updated 3/15/2004 12:12:04 PM ET 2004-03-15T17:12:04

Guests: Alan Abrahamson; Margaret Carlson, Lynn M. Paltrow, Lupita Murillo, William Hung

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Three-eleven, the day after:  Spain mourns.  Spain investigates.  Spain‘s leading internal terrorist group again denied it had anything to do with this.  And some early clues support that denial. 

Internationally, France and Poland react and so too, do the Greeks: 

The Olympics opening five months from tomorrow.  Suddenly NATO forces that were to be on standby are asked to join the Olympic counter terrorism task force, right now.  We‘ll examine Olympic fear. 

And we‘ll examine what high priced lessons from the nightmare of Madrid U.S. forces might learn about protecting mass transit here. 

Ad infinitum:  Are the Kerry ads true?  Are the Bush ads true?  Are the Kerry ads attacking the truth of the Bush ads attacking the truth of the Kerry ads true?  Is it just one big ad nauseum? 

Another nightmare of childhood.  A mother refuse as c-section, her baby dies, she is charged with murder. 

And on this day, we need a lot of comic relief.  Live

WILLIAM HUNG, “AMERICAN IDOL” OUTCAST (SINGING):  Talk to me.  Tell me your name...

He‘s back by popular demand:  William Hung.  Live! Live! Live!

All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  If yesterday in Madrid evoked 9/11 here, today in Madrid evoked the days and weeks thereafter, here.  Not merely fear or anger, but grief stricken crowds in the streets and potent clues about the perpetrators, and reaction, some of it profound, some of it frightening around the world. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  3/11 in Madrid, in Athens, in America.  First investigation on the ground:  As the list of the dead reach 199 and the injured 1,400, the Basque group first blamed for the atrocities, Eta, again insisted it had, quote, “no responsibility whatsoever for the attacks.”  And security forces quoted by a Spanish news radio seemed to support that denial.  Detonators found in one of the two unexploded bombs was made of copper.  The trademark Eta‘s much lower yield explosives are aluminum detonators.  The same news organization said that the investigators had also determined that the bombs were activated by mobile phones.  The alarms for which had been set for 7:39 a.m., prevailing local time yesterday.  This day in Madrid was extraordinarily reminiscent of the night of 9/11, here; or the mornings and afternoons of the ensuing week. 

First there was a terrifying false alarm at the train station at which roughly half of the victims had died.  The Atocha terminal near the Prado Museum was evacuated.  Then came the coincidences, the attacks, as noted yesterday, coming two-and-a-half years after 9/11.  And today it was observed that between the two events, 911 days had elapsed and at noon on this day, for 10 minutes, Spain essentially came to a halt.  Finally as correspondent Dawna Friesen reports, the overwhelming public sadness had to compete tonight, with growing public anger. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tonight the streets of Spain were filled with millions of mourners, an outpouring of mixed emotion, grief, anger, and defiance. 

The crowds shouting, “killers, killers” and “no to terrorism.”  But a sense too, of helplessness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  e can‘t do anything against these people, this kind of people, they can kill and we can‘t do anything. 

FRIESEN:  With no clear answer on who is responsible, the people of Spain aren‘t sure where to direct their rage.  For some, even the once simple act of taking the train is now traumatic. 

As investigators search for clues, a haunting flashback to yesterday‘s bombing, the voice of a passenger leaving a mention on her mother‘s answering machine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, (SPEAKING SPANISH):  Listen, I‘m calling because there‘s been a bomb in the train and we‘ve had to -- (SCREAM)

FRIESEN:  At noon today, Spain stopped to honor the victims, even some doctors and nurses helping them.  Then clapping, a sign of respect for the dead.  Everywhere, candlelit shrines, flags adorned with black ribbon of mourning, the Madrid Convention Center now serves as a makeshift morgue.  Only 50 bodies have been identified so far, the rest are badly mutilated.  At Alcala Train Station, outside Madrid, where three of the bomb trains originated, abandoned cars from people who left for work and never came home. 

(on camera):  Unlike September 11, there is no ground zero, here.  No one place to go.  So, people are gathering in small towns like this one, in church halls, in schools, and sports arenas to mourn the dead.  Alcala lost 40 people, two coffins have already been brought to the local arena, there are places for 18 more. 

“The families are feeling helpless, angry and frustrated, says this Father Rubianes, “and tears are the only release.” 

The carnage here, forever seared into the collective memory of the country. 

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, Madrid. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  While governmental reaction in this country was limited to an advisory cautioning vigilance about transit and rail facilities, not so in parts of Europe.  France raised its terror alert warning from yellow to orange, but yellow so its lowest level, orange its second lowest out of four.  It upgraded primarily in response to the Spanish government‘s initial conclusion that the destruction was work of Basque separatists. 

