updated 4/29/2008 11:23:56 AM ET 2008-04-29T15:23:56

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter, Rachel Maddow, Dana Milbank

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

Under the bus: Barack Obama‘s former pastor throws the presidential candidate into oncoming traffic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH:  He did not denounce me.  He distanced himself from some of my remarks like most of you never having heard the sermon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Reverend Jeremiah Wright speaks to the National Press Club.  What does Obama do now after Wright insists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright.  It had nothing to do with Senator Obama.  This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No, actually it is an attack on Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The fact that he is my former pastor, I think, makes it a legitimate political issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What next?  Does Obama get a free second chance at the first impression?  Does he now sever all ties to Jeremiah Wright?

Whatever is next it probably won‘t be Senator Clinton‘s idea that she and Senator Obama debate outdoors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We could do it on the back of a flat bed truck.  We could do it anywhere in North Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Not flat bed but back to nearly flat even.  Gallup national tracking poll, two days, tied 47-all.  Today: Obama 47, Clinton 46.

Republican changes: Last week McCain denounced Jeremiah Wright as campaign advertising issue.  Now, he‘s flip-flopped.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama said it was a legitimate political issue.  If he believes that, then it will probably be a political issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hope you enjoyed your four days on the high road.

And the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner, where the atmosphere, like many of the attendees: a bit thick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, TV HOST:  I‘m a late night television show guy.  You know, I make up crap that isn‘t true then I say it on TV.  I‘m like FOX News, I‘m not a journalist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All of that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, April 28th, 190 days until the 2008 presidential election.  The idealized version of that event we learned about in a social studies class, let alone to choke us, was about the issues, was about the character of the aspirants, was about the struggle to define who would best serve the nation.

It was not about the candidate‘s girlfriends, they‘re marrying into money, the things they had said 30 years before, nor their spiritual guides.  And the last one of those perfect American presidential elections was in 1772 when George Washington ran unopposed and only six of the states even had popular votes.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is back, not by the hand of Clinton, nor by the hand of McCain, but by the hand of Jeremiah Wright.  And tonight, Senator Barack Obama has a fateful and perhaps decisive decision to make about him.

At the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this morning, and Reverend Wright‘s third public appearance in four days, his speech gotten cheers and applause from black church leaders in the audience who were beginning a two-day symposium on the African-American religious experience.  As when Reverend Wright explain what he meant last week when he characterized Senator Obama‘s response to him, as quote, “What a politician had to say,” as the reverend proceeded to do what politicians often call:

“Throwing your friend under the bus.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bytes and based on polls, Huffington, whoever is doing the polls  Preachers say what they are say because they are pastors.  They have a different person to whom they are accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I‘m still going to have to answerable to God on November 5th and January 21st.  That‘s what I mean.  I do what pastors do.  He does what politicians do.  I‘m not running for office.  I am open to being vice president.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good luck with that.  Reverend Wright also asserting that the media uproar over his comments has nothing to do with Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WRIGHT:  As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright and has nothing to do with Senator Obama.  This is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.  And why I‘m speaking on now - in our community, we have something called, “playing the dozens.”  If you think I‘m going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma - you got another thing coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Anybody who has ever seen the dozens played knows what he‘s talking about.  There‘s absolutely no personal vindication at work there, none at all, nothing more than 100 percent.  Reverend Wright‘s media blitz providing a whole new range of potentially damaging sound bytes by which to judge him and perhaps by association by which to judge Senator Obama.  Yesterday, Reverend Wright telling an annual fundraising dinner, the NAACP, that he‘s descriptive not divisive.  Friday night, of course, was his interview with Bill Moyers which aired on PBS.

As to how Senator Obama feels about Reverend Wright, on “FOX News Sunday,” in response to a question from Chris Wallace about whether Reverend Wright was a victim, Senator Obama seemed to legitimize his former pastor as a political issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past.  The fact that he is my former pastor, I think makes it a legitimate political issue.  So I understand that.  I think that it is also true that to run a snippet of 30-second sound bytes, selecting out of a 30-year career, simplified and caricatured him and caricatured the church.  And I think that was done in a fairly deliberate way.  And that is unfortunate because, as I‘ve said before, I have strongly denounced those comments that were the subject of so much attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To try to game plan how the Obama camp will handle these new comments in a moment with Howard Fineman.

First, our own, Richard Wolffe, senior House White correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, on exactly how the terrain has changed today; he joins us tonight from Raleigh, North Carolina and the campaign there.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is this bigger than the sermon clips themselves were, and do the Clinton and Obama camps see it in those terms?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s big in the sense that we‘re focusing on it and it‘s diverted attention away from what Senator Obama wants.  I mean, to the extent that people confuse the two, Reverend Wright and Senator Obama, this is always a big problem that requires a lot of explanation, both about their relationship, and frankly, what I think we saw today was a lot of tension between Reverend Wright and Senator Obama.

