updated 4/8/2004 11:29:37 AM ET 2004-04-08T15:29:37

Guests: Melinda Liu, General Barry McCaffrey, Howard Fineman, Leigh Montville

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Lockdowns in Baghdad: Pacifications of the Sunni in Fallujah.  Violent protests of those pacifications in Kirkuk, four Marines killed in Ramadi, two American journalists kidnapped.  The pressure mounts in Iraq. 

But all quiet on the Western White House front:  The president leaving the speaking to Secretary Rumsfeld. 

Tactics, as analyzed for us tonight by General Barry McCaffrey. 

Politics as analyzed for us tonight by Howard Fineman. 

And tomorrow‘s headline: Condoleezza Rice‘s big day in front of the 9/11 Commission.  But, is it not also the big day for the commission? 

The car, unlike any other in the world: not the engine, not the design, not the hubcaps—the designer. 

And this was America‘s first Hispanic sports superstar:  The surprising truth about baseball immortal Ted Williams. 

All that and more on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  According to the Pentagon, it is not a popular uprising, it is also not a Shiite uprising.  Unfortunately, it is a growing uprising.  Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight: since Sunday, the uprisings that start in four cities in Iraq have spread now to four others.  The American death toll has doubled to 32, and with the sound of cruise missiles now being heard over some Iraqi cities, the uprising is starting to look a lot like all out war.  But, as was suggested here last night, its resolution might come from the marginalization of the 30-year-old cleric at its center—by Iraqis, not by American. 

And today, while that cleric, Moqtada al Sadr, has continued to inside his black garbed gunman towards insurrection, Iraq‘s most widely revered Shiite leader has finally weighed in on this conflict.  Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has condemned violence on both sides.  But, while he criticized the coalition‘s handling of the conflict, he stopped short of fully warning Sadr‘s followers, instead saying, somewhat opaquely, “We condemn the way the occupying forces are dealing with current events just as we condemn aggression against public and private property which leads to unrest.  There was no mention of Sadr by name. 

Meantime, on the other Sunni dominated front of the war, there was more than just property damage to condemn.  In the third straight day of fighting in Fallujah, U.S. Marines hit two mosques, reportedly killing as many as 40 people.  Witnesses told the “Associated Press” that a helicopter launched three missiles into one mosque compound, destroying a wall surrounding that house of worship.  U.S. military officials say the air strikes were called in after Marines had been fired on from that mosque.  U.S. commanders have vowed to subdue the city of 200,000, after four American contractors were brutally killed and mutilated there in public, last week. 

While Marines keep Fallujah surrounded, Moqtada al Sadr is trying to raise the stakes higher still, claiming he‘s holding American soldiers hostage.  A representative of the Shiite leader has told Lebanese television that the Sadr militia had captured, quote, “a few American soldiers.”  But, Sadr‘s spokesmen did not explain how or where the soldiers were supposedly captured.  U.S. Officials have cast down on that claim, saying that no American soldiers have been kidnapped.  But, clearly several journalists have been. 

Two “New York Times” reporters, plus their photographers, in just the last two days.  Jeffrey Gettleman, seen here in an interview on PBS, was on his way to Fallujah today when he was stopped by armed gunmen along with freelance photographer, Lindsey Adario (ph) and two Iraqi nationals.  Gettleman was held for three hours, roughly, before being released unharmed. 

But, while the details of that ordeal remain sketchy, the mechanics of another abduction were actually published today in the “New York Times.”  John Burns inadvertently got looks into Sadr‘s strongholds, on Tuesday, when he was kidnapped and detained in the city for Kufa for eight hour.  According to Burns‘ report, he and several other members of the newspaper‘s Baghdad staff have been held at gun point in a concrete floored room by five young men carrying Kalashnikov rifles.  Burns and his group were released without explanation and apparently without injury. 

It is a bad time to be a reporter in Iraq.  In fact, it seems like it is a bad time to be anybody in Iraq.  Melinda Liu is both, a reporter for “Newsweek” and joining us now from Baghdad. 

Ms. Liu, thank you for your time. 

LINDA LIU, “NEWSWEEK”:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  We understand, you‘re essentially under lockdown conditions?  It‘s that dangerous even in Baghdad? 

LIU:  Well, if you live in one of the big hotels, they have been under actual lockdown, as I understand it.  However, I do not live in one of those, I live in the private residence.  And it‘s basically our own security assessment that it‘s quite dangerous to be moving around outside.  Having said that, today during the day, I pretty much moved around Baghdad as normal, it‘s just, at evening time, which is when most of these firefights and encounters take place.  I stayed in the house, I didn‘t go out. 