The Basque region is actually not entirely in Spain, it straddles the

border of France‘s most southwestern state, the de part mount Pyrenees

Atlantiques (ph).  The French also ordered all flags on their government

buildings lowered to halfstaff during the three days of official mourning

by their neighbors in Spain. 

Unexpectedly, the only other nationwide status change came from Warsaw.  Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller told reporters that he can‘t rule out the attacks were coordinated from outside of Spain, thus the Poles have increased security on their borders on public transpiration and at public gatherings. 

And then there‘s what happened today in Greece.  It is a special concern at a specific location for a comparatively precise time:  The Olympics.  As of yesterday, the Greek government had asked for NATO forces to stand by in case of an emergency during the games this August.  Today, in what is more an eerie coincidence of timing, Greece finally asked NATO to formally join Olympic counter-terrorism preparations now. 

Just last week, the government there juggled its cabinet, the prime minister assumed personal control over the department supervising security for the games which start on August 13 in Athens, five months from Tomorrow.  Today, foreign minister wrote the formal request to NATO, the “Associated Press” quoting ministry sources privy to the specifics, that the Greeks want “NATO‘s 22,000 member response force and warships from the organization‘s Mediterranean fleet to be directly involved with the security of the game.”

Yesterday‘s attacks in Spain coincided with the scheduled start of Greece‘s two-day symposium on Olympic security.  A fire department official from London looked around him in Athens today and said simply, “because of the Olympics, it can happen here right now.” 

Can it?  Alan Abrahamson has covered the Olympics and the movement for the “Los Angeles Times” since 2000.  He will be in Athens in August. 

Alan, good evening. 

ALAN ABRAHAMSON, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  If they look to Spain, do the Greeks see themselves?  Spain has internal terrorists and perhaps international ones now, and Greece has internal terrorists, and perhaps international ones in August. 

ABRAHAMSON:  In Greece, the concern has been at the highest levels since the bombs went off and Turkey last November, directed at British targets.  You know, nothing that happened in Spain is going to really fundamentally change what is already an incredibly extensive workout for the security preparations for these games.  It reminds everyone just how vigilant they need to be. 

OLBERMANN:  What are the assumptions, at the moment, within the International Olympic Committee, within the Greek government that—do they think that with enough intelligence and security, they can actually keep terrorism away from the most inviting target in the world?  Or do they assume—are they assuming that something will be inevitable in August and the goal is mostly containment and response? 

ABRAHAMSON:  No, they do not assume that something is inevitable.  You cannot have a festival dedicated to peace and to sport and assume that a jet airplane is going to come crashing down into the opening ceremonies, although that is one of the scenario that‘s they consider.  They are trying to provide blanket security, they are going to deploy 50,000 people in Greece, mostly police officers, troops, other folks, and try to blanket the Olympic sites in hopes of—you know, the analogy is sort of like a group of bicycles on the rack.  You hope that you put a lock over one of them and that somebody will want to go somewhere else because there‘s so much—there are so many locks on all the bikes that it‘s just too difficult to do. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, I guess it‘s impossible to get a real good snapshot of how good the locks on the bikes are, at any given moment, anywhere in the world, but if Olympic security were a stock on Wall Street, how would it be doing and would you personally buy it? 

ABRAHAMSON:  Personally, right now, I would tell my broker, to keep a very close eye on it and then would I call my life insurance agent and made sure I was paid up, and then I would call my doctor and I would get some Valium or some Prozac. 

OLBERMANN:  Alan Abrahamson of the “Los Angeles Times,” many thanks for your insight, sir. 

ABRAHAMSON:  Pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Continuing the fifth story, although there is no change in

color in the threat warning system here, there is confusion, if not

anxiety, inside some levels of Homeland Security.  Our correspondent Pete

Williams reports that the terrorist watcher there detected no increase in

chatter before the Madrid attacks, nor none since in relation to the

reference inside the alleged al-Qaeda responsibility claim yesterday that

an attack in the U.S. was 90 percent ready.  But, as Robert Hager reports, though there may be no chatter, nor any overt sign of changed priorities here, that does not mean the U.S. government is not trying to draw lesson from the horrors in Madrid. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Officials admit trains and subways here are vulnerable, so today they‘re scrambling to do something.  The department of Homeland Security‘s Asa Hutchinson:

ASA HUTCHINSON, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  There‘s a increased law enforcement presence in gatherings of large people.  We‘re having additional riders, public announcements that are made in the mass transit arena. 

HAGER:  Additional riders, meaning more police on trains.  In New York, extra patrols at stations.  In Newark and Washington, more bomb sniffing dogs.  Still, passengers worry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would think the railways are more susceptible. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s where terrorists will hit, travel—any form. 

