updated 7/24/2008 2:13:16 PM ET 2008-07-24T18:13:16

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Dana Milbank

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

McCain's perpetual damage control mode spirals out of control. Yesterday, he said the surge happened first, then the Sunni awakening in Anbar. This morning, he said the awakening wouldn't have survived if it wasn't for the surge.

Breaking news-this afternoon, he said, there was a surge before there was a surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was briefed by Colonel McFarland in December of 2006 where he outlined what was succeeding there in this counter-insurgency strategy, which we all know of now as the surge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: It was the secret surge, which only John McCain knew about. Just a coincidence he said this in the supermarket cheese aisle.

But back to chronology, Sunni awakening on August 2006, surge announcement on January 2007. The tape of McCain's biggest blunder yet, conveniently edited out by CBS is now, itself, out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Colonel McFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge, we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others and it began the "Anbar Awakening." I mean, that's just a matter of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: McCain's latest imaginary history that if we followed Obama's advice, the sheiks who led the awakening in Anbar would have been assassinated. The sheik who led the awakening in Anbar, Abdul al-Rishawi, he was assassinated, during the surge.

New numbers, NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" Poll just out, Obama up fashionably by six. But which of them is in the main stream of most Americans thinking, Obama and by 15.

Worsts: Another stalking courtesy of "Bill-O, The Clown"; and Senator Lieberman compares Pastor John Hagee to Moses.

And Mr. Bush's moment of unguarded, supposedly unrecorded letting his hair down being-oh, heck, he suddenly started telling the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: There's no question about it. "Wall Street" got drunk. That's one reason why I asked you to turn off your TV cameras.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: All of it analyzed and satirized for us by our special guest, Harry Shearer.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera): Good evening. From Los Angeles, this is Wednesday, July 23rd, 104 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Which came first the surge or the surge? Apparently, the surge did.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator McCain who yesterday wanted you to believe that the surge pre-dated the Sunni awakening in Anbar, now wants you to believe that the surge started before President Bush said it did. If that is not confusing enough, the presumptive Republican nominee would also have you believe that the surge and the "Anbar Awakening" and the counter-insurgency in Iraq are all the very same thing.

In front of a cheese case, at the King Super Market at the Westgate Mall in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the senator is trying to clear up any confusion over when he believes the surge actually began. Last night, he said, he believed the surge started before the Sunni awakening in Anbar did. That happened in an interview with Katie Couric of CBS which has since been posted in full on the CBS News Web site. CBS now has a statement about its error on that interview.

We begin then with Senator McCain's original misstatement, the key portion of the interview that should have aired last night, except CBS edited in a different McCain answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS/LAST NIGHT)

KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: Senator Obama says while the increase number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias, and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

MCCAIN: I don't know how you respond to something that is as such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge, we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others and had begun the "Anbar Awakening." I mean, that's just a matter of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: If we're saying it's a matter of history, here are a few historical key dates. August 2006, the so-called "Anbar Awakening" kicks off with a meeting between Colonel McFarland and Sheik Abdul al-Rishawi. January 2007, the surge is introduced, announced by President Bush. If you're not familiar with him, he is the commander-in-chief, he ordered the escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq and that would be the definition of the surge.

June 2007, all surge troops were finally in place, operations could properly begin a full 10 months after the Sunni awakening in Anbar. It is worth noting that the vast majority of surge troops went to Baghdad not to Anbar, and that the same sheik that McCain claimed to Katie Couric, the surge was able to protect was himself assassinated in December of 2007 when the surge was at its peak.

But let us return to our cheese case already in progress, where this afternoon, Senator McCain tried to tell everyone why he was correct in rearranging the timeline of the surge and everyone else but him was wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: First of all, a surge is really a counter-insurgency strategy, and it's made up of a number of components. And this counter-insurgency was initiated to some degree by Colonel McFarland in Anbar province, relatively on his own.

When I visited with him in December of 2006, he had already initiated that strategy in Ramadi by going in and clearing and holding in certain places. That is a counter-insurgency. And he told me at that time that he believed that that strategy, which is, quote, "the surge," part of the surge, would be successful. So, then, of course, it was very clear that we needed additional troops in order to carry out this insurgency. Prior to that-counter-insurgency.

Prior to that, they had been going into places, killing people or not killing people, and then withdrawing. And the new counter-insurgency, the surge, entailed going in and clearing and holding which Colonel McFarland had already started doing. And then, of course, later on, there were additional troops and General Petraeus has said that the surge would not have worked and the "Anbar Awakening" would not have taken place, successfully, if they hadn't had an increase in the number of troops.

