updated 12/14/2009 10:59:05 AM ET 2009-12-14T15:59:05

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Wendell Potter, Dave Zirin, Devin Gordon      

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you will be talking about tomorrow?

The ludicrous loophole buried in the health care reform bill: The Senate‘s version bans insurance companies from putting lifetime limits on coverage but not annual limits.  The public option is all but gone, and now, we learn about this.

Tonight, the state of play with Congressman Anthony Weiner, and the latest win for the insurance cartel with Wendell Potter.

The pit bull from the north attacks Al Gore again.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I think that this is a money-making deal for Al Gore and some of his environmentalist friends.  I think it‘s atrocious that they want to deceive the public.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Speaking of cashing in, if Palin is against socialism and against abortion, why is she raising funds for government-run hospitals in Canada that perform abortions?  Maybe because she‘s getting paid.

And breaking news in the world of golf: Tiger Woods announces he‘s taking an indefinite break from professional golf.  How will golf survive without its biggest ratings-grabber?  And one of his biggest sponsors removes him from its Web page.  All of this as the parade of his lady friends continues to show up on TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t even get a birthday card.  I got nothing out of this relationship, but a broken heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You loved him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  In his defense, 13 is a lot of birthdays to remember.

And Tiger‘s rough week on late-night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV HOST:  The number one text message sent by Tiger Woods, “Thanks for changing your grip.”

JIMMY KIMMEL, TV HOST:  It‘s like he cracked open a pinata and the fun never stops pouring out.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All publicity is good publicity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, not true.

(LAUGHTER)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.

If the premise of the entire exercise is to protect uninsured Americans against catastrophic illness, then we already know that the Senate health care reform bill would fail to do that miserably—because it would leave 25 million people without any form of health insurance and because of a loophole that would let insurance companies impose annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with illnesses that require expensive treatment, like cancer.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Now imagine the loopholes that will be discovered after the legislation has passed—if it actually does pass.  As currently written, the Senate bill would allow insurance companies to impose annual caps on the dollar value of all medical care, right there on page 16 -- as long as those annual limits are not unreasonable.  The bill does not define what a reasonable limit might be.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid said that banning all limits could have had the unintended consequence of raising premiums.  “The Washington Post” reports that the CBO said premiums would have gone through the roof without a cap on benefits.

The American Cancer Society naturally alarmed that the loophole would, quote, “subject patients to a sudden termination of critical care.”

Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh today revealed that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told him the Republican amendments to the health care bill are meant to kill the legislation, not improve it.  Senator McConnell‘s office has yet to comment.

And a new name today added to the list of Democrats skeptical about the viability of the Medicare buy-in compromise.  Florida‘s Bill Nelson deems the plan a non-starter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA:  I‘m lukewarm on it.  Because I think when we get the score back from CBO that it‘s going to be too costly.  And I think to the individuals, remember, these are uninsured folks that you‘re trying to get insured.  And for them to buy into this Medicare, I think would be expensive for them.  So, at the end of the day, I think it‘s going to be a non-starter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Lots to talk about tonight with Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat of New York.

Thank you very much for coming in, Congressman.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  My pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  Did you know that this loophole was in the Senate bill? 

And is it in the House bill?

WEINER:  Well, it‘s not in the House bill.  But, you know, look, here‘s been the fundamental problem we‘ve always had.  We had this with Medicare.

Remember, when you were working in the House of Representatives, we tried to do catastrophic care under Medicare.  Even Medicare—if you really break the limits—don‘t have coverage for you.

It‘s a major problem, but let‘s remember what we‘re trying to do here:

part of the problem that we have is we‘re tying ourselves in knots, trying to make sure the health insurance industry is protected throughout this process.  They are unwilling to take any kind of a haircut.  In exchange for getting 30 million new customers, you think the very least they would do is cover people when they got sick and very sick.  And so, that loophole shouldn‘t exist.  And I‘m hopeful by the time this thing gets ironed out, it won‘t be in there.

You do need to make sure that when people really need it, health insurance is there.  Otherwise, we‘re right back to where we started which is then walking into hospital emergency rooms with stage-four cancer.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, you‘re in favor of leaving the health insurance companies out of this sector of the economy, going with Medicare for all.  In the Senate, they are not now talking about Medicare for more—for more people, bringing that age bracket down to 55 and over.

How does that sound to you?

WEINER:  Well, I like the idea.  I like the idea for a couple of reasons.  One, that group of people 55 to 64, they‘re the most vulnerable to the exploit of operations of the insurance industry.  My dad retired before he was 65, and he had to go into the open market $15,000 -- $16,000 they wanted for an insurance policy.