OLBERMANN:  The videotapes of Sadr‘s group, the sealing off of Fallujah, this—the kind of headlines stuff has gotten widespread play, back here, but we have such limited access to a true picture of Fallujah or of Baghdad.  Is the unrest in Baghdad or the firefights—is the activity limited to that Shiite slum named after al Sadr‘s father, Sadr City or is it more broadly based than that? 

LIU:  It‘s kind of slipping outside of those boundaries.  Sadr City is the political base of Moqtada al Sadr, the young sort of hotheaded Islamic cleric who‘s at the middle this particular uprising—the Shiite uprising.  But there was, earlier this week, also significant amount of fighting between U.S. troops and Sadr‘s people in a, strangely, at the edge of a Sunni Muslim neighborhood, and get this, this is the important part, it appears that many of the residents in that neighbor, in other words, Sunni Muslims joined with Sadr‘s people who are Shiite Muslims, to fight against the Americans.  And in the space of 24 hours, three U.S. soldiers of the 1st Armored Division died in those encounters.  So, that‘s a very worrisome development if you have the Sunnis and the Shias who, some people thought would be at each other‘s throats in a sort of civil war scenario, if they‘re joining together against the U.S. occupation. 

OLBERMANN:  We were going to ask you about that.  Obviously you‘ve taken care of it already.  It‘s difficult thus, as you would probably suspect, to get an unfiltered assessment of to what degree general conditions, U.S. control had deteriorated in the last week, and I guess the question is, and perhaps your last answer addresses this to some degree—

Is this simply, as some people are saying, a more intense version of the insurgency that we‘ve seen in Iraq since last summer or is this an entirely knew thing with which the U.S. must contend? 

LIU:  I think the insurgency has taken a quantum leap.  It‘s—yes, it is a ratcheting up of a trend we had been seeing, but it is also the emergence of some new phenomenon.  The intensity, like I said, the Sunni Shia possible link-up, the organization.  We‘re talking about some small—some small encampments of coalition soldiers—you know, being sort of routed out of there place and they have to retreat in the face of—this is particularly in the south—in the face of Shiite militia men launching an attack at them.  This was war all over again, whereas before, you could have described it as isolated firefights—you know, some improvising explosive devices on the road, once in a while, a big car bomb, but this feel like actual combat operations.  You‘ve got aircraft shooting at a mosque compound in Fallujah, as you mentioned.  And just in the number of weeks that I‘ve been here, I‘ve been here five weeks on this particular assignment, the situation has deteriorated in a way that I think feels like we‘ve reached a new level. 

OLBERMANN:  Just as we feared, here.  Melinda Liu of “Newsweek” in Baghdad, many thanks for your time, and best of luck. 

LIU:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  All of this, especially that supposed Shia/Sunni cooperation, begs a rather simple, but extraordinarily vital question: 

What are the military missions here?  Ours, and that of those resisted Iraqis?  Ours first and the view from the Pentagon and our correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As American forces face some of the fiercest fighting of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed today that many troops scheduled to soon rotate out of Iraq may have to remain longer to combat the growing threat. 

DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  To allow those seasoned troops with experience and relationships with the local populations to see the current situation through. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  The most immediate military goal and the current wave of violence. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fear and intimidation are still alive and well in Iraq. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  But exactly who is the enemy?  On one front, the radical Shiite cleric, Moqtada al Sadr, and a small army numbering as many as 6,000 fighters, attacking coalition forces south of Baghdad. 

U.S. official also report that Iranian intelligence officers are inside Iraq working with al Sadr to stir up a Shiite revolt. 

RUMSFELD:  We know the Iran—Iranians have been meddling and it‘s unhelpful to have neighboring countries meddling in the affairs of Iraq. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  On the second front, Sunni militants, former members of the Saddam Hussein regime.  And foreign fighters led by wanted terrorist Abu Mussab Zarqawi with known ties to al Qaeda. 

In an audio tape released this week, which the CIA says appears authentic, Zarqawi threatens to kill coalition leaders. 

RUMSFELD:  The overwhelming majority of Iraqis are against those who are looting, intimidating, and stopping children from going to school at the point of a gun. 

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera):  And there‘s another potential flashpoint.  Rumsfeld today, warned some two million Shiites expected to attend the religious pilgrimage to Karbala this week, to skip the observance because the situation there remains too dangerous. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  For more on what the strategy is now on both sides, we turn again to retired four-star general, Barry McCaffrey. 

General, thanks for your time again tonight. 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve been asking here, for a couple of nights, if all that we‘re seeing from Shia and Sunni alike, and sometimes together, has not been largely about that June 30 transfer of power date, and I gather that that only scratches the tip of the iceberg of your thinking on the subject.

