updated 5/31/2007 12:17:09 PM ET 2007-05-31T16:17:09

Guests: Al Gore, Dana Milbank, Rachel Maddow, Mo Rocca

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Fred Thompson is a really definite maybe.  The former senator and “Law and Order” star is testing the waters in a bid for the GOP nod.  So which of the front-runners won‘t be joining the Friends of Fred Thompson Committee come Monday?

More Al Gore.  Part two of Mr. Olbermann‘s interview with Mr. Gore, the former vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  It‘s like the old line from “Alice in Wonderland.”  First the verdict, then the trial.  If they decide to invade Iraq, regardless of the facts, then there‘s no discussion of the facts that‘s going to matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Very scary, for real.  A drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, and its hosts come in contact with the public.  As new details emerge, one question still remains, how did this guy get on a plane?

A parachute that didn‘t open.  Who could forget the skydiver who hit the ground at 100 miles an hour after his chute failed?  Well, he survived, and six months later, he‘s at it again.  And we have the video.

Tonight, a special COUNTDOWN investigation.  Tom DeLay says there‘s a big difference between his extramarital affair and Newt Gingrich‘s extracurriculars.  Uh-huh.

And “American Idol” winner Jordan Sparks says she‘s never had professional training.  Her former vocal coach says otherwise.  How do you spell Oops?  Mo Rocca will answer that, and so much more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER CONGRESSMAN TOM DELAY:  I haven‘t done anything wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DELAY:  This is a made-up scandal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Good evening, I‘m not Keith Olbermann.  That man has the day off.  But I am Alison Stewart.

And it looks like former senator Fred Thompson is hoping to be the next Ronald Reagan.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, think about it.  A Hollywood actor turned Republican politician, in this case turned Hollywood actor again, about to make a run for the White House.  Now, it‘s far from official yet, but new reports say Senator Thompson is planning to enter the presidential race in early July, hoping to take advantage of the Fourth of July holiday, the “Law and Order” star announcing this week that has already raised several million dollars and is launching an exploratory committee.

If you thought that stage was crowded at the first Republican debate, now imagine making room for one more podium.

Let‘s turn now to our own Dana Milbanks, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.

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

Hello, Alison.

STEWART:  So when it comes to Senator Thompson, he‘s saying, I‘m forming this exploratory committee, I‘m raising some money.  What‘s the likelihood that he would say, You know, not going to run.

MILBANK:  Yes, that ain‘t going to happen.  You know, it‘s not quite even the exploratory committee.  We‘re sort of in the testing the water committee, which leads to the exploratory committee, and then you announce that you‘re running.

But let‘s get rid of this fiction now once and for all.  These are just technical terms that the FEC sets up.  He is in the race, and if he decides not to run at this point, he is pulling out of the race.  So let‘s not grant him the cover of any of these sort of peculiar terms.  He‘s running.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about cover of a different kind.  I‘m sort of interested in these draft Fred Thompson Web sites, Fred08.com.  I mean, it looks mighty slick to me, as opposed to some sort of organic movement of people getting together and saying, Fred Thompson needs to run.  Are they really organic, or is it orchestrated?

MILBANK:  And it‘s got that nice Tennessee address as well, which I‘m sure is no coincidence.

By law, they cannot be technically orchestrated and coordinated.  But no doubt that these are people who know each other, and this has certainly benefited Fred Thompson.  Now, that said, that doesn‘t necessarily mean his campaign is going to get off to a well-run and slick start.  The Wes Clark, the draft Wes Clark campaign from the last presidential campaign was highly successful.  But Clark did a big belly flop when he got in the race.

STEWART:  All right.  So we‘re still going to say if he enters the race, although we all know he‘s going to.  Which candidates in the GOP field might Thompson, well, might he hurt?

MILBANK:  Well, when Fred Thompson enters the race...

STEWART:  You‘re sticking by that when.

MILBANK:  You go with if, I‘ll go with when.  But the big loser here is likely to be Romney, because he‘s been trying to morph his way into the conservative role, whereas Fred Thompson is a genuine conservative.  That‘ll be very difficult for him.  The winner‘s probably Giuliani, because he gets to stay above the fray, as the moderate in the race, as the would-be conservatives do get out.

And then McCain‘s sort of in between.  His—McCain advisers see a way in which this could help him, but it may further complicate McCain‘s fundraising efforts, which are really not very good already.

