updated 3/6/2007 11:26:24 AM ET 2007-03-06T16:26:24

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Maria Milito, Greg Mitchell

AMY ROBACH, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Walter Reed fiasco.  Hearings today on Capitol Hill describe a complete system failure.  Senior Army commanders admit fault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. GEORGE WEIGHTMAN, U.S. ARMY:  I‘d like to apologize for not meeting their expectations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  But give little consolation to the victims and their families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:  And having to live through the mess that we lived through at Walter Reed has been worse than everything I‘ve ever sacrificed in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  The showdown in Selma.  In this corner—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Our future matters, and it is up to us to take it back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  And in this corner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  I‘m here because somebody marched for our freedom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  But Bill steps in to prevent a KO in the endorsement column.

The venom continues to come out of the godless Anne Coulter‘s mouth.  If conservatives are outraged by her comments, then why exactly do they keep inviting her back to speak?

Unbelievable.  Two Texas teens are now facing felony charges after offering marijuana to two children, ages 2 and 5.

And d’j… vu.  After showing America her talent, this “Idol” wannabe got the boot.  How come the same thing didn‘t happen to Antonella Barba (ph)?  Tonight, People for the Ethical Treatment of Frenchie (ph) Davis are crying foul.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.

During the Second World War, 30 percent of U.S. soldiers died of wounds received in combat.  During Vietnam, 24 percent.  Currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, that figure is little more than 10 percent.

The good news, that means more wounded soldiers are coming home alive than ever before.  The bad news, the military health care system is straining to deal with all of the injuries.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, on Capitol Hill today, wounded soldiers were speaking out against the treatment they are receiving at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, their commanding officers under fire.

Meanwhile, the White House plan for dealing with he scandal, name a bipartisan commission to investigate, as well as photo ops and speeches with veterans, Vice president Cheney dropping in on a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Washington, President Bush to address the American Legion tomorrow.

But we begin tonight with the soldiers‘ stories from the Pentagon.  Correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today‘s testimony was heartwrenching.

SPEC. JEREMY DUNCAN:  Building 18, honestly, I hate to say, it was like a ghetto.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Specialist Jeremy Duncan (ph), wounded in Iraq, is the one who blew the whistle on conditions at Walter Reed.

DUNCAN:  It was unforgivable for anybody to live—it was—it wouldn‘t suit for anybody to live in a room like that.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Staff Sergeant Daniel Shannon (ph) still loses his train of thought.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN:  It‘s all right, take your time.

STAFF SGT. DANIEL SHANNON:  When I was first here—

MIKLASZEWSKI:  He‘s got permanent brain damage, and lost an eye when shot in the head.

SHANNON:  I want to leave this place.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Annette McLeod‘s (ph) husband has such serious brain damage, she has to speak for him.

ANNETTE MCLEOD:  This is how we treat our soldiers.  They‘re good enough to go and sacrifice their life, and we give them nothing.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Congressional lawmakers were outraged, their wrath aimed primarily at the Army‘s surgeon general, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, former commander at Walter Reed.

REP. PAUL HODES (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE:  I think this is a massive failure of competence in management and command.

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, FORMER COMMANDER, WALTER REED:  Yes, sir.

HODES:  When was the first time you heard about these kinds of problems?

KILEY:  When I saw the articles in “The Washington Post.”

MIKLASZEWSKI:  In fact, Kiley admitted he never inspected the infamous Building 18, where soldiers lived with mice and mold on the walls.

KILEY:  I live across the street, but I don‘t do barracks inspections at Walter Reed.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  The scandal cost Major General George Weightman his command at Walter Reed.  Today, he personally apologized to the soldiers and their families.

WEIGHTMAN:  I‘d just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations.  I promise we will do better.

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera):  Army officials say it‘s also expected Lieutenant General Kiley will be forced to retire over the scandal.

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek.”

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Good evening, Amy.

ROBACH:  Is the White House doing enough to overcome this?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s a tall order.  I mean, the White House thinks it‘s moving quickly, at least since “The Washington Post” stories first emerged, by firing the commander at Walter Reed, firing the Army secretary, and setting up this commission.

But this global war on terror has been running for five years.  And a lot of what this commission is looking at now are systemic problems, problems of how returning troops transition from military health care to the VA health care.

I mean, Walter Reed was the jewel in the crown here.  So for that to be those kinds of problems, as shocking as they are, at Walter Reed, tells you that there‘s actually much, much worse, or suggests there‘s much, much worse going on at some of the these VA institutions.

So that‘s the concern there, that it is too little, too late.  But they think they‘re moving quickly, at least since the “Post” articles first appeared.

ROBACH:  Yes, and you speak to a point that was made in “The Washington Post” today, that this might not just be just a problem at Walter Reed, but pervasive, unfortunately, throughout military health care across this country.  In addition, some who testified today said the problem‘s only get to—going to get worse as more and more troops head over to Iraq.

