updated 2/26/2008 2:22:18 PM ET 2008-02-26T19:22:18

Guest: Patton Oswalt

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

Gallup, national: Obama 51, Clinton 39, Keith number 13.

Plus: Three out of four Democrats now predicting Obama will be the nominee.

Jumping the shark: When the Obama campaign protests the distribution of this photo, Clinton’s new campaign manager does not deny her camp did it, but shouts back only: Enough.  Enough.  After this train off the track weekend, the Clinton campaign is saying enough?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then, using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.

The sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing.

Shame on you, Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, we are where, exactly?  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance?

Once again the media missed the message: The “Associated Press” with a hit piece that makes the “New York Times” on John McCain look like a love letter, quote, “Conservatives say Obama lacks patriotism”, complaining that he doesn’t wear a flag lapel pin, you know, like McCain sometimes doesn’t.

The first so-called Republican quoted, the fop who founded an anti-Hillary 527 Group called, quote, “And warning, the acronym he chose is very offensive, citizens united not timid.”  No reason to suspect that he would ever smear Obama.

John McCain says he needs to convince Americans we are winning in Iraq if not, quote, “Then, I lose. I lose.”  He promptly retracts the remark.  Plus: Now, the TV mogul who says never talked to him about the FCC says, he did, too.  And Vicki Iseman probably did, too.

And what was Jon Stewart doing at the Oscars?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, ACTOR:  His middle name is the last name of Iraq’s former tyrant.  His last name rhymes with Osama.  That’s not easy to overcome.  I think we all remember the ill-fated 1944 presidential campaign of Gadolf Titler (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Why suddenly do I miss Craig Kilborn?

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Call it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Good evening.  This is Monday, February 25th, 253 days until the 2008 presidential election.  With wild eyed anger in Cincinnati on Saturday and then, condescending and cynical sarcasm in Rhode Island on Sunday, Senator Hillary Clinton may have written her own political obituary.  The corollary question: In so doing, did she also hand John McCain some of the paper and ink he will need to try to write Barack Obama’s?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Whatever the Clinton campaign thinks it is writing, today, it may have supplied the accompanying illustration of Obama in traditional African robes.  Clinton’s people do not deny distributing the photograph, they say only that they have a lot of staffers and nobody authorized its release.  It is from a visit to Kenya, the senator participated in two years ago.  It was emailed to various media along with the plaintive whine about how if this had been Senator Clinton, the photo would have been on every front page in America.

The Clinton campaign would shortly on-the-record, twist the response from the Obama campaign which was: “Her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election”, wrote Obama campaign manager, David Plouffe, who added, “it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect in the world.”

To which Clinton’s campaign manager, Maggie Williams replied: “Enough.  If Barack Obama’s campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed.”  Adding, “This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.”  Clinton’s campaign later adding, that they did not know if one of their 700 campaign workers might have sent the original picture, that they think the media is biased against their candidate.

As for Senator Clinton, that conciliatory “I’m proud to be here with him” approach to her rival to end last week’s debate might as well have been said by a different person.  To recap, first, rage over an Obama mailer about her NAFTA record and health care plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Shame on you, Barack Obama.  It is time you ran a campaign consistent with your messages in public.  That’s what I expect from you.  Meet me in Ohio.  Let’s have a debate about your tactics and your behavior in this campaign.  Enough with the speeches and the big rallies and then, using tactics that are right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like blaming the media or praising FOX News.

Same day, same place, less heavily played, the tape of the senator moving to compare her opponent to President Bush himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, people talked a lot about change in this election.  Well, we have lived through some of the worst change that anybody can imagine in the last seven years.  Do you think people voting in 2000 knew what they were getting?  I don’t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Who knew which Hillary Clinton we would be getting?

A day later now in Rhode Island, mocking one of the primary complaints of most voters, the “take no prisoners” state of American politics and her opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Now, I could stand up here and say, let’s just get everybody together.  Let’s get unified.  The sky will open.  The light will come down.  Celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Always remember your hope that things might get better is utterly pointless.  The latest Quinnipiac Poll in Ohio shows an 11-point gap between the candidates: Clinton 51 to Obama 40, the Keith number 13.  The University of Cincinnati Poll narrows the gap: Clinton is up by eight, the K-number also eight in that one.  The latest Public Policy Poll wafer thin: A mere 4 percent lead, Clinton has 50, Obama at 46, Keith number 8.

Nationally, not only do nearly ¾ of those recently surveyed by “USA Today” and Gallup, believed that Barack Obama will be the nominee but 51 percent favor him among Democrats, 39 percent for Clinton.  The Keith number in that case is 13.  At a “New York Times” poll, just out tonight, has Obama at 54 percent, Clinton at 38 nationally, a 16-point spread which is actually larger than margin of error plus undecided which is 13.

We are joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is there anybody in Senator Clinton’s campaign saying, you’re not only destroying yourself with this, but you’re also writing some of John McCain’s speeches for him?

