updated 3/31/2004 12:41:29 PM ET 2004-03-31T17:41:29

Guests: Thomas Hartman, Toure

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

About face:  The White House will let Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission, in public, under oath.  Now the question, what could she say that she hasn‘t already said to Tom Brokaw, “60 Minutes,” Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and on, and on?  Fallout from the reversal and a preview of Dr. Rice‘s testimony. 

Vanished, as search for Missing University of Wisconsin student continues, new surveillance video may yield new clues in the disappearance of Audrey Seiler. 

“The Passion of the Christ,” and conscience of the criminal:  First a murder confession, now burglar (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because he saw “The passion.”  Match that “Scooby Doo.”

She is back, new album, new attitude, new media blitz—same wardrobe.  Miss Jackson returns to the scene with a bang. 

And then there‘s the dashboard cam:  That Texas cruiser and the Hollywood celeb caught on tape. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please we apologize.  Please let him go.  Please let him go.

WITT:  Don‘t mess with Texas. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Good evening, I‘m Alex Witt in tonight for Keith Olbermann.  And preparing to dive into the storm surrounding the 9/11 Commission and former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke—national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. 

The fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  After weeks of saying no to the White House, it reversed itself today and said yes, yielding to overwhelming political pressure to have Rice do more than testify to the commission behind closed doors.  President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have also agreed to change the terms for their testimony, as White House correspondent David Gregory reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Alex, late this afternoon, the president appeared before reporters to explain his abrupt about-face, saying the important work of this 9/11 Commission outweighs the constitutional concern about a member of his staff testifying. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ve ordered this level of cooperation, because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on September 11, 2001. 

GREGORY (voice-over):  The president‘s decision to give in on Rice‘s testimony follows a damaging week politically for the White House.  Not only did Richard Clarke‘s charges against the administration take center stage at the commission hearings, but Rice‘s attempts to undermine him through a total of seven TV interviews in six days appeared to backfire.  As the question was repeatedly asked if she can appear on TV, why can‘t she testify?  By week‘s end, the White House was fueling the story it didn‘t want.  Flynt Leverett worked in the National Security Council under Dr.  Rice. 

FLYNT LEVERETT, FMR. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER:  This was something that all of the republican members of the commission were calling for, and other prominent republicans were starting to call for, so I think it was becoming a political problem for the White House. 

GREGORY:  Perhaps the most important question now:  What will Rice‘s public testimony resolve?  There are contradictions between her statements and is Clarke‘s testimony, centering on the question of whether the administration viewed terrorism as an urgent threat before 9/11.  Among them:  When did the administration develop a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda?  And, was it any different than the plan Clarke submitted to them in January of 2001?  Was Iraq a larger priority than al-Qaeda before 9/11?  Was the administration aware of intelligence that terrorists wanted to use airplanes as missiles in an attack? 

Tim Roemer is a democratic member of the 9/11 Commission. 

TIM ROEMER, SITS ON 9/11 COMMISSION:  The burning issue between Dr.  Rice and Mr. Clarke is, speed priority, and clarity.  Did they act quickly enough at the highest levels...

GREGORY (on camera):  The president‘s decision to cooperate more fully with the 9/11 Commission makes clear that White House officials simply want to put this issue behind them.  They hope and expect that Dr. Rice could testify as early as next week—Alex.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  NBC‘s David Gregory at the White House, thank you. 

The White House wants to put the controversy around the 9/11 Commission behind it, but even without more testimony from Dr. Rice, the controversy doesn‘t seem to be hurting the president where it counts most, in an election year:  In the court of public opinion.  True, in the latest “USA Today”/CNN Gallup Poll, nearly 60 percent of those polled said “yes” when asked if the administration had misled the public for political reasons, and smaller majorities agree both that the Bush administration was covering up how it handled intelligence before the 9/11 attacks, and that it could have done more before the attacks, but solid two-thirds majority also said “no” when asked if the administration could actually have done something to prevent September 11 from happening. 

For more on today‘s developments as the White House tries to navigate this latest political storm, we‘re joined by John Harwood, political editor for the “Wall Street Journal.” 

Good evening John, nice to see you. 

JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, THE “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hey, Alex. 

WITT:  Why did the White House buckle on this, and why have so many republicans joined the push to have Dr. Rice testimony in public? 

HARWOOD:  They buckled Alex, because they were getting hammered politically by people in both parties and it was starting to take a toll in the polls.  You know, with the country as evenly divided like this one is, you‘re not going to see big oscillations in the Bush versus Kerry number, but you look inside the poll numbers and see the one that you just cited, that you had a majority of Americans thinking the Bush administration had something to hide.  You saw his ratings for handling terrorism edging down a bit, not dramatically, and it was having effect, and extending conversation about the administration‘s handling of this issue that the administration simply wants to put to rest, and they think that in Dr.  Clarke, they‘ve got somebody who can to do that when she goes before the commission.

