updated 1/14/2010 1:24:13 PM ET 2010-01-14T18:24:13

Guests: Brian Williams, Kerry Sanders, Ann Curry, Al Roker, Ben Gruber, Pras Michel, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Eugene Robinson

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KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  This was where lived the most powerless of the poor and this where lived the most powerful of the nation.  And this—this could be almost any other street, in almost any other part of their island country.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Too many people have died.

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OLBERMANN: And this—all this—could be the greatest natural disaster and the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Indian Ocean tsunami.  The death toll could be 5,000 or 50,000 or 500,000.

This is COUNTDOWN‘s special coverage of the earthquake in Haiti.  Bodies piled on the sides of road like corkwood.  Schools, hospitals, prisons—now piles of rubble.  The president of that country: homeless.

The president of this country: trying to help.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The people of Haiti will have the full support of the United States in the urgent effort to rescue those trapped beneath the rubble and to deliver the humanitarian relief.

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OLBERMANN:  And for this, he is criticized on public airwaves today by a deranged racist.

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RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  This will play right into Obama‘s hands, humanitarian, compassionate.  They‘ll use this to burnish their—shall we say—credibility with the black community.

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OLBERMANN:  And a senile, money-scamming fraud says this happened because Haitians made “a deal with the devil.”

Plus, the waning days for health care reform here.  The House fights back.  The excise tax may be eliminated or reduced.  But the insurance cartel may have been illegally funneling millions into anti-reform ad campaigns.  Congressman Anthony Weiner joins us.

As we are reminded of what health care reform really means by an awful message of nightmarish reality from a place—a place this time not so very far away.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

There are words, three of them, that are enough to stop conversation up and down the San Andreas Fault that threatens northern and southern California like a sleeping snake.  Three words that have now been pronounced by seismologists near another almost living thing, deep below the earth‘s surface, the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault.

The three words are: the big one.  The island nation of Haiti has suffered its big one, and the results are enough to melt the strongest heart and shatter the most impenetrable soul.  The grim tally of disaster is only beginning to be calculated tonight.  The Haitian prime minister predicting today that hundreds of thousands may have died—certainly, 3.5 million have been impacted.

Haitians piling the bodies of the victims along the devastated streets of that country‘s capital city today, streets covered in dust and in blood.  The bodies of small children lying next to schools, men and women covered in plastic tarps or sheets, resting where hospitals once stood.  No firm count of how many dead, but officials are fearing that number could, indeed, reach half a million.

As we mentioned, the prime minister is saying today, several hundred thousand people might have been killed in the powerful earthquake.

It‘s all guessing now.

A leading senator in Haiti predicting 500,000 could be dead, acknowledging that no one really knows.  Those who survive, out in the streets, very little left standing.

The presidential palace, or more correctly, what‘s left of it, seen here, now flattened, merely.  The cathedral reduced to rubble.  Hospitals, schools, the main prison, entire neighborhoods are all gone.

The president of the Haiti telling “The Miami Herald,” quoting him, “Parliament has collapsed, the tax office has collapsed, schools have collapsed, hospitals have collapsed.  There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”

In that collapsed cathedral, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince among the dead.

The United Nations is saying this afternoon that 14 of its personnel have been killed, another 150 still missing, including the U.N. mission chief there.

Two million people were within 10 miles of the epicenter, 3.5 million in the general area yesterday when the earthquake struck just before 5:00 p.m.  Overnight for 10 hours, more than 30 strong aftershocks followed.

Seismologists are describing what was, in many ways, a perfect storm.  First, a huge earthquake, as we mentioned, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale.  Second, the quake was shallow, just six miles down, in fact, that increases the intensity and localizes it to the region right along the fault line.  And third, occurring beneath a densely populated area with few and meager building codes.  All of it adding up to massive, almost panoramic destruction.

Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey telling “Time” magazine, this was the big one.  The fault has been more or less locked for 200 years.  Seismologists were unsure as to whether it would produce one big one or several smaller ones.  We seem to have the answer.

Secretary of State Clinton having canceled the remainder of her trip to the Pacific in order to return to Washington tonight.  Defense Secretary Gates canceling his own trip to stay stateside during the emergency.

The president today promising a swift, coordinated, and aggressive response to a nation that was already besieged, that was already the poorest in the western hemisphere.

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OBAMA:  We are just now beginning to learn the extent of the devastation.  But the reports and images that we‘ve seen of collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes and men and women carrying their injured neighbors through the streets are truly heart-wrenching.  Indeed, for a country and a people who are no strangers to hardship and suffering, this tragedy seems especially cruel and incomprehensible.  We will be resolute in our response and I pledge to the people of Haiti that you will have a friend and partner in the United States of America today and going forward.

