updated 6/12/2008 12:21:00 PM ET 2008-06-12T16:21:00

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, John Kerry, Brandon Friedman, Christian Finnegan

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

Not too important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW” HOST:  Is this working, senator?  Do you have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  No, but that‘s not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Republican presidential candidate insists it‘s fine by him if the troops stay in Iraq indefinitely, even as they are targeted by guns and bombs, even as they are wounded, even as they‘re psychologically damaged, even as they commit suicide, even if the lives of everyone in there lives are altered indelibly.

John Kerry joins us to respond.  Not too important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  He‘s really confused.  He‘s all over the place.  I think he‘s having a debate with himself about what his real policy is.  But for the troops, I think, it sends a terrible message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And as John McCain‘s remarks reverberate across the nation, his response later in the day—deflection.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I don‘t agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they‘re “bitter.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe on the political impact of “not too important”; Brandon Friedman on the reaction of those “not too important” troops; and Senator John Kerry.

Startling numbers from the first polling of the post-primary season:

Obama leads McCain, even among independents, Catholic and blue-collar workers.  Obama leads among women by 21 points, among Hispanics by 34 points, among those who say they voted for Senator Clinton by 42.

And putting the Scar Joe and the J. Lo in Obama: Hollywood stars and the Democratic nominee.  Why does Senator Obama trade e-mails with Scarlett Johansson.  Well, frankly, wouldn‘t you?

All of that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, June 11th, 146 days until the 2008 presidential election.

If Senator McCain loses that election handily, he may look back to this day as the moment the remaining chance slipped from his grasp.  Before the sun had risen in his home state, the senator had spoken as if he simply did not care how long our American heroes serving in Iraq must stay there.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator McCain is suggesting this morning that bringing American troops home from Iraq is, quote, “not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.”  As if Iraq were the Korean demilitarized zone and not a place where 12 Americans have died in just the first 11 days of this month.

The remark is coming early this morning in an interview on THE TODAY SHOW.  Matt Lauer‘s question is predicated on the question of—if the surge is working.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER:  Do you now have a better estimate of when American forces can come home from Iraq?

MCCAIN:  No, but that‘s not too important.  What‘s important is the casualties in Iraq.  Americans are in South Korea.  Americans are in Japan.  American troops are in Germany.  That‘s all fine. 

American casualties and the ability to withdraw.  We will be able to withdraw, General Petraeus is going to tell us in July when he thinks we are.  But the key to it is we don‘t want any more Americans in harm‘s way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It wasn‘t too long before the McCain campaign attempted to clarify the Arizona Republican‘s comment, “Senator has consistently opposed the timeline for withdrawing our troops from Iraq and our friends on the opposite side of the aisle have a long history of attempting to twist Senator McCain‘s words on Iraq.”

Well phrased except that it was Senator McCain twisting his own words on opposing a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.  Just last month, he had presented exactly that—a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  By January of 2013, America has welcomed home most of the servicemen and women who have sacrificed terribly so that America might be secure in her freedom.  The Iraq war has been won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama himself is not commenting on his rival‘s statement, others are speaking for him.  On a conference call, Obama foreign policy advisor, Dr. Rice—no, not that Dr. Rice—Dr. Susan Rice is noting this was not Senator McCain‘s first trip to this rodeo.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DR. SUSAN RICE, OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR:  A real disturbing, even disconcerting, pattern of confusing the basic facts and reality that pertain to Iraq from John McCain over a series of months.  He doesn‘t know how many forces we have there.  He thought we were down to pre-surge level.  He‘s repeatedly, in the course of four days, confused Sunni and Shia.

So, this is troubling to say, the least, and it is reflective of a pattern of lack of understanding and lack of strategic depth that certainly runs counter to his claim of judgment and experience.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The next wave of McCain damage control, three-fold.

Spin number one: Another attempt to redefine what it was Senator McCain meant.

Spokesman Tucker Bounds is saying in his statement: “John McCain was asked if he had a better estimate for a timeline for withdrawal.  As John McCain has always said, that is not as important as conditions on the ground and the recommendations of commanders in the field.  Any reasonable person who reads the full transcript would see this and reject the Obama campaign‘s attempt to manipulate twist and distort the truth.”

Spin number two: Senator Lieberman breaking with McCain‘s policy of not mentioning the military service of his son Jimmy McCain, a marine corporal who returned from his first tour in Iraq earlier this year.  Senator Lieberman is saying it was outrageous for critics to suggest John McCain is out of touch both because of his son‘s military service and McCain‘s own service in Vietnam.

