updated 12/13/2006 11:08:39 AM ET 2006-12-13T16:08:39

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Tom Merritt, Michael Musto

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

The deadline for the new way forward in Iraq.  Is it self-pushed forward?  It will be after the new year, two more weeks, when the average American death toll per week is approximately 15.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  This is not not knowing what he wants to do.  This is out of an absolute determination to do this right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like Afghanistan, where the number of firefights between the U.S. and the resurgent Taliban is now 42 since May?  We‘ll go to that battlefield of a war many Americans think we‘ve already won.

The president blasted by the new Senate majority leader, Mr. Reid, and by another poll, where disapproval of his handling of Iraq soars to 75 percent.

Is he announcing in the new year, or just announcing “Monday Night Football”?

The second coming of Jack the Ripper.  Hyperbolic hysteria about serial killers in England, not our usual thing here.  But there is tonight an extraordinary link between the murders this month of prostitutes outside London, and the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888.  One of the current victims has the same last name as the first of the 1888 victims.  And a second current victim has a name almost identical to that 1888 victim.

The new interactive videogame.  The interactive part appears to be seeing if you can throw the remote controller through your TV.  Houston, we have a problem, unless these images have been Photoshopped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) breaking TVs, but it can fly off and hit one of the kids in the head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And ever heard the one about Richard Gere and the—the -

Yes, that one.  You know who thinks he‘s the guy Gere blames for that rumor?  Sylvester Stallone.  Kind of brings a new meaning to that line from “Rocky, “You‘re gonna eat lightning, and you‘re gonna crap thunder.”

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ROCKY”)

SYLVESTER STALLONE:  Yo, Adrian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

After waiting until after the election, until after the Iraq Study Group released its report, until after the situation on the ground in the country went from incredibly bad to much, much worse, now the American people must wait till next year, wait for President Bush to unveil his purported new way forward in Iraq, and wait for no other reason than that the situation in that country is, and I quote, “complex.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, any American suspecting that Mr.  Bush had not weighed the complexities of the country he had planned to invade before he invaded it, nor in the bloody three and a half years since, having those suspicions all but confirmed today at the White House, a new way forward devolving today into a new way to wait, the White House admitting this morning that the president‘s address about Iraq will not occur until early January, instead of before Christmas, as had originally, reportedly, at least, been planned, because Mr. Bush has been asking many questions about Iraq in consultation sessions, and his staff needs time to research them and prepare responses, Mr. Bush presumably asking some of those questions of the Iraqi vice president in an Oval Office meeting this afternoon.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Iraq, another day of horrible bloodshed, five more American servicemen killed in a series of incidents, as were more than 60 Iraqis when a bomb went off at a market in Baghdad, an apparent sectarian attack, construction workers, most of them, poor Shiites, most of them, having been lured onto a pickup truck packed with explosives by a suicide bomber who offered them jobs while they were eating breakfast.

Here in the U.S., the Democratic leader of the Senate not alone in thinking that time is of the essence, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada saying in a statement, “Waiting and delaying on Iraq serves no one interest.  Talking to the same people he should have talked to four years ago does not relieve the president of the need to demonstrate leadership and change his policy now.  The ball remains in his court, and time is running out,” at the White House this afternoon, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, attempting to spin inaction and indecision into leadership gold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It had been the president‘s own desire to do this speech prior to Christmas, right?  So this wasn‘t a staff decision.

SNOW:  Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So some might infer that the delay means he doesn‘t know what to do.

SNOW:  Well, that would be the wrong inference to draw.  You probably

as we‘ve said all along, it‘s a complex business, and there are a lot of things to take into account.  And we said we would like, but we didn‘t make any promises.  This is not not knowing what he wants to do.  This is out of an absolute determination to do this right, making sure that he is absolutely convinced that the pieces have been put together, he‘s gotten the best advice, he‘s gotten the best facts, and that he now has the policy that he thinks will be the best to move, or...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Even you said, though, that this thing is not just driven by Baker-Hamilton, but this has been going on, this reconsideration‘s been going on since back (INAUDIBLE)--?

SNOW:  It‘s been going on for some time, that‘s right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   So something happened here in the last week that he realized that there was (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW:  No, no, (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW:  No, I don‘t think so.  I think what happens is, over time, people begin to sort of whittle away at options and to narrow things down and to come up with different points for discussion.  And what happens is, is, is you narrow in on certain options.  Then you say, OK, what are the practical considerations we have to take into account?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in own our Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  At this point, can the president wait till January to act, and obviously not just politically, but obviously far greater in importance, in terms of how many more Americans and Iraqis will die in that country before he gets this speech together?

