updated 11/22/2006 10:02:07 AM ET 2006-11-22T15:02:07

Guests: Craig Crawford, Harry Shearer

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

A downward spiral into chaos in Iraq.  Two weeks after the president said he heard the peoples‘ voice in the elections, California Senator Boxer asks the administration when it‘s going to do something about what that voice said about Iraq.

And a Pentagon report that training U.S. replacements, the Iraqi forces on whom Mr. Bush says everything depends, could hardly be going worse.  General Barry McCaffrey on the training snafu, Craig Crawford on the administration‘s sleepwalk.

Weird insults, weirder apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” CBS)

MICHAEL RICHARDS:  I‘m very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, the whites.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That went well.  Michael Richards‘ apology, was it being accepted if his friend Jerry Seinfeld had to interject...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” CBS)

JERRY SEINFELD:  Stop laughing, it‘s not funny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Harry Shearer joins us for perspective.

The unique perspective of Robert Altman lost to us, from “M*A*S*H,” to “Nashville,” to “The Player.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And made fun of Hollywood a little bit as well in the film.

ROBERT ALTMAN, DIRECTOR:  Did I?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Director Robert Altman dead at the age of 81.

The O.J. Simpson story isn‘t over yet.  His dead wife‘s relatives say they were offered hush money not to protest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It doesn‘t matter how many millions of dollars somebody offers us.  We are not going to take it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And looking forward to that Spears-Federline sex tape?  Turns out there isn‘t a Spears-Federline sex tape.  Well, maybe there is, but it would be Federline in it all by himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” CBS)

SEINFELD:  Stop laughing, it‘s not funny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stop looking through the peephole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

Three years, eight months, and one day after U.S. forces cross over the Kuwaiti border into Iraq, two weeks after American voters overwhelmingly voiced their dissatisfaction with the president‘s handling of that conflict, and after the deaths of at least 2,867 troops on the ground there, 47 of them just this month, still no substantive changes from the White House on Iraq, although there will be a meeting with the prime minister of Iraq in Jordan.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, at least one Democrat in the Senate now willing to say that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, and while that emperor himself today was telling the troops to keep on keeping on, Senator Barbara Boxer of California wondering aloud on behalf of many Americans this afternoon, what has a president who claimed he heard the people speak actually done since the midterm elections about what they told him, Mr. Bush‘s comments in Vietnam Friday, about, We‘ll succeed if we don‘t quit, flying in the face of history, to say nothing of common sense, with one out of every five Americans killed in Iraq having been from the state she represents, Senator Boxer saying today that the president must be held to account.  Quoting her, “It‘s time for the president to start listening to the American people.  On November 7, we sent a message for change, but we cannot and must not let up until we see this administration take action.”

The only action seemingly taken by Mr. Bush today, rallying the troops, on his way back from Asia, the commander in chief eating breakfast with uniformed forces at Hickham Air Force Base in (INAUDIBLE) -- in Hawaii , thanking them for their service, giving no indication as to when their sacrifice might end.

And if yesterday the wheels were figuratively coming off the White House plan for Iraq, the metaphor of the day for today is car wreck, at least three police motorcycles in the president‘s motorcade crashing on slick pavement on the way to that breakfast this morning, two of the officers hospitalized, one in serious condition, in addition, the Associated Press reporting that an unnamed White House official was beaten and robbed while out in Honolulu Monday night, the White House announcing just minutes ago that Mr. Bush will meet with the Iraqi prime minister, al-Maliki, next week in Jordan, not in Iraq itself, meanwhile, in Iraq itself, “The Washington Post” reporting that the U.S. effort to train Iraqi forces is in shambles, internal Army documents obtained by reporter Thomas Ricks showing that every aspect of the training program is in trouble, from a lack of basic necessities like interpreters and office materials, to American officers being sent in unprepared, and Iraqi officers who had fought in many wars being tutored by junior American officers who have never seen combat.

In a moment, the political impact of where things stand in Iraq with Craig Crawford.

First, the military practicalities, and whether the ratio is one to one or 100 to one.  Every American who leaves needs to be replaced by an Iraqi, or more than one.

I‘m joined now by retired four-star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey.

Thank you again for your time, sir.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Yes, hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If the minimum bar for anybody‘s solution for the U.S. in Iraq is the training of Iraqis, are you shocked to hear that this late, the training is this bad?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, a very good article by Tom Ricks, very professional reporter.  It‘s disappointing.  You know, we‘ve had—the whole effort has been grossly underresourced.  The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps are stretched thin.  They‘re fighting two wars, 20,000 troops in Afghanistan, 150,000 in Iraq.  At the same time, they‘re trying to build two security institutions, the Afghan national army and police, and the Iraqi.

