updated 4/18/2008 12:57:47 PM ET 2008-04-18T16:57:47

Guests: Howard Fineman, Dana Milbank, Greg Mitchell

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

The worst debate in the world!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, DEBATE MODERATOR:  Do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do?

NASH MCCABE, VOTER:  And I want to know if you believe in the American flag.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Lapel pens, Bosnia, who‘s bitter, who‘s William Ayers, but not telecom immunity, torture, Afghanistan, world wide food riots, the airline crisis.

“Shoddy, despicable,” writes the best know TV critic in the country.

“George Stephanopoulos looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy.”

The Clinton camp calls her the winner and the debate a game-changer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When you‘re running

for the president then you‘ve got to expect and, you know, you‘d just got

to kind of let it -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The only real news, if Iran attacks Israel, apparently Senator Clinton is going to order massive retaliation.  Did she set herself up as an imperial president waiting to happen?

Oh, and there was this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS:  Can he win?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But doesn‘t “yes, yes, yes,” say, “no, no, no,” to her argument to the superdelegates that he can‘t, can‘t, can‘t, win, win, win.  Says Howard Wolfson saying he can win is different than saying he will win.

And after five long years in the darkness, five years of casting our messages in a bottle on to the dark and silent sea, apparently, the White House does know that you and I are out here flipping them the bird.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES:  Among his other credits Mo used to host a TV show called “Things I Hate About You.”  I‘m sure I‘ve seen that program.  Only I believe it‘s now called COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m very moved.  The first time I didn‘t feel it, but this time I feel it and I can‘t deny the fact that you don‘t like me.  Right now, you don‘t like me.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, April 17th, 201 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Wow.  And to think I got grief after the debate I hosted because I asked Obama about Barry Bonds.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Obama this afternoon, brushing off, literally brushing off, what he called the rollout of the Republican campaign against him that came not from the GOP but from ABC.

Senator Clinton‘s campaign is calling the debate game-changing.  For context, the last time they debated in Philadelphia last October, Senator Clinton‘s people complained about the questioning and dubbed it “the politics of pile on” and it was Senator Obama saying, it doesn‘t make sense that suddenly she backs off and says don‘t pick on me.

Twenty-nine days after his speech on race in Philadelphia, help to put the Reverend Wright controversy behind him, Senator Obama back in that city to answer for it again, along with his “bitter” comment, about the economic frustrations of small town Americans, why he does not usually wear a lapel flag pin, and his participation in a charity with a former member of the ‘60s radical group Weather Underground.

Senator Clinton is happy to keep on helping her opponent on his heels, adding some new avenues of attack on the Reverend Wright controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I think that it wasn‘t only the specific remarks but, you know, some of the relationships with Reverend Farrakhan, with, you know, giving the church bulletin over to the leader of Hamas to put a message in.  You know, these are - these are problems.  And they raise questions in people‘s minds.  And so, this is a legitimate area as everything is when we run for office, for people to be exploring and trying to find answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After 45 minutes of trivial pursuit, it was time for Senator Clinton to trot out her main electability argument that she is a better baggage handler than is Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I‘ve been in this arena for a long time.  I have a lot of baggage and everybody has rummaged through it for years.  And so, therefore I have, you know, an opportunity to come to this campaign with a very strong conviction and feeling that I will be able to withstand whatever the Republicans send our way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton today is campaigning with her mother and her daughter, leaving any attacks on Senator Obama to her husband, President Clinton.  Her communications director, Wolfson is calling last night‘s matchup, “game-changing.”

The superdelegate gain indeed changed score today in Senator Obama‘s favor.  The Illinois Democrat picking up the endorsement of Oklahoma Superdelegate Reggie Whitten, an Oklahoma lawyer who‘s been serving as finance chairman of the state Democratic Party.

In the overall superdelegate count: Senator Clinton is still leading 257 to 236.  But among elected superdelegates, you know, the people Obama and Clinton work with, the ones actually accountable to voters, Senator Obama‘s is actually ahead 96 to 94.

In North Carolina this afternoon, Senator Obama is suggesting last night‘s debate could be his last.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  And I have to say, you know, Senator Clinton, you know, looked in her element.  She‘s .