ALTER:  Well, even if he gave the speech now, you would still have all those Iraqis and Americans dying.  So they‘re going to die, unfortunately, either way, because no new policy will be implemented before the beginning of the year.

I mean, my feeling about these consultations he‘s having wit a lot of Democrats and military experts is, better late than never.  But it sure is late, Keith.  I mean, as Harry Reid indicated, it‘s four years too late.  They should have been reassessing this policy and making these adjustments, creating a new policy, really, at least three years ago.

So this is not what you would call great presidential leadership, even though you do have to acknowledge that finally the president of the United States is actually opening his ears and listening a bit.

OLBERMANN:  And the claim is that this has to be delayed not merely because he‘s listening, but because he‘s been asking so many questions.  A, doesn‘t sound like him, B, what little eyewitness reporting we have on this, which was yesterday from retired generals Downing and McCaffrey, who now are NBC News and MSNBC analysts, were that his questions were generic, along the lines of, you know, The floor is yours.  Is this a bona fide reason for this delay, or does it just translate into another excuse?

ALTER:  No, I think it is a bona fide reason, and actually, you know, Generals Downing and McCaffrey are very credible on this.  And they both say that the tone of the president‘s responses, his interest in their answers, is much greater than it was when they‘ve been in there in the past.

So clearly, you know, he knows he‘s in a hole.  He‘s trying to figure out a way to stop digging.  So I guess you could call that progress.

OLBERMANN:  The White House, of course, says they are the kind that do not follow poll numbers.  The following poll numbers, though, appear shocking.  I guess there‘s no other word for it, even in the context of all these numbers we‘ve seen.

The CBS News poll, the most recent one, which was conducted late last week, after the Iraq Study Group released its report, even worse than the 8-point dropoff in the total score of Mr. Bush‘s handling of the war in Iraq, is from what group that drop occurred.  It‘s almost entirely among the president‘s base, the Republicans and the conservatives, a 23-point drop among Republicans.

Just in the last month, he‘s gone from 70 percent to 47 percent,  26-point drop among the conservatives.  He had 60 percent there, and now it‘s to 34.  And he‘s actually gotten 2-point growth among the Democrats.  Obviously it‘s only up to 5 percent.

But should the White House be scared that there is a defection of support among the only Americans that they have still had on their side all this time?

ALTER:  Well, he‘s a lame duck.  He‘s not running for reelection, so I don‘t think they‘re, you know, tremendously worried about that at this point.  Clearly, you know, he doesn‘t approve of his own handling of Iraq policy, because he‘s about to change it.

You know, so I‘m not sure how they can expect anybody else to approve of it.  So the fact that there‘s even that many Republicans who are approving of what even the administration admits is a failed policy shows that they‘re, you know, really—that minority is really willing to go down with the ship.

When he comes up with a new policy, Keith, then you‘ll see his support among his base go back up again, and they will come to his defense and man the barricades and question the motives of critics, and do all the kinds of things that they did when the old policy was in place.  But right now, we‘re in transition, so it‘s hard to expect people, any people, to support a policy when it doesn‘t exist.

OLBERMANN:  The extension has been given.  We‘ll see what the report looks like.  Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  When it comes to the politics of putting off a much-anticipated announcement, you can either suffer for it, or exploit it.  And one announcement, far more than the semiannual new plan for Iraq, generates both huge anticipation in what seems like an endless cycle of delays, waffling, and teases.  It is the announcement of a presidential campaign, walking the line between sustaining interest and ticking people off by not announcing anything is a tricky feat.

Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is not expected to announce his decision until after the holidays.  So when his office issued a vague announcement-announcement yesterday, lot of people wanted to see how this relative neophyte would walk that line last night.  We, of course, have given you a hint that Obama‘s announcement had nothing to do with the presidency nor the Senate, but rather with “Monday Night Football,” Bears versus Rams.  Nonetheless, there were a couple of politicos surprised when it turned out to be this, courtesy of ESPN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, folks, we‘re live in 3, 2...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  Good evening.  I‘m Senator Barack Obama.  I‘m here tonight to answer some questions about a very important contest that‘s been weighing on the minds of the American people.

This is a contest about the future.  A contest between two very different philosophies, a contest that will ultimately be decided in America‘s heartland.  In Chicago, they‘re asking, Does the new guy have enough experience to lead to us to victory?  In St. Louis, they‘re wondering, Are we facing a record that‘s really so formidable, or is it all just a bunch of hype?

Let me tell you, I‘m all too familiar with these questions.  So tonight, I‘d like to put all the doubts to rest.  I would like to announce to my hometown of Chicago, and all of America, that I am ready for the Bears to go all the way, baby.  Da-da-da-dah!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And we‘re awaiting the response from the San Diego Chargers.

