updated 3/25/2004 11:40:45 AM ET 2004-03-25T16:40:45

Guests: Gerald Posner; Michael Musto, Cynthia Stone, David Kipen

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

RICHARD CLARKE, FMR WHITE HOUSE TERRORISM ADVISER:  Your government failed you. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Clarke‘s apology to the families for 9/11.  Day two of the hearings, the drama, the accusations of partisanship, the regret.  But, was there insight?  Was there meaning?  Analysis here, from the 9/11 investigative author, Gerald Posner. 

Visibly shaken: The alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant case testifies in a closed court about her sexual past.  There was no public to eavesdrop.  There was nobody to support her.  Was the hearing just another way for Bryant‘s lawyers to try to break the accuser? 

Bird is the word: An “American Idol” judge seems to be slipping the one digit salute past the censors.  He denies it.  Are we Janet Jacksoning again?  Only this time a little higher? 

Catch me if you can: Key West Florida, overridden by wild chickens?  Meet the man hired to catch them.  That‘s right, he‘s barber and a chicken chaser. 

And as his doctor, ma‘am, either he is going for the “Book of World Records” dealies or I‘m afraid your son has become magnetized. 

All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It was perhaps the first time anybody who mattered, even just a little bit in any American government had said anything like it.  “It is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11.  Your government failed you.  Those entrusted with protecting you, failed you and I failed you.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:  Day two of the 9/11 hearings highlighted by a breathtaking apology from the same man who was both the star witness and the most controversial one.  In a moment, the assessment of 9/11 investigative author Dr. Gerald Posner.  First the testimony of former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke as reported by David Gregory—

David.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, today Clarke accused the Bush administration of failing to make terrorism its top priority when it came into office.  But he also admitted that even if officials here had listened to him sooner, it probably would not have stopped 9/11. 

(voice-over):  Richard Clarke emerged as the star witness of the 9/11 hearings and he began his testimony in dramatic fashion, by apologizing to relatives of 9/11 victims in the room. 

CLARKE:  Your government failed you.  Those entrusted with protecting you, failed you, and I failed you. 

GREGORY:  But in his headline grabbing book, out this week, Clarke lays most of the blame on the Bush White House for not making al-Qaeda a top priority. 

CLARKE:  Although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don‘t think it was ever treated that way. 

GREGORY:  While Clarke asserts that battling terrorism was an extraordinarily high priority for President Clinton, it became clear today, he was frustrated by the Clinton White House, as well.  After the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa, and again after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, Clarke then Clinton‘s count-terrorism czar, pushed hard to begin a continuous military campaign to weaken al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, where it was being sheltered by the Taliban government. 

CLARKE:  I suggested that we bomb all of the Taliban and al-Qaeda infrastructure, whether or not it would succeed in killing bin Laden. 

GREGORY:  The Clinton White House did not follow his advice.  Nor, he says, did the incoming Bush team in January of 2001. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What else could have been done, Mr. Clark? 

CLARKE:  All of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September.  They were done.  They were done after September 11.  They were all done.  I didn‘t really understand why they couldn‘t have been done in February.

GREGORY:  The White House argues, there was a sense of urgency.  In a further attempt to undermine Clarke, today official here made public this previously anonymous briefing which Clarke himself gave to reporters in August 2002.  Clark said that in March of 2001, President Bush ordered a change in the strategic direction of the anti-al-Qaeda plan, from one of roll back to one of elimination.  Today Clarke said that he was just offering positive spin back then.  He didn‘t really believe the administration was doing enough.  Clark came under critical questioning today, by republican members of the commission over what they viewed as inconsistent statements. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘ve a real credibility problem. 

GREGORY:  Clarke denied sensationalizing his comments to sell his book and denied having a political agenda. 

CLARKE:  So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one. 

GREGORY (on camera):  Clarke says the reason he is coming down so hard on the Bush White House is because he believes strongly that the invasion of Iraq has undermined the war on terror and strengthened the culprits behind 9/11 -- Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House.  Many thanks. 

So, the public hearings are over, the apology was poignant.  Some of the testimony was like a bolt of lightning at midnight, illuminating the landscape.  But, for the briefest of moments, was there any real insight here?  I‘m joined again by Gerald Posner, the award winning author of “Why America Slept, the Failure to Prevent 9/11,” thus far the definitive work on how that all of day was permitted to happen. 

Mr. Posner, good evening.

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, “WHY AMERICA SLEPT”:  Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, somewhere Osama bin Laden is watching these hearings, in theory, anyway, for purpose of our conversation anyway, and he is thinking what?

POSNER:  He‘s thinking this is absolutely fantastic.  And the reason he thinks that is because if you watch these hearings, you‘re right, there are moments of illumination and we find out a little about how the government operates, but more importantly, we find out about how the government doesn‘t operate efficiently.  I mean, here‘s a perfect example where the national Security Council and the CIA cannot agree as to whether there is an order to actually kill Osama bin Laden.  CIA officers in Afghanistan are saying, “Well, we would not carry that out because we‘re not sure we have the authority to do it.”  The national Security Council says, “Gee, we thought we authorized you.”  The CIA says, “Gee, we‘re not sure that was really the case.”  Bin Laden must look at this and think this is why they aren‘t nimble and lean and mean against me, because they are this cumbersome bureaucracy that goes through so many layers of approval that in the end they can‘t prevail against al-Qaeda. 

