updated 3/18/2008 12:17:58 PM ET 2008-03-18T16:17:58

Guests: Dana Milbank, Richard Wolffe

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

A “Romney-Mormon” feel to it, says one analyst in its bigness for the candidate.

Breaking news at this hour: Senator Obama: To speak in Philadelphia about race, and religion, and Reverend Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think we‘ve got to talk about it, I think we‘ve got to process it.  But we‘ve got to remind ourselves what we have in common is far more important than what‘s different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton hits hard on Iraq, McCain, she says, is willing to “keep this war going for 100 years.”  Obama, she says, has promised to withdraw “but according to his foreign policy adviser you can‘t count on him to do that.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s not the speeches a president delivers.  It‘s whether the president delivers on the speeches.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But what about that speech from Senator Clinton?  Did Obama‘s adviser really say anything like that?

McCain in Iraq: Just fact finding, mind you, not a photo-op.  Now, McCain on Afghanistan: We could be there 100 years, too?  He sure plans on getting a lot of Americans killed.

He sure plans to do nothing.  How President Bush could cost you your home.  Bear Stearns sold for 7 cents on $1, as it begins to look like the new Enron; he begins to look like the new Herbert Hoover.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  In the long run our economy is going to be fine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just as soon as he can find that pot of gold to go along with the shamrocks.

And: The demise of Eliot Spitzer in a sex scandal—as analyzed by him?

“The lady also could have blackmailed Spitzer, could have sold their stories about him to the tabloid media, could have done many things to destroy his life.”

You don‘t say?

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening this is Monday, March 17th, 232 days until the 2008 presidential election.

It may not have merited the description a network newscast tonight:

Firestorm, it had received but not earned as you will hear later, a comparison to a saga of Willie Horton in the 1988 election at a hysterical fabrication that found its way in to “The New York Times” today.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:  There is no doubt that the issue of Pastor Jeremiah Wright, specifically his references to, quote, “God damn America” and his claim of some American culpability for 9/11 is a critical moment for the presidential aspirations of Senator Barack Obama.

And a news breaking at this hour: He will address them and the larger issues of race and religion in a speech tomorrow in Philadelphia, a speech which as this day wore on, became more and more obvious as perhaps the most important speech given by any candidate in any party in this longest of presidential campaigns.

At a news conference today in western Pennsylvania, Senator Obama while still fully condemning Reverend Wright‘s remarks, saying he believes the caricature that is painted of his former pastor is not accurate.  And that part of what he‘ll do tomorrow is to address how some of these issues of being perceived differently from within the black church community.

Earlier today in an interview with PBS: Senator Obama more fully previewing his remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There is no doubt that race and gender are powerful forces in our society.  They have always have been.  And I think it would have been naive for me to think that I could run and end up with quasi front-runner status in a presidential election as potentially the first African-American president and the issues of race wouldn‘t come up anymore than Senator Clinton could expect that gender issues might not come up.

But ultimately, I don‘t think it‘s useful.  I think we‘ve got to talk about it, I think we‘ve got to process it.  But we‘ve got to remind ourselves what we have in common is far more important than what‘s different.  And that if we‘re going to solve any of these problems, we‘ve got to come together and bridge our differences in ways that we‘d just have not bridge them before.

GWEN FILL, THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHMER:  Is that the speech you‘ll be giving tomorrow in Philadelphia?

OBAMA:  That will be a major focus it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, who will be at tomorrow‘s Obama speech in Philadelphia.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Any further previewing, any further details you can do for us tonight?

WOLFFE:  Sure.  This is something a senior Obama aide tells me, this is something that the candidate decided to do on Saturday.  So, this comes after the round of interviews that he did on Friday night including on this show.  And it was something he worked on Sunday.

Monday is really addressing some of these bigger issues that he‘s talked about before, but clearly in a way that he hasn‘t as a matter of focus in terms of race, religion, bringing the country together, some key themes here, but this is made much more personal by the involvement of his pastor in Chicago and especially about the broader issues of race and how he relates to race as a presidential candidate.

OLBERMANN:  Earlier in the campaign, many comparisons were made between Governor Mitt Romney‘s speech on religion and the famous September 1960 speech by Senator Kennedy when there was a strong wave of anti-Catholicism and will the pope be running the government is laughable as it may look in retrospect.  Does the Obama speech tomorrow have the same feel to it in terms of scope, in terms of importance, in terms of pivotal-ness to this candidate?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think it is certainly a moment where the nation is tuned in to what he has to say on this subject.  Of course he‘s done those TV interviews and that was an important moment about him speaking specifically about what Reverend Wright said.  But more broadly, I think the nation is looking to him for some leadership.