You know, someone recently described to me, seeing the two of them at a book signing for the “Audacity of Hope,” a phrase taken from Reverend Wright‘s sermon and they said that Reverend Wright seemed actually displeased by all the idolization and attention Senator Obama was getting.  This kind of crackling tension has been out there all along.

And when Reverend Wright said today, mockingly, that he was the spiritual adviser to Senator Obama, obviously, a phrase we‘ve all been using in the media, I think he was getting at something bigger there—this kind of rivalry, attention, the separation between these two prominent people from Chicago.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, playing the dozens, that‘s not a card game by the way.  That‘s a street yard origin, you say something about my mother, I‘m going to say something much worse about your mother and it escalates into the most unimaginable things you can, I guess, imagine.  By saying that the recent uproar over his comments has nothing to do with Senator Obama, never mind by undertaking this virtual press tour to begin with, is Reverend Wright not missing the central point that in terms of national political discourse, this has absolutely everything to do with Senator Obama and almost nothing to do with him per se?

WOLFFE:  Yes, absolutely.  I think he lost the plot a long time.  But I also think he‘s smart enough to know that this is about Senator Obama.  No matter how he tries to pivot or turn the attention back on himself, he is a guy who spent three decades building up his church out of nothing.  And who comes to national attention, someone who is a state senator just a few years ago, a member of his congregation who doesn‘t speak the same language as him on race in America, doesn‘t share his views about race in America, or about pacifism or war or government or politics in general.

I mean, there he is casting this idea out that Obama is just pondering when he talks about Reverend Wright and race on the speech in Philadelphia.  Like I said, I think he has a big problem with Senator Obama and his rise.  And underlining all of this, no matter what you think about race and about the black church in America, that personal attention is very evident.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I guess the last question here is - at the National Press Club today, Reverend Wright also recalled he told Senator Obama last year, “If you get elected on November 5th, I‘m coming after you because you‘ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.”  Is he aware then, or unaware that between today‘s event and the Moyers interview and the other stuff that‘s happening in the last couple of days, he to some degree has already come after Obama and it‘s got to be perceived that much of his speech today was exactly what Obama did not do to him, it was throwing Obama under a bus?

WOLFFE:  Yes, I think that‘s right.  Look, he‘s playing a role that he‘s played throughout.  He‘s something of a rebel in the sense.  He started up this black church in a predominantly white congregation.  He‘s always been an iconic class and a sort of as a provocateur in terms of the politics.  But what he‘s done here is really be a very poor advocate.  He had a chance - had a chance, past tense, to be a good advocate for his causes for the next president of the United States.  He‘s lost that.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” in North Carolina tonight.  As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned, yesterday, Senator Obama in explaining why Reverend Wright is not a victim, saying, “The fact that he is my former pastor, I think, makes it a legitimate political issue.”

His chief strategist, David Axelrod, adding this morning, again quoting, “We don‘t have any control over Reverend Wright.  There‘s not a thing we can do about it.  Obviously, I don‘t think we would have encouraged him to go on a media tour.”

For more on what‘s Senator Obama could be doing and may yet do in response, we‘ll turn now our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Howard, good evening to you.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  At this event in Wilmington today, Senator Obama said in regards to the negativity, “People throw elbows at you, you start feeling like, ‘Oh, I got to throw an elbow back.‘  So, I notice over the last several weeks, I told this to my team, ‘You know, we were starting to sound like other folks, starting to run the same negative stuff‘ and it shows that none of us are immune from this kind of politics but the problem is that it doesn‘t help you.

So - let me sure I got it right - the options.  It does not help him if he fights back, and also, does help him if he does nothing—he seems to be caught in a bit of a bind here.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And talking to observers around the country, who were neutral about this, including Willie Brown out here in San Francisco, was the former mayor and speaker of the California legislature, and a guy who knows his politics.  He said that Obama is caught in a dilemma.  He‘s caught in a kind of no man‘s land here.

There were serious discussions ways back when Obama decided to dis-invite Wright from giving a benediction or invocation in his candidacy launch in Springfield about totally cutting him off.  He didn‘t do it at the time.  In retrospect, they should have.  They wanted to maybe throw him under the bus then.  Instead, as you pointed out, he‘s the one who got thrown under.  So, what he does now is not clear because there are no good options, as you say, you cut him off now, it looks all the more political.  You stick with him, you keep confusing the identities of the two of them in a way that‘s not helpful.

OLBERMANN:  But, is there a silver lining in this?  I mean, does he get the unexpected thing that a politician never gets, a second bite of the apple?  I mean, if he wants it, does he get, you know, the second chance to make a first impression?