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think—you know, you‘re quite right.  Those are some great insights out of that “Newsweek” reporter in Iraq.  I think we do have a very rough 90 days ahead of us.  That deadline, which is artificial, probably was very helpful to force political thinking into the—you know, this emerging Iraqi constitutional convention, but it‘s not going to produce a sovereign government on one July that has a nationwide control of police armed forces, border patrol, etcetera.  Nor will there be any political consensus on one July.  So, I think a lot of these factions are fighting for internal leadership, fighting against us, and ultimately fearful about falling under the control of the Sunnis, the Ba‘athists all over again.  It‘s a real tricky political situation and very dangerous, militarily. 

OLBERMANN:  So what happens one July?  Is this in Iraq, some kind of civil war or something akin to it? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I can‘t imagine that there will actually be any notion of a sovereign government, control of Iraq on one July?  If it does, it‘ll enormously complicate our own forces.  Do we release the prisoners back to the Iraqis?  Do they actually have a system of justice?  Do we ask to petition them to move around, conduct combat operations?  It doesn‘t make much sense.  We certainly wouldn‘t have done this in Germany in July of 1946.  Nor in Germany in ‘46 were we facing massive attacks by ground forces, mortars, rockets, IED‘s—this is a difficult situation.  We need patience, courage, and resources for a couple of years or more to sort this out correctly. 

OLBERMANN:  What exactly are we doing regarding that at this point?  And I ask it in the context of what the president said yesterday in Arkansas about the current fighting, so I suppose we should hear the clip of what he said and then I‘ll ask you for your reaction to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  These people hate freedom.  And we love freedom, and that‘s where the clash occurs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  General McCaffrey, what does that mean? 

MCCAFFREY:  I don‘t know.  I think going into Iraq was the right thing.  Taking down this cruel regime that was a sponsor of terrorism, it was a threat to its neighbors, it was the right thing to do, but the argument isn‘t over freedom or lack thereof or who loves it.  The argument is over the future of Iraq and this is a heavily armed population.  The people up in Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit brutalized this country for 35 years, they‘re not giving up easily, and they weren‘t confronted and defeated during initial intervention.  So, again, I think we need to be realistic.  We can‘t—I was a little bit unnerved by Secretary Rumsfeld trivializing the enemy threat.  You know, it‘s just people threatening school children to not go to school.  I‘ve been a rifle platoon leader in combat and in infantry company commander in combat, and this is one tough situation.  There are thousands of heavily armed people on our lines of communications wandering around Baghdad and in a good bit of the Sunni Muslim area; they‘re trying kill our soldiers and Marines.  This is tough business we‘re facing. 

OLBERMANN:  And describing it any other way to the American people has always failed before, as you know very well.  General Barry McCaffrey, as always, sir, thank you for your time and your perspective. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, the COUNTDOWN opening tonight, again, with the expanding dangers in Iraq.  Your preview of our No. 4 story:  The unrest in Iraq and its impact on the race for the White House. 

And later, understanding one of the legends of sports:  Inside the life, the death, the cryogenic preservation, and the likely ethnic heritage of Ted Williams. 

But first, special dedication tonight to Timothy the tortoise. 

Britain‘s oldest and most beloved reptile who died this week after a long

full life.  To give you an idea of how long and how full, COUNTDOWN‘s

“Opening Numbers.‘

1854: At the age of 10, Timothy was the mascot for the British in the Crimean War.  He sailed with them to the Ukraine. 

1865: At the death of Abraham Lincoln, Timmy the tortoise was already 21. 

1940: Timmy was pushing 96 as the skies filled during the Battle of Britain. 

1969: Man first sets foot on the moon, Timmy turns 125.

And 2004, this year, Timothy‘s last on the planet.  Timothy, the last tortoise, the last Crimean War veteran was 160 years old. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  Iraq and decision 2004.  Another senator comparing the war to the quagmire of Vietnam, but so to does the Iraqi cleric at the center of the trouble.  “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman breaks it all down for us next.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A week ago today, when four American civilians, ex-military men doing security work in Fallujah, were ambushed and killed and when the bodies were desecrated and dragged through streets, the predictions was that those images could change everything about this country‘s role in Iraq. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN:  That simple prediction may have come true, even though the specifics did not.  The videotape of burning bodies has not produced the kind of agonized soul searching reassessment about putting Americans somewhere they could face such acts of horror.  The fact of the attacks, and the response and the commitment necessary in the aftermath, those things may have.  For once, the reaction has been less about image and more about reality, including political reality.  Howard Fineman in a moment.  First, from Washington, Andrea Mitchell. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The escalating violence set off a spirited senate debate over whether Iraq will require more troops and become another Vietnam. 

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA:  Surely, I am not the only one who hears echoes of Vietnam in this development. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I happen to know something about Vietnam, and I know we don‘t face another Vietnam. 