It also shows that we‘re getting back to trying to provide health insurance coverage where all of the money actually goes to health care.  Only 1 percent to overhead in Medicare, compared to 30 percent in profits for the insurance companies.

So, here it is.  They stumbled into it in the United States Senate, but they‘re trying to figure out how do we try to cover people at the most efficient way.  Medicare was the way we do it for those 65 and older.  Why not 64?  Why not 55 and 56?

O‘DONNELL:  They are slowly finding their way back to the wisdom of Medicare.

Now, they‘re also talking about in the Senate the possibility of allowing people to buy into what is in effect a Federal Employees Health Insurance Program—the one you‘re on, the one the senators are on.  What about that?

WEINER:  Well, I also think it‘s another example of building on what works.  You know, 9 million federal employees and their families essentially have the exchange already.  Insurance companies come in.

Now, the thing to remember, though, is you as a taxpayer are paying our employer a portion of our health care.  Now, if we‘re going to bring in all of these other Americans, we still have to figure out a way to contain costs.

What we really should have is what Congress has with a public option is the one of the options that we choose.  That would be the best alternative and I think they may wind up getting there, as well.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve got the federal health plan there right now for employees with all the options on that.

WEINER:  Well, you know, the irony of all this, the same of my Republican colleagues who want no plan, no insurance, no exchange—they get this very nice benefit on your dime.  They want—they want them to get it, but they don‘t want the rest of us to get it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thirteen -- 13 shopping days until Christmas.  There is no chance that the United States Senate is going to deliver you a bill before Christmas that can be conference with the House of Representatives.  Is there—this is going over into the next year.

WEINER:  Well, you‘d need more than a miracle on 34th Street for that to happen.  I mean, look, my view is, though, I want them to take a little longer if they‘re going to get it right.  You know, it‘s been said that the Senate is the cooling sauce of our democracy—they‘re like a meat locker over there.  They‘re doing one amendment every week or so.

But if they‘re inching to the place that they‘re going to say, “Let‘s expand Medicare to let more people in, let‘s expand the benefits that members of Congress get so the uninsured can get those things,” you know, that‘s not a bad place to wind up.

Now, what‘s in it, some of the details, like the loophole you pointed out—I‘m confident that‘s the direction we‘re going.  It‘s a place that all of us can live with.

O‘DONNELL:  And what about this notion of ping-ponging, this is a legislative term I haven‘t heard before.

I‘ve heard that Steny Hoyer has said to your caucus that they‘re thinking about taking what the Senate passes and simply passing it through the House of Representatives without putting it through conference, thereby delivering a bill for the president to sign because you would have passed identical bills.

Is there any chance of that happening?

WEINER:  Well, it would get an enormous amount of opposition, including from me.  I mean, part of the problem is financing mechanism that they came up with, taxing insurance plans that presently are given seems like a non-starter.  But the argument for doing it is we‘ve watched when we‘ve given the United States Senate to deal with it, it takes them forever to get anything done and we‘re held hostage by Olympia Snowe and Joe Lieberman.

So, there‘s a lot of members of the House that say, “You know what, let‘s just take whatever they passed.”  I think that‘s not going to happen.  I think it would be a bad idea if we did it.”

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Anthony Weiner—many thanks for your time tonight.

WEINER:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on the health care loophole that would allow coverage limits, let‘s call in former insurance industry insider, Wendell Potter, who used to be a spokesman for the insurance giant CIGNA.  These days, he‘s a senior fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy.

Good evening, Wendell.

WENDELL POTTER, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY:  Good evening, Lawrence.  How are you?

O‘DONNELL:  Wendell, they say that an annual limit is different from a lifetime limit.  But isn‘t it just a back door way of getting to a lifetime limit?  Isn‘t it functionally the same thing?

POTTER:  Yes, in practical matters, yes, it is.  In fact, if you have a chronic illness and you reach your annual limit, then you‘re going to pay a lot of money out of your own pocket if you have—if you have high medical expenses.  So, you‘re exactly right.  It has the same effect.

O‘DONNELL: And the—is the—is there—the talk now about expanding the possibility of buying into Medicare for people down to age 55.  That‘s something that it seems that the health insurance industry opposes.  But it seems to have other opposition out in rural states.

Do you think that‘s a good policy direction to go at this point?

POTTER:  Oh, absolutely.  It‘s not a—it‘s not a substitute for the public option.  But it is—it is better than what we currently have.  We at least would be able to open the Medicare program up to more people, which, again, is going in the right direction.

But the direction this bill is taking overall is a—is almost like a giant loophole.  And certainly, something that it seems as if every time the health insurance industry doesn‘t like something that it sees, it‘s just whispering to the members of Congress—members of the Senate in particular—that will do what it wants and they‘ll get what they want out of this bill.