STEWART:  There‘s a little bit of inside baseball, but it could be really interesting.  John Harwood of CNBC and “The Wall Street Journal” reported today that Thompson‘s aides had discussions with a man named Tim Griffin about taking a top job with the campaign.  Now, Mr. Griffin, as you know, some of our viewers may not, he‘s a Karl Rove prot’g’, and one of the U.S. attorneys who replaced the U.S. attorneys who were fired.

And given allegations that Griffin was involved in some sort of voter fraud, using caging during the ‘04 election to eliminate, shall we say, voters who might not cast a ballot his party‘s way, why would Thompson‘s campaign go down this road before it has even begun?

MILBANK:  That‘s really quite a mystery.  And I—they‘re safe in the sense that they are—have been in talks with Griffin.  That doesn‘t mean they‘re actually doing it.  Hard to see, other than appealing to a particularly small segment of the Republican base.

But what are they going to do next?  Is Scooter Libby going to be the national security adviser and Gonzales the legal counsel?  You just think that this is something Thompson doesn‘t want to bring on himself right now.

STEWART:  Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”  Thanks again for joining us.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  As far as the Democratic field is concerned, the wishful thinking candidate in the party reaffirmed here on COUNTDOWN last night that he‘s not planning to enter the race, but he hasn‘t ruled it out completely, Al Gore telling Keith Olbermann that right now, the politician turned activist is focused on spreading his views.

Mr. Gore‘s new book, “The Assault on Reason,” lays out his argument that the current administration has consistently manipulated the American populace, especially on the subject of Iraq, a point he discussed with the host of this show, Keith Olbermann.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  To the point of the manipulation, one of the most compelling points you make about why the democracy is in danger is that, and a quote again, “The single most surprising new element in America‘s national conversation is the prominence and intensity of constant fear.”  You pointed out the studies which show that people who watched television most during the 9/11 attacks were also those who were stressed out the most by the attacks.

I have thought a lot in the last five and a half years about this idea of sort of mass post-traumatic stress disorder and television and what‘s happened since.  How do you cure a nation—and this is a broad question, and also a specific one, to that point of being manipulated by fear, how do you cure a nation that doesn‘t know it has a disease?

GORE:  Well, I don‘t use that terminology precisely, but, you know, we have always, as Americans, been a mixture of people who reason and people who feel emotions and who have instincts and just the whole package of humankind.  That‘s who we are, obviously.

But as Americans, in the past, we have had an almost unique ability to lift up facts and reasoned discussion to a more prominent level than in most any other country in the world.  And I think that‘s the reason that, over most of our history, we made better decisions than most other countries.  We were able to draw on the collective wisdom of the American people.

But when the American people are seen by these media Machiavellis that do these 30-second TV ads and the computerized psychology-driven polling techniques, when the American people are treated as objects for just herding in one direction or another, that‘s insulting to the integrity of our democracy.

I do think that the new tools available to us that some are beginning to use, the blogging, the Wikipedia, all the different Internet-based tools, are actually beginning to make a difference.  A lot of newscasters on television are now hearing about it, and having whistles blown if they persist in presenting information that is unintentionally false or misleading.  And the—and some of them actually do care when they get this feedback from the American people.

We need a lot more of that.  We need to invite the American people fully into the conversation, so that they can take part as fully as our founders expected they would.

OLBERMANN:  Who on earth could mean by that remark about newscasters? 

You‘re...

GORE:  (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  The premise of the book appears to be, in sum, and if I‘m wrong, please correct me, or someone will send in an e-mail immediately, for democracy to work, people need to connect with each other, connect with the political system, and actively take part in the democratic process.  But at the heart of it, aren‘t you demanding first that people think?  How do you—you can‘t force them to think.

GORE:  Well, I think that all of the activities of democracy that come natural to us as human beings, regardless of where we were born, immigrants who come here from other countries take to our democratic processes like ducks to water, because it‘s a universal desire for dignity and respect.  But when the conversation is diverted to these trivialities, and to these propagandistic efforts to sway public opinion this way and that in a one-way dialogue, then people don‘t have a way to join the conversation.

One of the reasons why so many Americans feel as if their votes don‘t count, that their opinions aren‘t heard, and that they have no way of meaningfully participating in our democracy is because they know that, for example, in the last election in November, 80 percent of the campaign budgets in contested races were spent on these 30-second TV ads.  Those are one way.  They aren‘t based on facts and logic.  And campaigns never have been entirely thus based.

But when the bulk of it is made up of these mass persuasion techniques that don‘t respect the facts and don‘t respect the people who are the objects of this persuasion, then we get the kinds of serious mistakes that we have seen with the climate crisis, with the invasion of Iraq, with the mass warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, eliminating the prohibition against torture that General George Washington laid down, that‘s been respected by every president in both parties for more than 200 years.