WOLFFE:  No.  I don’t think there is, actually.  The different Hillary Clintons that we’ve seen over the weekend, it’s the contempt with which the campaign and I suspect the candidate, too, holds Barack Obama.  And their feeling, basically, is that he’s destined to fail.  He’s going to be a complete blowout and they’re really rescuing the party and the nation from this apparition that they think is on the other side.

So, almost anything is justified in a sense, and where there is a debate inside the campaign, it’s about can they go harder?  Should they go softer?  Should they think about Hillary Clinton’s reputation moving forward because clearly, there are also lots of realists in that campaign who know things are looking very, very bad?

But right now, it’s about convincing donors especially, that they have a future.  And in the process that means all these different tactics.

OLBERMANN:  Specifically, what is supposed to happen practically in terms of shifting votes if whatever these techniques actually are, if they work?  I mean, are Obama’s supporters are supposed to respond to her sarcasm by believing they can change things and they should vote for her because they really can’t change things or they’re going to respond to her anger by in turn being angry at Obama and changing their minds and voting for her?  What is the practical schematic here, if you will?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, take it back to the start of this campaign.  I mean, we saw the Clinton campaign represented message discipline.  And what we’re seeing is a very inconstant, inconsistent approach.  And so, there is a certain amount of confusion here.  But at the moment, again, I think it’s matter of throwing anything at the wall, seeing what works.

He has been a very, very difficult candidate to run against.  Whether you think it is because of his tactics or because of the media, in the Clinton campaign’s view, they haven’t been able to hit the right note.  And so, yet again, it’s thrashing around seeing what works, what doesn’t and hoping that something can be pulled off to claim a psychological victory at least after March 4th.

OLBERMANN:  Do we know the real story about that photograph?  I mean, let’s assume the Clinton had nothing to do with it, why not come back and shock everybody and say, look, we know what the implications are in these things, somebody is trying to reinforce this image of him, Barack Obama, a Muslim.  It’s inappropriate.  If any of our people had anything to do with it, they’re out.  Wouldn’t that sort of response, not be just as useful as either engaging in a fight with the Obama campaign over this or even starting if they indeed started it?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think it would be, actually.  And remember, what was the big applause line coming out of that last debate in Austin?  It was that moment of party unity, of respect for each other.  That’s what the party wants to see.

I mean, you can have a civil argument, but, I think the Clinton campaign could have done itself a world of favor whether or not they wanted this photo out there to say, listen, this is not the kind of tactic that we Democrats stand for.  We’re all patriots here.  That’s not the thing we condone.  And let’s move on and discuss what really matters.  Instead of this idea of we didn’t sanction it, we didn’t know about it and the other side is behaving badly.  It just doesn’t seem to be rising above it, which again, that was got people applauding to their feet last week.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, the poll numbers, you know, as we look on the eve here of this probable last debate.  Ohio is double digits in some polls for Clinton.  This Rasmussen Poll, the latest in Texas is very tight and was not the premise of both Ohio and Texas that she really had to win to be competitive, not just to stay alive but to win.  Did she not have to win by more than 15 in each state?

WOLFFE:  Right.  And the latest CNN numbers are Obama up by four in Texas.  So, yes, she has to win both at least according to her husband and win big if she wants to close anything, like the delegate gap that’s now opened up.  And more than that—look, the national numbers don’t mean a whole lot generally, but they do a lot in terms of the superdelegates psychology.  That’s where this race is headed.  So, yes, she needs to win, she needs to win both and she needs to restore some balance to the poll numbers.  None of that is happening soon.

OLBERMANN:  Our own Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” magazine.  Great thanks for joining us, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Turning now to MSNBC analyst, Dee Dee Myers, former Clinton White House press secretary, author of “Why Women Should Rule the World”.  Well, thanks for your time tonight.  Good to see you in person.

DEE DEE MYERS, MSNBC ANALYST:  Good to be here.  Glad to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  I’m getting the feeling that one woman particular is not going to wind up running the world.  I made an earlier reference to this, sort of half jokingly, the five stages of grief.  Is that what we are seeing here why she seems to be strategically taking all the different avenues at once?

MYERS:  Well, I think it’s been a frustrating campaign for her.  She’s tried, and I think, you know, early on the campaign was praised for message discipline and strategic discipline and it turned out that the strategy didn’t work.  And all of a sudden, they are running against this phenomenon called Barack Obama.  And it’s really difficult to run against him and they haven’t figured it out.

So, I think what you’re seeing is them trying a bunch of different things to see if anything will land a punch.  I mean, she’s throwing punches but she’s not landing any.  But you know, I don’t think this is such a nasty—look, this campaign has been mostly incredibly civil on both sides.  I think the Obama campaign and Clinton campaign have run a largely civil campaign.  Yes, there have been dustup, this is a very competitive primary.

But I don’t think there’s been any lasting damage done and I think having Barack Obama win a primary or two or three every Tuesday has done pretty good thing for his campaign.  So, I think to suggest that somehow, Hillary is damaging the party because she’s still in is kind of silly.  If she loses Ohio and Texas or Texas actually, either/or, that I think is time to reassess.  And I think she’ll do the right thing when the time comes.