WITT:  So John, what kind of political effect, overall, is the White House hoping for from this reversal?  I mean, they have to be addressing more than just the voters out there, right? 

HARWOOD:  Well absolutely.  But, they‘re hoping that Dr. Clarke, when she‘s out there on television, this is—because of the build-up to this, this is going to get tremendous exposure, that she can, in effect, rebut effectively and conclusively what Richard Clarke has said, which is that the administration didn‘t take this seriously, they didn‘t act fast enough, and they were more obsessed with Iraq than with al-Qaeda. 

WITT:  Well, given Dr. Rice has spoken on this issue often in the media, I mean, should we expect any revelations from her testimony? 

HARWOOD:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, really, the disagreements are matters of emphasis, you know, Clarke says, “serious but not urgent.”  What does that really mean?  That‘s not the kind of thing you resolve with a piece of smoking gun evidence or anything.  But Clarke will be—I‘m sorry, Dr. Rice will be able to get out there in a platform which will have tremendous attention to it, many, many millions of Americans are going to see what she has to say, and she—we know what she is going to say, which is that the White House did the best it could.  Of course, we all know the answer; neither the Clinton administration nor the Bush administration was effective in what they did in stopping these attacks. 

WITT:  OK, you bring in the Clinton angle here, John.  So, how do you expect the democrats on that commission to handle their line of questioning of Dr. Rice?  Will they be aggressive? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I think they‘ve got to both pursue the evidence where they think it leads, but also be mindful that if they appear to make this into a, sort of, partisan food fight, it‘s going to hurt their effectiveness, as well and I don‘t think the Kerry campaign even wants that.  You know, the Kerry campaign profited last week by staying out of this story and letting Richard Clarke really carry the ball at this—at these commission hearings, and the more this turns into a partisan fight, the less effective an issue it is for John Kerry, and I do think you have members with integrity, Lee Hamilton, Tim Roemer, Jamie Gorelick, who are - - clearly have a different point of view than the republican members, but they‘re not going try to turn this, I don‘t think, into campaign-style event. 

WITT:  All right, John Harwood, political editor for the “Wall Street Journal.”  Thank‘s so much for joining us this evening on the COUNTDOWN.

HARWOOD:  You bet. 

WITT:  And this programming note:  Richard Clarke is scheduled to be a guest on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews, Wednesday.  You can catch “Hardball” every night, 7:00 p.m.  Eastern time. 

Wrapping up this segment now with the latest from the war on terror, and the rest of the political news, starting with the war on terror:  A major arrests in both London and Philippines.  At dawn in London, 700 police and special agents launched Operation Crevasse, that is an anti-terror raid that netted eight arrests, and about half ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which when combined with fuel oil can make one powerful bomb. 

And in the Philippines capitol of Manila, police grabbed weapons and explosives and arrested four members of an alleged terrorist cell.  Philippine President Arroyo told reporters; those arrests prevented a bombing campaign aimed at trains and shopping malls. 

Back on the political front, democratic presidential contender John Kerry will be leaving the campaign trail Wednesday, this for surgery to repair a torn shoulder tendon.  He should be back on the trail four days, though his recovery is going to complicate a candidate‘s typical routine.  His doctors have told Kerry to avoid shaking hands for two or three weeks after surgery, and warned him that can‘t pick up constituent‘s babies for quick smooch, until mid-May, at least.  Kerry hurt his shoulder when campaign bus stopped short during the run-up to the Iowa caucus. 

And while Kerry says his wife is a major asset to his campaign, the condiments company famous for 57 varieties is trying to increase distance between it and her.  Mrs.  Kerry‘s first husband, Senator Heinz, died in a plane crash 13 years ago, leaving her heir to fortune, estimated at around $550 million.  Now some conservative Web sites and talk show hosts, are calling for Heinz boycott.  And that firm has heard from about 150 callers who say they‘re going to do that.  The Heinz Company wants them to know, neither the senator nor his wife has anything to do with running the firm, and that the firm is not contributing to his campaign. 

And making contribution of his own on Capitol Hill today, none other than Michael Jackson, the self-styled king of pop, didn‘t dance on any SUVs today, that was just after the pretrial hearing for arraignment for alleged lewd and lascivious acts on child.  Instead, Jackson met with members of Congress to talk about the work he has done to try to ease the AIDS crisis in Africa.  Jackson will also an award for HIV awareness work from African Ambassador‘s Spouses Group on Wednesday.  Meanwhile, a Santa Barbara grand jury is taking testimony from witnesses in molestation case. 

The COUNTDOWN now past the No. 5 story:  Politics and terror.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4:  The mystery surrounding a missing Wisconsin college student.  A month ago she‘s assaulted outside her apartment, now she‘s vanished and these surveillance pictures are the last anyone‘s seen of her since Saturday. 