So, I'm not sure, frankly, that people really understand that a surge is part of a counter-insurgency strategy, which means going in, clearing, holding, building a better life, providing services to the people. And then clearly, a part of that, an important part of it, that was additional troops to help ensure the safety of the sheiks, to gain, regain control of Ramadi, which was a very bloody fight and then the surge continued to succeed as a counter-insurgency.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So, when you say surge, then you're not referring just to the one that President Bush initiated, you're saying it goes back several months before then.

MCCAIN: Yes. And again, because of my visits to Iraq, I was briefed by Colonel McFarland in December of 2006 where he outlined what was succeeding there in this counter-insurgency strategy, which we all know of now as the surge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: So, it was a secret surge. It's also worth pointing out at the McCain's first instinct today was to cancel the senator's planned news conference and not have him take questions from reporter.

Time now to call in Christopher Hayes, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine.

Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, THE NATION: Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Did Senator McCain clear up any confusions that you might had about when he believes surge began or about what the surge even is or if maybe he has this unique ability to see surges where nobody else can see them?

HAYES: You know, this is really remarkable, right? I mean, this is a central tent pole for, you know, McCain's vision for Iraq, what he is running on. And yesterday, he portrayed the fact that he does not understand what it is, OK?

They didn't choose the name "the surge" because it sounded cool; they weren't naming a rock band, right? They chose the surge because it referred to a surge or increase in troops, full stop. It is distinct from all the other things that happen in Iraq, and it should be noted most of the troops went into Baghdad and not into Anbar where the awakening happened, OK?

So, I don't know if he, at this point, is essentially just spinning or he's lying or he doesn't understand his own policy, but that was a completely nonsensical response.

OLBERMANN: So, "Senator Surge" who is "Senator Secret Surge" to push back against criticism that he didn't know when the surge began, he manages to make this seem like he does not even understand what a surge is or what this surge was. How much monumentally worse did he just make this problem for himself today as opposed to what it merely was yesterday?

HAYES: Well, I think he made it worse. But in some sense, it's going to depend on whether the press can do a good enough job of actually disaggregating the various things that have happened in Iraq that have been distinct to each other and explaining just what is happening.

I mean, part of the problem is that the word surge is taken on this totemic power that it's like this magical word that when invoked has made everything OK in Iraq. And it's simply not true, Iraq is a really complicated place in which a lot of really complicated things that have happened over the past year or eight months. And conservatives and the McCain campaign and Bush White House want to sort of boil it all down to this one word which is sort of easily digestible, even if it doesn't reflect what the reality is.

OLBERMANN: Earlier in the day after they canceled that news conference, the McCain campaign released this statement about the mistake McCain said in the CBS interview. And according from the statement, "Senator McCain is correct as General Petraeus has made clear the surge is the reason why the "Anbar Awakening" was so successful in tearing up al Qaeda."

In hindsight, lying about what Senator McCain said, pretending the mistake never happened, that really does appear to have been the better option than the one they chose today.

HAYES: Yes, I agree. I think that was the way to go. I mean, the operative words, right in the first quote is he says "because," right? He's attributing causality and then he says, "That began the awakening." I mean, it's indisputable what he was saying. He was trying - and the point that he was trying to do this not just for some random reason, right? It wasn't just some random (ph) but there is confusion.

He is trying to claim credit for what someone else did. I mean, that's what so sort of offensive about this, right? Colonel McFarland is out there in Anbar, he comes up with this tactic, he starts to employ it, and here's John McCain who wants to ride in on the campaign and basically retroactively put that under his campaign sticker.

OLBERMANN: All right, and last point, Chris, and I mean this in all sincerity, and I believe I really would ask this same question were Senator McCain, a Democrat or were there some Democrat behaving like Senator McCain -- are there Republicans now worried that his campaign seems to be cracking up-that he may not be capable of even making it to the election in November?

HAYES: Well, I mean, I've heard the worries from Republicans about John McCain ever since he got into the race and ever since he won the nomination. The fact of the matter is, despite what has looked like a series of gaffes, he's still very close in the polls. And we're going to see come November.

OLBERMANN: Chris Hayes, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine-as always, Chris, thanks for your time tonight.

HAYES: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: It is a single irony that McCain's astonishing blunder, his first one, that is, yesterday, on the basic chronology events in Iraq, was edited out by CBS News neither correcting nor even reporting his mistake to its millions of viewers. It came on the same day that the McCain camp made it's strongest push yet to claim that the media is biased against him.