OLBERMANN:  In one sense though, and this is going to really generalize and simplify, but just for the sake of argument, it seemed as if a nice and human Hillary Clinton got a better response every time she came out than tough person Hillary Clinton.  Why—what is the divisiveness, you know, I’m use that wrong term, what is the dichotomy of opinion in the campaign, if and which one would be argued for and one would be argued against and why isn’t a nicer person winning?

MYERS:  Well, I think a nicer person is definitely, the public likes that.  I’m not sure if it gets her any votes.  You know, the people who like Obama think, oh, isn’t not sweet, she’s saying nice thing about him, which she’s now (ph).  And I think the people who support here like it, too, but I don’t think it changes any minds.  And that’s the challenge for her.

And here’s the problem for Hillary Clinton though, I think it’s the problem and this is something that I do think a lot of women in public life face.  She has to be tough enough to convince people that she can be commander-in-chief and I think that’s one of the reasons why last year, the Clinton campaign settled on this kind of message of experience and toughness.  Because they knew they have vulnerability there.

They didn’t anticipate that Barack Obama would catch fire and raise millions of dollars and go speeding past them like a silver bullet.  And so, it turns out that, you know, he sucked up the change message and went running off to the races with it.  They didn’t expect that a year ago.  So, now, but I think women have to prove their toughness and to prove their bona fides in a way that men don’t.  And I think that’s been a challenge for her.

So, she has to be tough enough that people think she could have a finger on the proverbial button, but not so tough that, you know, she says mean things about her opponent.  Men are not held about that same standard and I think it’s been tricky.  And I think it’s interesting how people are so outrage about this picture of Senator Obama in Somali garb.  Look, that’s not a tactic I would ever support, I think it’s—you know, but I think the same kind of tactics have been used against Hillary Clinton and there’s much outrage about it.  And I think everywhere she turns, she just feels (ph) a lot of frustration.

OLBERMANN:  So, what do we get at the debate tomorrow?  Do we get “I’m honored to be you, Barack”?

MYERS:  No.  I don’t think too much.

OLBERMANN:  Do we get angry?  Do we get satirical?  What do we get?

MYERS:  I don’t think, I mean, I thought the satire stuff, you know, it’s hard to find, again, it’s hard to land a punch.  I think what you’ll see is her kind of sharpen the distinctions between them.  But that’s a danger for her.

When he is sitting right next to her, she’s a little more reluctant to do it because she understands that it doesn’t really work. But at the same time, if she doesn’t do it now, what’s going to change the dynamic in this race if she doesn’t say, hey, there’s a difference.  You know, and he has shown himself really effective at kind of sort of countering her attacks or anybody’s attacks, whether there coming from the McCain camp or from the Clinton camp.

OLBERMANN:  Back to that point, finally, about of her proving herself as any woman candidate would have to as being tough, has that point not been sold?  Didn’t she, in fact, win New Hampshire because she backed off that and everybody went - she is a human being with feelings?

MYERS:  Well, I think she had to establish it.  Yes, I do, I think that’s right.  I think, again, I think it shows how difficult walking the line is.  She spent the previous year establishing the fact that she was tough.  But you know, what was so frustrating for her and for people like me who are very sensitive, you know, write books called “Why Women Should Rule the World”, it’s the same people who attack her for being so tough called her phony when she showed any emotion.

So, you know, you get caught of this bale of vine.  And it’s very difficult.  I don’t mean to suggest by any measure that this is her only problem.  I think there are a lot of problems in the campaign with the way it’s been run.  It’s certainly by Senator Clinton’s approach to some of this, but I think there’s this an underlying dynamic that’s made it very difficult for her.  And I think we’ll look back at this and it will be one of the themes that people will analyze for many years coming.

OLBERMANN:  Dee Dee Myers’ new book is called, as she just mentioned -

“Why Women Should Rule the World”.  Good to see you, thanks for coming up.

MYERS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A programming note: COUNTDOWN to the debate and debate itself, tomorrow night in Cleveland.  That’s at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.  Mr. Williams and Mr. Russert have the con for the debate itself and afterwards, Chris Matthews joins me for the analysis of what is in all likelihood, the last Democratic debate.  Thank you for your support.

Also: Tonight, the Obama patriotism question.  What Obama patriotism question?  He doesn’t wear lapel pins with flags on them.  Why the “Associated Press” actually run that as a story?

And: John McCain says that if he can’t convince Americans that Iraq is a success, he’ll lose the election.  Then, he tries to retract the comments.  That would be an election loss preceded by a flip-flop.

You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The “Associate Press” actually runs a story headline:

“Conservatives Say Obama Lacks Patriotism” based on flag lapel pins, photographs taken during national anthems and his wife saying, she was for the first time, really proud of this country.  Seriously.  This is a news story.  Lapel pins, like i-witness news lapel pins.  Rachel Maddow on that.