HAGER:  Amtrak barely has enough money to keep running trains, let alone ad more security.  So, luggage goes unscreened.  Passenger names aren‘t even checked against a watch list unless tickets are picked up at the counter, and consider the huge challenge, 100,000 miles of open track, 500 Amtrak stations, and hundreds more for subways and commuter rail, 600,000 people a day, pouring through New York‘s Penn Station alone, all in a hurry. 

Contrast that to air travel where most traffic is concentrated through just 40 big airports and even then, it‘s already cost billions of dollars for screening passengers and luggage. 

Senator Charles Schumer:

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  The reality is, it‘s almost impossible to protect the mass transit system, so you have to look elsewhere. 

HAGER:  For instance, since authorities believe the biggest threat against trains isn‘t from little pen knives or nail files, instead of concentrating on passenger searches, could new equipment be developed just to sense quickly, large amounts of explosives, or a biological or radioactive release? 

(on camera):  Some believe an issue is that Congress hasn‘t pressured for security on railroads, much less voted money to support it.  They point out that lawmakers fly all the time back and forth to their districts, but very few ride trains, and that may be part of the problem. 

Robert Hager, NBC News in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And also in our fifth story, there are new preparations for another kind of attack, tonight.  The National Institutes of Health announcing plan, today to stockpile a new experimental anthrax vaccine, enough to inoculate 27 million people, about 9 percent of the population against anthrax.  Currently, the government has only two million doses of that vaccine on order.  According to experts, the vaccines would most likely be used to inoculate people immediately after a terrorist attack. 

Then finally in the fifth story, some much-needed leavening of the mood, the comparatively good news that some terrorists are not violent, they‘re just vandals.  Every week, Prime Minister tiny Blair of England stands at what is called the “dispatch box” and takes questions from Parliament—some soft balls, some slings and arrows.  This week, he nearly missed looking down at the—narrowly missed down looking down at the dispatch box and reading a message that would have been definitely nasty. 

A visitor, apparently on a guided tour of Parliament, carved the woods “Tony Blair is a ‘blank‘” into the box wooden top.  The blank was a four letter word beginning with a “C.”  It is a quiz. 

The member of Parliament responsible for the upkeep of the chamber says quote, “furniture polishers were brought in straight away and the message was removed shortly before the prime minister‘s question session started,” end quote.  And the democracy beats on for another day. 

Our No. 5 story now complete, terror and its aftermath.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4:  The political war here at home, specifically on the airwaves.  COUNTDOWN puts the Bush and Kerry ads to the did-I-dream-that test. 

Also ahead, the delivery room shocker:  A mother reportedly ignores her physician‘s insistence that she have a C-section to save unborn twins, one of them dies.  Now she is facing murder charges. 

All that coming up, first COUNTDOWN‘s opening numbers.  The five figures that shape this day‘s news. 

Hundred and fifty thousand dollars, the reported advance that the disgraced “New York” journalist Jason Blair was paid to write his memoirs, “Burning Down My Master‘s House.” 

Two hundred thousand, the numbers of copies of a book printed in the first press run. 

Four hundred and twenty-two, the number of copies that were sold last week.  That‘s according to “Nielsen BookScan.” 

Three hundred and forty-seven, the book‘s current sales rank at “amazon.com.” 

And 87, the Amazon rank of Dale Carnegie‘s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  I want to add that to the old shopping cart, Jas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our COUNTDOWN No. 4 story up next, your preview:  Truth in advertising, we‘re not talking about some lame infomercials; we‘re talking about Kerry versus Bush—presidential ads. 

You mean some of the commercials might not be on the up-and-up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Time was when you could use your advertisements to slander your political opponent and he‘d just take it slander you right back, but those days are gone.  Political correctness has struck the political world.  Now, if you slime the opponent, the opponent comes back and—runs an ad pointing out how wrong your ad was. 

Our fourth story in COUNTDOWN begins with begins with Kelly O‘Donnell in Boston. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Round one:  Dueling TV ads. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m George W. Bush, and I approved this message. 

O‘DONNELL:  After running a week of straightforward messages, the president landed his first punch with a negative hook. 

ANNOUNCER:  John Kerry, wrong on taxes, wrong on defense. 

O‘DONNELL:  Taking on his rival by name, in what experts call an advertising vie “unprecedented in its size” this early in the general election campaign. 

KEN GOLDSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN:  What the Bush people are trying to do is set the agenda.  The Bush people want to be on the tax turf, if you will.  They want to be off the job turf.  They want to be off the health care turf. 

O‘DONNELL:  On the air, in as many as 18 battleground states, a several million-dollar blitz targeting John Kerry‘s positions.