MITCHELL:  The turmoil is already costing the U.S. crucial foreign support as it tries to hand off power to Iraq by June 30.  Some allies are getting cold feet.  Japanese troops suspended reconstruction work.  Kazakhstan says it won‘t renew its commitment.  Bulgaria asked the U.S. for more protection for its soldiers.  And NATO has rebuffed pleas for a military force. 

PHILIP GORDON, FOREIGN POLICY EXPERT:  So, a lot of Europeans are feeling like, “Well, we told you so.”  Most are resisting saying that, but that‘s how they feel. 

MITCHELL:  Germany‘s ambassador to the U.S. says his parliament would never vote to send troops. 

AMB. WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, GERMAN AMB. TO U.S.:  I can only repeat what my government has said for the entire past year, that that‘s really not something that we could realistically even begin to offer. 

MITCHELL (on camera):  It wouldn‘t have political support in Germany?

ISCHINGER:  It wouldn‘t.

MITCHELL (voice-over):  Critics say the president should be much more able active in seeking foreign help. 

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE:  He should be sitting down with our European counterparts, at least through the phone, and say, “Look, this is spiraling out of control.  What do you need to get involved in this thing with us?” 

MITCHELL:  And Biden and others complain the U.S. still has no plan for Iraq‘s new government. 

AMB. JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMB. TO U.S.:  It‘s not that we‘re not working on that issue.  That is being worked at the moment. 

MITCHELL (voice-over):  The U.S. is counting on the U.N. to come up with a plan.  But tonight, one U.N. official told NBC News, “It‘s hard to plan today for June 30 when we don‘t know what next week is going to bring.”

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News at the state department. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  To focus on the political implications here, I‘m joined now by “Newsweek‘s” senior political correspondent, Howard Fineman. 

Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK” POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Given just how much political reaction there has been to these developments in Iraq in the last week, does it seem to you that both President Bush and Senator Kerry have been comparatively silent about all of it? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  They‘re sort of both standing to the side.  The president in Crawford, Texas, as Condi Rice takes the stage tomorrow.  John Kerry being careful not to invoke Vietnam for a whole host of reason.  He was a war hero in Vietnam, but really came of age politically as a protester of that war, doesn‘t want to be seen as war protester exactly now as he seeks swing votes in key states and rural areas.  Also John Kerry doesn‘t want to seem to be politicizing the discussion of the commission of the war.  He‘s going to let other people handle the heavy lifting for him, such as Ted Kennedy the other day. 

OLBERMANN:  The dyad between the two of them here, is perhaps even more fascinating than it was before.  This was a war president versus basically an economy challenger with a little war on the side.  If Barry McCaffrey‘s forecast is correct, then we can see something like civil war in Iraq starting on say the fourth of July, how quickly could those political roles change?  The—in fact, the political poles, as in magnetic poles? 

FINEMAN:  Yeah, I think that‘s quite possible, I think the president‘s numbers are dropping as far as leadership and the war on terror.  The conventional wisdom was that the president would run away from the economy and towards the war.  Now it could be the opposite, he could be talking more about the economy, as indeed he‘s doing on the campaign trail, and barely mentioning the war at all except for his philosophical defense the other day about freedom.  He‘s talking about the economy, which is roaring along right now.  This may be a very good year, this year, economically.  But, the situation in Iraq looks much less controllable at this point.  And he‘s got a tough choice about deadlines.  If he sticks to June 30, as he promises to do, that means that the United States may have to put more troops in there to try to help keep order after that date. 

OLBERMANN:  You just used two magic words:  “More troops.”  There are all sorts of issues here that are very complex.  Sunnis and Shia and them working together and June 30 deadlines and Iraqi provisional governments and all the rest.  Two words:  “More troop.”  That‘s an extraordinarily easily digested concept for a voter, Howard.  How bad would that be for the president politically? 

FINEMAN:  I think it could be a big problem and I think, though, that the Pentagon has said, and Donald Rumsfeld has said.  that if more are necessary, they will go.  And interestingly, the republican base of this president, which has been very solid heretofore, could have some arguments inside of it.  With some hawks saying we‘ve got to send in more, we‘ve got to make sure we restore order.  But out in the countryside, among military families who aren‘t speaking up yet, but they are very worried about their families over in Iraq.  The American public is still basically supportive of the idea that it was a good thing to go to Iraq.  But the polls show that most Americans don‘t believe we were made safer thereby and all the picture of chaos out of Iraq aren‘t making the president‘s case at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  June 30 will become an important date in American political history, besides what we already anticipated in Iraqi political history.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” NBC, MSNBC. 

As always, my friend, great thanks. 