Later in Worsts: Comparing to Chairman Mao, itself compared to the totally Clinton out of glitch that kept viewers in Alabama from seeing accusations that Karl Rove tried to get sex photos of the former governor of Alabama.  Ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  George Washington never said the pledge of allegiance.  He wasn’t even born in the U.S.  So, what was he hiding?

In our fourth story tonight: Measuring a man’s patriotism by his allegiance to symbols.  The “Associated Press” reporting yesterday, the conservatives question Senator Barack Obama’s patriotism because he does not wear a flag pin and because he did not put his hand on his heart during the national anthem last September.  CNN.com aiding and abetting with a shocking online poll: Does Barack Obama show the proper patriotism for someone who wants to be the president of the United States?

Obama has already said he’s grandfather, a World War II vet thought to put his hand up for the pledge but stand for the anthem a common practice as you can see in any ballgame.  As for a flag pins, Obama stopped during in the runup to the Iraq invasion when it seemed to become, quote for him, “A substitute for true patriotism”.

Yesterday, he challenged the Republican monopoly on supposed patriotism: “A party that presided over a war in which our troops did not get the body armor needed or was sending troops over who are untrained because of poor planning or not fulfilling the veterans’ benefits that these troops need when they come home or undermining our Constitution with warrantless wiretaps that are unnecessary?  That is a debate I’m very happy to have.”

Let’s bring in MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow whose show airs weeknights also on Air America Radio.  Good to see you again.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Obama is betting on America seeing through this.  And apart from the fact that John McCain also usually does not wear a flag pin, either, why is he betting that way?

MADDOW:  He’s doing something here that national level Democrats have either been too insecure or browbeaten to do in the last few years.  He’s not in hiding.  He’s not wishing this away.  He’s literally confident and calm in picking up this teargas canister and flinging it back from where it came.  He’s saying, you want to talk patriotism, let’s talk patriotism.  You want to talk American ideals, all right secret prison guys.  Let’s do it.

If this had happened in 2004, this would have seen as John Kerry taking those swiftboat veteran attacks and using them to say, all right, if you won’t denounce this George W. Bush, let’s talk about your Vietnam era service.  That’s what a confident candidate does with these kinds of attacks.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  The “Associated Press” story, why are the Democrats not erupting over this extraordinary and just thinnest tissue paper story from Nedra Pickler, the way that the Republicans did over the “New York Times” about McCain?  I mean, the first guy quoted in this is that crazy Roger Stone guy who started the 527 Group about Hillary Clinton whose acronym is so offensive even most Republicans are offended by it.

MADDOW:  Yes, does it count that I’m really mad about it?

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MADDOW:  I’m really mad about it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I mean, this “A.P.” piece, it’s one thing to expect this from another regions of right wing media.  So, I’m not looking (ph) of this to be a wire service story.  The “AP” is something different.  And for them to just stovepipe the dirtiest stuff of the far reaches of right wing media right on to the home pages of every major news Web site in country, including MSNBC’s today, for this to be a wire service story today, is incredible.  Asking Roger Stone, whether Barack Obama has a patriotism problem, that’s like asking me Air America has any good radio host.  It sure like asking Adolph Coors if he can recommend a good weak beer.  You know, it’s unbelievable that that’s who they went to for this.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, a cut rate Gordon Liddy.  And you thought Gordon Liddy was the cut rate Gordon Liddy.  The CNN Poll, why not a poll that also question, you know, do you believe the far right’s charges that John McCain actually sold us out to his captors in Vietnam, I mean, that seems equally inappropriate.

MADDOW:  Yes, just because somebody makes a scurrilous political smear doesn’t mean you need in return to take down to your homepage and into your newspaper.  And you certainly don’t have to push poll their message for them the way that CNN did with this poll.  I mean, you don’t, if somebody calls you and says, you know, your mom is an ugly mug.  You don’t then go and talk to the rest of your family and say, would you like to comment on mama’s ugly mug, the ugliness of her mug?  I mean, it’s just totally out of line here.  They’ve totally missed the point.  And I think everybody who ran the story now has to deal with, how to get out of the mess that the wire service and CNN put them in.

OLBERMANN:  Last point here, “Politico” reporting, that Web site that the Republican National Committee is polling right now to find out how far they could go on attacking an African-American candidate.  This patriotism thing is the fig leaf to go racist?  Is that the idea?

MADDOW:  It must be.  I mean, I am incredulous that we’ve actually found out that they’re thinking about going real racist in this election.  They’ve decided to poll and see how far they can go.  If you wrote this in your screen play, it would be rejected as too cartoonishly evil.  I mean, I guess, they’re going to try to wrap up some racist thing along or maybe anti-mix race thing, I don’t know, along with their patriotism thing.  The depths of this remained to be plumbed.  But I hope that Obama keeps responding the way he is, because, so far, he’s counterattacking well..

OLBERMANN:  Miscegenation or a proslavery platform.

MADDOW:  (inaudible), Keith, and it will happen.  It will happen.

