updated 1/15/2008 6:36:53 PM ET 2008-01-15T23:36:53

Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Chuck Todd, Jonathan Turley, Michael Musto

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

The Democrats disintegrate: One is being racist unless the other is falsely accusing the first of racism unless first is falsely accusing the other of falsely accusing the first of racism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Both Senator Obama and I know that we are where we are today because of leaders like Dr. King.

ROBERT L. JOHNSON, BET FOUNDER:  When Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won‘t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  For them somehow to suggest that we‘re interjecting a race as a consequence of a statement she made that we haven‘t commented on is pretty hard to figure out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But didn‘t you just comment on it right there?  And what does it mean for Nevada and what Senator Edwards‘ campaign is calling a three-way dead heat.  We don‘t know if he‘s including the Keith Number.  All of which lays the groundwork for a rather bizarre Democratic primary tomorrow on Dr. King‘s birthday.

Bushed: Nearly eight out of 10 want the next president to steer the nation away from this president‘s course.  He tells Israel the NIE on Iran is wrong and his director of National Intelligence says if he were to be waterboarded that would be torture.

This is beginning to be torture: Another court appearance for Britney Spears.  If only she had this many concerts.

And: The Frank Burns of news is back, ambushing another innocent bystander and spewing another delusion claiming NBC is owned by Bin Laden or something.  We‘ll walk you back towards the safe harbor of reality and remind you what to do when O‘Reilly has attacked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And how are you doing?  This is FOX News.  Did you also see some of the comments that you (INAUDIBLE)?

OLBERMANN:  Well, there is the great Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius once said, if Bill O‘Reilly wants to strangle somebody, I‘ll show you strangling somebody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  I‘m coming for you.

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, January 14, 295 days until the 2008 presidential election.  In the “Monty Python” movie masterpiece “Life of Brian,” two rival groups seeking to expel the Romans from first century Jerusalem run into each other in the palace of Pontius Pilate.  They campaign for free Galilee and the People‘s Front of Judea immediately begin to fight not against the Roman guards but against each other.  The title character Brian shouts, we mustn‘t fight each other, surely, we should be united against the common enemy.  At that point, all the members of the campaign for Free Galilee and the people‘s front of Judea go dead silent, pause for one beat and answer in unison, the Judean People‘s Front.  Brian has to remind him he meant the Romans.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Any similarity of the moment between the campaigns of the leading Democrats seeking to expel the Republicans from Washington and the campaign for free Galilee, the people‘s front of Judea and the Judean‘s people‘s front is purely total.  Iraq, race, who gets to caucus in Nevada on Saturday and where?  You name it.  The chances are, the two leading candidates for the Democratic nomination have been fighting over it in the wake of her comment last week that Dr. Martin Luther King having needed President Johnson in order to achieve his legacy, several people booing Senator Hillary Clinton today when she took the podium to address a mostly black audience in a labor event in New York City.  Some even left.  But many of the audience cheering and staying to listen to the senator make an appeal for Democratic Party unity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We need to bring together the Democratic Party, which has been on the front line of the civil rights movement, the women‘s rights movement and the human rights movement.  We need to bring together the labor movement, which has been there every step of the way.  We may differ on minor matters, but when it comes to what is really important, we are family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  According to one prominent African-American supporter of Mrs.  Clinton‘s that would be the fictional Drayton family, from another movie, “Guess who‘s coming to dinner.”  That supporter appearing with Mrs. Clinton on a rally in Columbia, South Carolina yesterday, compared Senator Obama to Dr. John Wade Prentice, Drayton‘s daughter‘s black fianc’e as portrayed by Sidney Portier in a singular 1967 film.  Bob Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television also seem to invoke Senator Obama‘s admitted drug use as a teenager.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON:  As an African-American I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won‘t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book, when they have been involved, to say that these two people would denigrate the accomplishments of civil rights marches.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Johnson later issuing a statement in which he said he had been referring to Mr. Obama‘s work as a labor organizer in Chicago which if true would have meant he had actually been complimenting the senator on doing something in the neighborhood for the common good.  While campaigning today in Nevada, Mr. Obama was asked to respond to Mr. Johnson‘s remarks by NBC‘s Lee Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE COWAN, NBC:  How do you react to that?