These things happen not just because one White House makes terrible decisions, but because we are more vulnerable to these kinds of sophisticated efforts to bypass reason and logic to reach a preconceived policy that was decided before the fact were ever brought into play.  It‘s like the old line from “Alice in Wonderland,” first the verdict, then the trial.  If they decide to invade Iraq regardless of the facts, then there‘s no discussion of the facts that‘s going to matter.

But we the people, without using the phase in a way that inevitably sounds corny, we the people must reclaim the integrity of our democracy by using the new tools that are now beginning to be available to us to insist on respect for reason and logic, to a degree that our founders hoped would be the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And that was a portion of Keith‘s interview with former vice president Al Gore.  If you‘d like to watch more, go to our Web site at countdown.MSNBC.com.

The pope made headlines today.  The pontiff is taking up the cause of a missing girl.  The hunt is still on to find little Madeleine McCann.

Even the initials sound scary, XDR-TB.  And now the government says a man with drug-resistant tuberculosis was able to take transatlantic flights.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Unfortunately, stories about missing children are all too common.  Most we don‘t ever hear about, while others dominate the 24-hour news cycle.  There‘s often a lot of discussion about which sad tales of lost children get coverage, and which don‘t.  So when the pope gets involved, there‘s no doubt you‘ll hear about it on the news.

Number four in our COUNTDOWN, the search for a British 4-year-old has captivated most of Europe for the past 27 days.  Her parents‘ desperate quest has millionaires, celebrities, and even Benedict XVI reaching out to the family today.  From London, here‘s NBC‘s Dawna Friesen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Across Europe, her face is everywhere, from posters, to billboards, even a video appeal shown at soccer matches.  Still no sign of 4-year-old British girl Madeleine McCann, snatched from her bed in this Portuguese resort, while her parents dined 50 yards away, their agony and private guilt unimaginable.

KATE MCCANN, MADELENE‘S MOTHER:  The first 48, 72 hours in particular were, as you can imagine, very difficult and quite (INAUDIBLE).

FRIESEN:  Rather than collapse in despair, they‘ve held tight to their 2-year-old twins and an unshakable belief that Madelene is alive and well somewhere.

(on camera):  They‘ve gone to extraordinary lengths to find her, enlisting family and friends to run a global campaign that‘s touched a nerve with parents everywhere.

(voice-over):  The Missing Madeleine Web site has had an astonishing 135 million hits.  Prince Charles and his wife have sent their prayers.  Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, Virgin boss Richard Branson, and “American Idol” star Simon Cowell have contributed to a reward fund that‘s climbed to $5 million.

They say their faith has kept them strong, and this morning, Kate and Jerry McCann were in the front row for Pope Benedict XVI‘s weekly audience.  Afterward, a brief emotional meeting, as the pope blessed a picture of their missing daughter.

GERRY MCCANN, MADELENE‘S FATHER:  Looking at (INAUDIBLE) has touched (INAUDIBLE) to obtain them, and we could have hoped, and that will help sustain us, giving us (INAUDIBLE).

FRIESEN:  The police in Portugal have released a description of a suspect and have questioned a British man who lives near the resort, but they don‘t have enough evidence to arrest him.  New video was released showing the family leaving on their holiday four weeks ago, little Madelene dressed in pink.

GERRY MCCANN:  We will not give up looking for her until we find her.

FRIESEN:  Kate McCann constantly clings to her daughter‘s favorite stuffed toy.  If she isn‘t found, it won‘t be for lack of trying.

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Remember when things went really wrong for this fellow?  His parachute doesn‘t work, the backup chute doesn‘t work, yet the man survives, hitting the ground at 100 miles an hour.  And now he wants to do it again.  OK, crazy.

And the race of races.  Less emphasis on speed and more points for general overall weirdness.

Oddball‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Welcome back, everybody.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann on a very salient anniversary for anyone who‘s ever endured a fender-bender, because exactly 111 years ago today, automobile history was made, not the first car, but the very first car accident.  The driver, a Mr. Henry Wells, slammed into a bicyclist called Evelyn Thomas.  Her leg was broken.  He spent the night in the hoosegow.

And now we are going to play Oddball.

We begin in Vilnius, Lithuania, where, despite a nationwide crackdown on illegal baby racing, it‘s still really entertaining.  The tiny tykes are pumped up, lined, up, forced to crawl while the crowd cheers on their bets.  Ar, we made up the last part.  Well, we made up some of it.  It is Lithuania, and it‘s kind of a baby race.

