s somehow come to the conclusion that he is the most underrated celebrity in his field, apparently the field across the street from his house.

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, officials at Swartz Creek High School in Michigan.  Students were evacuated and sent home earlier this month while the bomb squad investigated the suspicious object in the boys’ bathroom.  Turns out the foul-smelling bottle that prompted the scare was spoiled milk.

Number two, 22-year-old Jessica Krasek of Portage, Illinois.  She had just completed taking her driver’s license test on Tuesday.  All she had to do was successfully park the car back at the Motor Vehicle Department.  Either she mistook the brake pedal for the gas, or she thought the tester said, Park the car in the Motor Vehicle Department.  But she ended up crashing through the front window of the place.  Now, I’m just guessing, but given the skills of the average American driver, she got her license anyway, right?

But number one, the Reuters News Service, which had to issue a correction this week on a story about honeybees, which mistakenly included this sentence, which may qualify as the typo of the decade, quote, “Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day.”

And, of course, the typo there was, they left out “Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth has 10 times the lifespan of workers and lays up to 2,000 eggs a day.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After the 2000 elections put the wind at their back, Republicans tried to create what they referred to as a permanent majority, in part by bringing new constituencies into the party, primary among them:  blacks and Hispanics. 

But as our third story indicates, a problem when then when the Republican National Committee then puts out a commercial in Tennessee that hints what the segregated South use to call miscegenation, a black man dating a white woman, the man just happening to be the Democratic senatorial candidate there. 

In Tennessee, Harold Ford, Jr. neck-and-neck with white Republican Bob Corker.  Corker’s backers have made much of Ford’s presence at a Super Bowl party that had been sponsored by “Playboy” magazine.  But in a state that still had anti-miscegenation laws on the books in the ‘60s, it chose to make that point in a way that could easily play to racist fears. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I met Harold at the “Playboy” party.  Harold, call me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Corker, himself, denounced that ad.  The RNC even said yesterday it was pulling, though it made no admission there was anything wrong with the spot, but there are reports it’s still on television in some parts of Tennessee. 

And then there’s Corker’s own radio ad which critics have said seems to use a jungle sounding theme whenever Mr. Ford is mentioned. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Harold Ford, Jr. grew up in D.C., Bob Corker in Tennessee.  Harold Ford, Jr.’s lived a life of politics; Bob Corker’s the one we can trust to vote his Tennessee values.  Bob Corker’s the one from Tennessee. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For reaction to those ads and a new one just out today, I want to bring in political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell, of course a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com.

And good evening to you, sir. 

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Harold Ford has responded with a new ad just this afternoon responding to Corker, we’ll play in a minute.  But first let me ask you a hypothetical, if that RNC ad had had in it an African-American actress saying “Harold, call me,” would that have been inbounds and if it would have been, why wouldn’t that have been enough from the Republican point of view? 

O’DONNELL:  Keith, it’s just a bad ad, structurally.  Even before they got to casting the bad actors who are in it, it takes the campaign into a completely nonsubstantialive arena and has nothing to deliver to a voter who isn’t yet sure who they’re going to vote for. 

Anyone who found any appeal in that ad is someone who’s not going to vote for Harold Ford already.  So it was one of those ads that was just a very bad idea all the way through and the fact that it’s now open to racist interpretation has become disastrous. 

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned the Ford’s response.  Let’s play that and I’ll get your reaction to it. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The ads Corker attacking Harold Ford—

“despicable,” “rotten,” “lies.” 

REV.  HUNTER HUCKABAY, CHATTANOOGA, TN:  They have attacked his faith and it is disgraceful. 

MAURA SALCHELL, SON IN IRAQ:  My son’s life is on the line in Iraq and they’re putting on the ads just to distract us. 

REP. HAROLD FORD, JR. (D), TENNESSEE:  I’m Harold Ford, Jr., and they’ve attacked my faith.  Said I’m for gay marriage when I voted against it, for giving school girls abortion pills, all of it lies.  Here’s what I believe:  In god, in you, and a new direction.  That’s why I approve this message. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Is, do you think, Representative Ford trying to turn this into a referendum on what Tennessee wants its image to be?  In other words, do voters who want Tennessee to be seen as modern, diverse, and tolerant more or less, have to vote for him now? 