So I think what we‘re seeing, you know, just right up front, Keith, you can‘t be an adviser unless you‘re qualified at your military task.  And, oh, by the way, you need to go get 90 days of Arabic, for God‘s sakes, before you can operate in that environment.

So it‘s been done on the fly, it‘s grossly underresourced, we don‘t have the Iraqis, don‘t have the equipment they need, light armored vehicles, helicopters, AC-130s.  We‘re going to have to buckle down and resource the war and try and achieve some minimal objectives in the coming 24 months.

OLBERMANN:  Do you know, can you assess who, who did it this way, who decided to do this on the cheap, and almost sounding like it‘s a sidebar, a hobby, a side enterprise to this principal and most important tasks?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, I‘ve been banging away on the underresourced aspect of this for two years.  I think, you know, (INAUDIBLE) -- if it‘s $7 billion a month to fight the war, why, for God‘s sakes, would we think it was unacceptable to pay for 3,000 to 5,000 light armored vehicles, you know, let‘s say $2 billion, so that the Iraqis could replace us?

So I think, again, Secretary Rumsfeld tried to do this thing on the cheap.  You know, the argument was always, Well, look, they may—

(INAUDIBLE) end up equipping both sides of a civil war.

You know, another thought, Keith, come to think of it, it‘s not just equipment or training, it‘s also the political will, the security forces, to fight for a legitimate government.  That‘s been sadly lacking in the police case.  There are factional militias, murderers, and in the case of the army, in many instances, they‘re really Kurdish troops, peshmerga, or they‘re Shia, or Sunni, and they‘re not taking orders from the national government.

OLBERMANN:  The story that Thomas Ricks had yesterday on the three remaining options being outlined by the Pentagon in shorthand as go big, go long, or go home, going long said to be the favorite option, but does not going long, a shift of combat troops to a long-term training and advisory role, presume that the training procedures are not rife with problems, when (INAUDIBLE), they so obviously are rife with problems?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, first of all, I think all these options were nonsensical.  If they weren‘t preceded by --  The U.S. Army‘s $61 billion short on equipment resources, most of our fighting brigades, except those in Afghanistan or Iraq, are basically broken, we‘re having terrible recruiting problems.  We‘ve got to go fix the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to sustain any option in the war on terror.

And that hasn‘t come up, and neither the Baker commission nor out of this leaked JCS reporting.  We‘re not going to leave, that‘s just n to going to happen.  We‘re not going to reinforce.  I would vehemently object to bubbling up 20,000 to 40,000 troops in the short run to demonstrate political resolve.  That‘s nonsense.  It won‘t make much of a tactical difference, and we‘ll end up extending those troops.  Some of those troops, Keith, are on their, now, one unit I visited, fifth combat tour.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s extraordinary.  It‘s unbelievable that we‘re talking in these terms.

Retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, also, of course, of MSNBC and NBC News.  Always an honor to have you, sir.  Thank you.

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the political implications of U.S. policy in Iraq, such as it is at the moment, we‘re joined now, as promised, by our own Craig Crawford, also a columnist for “Congressional Quarterly.”

Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  I say, put General McCaffrey in charge.

OLBERMANN:  That would be a good idea too.

Let‘s go back to the first political element that we discussed tonight.  Senator Boxer, what was she trying to do today?  (INAUDIBLE) is there a perception that Democrats are taking a couple weeks off on this issue, and she was calling Ollie Ollie Oxenfree, get back to work right now?

CRAWFORD:  Well, (INAUDIBLE) position the Democrats are in is pretty good for them, is nobody‘s talking about what are—what their plan any more, because the president seems to be so at a loss in terms of personnel and policy and what to do in Iraq.  So it‘s keeping the focus on Mr.  President, what is your plan?  And I think the Democrats are better off so long as it‘s framed that way.

OLBERMANN:  And is the, the White House plan still symbolism and photo-ops?  I mean, did they think the criticism would go away when they—when, when Mr. Rumsfeld was fired, or with this announcement today that the president is going to meet with Prime Minister al-Maliki, and not even meet with him in Iraq?  Are these, are these the solutions that we‘re talking about?

CRAWFORD:  I think the midterm was telling the president a lot more than, Get in a the and fly all over the world.  Or maybe that‘s his idea of the results of the midterm is, he‘d just rather not stay in this country after learning what he learned from the voters.

I, it is a fascinating situation the president‘s in.  Not only has he put the country in a straitjacket, he himself is trapped on Iraq.  And we‘ll see if his father and his friends can help bail him out.