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OLBERMANN:  We‘re joined now live from the Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti by Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News”; by Ann Curry and Al Roker of the “Today Show”; and by NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders.

And our great thanks to all of you and all behind the scenes who have made this possible.

Brian, let me start with you.  Give me the overview of what you have seen in your hours in Haiti so far.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR:  Well, Keith, I‘m standing here thinking that we are standing in some of the only lights in Haiti.  And behind us, the only remaining lights—a lot of them are temporary, a lot of them belong to aircraft.

The news we can pass along at this hour is: U.S. Air Force Special Forces just stopped by here and said they are setting up the first control tower we‘ve had since the quake.  It‘s really going to be in the cockpit of a C-130.  But now, there‘s going to be air traffic control, and that is absolutely critical.

As of right now, it‘s just planes trying to talk to one another with basic emergency lighting on this runway.  It‘s completely haphazard.

And the flights are starting to come in now.  We saw a Finland Air charter flight, the Canadian military is here, the U.S. is here, medical relief flights dropping off supplies on the tarmac.  Not all of them getting picked up, more on that in a moment.

But you mentioned our on-air team, Kerry Sanders, Ann Curry, Al Roker.

Kerry sanders, you and I were talking earlier.  You estimate that over the course of your career, covering Haiti, you probably lived here on and off for a year of your life.  Set the scene in what can be a desperate nation before this tragedy.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  This is a miserable country for so many who live here, and now, so much worse.

You were talking about the chaos on the ground and in the air.  Let me just give you a little peek at that chaos.  We were airborne today, flying over the city in a helicopter, trying to assess the damage from the air.  And as we were taking a right turn, a left turn helicopter came right at us.  We went down, it went up.

There is no air traffic control, but for what is now being set up.  No need to have more problems in this country than they already have.

Let me tell you what the picture of the country looks like as I flew over.  Port-au-Prince, that large city, so compact with so many shanty towns and so many shacks built on the sides of hills, on the sides of mountains that have collapsed, (AUDIO BREAK) slid away, are crushed, pancaked.

It‘s not the entire city, but it‘s spot after spot after spot.  And those buildings that are still standing are empty.  Nobody wants to be inside a building because of the aftershocks that you mentioned.  We‘ve had some aftershocks here while I was out today, one rather dramatic.  People started running, screaming—no destination, just scared.

Some of the concrete began to fall on the building that we were standing at that had already collapsed.  Around the corner, another building where they believe there may be survivors and people may still be trapped inside.  Efforts to get them stopped as everybody pulled back.  Now, they may have resumed, but you‘ve got the darkness.

There are so many problems here, Brian, at just trying to save the lives.  Barth Green, he‘s one of the doctors—a trauma doctor from Miami.  He flew in here and I said, “People are crushed under this concrete, if they are alive, can they survive?”  He was emphatic, yes, we can get them out.  We have 48 hours or so.  We are going to work to get those people out.

But the scene of a country that is a miserable country on a good day is sad.  It‘s almost pathetic.

WILLIAMS:  And, Ann, one of the places the survivors are coming is here.  If you live in Haiti, if you‘re anywhere near the grounds of this airport, you‘re thinking, maybe there‘s a way out, maybe there‘s people coming in who have things you need.

ANN CURRY, “TODAY SHOW”:  In fact, because they need so much.  Brian, you‘re absolutely right.  And you know, they‘re coming to these gates, they‘re crowding these gates.  It‘s absolute chaos just outside the gates as people have tried to find a way out of here.

And they‘re coming to these gates covered in dust.  They‘re coming to these gates with open wounds.  Some of them have had a little bit of medical care, but you can see that the need is so great.  And you know out on the streets right now, some of the buildings that you just heard were crushed, have been pancaked, include hospitals.  So many hospitals are down that they actually have on the streets triage in clinics out on the streets with bodies lying on the streets covered in sheets.

And it is a—it is, it can be said, I believe, that in recent memory, that there has not been a humanitarian disaster that has required, that is needed, that is now pleading for outside help, for international help, more than this one.  And I think that help cannot arrive fast enough for these people.

And I think that the control tower that you talked about that‘s being set up by the Air Force here on the ground is going to be critical for bringing in help, the supplies.  They‘re going to be so critical in keeping people alive.

WILLIAMS:  And, Al, among the rescuers tonight, Fairfax County, Virginia, which lead (ph) a lot of countries here.