Strangely, when Couric asked McCain specifically about how his own Web video allegedly media bias existed-McCain said he doesn't think he's getting unfair coverage. Not only did CBS remove McCain's inaccurate statement about Iraq, it actually substituted for it part of a McCain answer to the previous question.

You just saw the "Q&A" as it happened before our interview with Chris Hayes. Here's how it aired after CBS spliced in a standard McCain slogan from before Couric's question, then cut back to his actual answer. The cut viewers could not have spotted because CBS covered the editing with a still picture of General Petraeus, as you will see here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS NEWS)

COURIC: Senator Obama says while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?

MCCAIN: Senator Obama's indicated by his failure to acknowledge the success of the surge that he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Question 15, answer 14.

Today, we asked CBS News whether it is accepted practice for the network to alter interviews by swapping answers from different questions, CBS News responded, quote, "No, we are not happy about it, but mistakes happen."

CBS decline to answer whether anyone there even realized that McCain had misspoken in the unedited version of the interview.

Despite benefiting from the CBS mistake, the McCain campaign continues to work the ref, complaining about Obama's current media attention as if America's first black presidential candidate meeting with foreign leaders was somehow not major news, mocking the media that do cover McCain with luggage tags labeled "JV Squad," while McCain does what exactly that the media should cover. First, he canceled today's news conference and then after announcing a visit to an oil rig in the gulf tomorrow, he canceled that, too. As if John McCain facing down a hurricane somehow wouldn't be news.

Let's turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, host of her own program weeknights on Air America Radio.

Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign seems to be banking on this strange notion that fair coverage means you give every candidate exactly the same amount of time, exactly the same amount of positive coverage, et cetera, rather than applying the same standards for amount and quality of coverage to both candidates. Is that essentially what's going on here, or is it just that rich right-wingers open their wallets when they hear the word, the phrase "media bashing"?

MADDOW: What we know about the McCain campaign is that the candidate has some issues and, you know, mixing up Sunni and Shia in Iraq, and mixing up the basic facts of the surge, as you've been reporting, those are problems with the candidate. There also really big problems with the campaign in terms of message discipline, in terms of being able to fill a room around the candidate, in terms of the colors they choose for his backdrop, in terms of making decisions like putting him in a golf cart with Poppy Bush while they know that Senator Obama will be pictured in a helicopter alongside General Petraeus.

The campaign is not doing a service to Senator McCain, regardless of how good he is as a candidate. So, they've decided to go with the most fundamental basic simple thing that any Republican campaign can do, which is complain about the media. It's been a right-wing and Republican tactic for way too long.

OLBERMANN: But he repeatedly has called the media his base and, obviously, there some bit of joke to do that but there's also got to be some truth to it. Now, we know there was anti-war media bias admitted to by many parts of the media in 2000, that John Kerry's swiftboating story could not have happened without the media's complicity on this - is there any real argument to be made that there is a political bias in the media right now towards Barack Obama or did he just corner (ph) the market on interesting stories?

MADDOW: Newsworthiness is what gets you covered as news. And it's basic facts here that Barack Obama is new and John McCain has been running for president for a very, very long time. And so, he is going to get more coverage because everything he does is going to be more newsworthy.

But the way that you counteract that is not by getting off the plane in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Senator McCain did yesterday, not having announced in advance that you are going to be there, not speaking to the few reporters who did show up, who landed there, to receive you in the tarmac and then showing up in an event in Wilkes-Barre and only having half the room filled, when you didn't announce in advance what it was that you are going to be discussing. You might as well call people to film you meeting (ph) at home. He needs to do something newsworthy if he wants to complain credibly about not getting news coverage.

OLBERMANN: Yes. If the campaign is a knock-knock joke, you're not going to get coverage. A question about CBS, we have that statement at last. Mistakes happen. Should we be considering here the possibility that the legendary news institution did not deliberately bury a McCain gaffe or that it either didn't know about the chronology on the "Anbar Awakening" relative to the surge, or didn't want to bother its viewers with, you know, complicated facts?

MADDOW: The thing that most worries me about what CBS did, is that they decided to cut to a question where McCain led with this allegation that Barack Obama wants to lose the war for political purposes. What they felt like was more important than John McCain's big newsworthy gaffe on Iraq was an allegation essentially that Barack Obama is a traitor and they wanted to make sure they got that in. That's what bothers me the most.

