updated 3/18/2004 9:45:21 AM ET 2004-03-18T14:45:21

Guest: Billy Procida

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

This is where the Jabal Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad use to be, hours before precise one year anniversary of President Bush‘s ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, a car bomb levels the five story building filled with westerners, more than two dozen dead.

More on terrorism‘s worst moment:  The hunt for Osama bin Laden.  First the surveillance video on which the Clinton administration could not act.  Tonight, from Lisa Myers, what the Bush administration did and did not do when it saw this video.

Winning ugly:  Dick Cheney blasts John Kerry.  Howard Dean blasts George Bush.  George Bush blasts John Kerry for not blasting Howard Dean.  Moveon.org says Congress should blast George Bush formally. 

The newest catch phrase sweeping the nation:

DONALD TRUMP, “THE APPRENTICE”:  You‘re fired. 

OLBERMANN:  They‘re saying it at the water cooler, they area saying it at the Courtney Love hearing.  Why?  How?  Who heard “you‘re fired” and left Donald Trump in charge of the whole world and everything? 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  A year ago tonight, almost to the minute, President George Walker Bush issued the final ultimatum, telling Saddam Hussein and his sons that the only alternative to war was for them to get out of dodge, leave Baghdad and Iraq.  And tonight, at this minute, smoke still belches out of a 20-foot crater in Baghdad where the Jabal Lebanon Hotel used to be.  At least 27 are dead, at least 41 more wounded. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Terror and war.   Iraq, on March 17, 2003 and on March 17, 2004.  On this day the terror was caught on videotape. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(EXPLOSION)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The delay between the flash and the sound reaching the microphone hooked up to that woman you saw suggested how powerful the car bomb really was, an estimate of 1,000 pounds tonight.  The Jabal, or Mt.  Lebanon, was used largely by foreigners, there were Americans, British, Egyptians, others, and at least five building elsewhere were also damaged, and the main hotel used by foreigners, the Palestine, was shaken by the concussion.  No group has yet claimed responsibility, no overt reference, yet, to the anniversary of Mr. Bush‘s address one year ago, tonight.  As we will be doing on MSNBC throughout this week, we will recall these moments at the exact time they occurred one year ago.  One year ago this minute.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My fellow citizens, events in Iraq have now reached the final days of decision.  For more than a decade the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war.  Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.  The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security.  That duty falls to me as commander in chief, by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep.  Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours.  Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing.  For their own safety, all foreign nationals, including journalists and inspectors, should leave Iraq immediately.  Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent, and tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.  Good night, and may god continue to bless America. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back to this year and back to Baghdad.  A city at a time where blessings seem in very short supply, thanks in large part, though not entirely, to that blast to shattered the Jabal Lebanon Hotel.  Just hours before that, U.S. and Iraqi troops had launched a counter-insurgency suite, raiding a suspected arms market in the city, combing the area for suspects.  No word on the success or failure of that mission yet.  Nor whether Iraqis might tonight be asking themselves if the larger U.S. effort in their country can succeed so long as insurgents and terrorists can launch devastating attacks like the one we saw today. 

To try to assess what happened in Baghdad, we‘ve joined by Steve Emerson, the MSNBC terrorism analyst and author of “American Jihad:  The Terrorists Living Among Us.” 

Steve, good evening.

STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Clearly the anniversary element can‘t be coincidental, but everyone who has studied al-Qaeda say al-Qaeda doesn‘t prioritize anniversaries.  Are we looking at them here?  Are we looking at Ansar al-Islam?  Are we looking at a connection to last week‘s atrocities in Spain?  Where are they starting? 

EMERSON:  Well, unfortunately Keith, all of them—all those options you mentioned are on the table.  I think that the anniversary cannot be ruled out, in fact I would think that there is some type of anniversary connection here.  The question is who carried it out?  Al-Zarqawi clearly had the capability, the greatest capability, but he‘s also tethered by—to radical—other radical Islamic groups including al-Qaeda, as well as other Ba‘athists.  It doesn‘t take to carry this—to carry out this attack, unfortunately, just 1,000 pounds of explosives and a car and unfortunately that‘s rampant in Baghdad, and the United States has demonstrated, unfortunately, in the opinion, I guess, of an increasing number of Iraqis that it cannot stop these types of attacks.  That type of powerless that the terrorist groups are trying to project. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess the ease, though, of pulling something this large

off begs that question:  Who is going to get up to full speed first in Iraq

·         the U.S. anti-terror intelligence there, or the terrorist groups on the ground, there? 