Spin number three: Senator McCain himself today in Philadelphia changing the subject to “bad stuff Barack Obama said” or if you listen carefully “bad stuff Barack Obama didn‘t say.”  Check the reference to “clinging to the Constitution,” as if any Republican had done that in the last eight years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  And we‘re going to go to the small towns in Pennsylvania and I‘m going to tell them—I don‘t agree with Senator Obama that they cling to their religion and the Constitution because they‘re “bitter.”  I‘m going to tell them they have faith and they have trust and support the Constitution of the United States because they have optimism and hope and are the strength of America.  That‘s what America is all about.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, himself, a Vietnam veteran as well as the 2004 Democratic nominee and now, of course, a supporter of Senator Obama, joining us from the Capitol.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) OBAMA SUPPORTER:  Glad to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  No matter what the spinners are saying, Senator McCain did not say reducing casualties is more important than getting the troops home.  He said getting the troops home was not that important.  The full context of the quote, the full of the interview proves that‘s what he said.  What does this statement mean for this country and for those troops?

KERRY:  Well, I think it means that Senator John McCain does not have a complete understanding of the nature of the conflict in Iraq.  You know, we knew at the start of this that John McCain didn‘t understand the economy because he himself told us that.

But we‘re learning now increasingly that he really doesn‘t understand Iraq.  He confuses who is being trained by whom.  He confuses the history because he says that the Shia and the Sunni don‘t have a long history of violence against each other—only 1,200 plus years.  He confuses the real meaning of Japan and Germany in terms of their numbers of troops.

And at one point, himself said on television, that he didn‘t believe we could stay there in that way because of the nature of the culture in Iraq.  So, he‘s really confused.  He‘s all over the place.

I think he‘s having a debate with himself about what his real policy is.  But for the troops, I think, it sends a terrible message, and for their families, there is nothing more than important than getting those troops home.  And for our foreign policy, there‘s nothing more important than eventually getting them out of Iraq so that we don‘t have the kind of footprint we have today that attracts terrorists.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Lieberman has chimed in on this, saying today that this comment does not matter because John McCain served in Vietnam.  I don‘t remember that being the rule when you ran for president?

KERRY:  No, not only was that not the rule when I ran for president, but the fact is, the war in Iraq is very different from the war in Vietnam.  In fact, the war on terror is very different from the war in Vietnam.  The war in Vietnam was a residual of the Cold War and misperceptions about superpower politics, China, Russia, the United States and what was happening in Vietnam itself where you had a civil war going on.

Here in Iraq, extensively, we went in because of the nature exclusively of Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda where Saddam Hussein has gone.  The Sunni had proved that they‘re not going to tolerate al Qaeda.  And so, the real issue now is—will the government, will the politicians, do what they are supposed to do?

And there are many people that believe very clearly that until they believe we‘re going to leave, they are simply going to use you us as a security blanket and they‘re not going to do what they have to do and they‘ve proven that for 6 ½ years now.

How long does it take to train troops?  This is becoming, frankly, insulting to many Americans and I think the excuses they‘ve used just don‘t hold water.

OLBERMANN:  And there is another issue certainly that‘s larger than just Senator McCain and what he said today.  This goes to the heart of this war.  It goes to the point that you made in 2004 and a point that you made in 1971.  What Senator McCain said underscores the fact that more of our people are going to be among the last to die for a mistake.

KERRY:  It means that, Keith.  It means that for certain.  But I think even more than that, it shows that John McCain really doesn‘t have a strategy for how you win in Iraq or how you do leave Iraq.  He has a strategy for just staying.  His strategy is to say—well, it depends on the casualties.

Well, I‘m not sure what that means because previously he said that you‘re going to have casualties because Americans don‘t belong there and the nature of the conflict is such that you‘re going to continue to see it.  So, it‘s not a Korea.  It‘s not a Korea.  It‘s not a Germany.  And if it‘s not a Korea or Germany, what do you do about the casualties?

So, he gets caught in a completely circular argument that has no end which is exactly what the American people are looking for.

So, I think he‘s just shown that he doesn‘t have a strategy, he doesn‘t understand it, he doesn‘t know how much troops are there, he doesn‘t know who is training whom, he really doesn‘t even know its history about Shia and Sunni.

And so, he is proving day by day that his strong card is not, in fact, Iraq, it is not national security policy, it is not the economy, it evidently is winning a nomination.

OLBERMANN:  But even the strategy for just staying hinges on a premise that makes no sense, which is that the troops will not be under attack, will not be shot at or will not be the victims of roadside bombs—are we anywhere close to being at that stage?