OLBERMANN: Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, Air America, and, of course, the evil liberal media. Thank you, fellow evil person.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: But, wait, there's more, the McCain campaign today accused Obama of not really being against genocide, while he was at the holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

And the NBC News polling is out, still, Obama by six, but it nearly doubles if you throw in third-party candidates. But there's one other curious number about whether he or McCain is the mainstream candidate and that will blow your socks off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OBAMA: As if the invention of apocryphal pre-surge surges were not enough, Senator McCain's campaign today attacked Senator Obama because Obama expressed his thanks by singing the guestbook, laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem-seriously.

Curious presidential polling, Obama risky or less safe and widely perceived as more mainstream.

And: Harry Shearer on satirizing the seemingly self-satirical current president.

And: "Bill-O, The Clown," Brian Kilmeade, and Joe Lieberman comparing John Hagee to Moses in Worst Persons.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Senator John McCain having been confused about the basic timeline of the surge, having accused his opponent basically sedition, tonight, on our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: following that up by questioning Senator Obama's commitment to preventing another holocaust.

Obama spending his morning visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem where he paid tribute to those 6 million victims of the Nazis by laying a wreath. Afterwards, he thanked the museum in its guestbook writing, quote, "Let our children come here and know this history, so they can add their voices to proclaim 'never again.' And may we remember those who perished, not only as victims but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed like us, and who have become symbols of the human spirit."

And it was that sentiment, the "never again" sentiment with which the McCain campaign took issue. It has sent an e-mail juxtaposing the words the Illinois Democrat wrote in the guestbook, with an "Associated Press" report from July 2007 about troop levels and potential genocide in Iraq, which cited Senator Obama as saying, quote, "Well, look, if that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument, you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now -- where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife -which we haven't done."

Well, "Huffington Post" pressed the McCain campaign for clarification, figuring that surely even they could not be crass enough to suggest that Obama is not committed to stopping future holocaust, especially right after his visit to a holocaust museum. Another flack respondent, "Today he says 'never again.' A year ago, stopping genocide wasn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. Doesn't that strike you as inconsistent?"

Turning now to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the "Washington Post." Dana, thanks for your time tonight.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So, let's get this straight. Obama wants to leave Iraq and because of that, that means he's willing to let Nazi-level holocaust or Congo-like genocide happen?

MILBANK: There's something about Israel that seems to be setting people off. It was just a couple of months ago that the president was there and compared Obama to Neville Chamberlain. It seems to have accelerated from there.

I think what's going on here is, for all the things you've already pointed out on the show this evening, Obama is having through luck and skill quite an excellent week; and McCain is flailing and they're trying to toss things out there. But you know that, you know, frontrunners very rarely start tossing out sort of Holocaust arguments at this stage in the campaign.

OLBERMANN: I would think, but, apparently, we're being, you know, we're seeing something new this year. This McCain charge against what Obama said in 2007, it doesn't even have a factual accuracy element here. He's always advocated keeping a group of troops ready to lend humanitarian assistance if it is need in Iraq, basically to stop genocide before it starts.

And I know this question will sound like snark but I mean it sincerely has the McCain campaign, even at this point, deliberately decided to go fact-free?

MILBANK: Well, it's a low-budget campaign. I think McCain told them to cut out the fat and they misunderstood and cut out the fact. Now, look, certainly by the Bush scale, this is a relatively minor whopper.

The problem for McCain is he has built his reputation on straight talk and I think there's a larger problem here and that McCain is not being allowed by, whomever it is controlling him at the moment, to be McCain. That's why this sort of thing is particularly damaging to him.

OLBERMANN: And, again, this next one's not sarcasm either. Mr. McCain insisted that he would run a clean campaign, yet, what his opponent writes in a guestbook at a Holocaust museum can be used to disparage that opponent in a clean campaign. I'm lost on this.

MILBANK: Well, you can see where this is going; it's sort of the hallmark campaign. I believe all Valentine's cards are now susceptible, and people are right now combing through old yearbooks to see what Obama's inscriptions were in those. This is sort of a staple of politics to sign the guestbook.

Usually and, I think, again in this case there are sort of banalities. You say what's pretty obvious, and what's essentially the boiler plate for whatever the institution is. But, you know, once again, when you're in this position, you just got to throw out whatever you've got.

OLBERMANN: Where is-you pointed out that they're not letting McCain be McCain which sounds very much like, what's his name-James Watt from the Reagan administration. But where is the senator in all this-I mean, he's got people working for him who are basically accusing his opponent of sedition, and today of tacitly allowing genocide, and he won't, he won't comment on these-the statements made by people supposedly making statements on his behalf?

