updated 1/19/2007 9:56:17 AM ET 2007-01-19T14:56:17

Guests: Dana Milbank, Barry McCaffrey, George McGovern, Maria Milito

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

The secretary of state‘s references to Iraq being on borrowed time, thy gave comfort to the terrorists.  Iraq‘s new government could have better established itself if only the U.S. had better equipped it with better and more weapons.  Controversial statements indeed, specially since they came from the prime minister of Iraq.

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TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  What you guys are focusing on is a description—is reaction to rhetoric and what he perceives as the tone of statements in the United States.  What you haven‘t paid attention to, at least in these questions, is what he‘s doing.

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OLBERMANN:  Of course, by themselves, words are often also deeds.  What Mr. Maliki is saying and doing analyzed tonight by Dana Milbank and General Barry McCaffrey.

And a way out of Iraq for all of us offered to us tonight by our special guest, the former South Dakota senator, George McGovern.

The Missouri kidnappings, they grow grimmer today as the defendant is arraigned on what may be just the first of many charges.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Devlin, how do you wish to plead to this matter?

MICHAEL DEVLIN:  I‘m not guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As a commentator insists, a second victim did not escape because he was having a lot more fun than he did at home.  That boys‘ parents reveal they believe their son was sexually abused.  Why does the commentator still have a job?

And the cartoons continue.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You like one of those creatures that live in the jungle with those massive eyes.  What are they called?  Bush baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  When exactly did “American Idol” become American I-Dolt?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), you can kiss my (expletive deleted).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

It has been the bread and butter of Bush administration rhetoric, defeat in Iraq, as the argument goes, would embolden the terrorists.  Withdrawing troops from that country would embolden the terrorists.  Even electing the Democrats would, again, embolden the terrorists.

Tonight, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the White House finally finding out what it‘s like to be on the receiving end of that kind of reckless talk, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declaring that implications by Bush officials that the U.S. did not fully support his government has—you got it—emboldened the terrorists, the administration‘s man in Iraq acting like anything but, unloading in an interview with foreign reporters in Baghdad, the prime minister chafing at a statement made by Secretary of State Rice during last week‘s Senate hearings, in which she said of Mr. Maliki, “I think he knows that his government is, in a sense, on borrowed time,” the prime minister responding, quote, “I believe such statements give a morale boost to the terrorists and push them towards making an effort, making them believe that they have defeated the American administration,” prime minister also lashing out at the president for his saying that the execution of Saddam Hussein looked like a, quote, “revenge killing,” Mr. Maliki adding that what Iraq really needed was more weapons, not more advice, blaming high casualties on a poorly equipped Iraqi army.

Quoting again, “I can strongly say that we could have been in a better situation right now regarding the equipment we have and the weapons we have.  If that had happened, it would have greatly decreased the level of our losses and the losses of the multinational forces as well,” at the White House this afternoon, press secretary Tony Snow telling reporters, in effect, Do not believe what you hear from the prime minister, only what you hear from us.

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DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  The bottom line is that this administration, this president, has bet on Prime Minister Maliki.  And if you read these things, you pay attention to what he is saying, on the record, it doesn‘t sound like he‘s on board.

SNOW:  Well, it—David, if you look procedurally, what he‘s discussing in terms of troops and in terms of the way forward, I think he is on board.

GREGORY:  The president made clear that he told Prime Minister Maliki, You‘ll lose the American people if you don‘t show up and fulfill your end of the bargain.  Is that a fair characterization?

SNOW:  Yes.

GREGORY:  And this is what Prime minister Maliki said.  Quote, “The situation would be much better if the United States had immediately sent our security forces more adequate weapons and equipment.  If they,” the United States, “had committed themselves more and with greater speed, we would have had a lot fewer deaths among Iraqi civilians and American soldiers.”  (INAUDIBLE) guy who‘s living up to his end of the bargain, accepting responsibility?

SNOW:  Well, again, if you take a look at what‘s been going on on the ground, David, I‘m not going to get into a fight with the prime minister.

GREGORY:  (INAUDIBLE) fight with you.

SNOW:  Well, there—he also has political considerations of his own that he has to deal with.  He‘s not in a fight with us.  And that‘s the important thing to realize.  If you talk about the operational level, it‘s not a fight.

And the president, in his dealings, has worked very well with the prime minister.  And the commanders on the ground, and the commanders to be on the ground, also have good working relationships with him, and people who work in his government.  So, I mean, I understand the perception here, but frankly, we‘re making too much out of it, (INAUDIBLE).