EMERSON:  Well, you know, first of all, the classical problem of terrorist groups versus an established—you know, fixed located armies is evident, here.  The U.S. has essentially withdrawn to fixed positions in Baghdad so it‘s not basically out in force collecting intelligence or trying to deter these types of terrorists.  It‘s basically is trying to protect its position so that gives a—that creates a vacuum for the terrorists.  They definitely have the up—you know, wantenan (PH) position, the advantage here, over the United States, in terms of intelligence gathering, in terms of carrying out attacks.  The reality is there are an unlimited number of soft, quote, “soft targets,” that is civilian targets, and all they have to do is continue to carry these out and demonstrate to the Iraqi public—here, the United States is supposed to protect you but they can‘t, therefore, the United States should be kicked out.  That‘s the message they‘re leaving, tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  Steve, lastly, is there any hint yet at reaction within terrorist circles, not to the carnage in Spain last week, but rather to the vote in Spain?  Are the critics of the Spanish correct; are there now signs that terrorists may have been emboldened by the sense of perhaps being able to influence elections? 

EMERSON:  I think, unfortunately, that message has been reinforced in the last few days, especially there was a letter today, sent to al-Hyatt by the same brigades that claimed to have carried out the Madrid bombings and they claim that they would offer the new Spanish government a truce if they promise to carry out their commitment to withdrew troops.  So, their going to enforce—reinforce the linkage and that‘s only going to embolden them further into thinking that they can change other European foreign policies.  And it remains to be seen whether they strike against France, which they‘ve threatened to do if France doesn‘t, sort of, repeal the Hijab act that was passed last month. 

OLBERMANN:  Steve Emerson, as always great.  Thanks for your insight. 

EMERSON:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Continuing the fifth story tonight.  One of the stated premises of the war in Iraq was 9/11.  Despite the continuing comments of Vice President Cheney, it is administration policy, now anyway, to disavow any connection between the attack on America and the attack on Iraq.  But even if it was truly not part of the equation, 9/11 was, at the very least, the blackboard upon which the administration did the math.

Last night senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers showed, for the first time, the actual surveillance video, apparently of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, early in the fall of the year 2000, the tantalizing images of the target of all targets remaining untouched.  Tonight in the second part of her three part series on the pursuit of bin Laden, she reports that that same video and other intelligence also gave the Bush administration plenty of opportunities to do more about bin Laden than it did. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The fall 2000, a CIA Predator drone shoots these extraordinary pictures from miles above Afghanistan.  This spy video, obtained by NBC News, secretly captures al-Qaeda terrorist training, doing pushups, and firing weapons.  Here you can see a mussel flash. 

WILLIAM ARKIN, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  That they have some kind of gun or and RPG, a Grenade launcher on their shoulders. 

MYERS:  That fall the predator also provides the first live images of the most-wanted fugitive in the world, this tall man in white robes, believed to be Osama bin Laden.

Weeks later, bin Laden‘s attack on the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors. 

(on camera):  By January 2001, there was a new administration.  At the urging of the CIA, President Bush decided to arm the predator deadly hellfire missiles, so next time he was spotted the U.S. could take a shot.  But, it didn‘t happen before 9/11.  Why? 

DANIEL BENJAMIN, FMR. CLINTON COUNTER-TERROR OFFICIAL:  We tied an arm before our back, we lost the most promising new tool we had. 

MYERS (voice-over):  Daniel Benjamin, a member of President Clinton‘s counter-terrorism team, charges the Bush administration moved too slowly getting armed Predators ready and did not send unarmed Predators back to look for bin Laden.  Part of the problem, everyone agrees:  Bureaucratic infighting between the CIA and the Pentagon over who would pay and who would be blamed if something went wrong. 

After testing in June, the administration‘s plan was to send the Predator to Afghanistan in September 2001. 

(on camera):  The president had said he was tired of swatting flies.  Did you ever say “September is not soon enough, we gave got to get this back up there”? 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  We did push very hard on getting the Predator back up, but you always have to be careful to make sure that you‘re going to have something that works. 

MYERS (voice-over):  These government documents, obtained by NBC News, shows senior intelligence officials thought the armed Predator still was not ready even September.  Quote: “The warhead‘s effectiveness argues against flying armed missions this fall...”

RICE:  The Predator was not a silver bullet, let‘s be very clear about that.  As hard as we tried to get the Predator up, as much as we worked to get it up, that would not have prevented September 11.

MYERS:  Soon after 9/11, the armed Predator was launched and proved a success, helping kill al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef (PH) and associates, and is being used even today to hunt Osama bin Laden. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The third part of Lisa‘s series, tomorrow night, here on

COUNTDOWN.

And from the terrible to the absurd, a 35-year-old French driver has been given a suspended sentence of three months for trying to knock down a pedestrian whom he thought was Osama bin Laden.  The driver is identified only as a struggling artist named Pierre.  He did not actually hit the man, but he has also been required to pay he intended victim 500 euros, that‘s 615 bucks.  Pierre‘s lawyer says his client was traumatized by last week‘s bombings in Madrid and was, quote:  “The victim of a hallucination.”  The attorney adding, in case any of us missed the point here, quote:  “it wasn‘t bin Laden.” 