KERRY:  Well, obviously, we‘re far from that stage right now.  And the reason we‘re far from that stage is that the fundamental political issues in Iraq have not been resolved.  Until the fundamental political issues are resolved, you can‘t begin to move Iraq forward in the way that this administration talks about it.  They still don‘t have an oil law, they still don‘t have the provincial elections law, they still haven‘t resolved their constitutional issues.

And the bottom line is that the struggle between Shia and Sunni is at the center of what is continuing to create the conflicts, together with some exacerbation by al Qaeda.  But al Qaeda, most observers believe, will never be able to survive in Iraq if the United States weren‘t there because neither the Sunni nor the Shia, nor the Kurds, nobody wants Jihadists from another country in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is joining us tonight in the wake of Senator McCain‘s comments.  Thank you as always, sir.

KERRY:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And let‘s now bring in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  The assumption going in to this was that Iraq would be Senator McCain‘s strength, his gimme in this.  As Senator Kerry just pointed out, this is a series of controversies, if not outright gaffes, has it become his albatross?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, John McCain likes to say he‘d rather lose an election than lose the war.  But if he‘s seriously wants to win this election, he‘s got to find a different way, a better way, to talk about the war because—at the very least—he‘s guilty of minimizing the importance of troops coming home.  And that‘s a crime of, I guess, insensitivity in political terms.

But, at worst, what he‘s really spelling out with these analogies is a long term military standoff against Iran, presumably, because that‘s what the logical conclusion of the Germany and South Korea analogies are. That the troops in Germany weren‘t there to eat sauerkraut and drink beer.  They were there in harm‘s way actually, to stop the Warsaw Pact forces coming in to Western Europe.

So, if that‘s what he‘s presenting, that‘s a very tough agenda for the election for him.

OLBERMANN:  There is a new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” Poll out tonight which has some remarkable numbers in which we will go into greater detail on later.  But one right now, 64 percent of those Americans surveyed, disapproved of the president‘s handling of the war in Iraq.

So, what segment of the electorate exactly might Senator McCain be attempting to pitch this permanent presence, probably in at least to some degree, harm‘s way for Americans in Iraq?  Who is he selling this to?

WOLFFE:  Well, he seems to still be talking to the base of his party which really is the missed opportunity that he‘s had in this period since he locked down the nomination.  I mean, if you look at the “Wall Street Journal”/NBC Poll, what you see is a clear majority of people wanting change over experience.  And people who identify these candidates with regard to change say, only 21 percent say that McCain represents change, almost 50 percent say Barack Obama represents change.

So, the path is very clear here.  He‘s got to break with Bush and the current policies and present himself as the independent he was once known to be.  That‘s clearly not what he‘s doing now.

OLBERMANN:  A little more about process, Richard, and how the McCain campaign responded to this.  You spent a long time covering White Houses and campaign trails.  Was this during one of those periods when I was back in sports, only that the day that covering candidates apparently changed from reporting not what they actually said but the after the facts-spinning of what they meant to say or the second version of the “after the fact-spinning”?

I mean, why does McCain or any candidate gets so many do-overs on a pretty clear statement?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think he‘s given a lot of leeway for some of these comments and maybe that‘s because the pace of the news cycle now.  I don‘t remember Senator Obama‘s arguments about context being very effective or amplified very strongly when it came to the small town “bitter” comments that John ironically was referencing just today.  I don‘t John Kerry giving context very successfully with the voting before and then voting for argument when it came to the war funding in 2004.  So, he‘s getting more leeway than other candidates.  I‘m not sure how far it will take him though.

OLBERMANN:  To the point of the “bitter” Americans comment, the other strategy question.  He responded not with some sort of explanation and purpose but going after Obama on the “bitter” Americans.  He‘s already used the gas tax holiday, we‘ve discussed that.  Did anybody tell Senator McCain that Senator Clinton lost and did those same things?

WOLFFE:  I think he just thinks that the words tax cut is so powerful for Republicans, they must win, right?  And look at the poll again.  He‘s not winning those Clinton voters.  So, the message he‘s trying to send to Clinton folks isn‘t penetrating even at this early stage.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tomorrow night here on COUNTDOWN: A Special Comment, rescuing our family and friends from Iraq, it‘s not that important.  It‘s not that important if you‘re tone deaf to the will of this nation.  Tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN.

Senator Kerry talked about the impact on the troops, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets.org on that.

More bad news not from John McCain but for him, the first polling, Richard mentioned it, he is, remarkably, far behind Barack Obama among women, Hispanics, Clinton supporters and other unexpected demographics.