GREGORY:  The statements he‘s making for political consumption, that‘s your point?

SNOW:  No, I‘m just saying that when you take a look --  Look, everybody said words alone are not going to win this argument.  You got to see deeds.  Well, look at the deeds.  The deeds have been impressive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there a little bit of a wink and a nod that you understand Prime Minister Maliki has got a domestic political audience, he understands President Bush has a domestic political audience, but that after you‘ve done sort of with a wink and a nod, everybody‘s on the same page?

SNOW:  I‘m not sure that there‘s any winking and nodding.  What I‘d ask everybody to do is open their eyes and look at the stuff I‘ve just drawn your attention to, because...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW:  No, that is important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), Prime Minister Maliki has all these reporters in yesterday...

SNOW:  Well, no, what you guys are focusing on is a description—his reaction to rhetoric, and what he perceives as the tone of statements in the United States.  What you haven‘t paid attention to, at least in these questions, is what he‘s doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s call in our own Dana Milbank, also, of course, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Do Prime Minister Maliki‘s comments give lie to the idea that the Bush plan for Iraq was a co-production of that government and this one?  If the president has not listened to the Iraq Study Group or to members of Congress, should we have expected him to have listened to the Iraqi prime minister?

MILBANK:  No, of course, not.  I mean, co-production‘s not quite the right way to think about it.  It‘s more of a puppet show, in a sense, and Maliki is in a very difficult position, and that if he does—if he says his lines just the way we like him to, he‘s in an awful lot of trouble at home.  And if he picks a fight with us, he‘s in an awful lot of trouble with the Congress.

So clearly, he‘s decided his biggest problem is at home right now.  So there is a lot of this winking and nodding that the reporters were talking about there in the White House briefing room.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Snow did his best to spin this as nothing more than terminology at odds here.  But how devastating politically and in terms of the public do you think this would be to the president‘s attempt to sell the plan here at home that these quotes from the man running that country are so—seemingly so black and white against what the, what the, what the president has said?

MILBANK:  Certainly.  Well, the only reason I think that we can say it probably is not devastating to the effort to sell the plan is because the effort to sell the plan has already been devastated, and is given virtually no chance of success with a large number of senators in both parties now coming out against the president‘s plan, really not having a whole lot of support at all.  Unclear how he can get there.

So this only is really unhelpful in the sense that it‘s just piling on to a plan that was already fairly dead.

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, if the prime minister is not with him, president really stands alone on this, doesn‘t he?  I mean, we got Nancy Pelosi telling ABC News for an interview that‘s running in the morning that Congress is not going to cut off the funds, but that‘s the only thing she can guarantee.

CBS News reported tonight that there are at least nine Republican senators ready to vote with the Democrats on the nine—nonbinding no-escalation resolution.  How is this going to turn out for President Bush?

MILBANK:  Well, he can proceed as he wishes, because, as the Democrats have been saying, and as Pelosi says again, they‘re not going to cut off the funds.  The other resolutions are for disapproval, but they‘re nonbinding.  He can proceed, it‘s just a political debacle that he‘s creating here.  They‘re now talking about if they follow through with this plan, a bigger disaster for the Republicans in 2008 than it already was in 2006.

OLBERMANN:  So the president then goes back to bat here once again on Tuesday next, State of the Union.  What on earth could he present that would alter this in any way?  Are we just going to hear a repetition of the same thing, with that premise that we‘re not listening to him, we are the, we‘re the, the, the kindergarteners who are not really understanding the first-grade teacher?

MILBANK:  Well, short of saying, My fellow Americans, we are about to attack Iran, I don‘t think he can really get out of this dynamic that he is in right now.  It‘ll be very interesting to watch the usual who‘s sitting on their hands and who‘s jumping up next week.

And the divisions are going to be on the Republican side, particularly when he gets to the question of Iraq.  There‘s really no way to paper over this.  As a strategic matter, the president may be able to pull this off for a while, but as a political matter, it seems to be a loss leader.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.”  As always, Dana, great thanks for your time.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  More on this upcoming from the military perspective, with retired general Barry McCaffrey.

First, just how much power Mr. Bush has as a wartime president was pushed hard today by Senate Democrats grilling Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the Hill, Gonzales leaving the door open when asked whether Mr.  Bush can legally wage war on Iran without congressional authorization, and promising future details he did not offer today on other presupposed presidential prerogatives.

