updated 3/16/2004 1:11:03 PM ET 2004-03-16T18:11:03

Guests: Thomas McCarthy, Pat Brown, Pamela Stone, Michael Musto

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The electoral fallout from the Spain attacks.  The incumbent prime minister loses sun‘s election despite leading in the polls before the bombing. 

Will terrorists start to target more democracies right before Election Day?

Mass murder in Fresno:  Nine people, mostly children, killed in ritualistic fashion, killed allegedly by the head of their own household.  But, the question remains:  Why?  And, what else makes this case so bizarre? 

More bizarre headlines from the Jackson files: Lisa Marie Presley speaks out about her life as Michael Jackson‘s wife.  And, M.J.‘s big screen dreams: The plot does involve a little boy, the rest of the story line, not so easy to guess. 

He sang...

WILLIAM HUNG, “AMERICAN IDOL” OUTCAST (SINGING):  Shake your bon-bon. 

Shake your bon-bon.   Shake your bon-bon.

WITT:  You saw, you voted.  The results are in on William Hung‘s most popular COUNTDOWN performance. 

And that‘s the way the glacier crumbles:  One of Argentina‘s most popular tourist attractions takes a bit of a tumble. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Good evening.  I‘m Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann, tonight.  Starting with the fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Thursday‘s terrorist attacks in Madrid seemed to have a decisive effect on Spain‘s general election Sunday.  Voted out, conservative Prime Minister Aznar, one of President Bush‘s staunchest European allies in the war on terror and Iraq.  Coming in, a socialist critic of the Iraq war who said he wants Spanish troops out of Iraq in a matter of months.  A victory for the terrorists?  David Gregory has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For the president, it was a major blow, forced to watch one of his closest allies pay a steep price for supporting the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.  Today, Mr. Bush called outgoing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to wish him well and to say thank you for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. despite overwhelming opposition to the war within Spain. 

IVO DADDLER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:  This was a referendum about Aznar‘s support for the Bush administration on Iraq and it looks like Mr.  Bush and Mr. Aznar lost it pretty badly. 

GREGORY:  And now, the U.S. may lose Spain‘s 1,300 troops in Iraq.  But, during a brief phone call today, aides stay president did not confront prime minister elect Zapatero about his pledge to withdraw Spanish forces by July 1. 

The election outcome, just days after last week‘s terror attack in Madrid that may be linked to al-Qaeda, underscores a painful reality for the Bush administration.  In the war on terror, many in Europe think it is too dangerous to join hands with Americans.

ROBERT KAGAN, FOREIGN POLICY EXPERT:  Some Europeans may belief the best defense against terrorism is not dealing with terrorism, but disassociating with the United States. 

GREGORY:  But for months, administration officials have been warning Europe that such a view is shortsighted.  The vice president, at Davos, Switzerland, last January.

Dick Cheney, U.S. Vice President:  Europeans know that their great experiment in building peace, unity, and prosperity cannot survive as a privileged enclave surrounded on its outskirts by breeding grounds of hatred and fanaticism. 

GREGORY:  The U.S. officials worry that Spanish election has sent a message of comfort to al-Qaeda.  Something the president said last Friday, a vote for Prime Minister Aznar‘s party would not have done. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He is a man who understands the war on terror, clearly knows the stakes, and knows that we must never give an inch to the terrorists. 

GREGORY (on camera):  White House aides say the president will make that point again Friday in a speech marking one year since the start of the Iraq war, his hope, that the new leader of Spain is listening. 

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  We‘ve seen the impact last week‘s terror attack had on Spain‘s election.  Now we‘re going to ask the unthinkable.  If a similar massacre happened before the November elections here, how might American voter react?  For more on that, I‘m joined by “Congressional Quarterly” columnist and MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford. 

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Hello, Alex. 

WITT:  Are there any indications that you‘ve picked up on, Craig, that U.S. voters might want to withdraw from Iraq or stop attacking al-Qaeda if the terrorists struck here again? 

CRAWFORD:  What we‘ve saw among democratic voters in the democratic primaries, which is the closest we‘ve gotten to voters so far who are actually making decisions at the ballot box, and that is part of what drives this division in the electorate of—where democrats really dislike this president much more than usual and that is one of the things that is driving it. 

WITT:  Craig, from an international perspective, how big a blow is this for President Bush to lose Spain as an ally?  That is, if the new prime minister goes ahead and withdraws the Spanish troops from Iraq? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, it‘s a good thing he is not running for president of Europe, Alex, because he‘d probably get about as many votes as Dennis Kucinich.  These foreign leaders in Europe, lesson after lesson for them is, do not hang with George Bush.  I think they‘d rather go skinny dipping with snapping turtles than hang out with George Bush. 

WITT:  I tell you, you those little colloquialism there, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Uh-oh.

WITT:  We‘re picking up on this, though.  The White House has certainly portrayed al-Qaeda is basically on the ropes, so if the attack in Spain was mounted (sic) by al-Qaeda,  what does that do to the president‘s credibility on the issue—on the other issues in the terror war? 