And Worst Persons: Bill-O vies with Katie Couric?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You‘re fighting in Iraq, you hear a former POW running for president saying, it‘s not that important when you and your buddies finally ship home.  And you hear his top supporters say you can‘t criticize the man for it because he‘s a veteran.  How would you feel?  At last, Brandon Friedman of VoteVets.org is next.

The new NBC News poll is just out showing Obama with unexpected strengths among Hispanics, women, Clinton supporters but one huge disadvantage.

And in Worsts: Katie Couric insults one of the best reporters in television.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Four thousand and ninety-five American troops are dead, nearly 30,000 more wounded, 40,000 diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder—all since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: And John McCain says it‘s not too important when the others finally come home.  To add insult upon their injuries, today, McCain and his buddy, Senator Lieberman insinuated that his own statues as a Vietnam vet somehow justifies his contention that the young men and women fighting for our country now should stay there indefinitely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  My friends, veterans hate war more than anyone else.  I know that it has caused great heartache and pain because I visited with families and I know them.  But I also want to tell you that I believe that in the conflict in Iraq, with this new strategy, we are succeeding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We are joined by Brandon Friedman, vice chairman of VoteVets.org.  He himself served in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.

BRANDON FRIEDMAN, VOTEVETS.ORG:  Thanks for having me on, Keith.  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  How do veterans, how do veterans‘ families feel when they hear that the man who wants to be the next commander-in-chief does not think it‘s too important when they come home?

FRIEDMAN:  Keith, this is a morale crusher.  You know, if you can imagine, say a sergeant, who‘s on his third tour and he‘s in the 14th month of that tour and he hears the potential president saying something like this, it kills morale.

You know, the troops are over there and, you know, I‘ve been there, I‘ve had to deal with this.  But the troops over there hang on every word they hear from a leader, you know, especially the commander-in-chief but also someone who could be the commander-in-chief.

And when they hear something like this, you know, it really kills them on the inside because, you know, their families want them home.  They want to come home, you know, or focus on the real global war on terror elsewhere.  But this is really a killer when you hear something like this.

OLBERMANN:  What I hear when I hear from servicemen or I talk to vets, more than anything else, is their astonishment when generals or veterans like McCain or the brass—just to use the general term there—don‘t get it.  That of all people, these are the ones they naively thought would understand risk and sacrifice.  Does it—does it matter more that they are abandoned by a John McCain who did serve as opposed to a George Bush who did not?

FRIEDMAN:  Absolutely, Keith.  You know, we‘ve come to not expect a whole lot from George W. Bush.  But when you have a veteran like John McCain who has gone through so much in Vietnam, you really expect a lot more out of him because the way you see it as a soldier or marine or airman or whatever, is that John McCain should know better.

You know, he‘s been in our shoes.  He‘s had it worst than most of us.  You know, he should know better.  And, you know, for those of us who‘ve been there and who‘ve lived through this, we just would expect a lot more and it really saddens us, you know, to see this happen, because there are thousands and thousands of veterans who‘d just disagree with him on this.

OLBERMANN:  And the Lieberman reaction or the reaction to his reaction, where basically he referenced McCain‘s status as a veteran, as POW, as war hero, as carte blanche for the excuse for this, as if McCain is immune to military criticism simply because he was a POW, that the merits can‘t even be discussed.  Then, that reminds me of every bit of army red tape I‘ve ever heard of or every bit of censorship that a military sometimes invokes in times of war relative to its own personnel.

FRIEDMAN:  Absolutely.  You know, we all respect John McCain‘s service.  But he‘s not the only person who suffered in war.  We have troops coming back from this war who are quadriplegics, who‘ve been maimed, who had to go through so much.  And, you know, it doesn‘t give him a carte blanche reason to say something like that.  He doesn‘t it get a free pass.

You know, we‘ve been over there, too.  We‘ve been in war too.  And we know what it‘s like.  And he doesn‘t get a free pass, especially from us because we hold him to a higher standard.

And you know, all I can say is that we respect John McCain‘s service.  All we ask in return is that he respects ours.  And from many of the people I talked to, who are on active duty, or who have just come off active duty but who have served over there, we don‘t feel like we‘re getting that a lot of the time.

OLBERMANN:  Brandon Friedman, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, now at VoteVets.org.  Thank you, Brandon.

FRIEDMAN:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  It used to be too many car chases on TV, that has now peaked.  So, now cable news has found an alternative, your daily bear chase bear race.

And Katie Couric blasts a better reporter than herself for being more meticulous and honest than she is. 