OLBERMANN:  Congress will convene the new session on the 4th of January, 44 days from now.  Is the drumbeat of pressure on Mr. Bush to actually do something about Iraq only going to intensify until then?  You get measures like Mr. Rangel‘s proposal to reinstate the draft, kind of this Swiftian idea, almost, and Senator Obama‘s endorsement of phased withdrawal, Senator McCain even coming out on the other end of the spectrum, 20,000 more troops.  These are just in the talking stages.  What happens to the president‘s position on this when actual debate and voting begins?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think president is increasingly becoming irrelevant.  Congress, (INAUDIBLE), mainly, you know, because the Democrats have a lot of friends on the Republican side of the aisle, who are not going to follow the president‘s lead any more.  We are seeing an end of the age of Bush, not just this Bush, but his father, for the Republican Party.

So I think it‘s going to be very interesting to see how a lot of the Republican presidential candidates, the leaders of the Republican Party in Congress, are going to position themselves vis-…-vis Bush as they deal with Democrats.

My guess is, Keith, we‘re going to get—it‘s going to take a while, and it‘s going to be a rough debate getting there.  But I think that we‘re going to see Congress, the (INAUDIBLE), the legislative branch, assert itself, finally, and war powers in this Iraq case, and push the president, force him, through the power of the purse and the other tools they have.  Let‘s see if Congress can figure out a solution in Iraq, because the executive branch has certainly mucked it up.

OLBERMANN:  In an extraordinary irony, Craig, could they be getting as a weapon something from the United Nations, something that Secretary General Annan said today, that the U.S. was trapped in Iraq, it cannot stay and it cannot leave?  Are politicians in this country, are senators and congressmen going to be able to essentially use the international drumbeat to work on the national perspective on Iraq?

CRAWFORD:  I think we‘ll—they‘ll get some cover from former

secretary of state Baker‘s task force, which, I guess, is going to come out

with something akin to what he had said earlier, is, we need more diplomacy

with countries in the region.  So I think the internationalism of the Bush

of Bush‘s father and his group, and the nuance of diplomacy, which this president has just never seemed to grasp, is now going to come to the fore.

And I really am hopeful that we‘re going to see a bipartisan solution to this down the road, but one that probably excludes George W. Bush.

OLBERMANN:  That sounds like they want to take the machine away from him one way or the other.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” of course. 

Great thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Flying while Muslim.  Several imams pulled off a U.S.  Airways plane in handcuffs after other passengers expressed concerns in part about how loudly they were praying.  Is this is a case of cultural intolerance, wherein nobody stopped to wonder if any theoretical terrorists anywhere would ever make themselves so conspicuous?

And first, a bad night at the Chuckle Hut for Michael Richards.  Now, this apology on national television.  Did it fix the issue?  Did it make it worse?  Harry Shearer will join us for perspective.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The word “uncomfortable” only beginning to describe what it‘s like to fly commercial airliners in this day and age.  Now imagine how uncomfortable it would really be if, at the start of the busiest travel week of the year, three Muslim clerics knelt down near the gate before boarding to say their prayers.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that‘s exactly what happened last night before a U.S. Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix.  Six Muslim clerics were ordered off the flight before takeoff in an incident being seen as touched off either by bigotry and intolerance, or justifiable concern.

Never mind the logical disconnect everybody‘s leaving out of the process.  Anybody trying to conduct terrorism on a commercial jetliner is not likely to precede it by conducting prayers in the boarding area.

Here is our justice correspondent Pete Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The six Muslims, preparing to fly home from a conference on religious tolerance, were taken off their flight in handcuffs, and the remaining passengers were rescreened.

OMAR SHAHIN, MUSLIM CLERGYMAN:  The way they took us off the plane, it‘s a humiliation 100 percent.

PETE WILLIAMS:  Before boarding the flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix, three of them knelt near the gate and said evening prayers.  Others waiting say that alarmed some passengers, and one passed a note to a flight attendant.

PHIL MOESER, PASSENGER:  They were Muslim, and that they were praying and—in the airport, in the waiting area, ahead of time, and that it made them a little bit nervous.

PETE WILLIAMS:  Investigators say U.S. Airways told them that some of the men moved to empty seats after boarding, and refused to follow crew instructions.  But the clerics say they did nothing wrong.

SHAHIN:  Three of us did our prayer in the terminal, as usual, as normal, as 100.7 billion Muslims do every  -- five times a day.

PETE WILLIAMS:  Tonight, one of the nation‘s largest Islamic groups says the incident was the result of cultural insensitivity.

NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS:  Praying as a Muslim, and flying as a Muslim, should not trigger any fear and any prejudice.

PETE WILLIAMS:  But a former FAA general counsel says there‘s a need for sensitivity all around.