One big for-instance, warrantless wiretapping.  Yesterday, Mr.  Gonzales indicated it was coming to an end, that the president would, from now on, get warrants from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  In his testimony today, however, he failed to make clear whether the new compliance with the FISA court consists of a new plan to apply for warrants, or whether the administration simply managed to get one FISA judge to issue one general blanket warrant, ostensibly intended to approve any and all wiretapping henceforth.

Mr. Gonzales also continued to claim that the previous wiretapping was legal, although that determination is expected to be argued in court in just two weeks.

The new way forward in Iraq.  General Barry McCaffrey telling the Senate today the plan is simply nonsensical.  The general joins us.

And later, former senator George McGovern will tell us of his plan to get us out of Iraq.

And as Michael Devlin faced his arraignment on kidnapping charges, his second alleged victim, Shawn Hornbeck, broke his silence on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and his parents revealed they believe their son was sexually abused.

That, and the commentator, who has not been fired, even though he claimed the boy chose not to escape from Devlin because he was having more fun living there with him.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Among those now speaking in opposition on Capitol Hill against the president‘s plan to send an additional 21,500 American troops to Iraq, we can now add four seasoned retired generals to that list.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, a former Army vice chief of staff, Jack Keane, former CentCom commander Joseph Hoar, former NSA director William Odom, and the commander of the 24th Infantry Division during the first Gulf War, Barry McCaffrey, are not qualified to assess the best way forward in Iraq, who would be?

But the four generals had to tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, ranging from tentative support for the plan to identifying the proverbial emperor without any clothes.

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GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  They‘re going and muscle this thing out in the next 24 months with an urban counterinsurgency plan that I personally believe, with all due respect, is a fool‘s errand.

If you don‘t have an economic incentive, you can‘t withdraw.  If you‘re not equipping their military forces, you can‘t stop equipping them.  If there‘s no peace dialogue to be enforced or encouraged, with our good offices, you‘re left with 15 Army and Marine combat teams fighting among 27 million angry Arabs.

So I personally think, in the short run, the current strategy is nonsensical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  General McCaffrey joins us now from Washington.

Good evening to you, sir.  Thanks for your time.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You told the Foreign Relations Committee today the president‘s plan won‘t run in—work in the short run.  Do you—where do you believe it will leave our guys on the ground there, and the U.S.  military as a whole, in the long run?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think it—the path leads into the swamp.  What we need to do is get other tools in play, economic, political.  We surely need to respond to Prime Minister Maliki and get him equipment for his own security forces.

But, you know, right now, we‘re taking essentially a thousand casualties a month killed and wounded.  It‘s $8 billion a month burn rate.  The strategy isn‘t working.  You got to try a broader engagement.

One correction, Keith, by the way, General Jack Keen, the former vice chief of staff of the Army, was at that hearing to promote an argument that sending additional forces under U.S. command is a good way to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad.  So he had a very different view from the other three of us.

OLBERMANN:  Do you put any --  And firstly, thank you for the correction.  But do you put any stock in any of the domestic political proposals floating around now, in terms of how they would affect things on the ground, capping troop levels, vetting each subsequent budgetary request line by line, or the nonbinding resolution stuff?  Does any of that have any impact or any validity militarily?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think the nonbinding resolutions, as political statements, are a legitimate way to communicate, you know, congressional sense to the administration.  So—and I think something along those lines is going to happen.

I think they will be extremely reluctant, and should be, to get involved in tactically manipulating this force using the power of the purse.  Politically, it‘s a bad idea.  It‘s probably not constitutional.  It‘ll be deeply resented, I think, by the armed forces.

OLBERMANN:  When you visited the president, where this all started, when you were asked to the White House, did you tell him that you thought that this kind of level of troop escalation would not work?  And if so, what was his response?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, actually I did.  You know, I‘ve got great respect for General Keen.  I‘m trying to puzzle through myself why he wants to promote this idea, he and Dr. Kagan from the American Enterprise Institute, they—you know, General Keen laid out his thinking pretty clearly.  He‘s a very bright guy.

And I—my response was, Sir, it‘s a fool‘s errand.  If you put five more brigades in there, come June, you‘re going to have to turn around and ask the commander on the ground, Give me back the five brigades, and give me three more.  I‘ve got to get them out there.  And they simply won‘t be able to do it.

Our troop presence in Baghdad does prevent all-out civil war.  Sunni Arab neighbors—neighborhoods are begging our infantry battalions not to leave them and turn them over to the Iraqi police.