Could he not now say: Look, I defended his right to preach, I defended his church, his actions in the last two weeks or three weeks, whatever period of time you want to put on it, have changed the equation entirely?  If he thinks this is an institutional attack on black churches in America, I‘m sorry but he‘s not seeing any of the reality here.  I‘m completely disconnected from him.

Could he not do that?  Would that not be the best course?

FINEMAN:  Well, he could head down the road and then you get right deeper into the politics of religion in America which is a serious thing, and again, talking to Speaker Brown, he said that Wright‘s church and Wright‘s rhetoric is not the black church.  There are many black churches, very few of which would have statements like that from the pulpit.

Yes, the passion; yes, the style; yes, the social critique of America, but not the “God Damn America” and not the AIDS language and all that other kind of stuff.  So, if Obama wants to head down that road that‘s deeper into a thicket that perhaps he has to take the country that would be very difficult to navigate.

Maybe there is a chance for him to cut him off entirely but as others have pointed, Wright isn‘t going away.  And this looks like a book tour that he‘s going to be on because he is.  He‘s writing a book that‘s probably going to be out right around election day of this year, whether Obama is on the ticket or not.

OLBERMANN:  But if you cut him off as opposed to doing nothing, if you cut him off, don‘t you to some degree decrease the amount of attention that is paid to him.  If he is - if there‘s not some sort of strong statement out of the Obama camp, I mean, the risk of doing nothing is to make him into a self-perpetuating every, you know, slow news day, news story between now and the nomination or the election, correct?

FINEMAN:  Well, yes.  There are some people though who still think Obama that should keep his cool and keep his powder dry.  But if this continues another couple of days, if there‘s more of this out there, then I think more decisive action might have been to be taken.  This is not where the Obama campaign wanted to be, it‘s not the conversation they wanted to have.  Let‘s see if they can close it off the next day or two.

OLBERMANN:  And clearly, it‘s the conversation Reverend Wright wants to have because he‘s selling a book and it looks like he‘s selling a book.

FINEMAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The polls are all over the place eight days after North Carolina, one of the candidates suggesting the ideal vision of another debate, one without any moderators.

And last week, John McCain said Jeremiah Wright was off limits in a campaign against Senator Obama, now, McCain has completely changed his mind.  I know—you‘re shocked, shocked to discover there is flip-flopping going on in here.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Gallup Poll: Obama‘s lead ballooned last week, evaporated then after Pennsylvania, it just go back to one point.  Senator Clinton gets a valuable endorsement in North Carolina and she proposes a 90-minute debate just like Lincoln-Douglas.  So, it‘s nothing like Lincoln-Douglas.

Waiter who‘s been unanimously defending online, Burger King and it‘s battle with farm workers, a vice president of Burger King, that versus somebody who just analogized Senator Clinton to Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction.”  Oh, boy.  Worst Persons is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned last week, the first anniversary of the first Democratic presidential debate was this past Saturday - meaning that as a television series, they have lasted longer by eight days already than did Jackie Gleason‘s “The Honeymooners.”

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: With the North Carolina and Indiana primaries now eight days off as the polls open and close like a camera shutter, a proposal from Senator Clinton for a 22nd debate, no moderator, just the candidates head-to-head for 90 minutes.  She says, “Just like they did it in the Lincoln-Douglas debate,” even though that‘s not how they did it.  And even though it feels like the first 2008 Democratic debate occurred well before the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.

For once, Senator Clinton earning the endorsement headline expected to pick up the support of Governor Mike Easley of North Carolina tomorrow, North Carolina votes a week from tomorrow.  Senator Obama endorsed by New Mexico‘s Democratic senator, Senator Jeff Bingaman, meaning that in a state whose primary she won, Senator Clinton failed to gain the support of both the governor and the Democratic senator.  Of course, that vote is over and done with.

Obama and Clinton each picked up a superdelegate over the weekend.  Right now, Clinton 264, Obama 242 -- not counting Easley, who‘s not yet formally endorsed.  Obama still leads in pledged, 1,491 to 1,334, and that leaves him in the overall lead 1,733 to 1,598.

That‘s a balance that explains why Senator Clinton in North Carolina this morning, reiterated her call for what she thinks is a debate, 1858 style.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  What I propose is let‘s just have a one-on-one debate.  Just the two of us on the stage 90 minutes talking about the issues, asking each other questions like they did, you know, back in the, you know, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, where they went around, talking about—we can do it on the back of a flat bed truck.  We can do it anywhere in North Carolina as far as that goes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For the record the Lincoln-Douglas debates followed formal rules, one candidate spoke for an hour, the other rebutted for 1 ½ hours, the first then concluded with a rebuttal of ½ hour.  Try that today and you‘d have voters insisting on a hereditary monarchy immediately.