And again, he has spoken about race and patriotism before.  Remember, his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention, that breakthrough moment was a moving moment for many Democrats not just because he was new, but because he was expressing race and patriotism in every piece of the patriotic puzzle in a clearly Democratic way.  It didn‘t follow the Republican framework about war and terrorism.

So again, this is a moment when he has to define what is uniquely American about race, not just for him, but obviously speak to the broader party and the nation.

OLBERMANN:  And what is, Richard, the political reading on the volume of the right situation?  Does it have the potential to fatally wound Obama‘s campaign or we‘re talking about something, a hamstring injury that stays with him throughout the primary and into the election?  On a scale, where does this fit in?

WOLFFE:  Well, what matters is what he says about these subjects not what his pastor says.  This is not something—a tape of the candidate talking.  So, I think it lacks that fatal issue, that idea that it could undermine the whole campaign.

But clearly, Reverend Wright is an important figure in the imagery that this candidate has been using.  It‘s an important figure in his community‘s life.  So, he has to address these things in a head-on way and make an opportunity out of them.

Because again, one of the attractive things, I think, the Democrats for Barack Obama is that he‘s been able to speak beyond some of those old divisions.  Here, the old divisions have opened up.  He‘s got to show how the country can move on.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, because that picture that we‘ve been showing of the two of them sitting together, combined with some of the clips, that‘s a 527 group ad that you could put in an artist (ph) sketch.   There is not a lot of creativity involved in it.

But within the context of the primary, up until now certainly, the Clinton campaign has been silent, probably appropriately, on this issue.  By giving the speech tomorrow, does Senator Obama to some degree open himself up to the Clinton campaign, addressing this, not addressing what Reverend Wright said but whatever Obama says tomorrow?

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘d be amazed if they do because frankly, the Clinton campaign has shown this tin ear when it comes to a whole range of racial issues on this campaign.  Really, this is a train wreck from the Obama campaign‘s point of view.  When you see a train wreck you‘ve got to step aside.

So, I don‘t think they‘ll do it here.  But again, it‘s very important to hear what Obama himself has to say about this because only he can cauterize this issue right here and now.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” will be at that speech tomorrow in Philadelphia.  Thank you, Richard as always.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For Senator Clinton meantime, no new campaign strategy today other than sticking with the old campaign strategy, specifically, attacking her opponent first on things that were once thought to be her weaknesses such as Iraq.

Senator Clinton today going after Senator Obama, centering her vision of something he‘s now former foreign policy adviser Samantha Power said.  No, not that she had called Clinton “a monster,” rather Ms. Power‘s remarks to the BBC that Senator Obama‘s plan to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq within 16 months was, quote, “a best case scenario.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Senator Obama tells voters that as president, he‘d withdraw combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months.  But one of his top foreign policy advisers told a different story.  She told a British television reporter and I quote, “He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he‘s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. senator.”

One choice in this election is Senator McCain, who is willing to keep this war going for 100 years.  You can count on him to do that.  Another choice is Senator Obama, who has promised to bring combat troops out in 16 months, but according to his foreign policy adviser, you can‘t count on him to do that.  In uncertain times, we cannot afford uncertain leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Beyond the one sentence that Senator Clinton quoted today, the actual full context of what Ms. Power had said about Senator Obama‘s Iraq plan was this, quoting her: “You can‘t make a commitment in whatever month we‘re in now in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009.  We can‘t even tell what Bush is up to in terms of troop pauses and so forth.

He will, of course, not rely on some plan he has crafted as a presidential candidate or U.S. senator.  He will rely upon a plan, an operational plan that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn‘t have daily access now as a result of not being the president.

So, to think, I mean, it would be the height of ideology to sort to say, well I said it, therefore I‘m going to impose it on whatever reality greets me.”  Ms. Power adding that a full withdrawal within 16 months is a best case scenario.

Senator Obama firing back today on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, saying he‘s been plenty consistent in what he has said and what he has done about the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I opposed this war in 2002, I opposed it in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  I have been consistent in saying that we have to be as careful getting out, as we were careless getting in.  That we have an obligation to make sure that our troops were protected as we withdrew, that we have an obligation to maintain stability in Iraq in the process.

But I have been clear that this was a strategic error, unlike Senator Clinton who voted for this war and has never taken responsibility for that vote.  And I want to be very clear about that because there has been some muddying of the works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know of anybody who thinks Senator Clinton was less 100 percent correct to take 100 percent umbrage when Samantha Power described her as a, quote, “monster.”  But what is the strategy in trying to run with the Power BBC interview when in context, it‘s clear that Power was in essence saying, no president with an I.Q. greater than 60 is going to stick with a campaign pledge if the world has changed in the interim?