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  You know, she was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there.  That‘s the lesson she learned when the Republicans were doing that same thing to her back in the 1990s.  So, I understand it and when you‘re running for the presidency then you‘ve got to expect it and, you know, you‘ve just got to kind of let it, you know.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  You know.  That‘s what you‘ve got to do.  That‘s what you‘ve got to do.  But understand this—that is also precisely why I‘m running for president, to change that kind of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to turn to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine and the author of new book, “The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring debates that define and inspire our country.”  Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thank you and thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome.  You postulated right off the bat last night when we were here and you‘re still in Philly, that this debate was “Obama: The nominee.”  That the questions were: How did he do?  Was his defense strong enough?  Did he withstand the questions and did he withstand that other candidate good old, what was her name?

Did Obama win by being beaten up?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think, in a way he may have.  If it‘s game-changing I haven‘t seen evidence of it yet.  I think, it may be game-prolonging, perhaps, not game-changing.  His line repeated at the debate and again today, that the debate itself and Hillary Clinton‘s approach represented the old politics and the old way of doing things, may sound like a clever line.

But I think it also may really be working.  I think the American people including Democrats want the system changed.  They want the dice thrown, if you will.  And when he says that‘s just the old politics, I think it may be working.  And I think he‘s not invulnerable to attack by any means.  But that‘s a really more powerful argument that I think analysts realize, I think it‘s working.

OLBERMANN:  What does it say about the future?  Because in our post debate coverage last night, Pat Buchanan said something to that point, in the big picture, that was absolutely riveting.  The big four hit points in his calculation, a controversial preacher, tenuous stuff about Weather Underground, flag pins, bitterness remarks.

If this does not dent Obama in the primaries, if his poll numbers hold or keep rising and those who do the mudslinging get tremendous blowback—hi, Charlie Gibson—Pat says, the Republicans have to consider a different attack in the general election.  Is it conceivable that they would hurt themselves nearly as seriously or as seriously as Senator Clinton (INAUDIBLE) hurt herself?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s possible.  I think you can argue, if Hillary Clinton doesn‘t end up winning Pennsylvania by more than 10 points which was her margin in Ohio, that that will just buttress Pat Buchanan‘s point.  Because after the weeks and weeks and weeks of attacks on what, I think to some extent, are some legitimate issues and questions, because I do think, serious enduring debates are involved in the Second Amendment and the role of faith in the public square and so forth.

If those don‘t dent Barack Obama in Pennsylvania where are they going to?  And I think it will cause the Republicans to wonder.  If they are trying to replay the Republican playbook of the ‘80s and ‘90s which often worked against the Democrats, that maybe at a time of recession, economic fear, and an unpopular war, that stuff just won‘t work this time.

OLBERMANN:  And back to this current debate over debates.  President Clinton accusing the Obama campaign of whining about how Senator Obama was treated last night and claiming that in 15 months of campaigning, quote, “I didn‘t hear her whining when she was attacked.”

And yet, of course, the example of the last Philadelphia debate, in October, her campaign certainly did complain.  I mean, I‘ll leave the word whine to President Clinton if he wants to use it, but they have complained about several other debates, internally and externally.  This is just happening, isn‘t it?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  They‘ve been working the refs for 15 months.  They‘ve been complaining about media coverage.  Even last night in the spin room, Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania saw me and he said, “Oh, there is the guy from the Obama network.”

Well, this isn‘t the Obama network.  We‘re reporters here.  I‘m a reporter.  You‘re a reporter.  We‘re trying to do our job.  You know, don‘t complain at the umps on the sidelines.  And that‘s general what happens when you‘re not doing well.

I mean, I think Hillary did, on debating merits, have a good night in narrow terms last night.  But it doesn‘t seem to be changing the flow in Pennsylvania and I think that Obama‘s argument that all of that stuff represents the old way of doing things is tremendously powerful and something Hillary just can‘t get around especially with her own high personal negatives.

OLBERMANN:  Was that, lastly, his last Democratic debate?  Is he going to bother with anything else?  Does he need to?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think it‘s highly unlikely that he‘s going to do another, because as I said last night, he‘s into the general election now.  He doesn‘t need another workout session with Hillary Clinton.  And I‘m sure that‘s how he views it.  But actually, I think, these sessions with Hillary have been good.  As he said, he‘s taken some shots from her.  If they don‘t destroy him, they make him stronger.

OLBERMANN:  Somebody else said that first but we‘ll attribute it to Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  Thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ve got Mitchie (ph) on the phone for you.

For Senator Clinton to win electability argument she would, of course, have to prove that Senator Obama cannot defeat the Republican nominee in November.  During last night‘s debate, when she was first asked if Senator Obama could defeat Senator McCain in the general, Senator Clinton side stepped the question, but when asked again by George Stephanopoulos, Senator replying three times in the affirmative: Yes, yes, yes.