CRAWFORD:  I mean, Alex, if bin Laden was directly or even indirectly behind this attack and is still active, we know he hasn‘t been found, then bin Laden is—still got the for you affect election outcomes and the terrible and tragic lesson for him out of this—tragic for us, could be if he decides he can change the outcome of elections with terrorist attacks at the last minute.  I don‘t know if he‘d have the same effect in this country.  There has been a consensus that if there were an attack late in the election, it probably would help President Bush, he‘s the one who‘s run as the president of the—the war president on the war on terror, but this result in Spain could suggest maybe it would have the opposite effect, even here at home. 

WITT:  How this should factor in, Craig, to Senator Kerry‘s plans? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, Senator Kerry has always made the case—one of his main themes against President Bush is that he has isolated the United States around the world, and cannot work with other foreign leaders.  He‘s recently made the statement that other foreign leaders have told him, you‘ve got to beat this guy, we don‘t want to work with George Bush anymore.  He won‘t name those leaders and the White House‘s pressing him on that.  But this does play into his hands, that President Bush—that it‘s part of running the war on terror.  And the war on terror will be an issue in this election.  The threshold question:  Who will keep us safer?  Who will run the best war?  And Kerry is trying to make the argument:  One way you run a war on terror is to work with other nations, and this president cannot do it.  That‘s Kerry‘s case. 

WITT:  OK.  Craig Crawford, thanks for joining us, tonight. 

CRAWFORD:  Sure thing.

WITT:  And by the way, keep those colloquialisms coming. 

CRAWFORD:  OK, I‘ll keep them coming.

WITT:  All right.  While the political shockwave from last week‘s bombings are still being felt, investigators in Spain are said to have a wealth of clues that could point to the killers.  But, while five suspects are under arrest tonight, and a dozen more are on the run, police admit they don‘t yet know who was really behind the attacks.  More on that from Pete Williams in Washington. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Spanish investigators continue exploiting their strongest lead:  a duffle bag found in one of the train cars that contained a cell phone and prepaid calling card.  Authorities say cell phone‘s alarm, rigged to set off the bomb, was set for 12 hours too late.  The bag led the police to this cell phone store in Madrid and to three immigrants from Morocco, all arrested over the weekend.  At least two turn out to have potential connections to al-Qaeda, or groups affiliated with it. 

M.J. GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Al-Qaeda is just one head of that snake.  There are a number of terrorist groups, there are a number of autonomous cells, and there are new cell forming all the time. 

WILLIAMS:  One suspect, Jamal Zougam, was mentioned, though not charged, in a Spanish terror indictment issued last fall in connection with the 9/11 attacks.  Spanish authorities day Zougam, how lived in this Madrid apartment, was under surveillance since last May‘s bomb attack in Casablanca, Morocco, blamed an al-Qaeda affiliate. 

A second man arrested, Mohamed Chaoui, was mentioned during a phone conversation wiretapped by the Spanish government in August 2001 with a man accused of running an al-Qaeda cell in Spain. 

But, authorities remain skeptical of a videotape found in a garbage container in Madrid claiming credit in the name of al-Qaeda.  And terrorism experts note the Madrid bombings apparently lacked suicide bombers, a hallmark of past al-Qaeda attacks.  That means no martyr, a powerful recruiting tool in previous operations, including 9/11.  But, analysts agree, whoever was behind the Madrid bombings will now claim the ability to influence an election.

ROGER CRESSEY, TERRORISM EXPERT:  It‘s going to embolden them to be that much more aggressive and to think beyond the narrow confines of how many people can we kill.  Now there‘s a different political agenda they can also support. 

WILLIAMS:  Tonight U.S. officials say members of the Basque separatist group, Eta, cannot be ruled out whether or not they were the masterminds.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  No matter who was behind these attacks, even a chance that al-Qaeda was involved underlines the possibility that a similar attack could be launched here.  For more on how the people who run our commuter trains and buses are coping with that threat, I‘m joined by Thomas McCarthy, deputy chief of Investigative Services for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 

Good evening to you.  Thanks for joining us.

THOMAS MCCARTHY, DEPUTY CHIEF OF INVESTIGATIVE SERVICES:  Good evening.

WITT:  Is there anyway that you can prepare for a threat like the bombings we saw in Spain? 

MCCARTHY:  Yes.  There are a number of ways that you can prepare.  We‘ve been running drills since—actually, before 9/11 with the Boston police, the Boston EMS, the Boston fire department to get ready in the event that something like this did occur, here.  We also cull the intelligence that we get each and every day and we train our employees 6,000 strong to be 6,000 more eyes and ears, to help us prevent and deter something like this from happening, here. 

WITT:  Your employees sir, are the eyes and ears, but what about passengers?  What can they do to make traveling more safe?  Do much of the same? 