OBAMA:  I don‘t because as I have said before, the American people are pretty clear about who I am.  I wrote a book about it.  That‘s the only reason that these issues are coming up.  It has to do with when I was a teenager.  And I think they recognize that you know, 30 years later as a father of two and a husband and a United States senator that I‘m prepared to lead the country and these kinds of strategies haven‘t distracted our voters and I don‘t think they will going forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama admitting that the remarks do concern him quote, “When their distortion of fact and record repeated over and over again without regard to the facts, take for example,” says Senator Obama, President Clinton‘s charges that Mr. Obama was not really opposed to the Iraq war from the start.  Obama citing his 2002 speech against the conflict as evidence of his opposition, Senator Clinton‘s own record on the war is going a fact check in today‘s “New York Times.”  Mr. Clinton once again name dropping Senator Chuck Hagel while on MEET THE PRESS yesterday, and defending her vote in 2002 to authorize the conflict saying quote, “Chuck Hagel who helped draft the resolution said it was not a vote for war.”  The only problem it was President Bush‘s proposal and not Senator Hagel‘s that Senator Clinton supported.  Senator Hagel‘s original proposal having been circumvented by the White House.  Two new national polls showing who might next occupy the White House is still in flux.  Senator Obama closing the gap on Senator Clinton on the latest “Washington Post” national poll, the lead down to five points, 42 to 37, John Edwards in at 11 percent.  The Keith Number is 9.  That is the margin of error plus undecideds or in this case, those who had no opinion or did not volunteer one.  In the “New York Times,” Mrs. Clinton leads Mr. Obama by 15, 42 to 27 percent, Edwards also at 11 here.  The Keith number here is 12.  In this case, margin of error plus undecided and don‘t know.  Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, a senior correspondent at “Newsweek” magazine.  Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  At least one thing overshadowed by this back and forth over the weekend was Senator Obama‘s rollout of his economic plan and proposal.  Is that what‘s getting lost in the coverage of all of this, the things that theoretically the voters are still voting on issues?

FINEMAN:  It‘s not theoretical.  I mean, that is what the voters are going to vote on.  And, yes, it got lost.  Obama put forth a plan that was interesting, that focused on immediate tax cuts and additional social security funds and so forth to try to pump dollars directly and quickly into the economy, $70 billion worth and to focus them I think on lower middle income and people who really were in dire straits.  It‘s interesting, the Clinton plan, which is about the same amount of money, focuses more and very interestingly on homeownership, on trying to keep people from getting kicked out to those houses because of delinquencies in mortgages.  So, they‘re both interesting.  They‘re both good plan.  They‘re slightly different.  They‘re worth talking about.  Nobody is paying the slightest bit of attention to them in the media on the campaign trail in either camp because of the other fights you‘ve been discussing.

OLBERMANN:  And why also are we still hearing attacks about Iraq and their records on Iraq and who voted when and who did not.  If it is again, the economy, stupid, why are the campaigns not so much try to distract the other guy but distracting themselves from what the voters apparently really want to have discussed now?

FINEMAN:  Because it‘s gotten personal, Keith between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  And it‘s not about the Iraq war, it‘s about who told the truth or isn‘t now telling the truth about their record.  It‘s about character and it‘s about personality.  And that‘s where this campaign has gotten on the Democratic side in good measure because there aren‘t really that many deep philosophical or pragmatic differences.  It‘s really a war of personality now and a war of race and gender.

OLBERMANN:  And is there also - I mean, this whole thing seems to be an attempt to see who can get away with what and who can fuzz up what.  That Iraq point, the Clinton litany on Obama and Iraq is laborious.  It would require anybody who hears it a decent amount of time to fact check what‘s actually being - first of all of what‘s actually being said and exactly what‘s true.  Is that part of the point that once the fuzziness is out there, it‘s going to take a pretty sophisticated voter to wade through it?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think what the Clinton people want to do is to put some hesitation in the minds of people who might like this new package that is Barack Obama.  They‘re trying to say he‘s just another politician.  And they throw a lot of details out there and hope that Obama himself wades through the details.  Because when he does it makes him sound like another politician.  Hillary‘s problem is that she was on the floor of the Senate and voted the way she voted.  That‘s pretty inconvertible.  It‘s harder to talk her way around.

OLBERMANN:  But did to some degree did Obama forfeit some of that, I‘m the new, cleaner type of politicking model here?  That big picture, whether intentional or unintentional as long as this is going on that the senator‘s days are being perceived as positivity and let‘s get beyond politics as usual, that that is to some degree on hold?

FINEMAN:  Well, it is on hold.  But he has prospered a lot.  Yes, he lost New Hampshire, but as you showed in those national polls he is fully competitive now nationally with Hillary.  And I think he‘s pursuing endorsements.  It‘s interesting to watch him play the traditional politician in some very real ways.  I mean, you can‘t really separate them anymore now along that basis and that‘s what Hillary is trying to accomplish here.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  As always Howard, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s focus in on that one issue from more of what‘s at stake.  Let‘s turn now to Eugene Robinson, a columnist and associate editor at the “Washington Post.”  Gene, good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Before we try to figure this unsettling fencing that‘s been going on between Senators Clinton and Obama, wherever it started, whoever began it.  Again, a big picture question here, is this potentially suicidal for both of them and for the Democrats as a party?