It‘s just getting to the point that I think Democrats should be absolutely outraged of what‘s happening in the Senate.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the reason they give for putting the limits in the Senate bill is that they say that CBO says that, quoting, that they would have gone the premiums—premiums would‘ve gone through the roof without limits.  Now, isn‘t that just another way of saying the for-profit insurance companies will never, never provide affordable health insurance for anyone who actually has a real health problem?

POTTER:  You know, you‘re exactly right.  And what is happening is what I warned against several months ago when I started speaking out, and we‘re seeing this being played out in the Senate.  And this is precisely what‘s happening.  The insurance industry, the for-profits in particular, are never ever going to change.

If you make illegal some of the things that they‘ll say they‘re willing to live with, like doing away with the use of preexisting conditions, they will just find some other way to make sure they‘re meeting Wall Street‘s expectations.  And that means higher premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs.

So, this legislation that I‘m seeing in the Senate is just an absolute gift for the health insurance industry.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Wendell, everyone‘s waiting for the CBO score to come back on some of these proposals that Harry Reid has sent them.  How would do you suggest that senators balance CBO scores against their legislative objectives?  They seem to simply give the entire wake to CBO scores and if it gets in the way of a legislative objective, they just seem to surrender to CBO scores.

POTTER:  Well, they do, and they‘re trying to do that to meet, I guess, the president‘s objective of not increasing the federal deficit.  But they‘re losing track of what we really hope to accomplish with reform.  And that is to reform the health care system.  I‘m wondering what happened to reform.

And senators and members of the House also just need to sit back and take a look at what are we accomplishing here.

O‘DONNELL:  And with the explosion in the health care costs within the federal budget in Medicare, in Medicaid—how do they think they will ever get ahold of the deficit issue without first getting some kind of grip on the health care system?

POTTER:  I don‘t have any idea.  One of the things that I‘ve learned as I have been meeting with members of Congress over the last several months is that the depth of understanding of the health insurance industry, the commercial industry, is about an inch deep.  And they are trying a reform system they just don‘t understand and they‘re listening to the health insurance industry more than anybody else as they‘re trying to reform this.  And that‘s what—what we‘re seeing is what the health insurance industry wants and what the investors want.

I‘ll tell you one other thing.  The president had his summit at the White House on March the 5th.  And that was a date when CIGNA‘s stock was at a low point.  At that length of time, the stock prices increased 300 percent as Congress has been doing this.

O‘DONNELL:  Whoa.

Wendell Potter, former executive with CIGNA insurance—great, thanks for your time.

POTTER:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, Sarah Palin accuses Al Gore of using his climate change crusade to strike it rich for himself and his friends.  This as word surfaces she‘ll speak at a fundraiser for socialist Canadian hospitals that perform abortions—because she‘ll get a big paycheck for it.

And breaking news tonight from Tiger Woods.  He announces he needs to work on his relationship with his wife and his family, so he‘s quitting golf indefinitely.  What that means for Tiger and what that means for golf.  Complete coverage—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The wrath of Sarah Palin.  Now, Palin is accusing Al Gore of not only lying about climate change science, but doing so to make money.

And breaking sports news tonight: Tiger Woods is walking away from golf.  For how long?  No one knows, not even Tiger.  Will this help him rehabilitate his image?  Or was getting back on the golf course and winning again his fastest road back?  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  Sarah Palin says Al Gore‘s environmental advocacy is just a money-making deal, accuses him of wanting to deceive the public—and then agrees to a paid speaking engagement on behalf of socialized medicine.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: She invented death panels, now she‘s fundraising for them.

“Think Progress” reports Palin has been contracted to speak at a fundraiser for a public hospital in Canada.  Ms. Palin will be speaking at a benefit in April for the Juravinski Cancer Center and St. Peter‘s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario.  The hospital is part of Canada‘s national health care system.  It performs abortions, and offers advanced directives, or what Palin likes to call “death panels.”