Also tonight, while the focus in Washington is on Iraq, U.S. troops in Afghanistan are facing a new wave of Taliban fighters pouring across the border from one of America‘s so-called allies.

And one of urban America‘s mysteries potentially solved.  Sylvester Stallone, already responsible for all the “Rocky” movies and the “Rambo” movies, but was he also responsible for the gerbil story?  Yes, that gerbil story.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If there‘s one positive current claim that can be made about the conflict in Iraq, it is this.  At least people aren‘t thinking about it, not really so.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, America‘s other complex conflict, Afghanistan, a country that actually was connected to 9/11, harboring Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda as they masterminded the attacks.

Today, five years later, bin Laden remains free, and some local warlords who might know where bin Laden and the others are have won Pakistan‘s pledge to, in effect, leave them alone.  President Bush has not attempted to undo this truce with those who might be protecting the masterminds of 9/11 five years after the president pulled American resources from the hunt for bin Laden to instead prosecute his war of choice in Iraq.

But a significant core of Americans, about 20,000 troops, remains in Afghanistan, battling foes who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan, America‘s supposed ally.

Our correspondent Jim Maceda has been to Afghanistan and has found disturbing signs that America‘s actual enemies are resurgent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Above these ridges, U.S. helicopters search for a new wave of Taliban fighters, entering eastern Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan.

On the ground deep in Kunar Province, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Regiment, sitting right on the infiltration route, and determined to stop them.

CAPT. ROB STANTON, 1ST BATTALION, 32ND INFANTRY:  We definitely see the Pakistan influence.  We hear it in the language that the enemy uses.  And we know that‘s where a lot of the weapons come from.

MACEDA:  The 1-32‘s intelligence intercepts also say that a winter cell, the fresh group of al Qaeda commanders, is now in place, preparing to direct the fight throughout the normally quiet winter months.

Facing them here, about 60 U.S. soldiers in a small outpost.  Surrounded by hostile high ground, the 1-32 uses other eyes, like this Raven, or unmanned aerial vehicle, to scout behind the ridges.

STAFF SGT. GUI LAMB, 1ST BATTALION, 32ND INFANTRY:  We get intel reports so we can kind of fly it to the designated areas that we see, and be able to get a better view of actually—if, in fact, the intel‘s correct.

MACEDA:  And they use high-tech scanners in pitch dark.

LT. MICHAEL HARRISON, 1ST BATTALION, 32ND INFANTRY:  Most of the intel we receive is that they move at night.

MACEDA:  Many of these hunters are Iraq war vets, who thought Afghanistan would be easier.  But, as this video shot by the soldiers themselves shows, they were wrong.  This, one of 42 firefights since May, was an unprecedented daytime attack.

The enemy, they say, is getting bolder, and U.S. casualties are mounting.  With 18 killed and dozens wounded, no other battalion has been hit harder.  It‘s not what they or families back home expected.

SPEC. THOMAS ZIRKEL, 1ST BATTALION, 32ND INFANTRY:  They think it‘s not hostile out here.  And then when you get phone calls, you‘re, like, Yes, I‘m doing good.  You don‘t want to tell them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We come in quick, we come in fast.  And we hit them.

MACEDA:  Some villagers here are starting to cooperate, giving tips to the 1-32 on Taliban movements.  Others are not.

(on camera):  By day, Afghans in this village welcome U.S. forces, but at night, the same villagers harbor al Qaeda-linked fighters, according to U.S. military intelligence.

(voice-over):  The 1-32 has superior firepower, artillery, and air strikes at its disposal.  But this night alone, their patrols were hit six times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you give me an estimated location for the enemy?

MACEDA:  This hot zone is getting hotter.

Jim Maceda, NBC News, with U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight to Saudi Arabia, where this is apparently the new way for young idiots, I‘m sorry, young guys, to keep themselves entertained.  Whee.

Speaking of whee-ch, the new Nintendo game system might be proving video game critics correct, because apparently its console can literally hurt kids or at least hurt any inanimate object you happen to accidentally throw it into.

That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1863, Edvard Munch was born in Adalsbruk in Norway.  Obviously he grew up to produce several paintings, each known as “The Scream,” but not as well known, Munch was also a visionary in the world of art business.  Not long after they became the talk of Europe, Munch drew a simpler version of the iconic images, copies of which a printer ran off with the ferocity and the volume of Xeroxes of somebody‘s butt in your office.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin once again in good old Tokyo, with the COUNTDOWN cool-ass robot of the week.  And it‘s another Asimo the Honda robot.  You‘ve seen him jogging, lifting things, playing musical instruments, and now—no, he can‘t do a Munchean scream.  It‘s the Asimo that can walk up the steps.