AL ROKER, “TODAY SHOW”:  Absolutely.  We spoke them this morning on “Wake Up with Al” on the Weather Channel, and they were loading their trucks.  They were heading to Dulles Airport.

And in fact, they are here.  They‘re in the terminal building here, which has emergency lighting, there‘s standing water, massive cracks throughout the walls.

In fact, we were sitting underneath an overhang and a gentleman came over.  He didn‘t speak English, but gestured to the overhang and saying, it could come down.  So, we moved away, because we were standing on the tarmac here when an aftershock happened, and it was very much like a large truck rumbled by, but there was no truck.  It was just an aftershock.

And as you have noticed, Brian, there‘s a lot of humanitarian aid that‘s on the tarmac still, just hasn‘t been able to be picked up.  It‘s waiting for delivery and distribution within the city.

WILLIAMS:  Keith, for the longest time, a stand-up fetal monitor was here near our live location until someone gingerly walked it over to the side.  But that kind of thing is happening.  I can‘t emphasize how early it is in all of this.  And yet, not far from here, the tragedy unfolds.

OLBERMANN:  Brian, I‘ve been struck in your early reporting from there and along with Ann‘s by one point in particular, which I would like you to expand upon.  I don‘t want to try to create a problem out of nowhere, but there‘s something salient in here, potential disturbing—the crowds at the perimeters of the airport.  Is desperation beginning to be a factor here with the destruction of the response, the ordinary triage sense of response to something like this?  If shelter and rescue and exit is not forthcoming quickly, could we see the prospect of the healthy survivors essentially trying to force their way, understandably, into some kind of relief, some place of relief?

WILLIAMS:  Oh, we‘ve seen civil unrest and the loss of control by what passes for everyday government here.  Many times over the past few decades, it‘s when the news media usually comes to Haiti and then the public attention gets focused on it again, and then we go off to other things.  This is one of those times.

This nation, every day, is this far from spiraling out of control.  You take people who have next to nothing and then reduce that to nothing and see what happens.

CURRY:  I think that‘s absolutely true.  I think that there‘s a real risk here.  I think that there is an expectation that that could happen, Keith.  I think it‘s a very good question.

And I know you don‘t want to create trouble by asking that question, but I think it‘s a fair question.  And I think, really, the best person to really answer that question is actually you, dear, because you understand.  You‘ve covered some of these kinds of periods of unrest.

How long do you think people are going to be willing to wait without food, without shelter, enduring these aftershocks?

SANDERS:  I hate to sound so pessimistic, because they have done without for so long, they‘re almost used to this, but not at this level.  I think the real question is—and it may have something to do with a woman that I spoke to here who is from Upstate New York.  And that is her sense of anarchy beginning to set in.

People who are camped out tonight fear for their own safety.  If they have a place to sleep and one belonging with them, it may turn out that somebody else wants that belonging from them, because people are desperate and they need water.  I mean, these are very basic things that people need.  If you have a bottle of water and somebody wants it, it‘s very possible somebody‘s going to take it with force.  And that‘s, I think, the real problem.

Look, there can be an incredible airlift here, and there will be.  Getting it out will be the difficult thing.  Fortunately, when I flew over, a lot of the roads are still passable.  So they will be able to get it.

But this country doesn‘t have a whole lot of structure for trucks.  There‘s not a lot of trucks here.  Organizing the trucks here and getting that airlift into the vehicles to get out, it‘s going to take some time.

If the Marines bring in an expeditionary force as they‘re talking about possibly doing, they‘ll have to land and bring trucks in because it‘s one thing to stack it all up here, getting it out to the people in this city.  If they live up in the hills, sure, they could walk all the way down here to this airport, but they‘re not going to.  It would not be a good distribution point.

It‘s going to be difficult.  It‘s going to be—it‘s going to be very

it‘s going to take days, if not weeks, to get this stuff in place, and that‘s where the real problem begins.

           

WILLIAMS:  So, Keith, it‘s a grim picture.

OLBERMANN:  Kerry Sanders, I have one question for you based on what you saw.  You‘ve heard these wild estimates ranging from, at the very low-end, a few thousand fatalities to this extraordinary estimate by a senator in Haiti of perhaps half a million.  Is the latter, the up—the horrible upside figure, is that implausible based on what you saw, or is there no way even to estimate based on your aerial tour of Port-au-Prince?

SANDERS:  I think it‘s too early to say.  It may turn out to be true. 

It may be a wild number.

This is a country that would like to tell you how many people live here, but they don‘t even have a census to tell you how many people live here.  Trying to find out how many people died here is going to—it probably will never fully happen.  Just getting the rubble removed from where people were crushed could take an extremely long time.  This is a country where when something falls and breaks, it‘s just maybe just left there.