Sarah Palin unwittingly offered her view on maple leaf health care to a Canadian comedian posing as a reporter last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  In fact, Canada needs to reform its health care system and let the private sector take over some of what the government ahs absorbed.  So thank you, keep the faith.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  “The Hamilton Spectator” reports Palin will receive around the ballpark of $200,000 for her half hour of stand-up.  This as the former governor accuses Al Gore of deceiving people to make money off the environment.  Palin accused the environmentalists of getting, quote, “wee-weed up” about her climategate op-ed in the “Washington Post,” but hedge on a formal debate with Mr. Gore.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PALIN:  It depends on what the venue would be, what the forum, because, Laura, as you know, if it would be some kind of conventional, traditional debate with his friends setting it up or being the commentators, I‘ll get clobbered.  Oh, he wouldn‘t want to lower himself, I think, to, you know, my level to debate little old Sarah Palin from Wasilla.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Meanwhile, little old Sarah Palin from Wasilla weighed in on other political matters, namely President Obama‘s Nobel speech.  She tells “USA Today” the president‘s words echoed her own.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PALIN:  I thumbed through my book quickly this morning to say, “Wow!  That—that really sounded familiar,” because I talked in my book, too, about the fallen nature of man.  A couple of the other things he said were, I thought, “Wow!  Good.”  Those are nice—a broad message, so broad that I just wrote about those.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, also senior strategist at Public Strategies and author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”

Richard, good evening.

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

O‘DONNELL:  Now, Richard, President Obama‘s speechwriters are overworked.  They‘ve got not many presidential speech writers help out with Nobel Prize acceptance speeches and so forth.  But—but are they worn out?  Are they beaten down to the point where they‘ve actually started to leaf through “Going Rogue” to find material for Obama speeches?

WOLFFE:  You know, that‘s a very good question.  And I was leafing through this book the other day and I thought, wow, the fallen nature of man, it was the Bible, of course.  And I thought, you know, she was just copying it.

But then—then I was reading through another book and it was St.

Augustine.  Wow, just war—you know, Obama‘s lifted to that, too.

So, there‘s this whole kleptomaniac author thing going on.  And I just find it really kind of interesting how solipsistic Sarah Palin‘s universe is that everything is to do with her and her book even when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize and concepts that really should be at least known to her that they are more widespread than just the book that was ghost written.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, there is something she might be right about when she was talking to Laura Ingraham on the radio show about the—in her war of words with Al Gore.  Is she right?  Would Al Gore not want to, as she put it in her words, “lower himself” to debate her?  And if he did, is she also right that he would—that she would, in her words, “get clobbered” if they had a debate?

WOLFFE:  Well, now, here‘s the skill of Sarah Palin—setting expectations so low that it‘s easy to say, “I‘ll buy them.”  Even where there to be this crazy hypothetical debate between the two of them, let‘s face it, Sarah Palin didn‘t get clobbered in her debate against Joe Biden.  She doesn‘t answer the questions.  She doesn‘t even refer to the question.

In fact, whoever the commentators or the hosts are or whatever debate she has in mind, it‘s irrelevant, because she will talk about precisely what she wants.

Would Al Gore do it?  I would love to see Al Gore debate the whole array of deniers of climate change.  Put them all up.  Let‘s have a whole sort of Oxford Union style debate and let them have at it.  It would be great TV.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, she went after Al Gore and his investments.  “The New York Times” last month did a page one story indicating that Al Gore has been heavily investing in what he had believes in, environmental reform.  They said he might be on his way to becoming the first environmental billionaire.

But, Al Gore investing on what he believes in—by the way, he‘s addressed that on this network.  He‘s been asked questions about it publicly.

Al Gore can‘t do that, but Sarah Palin can make money off of socialized medicine in Canada?  Is that what she‘s saying?

WOLFFE:  Sarah Palin can make money out of whatever she wants.  And let‘s just remember here that this is someone who gave up elected office and public service to make money on her book tour and her speaking tour, and now, presumes—old signs suggest that she is thinking about running for the highest in the land, having giving up office to make money.

So, there is no coherence and consistency here.

And Al Gore, look, if he‘s doing this as a money-making venture, he sure knows how to melt a lot of ice to make some money.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, this speech of hers is not scheduled—it‘s scheduled in April.  That‘s plenty of time for the right-wing to clamp down on her and say, “No, no, no, you don‘t go to Canada to take money from those lefties at an institution and to raise money for an institution that performs abortions.”

I just don‘t see how she gets to go forward with this speech.

WOLFFE:  It is problematic.  I think it‘s going to test the love affair that is out there for her on the right—you know, what kind of values and principles she has.  Or if she has the political skill to go and take her pro-life message into the hospital and make her point there—let‘s see just how mavericky she can be.

O‘DONNELL:  Richard Wolffe, great thanks for your time tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  A big new twist tonight in the Tiger Woods saga.  He announces on his Web page that he‘s leaving professional golf so he can focus on the problems in his personal life.  We‘ll discuss the impact his decision will have on his sport.