Oh, that might have hurt.  I sure hope Asimo can‘t feel pain.  Maybe he can do a Munchean scream.  And you know he‘s just catching a beating behind that wall.  How dare you embarrass us like that?  You have brought dishonor upon yourself and the robot that plays the trumpet and the entire Honda Corporation.  If he survives this tragic head injury, that Asimo will be repurposed, and he‘ll be blending Margaritas by the end of the week.

To the Internets for another chapter in our award-winning series, And You Thought Our Teenagers Were Stupid.  This, they say, is the Ring Road around Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.  The guys in the white robes are morons.  Is there really so much oil in that country that you can slide down the highway at 50 miles an hour in open-toed sandals?  Watch out for the potholes, boys.

Oddball, of course, does not encourage anyone to leave the vehicle while it‘s in motion, but at least the driver stayed put, unlike our favorite American idiot.

It‘s funny because it proves natural selection.

Also tonight, a grisly reminder of Britain‘s most infamous serial killer.  Another group of prostitutes murdered near London, two of the women even sharing a name similar, as well as a fate similar to, the first of the victims of Jack the Ripper.

And a tribute to their mother.  Princes William and Harry planning a charity concert to celebrate the life and legacy of Princess Diana.

That‘s ahead.

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

Number three, oldie but a goodie, in terms of a story here.  Firefighters at Plainfield, New Jersey.  They were called to a blaze at a mattress warehouse some 15 feet away from their firehouse.  This fire was so big that they then had to call in 100 firefighters from neighboring towns to save the firehouse.

Number two, the Heisman Trophy, 25-pound bronze statuette, emblematic of the nation‘s top college football player.  Also unsafe in the air.  When its latest winner, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, tried to take the Heisman home to Columbus on—as carry-on luggage today, security at La Guardia Airport would not let him do so.

So he shipped it.  A large package belonging to a Mr. Smith.  No chance that could have gotten lost.

But number one, Donovan Razor Ruddock.  The Canadian heavyweight boxing champ who nearly beat Mike Tyson at the height of his career, and is now giving you the chance to beat garbage is (ph) the name behind the boxer compactor (ph).  You pull the handle, the press release says, and a 400-pound punch of trash-smashing power renders your garbage as unrecognizable as, you know, as Razor Ruddock‘s career.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the annals of crime reporting, perhaps no words have ever been overused, the phrase the new Jack the Ripper.  For 118 years they have been thrown away in the same manner that whoever murdered five prostitutes in the White Chapel section of London in 1888 threw away the live of his victims.  But in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, a disturbing development in the disappearance and death of five prostitutes in Ipswich, just 70 miles from White Chapel, providing a startling coincidence, or a startling link, between the recent attacks and the Jack the Ripper crimes.  It is an eerie echo that may not have yet dawned even on the investigators. 

The second victim to be found, a week ago Friday, was named Tanya Nichols (ph).  One of the two bodies found just today is believed to be that of a woman named Annete Nichols (ph).  The first victim in the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 was named Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols.  From our affiliated British network ITV, correspondent Julia Bremner outlines the full nightmare. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I will need you at some point to go.  All right?

JULIETTE BREMNER, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This was the dramatic moment when ITV News filmed police officers finding the fourth victim.  An officer examines the body just yards from the road, as the man who made the grim discovery watches uncomfortably.  Police are beginning to realize that this is confirmation of what they have dreaded, no longer missing people, but two more murders. 

But as they race to seal the road off, they can‘t know that worse awaits them.  Detectives want our cameras moved, but from a distance, we film the helicopter.  As it searches the wood, a second body is found just a few hundred yards away. 

DET CHIEF SUPT. STEWART GULL, SUFFOLK POLICE:  I can confirm that this afternoon, Tuesday, December 12, two bodies have been found near Ipswich.  Because of the discovery of the two further bodies close to where the body of Annely Olitson (ph) was found, we can only fear the worst.  The natural assumption is that these are the two missing women, Annette Nichols, age 29 years, and Paula Clanel, age 24.  That is an assumption. 

BREMNER:  Earlier today, Annely Olitson was identified as victim number three.  Her body was found in Napton Woods on Sunday.  A postmortem has shown that she was strangled, unlike the first two victims, who may have been poisoned.  If the bodies discovered today are prostitutes Paula Clanel and Annete Nichols, Suffolk police are in uncharted waters. 

CHIEF CONST. AUSTAR MCWHATER, SUFFOLK POLICE:  This is unprecedented.  No force in the country, no matter how large, has ever had to deal with a situation where there are five murders, which appears to be connected, all in the space of such a short time. 