And later, the nightly battle to get kids to bed.  A new study suggests if parents don‘t put their foot down, they could be doing serious damage to their kid‘s health. 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s opening numbers, five figures that shape this news day.  And tonight‘s theme is “By the Gallon.”

One dollar and eight cents, the nationwide average price for gallon of gas, still at record high. 

Three oh three, the average price for gallon of milk. 

Four, thirty-four for a gallon of orange juice. 

Six, twenty-five, the average price for bottled water. 

And $605.62, the average price for gallon of Dom Perignon champagne. 

The moral of the story:  If we‘d just drink gasoline, we would be a lot better off. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The search for Audrey Seiler.  The University of Wisconsin student missing since early Saturday morning, the latest on search efforts up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Back with the COUNTDOWN and our No. 4 story tonight, the bizarre disappearance of Audrey Seiler.  Tonight police and volunteers in Madison, Wisconsin, are desperately searching for the missing 20-year-old college student .  Seiler‘s disappearance comes just one month after she survived an attack outside her apartment complex and now investigators are trying to gather any shred of evidence that might lead to Seiler‘s safe return.  Here‘s NBC‘s Leanne Gregg.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEANNE GREGG, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A surveillance tape from University of Wisconsin student Audrey Seiler‘s apartment building shows her leaving without her coat or purse and her apartment door left open.  It was around 2:30 Saturday morning, the last time she was seen. 

CAPTAIN LUIS VUDICE, MADISON POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Detectives have interviewed numerous individuals, some more than once. 

GREGG:  Her family remains optimistic. 

KEVIN SEILER, AUDREY‘S FATHER:  Audrey‘s whole family is hopeful and remains confident that we will find Audrey safe.  We have no reason to believe otherwise and we will continue to look for Audrey for as long as it takes. 

GREGG:  Just last month, Seiler was assaulted in an unusual incident that baffled investigators.  She was walking near her apartment when someone struck her from behind and knocked unconscious.  She was moved to another location a block away, nothing was taken and she was not sexually assaulted. 

SCOTT CHARLESWORTH-SEILER, AUDREY‘S UNCLE:  She never said anything to me about believing that someone was following her or that this was something that was ongoing. 

GREGG:  Authorities are trying to determine if the attack is related to her disappearance.  More than 100 volunteers have expanded their search to a large wooded area south of campus. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, this stretch, right here, is what we want to take care of. 

GREGG:  Their overwhelming feeling is disbelief, as the wait continues for information on what happened to Audrey Seiler. 

Leanne Gregg, NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Officer Louis (sic) Kamholz is with the Madison Police Department.  Scott Charldsworth-Seiler is Audrey‘s uncle.  Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me this evening. 

OFFICER LARRY KAMHOLZ, MADISON POLICE DEPT.:  Yes.

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER:  You‘re welcome. 

WITT:  Officer Kamholz, let‘s begin with you.  What can you tell us about Audrey‘s disappearance, what‘s the very latest this evening? 

KAMHOLZ:  Well, we really don‘t have much more information to give, at this point.  He have—with the hundreds of volunteers and many of our staff members and assisting agencies.  We have not come up with anything significant at this time, to give us any information as to where Audrey‘s at. 

WITT:  OK, officer, let‘s go to what we do know, at this point.  Audrey left her apartment at 2:30 in the morning, she left behind her car, she didn‘t take any personal belongings.  Any idea why she might have left at that time?  Is it perhaps to meet a friend? 

KAMHOLZ:  You know, I think there‘s many speculations about what happened.  We don‘t know, and the only person who will know is Audrey when we find her.  The video obviously doesn‘t give us a lot of pictures of what actually happened outside.  We don‘t know if there‘s somebody outside or if she was just going outside to get something from her car.  We don‘t know that, and unfortunately, we don‘t have the surveillance camera.  So, we have many theories, many speculations, but obviously we don‘t know that until we have good solid proof of what happened.  And like I said, only Audrey will be able to answer that when we get a hold of her. 

WITT:  Scott, your niece was the victim of a bizarre attack in February.  Was she afraid to return to school, or did she just kind of assume this was a random act of violence? 

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER:  Well, Audrey‘s normally a cautious person, and a reasonable person, and after that incident, she took extra precautions.  She made sure that she walked often with friends and tried to be in buildings when it was dark.  She, as far as any indication that we‘ve had, assumed that was just a random act and didn‘t anticipate any more problem like that. 

WITT:  Officer Kamholz, is there any kind of link between these two incidences? 

KAMHOLZ:  You know, we‘ve been asked that question, and would love to say there is, but we really have no evidence that indicates that case that happened on February first is linked to her missing status, right now.  I mean, we just have nothing.  That case is so bizarre, in of itself, that it‘s disconcerting, I mean, we just don‘t have anything. 

WITT:  Scott, given you know Audrey, her personality, her interest, is there any reason you can think of that would have her leaving her apartment at 2:30 in the morning? 