Twenty tots took part in this legitimate crawling competition.  Aw, come on, he‘s cute.  And while most performed outstandingly, there were still some promising front-runners who apparently never got their training manual—dude! -- either stopping short of the finish line or belly sliding to victory.  Some kids will never learn.  A for effort.

To Fresersdorf (ph), Germany, for the annual bed race.  Look at them go.  That‘s a Confederate motorized flag bed.  I don‘t really want to know what that‘s about.  Then came Anthony and Cleopatra‘s car bed, complete with half-naked guy waving a palm leaf.  Who wouldn‘t want that in a boudoir?  We have no idea what a guy wearing a dragon suit, breathing fire and riding a motorbike, has to do with bed racing, but, you know, he showed up.

And finally, there were races who couldn‘t afford any horsepower, carrying their beds on their backs, they‘re carting around linen in wheelbarrows, or even, you know, carrying their womenfolk with one hand and beer with the other.  Now, you know, that‘s Germany.  You will carry that bed, and you will enjoy it.  Ja.

And regular viewers of Oddball remember well the wonder of the slow-motion cameras.  We already brought you the super-slow-mo slap and the super-slow look at what really happens when you shoot an apple, if you‘re shooting apples.  Tonight, in honor of summertime, the water balloon.  First, what happens when you punch one in slow motion.  That‘s a thing of beauty.  Loverly.  Then, what happens during the more traditional use of the water balloon.  Contact!  That either really hurts, or feels really good.

Not so much fun, a tuberculosis scare.  Serious questions on how the man with extreme TB was allowed to leaf the country and then get back in, putting hundreds of people at potential risk.  Do we have the mechanisms in place to halt future outbreaks?

And The Hammer nails down the big difference between his infidelity and that of Newt Gingrich.  Tom DeLay speaks, coming up.

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

At number three, the Kominato Hotel, Mikazuki, in Kamagawa (ph), Japan.  The resort is so fancypants, it had a million-dollar bathtub made of 18-caret gold available for guests to use.  Notice my use of the past tense, as in “had a tub of gold.”  Despite the fact that the tub was only open to the public for a few hours a day because of, quote, “security reasons,” someone still managed to steal it, carting a 176-pound gold bathtub right on out of the hotel.  Yet according to officials, there were no witnesses, and also no video cameras.  You got to say Sayonara to that soaker, folks.

Number two, Renel Frage, manager at a Wendy‘s restaurant in Miami, Florida.  A customer at drive-through wanted extra chili sauce with his meal.  So the attendant explained that Wendy‘s company policy only allows three packets per client.  The customer kept arguing, so the attendant handed over 10-pack of chili.  The customer wanted more chili sauce, so the attendant got the manager, Mr. Frage.  That‘s when the customer shot him in the arm, Mr. Frage telling reporters, quote, “As soon as I realized I was shot, I started praying to God.  I don‘t think he‘d want me to die over some chili.”  Amen to that, brother.  (INAUDIBLE).

And number one, an unnamed octogenarian in San Francisco.  When police responded to reports of a fire at a local pizzeria, they found the business ablaze, and an 80-year-old man inside.  The man claimed he was a customer who got locked in the eatery, and said that in order to get out, he set the place on fire.  Then the pizza shop owner noticed money missing from the till, at which point the 80-year-old customer pulled out a wad of cash from his pocket, and said he rescued it from the blaze.  He‘s now in jail, charged with arson and burglary.  Guess no good deed goes unpunished.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Since approximately September 12th, 2001, almost six years ago now, this administration has assured us it would institute and uphold policies and procedures that would keep Americans safe, except for that sick guy who wanted to fly to his wedding.  In our number three story tonight, one of the administration‘s first responders when it comes to biological warfare, which can include the use of infectious diseases, has been put to the test. 

Specifically, could the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with the rest of the U.S. government, stop one man carrying a deadly disease from entering the country?  The answer was no, and today was a day for excuses.  His for why he did it, and the government for why it failed to stop him, even though it knew exactly who it was. 

We‘ll get to the security and political ramifications in just a moment.  But first, the facts and figures in this report from NBC‘s Robert Bazell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT BAZELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The unidentified 32-year-old man remains locked in this Atlanta hospital this evening.  Today it was revealed he took seven flights between May 12th and May 24th.  CDC officials are looking to test the approximately 90 people, the crew members and those who sat in the rows close to him on the two trans-Atlantic flights. 