BREMNER:  They will be desperately hoping that this is an end to the killing spree.  There are no further reports of missing women, but the search goes on. 

Juliette Bremner, ITV News, Ipswich.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Police say the speed at which that potential serial killer has struck makes the case unprecedented.  The first victim, 25-year-old Jenna Adams, and second, 19-year-old Tanya Nichols, were found in the same stretch of water, in the same area around Ipswich, earlier this month.  The third victim, 24-year-old Annely Olitson, was found two days ago.  And now with the discovery of the two additional victims, police are seeing if the deaths of these five women could be linked with four other cold cases, involving missing or murdered prostitutes around Britain.  Or, as it seems more likely, this is an individual murdering only in his home area. 

Hard to imagine that the death of Princess Diana would ever be seem to be a lighter topic, but news that the British inquiry into the night Diana died will be made public Thursday is cushioned by additional news that her sons are hoping to redirect peoples‘ attention to her life.  They announced plans for a memorial service on the ten-year anniversary of her death and a charity concert in London on what would have been her 46th birthday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The service is going to include both sides of the family, our mother‘s side and our father‘s side, everyone getting together.  It should be a good occasion. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We wanted to represent exactly what our mother would have wanted, how she was and that sort of things.  So therefore, the church steps alone isn‘t enough.  We wanted to have this big concert, you know, full of energy, full of fun and happiness, which I know she would have wanted.  Her birthday, as well, is got to be the best birthday present she ever had.  We have got (INAUDIBLE).  We‘ve got the English National Ballet.  Andrew Lloyd Weber is doing a exclusive, sort of, greatest hits bit.  And then we have got (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s plenty more.  Don‘t worry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The idea is we wanted to get artists that our mother really loved, and then artists that both Harry and I enjoy.  It is going to be different and it‘s going to be interesting.  If it works, it will be brilliant.  If it doesn‘t, then we won‘t be in the country.   

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And will we see you dancing? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I really hope not. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hope so, him, not me.  I hope we can get a chance to see him dance. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It would be a terrifying site if we do. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, so if people wanted to get tickets to the concert or find out more, how do they go about that?  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We could be very good and ask Santa very nicely. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Or ring his mobile. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Or ring my—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, perhaps related, the term partying ethics could be seen as witty comment on the similar nature of politics and celebrity until you realize it was coined by Paris Hilton, partying ethics. 

And Nintendo‘s latest entry into home gaming is definitely getting people off the couch.  But sometimes they‘re getting off the couch to clean up the damage to their TVs.  The problem with Wii ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW:  That‘s all for the 109th.  Let‘s just hope they move on. 

SEN BILL FRIST ®, MAJORITY LEADER:  She is not in a persistent vegetative state. 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  Let‘s give a welcome to Macaca here. 

SEN. KEN CONRAD ®, MONTANA:  We‘re not going to tell you what our plan is, because you would just go out there and blow it. 

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS ®, FLORIDA:  I am in this race, and I am going to win. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just when the Christmas tree controversy had exploded into an international story, triggering a debate over what‘s religious and what‘s not, it appears the airport had a change of heart. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you put it up originally? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And then did you take it down? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And now you are putting it back up? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right. 

DANNY DEVITO, ACTOR:  I know I was funny.  I was funny, but the idea was that I was a little groggy and somebody said—well, I said, you know, I think it was the 7th Lemon Chello (ph) that got me.  But I was joking, that was a joke. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was apparent to me. 

DEVITO:  Yes, it was apparent to everybody. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you really think that video games are not endangering your kids, meet the Nintendo Wii.  Not only are the interactive machines flying off the shelves, but the control units are flying out of the hands of users.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, even if they have not smashed any young ones in the head, they apparently have wreaked considerable damage to a lot of TVs to which they have been hooked up.  Our correspondent in Washington is Diana Olick.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA OLICK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The whole idea is to get off the couch and get in the game.  That is what had game enthusiasts lining up around the block to buy Nintendo‘s new Wii video game consul.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the best thing about this.  It gets everybody off their butts and makes them do a little bit of interaction. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You could get up and move with it. 

OLICK:  The company has already shipped a million worldwide and is looking to ship six million by March.  But Wii may have a problem. 

JIM WALSH, WII OWNER:  We are getting between 20 and 30 e-mails a day. 

OLICK:  Jim Walsh‘s website shows in graphic detail how the game is literally getting out of hand, causing everything from impaled plasmas to smashed stemware. 

WALSH:  Their hands are getting sweaty and next thing you know, they are swinging away, playing some tennis or some golf, or some bowling, and the wrist strap is breaking and the controller is flying through their houses. 