OLBERMANN:  In ‘98, George Tenet said the CIA was declaring war on bin Laden.  The Clinton National Security Council, as you just pointed out, if the president wants him dead, the CIA can go ahead and make him dead.  They put up the drones and evidently they locate him from the videotape we saw last week and he winds up not being dead.  After these hearings, both the one in the last two days on camera and the previous one off camera, do we now know who let him live?  Or was the bureaucracy designed to make sure that we would never find out if the wrong decision was made. 

POSNER:  It‘s both of those, first of all the bureaucracy was created to cover their behinds.  No doubt about that, there‘s plausible deniability around here, everybody‘s talking tough.  Boy, if you listen to these hearings, you would think that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda was the No. 1 domestic and foreign policy agenda that both of these administrations had.  Forget welfare reform and creating jobs and the economy, it was all about al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  They certainly talk a great game, but their actions don‘t live up to that.  Yes, they had the Predator drone out there looking for bin Laden, and yes it located him a couple times.  But, guess what?  It wasn‘t armed.  Because the Pentagon was having a fight with the executive branch who was having a fight with the CIA over the funding and jurisdiction of it.  So, when we finally found him, we then had to make a decision as to whether we should send a four to six-hour missile attack in there on a cruise missile, and today you heard George Tenet, the head of the CIA, said, “Well, by the time he arrived, maybe he‘s gone.”  Well that‘s a system built in there for to say, “You‘re never going to pull the trigger.”  That‘s not really a system to eliminate bin Laden.

OLBERMANN:  Presumably he might have been a little bit more thrown by the idea of being missed by just four or six hours rather than two or three years. 

Obviously Richard Clarke was the closest thing to a John Dean kind of witness in this thing, especially in terms of trying to assess whether or not momentum was lost in counter-terrorism activity when President Clinton was succeeded by President Bush.  Let me first play is some of what Clarke said on that point today, then get your reaction. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARKE:  I believe the Bush administration, in the first eight months, considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, Mr. Posner, Dick Clarke again said it today, that‘s the way he described the Bush focus on terror and the way he described Clinton focus, again.  They had no higher priority.  You wrote about Mr.  Clarke this morning in the “Los Angeles Times.”  What do you make of his assessments of these two administrations and what do you make of his motives and his testimony? 

POSNER:  I think he‘s absolutely right.  I mean, I must tell you that I think Richard Clarke‘s one of the few heroes in this story.  He‘s one of those who sounded the alarm in al-Qaeda and bin Laden years before anyone else.  I am only somewhat surprised that he comes down so harsh just on the Bush administration, because I think both Clinton and Bush share the same problems.  This was a priority for them, but very low on the radar in term of priority.  It was not something they thought there was a concern and they both thought they had the luxury of time, which 9/11 showed that we did not.  But Clarke also showed why he‘s so angry at Bush today, and that was, as you showed before in the Gregory piece, he‘s mad about Iraq because he thinks that diverts the issue from al-Qaeda.  Many other people are not so convinced that they aren‘t necessarily related and it‘s all part of the war on terror. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, is there an overall question, either now or in the immediate future or the long-term future, about validity with this commission?  As an example, Condoleezza Rice once co-authored a book with Philip Zelikow, with whom she used to work at the NSA under the first President Bush.  Zelikow winds up as the executive director of this commission.  Dr.  Rice winds up not testifying before this commission.  Will people now or in the future point to thing like this and say this is another Warren Commission?  This is another Warren Report? 

POSNER:  Yeah, I don‘t think it‘s going to settle the issues for many people.  Keith, anybody who thinks that this 9/11 Commission, in the middle of a political election year for the presidency, partisanship all around, they don‘t have access to some of the key documents, the Saudis and Pakistanis who have some of the answers are just laughing, they‘re not even cooperating, nor being named in this.  Anyone who thinks this commission‘s going to issue a report and settle the issues as to why 9/11 happened, they‘ll give some answers, but it‘s certainly going go on far beyond the commission‘s reports. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, I think we‘ll do a little word check on Saudi Arabia in the final transcript and see how many times it came up in the last two days. 

OLBERMANN:  Gerald Posner, the author...

POSNER:  Not often enough

OLBERMANN:  “Why America Slept.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time and your insight.

POSNER:  Thank you so much, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  A big 180 from the White House about Richard Clarke and secretary Rumsfeld and 9/11 and Iraq.  Clarke‘s contention that in the response to 9/11, the president instructed Rumsfeld to draw up military options against Iraq.  Yesterday brought a complete dismissal from White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.  A complete dismissal that is, tonight evidentially, inoperative. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It‘s just revisionist history to make suggestions like that.  He knows that at that point that our focus was on going—on Afghanistan and removing the Taliban and taking away the safe haven for al-Qaeda. 