MILBANK: Well, it's an awkward in the campaign. He doesn't yet have a vice presidential nominee. You usually want to have that guy out there as your attack dog and then you can stay above the fray. He doesn't have that now. What John McCain needs right now is a Dick Cheney in a hurry.

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

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The great escape. Do you have a license for that monkey?

Wait till you see the chimp steal the tranquillizer gun.

Speaking of which, John McCain repudiated the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee but his possible V.P., Joe Lieberman, just spoke at Hagee's conference and compared Hagee to Moses. Not the actor Moses Gun (ph), Moses Moses.

Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Best persons in a moment. Why do they think he robbed a bank? Because the stick up note was written on the back of one of his checks.

But first, six years ago today, July 23rd, 2002, Matthew Ryecroft (ph), the private secretary to the then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a memo to Briton's Ambassador to the US David Manning. It outlined the minutes of a meeting the day of Blair and his senior foreign policy advisers, including the head of Britain's secret intelligence service MI-6 about his recent trip to Washington, where, he concluded, President Bush decided to use military action to remove Saddam Hussein and would rationalize the decision to the American people by altering intelligence to make it look like Saddam had WMD and was an imminent threat to the West. The Downing Street Memo six years ago today. Let's play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Just a coincidence that the first story is about a chimp. We begin in Japan's Ishikowa Zoo, where some numb-skull forgot to lock the gate at the Chimpanzee House, and now Ichiro the chimp is holed up atop a building, cursing a blue streak about the National League. We'll see if this zoo follows the Tokyo Zoo escape protocol. During their orangutan drills, the zoo showed us how to take down a guy in an ape suit by poking him with sticks and shooting him with tranquilizers darts from a van, Dick Cheney style.

But back to Ishikowa; they have a tranquilizer gun. Well, no, they had a tranquilizer gun. Oh, the chief is going to be frosted when he sees this tape. You damn dirty ape. Eventually, Ichiro was lured down with a banana, sedated and sent back to his cage, where the guy whose gun he stole will be cleaning up his poop indefinitely.

Back here in the City of Angles, where we've got bigger problems, like a dinosaur on the loose. Run for your safety. The video comes to us from viewer Joseph Fisher at the L.A. County's Museum of Natural History. This is part of their Dino experience exhibit. I'm doing a local newscast here. You wouldn't get the joke, named Mika or something.

It looks, sounds and moves like a real dinosaur. It's actually a combination of high-tech robotics and a guy in the suit. The exhibit has been going on for a few months. It will continue for a few years. So there's plenty of time to bring the kids down and scare the ever-loving bejesus out of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: New NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" polling, Obama by six. But a stunning answer and more stunning number as to which candidate is considered main stream. The stream of consciousness that is Harry Shearer. His reaction to the president's unexpected spasm of truth-telling at a Texas fund-raiser. These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best friends. In San Luis Obispo, California-San Luis Obispo, California, hello-Elliot Tuleja (ph) passed out drunk, so his buddies, Matthew Craig Pillars (ph) and Jack Brent Nicholas Keefer (ph) did what anybody would do in that situation. They poured cologne on his crotch and lit it ablaze. The judge gave both men jail time and the male members of the jury groaned in sympathy.

Number two, best unwillingness to follow the instructions on the insecticide. People blow up their houses with bug foggers all the time. But Isias Vidal Maceda of Eaton Town, New Jersey managed to do it with just a can of bug spray. He tried to zap some pests in his kitchen, and there must have been a gas leak or something, because the next thing he knew the apartment's front windows were gone and 80 percent of his place had been destroyed by flames.

Number one, best dumb criminal, Patrick Johnson of Ocala, Florida. This epidemic of bank robbers writing the notes on their own stationary, their own deposit slips, their checks, leaving their wallets, their IDs, their bank books; this is so out of hands I'm thinking of issuing a COUNTDOWN bank robbery instruction manual.

Police believe Patrick Johnson is the man who walked into the Bank of America on 34th Street in Ocala and handed a teller a note reading he had a gun and wanted money. They believe this because the note was written on the back of one of Mr. Johnson's personal checks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: The first glance at tonight's NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" new poll on the presidential race would seem to show status quo. Obama up again by six points, but with a Keith number a little over 11. But in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, inside the numbers there is at least one remarkable piece of data. And who better to go inside the numbers but Chuck Todd, who will do so presently.