OLBERMANN:  And just remember, the only person that should be quoted then, would be Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, in fact, the first Republican president.

Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, always a pleasure, thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  By the way, don’t you think this president deserves a little credit for this country safe for six years from further zebra attacks?  The guys at the Tokyo, man, they’re just prepare for everything.  And nothing says responsible journalism by comparing Barack Obama to Chairman Mao.  Ahead in Worst.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration’s 50 other scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Culture of corruption-gate.  No, we’d check that, it’s fight until you drop-gate.  I’m sorry, I got my scandals confused.  Joint Chiefs chair, Admiral Mullen, saying he’s top priority is to give our heroes two years of rest time for every year or 15 months they’d spend on the combat zone, adding though, I don’t see that happening in the next year or two.  So, good luck out there, brave soldiers.  And the administrations so ostentatiously exploits that they don’t really support.

Number two: No bid-gate.  This is about John Ashcroft’s golden parachute after he left the Justice Department.  He got a no bid contract with at least 28 million from the Justice Department for his law firm to negotiate a settlement with a corporation on behalf of the Justice Department.  The bad news is: Mr. Ashcroft maybe called to testify to the House Judiciary Committee this week.  The good news is: If everything falls correctly, he might get sometime having all his expenses paid for by the Justice Department while he stays at one of walled facilities scattered across the wide prairie.

And number one: Nexus of politics and terror-gate.  Here we go again.  If you will recall that on Friday, Attorney General Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence McConnell wrote to congressmen saying with the House not yet immunizing the telecom giants, the intelligence agencies have, quote, “Lost intelligence” because the phone companies were now refusing to cooperate with the government for fear of those lawsuits.  Hours later, Friday night, after all the networks went home, an administration official admitted that the last holdout among the telecoms had relented and agreed to continue to fully participate in the surveillance anyway.

So, naturally, given that Mr. Mukasey and Mr. McConnell and Mr. Bush all made is huge scary speeches about how the Democrats were endangering Americans and are throwing the Constitution under the bus and then, it turned out the telecoms are cooperating anyway.  Now, obviously, Mr.  Mukasey and Mr. McConnell and Mr. Bush, they will all make big speeches saying, they were wrong and they shouldn’t have unnecessarily alarmed the public and - right.

I forgot for a moment what kind of presidency we’re living through. 

Sorry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Three notable birthdays on this February 25th.

In 1950, Nature Boy, wrestler Ric Flair, more recently best known as Mike Huckabee’s biggest supporter, until Chuck Norris beat him for that title. 

In 1937, Bob Schieffer of CBS News, also noted Fantasy Baseball League commissioner. 

And in 1794, Gerrit Schimmelpenninck, Dutch businessman and politician of the early 19th century whose first and last names required 22 letters to spell. 

On that note, let’s play “Oddball.”

We begin at the Tokyo Zoo, where a fake zebra just fake-kicked that guy.  It’s the annual emergency animal escape drill.  In past years, we have seen guys in orangutan and rhinoceros costumes.  This year, of course, the deadly zebra. 

And the drill played out like all the rest—fake zebra pretends to knock a few people down, then gets shot with a tranquilizer dart Dick Cheney style.  A zoo worker—and down goes zebra! 

The zebra finally slinks to the ground.  It seems to be a two-person zebra.  If you’re thinking it looks overdramatic and ridiculous, that’s only because it is, completely. 

Portland, Oregon, the Jefferson Street rail line was having a few problems this morning with the 4:30 a.m. train.  First off, it’s not a train.  And second, the conductor on it appears to be drunk.  This happened last week.  We’re just getting the pictures now.

Yes, that’s what you’re seeing—security video of 54-year-old Steven Stein (ph) driving a Pontiac sedan down the tracks after making a wrong turn into the station.  He made it about a mile down the tracks before he was arrested on DUI and reckless driving.  The car was not taken off the tracks until 9:00 a.m., causing considerable delays. 

But in all those stuck in traffic—or all those who were stuck in traffic or at the stations, they were at least reminded about how ironic it was that they laughed at this same dynamic when it was shown in the movie “Groundhog Day.”

John (ph), I missed the last Pontiac.  When does the next Pontiac come

by? 

John McCain with a big oops.  He says he must convince Americans Iraq is working.  If not, “Then I lose.  I lose.”  But first he retracts the quote. 

And “Saturday Night Live” does a sketch about media fawning over Barack Obama.  So Senator Clinton says that confirms the media is fawning over Barack Obama. 

These stories ahead, but first (INAUDIBLE).

Number three, best irony.  Peggy Cioffi of Palm City Florida and those who know her say this was way out of character for her and a tragedy because she really helps people.  Having said that, her arrest for driving under the influence kind of ringing oddly for the woman who is the executive director of the area’s provider of rehab classes for people convicted of driving under the influence. 

Number two, best tap water.  Incredibly, the 18th annual International Water Tasting at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, has determined the nation’s top tap comes from Los Angeles. 