Officials say the chances are the TB did not spread. 

DR. KENNETH CASTRO, CDC:  We can offer a certain level of reassurance, but the reassurance will really come with the investigation. 

BAZELL:  The man‘s saga began last January when a routine chest X-ray during a physical reviled a spot.  Subsequent tests showed it was Tuberculosis, even though he has never had symptoms.  As soon as he was diagnosed, health officials in Fulton County, Georgia got involved.  Skin tests showed good news, he had not infected his fiance, whom he was planning to marry in Europe. 

DR. ERIC BENNING, FULTON COUNTRY HEALTH DEPT:  We advised him not to travel.  I mean, I didn‘t get into his personal plans.

BAZELL:  So he took off anyway.  By the time he got to Rome on May 21st, tests showed just how dangerous the TB strain is, and federal officials wanted him in isolation right away. 

DR. MARTIN CETRON, CDC:  We were exploring all sorts of options to remove the public health concerns that he represented. 

BAZELL:  But in an interview with the “Atlanta Journal Constitution,” the man said he had no intention of going into an Italian hospital.  “I have cooperated with everything.  Other than the whole solitary confinement in Italy thing,” he said. 

So he flew to Prague and on to Montreal, before driving to the United States, where he voluntarily checked into a New York City hospital.  The man will soon be treated at National Jewish Hospital in Denver.  Doctors there say the risk he infected anyone is low, but because the disease is so hard to treat, you can‘t take chances. 

DR. MICHAEL ISEMAN, NATIONAL JEWISH MEDICAL CENTER:  In a way it‘s an inverted lottery.  You probably won‘t lose, but if you lose, you could lose big. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BAZELL:  Extremely drug-resistant TB is rare in the United States.  No one knows where this man got it, but he did say he‘d been on a business trip to Asia.  Allison?

STEWART:  Bob Bazell in New York, thanks to you.  And joining us now to address some of the questions raised by this case is Rachel Maddow, who‘s program airs every night on Air America Radio.  Rachel, nice to see you. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi Allison, nice to see you too. 

STEWART:  So, in your opinion, what could or should the government have done differently without running afoul of civil rights concerns? 

MADDOW:  The first thing the government should have done is have a plan.  The single scariest thing about this entire response and everything we‘ve learned in the last two days was the statement by the head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, when she actually said, we just kind of had to make up the plan as we went along. 

There have been 17 cases of extensively drug resistant tuberculosis in the United States just since 2000, 17 cases, a dozen and a half cases.  A public health system that doesn‘t have a plan to deal with that?  That told the guy, maybe it would be best if you didn‘t travel, but then didn‘t let him know about those test results until he was already overseas.  The public health system here is the scariest thing about this case. 

STEWART:  The thing that was very scary to me is that it just announced a huge hole in American security.  If you‘re on a no-fly list, which this guy was, and you know it, you can take a flight to an adjacent country and then drive across the Canadian border, which made me wonder, have we ignored security on the borders to the north while trying to build fences in the south? 

MADDOW:  You know, it‘s interesting, a lot of people in the border regions, for example, the border regions of Texas and Arizona, local officials there have pointed out the contrast in our security on the southern and northern borders.  This is actually a little bit scary on both sides of the security issue, because, sure, you had him able to drive into the United States after evading the no-fly list restrictions by flying into Canada. 

On the other hand, we also learned that health agencies can put people on the terrorism no-flight list.  It kind of makes you wonder if every agency can do that, like if you ran afoul of the Faith Based Initiatives Office, if they could no fly list or something.  So there‘s concerns—all sorts of stuff that we have learned about through this very case. 

But the response to an airborne transmitted, multi-drug resistant potentially fatal virus is the reason that we have government at a very basic level.  It‘s the reason that Libertarians don‘t get elected to office.  You need to have a government competent enough to recognize this as a threat, to isolate it when it happens, and to either neutralize or at least contain it. 

The public health system in this country failed at every level in this case. 

STEWART:  One of the things that‘s interesting—well not interesting, but perhaps one of the illuminating things after 9/11 was the issue of coordination between different agencies.  What do you think this whole episode says about the coordination between federal agencies, and coordination between nations?   

MADDOW:  Even within the public health system just within the United States, even if you don‘t take into account Italy and the other countries involved here, we still haven‘t heard a clear story from public health officials about what the patient was advised, what he was told he should or should not do, how seriously those restrictions were communicated to him. 