KENNETH QUINN, AVIATION LAWYER:  I know I say prayers a lot, but I say them silently when I‘m onboard an aircraft.  And that‘s usually the course of action that most people do.

PETE WILLIAMS (on camera):  The clerics finally flew home on another airline.  U.S. Airways says it does not tolerate discrimination, and it‘s conducting its own investigation.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back to more conventional concerns.  Afraid that cooking Thanksgiving dinner will turn into a conflagration of biblical proportions?  Well, at least you‘ll get it extra crispy.

And probably some awkward silence at the Spears family Thanksgiving meal.  Is there or is there not a bombshell honeymoon sex tape?  And who‘s going to sell it to you?

That‘s ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1934, the New York Yankees made what experts thought was a terrible risk, swapping four players and about $25,000 for an (INAUDIBLE) minor league outfielder Joe DiMaggio.  We do not know if the news that day reached a boy in Denora (ph), Pennsylvania, celebrating his 14th birthday, but less than eight years later, he and DiMaggio would be squaring off in the baseball World Series.  His name was Stan Musial.  Between them, they got 5,844 base hits.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

And if there was one thing above all else the great Joe D. loved, it was deep-fried turkey.  But who can forget when he had to skip a bunch of Mr. Coffee commercials after that horrible Fryolator (ph) accident?  Incidents like that keep the Miami fire department on its toes, hoping to prevent stuff like that with this little demonstration of deep-fried turkey safety.

Officials say there were more than 1,000 fires like t his last year when still-frozen turkeys were dropped into hot oil.  To remind you always, thaw your bird completely first.  But if cooking your Thanksgiving dinner means hanging a raw turkey from the end of a garden rake and dropping it into a vat of flaming oil in your back yard, you might be a redneck.

In Chicago, (INAUDIBLE) know what the guy who dreamt this up is, but it‘s “Guinness Book of World Records”‘ biggest ball of rubber bands on earth.  All hail the ball.  Steve Milton of Oregon says it‘s taken him a year to build, to say nothing of most of his sanity, 175,000 rubber bands, it‘s five feet tall, it weighs more than 4,500 pounds.  And I wonder what would happen if you dropped that bad boy into a giant vat of flaming oil?

Finally to India, for the smashing of another Guinness world record, for consecutive hours singing.  Twenty-eight-year-old Deepak Gupta, no relation to Deepak Chopra or Dr. Sanjay Gupta, belted out more than 1,200 songs in 55 hours to break the record.  You think singing that (INAUDIBLE) long is tough? Try having to listen to this for two solid days.

It seems like the band‘s trying to (INAUDIBLE) drown him out, doesn‘t it?  No matter what, it‘s still better than Kevin Federline‘s new album.

Michael Richards nearly set the world‘s record for longest nonstop apology on Letterman‘s show last night.  Is this over, or did he do himself more harm than good?  I‘ll be joined by the noted humorist Harry Shearer.

And paying tribute to a Hollywood legend, remembering director Robert Altman, dead at the age of 81.

Details ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Michelle Belot and Marco Francesconi, researchers at the University of Essex in England.  They‘ve studied 84 speed-dating events and the 1,800 men and 1,800 women who participated in them.  They‘ve analyzed dozens of statistics, questionnaire results, et cetera.  They‘ve concluded that a man‘s chance of getting a date at a speed-dating event increases 5 percent for every inch taller he is than is the rest of the speed-dating field.  It‘s all about height.

Number two, Agent L.J. Scott of the Shreveport police armed robbery task force.  They had stopped by a convenience store there Monday night when the guy who walked in right after him promptly tried to commit armed robbery.  Officer Scott, who quickly arrested the alleged perpetrator, said that at first he thought it was a joke, considering he himself was wearing a shirt reading “Police” on the sleeves, and “Shreveport Police” on the front and on the back.

And number one, Baby Novotny.  Our colleague Monica Novotny and her husband, Michael, now celebrating the birth of the newest member of the COUNTDOWN staff.  He‘s seven pounds, 11 ounces, 20 inches, already hungry.  And we‘re still awaiting a first name.  Just a reminder, Monica, Keith works with just about any last name you might encounter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To the members of the studio audience watching David Letterman tape his Late Show yesterday afternoon at about 4:30 Eastern it was, at best, a mystery, comedian Michael Richards joining, via satellite, his old cast mate Jerry Seinfeld, as Seinfeld sat next to Letterman.  Richards issuing a halting, rambling, ad-libbed apology for a tape of one of his stand up performance.  The tape itself had come to light just hours earlier.  It is possible nobody in that audience even had seen it, and the apology almost seemed like a bit that Kramer would have done with Seinfeld on their old sitcom.  Many of the audience members laughed until Seinfeld scolded them for doing so. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, and it wasn‘t any less uncomfortable, even if you were just watching at home.  Highlights in a moment, plus the analysis of the great humorist Harry Shearer.  First, a reminder of that for which Mr. Richards was apologizing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL RICHARDS, ACTOR:  Shut up.  Fifty years ago you had your arms tied down with (EXPLETIVE DELETED) fork up your (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  You can talk, you can talk, you can talk.  You‘re brave now mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  Throw this man out, he‘s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  He‘s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  He‘s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  He‘s a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). A (EXPLETIVE DELETED) looks where‘s (INAUDIBLE).