OLICK:  The Wii website does carry extensive warnings.  It directs you to make sure you strap on the remote controller and give yourself a wide area in which to play.  Still, with all this action, accidents will happen. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Not only breaking TV‘s, but it could fly off and hit one of the kids in the head. 

OLICK (on camera):  Now Nintendo too is admitting some people are getting more excited than even they expected.  The company is investigating reports of problems with the remote controller strap.  But overall they claim the problem is not with the game, it‘s how you play it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well sometimes, if I‘m eating pizza, I throw it into my lunch. 

OLICK (voice-over):  The popularity of the high action game already has Nintendo boosting its sales projection.  And while some home decor and pricy plasma TVs have taken a hit, so far there have been no reports of serious injury to an actual player. 

I‘m Diana Olick in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now the executive editor of C-Net.com, Tom Merritt.  Mr. Merritt, thanks for your time tonight.

TOM MERRITT, C-NET.COM:  Thanks Keith, good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Our condolences to you and everybody at C-Net on the loss of your colleague James Kim, to start.  

MERRITT:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  These complaints that we are hearing about, are these anecdotal accounts about the Wii system?  Do you get the sense this is a widespread problem, or just some isolated headlines? 

MERRITT:  Yes, it doesn‘t seem terribly widespread.  I mean, when you collect them all in one website they can seem a lot more prevalent than they are.  But when you consider the million that have shipped worldwide, it is pretty anecdotal. 

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s just stuff now, right, not people, no serious injuries? 

MERRITT:  Well, there have been some bumps and bruises.  I have seen some pictures of people with some welts under their eyes and some other injuries to their person, but nothing terribly serious.  Most of the time, like you say, it‘s the television taking the hit. 

OLBERMANN:  The problem, as we gathered it from Diana Olick‘s report there, was that people are just getting a little too into mimicking the movement of bowling or boxing?  What are they doing wrong?  Are they being two forceful?  Are they acting as if it‘s the real thing?  Is it the strap that was not sufficiently strengthened?  What seems to be the problem in those isolated cases? 

MERRITT:  Well, there‘s two things.  One may be Nintendo‘s fault for making the game‘s two engrossing.  I mean, here‘s the thing right here.  You can just do it with some gentle actions, and actually control it.  But people really get into it, especially when they‘re bowling, they want to wind that arm up and really throw it in there.  And, of course, when you throw it in there, you‘re likely to let go and lose it.  So, you have the strap you are supposed to put around your arm, but as you can see, it is pretty thin between the strap that is around your arm and there, and that has been breaking in a few instances.  Now Nintendo has come back with some thicker versions of this for people who report that it has been broken.  And they may be adding those to the newly manufactured Nintendo Wiis as well.  

OLBERMANN:  In one other report one of the consumers said that he had used excessive force, that it was all his fault.  But he said he had reformed himself, but, quote, I am more worried about other people playing with my Wii—I‘m very troubled by the grammar there—playing with my Wii. They might not know that the strap might break and something else might happen.  Is thus really the only problem remaining, perhaps, the way people are talking about this, that it might get that kind of, oh I don‘t know, spider eggs in the bubble gum kind of reputation?  

MERRITT:  You kind of wish that they had left it as Nintendo Revolution, right, before they had actually announced it for real, that was the code name for it.  So yes, the name makes it harder to talk about for sure. 

OLBERMANN:  Tom Merritt, the executive editor of C-Net.com.  Great thanks for helping us sort out the Wii problems. 

MERRITT:  No problem. 

OLBERMANN:  Topping our nightly round of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, the story of the birth of Brangelina.  Angelina Jolie telling “Vogue Magazine” that she and Brad Pitt were just very, very good friend when they first met, and that she was not looking for a relationship with her married co-star, but that their relationship eventually turned when, quote, life developed in a way where we could be together, where it felt like something we would do, we should do, end quote. 

Mrs. Jolie adding that ultimately it was her son Maddux who made her and Mr. Pitt realize that they wanted to be a family, because Maddux started calling Pitt dad.  As for Pitt‘s relationship with his ex-wife Jennifer Aniston, Jolie says that she had no idea what his personal life was like then, but that, quote, it was clear he was with his best friend, someone he loves and respects, end quote.  Those nice references to friends making it all them ore fun for Mrs. Aniston, no doubt. 

Meantime, the actress Lindsay Lohan admits she is in Alcoholics Anonymous, but has apparently missed the whole point of the organization.  She told “People Magazine” she has been going to AA for a year, then said it is nobody‘s business, because it‘s anonymous, then added she has been sober for a week.  The whole explanation as rambling as if she had been sober for a minute, quote, I haven‘t had a drink in seven days, or anything.  I‘m not even legal to, so why would I?  This is like Haiku.  I don‘t drink when I go to clubs.  I drink with my friends at home, but there‘s no need to.  I feel better not drinking.  It‘s more fun.  I have Red Bull. 