ROBINSON:  Well, anything is potentially suicidal.  You know, I don‘t think it‘s gone nearly that far.  I think you know, basically if we thought we were going get through this entire campaign with the first woman with a chance to be president, the first African-American with a chance to be president, if we were going to get through this whole thing without talking about race and gender, I think we were deluding ourselves.  And so, you know, this moment is here and we‘ll see how long it lasts and where it takes us.

OLBERMANN:  Are we actually talking about race and gender or is this kind of well, I didn‘t say anything like that but he did or she did?

ROBINSON:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  From both perspectives it is like, I can‘t find even a good analogy for it.

ROBINSON:  I think it is a nanny nanny boo-boo kind of -

OLBERMANN:  That is a good analogy for it.

ROBINSON:  I mean, it‘s finger pointing.  It‘s the Clintons trying to show that Obama is just another politician who shades the truth and by the way, he‘s kind of these (ph) and we‘ve been on the front lines all this time and why doesn‘t he just go away.  And that‘s Obama trying to parry that without seeming like just another politician.  He‘s a U.S. senator.  He is a politician.  So, there is pull and tug, not a lot of substance there.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not sure I understand Bob Johnson and what he‘s doing in the middle of this.  I mean, the reference is “Guess who is coming to dinner.”  These are not nostalgic reveries about Spencer Tracy‘s last movie.  It‘s about what that movie was about.  The what Obama was doing in the neighborhood stuff complete with the smirk was not about him doing labor organizing.  Why did the Clinton campaign not break with him to a greater degree or even to some degree, you could say?  And if Senator Clinton does not regret not making a formal break him, why did she put out a statement tonight where she pretty calls for truce with Senator Obama and says, among other things, let me read it, “When it comes to civil rights and our commitment to diversity when it comes to our heroes, President John F. Kennedy and Dr. King, Senator Obama and I are on the same side.  What side is Bob Johnson on then?

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I think from the Clintons‘ point of view, he‘s not an easy man to break with.  He signed on to the Clinton side very early.  His doing so helped some other prominent African-Americans feel comfortable in doing that even though they knew that Obama would probably run, for a long time, friend of the Clintons.  They had vacationed at his place in the Caribbean.  He is by the way a billionaire.  You know, he‘s not an easy man to dismiss.  So, I don‘t think they want to do that.  I think they want to pretend that that just kind of never really happened and let‘s all get along now.

OLBERMANN:  Where does this go from here?  Obviously, we have a statement tonight from Senator Clinton, Senator Obama has been somewhat above the fray on this, but is this—does this have the possibility of turning into a four-alarm fire?

ROBINSON:  You know, I really don‘t know where it goes.  My hunch is that what we have instead of you know, a giant war is a series of skirmishes.  This was a skirmish.  Senator Clinton has attempted to call a halt to it.  I think Senator Obama will be happy to do so probably because it doesn‘t seem to be benefiting anybody now, but I wouldn‘t be surprised if this were to erupt again.  I mean, we are going to have the Democratic primary in South Carolina on the 26th and I think, you know, once again the African-American vote will be decisive there.  So, maybe race comes up again.  Maybe gender comes up.  We‘ll see.

OLBERMANN:  To sum up what we have just maybe passed through.  This line of events from the Martin Luther King references, through Bob Johnson, through the (INAUDIBLE), was this racism?  Was it attempt to gain benefit by accusing someone else of racism?  Was it the next tertiary stage?  What was it?

ROBINSON:  Wheels within wheels.  I think it was an attempt by the Clintons to establish their own bona fides and remind everyone of their own history as allies of the African-American community.  I am not sure, however, that they are under the illusion that what happened in the last few days is going to rescue, for example, South Carolina for the Clintons where Obama has been pulling ahead according to the polls.  Black voters nationwide seem to be switching to him.  So you know, we‘ll have to see as this plays out.  Maybe in a couple of weeks, we‘ll have a better idea of what it was about.

OLBERMANN:  Carolinas where Bob Johnson named a basketball team after himself—the Bobcats.  Eugene Robinson, the associate editor and columnist of the “Washington Post.”  As always Gene, thanks for some of your time tonight.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You realize it‘s been nearly 10 whole days since the last Democratic debate?  With the smaller field and nastier dialogue portend for tomorrow night in Las Vegas.  And tonight‘s edition of bushed.  So, owners were giving its own number including the president disowning his own National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in conversation with the prime minister of Israel.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nothing like race become prominent during a Democratic primary season on the eve of a debate scheduled to take place on Martin Luther King‘s birthday.  Later in Worst, the supposed threat by Iranian speedboats in the Gulf of Hormuz seems to turn into a prank, hysterically hyped by our Pentagon.  And speaking of hysterical hype, the king of that field - Bill O is back with his best or worst yet.  All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was 20-Martin Luther King-days ago, and I‘m not counting tomorrow, as the football oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek Snyder explained that African-Americans were better athletes because the 19th century American slave owner, quote, “Would breed his big black to his big woman so he that he could have a big kid.”