And at his home today in Florida, a moving truck pulls up to his mansion.  And another alleged former girlfriend talks about Tiger‘s concentration off the golf course.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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O‘DONNELL:  It‘s too late to get ahead of the scandal, but is ignoring it the best idea?  Straight ahead: full coverage of tonight‘s breaking news that Tiger Woods is packing up his clubs to take an indefinite break from the game of golf.

And the fallout—including the question of how Tiger is going to be able to get back control of his image if he‘s simply going to wait this out.  He might want to keep the TV off at night.  We‘ll bring you the best of late-night at the expense of Tiger Woods.

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O‘DONNELL:  Breaking news, Tiger Woods is quitting golf.  After two weeks of relentless stories about his alleged affairs following his one-person car accident, the world‘s greatest golfer has decided to stop.  In a statement just released, quote, “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children.  I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness.  It may not be possible to repair the damage I‘ve done, but I want to do my best to try.”

OK, now that‘s the boiler plate that half the husbands in America should be saying to someone tonight.  Now the Tiger part.  “I would like to ask everyone, including my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA tour, and my fellow competitors for their understanding.  What‘s most important now is that my family has the time, privacy, and safe haven we will need for personal healing.  After much soul searching, I have decided to take an indefinite break from professional golf.  I need to focus my attention on being a better husband, father, and person.  Again, I ask for privacy for my family and I am especially grateful for all of those who have offered compassion and concern during this difficult period.” 

Tiger Woods added a separate statement that he will continue to work with the foundation he started with his father.  And the PGA Tour has just released its own statement supporting Woods‘ decision to focus on his family and welcoming his eventual return to golf when the time is right. 

Let‘s bring in Dave Zirin, sports editor for “The Nation.”  Thanks very much for your time tonight, Dave.

DAVE ZIRIN, “THE NATION”:  My privilege, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Key phrase, indefinite break.  What is indefinite in the world of golf?  Two months, four months, a year? 

ZIRIN:  People in the know, people in his circle, are coming out and saying they think it‘s a year, but nobody knows for sure.  It‘s worth telling your audience, Lawrence, that this is almost without precedence, though.  Remember, athletes aren‘t pundits or actors.  There‘s a very finite period in which they can make their money, and in which they can win the prizes and the trophies.  And for an athlete to take themselves out of commission in the middle of their prime for a year—the only comparison I can think of is Michael Jordan in 1993, following the death of his father.  I mean, this is very rare territory. 

O‘DONNELL:  And what does it mean to the game of golf?  The gross national product of golf USA? 

ZIRIN:  I mean, golf was already suffering somewhat under the economic crisis.  This is beyond that.  This is absolutely crippling.  If the economic crisis was like stubbing your toe, this is like getting hit by a Mac truck.  The ratings when Tiger is in there on a Sunday, wearing the red shirt—we‘re talking about the casual fan coming to golf.  And the number one competition in golf, it is said, is not Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson, or Tiger Woods versus Sergio Garcia. 

It‘s Tiger Woods versus history.  It‘s Tiger Woods versus Jack Nicklaus.  Tiger Woods has won 14 -- 14 tournaments -- 14 of the major tournaments -- 14 majors.  Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors.  And that‘s the only thing Tiger has left to really attain, is to pass Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 majors.  That‘s what people are watching for.  And so for him to take himself out for a year, while chasing the Golden Bear, that is huge news. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, how does he change the aura of his public image without playing golf?  That‘s the one thing he can do better than anyone else. 

ZIRIN:  That‘s a terrific question, because right know all kinds of sports editors are rewriting what they think the big story is going to be for 2010, which they thought was Tiger returning to the golf course for the Masters. 

And it‘s interesting, because if you think about scandal management 101 -- I‘m thinking about Rick Pitino, the coach at Louisville, who was in a very messy extramarital dalliance in the off season.  Nobody‘s talking about it now.  Why is nobody talking about it?  Because he‘s back to coaching Louisville, and the team is winning.  That‘s what most athletes do.  That‘s what most public figures do.  You just keep pressing forward.  Heck, that‘s what a certain president in the 1990s did, for goodness sakes. 

You just keep pressing on.  You keep moving forward.  And Tiger‘s taking a very different tact.  Of course, there‘s all sorts of personal ramifications involved.  So I don‘t want to speak about it as if it‘s some sort of calculation.  But from the perspective of management of his image and the relationship between him and his sport, this is a doozy.  I can‘t see any professional adviser saying leave for a year, because then when he comes back, how much bigger will the magnifying glass be? 

O‘DONNELL:  And how much bigger will the ratings be when he comes back, which certainly was in the mind of the PGA Tour when they made sure, at the end of their statement—they said you‘re welcome back, Tiger, any time you want to come back. 