MILBANK:  Well, you know, a foolish consistency is hobgoblin of small presidencies.  And we have a president who is stuck with a plan no matter what.  And Clinton seems to be suggesting she would do the same thing here.

Let‘s hope that that sort of a campaign gamut and not an actual statement on reality.  I mean, to some extent, both Clinton and Obama have 2006 Iraq policies.  Things have changed and we don‘t know where we‘ll be in November much less next year.

But you certainly would hope that a presidential candidate or a president from whatever party would actually react to realities on the ground instead of saying I‘m going to implement what I said I‘m going to implement regardless of what facts there are.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, it‘s more than just that because the “New York Sun” had reported that the retired Army General Jack Keane, who had briefed Senator Clinton about Iraq, who had been asked to be one of her campaign advisers, he said that he had no doubts whatsoever that if Clinton were president in January in ‘09, she would not act responsibly and issue orders to conduct an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

Senator Clinton repeated this today.  She‘d bring in the Joint Chiefs, her secretary of Defense, her National Security Council and draw up her plan to start bringing troops home from Iraq within 60 days of taking office.

Are we to believe she has closed the door of those people coming back to her and saying, you know what, things have changed on the ground, we need a little bit more time to get these plans done?  More importantly, does she want that impression left out there that she is sticking to this plan that she has revealed?

MILBANK:  She wants the impression out there that she‘s sticking to the plan and a withdrawal is an ironclad thing.  While that may be true in the overall long-term sense, she would be foolish to say she‘s not going to listen to advisers; she‘s not going to adapt things here.  The long-term policy is to remove the troops from Iraq because the Iraqi government is failing to do its job there.

But in terms of sticking to an actual plan on paper, I believe that Senator Clinton like Senator Obama knows better than that.  Of course, they just don‘t want to incur the wrath of the anti-war voters who are actually going to be on display of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war on Wednesday here in Washington.

OLBERMANN:  Now, let‘s mix these two headlines together of what we have off the campaign trail today and what we‘re going to see tomorrow with the Obama speech in Philadelphia.  How pivotal is this?

I know that sounds like a redundant question but he goes into the Chicago newspapers to talk about the Tony Rezko controversy last week, “The Tribune” winds up writing that, you know, having spoken in uncommon detail he has set, the quote was, “a standard for candor by which other presidential candidates facing serious inquiries now can be judged.”

He did everybody‘s interviews program Friday night.  He was here, about Pastor Wright.  He‘s giving the speech tomorrow about race, et cetera.  Is there a way to state how critical this stretch is for him because it‘s not just staving off criticism?  He might actually come off slightly ahead of himself if he does it correctly.  Yes?

MILBANK:  If he does, it‘s extremely difficult.  I think, the Reverend Wright has done him a great deal of harm here and he‘s had other issues as mentioned with Rezko, his former supporter on trial.  But the Wright issue seems to have resonated to a much greater extent than, I think, a lot of people thought originally.  So, he has to first dig himself out of a hole before he can take advantage of any sort of a situation.

Clinton is clearly on the offensive here.  That‘s what we saw again with the Iraq speech.  She‘s giving it.  He is responding to it.

The difficult thing for Obama is usually he answered these questions by winning another primary.  It‘s a long time until the North Carolina primary now.  So, he could be on the defensive for a while.

OLBERMANN:  And if he doesn‘t dig himself out of it tomorrow, what can Senator Clinton do and is it theoretically enough can be exploited to such a degree that it would essentially turn the tide in this and almost cinch her the nomination?

MILBANK:  Well, if you look at it again on paper, you would say, no, there is no way she can come out with an absolute delegate lead no matter what she does.  But you have to imagine if this is the sort of dynamic in the campaign day after day, something is going to change here.  We don‘t know what it is.  Maybe it will be the Puerto Rico primary.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post.”  Thank you, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Word from the Florida Democratic Party tonight: No second vote.

And something is going on with the superdelegates tonight.  Nancy Pelosi is telling them to stay out of it.  Senator Clinton‘s campaign is mum on the topic for six weeks.

And what is six weeks if you are willing to say 100 years.  McCain goes to Iraq says he was misinterpreted about all of that and then says, we might stay 100 years in Afghanistan.  The war candidate upped the number of wars.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  No second vote in Florida says the Democratic Party there tonight.

And: Speaker of the House Pelosi claims neutrality in the Democratic nominating process did insist the superdelegates should follow the lead of the regular delegates.  Chuck Todd is next.

And then: What was really behind the self-destruction of Eliot Spitzer in a sex scandal.  The authoritative word from a man who‘s been there: Bill O‘Reilly.