O’DONNELL:  It’s simpler than that, Keith.  This is proof that the Ford campaign believes that the bad attack ad on Ford has actually helped the Ford campaign because this ad keeps the story alive.  This ad is brilliantly done as a response ad.  He never could have done this ad if the RNC had not done that provocative ad to get this started. 

To do an ad where you just get to say, in a declarative sentence.  “I believe in god,” would make no sense if you weren’t somehow pushed into a corner by what the RNC had already done.  I am sure that the Republicans greatly regret having run that ad and Bob Corker has renounced it and urged it to be taken off the air and now the air is free for Harold Ford to run this response ad without having to, again, face that attack ad against him. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, there was a further dimension to this that did not get the national publicity.  The first ad from Corker, actually paid for by the RNC, which quickly replaced with another ad, which some TV stations questioned for the factual basis of its claims about Ford—are voters reaching a point, as you suggest here, that negative ads are, the accusation doesn’t matter anymore, that they want to hear something positive instead? 

O’DONNELL:  Not necessarily.  Negative ads about policies, about taxation, I mean to say someone’s voted for tax increases X amount of time and present that in a negative light are very effective campaign ads.  But, this kind of ad that the Republicans run in Tennessee is messy from the start, it’s an ad where you’re not even quite sure what they’re saying.  I think most voters in the way they watch TV, especially when ads come on, which is to say inattentively, would have to see that ad a couple of times before they quite got it.  And it’s a message that has no real voter meaning in Tennessee. 

And look, if the intent was we want to scare anyone in Tennessee who is afraid of black men dating white women, those voters were already very far way from Harold Ford.  You didn’t have to scare them away from Harold Ford.  It was a complete waste of money as an ad, very bad conception and now has opened up the campaign to a kind of ad that Harold Ford would not have been able to run which is very, very effective. 

OLBERMANN:  They probably were too far to the right even for Bob Corker.  Lawrence O’Donnell, the political analyst and contributor to the “Huffington Post,” as always sir, thanks for your time. 

O’DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Feel like flying?  Maybe a little levitation?  No longer just the superhero dreams of little boys.  Now, the superhero dreams of big scientists?

And the latest twist in the Madonna adoption saga.  The biological father has yet another concern to tell the world about, but this one is on behalf of Madonna.  Details ahead but first here are COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE SHOW”:  And now ladies and gentlemen time for an important message about February.  An important message about February.

ANNOUNCER:  February is the shortest month with only 28 or 29 days.  It’s also the month with President’s Day, so how well does this president know February? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These are the actual results for the fiscal that ended February the 30th

ANNOUNCER:  George W. Bush.  Don’t blame me, I voted for Kerry.

“BORAT SAGDIYEV,” “JOURNALIST”:   (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, I’m a journalist.  In England ladies are aloud to be journalists. 

“SAGDIYEV”:  That’s ridiculous.  In my country we say, let the woman to be a journalist is to give a monkey a gun, yeah?

BUSH:  The right man to represent the third congressional district in Iowa is Jeff Lamberti.

(APPLAUSE)

After the voters have had a chance to speak, no doubt in my mind, with your help, Dave Lamberti will the next United States congressman.

(APPLAUSE)

Dave and I believe a lot of thing—we believe that you ought to keep more of your own money and I’m looking forward to working with Jeff Lamberti to do just that. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Cool science from comic books to real life, from flying to levitating.  Could you have real-life superpowers and not even know it? 

Naomi Campbell is taking to drug rehab so well given that she’s beaten up her counselor.

And beating up on K-Fed, who says he’s the most underrated in his field.  Whatever his field is.  That’s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the future, we will no longer have to wait for frogs to jump from one spot to another, we will not have to go over and pick frogs up.  We will be able to levitate frogs. 