ANNOUNCER:  Raise taxes by at least $900 billion. 

O‘DONNELL:  And tonight, the Kerry counter attack, a challenge to the president‘s credibility. 

ANNOUNCER:  Doesn‘t America deserve more from its president than misleading negative ads? 

O‘DONNELL:  Analysts say Kerry, who was taking time off in Boston today, had to respond fast. 

CHARLES COOK, JR., POLITICAL ANALYST:  When the other side hits you, hit them back immediately and even harder than they hit you. 

ANNOUNCER:  John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase. 

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Kerry‘s cash-needy campaign says it is spending $2 million to run its TV ad, but another cost may be tactical.  Having to make its first ad of the general election negative, being forced to talk about taxes.  Forced to answer charges before pushing its own agenda. 

(voice-over):  As for the president, experts say the old “rose garden theory,” the idea that a president risks squandering the power of incumbency by going on the attack, no longer applies. 

GOLDSTEIN:  I think you have to get out of that rose garden and you have to talk about defining the other candidate.

O‘DONNELL:  The sharp tone already set with 235 days left to slug it out. 

Kelly O‘Donnell, NBC News, Boston. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  What a tangled web we weave when at first we advertise to deceive.  To try to straighten out that web, here‘s Margaret Carlson, columnist of “Time” magazine, senior editor for “GQ.” 

Margaret, good evening.  Happy Friday. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “TIME” MAGAZINE COLUMNIST:  Good evening, Shakespeare. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

Let me run a statement from each of these ads past the, did-it-happen or did-I-dream-it standard.  The one for Mr. Bush‘s ad, quote:  “John Kerry‘s plan...raise taxes by at least $900 billion.”  Did it happen or did I dream it? 

CARLSON:  Well, he did say that.  And, it‘s not clear what $900 billion the president‘s referring to, because he would say his own tax cuts haven‘t cost $900 billion. 

But, Kerry proposes to roll back the tax cuts on the top one percent, but leave the tax cuts for the middle class.  So, I don‘t know where the $900 billion—where the $900 billion comes from.  I think what the Bush people say is that they‘re putting in the cost of Kerry‘s health care plan, which means he‘d have to raise taxes a certain amount, and so the whole thing will cost $900 billion.  Still, it‘s quite, I think you dreamed that one. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  From the other side, in the Kerry ad, “John Kerry has never called for a $900 billion tax increase,” I think we‘ve address that had part.  The second part: “He wants to cut taxes for the middle class.”  Did that happen or did I dream it? 

CARLSON:  Well, I think he‘ll keep the tax cuts for the middle class, and perhaps add to—you know, reducing the marriage penalty, the child tax credit, and some other things, but I think—you know, how the Bush people call, if you don‘t want to make the tax cuts permanent, they say it‘s a tax increase, and the Kerry people say—if you want to roll back some of those tax cuts, it is a tax cut—I mean, if you want to roll back some of the Bush tax cuts, it is a tax cut.  Does that make sense?

OLBERMANN:  Almost as much as the ads do. 

I—when—when—so, talk about dreaming things, I thought that when they added this “I approve this message” tag, that all the negative campaigning was going to go away.  I guess that didn‘t happen. 

CARLSON:  It means you take responsibility, as opposed to the independent expenditure ads.  And in this campaign, it seems as if they both want to be tough guys, so they‘re willing to take responsibility for the slug fest. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, which one of them could get hurt the most if the advertising remains at this level?  Who has the least tough guy credentials going out there? 

CARLSON:  Well, I think it‘s who has the most money.  Bush has more money; he spent $16 million, so far.  That‘s a lot of money and he could eat it all up.  But he‘s got more than Kerry.  I think the worst part of the ad against Kerry was to suggest that he would have waited for the United Nations, for to us wage war in Afghanistan.  Actually, the Bush slam is totally untrue.  Kerry never called for the U.N. before going after Afghanistan. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, it looks like we‘re off to a good start, Margaret, with only 235 days to go, a good campaign ahead. 

Margaret Carlson, of “Time” magazine and “GQ.”  And, when we start COUNTDOWN magazine, we‘re going to give you a call. 

CARLSON:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Margaret.

Our No. 4 story is complete, but the story is far from over, itself: 

The Bush/Kerry ad wars.  Coming up here, the stories that know no COUNTDOWN number, yet find a place in the show anyway.  It‘s almost “Oddball” time.  That‘s politics elsewhere. 

And later, William Hung is back.  He‘s back, he‘s still bad, but now he‘s armed with a recording deal, to say nothing of the cheerleaders, to preview his new album, live, live, live, and you will get to see him three times on our shoe. 