MCCARTHY:  That too, to remain alert and diligent.  We make public service announcements throughout our transit system.  We use the local media, the newspapers and television shows to keep them informed of the types of suspicious activities or parcels that we‘re interested in being informed about.  And, the NBTA transports 1.2 million riders a day.  If all of them remained diligent, hopefully we can prevent something like this from happening here.

WITT:  In general terms, have you changed security on your bus and rail lines since 9/11?  For you, specifically, the way you go about it day in, day out? 

MCCARTHY:  Yes, we have.  We‘ve integrated CPTED, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, in all of our construction projects, both new and in rebuilding some of our older stations, we are the oldest subway station in America.  We have increased things that you don‘t see:  Video surveillance, chemical, biological detectors in some of our key stations.  We‘ve trained our officers in counter-terrorism tactics.  Actually, we started that training in 1998, prior to 9/11. 

WITT:  But sir, it is frightening, really, in its simplicity.  These Madrid train attracts, the results of bombs in backpacks.  They were detonated by a cell phone call.  I mean, how often have we all heard a cell phone in a purse ring, for example?  Are there technological fixes coming up you know about that could somehow sniff out a bomb before it is used? 

MCCARTHY:  Not that I‘m aware of.  The latest technology is currently installed in our airports.  You have to understand, that in—we‘re the sixth largest transit system in America and 1.2 million people ride our system each day.  About eight million ride the New York subway system, and probably 90 percent of them are carrying some kind of a parcel, whether it be a knapsack, a briefcase, luggage, shopping bags.  It would be virtually impossible to screen all of those carry-ons with the multiple entrances and exits in our subway system. 

WITT:  All right, sir.  Thomas McCarthy, you‘re insights most appreciated.  Thanks for joining us on COUNTDOWN, tonight. 

MCCARTHY:  Thank you. 

WITT:  Elsewhere in the war on terror, an apparent terrorist bombing was defused today, less than five minutes before it was set to explode.  This, outside the American consulate in Karachi, Pakistan.  Surveillance cameras are said to a man in a traditional Pakistani tunic parking that van outside the consulate and then escaping into a car after a challenge from a guard.  Inside the van, a tank holding 200 gallons of liquid explosive, along with detonator and a timer.  Secretary of state Colin Powell will be in Pakistan for a two-day visit, Wednesday.  He will not be going to Karachi. 

Tonight‘s No. 5 story:  The terror fallout.  Straight ahead of us on COUNTDOWN, our No. 4 story:  Inside the bizarre murders that have shaken Fresno, California, to its core.  Nine family members dead, the father covered in blood, and now allegations of polygamy and possible cult connections. 

And later, America‘s favorite rejected idol:  COUNTDOWN viewers got a sneak peek at his new album, and now you have voted on your favorite new William Hung song.  The results are coming up. 

But first, COUNTDOWN‘s opening numbers, the five figures that shape this day:

Fourteen million, the number of Americans who use mass transit trains and busses on a daily basis. 

$515 million, the amount proposed by senate democrats, Friday, to increase rail security and safety. 

One-seventy-seven, the national average for a gallon of gas, the highest price ever on record. 

Forty-eight, the numbers of babies born in January and February in one Everett, Washington, baby hospital, more than twice normal rate.  Nine months since the aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, returned to its port in Everett, Washington.  You do the math. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story, the big five is up next.  Your preview:  Trying to make sense out of the senseless.  Inside the gruesome Fresno, California, slayings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Back with the COUNTDOWN. Tonight, new details are emerging about the man police say is responsible for the worst massacre in Fresno‘s history.  Marcus Wesson is accused of killing nine of his family members, six female and three males, ranging in age from one to 24 years old.  Autopsy shows seven of the nine victims died of gunshot wounds. 

Our No. 4 story tonight on COUNTDOWN:  As investigators try to uncover a motive for the killings, two very different images of Wesson are starting to unfold of Wesson. 

Here‘s NBC‘s Mark Mullen. 

MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  In Fresno, neighbors are converging on the crime scene with flowers, curiosity, and one central question:  How could nine people, mostly children, be murdered in ritualistic fashion, allegedly by the father of this household? 

CHIEF JERRY DYER, FRESNO, CALIFORNIA POLICE DEPARTMENT:  The coroners released that in all seven cases, the cause of death is gunshot wounds. 

MULLEN:  So far, two images are emerging about suspect Marcus Wesson, this view from one his sons. 

SERAFINO WESSON, SON:  My dad loves his family a lot.  He loves them too much. 

MULLEN:  The other image, say police, is darker.  That of a highly controlling man who may have committed polygamy and incest in a cult-like atmosphere.

DUSTIN DE SANTIAGO, FORMER NEIGHBOR:  They always just had a bunch of people with them, I mean that‘s what—that‘s what struck me as odd.  You know, they were different children all the time. 

MULLEN (on camera):  Wesson reportedly served time for welfare fraud and was accused of welshing on his rent when he lived in Santa Cruz, California.  He was not, however, considered a high-risk criminal. 