So, you know, again, we got a dilemma we‘re facing.  There‘s no question the courage of our soldiers is preventing all-out mayhem in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  So of the various options, where would you go now, if they said, OK, we‘ve screwed it up, you take it from here?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, one thing, you know, good news, we got this incredibly talented fellow, Dave Petraeus, going in as our joint commander on the ground.  We‘ve got the best ambassador I‘ve encountered lately, Ryan Crocker, coming out of Pakistan and going to Iraq.  By June, the two of them will probably have a pretty good sense on what‘s recoverable out of this operation.

One thing, again, I would reiterate, you got to have an economic component to it.  It should be $10 billion a year pledged for five years.  Maybe you can‘t spend it because of lack of security, but it‘s got to be there.  We got to equip these Iraqis.  And the order of magnitude, Keith, is 3,000 to 5,000 armored vehicles, you know, 150 American helicopters.  We got to get in there with equipment so we can get out.

OLBERMANN:  I think Prime Minister al-Maliki owes you a thank-you note on that one.

General Barry McCaffrey, U.S. Army retired.  As always, sir, our great pleasure to have you here.

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, a much-needed breather from the very serious problems facing the nation.  You‘ve heard of the running of the bulls.  This is the running of the waiters.

And from one degrading competition to a slightly more popular one.  Yes, we know the contestants on “American Idol” volunteer for this.  But does that mean they deserve abject humiliation?  And when did somebody realize Ms. Abdul might need rehab?

All ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1779, Peter Roget was born.  And contrary to what you‘d expect from that last name pronunciation, he was a Scotsman, and a medical doctor.  He wrote a book on human vision, invented the slide rule, and after spending much of his life collecting notes on synonyms, in 1852, he published them in a book called “Roget‘s Thesaurus,” which has not been out of print now for 155 years.

There‘s a word for all that, but I‘ll be damned if I know where to find it.

Instead, let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin in Peru, where it‘s the 472nd anniversary of the founding of Lima, so we‘re celebrating with, of course, a waiters‘ race.  Servers from 20 restaurants ran through the streets with an entree and a beverage, attempting to cross the finish line first without spilling anything.  Ah, that guy‘s got his thumb in my eggs.  Nineteen-year-old waiter won the race, but at the terminus of the festivities, it was Lima‘s culinary and cultural populace which was the indubitable beneficiary.

See?  I finally found the thesaurus.

To Riviera Beach, Florida, home of the strongest man in the world, John Wooten (ph), according to John Wooten.  Not sure that title is official until you‘ve thrown a beer keg farther than Lou Ferrigno and Brent Musberger (ph) is there to sign off on it.  But Wooten holds 137 world strength records, including, as of now, pulling a 36,000-pound truck 30 feet in 28 seconds, and matching up his performance to our music.

And the 10 guys who came out on their lunch hour to watch saw themselves one heck of a show.

The fight to get out of Iraq, Senator George McGovern tried to free us from Vietnam.  Now, decades later, he‘s pushing to get our men and women back home again in a book that is a stinging rebuke of the Bush administration.  Former senator joins us next.

And the arraignment of Michael Devlin, the Missouri suspect accused of kidnapping two young boys and perhaps far worse.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, Italian (INAUDIBLE) Marco Borriello failed a drug test, showed up positive for cortisone.  One of the best excuses ever, though, courtesy his girlfriend.  She says she had given Boriello a sexually transmitted disease, and then recommended he heal himself with a topical cream.  Talk about taking one for the team.  Said girlfriend Bellen Rodriguez (ph), I advised him to use the ointment, but forgot it contained cortisone.  Our sex season proved fatal.

Number two, Mirna Marchetti of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.  The 22-year-old with the shining brown hair that reached down to her waist has fallen victims to Rio‘s new hair bandits.  They sat down behind her on a city bus and cut her hair off and presumably sold it to a beauty salon, where high-quality extensions can go for as much as $250.

Number one, Michael Vick, quarterback of football‘s Atlanta Falcons, at least for the moment, tried to bring a water bottle through screening at Miami Airport.  When security asked him to surrender it, he hesitated, then threw it away.  They say it turned out to have had a fake bottom with a hidden compartment in which they found a dark substance that smelled like marijuana.

Just in case there are not already enough things wrong with this picture, the flight Michael Vick was boarding was on Airtran Airlines.  Airtran Airlines‘ commercial pitchman in Atlanta is Michael Vick.  At least for the moment.