And so, people who died in this earthquake, they may be in their graves now.

OLBERMANN:  Brian, sum this up for me.  We have spoken under the saddest of circumstances with you in Banda Aceh and you in New Orleans and everywhere else.  Is there any way yet to assess, overall, where this fits in that horrible kaleidoscope of our recent history?

WILLIAMS:  No, not yet.  And I was just discussing Banda Aceh this evening with a producer for Reuters Television, who was also there.  But you get that feeling.  He just took a brief trip into the center of Port-au-Prince, and it‘s stomach-turning.

You can‘t—I‘ve always said, you have to kind of put it off in a box, because it doesn‘t have any bearing on the life we fly back into and maintain day to day in the United States.  This is something you see in places like this after horrible natural disasters like this.

OLBERMANN:  No better word describes it than that—horrible.

Brian Williams, Ann Curry, Al Roker, Kerry Sanders—terrific reporting under dire circumstances.  We appreciate the time greatly and our best wishes to you and the entire crew there.

WILLIAMS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Incredibly, today, one senile televangelist rip-off artist decided to make this about the devil; and the racist and drug addled purveyor of hate decided to try to make this about domestic politics and portray it about black people trying to oppress other black people.

“Quick Comment” on Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh and then back to Haiti.

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OLBERMANN:  This is the second night after a 7.0 earthquake centered at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, essentially, in the words of the president of that nation, collapsed his country.  We‘re going to go back to Port-au-Prince, the airport there, where a reporter from the “Reuters” news service, Ben Gruber, has been kind enough to join us.  Mr. Gruber, earlier today, had a motorcycle tour of the city and he joins us now.

I‘m just going to ask you to start by giving me your overall impressions of what you saw from that city today.

BEN GRUBER, REUTERS:  Good morning, Keith—or good night.

Yes, it‘s been a pretty devastating day.  When I landed this morning, I basically got on a motorcycle and took a brief tour of downtown Port-au-Prince.  And I guess the best way to describe it is utter devastation.

In the 45 minutes that I drove around, there were basically bodies lining the streets.  There were people still trying to claw out of buildings and other people trying to help them claw out.  And one of the other things that really caught me was the fact that there were literally tens of thousands of people who were just walking aimlessly, not knowing what to do, in utter shock.

Right across the street from the airport, there‘s a soccer field that‘s basically turned into a refugee camp.  We saw that picture earlier and it was basically—you really don‘t know what to do with that kind of image.

OLBERMANN:  Is there—did you see any evidence of a—still existent societal structure, I mean, in the sense of, are there—are there aid workers organizing these attempts to dig people out of the rubble?  Is there anybody supervising what‘s happening at that soccer stadium turned into a virtual refugee camp?  What‘s going on in terms of maintaining—for want of a better term—some sense of order?

GRUBER:  Again, with my own eyes, I saw absolutely no aid workers out there.  But, again, this was about six hours ago.  When I was out there, there were no aid workers.  And again, just people, walking around aimlessly.  I didn‘t see any U.N. trucks or any other kind of other aid relief efforts with my own eyes.

OLBERMANN:  I just asked this of Ann Curry and Brian Williams, who have been at the airport and who have talked about the crowds at the airport.  Brian Williams had done some reporting earlier about crowds inside the airport terminal, people trying to get out of the country and none of them in a particularly patient mood and quite understandably so.

Is there a sense—and with the reports now of gunshots being heard in Port-au-Prince—is there any sense of desperation taking over the common structures of society?  Is there a fear that this night, if there‘s not some massive acceleration of the rescue and relief effort, that things could get out of hand there tonight?

GRUBER:  Again, I can‘t say anything other than what I saw, which was, when you speak of society, you speak of order.  And at this point, Port-au-Prince, at least from my own eyes, there is none.

So I don‘t really know how else to answer that question, other than what I saw was people in utter shock.  They weren‘t at anger yet.  They were still kind of dealing with the fact of what happened here.

OLBERMANN:  Do you, from what you saw, have any limitations in your own mind as to the fatality count or the injury count?  We heard from a senator in Haiti, an elected official, who said it could be as much as 500,000.  There have been lower estimates, 50,000, 100,000.

Do you have any idea where that number may actually be rightly placed?

GRUBER:  Keith, I can‘t honestly say.  I can just repeat what I said

earlier.  In my brief 45-minute tour of downtown Port-au-Prince, I saw it

lined with people that we—people that have lost their life.  And it was

it was devastating.  I, probably with my own eyes, saw upwards of 100 people dead and, you know, I can‘t see—I can‘t really report on anything else other than that.