So what you are saying (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that he did—that the president did not sign an order to prepare to invade Iraq at that time. 

MCCLELLAN:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Today White House Chief of Staff Andy Card told NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell, off camera, that the president did indeed give Mr.  Rumsfeld permission to draw up military options for Iraq in the days after 9/11 out of fear that if the U.S. went after Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein might take the opportunity to attack the U.S.

One other possible attack on the U.S. may be off the board.  After Israel eliminated founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas vowed revenge against both Israel and this country.  Abdel Aziz Rantissi, the newly proclaimed leader of that Palestinian group now says revenge attacks will not extend to the United States.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians marked the last days of mourning for the dead 68-year-old leader and the U.N. Human Rights Commission formally condemned Israel for the killing.  Israel called the vote a low point for the United Nations. 

Speaking of lows, Israeli paratroops start—stopped this boy at a West Bank checkpoint today, after asking him to lift his shirt, they found him wearing a vest packed with more than 17 pounds of explosives.  According to the Israelis, the boy, variously reporting to be 14, or 16 years old, was sent to blow himself up near soldiers.  Apparently he lost his nerve. 

Fortunately, he was also able to lose the explosives.  Israeli forces sent in a small robot to deliver a pair of scissors with him with which he promptly cut off the vest.  With the boy at a safe distance, the explosives were detonated.  The boy‘s family describes him as easily manipulated and having the intelligence of a 12-year-old.  Last week, a 10-year-old was stopped at another checkpoint wearing explosives.  Apparently hidden on him without even his own knowledge. 

And the final part of tonight‘s No. 5 story, some grim humor out of the fight against terror from the Deltas of Louisiana.  The port of New Orleans is in the final stages of installing its new computer controlled system that will monitor all sea and river traffic out of the city.  It will replace the current system:  One guy, in one tower, with one pair of binoculars. 

Tonight‘s No. 5 story: Stopping terror.  Particularly the lessons, if any, learned from 9/11. 

Coming up next, No. 4 on the COUNTDOWN:  Judging the judges on “American Idol.”  Was the Cowell scowl accompanied by the proverbial finger?  What Simon says, and whether or not this will be the next big decency dustup. 

And later, thanks to the Donald, “Ya fired” sweeping the nation, What about all those other catch phrases and clich’s?  At the end of the day, which one has been voted the most irritating phrase in the English language? 

Those stories ahead.  First here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Opening Number.”  The five figures that shaped this day and today‘s theme is America‘s snack hole. 

Five point nine billion dollars, what a survey just released by the Snack Food Association concludes is the annual sale figure for potato chip in this country.

Four-and-a-half billion, also dollars, the amount on tortilla chips. 

One point three billion joe, spent pretzels. 

One point two billion blown on microwave popcorn.

And $469 million spent each year by Americans on pork rinds.  Mmm $469 million pork rinds.  Aghhh.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Four stories to go out of tonight‘s big five.  Your preview of what‘s up next:  The finger—you know what I mean.  Was it show live on network television?  Will it be the next indecency brouhaha?  Brouhaha?  Ha ha ha! Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s known as the “bird,” the “one digit salute,” the “finger” It is almost as old as civilization The Greek author, Aristophanes is recorded as using it as stage business in a play he wrote over 2,500 years ago.  And, in our No. 4 story, it may have been used again on television last night.  Whether you think this is silly or offensive, it could wind up as the next big decency debate in our post Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction traumatic stress world. 

Meet the possible new Janet:  Simon Cowell, the infamous “American Idol” judge and either this is the way he always rests his hand on his chin with only the middle finger upright or he‘s emphasizing how unhappy he is at criticism from fellow panelist Paula Abdul.  Well, there is reportedly an internal investigation at Fox, the source reporting that is pretty weak. 

Mr. Cowell has applied through a Fox spokesman.  Simon says:

“I certainly would never make a gesture like that toward Paula or on national television.  Sometimes I lean on my index finger.  Sometimes a different finger, sometimes two at the same time, or, God help me, even the whole hand.  I never even thought about it until now.”

Flashing the middle digit on television was not, too long ago, a quick route to punishment.  In the early 80‘s, New York City news reporter Marrow Linsky (ph), a TV novas, was caught not knowing which camera was on as the station‘s inimitable anchorman, Roger Grimsby noted shortly thereafter.  As Marrow Linsky (ph) would say, “we‘re No. 1.”  She was suspended.

Throughout history, the finger has often been slipped in, surreptitiously.  This may be the oldest example: April 29, 1886, the opening of the baseball season.  The guy, back row, far left, is Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, quietly giving the photographer the bird -- 1886!

More recently, and kind of like Cowell, that‘s baseball brigand, Billy Martin, on his 1972 bubblegum card.  Look at how his hand is covering that bat there.

And still in the wake of the news, here‘s the “hello” from Martha Stewart‘s ex-stock broker, Peter Bacanovic, after and he Miss Stewart were convicted last month. 

