updated 8/15/2008 2:04:32 PM ET 2008-08-15T18:04:32

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Chris Kofinis, Bob Herbert, Eric Burns, Christian Finnegan

RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Obama versus McCain: The economy showdown.  The latest national salvo the Democrats on your side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  Barack Obama, he‘ll put the middle class ahead of corporate interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  But for Democrats who worry Obama is not hitting hard enough, try this ad on for size.  It‘s only airing in the battleground state of Indiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, JANUARY 10, 2008:  I

don‘t think we‘re headed into a recession.

ED RUTHERFORD, MORROW, OHIO:  I think we‘re absolutely in a recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Obama/Clinton accord.  The two camps agree, Hillary Clinton‘s name will be placed into nomination at the Democratic convention.  Peace in our time or will there be a Denver surprise?

And in state polls, what if the GOP holds the convention and no one shows up.  Eight Republican senators can‘t make it because of scheduling conflicts.  John McCain—and GOP Senator Gordon Smith even steps down as campaign chair for McCain in the state of Oregon because of workload issues.  John McCain—now, that‘s party unity.

The “Obama Nation.”  The writer who brought us “Unfit for Command” helping launch the flagrantly false “swift boat” attack against John Kerry, now, has a book out attacking Barack Obama.  Surprise.  A former Cheney adviser publishes the book calling it a piece of scholarship.

It is, certainly a piece of something.  It is expected to be number one on the “New York Times” best-seller list.  Where do you think he got all the free P.R.?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX)

JEROME CORSI, AUTHOR:  It‘s a great formula, going to Sean Hannity‘s radio first of the day, Sean Hannity later in the day, you get a number bestseller.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST:  Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The name child: Julia Child.  Her mission—the chicken sisters.  The government releases super top secret documents revealing that Julia Child was a spy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIA CHILD, CHEF:  I do want on having (ph) people for dinner; I just hate not to be with them practically all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Yes, much easier to eavesdrop that way.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHILD:  Let‘s cook the chickens out of (INAUDIBLE).

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW (on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann who‘s got the day off.  This is Thursday, August 14th, 82 days until the 2008 presidential election.

And on this day, on two separate fronts against John McCain with Hillary Clinton, significant signs that Barack Obama is running a new kind of campaign or maybe that the common wisdom about his campaign has been wrong all along.

The number five story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN: Obama grants the wish of some allies.  That he comes out swinging against McCain.  And shocking news -- shocking to the pundit world anyway—that maybe, just maybe, he and Hillary Clinton are really working as a team.

First, Obama versus McCain.  So far the Obama campaign has refrained from getting tough with McCain in most national ads, preferring to run relatively warm and fuzzy positive ads like the one that will debut Monday during the Olympics before a national audience in all 50 states.  Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  It begins with a plan, a plan to build, a plan to put hard-working Americans first.  Barack Obama, he‘ll put the middle class ahead of corporate interests to grow the economy and tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, help businesses that create jobs here, invest in education, cut taxes for working families, and make energy independence an urgent national priority.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Chuck Schumer last week said Obama should respond to McCain‘s negative advertising, the “Obama‘s not one of us” stuff, for example, by highlighting McCain‘s wealth, to say that he, McCain, is the one who‘s not one of us.

Senator Schumer, meet Indiana.  Indiana, meet Senator Schumer.  In some states, in battleground states, Obama is hitting back hard.  Not on the issue of McCain‘s money, but on our money.  The “Washington Times” reports that in an ad now playing in Indiana only, Obama takes it straight to McCain using McCain‘s own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

MCCAIN:  I don‘t believe we‘re headed into a recession.

RUTHERFORD:  I think we‘re absolutely in a recession.

LAUREN AHLESMEYER, LAFAYETTE, INDIANA:  I sometimes struggle just to get the essentials, you know, the milk, the bread, the eggs.

MCCAIN, APRIL 17, 2008:  There‘s been great progress economically.

STUART MORRISON, PARK HILLS, KENTUCKY:  The economy is in a rut.

MCCAIN, JANUARY 30, 2008:  We have had a pretty good, prosperous time with low unemployment.

KELLY ROBERTSON, ELKHART, INDIANA:  The way the economy is, it is the bleakest of times.

CHRISTINA FISHER, WILMINGTON, OH:  I‘m worried, I‘m really worried.

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Still not enough, Senator Schumer?  But wait, there‘s more.  The Democratic Party released a new Web ad for today‘s 73rd anniversary of Social Security, the star—FDR‘s grandson, tying John McCain to the big money powers who opposed Social Security in the first place.

Still not enough for Schumer?  How about we throw in this flier from the AFL-CIO, more than 1 million of them going to retired union workers in the battleground states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, reminding them of McCain‘s $100 million fortune, his 10 homes and his family‘s corporate jet.