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER:  There‘s no reason that I can think of, that any family member can think of, that she would be out by herself that time of night.  She was not in the habit of going out for something to eat or to— you know, go jogging or anything like that.  We‘re puzzled completely by it. 

WITT:  Officer Kamholz, what is the neighborhood like around Audrey‘s apartment?  I mean, are there any kind of night spots where she might have either gone or from which she might have been spotted? 

KAMHOLZ:  Well, where she lives is predominantly college students.  Its right near our Camp Randall, where they play football, we‘ve got the fire station right near it.  It‘s a very—basically a very safe neighborhood, I mean, and as in any neighborhood, you may have trouble spots, small spots, but nothing that‘s significant in this neighborhood that would lead us to any clues where she is at. 

WITT:  And Scott, how‘s your family holding up? 

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER:  We‘re tired.  We‘re worried, but we are both confident and determined.  We‘re just looking for that next person to tell who may have some information for us that gets Audrey back. 

WITT:  All right.  Our thoughts are with you.  Scott Charlesworth-Seiler and Officer Larry Kamholz of the Madison Police Department, thank you so much for your time tonight. 

CHARLESWORTH-SEILER:  Thank you.

KAMHOLZ:  Thank you. 

WITT:  Now for four more things you need to know about tonight‘s No. 4 story.  Here are four organizations you can turn to if you have information that might lead to the safe return of Audrey Ruth Seiler or any missing person. 

No. 4:  The Madison Area Crime Stoppers, its number is 608-266-6014.

No. 3:  The Polly Klaas Foundation, it is a national nonprofit organization that helps find missing children and educates the public about protecting kids.  You can call them at 1-800-587-4357.

No. 2:  The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, its number is 1-800-THE-LOST, that‘s 1-800-843-5678.

And No. 1:  The FBI has a division devoted entirely to kidnapping and missing persons investigations.  You can find out how to contact your local FBI office by going to its Web site:  www.fbi.gov

Tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The search for Audrey Seiler. 

Coming up, those stories that know no COUNTDOWN number, yet find their way into our show anyway.  “Oddball” is up next and we got more things getting blowed up. 

And later, another dashcam video making its way into keeping tabs.  Find out which star is getting in trouble this time and for what.  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  We are back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you empty calories from candy aisle of news, those goofy stories we just can‘t help but indulge.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

First, how to turn a 2,500 ton warship into an underwater tour attraction in less than 10 seconds, brought to you by the British Royal Navy.  That‘s the decommissioning frigate Scylla, once proud member of the royal feet—fleet, soon to be U.K.‘s first artificial diving reef, the National Marine Aquarium bought that ship and promptly loaded up real good, sinking it to the bottom of the sea, 80 feet underwater off the coast of Cornwall, England.  Officials are hoping fish will move into their new home immediately and they‘re already selling tickets for divers to tour that site. 

Remember Ahab and that thing he had with whale?  Well, Los Angeles inventor Eddie Paul had the same sort of idea but with cars instead of fish.  It‘s called a “Chase Stopper,” or as Eddie Paul calls it the “Silver Bullet,” because it stops police chases in their tracks.  Well, not high-speed chases, but if O.J.  ever tries to get away again, the police could stop his white Bronco with hook grappling hook fired from the front end of a police car.  Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Police Department is not impressed and neither are the police in San Diego. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASST. CHIEF GEORGE SALDAMANDO:  To look at this for the first time, and what I‘ve seen, I am not real impressed. 

CHIEF SKIP CARTER, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PETROL:  That was on a vehicle standing—sitting still.  How does it work with a vehicle going down the road at, 10, 15, 20 miles an hour? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Well, this is mainly because it doesn‘t work, which is one of the top 10 reasons not to install a chase stopper on your police car.  So Eddie Paul is looking elsewhere to market his invention, like maybe to the whale hunting Eskimos in Greenland, right after he sells them a refrigerator. 

And speaking of refrigerators, “Southern Living” magazine was forced to send out an urgent e-mail, telling its readers not to try its great new recipe for Icebox Rolls in the current issue.  Apparently combining the water and shortening as described in the recipe causes that mixture to ignite, which as we all know, would turn Icebox Rolls into roasted Icebox Rolls.  All of which raises two questions:  One, can the recipe be used by terrorists?  And two, didn‘t we stop calling it an icebox when grandpa died?  A safer recipe, and one that does not require a fire permit, is available on their Web site.  The old recipe Icebox Rolls should be destroyed and not carried on your person when attempting to board a plane. 

The COUNTDOWN now set to pick back up with No. 3 story, your preview: 

The bizarre “Passion” confession machine keeps churning; now a former burglar comes clean to the cops.  What‘s behind a parade of criminal conscience? 