Worst Persons is ahead.

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

Number three: Blame the victims-gate.  A statement from Mr. Bush‘s secretary of labor, Elaine L. Chao, so splendid, the administration thought that she should not only say it but her department paid a public relations company to decimate it as a news release.  Unemployment rose from 5 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May.  The secretary says that, quote, “reflects the fact that unusually large numbers of students and graduates are entering the labor market.”

Yes, except, subtract them and the rest of the unemployment rate still rose 3/10 of a percent in May.  Plus, “unusually large numbers of students and graduates.”  Unusual, how?  They graduate or start summer vacation same time every year.

Number two: Abramoff-gate.  Remember how it was that the president never met Jack Abramoff.  Remember how after the picture turned out it was, the president didn‘t remember meeting Jack Abramoff.  Remember how it then became the president didn‘t remember meeting him either time he‘d met him.

It‘s changing again.  The House Oversight and Government Committee‘s draft report on Jack Abramoff says the president met him at least six times.  So, let me know when Mr. Bush has start using the phrase—now I want you to listen to me, I did not have sex -

Number one: Steal the vote-gate.  You might think that the administration and the Republicans push for a higher threshold of personal ID before letting you vote, has at least a green of common sense to it.  Just because the systems in Indiana like systems in Ohio in 2004 tended to keep minority and economically-disadvantaged people from voting, doesn‘t mean it‘s a totally bad idea.

Well, ask Shirley Price (ph) of Surprise, Arizona.  Hers is one of 40,000 voter registration applications for this November‘s ballot rejected in that state because she does not have the proper ID.  She gave up her driver‘s license a few years ago.  She‘s never had a passport.  She can‘t show her high school records because the school doesn‘t exist anymore.

She has no birth certificate because she was born before they started issuing birth certificates and she can‘t get what they called a delayed birth certificate because you have to have witnesses to the birth who swear they saw it and they‘re all dead now because Ms. Price was born in Kentucky in 19-freaking-10.

So, she can‘t vote this November 4th even though she has voted in every presidential election since 1932.  And there is no provision for getting her a waiver and no provision for reducing the amount of times her attempts to get a waiver of some sort have taken from say, less than a month.

And that is what‘s wrong with voter ID laws.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Best persons in a moment.  And a Fox host yearns for her hardcore dictionary, she says.  First, on this date in 1900, Lawrence Spivak was born, co-creator, originally panelist, and from 1965 to 1975 moderator of “Meet the Press.”  His business partner, Martha Roundtree, was the first host.  In 1953, she sold her part of the show to Spivak and for the most part left television.  After they had reportedly decided one of them would take over the program full time and the other one would get out; they decided that by flipping a coin. 

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin in Shawnee, Kansas, where George Chandler and his buddy were building a deck in Chandler‘s backyard when a nail gun misfired.  Chandler said he felt a sting on his head and tried to remove his camp.  He couldn‘t because the cap had been nailed to his skull.  We‘ve seen this kind of nail gun survivor story over and over here on Oddball.  What caught our attention this time is how the nail was removed. 

Chandler explained that on “The Today Show” this morning. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He had a pair of pliers and he was trying to get a hold of the nail and he couldn‘t quite get it.  So he looks at me and he says, I need a claw hammer.  At that time, I thought, he is just teasing, you know. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator McCain said it didn‘t matter how long the nail would stay there.  The doctor was not teasing.  He used a flat head screwdriver and a claw hammer from a maintenance closet to remove the nail.  Luckily, the procedure was a success.  Chandler was just fine after the doctor closed up the hole with a few stitches and half a tub of spackle. 

To Monterrey, in Mexico, the Oddball bear chase of the week.  This cub was first spotted in an area garage on top of an SUV saying, if bear, four dollars a gallon, my tush.  Animal patrol quickly swooped, setting up a an impenetrable bear capturing perimeter constructed of lint, plastic—It got away.  The bear made a dash for nearby woods, where it remains on the lam.  As for that plastic netting, it has been returned to Lou Dobbs for his dream of wrapping Mexico in it. 

Finally, to Fokido, in Japan, where at over 6,000 dollars, we find the world‘s most expensive bowling ball.  No, it‘s a watermelon, 17 pounder.  Densuke Watermelon; it was found growing on the north of the island.  It sold at auction this week.  The fruit normally goes between 50 and 100 dollars.  This one had what is considered to be perfectly round shapings, making it more desirable and expensive. 