The full quote—“If McCain lost his Social Security, he‘d get by just fine.  Would you?”

Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Thanks for being here, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, whether positives as in the Olympics‘ ad or negative in that Indiana ad, are we seeing the big substantive pivot of the Obama campaign to the economy, the economy, the economy, is this how it‘s going to be from here on out?

WOLFFE:  Well, of course, there are two wars out there, and news (ph) would still pop up regularly, and they are important issues.  But there is something very important to recognize, not just the economy rising to the top of the polls, but the relative strength that Obama has on the economy when compared to McCain is significant—maybe the most significant gap in terms of the polls between these two candidates.

That‘s why it‘s so important to note, as you‘ve done, the difference between the positive ads and the negative ads.  Driving out Obama‘s claim to being able to be competent and have a plan about the economy; driving up McCain‘s negatives with regard to his own competence with the economy and the other aspect of the two-tune ads here is that Democrats often fall into the trap of being all doom and gloom, saying it‘s recession, these are terrible times.

The importance of the positive ad is to say there‘s something aspirational, something that reaches to the middle-class about Obama‘s pitch.  So, these total differences are important, not just the fact that they‘re talking about the economy.

MADDOW:  Looking specifically at that AFL-CIO mailer, Richard, the AFL-CIO is essentially saying this—saying with this—that retirees don‘t realize McCain has been pro-privatizing Social Security.  Does the fact that McCain is, himself, 71 years old, help him with senior voters?  Do you think the AFL-CIO is on to something with the idea that he might be vulnerable on policy issues with older voters?

WOLFFE:  Well, if you look at the polls, obviously, McCain has done some of his best numbers, some of his best performances with older voters, 65 and over.  In fact, those numbers have slipped from McCain over the last couple months.  Obama has made strides there.

So, this is actually maybe a sign of weakness.  An area where Democrats have obviously, traditionally done well on Social Security; and an age group, an age bracket where at least 65 and over, McCain has lost ground.  In fact, he‘s gained a little ground with a pre-retirement older folks, but, you know, that‘s an opening there for Obama and for Democrats in general.

MADDOW:  In terms of how negative campaigning works, people generally say that negative attacks work when they resonate with something that you sort of suspect about the target.  Highlighting McCain‘s personal wealth fits into the rich, white guy image of the GOP, but does that attack jive with McCain‘s image well enough to gain any real traction?

WOLFFE:  Well, wealth on its own doesn‘t.  I mean, you know, it‘s part of the American dream, it is, again, aspirational.  It‘s not enough just to say he‘s rich.  You have to say he‘s out of touch in some way or another, and relate it to policy positions that people may distinguish as out of touch, whether it‘s on tax cuts or corporate issues and lobbying, that kind of thing.

So, just saying he‘s wealthy and he owns an expensive pair of shoes isn‘t really enough and that‘s why the negative attacks on Obama have been framed in terms of saying that he is out of touch.  I mean, you know, it is a zero-sum game here but negative ads do, by and large, work.

MADDOW:  Richard, how far can third-party groups—whether they‘re unions or anybody else—how far can they go in attacking John McCain before they risk blowback against Obama himself?

WOLFFE:  You can go a very long way.  If there is a lesson we learned from 2004 from the whole “Swift Boat Veterans for so-called Truth,” it‘s that the blow back, when done by an outside group is not very strong and even when there are negative ads by a campaign, campaigns really generally get away with it.

MADDOW:  Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst and senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek,” thanks for joining us tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Bad news tonight from the Obama camp.  If you had any sign of the apocalypse, many are writing on two-headed cows or dogs and cat sleeping together or something, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have struck a deal for the Democratic convention.

What‘s more—multiple accounts with multiple sources are saying the talks between the two camps went just fine.  Da, da, da.

In fact, both camps say it was Obama who suggested the ultimate outcome, Clinton‘s name will be put into nomination, something she, not her supporters, reportedly had resisted.  Both camps now are thinking the symbolism of her nomination will help unify the party behind Obama.

Details are still to come but, at some point, Clinton will release her delegates from their commitment to her and she will urge them to vote for Obama, and she, as a superdelegate herself, will cast her own vote for Barack Obama for president.  The announcement comes today in a news release issued jointly by both Obama and Clinton.

Talking Points Memo quotes Obama sources saying the Clinton camp was consistently committed to doing what was best for the party and for Obama‘s chances.

Let‘s bring in Chris Kofinis, a Democratic strategist who served in the John Edwards campaign as communications director.

Hi, Chris.

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Let‘s go back just for a second to the new Obama ads.  What do you make, Chris, of the distance between the positive, positive ad that‘s going to run during the Olympics and the Indiana ad, which goes after McCain so strongly?  When you see two very different types of ads like that, what does that represent as a strategy?