So, given the fact that except in a news context, the “finger” has been considered a no-no, are the decency police going to go after Mr.  Cowell?  Or at least after that part of him?  Should they?  As always, when such complex societal issues arise, we turn to Michael Musto, columnist of the “Village Voice.” 

Michael, welcome back.  Good evening.

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  Oh, very nice!

MUSTO:  Oh, I didn‘t mean anything by that. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, of course you didn‘t.  Are we at the dawn of a new controversy or is this a one digit, one-hit wonder? 

MUSTO:  This is truly a tempest in a crack pot.  I mean even fewer children are going to be corrupted by this finger than were by Janet‘s bosom.  People have seen a finger before, and it is possible Simon, as he says, was just holding up one of his faces or maybe he was flipping Paula the bird.  She deserves it for those ‘80s hits that she made. 

OLBERMANN:  So—yeah but, to what degree does it have to do with Mr.  Cowell himself, in the sense of—I don‘t know, I can‘t think of somebody else—all right, say if you say—just happened to hold your face up with one finger, as I think you may have just done recently, they wouldn‘t come down on you like a ton of bricks, but this man, while he may be appreciated, he‘s certainly is not well liked in television. 

MUSTO:  No he‘s not, but I think flipping the finger, if he did indeed do so, is totally consistent with his behavior, and I admire him for telling the truth.  He‘s a soothsayer on the show.  Paula has her role too, she‘s very nice, she‘s comforting to the new talent.  But Simon‘s letting people know what it‘s going to be like to be in show biz, it‘s nasty.  And that‘s—what‘s inconsistent with him flipping somebody the finger? 

OLBERMANN:  Just this, I suppose, when I was a kid, if you flipped somebody the finger, it was not just a sign of disrespect or a nonverbal way of dropping the good old F-bomb, but it was also an invitation to fist fight.  I mean, that usually was the cue—a cue to that.  And seriously, I don‘t want to be a prude, I certainly don‘t want to be anti-free speech.  My inclination is to say people, you know, people on TV, at least on broadcast TV, maybe they should not make that kind of gesture because, maybe it is introducing it prematurely to some kid, some 4-year-old somewhere.

MUSTO:  Well, it is an invitation to a fight, but he knows that Paula is not going to fight back.  She can‘t kick his butt.  Or maybe she can, but she‘s not going to do it on camera.  So, he‘s pretty safe in doing it.  And it‘s just a symbolic gesture, and he says he didn‘t even do it.  I think what he‘s really mad about, at this point, is that Justin has not backed him up at all.  Justin is pretending he didn‘t even know that was going to happen. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  You know what?  You just made me think.  Maybe we should encourage Paula and Mr. Cowell to have a fight.  That would be entertaining, at least. 

MUSTO:  I actually think Simon should be nastier because if Clay and Rubin are the people that made it to the top, he obviously needs to crack a whip a little harder, because they are pure cheese on a cracker, let‘s face it. 

OLBERMANN:  He‘s the gate keeper and he‘s really not doing the job, is he?  The one and only Michael Musto of the “Village Voice” tonight, adding the flipping of the bird to his many areas of expertise. 

Michael, thank you.  Class all the way. 

MUSTO:  Bye Keith.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The finger, on “American Idol” and now on COUNTDOWN.  So, tomorrow on Fox, you can watch that about us. 

Straight ahead, we get to the fingering of those news stories that have found their home on “Oddball.”  Coming up, a whole new meaning to spooning.  Ew.

And later, the “Pledge of Allegiance”: million of kids reciting it in school everyday.  The Supreme Court now set to decide whether to leave it alone or declare it unconstitutional.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and pause the COUNTDOWN now, to report the news of the very, very weird.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

Meet the Bushman.  He is the bush, man.  Trying to ply his trade on Fisherman‘s Wharf in San Francisco, dressed up and scaring tourists, hoping they‘ll reward him with a bit of spare change.  David Johnson has been jumping out from behind that bush for 25 years shouting “ugga bugga.”  Something bad actually happened, a frightened woman actually twisted her ankle, but now a jury has found Mr. Johnson was not guilty of being a public nescience.  Back he is today, back in public making a nuisance for himself.

Power to the shrubbery!

And from Bushman to spoon boy.  This is Jonathon Freidman from Lake Oswego, Oregon.  He appears to be trying to purloin some silverware.  This started as a whim at his grandfather‘s 90th birthday party of it was one spoon, then five, then a world record seven, finally a dozen.  All of them sticking to Jonathon by the miracle of suction.

And, the next cool thing, e-mail from beyond the grave.  Seven thousand people have already signed up at lastwishes.com, a company that will store a farewell e-mail from you to your family and friends and then send it after your motherboard gets fried for the final time.  Sounds comforting, you die, your last e-mail lives.  But, a psychiatrist warns the recipients of that e-mail might be a little shocked.  Anyway, last wishes.com.  When you hit the end, they hit send.