And later, Janet Jackson returns to the scene of the crime, CBS, and guess what topic she tries to avoid, and what David Letterman won‘t let lie?  Of course, you guessed it.  Can Ms. Jackson ever rebound from the nipples seen around the world? 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of the day:

No. 3:  Christopher Williams of Jacksonville, Florida.  Mr. Williams tried to escape house arrest by cutting off ankle monitor bracelet and duct taping it to the leg of the family dog.  Didn‘t work.  The bracelet sent a signal to police as soon as he took it off. 

No. 2:  An unnamed 15-year-old girl in Pennsylvania.  The young girl was caught uploading nude photos of herself to the Internet and has been arrested.  State police have charged her with child pornography. 

And No. 1, Susan Brenner, owner of “You‘re Fired” pottery studio in Chicago, she has owned the place since 1997 and is warning Donald Trump if he tries to trademark “You‘re Fired” and sell stuff on her turf, she‘ll slap him with an infringement lawsuit.  Ms. Brenner will join Keith tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN.  Who is fired now, Donald? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Welcome back to the COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith.

And we are up to our No. 3 story.  And for it, we turn to Mel Gibson‘s fantastically successful cinematic effort, “The Passion of the Christ.” 

Before the movie even hit theaters, its very premise spawned controversy, and now in the wake of release, it‘s soliciting not controversy, but confessions.  The latest comes from Turner Lee Bingham, who turned himself into authorities in Mesa, Arizona, after allegedly burglarizing a convenience store early Sunday morning.  After confessing to robbing the Yakety-Yak store, he proceeded to do just that, admitting to six additional crimes. 

Bingham apparently explained to authorities that his mother had recently taken him to see “The Passion,” prompting the sudden attack of conscience, his only the latest in series of such admissions.  Yesterday, ex-neo-Nazi ordered held in Oslo, Norway, after confessing to two bombings.  And, as we‘ve been reporting, 21-year-old Dan Leach, arrested one week ago, moved to admit to his girlfriend‘s murder after seeing the film. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LEACH:  After watching that movie, I was very emotional and I thought about the things I had done, and I was upset that I hadn‘t repented yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Just what in heaven‘s name is going on here? 

Monsignor Tom Hartman is the co-author of the syndicated column “The God Squad” and co-host of a television program of the same name.

Father Tom, good evening. 

FATHER THOMAS HARTMAN, THE GOD SQUAD:  Good evening. 

WITT:  You have seen the film.  What do you think is provoking these confessions? 

HARTMAN:  Well, the film itself I thought was very moving personally. 

It was like going on retreat. 

And it made me and so many other people think a lot about how do we look at Jesus.  Sometimes you read the words, but you don‘t really visualize what he went through for us.  And I can see what happens is what we call a moment of grace.  It‘s a moment in which somebody is moved to do something that‘s positive.  It‘s a moment in which somebody is moved to do something that is positive.  If somebody has killed somebody else and hidden it over because of fear, or punishment, or fear of being discovered, that person carries that with them for so many years.  They never not know that they once killed somebody. 

And when they see a movie like this, which says, you know, God died for our sins, they say maybe I ought to confess because there‘s going to be another world in which, if I don‘t confess here, I have got to confess there. 

WITT:  So, Father Tom, these moments of grace you are talking about, in your experience, what ordinarily moves people to feel remorse?  Isn‘t it unusual for something like a movie to do it? 

HARTMAN:  Well, it is unusual for a movie to do it because most movies are not focused in on remorse or the idea of somebody going to confession or doing something sacred. 

However, it often happens under severe circumstances.  For example, somebody gets sick and they go and speak to a priest or a minister or a rabbi.  And all of a sudden, they start to recognize, well, maybe if my friend could die, I could die.  Or perhaps somebody is hurt or somebody loses out on a job.  And you are wrestling with, what does all of this mean?  And you look for deeper meaning in life.  Is there hope in the midst of despair?

Well, so many people find in their lives that, when they admit they have done something wrong, it‘s the beginning of the process of healing and peacefulness. 

WITT:  And, Father Tom, I would imagine that people of all differing faiths react differently to this film.  We don‘t know the religious affiliation of any of these three men who confessed to crimes.  But is it a safe bet that they are Christians? 

HARTMAN:  Oh, not only Christian, but probably Catholic. 

Most religions do not have confession in the sense that you don‘t usually go to a minister or you don‘t go to a rabbi, but you talk more directly in other faiths.  You talk directly to God.  In the Catholic faith, the priest is an intermediary for God, acting on behalf of God.  And it‘s a very powerful thing. 

On the other side, whenever somebody comes in to confession, I am happy.  I think it‘s a wonderful move.  I have had the feeling myself where you have a burden on your back, and you go and you confess your sins.  It‘s like somebody taking that burden off, and you want to begin again and begin fresh. 

WITT:  All right.  You say it with a smile on your face.  Monsignor Tom Hartman of the syndicated column “The God Squad,” thanks very much for your time tonight. 