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OLBERMANN:  If you have heard president or his functionaries respond to critics of his handling of the war in Iraq, you have heard them say that the critics should present and explain alternative plans of their own.  The implication, a false one, being that the many critics have not put forward many plans. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the plans and resolutions and legislation competing to say what the president should and should not do, yesterday alone we heard from Senators Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Carl Levin, Chuck Hagel, Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, and representatives Lynn Woolsey and John McHugh.  And while it is not clear which resolution, binding or otherwise, will win the day, some Democrats are going further. 

Senator Barack Obama says he will introduce legislation that would mandate not just a cap, but a phased redeployment, in laymen‘s terms, leaving.  In its broad strokes it echoes a plan, advanced last year by a man who tried to end the tragedy of America‘s first Vietnam. 

Joining us now with details of exactly that alternative plan, George McGovern, for 18 years a U.S. senator from South Dakota, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate and also one of this nation‘s most honored fighter pilots in World War II.  His new book, in case we have not been clear about this, is called “Out Of Iraq, A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now.”

Senator, it‘s great to speak with you again. 

GEORGE MCGOVERN, FORMER SENATOR:  It‘s a pleasure to be with you.  You give us a lot of common sense on this program.  I hope I don‘t lower the standard tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  I find that impossible to believe, sir.  On the off chance Mr. Bush is watching, what, in sum, is your plan? 

MCGOVERN:  The substance of the plan is to set a date six months from now and during that six months we would withdraw every single American now in Iraq.  We wouldn‘t just forget about Iraq, we virtually destroyed that country.  It may take another generation to rebuild it.  We‘ve turned it into a glorious mess.  That wasn‘t our purpose, but that‘s what has happened in this ill advised, catastrophic invasion. 

So we want to get Americans out of there, to save their lives, to save their bodies, their limbs, their minds, and everything else.  We‘ve already lost 3,014 of the best young people in the country.  And if we stay any longer, we‘re going to continue to lose them at the rate of about 125 a month.  And during that same month, many times that many will be maimed or wounded, some of them for life. 

OLBERMANN:  I think most Americans assume that the goal in Iraq was go in, remove whatever threat to the U.S. existed or might have existed there, and then get out.  You‘ve written about the oil deals the U.S. put in place, as well as these enduring military bases there, a dozen, 13, 14 of them.  Do you think President Bush is rejecting all of these plans for withdrawal, limitation, caps, etc., because the goal has not been so much as to win, as it has been to simple stay? 

MCGOVERN:  It‘s interesting that even Richard Pearl, one of the neo-conservative authors of the good idea, as he put it, of invading Iraq, now says we should have left after we toppled Saddam Hussein.  We didn‘t do that.  We began building, more or less, permanent bases.  At least 14 of them are bases almost the size of a modest sized city.  And they‘re built there to last for a long, long time.  It‘s the same course the British pursued after World War I that led to disaster.  And finally, after many years, they withdrew. 

We‘re going to do the same thing.  We can‘t stay in Iraq.  And why continue this slaughter beyond what is necessary.  We‘re not going to improve the lives of the people of Iraq, which have never been so bad as they are right now after four years of the occupation.  You know, a recent public opinion survey in Iraq shows that only about two percent of the Iraqi people now think we are there as liberators.  They see us as occupiers and overwhelmingly the people of Iraq want us out of there. 

If we believe in self-determination, which I think most Americans do, we ought to let the Iraqis determine their own future.  Do I think it‘s going to be a happy and glorious future?  Not for a long time.  It‘s going to take a long while to recover from this devastating war. 

OLBERMANN:  In speaking about the war and in speaking about the book, you have mentioned how long you were telling your daughters that opposing the Vietnam War was essential, in part because it would ensure that America would not repeat such a mistake.  Considering that most Americans supported this war until relatively recently, why did the lesson of Vietnam not stick? 

MCGOVERN:  I think people were confused, and the president and the vice president and others did their best to confuse them into thinking that the 9/11 attack on New York, the World Trade Center, was the work of Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis.  Saddam Hussein is a bad enough guy without blaming him for something he had absolutely nothing to do with.  That was a deceitful policy that the administration pursued. 

They also told us that they knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.  The secretary of state talked about the first proof of that is when a nuclear cloud appears over the United States.  There were no such weapons.  If there had been a bomb or two, they certainly wouldn‘t have been aimed at us.  It would have been held to deter the Iranians from starting a war with Iraq. 