(voice-over):  All of that has changed as Wesson now awaits arraignment on multiple murder charges, Wednesday. 

Mark Mullen, NBC News, Fresno, California. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  You heard it there, neighbors have described Wesson‘s family as secretive and neighbors say they kept to themselves.  On occasion, the women were spotted outside wearing long dark skirts and veils.  Now police are looking into possible ties to a cult.

Pat Brown is a criminal profier (sic).  She is the author of “Killing for Sport:  Inside the Minds of a Serious Killer.”

Welcome to COUNTDOWN, Pat.

PAT BROWN, CRIMINAL PROFILER:  Good evening, Alex. 

WITT:  Could these Fresno murders be cult-related, in your mind? 

BROWN:  Well, it depends how you actually define “cult.”  Most of us think of a cult as being a large group of people where you have a fairly large flock, but a cult can be a one-man organization, and I think this was a one-man organization.  This is the guy who wanted a lot of control.  He got his religious fantasies going.  He set himself up as god or a prophet or some such rot of any sort, in his own mind.  And, he had the control of his own family, which is the easiest group to control and that‘s where he developed his little following, his little flock from.  Apparently he didn‘t get a lot of outsider in, so he wasn‘t that good at controlling anybody but his own. 

WITT:  So, you‘re thinking this the s like a David Koresh, a Jim Jones kind of situation? 

BROWN:  Well, when you start a cult, you‘ve got to start someplace and you‘re going to start with the people closest to you.  If you‘re any good at it, you may be able to expand to other people.  If you‘re not that good at it, you‘ll just keep your one little group, as apparently Wesson did.  He seemed to be just in his own little home, on his own little boat, he didn‘t seem to expand very much, probably didn‘t have the ability to do so. 

WITT:  Pat, police have said that Wesson may have committed polygamy and incest.  Is incest a characteristic of a cult? 

BROWN:  Incest is characteristic of someone who has a lot of control over a very small group.  Here you have a guy who is going to be the leader of this particular family or group, everything he says is going to be law, it‘s going to be the truth for them and he‘s going to do—he‘s going to separate them from society as much as possible, he‘s going to isolate them, that‘s why he was on his boat, that‘s why he‘s in the mountains, he‘s home schooling his kids.  He‘s trying to isolate them so they will listen to him and only him.  And, if that‘s the reality these people live in, that‘s the only truth they know, he can do anything he wants, and yes, that‘s why we see in certain cults, very small, strong cults, we‘ll see incest is not uncommon. 

WITT:  But Pat, there is a discrepancy, though, in the description of this man.  I mean, Wesson‘s son was quoted as saying, his father was, quote:  “The best dad anybody could ever have,” and that the murders were hard to believe.  So, what do you make of that?  Is it a form of brainwashing? 

BROWN:  Absolutely.  It‘s a form of Stockholm syndrome.  These people were prisoners of Wesson.  And as a prisoner, this is the only world they know.  They became—they start depending on him.  They have no one else they can talk to, no one else that can say, “Something‘s wrong with the situation.”  He is the one they lean on and who tells them everything.  So yes, they‘ll believe that after a period of time, that their captor is a wonderful person.  That‘s what they‘ve been led to believe and told to believe, and Wesson is not going to allow any other thoughts in their heads.  So, I don‘t think it‘s a discrepancy.  I think we‘re seeing exact sign of this kind of cult behavior. 

WITT:  All right.  Criminal profiler Pat Brown. Thank you for joining us tonight on COUNTDOWN.

BROWN:  My pleasure, Alex.

WITT:  Continuing with our No. 4 story, families in crime, an update on the Utah woman who doctors say refused a C-section in order to save her unborn twins.  Today, Melissa Roland pleaded not guilty to murder.  She gave birth in January to a girl, the twin boy was stillborn.  The 28-year-old says she never refuse a C-section.  Now prosecutors are investigating whether she attempted to scam a couple by offering her dead son in exchange for bail money.  The “Desert News” reports a California couple says that Roland called them from jail and promised to give them a baby boy in return for $5,000 in bail money.  The California couple had been looking to adopt a child, and the couple says they didn‘t know Roland‘s baby boy was stillborn. 

Tonight‘s No. 4:  Bizarre family murders. 

Up next, those stories on the COUNTDOWN that know no number, but you still must hear about them anyway.  “Oddball,” just around the corner. 

And later, Martha Stewart and her future with the company she built. 

The suspense is over. 

Before we leave our No. 4 story:  What is with the California cult connection?  Here are COUNTDOWN‘s top four cults in California. 

No. 4:  The Raelians.  The group claims it has successfully cloned two human babies.  There are about 1,000 members in the U.S., with chapters in California, Florida, and the Northeast. 

No. 3:  Heaven‘s Gate.  In 1997, 39 cult members committed suicide near San Diego so they could meet a UFO hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet.