FINEMAN:  OK, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The COUNTDOWN now past the fourth story.  Up next:  Those tales that do not earn a place in the big five, but we need to tell you about them anyway, we are compulsed (rMDNM_sic). “Oddball” is next. 

What is that buzzing sound? 

Speaking of the buzz, I thought you were tired of William Hung.  Then why did you and more than a million others buy his album today?  The COUNTDOWN lowdown on his remarkable first day of record sales, ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Now that moment on COUNTDOWN where we set aside the real news and worries and show you instead the ephemeral side those of life.  Those stories that will make you happy, but which you will not remember in the morning.  The ones that happen when I say, “Let‘s play Oddball.”

The Allees family of Commerce City, Colorado was wondering where all the bees were coming from.  Possibly from that four-foot wide, eight-foot long bee hive in their attic.  Bee catcher say best solution is to cut a 12-foot square hole in the roof to induce them to get out.  Of course then you have to worry about the vampire bats. 

And if they‘re all abuzz in Colorado, what are they thinking in Arkansas?  Mrs. Michelle Duger has been named young mother of the year.  Young may be relative term.  This is Mrs. Duger and her 14 kids, plus the 15th on the way. 

Hey.  Don‘t—get that nose—finger out of your nose.  You don‘t know where that finger has been. 

Kind of a clerical error at the Berlin aquarium in Germany.  Workers were somewhat surprised by what they found in the little wading pool into which the kiddies are encouraged to hop and more or less pet the fish—piranha.  Somebody had put the amphibious killing machines of the Amazon into the petting pool.  Fortunately after, or before, anybody put any of the kids in there.  Aquarium officials say they get a lot of visitors who surreptitiously dump turtles and exotic marine life into the pool instead of flushing them down the toilet.  But the piranha, that was something new.

And the company claims it‘s a joke played on them.  The bilingual washing instruction tags in the Tom Bihn computer bags seemed to read normally in England and French.  But a woman customer, one evidently with a lot of time on her hands, has read it carefully and found this in the French part.  (SPEAKING IN FRENCH) 

The translation, courtesy an uninvolved shopkeeper.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It says, in French—the English translation is that: “We‘re sorry our president is an idiot.  We didn‘t vote for him.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What, the label calls President Chirac an idiot? 

Stand by.  In a moment, we will reveal the number three story of the night.  Your preview, weeks of buildup culminating tomorrow morning, Dr.  Condoleezza Rice under oath in public at the 9/11 Commission.  Pat Buchanan joins us for a preview.  And later, the baseball giant Ted Williams, a legend on the field and in war and evidently, without any fanfare, this nation‘s first Hispanic sports superstar.  These stories ahead. 

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

No. 3, the mourning dove, the bird that is Wisconsin‘s official state symbol of peace.  The state Supreme Court there has now ruled that its citizens are entitled to hunt it.  No. 2, Steven Jehu, a member of the British junior gymnastics team, he fell four floors out a Slovene hotel and suffered a broken ankle, nothing else.  He said he put his gymnastic training to use.  He did a somersault and stuck the landing.  Medics gave him treatment and a series of 9.8s and 9.9s. 

And, No. 1, the unidentified burglar in Utah, just as in the movie “Radio Days,” he broke into a home and stole a power drill and some cookies.  And that‘s when the phone rang.  He promptly answered it.  The caller was the daughter of the people who lived there.  Then she called her mother.  And her mother called the house and the guy answered the phone again:  No, they‘re not home right now.  No, this is the burglar.  Can I help you? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Evidently, the White House was firm, but polite.  The national security adviser, Dr. Rice, would not be testifying, not on the record, anyway, before the 9/11 Commission, not, not, not. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, tomorrow morning, Dr. Rice will be testifying in front of the 9/11 Commission. 

For insight on how that happened and what will happen tomorrow, we turn to MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, good evening. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hey, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  How really did we get to this complete 180, with her testifying after all? 

BUCHANAN:  Richard Clarke, in two words. 

Clarke went in and basically accused the White House of negligence on 9/11, of not doing what they might have done that might conceivably have prevented that.  And that was sitting out there.  And Condoleezza Rice was on all these television shows.  And the public said, look, if she can go on these shows, why can‘t she testify under oath?  And the White House discretion was the better part of valor. 

OLBERMANN:  All the talk for the weeks since the decision had been reversed has been about the pressure on her in front of the commission tomorrow.  Is there not just as much pressure on the commission?  If they really are, as the reports are, leaning toward some sort of finding that 9/11 was to some degree preventable, and they don‘t have smoking-gun style questions tomorrow, will they not look overzealous, partisan? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, they don‘t want to do that.  And the only ones you can expect that from are the Democrats, Ben-Veniste and Jamie Gorelick.