Perhaps the lawyer might have proved himself useful in Spain, last week, as our fifth story of terror and war takes us back to Madrid.  And you cannot spell Spain out the letters S-P-I-N. According to the “Washington Post,” within hours of the Madrid train bombings last week, and with an election just days away, the lame-duck prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar personally assured reporters from several Spanish newspapers that the Basque group, ETA, was behind these blasts.  The Spanish diplomats were also told they should take every opportunity to confirm ETA‘s responsibility.  Aznar‘s officials insist they told the truth at all times, but as their votes that turned out Aznar‘s party suggests, the majority of Spanish voters clearly doubted they were being told the truth. 

Meanwhile, the Spanish authorities have reportedly determined that the explosives used in the train bombs were manufactured in Spain and that the group believed responsible had financial help from al-Qaeda.  Five Moroccans are being sought as suspects in the bombings, three of the suspects may have been well known to western counterterrorist agencies.  Five more men, three from Morocco, are already being held, and it seems, as in the case of 9/11, that authorities in a number of countries had known about some of these suspects for several years. 

Phone salesman, Jamal Zougam, a key suspect, had known contact with al-Qaeda, as had two other Moroccans arrested just two days after the Madrid bombings.  Police had questioned them, they had searched Zougam‘s apartment back in August 2001, raising the question of exactly for what reason the three were being followed and was it to see if they were spitting on the sidewalk? 

And coming full circle with our fifth story, terror and war, the witness list for the 9/11 commissions hearings, here next week, is out.  It is a virtual who‘s who of the last two administrations:  Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, William Cohen, Madeline Albright, George Tenet, Sandy Berger, but not Condoleezza Rice.  Alone, among Bush administration figures who were invited to testify, the national security adviser has again declined.  The White House citing concerns about the constitutional separation of powers and how they may be affected by a member of White House staff testifying to a legislative body.  Dr.  Rice reportedly did grant the commission a private interview several weeks back.  The spokesperson for the commission says it has not ruled out forcing Dr.  Rice‘s hand by issuing a subpoena.

Tonight‘s No. 5 story:  War and Terror.  Up next on COUNTDOWN, No. 4, the manhunt for the Ohio sniper.  There‘s no motive, but there‘s a suspect in custody. 

And later:  “You‘re fired,” the Donald‘s catch phrase sweeping the nation.  Our guest can tell us if he has ever said that. 

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

One hundred and fifty thousand, number of marchers in New York City‘s St.  Patrick‘s day parade.  This note to them:  It snowed. 

Twelve, the number of injured at Savannah, Georgia‘s event when a parade vehicle went out of control, crashed into the crowd, none of them serious injuries.

Thirty-four point three million, the number of Americans that claim Irish heritage. 

Three point nine million, the population of the entire nation of Ireland. 

And 13 million, pints of Guinness, the estimated amount that will have been consumed today, St. Patty‘s day—Blancha (ph).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story up next on the COUNTDOWN, your preview:  Ohio may be breathing a sigh of relief, but there are still more questions than answers in the highway sniper case.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It sounds like something out of the movie, “The Fugitive.”  In a public place, when it is least expected, a man looks up and recognizes the face of the man sitting a cross from him, that man is a wanted criminal.  Sounds like fiction, but it actually happened last night at the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas, and in this case the waned man was the suspect in the Ohio highway sniper shootings.  Captured because of a piece of pizza. 

Our forth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Crime, and from Columbus, Ohio, Kevin Tibbles reports the arrest of Charles McCoy, Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For almost a year, drivers in Columbus have been terrorized by an unknown gunman, at least 24 shootings along a stretch of Interstate 270, shattering windshields, leaving holes in cars, and on November 25, killing 62-year-old Gail Knisely, a grandmother. 

But the arrest that police say is the end of this spree, happened 2,000 miles away, off the strip in Las Vegas, before dawn today. 

MICHAEL BREWER, LAS VEGAS POLICE DEPT.:  They were just right on top of him.  I don‘t believe he even had a chance to react.

TIBBLES:  Police identified 28-year-old Charles McCoy, Jr.  on Monday, as the suspect.  Within 48 hours, a casino patron spotted him, offered him a slice of pizza, and talked a bit, and when McCoy left, the patron grabbed McCoy‘s glass and book of matches and called the police. 

CONRAD MALSOM, TURNED MCCOY IN:  And, it was kind of the feeling that your heart stops, that this is it, it wasn‘t a mistake.

TIBBLES (on camera):  It was after the last shootings the gunman may have tripped up.  Witnesses saw him, a man on an overpass with a handgun, driving a dark compact car. 