No. 2:  The Manson family.  It leader, Charlie Manson, ordered his followers to kill on command.  In 1969, members of his cult killed actress Sharon Tate at her Beverly Hills mansion. 

No. 1:  The People‘s Temple founded by Jim Jones.  His group migrated from Ukiah, in Northern California to San Francisco, and later Los Angeles.  In November of 1978, more than 900 people died in Jonestown, Guyana, the members drank cyanide laced grape punch. 

There must be something about all of them bagging too many rays, huh? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  We‘re back and we pause the COUNTDOWN for a moment to bring you those stories that don‘t get a number because they‘re so strange, but we like to do them anyway, because they‘re so strange.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And, if the FCC is worried about filth in the media, consider the following:  According to a University of Arizona study, the keyboard that typed this story is dirtier than a toilet.  I‘ll let that sink in for a five second delay.  Yep, it turns out office desks, in general, and telephones, computer mice, and keyboards specifically consider more than 400 times the germs as your average toilet seat.  What does this mean?  Everything we‘ve been taught is wrong, apparently.  Remember, dear, the toilet paper goes on top of the keyboard before you sit down to work. 

The city of Aliso Viejo, California, is safe tonight, after reacting swiftly to a potentially deadly substance that had insinuated itself into the daily life of the unsuspecting hamlet.  dihydrogen monoxide was rumored to be present in every Styrofoam cup in the city.  The city council was set to pass an ordinance to ban the cups and other items made of the deadly compound until it was revealed that dihydrogen monoxide it is nothing more than H2O, in other words, water.  The city council had fallen victim to a gag Web site dedicated to the odorless tasteless chemical that is deadly if accidentally inhaled.  Luckily calmer, and presumably, slightly more intelligent heads prevailed.  That dihydrogen monoxide scare, well it turned out, it was all wet. 

I didn‘t write that. 

Finally, we go to the Perito Moreno glacier in Buenos Aires where more than 10,000 tourists to have flocked to get a firsthand view of awesome power of global warming in action.

Actually, this natural phenomenon happens every four years or so when the advancing glacier meets the river feeding the lake, Argentino.  Enormous wall of ice, as high as 150 feet, fell into the river creating a giant splash of dihydrogen monoxide.  Big enough to wipe out half of Aliso Viejo, California.

The COUNTDOWN rounding the halfway point.  When we come back, tonight‘s No. 3 story, women in the workplace.  After shattering the glass ceiling, more women are opting to leave it all behind to be with the kids at home.  And later, Britney Spears getting even more bad publicity over the weekend and then a sudden reversal by the top diva.  Stay tuned. 

But, first, the “Oddball” stories we couldn‘t fit into the show.  Here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of the day.  No. 3, porn movie director James DiGiorgio, who took time off from making such films as “Boob Watch” and “Boob Watch 2” to direct a public service announcement for kids, complete with puppets, for a Christian anti-pornography group.  Go figure. 

No. 2, the Trufresh Company in Suffield, Connecticut.  They say they have a new technique that brings some of their lobsters back to life after being frozen.  Bad news for lobsters who are flash-frozen at minus 40 degrees, only now to wake up months later just in time to be thrown in boiling water.  On the other hand, it is great news for Ted Williams. 

And No. 1, the unnamed German thief who tried to steal donated clothing from one of those big metal charity bins by climbing in through the small slot on the front.  He, of course, became trapped inside the dark metal box.  Police showed up hours later and found the man begging for a light for a cigarette. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Nancy Reagan once said, a woman is like a tea bag.  She doesn‘t know how strong she is until she is in hot water. 

Well, today, the water couldn‘t be hotter for Martha Stewart.  The pressure of that guilty conviction has now forced her out of her own boardroom.  But, at No. 3 tonight, we‘re not just talking tea bags.  We‘re talking about tough women faced with tough decisions. 

There may be only one Martha, but there are plenty of high-powered women face with a choice arguably more complicated than whether to buy or sell, career or kids?  In a moment, we‘ll talk to a sociologist about why more and more women are choosing to be professional moms. 

But first, the Martha update.  The lifestyle matron-turned-convicted-felon resigned from her‘s company board today.  But the woman who built an empire on crafty cookie designs insists she still have a say, continuing to provide creative advice to that company.  And she‘ll to have get creative about juggling her schedule, too, because if Martha gets prison time, she‘ll be required to work at least 35 hours a week doing menial labor in the big house. 

Those are the choices Martha is facing, but what about the choices facing millions of other working moms?  A surprising new report in “TIME” magazine finds that just as more women are making it past the glass ceiling, more and more of them are choosing to stay at home. 

Joining to us now to talk about this new trend is Pamela Stone, a sociologist at Hunter College.  She has spent the last few years conducting an in-depth study of 50 mothers who have opted out of the paying daily grind for the volunteer one with their kids. 

Ms. Stone, welcome to the show.