As for the winning bidder, the auction house was sworn to secrecy, saying only that the buyer was an American, pistachio comic with a really big sledge hammer.  That could be anybody. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Polls do not usually hit you over the head like a Gallagher sledge hammer, but the first poll of the general election campaign shows Obama significantly in front of McCain in the demographic groups that were thought to be his weaknesses. 

And just call here J-Lo-Obama; Jennifer Lopez and, for that matter, Scarlet Johansson and their roles in the Obama campaign?  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best dumb criminal, Fandi Pradipta of Dover, New Hampshire.  He has pleaded out to using a stolen credit card to buy a belt in a store in a mall and then sticking around the same store and applying for a job.  However did they track him down?

Number two, best passing of the collection plate, if you know what I mean, an unnamed couple in Sacina, in Italy, arrested for drinking all night and then cavorting inside a church, in fact, inside the confessional box.  What, it says nothing here about whether or not the church had missionaries. 

Number one, best waste of an Oxford education, Gretchen Carlson of Fox Noise; in a segment protesting bids to simplify spelling of American English, soldiers was raised as an example of a word kids have trouble with, because it has that I before the E thing.  Added Miss Carlson, well the D, there is no D in it.  In soldier, there‘s no D?  She later asked, do they even sell hardcore dictionaries anymore?  Hard cover.  You mean hard cover, I think. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As Barack Obama staggered over the finish line last week, battered and bruised, his party in tatters, the universal question was, how could he possibly come back, possibly keep disaffected Democrats from flocking to John McCain?  As tonight‘s new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows, in our third story, mission accomplished. 

Not only does Obama have a lead outside the margin of error of the poll, he already leads McCain in some of the key groups the media has said he is going to struggle with.  Over all, the poll conducted Friday to Monday, book ending Hillary Clinton‘s concession, found Obama leading McCain nationally 47 percent to 41. 

But look at the interior numbers; 41 to 36 among independents, the group McCain said he needs to win.  And those blue collar workers, so skeptical about Obama, they are going for him 47 to 42 .  Catholics back Obama, 47-40, over McCain.  Women, the majority of the country, the group supposedly considered a switch from Clinton to McCain, telling pollsters before Clinton‘s presidential ambitions had even gotten cold, that they prefer Obama over McCain by a margin of 52 to 33 . 

Those swing vote Latinos, so assiduously courted by the GOP, by Senator McCain‘s moderated stance on immigration, who would not vote for an African-American, 62 to 28 for Obama.

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst gene Robinson, also associated editor and columnist at the “Washington Post.”  Gene, thanks for your time. 

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

OLBERMANN:  Polls are usually not startling.  As evidenced by that overly dramatic read, I think this one is.  There is a smorgasbord of these interior numbers to choose from.  Which one grabs you? 

ROBINSON:  The one that initially jumped out at me was the 62 to 28, the number for Hispanic voters.  I remember everyone sitting around and saying, woe is Barack, basically.  He has this huge problem with Latino voters.  There is no way he is ever going to get them back.  They were going for Clinton.  They are going to go for McCain.  How is he going to win without them. 

It turns out he doesn‘t need to.  He has a landslide margin among Latino voters.  There is one other number in the poll that actually isn‘t one of the beauty contest numbers.  It‘s the startling, to me at least, figure that nearly seven out of ten voters, 69 percent, agree with the statement that America is in a state of decline.  That is amazing to me for some reason, and it doesn‘t bode well for the incumbent White House party. 

OLBERMANN:  It bodes well for the country if people recognize that. 

ROBINSON:  True. 

OLBERMANN:  This polling is done in such a way that it‘s overseen by one Republican and one Democrat.  The Republican involved in this looked at the white women number, Obama 46, McCain 39.  He said, the Republicans expect to win white men big, and they are leading right now in that.  But it is white women who decide the election.  His quote was, if a Republican wins among white women, we usually win that election.  If this is the number when the wounds over Senator Clinton are so strong and so fresh, what chance does McCain if the those wounds heal or just improve a little bit? 

ROBINSON:  As they almost certainly will.  As you point, this poll was taken barely hours after the race officially ended.  So one assumes they will get even better for Obama.  If McCain has to move this number in order to have a chance of winning, what I think this portends is a pretty relentlessly negative campaign.  It seems to suggest to me that it is much more difficult for McCain to make the affirmative argument than to make a negative argument against Obama and somehow try to bring him down.  Specifically in this instance, make white women voters think he won‘t keep the country safe or whatever, but go after him in some way. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s another number, 30 percent think McCain can win;

54 percent think Obama can win.  There is another set of data we also did not look at yet here.  How would putting Senator Clinton on the ticket affect whether you voted for Obama; 22 percent say they would be more likely to vote for him, 21 percent say less likely, 55 percent no difference.  Does that make Hillary Clinton as vice president a push? 