KOFINIS:  Well, you know, first and foremost, I think, what people need to keep in mind is that the most important thing for Senator Obama, the Obama campaign is the brand.  He‘s a new kind of politician.  That has been a very powerful advantage for him not only during the primaries but I think will be key to him in the general.

And, so, and if you look at it from a McCain campaign‘s perspective, what they want is a mud fight.  They want Senator Obama to get in this vicious and nasty back-and-forth.

So, the Obama campaign is playing this very smart two-level game.  The national level, they‘re keeping it very positive and then they‘re kind of strategically hitting McCain in these key states with very targeted messages.  It‘s a very smart thing to do.

The key question is going to be—after the conventions when the Republican attack machine goes into full board and they really start unleashing, what does the Obama campaign do at the national level?  That is going to be, I think, a key decision and a tough decision for them because you do not want to get in a mud fight.

My opinion is that will be actually negative for Senator Obama, contrary to what some people say which is hit back, hit back hard.  You got to hit back but you got to hit back hard and smart, not just hit back.

MADDOW:  Well, did we not see the Obama campaign essentially try this

out already?  Did we not see something similar in the primaries from Obama

that the Obama campaign can get very granular, identifying where it needs specific messages even while proceeding on a different tack at the national level?

KOFINIS:  Yes, we absolutely did.  What‘s very fascinating to me, at least, is that these two campaigns have very different strategic philosophies.  The McCain campaign is basically a broad stroke, negative campaign.  They‘re not going to be putting much resource into field and they‘re going to basically try to bring Obama down.

Whereas the Obama campaign is pursuing this kind of strategy, a full-spectrum dominance, if you will, where they‘re not only, I think, you know, with these positive messages at national level, but they‘re really targeting voters at the local level.  They‘re putting enormous resources into a ground game.  It really is a difference between 21st century political campaign tactics and 20th century campaign tactics, and I think it plays to the Obama campaign‘s advantage.

MADDOW:  Chris, on to the convention issue—in the biggest sense, problem solved, issue settled.  But is it possible that there‘s still some devil in the details here?  I mean, she will get nominated; she‘ll get a roll call vote.  But how does this all happen?  When does it happen?  Does she release the delegates and in what circumstances?  Do you think there are any landmines in the remaining details here?

KOFINIS:  You know, there might be—I don‘t think so.  I want to look at it from a positive perspective.  I think this is a very smart thing to do, especially from the Obama campaign‘s perspective.  I mean, let me just, you know—a news bulletin to anyone who may doubt this and I can already imagine some of the pundits, you know, wondering and pontificating about what is going to happen to convention, Senator Obama is going to be the nominee.

(LAUGHTER)

KOFINIS:  There‘s not a doubt in our minds and there shouldn‘t be.  And so, I think this is a very smart move for unity, and at the end of the day, that, I think, is what this is all about.  It‘s about bringing the party together.  It‘s a very bold move for the Obama campaign to do.  It shows him not only, I think, is being magnanimous but it shows him of what he is—the leader of the party.  And I think that was the right tactic and the right strategy.

MADDOW:  Well, Chris, I think you‘re right that at every turn, it has seemed like we‘ve been told the Obama/Clinton divide threatened to doom his chances.  And I have been one of the doomsayers, I admit it.

Do you think there‘s a sense in which all of that talk, lowered expectations and made it seem like Obama‘s nomination might be much more complicated and problematic and dramatic, and maybe now if it goes off without a hitch in Denver, he‘ll benefit from seemingly exceeding expectations?

KOFINIS:  That‘s the silver lining, a way to look at it, right, Rachel?

MADDOW:  Yes.

KOFINIS:  I mean. I think there‘s a lot of truth to that.  I mean, you know there are going to be pundits out there saying—is there going to be chaos, is there going to be division—listen, I think this is going to be the Democrats‘ finest hour.  We are going to show, I think, unity and it‘s going to be a smooth convention and it‘s going to be a very powerful convention with great speakers.  And I think some of the most significant speeches are going to come, not only from Senator Obama, but from, you know, from Senator Clinton and President Clinton.

And so, at the end of the day, politics is a game of addition, not division.  And I think this is a good, smart move.  It adds to the party and it adds to his chances in the fall.

MADDOW:  Chris Kofinis, former communication director for the John Edwards campaign—thanks a lot for joining us.

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Might the GOP be unifying around the idea of not attending their own convention?  The status report of Republican senators who just can‘t make it to Saint Paul this year; and even one who just quit his role with the McCain campaign.

The smear book against Barack Obama will hit number one on the bestseller list.  We will expose the right-wing‘s scheme machine that makes that possible.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What does it tell us about Senator John McCain‘s presidential candidacy when one out of every five Republicans sitting in the U.S. Senate appears to be boycotting his convention?  Bob Herbert of the “New York Times” will weigh in.

The swift-boating of Barack Obama.  The same slime merchant who smeared John Kerry in 2004 is back with a new book.