We‘ll bring you the highlights ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Whether Florida‘s delegates will ever be seated and counted at the Democratic national convention newly in doubt at this hour.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  Democratic Party leaders in that state have tonight abandoned the plan to hold a redo mail-in vote.  Chuck Todd with the latest on that presently.

But at least there is Iowa.  The home of the first in the nation caucus is still counting and Senator Obama has managed to net an additional nine delegates after much talk of Florida getting a roll of stamps, really big roll of stamps, and mailing it in, that state‘s Democratic Party has today, scuttled the plan amid concerns about the state‘s ability to mount a full scale mail-in vote on such short notice even if legal considerations could have been overcome.

In a statement, the state‘s Democratic Party chairwoman, Karen Thurman concluded, quoting, “It means that a solution will have to come from the DNC Rules and By-laws Committee which is scheduled to meet again in April but at least Iowa is still functioning and still functioning and more functioning after that.”

Thanks to a realignment of delegates formerly pledged to Senator John Edwards although six of Edwards‘ 14 delegates refused to budge, eight have now switched to Obama, none switched to Clinton.  In fact, Clinton lost one delegate to Obama.  That brings Obama‘s total there to 25 pledged delegates, 14 to Clinton.

And with delegate totals still shifting in California and Texas, NBC News is estimating that including superdelegates, Senator Obama continues to lead Senator Clinton now 1,625 to 1,504.

Also notable, since the original Super Tuesday, the one on February 5th, Senator Clinton has not publicly announced the support of any new superdelegates.  In that same timeframe, Senator Obama has gained 47.

And House Speaker Pelosi weighing in, saying, quote, “If the votes of superdelegates overturn what happened in the elections, it would be harmful to the Democratic Party.”  A reminder that in pledged delegates alone, Obama currently leads Clinton by about 150.

Time to call in NBC News and MSNBC political director, Chuck Todd. 

Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, that‘s it for Florida?  It‘s going to be left to a rules committee fight?  Wham.

TODD:  Well, I think there could be something before that.  But that is it as far as revotes are concerned.  There were too many questions and frankly, there was a fear among a lot of Florida Democrats that, you know, already they were the butt of jokes because of 2000, that this mail-in primary could turn into a fiasco.

And I think that that‘s where there was literally bi-candidate support in mixing these things, supporters of Obama and supporters of Clinton.

So, now I think you‘re likely to see some sort of negotiated settlement where at any point, you know, both campaigns are ready, if Howard Dean will call them in to a room and the campaign managers get together, they will come up with something.  Possibly a 52-48 split, letting the, you know, in Clinton‘s favor, giving her some sort of advantage, but maybe not letting her count the popular vote or letting the superdelegates or this half vote thing, but there is going to be a negotiated settlement before we get to the credentials committee.

OLBERMANN:  While this is not going on any further, is Michigan still moving toward something?

TODD:  Michigan is moving towards something, but a lot of the folks in the state legislature up there in Michigan, I mean, the plan has been circulated to everybody, into the state legislature, the Clinton campaign, the Obama campaign.

The Clinton campaign, they‘re all in favor of it.  They say, great. 

Let‘s go.

The Obama campaign is not signed off on this.  And frankly, even though legally there is no reason for them to sign off on it, it‘s not going to pass the legislature in Michigan without Obama sort of agreeing to this.

And right now, I think they‘re wondering, you know, who can vote in this thing?  Will Independents, will Republicans, will be a new registration, will this be a closed primary?  They‘re asking a lot of questions on this.

And frankly, I think what this will do now is, again, expedite this process where secretly both campaigns are not looking forward to spending $30 million to divvy up a net of at best eight to 10 delegates in Senator Clinton‘s favor.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of eight or 10 delegates, what about the nine that Obama just got in Iowa and Clinton losing one, what is the import of that besides the raw number?

TODD:  Well, I think, a few things.  One, I think this is what happens when you trash the caucus process as much as the Clinton campaign has done.  From President Clinton to Senator Clinton to Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania to just calling it undemocratic, you know, in Iowa they take the caucuses personally.

Second of all, remember, there are going to be a lot of other caucus states that are going to be having this second and third rounds where they get together and re-divvy up.  This shows you the organizational strength that Obama has.  This is sort of a safety net for him.  It‘s very similar to happen in ‘84.

Gary Hart had all the momentum late in the primary, but Walter Mondale was working in the backrooms, out-organizing Hart, winning extra delegates when you didn‘t know there were ones to find.  Ironically here, the insurgent candidate is out maneuvering the establishment candidate, Obama and Clinton, but Obama is creating a safety net here of delegates that is going to make it hard even if Clinton picks up additional momentum for her to totally overturn this thing.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Let‘s finally add up both your math and the campaign trail news.