And in our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, the future is now.  As far as superhuman powers under development by scientists goes, this is pretty weak.  I mean Simon McCorkindale as “Manimal” or even Patrick Duffy in “The Man from Atlantis” would probably snicker at this.  On the other hand, this one works and as Keith Miller reports it might be the cutting edge of what we might call “Justice League” technology. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Superheroes.  They stand for truth, justice, and the American way.  And their powers are now going beyond just the imagination (INAUDIBLE). 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They’re so much larger than life.  They represent

everything that we wish we could be

MILLER:  So much so that the hope of leaping tall buildings in a single bound can drive some people over the edge.  Now technology is taking the fantasy and turning it into the fact.  The ability to see through clothes used to be the stuff of comic books. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He’s x-raying Batman’s test. 

LOIS LANE:  What kind of underwear am I wearing? 

SUPERMAN:  Pink. 

MILLER:  Not anymore.  It’s x-ray vision, but not as we know it.  Engineers have copied the sonar used by bats to navigate in the dark and turned it into harmless wave images.  The “X-Men” character “Magneto” can rise to any occasion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here we have Magneto levitating. 

MILLER:  And now powerful electromagnets can do the same thing, but on a smaller scale.  Scientists can make objects items like strawberries and tomatoes float in midair.  They have even managed to levitate a frog. 

JAN KEES MAAN, NIJMEGEN UNIVERSITY, NETHERLANDS:  It was just a chance discovery.  We wanted to do something else and figured out that water was starting to float, which we did not expect. 

MILLER:  And who could ever expect to swoop around Gorham like Batman?  A German company has come up with a Griffin Glider, holy smokes! Launching at 30,000 feet, an ordinary mortal can reach speeds exceeding 200 miles an hour.  This is controlled flight no chute until the last moment. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You fly, it’s quiet, it’s fantastic.  With this kind of wind (ph), you don’t have problems.  You have no influence from wind, we fly. 

MILLER:  Developed for use by the military, this is perhaps the closest man has ever been to free flight.  Yet being a modern day superhero is more than traveling faster than a speeding bullet. 

WILL BROOKER, “BATMAN UNMASKED”:  You can give a man a set of bat wings, but it didn’t make him Batman.  I mean, it’s about style, it’s about the kind of flare, but it’s been intelligence and morality. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Faster than a No. 1 single with a bullet, more powerful than a paparazzo, Madonna leaps with a single bound to the top of our nightly round-up of celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs” after she complained to Oprah Winfrey about coverage of her adoption of a one-year-old Malawian a boy.  The boy’s father is now fearful of displeasing her.  You may recall that earlier this week he seemed to cast doubt on whether he had agreed to totally relinquish custody or merely let Madonna raise and educate his child.  After all the hubbub, today he told the media, “I am afraid Madonna may get angry and frustrated and decide to dump my son.”  Wow, like Sean Penn? 

A hearing is set tomorrow to determine whether Madonna followed local laws in the adoption process.  Human rights groups say they are concerned that the boy may suffer psychological damage if Madonna gets divorced.  Other than that, of course, he’ll be just fine. 

You had plans to catch Mariah Carey’s concert in Hong Kong this Saturday?  Make new plans.  The promoter of the concert posted a cancellation on its website today.  The reason, could have something to do with the fact that Carey had only sold 4,000 tickets.  Of course you know it’s hard to find people to go to see a concert in Hong Kong.  The promoter actually attributed the cancellation to “Both the poor response of public ticket sales and also due to specific last minute demands which we find wholly unreasonable and not with the best interest of Hong Kong, us, and also the fans.”  Demands, we’re guessing, such as asking people to pay to watch a Mariah Carey concert. 

And fear not Sir Paul McCartney, it’s Kate Moss to the rescue.  That’s right, the super-super thin model is reportedly taking McCartney’s side in his train wreck of a divorce from Heather Mills.  Ms. Mills had claimed that she was forced to crawl to the toilet at night because McCartney refused to use a bedpan in the bedroom.  Regardless of where you weigh in on that issue, however, according to the “London Sun,” Moss is telling friends Mills does not have a valid claim because she had seen Mills without her prosthetic leg, and that rather than crawl, in fact the former Mrs. McCartney was, “Jumping around like an f-ing gazelle.”  Touche Kate Moss, touche.