HARTMAN:  God bless. 

WITT:  It was only a short time ago that they were considered, as they said in the ad business, a niche market, niche market, really, but as Mel Gibson has thoroughly illustrated, to the tune of over $300 million, Christians have cash. 

And as NBC‘s Kerry Sanders reports, they are willing to spend it. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  More popular than “Harry Potter” in some parts of the country, “Glorious Appearing,” a work of fiction based on scriptures in the Bible. 

KEVIN GILMORE, “LEFT BEHIND”  READER:  They‘ve taken things in the Bible that some people have a hard time sitting down and reading and made it real. 

SANDERS:  This book the final in a series of 12.  One is considered a niche market, but now with more than 40 million sold.  Today, the book went on sale at that most mainstream of stores, Wal-Mart.  And it‘s not just this religious series that has gone mainstream. 

“The Passion of the Christ” has now taken in $315 million, the 13th biggest grossing movie of all time.  Why do these commercial successes now?  Coauthor, glorious appearing. 

TIM LAHAYE, AUTHOR, “GLORIOUS APPEARING”:  I think there‘s religious awakening in our country.  The Bible has a message of hope.  And that‘s one of the things that we are trying to convey. 

SANDERS:  From yellow pages with just Christian vendors, to gyms where members bombarded with God‘s word of inspiration. 

(on camera):  America is a country where 40 percent claim to read the Bible once a day.  Religion sells. 

JOHN GREEN, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF AKRON:  There are millions of Christians that appreciate these types of materials, but also modern marketing has gotten ahold of these groups and found ways to put these materials in front of them much more efficiently. 

SANDERS (voice-over):  And increasingly religion is fair game in the political arena. 

President Bush last year:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I ask God for strength and guidance.  I ask God to help me be a better person. 

SANDERS:  Candidate Kerry just days ago. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?

SANDERS:  And now religion food for the soul, literally.  “The Maker‘s Diet” No. 1 on some best-seller lists, a health and wellness book guiding readers to eat just as Jesus did. 

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  With all this talk of Jesus and Christianity, what is a Jew to do?  The devious and occasionally satirical minds behind Comedy Central‘s animated series “South Park” ready as ever with the answer.  Premiering tomorrow night, an episode entitled “The Passion of the Jew.”

The network has a lid on the details, but it definitely involves the show‘s Jewish character, Kyle, and I hope I am not spoiling things for you here, but Kenny dies. 

That wraps up No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN, confessions, profit, and parody, all courtesy of Mel Gibson‘s “The Passion.”  Our second story up next, and here‘s a hint, why sleeping like a baby isn‘t as healthy as it sounds.  Plus, a real shocker, a Hollywood actor, of all people, arrested for being drunk and abusive to police.  That never happens. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY:  I pledge to you that we will create in the first four years of my administration—first four years. 

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY:  Little slow on the uptake.  

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  I read this, and I wasn‘t quite sure.  It says that Wisconsin cheese is being sold in France. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  That‘s a good cheese. 

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Now that you have all this money coming in.  Are you going to stick around? 

RODNEY COKER:  Yes, ma‘am. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And why is that?

COKER:  Because this it the only work—this is the only thing I know.  And I am not going to sit around the house and get fat and sassy. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  As millions of tired and crotchety parents can testify, kids just don‘t get enough sleep.  Now a new study shows that all that awake time can be just as wearing for the children. 

Our No. 2 story coming up next on the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Any parent that has ever dealt with a child the morning, afternoon, and night following a slumber party will tell you, sleep-deprived kids equal cranky, tough-to-deal-with kids, and that leads to slightly irritable adults. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, duh.  Now there‘s a survey to prove it. 

Here‘s NBC‘s Robert Hager with the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Allison Aricardi‘s (ph) third grader, Madison (ph), normally goes to bed about 9:00. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let‘s go night-night, then.

HAGER:  But if she doesn‘t, her mom says it can be noticeable. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When Madison stays up late, sometimes in the morning, we are battling the “I have a tummy ache; I don‘t feel good.”  Like, for instance, she did that this morning because last night was a late one.  She was up until probably quarter to 11:00. 

HAGER:  For years, we have known most busy adults get less than their recommended eight hours or more of sleep a night.

(on camera):  But now a surprise.  A poll of parents by the National Sleep Foundation reveals little children aren‘t getting enough sleep either. 

(voice-over):  How much sleep do kids need?  For infants, researchers say probably 14 to 15 hours, toddlers, 12 to 14, preschoolers, 11 to 13, and elementary schoolers up to 5th grade, 10 to 11.

But the poll found they all averaged at least an hour less.  A director of the study, Philadelphia Children‘s Hospital‘s Jody Mendell (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Attention, memory, concentration, it‘s affected

by even 30 minutes less sleep per night. 