Senator Obama meantime, taking it seemed the cue from Bob Schieffer of CBS, in North Carolina, while fielding more questions on religion and patriotism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Sometimes I wear flag pins, sometimes I don‘t.  But I always have the flag in my heart and in my head when I‘m running for president and when I‘m not running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Nationally, the gap between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton has narrowed since Pennsylvania but widened since Friday.  The latest Gallup tracking poll puts Obama a mere point ahead of Clinton today, 47-46.  It was 47 all on Friday and Saturday, Obama by 10 last Monday.

While on “Newsweek” still has Obama in the lead by seven points, 48 to 41, that is significant less than the 19-point lead he had in that same poll just a week ago.

Joining me now: Our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor with “Newsweek” magazine.  Good to see you, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Gallup tracking poll, last Monday before Pennsylvania, Obama by 10, last Wednesday by five, Thursday by one, Friday and Saturday tied and yesterday Obama by one.  What is that a picture of a Clinton surge after Pennsylvania followed by a sort of re-inflation for Obama or what is it a picture?

ALTER:  I think it‘s all too close to call but that bleeding is not just Obama in the polls, it‘s another cuticles of the Obama supporters who are biting their fingernails because he‘s not having a good few days here.  And they‘re nervous about it and they keep trying to emphasize the point that everybody made at the beginning of the process, including the Clinton people, which is it‘s not about national tracking polls it‘s about delegates.

OLBERMANN:  That of course has changed somewhat in the Clinton speculation.

ALTER:  Yes, on one particular camp it has changed.

OLBERMANN:  Poll numbers of a different kind which are fascinating.  From North Carolina, 91 percent of voters said race does not matter to them.  But 54 percent knew somebody who wouldn‘t vote for a black candidate.  Seven-nine percent said gender made no difference to them, but 63 percent knew someone who would not vote for a woman.  This is one of the rules of polling, the “I‘m swell but my neighbor stinks” rule?

ALTER:  Yes, or if somebody has done something they put in terms—and they are telling an anecdote about it, they say, “I have a friend who did this or that.”  Yes, that‘s a long-time tradition in polling.  But actually, the stark thing is that the number of people who even believe that other people are racist in their voting is much decreased over time and there‘s actually more biased against people over 70, interestingly, that they‘re willing to admit to than on race and gender.

OLBERMANN:  Something on the ground of practical importance, most viewers would not know Governor Mike Easley if he came to the door during a show and rang the doorbell, but has the old maxim been true in this race?  Do we—we would have previous examples of it that the endorsements that count are the big city politicians who have machines that get votes and get organization going and get people to the polls and the governors who have the same kind of organizations?

ALTER:  Yes, I‘d just frankly don‘t know what Easley‘s organization like in North Carolina.  But it‘s obviously, you know, a good pickup for Hillary Clinton.  She‘s in good position in the expectations game there because almost everybody else in North Carolina, and the congressional delegation, even the old Edwards folks are on the Obama team.  So, this is something that she needed if she wants to be competitive there.

OLBERMANN:  We‘re not going to get a Lincoln-Douglas style three-hour debate?

ALTER:  No, field cage match, maybe.  But no, look, we would love it and a lot of people watching the show might like to see it, but if you - you know, mean what (ph) -- because we missed the 14th and 18th and 20th debates we need another one?  I don‘t think it‘s going to play politically.

OLBERMANN:  I know exactly what to do.  Rerun some of last year‘s—and run a timer to see how long if so people notice.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thanks for coming in, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And hey, look, I think I found a way to resolve the Democratic race.  This is a religious celebration actually and an annual event, then lava field (ph) and holy hand grenade.

And: Too Glenn Close for comfort.  A political correspondent makes a comparison to a Democratic candidate, then talks about something else, then repeats the comparison.  Worst is Persons ahead.

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

Number three: Nexus of politics and terror-gate.  Thomas Nelson, an Oregon lawyer who represents a Saudi who can‘t come into the country because there are terror financing charges against him has an unusual way of contacting his client.  It‘s usual these days anyway, each time he needs to discuss anything with him, he can‘t use the phone, he cant e-mail, so, he goes to see the client in the Middle East.

“It‘s very clear me,” Mr. Nelson tells “The New York Times,” that anything I say to my client or the other lawyers in this case is being recorded.”  Department of Justice says, “Yes, we monitored contact between attorneys and clients but it‘s legal, trust us.”  Nobody does.  That book sealed (ph) a long time ago.

Worse yet, Nelson and the other lawyers in the case said the department once mistakenly handed them a log book of phone calls made between the defendants and the attorneys, the log book of intercepted phone calls.