And you know why that is?  Because L.A. is the nation’s only municipal water that comes with bacon bits in it.  Well, you think they are bacon bits. 

And number one, best unintentional stunt driver.  Jeffrey Ho of Katonah, New York, arrested for drunk driving after hitting a stop sign and then plowing into a snow bank in Danbury, Connecticut, yesterday.  But police had to give him credit of some sort for driving some undetermined final portion of the way on three tires.  Mr. Ho says he has no idea exactly when the proverbial wheel came off. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator John McCain today staked his presidential bid on the success of the war in Iraq, then immediately flip-flopped.  Absolutes, a problem for the senator. 

And our third story in the COUNTDOWN regarding “The New York Times” report that McCain had done favors for clients of the Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman.  McCain’s blanket denial beset by moths. 

First there was the McCain deposition contradicting McCain’s campaign denial that he talked to anyone from Paxson Communications in 1999.  Now McCain is also contradicted by Lowell “Bud” Paxson, the TV mogul himself, who says he personally met with the senator and that Ms. Iseman was probably there, too. 

The Iraq hubris first.  Asked what happens if he cannot convince the American public that the Iraq war is succeeding, Senator McCain said today -- quoting—“Then I lose.  I lose.”

“The Washington Post” noting that six seconds later came a revision. 

“Let me not put it that stark.  Americans will judge my candidacy on how,

first and foremost, on how they believe I can lead the country both from

our economy and for national security.”  And later, “If I may, I’d like to

retract, ‘I’ll lose.’”

As for the bugs in the lobbyist blanket, Mr. Paxson has now joined Senator McCain himself in contracting the McCain campaign claim that the senator had not met with Paxson prior to sending letting to the FCC on his behalf.  Paxson recalls a 1999 meeting in McCain’s Washington office, and he remembers telling McCain, “You’re the head of the Commerce Committee.  The FCC is not doing its job.  I would love for you to write a letter.”

As for Paxson’s lobbyist at that time, Ms. Iseman—again quoting Mr.  Paxson—“Was Vicki there?  Probably.  The woman was a professional.  She was good.  She could get us meetings.”

And in part three of the contradictions, three letters to the FCC have surfaced on behalf of another Iseman client in which McCain threatened to restructure the FCC. 

To help us wade through all this and more, let’s turn now to MSNBC correspondent David Shuster in Washington. 

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  First, to the comments McCain made on Iraq on the back of the Straight Talk Express, no less, when he said them.  He kept trying to clarify this “Then I lose” remark.

He went on to say—let me read it exactly—“But I don’t think there’s any doubt that how they’ll judge Iraq will have a direct relation to their judgment on me, my support of the surge.  Clearly, I am tied to a large degree.”

What happened there?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, regardless of what one thinks about these other McCain statements on this other sort of issue, on that particular statement McCain was right on the mark.  I mean, the senator and his staff acknowledged that, in the November election, McCain’s chances are going to depend on the public views on whether the Iraq war has been a success and whether the public agrees with McCain or not.

At the moment, the public is not on McCain’s side on the war in Iraq, and that is not the sort of thing, therefore, that’s going to help McCain at a time when he’s trying to fundraise.  He’s trying to fundraise, bring in money, build up an organization, and Iraq is not the issue that’s going to help him do it.  What he’s trying to do is he wants the fundraisers to think about the McCain pledges to cut taxes, the pledges to cut wasteful government spending, the promises to secure the southern border. 

Now, sure, a large number of Republicans agree with McCain on Iraq, but at this point, to the extent that Iraq excludes McCain’s ability to focus people on these other issues, that is a big problem, as McCain acknowledged when he realized he needed to broaden out his answer a bit. 

OLBERMANN:  On lobbying and Paxson Communications, the McCain campaign put out the blanket denial at first, which has now been contradicted by McCain, by the other key person involved, Mr. Paxson.

Is there a point at which a careless defense might start to look like outright deceit?

SHUSTER:  Yes, the point at which the McCain staffers are more concerned about rushing out a denial than actually talking to Senator McCain and finding out what actually happened.  I mean, this is the third bite at the apple on this for the McCain camp. 

At first it was, there were no meetings with Paxson.  Then it was, well, OK, maybe there was a meeting with Paxson’s staff.  And now it’s, well, maybe it really was with Paxson himself. 

And again, part of the problem revolves around the rush to tamp down every aspect of the initial “New York Times” story.  And the irony in all of this, Keith, is that McCain’s lawyer, Bob Bennett, is absolutely right on this. 

Whether John McCain met directly with Paxson or not, in terms of the lobbying and the letter-writing, that issue about the direct meeting is immaterial.  But it becomes very material to the larger issue at play right now, and that is McCain’s credibility and whether or not his word is considered truthful or not. 

OLBERMANN:  The last point, we haven’t touched on this yet, facing the McCain camp tonight, the DNC, Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, over the public financing during the primary season. 

Can you explain that? 