ZIRIN:  He‘s made them all rich.  He‘s made them so terribly rich.  And I love the idea—an online writer named Bill Simmons; he said Tiger should come back and grow a goatee and moustache and be like the bad guy golfer, get divorced and start dating starlets and winning tournaments.  That would be like a pro-wrestler thing he could do.  I don‘t know if that‘s very appropriate to talk about right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, this afternoon, Accenture took Tiger Woods off the front page of their website.  Now, AT&T put out a statement of support, but said it was evaluating its on-going relationship.  It looks like the sponsors are starting to make the big moves.

ZIRIN:  Yeah, and, to me, this is the definition of chic, because, Tiger Woods—first of all, one of the reasons this is a big story is because the scandal is so out of tune with the brand.  What is the brand of Tiger Woods?  It‘s the person with incredible focus, control, and discipline.  That‘s why he‘s the first billion dollar athlete.  And a lot of these sponsors have gotten rich off their connection with Tiger Woods.  And now they‘re fleeing the ship. 

It‘s also worth saying, though, that a lot of these corporations, they don‘t want the spotlight on them either, in my opinion.  This is most of the writing I‘ve done about Tiger Woods, is that he‘s partnered up with, actually, some of the nastiest corporations and countries in the world, as part of building this billion dollar brand.  Whether you‘re talking about Chevron, which is the main sponsor of his foundation, or Dubai, where Tiger Woods Golf Course, the center of Dubai-Land, or the Philippines, where golf courses have been built, and kicked peasants off the land to build these golf courses—now they‘re all getting very high and mighty in relation to Tiger.  I think that‘s the definition of what we would call chic.

O‘DONNELL:  Dave Zirin of “The Nation,” thank you for broadening our focus on this breaking news tonight.

ZIRIN:  My privilege.  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  COUNTDOWN‘s comprehensive team coverage of the Tiger Woods melodrama continues. 

On the news front, the latest challenges for the Woods‘ marriage.  One Tiger groupie goes on “The Today Show” to talk about her relationship with Tiger and to try to clear her own name.  Can Tiger continue to remain silent?

And there‘s no zone of silence on late night.  If you couldn‘t stay up late for your daily dose of Tiger jokes, don‘t worry, we‘ll bring you the best laughs of the entire week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Another day, another Tiger Woods friend named Jamie with a facial piercing.  Perhaps that explains why Tiger is taking an indefinite break from golf.  In our number two story, Jamie Jungers told “The Today Show” this morning that she was not a prostitute, she was in love with tiger, and they did it like they weren‘t married. 

In a moment, the Jungers interview.  And we‘ll talk to “Newsweek‘s” Devin Gordon about the moving van that pulled up in front of the Woods estate today.  But first, the more salacious Tiger headlines of the day.  According to the show “Extra,” Rachel Uchitel, the first woman named as an alleged Woods hook up, is in negotiations to pose for “Playboy.”  Uchitel is allegedly looking for a big pay-out, which could have been much bigger back in the distant days of November when she was briefly the only woman publicly suspected of having an affair with Tiger.  “Playboy” had no comment. 

NBC News has confirmed that Uchitel‘s lawyer, Gloria Allred, is now representing other women connected to Tiger Woods, a class action of sorts.  “Radar Online” says Allred‘s new clients are as yet unnamed.  Then there is porn star Holly Sampson‘s plea to come off the Tiger Woods extramarital sex list.  She tells TMZ that she is not a home wrecker because her liaison with Woods occurred before he was married, at Tiger Woods‘ bachelor party.  The star of “Milf Bone Four,” “Staying on Top,” and “OMG, Stop Tickling Me,” added, quote, “I resent being put in the same category as the other women.” 

Ms. Sampson may indeed belong in another category, according to Michelle Braun.  She is the former madame who claims to have provided multiple women for Tiger Woods in Las Vegas.  Braun says Holly Sampson and Jamie Junger were among those girls.  As we said earlier, Junger disputes the prostitution allegation.  And she and her bedazzled cheek were on “The Today Show” this morning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMIE JUNGER, HAD AFFAIR WITH TIGER WOODS:  One of the guys came over, introduced himself, and said Tiger would love to meet you.  And I laughed and didn‘t take him seriously, because I didn‘t figure it‘d be Tiger Woods.  It became clear to me that Tiger was interested.  I didn‘t know how far it would lead.  The more we drank, the more, I guess, flirtatious we got.  So it just kind of went from friendly conversation in that club back into his hotel. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And you ended up spending the night with him? 

JUNGER:  Yeah.  He called me the following day and said that he loved spending time with me.  He‘d love to get to know me more.  And he gave me his phone number and told me to save it in his phone as a different name, in case I lost the phone. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At that point, Tiger was recently married.  Did you know that?  Did you know he was married? 