           

OLBERMANN:  Ben Gruber of “Reuters” news service at the airport at Port-au-Prince—it‘s obviously a human toll, even if you‘re a seasoned reporter, and we thank you for spending a few moments trying to give us a picture of what‘s actually happening there.  Thank you, sir.

GRUBER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The reaction here, of course, is what you would expect with those with loved ones in that country.  There are so many, there are little Haitis throughout this entire nation, and the discussion of the worry, the fear, and the inaccessibility to information from people who have relatives there, it‘s overwhelming.  We‘re going to examine that next as our coverage continues.

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OLBERMANN:  It already was the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, a country without a stable food supply, the most destitute, resorting to, literally, eating dirt in search of nutrition.  And that was before yesterday‘s earthquake collapsed, in the words of the president of Haiti, his nation.

There‘s no official death toll yet, but anyone who has seen these pictures now knows the situation is dire and growing worse, the humanitarian crisis of extraordinary proportions and what you can do to help.

At this hour, international aid efforts pouring into the region, but with hospitals and care facilities badly damaged or destroyed, some bridges knocked down, electricity cut off, though you heard Kerry Sanders report a surprisingly large number of roads seem to be in passable shape.  It is, however, a losing battle relative to time.  Less than a day after the quake struck, the American Red Cross says it has run out of medical supplies.  More are being sent to the region, although a spokesman does not know when it will arrive.

President Obama pledging an aggressive relief effort, tapping the defense and state departments, along with the U.S. Agency for International Development to spearhead U.S. aid operations.  Already, military and civilian experts have arrived to search for survivors and to assess the extraordinary volume of damage.

Meanwhile, civilian disaster assistance teams deployed this afternoon leaving the U.S. as soon as the runway reopened at Port-au-Prince, and you heard earlier tonight, that finally, there is a tower up to direct traffic so the landings can continue with some measure of safety for the rescuers.

And for those of us who are here, monetary donations will be critical.

Former President Bill Clinton today at the United Nations.

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BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  A lot of people out here in the United States and around the world want to help.  And the temptation is to send things that you imagine will be need.  We do not have the logistical and organizational capacity right now to handle a lot of things.  We‘ve got to save as many lives as possible and keep the people who are wounded as healthy as possible and give water to people where there‘s no more clean water and feed them.  That‘s what we need.

So, the most important thing individuals can do who care is to send cash, even if it‘s $1 or $2.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, Haitian-American rap artist, Pras Michel, who has performed with the group the Fugees and recently started the Prosperity Project, which is an organization to help raise funds for children‘s education and the homeless.

Great thanks for some of your time tonight, sir.

PRAS MICHEL, HAITIAN-AMERICAN RAP ARTIST:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  You and your cousin, Wyclef Jean, have traveled many times on humanitarian missions to this country, Haiti, poorest in the western hemisphere, even before a disaster of this kind of kind of magnitude.  Is there—was there any kind of infrastructure equipped to deal with the scale of this disaster?

MICHEL:  No, there wasn‘t.  Not at all.

OLBERMANN:  What will save what can be saved of Haiti then?

MICHEL:  I mean, hopefully, the first thing we have to concentrate on are the people that are still under the rumbles.  We‘ve got to deal with the lives of people who haven‘t been found yet.  I think that‘s the first thing.  That‘s the short-term.

And then we‘ve got to deal with the long-term of Haiti after the short-term.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s address the immediate first.

MICHEL:  The immediate would be food, clothes, and like President Bill Clinton said, you know, the first thing we need, we need people to donate money, even if it‘s $1, because it‘s not built to get all these other items down in Haiti.  So we need monetary resources right now.

OLBERMANN:  Have you been able to get in touch with your family members there? 

MICHEL:  Actually, I spoke to a very dear, close friend of mine this morning.  She was in Haiti.  But after two hours, all communications went down in Haiti. 

OLBERMANN:  What did she tell you of the place at that point? 

MICHEL:  Well, she basically said the capital is in rumbles.  I mean, it‘s just flattened.  It‘s destroyed.  I think there were three hospitals.  One of them has been destroyed.  The other two have been abandoned.  Just chaos going on over there.  People don‘t know left from right.  I mean, it‘s utter destruction over there. 

OLBERMANN:  The chaos—and again, I don‘t want to turn this into some sort of who‘s in charge question.  That‘s not the issue.  But what has to happen in terms of keeping the situation from getting worse?  Is there some—is there some way of organizing the post-earthquake Haiti in the next 24 hours, so that people don‘t take the law into their own hands, or become so desperate that their judgment is clouded, as they pursue the things they need to help themselves and their families? 