SHUSTER:  Yes.  A couple of weeks before the New Hampshire primary, McCain had already received $3 million in loans from a Maryland bank.  He wanted another $1 million, and the bank essentially said to him, look, we need some collateral beyond your campaign’s assets. 

So what McCain did is he pledged government public financing certifications as collateral.  Essentially, McCain promised that if his campaign faltered, he would keep going and enter the public financing system so he could pay back the bank. 

The president of the Bethesda-based Fidelity & Trust said that the loan agreements were carefully scrutinized to pass muster with regulators and the Federal Election Commission.  McCain’s lawyer says that the loan was worked out very carefully.  However, independent analysts, Keith, say that this area of bank law is uncharted, and at the very least, that McCain got an unusual sweetheart deal. 

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC’s David Shuster, looking at the travails of the McCain campaign today.

Thank you, David. 

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Mike Huckabee apparently made better use of his weekend on a politically-charged edition of “Saturday Night Live,” but clearly needing an Obama impersonator.  Does the show actually have one? 

And the “60 Minutes” report that Karl Rove tried to get blackmail-style pictures of an Alabama Democrat is mysteriously blacked out on the CBS station in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Ahead in “Worsts.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  “Saturday Night Live” opens with a sketch in which the moderator of a debate says she and the rest of the media are totally in the tank for Senator Obama.  And Senator Clinton says promptly say, it proves “People are starting to say, hey, we have two candidates.  We’ve been focused on one more than the other in terms of asking the hard questions.”

Well, maybe it was that.  Maybe they were trying to be funny. 

Political humorist Patton Oswalt analyzes all of this. 

And in our “Worst Persons” tonight, the “60 Minutes” accusation against Karl Rove in Alabama just happens to get blacked out in Alabama. 

That’s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight’s brief look at celebrity focuses on the movies while still managing to completely avoid last night’s overexposed Oscars.  We’ll do that later.

Instead, we being with the anti-Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards, the Razzies. 

Lindsay Lohan collecting not one, but two worst actress Razzies this weekend for her dual role in the movie “I know Who Killed Me.”

In it, she plays a goody two shoes and a sleazy stripper, both victims of a psycho killer.  The film, rated R, set a new Razzie record, winning eight of them.

Eddie Murphy also making history as the first actor to win three Razzies in a single season, winning worst actor, supporting actor, and actress in “Norbit,” three latex-encrusted roles that managed to offend Asian men, geeks and obese women all at once. 

As the Razzies put it, “We haven’t seen two films this bad since the heyday of Sylvester Stallone.” 

Example number two, speculation over whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are expecting another child appears to be over.  Apparently conclusive photographic evidence as Jolie and Pitt showed up at the independent film Sprit Awards Saturday.

The new baby just plain showing.  Jolie ignored reporters’ questions about the baby bump.  That, or (ph) a need to welcome her to our middle-aged spread society.

“People” magazine reporting the couple is thrilled to be adding to their brood that includes 1-year-old Shiloh, and adopted children Maddox, Pax, Zahara, ages 6, 4 and 3 respectively. 

Mike Huckabee has now been on every television show that starts at 11:30 p.m. Eastern or later.  How funny was it? 

Comedian and political satirist Patton Oswalt next. 

But first, COUNTDOWN’S “Worst Persons” in the world. 

The bronze, to WHNT, the CBS station in Huntsville, Alabama.

“60 Minutes” broadcast its report last night on former Alabama governor Don Siegelman and Karl Rove’s reported efforts to get pictures of him cheating on his wife.  Only they didn’t see it on WHNT.

The station went to black just as the segment started.  No picture. 

WHNT initially blamed it on transmission problems from CBS in New York.  And CBS pointed out that transmission problems would have affected more than just the one station in Huntsville.  WHNT changed its story to say that its receiver failed. 

But there may be more to this, which suggested by the station’s original written statement which blamed “technical” issues. 

The runner-up, James Rosen, who plays a reporter on Fixe News, ran a clip of Senator Obama interrupting himself to say, “I’m going to blow my nose here for a second,” followed by crowds cheering.  Rosen then said, “That kind of spontaneous affection Chairman Mao only dreamed of.”  And that kind of spontaneous hack journalism Karl Rove only dreamed of. 

But the winner, Morton Kondracke of Fox Noise, parroting the latest smokescreen falsehood from the GOP talking points.  Quoting Kondracke, “Barack Obama violating a promise.  If he does it, is talking about forgoing public financing.”

No he’s not.  It’s in the writing.  It was in a questionnaire. 

This is open and shut even for you guys.  Obama wrote, “If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly-financed general election.”

He promised to pursue an agreement. 

Come on, Mort, you’re a better liar than that. 

Morton Kondracke of Fix News, today’s “Worst Person in the World!”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If Ann Coulter makes a reference to Barack Obama’s middle name and then throws in an allusion to Hitler, most of America cringes appropriately.  Jon Stewart does it at the Oscars, it’s funny? 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, moments at which even the most pro-labor people might have regretted the settlement of the writers’ strike.  Not just at the Kodak Theatre, but also on “Saturday Night Live,” backed from forced hiatus, with the premise of a CNN debate in which the moderator admits the entire media is in the tank for Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They’re tired of being told, you journalists have to stay neutral.  You can’t openly take sides in a political campaign. 