But, before we leave the richly composed or composted mud of political campaigns, and advertising, therein, we offer these four historical examples of impactful ads. 

No. 4:  Ronald Reagan‘s re-election campaign, “Morning in America.” 

He went on to win 49 states. 

No. 3:  Before losing to Reagan, Mr.  Mondale undercut his rival Gary Hart‘s claim to new ideas by asking him, “Where‘s the beef?”  It was a line made famous in this Wendy‘s commercial.  Actually, we should have all just asked Donna Rice. 

No. 2:  An independent‘s group‘s ad for the first George Bush, which assailed his opponent, Mr. Dukakis, for giving Willie Horton a weekend furlough when he was governor of Massachusetts—Dukakis, not Horton.  Time that Horton used to commit rape and murder.  Bush trounced Dukakis. 

And No. 1:  This 1964 ad for Lyndon Johnson‘s campaign.  The infamous “Daisy Ad” shown exactly once and undermined fears that Barry Goldwater was too hawkish to be trusted with the bomb.  Johnson won in a landslide, and then promptly escalated the Vietnam War.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When we pause the COUNTDOWN nightly to bring you the fluff and dither of irrelevant news, we promise you, irrelevancy and transience.  Sometimes we can‘t deliver that.  Sometimes the stories really are news even if I did introduce them by saying, “Let‘s play Oddball.” 

This is nothing he is there impeachment of a president.  Yes, it‘s your South Korean tax dollars in action, and at the parliament building in Seoul, we have a developing situation.  The national hockey league may to have hand out fines after this.

The impeached president, Roh Moo-hyun, refused to leave the podium overnight, so his supporters stayed up there with him.  Opponents then stormed Parliament.  All of this was televised live, outside that building a civilian tried to drive his car up the steps and into the hall in protest.  When it stalled he got out of it and set the thing on fire and shouted, “I will kill them all.”  He didn‘t.

Prime Minister Goh Kun has assumed leadership of the government.  He‘s known as Mr. Stability.  Let‘s hope so.  In the interim, I‘m thinking this could be the next big reality show. 

In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, meanwhile, we have a new mullet.  Robert McKiernan has been arrested for possession of stuff with which to fuel a methamphetamine lab.  But he was pursued by police not for that, but because somebody had broken into a nearby farmhouse and stolen one box Hostess Crumb Cakes and one box Hostess Ho-Hos.  Who is ho-hoing now? 

COUNTDOWN is almost past the halfway mark.  When we come back, tonight‘s No. 3 story, this woman accused of refusing a cesarean birth for her twins, one of the babies delivered stillborn.  Now she‘s been charged with murder.  Who is wrong here, the mother or prosecutors?  And later, just when parents had hoped Britney Spears could not sink to a new role model low, she even outdid that. 

Those stories.  Ahead first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.  No. 3, officer of the Bangor Naval Submarine Base at the Hood Canal 25 miles west of Seattle trying to remove a 30-foot-tall Trident nuclear missile from the submarine the USS Georgia last November, they cut a 9-inch hole in the nose cone and, with a ladder, they nearly hit the nuclear warhead, that chewy goodness inside.  Thanks, boys.

No. 2, John Small, the man behind SaveMartha.com, has declared tomorrow Save Martha Stewart Day.  Fans of the high doyen of household hints are supposed to go to Wal-Mart and buy Martha‘s stuff.  Call me a cynic.  I‘m beginning to suspect that tomorrow might also be Save Kmart Day. 

And No. 1, an unnamed sister outside Warsaw.  Ever heard the one about the drunken nun and the tractor?  You have now.  This nun was arrested by police after she crashed the tractor into a car.  They say her blood alcohol level was 17 times the legal limit.  Seventeen times?  What was she doing, drinking the gasoline? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The saga that played out in January in Utah defies belief and almost description. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, more kids at risk.  A woman enters a hospital pregnant with twins and will soon enter a courthouse charged with murder, accused of having refused to follow her doctor‘s warnings.  Melissa Ann Rowland was told that, if she did not have a C-section, her babies were likely to die.  She allegedly told doctors she didn‘t want the scarring. 

Reportedly, she said she would—quote—“rather lose one of the baby than be cut like that.”  She never was cut.  And on January 13, one of her twins was stillborn.  Now she has been charged with criminal homicide, depraved indifference to human life, and could face five years to life in prison.  She denies all of this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELISSA ANN ROWLAND, CHARGED WITH MURDER:  I didn‘t refuse the C-section.  They were born by C-section.  I never refused the C-section.  I‘ve already had two prior C-sections.  I already have a pretty nasty scar. 

It doesn‘t matter at all now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Rowland is being held in lieu of bail of $250,000 in Salt Lake City.  The court date is Tuesday.