And from celebrity chef—to spy?  Just what was Julia Child cooking up for us in the 1940s?

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Politicians know the exceptional importance of the company that a candidate keeps.  But what about the company that keeps away from candidate?

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator John McCain finding him bereft of buddies this summer.

Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon is the latest runaway.  He has quit as state co-chair for McCain‘s campaign.  Smith insists he is not trying to distance himself from the presumptive nominee, he says he‘s merely focusing his time and effort on his own reelection campaign.

But considering that the position of co-chair is mainly honorary, requiring little more from Senator Smith than the use of his name, and considering Senator Smith has been running re-election ads linking himself to both Senator John Kerry and Senator Barack Obama, even though in ‘04, he called Kerry “French and socialist,” the claim that Smith now isn‘t trying to separate himself from McCain and from the “R” after his own title, rings a little hollow.

Senator Smith is just the latest in his string of GOP senators to back away from the Senator McCain and the Grand Old Party.  Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas just announced he will not be attending the RNC convention in Saint Paul next month.

Also skipping the festivities: senators, Ted Stevens—well, understandable considering he‘ll be preparing for his corruption trial - Elizabeth Dole, the aforementioned Gordon Smith, Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, Wayne Allard, Larry Craig—also understandable considering the awkward proposition of Craig‘s flying in for the convention to the Minneapolis airport, home of a men‘s room that hold a very special place in Senator Craig‘s biography.

Two more senators, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, are reportedly still deciding whether to go to the convention.

I‘m joined now by Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist at the “New York Times.”

Thanks for your time tonight, Bob.

BOB HERBERT, NEW YORK TIMES:  Who‘s going to be there?

MADDOW:  I know.  It is -

HERBERT:  He‘s going to be a lonely guy.

MADDOW:  Is this weird?  Ten out of 49 Republican senators, almost 1/5 are not going.

HERBERT:  The short answer is, this is weird.

MADDOW:  Yes.

HERBERT:  Actually, the Republicans are demoralized and the Republicans in Congress are demoralized and they have reason to be demoralized.  I mean, things are really turning against them.  They don‘t have the issues.  They‘re running away from Bush, who is incredibly unpopular.  McCain has turned out not to be a great candidate.

But I think that there is more at work.  This is generally considered to be, it‘s going to be a bad year for Republican down ticket races.

But I think there is a longer term problem for the Republicans because that conservative to right Republican philosophy has pretty much played out.  I mean, it‘s bankrupt now.  I mean, you‘ve had this war, which nobody thinks was a good idea, but you‘ve got a war where the country is not paying for it.  You‘ve got this idea of you don‘t have to raise taxes, you can constantly lower taxes all the time.  There‘s the incompetence that everybody saw after Katrina.

So, Republicans are worried about a long-term problem.  And then one other point, in addition to having the issues against them and having an unpopular president, you‘ve got demographics working against the Republicans now.  I mean, you‘ve got a younger electorate coming along, and ethnic minorities are going to be a larger proportion of the population over the next 10, 20, 30 years.  So, the Republicans are looking at some real problems.

MADDOW:  One of the things that we talked a lot about, heading into the general election campaign is how McCain would strategize against the Democrats casting him as being too close to Bush.  One of the things I‘m wondering now with all these defections, not only from the convention but from McCain personally, is—are Republicans making a distinction between McCain and Bush?  Do these defections represent an assessment, essentially, by Republican senators that they—that running away from McCain is the same thing as running away from Bush and has the same political imperative?

HERBERT:  Yes.  I think that‘s what‘s going on.  The ones who were running away are definitely assuming that the voters are going to see McCain linked up there with Bush.  But an interesting thing that I think is going to happen in this campaign is there‘s going to be, I expect, an awful lot of ticket splitting.  I think this is going to be a bad year for Republicans in Congress.  Democrats are trying to get a veto-proof majority in the Senate, unlikely but they‘re trying.

But I think there‘s going to be a lot of voters who are going to vote for Republicans in Congress and the House and the Senate and not going to vote for Obama or will vote for McCain.  And it‘s almost like the reverse of a candidate who‘s really popular and has long coat-tails.  This might be a case of whether, legislatively, the people in Congress have enough coat-tails to pull Obama across the finish line.

MADDOW:  On that specific issue of Gordon Smith in Oregon -

HERBERT:  He wants to be the Joe Lieberman of the GOP.

MADDOW:  Well, that‘s the question.  I mean, he insists that he is not at all trying to distance himself from the Republican Party, not trying to distance himself from McCain.  It is hard to come up with any other explanation, particularly to have him running ads linking himself to Kerry after the nasty names that he called Kerry in 2004.

What is a Gordon Smith to do in a year like this?  Do you—should he just come out and say, “Yes, I am distancing myself from the Republican Party, I‘m not in favor of them, I‘m not in favor of John McCain‘s election”—how far can he go?