And they’re saying, yes, we can.  Yes, we can take sides.  Yes, we can. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wow.  Wow. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bull’s eye.  Nothing but net. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, there’s obviously no way anyone on earth could possibly follow that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, actually...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So this continues tonight’s debate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)

OLBERMANN:  And then there was stronger meat at the Oscars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, ACADEMY AWARDS:  You have to give Barack Obama credit.  He has overcome a great deal—not just he’s an African-American, Barack Hussein Obama is his name. 

His middle name is the last name of Iraq’s former tyrant.  His last name rhymes with Osama. 

That’s not easy to overcome.  I think we all remember the ill-fated 1944 presidential campaign of Gadolf Titler (ph). 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, the star of what is now the Academy Award-winning best animated feature, “Ratatouille,” Patton Oswalt. 

Patton, good evening.  Congratulations. 

PATTON OSWALT, COMEDIAN:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  And my condolences on your other film, “Balls of Fury,” which was tragically ignored.  Obviously...

OSWALT:  You know what?

OLBERMANN:  Yes?

OSWALT:  Well, Hitchcock never won an Oscar.  So, there you go.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  You can’t complain now. 

So obviously you were there.  Was the “Titler” joke funny?  Was it fair game?  And if it was, given that, you know, Ann Coultergeist really believes she is a comedienne, can’t she come back with, you know, a Hitter/Saddam Hussein/Barack Obama joke now? 

OSWALT:  Well, I think the people—what people forget is that Ann Coulter is a bad comedienne.  She’s not funny. 

Jon Stewart is actually funny and cleaver.  And I think what he was doing with that joke was he was making fun of people like Ann Coulter, who are doing these really clunky, obvious attempts at, you know, linking his name with Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden.  So, you know, I thought that joke was terrific. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  The “Saturday Night Live” stuff, there were at least three political elements in that.  We saw part of the opening parody of the CNN debate, the idea that the media is in the tank for Obama. 

Is it through no fault at anybody at “Saturday Night Live?”  Does that cease to be satire if the next day, Senator Clinton comes back and tries to use the sketch as proof that the media actually is in the tank for Obama?  Does it change the dynamic there? 

OSWALT:  You know, I think someone like Hillary Clinton is smart enough to realize that, you know, this is a—this is a YouTube, you know, gorillamask.net, you know, society right now where it’s all, you know, funny parody clips.  And that’s the easiest way to communicate with people.

So, why shouldn’t she use that to her advantage?  You know, I mean, I just think that it shows some savvinesss on her part. 

OLBERMANN:  I don’t want to get all PC on this, especially considering Fred Armisen is a really talented guy and he did...

OSWALT:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... all things considered, a pretty good impression of Obama.  But if you are the prestige network comedy show, and it’s been apparent for like a year that Senator Obama might be the Democratic nominee, and maybe you’re going to need an Obama impersonator, and there was this, like, three-month-long strike during which you could have auditioned every black comedian on the planet, would it not have been somehow, you know, nicer, more appropriate—well, let me put it this way, as Maureen Ryan put it in the “Chicago Tribune” today, “Call me crazy, but shouldn’t ‘Saturday Night Live’s’ fictional Senator Barack Obama be played by an African-American? 

OSWALT:  I know exactly what you are saying, but, you know, that’s such a weird line to kind of parse, I guess.  I’m sure I’m using the word parse incorrectly. 

But, you know, when they did their fictional Bill Clinton, he wasn’t played by a southerner.  I know that’s not the same thing.  But I guess they—as we said, Fred Armisen is really talented, and I think he pulled it off pretty well.  That’s just my opinion, but I think he pulled it off. 

OLBERMANN:  And I guess the sort of tentative way that question was phrased in the paper and other places suggests that it did work, which might be another great leap for American society. 

Are we seeing—can we find in humor some sort of—some sort of positive thing?  Like, OK, we’ve got a black guy and a woman running for the Democratic nomination, and we’ve got—we can go back to having just a comedian playing a politician and nobody bothers to point figures at colors and the rest of that? 

OSWALT:  It truly is 2008, Keith.  It’s a brave new world, man.  I don’t know what else to say.  Yes, we have sort of come far, I guess. 

OLBERMANN:  Let’s hope so.

The comedian Patton Oswalt—many thanks. 

Did they give you an Oscar? 

OSWALT:  No.  Not only did they not give me an Oscar, the animation category, I didn’t realize how much we are sort of out in the outskirts.  We were up in the mezzanine.

OLBERMANN:  Oh no.

OSWALT:  And they kept me away from the really good looking, non-pasty stars.  So...

OLBERMANN:  All right.  We’ll get you a Xerox of one.

That’s COUNTDOWN, for this, the 1,762nd day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. 

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.

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