Let‘s turn now to our Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”  Dana, good evening to you.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hey, congrats on that Cheney shout out.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  I feel legitimized and also in trouble.

In saying, “Yes, yes, yes” in response to that one question, was not Senator Clinton is saying “No, no, no” to the premise he cannot win in November?  Did she not, to some degree, blow the entire electability argument to the superdelegates?

MILBANK:  Well, maybe, maybe, maybe.  She‘s in a very delicate position and that question was sort of the one about when did you stop beating your wife.  If she said yes, she was going to—that he was not electable, she was going to offend the superdelegates.  If she answered in the alternative, she was going to potentially increase her negatives and thereby offend more voters in Pennsylvania where Obama is closing with her.

So, I think, ultimately, she made the calculation that she has to deal with the actual voters before worrying about the superdelegates.  Presumably, it expresses concern about what‘s happening in Pennsylvania.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Even for those who find it tough to be sympathetic or empathetic to her in the way you‘d just reconstructed the scenario, that‘s an awful choice to have to make, it‘s not that she didn‘t get in this position through her own campaign, but it still something that engenders some sort of understanding, I think.

MILBANK:  Yes, it does.  And you know, today, Howard Wolfson was trying to clear his way out of that and saying that, well, yes, he was saying that he could win but that doesn‘t mean that he actually will win.  It‘s a very delicate position because any way you move, you are on a knife‘s edge.  You offend more of the superdelegates that you ultimately need or you drive up your negatives, seemingly impossible to do it any further and yet, you do that and you don‘t even get to the superdelegates.

OLBERMANN:  So what - in Wolfson‘s point that can and win are two different words.  What subtlety and nuance am I failing to gleam and more importantly, what is the campaign at this point?

MILBANK:  Well, you know, Wolfson‘s mind works in esoteric ways that are not clear to us.  But, certainly, what he says in the abstract is true.  There is a point at which, you know, the economy is so bad, the war is so bad that either of them or any other Democrat could win walking away.  That however doesn‘t make the same argument as saying that she‘s more electable than he is.  And she is losing the ability to make that now.

OLBERMANN:  And what about that statement from last night also that she will go anywhere and do anything to guarantee that a Democrat takes the White House in November or was there just enough subtlety in there because she‘d said, the literal quote was, “she will work hard to make sure one of us,” emphasis on one, “is elected.”

MILBANK:  Well, I sort of read that as the pro forma thing that you have to say in this environment.  And I‘m sure, Howard Dean would have to say the same thing and Bill Bradley would say the same thing.  Ultimately, what you do is, yes, you get behind the guy and you endorse him but you don‘t work your butt off trying to get him elected either.  And I‘m sure that‘s what she would do.

OLBERMANN:  And yet, there was never until last night an absolute affirmative answer to that question.  There was never - there was always this doubt left and to be fair, early on especially, Obama was guilty of the same thing leaving that doubt about to what degree he would emphatically tell his supporters to go to Clinton if she‘s the nominee and it worked the other way until last night, did it not?

MILBANK:  Well, right.  They both have been on that same position.  It‘s the same sort of thing as when you‘re asked, would you take the other one as the vice president.  There are certain things that you have to say but let‘s face it, this has been a bitter campaign, to use a recently popular word.  And it didn‘t get any friendlier last night.  I can‘t imagine either of them being, wanting to be out on the hustings for the other at this point.

OLBERMANN:  I did notice that got very little attention that she described bitterness last night which was went right past everyone.  It‘s like, oh, you missed one there.

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

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A column in Dana‘s newspaper written by Tom Shales, the TV critic, as angry and negative review as the field has perhaps ever seen headline: In Pennsylvania debate, ABC is the clear loser.  What happened?

Although Iran might be able to challenge ABC, did Senator Clinton declare war on that country last night?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Questions for a presidential debate: What do we do about the nation‘s crumbling infrastructure?  Do we scrap NAFTA or fix it?  Is China an adversary or ally?

If we got out of Iraq and al Qaeda somehow still took over, would you go back in?  Would you run American military operations against terrorists within Pakistan?

What about outsourcing of American jobs?  What about increasing service time for our military personnel?  Undocumented voters, what do you do about them?  How do we improve No Child Left Behind?

Did you hear any of them last night in what was probably the final Democratic debate?  No, you didn‘t.  Those were from the debate I moderated last August in Chicago.  Where last night was the beef?

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On the Web site: Talkingpointsmemo.com this evening, ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos defending the questions he and Charles Gibson last night, calling them, quote, “relevant and appropriate.”