All right you see, you see what‘s buried beneath your stupid mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was uncalled for.

RICHARDS:  What was uncalled for?  It‘s uncalled for you to interrupt my (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you cheap mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  You cheap mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).  Wait a minute, where‘s he going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was uncalled for you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cracker-ass mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

RICHARDS:  Cracker ass?  You calling me a cracker ass?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s un-(EXPLETIVE DELETED)ing called for.  That ain‘t necessary. 

RICHARDS:  Well you interrupted me pal.  That‘s what happens when you interrupt a white man, don‘t you know? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was uncalled for. 

RICHARDS:  You see?  You see?  There‘s still those words, those words, those words. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  According to the owner of that venue, the Laugh Factory, Richards was meant to apologize for his behavior during his performance there the following night.  He did not.  Instead, once the tape got out at mid day yesterday, Jerry Seinfeld asked Richards to apologize on Letterman‘s show.  It will not get any words for artfulness, but you have to give him this, at least he did it pretty quickly. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDS:  I lost my temper on stage.  I was at a comedy club trying to do my act and I got heckled, and I took it badly and went into a rage.  And I said some pretty, um, nasty things to some Afro-Americans, a lot of trash talk. 

JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN:  Stop laughing, it‘s not funny. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, THE LATE SHOW:  What—you were actually being heckled or were they just talking and disturbing the act? 

RICHARDS:  That was going on too. 

LETTERMAN:  And did you—

RICHARDS:  I know I am hearing in your audience laughing—It‘s not -

I‘m not even not sure that this is where I should be addressing the situation—

SEINFELD:  Well, they are so used -

RICHARDS:  I‘ve already heard you make some jokes about it and that‘s OK, you know, but I am—I am really busted up over this and I am very, very sorry, to those people in the audience, the blacks, Hispanics whites, everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger, and hate, and rage, and how it came through, and I am concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger coming through.  I pushed the envelope.  I worked in a very uncontrolled manner on stage. 

I do a lot of free association.  It‘s spontaneous.  I go into character.  I don‘t know, in view of the situation, and the act going where it was going, I don‘t know, the rage—the rage did go all over the place.  It went to everybody in the room.  But you can‘t—you know, I don‘t—the people - blacks could feel—I am not a racists, that‘s what so insane about this.  And yet, you know, it is said.  It comes through.  It fires out of me and even now in the passion and the—that is here as I—as I confront myself, --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One thing a comedian never wants to hear himself saying to an audience, stop laughing, it‘s not funny.  Joining me now to try to figure out this Alice through the looking glass story is actor and comedian Harry Shearer, who not only has a novel out, called “Not Enough Indians,” but how also stars in the new Christopher Guest film, “For Your Consideration.”  Harry, thanks for your time. 

HARRY SHEARER, THE “HUFFINGTON POST”:  Thank you, Keith.  Mel Gibson must be feeling pretty good right about now? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, he is off that hook.  We know that much.  Listen, it‘s a strange apology, to say the least.  Did it help?  Did it hurt?  Is this enough?   

SHEARER:  Well, it helped in the sense that when was the last time Michael Richards had six minutes uninterrupted on the Letterman Show.  I would kill for that—well, I would not kill for that, but, I mean, I might, you know, insult some people for that. 

OLBERMANN:  To the insults, to the performance at the Laugh Factory, it‘s pointed out that Michael Richards has, almost exclusively, been a sketch comedian and a sitcom actor, and less of a stand up comic.  Do you assume, looking at that, that he did not know where the boundaries were?  Would you think he might have been flashing back to the stand-ups that we remember from our own youths, like when Don Rickles made his entire living of stereotypes, or even the really outlandish people like B.S. Polly (ph).  Could there have been a flashback to that sort of stuff? 

SHEARER:  Forget the boundaries, I don‘t think he new where the men‘s room was.  Yes, I think standing on that stage he might have thought that he was channeling Richard Pryor, who in a earlier part of his career, kind of, made a living off of saying that particular word, what we‘re now taught, since Mark Fuhrman, to call the N Word—so many times, with the purpose, Prior said, of trying to drain it of its power.  I don‘t think that was the purpose that Michael Richards said it, though. 