(voice-over):  Then on Monday, McCoy‘s family filed a missing person‘s report saying he withdrew $600 from the bank and disappeared.  Police put the pieces together saying they made a vital link in many of the shootings. 

CHIEF STEVE MARTIN, FRANKLIN CO.  SHERIFF‘S OFFICE:  Ballistic evidence recovered from the residence was positively matched with eight other incidents all fired from the same weapon used to kill Mrs. Gail Knisely. 

TIBBLES:  McCoy‘s family says he has a history of mental illness and publicly pleaded that he turn himself in after police had named him as a suspect.  Today, his sister said the family is relieved. 

AMY WALTON, MCCOY‘S SISTER:  Charles, I‘m very happy that you‘re safe, that this happened without incident. 

TIBBLES:  After an extradition hearing, McCoy is expected to be returned to Columbus.  And, for commuters here, tomorrow‘s commute will be first in months free of fear.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Columbus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:   And, his first court hearing would not be until Friday in Las Vegas. 

As the forth story in the COUNTDOWN, Crime, continues in Fresno, the issue was not capture, but arraignment.  And, an unexpected postponement of the arraignment of a man accused of killing nine children.  Marcus Wesson slaughtered everyone in his home last Friday.  A lawyer, who once sold Wesson a house, says he was advised of the possible motive by police.  They said Wesson told them he had killed his children because he did not want them to be taken away.  Two of the mothers of those children had threatened to do just that.

Wesson was to be arraigned today, that has been delayed until 1:30 local time, tomorrow.  He faces nine charges of murder and, in all likelihood, faces the death penalty. 

And a change in the case of a Nevada woman facing controversial charges, essentially that she committed murder by refusing to undergo surgery.  Doctors told Melissa Ann Rowland that the survivor of—that the survival of her unborn twins required a C-section, she allegedly refused.  But, in a jailhouse interview, she denied that she had refused and said the babies were indeed delivered by C-section.  One of the children was stillborn.  Prosecutors charged Rowland with murder.

Today prosecutors dropped a second charge, child endangerment, regarding the surviving twin, whom they say was born with marijuana and possibly cocaine in her system. 

And the parade of tears continues in Anchorage, Alaska.  Three teenaged brothers, Christopher, Michael, and Joseph Woods, aged 13 to 19 are dead.  Charged with murder is a mother.  Neighbors say the mother had been abusive to the boys and also suffered from bipolar disorder. 

COUNTDOWN now complete through our forth story, Crime.  Straight ahead, the stories that do not get the status of making our big five, but we still have the privilege of sharing them with your.  “Oddball” is just around the corner.

(SNIFF)

OLBERMANN:  Hmm, 1988, possibly late 1987...

(SNIFF)

OLBERMANN:  A fine mellowed Chuck Taylor, I believe. 

And later, speaking of a really bad smell, it‘s decision 2004.  One front today, some military families saying the commander in chief should face censure from Congress.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN to delve into the eBay of news, those items you‘ll covet and pursue and then wake up tomorrow asking, “Why did I buy into that?”   Let‘s play “Oddball.”

Speaking of eBay, if it‘s old and useless, you can find it there.  Previously owned socks, a distributor cap from a 1971 Dotson, the former dwelling of the 42nd president.  Well, that would be Bill Clinton, if you‘re scoring at home, or even if you‘re alone.  And this would be the home where the future president lived three years of his life, from age five through age eight.  Bidding up to $216,000 on the 1,000 square foot, three bedroom bungalow.  Oh, very nice.  There‘s just one bathroom, you‘d have to deal with tourists stopping by to take pictures, possibly attracted by that classy sign out front announcing that it was the boyhood home of Bill Clinton.

There. 

There‘s also a historical marker explaining how young Billy like to play with his—model train, there and was, quote, “a familiar sight in the neighborhood dressed as a cowboy.”

Unfortunately, that was in 1998. 

And if you were anywhere Montpelier, Vermont, say within 1,000 miles and you noticed that smell.  No, it was not the end of life on the planet, it was just the annual rotten sneaker competition.  Begun in 1975 as a promotional stunt to help a sporting goods store stell—shell—sell shoes, or in English, sell shoes, it has taken on a life, to say nothing of a rich musky odor, of its own.  Now there are regional championship through which one‘s pungent Pumas and not-so-nice Nikes must progress.  Your winner: 10-year-old local kid, Daegan Goodman, who explained his means of odor manufacture: “I just wear ‘em, sweat in ‘em, play sports, I just try.” 

The judge, a NASA smell expert named George Aldridge, had no comment because he immediately lapsed into his annual coma. 

Finally, it‘s half past the hour and time for “Oddball” traffic and weather, together.  And, that backup through the Queens Midtown tunnel into Manhattan has finally been cleared, commuters have been delayed when New York City‘s famed rats went on strike—sorry the circus has come to town.  Ringling Brother‘s elephants on the way to Madison Square Garden.  And, by the way, freshening up the air in the tunnel with their waste matter. 