HERBERT:  Well, sort of the built-in hypocrisy of politicians won‘t permit him to actually do that.  You know, but that‘s essentially what he‘s doing.  He‘s doing that in effect.  He‘s saying, “You know, look at me, and associate me with the Democrats who are running in this race and with the Democratic issues that you favor in this race,” out in Oregon.  So, then he‘s trying to just hold on.

We‘ll see if it works.

MADDOW:  Bob Herbert, op-ed columnist of the “New York Times,” it‘s great to have you here, thanks for coming in.

HERBERT:  Rachel, thanks a lot.

MADDOW:  “Obama Nation” is this campaign‘s version of the swift boat attack.  Has Obama‘s campaign learned from John Kerry‘s mistakes in 2004?  Obama has already counterattacked and the spotlight is being turned to swift-boating author‘s backgrounds.

And, you can‘t ignore this Oddball celebrates “State Fair Time” in America.

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

Number three: Cooking the books-gate.  You‘ll recall that the Congressional Budget Office released a report this week saying the United States paid $85 billion to for-profit contractors in the Iraq war through the end of last year.  If you add in the spending from this year, you hit about $100 billion.  If that sounds like a lot, it is.

But even that, shockingly high number, is apparently billions of dollars too low.  A taxpayer watch dog group pointing out today that the price tag released this week includes only contractors within Iraq.  It doesn‘t include contractors within the United States.  For example, $22 billion for 15,000 privately-produced armored vehicles, and $13 billion per year to privately rehabilitate worn-out equipment.

Of course, our troops deserve the very best equipment, but we deserve a fair accounting.  But, wait, that‘s not all.  The $85 billion figure also does not include $35 billion to $42 billion from the classified intelligence budget nor does it include more than $10 billion lost to contract fraud.  Do me a favor, Google the phrase “Truman Commission.”

Number two: Kangaroo court-gate.  It turns out that even the military jurors in the Guantanamo trial of Osama bin Laden‘s driver were kept in the dark about those proceedings.  Those jurors, a panel of six military officers gave Salem Hamdan a sentence of 5 ½ years.  But credit for time served, Hamdan will be eligible for release in December.  But even then, at the end of his sentence, the White House asserts the right to keep Hamdan in prison as an enemy combatant.

One juror said, quote, “After all the effort we put in to get somebody a fair trial, and then you say no matter what we did it didn‘t matter, I don‘t see that as a positive step.”  The jurors were not told that Hamdan might be kept in prison beyond his sentence until after the trial ended.

And, number one: Not really fighting terrorism-gate.  “Wall Street Journal” reporter Daniel Pearl was murdered in 2002.  Four men were convicted of his murder in Pakistan.  But as many as 19 more suspects are thought to still be “at-large” in the case.  While the FBI denies closing the Pearl case, a group of undergrads at Georgetown University, led by a professor who was a colleague of Pearl‘s at the “Wall Street Journals” have themselves figured out the real identities of 15 of those 19 at-large suspects.

The professor, Asra Nomani, says, quote, “The FBI says this is an open investigation, but in talking to officials, it‘s clear there‘s no work being done on the ground.”

So, because our FBI isn‘t working on Daniel Pearl‘s murder any more, Pearl‘s friends are left trying to solve the case with help of undergraduate journalism students.  This is what you call a war on terror?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Best persons in just a moment.  And a warning for people who flush too much.  First, though, on this date in 1851, John Henry Holiday was born.  Known better by his nickname Doc, he morphed from a  gentleman dentist into a compulsive gambler and a gunman, who died ultimately of tuberculosis.  Doc Holiday, along with Wyatt Earp, participated in the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral.  When asked by a newspaper if such killings pricked his conscience, Doc reportedly replied, quote, I coughed that out with my lungs years ago. 

On that note, let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We begin in Springfield, Illinois, where Doris Propst (ph) just became the first woman to ever win the state fair hog calling contest.  Take it away, Doris. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE)

MADDOW:  Bravo, Doris.  Bravo.  Continuing our animal theme, in Mesquite, Texas, where there‘s a chuck wagon on the run from a hungry dog.  At a rodeo, between events, four horses pulling a wagon bucked their driver off the wagon and then took off doing laps around the arena.  Eventually, one of the bull riders leapt into the back of the wagon, grabbed the reins, and pulled the horses to a complete stop, just before it could disappear into a cupboard. 

Finally to Findley, Ohio, and the best bagger competition of the Ohio Grocer‘s Association.  Thirty five baggers from all over the Buckeye State were graded on things like weight distribution and speed, while vying for top honors and a 1,000 dollar prize.  Denise Farley (ph) from the Giant Eagle location in Revenna (ph) was your gold medal winner.  And we‘re still waiting on a medical update on the best bagger competition entrance from Hungary, who sprained his elbow and turned it around the wrong way while trying to bag a frozen turkey.  Better luck next year, terrifying backwards arm guy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A new anti-Obama book, written by a laugh out loud wing-nut author, with an inadvertently hilarious record of making false and ridiculous allegations.  The book debuts at number one on the “New York Times‘s” best-seller list.  There is something in this country best understood as a right-wing scheme machine that can catapult a book like this to the apparent top of the publishing heap.  We‘ll explain next how it works. 