You would need the moves of a gazelle to void the wrath of Naomi Campbell, evidentially, or the phones.  The latest target, and I mean that figuratively speaking, her drug counselor.  Analysis of that celebrity development and more with Michael Musto, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The Bronze tonight, shared by the Ohio Republican Party.  It issued a news release attacking Democrat Sherrod Brown for “enlisting the help of Al Franken.”  The news release contained not only a doctored photograph, but a fabricated quote from Franken saying conservatives should take poison and die.  The quote was taken from a book by Bernard Goldberg, who made it up, as part of a satirical interview with Franken. 

Our runner-up, Representative Jean Schmidt of Ohio, her campaign is upset because her opponent, Victoria Wulsin is running campaign ads including clips of the rant Schmidt unleashed last year when she called John Murtha a coward.  They say that is against House rule and the opponents “continued violation will land her in serious trouble with the House Ethics Committee.”  Which would imply that her opponent has already beaten Congresswoman Schmidt and replaced her in the House—she’s not in the House now. 

But the winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh, having buried himself by calling Michael J.  Fox a faker in those Missouri campaign ads.  Having put up his own headstone by saying the symptoms a Parkinson’s suffer gets when he stops taking his medication include shaking, actually it’s immobility.  Rush has defaced his own memorial today saying of Fox, “Every one of his ads is run for the benefit of a Democrat, even in Maryland, where the Democrat beneficiary of the Michael J. Fox ad voted against exactly what Michael J. Fox advocates in the ad.”  That would be Benjamin Cardin.

Actually, Mr. Cardin voted for the stem cell bill Fox endorsed.  So Rush your 0-4, and as to the Democrats only part, you really need to look at the ad we showed last night from 2004 with Mr. Fox endorsing Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- 0-5. 

Who’s off his meds and is exaggerating the effects of his illness: 

comedian Rush Limbaugh, that’s who! Today’s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For a so-call supermodel who has string of assaults under her belt including allegedly hurling telephones at her assistants and getting steamed over a missing pair of jeans, the question becomes, how to really hit rock bottom? 

In our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, the answer perhaps from Naomi Campbell, she has been arrest for allegedly assaulting her drug counselor.  Miss Campbell has now made two recent trip to a central London police station, the first yesterday after she was arrested at her home in Westminster for the alleged assault, the complaining party reportedly a female drug counselor.  The London tabloid the “Sun” adding that the woman has scratches all over her face.  But a spokesman for Miss Campbell said it was a misunderstanding and that “We are sure it will all be sorted out when the police investigate.” 

Campbell’s second trip to the police station, by the way, was to be rebailed though she will have to report back to police in December.  We can only hope at that point she’s in a good mood when she come across those sidewalk Santas. 

As to other inhabitants of their own private Idaho, Britney Spear and husband, Kevin Federline, he has declared himself to be underrated.  She is moving heaven and earth to sell his crappy hip hop album.  Mr. Federline telling “Entertainment Weekly” that he is “The most talked about person of anyone over the last couple years.”  And when asked to name the most underrated performer in his field, he answered, “me.” 

Meanwhile, Ms. Spears is pommeling her own fan by sending out e-mails, pushing her hubby’s hip hop album.  This according to TMZ.com, the last (INAUDIBLE) it warned it was their last chance to preorder.  Federline is also offering an autographed head shot for the first 500 orders.  Presuming their 500 orders. 

Let’s check in with the one and only Michael Musto, columnist of the “Village Voice” and chronicler of our times. 

Good evening, Michael.

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  The same 500 people that were going to see Mariah Carey in Singapore. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  Something else to do now. 

Just a quick survey of the Naomi Campbell history shows arrests or lawsuits alleging assault in 2000, 2003, 2004, and now three instances, including this latest one here in 2006.  Are we sure this was not her anger management counselor that she hit? 