Checking “Oddball” weather, spring is just around the corner.  Spring is just around the corner, three days from the start of spring, spring, spring and folks in the northeast are pulling out the golf clubs and trying on the cabana wear to enjoy the—oh, hell. 

COUNTDOWN rounding the halfway point.  When we come back, tonight‘s No. 3 story:  Kerry versus Bush, the political attack machine in high gear.  It‘s not even spring yet, and it‘s more than just the top guys on each ticket getting into the thick of the fight.

Later, live by the “Simpson‘s,” die by the “Simpson‘s.”  The cartoon prank that foiled one big city newspaper editing system. 

Doh!

Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day: 

No. 3:  The Pentagon.  The president says you cannot federally fund embryonic stem cell research in this country, but never mentioned in Sweden, so that‘s where the Defense Department will spend 240 tax payer grand to support embryonic stem cell research into Parkinson‘s disease. 

No. 2:  Rex Bell, owner of a bell in Galveston, if you‘re thinking of going there on a trip or anything, he‘s getting sued.  His bar is called “Star Bock,” two words, the last one is spelled B-O-C-K.  Who‘s suing him?  Well, of course, Starbuck‘s.  Hey, coffee boys, what kind of legal shape would you be in if Herman Melville‘s copyright for “Moby Dick” hadn‘t expired?  Does the name “First Mate Starbuck” mean anything to you?  Hmm?  Hmm?

And at No. 1:  Aurel Blidaru, of Romania, hit and run driver.  Hit a policeman, broke his leg.  They pulled Mr. Blidaru over and discovered he was deaf, blind in one eye, legally blind in the other eye, and he‘s about to get his limo driver‘s license in Florida.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The etymology of the phrase evidently dates to 1983, when the manager a rival team used it to play down the unexpected success of baseball‘s Chicago White Sox:  They‘re winning ugly. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, in a sense that differs slightly from its original sports context, it is tonight clear, three days before the start of spring and 230 before the start of voting that whoever wins the presidency on November 2 will do so by winning ugly.  The ex-Democratic front-runner attacked the incumbent.  The incumbent attacked the challenger for having not attacked the ex-Democratic front-runner.  And the vice president attacked the challenger at exactly the same time TV networks were switching to Baghdad to cover the nightmare of the Jabal Lebanon Hotel. 

Our White House correspondent is David Gregory. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  is convinced national security will be the president‘s greatest strength on Election Day, and nearing the one-year anniversary of the Iraq war, that‘s where Bush advisers want to keep the debate focused.  Today the Bush team unleashed Vice President Cheney to attack John Kerry for voting against the first Gulf War and criticizing the decision to topple Saddam Hussein this time.  Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today in Iraq.  In fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly still be in control of Kuwait. 

In a fierce day-long rhetorical exchange between the campaigns, Kerry accused the White House of misleading the country and allies. 

We‘re still bogged down in Iraq and the administration stubbornly holds to failed unilateral policies. 

But Kerry did not explain what he would have done to build a larger coalition. 

He speaks as if only those who openly oppose America‘s objectives have a chance of earning his respect. 

The tactics, say analysts, take an early stand against Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, as someone too timid for the war on terror. 

If he seemed a bit soft or weak on defense, that might take away some of the luster of his war credentials. 

But Kerry brandished those credentials again today, saying he knew what the armed forces needed.  He called the forces overextended under brush, saying he would add 40,000 temporary troops to the Army and he abused the administration of denying troops adequate housing and quamente. 

This time help son the way and it won‘t be coming from George Bush. 

The White House countered.  Even eight months before the election it‘s clear rather than talking about the economy and massive job losses, the war debate is the one the White House wants.  David gregory, NBC News, the White House. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Just in case there was a corner of non-ugliness remaining, the anti-Bush Web site MoveOn.org today formally called on Congress to censure the president.  This was the climax of the buildup of a couple of weeks during which the organization collected over a half a million signatures in support.

Some families with children now serving in Iraq joined that group today on Capitol Hill, demanding that Congress pass a resolution condemning the president.  The group also unveiled a series of ads set to debut this Friday.  The simple message beneath a worried looking picture of President Bush—quote—“He knew.”

If it seems it would be more enjoyable at this point to run for office in the apocryphal totalitarian nation of Oceania from George Orwell‘s novel “1984,” that‘s probably only because it would. 

We welcome some of the keenest eyes watching this bloody political conflict, Howard Fineman, the senior political correspondent of “Newsweek.” 

Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.  

I‘ve just been in Florida, not Oceania, but that‘s pretty close, I would say.

OLBERMANN:  Pretty close. 