The basics, though, if the election was held today, Obama would win with 47 percent to McCain's 41. That lead doubles when third party candidates are factored in, Obama 48, McCain 35, Nader five, Barr two. Obama's also the candidate provoking the most thought among voters; 51 percent who find themselves focusing more on what kind of president he would be, good or bad, versus McCain, imagined by just 27 percent.

Survey also shows McCain as a safer choice by not too many points and a majority still associating by more Obama as riskier. As promised, the political director for MSNBC and NBC News and also noted fan of cooked food, Chuck Todd. Good evening, sir.

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

OLBERMANN: All right. Hit the big, surprising number within the polling first, if you would.

TODD: Well, I think it is what you were talking about, and that is what you teased. That is this idea is-when it comes to the issues, who is in the mainstream? Is Barack Obama in the mainstream or out of step? Is John McCain in the mainstream or out of step? Obama, 60 percent said, on issues, they believe Barack Obama was in the mainstream. And on the issues they care about for John McCain just 45 percent.

Let me go inside there a little bit. On Obama, simply, this goes into the national Democratic advantage on issues that we've seen. For McCain, he's getting hit on both the left and the right. Some of his out of step doesn't come from liberals, but from conservatives, particularly evangelicals and those who are concerned about immigration. So he's getting almost wedged in from the left and the right when it comes to being out of step or in touch there.

OLBERMANN: So, Obama is more mainstream-by 15 points more mainstream, but he's also riskier and a lot less safe of a choice. Is there anything in the polling that suggests how he exploits the more mainstream part while shaking the risky part? Or conversely, how McCain exploits safer and less risky and overcomes this issue of less mainstream?

TODD: I think there's two ways to look at it. You look at Obama's number one negative right now and it's experience and basically this idea of is he ready for the job? That's what this entire overseas trip is about. It's about erasing those doubts, allaying those fears. Some fears have to do with this values, can I relate to him? Sometimes he may not overcome that with everybody. But he needs to overcome the job issue.

He probably has less work to do on that front. He probably only has to turn in C-plus work on that. John McCain's challenge on all this is he's got to prove that he's going to put distance between himself and Bush and bring enough change. And I think he's having a harder time proving he can bring change than Obama is right now proving he's ready for the job. He's having-obviously, the photo ops help a lot. It's hard for McCain to create a photo op that says change these days.

OLBERMANN: Another curious interior number: has background or set of values that I identify with, is Obama slipping in that?

TODD: He is slipping a little bit. It's interesting. We have John McCain, 58 percent of folks said that they identified with the values of John McCain, just 47 percent for Obama. That's a tick down from 50 percent. Look, this is where this bitter stuff comes from, the religious stuff, all of that, it's in one stew. Race could be playing a role in this. It's this whole stew.

He doesn't have to match McCain's numbers. Look, the fact is, people look at John McCain's military career, his service, his heroism during being a POW, and he's always going to beat pretty much anybody he's matched up against. The question is, where is Obama's numbers? Can he get there on the value's question with half the country or more? That's why our pollsters are saying, if that number gets lower, it's a really big problem. If it gets higher, then that should mean that he's starting to-people are starting to get to this idea that they relate to Obama.

Look, some people may say they don't relate to him and vote for him simply because, you know, a white voter might not relate well to an African-American president.

OLBERMANN: All right, should he, in fact, be spending excess money to backstop Ralph Nader and Bob Barr? When that number includes both of them, Barr is a Libertarian, Nader as an independent, you have this extraordinary gap widens where it's a 13 percent lead for Obama over McCain. What do you guys in the political unit think this means?

TODD: Well, first of all, I want to throw a whole bunch of caveats on this question. This specific question, the first time we tested the four-way, was on half sample. So there could be a larger margin of error on this one. So your Keith number could get up to 26 or 39 if we're not careful. No, it could-Larger margin of error, but I think what we're learning is that the Obama vote is solid at 47, 48 percent. McCain's vote is not just for McCain, but there's some anti-Obama vote. That's what he has to be careful of, that he doesn't lose some of his anti-Obama vote to a third party.

OLBERMANN: Wow. Chuck Todd, political director of MSNBC and NBC News. As always, Chuck, great thanks.

TODD: You got it, Keith.