MUSTO:  If so, the woman’s not doing a very good job, I mean, on the side she must be Tom Cruise’s career coach, Mel Gibson’s sensitivity advisor and Madonna’s spontaneity coach.  I mean, no holiday bonus for this little lady. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, when a person assaults the drug counselor, does that mean they’ve taken too many drugs?  Not enough drugs?  I’m confused.  Was she off her meds, to exaggerate her illness, perhaps? 

MUSTO:  I get reference.  But, Naomi’s never off her meds.  No, no, it was definitely a case of not enough drugs.  Naomi was getting antsy.  You know, if these drug counselors would only allow a few more grams a day, there’d be no more fighting.  You know, give them a hit, they won’t give you a hit. 

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Campbell’s spokesman says in response that this was all the a misunderstanding.  What kind of misunderstanding, even theoretically, ends with a drug counselor with a face full of scratches? 

MUSTO:  Well, I guess the woman misunderstood and thought Naomi was a has been monster.  Naomi misunderstood and just simply wanted to rearrange the woman’s features, give her a little blood red contour on the cheeks.  Also, the woman had a little too much hair, Naomi took care of that.  It was simply a beauty disagreement and the woman now looks like a middle period Picasso. 

OLBERMANN:  On to Mr. Federline.  These revelations from “Entertainment Weekly,” apparently part of a personality test.  Which is a surprise that he took a personality test.  Is that sort of like giving Kevin Federline a personality test like giving Rush Limbaugh an honesty test? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, it’s like John Wayne a mammogram or Vin Diesel a pap smear.  It’s futile, it’s an oxymoron, like “L.A.  Style” or you know, Army intelligence.  It’s like giving Mother Teresa an HIV test. 

OLBERMANN:  Federline also told this magazine he was no longer embarrassed to buy famine hygiene products for his wife and that, “Once you make it through that, then you’re good.”  Was this some sort of gauntlet for Mr. Britney Spears or just a message to us men out here?  What the hell is this all about? 

MUSTO:  It was a gauntlet, because he is a tampon, so it’s embarrassing to ask for one.  Can I have one of me?  I mean, he’s the world’s first disposable douche.  And Britney’s are so fertile these days, he’s running out for maxi pads like every five minutes.  It’s quite a test, and you know, he’s like the little Dutch boy trying to stop the flood by putting his finger in the dike. 

No, I think that kiss with Madonna was a joke, wasn’t it? 

Moving on. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, Federline is reportedly also, as if we did not have enough Federline news, here.  He’s going to act in some sort of Shakespearean hip hop movie?  And he was recently on one of these wrestling shows.  He is Renaissance man, is he not? 

MUSTO:  Is there anything he can do—can’t do?  And he’s always loved Shakespeare.  I mean, he always felt he and Britney were the new Troilus and Cressida.  Kidding, kidding.  He’s never heard of the Bard.  I mean, to him a Hamlet is like three eggs and some ham.  You tell him that Shakespeare came from Avon, he’s like oh the company that makes the famine deodorant spray? 

OLBERMANN:  Oh very good, bring it back—very nice.  And then we can tie this, both of these stories and both these problems together, can we not?  Is there a chance that we could get Naomi Campbell to get angry at Kevin Federline? 

MUSTO:  Oh, please, yes.  Just introduce them, she’ll hate him because he’s prettier than she is.  In fact, if ever find bin Laden, put in a room with Naomi, justice will be served.  She’ll end up in a burka and he’ll be dead. 

OLBERMANN:  Free cell phone service for Naomi Campbell.  Just keep feeding her those cell phones and we’ll all be set for life. 

MUSTO:  And give a ticket to Mariah Carey.  Give somebody a ticket. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, there was one person—what’s the sound of one Mariah Carey fan clapping? 

MUSTO:  A saw in the forest going, oy!

OLBERMANN:  Michael Musto of the “Village Voice,” as always, great thanks for your time. 

MUSTO:  By Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That’s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,272nd day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. 

From New York, I’m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck. 

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