ROBINSON:  I personally think it probably is.  There was another number in the poll in which people, Democrats were essentially asked should he put her on the ticket?  And a plurality, as I recall, said that he should.  But that number seems to indicate that people don‘t have such strong feelings about, you know, the so-called dream ticket.  You know, I think Obama is going to appoint another committee, I guess, to choose the vice presidential candidate, and let things cool off for a couple of months and then make a decision. 

OLBERMANN:  Unrelated to the polls, Gene, Jim Johnson stepped down from Senator Obama‘s vice presidential selection committee.  This was essentially 48 hours after the reporting of those questionable loans he had received.  After he stepped down, the McCain camp declared that his resignation, quote, raises serious questions about Barack Obama‘s judgment.  Behind the scenes, are the McCain people actually saying, crap, this guy doesn‘t mess around? 

ROBINSON:  They missed it by that much.  Just a half step slow.  You can‘t both criticize him for having Johnson on the committee and then criticize him for kicking Johnson off the committee.  There you have it. 

OLBERMANN:  One would think.  You can try though.  Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and the “Washington Post,” as always, great thanks, Gene. 

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Lost in translation?  Apparently not, as actress Scarlet Johansson reveals her e-mail correspondence with Senator Obama.  Bill-O has a new book coming.  The title is even funnier than the titles of all of his other books.  Worst persons next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He loved “Lost In Translation.”  She starred in “Lost in Translation.”  He is running for president.  Barack Obama and Scarlet Johansson e-mail pals.  That‘s next.  But first time for our number two story, COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Steve Doocy of Fixed news.  A segment whose message was you will keep paying four dollars for a gallon of gas and you‘ll like it.  A discussion of the supposed dangers of hybrids as opposed to all gas cars, Mr. Doocy said, some say you definitely should not get a hybrid car because they are not safe.  The accompanying graphic said “hybrid hazard more dangerous than regular cars?” 

The argument was that hybrids are more dangerous in accidents.  Even the guest from Richard Mellon Scaife‘s Competitive Enterprise Institute admitted that an engine, gas or hybrid, cannot make a car safer or more dangerous.  Doocy and Fox continued to insist the hybrids were more dangerous because stricter fuel standards would lead to smaller cars, even thought it‘s actually the bigger SUVs that are more dangerous in crashes, because of the roll over factor.  Nevertheless, the next graphic read, peril of paying less.  Upping fuel standards dangerous. 

Our runner up, Bill-O.  He is adding to that library full of comedy he has already unleashed.  Another book is due out in September.  The title, well, the publisher calls it an issues-based memoir.  The title is “Bill O‘Reilly‘s a Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity.” 

Well, it will be a bold, fresh piece of something. 

Our winner, Katie Couric, speaking at a Washington luncheon in her honor, the CBS anchor saying, however you feel about politics or her politics, rather, I feel that Senator Clinton received some of the most unfair hostile coverage I‘ve ever seen.  She added that sexism contributed in part to the senator‘s defeat.  A little Kool-Aid-ish, but her opinion and she‘s entitled to it.

What followed she was not entitled to.  Couric referred to one, quote, prominent member of the commentariat who had said he found it hard to be objective when it came to Obama.  That‘s your job, she says.  Then she suggested he find another line of work.  She didn‘t name him, maybe because she didn‘t bother to look it up.  The supposed member of the commentariat who said that was not in fact a commentator.  It was NBC News correspondent Lee Cowan, who covered the Obama campaign throughout the primaries, and who, as Ms. Couric would have found out had she bothered to examine his remark, was speaking with refreshing honesty, acknowledging that the environment of that campaign and the ferocity of the candidate‘s supporters in primaries challenged a reporter to be especially professional and vigilant in separating the hype from the news. 

I probably saw literally 90 percent of Lee Cowan‘s reporting in this campaign and it was utterly objective and accurate.  It is sad that Ms.  Couric could not have emulated him and separated the hype from the news in her own promulgation of the nonsense that Senator Clinton was a victim of pronounced sexism. 

As to her advice that a reporter like Lee Cowan, who was her colleague at CBS for nearly a year, should find another line of work.  It is sadly obvious that in leaving NBC and “The Today Show,” Ms. Couric already has.  Katie Couric, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  President Reagan had been one of them in prior career.  President Clinton occasionally basked in their glory.  In our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, presidential hopeful Barack Obama appears to be amassing his own young Hollywood buddies list, with names that can be annoyingly contracted like J-Lo, even Scar-Jo. 