But I think she has got a problem.  If Richard Clarke was the accuser, in a sense, she is the accused.  And let‘s take Governor Kean.  If he gets up there and says, look, Richard Clarke came in here and he apologized.  He said he failed America.  Did the White House fail America?  Did you fail America?  Who failed America?  Who didn‘t get job done?  Why did this happen? 

And she‘s going to be very much on the defensive, Keith.  So I think -

·         and they don‘t have to be—they‘ll make a mistake if they‘re accusatory and they‘re Mr. District Attorney. 

               

OLBERMANN:  “The New York Times” today is reporting the administration sources who are telling them that her testimony, at least the hope for them for what they want Dr. Rice to say tomorrow is going to be kind of the flip side of what the president says so often, everything changed after 9/11.  In this case, it will be, everything had not changed before 9/11.  You should judge the administration based on what the conventional wisdom was of a more innocent time. 

But would that not open her up to questions like, well, weren‘t you at the G8 Summit in Italy in 2001 when you and Mr. Bush were specifically warned there were terrorists hoping to crash a plane into the summit and kill a bunch of you? 

BUCHANAN:  You know, Keith, that‘s exactly right.  You have Richard Clarke saying that he was leery of a plane being crashed down there in Atlanta.  And she‘s going to be asked, you said, Ms. Rice, that you never dreamed of the idea or we never dreamed of the idea of a plane being used as a weapon. 

But Mr. Clarke did.  Tom Clancy‘s book did, that best-selling novel.  You never heard this?  Apparently, she has backed a little bit off her statement.  So I think you could have, because she is under oath, Keith, a lot of—you know, clarifications and emendations of what she said before.  I think she has got a tough road to hoe here.  She is a very accomplished woman.  But, as I say, it‘s—to the American people and to those families, somebody dropped the ball and 3,000 people are dead.  And they were in charge. 

It is very tough to make a case where she‘s going to come out as a star. 

OLBERMANN:  Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political analyst, as always, thanks for your time late in the evening, sir.  And thanks for your insight.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you. 

That Crimean turtle was outstanding, Keith. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  You can‘t beat history, Pat.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Continuing with our third story and underscoring that precarious balance between U.S. national security and the pursuit of the war on terror, the release today of Mounir el Motassadeq from a German prison. 

He is the only man convicted anywhere in connection with the 9/11 attacks.  He had been serving a 15-year sentence on 3,000 counts of accessory to murder.  Last month, a German appeals court reversed the conviction, ruling that the U.S. refusal to allow the testimony of another terrorist suspect had el Motassadeq a fair trial.  A new trial date has been set for June. 

And two more arrests today in connection with the 3/11 attacks in Madrid, this amidst news that the suspects who died in the suicide explosion over the weekend had planned to follow up the deadly commuter rail attack.  Spanish authorities saying explosives and other evidence found in the apartment after the blast that may have killed as many as seven of the suspects suggested they were planning another attack imminently -- 17 people now in custody in connection with those bombings. 

That wraps up the third story, the testimony expected from Condoleezza Rice and more news of terror. 

No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, designer seats, adjustable pedals, space for a ponytail, the new car designed by women for women—up next. 

And if you think we‘re obsessed with William Hung, wait until the startling news about just how the record-breaking, well, sales of his album totaled up on this first day it was available. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Coming up, attention, ladies.  It can judge a space, parallel park perfectly, and open the door for you—not the perfect husband, the perfect car. 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It has been perhaps the last authorized bastion of sexism, the automobile, the old chick magnet.  But in tonight‘s No. 2 story, not chick magnet, but magnets designed by, as it were, chicks. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny spent the day at the New York Auto Show and discovered the girly car. 

What is this, like 1955?  Suddenly, you‘re the editor‘s of women‘s news? 

(LAUGHTER)

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It has that feel, doesn‘t it? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it does.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks for letting me wear the pant suit, Mr. Olbermann.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Proceed. 

NOVOTNY:  It is hard to believe that just gathering a group of women to design a concept car would cause such a commotion.  But in the testosterone-driven world that is the automobile industry, it has.

The good news for women, traditionally, the females flanking the new cars at an auto show are there for embellishment.  Today, they are the engineers. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did someone just hug you?  Someone did something. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  That someone, a team of Swedish engineers, women with one question. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What if only women made a car?  What would that look like? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A bathroom. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  More trunk space.  More room.  More cup holders. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It would probably be a car that could drive by itself, because most of them can‘t drive.  no, I shouldn‘t have said that. 

(LAUGHTER) 

NOVOTNY:  Actually, we do more than just drive them.  These days, women purchase about half of cars sold, which is why Volvo‘s latest, the YCC, Your Concept Car, is designed by women for women, down to the smallest detail. 