That said, does this scandal have the potential to get worse before it gets better for the White House?

WOLFFE:  Yes, the White House has got to try and get out ahead of this and uncover anything that is out there.  They already know that there are bureaucratic problems, people having to wait a long time to get benefits.  And there are shortages, the White House acknowledges, shortages of some specialties, especially when it comes to mental health care and things like rural areas.

But this is open season now for every complaint, for every problem, every returning troop.  And frankly, the administration knows that every returning troop deserves the best health care, and they‘re probably not getting it right now.

ROBACH:  Is this scandal going to hurt the administration‘s credibility with the troops themselves, those who are serving this country?

WOLFFE:  You know, people have raised that a lot.  But if you look at the polls, the troops actually support the president and the war in Iraq in pretty much the same order as the rest of the population.  There‘s about 5 to 10 points greater support for the president and the policies in Iraq.

What does it does hurt is this idea that the president can stage photo-ops and rallies with the troops, because people are going to raise those questions in their head, Are the returning troops getting what they deserve?

ROBACH:  What happens to this White House budget it submitted, which actually cuts funding for veterans?  Could there be a change on the horizon?  Or is that going to stick?

WOLFFE:  I expect there will be a lot of money thrown at this.  VA hospitals in general do a pretty good job.  But there‘s going to be some pretty targeted money, I think, at clearing the benefits backlog and getting some more specialists in there.

ROBACH:  How soon before things change there?  How many hearings are we going to go through?  And how quickly do you think the White House can cut through this bureaucracy that obviously has caused so many of these problems?

WOLFFE:  Well, they say this commission is going to come back in short order, and they‘ll have results, action, within the year.  But honestly, members of Congress, you heard it today, they‘re going to jump on this one.  There really isn‘t anyone out there who‘s going to defend the kind of treatment we‘ve seen at Walter Reed.

ROBACH:  Are words enough from the president and the vice president at this point in time?

WOLFFE:  No, they‘re not.  But they could go some way, you know, some expressions of sympathy, some acceptability of responsibility there would do something, especially when you see the vice president, the president talk in front of troops right now.

But in the end, it‘s like Iraq.  People have to see action.  And this is a big, complex bureaucracy, a lot of complex individual problems with these returning troops.

ROBACH:  All right, Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  Thanks so much for your time tonight.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

ROBACH:  Well, there is also the question of how the Walter Reed investigation is being covered in the media.  In the blogosphere, conservative Web sites are largely ignoring the problem, while on television, Fox News anchor Brit Hume raised more than a few eyebrows yesterday with what he had to say about this scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS CHANNEL:  This is unfortunate.  It looks terrible, which is the problem.  The problem is, it looks as if this administration, which has sent troops into harm‘s way, is now neglecting them when they‘re injured and need care and help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Let‘s call in Greg Mitchell, editor of the publication “Editor and Publisher.”

Good evening, Greg.

GREG MITCHELL, EDITOR, “EDITOR AND PUBLISHER”:  Hello, Amy.

ROBACH:  NPR‘s Maria Liason actually responded to Brit Hume‘s comments yesterday by telling him to say it looks bad, it also is bad.  Is that what so many people are taking issue with here, that Mr. Hume spoke only about the political scope of this scandal instead of referencing an acknowledging the human aspect of it?

MITCHELL:  Well, it follows the performance among, let‘s say, the more conservative media in the last two weeks or so, which have downplayed the Walter Reed scandal, probably hoping it would go away or it would be limited to the one building at Walter Reed.

A check of Fox News and “The Washington Times” and conservative magazines and Web sites has found very little coverage.  Some of the coverage has even pooh-poohed the problem.  I made a check today of the Fox News Web site, and as of today, since this scandal broke, they have had exactly one video on Walter Reed, and 55 videos on Anna Nicole Smith during that period.

So I think maybe the priorities are a little bit askew over there.

ROBACH:  So if the right is downplaying this scandal, politically speaking, is that a smart move?

MITCHELL:  No, I think it‘s a disaster for them.  I mean, it‘s a bigger disaster for the troops.

ROBACH:  The people like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out on it, right?

MITCHELL:  Well, I mean, the problem is that this scandal is not going to go away.  I mean, we saw today, “The Washington Post,” again, the same reporters, Anne Hall and Dana Priest, now making it more of a national story, bringing out the problems around the country, which is no surprise.

I mean, what the real scandal in this is that media—some of the media, even little “Editor and Publisher,” have had a number of stories in the last two or three years about the treatment of veterans.  The guaranteed problem there it was going to happen when there was so many, as you mentioned, coming home with bad injuries, as in the war itself, lack of planning for this, incompetence, sweeping the problem under the rug, hoping for the breast—for the best, praying for he best, but not preparing for the worst.