That speech in Philadelphia tomorrow, it might no eliminate the Reverend Wright story, Obama‘s speech tomorrow, but does it have the potential if something were to go horribly wrong within it, is that the last best, I don‘t want to say opportunity, but the last best possibility for the superdelegates to be swung in action against a numerical Obama lead in the delegate count?

Is this—if something bad have to happen to Obama tomorrow for him to sort of activate the superdelegates in a veto mode?

TODD:  Well, I think, look, if he becomes unelectable, and this is George McGovern type unelectable, which is the whole reason why they came up with this system was to avoid a situation like that.  You know, look, this thing is potent.  We haven‘t really seen it.  We haven‘t felt it quite yet in the national polls.

There is some indication that this is popping a little bit for Clinton.  But we don‘t know for sure.  You almost want to let this to sit in the public for another week to truly assess the impact.

But it is going to have—the speech is a big deal.  This is, I heard you talked about it, this is “Romney-Mormon” level speech.  It‘s a big deal and he needs to hit a home run tomorrow.

OLBERMANN:  The numbers you really want to look at are Obama versus

McCain, if they change, correct?  Plus, the less Clinton -

TODD:  Correct.  If there is a drastic—this is not about Clinton/Obama.  That‘s right.  This is if Clinton starts to look consistently stronger than McCain and more importantly, if it looks like Obama can‘t win, can‘t beat McCain, then, there will be a problem.

OLBERMANN:  Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News, looking ahead to a disastrous for everybody few months ahead if that happens I suppose, just terms of blood bath out there on the campaign trail, symbolically speaking obviously.  Thank you, Chuck.

TODD:  You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I can see Jerry Lee Lewis in my mind‘s eye now, pounding that piano of his and shooting, you know, goodness gracious, great balls of fire.  Well, sir, nobody meant that literally, you know.

And: Want to know why Eliot Spitzer threw it all away for some dates?  Who better to ask than a man who threw a reported $10 million away for some, well, some heavy breathing?

Bill O writes about the Spitzer sex scandal.  No, seriously, he brought it up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  March 17, St. Patrick‘s day.  Why it‘s St. Patrick‘s Day?  not clear.  He was supposedly carried off to Ireland as a slave on March 17, 432, and he supposedly died on March 17th, 461, or maybe it was March 17th, 493. 

Who St. Patrick was?  Not clear.  Might have been a guy named Polatius (ph), a deacon who was reassigned by the Pope from France to Ireland in 431.  It might have been Padraig (ph) and he may have chased the snakes out of Ireland, even though the last snakes in Ireland had been wiped out in the Ice Age about 13,000 BC. 

He might have been born in 378 and lived until 493, meaning he lasted until his age was 115 at a time when most dudes were lucky to make it to 30. 

That is why we celebrate St. Patrick‘s Day.  Now that that is cleared up, let‘s play Oddball.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice over):  We begin in Ishikawa (ph), Japan where a man in a flame retardant suit is playing the piano.  I‘m into the whole safety thing, but this seems a little over cautious.  Oh, boy, somebody call Billy Joel.  We finally got the guy who started the fire. 

This is 66-year-old Japanese Jazz pianist Yosuki Yamashita (ph), playing a Grand Piano engulfed in flames at a beach recital.  Yamashita battled the heat and smoke, playing for ten minutes until the strings gave out and smoke started pouring out of the keys. 

The flaming piano was a reprise of a stunt he had pulled off 35 years ago, although it probably felt to the viewers like a reprisal.  Only this time he did it without a singer on top. 

Over To Tampa, where flabby naked male sports fans everywhere were put on notice this weekend; women can be streakers, too, albeit partially clothed ones.  A Saturday soccer match between the U.S. and Honduras was put on hold as the young lady ran on to the field and was quickly escorted off the field.  During a traditional male streak, TV cameras quickly pan away, so as not to broadcast and encourage this kind of behavior, leaving Oddball with grainy cell phone footage.

But Fox Soccer Channel cameras stayed trained on this lady, giving the bandana wearing bandit full team coverage.  Let‘s dismiss this unfair rumor right now, this woman is not an anchor at Fox Business. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush thinks everything will be good in the economy.  Mr. McCain thinks everything is good in Iraq.  Maybe we should stay in Afghanistan for 100 years as well.  There is no need to panic.  All is well. 

If you want to understand a sex scandal that turns a prominent man into a laughing stock, who better to ask than Bill O‘Reilly?  We bring you highlights of his column supposedly about Eliot Spitzer, but really a lot more about Bill-O.

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.  Number three, best St. Patrick‘s Day salute, the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, which has announced it has located the remains of a man who lived near Kent in England about 2,000 BC.  He was buried with great ceremony.  At his feet was a beautifully decorated beer mug. 