And our fourth story tonight: During the debate itself, Mr.  Stephanopoulos defended his questions by saying to Barack Obama, quote, “If you get the nomination, you‘ll have to beat back these distractions.”

Distractions such as more than 45 minutes worth before a single issue question.  Stephanopoulos saying, they asked about issues that came up since the last debate, yet, reviving the old flag pin crap and asking nothing about ABC‘s own recent reports that the U.S. vice president participated in the discussion on how to torture people in the White House.

Instead until the 18th question of the night, rehashes of Clinton‘s Bosnia‘s trip, the Reverend Wright, the Reverend Wright‘s patriotism, the Reverend Wright‘s love of America, and repeatedly the fig leaf that Republicans will raise this stuff in November as if journalists are now obligated to engage in pre-swiftboating.

ABC asking not a single question about Afghanistan or Pakistan, but advocating journalistic decision-making of its own to take dictation, literally, from Sean Hannity on Tuesday, writing Stephanopoulos a question for Obama.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST:  The only time he‘s ever been asked about his association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground, who on 9/11 of all days in “The New York Times” was saying, “I don‘t regret setting bombs.  I don‘t think we did enough.”

When asked about it by the Politico, David Axelrod said they have a friendly relationship and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together.  Is that a question you might ask?

STEPHANOPOULOS:   Well, I‘m taking notes right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Those notes are apparently accurate if last night was any indicator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS:  On 9/11, he was quoted in “The New York Times” saying, “I don‘t regret setting bombs.  I feel we didn‘t do enough.”  An early organizing meeting for your State Senate campaign was held at his house and your campaign had said you are “friendly.”  Can you explain that relationship?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Stephanopoulos, a former Clinton aide, also taking directions from the Republican candidate, launching a long inquisition on tax policy by quoting McCain‘s claim that taxes would be the top economic issue, not health care, not jobs, not millions of foreclosure, not billions in taxpayer bailouts for investment banks but tax accounts for the rich.

Let‘s bring in Greg Mitchell, author of “So Wrong For So Long: How the Press, the Pundits—And the President—Failed on Iraq,” and editor-in-chief in “Editor & Publisher” magazine.  Greg, good to see you again.

GREG MITCHELL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  From the journalistic standpoint view, this actually was no joke the worst presidential debate in television history, do you think?

MITCHELL:  Well, I‘ve been following them since 1960.  So, it covers a long range of debates.  Something quite wild and wacky, as you know yourself, but certainly, in terms of the hit that the media is taking on this, specifically ABC, but, I think, it makes the media at large look bad because this was a key debate.  It was on the eve of an extremely important primary.  It was in primetime.  It was on one of the major networks.

So, you had millions of people looking in at a key moment.  I think that‘s why it‘s viewed so badly today.  And I think, you know, I think, last night at about 8:30 that thump you heard from coast-to-coast was 50,000 shoes hitting TV screens.  So, I think we‘re really seeing that today.

OLBERMANN:  Did we flip roles here?  Did it go from journalists desperately trying to convince candidates or politicians to answer questions, to be substantial in their answers to now the point—that the politicians are insisting to the journalists, “Ask me a serious, responsible question,” as we heard last night?

MITCHELL:  Right.  It was Walter Mondale who said where‘s the beef to Reagan, not to the reporters then.  And that pretty much what Obama was saying between the lines last night.

Yes, listen, I think it was probably the pressure ABC felt for ratings, to outdo the other networks, to get those gotcha moments at the outset of the debate.  I think there were good questions in the second half of the debate.  I don‘t know how many people stuck around for them.  And I think they showed their priorities and the respect—their lack of respect they showed for the American people by front weighting the trivial questions and only getting to the more serious questions at the very end.

OLBERMANN:  See.  But if it were a programming decision, all you have to do is look at the ratings for the previous debate which was carried on this network, which resulted in this network, a cable network, and not universally-carried cable network, having the highest rated hour in television that night between 10:00 and 11:00 o‘clock, for the end of the debate, the beginning of the post-game discussion.

You don‘t have to sex up these Democratic debates.  They sex themselves up.  But this brings up a question: What was the George Stephanopoulos role in this thing?  Was it to gain ratings or was it something else?  Because - he relied on Sean Hannity‘s journalistic judgment which is just sounds like a bad thing to begin with even if you‘re asking, how‘s the weather.

And second thing, why did nobody ask until after this debate, senior advisor to President Clinton, co-moderator of a debate involving Senator Clinton, is that not just the appearance of a conflict of interest, is that not enough of one for him to have needed to have said last night, I‘ve got to recuse myself, I can‘t be part of a debate involving my ex-boss‘s wife while she‘s running for president?