They still haven‘t gotten the story straight, just in terms of the United States.  A big issue about how we‘re kept safe is not just that we stop threats before they arise, not just that we kill terrorists or that we infiltrate terrorist cells.  It‘s that when something happens, we recognize it as a threat, and we have core government functions that can respond to it.  That‘s true for transportation, communications, public health. 

It‘s as true for terrorism as it for hurricanes, and as it is for Avian Flu or Tuberculosis.  We need to have resilient systems that can take a punch, contain a threat and respond. 

STEWART:  Rachel Maddow of the Rachel Maddow Show on Air America. 

Thanks for spending some time with us, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks Allison.

STEWART:  A wild update tonight to a breath taking story of survival.  A man cheats death in a sky diving accident and now he‘s putting his faith in a parachute once again. 

Paris Hilton to the pokey.  We have the 4-11 on the inmate who will be locked behind bars with Paris.  Details ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He really was just a little guy the first time his grandpa Floyd took tiny fishing.  Tim Smith grew up on fried catfish and all the fixings.  Just like anybody else, Tiny doesn‘t look very big from a distance. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of people will say I‘m big boned or something like that.  That‘s not me.  I‘m fat.  I just like to eat. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He‘s a character.  He likes what he does and it‘s nice to see someone enjoy their work. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ve been watching this man.  He‘s hysterical. 

He has his own beat going. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m noticing this wild guy just dancing up and down.  It gets everyone going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People don‘t realize that while I‘m moving, they say oh, you‘re dancing, what have you.  No, I‘m just keeping on my toes and keeping aware. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Members of Billings High School‘s class of 1937.  At least 17 of the class‘ graduates gathered to celebrate the 70th anniversary of their high school graduation.  The evening started with a live performance from the Jammers, a band led by Jerry Spear, who graduated with the class of 1937.  A few weeks ago Spear was diagnosed with pneumonia, but she attended Saturday‘s party without oxygen. 

JERRY SPEAR, SINGER:  The show must go on. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It all seems to simple, just like when you were a kid learning to ride a bike.  You fall down, get right back on.  Works with horses too.  Not so much with parachutes.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, you might remember the skydiving instructor from new Zealand who miraculously survived a three-mile plunge to Earth last December while taking absolutely breathtaking video of what should have been his final moments the entire time. 

That was five months ago.  So what‘s he doing now?  Getting back on the horse, or bike, or airplane in this case.  Neal Connery of affiliated network ITV went along for the dive. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEIL CONNERY, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He is the man who fell to Earth from 15,000 feet when his parachute malfunctioned and lived to tell the tale.  Now Michael Holmes is preparing to go up again for his first jump since his miraculous escape. 

MICHAEL HOLMES, SKYDIVER:  Where I‘m concerned, maybe a little bit nervous.  Who can know, really?  I mean, it will all come real when the door opens and I go out. 

CONNERY:  This is what greeted Michael six months ago after his main canopy tangled, leaving him spinning to Earth.  His friend also filmed the drama.  When Michael tried to release his reserve chute, the cord came away.  He thought these would be his last words. 

HOLMES:  Goodbye.

CONNERY:  He hit the ground at more than 100 miles per hour. 

Amazingly, he suffered just a broken ankle and a collapsed lung. 

Now, six months on, he‘s about to try again.  Anyone would be nervous at a moment like this, but given what happened the last time, it‘s breath taking to think Michael is jumping again. 

And this time it all goes to plan.  A huge sense of relief and a textbook landing. 

HOLMES:  It felt a bit alien, really, because I haven‘t done it for so long.  But, yes, the second we were out in free fall, it was like I never left it.  It was great. 

CONNERY:  And now that he‘s got his wings back, Michael says he can‘t wait to jump again. 

Neal Connery, ITV News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And that‘s enough reason to pull the emergency chute, cross our fingers and plunge into Keeping Tabs, our nightly look at celebrity and entertainment news, beginning with Paris Hilton, just six days away from check in time for her 23-day stay at a women‘s prison in L.A.  The website TMZ.com reports officials have carefully hand picked a cell mate for the millionaire heiress, a woman doing time for reckless driving, who they believe won‘t cash in on all that late-night girl talk with the reflective Paris.  Deep thoughts, you know, on what‘s hot and what‘s not hot. 

Or maybe Paris will be seeking comfort in being dropped from a book that lists the world‘s top heiresses.  She‘s being dropped because of her behavior.  Apparently a sex video and drunk driving wasn‘t enough, but violating parole, that‘s not hot when it comes to rich chick behavior. 