And I think that‘s what we‘re seeing now.  There have been some warnings about it.  And, you know, thank God “The Washington Post” report has finally turned some heads.

ROBACH:  Yes, Greg, because if an outlet like Fox News, with the audience that it clearly has, wouldn‘t it have brought them or bought them lots of credibility if they had gone with the story, helped expose the story, or at least started to cover it the way a lot of other news outlets have?

MITCHELL:  Well, the problem is the rank hypocrisy of the same outlets that have not only backed the war, but are forever using the troops.  We‘re for the troops, the people who are against the war are against the troop.  And yet, the very outlets that use this excuse, that throw that epithet at the antiwar people, are the ones who traditionally, not just in the past couple weeks, have given very, very little coverage to the vets‘ problems, because it is bad politically, as Brit Hume unfortunately, for him, let sort of a truth come out in discussing this.

And it is, it‘s a very bad problem for them, because it‘s the absolute worst kind of scandal for them, where it‘s—the line that they‘ve been given for so long is collapsing, because of the poor treatment of the troops that they allegedly are for.

ROBACH:  You mentioned Dana Priest, one of the authors of this expose that clearly just brought to light the injustices and the deplorable conditions that these soldiers and Marines are returning home to at Walter Reed and other facilities across the country.  She actually was attacked, verbally attacked, at least, for her reporting on the CIA black sites.  Is she facing any type of verbal threat or attacks based on her reporting now?  Or are there is a lot of, I guess, people just being silent, not saying anything here with this one?

MITCHELL:  Oh, I don‘t think she‘s a in legal problem here as she is in the—with the black sites thing.  But again, it brings out the irony.  The supporters of the war and the alleged supporters of the troops have attacked people like Dana Priest, suggested that they may even be traitors.  And yet it is—the news pages of “The Washington Post,” “The New York Times,” and some other so-called liberal outlets, which have been exposing the problems for the troops more than any of the pro-war or conservative media outlets.

ROBACH:  Now, Dana, I think, certainly felt at least justified when she—we talked to her today, and she had—was watching the hearings as they were taking place at Walter Reed.  It had to be a pretty incredible moment for her, given the criticism she‘s faced in the past.

Greg Mitchell, thank you.

MITCHELL:  Thank you.

ROBACH:  The editor and publisher—the—excuse me, he‘s with the “Editor and Publisher.”  Thanks so much for your time.

And a quick programming note, coming up at 10:00 Eastern, a special presentation of “Coming Home.”  A look at how our veterans are treated when they return stateside.  What‘s being done for them, and what‘s not?  That is tonight at 10:00 Eastern.

Well, a new health problem for the vice president tonight.  Mr. Cheney paid a visit to a D.C.-area hospital today, seeking treatment for deep-vein thrombosis, a blood clot in his leg.  Now, the condition is commonly known as the economy class syndrome.  But it apparently does not matter how you fly, Mr. Cheney logging nearly 23,000 miles last week aboard an Air Force Two 757, his round-the-world travels thought to be the cause.  The vice president treated and released, and advisers saying he was back at work this afternoon at the White House.

Well, ahead on COUNTDOWN, the showdown in Selma.  Obama wowed the crowds, and former president Clinton had to step in to prevent an endorsement going to his wife‘s opponent.

And Anne Coulter‘s slur against John Edwards.  He‘s trying to turn it into fundraising gold, but when will the candidates finally stop giving Anne Coulter a stage to appear on?

And what‘s got Keith so mad he is phoning in tonight‘s Worst Person in the World, even though he‘s on vacation?

You‘re going to have to stay tuned to COUNTDOWN to find out.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Selma, Alabama, served as a backdrop for one of the most seminal moments in the fight for civil rights, the march to the state capitol, Montgomery.

Yet in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, this weekend‘s commemoration of Bloody Sunday became the backdrop of a completely different battle, the fight to be president, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama descending on the town, looking to woo Democratic African-American voters.

Our correspondent is Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On the 42nd anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the historic clash over voting rights in Selma, Alabama, Barack Obama was supposed to be the main attraction, until Hillary Clinton, slipping in the polls to Obama among African-Americans, decided to come and bring her husband, once famously called the first black president because of his enormous popularity with black voters.

Obama answered critics who say his mixed ancestry makes him not black enough.

OBAMA:  Don‘t tell me I‘m not coming home when I come to Selma, Alabama.  I‘m here because somebody marched for our freedom.

MITCHELL:  And his crowds were much larger than Senator Clinton‘s, when both spoke at black churches a few blocks from each other.

OBAMA:  That means I think we start rolling earlier than she does.

J.E.H. JOHNSON:  I think that, with regard to the African-American vote in this country, you will see a steady shift from Senator Clinton to Barack Obama.

CLINTON:  Our future matters.  And it is up to us to take it back.