MITCHELL:  Well, I know, he‘s tried to set himself up as an independent journalist.  That would have been difficult, but certainly, the worst thing he could possibly do is take dictation from Sean Hannity.  I expected a question about - to Obama of whether he had anything to do with the Vince foster murder.  It was that bad.  So, I think, you know, if George had set out to distance himself from any - even appearance of favoritism towards Clinton, it was the exact worst thing he could have done.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, Charles Gibson for whom I have great respect as a viewer and someone who knows him just a little bit.  A capital gains tax now to whopping 15 percent, this was covered in depth but we got a, “Oh, by the way, what are going to do about the price of gas,” basically as the candidates are putting on their coats and leaving the building.

MITCHELL:  Yes, well, you remember the Republican debate in New Hampshire that Charles also was a host, that ended with him making a statement, that professors at the small school were surely making over $100,000 which produced hoots from the audience.

OLBERMANN:  From the professors.

MITCHELL:  So, it‘s happened twice now, two times he has drawn hoots or boos from the audience.  So, I think, maybe they should chain him to the anchor desk and not take their chances with that anymore.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s a tough assignment.  I know from my one limited experience that I will never get to repeat again but it‘s not that tough.

Greg Mitchell of “Editor & Publisher” magazine, as always, great thanks.

MITCHELL:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Lesson number 27 from “Mis-manners book of etiquette,” do not use a balloon as a handkerchief.

And the old joke from the “Simpsons” was the fake FOX News colored it red, JFK posthumously joins Republican Party.  Now, Shepard Smith insists, a worldwide religious figure is an honorary Republican.  Worst Persons is ahead.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Al Qaeda isn‘t in Iraq-gate.  While the vice president says, if we leave that country, AQ could wind up with its vast oil supplies while Senator McCain is running for president on the premise that al Qaeda in Iraq is the central threat to the galaxy.

This message from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the European Union in Belgium, quote, “We are today more confident than any time before, that we are close to the point where we can declare victory against al Qaeda and its allies.”

Mr. Maliki, if you can send whichever of your guys knows the most about Jeremiah Wright over to Mr. McCain to teach him about that.  He may need something to campaign on.  Or flag pins, you got the guy knows flag pins?

Number two: Support the troops-gate Part A.  James Raymond of Irondequoit, New York was honorably discharged in 2004, age 22, after service in Afghanistan, during which he lost the hearing in his left ear and suffered a knee injury serious enough that he‘s considered 10 percent disabled and categorized as a disabled veteran.  So, naturally, Raymond has received orders to report to Fort Benning a month from tomorrow and then to Iraq in September.

You‘re calling back the literally disabled vets.  Who‘s next?  The dead?

And number one: Support the troop-gates Part B.  The story of Jason Hubbard of Clovis, California, his younger brother was killed in Ramadi in 2004.  His younger brother, his next youngest enlisted and they were both serving in Kirkuk in 2005 when that youngest brother was killed as well.  Naturally enough and humanely, they pulled Hubbard out of the field and sent him home immediately.

And when he got home with his wife pregnant, the military cut off their health care.  The military said it would no longer pay the $40,000 in educational subsidies it had promised him and it demanded that he repay $6,000 out of the enlistment bonus it had given him, even after a local congressman intervened.  All he could get for Specialist Hubbard was a waiver on the $6,000 repayment and some insurance for his wife, provided, she took a 45-mile trip each day so she and her unborn child could be treated at a local Air Force base.

A bipartisan bill named after the Hubbard brothers would specifically exempt sole survivors from such bean-counting inhumane treatment.  But right now, this is how our presidential administration treats those sole survivors.  This is how our administration “nickels and dimes” our heroes while handing the keys to the mint to Halliburton and Blackwater.  This is how our presidential administration supports the troops.

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OLBERMANN:  In a moment, best persons; how come the woman traffic cop is foaming at the mouth?  And why is she topless?  First, 85 years ago today, in Dakota City, Iowa was born one of the great newsmen of the ‘50s ‘60s and ‘70s.  Harry Reasoner helped launched “60 Minutes,” anchored or co-anchored ABC‘s “Evening News” for nine years.  And in that famous poll that found Walter Cronkite the most trusted man in journalism, he placed second. 