And the spy agency that predated the CIA.  Julia Child among the celebrity names revealed as a former secret agent.  Who among today‘s celebrity pack could make it big in the world of spying?  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s best three persons in the world. 

Number three, best underwater comeback story, Stumpy the Humpback Whale was spotted today frolicking in the waters off Australia‘s Sunshine Coast during a 20,000 kilometer migration from the Antarctic Ocean.  That‘s good news because seven years ago, Stumpy was thought to be a goner, after she lost her tail in a killer whale attack.  It turns out that Stumpy is healthy enough to splash around with other humpbacks, to the delight of on-looks.  Stumpy then publicly challenged US Olympian Michael Phelps in the ultra-rare 4X5,000 kilometer individual medley. 

Number two, best reason to leave it at the office, an unnamed nurse at the Carolinska (ph) University Hospital in Stockholm is facing disciplinary action after posting pictures taken during brain and back surgeries to her personal Facebook file.  Nothing says add me as a friend quite like a digital lobotomy slide show.  Brains. 

And Number 1, best reason to hold it, Mwynwen Jones of the village Trinidog (ph) in Wales is facing eviction from her home of 20 years.  Neighbors have brought a complaint before a local judge.  They complain that Miss Jones flushes her toilet too much.  The judge agreed to hear the case, saying, quote, while flushing a toilet may not be a nuisance, plainly it may be so if it is done repeatedly during anti-social hours.  Maybe instead of a lawsuit, the neighbors could just needle point her that age old reminder about the important relationship between yellow and mellow. 

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MADDOW:  This Sunday when the “New York Times” publishes its list of best-selling books, “The Obama Nation” by Jerome Corsi will debut at Number one in non-fiction.  The hard covered, subtitled “Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” is published by Threshold Editions, a division of Simon and Shuster.  The chief editor of the imprint is former Dick Cheney adviser Mary Matalin.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, best seller or not, the assertions about Barack Obama in Corsi‘s book and the cast of characters surrounding its publication stretched the credulity of its classification of non-fiction. 

If the name Jerome Corsi is familiar to you, it‘s probably because of his role in concocting wild lies about John Kerry‘s war record in 2004.  Corsi‘s previous best seller, “Unfit For Command,” was a foundation for the scurrilous, but politically effective Swift Boat campaign against Kerry.  You may also remember Corsi‘s apology for using the word rag-head to describe Muslims on the website Free Republic.  He also apologized for using the phrase boy bumpers.  I still have no idea what that was about. 

You may remember Corsi for his sober allegation that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian, that John Kerry is both a Jew and a Communist, and his allegations that Muslims actually worship Satan.  You may remember Jerome Corsi for his recent book attacking the liberal myth that oil is a finite resource, since he, Jerome Corsi, has learned how to make new oil.  You may remember Corsi for his scholarly rebuke of George W. Bush‘s secret plan to merge the United States into Mexico. 

OK, honestly, you probably don‘t remember Jerome Corsi at all, because why would you pay attention to someone with a record like that?  But Corsi‘s new anti-Obama book will be Number one on that best-seller list for at least two weeks running, despite fact checking by news organizations, including the “New York Times,” showing it to be rife with errors and inaccuracies. 

And the Obama camp is now firing back, issuing a 40-page rebuttal titled, “Unfit for Publication,” soon appearing at Obama‘s Fight the Smears website.  The campaign promising to forcefully respond with all means at their disposal.  Nonetheless, the book is selling well, due, essentially, to hundreds of right wing talk show interviews, and large volume bulk sales to right-wing organizations, a tactic to be discussed now with my next guest. 

Eric Burns, admired by cable news‘ audience and his own colleagues for holding a mirror to his own profession, often exposing conflicts of interest or dubious reporting, as a former host of a weekly program.  Eric is also the author of “Whoppers, the Biggest Lies in the History of Journalism and Their Consequences.”  Eric Burns, thank you so much for being here. 

ERIC BURNS, AUTHOR, “WHOPPERS”:  The biggest lies in the history of journalism, Rachel, is a book that does not say anything about COUNTDOWN.  And after so gracious an introduction, I am so relieved. 

MADDOW:  Oh, well, thank you.  Thank you back.  What do you make of this Jerome Corsi book, Eric? 