PAMELA STONE, HUNTER COLLEGE:  Thank you, Alex.  It is good to be here. 

WITT:  The baby boomers, they‘re really this first generation of women that we‘ve seen that have broken through the top.  So why are women leaving now just when they are starting to gain an equal footing? 

STONE:  Well, I think we need to, first of all, put this in perspective.  The vast majority of women are not leaving. 

In fact, they have the highest rates of labor force participation of all women.  But there‘s no question, also, that the world of work is ever speeded up.  And it is most speeded up among the professional workers.  And, as a result, I think there‘s no question that women are in a sense being blindsided by this speed-up.  And, of course, because women have to juggle both family and work, it hits them a lot harder than it does their male counterparts.

WITT:  Pamela, do you think women are giving up on their careers or are they just deferring them for later on? 

STONE:  I think they‘re definitely deferring them for later on.  But I also think they‘re not giving up on them.  They are, actually, in many ways, being forced to give them up.  The world of work is not very accommodating to professional women who have families. 

And, as a result, many of the women I talked to made efforts to try to continue their careers, were unable to and would have, if they had their druthers, would have continued working, albeit at a part-time or reduced level. 

WITT:  All right, but having said just that, you said this does not reflect all women certainly out there.  So do you think this is a luxury to have the option of opting out? 

STONE:  I think, clearly, when you look at all women, it is clearly a luxury.  We cannot hide that, that most have to work.  They have no choice but to work. 

WITT:  How do you see the men in these households reacting to both the women now being in the house, as well as the reduced income? 

STONE:  Well, the men—particularly the women I talked to who were, remember, high-earning professional women who were married to similarly high-earning men, the men were typically very supportive of their wives doing whatever their wives wanted to do. 

So what happens, in fact, is that the husbands tend to go along with their wives‘ decisions.  But they do not tend—the husbands do not tend to cut back their own careers in any way to accommodate their wives having a career.  So the husbands, I think, have a kind of sideline role, that they really tend to defer the decision pretty much to their wives.  Some of the wives, I will tell you, the women I talk to do complain that once, they‘re at home, they find that their husbands are expecting them to do a lot more of the housewifely-type tasks that they had not been doing before. 

WITT:  Well, to that end, how do the high-powered moms handle the transition from the conference calls to the Teletubbies overall? 

STONE:  Right.  Right. 

A lot of these women, it has been a very long, difficult decision.  By the time they make it, they are prepared.  I think they‘ve had a sense that they know what they‘re getting into.  They understand that they‘re losing status, however.  They understand that there is a lot of identity.  They do go through that.  On the other hand, they are very resourceful, energetic and capable women. 

And what that means is that they hit the ground running.  And when they get home, they create rich and rewarding lives. 

WITT:  All right, Pamela Stone, thank you for your time and your insights.

STONE:  Thank you. 

WITT:  Much appreciated. 

And a reminder that even presidents might benefit from listening to their mothers.  “TIME” magazine reports that Barbara Bush is worried about the direction of her son‘s reelection campaign.  Deflating approval ratings and missteps like the appointment of a Nebraska businessman who outsourced jobs to China are reportedly giving mother Bush a bad case of deja vu. 

As one official told “TIME”—quote—“She does not want to see her family go through a ‘92 thing again.”  And it might be another mother to the rescue.  Bush allies are apparently pressuring the president to bring key confidante Karen Hughes back to Washington.  Hughes geared down her White House involvement close to two years ago, moving back to Texas to spend time with her kids. 

That wraps up our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, women in control.  America has chosen our No. 2 story.  Up next, the favorite brand new William Hung song from his debut album performed here on COUNTDOWN. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER SCHICHI, TATTOO ARTIST:  It‘s what I do.  It is going to be on them forever.  And I consider that a great honor, that people allow me to do that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the reason why I felt that I need to be on the show is, they need 15 good people to hit them high and one short one to hit them low. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, it is fun.  You can see in the mirror, because I put it on with a mirror, you know?  And I can see the stuff happening.  And it is really fun, because it is like, you know—it‘s just another side of me gets to come out and play. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, the best of the best, your pick for the top new William Hung hit-to-be next on COUNTDOWN.  And later, Lisa Marie Presley on life inside Michael Jackson‘s world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  He came, he sang, you voted. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the votes are in and America has spoken.  Your favorite William Hung COUNTDOWN performance coming up. 

First, a little review.  On Friday, William sang for us three of the songs off his forthcoming debut album, “True Idol.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER (singing):  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.

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. 

Can you feel the love tonight, how it‘s laid to rest? It‘s enough to make kings and vagabonds believe the very best.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  After countless tallies, nasty arguments and threatened legal action over some chad-type issues, we at COUNTDOWN are able to offer you the winning song. 

Drumroll, please.  With an astounding 42 percent of the vote, Williams‘ rendition of “Shake Your Bon-Bon” blew away the competition.  Not surprising, really.  This is a man who clearly knows his Ricky Martin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNG (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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Yes.  William Hung, “Shake Your Bon-Bon,” as chosen by you.