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOW: A quick MLK day reminder that the warring Democrats who will debate tomorrow on Martin Luther King Day.  Jimmy the Greek didn‘t actually lose everything it happened (ph) until after the day he said that January 16th.  Before we preview, a Nevada judge has today ordered MSNBC to let Dennis Kucinich participate.  NBC News to be appealing that decision.  As for the frontrunners, Barack Obama, the only candidate campaigning in the sage brush state today; Hillary Clinton spending the day in New York, as you heard.  No plans to stump in Nevada again before the debate.  Meanwhile, John Edwards is in South Carolina.  His campaign insists to reporters that Nevada is currently a three-way race.  According to the latest poll from the “Reno Gazette Journal” which has Obama at 32 percent, Clinton at 30 percent and Edwards at 27 percent.  As to the caveat that we pointed on Friday, the Keith Number, undecided plus the margin errors that permits most poll leadership to be questionable if not moot.  The pollsters here did not ask caucus-goers if they were undecided.  But the margin of error was four and a half percent, rounded up to five.  That does in fact, put Edwards, Obama and Clinton into a virtual tie.  Our own political director, Chuck Todd is in Nevada, anxiously awaiting tomorrow‘s debate.  Number three million in this series.  Thanks for joining us, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  But it‘s the most important until the next one, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  Now, if that poll from Reno is right, then, is tomorrow night, in fact, pivotal for any of the three in terms of tipping the balance in their favor?  Is this as close as that ballot suggests?

TODD:  Well, look, I think this debate is pivotal beyond Nevada frankly because it is the first time we have had them in a small setting.  They‘re going to be seated.  It‘s just really the front-runners having a conversation with each other.  And so, it that sense, it‘s going to be beyond just Nevada.  It‘s going to have an effect, I think, potentially on the national polls on some of the February 5th states because it is a smaller field.

OLBERMANN:  Given the rhetoric that we discussed this up over the weekend, to some degree today, are we expecting a showdown over race tomorrow night on Martin Luther King‘s birthday or is this going to be one of those things where we go through the entire two hours and nobody raises the question and none of the candidates introduce it themselves?

TODD:  Well, Keith, I think that you can - it will be safe to say that the question is going to be raised.  It would be hard not to raise it.  That said, two hours ago, I guaranteed it would be a major part of this debate but seeing that statement from Senator Clinton tonight tells me that they‘ve decided that they really got to back off of this.  That this is gotten out of control and then, they are not on the winning side of this argument.  Even if they think they are on the winning side of this argument, it doesn‘t matter.  The perception is they‘re on the wrong side of this argument.  And you keep bringing up which is correct that tomorrow is Martin Luther King‘s birthday, there‘s just - this is the wrong setting, the wrong time to be having this debate.  So, I think you will see a little more kumbaya than I would have expected if you would have asked me the same question three hours ago.

OLBERMANN:  We can go back and forth on what the disconnect between the polls and the votes in New Hampshire ode to.  But clearly, there was a message in that from the voters there and there was a very, very fast change by a lot of voters.  Are we seeing any evidence of that in Nevada and by any chance could the message be that rank-and-file Democrats are more interested in having a Democrat in the White House than necessarily which one it is?  Maybe the candidates need to calm down a little bit?

TODD:  Well, I think that that‘s what they realize.  I mean, you know, what were seeing is and you brought this up with Eugene.  This idea that you know, the Democratic Party, its two most reliable constituent groups are African-Americans and women.  And if they‘re at war and this tears apart the party and the eventual winner has to figure out how to heal the party and maybe the only way they can heal it is by making sure the other person is on the ticket.  If it‘s Clinton and it‘s Obama or if it‘s Obama then, it‘s Clinton.  So, I think that that‘s the real fear here and you bring up.  I talked to a lot of people in Iowa and New Hampshire and then, now here in Nevada who are undecided between Clinton and Obama.  So, the idea that it is this pure choice, you know, the voters seem to like them both.  They have very high favorable ratings.  Obama usually a little bit higher than Clinton and I think part of that is that just she‘s been around a lot longer.  The longer you are around, the lower your ceiling on a favorability scale.  But they like them both and so I think the premise of your question is exactly right, which is I think they really do need to cease fire because Obama needs women to start supporting him if he‘s going to get this nomination and Clinton can‘t do it without African-Americans.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, you talk about the undecided question, in New Hampshire, flexible support.  People going in there even at the worst times for Clinton on those pollings and the best for Obama the people who said we‘re not absolutely committed to our candidate was 28 percent.  That‘s an extraordinary number.  But let me move you on here to tomorrow night and the other thing that‘s happening is Michigan.  It is not truly a primary for the Democrats.  It was unauthorized.  It‘s like a bootleg but it‘s an open primary - open voting tomorrow in Michigan.  And our friends at the “Daily Coast” suggested that Democrats should cross lines and vote for Mitt Romney in order to keep him in the race to keep the Republicans kind of screwed up, to keep McCain spending money.  Is that race tight enough that something like that might have an impact and has anything like this even been tried before by Democrats or Republicans?