I‘m joined by now by Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of National Advocates For Pregnant Women. 

And, Ms. Paltrow, good evening to you. 

LYNN M. PALTROW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ADVOCATES FOR PREGNANT

WOMEN:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  What is worse here, a mother-to-be who might actually say that she would rather lose one of the babies than be cut like that or the prospect of a government prosecuting somebody, anybody, because they refused to have an operation? 

PALTROW:  I think it is clear that, in America, adult citizens have a right to refuse unwanted medical treatment, treatment that they, for any number of reasons, might feel is inappropriate.  And to suggest that because somebody has made a decision not to follow doctors‘ advice, that they can then be charged with murder is pretty horrifying. 

It is also terribly dangerous, not only for pregnant women, but also for their children. 

OLBERMANN:  On the other hand, repeatedly and often with good reason, kids are taken away at very young ages from irresponsible or even murderous parents.  Why isn‘t a fetus within a few days or weeks of birth offered the same protection as maybe a one-week-old child might be who is endangered by her order? 

PALTROW:  Well, let me tell you the story of Angela Carter. 

She was 27 years old and 25 weeks pregnant and had a recurrence of cancer.  They believed it was terminal this time.  And her and her family and her doctors believed the proper course was to try to keep her alive for as long as possible.  A neonatologist who took that view of fetal rights and fetal life decided that if they cut the woman open now and rescued that 25-week fetus, she could save its life. 

They had a court hearing.  They argued that she was going to die anyway.  The fetus had rights.  And even though they were told the C-section could kill Angela Carter, the court ordered the surgery anyway based on the argument that a fetus has rights.  As a result of that forced surgery, the fetus died within two hours and Angela Carter died within two days, with the C-section listed as a contributing factor. 

Now, nobody suggested arresting those doctors and that hospital for murder.  This was completely inappropriate medical care and the courts in America have now said that it was an abuse of power, that we never, even between two people for whom we have no dispute about their personhood status, courts in America do not say, this person needs your bone marrow.  You must donate it.  You have to have part of your kidney taken out.  We don‘t do that. 

And pregnant women should not have fewer civil rights than every other person in America. 

OLBERMANN:  Lynn Paltrow, the executive director of the National Advocates For Pregnant Women. 

I‘m not sure how I feel about this one, but I appreciate your taking the time to present your side on it. 

PALTROW:  If I just say, recently, a family in Pennsylvania went to deliver their seventh very much wanted and planned child.  For some reason, the doctor thought the mother needed to have a C-section, got a court order giving him custody of the fetus.  And the family fled hospital and delivered a perfectly healthy baby vaginally.  Doctors are often wrong. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for your time tonight. 

PALTROW:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s conclude our No. 3 story with what might be yet another kind of assault on kids by one of their role models, Britney Spears. 

The British newspaper “The Sun” reports what could be trouble in an upcoming music video.  That video is scheduled to be shot this weekend and it includes her simulating suicide by drug overdose, this from a woman whose fans constitute a huge number of teenage girls especially vulnerable to depression and thoughts of suicide.  A spokesperson for a children‘s advocacy group saying—quote—“This is absolutely outrageous, totally irresponsible, completely stupid.”

That‘s it for No. 3 tonight, kids in danger. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, the criminal version of “Cribs,” a look inside the accommodations that would await arrival of two of America‘s divas next on COUNTDOWN.

And then everyone‘s favorite “Idol” joins us again.  In advance of his debut, you‘ll get a chance to vote for your favorite William Hung hit.

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOOP DOGG, ACTOR/SINGER:  I would like to play a deep character.  My partner was telling me I need to play that Miles Davis character, because I feel like Miles was deep.  And I feel like I could step into that role. 

QUESTION:  What do you say to all those people out there that couldn‘t believe you could make it? 

DOGG:  Yes, it is true that dreams can come true.  If it happened to me, it can happen to you. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It takes me 45 seconds to walk to work.  And sometimes, I get introduced by my wife.  It‘s a heck of a job. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  Former President Clinton says he hopes President Bush and John Kerry can have a smart, rigorous campaign without childish name-calling.  Yes, in response, President Bush said it is OK with me if it is OK with poopy pants. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Barrelling towards tonight‘s No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN.  And here‘s a hint, moving to the big house.  And we don‘t mean those cushy estates in Connecticut, although the state may be accurate.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our No. 2 story tonight on the COUNTDOWN, divas behind bars.  What kind of digs might Martha Stewart wind up in?  Where will Diana Ross stop in the name of legal action?

Ms. Ross first.  After a drunk driving conviction in Tucson, she was scheduled to serve two days, permitted to do it near her home in Connecticut.  But she did it in short stays and the judge found out they did not add up to 48 hours, only 47.  Now she has to go back, Jack, and do it again, all of it. 