On to Larry Birkhead, the official legal, genetically tested and calcium fortified father of Anna Nicole‘s child Dannielynn.  We wish we could tell you some good news about how he‘s bonding with his baby, but no, it‘s back to court for Birkhead.  His former lawyer is suing him.  The suit claims Birkhead didn‘t pay for hundreds of hours of legal work and international travel during the paternity dispute. 

No dollar amount is mentioned, although it might be time for Mr.  Birkhead to reconsider two things, that open letter he got last month from Candy Spelling, the widow of the titan Aaron Spelling, warning that lawyers will soon see him as a cash machine, and Birkhead might also want to reconsider a 100,000 dollar offer to pose nude in “Playgirl.” 

He turned it down because he said he was chicken.  Larry, three words for you, man up buddy. 

All right, I‘m trying to get through the next story without laughing or an FCC fine.  The preferred pronunciation of the seventh planet from the sun is Uranus.  Our next story is for anyone who giggles whenever anyone pronounces it the other way and those who are still in the fourth grade.  Throughout the history of anatomical and sexual homonyms, there are people who get a bit testy about it and seek to use the legal system or even the penal system, and others who laughed so hard at rectum.  I mean they were pooped. 

In fact, one company has decided to exploit a linguistic near-miss in this category.  Rehema Ellis reports on the subject, because it‘s her duty. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Have you ever ordered what‘s in that burger?  New TV ads are making it an issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have just launched the first 100 percent sirloin burger in fast-food history.  Take a look.

ELLIS:  Jack in the Box is taking a shot at its competition. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the sirloin area. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jack, our competitors serve Angus burgers?  Could you point to the Angus area? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d rather not. 

ELLIS:  One competitor, the owner of Carl‘s Junior and Hardeys, is making a federal case out of this, filing suit in U.S. district court to stop the ads, claiming the Jack in the Box commercials are misleading and bad for business. 

ANDREW PUZDER, CEO:  Angus beef actually has sirloin as one of its cuts.  When you try and take the G out of angus, which is kind of the joke in their ads, when you try to take the G out, and say that Angus beef comes from the hind section of the cow, it‘s just not true. 

ELLIS:  Jack in the Box called the suit senseless and without merit.  Adding, “It‘s a shame to waste time and resources on such a trivial matter.”  Controversial ads are pretty common in the burger wars.  The irony is it was Carl‘s Jr. that used Paris Hilton in ads that raised some eyebrows. 

Who are these ads for, anyway? 

DRIC HIRSHBERG, PRESIDENT, DEUTSCH LA:  Context is everything and the context of this ad is that their target is the same as most beer companies, young men. And I guarantee you that audience is already making Angus jokes.

ELLIS:  It makes the old-time ads seem tame. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Where‘s the beef? 

ELLIS:  Now a judge will have to decide if this beef is valid. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you saying that people will find our sirloin more attractive than their anguses? 

ELLIS:  Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Speaking of Angus and arguments, here‘s one for you, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay says his adulterous behavior is better than Newt Gingrich‘s adulterous behavior.  Didn‘t know it was a competition.  Mo Rocca joins us to assess their cheating hearts next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  There are real models of integrity in the world of politics.  Stop laughing.  There are those who speak without hypocrisy, and who inspire us to do more for our country.  And then there is Tom Delay, as in the indicted former House majority leader.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Delay says that there is a big difference between his own adultery and that of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. 

Let‘s try not too hard to reach the bottom.  Mr. Delay, in his memoir, has criticized former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for having an affair with a Capital Hill employee while he was pushing the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton for his whole mess.  But as a piece in the “New Yorker Magazine” notes, Mr. Delay had his own issues, which he discusses in his book. 

When he was a young congressman, he said he drank heavily, had the nickname Hot Tub Tom, and, as he himself admits, committed adultery.  But it was different than Gingrich‘s stepping out on his wife.  Delay tells the “New Yorker,” that, quote, I was no longer committing adultery by that time, the impeachment trial.  There‘s a big difference,” end quote. 

Delay said that Gingrich couldn‘t set a high moral standard during the impeachment.  Quote, you can‘t do that if you are keeping secrets about your own adulterous affairs.” 

Elected officials not holding up their own marriage vows, is that any example for a nice Christian 17-year-old “American Idol” winner?  Well one person says Jordan Sparks has not been fully forthright about her own past.  More on that in just a moment. 

But joining me now, TV personality Mo Rocca, currently starring on Broadway in the “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through June 10th.  Good evening Broadway star Mo Rocca.