TODD:  Well, you know, it‘s actually tried a lot in primaries.  You hear about this in Virginia a couple of years ago, there was a movement.  Virginia is very much like Michigan.  It‘s a no registration state.  So, people from both sides can just go in and vote and there was a Senate primary and there was some talk that Republicans would go in and try to help the weaker candidate to see if they could get that person over the top.  The problem is - even when you orchestrate the effort, you can maybe move it one or two points.  Now, obviously, if Michigan is with one or two points, it‘s possible.  But I‘ll tell you, John McCain‘s the one that‘s most likely to get Democratic crossover support, probably not Mitt Romney without a lot of help with the “Daily Coast” folk.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see how that one turns out.  NBC political director, Chuck Todd, thanks for your time, Chuck.

TODD:  You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And this programming note: COUNTDOWN will be on at our normal time tomorrow evening, 8:00 pm eastern, 5:00 pacific.  We will tying (ph) up the Democratic presidential candidate debates hosted by Brian Williams with Tim Russert.  And once the debate is over at 11:00 eastern, I‘ll be back to handicap the winners and losers with Chris Matthews in Vegas and to analyze the results from Michigan‘s primary election and whatever that thing is the Democrats are doing.  That‘s from 11:00 pm to 1:00 in the morning tomorrow night here on MSNBC.

The old joke goes—if I fall down it‘s tragedy, if you fall down it‘s comedy.  The director of National Intelligence explains that if he were to be waterboarded, yes, that would be torture.

This is torture.  Dr. Zoidberg style 

And: If you‘re looking for our scandal scoreboard, bushed.  We‘re giving it some detail tonight.  A full segment ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1969 was born a Hollywood legend, one who has portrayed everyone from James Cooper Ingalls on “Little House on the Prairie” to Michael Bluth on “Arrested Development” to Henry the Mutant in “Mr. Magorium‘s Wonder Emporium”, my friend, wait a minute—just a second -- oh, here it is—Jason Bateman.  Happy birthday and happy birthday, as well, to your baseball idol Terry Forrester of the 1978 L. A. Dodgers.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

We begin in Indore, India, out of doors actually, where this man has

crabs.  This is Sayed (ph) Ali, creatively nicknamed ‘The Crabman‘, in a

cage with hundreds of pinchy crustaceans.  Ali says he can go on for hours

inside this cage.  Crabman says he has a special bond with crabs that has

been (inaudible) since his childhood.  A bond so special, he lets them grab

onto and dangle from his tongue.  Sure, it looks painful, but—fear not -

once the crab let go, the Crabman announced to the crowd, “Seriously, it doesn‘t hurt at all.”

To the internets where we get a look at a security camera footage of a drive-through convenience store in the Czech Republic.  I know what you are saying: “But, Keith, that is not a drive-through convenience store.”  It is now.  Not only did that the fellow drive all the way to the back of the store, landing near the milk cooler, but then, the driver calmly got out of the car, walked up to the cash register and tried to buy something.  That will be five bucks for the smokes and $50,000 for the new store front.  Thank you.  Drive through again.

When is waterboarding torture?  When, says the director of national intelligence, the guy being waterboarded is the director of national intelligence.

And, for things that have nothing to do with intelligence, Bill O. blew it again trying to link NBC to the Bin Ladens.  And what to do when he comes to ambush you?  These stories ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best waste of taxpayers‘ money: the state of Delaware.  Requiring fishermen to stick licenses to their boats.  Unfortunately, the stickers disintegrate in saltwater.  Number two, best way to tell if you are going to be in a path of a tornado: Ralph and Risby Atwood.  They survived the 2003 twister near Aurora, Missouri.  They rebuilt only to lose everything again in another twister in 2006.  So, they moved to near Crane, Missouri, where a tornado touched down last week, just grazing their shed and their doghouse.  Number one, best excuse for car accidents: model Kate Moss.  A British insurer reports that about 190,000 women drivers there admit to having accidents or near misses because their hair styles, like Ms. Moss‘, can fall in front of their eyes.  And, what about men who have a hair style like Kate Moss‘?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you happened to have noticed that none of the presidential candidates in either party is using a “stay-the-course” kind of campaign slogan, two new snapshots from the national mood give strong indications why that might be.  In our third story tonight: after seven years of the president the nation is bushed.  Number three, hopeless-gate.  Three quarters, 75 percent of those sampled in a new “New York Times” poll reporting that the country is on the wrong track, with fewer than one in five -- 19 percent—saying America is going in the right direction.  The worst numbers that any president since the poll began in Reagan‘s first term.  Still better, however, than the new “Washington Post” poll—it shows 79 percent of Americans—nearly four out of five—want that new direction.  Just over 17 percent who want the same direction again.  The worst numbers in a quarter century. 