OLBERMANN: At 10:30 this morning, our dear friend and colleague Tim Russert was given another posthumous honor that would have left him smiling even more broader than usual. The president signed into a law a bill effectively renaming a portion of a federal highway after Him. U.S. Route 20-A, Orchard Park, New York, a section near Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of Tim's beloved Buffalo Bills. That is now the Timothy J. Russert Highway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Harry Shearer next on the president's apparent illness. He came down with a sudden and violent attack of telling the truth. First, time for COUNTDOWN's number two story, today's worst person in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O the clown, who loosed one of his stalker producers on another innocent victim. This time it's Florida Congressman Bob Wexler who, quite within the law, owns a home in Maryland, near where he works at the U.S. capital, while listing the home of his in-laws as his residence in Florida. Bill-O sent his minion to confront Wexler at his home in Florida, to confront him about something the clown made up called presidential-residential fraud. Dr. Freud.

Fox also again altered a photo of Wexler to make his lips bright red.

Guest John Fund tried to explain to Billy that Wexler was within the law. So the Frank Burns of news then speculated that Wexler was somehow trying to cheat Florida out of income tax. Fund had to inform him that Florida doesn't have an income tax. No income tax! This is where my argument falls to the ground?

The runner-up, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, despite his great friend John McCain's having disassociated himself from Pastor John Hagee following Hagee's remarks blaming New Orleans for Katrina, insulting the gays, insulting the Catholic Church, et cetera, et cetera; Lieberman still went to Hagee's Christians United for Israel Summit in Washington, still spoke to the crowd and still defended Hagee. In fact, he did much more than that. He compared Hagee to a couple of biblical figures, all of them, quote, are humans, great humans with human failings. Dear friends, I can only imagine what the bloggers of today would have had to say about Moses and Miriam.

Seriously, can a guy get himself thrown out of two religions at the same time?

But the winner, Brian Kilmeade of Fixed news, reading the talking point that Iraq is going so well, they will be dismantling the green zone in six months, and announcing, quote, convoy attacks are down to one percent. That's the same percentage that's in America. I think there are just as many convoy attacks in America as there are in Iraq.

Right, there have been 93 rocket and small arms fire attacks on truck convoys in Iraq in the first half of 2008. Meaning, if Brian is right, there was a rocket or small arms attack every other day on a truck convoy in the U.S. in the first six months of this year and we all missed them. You guys over there at Fox do realize that the crap you used to make up was creative and in some cases even plausible. But now you all just sound like you're stoned? You know that, right?

Brian, 93 convoy attacks in America this year, Kilmeade of Fox Noise, today's worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: If the Bush administration has seemed somewhat vexed by the Internet and the Google and, for that matter, various representations of actual information, then nothing now could be quite as baffling as the Youtube. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the president recently cracked jokes about the mortgage meltdown and the housing crisis when he thought he was in safe territory and not being recorded just because the big TV cameras were off. Yes, not so much.

At a private fund-raiser in Houston last week-Hello-Mr. Bush had asked that the video cameras be turned off, but his mini roast of the economy was recorded on a personal camera and the local ABC station in Houston obtained the video and posted it on the Youtube. Thus, the president explaining Wall Street's use of, quote, fancy financial instruments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wall Street got drunk. That's one of the reasons you guys should turn off the TV cameras. It got drunk and now it's got a hang over.

Now then we've got a housing issue, not in Houston. Evidently, not in Dallas, because Laura was over there trying to buy a house the other day.

I like Crawford. Unfortunately, after eight years of asking her to sacrifice, I am no longer the decision maker."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Let's get serious and bring in humorist Harry Shearer, whose brand new CD is a musical satire of the Bush administration, songs of the Bushmen. Welcome back. Good to see you.

HARRY SHEARER, COMEDIAN: Thank you. Great to have you in town.

OLBERMANN: Sacrifice there, is that like a give up golf kind of sacrifice?

SHEARER: Yes, I think Laura has not been playing golf for eight years either and I think the American people-I want to speak to the American people-we owe them both a lot of holes. But I'm not sure that Wall Street was drunk there. I think it was either the president or the cameraman.

OLBERMANN: Yes, he didn't-well, if it's one of those little handhelds, we should be grateful.

SHEARER: How would he know what drunk acts like or what a hangover feels like? The problem is, I think he may carrying the analogy all the way out and suggesting to Wall Street that they sober up and start a war.

OLBERMANN: Oh, great. It's worked so well for him.

SHEARER: Yes, indeed.

OLBERMANN: Is the kindest description here that Mr. Bush has started out of touch and is now even more out of touch?