MICHEL:  Well, knowing Haitians, I don‘t believe any form of chaotic is going to happen.  I think that they‘re very resilient.  They understand this is a natural disaster.  It wasn‘t anyone‘s fault.  If it was political, then it probably would have been something else. 

But I think no one is to blame right now, because you can‘t control mother nature.  I think right now they understand that—they see that the Americans are behind them.  I want to definitely commend President Obama for acting very quickly and swiftly.  I spoke to, actually, a friend of mine in the administration, Jason McCall.  And they‘re taking it very seriously. 

And I know a lot of Haitians appreciate that very much.  So in that case, I don‘t foresee any gun shooting or any looting.  I think they‘re just going to rally behind each other, and try to help everyone that they can, especially the ones that haven‘t been found yet. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope that‘s true.  A final question for you.  Are you going to try to go there? 

MICHEL:  I think I‘m better served down there.  I know my constituent, Wyclef Jean, he went down there this morning.  I think what I‘m trying to do is rally all my friends, celebrity friends, in both music and Hollywood, and try to come up with a way to galvanize everybody to support this effort.  And I want to thank the Americans out here for being so generous, and reaching out to help the Haitians down there. 

OLBERMANN:  Praz Michel, the Haitian-American rap artist, great thanks to you tonight.  Thank you for your time. 

MICHEL:  Keith, real quick.  What did Rush Limbaugh say? 

OLBERMANN:  I—I—I can‘t repeat it to you.  He essentially said the president would be able to—I guess he said increase his credibility with both the light-skinned and black- -- dark-skinned blacks in this country by reacting more quickly to this than he did to the Detroit failed terrorist bomber.  That‘s what he said today. 

MICHEL:  Oh, OK. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Pretty much. 

MICHEL:  Right, OK. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

MICHEL:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  Trying to make sense of those who would turn Haiti into the fault of the Haitians, or as a cudgel to use in domestic politics, or a platform from which to spout racism; Eugene Robinson joins me coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back to Haiti in a moment, and reports now that quake victims in Haiti from the United States have been evacuated to, of all places, Guantanamo Bay.  The first subject of the quick comment tonight is still the matter of Haiti, but relating to back here. 

Even the worst of us in this political mosh pit of the early 21st century can stop, on occasion, in grief and in human sympathy, in mourning, or just in self-preservation.  Not Rush Limbaugh and not Pat Robertson.  We‘ll explore this at length later.

But Mr. Robertson, it is laughable now to try to call him reverend, explained today that this earthquake was part of a, quote, “deal with the devil,” that he claims the nation made in the 19th century to gain its freedom from France.  “True story,” Robertson says. 

Sir, because of your tone deafness, and your delight in human misery, and your dripping, self-satisfied, holier than thou, senile crap, I am now likelier to believe that you are the devil. 

Limbaugh, meantime, did not know just when to shut up.  Today he blamed communism for the poverty of Haiti, blamed President Obama for holding a news conference the day after this cataclysm, when he did not hold one after the failed, half assed attempt in Detroit, and said that Obama would, quote, “use Haiti to,” quote, “burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community in the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country.” 

Mr. Robertson, Mr. Limbaugh, your lives are not worth those of the lowest, meanest, poorest of those victims still lying under that rubble in Haiti tonight.  You serve no good.  You serve no God.  You inspire only stupidity and hatred.  And I would wish you to hell.  But knowing how empty your souls must be for you to be able to say such things in a time of such pain, I suspect the vacant, purposeless lives you both live now are hell enough already.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Aerial images of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti that were shot this afternoon, obviously long before nightfall, giving a picture of the first full day after the 7.0 earthquake, just six miles below the surface of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.  Six miles sounds like an extraordinary distance vertically beneath the Earth‘s surface.  In geological terms, it‘s nothing.  And it means that all the devastation is right in one area.  It is concentrated.  It is not spread out, as, say, the 1989 earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area would have been, or any of the major ones we‘ve had here in this country. 

Right in one place, and home after home, and building after building, and hospital after hospital devastated, pancaked.  And all the reports we‘re getting from there, very little in the way of structure left, either in terms of buildings or in terms of society.  Very few people in charge.  And night has fallen for the second time in Port-Au-Prince. 

We‘re joined now by Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.  We were to talk about health care reform in this country, and we‘ll touch on this subject in a moment.  But I think it‘s necessary to get your insights on this first.  You have been there.  You know this place.  And you have spoken to the secretary of state in the last few hours? 