If you are wondering only one president in that time never had a majority of Americans calling for a new direction that would have been Bill Clinton.  And, no surprise, with 62 percent of Americans saying that the economy today is getting worse more than any time since the first Bush Administration and with calls for change on matters of national security coming even from some of Mr. Bush‘s top officials, number two is ‘Gitmo-gate‘.  The nation‘s top uniformed military man, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters this weekend he wants to see the U. S.  prison camp at Guantanamo Bay shut down.  Technically, Mr. Bush has said the same thing but Mullen goes further, revealing that he is unaware of the administration pursuing any way to do that and saying that ‘Gitmo‘ had been, quote, “pretty damaging in how it reflects on the U. S.  internationally.”

And then, there is Mike McConnell, the nation‘s intelligence director, sticking by his refusal to weigh in on the legal definition of torture by telling the latest issue of “The New Yorker” that yes, indeed, waterboarding—pouring water into somebody‘s respiratory system—would, in fact, be torture if it was done to him.  A claim the White House refused to comment on.  Not surprisingly,  given the potential legal jeopardy involved in the waterboarding of three people in 2002 as approved by President Bush. 

And, number one, Iran-gate—the president, so out of sync with the new reality-based intelligence community, is apparently now peddling his own intelligence overseas.  “Newsweek” reported that in last week‘s private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush disavowed the December national intelligence estimate (NIE) that he praised publicly for reflecting much-needed intel reforms which had concluded that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program.  According to an unnamed administration source, Mr. Bush told Olmert that the NIE‘s conclusions don‘t reflect his own views.  On what facts, if any, Mr. Bush based his own views we do not know.  Maybe, they came to him in a dream. 

Perhaps, the theory for Britney Spears is to leave all those in her way bushed.  Another day, another chance to wear everybody else out in court.  What if you wrote a book about fascism without knowing who it was who founded it?  The original fascist organization, without knowing who it was who named it fascism?  Jonah Goldberg has done just that and he is in the finals for tonight‘s worst persons honors.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Britney Spears shows up late.  Paris Hilton goes down quickly on her way to Harvard.  And, if Bill O. goes off on you, we‘ll show you the best way to defend yourself.  She fell down, what is the problem, Bernie? Plus: Jonah Goldberg, battling the people who almost brought you war with Iran.  And, Christopher Columbus—Christopher Columbus? -- for tonight‘s worst persons honors.  All that next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Fighting for custody but sticking it to the man again.  The self-defeating antics of Britney Spears topping our 54-second look at celebrity and entertainment news.  As she had before, Spears finally showed up today but hours late for a crucial child-custody hearing in the morning.  She got there after lunch and took off again.  The court had earlier revoked her right to even visit her two sons after she was hospitalized for observation on January 4, following the bizarre event in which she barricaded herself in a bathroom with one of her children and would not leave until they explained the in-field fly rule to her.  I made that part up.  Police officers involved in the standoff and paramedics who treated her did testify today.  The judge now extending sole custody to the ex.  No visitation for her through a status hearing on February  19.

And, two weeks into the new year, Paris Hilton is headed for Harvard?  Just make sure when you get on the red line do not take the train going to Braintree.  Think no brain.  The “Harvard Lampoon‘s” PR people report the satirical magazine has chosen her as its woman of the year.  It usually honors those who are un- or intentionally funny like Jay Leno or Sarah Silverman.  Miss Harvard is a step up for Paris which is more than we can say after this video caught her stepping out for the night and down goes Paris.  A bit shaky as they helped her up.  One more time, as TMZ called it: “Paris in the fall.” 

When are those writers going to get back to work?  Think they‘re falling down on the job, Bill O.‘s producer stalkers are on the loose again.  Once again, time to remind you how to defend yourself against the inevitable attack.  That‘s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World”.  The bronze to Christopher Columbus—well, his expedition, anyway.  Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta tonight reporting new genetic evidence suggest that syphilis was introduced to Europe in the year 1495 by somebody who had been somewhere in the new world, possibly from South America.  So, Queen Isabela, have you seen what I have brought back for you?

The runner-up: right-wing lunatic fringer Jonah Goldberg who has evidently written a book about fascism without knowing what it is.  Insisting in an interview that Italy‘s Benito Mussolini was actually a life-long socialist, unless fascism is a left-wing evil, quote, “the only reason he got dubbed ‘the fascist‘ and, therefore, right-winger,” Goldberg claims, “is because he supported World War I.”  You don‘t think he was dubbed a fascist maybe, because on February 23, 1919, he created the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento—the Italian Fighting League?  Or, that he was viewed as a right-winger because he created the Black Shirts to attack the socialists and the anarchists?  Did you do any research at all?