(on camera):  That‘s much nicer than a normal key. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, it is, isn‘t it?

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  With lots of holders for cups, cell phones, computers, even your ponytail. 

(on camera):  Do men appreciate this, too? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, they do.  We had quite a few guys in with ponytails and they tried it. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  This estrogen-powered car was just a twinkle in its mother‘s eye three years ago, when a group of women working at Volvo earned the right to design and produce a concept car, a first in the male-dominated auto industry.  They asked several hundred females that age-old question:  What do women want? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It would be nice to have a different fabric, do everything from the steering wheel and not have to look down. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That would be nice if we didn‘t have to unscrew

the cap

NOVOTNY:  So that‘s what they did, keeping this motto in mind. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If you meet the expectations of women, you exceed the expectations of men. 

NOVOTNY:  Loaded with female-friendly features, the design team spent about $3 million creating what actually sounds like the perfect man: rising to greet you, opening the door, patiently helping you park, and no gas cap, all the while, keeping the hood closed permanently, taking care of your tune-ups. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The car will talk to the dealer and they will propose a time to you.

NOVOTNY:  With wardrobe ranging from linen to leather.  But even this one leaves the seat up occasionally. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like the rear seat button to have the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) That‘s such brilliance.

NOVOTNY:  The only thing the women couldn‘t get this car to do, stop and ask for directions. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That would be good.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

NOVOTNY:  Now, if you could buy the YCC, it would cost somewhere just under $50,000.  But it is a concept car.  So it is not expected to be out in the dealerships any time soon, if ever. 

But the design concepts themselves, those fold-up seats, the storage spaces, those may make their way into future Volvo models. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s nice to know the sexism cuts both ways on this topic. 

At least we have one left where we can just do this. 

NOVOTNY:  We just want to create a balance. 

OLBERMANN:  Good.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Monica Novotny, many thanks. 

If that seemed unbelievable to you, wait until you hear the lead story in our clump of gossip and celebrity news which we call “Keeping Tabs.” 

The brand new album much our friend William Hung may debut in the top 20.  No, I‘m not kidding.  Sources at the record label report that the first-day sales of “Inspiration” were—quote—“huge.”  And if the Internet is any indicator, Hung is a huge hit; 1,300,000 people logged on to stream the album, to buy it electronically its first day of availability.  That breaks the record for a first day previously held by somebody named Britney Spears by about 200,000.

Hung is a hit, and not just financially, “The Hollywood Reporter”

quoting a music pro with a vested interest in Hung‘s repertoire as saying -

·         quote—“He‘s the greatest thing since Tiny Tim.”  The man who said that wrote the lyrics to “She Bangs.”  Desmond Child ads, “I want him to sing ‘She Bangs‘ at my wedding.”

Well, yes, sir, right after he appears on “The Tonight Show” tomorrow night and live in the plaza on “The Today Show” Friday morning.

April Fool was last week, so we didn‘t have to make up any of that, nor any of this.  Roseanne Barr, Arnold-Barr, just Roseanne, says she‘s sorry, sorry for the crotch-grabbing, spit-spraying version of the National Anthem in San Diego in 1990, sorry for accusing her own relatives of having abused her as a child, sorry for the Sturm und Drang on the set of her sitcom.  “I really regret losing my sanity for so many years,” she tells “The New York Daily News.”  “I hurt a lot of people.”  OK, forget it.  Just no more anthems. 

Tonight‘s top story, as the baseball season opens, new insight into the man who may have been the grain‘s greatest hitter and also its first Hispanic superstar.  Ted Williams ahead. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You will remember that two year ago this summer the baseball legend Ted Williams died, his body preserved in a cryogenic chamber, supposedly on his own instructions.

Then his daughter alleged her brother had engineered the whole thing as a means of harvesting and selling Ted Williams‘ DNA.  She quoted the son as saying, “Think of all these little Ted Williamses running around.”

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, a pair of reasons to think more tonight about the original Ted Williams, foremost of them, a remarkable biography just out.  And then there‘s this, possible competition for the frozen Ted Williams DNA supply.  An Illinois auction house will sell in two weeks several thousand strands of Teddy Ball Game‘s hair, minimum bid, $1,000. 

They‘ve done this before with the likes of Elvis Presley and Abraham Lincoln.  Hell, there‘s more of Elvis‘ hair flying around now than there was during his concert in Hawaii. 

And the Elvis analogy is a good one for Theodore Samuel Williams.  They were both larger than life.  And, as this cryogenic stuff suggests, they also both seem to have turned out to be bigger than death.  And Williams has come back to life, in a manner of speaking, in a new book, “Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero.”  It is a revelatory biography without the disrespect so common to the genre.  The hero is humanized and he seems all the more remarkable because of his warts. 