SHEARER: Well, you know, it's in the family DNA. Remember, his daddy went to-what's a scanner? What's a supermarket scanner? But there's also a weird thing that happens in the end of certain administrations. You've seen that tape of Nixon just as he's about to resign. And he goes into the Oval Office and cracks jokes with the crew. That's a good time to do that. That's a good time to develop a sense of humor. I think it's-maybe Bush heard that Amy Poehler is leaving "Saturday Night Live" and thinks, that's my slot.

OLBERMANN: Others want to open libraries, others want to go into public service in some way, others want to be Bill Clinton, he's going to take over a slot on SNL.

SHEARER: It suggests that the largest room in the Bush library, if they ever find a place for it, may be in the hall of humor with the pavilion of nicknames trailing off to the right.

OLBERMANN: That is all it will be, the hall of humor, one big room full of, no, this actually happened. The drunk hangover analogy is one thing. But this weird juxtaposition that we're getting between the White House and the McCain administration regarding-

SHEARER: The McCain administration-

OLBERMANN: Well, he thinks it's an administration.

SHEARER: Yes, indeed.

OLBERMANN: Hence the term. McCain blames the high oil prices on Obama. McCain said oil prices then dropped 10 dollars a gallon because of Bush. The White House then said, no, we're not taking credit for this. Bill O'Reilly took credit for the price of gas dropping. Is there a special school for this kind of reasoning? Have we encountered it before in human existence?

SHEARER: I think we should be grateful to McCain, who put on that ad blaming Obama for high gas prices, did not claim credit for the ad bringing the gas prices down. He did give credit to the administration for announcing, just the announcement that we're just taking-just canceling that executive order drove oil prices down 10 dollars. So if the oil market believes so clearly in imaginary administration pronouncements, why don't they just have the president announce they discovered oil on the moon and really drive the gas prices down.

OLBERMANN: Or just every day he announces that-

SHEARER: Yes, we found it in Nebraska. There it is.

OLBERMANN: At that rate, by the end of the summer, we'd be paying 47 cents a gallon.

SHEARER: You got it.

OLBERMANN: I think, Harry, you just solved it. Watch them do it now. Your new CD, I have a question about it, fundamental question about it, sir. Years ago when I asked two of our heroes, Bob and Ray, why in 1973 and 1974 they did no Watergate humor, even though they had a daily four-hour radio show.

SHEARER: Yes.

OLBERMANN: Ray Goulding's answer was, how could we make it funnier? How do you create satire of an administration that seemingly is self-satirizing?

SHEARER: Well, I didn't do it from the standpoint of standing outside and throwing rocks. I wrote a song on this record for each of the major figures in the administration, Condi, Colin, Rumsfeld, Alberto, Karl Rove, and, in most cases, I tried to write from inside their point of view. So, I'm looking at making it a satirical leap to seeing how they see it and I think that's where the humor is, in their view of this, their skewed view of this debacle. And then it's-each song is done in a particular style appropriate to them.

So Karl Rove's song is called Turd Blossom Special. It's a bluegrass song. Colin Powell's song is a smooth jazz tune called "Smooth Moves."

OLBERMANN: And Gonzales is --

SHEARER: "The head of Alberto Gonzales."

OLBERMANN: One question about this-you saw this White House t-ball game.

SHEARER: I did not.

OLBERMANN: At the White House t-ball game last week, the president was introduced to a little girl who immediately fled from him, which is like the James Thurber spin on Little Red Riding Hood. Little girls are hipper than they used to be and the general population seems to be. Here's what we're talking about here.

SHEARER: See, but there's a mascot there, too. I'm with the girl. I'm scared of mascots. I was at a Hornets game earlier this year on the birthday of Hugo the mascot, and apparently in the NBA these days when the mascot celebrates its birthday, all the mascots of all the other teams come. Now that is frightening.

OLBERMANN: I had a friend, a sports caster who was mascot-phobic. Literally, I embraced him and held him at an All-Stars game. I said, just stay with me, the mascots will be gone soon. We don't know what happened. He was bit by one.

SHEARER: Overdose of terry cloth. I'm telling you.

OLBERMANN: Harry Shearer's new CD is "Songs of the Bushmen." Harry has been kind enough to let us play excerpts on our website. Thank you for doing that.

SHEARER: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Great thanks. Good luck with this next 314th season of "The Simpsons."

SHEARER: We'll see you there tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: I'll delighted to be able to go to another table read, even after I nearly ruined the last one.

That's COUNTDOWN for this the 1,911th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

Tomorrow, since Bill-O brought it up today, the inside story of the day MSNBC made an overture to him about a job. This was before the turn of the century. From Los Angeles, 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

Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC's copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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