A person would have to be totally crazy, if they had one bomb, to throw it at the United States, knowing that they‘d be pulverized off the earth within a few hours, with the enormous nuclear power that we have.  So the American people were misled, the Congress was misled, but I think it‘s clear now that at least two-thirds of the American public want our troops out of Iraq and they want them out now. 

OLBERMANN:  And let‘s see if Congress has the wherewithal and the necessary depth to do that.  The book, if they need a guide post and a guidebook, is titled “Out of Iraq, A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now.”  Former Senator George McGovern, sir, a pleasure having you on the news cast, great thanks.   

MCGOVERN:  It‘s a pleasure to be on your program. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, Shawn Hornbeck, the young teenager held hostage for four years, speaks out.  But as he talks, so does Bill O‘Reilly, who finally crosses the line, suggesting the boy preferred living with his abductor. 

Speaking of crossing lines, “American Idol,” this may have gone too far too.  Sure, some tough criticism made William Hung a star, but are the Idol judges meaner than necessary.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  It boggles the mind that in 2007, a public figure can still blame the victim, a victim who is a teenaged boy, and not lose his job over it.  But Bill O‘Reilly has told his audience that Shawn Hornbeck, abducted at age 11, more than four years ago, rescued just a week ago, never escaped because he didn‘t want to.  The situation here for this kid looks to me to be a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents, O‘Reilly said.  He didn‘t have to go to school.  He could run around and do whatever he wanted. 

A lot more fun indeed, like suffering sexual abuse at the hands of his kidnapper as Shawn Hornbeck‘s parents today said they believed happened.  We have all gotten a lot of amusement from Mr. O‘Reilly‘s base line idiocy, but this is reprehensible.  It wreaks of perversity and inhumanity. 

Simply put, Mr. O‘Reilly no longer deserves any place on the public stage.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the man alleged to have abducted, perhaps molested, Shawn Hornbeck, was today arraigned via video link from the local jail, at Union, Missouri, for the kidnapping of another boy, Ben Ownby.  Michael Devlin pleaded not guilty. 

In the meantime young Hornbeck, surrounded by his family, spoke for the first time about his ordeal.  Our correspondent is Anne Thompson. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today, for the first time, America heard Shawn Hornbeck‘s story in his own words on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” 

SHAWN HORNBECK, KIDNAP VICTIM:  I prayed to god that one day I would be back with my family every night and I crossed myself every night. 

THOMPSON:  The 15-year-old, missing for more than four years, appeared with his parents.  Shawn said very little about those years with Michael Devlin, his alleged kidnapper, other than he spent most of his days watching TV and playing video games.  But it is what Shawn hasn‘t said that now haunts his parents. 

OPRAH WINFREY, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  Do you think he was sexually abused? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

THOMPSON:  Shawn was found by chance as police searched Devlin‘s apartment for another missing boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby.  Ben was held for four days. 

HORNBECK:  I am thankful that he held in there for those couple of days and I‘m sorry for what he went through, because I told myself a long time ago, I never want any other kid to go through what I went through, because I know what it‘s like. 

THOMPSON:  This morning the 41-year-old Devlin pleaded not guilty to kidnapping Ownby.  He also faces charges in another county for Shawn‘s kidnapping.  Off camera Winfrey says Shawn told her he was too terrified to contact his parents. 

Ann Thompson, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Obviously no segue possible to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, where Britney Spears is suddenly persona non grata in world of Paris Hilton.  The former BFFs were meant to go to Austria‘s premier social event, the Vienna Opera Ball, together as the guests of industrialists Richard Lugner and his wife Christine.  But they had to dis-invite Ms. Spears in order to kill—keep Miss Hilton.  That was a Freudian slip and a half coming right there. 

This is Lugner telling MSNBC.com‘s Jeanette Walls, quote, they unfortunately do not get along any more.  And it‘s not just a matter of picking Paris Hilton, but paying her as well.  She‘s allegedly getting one  million dollars just for showing up at the ball, or maybe that‘s for leaving this country.  I‘m not quite clear. 

Forty eight years after the Big Bopper died, along with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens, in a plane crash, his son wants to know exactly what killed him.  Jay Richardson, who was still in the womb when his father was killed, has hired a forensic anthropologist to exhume and examine his father‘s remains, in the hope of laying to rest two on-going questions, first, the cause of the crash.  The Civil Aeronautics Board said it was pilot error, but then a local farmer found Buddy Holly‘s gun near the crash site, sparking rumors that the weapon might have gone off on board the plane. 