OLBERMANN:  Neither you nor I are stand up comedians, but in our own worlds, we have encountered hecklers ourselves, and again, not to try to excuse what Michael Richards said, but is there a universal to that experience, when you get heckled?  I mean, is there panic, is there a sense that the whole process has just been broken?  Do you hey, there are dozens or whatever of people out there and there is only the one of me up here? 

SHEARER:  Yes, well, you know, the people who do that for a living, stand-up comedy, are notorious for developing standard replies to hecklers, to deal with that very situation, so that they don‘t find themselves having to improvise their rage at the moment.  I think that‘s—that‘s good advice for anybody who wants to go in a club on Sunset Strip on Friday night and deal with that situation.  You know, I cannot believe that Michael Richards found it surprising that there would be hecklers at a comedy club. 

OLBERMANN:  Who do you think—going back to the apology.  Who did you think had the toughest gig on the Letterman show last night?  Was it Richards, was it Seinfeld, was it Letterman, was it my radio partner, Dan Patrick, who was the guest who had to come on after the Richards apology and talk sports? 

SHEARER:  No, I understand that.  I once had to follow Andy Kaufman at the Improv, after he stood on stage and read the “Sound of the Fury” until he had ticked off the entire audience.  I think, frankly, the people who had the worst of it last night were the audience, having to be scolded by Jerry Seinfeld like they were bad school children, after the Letterman audience has been trained since the days of the great Chris Elliot to believe that anything that started out like that had to be a bit. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly, there is an irony of timing.  Your new film, “For Your Consideration,” addresses the assumption of fame in the secondary levels of Hollywood, in the tertiary levels of Hollywood.  Do you see a parallel between that idea in the film and the idea of hecklers and their 15 minutes of fame, or even of comic actors thinking that they‘ve got 15 minutes of fame as stand-ups? 

SHEARER:  Well, I don‘t think the hecklers were trying to be famous.  I think that they were just - what I gathered from that tape was they were just expressing their opinion that they were not getting their money‘s worth at that moment.  The people in “For Your Consideration” are just, you know, limp and vulnerable pools of need and yearning, you know, for the moment when somebody will finally acknowledge the greatness that they have, and maybe that‘s why somebody gets on a stage and does stand-up. 

OLBERMANN:  How could you ever find people to base any character like that on in Southern California?  My goodness. 

SHEARER:  I know, it‘s total fantasy, total fantasy. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, wrap this up from your professional opinion on the Michael Richards situation, is that going to pass now?  I mean, it can be argued there was not a lot going on in his career since Seinfeld anyway, but is this thing going to be his—is this going to stick to him or is it over? 

SHEARER:  I think he gets a pilot next spring where he plays a really mean guy. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow, from Fox probably? 

SHEARER:  Yes, or an angry guy who may or may not have committed a murder. 

OLBERMANN:  If I did yell that word at you, starring Michael Richards.  Harry Shearer, who has got his job security at a particular network that we won‘t mention here, another epic year of the Simpsons underway.  The movie is “For Your Consideration.”  The novel is “Not Enough Indians.”  It‘s always a pleasure to talk to you, Harry.  Thank you. 

SHEARER:  Same here, Keith.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of O.J. Simpson, he says he legally constrained not to talk about the drama in his life at the moment.  Oh, that he were legally constrained.  In the interim, his late wife‘s family says Fox offered them millions in hush money. 

And the bitter Spears divorce, reports that she is threatening to release a sex tape so he can‘t make a dime, except there are other reports that no sex tape exists.  The mystery deepens, all that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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JAY LENO, COMEDIAN:  And while President Bush was in Vietnam, he and the other world leaders donned the traditional garb, the tunic, and again, I think President Bush got a little confused.  I think he thought they were pajamas.  Take a look, you see.  Now there they are in the traditional dress.  See that, they all wore that.  Can we show President Bush?  See, look.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tin cans of Coors Beer, a half century old, and never opened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This one still has beer in it and we have always wondered what it would be like if we opened now. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ready?  The color of cough syrup and smelling like a combination of fermented wine and dirt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Last week I wrote this blog about the Michigan/Ohio State game, the game.  I also declared that Michigan would win.  Michigan 39-Ohio State 42, so I am a man of my words.  Now, I will eat my words. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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OLBERMANN:  Rupert Murdoch may be disliked in this country, but it‘s nothing compared to how they feel about him in England.  There, more than a decade ago, the TV playwright Dennis Potter told an interviewer that he had named the pancreatic cancer that would wind up killing him Rupert and that if he were not so busy wrapping up the affairs of his life, he would assassinate Murdoch on society‘s behalf.  Just today, the billion Richard Branson bid and failed to buy the ITV network there, saying that if it fell into Murdoch‘s hands, Britain‘s democracy would actually be at risk. 