Which reminds us to remind you that you all the technological wonders of this world and the next one will be highlighted this Friday night at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.  The MSNBC “Tech Summit” hosted by Lester Holt and Lisa Ling.  Directed by our own Sciborg, Mark Greenstein.

COUNTDOWN about to blow past the halfway mark.  When we return, No. 3: 

The accuser in the Bryant case forced to testify about her sex life so a judge can decide whether or not she has to testify about her sex life. 

And later in Key West, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Man versus chicken in the turf war in the Florida Keys. 

Those stories are ahead.  First here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3

Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: Benton County, Oregon, where commissioners have decided that until we all figure out who can get married and who can‘t, they won‘t be issuing any marriage licenses to any couples, straight or gay.  Happy now?!

No. 2: Students at the University of Wisconsin.  If the Badger students are worried about the reps as the drunkest big school in the country, they‘re not showing it.  A class action lawsuit filed today by three students who claimed 24 bars in the city of Madison illegally conspired to fix prices on beer and liquor.  Badgers?  Badgers?  We don‘t got to discount no stinking badgers.

And No. 1, the violinist at the Beethoven Orchestra in Vaughn in Germany, they too are suing, claiming they should be paid more than the other musicians in the group because they have to play more notes per concert.  Yeah, it‘s really a jip that the guy on the triangle gets gets $67,500 a year. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sending someone to prison for rape is not supposed to be easy.  The question of how not easy is raised anew in Eagle, Colorado, today.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the alleged victim in the Kobe Bryant case seeing him in the flesh for the first time since June 30 of last year in room 35 of the resort at which she worked and having to answer hostile questioning from his attorney about her own sex life.  Today, the basketball player was the first to arrive for a pretrial hearing in district court.  He was already seated when the 19-year-old former hotel desk clerk who says Bryant raped her that night arrived to testify behind closed doors about whether or not she has to testify about that part of her personal life during a trial. 

Obviously, Bryant‘s attorneys want that outcome.  They hope to convince District Judge Terry Ruckriegle that the accuser‘s sex life is relevant and will help destroy her credibility.  And the defense may have already achieved something.  While quoting sources familiar with the alleged victim‘s testimony who say that she maintained her composure in the courtroom, correspondent Michelle Hofland also saw the young woman leave that courtroom and described her as visibly shaken. 

Was that the whole idea here, push her to the edge, try to get her to break down, try to thin the ice under the case, justifiably or not? 

We‘re joined again tonight by Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who joins us now from Eagle.

Ms. Stone, good evening. 

CYNTHIA STONE, COLORADO COALITION AGAINST SEXUAL ASSAULT:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I confess to being confused here.  There‘s a hearing to determine if this woman should have to testify about her sexual history during which she‘s forced to testify about her sexual history.  Didn‘t the defense just achieve part of its goal, regardless of what this judge does now? 

STONE:  Well, Colorado‘s rape shield law does have exceptions where there are sometimes pieces of a victim‘s sexual history that can be admitted into court. 

And this is actually a fairly typical process for that, that the evidence is put before the judge and the judge decides whether there‘s any possible direct relevancy to the case at hand. 

OLBERMANN:  Doesn‘t it, though, essentially give the defense a free punch at the alleged victim? 

STONE:  Well, we‘ve been very concerned that what this woman had to go through today was a horrendous fishing expedition.  Usually, the exceptions to Colorado‘s rape shield law deal very specifically with DNA. 

But this defense team has repeatedly gone through this woman‘s past and picked up every piece of innuendo, speculation, rumor, hearsay that they could find about her.  And they put it out into the public in the form of motions to the court that get put on the court‘s Web site.  So we‘re very concerned that this rape shield hearing may have gone well beyond the bounds of a normal rape shield hearing. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, let me ask you the devil‘s advocate question here.  In the case where a woman has, for instance, falsely accused a man of rape, is scheming for money, for attention, for whatever reason, even if we‘re just talking hypothetical, what do you think that man‘s defense should be permitted to ask about that woman?  What should be testified to openly? 

STONE:  Well, again, we feel Colorado‘s rape shield law is a very fair and balanced.  It does help to protect the privacy of the victims while at the same time preserving the right as a defendant.  As late as 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court strongly upheld our rape shield law. 

OLBERMANN:  Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, we thank you for joining us again tonight. 

STONE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The legalities of the No. 3 story extending to other courtrooms and other extraordinary cases. 

In Fresno, the man accused both of incest and of killing nine of his children will not be permitted visits from other relatives for fear he may convince them to kill themselves. 

And, in Washington, arguments over two words before the Supreme Court. 

The Marcus Wesson case first.  The newspaper “The Fresno Bee” is reporting that the accused murderer will not be allowed visits because Fresno police have been tipped that—quote—“He has power over his surviving family members that, if we don‘t heed the warning, could result in additional deaths.”  In short, they think Wesson could tell his relatives to kill themselves or possibly to kill other relatives who don‘t support him.  On top of everything else, there is a chance the county could be legally liable if there are deaths. 

On the other side of the continent, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether or not the phrase “under God” should be struck from the Pledge of Allegiance.  On one side, the state of California and the federal government, both claiming “under God” is a patriotic expression that simply acknowledges America‘s religious heritage. 