BURNS:  I think the book and books like it are the new negative campaign ads.  New, not in the sense, Rachel, of replacing the old, but new in the sense of finding a new venue for different people, because even in this, what I like to call post-literate society, the book still has a lot of cachet.  That‘s why so many celebrities spend millions of dollars hiring ghost writers to write books for them.  Something in a book has more cachet, has more inherent believability than a blog. 

Second reason that I think this is an effective way to go is that there is no direct association between a book and the campaign.  If there is to be heat, and we know there is to be against this book, it will not be directed against McCain.  It will be directed against Corsi and the publishing house. 

MADDOW:  Factually speaking, this book is being debunked left, right and center.  His anti-Kerry book was debunked, too.  Politically, it did a lot of damage.  Do you see this anti-Obama book getting traction the way the anti-Kerry book did in ‘04? 

BURNS:  I don‘t think so.  One of the criticisms that Kerry‘s people made about him four years ago was that when the charges came out about the Swift Boats, and when the book came out, that he didn‘t take them seriously enough.  He probably didn‘t take them seriously enough because he didn‘t believe they were serious charges.  Well, the Obama people have reacted in a manner 180 degrees different.  They‘ve already come out with 40 pages of rebuttal. 

I haven‘t had a chance to read all those 40 pages yet, but one thing that does seem certain, Rachel, is that one of the numerous mistakes in the book, or I should say, several of the numerous mistakes, is that the book has—Corsi has, I should say, Obama in church listening to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who for a while I thought was the Democratic candidate for president with all the coverage he was getting, on days when Obama‘s schedule proves he was not in Chicago. 

If the campaign continues to find errors like this, continues to respond as quickly as it does, I don‘t think it‘s going to have nearly the same effect.  And, let me—you didn‘t ask me this, but I just have to mention this to you.  One of the other things that gives a book cachet, a non-fiction book, is footnotes.  You look at the back of the book and you see all these footnotes, dozens of pages, and you say this guy did a lot of research.  Well, before the show tonight—and I didn‘t have time to do more.  I would have had time to do more, but nobody told me I was going to follow the lady who did the hog calling.  I still would have counted more. 

But of the first 11 footnotes in the book, nine of them—in nine of them, Corsi quotes Corsi.  In other words, he quotes previous writings of his own. 

MADDOW:  He‘s sourcing his claims to himself. 

BURNS:  It‘s—it‘s a dubious practice, to say the least, yes. 

MADDOW:  Eric, let me ask you about one aspect of this, how this got to be number one in the best seller list.  The “New York Times” front-paged an article this week about this book hitting its own best-seller list.  In that article, they debunked many of the book‘s claims and they, interestingly, attributed the success of the book in part to what they said, quote, was a large volume of bulk sales.  What does that say to you? 

BURNS:  Very important.  Bulk sales means that instead of an individual going into a store to buy a book, an organization buys dozens of books, hundreds of books, maybe even thousands of books.  What this means is that the whole picture of the book‘s popularity is skewed.  What has happened here—this isn‘t my opinion.  And I‘ll tell you why it‘s not my opinion in just a minute.  What has happened here is that several conservative groups have bought large numbers of this book and they‘re giving them out to fellow conservatives. or, for all I know, they‘re putting them on the shelves somewhere. 

The “New York Times,” recognizing this, will put the book at number one on the best seller list this week with a dart next to it.  The dart means bulk sales.  You can‘t trust the figures. 

MADDOW:  Important point.  Eric Burns, author of the upcoming “Whoppers, the Biggest Lies in the History of Journalism and Their Consequences.”  Thank you for your time tonight. 

BURNS:  Happy to give it to you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  From a double boiler to 007.  Julia Child at long last links the worlds of celebrity chefs and secret agents.  Also, Batman hears from the commissioner.  Will Christian Bale face charges for his family‘s spat?  That and more all ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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MADDOW:  Time for our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, keeping tabs.  As a member of the NBC family, it is our duty to report this Olympics‘ related news.  It seems that jack of all trades and self proclaimed master of all trades Sean Diddy Combs might have an impact on future Olympic games.  The omnipresent trend setter and cultural swami was asked by a reporter from “New York Magazine” what new Olympic sport he could imagine himself having a chance of winning?  Diddy‘s idea, quote, who could have sex the longest. 

The father of five adding, “I think that‘s an event I can do well in. 

And probably who could stay up the longest.” 

Alas, Diddy was kidding; “just so you know,” he said, “that was supposed to be funny, even though I am serious.”  Which is it, Mr. Combs?  Actually, don‘t answer that. 

More on the topic of peak performers, the actor whose on-screen prowess helped catapult box office sales for “Dark Knight” is off the hook criminally in the UK.  Please forgive the tired pun to follow.  No bail necessary for Christian Bale.  I‘m sorry.  I have a homonym problem.  Britain‘s Crown Prosecution Service is saying there‘s not enough evidence to support allegations leveled by Bale‘s mother and sister.  They had accused Bale of assaulting them the day of the blockbuster‘s European premier.  But they did file a complaint against him until the day after.