HAGER:  Teachers like Denise Docans (ph) can see it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have kids who will tell me that they are sleepy, and I can also just tell by their behaviors, that they seem a little bit on edge, they seem a little cranky. 

HAGER:  Bad for kids, researchers said, a caffeinated beverage, cost 30 minutes lost sleep on average, a TV in the bedroom, 20 minutes, or any other energizing activity before bed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Anything that is going to be stimulating, whether that is instant messaging, e-mailing, computers in the bedroom, all of that is going to get a child charged up and make it difficult for them to fall sleep at bedtime. 

HAGER:  On the other hand, good for sleep, a nightly routine at 20 to 30 minutes before bed, like reading with a parent. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good night. 

HAGER:  There‘s something in it for adults, researchers said.  When children sleep better, parents do, too. 

Robert Hager, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  We hit the snooze button on the COUNTDOWN, take a brief respite from our big five stories to tackle the dream-inducing Hollywood headlines we lovingly refer to as “Keeping Tabs.” 

It‘s getting so they may have to provide hair and makeup at police stations these days.  Our latest celebrity mug shot making our wall of shame, actor Jason Patric.  You remember him.  Well, you will now.  Mr.  Patric was in Texas for the premiere of his new movie “The Alamo.”  You remember that.  It seems Patrick mouthed off to the police there and assumed an aggressive stance with them.

Not a good choice.  So, after a bit of a wrestling match, the arresting officer was motivated to take him into custody and book him on public intoxication.  It‘s an embarrassing incident that Jason Patric and I am sure one of his handlers would like to forget. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please, we apologize.  Please, let him go. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  But at least his mug shot is the best we have seen in a long time, and we have seen some good ones. 

Alistair Cooke died last night only a month after the final broadcast of his acclaimed radio program “Letter From America,” which had run on the BBC continuously since 1946.  We remember him best as the unflappable Brit who hosted “Masterpiece Theater” for 21 years and whose impeccable performance became the stuff of delight parody.  Alistair Cooke was himself a masterpiece and filled his life with about as much as you can cram into 95 years.

He was a British subject who fell in love with America and became the Boswell our culture and 12 of our presidents.  In his final broadcast, he thanked us for our loyalty.

Alistair Cooke, thank you for yours. 

Our top story, who was actually wearing a complete top this time, is up next.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of the day. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  All of this brings us to our No. 1 story tonight on COUNTDOWN. 

If you‘re wondering whether the fallout from Janet Jackson‘s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction has died down, guess again.  The pop diva has hit the airwaves in the latest attempt to garner up some publicity for her new album, “Damita Jo.”

Last night, talk show host David Letterman grilled the pop diva about her wardrobe malfunction.  Network censors hit the mute button when Jackson exclaimed, “Jesus.”  Jackson also proudly proclaimed that she was again wearing a nipple ring?  How‘s that for too much information. 

But will all the publicity and media hype help Jackson‘s C.D. sells?  Her first song didn‘t make a dent in the music charts and her latest video is being overlooked by an industry giant. 

Here‘s NBC‘s George Lewis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST:  Here‘s the lovely Janet Jackson. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For those of you who haven‘t seen enough of Janet Jackson, she‘s all over TV this week promoting her new album out today.  Last night, in a revealing getup, she joined David Letterman. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

LETTERMAN:  Now, that‘s almost malfunctioning, isn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS:  What happened at the Super Bowl was very much on Letterman‘s mind, but Jackson was reluctant to discuss it and seemed uncomfortable. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”) 

LETTERMAN:  You didn‘t know it was going to happen? 

JANET JACKSON, MUSICIAN:  No I didn‘t. 

LETTERMAN:  So it came as a complete surprise to you? 

JACKSON:  Yes. 

LETTERMAN:  Really?

JACKSON:  It was completely an accident.  It wasn‘t a stunt. 

LETTERMAN:  Was not a stunt, was not premeditated, was nothing that you had rehearsed? 

JACKSON:  No.  No. 

LETTERMAN:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS:  Some observers think that after the Super Bowl Janet Jackson‘s career has kind of gone bust.  Two songs from her new album have fizzled on top 40 radio.  And MTV, the outfit that produced the Super Bowl halftime show, hasn‘t exactly gone bananas over her music video, giving it no airplay whatsoever.  “Us” magazine writer Ian Drew (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of these kids that are now listening to her for the first time have been introduced to her for the first time through the Super Bowl stunt and they don‘t really know what to make of the whole thing, basically. 

LEWIS:  So do people think the Super Bowl debacle and all that bad press hurt Janet Jackson‘s career? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think that it was really ridiculous because it was so planned.  And I think that‘s sad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Given the state of mind of most Americans, I think that maybe there‘s some backlash. 

LEWIS:  But on “Letterman,” Janet stuck to her story that it wasn‘t planned. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

JACKSON:  It was supposed to kind of happen like that, but what actually happened wasn‘t supposed—I wasn‘t supposed to come out of it the way I did. 