On the other, the atheist, Michael Newdow, who says a pledge with “under God” implies certainty that there really is a God and that amounts to unconstitutional promotion of a religion.  Most judges reportedly were skeptical about Newdow‘s claim.  Justice Breyer even suggested that parents who object to the phrase should simply have their kids recite the pledge without those words. 

Kobe Bryant murder by proxy, “under God,” the legal cases making up the third story tonight.  Just ahead, No. 2, this is not exactly big game hunting, but it is hunting nonetheless, thousands of chickens running an American city ragged.  Then later, guess who is taking on Alex Trebek? 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TROY MCCLAIN, “APPRENTICE” CONTENDER:  I‘ve been chasing Donald Trump since I was 18 years old.  In my senior high school quote, I put down, “Donald Trump, I‘m coming to see you.”  And I promised my mama and my family that I would come meet him someday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST:  Ostensibly, as I mentioned yesterday in the Tom Hanks interview...

MARLON WAYANS, ACTOR:  Ostensibly?  You‘ve got them big words.

COURIC:  No, I don‘t know why I say ostensibly.  I said it yesterday.

(CROSSTALK)

COURIC:  I‘m a little stuck on that word. 

WAYANS:  What you using them SAT words for?  It‘s too early for you to be using dictionary words.

COURIC:  I‘m sorry.  I‘m sorry.  Allegedly?  Apparently?  Supposedly?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  This document of Fox News earlier, this transcript that they have, this is a background briefing.  Fox should say occasionally fair and balanced after putting something like this out, because they violated a serious trust. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Next, No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, appropriately a town divided into two.  The reason for the rancor, the poultry population—man vs.  beast, beast happening to be wild chickens.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is one thing to think of them as the main ingredients for chicken cordon blue.  It is quite another to envision them overtaking two large municipalities in the Western Hemisphere.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, city officials in Germany and Florida have issued alerts, look out for the wild chickens.  Look out for packs of wild roaming, foraging piggies. 

(ROOSTER CROWING)

OLBERMANN:  First to Berlin, where you wouldn‘t hear that sound.  You would you hear a city that hasn‘t faced a crisis like this perhaps since the construction of the wall. 

But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) meisters say 9,000 wild pigs are roaming the streets.  The city council is thinking of hiring pig catchers and prosecuting anybody thought feeding them—feeding the pigs, that is, not the catchers.  You would think there would be pictures of pigs if there were 9,000 of them, wouldn‘t you?  A council spokesman says adds: “Every day, there‘s at least one traffic accident involving a wild pig.”  So, stop giving them cars.  Sheesh.

It‘s not quite that bad in Key West, Florida, but it‘s close.  There, the streets are filled with yet another species you don‘t usually think of other than as domesticated or as dinner, chickens.  Chickens have overtaken the streets of an American town. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is just back from chicken-ravaged Key West, Florida, with tonight‘s No. 2 story. 

Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

If you‘ve ever been to the southern most city in the continental U.S., then you know all about Key West‘s free roaming chicken.  Believed to be the descendants of roosters that were bred there generations ago for fighting, they are part of the island‘s charm, the locals say.  But city officials say too much of a good thing is just too much.  And they‘ve decided to relocate about half the chickens, ruffling some feathers in the process. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN JONES, ASST. CITY MANAGER:  We like chickens.  We‘ve got one named Clinton, one named Gore.  One is named Hillary.  And I won‘t get rid of those chickens. 

NOVOTNY:  No Bush chicken? 

JONES:  Not yet. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  It‘s a political poultry predicament, one that has divided the people of Key West and turned this tropical paradise into a clucking mess. 

JONES:  We have got 2,000 chickens on a two-by-four island. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Half the people want them.  Half the people don‘t want them.

NOVOTNY:  Which means these chickens are on the lam. 

JONES:  They nest underneath the houses.  So they cause all kind of problems with the droppings.  And the roosters keep the guests up at night. 

(ROOSTER CROWING)

NOVOTNY:  So the city hired a chicken catcher.  Armando Parra starts his days cutting hair and ends them plucking poultry, $20 a bird.  The goal?  Catch 900 by the end of September and ship them off to a 400-acre farm far, far away, OK, about 175 miles north. 

ARMANDO PARRA, CHICKEN CATCHER:  I climbed the tree.  The guy says, you‘re crazy.  You‘re like Tarzan.  I climbed the tree and I caught the damn thing with my hands. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  You caught a chicken in a tree? 

PARRA:  Yes, up a tree at night, because I was obsessed with catching this one rooster who was giving me the slip, you know. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Since his February start, the catcher has caught 170 birds.  But nothing is over-easy here.  Now someone is tampering with his traps. 

PARRA:  What they did is this.  Now the chickens can‘t get in there. 

And these people really don‘t want me to catch the chickens. 

JONES:  A lot of them are vandalizing our cages.  And they‘re letting the chickens go. 