Joining us now is the author, Leigh Montville. 

Leigh, good evening.

LEIGH MONTVILLE, AUTHOR, “TED WILLIAMS”:  Hi, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  Not bad.  And yourself? 

MONTVILLE:  Fine. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me start with his heritage.  This was not a secret during his lifetime, but neither did anybody make a big deal about it.  Ted Williams really was America‘s first Hispanic sports superstar. 

MONTVILLE:  Sure. 

His mother was Mexican and his father was Scotch and Welsh, but his father was sort of absent most of the time.  And his mother was in the Salvation Army.  And she tried to save souls in Tijuana, where she spoke Spanish all the time, and she spoke Spanish around the house. 

OLBERMANN:  Why was that not ever an issue during his career or why was it not even brought up afterwards that much? 

MONTVILLE:  I think was mostly because he never talked about it.  He never talked about family or any personal things.  But he never talked about his Mexican heritage. 

His second wife, who I talked to, he never even mentioned it to her. 

She had to hear it from someone else. 

OLBERMANN:  There is so much in your book, one of the ex-wives wondering if his life would have been better if he had been treated with Prozac, his I guess weird relationship with his family, his service in two wars, his world championship swearing.  Who is more interesting, Ted Williams the ballplayer or Ted Williams the man?

MONTVILLE:  Well, I think they‘re intertwined, of course. 

I was just fascinated by both aspects.  I think the way he operated, constantly in anger, kind of proving himself to people was a dynamic that influenced his total image. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to skip his baseball accomplishments.  And you point very perceptively that when he had his epic .406 batting average in 1941, it was actually way tougher than it seemed, because the scoring rules were tougher then.  But we are short of time.  And this is a newscast, as opposed to a sportscast.

So I guess I really have to ask you about the cryogenic stuff instead.  In researching all this, Leigh, what conclusions have you drawn?  Did Ted Williams really want to be frozen with his head in one tube and his body in another? 

MONTVILLE:  No, I don‘t think so.  And nobody who knew him thought so.  His caregivers at the end, all his friends, they all saw that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes strewn across the Florida Keys, the waters off the Florida Keys.  No, I don‘t think he wanted it at all. 

OLBERMANN:  This story, of course, and that particular part of it got so much more strange in the last few months, when that son, John Henry, died.  What has become of John Henry?  Supposedly, they were to be preserved together. 

MONTVILLE:  And so they have been.  And, if anything, I would say that that seals the deal, that there was great conjecture that John Henry was doing it for financial reasons and was going to make a buck off the whole thing.  But when he winds up in the same place as Ted, I would say that seals the deal. 

OLBERMANN:  That and the memorial baseball card that‘s going to depict them both that‘s about to come out, too, it‘s strange.  A great athlete and a superb hero, as you point, and this at the end clouding everything over. 

Leigh Montville, the author of “Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero,” just published, just excerpted in “Sports Illustrated” this week, and a great read. 

Leigh, thanks for your time.  Congratulations on the book. 

MONTVILLE:  Thank you very much, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome. 

Before we drop the topic, one more thing you should know about tonight‘s No. 1 story.  Williams‘ also chronicled his own life and times in his autobiography, “My Turn At Bat” and in books like “The Science of Hitting,” “Teddy Ball Game: My Life in Pictures,” “Ted Williams‘ Hit List,” and “Fishing the Big Three: Tarpon, Bonefish, and Atlantic Salmon.” 

Not only is he the last man to have hit .400 in the big leagues, but all five of those books are in print.  And how many authors can say that? 

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

No. 5, the growing resistance in Iraq, U.S. troops attacking insurgents fighting from two different mosques.  Meantime, Iraq‘s top Shiite cleric condemns the coalition crackdown.  And, as you heard in reports from reporters in Baghdad, this is a different kind of insurgency than what we have seen for most of the last year.  No. 4, decision 2004 and the insurgency in Iraq.  Before this is over, could George Bush be focusing his campaign at not even mentioning Iraq, but instead focusing exclusively on the economy? 

Three, the big moment for the 9/11 Commission comes in the morning, Condoleezza Rice set to give testimony in public under oath tomorrow morning, live coverage, of course, here on MSNBC, and the very fine line that Dr. Rice has to walk in testifying before that committee tomorrow.  No. 2, the effort to woo female drivers, Volvo with a new car for women designed by women.  There‘s even a cut-out for your ponytail, whether you‘re a woman or a man—last bastion of sexism.  And, No. 1, the baseball legend Ted Williams, the controversies in both life and death recounted in a great new biography by Leigh Montville.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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