As an example, the chairman of the RNC today, Ed Gillespie: “We cannot allow presidential candidates or their surrogates to become mouthpieces for terrorists.‘  I wish I could say that was an isolated remark, even just today, but it‘s not.  Why is it not just this ugly, but this ugly this soon? 

FINEMAN:  Well, because the stakes couldn‘t be higher.  This is the most profound argument I think that Americans will have in a presidential election in a long time and perhaps almost they‘ve ever had.  It‘s about how Americans responds to terrorism in the world. 

It calls forth questions about patriotism and accusations of lack of same.  Ed Gillespie there was coming pretty close, as was Dick Cheney, to calling Dick Cheney and his allies unpatriotic.  So war—this is a new kind of war.  And the limits of debate and what is fair in debate aren‘t set.  And since the limits aren‘t set, the candidates aren‘t acknowledging any such limits on either side.  That‘s one main reason.

Another reason, Keith, is the race to define John Kerry, who‘s much less known than George W. Bush.  And the Republicans and Democrats are racing to define him in their own terms. 

OLBERMANN:  There was I thought a superb piece in “The New York Times” on Monday that discussed the lessons that national politicians should learn from the New York state governor‘s races in 2002, the lessons being treat the subjects of 9/11 and terrorism as, I think the phrase was holy topics, address them briefly, respectfully, generously.

Base on what Howard Dean said today, based on what Dick Cheney said today, obviously, nobody besides me read that article.  Are they going to do in the next eight months?

FINEMAN:  Well, they read it and they ignored it, for several reason.

The White House wants to talk—as David Gregory was saying in the setup piece, the White House wants to talk about the war and war leadership, although sometimes you wonder why, especially given events such as what happened in Baghdad today.  But, still, they think the president as war leader, as war president, is their strongest suit and they‘re going to talk about it. 

John Kerry in winning the Democratic nomination promised Democrats that he wouldn‘t back down from this debate.  Indeed, he said bring it on, and both candidates, both President Bush and John Kerry, are portraying themselves as fighters, as people who won‘t back down.  And they‘ve gotten into this debate earlier on, I think earlier than Kerry wanted, not earlier than Bush wanted.  And neither side is going to stand down.

I mentioned Florida because down in Florida where I was looking for those elusive swing voters, the advertising is thick and fast on all the TV stations.  These guys are going at each other in an unprecedented way and by the way spending unprecedented amounts of money this early on. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s all big picture. 

Small picture, one question, testing your political acumen here.  The Cheney speech about John Kerry, that‘s Dick Cheney, whose approval rating is at about 33 percent.  Strategically, why bring him out, bringing him out particularly to hit Kerry today?  Who was he talking to?  What am I missing in the equation? 

FINEMAN:  OK. 

What you‘re missing is that the vice president‘s job is to be an attack dog.  The vice president is rarely a popular figure in American politics.  Dick Cheney‘s been down so long, it all looks like up to him.  He doesn‘t have much—to use a Cornell reference, he doesn‘t have much left to lose.  So that‘s what he is about.

And what they‘re doing with that message is trying to solidify for George Bush the support of conservative Democrats.  Interestingly, in Florida, they‘re showing the anti-Kerry ads in north Florida, which is the Georgia part of Florida.  And that‘s what they‘re doing here.  They‘re solidifying that support.  They‘re trying to peel wavering conservative Democrats away from Kerry at the outset and put them firmly in George Bush‘s camp.

And they‘re using Dick Cheney as a bludgeon to do it.  And if this strategy doesn‘t work, and if Cheney‘s a spent rocket by the summer, who knows would could happen to that ticket. 

OLBERMANN:  Josh me about Cornell basketball, will you? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, who has a great piece on all this, “U.S. Election as a Global Affair,” on the “Newsweek” Web site—

Howard, as always, many thanks. 

FINEMAN:  Sure. 

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s just 230 days go. 

Our No. 2 story is up next.  Here‘s your hint.  Won‘t somebody please think of the children?  Somebody says, she is.  You be the judge.  Plus, Courtney Love back in court.  And, sometimes, this connects to the Donald Trump catchphrase that is sweeping the nation. 

While you mull that over, here our COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You two are hosting the St. Patrick‘s Day Parade here in a little while.  You are going to freeze your tails off.  Let me just say that.

PAT O‘BRIEN, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”:  Are you layered, honey?  Are you OK?

NANCY O‘DELL:  I‘m trying to be.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t even have a very big coat on. 

O‘DELL:  I don‘t have a big coat.  I‘ve got long johns on, though, and I‘ve got green undergarments. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Happy St. Patrick‘s Day to all of you.  I did send a memo to my staff today reminding them that green beer is not a health food. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thanks to the lovely gifts of shamrocks, this day is always a happy one for Americans.  Some places, Americans get a little too happy. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Coming up fast on tonight‘s No. 2 story, featuring our favorite pair of celebrity siblings.  And later, how a spoof “Simpsons” letter made it into the revered pages of the legendary advice column.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To be a publicity-seeking missile is not necessarily to be insincere; 2000 it was when the New York Mets won baseball‘s National League Championship series.