Number two: War profiteering-gate.  The government‘s own inspector general for Iraq reconstruction reports that a couple of things American companies like Vecto (ph), were suppose to build in Iraq places like kids hospitals were marked down in official reports as completed when in fact they were never built.  Just a few of these, mind you, only about 855 unfinished projects terminated before completion because of unforeseen factors such as violence, cost overruns and subcontractors getting killed and projects being blown up and stuff.  Total cost unclear.  But one hospital in Basra marked as finished by itself costs $50 million and was only 35 percent completed when work was abandoned.

And number one: I‘d like to see your diploma-gate.  The second most senior associate justice on Mr. Bush‘s Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, on TV now repeating in essence what he said earlier, that torture is not really as the Constitution prohibits, cruel and unusual punishment because when the policeman or whoever is torturing you, quote, “You say he‘s punishing you?  What is he punishing you for?  When he‘s hurting you in order to get information from you, you wouldn‘t say he‘s punishing you.”

So you can torture the innocent or not yet proved guilty but you can‘t punish the guilty with torture.  You don‘t see any logical inconsistency in that idea.  The concept of punishment being in and of itself, torture or vice versa, that isn‘t very pretty obvious to you?  You, still there, justice buddy?  OK.  Not only do I want to see your diploma, now, I want to see your grade point average.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And that breaking news is out of Virginia this evening;

National Weather Service now confirming three tornadoes ripped through the central and south eastern parts of the state this afternoon, injuring at least 200 people in the city of Suffolk alone.  South of Richmond, in Colonial Heights, another 18 people hurt, as storms and tornadoes over-turned cars, blew out windows, damaged buildings.  Virginia‘s Governor Tim Kaine has declared a state of emergency for the areas most affected by the storms.  Updates throughout the evening as information becomes available. 

We salute tonight the birthday of Isaac Sidney Caesar, the comic genius who starred in what was the first “Saturday Night Live,” a weekly 90 minute live extravaganza called, “Your Show of Shows.”  Its success so transcended in its times that it and Sid Caesar later became the basis for two movies, “My Favorite Year,” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” 

Sid Caesar‘s birthday is September 8th, 1922, but I didn‘t want to wait because I found out two things about him last night.  One is he was born in Yonkers, New York, the town next to the one I grew up in, and he‘s regular viewer of COUNTDOWN, which is pretty big news around here.

On behalf of Uncle Goopy, let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin on the Greek Island of Hios, where we get a fresh stinking batch of some of the best B-roll of all time.  It is the annual rocket war, a ritual pitting the parishioners of two churches against each other.  This is called playing the dozens in Greek, each group firing home-made rockets at the other‘s bell tower on the eve of orthodox Easter.  All of this happens during midnight mass.

For the first time, we take you inside the church during the bombardment.  How peaceful that was.  Greek police say technically the rocket war is illegal, but it is so cool they never arrest anyone, besides all those people with rockets. 

Southern Indiana; if you needed any prove that you should stop your little kitty from eating paint, he or she could end up like this guy.  The artist Ani Kay (ph), who wanted to separate himself from the traditional brush-using art community by using his tongue to paint.  He has licked 20 watercolors so far.  He hopes to French paint about 100 more.  Ani Kay says he used to get nauseous and want to vomit when he first began doing this.  It now qualifies him to be art critic for his own work. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Lost in the wrong stuff about Reverend Wright, John McCain with a complete 180 on whether or not Wright is fair campaign game.  And Obama was at church, Clinton was under fire, McCain wanted to distance himself, the comedy stylings of President Bush at the White House correspondents‘ dinner, which is why I went to the Mets game.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best dumb criminal, 19-year-old car-jacking suspect, who had to stop mid jack—in Ohio this was—and ask for directions to the bank from which he wanted his victim to withdraw the money.  Not only did he stop and ask directions, allowing the victim to signal to passers that he was a victim, but the two passers by he asked were a TV news reporter and their photographer, with this big camera with him.  They called the cops, hence the arrest. 

Number two, best wedding night, Dr. and Mrs. David Wielechowski of Shalor (ph), Pennsylvania.  They got hitched a month ago in the Bahamas, then repeated the vows for the home folks on Saturday.  Just as the doctor was taking the news Mrs. over the threshold at the Holiday Inn, they had a little spit.  He karate kicked her to the floor of the hotel hallway. 

Two other guests there raced to her rescue, only to be attacked by first the doctor and then, inexplicably, by the wife he had just kicked to the ground.  Wielechowski eventually heaved a couple of metal planters at the two good Samaritans.  At their arraignment, the Mrs. was still in her wedding gown and the groom, quote, left eye was blackened and swollen shut, was wearing tuxedo pants, a bloody t-shirt and one shoe. 