In the meantime, Lohan‘s nemesis, Paris Hilton, defends her new gal pal Britney Spears.  Hilton laying out her declaration of party independence.  Mrs. Spears can have her keggers and her kids too. 

And that age old Richard Gere rumor.  We‘ll chase the latest saga about who started it, down a rabbit hole. 

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze tonight to Lorraine Riddel, fitness teacher in Choppington, in England.  She is going to start a new pole dancing class next month, not really news.  The realm of the stripper has rapidly gained an exercise cache.  But Mrs. Riddel‘s plan is to teach pole dancing to kids as young as 12. 

Our runners up this evening, the good folks at the Grace Chapel evangelical church outside Denver.  Their senior Pastor Paul Barnes never joined in any of the gay bashing dressed up as politics.  He has now resigned after the minister from another church confronted Reverend Barnes with evidence that Barnes had previously dated men.  The church he founded says only that Reverend Barnes confessed to infidelity.  See, we here at COUNTDOWN don‘t hate the hypocrites who ran Barnes out, we just hate the sin of hypocrisy.  

But our winner, Houston real estate agent Julie Upton.  In the declining housing market, she and other agents have turned to bonuses to those who buy homes from them, like free gas cards, certificates at home improvement stores, or Mrs. Uptons premium of choice, anybody who buys a house from her price at least 150,000 dollars gets a free Glock pistol, worth about 500 bucks.  It will look great in the kids‘ room.  Houston area real estate agent Julie Upton, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The following segment contains subject matter which may be too mature for small children and too scary for small rodents.  All children and gerbils should leave the room immediately.   

OLBERMANN:  It was a rumor that literally had legs.  Scurrying around the nation‘s pop culture consciousness in the late 1980s, always starting the same way, I have a friend, who has a friend, and his friend‘s friend works in an emergency room in L.A.  And Richard Gere came in, and you will never believe what they had to remove from him.  This despite the fact that there was absolutely no evidence that even suggested it might be true. 

But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the deep throat of the Richard Gere gerbil myth may have been finally revealed.  Well, not exactly, but according to Sylvester Stallone, Mr. Gere blames the rumor on Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone told the reputable “Ain‘tItCoolNews.com” that he and Mr. Gere developed bad blood back in 1974 on the set of the movie “The Lords of Flatbush,” another great film. 

It peaked one day when Stallone says he was eating his lunch in a Toyota and Mr. Gere, quote, climbs in with half a chicken covered in mustard with grease nearly dripping out of the Aluminum wrapper.  He, Mr.  Gere, proceeds to bite into this chicken and a small greasy river of mustard lands on my thigh.  I elbowed him, Stallone continued, in the side of the head and basically pushed him out of the gore.  The director had to make a choice.  Richard was given his walking papers and to this day seriously dislikes me.  He even thinks I am the individual responsible for the gerbil rumor.  Not true, but that‘s the rumor. 

There actually is no way Paris Hilton can top that, but she has taken to defending her new BFF, Britney Spears, even citing the ethics of partying.  As noted by MSNBC.com‘s Jeanette Walls, Ms. Hilton writes on her MySpace page, quote, lately you have been seeing pics of me and Britney partying, blah blah, and she knows—that‘s a quote, blah blah—and she knows that some of her fans are very upset about what they call her behavior, and sadly they are blaming the issue on her being friend with me.  For people to call out her parenting skill on behalf of her partying ethics is appalling.  Britney loves her kids to death.  She goes home every night to her babies and partying has not come in the way of parenting. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Spears has been spotted kissing one.  She was reportedly on a date at the time, and the person for whom she resisted the last puff of that cigarette, has now been identified as music producer J.R.  Rodum (ph), who has reportedly worked with Ms. Spears‘ estranged husband, Kevin Federline.  To whom could we possibly turn now but the Village Voice columnist and author of “La Dolce Musto,” Michael Musto.  Michael, good evening. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE VILLAGE VOICE:  I am honored. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll save the gerbil news for a moment here, but first Britney Spears.  It is always a producer.  Which is more shocking here, that she might be dating her own husband‘s record producer or that the crap he recorded actually required a record producer? 

MUSTO:  I think the latter.  I mean, this is like dating Russell Crowe‘s anger manager, or Nicole Richie‘s dietitian, but at least this guy is some kind of producer.  I mean, he worked, not only with K-Fed, but with Paris Hilton.  So, he obviously has a talent at taking one note at a time and making it into some kind of sound, if not music.  So, I mean, he might be good for Britney. 