He also had an utterly pragmatic view of this field.  Journalism, Mr.  Reasoner once explained, is a kind of profession or craft or racket for people who never wanted to grow up and go out into the real world.  On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin in Blaine, Washington, where 13-year-old Andrew Daal (ph) has shattered the world record for blowing up balloons with his nose.  The youth snotted out 213 latex balloons in under an hour.  He is now waiting for the Guinness People to verify the number.  If you don‘t think this kid‘s talent has any practical use, the National Democratic Party Convention has already contacted him to work this year  After their debacle at the one in 2004. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Balloons.  Balloons?  What‘s happening balloons?  There is not enough coming down.  All balloons, where the hell?  There‘s nothing falling.  What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are you guys doing up there? 

OLBERMANN:  Over to England where we find what might be the biggest freaking goldfish ever.  Goldie is over 15 inches long and at least 15 years long.  Goldie‘s elderly owner, Ada Shaw (ph), was happy to be interviewed about her fat fish until the questioning got a little grim. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He is fed regularly twice a day and the light is left on for him if it is dark.  All the silly things I shouldn‘t be doing. 

He seems as though he is lapping it up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He certainly does.  At this rate he might outlive you, mightn‘t he? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, no. 

OLBERMANN:  Awkward.  We can‘t do this story without acknowledging COUNTDOWN‘s favorite dead goldfish Dick, on life support at the end.  Tragically, he drown in 2003.  Dick the goldfish was 17 years old. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Lost among questions about Bosnia and past pastors, Senator Clinton revealed plans to have this country retaliation against Iran, if it were to attack Israel?  Speaking of retaliation, just when I thought they didn‘t know who I was, Dick Cheney reveals I‘m listening. 

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.  Number three, best dedication to the job, Yury Lyalin, an electrician from Vologda, in Russia, north of Moscow.  Drunk at work, he got into a scuffle with the night security guard and then passed out.  Awakened in the morning, he was still so inebriated his bosses actually sent him home. 

To this point, in fact, for several hours to come, Mr. Lyalin never noticed that during the scuffle that security guard had stabbed him in the back with a six-inch knife.  He is philosophical about this, Mr Lyalin.  “We got drunk together.  Things happen when you drink,” he said. 

Number two, best surprise, William Johnson of Houston, Texas, stopped by a state highway patrol officer when he made an illegal U-turn; Mr.  Johnson had an unexpected passenger with which to greet the trooper: an alligator.  It turned out Mr. Johnson was slightly inebriated himself and he had for some reason followed the alligator into a ditch, wrestled it and stuck it in his back seat.  Didn‘t even put its seat belt on for it. 

Number one, best traffic control innovation, unidentified woman from Deland (ph), Florida, who decided during rush hour last night to stand in an intersection and stop and start the traffic.  Police say she was foaming at the mouth, talking to herself and topless.  She says god told her to go direct traffic there.  She didn‘t mention his opinion on the topless thing, but she did say he thinks you should keep any stoplight jokes to yourself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  During last night‘s roughly one dozen questions about how much taxes upper income Americans might have to pay on earning or capital gains, there were numerous follow ups about specific income levels and corresponding tax rates.  Our third story tonight, whatever it says about last night‘s debate, there was not one single follow-up, no request for clarification, when Senator Clinton said that as president she wants to promise that if other countries start fighting in the Middle East, the U.S.  will get involved this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I think we should be looking to create an umbrella deterrent that goes much further than just Israel.  Of course, I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States.  But I would do the same with other countries in the region. 

We are at a very dangerous point with Iran.  The Bush policy has failed.  Iran has not been deterred. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As a NATO member, the US has committed to the defense of its fellow NATO allies.  Senator Clinton last night explained that yes, she is proposing a similar scenario in the far less stable Mideast, saying she would deploy the U.S. military to respond with, quote, massive retaliation to an Iranian attack on any country willing to forswear nuclear ambitions. 

Senator Clinton, parenthetically, in conflict with the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, which said specifically that Iran‘s nuclear ambitions have been deterred.  Whether planned or impromptu, Senator Clinton, in the same answer, proposing a massive worldwide alliance as a deterrent, a proposal similar in its broad strokes to Senator McCain‘s proposed League of Democracies, a group he says would circumvent the U.N.  in order to push western values around the world. 

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, the host of her own program every week night on Air America Radio.  Hello, Rachel. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  After 24 hours of letting this sink in, how in the world is this not the headline out of that debate last night? 

MADDOW:  This is the greatest burying the lead story we have yet in the campaign.  I mean, the question to be asking is two fold: Number one, why would something like this advance American interests?  To make our military, our troops, the bomb that any country can throw into the square in the Middle East whenever they to.  As you said, we will get involved whenever anyone start fighting each other in the Middle East. 

It is hard to imagine a conception of American interests broad enough to make this a prudent promise to make to the world, particularly to this volatile part of the world.  You have to ask that.