Number one, the best bet to never get married, Amanda Montoya of Alberquerque, New Mexico and her unnamed boyfriend.  They were spending a typical morning over at his house, at 10:30 am, watching a pornographic movie, when Miss Montoya suddenly pointed at one of the performers and shouted at boyfriend, that‘s you.  She then produced a knife, stabbed him in the face, to little effect, fortunately, and he alighted from the scene, garbed only in his shorts. 

She was later arrested.  He turned out not to have been in the movie, actually.  No truth to rumors that as he fled, the boyfriend was courteous enough to turn around to Miss Montoya and add, thanks for the compliment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Presidential candidate John McCain has now not once but twice crossed ethical guidelines laid down for presidential candidates by John McCain.  In our third story tonight, he‘s such a maverick, he not only doesn‘t play by other people‘s rules, he doesn‘t even play by his own rules. 

Less than a week after McCain called a North Carolina Republican ad tying local Democrats to Reverend Wright by way of Barack Obama offense and divisive, McCain said yesterday, he would not comment about Wright and then preceded to comment about Wright, dredging up, exaggerating, mischaracterizing his remarks, justifying all of it by pointing out that Obama himself called Wright, quote, a legitimate political issue, somehow making it OK for McCain to engage in behavior he has called offensive and divisive. 

After McCain told the “Arizona Republic” last year that he wouldn‘t tap his wife‘s beer money for his campaign, the “New York Times” now reports that until last month, McCain used her corporate jet, similar to this one, as a virtually exclusive campaign charter, reimbursing her beer company at less than quarter rates, thanks to a loophole in the law which he supported, which exempted family owned planes. 

This coming just as McCain is calling Obama out of touch with the poor for opposing proposed summer time suspension of the 18 cent gas tax, 18 cents, less than the increase in gas prices in the last two weeks.  That‘s not even airplane fuel. 

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, whose own show airs weeknights on Air America Radio.  Good evening. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What are the risks for McCain of trying to play good cop/bad cop, the solitaire version? 

MADDOW:  Himself, both cops in one guy.  I think there‘s kind of two risks.  The first is that his political identity evaporates.  Rightly or wrongly, he spent 20 years cultivating and conjuring this image of himself as somebody who has strong political principles, who doesn‘t bend in the prevailing political winds.  If he becomes known as a flip-flopper on everything from Falwell to torture, now to the wisdom and ethics of campaigning on Jeremiah Wright, that‘s going to be very low-hanging fruit for his Democratic opponent, if he ever has one.

The other risk is that guilt by association tactics could be a fast drive down a short street for John McCain.  The more—the current ones, John Hagee and Rod Parsley and all of these other people who he has made recent political alliances with, but also going back to Charles Keating and the early days of his career.  That‘s not something that he wants to invite scrutiny on, the guilt by association. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Keating played by the great actor James Cromwell, I think, in the movie.  If you‘re strategizing for Obama, in light of today‘s speech from Reverend Wright, which of the options hangs McCain the furthest out to dry? 

MADDOW:  I think that if Obama goes aggressive on this, it could actually be a really problem for John McCain.  What Obama could do—I‘m not sure I‘ve seen an inclination towards this type of aggression in the Obama campaign.  But what he could do is he could say, listen, my personal private relationship with my pastor is now being dragged through the mud for political reasons.  I have no political alliance with Jeremiah Wright.  I disavow his political views.  He disavows my political views.

But John McCain has made political associations.  He‘s made overt public political associations in the past year with extremist religious figures like John Hagee and Rod Parsley, going as far to campaign with Rod Parsley in the last year.  It may have national security implications for the United States of America for the Republican presidential candidate to have an association with a pastor, to call a spiritual guide a pastor that says the United States was founded in part to destroy the religion of Islam.  John McCain should explain himself on that, because it may have implications for our country.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MADDOW:  I‘m not sure we‘ve seen that aggression yet from Obama, but I think that would be the tact that would hurt McCain the most. 

OLBERMANN:  As we were just joking about, the next anti-Wright ad could come from the Obama camp.  I‘ll believe that when I see it.  This issue of being in touch with the poor; McCain was he on his wife‘s air bud plane when he said that? 

MADDOW:  Who has the foresight to write into campaign finance legislation a loophole that exempts your personal family corporate jet from campaign loopholes?  I don‘t know that this puts him more in touch with the poor.  It does establish his rich guy cajones like nothing else I have seen. 

OLBERMANN:  He may know more about the economy than we thought.  If it had been any more specific, it would have said, if it‘s in the liquor or alcohol distribution business, if it‘s used for that.  Last point here, at the risk of addressing policy instead of controversy, McCain dreamt up the gas tax roll back.  Senator Clinton went one further and said, we‘ll do it, but here‘s how we fund it, which was a creative spin on this.  Why doesn‘t Obama support the idea of rolling back the tax. 