There she is, Senator Barack Obama‘s pen pal by e-mail.  Scarlett Johansson not only a major Obama supporter, hosting private fund raisers, lending her voice to robo-calls, participating in a viral video hit called “Yes, We Can,” but also regularly e-mailing the senator and he responds.  That‘s a surprise. 

Well, Miss Johansson is quick to point out that Senator Obama makes time to call regular people who have donated to his campaign.  She also told Politico.com that other young actors are pro-Obama, like Jessica Alba, Ryan Phillippe.  If Senator Obama had only been in his office when another potential admirer dropped by, Jennifer Lopez, who evidently held some kind of meeting with the senator‘s staff at the Hart Senate Office Building yesterday afternoon.  When she went there, said she was, quote, not ready to do any press yet.  And she managed to slip away far more skillfully than her entrance, because after an hour and a half, an Obama staffer came out to tell the assembled and sweaty crowd, she‘s gone. 

We can now report that Miss Lopez evidently met with staff members of other senators as well, regarding health care and education.  This despite rumors that she may be writing a song for Obama.  Let‘s interrupt comedian Christian Finnegan, who is currently writing a song for Obama as well.  HE is also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”   Christian, good evening.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, VH-1:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  Apparently Scarlett Johansson has been emailing Senator Obama for months and he responds thoughtfully, with more than just a line or two.  Is this cool or are we worried that this might degenerate into e-mail smiling faces? 

FINNEGAN:  Or something like, hey, did you hear McCain‘s position on tort reforms, ROFLMAO.  We need to get back to this whole idea—this whole idea of thoughtful responses kind of bothers me.  Scarlet Johansson doesn‘t seem like a my.  She‘s 23 years old.  Exactly how thoughtful do you need to be.  You name drop a few indy rock bands.  You talk about how much you loved the movie “Il Postino.”  I mean, it‘s just another type of stump speech. 

OLBERMANN:  After one of the tougher debates this year, the one with ABC News, she said she congratulated Obama on holding his ground, and his response was a remark about how he dealt with one silly question after another.  They talked politics.  Is this for the sake of being on top of events in her life, or is she angling for a cabinet position, and is there still a chance she could lockup the Clinton vote by making her vice president? 

FINNEGAN:  I think she‘s going to head up the department of velvet rope security.  If Obama is really trying to get Hillary supporters, this is not the way to go about it.  Becoming e-pals with a 23 year starlet, yes, that‘s going to win over the older women.  What Obama should do is stage a photo op where he‘s seen stumbling out of a hotel room with Helen Mirren. 

OLBERMANN:  If the subject is Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, do we know, was she really making the rounds in the Senate to talk about health care and education, or is there going to be a new song about health care and education and senators. 

FINNEGAN:  I take her at face value.  I thing she was hoping that someone could educate her on how to restore the health of her career.  Am I right Keith?  Wow.

OLBERMANN:  Ding dong.

FINNEGAN:  Sorry I just did that to you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s all right.  The crowd that was watching J-Lo apparently missed Senator Specter and Senator Nelson of Florida, who walked by unnoticed.  How unfair is that to a hard working senator? 

FINNEGAN:  So cruel, especially with all of the youth outreach Senator Specter‘s been doing lately.  You may not know this, but the new bill he‘s introducing to Congress is co-sponsored by mega-producer Timbaland.  It‘s actually Bill Number 554-993, by Specter, featuring Timbaland and Nate Dogg. 

OLBERMANN:  This is off point to some degree, but this weird juxtaposition, Sara Jessica Parker and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  He reportedly saw her outside a building in Manhattan after she had finished an interview, and gushed to her about what a fan he was, bummed a cigarette from her.  There‘s another account though.  The Supreme Court spokesperson says Justice Scalia merely gave her a light for her cigarette and that he did not know who she was at first.  A lot about this man scares me, but nothing has scared me like the visual of the first part of that. 

FINNEGAN:  I think maybe he just mistook her for a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  I think this makes sense.  I think these two worlds are colliding.  That could make a great show.  Although, as a title, “Sex and the SCOTUS” doesn‘t have a very nice ring to it.  Sounds very clinical. 

OLBERMANN:  Sounds a little clinical, as you point out correctly.  Christian Finnegan, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” many thanks. 

FINNEGAN:  Au Revoir.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,868th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  This reminder, tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN, a special comment on Senator McCain, Iraq and what is and is not too important.  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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