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  She‘s on her way back.  She was on a trip going to Australia for a conference.  You know, you can‘t imagine, you know, in Haiti, they‘ve had nothing but bad luck, successive floods a year and a half ago, a completely deforested economy, not because they‘re insensitive to the environment, but because people really needed to cut the wood up in order to live. 

They‘ve had a terrible situation there.  It‘s so bad today that even Preval, the president, has no place to live.  Cell phone batteries are starting to die and there‘s no infrastructure.  It is unspeakably unfortunate, what‘s going on there. 

And hopefully this is a moment where we get a little bit of context.  The hotel I stayed in in March with some colleagues, the Hotel Montana, has been leveled.  And it‘s believed that anyone who was staying there might not have survived.  We‘re all scrambling, in a bipartisan way, in Washington.  Before I left and flew back to New York, Democrats and Republicans alike were huddling, trying to figure out what it is we can do. 

And we are a great country.  And it‘s moments like this we have to bring to bear all of the forces that we have to try to help these people out. 

OLBERMANN:  At some point, does that become instituting or supplying some sense of support for the societal structure, which has clearly been, metaphorically, shaken as much as the ground has? 

WEINER:  Well, frankly, there is very little infrastructure on which to build infrastructure now.  Quite literally, they are having conversations about whether to bring in all of the aid to this country through a neighboring country, and driving it through the Dominican Republic, through Espanola.  That is how bad it is.

It is so bad that our primary organ of relief there, the United Nations, is saying they can‘t get in touch with any of their workers, not a single one, and they‘re fearful they may all have been lost. 

So we‘re really starting—never mind nation building.  This is just society building, at this point, under the worst circumstances.  So any help your viewers can give would, obviously, be helpful. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  When the United Nations reports that it‘s got, I believe the number was at least 14 of its delegation there confirmed dead, that is a horrible—it‘s not just for them, obviously, but a horrible starting point in terms of relief and an attempt to reestablish order. 

We‘ll continue with Congressman Weiner right after this.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Continuing our coverage of the second day after the earthquake, the 7.0 earthquake at Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, in which this devastation is so extraordinary, there is not even a reasonable estimate as to the death toll yet, as night has fallen for the second time on a disaster-struck nation. 

With Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York—and I don‘t want to turn this into something about domestic politics.  But I think it‘s a good frame of reference in terms of the health care issue that we always talk about.  We could easily have a natural disaster, if not quite on this scale, at least in the same broad ballpark.  A slightly heavier earthquake in California could do extraordinary devastation to San Francisco or Los Angeles. 

I was thinking about this—and maybe it‘s inappropriate and tell me if I‘m inappropriate in asking it.  But how would survivors of something like this here fair in terms of getting on their own feet economically afterwards, with the health care system we have in place right now? 

WEINER:  Well, I think if we were to have a circumstance like this, we would all rally around. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course. 

WEINER:  And it‘s the same way, frankly, every single day, that when people go into a hospital or an emergency room, there is some question asked, let me see your insurance card.  But at the end of the day, we care for them.  So we really don‘t have a discussion in this country about whether or not we‘re going to have health care for everyone.  We really do. 

The only question that we‘re having now—and it seems so almost silly.  It‘s so petty—is how are we going to distribute that health care?  How are we going to pay for it?  How are we going to make sure that everyone has it at an affordable level? 

We need to keep that in mind.  We are not having an argument here about whether or not people are going to have health care, only how we are going to pay for it, and how we‘re going to do it efficiently, and how we make sure that people who need it can get it before they enter a hospital emergency room.  But that‘s the debate we‘re having in Washington. 

And as pitched and angry as it sometimes gets, the images like the ones that you just had on the screen, of people literally sitting in line on the streets of Port-Au-Prince make us realize that, to some degree, our differences aren‘t that great.  But we do need to figure out a way to provide for everyone. 

OLBERMANN:  It is perspective.  And if that‘s the only positive to it, that‘s something that needs to be underscored.  Congressman Weiner, Anthony Weiner of New York, thanks for coming in and for your perspective on both topics tonight.  We‘ll continue with Eugene Robinson.  We‘ll do a news recap on this right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s briefly recap the headlines from Port-Au-Prince, those stories that have broken in the last hour.  Brian Williams reporting from the airport there that there is a tower now up and running at Port-Au-Prince airport, which will facilitate the arrival of relief and perhaps evacuations. 