Second, whether the Big Bopper managed to survive the initial crash, only to die because of the freezing conditions in Iowa.  After the necropsy, he will be reburied in Vomant, Texas along with a life size statute by his grave. 

One of the giants of the publishing world, columnist, satirist, humanist Art Buchwald has died of kidney failure.  He lived longer than even he thought possible.  In February of last year he went into a hospice after doctors told him he had but three weeks to live before his kidneys shut down. 

Five months later he moved back home to Washington, where he died last night.  Art Buchwald reveled in pointing out the absurdities of life, entertaining millions of readers, first with his observations on post war Paris, and later, during one of the most turbulent times in American politics, with his sometimes biting critiques of American life under John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. 

Above all, he wanted to be remembered as someone who made people laugh, even to the point of recording a typically absurd introduction to his own obituary for the “New York Times” service, “The Last Word.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ART BUCHWALD, COLUMNIST AND SATIRIST:  Hi, I‘m Art Buchwald and I just died. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Art Buchwald was 81-years-old. 

In the meantime our long national nightmare has returned.  Idol has premiered, apparently with a double dose of nasty, nasty singers, but even nastier judges. 

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to John Gibson of Fox News, did not like our segment Tuesday suggesting that Fox‘s show “24” inappropriately reinforces in people‘s minds the very debatable point that terrorists could set off a nuclear weapon inside this country.  Gibby suggested this means NBC, quote, doesn‘t worry about terrorism anymore, which is nonsense on the face of it, but he added, quoting again, “24” is not a product of anybody‘s news department.  Kind of makes you wonder why then they use the Fox News Channel logo and graphics on “24.”

And then there is silver medal winner, former New York City detective Bo Dietl, kind of proving the point about “24” conditioning people, intentionally or otherwise.  Said Mr. Dietl about terrorists on American soil, quoting, the fact of the matter is, I mean, you don‘t watch “24” on Fox TV?  They‘re out there.  They‘re out there.  There are cells out there.  We have to protect ourselves against them as Americans.  So Bo, are the guys playing the terrorists on “24” the real terrorists we need to stop or are the guys playing the terrorists on “Sleeper Cell” and Showtime the real terrorists we need to stop, or are the real terrorists some other guys who are possibly on at the pilot or development stage?  Are you one of those guys who can no longer tell the difference, because of all the fake terrorists on TV? 

But our winners, yes, the Bush administration.  El Presidente trumpeted the happy news that cancer deaths in this country have dropped dramatically for the second year running.  Mr. Bush then announced that funding for cancer research was up 25 percent or 26 percent since 2001.  In fact, most of that increase was due to a huge multi-year program established during the Clinton administration.  The Bush administration, it cut the budget of the National Cancer Institute last year.  In the new projected budget for this year, cancer research will be cut again.  The Bush administration, now misleading us about cancer research, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To our number one story tonight, and if the abuse was somehow witty, that would be one thing.  If, when the “American Idol” contestant who sounded like a parakeet being scraped across a blackboard got ripped by Simon Cowell and she replied, but I‘ve had years of vocal lessons.  Cowell had spat back, five years, but obviously not in a row.  That would have been one thing. 

But when the new season premiered this week, the judges writers seem to have mailed it in.  Nonetheless, if the ratings for last night‘s episode were anything like Tuesday‘s numbers, over 60 million Americans tuned in.  If you were one of them, you know the show‘s producers have kicked it up, or down, a notch this year.  Their appears to be a concerted turn towards cruelty in the first installments. 

In a minute the great Maria Milito helps us wade through this ridiculousness, but first the basic model is still there, dopes who don‘t know or won‘t admit they are terrible at what they think they are really good at, and the nasty judges who break it to them.  Are they too mean?  You be the judge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING) 

(SINGING)

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  This has been one of the worst days we have ever had and you are probably the worst we have had today. 

RANDY JACKSON, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Now, I‘m going to sing a little bit of a song and let‘s see how you react.  I like big—

(SINGING)

(SINGING)

JACKSON:  I‘m going to wait for the Tin Man.  I am going to call the Tin Man right now.  

COWELL:  Other door darling.

Other door. 

JACKSON:  It‘s the other door. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Other door.

COWELL:  Other door.

COWELL:  Other door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Simon, you can kiss my (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(CRYING)

(INAUDIBLE)

COWELL:  Are you drunk? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am not.   

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This was my first time learning this.

(SINGING)

ABDUL:  Hi.