But at our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, we haven‘t gotten that far with Murdoch, so there‘s still some small reason for him to try improve his image here, like by canceling the O.J. Simpson book project, he had approved for his publishing house Harper Collins and the Simpson interview he had approved for his TV network Fox.  How anybody who thinks that little slight of hand threw would credit Murdoch is another story, as is what the family of Simpson‘s wife is now accusing Murdoch‘s people of doing, offering them hush money. 

O.J. Simpson himself largely keeping quiet, telling the Associated Press that, quote, I would like nothing better than to straighten out some things that have been mis-characterized, but I think I‘m legally muzzled at this point.  The families of the victims feeling no such constraints.  Ron Goldman‘s sister revealing this morning that her family will take legal action to secure the reported three and a half million dollars that Simpson got form the deal, reportedly, while Nicole Brown Simpson‘s sister, Denise Brown, told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that Murdoch‘s News Corp. tried to buy their family‘s silence. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENISE BROWN, SISTER OF NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON:  They contact us, News Corp. contact us, and what they wanted to do was they wanted to offer us millions of dollars—

MATT LAUER, THE TODAY SHOW:  Millions of dollars?

BROWN:  Millions of dollars for, like, oh, I‘m sorry money, but they were still going to air the show.  And that‘s what the ironic thing is because they said, OK, they have pulled it.  They are not going to show—they are not going to have the show on.  They were going to pull the book, the whole thing, but yet offering us millions of dollars, having a statement out there saying, oh, they have done good stuff, and all of a sudden saying, we are not pulling the show, we were going—they were going to continue to do it. 

LAUER:  Was this an offer in writing or was this a casual phone call? 

How did this go down?

BROWN:  This was a phone call to a few attorneys, yes.  You will definitely hear more, because the outcry is unbelievable.  We are working with Natasha Roit (ph), our attorney right now.  And what we are trying to do right now is we are trying to find out who actually—where did the money go?  Where did the money get funneled down to?  It went into a corporation that supposedly is a very high profile corporation, very high profile company, who filtered the money to Simpson. 

LAUER:  Let me explain what you are talking about.  Judith Regan says that no money was paid directly to O.J. Simpson for the book or the TV special, however it‘s been reported, I think in Newsweek, that perhaps up to three and a half million dollars did go to a third party, and I‘ve eve heard perhaps it was a college fund for Justin and Sidney.  Is that what you are talking about? 

BROWN:  I wish it would have been a college fund for Sidney and Justin.  You know what, our main concern were those children, and that‘s why we were negotiating—or strategizing with our attorneys, figuring out, OK, how can we do this.  These kids know how to read.  They hear things.  They have not all of a sudden just disappeared off the face of the earth.  So, our main concern was what about these children?  What about are we going to do.  Well, when this offer from News Corp came to us, we just thought, oh my god, well, what they are trying to do is trying to keep us quiet, trying to make this like hush money, trying to go around the civil verdict, giving us this money to keep our mouth shut. 

LAUER:  Let me just make sure I understand, for the record, when this call came to your attorney‘s from Fox, the family‘ reaction was absolutely not? 

BROWN:  Absolutely not.  We were not going to take it.  We are taking the high road.  We are taking the legal road.  The public, the American public, has spoken.  Their outcry to have this TV show and the book banned and not to be aired was the people talking.  And we felt the same way.  We are not going to take—it does not matter how many millions of dollars somebody offers us, we are not going to take it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Murdoch‘s News Corp. acknowledges contacting families and offering them cash, but denies it was hush money.  Maybe they had just won some sort of “New York Post” window contest. 

An easy and sleazy segue into our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  And the story electrified a nation.  Britney Spears fed up with threats from her soon to be ex-Mr. whatever your name is, that he would release a graphic sex tape depicting them, if she didn‘t loosen up the prenuptial agreement, she would beat him to the punch and release it herself so he couldn‘t make a dime off of it. 

First story that Federline would sell the alleged tape unless he got custody of his children.  Then a report Spears would release the tape for free, to subvert her estranged husband‘s alleged plans.  Now Federline, through his people, is denying the existence of any sex tape.  Quoting, there is not a six video of Kevin and Brittany in existence.  It goes without saying that the stories of Kevin attempting to sell such a video are patently false.  and anyone who reports that they have information of such attempts is either lying or reporting a lie of someone else. 