And in the midst of the telecast of the postgame celebrations, a seat opened up near the camera.  And a New York politician scrambled over a makeshift fence to fill the opening and force the host to interview him.  The politico was Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  And nobody ever thought him insincere or insincere about wanting camera time. 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, we offer you that caveat about publicity, publicity seekers and the possibility of their sincerity before telling you that, once again, it‘s your entertainment dollars in action, day 121 of the Michael Jackson investigations. 

Late this afternoon in Los Angeles, attorney Gloria Allred reinserted herself into the issue of Jackson‘s parenting.  She said—and it cannot be independently corroborated—that last Friday she received a notice form the L.A. County Department of Child and Family Services that that department did not plan to take any steps towards taking Jackson‘s away from him. 

Thus, she had personally filed a petition with the juvenile court there asking the judge to investigate the decision not to investigate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY:  It is my position that the children are in need of protection and that judicial oversight is necessary to assure that protection.  Further, if Mr. Jackson were not a celebrity, but had the same history of allegations against him, I believe that the children would have been removed a long time ago. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And continuing the second story, how to sidestep a

subpoena from a grand jury, yesterday, Jackson‘s ex, Lisa Marie Presley,

seemed to be on the verge of being summoned to testify in the case all

because she had told an Australian interviewer that she had seen—quote -

·         “things” while married to Jackson that she could not now address. 

Today she, clarified.  “In saying I saw things,” Elvis‘ daughter says, “I was specifically referring to things in that relationship with us that went on between us at the time as husband and wife and that dynamic.  I was in no way referring to seeing something inappropriate with children.  And as I have stated before in other interviews, I never have.”

Tonight‘s No. 2 segueing us neatly into that nightly pause in the COUNTDOWN in which we address the day‘s sling and arrows aimed at the celebrities in our midst.  We call them “Keeping Tabs.”  It‘s usually just a name.  But tonight, it‘s advice, advice to “Dear Abby” and “The Chicago Tribune.”

The paper has issued a correction after having apparently been the only major American outlet to call for a fake letter inside a recent “Dear Abby” column.  Even Abby‘s syndicators caught it and warned everybody.  “The Trib” apparently was out to lunch that day.

See if you recognize the sting.  A letter to Abby describes a woman married to her husband for 10 years—quote—“He is greedy, selfish, inconsiderate and rude.  He put off getting me a birthday gift for as long as he could.  Then he bought me a bowling ball.  It was the last straw.  Not only do I not bowl.  He had the holes drilled for his fingers and his name was on it.”

You got it yet?  The letter went on to describe how the woman decided to show up her evil husband, by going to the bowling alley, where she meets an exotic foreign bowler, with whom she falls in love.  It‘s the plot of episode 7G11, “Life on the Fast Lane,” of “The Simpsons” from the 1989-‘90 season. 

Speaking of comic book figures, a dramatic and bold statement from the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig about to take quick and decisive action against steroid use by players in his sport.  “The Chicago Tribune” and “Houston Chronicle” reporting that, unless the Players Union is willing to negotiate a tougher policy on steroids immediately, Selig might employ a rarely used power of the commissioner‘s‘s office called the best interest of baseball clause and simply unilaterally declare a new policy, complete with widespread drug testing and harsh immediate suspensions for steroid use.

The owners and players did today add one drug to the list of banned substances, THG, the steroid that came up in the recent case of the trainer of superstar Barry Bonds. 

And bad news for you fans of campy sci-fi.  Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise are reportedly set to remake the 1953 butchering of the H.G. Wells classic “The War of the Worlds.”  Gene Barry was in it. 

Currently, the most advertised new film about to hit theaters is a remake.  Not widely known that Tom Hanks in “The Ladykillers” is actually a remake of a genuine classic from 1955 with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers.

Four down, one to go in tonight‘s COUNTDOWN.  If you‘re one of the thousands of people clamoring to face off against Donald Trump in the boardroom, the TV boardroom, our next guest might give you some insight.

But, first, in honor of that “Simpsons”-inspired letter to “Dear Abby,” here are Marge Simpson‘s top two achievements this week.  No. 2, she is the cover girl on a special issue of “Maxim” magazine.  And, No. 1, the British public has voted her the top mother figure in the public eye in that nation, which is impressive until you find out that the runners-up were Cherie Blair and Posh Spice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  You‘re fired, fired, fired, fired, fired, fired. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Money.

TRUMP:  Donald Trump. 

Fired.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Oh, money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s spelled Y-U-H-F-Y-E-D, yuhfyed.