MITCHELL:  But the Clintons are fighting back.  So when Congressman John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and survivor of Bloody Sunday, was preparing to endorse Obama, he got a last-minute call from Bill Clinton, getting him to hold off.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D):  When I talk with my friends, brothers, the president or the former president, I don‘t tend to disclose the nature of the call.

MITCHELL:  The competition is even rougher over money.  The Clintons are telling Democrats to ante up now to increase her early fundraising advantage.  Their message—

STEVE ELMENDORF, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  When I raise money or other people are raising money is, let‘s get as big a number as we can by March 31 so we can show political and financial strength.

MITCHELL:  Clinton campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe even joked, You‘re either with us, or against us.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  We‘re going to win this nomination.  But you know what?  Having Barack involved in the process is great.  But, you know, I got to tell you, I‘ll tell you, Andrea, I think the field collectively is the best field we‘ve ever had.

MITCHELL:  Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  A shocking crime lands two teenagers behind bars.  They record themselves teaching their young nephews how to spoke pot.

And the “American Idol” scandal that won‘t die.  The producers refuse to kick out Antonella Barba after racy pictures of her surfaced.  America refused to vote her off.  And now people are organizing to protest tomorrow night‘s live show.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann, who will be joining us later for a special edition of Worst Person in the World, live from his vacation.

In the meantime, the rest of us have serious work to do.

So let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin with cool video from South Korea, where the military is showing off its new (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Black Panther amphibious tank, a combat vehicle capable of traveling underwater.  It‘s a tank with a snorkle, which can go 40 miles per hour under 12 feet of water, and then come up ready to battle on the other side of the river.  Why they named an underwater tank the Black Panther instead of something more aquatic was not explained.  How about the Purple Catfish?

Well, not to be outdone, the Indian military has unveiled its latest vehicle, the floating Suzuki Alto.  Whee, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  It‘s not a military vehicle.  A guy who repairs refrigerators (UNINTELLIGIBLE) built the thing in his garage.  But at least it doesn‘t need a snorkle.  Plus, Mr. Venod (ph) also installed a little DVD screen on the dashboard, so he can watch Bollywood movies while he drives and no longer worries if the bridge is out ahead.

Finally to Storkow, Germany.  And we‘re pretty sure this isn‘t a military vehicle either, but who can say for sure?  It‘s a really big fish bicycle.  In fact, it is the world‘s biggest fish bicycle out of, like, three, I think.  It took bike builder Dee Dee Simpf (ph) more than four months to build his fish bike, working day and night.  And now it‘s ready for its first mission to destroy that Indian floating car.

Well, Anne Coulter runs her mouth off, and the Republicans candidates for president denounce her words.  But when are they going to denounce her?

And al Qaeda is leveling threats against one of the Windsors.  Which prince is under fire?

Details ahead.

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

And number three, Raul Masvidal of Miami, Florida.  The prominent developer has been arrested and charged with grand theft and organized fraud for skimming official funds, which he spent on a $150,000 sculpture of a giant watermelon slice with a bite taken out of it.  Nice.

Number two, Robert Marsh of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  He has been charged with criminal trespassing, among other things, after he reportedly broke through a woman‘s store at 3:00 in the morning, claiming to be a werewolf, and speaking what was described as medieval-sounding language.  Turns out he was just really, really drunk.

And number one, retired Massachusetts transit worker Robert Gibson.  He has been charged with larceny after it was revealed he had been stealing transit tokens, one at a time, over 20 years, to the tune of $40,000 worth.  The saddest part of the story, well, the mass transit switched from tokens to electronic cards last year, about the same time Gibson retired.  He was caught trying to load thousands of the stolen tokens into those new machines.

Instead of riding a wave of momentum from this weekend‘s conservative summit in Washington, the top Republican presidential candidates found themselves trying the clean up after the mess left by speaker Ann Coulter.  But in the third story on our COUNTDOWN tonight, are Republicans outraged enough to end their cycle of giving Coulter a platform only to denounce afterwards what she says on the platforms they keep giving her. 

Rudy Giuliani told The New York Times her remark Friday was, quote, “completely inappropriate.” John McCain‘s spokesman, “wildly inappropriate.” Mitt Romney‘s spokesman called it “offensive.” But when she actually made her remarks at the Conservative Political Action Committee, not everyone was exactly booing. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR:  I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards.  But it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word “faggot.” So...

(MIXED GASPS AND APPLAUSE)

COULTER:  ... I‘m kind of at an impasse.  Can‘t really talk about Edwards.  So I think I‘ll just conclude here and take your questions.  Thank you. 

(CHEERING & APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Romney in particular is feeling the heat today.  He not only won a semi-endorsement from Coulter, he also gave her a glowing introduction Friday, despite the fact that she has used similar language before, most notably last July during an appearance on “HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM “HARDBALL”)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  How do you know that Bill Clinton is gay? 