Next, our winner, your friendly U. S. government, epitomized here by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mullen.  It‘s not the little thing in the Strait of Hormuz, which the administration tried to sell as a near act of war by Iranian patrol boats against three giant U. S. warships with provocative maneuvers and  someone radioing the U. S. ships, quote: “I am coming to you.  You will explode after minutes?”  Admiral Mullen it was who said of the video of the incident, “to my knowledge, I have not seen one as both provocative and dramatic as this.”  Five minutes later, though, he added, “first of all, I haven‘t seen the full video myself.”  Now the “Navy Times” newspaper echoes a lot of online reporting saying that the threatening radio message may have come from a well-known marine heckler whose radio abuse is legendary around the Persian Gulf.  Only that the Iranian boat that actually came close to one of the U. S. warships was unarmed.  So, you guys tried to fake another Gulf of Tonkin incident using some clown with a CB radio and a lethal threat posed by the USS Minnow.  Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, on behalf of the Bush Administration, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are waiting at this hour the announcement from Bill O‘Reilly that he has conclusive proof that NBC has a contractual arrangement with the devil.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, you may laugh, but by taking some vague and rather sad charges by a former NBC news reporter, adding a little stalking and then filling in the gaps with about a 98 percent mixture of personal anger and insanity, Bill O. has shamelessly and actually tried to associate this company with Osama Bin Laden.  There are a few facts Billy left out that kind of make him look like a psychotic, again, and we‘ll get to those.  But, first, there‘s also a repeat of what he mistakes for journalism.  You remember when he tried to ambush Senator Barack Obama in New Hampshire and he wound up shoving—or more correctly, trying to shove—a 6-foot 8-inch Obama staffer.  Well, now, he has a minion trying the same stunt, more or less, with Jeff Immelt, the CEO of G. E. which owns NBC Universal and thus, MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSE WATTERS, FOX NEWS PRODUCER:  Mr. Immelt, Jesse of Fox News.  We would like to talk to you about your involvement with Iran.  Are you still trading with Iran while Iranians are killing Americans in Iraq?  You are not selling them airplane parts that they can use for military equipment? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, Mr. Immelt has had considerable help in fending off the schmuck, but when O‘Reilly comes for you and, if you don‘t approve of this program or watched it—he has already said he will—you will need to defend yourself from this kind of drive-by television.  We thought we‘d update a quick course in defense against O‘Reilly which we first brought to you last year.  Let‘s again start with an actual example of an actual roadside O‘Reilly attack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WATTERS:  Bill Arkin, how are you doing?  FOX News. How‘s it going? 

Mr. Arkin, can we talk to you about some of the comments you made?

WILLIAM ARKIN, NBC NEWS MILITARY ANALYST, WASHINGTONPOST.COM COLUMNIST: 

Can you leave me alone for just a...

WATTERS:  Actually, no, we‘d like to talk to you for a second. How could you say what you said?  I mean, don‘t you think it was really hurtful and harmful to the military families, to the soldiers serving in Iraq?  Let‘s address this...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now, you might think that the best defense would be putting up an argument.  Watch and learn from our simulated interactions with a Bill O. stalker-producer just how wrong that really is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Hi, how are you doing?  Fox News.  Can we talk to you about some of the comments that you made?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, you know, as the great philosopher Marcus

Aurelius said in Germany in 49 A. D.,

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sadly, no.  You have given Bill O. the tape he needs plus an entree into something about old Europe and how his boycott of France led to the election of a conservative there.  But, now, in Example 2, we have another response that intuitively sounds right, but is not. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Hi, how are you doing?  Fox News.  Can we talk to you about some of the comments that you made?

OLBERMANN:  Well, there is the great Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said, if Bill O‘Reilly wants to strangle somebody, I‘ll show you strangle somebody.

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Hey, hey, hey!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Again, very personally satisfying.  But now, Billy has what he wants, plus, he can get Fox security involved.  So, we move to example number three.  And this won‘t work either. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Hi, how are you doing?  Fox News.  Can we talk to you about some of the comments that you made?