LETTERMAN:  Yes.  Yes.  Right. 

JACKSON:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS:  Even if others want to dwell on the subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

JACKSON:  I want to put all that behind me.  I truly do. 

LETTERMAN:  Well, not me. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEWIS:  George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Joining me now is Toure.  He‘s a contributor for “Rolling Stone” magazine and also the host of “Spoke ‘N‘ Heard,” an interview and music video show on MTV2.

Welcome back to COUNTDOWN, Toure. 

TOURE, “ROLLING STONE”:  How are you, Alex? 

WITT:  I‘m well.  Thanks.  Hope you are, too. 

Got to ask, Janet, she tried to change the subject several times last night on the Letterman show. 

TOURE:  Wouldn‘t you? 

WITT:  Well, yes, but he was continuing to grill her about this wardrobe malfunction.

TOURE:  As a good journalist should. 

WITT:  OK, well, Dave is a great journalist.

But, look, MTV, you know it so well, it hasn‘t been playing her music video. 

TOURE:  Yes. 

WITT:  Her first single was a dud.  So how damaging, Toure, do you think this Super Bowl incident was to her music career.

TOURE:  Well, first of all, the MTV thing, I don‘t want to make too much out of that just yet.  MTV is often slow to put on the new videos.  BET sometimes gets out ahead of them.  She‘s definitely a VH-1 artist. 

So, MTV, I think they are going to come around in a week or two and start playing it.  So let‘s not make too much out of that.

But what happened after the Super Bowl is, people over 35 condemned Janet as if she was the worst person in America.  And you know what?  People under 35 are saying, hey, wait a minute, what was so bad there?  Like, what was really, really so bad that she had to be chastised in this way?  And there‘s a lot of sympathy that‘s come from the post-Super Bowl paranoia and backlash. 

So there‘s this whole countermovement of, let her go.  It‘s too much attack on her.  Now, the big problem is for Justin.  He has lost his ghetto pass.  He was the white guy who could hang out with black people, who could be on the cover of “Vibe,” and he was cool.  Now he backed away from Janet.  He let her be all alone in the apology.  And so he‘s in more trouble now than she is. 

WITT:  Yes, people are thinking he just abandoned her. 

But back to last night.  The network censors, they hit that mute button when Janet said Jesus.  Do you think they were a bit trigger-happy there? 

(CROSSTALK)

TOURE:  Yes, I do.  There‘s this post-Janet paranoia going on, where Simon Cowell puts his finger to his forehead and he‘s giving some kid the finger.  And Michael Powell is all in a tizzy about things.

It‘s going to be OK.  One of the quotes from Janet‘s album is, relax, it‘s just sex, like, it‘s not that big a deal.  It‘s going to be OK.

WITT:  It‘s just sex.  So how does Janet‘s new C.D., “Damita Jo,” how does it compare to other the albums she had success with? 

TOURE:  It‘s not “Rhythm Nation,” OK?  It‘s not her best album.  It‘s not her worst.  It‘s not “Dream Street,” so it‘s not horrendous. 

I wish I loved it or hated it, so I could come here and throw the gauntlet down.  But there‘s some hits on there.  There‘s some duds.  Kanye West has a great song.  Under-35s are going to check it out.  I‘m not—she may have a big week.  She may end up No. 1.  Norah Jones, her hegemony is over.  She had five, six weeks at No. 1.  That‘s over.  But it‘s a big week for Janet.  So she‘s right to be out in front of the cameras and let us see her.

I was at her record release party last night.  She came with a beautiful white dress looking amazing.  So...

WITT:  Was she doing any interviews or no? 

TOURE:  You had to be like a print journalist to run up with your tape recorder and be like, hey, what‘s going on?  I saw “The New York Times” cornered her and talked to her for a minute.  But they ran up on Courtney Love as well and talked to her just like impromptu.

WITT:  Well, I‘m sure that was scintillating and very revealing, yes.

Listen, what can you find on the C.D. that Janet didn‘t reveal on her previous albums?  Is this kind of—“Relax, It‘s Just Sex,” is that on the C.D.?

TOURE:  Yes.  It‘s just, she‘s cooing.  She‘s that sort of sweet and sexual at once Janet.  Just sort of like, it‘s much more of the same sort of person we‘ve been getting that we‘ve known from her, a little naive, a little sexual, intimate and loving and now sexual again, so dance, pop.  It‘s a fun album, not incredible, but not terrible. 

WITT:  All right.  Well, we‘re glad to hear about it from you. 

Thanks so much, Toure of “Rolling Stone” magazine. 

TOURE:  Thank you. 

WITT:  Much appreciated and thanks for your time this evening.

TOURE:  Thanks.

WITT:  Well, I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.  He‘s going to be back on COUNTDOWN tomorrow night. 

So have a good evening, everybody.  Thanks for watching.

END   

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