Number two, best highway sign, Ronald Young Jr.  Spokesman for district five of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation trying to explain this road sign, Live Nudes Exit 45, a photo of which you see was snapped by Rick Yiekly (ph) of Bethel Township at 7:00 am yesterday between Cuttstown and Leonardsville.  Spokesman Young says somebody must have hacked into the computerized sign. 

I saw it and thought, said Mr. Yiekly, that can‘t be right.  Indeed, sir, as America knows, the live nudes hang around Exit 44. 

Number one, best quote, Lieutenant James Brandon of the bomb squad of the police department in Corpus Christi, Texas.  A woman walked into the police station saying she just found this hand grenade and would they please take it off her hands.  They did and then they evacuated the police state.  Then, as Lieutenant Brandon says, when we counter-charged it, it went boom!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t have to tell you things are bad.  Everybody knows they are bad.  It is a depression.  Everybody is out of work or scared of losing their jobs.  The dollar buys a nickels worth.  Banks are going bust.  Thirty two years ago, that made the fictional Howard Beale mad as hell.  He didn‘t have Iraq or Afghanistan.  In our third story tonight, we do. 

John McCain yesterday arrived in Iraq secretly.  Can‘t be too safe, even though the Baghdad market that he toured a year ago not safe enough to go to now.  Ditto Vice President Cheney, arriving today, also secretly, even as a majority of Iraqis tell a major new poll the surge has not improved their security situation.  The Iraqis possibly biased by events such as today‘s five bombings in Baghdad, including two U.S. soldiers dead, six kids killed by mortar fire, and a Karbala suicide bombing killing 40 people shortly after Cheney proclaimed the U.S. invasion a success, as American fatalities reached 3,990. 

McCain boldly expanding his 100-years in Iraq platform to Afghanistan, telling London‘s “Sunday Telegraph” he thinks Americans should prepare for that kind of commitment, 100 years, possibly the exact time in mind that Mr. Bush had when he said today our economy will be fine in the long run.  This three days after he warned home owners not to expect more government help, and one day after the government used 30 billion dollars of tax payer money to cover the risks J.P. Morgan took on in buying Bear Sterns Sunday, seven cents on the dollar.

Bear Sterns, America‘s fifth largest investor firm, having succumbed to the Bush economy, after having survived 12 recessions and the Great Depression.  The Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, invoking powers this weekend not used since the Great Depression, so the Fed can now lend money not just to banks but to investment firms like Bear Stearns. 

The “New York Times” reporting Fed officials are in talks with other firms, concerned they may be in trouble too.  Despite all this, despite the fact global markets tumbled even after the Bear Stearns sale, President Bush today said the work of his treasury secretary should reassure the world. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have shown the country and the world that the United States is on top of the situation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP

OLBERMANN:  Exactly what bold steps, what brilliant initiative of the treasury secretary was supposed to ensure investors around the world?  That previous quote in full context. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working over the weekend.  You have shown the country and the world that the United States is on top of the situation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It is hard work. It‘s incredibly hard.  And it is hard work.  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson, also associated editor and columnist of the “Washington Post.”  Gene, thanks again for your time. 

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

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s follow the money first as it goes down the drain.  The Fed took these extraordinary steps this weekend, which Mr. Bush applauds, to ensure the stability of the American markets.  Why is he so hostile to steps that would ensure the stability of families losing their houses? 

ROBINSON:  Very good question.  You know, the two situations would seem to be similar.  Right?  You have a giant investment bank about to go bankrupt, about to fail, and so you commit 30 billion dollars of tax payers‘ money to back the sale of Bear Stearns to J.P. Morgan.  You‘ve got a whole bunch of home owners who are about to be foreclosed on because of the subprime mortgage mess.  They are about to go bankrupt, too.  But you don‘t do exactly the same thing. 

I think it is called Republican dogma on how you handle these financial crises. 

OLBERMANN:  It is a word that begins with dog.  Alan Greenspan wrote yesterday that this financial crisis will be seen as the most wrenching one since the end of the Second World War.  The Fed Chairman, Mr. Bernanke, is calling for strong oversight of the banks.  The FDIC chair called for aggressive intervention from the government.  And the president, he has his own working group on financial markets.  It last week recommended a series of tough new regulations. 

Is there any way to see Mr. Bush‘s refusal as anything but an effort to help rich people get richer at the expense of the tax payers? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, what happened last weekend and really the Bush administration‘s response to this whole crisis has looked like a series of diving catches.  Now, even if you set aside the fact that he is much more willing to help the golf playing, bridge playing millionaire chairman of Bear Stearns than Joe or Susie home owner, it is all last minute and kind of a bit chaotic, the way they‘ve tried to handle what looked like a crisis to many people months ago, but the Bush administration wouldn‘t treat as a crisis. 