COULTER:  He may not be gay, but Al Gore, total fag—no, I‘m just kidding. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Not to mention last year‘s CPAC where Coulter notoriously used the term “ragheads.” All of this today leading a growing list of prominent conservative to call on CPAC and its sponsors not just to denounce Coulter, but to ban her from future events because she distracts from conservatism‘s message.  For reaction from the left, let‘s bring in Rachel Maddow, whose show airs on Air America Radio every weeknight from 6 to 8 Eastern. 

Rachel, thanks for your time tonight.

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Thanks for having me. 

ROBACH:  So unlike John Edwards, you are gay, so were you satisfied with the statements from the GOP frontrunners reacting to Coulter? 

MADDOW:  Well, it just made me wonder where the rest of them are.  I mean, Tom Tancredo and Sam Brownback and even Dick Cheney were at this event.  And it makes you wonder if those guys are OK with what she said since they didn‘t denounce it. 

I mean, we heard from Giuliani, we heard from McCain, and we heard from Romney all saying they weren‘t cool with it.  But all the rest of them, it kind of makes you wonder.  Giuliani, McCain and Romney are really the only ones who might have a chance at imaging themselves at some point in the general election campaign.  So you could see how they would want to denounce remarks like this just because they were so over the top. 

But these other guys, they‘re kind of running for status within the Republican Party.  And it makes me worry that people who are returning for status within the Republican Party would see it necessary to suck up to somebody like Ann Coulter in order to get that status.  That makes me worry about the Republicans.

ROBACH:  And, Rachel, we mentioned some of these conservative bloggers who say that Coulter is sending the wrong message or is at least distracting from the real message of American conservatism.  That said, why do you think conservatives continue to give Ann Coulter a podium and a microphone? 

MADDOW:  Ann Coulter is a conservative rock star.  What American woman conservative sells more books than Ann Coulter?  What American woman conservative—what American conservative period gets a more rapturous response from conservative audiences than Ann Coulter does?  She is essentially the most well-known face of the conservative movement in America today. 

And she—I mean, her folk hero status on the right is something that the left hasn‘t made up.  It‘s evident when you hear the applause for even these very extremist remarks that she makes.  So, you know, maybe she is not emblematic of mainstream conservative thought, but she‘s really at the heart of the conservative image in America. 

ROBACH:  All right.  And let‘s talk about Rudy Giuliani.  He is in particular known for supporting gay rights and gay causes.  He himself I believe has dressed in drag before.  And there are pictures to prove it.  He has gay friends.  I mean, we—the list goes on.  Is the Republican Party big enough to allow Giuliani and Ann Coulter in the same big tent? 

MADDOW:  If it were then Giuliani would not have spent the entire time that he has been running for president thus far apologizing for his previously not anti-gay enough stances.  I mean, Giuliani, the only he has said about gay people recently is that he‘s very strongly anti-gay marriage.  That‘s not something that you do if you really want to make part of your platform that you endorse equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. 

I don‘t think that there‘s a split in the Republican Party on gay issues.  I think there is a tiny splinter of the Republican Party in which it‘s OK.  But really, if you look at what all of these candidates are having to do in order to punch their ticket with groups like CPAC, with these conservative groups like this one at which Ann Coulter reared her ugly head, I mean, they have to hit the anti-gay button.  They have to hit the anti-abortion button.  At this point there isn‘t much else that conservatives agree on besides being anti-abortion and anti-gay and maybe that global warming is caused by trees. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBACH:  All right.  So you mention Ann Coulter, biggest book seller there for the conservatives.  And she does have guest appearances booked on both CNN and FOX tonight.  Are her TV bookings and her books themselves the reason why she keeps saying what she is saying?  I mean, she is a smart woman. 

MADDOW:  Well, she—I mean, she is smart in the sense that she is snappy.  She‘s fast.  I don‘t know.  I mean, I feel like it is—I‘m of two minds about even talking about her.  Because I know that Ann Coulter needs publicity in the same way that a tapeworm needs a large intestine.  I mean, this is the environment that makes it possible for her to continue to make a living doing what she does. 

But I think the real question is whether or not the conservative movement and the Republican Party, as represented by the conservative movement, wants her to be the face of who they are to America.  Do they want Ann Coulter to continue to be the best-known conservative in America?  Or are they really going to stop inviting her to all of these events?  It remains to be seen.

ROBACH:  I was going to say, your prediction would be, dot, dot, dot... 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, they‘ve let her get away with a lot thus far.  I‘m not sure that this is going to be the thing that puts her over the edge.  I wish it were, but I don‘t think it‘s going to be. 

ROBACH:  All right.  Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America Radio, thanks for joining us. 

MADDOW:  Thanks for having me. 

ROBACH:  Also tonight, caught on tape, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old given weed.  The kids are now in protective custody.  The stoners responsible are now facing criminal charges. 