To the point of evacuations, four American embassy staffers who were critically injured in the earthquake have been evacuated, relocated for treatment, medical treatment, to Guantanamo Bay.  And there is discussion being related from Gitmo of the possibility of using that facility to house, perhaps, evacuees from Haiti, or perhaps the prisoners.  Among other things destroyed in this earthquake, the prisons, at least some of the major ones throughout the nation. 

There‘s also a late report of some gunfire being heard in downtown Port-Au-Prince.  The nature of it—it could have been—well, for all we know, accidental.  There‘s no context whatsoever for that.  Those are the late-breaking headlines.  We‘re going to come back and discuss with Eugene Robinson the issues we face here, when people take political advantage and say the extraordinary things that Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson did today, as our MSNBC coverage continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They‘re not merely still mourning the dead in Haiti; they have barely begun to look for the dead.  But that fact, the sensitivity and grace that it needs are, of course, powerless in the path of those savage idiots who would seize on Haiti when it needs open hands instead, to exploit its calamity, to use its tragedy to benefit themselves, or to push their own religious or political causes.  It is our great shame.  The Christian leader Pat Robertson, of course, is at least, obviously, enthrall to the relentless logic of his belief in an interventionist God, who punished New Orleans with Katrina, and punished America with 9/11.  Of course, now, God, he thinks, is punishing Haiti, killing the Roman Catholic archbishop there in the process. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST:  And they got together and swore a pact to the devil.  They said, we will serve you if you‘ll get us free from the French.  It‘s a true story.  So the devil said, OK, it‘s a deal.  But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.  They need to have, and we need to pray for them, a great turning to God. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then at the bottom, always at the bottom, Rush Limbaugh using Haiti to attack President Obama, predicting, based on what exactly we don‘t know, that he would try to use Haiti to help himself with, quote, “the light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I want you to remember, it took him three days, three days to respond to the Christmas day fruit of kaboom bomber.  Three days.  And when he came out after those three days, he was clearly irritated that he had to do it.  He didn‘t want to do it.  He comes out here in less than 24 hours to speak about Haiti. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With us tonight, MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, the associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “The Washington Post.” Gene, good evening. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s talk about Pat Robertson first.  When someone says they know why things, in this case that earthquake, happened to people—it‘s one thing to have faith or understand why things happen based within your faith.  Why is it different when you start telling people why disasters have occurred? 

ROBINSON:  Well, because you‘re blaming the victims.  You‘re blaming the innocent victims of a tragedy in which they played no part.  But, look, Keith, these are the ravings of a demented, old man. 

OLBERMANN:  Agreed. 

ROBINSON:  And that woman sitting next to him in that interview should have taken him by the hand and led him away from the microphone and kept him away.  It is really appalling. 

OLBERMANN:  The mixed message in this, the charity arms of Robertson‘s organization, to their great credit, are now helping Haiti.  Does that mean that Pat Robertson is opposing God‘s plan, as he understands it? 

ROBINSON:  If there were any logic left there, it would—that would be the logic.  But I think he‘s beyond logic at this point and so, no, it doesn‘t make sense to take those two things together.  But he‘s not making sense. 

OLBERMANN:  As to Mr. Limbaugh, it‘s a fair thing.  It‘s a valid thing to examine and to criticize a president‘s response to any crisis, under any circumstances.  But why—why would you, under any circumstances, as entertainer or comedian or pundit—why would you choose to do that while men, women, and children totally unconnected to that president are still dying and not even being—rescue is not even being affected yet. 

ROBINSON:  Let me suggest possibly three isms: opportunism, because being edgy and transgressive is a way he makes his big, fat salary; racism, for obvious reasons; and narcissism, also, for obvious reasons.  Or else, true story, he made a pact with the devil. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, well, we‘ll pass on that.  The racism aspect strikes me so strongly about that, to suggest that the president of the United States would then come out and try to use this in some domestic political sense, and was somehow favoring—I‘m not sure of the logic—he favored the 500,000 dead in Haiti over the one bomber injured in Detroit in some way.  I‘m not following it. 

ROBINSON:  It makes no sense.  And, you know, aren‘t we all appalled that our president would mount a rescue effort to try to save thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people who are either dying right now or who will die in the next few days if they don‘t get help?  You know, shame on the president for trying to alleviate that suffering and prevent those deaths. 

It‘s just a ridiculous thing to say.  And I hope even his audience of ditto-heads realizes that. 

OLBERMANN:  You are dittoing naked, mad, insanity, and racism.  Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “The Washington Post,” also of MSNBC.  It‘s always a relief to talk to you under these circumstances, Gene. 

ROBINSON:  It‘s good to talk to you, Keith, except under bad circumstances. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.

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