You also have to ask why this advances Senator Clinton‘s political interests.  This is a huge reorientation of American foreign policy and America‘s role in the world.  Given its enormity, it is surprising to have it dropped into debate 21 --

OLBERMANN:  By the way—

MADDOW:  By the way.  No follow-up questions asked last night, no follow up details today.  This is an elephant that has now been shoved into the room. 

OLBERMANN:  We do have, however, now an explanation for her vote on the Kyl/Lieberman amendment.  At least we got that out of the way a year later. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  In this sense, if the heading is Iran/Middle East, this is far further to the right than John McCain.  This may be far further to the right than the Bush administration policy about the Middle East, which you didn‘t think was physically possible.  Who on Earth, from that political point of view, who could she be appealing to with this?  The super delegates are going to say, this is how we win?  We elect a Republican calling herself a Democrat?  That‘s how to do it. 

MADDOW:  Well, yes.  There is a school of thought that says in order for a Democrat to win a presidential election, the Democrat has to be even more hawkish than the Republican in the race.  That is a school of thought that I don‘t ascribe to, but it is a Democratic school of thought.  Even if you once believed that, even if you looked at the legacy of J.F.K. in order to come to that conclusion, now, in the era of the long war, the Global War on Terror, there are going to be more wars, my friends, and the hundred, thousand, ten thousand year Iraq deployment, I think this hawkishness common wisdom is drying up. 

A Democrat might make some more headway this year by describing American strength and security and leadership that is smarter and less apocalyptic than the constant war model. 

OLBERMANN:  Or you have to promise to stay longer, like for a google number of years.  We will be in Iraq for a gazillion years and everybody who is not in Iraq will be in Iran. 

MADDOW:  I want a surge exponentially rather than arithmetically.   

OLBERMANN:  Exactly, we‘re going to send 73 million of us over there.  Now, she ignored the Iraq NIE before the vote.  She is now contradicting the Iran NIE.  Again, politically, how does this help her?  It seems she is reviving the concerns that she doesn‘t stay in touch with the intel or doesn‘t believe it in the same way the current president doesn‘t bother to stay in touch or believe it. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right.  One of the other buried parts of this buried story is that George Stephanopoulos contradicted the NIE on Iran in the very phrasing of the question.  George Stephanopoulos said Iran is pursuing a nuclear option, and then his next sentence made clear that by option he meant weapons.  Neither candidate, at that point, said, wait a minute, that is not what our National Intelligence consensus statement says on this. 

They both ran with it.  Hillary Clinton, of course, put an exclamation point on it by talking about pole axing our entire approach to foreign policy in order to counteract this immediate threat by Iran, which has been invented by the neo-cons. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there was a very bizarre quality to Mr.  Stephanopoulos‘s work last night.  This, again, getting perhaps not the attention it deserved because of this obvious plant thing from Sean Hannity. 

MADDOW:  This was an obvious plant from Charles Krauthammer, it seems to me.  He is the one who has put forward this scenario and this proposal. 

OLBERMANN:  And we have to give, both of us, we have to give props to our friend Pat Buchanan, who came right out of the gate last night saying, what is this?  She‘s declaring—this is an imperial presidency being proposed. 

MADDOW:  This is one of those moments when Pat takes a right turn that takes him so far right it ends up hitting me as I take my left turn.  We end up smacking into each other in terms of being afraid of a presidential proposal like this.   

OLBERMANN:  Then we all go out and have a shot and a beer. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and Air America, as always, great thanks. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  There was another political gathering last night, officially called the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, unofficially called the Revenge of Dick Cheney. 

Dick Morris explains Hillary Clinton might have been a communist.  Big day for her, directly contradicting the insistence that she was not a communist by—you won‘t believe by whom.  Worst persons, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Pat Leahy, the Pope, Barack Obama‘s pastor and me; the comedy stylings of Vice President Dick “Don‘t Call Me Schecky” Cheney.  Come to think of it, I‘m just assuming what he said about me was supposed to be comedy.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Newt Gingrich, explaining to “GQ Magazine” that after seven years of desperately trying to make people think President Bush is Abraham Lincoln, the conservatives are shifting the iconography goal posts;

“what McCain is trying to achieve by explaining the dangers of the world to the publics is like what Lincoln had to do in the Civil War.” 

Lincoln?  The Lincoln Navigator?  The Lincoln MKX?  If you are trying to portray John McCain as Abraham Lincoln, Newt, trust me, you will have an easier time convincing people he is a talking car. 