A brewing “American Idol” scandal tonight, not over the fact that Antonella Barba woman hasn‘t been axed for her racy photos, but over the fact that another contestant with a purportedly porno past did get the boot. 

And Keith Olbermann interrupts his much-deserved vacation to award tonight‘s “Worst Person in the World.” 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LARRY KING, HOST, “LARRY KING LIVE”:  Was there a little tragedy about her other than the death? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I remember her talking about, why are people saying these mean things about me?  She overcame it, but it hurt her a lot. 

KING:  You think she did overcome it?  Maybe she overcame it by dying? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Perhaps.  But...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s a role so easy, even a caveman can do it.  Variety says a sitcom based on the Geico caveman ads is being developed for ABC. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  First of all, I‘m not 100 percent in love with your tone right now. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It would be about three caveman living in modern day Atlanta. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why does that bother you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They battle prejudice just as they do in the commercial. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  “So easy a caveman can do it?”

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, it‘s just a commercial.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Please be seated.  (SPEAKING SPANISH) just happens to be the truth, (SPEAKING SPANISH) in America (SPEAKING SPANISH).  A message to those (SPEAKING SPANISH).

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  (SPEAKING SPANISH).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is shocking to see.  Two young kids in Texas, one just a toddler, smoking pot.  The marijuana given to them by their giggling teenage uncle and his friend.  And the whole thing videotaped.  Our correspondent Don Teague has the disturbing details. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He wants some more. 

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Police at a Fort Worth suburb found this videotape while searching the home of a 17-year-old suspected of burglary.  What they saw on the tape was shocking. 

The teenager and a friend are encouraging his two nephews, ages 2 and 5, to smoke marijuana.  You can hear them laughing as the children try to inhale the smoke. 

CHIEF BRUCE URE, WATAUGA POLICE DEPT.:  It‘s disturbing.  I‘ve never seen a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old that were coached into smoking marijuana and doing narcotics.  It‘s unbelievable. 

TEAGUE:  Today, the 17-year-old uncle, Demetris McCoy, and 18-year-old Vanswan Polty, also seen on the tape, face felony charges of injury to a child. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I feel terrible about it. 

TEAGUE:  Shirley Russell (ph) this is the suspect‘s grandmother, the great-grandmother of the young victims. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t raise them like that.  And they know I didn‘t raise them like that.  And I‘m just upset about it. 

TEAGUE:  She says she was at work when this videotape was shot. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They should have thought about what they were doing.  And they shouldn‘t have been smoking from the beginning. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got the money? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You all (INAUDIBLE) and give you all $5 apiece?

TEAGUE:  Authorities have removed both children from the home and placed them in foster care. 

URE:  In 25 years, I‘ve never seen anything even remotely close to this. 

TEAGUE:  Their 17-year-old uncle is in jail with bail set at $150,000 for a crime police call outrageous. 

Don Teague, NBC News, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.” And the kind of scary divorce that could make anyone reconsider the institution of marriage—not me, of course, honey, if you‘re watching. 

Paul McCartney and Heather Mills finally take their battle to court.  And so far Sir Paul may be winning.  Our correspondent is Dawna Friesen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  From the bliss of marriage just five years ago, to a bitter divorce battle, Paul McCartney and Heather Mills have finally faced off in a preliminary hearing.  After a closed-door session, he emerged to flash his signature peace sign, or was it a V for victory?

DENISE LESTER, DIVORCE ATTORNEY:  It is an awful process for both of them.  So the V sign may have been, look, I‘m holding up.

FRIESEN (on camera):  But unnamed sources have told one tabloid McCartney believes he is winning the battle, that he has told friends, the judge loves me.

(voice-over):  And that Heather was left shouting in rage as the McCartney legal team demolished her claims the former Beatle was a violent drunk. 

LESTER:  They would have trolled through footage, magazines, international media to see what she said, pre and post the divorce.

FRIESEN:  At stake is a share of McCartney‘s massive fortune, estimated at as much as $1.6 billion.  It has been reported Mills has already refused a $49 million settlement. 

LESTER:  Clearly this divorce has caused a lot of fury and anger and upset to Heather and indeed to both of them.  It seems to be war.  And it is continuing. 

FRIESEN:  Mills, who lost a leg in an accident, has said she would rather have all of her limbs cut off than go through another divorce like this. 

HEATHER MILLS:  They‘ve got to remember how I dealt with my amputation.  I didn‘t feel, you know, severely upset and severely depressed as I have through these six months.  I didn‘t feel that. 

FRIESEN:  But Mills is known as a fighter.  And this divorce battle could go all the way. 