And we have reached that special time in the COUNTDOWN where we get to slip into the ooey goodness of the sordid, the salacious and the shocking stories we like to file under “Keeping Tabs.” 

And the first story on the agenda tonight is truly a shocker.  Britney Spears might actually be thinking like a role model.  Last Friday, we told you Britney was going to shoot her latest video over the weekend, a video that would include her own suicide by drowning herself in a bathtub.  She has decided against the suicide scene, leading to a big sigh of relief from parents.  Britney Spears actually doing the right thing, now, that should make headlines.  But, after the kiss and quickie wedding, let‘s not get used to it quite yet. 

And, apparently, Donald Trump and the gang don‘t want to get used to Omarosa.  The former Al Gore scheduling staffer and former Trump apprentice let it be known today that she would like to become a former congresswoman and, after that, a former president.  Of course, judging from her reputation, if that happens, they‘re going to have to change the presidential theme song.  Hail to the chief just wouldn‘t do her justice, something you know more along the line of, hail to the—well, you get the idea. 

The National Trust of Australia has named Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman as living national treasure, replacing 15 former national treasures who have since died being named.  And they are considered only part of the national outback.  Cultural watchdogs who might be amused by what passes for treasure in Australia should consider the chances of the same thing happening here.  Actually, Joan Rivers is considered a national treasure, since, as we know, her face is already carved in stone. 

Just one number shy of a complete COUNTDOWN.  And here‘s your clue to tonight‘s top story.  We‘ve seen Michael Jackson movie director at his arraignment.  But wait until you hear what he had in mind for a starring role.  That is next.

But, first, here are the COUNTDOWN‘s top two reality remixes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUNG (singing):  You blow me off like it‘s all the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  William Hung meets OutKast at No. 2. 

And, No. 1, the excitement in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re going to California and Texas and New York.  And we‘re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan!  And then we‘re going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  We‘re going to California and Texas and New York.  And we‘re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  And so we arrive at our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, your entertainment dollars in action, day 119 of the Michael Jackson investigations. 

For the past 17 weeks, we have seen and heard things both disturbing and mystifying, some forcing us to take pause, others leaving us no choice but to stick our fingers in our ears and scream, la, la, la, la, la, la.  They are the types of stories for which, whether we want it or not, there‘s been no shortage of opinion. 

Through it all, one voice has been conspicuously silent.  Now, as Mike Taibbi reports, the former Mrs. Jackson is talking.  Lisa Marie Presley, in an interview exclusive to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s TV show “Enough Rope With Andrew Denton.”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When the only child of Elvis Presley married the king of pop in the spring of 1994, Jackson was reeling from his first child sex abuse scandal. 

Today, Presley tells television show “Enough Rope With Andrew Denton” that it wasn‘t the scandal, but a helpless feeling that drove her from the marriage. 

LISA MARIE PRESLEY, FORMER WIFE OF MICHAEL JACKSON:  It was.  That‘s why I left.  Only—powerless in a lot of ways. 

MICHAEL JACKSON, MUSICIAN:  Nobody thought this would last. 

TAIBBI:  Powerless against Jackson‘s PR people, who insisted on a stage award show kiss and powerless to convince comedians she wasn‘t a punchline.  David Letterman joked, boy, if Elvis were dead, he would be turning over in his grave. 

Presley has made rare television appearances, like this Australian show, to try and jump-start her singing career.  But this is the first time Lisa Marie Presley has spoken out publicly since Jackson‘s child sex abuse hit the headlines last November.  Presley dodged most questions about him. 

PRESLEY:  That was nine years ago.  Can‘t really remember. 

TAIBBI:  But did hint that she knows more than she has let on from her time as Mrs. Jackson. 

PRESLEY:  Seeing things going on that I couldn‘t do anything about, and don‘t ask me what sort of things, because I‘m not going to answer, but just stuff. 

TAIBBI:  She says now, eight years after their divorce, her ex-husband is still a mystery. 

PRESLEY:  It‘s just—I watch just like anyone else when anything is going on, and I have the same reaction, and wow or holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED) or whatever. 

TAIBBI:  Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Santa Barbara.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Continuing our No. 1 story, just when you thought things couldn‘t possibly get any weirder, along comes the movie script where the star turns into a car. 

Jackson pitched the script, according to MSNBC.com‘s Jeannette Walls, to “Jersey Girl” director Kevin Smith.  In the most recent issue of “Playboy” magazine, Smith describes the plot of the movie, titled “Hot Rod,” about a guy-turned-car to be played by Jackson.  He—quote—

“hangs out with a little boy and this little boy gets into the car and drives him around.”

As Sigmund Freud is unavailable, we turn to frequent guest at “The Village Voice,” Michael Musto.

Michael Good evening. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi, Alex.