The runner up, Fixed News‘s Shepherd Smith, second day in a row.  Covering the Pontiff‘s tour of Washington, quote, “there were some political moments in there when he talked about the sanctity of life.  That is certainly a political issue here.  I have heard this pope described and read repeatedly in studying for these events as an honorary Republican.” 

Don‘t forget Jesus.  Jesus and Batman and Spartacus; all of them honorary Republicans. 

But our winner, Dick Morris, also on Fox Noise, contradicting the historical record by asserting that Senator Clinton had worked as a, quote, “law student defending the Black Panther Party and she worked in a communist law firm.”  Asked if that it made her a communist, Morris replied, “at that time, at that point in her life, she may well have been.” 

Dick Morris‘ remarks completely contradicted by a history of the Clintons, in which the author, claiming close exposure to them and great incite about them, wrote of her time working for that law firm in question, quote, “Hillary was no communist, nor should her work in the firm imply that she was.”  Which authority wrote that?  Dick Morris. 

Before you accuse him of rewriting history, his own book, which he just contradicted, was, of course, called “Rewriting History.”  So this would be re-rewriting history.  Dick Morris, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Jim Webb, after the passage of the Kyl/Lieberman amendment last year insisting President Bush designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization—he said, this was Dick Cheney‘s fondest pipe dream, but it was Stephen Colbert who retorted, that is completely unfair.  Everyone knows that Cheney‘s pipe dream is driving a bulldozer into the “New York Times” while drinking crude oil out of Keith Olbermann‘s skull. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, until last night, I thought that was simply a Valentine from my friend Colbert.  It had never actually dawned on me before that anybody in the White House heard my name mentioned, except maybe on Sportscenter.  Thus now behold, I am validated. 

The vice president speaking last night at the annual Radio and Television Correspondent‘s Dinner in Washington.  He acknowledged the buzz over his recent fishing trip when his sun glasses seemed to but did not reflect a naked women, then he got down to business. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You all know how to make a guy the feel welcome.  Obviously, you are not the kind to look down on a bitter man who clings to his guns. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, his own bitterness would not derive from his economic circumstances.  There must be more to it.  He confessed part of his Dark Lord burden to the Pope. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  I was glad to talk to the Pope.  It‘s rare that I run into somebody who‘s heard more secrets than I have. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Forgive the crowd for not yucking it up too much there.  Might have been distracted by the awful truth; Mr. Cheney at the heart of this administration‘s secrets and its lies.  But not to worry, after snidely referring to his predecessor as St. Al, Mr. Cheney noted some personal growth. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Lately, with every passing day, the evidence has been catching my attention, I have no doubt, none at all, that we are in the midst of a global warming, or as I prefer to call it, spring. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A joke engraved on the tombstone of the Kyoto Treaty.  Before you accuse me of being too hard on the number two, Mr. Cheney did have his share of home runs last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Even my wife seems to thinks my image needs polishing.  At breakfast today, I asked Lynn if deep down it bugs her that people have taken to calling me Darth Vader.  She said, not at all.  It humanizes you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And Cheney modestly admitted that he is old news in this election and still craves a piece of the action.  Don‘t worry, Dick, there is always wire trapping.  The vice president also expressed sympathy for Senator Hillary Clinton‘s Bosnia flap. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  She made an honest mistake.  She confused the Bosnia trip with the time I took her hunting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And he gave some advice to Senator Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  For example, I keep telling him, it is time to start thinking about a choice for vice president.  He says he‘ll find a running mate just as soon as he‘s got himself a new pastor.  I like that one. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Place that man among the moderators of last night‘s ABC‘s debate and who would have known the difference.  Mr. Cheney also offered a string of compliments to us in the media, including—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  You are that you are here in Washington because you are among the finest in your profession.  You do hard work and you do it well.  I want to tell you all these things, but I just can‘t bring myself to do it.  But since it is our last time together at this dinner, I think it‘s enough to leave you with words I once addressed to Senator Pat Leahy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No, he did not say them, but the sentiment was still present, which brings us to COUNTDOWN.  Five years on, real evidence that we have made an impression.  Referring to TV personality Mo Rocca. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Among his other credits, Mo used to host a TV show called “Things I Hate About You.”  I‘m sure I‘ve seen that program.  Only I believe it‘s now called COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Cheney also noted that I was not there to savor his company, but that other big names from the broadcast media were in attendance.  Sorry I couldn‘t make it Mr. Vice president.  As your old pal Scooter Libby told you once, you have to pardon me. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,813th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night—tardy fruit cup—good luck.

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

END   

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