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  From Sir Paul to Prince Harry, the British tabloid The Sun reports that three months before his deployment to Iraq, the third in line for the British throne is already being targeted by Islamic terrorists.  The Sun claims they have found threatening messages on extremist Web sites, among those messages, quote: “Prince Harry will be sent to Iraq to be killed by Muslims.” Another saying, quote: “May Allah give him what he deserves like his fellow crusaders.” Harry and his fellow troops will run drills in avoiding ambushes and dealing with roadside bombs.  They will also take part in role play exercises where armed enemy kidnappers take hostages in preparation for their May deployment. 

And if you‘re anything like us, when the news of David Beckham‘s serious injury crossed the wires, one question came to mind, oh my gosh, how‘s his face?  Is his face OK.  It is.  But his knee is a little gimpy.  Yesterday playing for Real Madrid, Beckham damaged ligaments in his right knee after slamming into an advertisement behind the net.  Beckham, who just signed a major deal to come play for the Los Angeles Galaxy of the MLS, will be sidelined for two months.  While the American debut is set for August, soccer insiders tell COUNTDOWN if Beckham‘s knee is not healed in time for the debut, the Galaxy will allow him to use his hands. 

And a fine thank you from Bobby Brown.  He refused to be a guest on a radio show that got him out of jail.  The man more known for his arrests than R&B songs spent three nights in a Massachusetts jail last week.  He owed $19,000 in child support for two of his children.  So hot 99.5 in Washington paid the money on the condition that Mr. Brown come to the “Kane Show” and talk about it.  Well, today Mr. Brown ended the on-air interview soon after it began saying, quote: “That wasn‘t our deal.” He hung up. 

Well, basketball player Ron Artest is in trouble again, this time for allegedly brawling at home.  Artest was arrested at his home in Loomis, California, this morning on charges of domestic violence and preventing a victim from reporting a crime.  Police would not disclose if the victim was Mr. Artest‘s wife.  The Sacramento Kings player was released on $50,000 bail.  Whatever his skills on the court, Artest is best known for his part in one of the most infamous brawls in sports history while playing for the Indiana Pacers back in 2004.  You may remember he was suspended for 73 games. 

And although there have been reports that Howard K. Stern and Larry Birkhead were negotiating over the paternity of Dannielynn Smith, there is now reportedly no deal.  Mr. Birkhead‘s lawyer, Debra Opri telling TMZ.com that the only subject of negotiation is how fast Mr. Stern will produce the child for a DNA test.  In fact, Ms. Opri says, quote: There were never any deals.” Mr. Stern must now decide whether the fight the DNA testing in court. 

And the gloved one has resurfaced in Japan, charging fans approximately $100 a second to get close to him.  Michael Jackson arrived in Tokyo Sunday.  And he is hosting a VIP party where 300 people, presumably with money to burn, paid $3,500 each to get between 30 seconds and one minute‘s worth of one-on-on time with him.  Throngs of fans who could not afford that personalized price tag were on-hand to greet him at the airport.  One of them even brought along a gift, a puppet.  So yes, he now has the capability to make his own version of COUNTDOWN‘s patented “Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.”

Antonella Barba got a pass on “American Idol” despite these saucy photos, even though the show canned another contestant with a similarly steamy past.  Accusations of favoritism and bias ahead. 

But first, Keith Olbermann joins us by phone from a secure, undisclosed location with COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees of “Worst Person in the World”—Keith. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Thank you, Amy.  I couldn‘t resist this trio.  I‘m just sorry there could not be golds for all of them.  The bronze to Newt Gingrich visiting us briefly in this dimension to blame the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on a quote: “failure of citizenship in the Ninth Ward where 22,000 people were so uneducated and so unprepared they literally couldn‘t get out of the way of a hurricane.” Yes, Newt, all that education sure helped the Bush administration shine after the hurricane. 

The bronze, comedian Rush Limbaugh pointing out that since ancestors of Al Sharpton were slaves and ancestors of Senator Barack Obama were slave-owners, quoting again: “Could we not say that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then wins the presidency, he will own Al Sharpton?” No, actually, we couldn‘t say that.  But we could say that any lingering doubt about this is at an end, Rush Limbaugh is a racist. 

But the gold, of course, to Coultergeist.  Calling John Edwards that name, I mean, Annie, just because you‘re more mannish looking, hell, you‘re more mannish looking than every man on the planet.  Coultergeist, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  As soon as racy pictures of “American Idol” contestant Antonella Barba busted out on the World Wide Web, the question began to surface in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there was that other girl, wasn‘t there, a few seasons before.  She supposedly had some dicey photos as well and she was booted off the show.  But Ms. Barba was not.  And now protestors are set point out what they see as unequal treatment. 

That other contestant was Frenchie Davis from “Idol” season 2.  Her pictures have been described by some as pornographic.  Though Ms. Davis says she was merely posing in lingerie.  And her photos never even went public.  But “Idol” producers dismissed her from the show.  Of course, Ms. Barba‘s “hello there” images did not garner the same treatment from “Idol” execs.  So now a civil rights activist has called for a protest tomorrow outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles.  Najee Ali says that “American Idol” is guilty of a double standard.  Meanwhile, Ms. Barba continues to be the choice on votefortheworst.com, reminding us that her singing may not be what is keeping her around. 