They kept saying well, the economy is fine.  The fundamentals are sound.  Everything is going to be rosy in the long run. 

OLBERMANN:  Now the blood part of blood money.  In Iraq Mr. McCain called his trip a fact finding mission.  He said it wasn‘t a part of his campaign.  Now he is talking about a similar length 100-year commitment to Afghanistan.  He told the same interviewer from a London paper he is not convinced Iran is no longer a threat.  Is he not painting himself into a corner?  He is beginning to look like a war monger who makes Bush look cautious? 

ROBINSON:  He is, but he ran into this corner with buckets and buckets of paint.  The one thing you can say about John McCain is he is not running from this war issue.  He—whether he thinks it is a winner politically or not, he seems very committed to it.  It can‘t have been accidental that he was in Iraq at the same time as Dick Cheney, the man who told us that we would be greeted as liberators and the man who told us the insurgency was in its last throes. 

John McCain is fully committed to the George Bush/Dick Cheney plan on the war in Iraq and now Afghanistan as well, and, you know, 100 years, a long time. 

OLBERMANN:  Can‘t the Democrats just run a—put him in there as an older, crazier Barry Goldwater?  I will just leave that as a rhetorical question.  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, it is always a pleasure. 

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Whether it is a reported 80,000 dollars to a prostitute or it‘s a reported 10 million dollars to one of your TV producers, a sex scandal is a sex scandal.  Inside Bill-O‘s extraordinary essay about Eliot Spitzer. 

Nothing like making crap up about a presidential candidate and sticking it in your column in the “New York Times.”  Anybody remember Jason Blair?  Worst persons in the world next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What‘s in play here, the columnist writes about the Eliot Spitzer saga, is what I call the Belushi Syndrome.  That‘s when a famous person who has money and success subconsciously tries to destroy himself. 

Ordinarily, we do not listen to this man‘s analysis, but this is a man who subconsciously tried to destroy himself over sex.  So his writings, Bill O‘Reilly‘s writings, that is deserve a little attention next. 

First, time for our number two story, COUNTDOWN‘s Worst Persons in the World.  Show tonight, Bill-O, talking about Jeremiah Wright.  He asked Dick Morris, this is Willie Horton who was used to destroy Michael Dukakis‘ campaign times a thousand.  If you were McCain, do you use this against Obama. 

Morris succinctly replied, he doesn‘t have to.  You just did.  He just called you out, Billy.  He just said you were a surrogate for one party‘s smear campaign against a presidential campaign.  Must be proud. 

Place, Heather Mills-McCartney, before the ruling in her divorce suit today; she‘ll get about 50 million from the ex-Beatle.  His attorney, Fiona Shackleton, was wearing her hair in a full bodied wavy bob.  After the hearing, Miss Shackleton was seen leaving the court building with her hair damp and pulled back behind her head. 

Heather Mills explained afterwards, Miss Shackleton, quote, had been baptized in court, unquote.  Witnesses suggest Mills threw a glass of water in her husband‘s attorney‘s face.  You married this dame why again? 

But the winner, Bill Keller, the managing editor of the “New York Times.”  This morning‘s column from the increasingly amateurish William Kristol reported that despite his claims that he was elsewhere, Senator Obama was in the pews at Chicago‘s Trinity Church last July 22nd when Reverend Wright blamed the, quote, arrogance of the U.S. for a lot of global suffering. 

It turns out Obama was in Miami, Florida on July 22nd.  The Obama camp refuted the Obama was in the audience claim yesterday, but the Times printed Kristol‘s article today anyway.  Only later did Kristol post a note online, reading, the Obama campaign has provided information showing that Senator Obama did not attend Trinity that day.  I regret the error.

Kristol had simply cut and pasted the lie off the hate website Newsmax.  If your source for a story is Newsmax, you might as well be making it up.  The Times fired Jason Blair for making it up.  They rightly ran him out of the business.  Now, Mr. Keller, it is up to you to do the same. 

William Kristol can write all the slanted stuff he wants.  But when he starts printing partisan fiction as fact, you should fire him.  Managing editor Bill Keller of the “New York Times,” today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After years of having talked out of his seat, Bill O‘Reilly of Fixed News has finally found a subject to pontificate about in which his personal knowledge actually reaches to the level of expertise, a topic in which he is not just hypocritical scold, but battle scarred veteran. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Bill-O analyzes Eliot Spitzer.  The New York governor‘s resignation only becoming official today after a money and prostitution scandal laid him low.  Spitzer, as you doubtless know, has been accused of financial shenanigans, possibly employing state funds to pay for the services of Kristin, the singing prostitute with the heart of gold, or at 1,000 dollars an hour, the something of gold. 