JUNGER:  I did. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Was that something that you had thought about at all? 

JUNGER:  It was a brief—it was a thought in my head, of course.  Because I‘m not raised to be—to do something like I did.  We went together in to restaurants.  When I went to the mansion to see him at the MGM, I would have to check in under my name and say that I was there to see him.  He would come down and get me. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He didn‘t try to hide the fact he was seeing you? 

JUNGER:  He didn‘t, no. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You came here today, you said, because you wanted to clear up some of the information that‘s been out there about you, like this headline, “Tiger Paid Me.”  Never paid you for anything, you say. 

JUNGER:  Nothing.  I didn‘t even get a birthday card.  I got nothing out of this relationship but a broken heart. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s an article in today‘s paper, another article.  The quote says a madame, a Hollywood madame named Michelle Braun -- she said you worked for her as an escort.  She says she has tax forms to prove you worked for one of her companies.  She says that although she never sent you on paid dates with Tiger, that you told her that he paid you for sex. 

JUNGER:  That‘s all funny.  I‘ve never even heard of the woman‘s name. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘ve never heard of Michelle Braun? 

JUNGER:  No, never in my life.  I have never been an escort, never will be an escort.  This is all news to me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Devin Gordon.  Welcome, Devin. 

DEVIN GORDON, “NEWSWEEK”:  Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  We will leave it to the audience to decide which category the various women belong in.  But we have breaking news, even while that tape was rolling, that Nike issued a statement of full support for Tiger Woods.  What about this indefinite leave from the golf world?  If he is timing this—if the timing is completely within Tiger Woods‘ control, what would be the best time to return to golf? 

GORDON:  About mid March, I would say—

O‘DONNELL:  That soon? 

GORDON:  I think three months is a long, long time in this day in age.  And it‘s hard for me to believe, knowing how important the pursuit of Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18 majors is to Tiger Woods, that he‘s going to sit a major out.  You come back a few weeks before it to test the waters, get back in the flow, and clear out all that media fuss, and you go for the major.  And I think when I first heard about this, my reaction was the same as your earlier guest, which is that when pro-athletes get in this kind of trouble, they need to get back to what they do best and win and get crowds cheering for them again.  That‘s how you get passed something like this. 

I think Tiger‘s not A-Rod in a certain sense.  He‘s not Rick Pitino. 

You know what happens to PGA Tour ratings when Tiger Woods isn‘t around?  They drop through the floor.  I think what Tiger is doing is saying, I‘m going to make you miss me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I also, at a certain level, wonder what the big deal is.  He hasn‘t been accused of any crime.  This is the country where Michael Vick is back to playing football, where Kobe Bryant—I don‘t think—missed a single basketball game while being accused of rape. 

GORDON:  Not a one. 

O‘DONNELL:  In a Denver courtroom.  He used to fly on a private jet from Colorado back to L.A. to play basketball.  What is it that Tiger Woods has done that even compares with what other people, who have gotten in legal trouble before him, have done? 

GORDON:  Well, I think, you know, one thing about Kobe, it was a very different situation.  It was very damaging.  Kobe did have sort of a nice-guy reputation before this.  And that was gone through the result—you know, through the course of that trial, even though he was acquitted.  And I think that is the one thing that has happened to Tiger, is that the image is shattered a little bit. 

But I‘m not sure how much that image is going to matter in three months, especially when he comes back in April and wins the Masters.  As soon as he gets back to doing that, things will turn around.  But in the meantime, I do think what that he‘s saying is I‘m going to make you want me to come back and do what I do best.  I‘m going to make you remember how much you liked me doing that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now, has he handled it the right way so far? 

GORDON:  No. 

O‘DONNELL:  He didn‘t follow David Letterman‘s monologue, get out there on the first night and talk about having done things.  David Letterman made it a kind of catch all statement that I think was capable of, in effect, addressing whatever was going to come out after he made that statement.  Tiger‘s done exactly the opposite.  Couple of statements on the web page, that‘s it.  Is that going to do it for him? 

GORDON:  No, not at all.  It‘s weird for me, for someone in my profession, since it‘s so self-serving, to say what he should really do is come talk to us.  But the fact of the matter is he should talk about this, once and only once, preferably on Oprah, somebody who will bloody him a little bit, but will not humiliate him.  And then you never speak about it again. 

When you‘re in a situation like this, stone walling is basically going to create a feeding frenzy.  The only way to get rid of the feeding frenzy is to throw some chum in the water.  Ashley Dupree has already spoken her thoughts on this.  When the hooker from some other guy‘s sex scandal has spoken and you haven‘t yet, you‘ve waited too long. 