And reporter Lupita Murillo from our affiliate in Tucson, KVOA, shows us where. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LUPITA MURILLO, KVOA REPORTER (voice-over):  Ross‘ first stop will be in booking, where she‘ll be fingerprinted and photographed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A photograph will be placed on an inmate I.D.  bracelet.  And she‘ll have that on her arm the entire time she‘s incarcerated. 

MURILLO:  Next stop, the housing area.  She might be placed in the women‘s protective custody unit in a cell, a bed, a blanket, and two towels.  She‘ll have a toilet, a sink, and a place to write.  Ross will be locked up 23 hours and one hour to come out into the day room alone. 

(on camera):  If Diana Ross is placed in protective custody, she‘ll be sharing this shower with 18 other female inmates. 

(voice-over):  Or the pop diva could end up in the medical unit, a smaller cell with less amenities.  In any case, jail officials say:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will treat her just like any other inmate. 

MURILLO:  As for food, she‘ll get sack lunches and a hot meal in the evening. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She‘s going to get 2,900 to 3,000 calories per day. 

MURILLO:  No word yet on when she‘ll be checking in. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Just to clarify, those 18 inmates use that shower one at a time. 

And the part two of our No. 2, Martha Stewart living as the guest of the federal government.  The appeal still pends and sentencing is not even until June 17.  But sources familiar with the federal prison system say she would most likely spend time in one at the camps in Danbury, Connecticut or Alderson, West Virginia.  The Bureau of Prisons provided this video of a men‘s facility to MSNBC, but added, the conditions at the women‘s prison are identical. 

Ms. Stewart could spend between 10 and 16 months in the parallel slammer.  It looks like it needs more Bob Vila than Martha Stewart. 

In the interim, what was supposed to be Stewart‘s quick exit stage right from her company drags on.  “The New York Post” report shows she will step down from the board of directors, but will retain her creative control.  Yet nothing has been confirmed.  Obviously, this week has now elapsed without anything being announced.  As to her replacement on the board, the name of her own daughter Alexis has been floated.  But that would be contrary to all advice business spinners have given the company about damage control. 

Spin is also at the forefront as we pause the COUNTDOWN to confront the night‘s news of the celebrated and the merely well known who suffer from delusions of grandeur.  We call it “Keeping Tabs” and we get rather smug about it. 

Remember when Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion” was nearing release, almost as popular a topic as the controversy and the supposed anti-Semitism was this great personal gamble he was taking by having invested $30 million of his own money in its production?  Pretty good gamble.  “The Wall Street Journal” today calculates Gibson is well on the way to earning a return of at least $350 million once they count box office, foreign box office, pay-per-view and cable rights, the DVDs and, of course, those souvenir crucifixion nails. 

And the Janet Jackson comeback continues, but her return will be slightly delayed by about five seconds.  ABC will put her on “Good Morning USA” or whatever it is they call it in a live outdoor concert from New York City‘s Battery Park, but not live exactly.  Jackson‘s performance will be processed by a delay mechanism, so if she does it again, producers will have five seconds to pop her out of the show, so to speak.  The performance is March 31.  And we would like to thank the folks at ABC for timing to it celebrate the first anniversary of COUNTDOWN. 

Back to COUNTDOWN and in a moment back with the No. 1 story.  That‘s your preview.  He‘s back, the one and only William Hung live, live, live.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER (singing):  She bangs, she bangs, oh, baby, when she moves, she moves, no one ever looked so far.  She reminds me that a woman has got one thing on her mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Some are born great.  Some achieve greatness.  Some have greatness thrust upon them.  And some are simply William Hung. 

Our No. 1 story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, the amazing staying power of America‘s favorite rejected “Idol.”  After his initial crushing defeat at the hands of Simon “Bar Sinister” Cowell, our young hero, stating that he had done his very best, departed not a loser, but a legend.  We embraced his every cracked note with open arms.  We caught Hung fever.

Memorabilia, headlining performances, even a record contract, such has been the recent existence of William Hung.  And tonight, we will give you, our viewers, the opportunity to further William mania by voting for your favorite song off the forthcoming album, three samples of which will be sung right here and right now by friend of COUNTDOWN William Hung.

And good evening to you, sir.  Thanks for joining us again. 

HUNG:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  So, Before we kick off with your opening number, tell me about the record.  What are you going to have on it?  When is it coming out? 

HUNG:  Well, the ones you‘re about to hear in just a minute, just a little of the songs that are going to be on it, but it will be coming out April 6, as expected. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s terrific. 

All right, we‘re not going to have time to have the full songs, but give us, I don‘t know, 30 seconds or so, whatever seems appropriate, William, of one of the tracks from the album, the cover of the “Ricky Martin” “Shake Your Bon-bon.”