Let‘s turn once more to COUNTDOWN‘s “American Idol” princess, also the midday host of New York‘s classic rock station, Q104.3, Maria Milito. 

Hi, Maria.

MARIA MILITO, HOST, Q104.3:  Hi, Amy.  Thanks for having me back.

ROBACH:  We don‘t want to take anything having to do with “American Idol” too seriously here.  But is it possible this protest is onto something?  Why was Frenchie Davis booted and Antonella Barba not?

MILITO:  Absolutely.  I mean, a fact is a fact.  You know, when you look at it, Frenchie Davis is an overweight black girl, Antonella is a very skinny white girl.  Why is she still on?  You know, it is a double standard.  But the best part of this whole rally is that Frenchie Davis is going to be there by phone.  How funny is that? 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBACH:  And what does she have to do that‘s clearly more important than this? 

MILITO:  I don‘t know.  I guess she‘s in New York.  She‘s in “Rent” I think?  So I guess she‘s busy.  But I just love the fact that she‘s going to be at her—she‘s not going to be at her own rally.  It‘s like, let‘s hold the cell phone up to the camera.  It‘s crazy.

ROBACH:  That‘s representing.  All right.  Do we still agree though on one theory floated through all of this that “American Idol” is so greedy for the greater ratings that they‘re secretly loving all of this? 

MILITO:  They have to be loving it.  Again, it‘s on three nights this week.  And it‘s Monday, we‘re talking about it.  They can‘t ask for better press than this.  So I think, yes.  I think they‘re greedy.  I think they love it.  And I think maybe that‘s why they‘re allowing Antonella to stay on, because she really has to go.  It‘s too much.  She‘s like the most Googled person on Earth or something.  It‘s crazy. 

ROBACH:  I know, speaking of timing, another photo apparently of Ms. Barba has surfaced on a Web site called ninjadude.com.  And apparently it‘s some kind of bachelorette party where Ms. Barba is holding a box of sexually suggestive macaroni and cheese.  And the woman beside her holding a sex toy.  Suspicion at all turning to Ms. Barba herself that she is the one releasing these photos? 

MILITO:  I think she is.  I think she is.  But I also think that they need to eliminate her, because otherwise this will change the whole—like the whole direction that “American Idol” goes in say for next season.  Because the contestants that make it to Hollywood, everyone is going to come out with a video, everyone is going to come out with stuff online, you know, their Web pictures, their MySpace photos.  They need to like make the rule that you can‘t get away with this. 

ROBACH:  This is interesting.  And switching gears just a little, Simon Cowell has been shooting off at the mouth again.  He says that pop stars who go into rehab—and he talks about Britney Spears specifically, saying that they should just get a grip and says that Ms. Spears, quote: “Should go back and live with her mum for about six months.” And he reportedly says that he‘s not surprised that last season‘s “Idol,” Taylor Hicks, is not selling as many albums as Chris Daughtry.  He says he couldn‘t stand Hicks. 

MILITO:  I know, that‘s—yes, he didn‘t like Hicks. 

ROBACH:  Has it reached a point where it doesn‘t matter if you actually win the contest, as long as you can garner enough publicity? 

MILITO:  No.  Absolutely.  Because, look, Chris Daughtry is out with an album.  Katharine McPhee has an album.  And they weren‘t the winners.  But you know, about Simon talking about Britney Spears, he‘s absolutely correct.  You know, that‘s why I like Simon, because he speaks the truth.  He might be mean, but it‘s true.  You know, Britney needs to maybe not so much go back to her mom.  I‘m not sure, because if he saw what her mom is like...

ROBACH:  It‘s her mum.

MILITO:  It‘s her mum.  Exactly.  But he said, you know what, drop your friends, eat the right foods, and just like chill for six months. 

ROBACH:  Do you think they can come up with any other surprises before the end of the season? 

MILITO:  Oh, you never know.  Yes, I‘m sure they will have other surprises.  I definitely think so.

ROBACH:  All right.  Maria Milito AKA COUNTDOWN‘s “American Idol” princess, how do you like the title, by the way?

MILITO:  I love that title.  I just love it. 

ROBACH:  All right.  Thanks for some of your insight and your time tonight. 

MILITO:  Thank you, Amy.

ROBACH:  And that‘s going to do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching, of course.  And our MSNBC coverage continues now with “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”

Hi there, Joe.  You‘re waiting for it, I know.  I‘m not throwing you anything.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Thank you so much.  When is it coming, Amy.  What‘s going on here? 

ROBACH:  I‘m throwing you a smile. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, that‘s good enough.  Good enough, thanks so much, Amy.

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

END   

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