MO ROCCA, TV PERSONALITY:  Thank you Allison.

STEWART:  So Tom Delay drawing a nice distinction between his cheating and Newt Gingrich‘s.  Is this the kind of moral authority that got him to the heights of political influence that he currently enjoys? 

ROCCA:  Well perhaps.  Look, Hot Tub Tom committed adultery, but Gingrich committed adultery plus hypocrisy.  Now you don‘t need to be an ethicists to know that hypocrisy free adultery is far more ethical than hypocrisy enhanced adultery. 

Now I should say, on behalf of Gingrich, Gingrich, his camp reject any comparison between his adultery and Clinton‘s adultery, which is where the whole hypocrisy charge rests.  For instance, while both were married at the time, Clinton and Gingrich, Gingrich had an affair with a staff member.  Clinton, of course, had an affair with an intern.  So Gingrich‘s mistress was getting paid to sleep with him.  This much sounder labor practice, I think.

Also, on behalf of Gingrich, Gingrich later ended up marrying his mistress after dumping his wife.  So he was much better on the follow through.  And finally, and this is a key distinction, Gingrich‘s adultery did not involve pizza, and it‘s pizza that really makes adultery skanky.   

STEWART:  I didn‘t know there was adultery algebra, but I like the way you laid that out for me.  Thank you Mo.  Delay also said that the Clinton impeachment and Terry Schiavo case were some of his proudest moments in Congress.  Is he right, Mo, to be proud?

ROCCA:  Well, to be fair, he later was indicted and forced to resign. 

So, I mean, it‘s all about context, sure. 

STEWART:  Meanwhile, Mr. Gingrich, in the same “New Yorker” article says that the Republican party hasn‘t been in such bad conditions since Watergate.  He blames a lot of it on Karl Rove.  So maybe a good strategy for someone who might be running for president doesn‘t seem wise to throw some stones at your own house, looking pretty glass? 

ROCCA:  It isn‘t.  I mean, what Gingrich is trying to do is he is trying to link the current White House is Watergate, with Nixon‘s White House, thereby making Gingrich‘s own leadership of the House in the mid-1990s look better by comparison.  The problem is that in 1997, before Gingrich‘s fall, his approval stood at 28 percent, which is exactly where the current White House stands.  This is actual real news I‘m imparting, 28 percent, so jinx, I mean, this is not a good thing. 

STEWART:  All right.  It is Wednesday Mo, and normally you and I would be sitting, getting settled into our couches, watching “American Idol.”  No show this week man, can we talk about it anyway? 

ROCCA:  I need my Idol. 

STEWART:  What about this flap with Jordan Sparks?  A vocal coach telling the stellar publication “Star Magazine” she gave Sparks lessons for nine months when Miss Jordan was 14 years old.  But Miss Sparks in her Idol bio answered no on whether she had formal training.  Say it aint‘ so, Mo, or no big deal? 

ROCCA:  You know, look, in America we want our baseball players to be steroid free.  We want our pageant winners to be virgins.  Is that still a rule.  I think it is.  And we want our “American Idol” winners to be amateurs.  I mean, this is part of the whole thing Horatio Alger, sort of rags to riches thing.  So it disillusioning.  I think it is.

I love her “You‘ll Never Walk Alone.”  It definitely eclipsed the Jerry Lewis telethon version. 

STEWART:  All right, I heard a rumor here that Ozzy Osbourne was supposed to have actually been on the final, but that he backed out.   

ROCCA:  Yes, I believe that‘s true, because he didn‘t want to perform a duet with Sanjaya.  And this goes back to something I‘ve written and spoken extensively about, which is the tension on “American Idol” between British and Indian people.  We saw this with Simon and Sanjaya. 

It is sort of a replay of 1947 independence movement of India from the Raj, the British Raj.  You know, Ozzy himself is British.  We see this historical tension played out between the viceroy, in this case Ozzy Osbourne, and the upstart, the peaceful upstart, Sanjaya, the Indian. 

STEWART:  But Osbourne said he didn‘t want to go on stage with a hair style challenged idiot.   

ROCCA:  It could just be that then.  Yes, I don‘t know.

STEWART:  Probably something like that.  The one and only Mo Rocca, star of television, star of Broadway—

ROCCA:  Yes, that‘s right.  Come see me, N-O-W, now.  Right, it‘s a spelling bee musical, whatever.

STEWART:  Thanks Mo.  

ROCCA:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  That‘s going to do it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Allison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thank you so much for watching.  Up next “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  Joe, are you there?  Good evening to you.

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

END   

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