HUNG:  All right, here we go. 

(singing):  I‘m a desperado underneath your window.  I see your silhouette.  Are you my Juliet?  I feel a mad connection with your body.  Shake your bon-bon.  Shake your bon-bon.  Shake your bon-bon.  Shake your bon-bon.  I wanna be your lover, your only Latin lover.  We‘ll go around the world in a day.  Don‘t say no, no.  Shake it my way.  Oh shake your bon-bon.  Shake your bon-bon.  Shake your bon-bon. 

OLBERMANN:  I like the presentation, William. 

All right, we‘re going to take a break between songs here.

But let me ask you, you go back after all the publicity after your first appearance on “American Idol” and you did in fact go back the second time.  What was that like?  I would assume they treated you a little bit better the second time. 

HUNG:  Oh, yes, they did.  They really respected me and tried to treat me like a star, you know?  They made me look like fashionable and everything. 

OLBERMANN:  With the cheerleaders out there, too.  What about the cheerleaders? 

HUNG:  Oh, they were great.  They were professional dancers. 

Let‘s go back to the music.  You‘re really sort of hitting the different groups.  You had Ricky Martin first.  And then this next number is a sample of Elton John‘s “Rocket Man.”

Go ahead, William Hung.

HUNG:  And I think it‘s gonna be a long, long time ‘till touch down

brings me round again to find I‘m not the man they think I am at home, oh,

no, no, no.  I‘m a rocket man, rocket man, burning out his fuse up here

alone

OLBERMANN:  That was it, I guess. 

HUNG:  Yes, the chorus.  So...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  What do you make of all this now?  Initially, it was people respecting how much you gave of your all out on that first show.  But it just keeps going and going and going.  How do you explain this part of the life of William Hung? 

HUNG:  Oh, I have no idea how to explain it.  I mean, people can relate to me because I‘m a genuine person.  And I see that threw myself as well.  I‘m not trying to be something that I‘m not.  And people are inspired by that. 

OLBERMANN:  And, of course, as I‘m sure you‘ve already found out, almost everybody else in entertainment is in fact trying to be something that they‘re not.  So you are right, that is unique. 

All right, let‘s—as we said, we promised everybody parts of three songs.  We‘ve had Ricky Martin.  We‘ve had Elton John.  Last one, William, from “The Lion King.”  Go ahead and sing a little more of that. 

HUNG (singing):  And can you feel the love tonight, how it‘s laid to rest? It‘s enough to make kings and vagabonds believe the very best.

OLBERMANN:  Very nice. 

You know, I find a lot of performers don‘t like to do their original material, but we find ourselves with an extra 30 seconds or so.  Can you favor us with it one more time?  Can you give us just 30 seconds of “She Bangs.”

(LAUGHTER)

HUNG:  Oh, everybody heard it.  All right. 

(singing):  She bangs, she bangs, oh, baby.  When she moves, she moves, I go crazy, because she looks like a fly, but she stings like a bee, like every girl in history.  She bangs, she bangs.  I‘m wasted by the way she moves, she moves.  No one ever looked so fine.

OLBERMANN:  Beautiful.

HUNG (singing):  She reminds me that a woman‘s got one thing on her mind.

OLBERMANN:  William Hung, a legend in his own tame, thank you once again.  All the best.  And what can we say?  As if you needed more good luck, more good luck. 

HUNG:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

All right, one more thing before we leave the No. 1 story.  The No. 1 thing you need to know about it, vote.  Log on to our Web site at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.  Which of William Hung‘s three performances did you like the most or did the least damage to your hearing?  Your criteria.  You can also offer critiques and opinion by e-mail to COUNTDOWN@MSNBC.com

Let‘s recap, before we go, the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you will be talking about tomorrow. 

No. 5 is the fallout from 3/11.  Spain hunts for the terrorists responsible for the rush hour attacks, France and Poland raising their threat levels.  And, as planned, Greece turns to NATO for help against terrorism during the Olympics, five months from tomorrow.  Four, the battle for the White House on the airwaves, the attack ads, from President Bush against John Kerry, from John Kerry in defense against President Bush.  Only 235 days left until the election. 

Three, kids in danger, a Utah mother facing murder charges, accused of refusing medical advice to have an emergency C-section for her twins.  One the children was stillborn.  She denies all of this.  No. 2, divas behind bars, Diana Ross and Martha Stewart, what their big houses will, or at least, might look like.  And, No. 1, the “American Idol” reject who, to the best of our knowledge, is the first of the current batch of contestants to actually sign a record contract.  There he is again, Mr. William Hung. 

Thanks, William. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

I can‘t sing.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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