MADDOW:  As far as I know, what Obama has explained is that the gas tax goes to fund things like maintenance, repair and building of new roads and bridges.  And if you take away that funding without replacing it, you not only are doing our infrastructure a disservice, but you are also causing a lot of construction workers to be out of jobs, because that tends to be something that creates a lot of jobs in the construction industry. 

Senator Clinton has proposed refunding the highway money with a windfall tax on oil companies.  That does open up a can of worms.  Seems like a pretty rational argument on both of their sides, from my take on it. 

OLBERMANN:  Nothing—we can‘t make a controversy out of it? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think so.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, thanks for coming in. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  This is what Craig Ferguson spent years trying to become a citizen for, the White House correspondents dinner?  An update on his joke about me and the rest of the junk. 

And in worst persons, you probably don‘t want to go comparing a presidential candidate to Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.”  You just don‘t, especially if you actually own a bunny rabbit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We have an update from Craig Ferguson of CBS, host of the annual White House correspondents‘ dinner, who insisted there was, quote, sexual tension between myself and Bill O‘Reilly.  That‘s next, but first time for our number two story, COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Stephen Grover, vice president of Burger King.  A coalition of Florida farm workers is asking that company to pay its tomato pickers a penny more per pound.  That would about 20 bucks more per day.  McDonalds and Taco Bell have already done this.  But the coalition has hounded by series of online anonymous postings by someone calling him or herself, SurfXAholic36, who contends the workers would never see the money and calling them a bunch of fools, and ripping the federation. 

Somehow the woman who regularly uses that name, SurfXAholic36, found out about the posts and figured it out.  Her name is Shannon Grover.  She‘s Stephen Grover‘s daughter.  “That was my dad,” she told a newspaper in Fort Myers, Florida.  My dad used to go online with that name and write about them.  Vice president of Burger King anonymously trashing farm workers and using his daughter‘s online ID to do so. 

Our sliver winner tonight, Tim Graham, part of the Brent Bozell‘s witch‘s kitchen known as the Media Research Center and News Busters.  Graham, identified as the Director of Media Analysis, blogged by how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to both Pope Benedict and the Dalai Lama as his holiness.  At best, writes Graham, Pelosi‘s promiscuous definition of holiness just show she is more of a shallow politician than a devout Christian. 

Graham apparently was unaware that when the Pope was in Washington two weeks ago another politician addressed him as holy father, and when the Dalai Lama was there last autumn, the same politician addressed him as your holiness, and referred to him three times as his holiness.  That other politician who Graham might observe matches Pelosi‘s, quote, promiscuous definitions of holiness, and shows he too is more of a shallow politician than a devout Christian; that guy would be President Bush. 

The nice thing about being on the opposite side of the war with the Media Research News Busters crowd is they are really stupid. 

But our winner, NPR political reporter Ken Rudin.  On CNN yesterday, he broke a new bar.  First of all, he said, thus forgetting rule one, any time your statement begins with first of all, stop immediately.  It‘s a bad idea whatever it is.  “First of all, let‘s be honest here.  Hillary Clinton is Glenn Close in ‘Fatal Attraction.‘  She‘s going to keep coming back and they are not going to stop her,” unquote. 

Greeted by a disbelieving, what, Ken?  He added, “we‘ll figure that out.  There‘s a lot of ways to imagine that.” 

You can choose a bad analogy.  You can really screw it up.  You can even say something innocent and cliched and it comes out sounding utterly inappropriate.  Trust me, I did the latter.  After comparing Senator Clinton to the insane, murderous, kidnapping, stalking, knife wielding, suicidal, bunny boiling character of Alex Forest, who has to be drowned and shot to be finally stopped in “Fatal Attraction,” even the harshest critic of Senator Clinton is probably beginning to think, that might be a little harsh.  Maybe an apology is in order. 

Instead, a full minute later, Mr. Rudin wrapped up his guest appearance adding, quote, she‘ll say, look I‘m in it until the end and I expect her to be in it until the end, as Glenn Close was.”  OK I‘m not seeing any contrition here.  Ken Rudin of NPR, at the movies so to speak, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The correspondents at the annual White House correspondents dinner like to think, as the old bromide goes, that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.  Well, they‘re never uglier then they are at the correspondents‘ dinner.  The parallel is less Hollywood or the Oscars than today‘s regular Monday weekly luncheon at the Hawk Eye Restaurant of the Kiwanis Club of Kiyokook (ph), Iowa. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, actually, I should just apologize right now to the Kiwanis Club of Kiyokook Iowa and the Hawk Eye Restaurant.  This year, at least, thy upgraded hosts from Rich Little to CBS “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson, who just got his US citizenship and tonight is probably thinking he wants to give it back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, “LATE LATE SHOW”:  I‘m a late night television guy.  I make up crap that isn‘t true and then I say it on TV.  I‘m like Fox News.  I‘m not a journalist. 