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, Kevin Federline has people?  We know Madonna has kids.  The singer, who adopted her 13-month-old Malawian son David, is expected to adopt another child from that country, an 18-month-old girl called Jessica.  Madonna has allegedly spent time with the girl and may have originally intended to adopt her, but wound up with the son instead.  Now there is an Australian couple, they say they have got first dips on little Jessica.  John and Angela Wilmut (ph) say they had hoped to become the girl‘s parents and that, quote, we heard that Madonna is interested in the child, who we now hear is Jessica, but we are quite far down the line with our adoption.  Madonna‘s people have declined comment. 

Speaking of people, would some responsible adult please adopt Paris Hilton.  Try and follow this hear.  MSNBC.com‘s The Scoop cites the MySpace web page of the actor Joshua Raiden (ph) from Scrubs as saying Ms. Hilton was, quote, swilling straight Vodka from a Gray Goose bottle for hours at a Vegas night club during a JZ performance.  According to Raiden, when Mr. Z.  was done, Hilton took the microphone, lip synched a few songs from her album, and then in the words, again of Mr. Raiden, quote, she gets up on stage, pukes, leaves.  Now she knows how the rest of us feel. 

Also tonight, the loss of a true Hollywood original, the director Robert Altman has passed away at the age of 81.  A look back on his extraordinary career ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world. 

The bronze to tick man, the nickname for a suspect wanted in Wakashaw, Muskago, Franklin and Hales Corner (ph), Wisconsin.  He has been running roughshod through the region, walking into tanning salons and telling women that they have ticks on their back sides.  The victims often panic and pull down their own pants to look, and if they don‘t, he does it for them. 

Our runner up, the unidentified citizen from 21,000 block of Beverly, in Oak Park, Kansas.  She called the police to report she was the victim of foul play, namely that somebody had put something improper in her Marijuana.  She was promptly arrested. 

But our winner, oh, he‘s back in form tonight, Billo.  And who didn‘t see this coming?  Not only is he claiming credit for getting the O.J.  Simpson interview and book canceled, but he actually could not resist phoning in from his own vacation to his own show to tell everybody. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You hit it on the head.  It‘s a culture war victory.  The folks did it and I am the messenger.  Fox News stepped up big and once we did, the folks go it, because obviously we have a very big reach.  We are making tremendous strides in this country and this proves it, all right, tremendous strides, and I think the people see this and I think we‘ll have more of this, and the bad guys are on the run. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The bad guys are on the run, Bill, the bad guys behind the Simpson project?  You mean the bad guys like Rupert Murdoch?  Bill O‘Reilly, back at the bottom of his self-inflating game, once again today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The start of his career is generally pegged as having begun with “Mash” in 1970.  In fact, he had begun nearly two decades earlier with movie shorts on basketball and football.  And his first big break had come directing two episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in 1957.  But regardless of which beginning you select, the end, it proved, was with a prairie home companion earlier this year, because our most incisive, anti-establishment movie director Robert Altman has died at the age of 81. 

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, nothing speaks more to his love/hate relationship with Hollywood and Hollywood‘s with him, than the fact that five times Mr. Altman was nominated for the Oscar for best director and his record was perfect.  All five times they gave the award to somebody else.  Brian Williams says our good byes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  In telling stories on film, he did very little by the book.  Robert Altman was an American original, an icon, who broke the mold of American film making, while on his way to becoming the most influential directors ever to call the shots. 

His most famous film was “Mash.”  It came in his prime in the 1970‘s.  He proved an Army field hospital could be funny.  Fourteen other directors had turned it down.  Then came a western, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.”  He later made “Nashville,” the movie some consider his masterpiece.  Then, years later, came “The Player.”  Five years ago he gave us “Gosford Park.”

Actors tended to love Altman, while writers and studio directors tended not to.  His movies were hip and smart, too smart for some, and Altman was, at times, ahead of his time.  He was born in Kansas City.  After surviving 46 bombing missions as a co-pilot in World War II, Robert Altman was drawn to Hollywood. 

Altman received a lifetime Oscar last year and then dropped a bomb shell, by announcing he‘d had a heart transplant a decade ago, something I was later able to ask him about. 

ROBERT ALTMAN, DIRECTOR:  Well, I had used the other one up.  They said we do this all the time and lie down and I did.  I woke up and here I am. 

WILLIAMS:  Robert Altman‘s last film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” was modeled after the public radio show of the same name.  The old master directed from a wheel chair.  It was vintage Altman, but with a twist.  More than one critic said it seemed sentimental.  Could it be that the tough old man was preparing us all for a surprise ending? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,298th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night 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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