OLBERMANN:  Paris Hilton‘s prose, we have to agree, is probably just a step above Lindsay Lohan‘s.  That‘s not saying that much, but Ms. Hilton is invoking this idea of partying ethics.  What exactly are partying ethics?

MUSTO:  You know, demanding free admission, stealing your best friend‘s boyfriend, locking yourself in the bathroom when the check comes.  But I know for a fact that Paris did not say partying ethics.  She said going out bad stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  She also is quoted as saying, and maybe you have the original quote version, before it was cleaned up by her 83 publicists, there are thousands of mothers out there who like to go out and have a good time, but you do not see people out there calling them bad parents.  Is she right?  Are we trying to deprive Britney Spears of the good time we so freely allow the general public, or have I misinterpreted the word mothers? 

MUSTO:  Well, first of all, this is like Mussolini defending Hitler, or Latoya defending Jack-O.  Britney is like no thanks, let me speak for myself.  But yes, I think Britney should have the same right as everyone else to be a messy, boozy irresponsible slag.  It‘s the American way.  It‘s beautiful. 

OLBERMANN:  So, why do we have the Hilton defense of Britney Spears, but not a Hilton defense of the once again friend Nicole Richie, after Nicole Richie was arrested for driving under the influence, and significantly under the weight.  

MUSTO:  Because Paris was thrilled.  They hate each other, remember.  In fact, Paris is the one who held out the Vicodin and the marijuana and said, take them Nicole.  They have no calories. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s your first full meal in a week. 

MUSTO:  Also, Nicole asked Paris how do I avoid pregnancy, and Paris is such a ditz, she meant IUD, but she said DUI, and Nicole went out and did it. 

OLBERMANN:  OK. 

MUSTO:  Terrible mishap. 

OLBERMANN:  Now with that out of the way, let‘s go to the gerbil. 

Could we have ever foreseen that we would approach the answer to the gerbil myth via the story of a greasy chicken? 

MUSTO:  It all comes together in the barnyard of celebrity rumors.  Sly even knows about a certain actor, I won‘t say the name, who had the March of the Penguins up his hooha. 

OLBERMANN:  So, he says, Mr. Gere, quote, thinks I am the individual responsible for the gerbil rumor, not true.  But that‘s the rumor.  There is too many rumors in that sentence for me to actually understand what Stallone is saying there Michael.  Is he saying the gerbil rumor is not try, that the idea that he started it is not true, that he heard a rumor about the gerbil rumor?  What is he saying there?

MUSTO:  I have no idea.  But it is more poetic than Yo, Adrian.  But, you know, Sly is the one who also started the Jamie Lee Curtis rumor, that she is married to Christopher Guest.  Also the thing about Raymond Burr and the glass table.  He is a very credible source.  He supplied a lot of stories to Judith Miller. 

OLBERMANN:  Raymond Burr and the glass table. 

MUSTO:  Do not press me for details on that, but Merv Griffin did the same thing, allegedly. 

OLBERMANN:  We will proceed directly to the Internet for that one.  Back to Gere, his spokesman was not available to comment, according, once again, to Jeanette Walls, who treats this stuff like papal succession stories, but we don‘t really know who Mr. Gere blames this on, do we?  I mean, have we ever heard him address this in any way, in any public forum? 

MUSTO:  No.  He has hoped that this would go away, but it won‘t.  But I think deep down he blames Cindy Crawford and that angry mole.  I would ask the gerbil himself, or itself, but he is being handled by Gloria Allred right now, and there is a gag order.  Actually, an actual muzzle on the gerbil, which makes much easier to use, attention Hollywood.   

OLBERMANN:  Right, in a cage, keeps it in the wheel.

MUSTO:  I believe it.  Look, I believe Keanu Reeves married David Geffen.  What do I know. 

OLBERMANN:  Can you think of a story that has lasted longer than this one?  I mean this one—this literally is 1986, 1985, 1987, somewhere in that range, isn‘t it?   

MUSTO:  Yes.  I think Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt predated it, and of course Raymond Burr and the glass table, not to propagate that one again.  No animals were harmed in that one.   

OLBERMANN:  Is Raymond Burr in your book?  Are you trying to sell another copy of your book?

MUSTO:  If it will sell copies, I will say yes, he is.  All the details of the glass table are in there.  Please buy it.  I will put it in there, if you will buy it. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, well OK.  The one and only Michael Musto, who is now available in book form, “La Dolce Musto,” with or without glass table, with or without Raymond Burr.  Yes, I don‘t know.  I‘m thinking it has something to do with Godzilla, but we‘ll just skip it.  As always, great thank for your time. 

MUSTO:  Good night.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,319th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq, and not a moment too soon are we done here.   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.

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