NOVOTNY:  So Parra races from trap to trap like a chicken with its head, well, you know.  And that‘s not all.  Now the catcher has some competition. 

KATHA SHEEHAN, CHICKEN LADY OF KEY WEST:  You‘ll be happy with the results, yes, you will.

NOVOTNY:  Katha Sheehan, the chicken lady.  Locals pay her $20 to find problem chicks a new roost.  Sheehan says the chicken contract is scrambled. 

SHEEHAN:  They‘re trying to eliminate crime by eliminating the victim.  It‘s not going to work.  And it starts us on the slippery slope toward the elimination of chickens from Key West. 

NOVOTNY:  Sheehan hatched a plan to build a park for her feathered friends and says more than 4,000 people have signed her petition. 

JONES:  She wants to save the chickens and have a chicken farm.  Well, that‘s not possible.  So we have to catch them. 

NOVOTNY:  So, for now, in spite of the tampering and the petitioning, the barber keep cutting and catching, leaving the chicks with just a wing and a prayer. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

NOVOTNY:  Armando Parra is expanding his chicken-catching business. 

He now has a Web site dedicated to his work. 

Katha Sheehan, the chicken lady you just saw, has a chicken store dedicated to all things chick-like, which she says helps her fund her chicken relocation program.  And all of this controversy has set into motions for the first annual chicken fest in Key West this June.  Events include a poultry in motion parade and they taste like chicken cook-off. 

OLBERMANN:  Taste like chicken. 

Monica, chickens have been around for millions of years, perhaps billions.  Why now?  Why is there suddenly a commotion over these chickens at this time? 

NOVOTNY:  Well, I think part of the problem is my colleague, Kerry Sanders, who first covered this story a few months ago, was, he noted that chickens are a lot like rabbits.  So they did try to thin this population a couple of years ago in Key West.  Obviously, it didn‘t work.

And now you have got people who are buying very expensive homes down there.  And they‘re paying a lot for their landscaping.  And when the chickens come in and tear all of that up, they complain very loudly. 

OLBERMANN:  So what happens if I take 12 secret seasonings and go after them?  Do they come towards the...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Sorry.

With the No. 2 story, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny playing chicken in Key West.  Free range Monica, many thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  And from the queen of COUNTDOWN, we move quickly into our celebrity news segment and more news about the queen of soul. 

Aretha Franklin has been released from the hospital.  Yesterday, her publicist revealed that she was in stable condition in a Detroit facility.  That‘s all she would say.  Today, some details.  After getting home from a concert tour on Saturday, she wasn‘t feeling well.  Tests indicated her blood platelet count had dropped.  It was a bad reaction to some antibiotics, a one-event-type illness, says her doctor.  Ms. Franklin released in time to celebrate her 62nd birthday at home tomorrow. 

Oh, would that we could use that term one-event-type for the lives of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown.  Part one tonight, Ms. Houston has booked out of rehab five days after arriving in an Atlanta facility to dry out.  Prescription medicine is the latest reported problem.  She is said also now to have checked out and relocated to a rented home nearby, so reports “The New York Daily News,” anyway.

Part two, however many times her husband, Bobby Brown, has gone to jail, he apparently just reached his own personal tipping point.  The R&B singer burst into tears today when a judge ordered him back inside for 90 days until he pays $63,000 in child support.  Brown had just been in jail serving time for smacking the Mrs. around.  He had been a free man for exactly three days. 

And I report this at the insistence of my own COUNTDOWN staff over my own protests.  The producers of “Jeopardy” have announced 15 contestants from the annual “Power Players” week to run on the air in May.  Among the players, Tim Russert, Ari Fleischer, Bob Woodward, Al Franken, Peggy Noonan, former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman and Ashley Banfield, and me.  It will be my second time on the show.  And with my luck, I‘ll be facing Russert and I‘ll beat him and I‘ll never get another live shot with a reporter from the Washington bureau again. 

We will all be playing for charity.  My charity will be the Hire Better Producers for Keith Olbermann Memorial Trust. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Coming up, at the end of the day, we push the envelope 24/7 to think outside the box and bring you the most irritating phrase in the English language. 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day.  Uh-oh.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To be honest, at end of the day, or around it, the bottom line at this moment in time on a weekly basis boggles the mind, when, between a rock and hard place 24/7, the glass is either half full or half empty.  And with all due respect, it‘s not rocket science.

Our top story on the COUNTDOWN, let‘s move the goal posts, think outside the box, push the envelope and sing from the same hymn book.  The fact of the matter is, we are all using too many phrases and cliches. 

Britain‘s Plain English Campaign, plain for the language and seemingly kind of plain on the Web site, too, has issued a list of the most overused and irritating cliches, 17 of which I used in the introduction to this segment.  Of course, that is just a ballpark figure -- 18 -- including the one voted the winner, or, in this case, the loser.

The most irritating phrase in the English language, at the end of the day.  And 42 percent of all cable TV pundits just saw their careers flash flashing before their eyes. 

Not our resident wordsmith, David Kipen, the book critic for “The San Francisco Chronicle,” who joins to us again to talk about the worst phrase in the world and its runners-up. 