Bill O‘Reilly, who is locked in that feud with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC—the two of them are at it everything night, that terrible feud.  Everybody thinks they hate each other.  You know what I see there?  Sexual tension, that‘s what I say.  That‘s a romantic comedy waiting to happen.  You‘re the worst person in the world.  You‘re a liberal yuppie scum.  Are you as turned on as I am?  You bet I am, mister. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Stop projecting.  Mr. Ferguson did, at least, have an easy act to follow, President Bush, in his last appearance at these festivities. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m not sure what I‘m going to do next.  After he left office, Vice President Gore won an Oscar and a Noble Peace Prize.  I don‘t know, I might win a prize, Publishing Clearing House or something. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Cracker jack.  After just a few jokes, the president showed video clips of past performances, a tactic that must have put the celebrities there in a bit of shock.  I thought the writer‘s strike had ended quite a few months ago. 

The dinner dates back to 1914, as do most of the jokes.  We do have an update tonight from Mr. Ferguson, who advises he outright lied to the dinner about the joke about O‘Reilly.  The sexual tension, he says, is actually between me and him, Ferguson.  Restraining orders are being sought at this hour.  Let‘s turn to now to “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank, of course, also an MSNBC political analyst and can talk about this crap too. 

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  That explains why you call him Bill O‘Reilly, doesn‘t it. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, you‘re out.  With all due respect, not really, is there any point to this event, any more? 

MILBANK:  That assumes that there ever was a point.  I would—Let me go out on a limb here and say that there is more of a point than ever now.  In this day of the declining news business—many of our colleagues are getting laid off—it‘s more important than ever for our employers to spend more money on alcohol to numb the pain of this.  It is a huge investment in analgesic, shall we say.  We should do this more often. 

OLBERMANN:  It is called the hidden newspaper buyout.  I don‘t know if you know that‘s the little small type at the bottom of the invite.  Short of giving them the last seven years of their lives back, was there anything President Bush could have done to win over that crowd? 

MILBANK:  Well, I think he reached his high water mark when he had the Bush impersonator come out a year or two back.  Not much he could do at this point.  If he makes a good joke, somebody will take it seriously and he‘ll get abused for it in the coming weeks.  I think we should just be lucky he didn‘t send Barney out there at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  The celebrity mix—this is always the train wreck, the lost in space quality to this.  Pamela Anderson, Ashley Simpson, a teen sensation pop band called the Jonas Brothers, Johnny Knoxville from Jackass, and then guys who are political wonks like Ben Affleck and John Cusack.  It‘s not a shocker that journalists would invite them, but why did they go? 

MILBANK:  Well, you‘ve already answer that, because politics is show business for ugly people.  Let‘s say you‘ve had some bad luck in Hollywood, career is a bit in decline, you‘re on the B list; you get out here to Washington and suddenly, you‘re at the top of the A list.  You can‘t look better than you do here. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there anything to be gained though to have the interaction between Henry Kissinger and Pamela Anderson.  I mean, 30 years ago we would probably have had a marriage there.  Supreme Court Justice Scalia meeting Ashley Simpson, other than he gets a better of what torture is, what‘s the point of this? 

MILBANK:  Well, Kissinger has said that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.  So he got to put that to the test.  Scalia is a brilliant questioner.  I suspect he knows right now whether or not Simpson is pregnant or not. 

OLBERMANN:  And also works back to her sister and the lip synching from a couple years ago.  Should the comics give up trying to make jokes about the two most self-righteous, cynical and bitter segments of the population while they are sitting in front of them? 

MILBANK:  Well, you‘re just sore about the O‘Reilly jokes, but I think Ferguson was just fine, particularly since he went on the “New York Times.”  I think that‘s a welcome edition to any event.  

OLBERMANN:  Spoken like a true Posty.  I‘m just happy to be mentioned.  When this—the last time I was involved in this, I think I was one of the waiters, and now I‘m mentioned in this and in the other dinner from Cheney. 

MILBANK:  You‘re on a role. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not going to get better than this.  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  An update on tonight‘s breaking news out of Virginia before we go: the National Weather Service now confirming that three different tornadoes touched down in the central and southeastern parts of the state.  The worst is seen here.  It cut a 25-mile path of destruction through Suffolk County.  At least 200 people were injured in that area alone.  Wind speeds recorded as high as 110 miles an hour and the low end of that scale was 85.  Another tornado hit Lawrenceville, in Brunswick County.  There was one in Colonial Heights at a shopping mall.  And Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia has declared a state of emergency in those areas tonight with extraordinary devastation, and at this point any way, a low casualty count.  Good news on that front, even though they look like scattered match sticks through much of the Virginia county-side this evening.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,824th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  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   

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