And it has taken its place alongside “You‘re the weakest link” and “Where‘s the beef” as one the media-spawned catchphrases and eventually will annoy this nation.  Only this time, it‘s a phrase said by a celebrity. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, you‘re fired, no longer words to be feared thanks to everybody‘s favorite celebrity employer Donald Trump.  And now other celebrities have gotten into the craze.  Courtney Love, where else, in court, before a judge on drug charges, telling her lawyer, you‘re fired. 

The judge, already at the end of his rope because Ms. Love was two hours late, said she is not helping her case at all, at which point Love then screams, rehired. 

It‘s a safe bet that the Donald never screamed rehired to anybody.  Does he seem to you to be a man who might relish the task of actually saying, you‘re fired? 

“I remember the first time I had to fire somebody.  It‘s business.  You do it.  I love doing it if someone really deserves,” so he told Oprah Winfrey.

Boastful?  The truth?  Billy Procida was a vice president under Donald Trump at the tender age of 27 when they parted ways.  He is now the chairman of Palisades Financial, an investment financial firm based in New Jersey. 

Mr. Procida, good evening.

BILLY PROCIDA, WORKED FOR DONALD TRUMP:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, when you left the Trump organization, that decision was mutual and amicable.  But lay it out for us.  To the best of your knowledge, in his own business, has Donald Trump ever said it that way, “You‘re fired”?

PROCIDA:  I don‘t think Donald actually relished firing anybody unless they truly deserve it. 

For the show, it has worked out great.  Everybody in the nation is talking about it, but I don‘t think it‘s something that he comes out and wants to do. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you have any advice for the next round of “Apprentice” contestants now that this is going to be picked up and like run every night for the rest of our lives, or, for that matter, anybody who is actually going to work for Donald Trump for real?

PROCIDA:  Well, Donald loves people who think out of the box. 

I was a guy who didn‘t go to college.  I was building in the Bronx.  We got to know each other.  There was an article written about me as the boy Trump.  And the next thing I know, I was working for him.  I would say to people, don‘t be afraid, be outspoken.  He obviously doesn‘t like people who hide in the corner. 

OLBERMANN:  And clearly he has never hidden in the corner.  He‘s never been low-profile media wise.  But now they have got him hosting “Saturday Night Live” in two weeks.  And “The New York Post” had this gossip item today about scalpers supposedly getting $10,000 a ticket for seats in the audience that night.  On the particular story, do you believe a word of that or is this the product of the old handmaiden of fame, which is a good publicity agent? 

PROCIDA:  Well, I was at a restaurant the other night where everybody was clearing out to go home to watch the show.  So I think it is true.  And, obviously, the ratings speak for themselves.

But when it comes to real estate, look at his condominiums.  He consistently outsells everybody else in the market by 10 to 20 percent. 

OLBERMANN:  Nonetheless, $10,000 for a ticket to go see him act, I mean...

PROCIDA:  Well, if Donald says it, I‘m sure it was true. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Last question.  Ever fire anybody yourself?  Ever use the phrase or is anybody ever going to be able to use this phrase again and people will take them seriously or have we now neutralized the meaning for all time?

PROCIDA:  Well, I think that any good employer never relishes firing anybody unless they deserve it.  But I think you will hear it used around the bar and around the country club when—if you are not playing well, miss your shot, you will probably hear you‘re fired this summer. 

OLBERMANN:  And then, sometime in late fall, we‘ll all get sick of it and you‘ll never hear it again. 

Billy Procida, no worse for the wear, thanks for your time tonight, sir.

PROCIDA:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  And the No. 1 thing you also need to know about our No. 1 story tonight, open casting for “The Apprentice 2” 7:00 a.m. tomorrow in New York City at, where else, the Trump Building.  For the other dates in the other cities, you can log on to NBC.com, or you‘re fired.

Let‘s recap the top five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, obviously the massive car bomb in Iraq killing at least 27 in a five-star hotel in downtown Baghdad, the attack coming just days before the first anniversary of the start of the war and hours before the president‘s ultimatum one year ago tonight.  Four, a casino offers a slice of pizza to a fellow gambler in Las Vegas, then realizes his new acquaintance is the chief suspect in Ohio sniper case.  Police then arrest Charles McCoy without incident early this morning.  They don‘t yet have a motive.

Three, a vicious cycle in the political sphere.  John Kerry attacks President Bush.  Dick Cheney goes after Kerry.  Howard Dean throws in a wildcard in the mix, just 230 days before the election.  Story No. 2, Michael Jackson under threat from Gloria Allred.  The L.A. attorney wants his kids taken away from him.  She says he is getting special celebrity treatment, but she is playing the celebrity card to get her own attention, and/or both?  And No. 1, Donald Trump‘s catchphrase now a part of our everyday language, you‘re—you‘re—oh, I can‘t remember the second part of it. 

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

Good night and good luck.  And you‘re fired.

END   

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