Prosecutors themselves made accusations of suspicious timing and implied that maybe Bale‘s mom and sis did not want the prosecution to go ahead.  Translation, what happened in the Bale family, at least for now, stays in the Bale family. 

Julia Child, world famous chef and super secret spy?  What if the CIA used today‘s super stars as super agents?  Christian Finnegan tackles that question next on COUNTDOWN.

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MADDOW:  She was a pioneer as America‘s first main stream celebrity chef, and we loved her in part because the wine she used in her cooking seemed to go adorably to her head.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, new evidence offers more details about Julia Child‘s prior career as a spy.  Long before her debut on “The French Chef” in 1963, Julia Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA. 

Her employment with OSS was revealed a couple years before her death in 2004, but we now know the details.  She started her classified employment in 1942 during the throes of the world war.  She performed clerical duties at first, but later worked directly for OSS director William Donovan.  Details about Miss Child and 24,000 other OSS employees were released today by the National Archives. 

Some of Miss Child‘s spy colleagues was White Sox catcher Moe Berg, Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Hemingway‘s son, two sons of the first President Roosevelt, and the dad of Stewart Copeland, the drummer from The Police, all spies. 

Let‘s bring in comedian Christian Finnegan, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Hi there, Christian.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Good evening, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  On her application to work for the OSS, Julia Child confessed she had abruptly left a job as a furniture advertiser.  She was 28 years old.  What do you suppose possessed her to become a spy? 

FINNEGAN:  She is the perfect covert operative.  It‘s not like she‘s conspicuous or physically noteworthy in anyway.  I know when I used to watch the Julia Child shows as a kid, I used to think, there‘s something not right about that woman.  That really didn‘t have anything to do with espionage.  I thought she was my Uncle Kevin. 

MADDOW:  What remains unclear is exactly how long Julia Child remained a spy.  Does that mean all those years we saw her on TV, something else was cooking in that kitchen? 

FINNEGAN:  Yes, today on “The French Chef,” we‘ll preparing a chicken cordon blue, with a side of microfiche.  All those recipes were just riddled with code words.  You think it was a coincidence she went a little heavy on the nutmeg.  No, that was her way of telling us that Brezhnev‘s tanks were on the move.  Even sort of a benign phrase like pre-heat your oven actually translated to Operation Silent Fist is a go. 

MADDOW:  The combo of spy and chef seems so unbelievable to me.  I mean, maybe there‘s a new spy series to be mined here, along the lines of James Bond or “Mission Impossible” or “The Sand Baggers.” 

FINNEGAN:  Or even like the Food Network.  That is a great hook.  We had “The Frugal Gourmet,” “The Naked Chef.”  Why not the cloak and dagger cook?  She can orchestrate a central American coup, and create a low-carb meal for the entire family, all in under 30 minutes.  Somebody get Jeff Zuckor on the phone.  Some potential here. 

MADDOW:  As far as any conceivable comparisons to today‘s celebrity pool, it‘s just difficult to imagine.  Could Martha Stewart be a spy?  She was actually at training camp when we all thought she was in prison? 

FINNEGAN:  Rachel, Martha is not a field operative.  Martha is the one they bring in when you‘re strapped to a chair in a subterranean holding cell.  You do not want to see what that woman could do a with melon baller.  Put it this way, you will talk. 

MADDOW:  Christian, if you broaden it out to other celebrities, it seems even less likely that one of them could be doing double duty.  I mean, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears? 

FINNEGAN:  I think Gwyneth Paltrow, you know, she lives abroad.  She could be a spy.  Unless you believe that farce that she actually loves that tool from Coldplay.  I don‘t buy that.  Hollywood is filled with people who could be great spies.  Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, people who have proven they know how to keep a secret. 

MADDOW:  From the other side of this though, it‘s one thing to think about whether people in Hollywood are sort of cool enough to be spies.  But there‘s the other way, too.  Are the glory days of the CIA sort of over?  Does the CIA even have cool jobs anymore?  Maybe Angelina Jolie could make them cool. 

FINNEGAN:  It is pretty sad that all the stuff from the golden days of the CIA could now be accomplished with a Google search.  But, you know, I noticed when you mention celebrities, you left out your journalistic brethren there, Rachel.  I have it on good information that Lou Dobbs is actually a Mexican operative.  His real name is Luis Dobo and his mission is to destroy American from within by getting rid of all of the immigrant labor we so desperately need. 

MADDOW:  He‘s doing a heck of a job of it.  Comedian Christian Finnegan, a contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” thanks for joining us. 

FINNEGAN:  Good night, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Good night.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,933rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Rachel Maddow, in for Keith Olbermann.  Keith has the day off today.  You can catch my radio show weeknights on Air America Radio.  It airs at 6:00 pm Eastern.  Have a good night.

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

END   

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