David, good evening. 

DAVID KIPEN, BOOK CRITIC, “THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:  Good evening to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, we have the Campaign‘s top four cliches.  Let me just get a really quick reaction to you from reach one of them, starting with No. 4, with all due respect. 

KIPEN:  Well, it‘s basically shorthand for, I have no respect for you whatsoever. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  The Plain English folks liked “like” in the punctuation form third.  I, like, have, like, four, like, minutes left in the show, like, David.

KIPEN:  It‘s just inescapable. 

The maddening thing is, no matter how much you try and banish it from your own vocabulary, sometimes it winds up sneaking out of your own mouth. 

OLBERMANN:  It replaced “you know” I believe some time in the early 1990s. 

KIPEN:  I think you‘ve got something there.

OLBERMANN:  Two, at this moment in time.  I‘m assuming this is somewhat similar to, at this point in time, this juncture in time.

KIPEN:  And they‘re all equally execrable.  And if your can possibly write them out of your vocabulary, at all costs, do it.

OLBERMANN:  They mean at this hour at this hour, essentially, or at this minute at this minute.

KIPEN:  They mean now. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, now.

KIPEN:  Is it so hard to say now? 

OLBERMANN:  Apparently. 

And the No. 1 most irritating cliche, at the end of the day.  Now, it‘s fascinating.  This one spans the Atlantic.  It‘s irritating in England, where this survey was done, and obviously in the U.S. and obviously in this medium.  Literally 40 percent of all folks who are on here as experts say, at the end of the day. 

KIPEN:  I would expect maybe in England they have an excuse for it because forever the cliche was, the sun never sets on the British empire. 

But here in America, at the end of the day doesn‘t have that kind of, well, resonance, if you‘ll forgive another cliche. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

KIPEN:  See, there, you stigmatize them and then you can‘t get away from them. 

OLBERMANN:  Literally just this week, I was asked by an interviewer about the catchphrases I used to use in sportscasting.

And I pointed out that they originated as kind of automatics, a little mental time out which gave us just a second extra to try to think of something real to say next.  Is that where cliches and catchphrases like these come from in real life? 

KIPEN:  Well, yes.

And I think it comes from, frankly, people watching a lot of television, where there is a terror of dead air, and then in just one-to-one conversation, people—that carries over.  And people are terrified of dead air even when they are not in a broadcast situation. 

OLBERMANN:  Terrified of...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  ... dead air. 

KIPEN:  Get a grip, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, which are these—I couldn‘t resist.

Which are the up-and-coming catchphrases?  What are going to we see on this list next year? 

KIPEN:  Oh, God.

The two I despise most I think are, moving forward.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

KIPEN:  As in, the senator regrets any wrongdoing or appearance of wrongdoing, but he thinks it‘s time to move forward, which is basically a synonym for change the subject.  He thinks it‘s time to change the subject to something he would rather talk about. 

OLBERMANN:  What else?  Your second one?

KIPEN:  Oh, yes, taking time off to spend more time with his family. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

KIPEN:  You always hear that when people are basically fired.

You never hear of someone taking a new job, and, in the original press conference, saying, I am looking forward to spending less time with my family. 

OLBERMANN:  If you have to invest in the next 20 seconds on a new one, bling-bling or metrosexual, which one gets boring first? 

KIPEN:  Oh, I think bling-bling is a little older and it‘s redundant even the first time you hear it, as are a lot of cliches, strangely enough.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

KIPEN:  Win-win is another one. 

So I think metrosexual might have a little more staying power.  But as far as I am concerned, you can slam the door on both of them. 

OLBERMANN:  One bling would have seemingly been sufficient. 

David Kipen of “The San Francisco Chronicle,” at this point, we have to move forward.  We‘ll touch base later.  And when we do, we‘ll prioritize and add value.  Many thanks, sir.

KIPEN:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  But before we come to the parting of the ways with our No.

1 story, the No. 1 thing you also need to know about it. 

The most obscure cliche, at least on this side of the Atlantic, on the Plain English Campaign‘s list of cliches, diamond geezer.  You say you have never heard it?  According to COUNTDOWN‘s resident Brit, Ms. Tina Cohen (ph), a diamond geezer is a great guy.  Never heard it once. 

All right, before we go, let‘s recap the top five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, testifying to the 9/11 Commission.  Former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke apologizes to the families of those who died on September 11, saying he and the government failed them.  Four, the finger, Simon Cowell apparently raising the single salute on “American Idol” last night, but, Simon, says he would—quote—“never make a gesture like that on national TV.”

Three, crime and confrontation, Kobe Bryant‘s accuser forced to testify about her sex life so a judge can decide whether she should be forced to testify about her sex life.  Two, a community divided over the roaming poultry population.  A local barber has been hired to catch the free-range residents of Key West, Florida.  But now chicken-loving residents are fighting to keep the birds on the lam.  And, at the end of the day, it‘s No. 1, the most irritating cliche in the English language, where it‘s getting dark.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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