O‘DONNELL:  Just quickly, does he have to do it Bill Clinton style?  Bill Clinton, on “60 Minutes,” had his wife sitting beside him.  Is his wife sitting beside him mandatory? 

GORDON:  I think it would help.  But at this point, I don‘t know if that‘s going to happen. 

O‘DONNELL:  Devin Gordon of “Newsweek,” thanks for joining us.  From damage control to out of control on late night.  The week that was in Tiger Woods jokes at the top of the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, no, golf is no longer boring, and hasn‘t been for about a fortnight now.  But certainly there are now going to be far too many putter jokes.  And new golf metaphors, all with a randy edge or bound to be born, whether or not Tiger Woods is in the public eye to contribute new material.  Of course, the writers of late night jokes have been teed up and ready to go from the start. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST:  Hey, before we get started, this would be a nice thing to do: turn to the person to the left of you and say hello.  Now turn to the person of the right of you and do the same thing.  One of the people you just met has slept with Tiger Woods. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Boy, looks like that Tiger Woods is having some trouble, huh?  You know what I was thinking?  If this thing had happened three months ago, I‘d have material for a year. 

JIMMY FALLON, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST:  Thank you very much.  And welcome back to the Tiger Woods Scandal Invitational.  Tiger is already up to the seventh hole. 

KIMMEL:  Tiger woods scandal is big business, and not just for search engines and cocktail waitresses, but also it‘s given a much needed boost to the decorative dish industry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The Tiger Woods scandal shows no sign of abating and the list of alleged mistresses continues to grow. 

Hi, I‘m Billy D. Williams.  Now you and your family can grow with it, with the Tiger Woods mistress commemorative plate collection.  Order now, and each month you‘ll receive a beautiful hand carved plate featuring one of Tiger‘s lovely liaison liaisons. 

JAY LENO, “THE JAY LENO SHOW”:  And the latest one, number ten—there‘s another one, another one.  This one works at a pancake house.  She‘s a waitress at the pancake house.  Apparently Tiger likes pancakes.  Not as much as he enjoys pigs in a blanket, but he likes—we‘re moving on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, it‘s not very windy. 

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  No. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s good. 

O‘BRIEN:   Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But it is a cold day. 

O‘BRIEN:  Very cold day.  We established that.  Got some good jokes off that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jokes might not fly as far.  I would keep your back straight and stay within yourself. 

O‘BRIEN:  OK.  Stay within yourself.  Try this one out right here.  Gatorade has said that their decision to stop production of a Tiger Woods brand of Gatorade is unconnected to Tiger‘s recent behavior.  That‘s what they said, yeah.  Although it probably didn‘t help that the slogan for the drink was “Tiger Woods, is it in you?”

CRAIG FERGUSON, “THE LATE LATE SHOW”:  Today, the seventh woman came forward claiming to be his mistress.  I know.  This is like Spartacus. 

I am Tiger‘s mistress.  No, I am—

KIMMEL:  Alleged mistresses are popping up in droves.  In the morning, we started out—there‘s been like three today, a couple of porn stars, a lot of cocktail waitresses.  So many cocktail waitresses.  No wonder when I go to a bar, I can never get a drink; they‘re all with Tiger Woods. 

To make a long story short, if you have a lower back tattoo and you haven‘t slept with Tiger Woods, you‘re a loser.  You really are. 

FALLON:  Today I got myself the new Tiger Woods advent calendar.  It is so cool.  Every day it reveals a new mistress. 

LENO:  Hey, Kev, what‘s the difference between Santa Claus and Tiger Woods? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s that? 

LENO:  Santa Claus quits after three hos.  But, you know—

LETTERMAN:  Anyway, that‘s what he was doing.  Now text messages, we have them now, sent by Tiger Woods.  Number eight, are you a cop?  Number seven, you‘re breaking up with me for Lee Travino? 

FALLON:  Now there are new rumors about an alleged nude photo of Tiger taken by one of his mistresses.  I hear that even though you can see Tiger‘s face in the pictures, you can tell it‘s him by how he grips his club. 

KIMMEL:  There‘s a big storm making its way across the country right now.  So far 15 states have been blanketed with snow and apparently there‘s more snow to come. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The storm is massive and slowly pushing itself eastward, where it‘s meeting a powerful northerly surge from the ever expanding Tiger Woods scandal.  Now, here‘s a look at who Tiger‘s (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in your neck of the woods. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Good thing none of those late night hosts have ever had sex scandals of their own to deal with.  That will do it for this special Tiger Woods edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching. 

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Good evening, Rachel.

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

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