WITT:  All right, now, I am thinking, we do not need a psychology degree here to analyze this.  Now, keeping in mind, Michael, we only have a few minutes, what is the most strange thing here? 

MUSTO:  First of all, that Lisa Marie is finally coming around to realizing that she was manipulated and that Michael‘s people put her up to that kiss on TV.  Gee, I thought it came from pure passion.  Didn‘t you?

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  And this movie thing is so crazed.  This is like an update of “My Mother the Car,” that old sitcom.  But it‘s “My Jacko the Car.”  This definitely is going to need lube job or a tune-up or something.  And maybe his sister Janet can play the spare tire.  I don‘t know, but it‘s never going to fly.  This will never be “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

WITT:  Or “Flubber.”

MUSTO:  Exactly. 

WITT:  There you go.

MUSTO:  Or “Days of Thunder” or anything.  Michael is not really a name in Hollywood.  Let‘s face it.

And for Kevin Smith, who was brave enough to do a Bennifer movie after “Gigli” was made—he made “Jersey Girl.”  That‘s a brave guy.  He passed on this “Hot Rod” movie, so he is not that crazy. 

WITT:  OK, but let‘s play devil‘s advocate here, because this is certainly not the most far-flung movie idea in the history of movie ideas.  It makes our skin crawl because it‘s Michael Jackson, right? 

MUSTO:  No, it is actually—except for “The Passion of the Christ,” this is the wildest ideas ever, but that is one of the biggest movies of all time.  So maybe there‘s method to the madness behind Michael Jackson.

But except for playing the scarecrow in a bomb movie called “The Wiz” is the ‘70s and then doing a kind of funny spoof of himself in “Men in Black II” a couple years ago—he really stretched by playing an alien—he‘s not much of a movie presence.  You would have to get like an Adrien Brody or a Sean Penn to play the car for this thing to fly. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  Michael, on a serious note a bit, though, we don‘t have a timeline on exactly when Jackson pitched his idea to Kevin Smith, but does this strike you as something that may turn up as evidence in any potential trial? 

MUSTO:  For me, this is all we need to throw him into jail. 

Look, you want to play a guy who hangs out with a kid.  You turn into a car.  The kid is riding you.  You are going to jail, kid.  I‘m joking here, but it is pretty bizarre.  But we don‘t expect anything less from Michael Jackson.  And he is obsessed with cars.  Let‘s not forget, on the day of his hearing, he was dancing on a car with an umbrella, looking like Mary Poppins‘ weird brother.

WITT:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  And directing the whole activity at the same time, remember?

MUSTO:  Yes, and saying, well, he had to give attention to his fans.  Of course, apparently, I think he had his fans bust in there and probably paid them to be there.  But he is a popular guy, despite all the controversy. 

MUSTO:  Michael, you are one creative guy.  So is there a role that you could dream up for Mr. Jackson that you think he should be playing right now for reasons of influencing public opinion in his favor? 

MUSTO:  He probably should do a remake either of “The Straight Story” or “Kindergarten Cop,” where he plays a cop who takes over a bunch of kids and makes sure that there‘s no wrongdoing going on in the classroom.  That would be good for his image. 

MUSTO:  Michael, when you hear stories like this about Michael Jackson, do you call up your fellow journalists that cover him and just go, huh? 

MUSTO:  We all call each other up.  And you can‘t hear the eye rolling going on, but you can kind of picture it in your mind.  We‘re all just rotating our eyes in our sockets.  It‘s even wilder than William Hung‘s version of “She Bangs,” which I am still speechless after seeing. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  I don‘t know.  I think it sounds pretty good.  He‘s got a record deal, after all.  But what does that say? 

MUSTO:  I think it‘s much more commercially viable than “Hot Rod.”

WITT:  OK.  Michael Musto, as always, a great pleasure. 

MUSTO:  Thank you, Alex.

WITT:  And the No. 1 thing you need to know about the No. 1 story, the top car star of all time, according to a poll of car enthusiasts, the 1969 Dodge Charger, playing the General Lee on TV‘s “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

But let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you will be talking about tomorrow. 

No. 5, the electoral influence of the Madrid terror attack, Bush‘s strong ally voted out of office, and his replacement now promising to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq within just a couple of months.  No. 4, nine people, eight of them children, killed in the biggest mass murder in Fresno‘s history.  The prime suspect is thought to be both the father and grandfather of the victims. 

Three, women in control.  Martha Stewart steps down as head of her company, but maintains an editorial position.  And a trend of working mothers leaving their careers to spend more time at home with their kids.  Two, we put it to the vote.  America has spoken.  “Shake Your Bon-Bon” is voted the favorite new William Hung hit, this by COUNTDOWN viewers.  And, No. 1, Michael Jackson‘s movie suggestion, featuring himself as the hot rod driven by a small boy.  Let that one sink in for a while huh? 

That‘s COUNTDOWN, everyone.  Thank you for being a part of it.  I‘m Alex Witt.  Good night, everyone.  Make it a great one.

END   

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