For reasons unknown only to Billy, he decided to deconstruct the Spitzer saga in the latest edition of his not-so widely read newspaper column.  Again, when it comes to having your pockets drained and your name turned into a punch line by your pursuit of a woman, Bill O‘Reilly knows his topic. 

Why he would writes this column and remind everybody of all of this all over again?  Well, maybe in trying to explain Spitzer, perhaps Bill-O has wound up explaining Bill-O.  October 13, 2004, also known around this business as cable Christmas, his former producer Andrea Mackris filed suit in New York against O‘Reilly and Fox for 60 million dollars, claiming he had repeatedly harassed her by telling her lurid stories of his own sexual history, describing his fantasies, trying to coral her into sexual liaisons by phone, in person, with others, with loofas and with a falafel.

The case was settled just over two weeks later with Bill-O shelling out a reported 10 million dollars.  So Billy decided to write about Spitzer?  Leave us to quote from the writings of the bard of Babe-ology, the Frank Burns of news, the falafel king himself, and then translate them for you back into what he really meant. 

“Let‘s analyze this Eliot Spitzer situation without emotion because there are lessons to be learned here.”  Expensive lessons, embarrassing lessons, lessons which, even if they did cost you 10 million dollars, you might forget and bring up the topic again anyway. 

“If you watch cable TV news, you will hear the braying pack talk about Spitzer‘s arrogance, his I am above it all mentality, but if you examine the facts, this shallow analysis doesn‘t wash.” 

Hey, pal, if you are going to call Greta Van Susteren, Sean Hannity and John Gibson the braying pack of cable TV news, I‘m going to have to ask you to step outside. 

“Governor Spitzer had to know that repeated visits with people breaking the law, prostitutes, put him at enormous risk.  At any time, any one of these ladies might have been arrested and facing prosecution could have easily offered authorities Spitzer‘s name in return for having all charges dropped.” 

Translation, if you are going to associate yourself with prostitutes, strippers, porn stars, body language experts, or other ladies who might be arrested, make sure you do it like Bill-O does. 

“Defendant Bill O‘Reilly, read item 42 in the Andrea Mackris lawsuit, “without solicitation or invite, regaled plaintiff and her friends with stories of a girl at a sex show in Thailand who had shown him things in a back room that blew his mind.” 

Yes, if you are going to visit with sex workers, make sure you do it like Bill-O does, in a foreign country that has weak extradition laws. 

“The ladies also could have blackmailed Spitzer, could have sold their story about him to the tabloid media, could have done many things to destroy his life.” 

Translation, here Bill is saying, trust me, I know.  For a change, he sure does know. 

“Then there‘s the money.  Spitzer knew that wire transfers to off shore facilities are closely monitored as part of terrorist surveillance.”

Translation, Bill-O is, in a round about way, tipping his hat to the former governor.  Mr. Spitzer paid a reported 80,000 dollars for a variety of activities.  Mr. O‘Reilly wound up paying a reported 10 mill to Andrea Mackris and he didn‘t even get a kiss. 

“Spitzer also knew that talking on the telephone to pimps, people setting up liaisons with prostitutes, left him open to being tapped.” 

Talking on the telephone, did you say?  Item 35 in the Mackris suit, “Defendant Bill O‘Reilly proceeded to inform plaintiff Andrea Mackris that he advised another woman to purchase a vibrator and had taught that woman how to masturbate while telling her sexual stories over the telephone.”

“So you‘re telling me that Eliot Spitzer thought he wouldn‘t get caught?  Sure, and I‘m Paris Hilton.  No, what‘s in play is what I call the Belushi Syndrome.  That‘s when a famous person who has money and success subconsciously tries to destroy himself.  You see it all the time, movie stars, athletes, politicians doing incredibly stupid stuff.” 

The Belushi Syndrome, you say?  “This is not some dime store psychoanalysis.” 

Not unless by dime you mean 10 million. 

“There are many people walking around who are deeply self-destructive and who will hurt themselves and others around them.  That‘s a fact.  A self-destructive, self-loathing personality will find a way to blow everything up.  It doesn‘t matter what kind of career the person has.” 

Either kind of career, broadcast or cable television. 

“We all know people like this.  Stay away from them.” 

As we digest your analysis of what makes Bill-O—I‘m sorry—what makes Spitzer tick, we would be happy to stay away from people like this, Bill, if only you would stay away from us. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,783rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  This is a big night by the way.  We are rejoining you now at 10:00 pm Eastern, then again at 2:00 a.m., at 7:00 and 11:00 Pacific, effective tonight. 

COUNTDOWN thrice nightly, 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Eastern, starting tonight.  In the interim, 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.

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