OLBERMANN:  [ bleep ] Bill O‘reilly and [ bleep ] and [ bleep ] Roger Ales and [ bleep ] Republican Rupert Murdoch. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Great for the soul.  Unfortunately, now, you are the lead story on “Sheppard Smith” and, probably, “Access Hollywood”.  As much as I wish that it were not true, the responses thus far have been reactive and not proactive.  In example four, though, we begin to see hands on the correct methodology: fight ambush with ambush. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Mr. Olbermann, do you have a comment?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You know I do, Scooby-do.  It is like when I was at the World War II Memorial at Normandy and I was saying—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Bill O. will not run that tape.  He cannot afford to have his audience reminded that he insisted that the Americans were the war criminals at Normandy and not the Nazis.  So, congratulations!  You have just rendered that interview unusable.  But, there are still further steps to take as we see in example five. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Mr. Olbermann, do you have a comment?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, yes, I do.  Funny, I was just saying to Andrea Mackris the other day... 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This, too, will work well.  Billy‘s trying desperately to pretend that never happened.  And yet, in a mano-a-mano conflict such as this, you want to be the one holding the nuclear weapon in your mano.  Hence, example six. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRETEND FOX REPORTER:  Mr. Olbermann, do you have a comment?  OLBERMANN:  Huh?  Hey, are you the kid who picks up Bill O‘Reilly‘s loofas?  Or does he get his loofas himself?  Or does he have one of those “Loofa of the Month” Clubs where you get a subscription and the loofas are sent directly to your house?  Do you have a constant supply of loofas?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There you go.  Repeat those words in any combination and tell them to bore not and you will be safe when the O‘Reilly attack inevitably comes.  Normandy, Mackris, loofas.  As ever, Bill O‘Reilly is the Frank Burns of news.  What he presents as journalistic conclusions are usually just personal delusions.  But, given that much of his audience isn‘t very smart, it operates from the mistaken impression that what it is watching is news. So, clown though he may be sometimes—like when he launched this crap about Bin Laden and Iran and NBC—he asked to be addressed seriously.  Let‘s start with the few things that he did and said that would not be permitted at an actual news organization—the stuttering John routine, the stalking of Jeff Immelt by the kid who can‘t pronounce Iran—I ran?

This was recorded last September.  But O‘Reilly left the real impression that he‘s fractured for racing out on the streets to interview evil doers in response to some sort of breaking news.  His crack troops consist of a kid named Jesse who calls the place “I ran”.  Second point, O‘Reilly also insisted that the factor has confirmed that G. E.  subsidiaries are doing business with “I ran”.  Details?  Any details?  One example?  One source?  One hint about one example or one source?

And then, there is the pathetic attempt to link NBC through graphics to Osama Bin Laden.  Bill O.  even made a point to note that Jeff Immelt became CEO of G. E. on September 7, 2001 -- four days before 9/11.  The kind of a connection a mental patient would make.  It had been sad enough when John Hockenberry did something like.  In a publication produced by MITRO colleague here, left the impression that G. E. refused to permit him to talk to anybody in the Bin Laden family for a story for “NBC Dateline”.  A conspiracy theory that kind of deflates when you realize that Bin Laden‘s half-brother, the Swiss businessman, Yeslam Bin Laden, gave his first interview to Matt Lauer for a “Dateline” episode that ran in July 2004.  Lauer won an Emmy for that interview.  It was in all the papers. 

There is also a serious problem with John‘s article which O‘Reilly tried to inflate into the Watergate tapes.  Hockenberry writes that on September 17, 2001, he was pitching a story to his “Dateline” bosses on Al-Qaeda, quote, “just emerging as a suspect in the attacks,” unquote.  By the afternoon of 9/11, Al-Qaeda was more than just a suspect.  Then, six days later, John said, he thought that it was just emerging as the cause of our nightmare, there were a lot more obvious reasons why they didn‘t let him do more complicated stories. 

But, the saddest and most serious part of this latest O‘Reilly mess is that none of this actually matters to Bill O.  The constant attacks on NBC and G. E. management, the stories he makes up about stock price and ratings decline, the predictions that I would be fired by December 2006, even this base, insane attempt to link this company and what you see on this network to Bin Laden and Iran—I‘m sorry, “I ran”—he would stop all this tomorrow, he has said as much, his bosses have said as much to my bosses if I would stop calling him out every time he lies or endorses the forces of hate or fear in this country or breaks another tenet of journalism, of ethics, of humanity.  If I just stop calling him a bully, he will stop bullying NBC and G. E.  No, I won‘t and, most importantly, my employers have never asked me to.  And, here‘s a frightening thought to conclude with: if somewhere, there is an American corporation that is actually linked to Bin Laden or Iran, Bill O‘Reilly would ignore it providing that that corporation was nice to Bill O‘Reilly. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,720th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  Reminder about tomorrow: we join you at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific for our special COUNTDOWN to the Democratic debate and the first results from the Michigan Republican primary and the Democratic not-really-a-primary.  And, Brian Williams and Tim Russert with the debate itself at 9:00 Eastern.  Then, Chris Matthews and I, David Gregory joining me here in New York, join you for post-debate and post-Michigan coverage live starting at 11:00 Eastern, 8:00 Pacific—all of it only on MSNBC.  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   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,