JACKSON:  What is up baby? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi. 

COWELL:  Have you borrowed Randy‘s trousers. 

(SINGING)

COWELL:  Your dancing is terrible.  The singing was horrendous.  And you look like one of those creatures that live in the jungle, with those massive eyes.  What are they called?  Bush baby. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Simon can kiss my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) because I do not look like a monkey. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just a sticker on the other door that said, other door, probably would have been a solution here.  Let‘s bring in the princess of “American Idol,” the one and only Maria Milito of New York‘s Q-104.3 radio in New York.  Maria, thanks for being with us again tonight. 

MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3 NEW YORK:  Thanks for having me back.  I am sorry, I‘m just cracking up because this season is cracking me up already.  You can‘t make this stuff up? 

OLBERMANN:  But don‘t you think they did make it up?  Don‘t you think there was something that—this has gone a little bit too far, even just the couple, first two episodes here? 

MILITO:  Yes, but it‘s so entertaining.  I mean how funny are these people.  How awful are they?  They are just, they are horrible.  Who know, maybe they went out in the street and they paid people to come on to the show and audition who were terrible.  

OLBERMANN:  But those two guys—those aren‘t terrible, they seem to be somehow intellectually challenged, in some way, and they were made fun of.  I don‘t want to turn this into a crusade against anything, but there seems to be some sort of fundamental human decency lacking that used to be there.  There was a floor beneath these guys last year, wasn‘t there? 

MILITO:  I think so.  You know, I think it‘s like a William Hung theory.  I think a lot of people—I think the water has been lowered, in a sense, because since William Hung was able to get his 15 plus minutes of fame, I think everybody thinks, hey, guess what, I might not be the best “American Idol,” but maybe I could be the next William Hung, seriously. 

OLBERMANN:  Boy, is that diminished expectations in our country, I want to be the next William Hung?  Does that tell you something? 

MILITO:  Yes it does, but it gets them on national TV, and they‘ve lowered the water, pretty significantly, yes. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, let me run one more piece of tape here.  This is the woman who called herself Hotness, and I want to get your thoughts after we see her audition. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They said, you know, I was a spicy personality, and I am going to go in there.  I‘m going to deliver the hotness.

(SINGING)

COWELL:  No, we are not going to give you any love.  Why did you get a job down in the port? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why get a job what?  

COWELL:  A job in the port?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  She is not that hot.  She is not that good, in terms of singing.  She looks like she needed to shave, but did she have to be told that she should go prostitute herself? 

MILITO:  Well, didn‘t exactly say prostitute.  Maybe he meant to go be a vendor down at the port? 

OLBERMANN:  or she should get a job working on a whaling vessel, is that what you‘re interpreting here. 

MILITO:  Maybe go on a vessel, be a fisher-woman or something. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s what he meant.

MILITO:  She looked like a guy, anyway.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I know that.

MILITO:  She was not the hotness at all.

OLBERMANN:  All right, here‘s another one.  This was Jason Anderson, no the former Major League Baseball pitcher, from Tuesday night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

COWELL:  Sorry, your future involves not singing.

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Is there a golden ticket in your boy‘s hand, who has never sung for you before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) them.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) of a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) cut me off.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED)  (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

OLBERMANN:  Could there be a wrestling element to this?  Could they be staging some of these reactions? 

MILITO:  For him, well—for him, I mean, he sang so sweetly, and then he‘s cursing like a sailor and then he‘s crying like a baby.  He‘s only 16.  But they did give him some advice.  He should go to “America‘s Got Talent,” or as they said, some talent.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, he‘s going to become a sailor and the other woman‘s going to go work at the docks.  Let‘s see if we time for Nick Zitsman here, the unchained melody kid.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

COWELL:  One of the worst I have ever heard. 

ABDUL:  So that would be a no? 

COWELL:  It was almost non-human. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And that was the end of his life right there. 

MILITO:  I think so.

OLBERMANN:  And you get a charge out of this, what‘s wrong with you? 

MILITO:  I do.  I really do.  You know, dogs were howling across America with the way his voice sounded.  He was horrible.  He looked like, also, a serial killer as he was singing.  Did you see his eyes.  He was scary. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, all right, we will go on the show next year, and break all the windows while singing? 

MILITO:  Absolutely, it‘s entertaining. 

OLBERMANN: Maria Milito of Q-104.3, our very own “American Idol” princess.  As always, great thanks.  

MILITO:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,356th day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, 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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