updated 4/13/2004 11:50:08 AM ET 2004-04-13T15:50:08

Guests: Scott Boyd, Barry McCaffrey, Michael Harrison, Margaret Carlson, Rob Wiser

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Americans, if not America, held hostage:  The former dairy farmers squeezed out by economics, driving for Halliburton in Iraq, is kidnapped, still a prisoner, while other westerners are released and others still are kidnapped. 

The Stern warning:  Could this man of all people decide the presidential election? 

The President‘s Daily Briefing about the August 2001 President‘s Daily Briefing:  Mr. Bush again says, the intelligence was not solid stuff to act upon.  Raising the question:  The intelligence about Iraq was? 

Bet the farm and the car and the house and everything you own on one spin of the roulette wheel.  Could you do it?  He did.

And don‘t bet on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team unless they played a particular C.D.  in their clubhouse before the game. 

WILLIAM HUNG, SUPERSTAR:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Yep.  You can‘t stop William Hung.  You can only hope to contain him. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It‘s the economy, stupid and Iraq.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Amid the fear and uncertainty of the family of a Mississippi dairy farmer is the unlikely convergence of two of the foremost issues not only in the country, but also in the presidential campaign already underway.  Best available information is that Thomas Hamill is still captive, a victim of abduction by Iraqi insurgents.  He was in Iraq only because the economy had hurt his family-owned dairy last fall. 

Hamill, the dairy in debt, his wife recovering from heart surgery, sold out and instead signed a one-year contract to drive fuel trucks in Iraq for the company Kellogg, Brown & Root.  KBR is a Halliburton subsidiary, so if you want to see a convergence of not two, but three campaign issues in one man‘s tragedy, there is your third.  On Friday, the convoy in which Mr. Hamill was driving was attacked on a highway outside Baghdad and he was captured and that is all we know about it him. 

Mr. Hamill comes from the town of Macon in eastern Mississippi where farming provides much of the work and the unemployment is running at about 11 percent.  People in and around the town have been putting out flags and ribbons and holding out prayer vigils for Mr. Hamill and for his family.  As we mentioned, Mrs. Hamill is recovering from heart surgery, she is a 911 phone operator, they have two children. 

Joining me now from Macon, Scott Boyd who reports for and helps run the local newspaper, the “Macon Beacon.”

Mr. Boyd, good evening. 

SCOTT BOYD, “MACON BEACON”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Who is keeping the family up to date?  Is this the U.S.  military?  The government?  Halliburton?  Who‘s in touch with them? 

BOYD:  Well, I‘m not really sure exactly.  I know they‘re in close contact with the company and I know they‘ve had a visit from the company officials on at least one occasion.  And I assume that they‘re getting regular phone calls. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Hamill was working two jobs, could not keep ahead of the debts that the dairy farm created for him, and then had to go drive a fuel truck in a war zone.  Is that fact—that sequence of events—of economic events kind of hitting home in Macon?  I mean, in addition to being worried for him, are people there angry or upset that he needed to put himself at risk to feed his family? 

BOYD:  No. I don‘t think anyone is angry.  I think everyone pretty much understands why he was there and why the many other civilians are there, like him.  I‘m not so sure that he was at the brink of disaster, the way some people may have described it.  But I think he saw the writing on the wall and the small dairy farmers around America are looking to other avenues and he‘s a career truck driver, truck driving is something he loved.  And he was looking to try to improve things for his family. 

OLBERMANN:  For a town of 2,500 people, Macon has a lot of folks involved in Iraq or the Middle East or in service or the war on terrorism.  They‘re the military folks, as Mr. Hamill, obviously, a few other civilian workers and one of the officers on the USS Cole was from Macon.  Do you have a sense, if there is a community consensus about how things are going for this country in Iraq? 

BOYD:  Well, I thing the majority of this community is very well aware of everything going on there.  They have great sympathy for the soldiers and for the civilians that are there.  I‘m not so sure that in this heavily democratic community, that everybody is in support of the efforts there.  Many people are.  But, it‘s just a tough situation and we certainly support all of our men and women from this community who not only are working in Iraq, but also on the various bases around this country.  We‘ve got quite a few of our sons and daughters involved in the effort. 

OLBERMANN:  Scott Boyd, publish he of the Macon, Mississippi “Beacon.” 

Many thanks for joining us here on COUNTDOWN.

BOYD:  Thanks Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thomas Hamill is far from the only one hostage being held by insurgents in Iraq, tonight.  At least eight Americans are missing from that same supply convoy, as his.  Whether they are dead or captive, remaining unclear.  One body of a civilian contractor was today was identified. 

Despite reports over the weekend that they were safe, it appears these three Japanese civilians are still being held under threat of death unless the Japanese troops pull out of Iraq, something that country insists it will not do.  And the Arabic language news station, al-Jazeera, claims a Russian energy company is reporting that 11 of its employees were kidnapped today. 

However there is some apparent good news.  A Chinese diplomat has confirmed the release of seven of his countrymen and some Turkish and Pakistani abductees are also said to have been released, though no one seems to know how many. 

Elsewhere in Iraq, NBC News has learned the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr seems to have rethought his claim that he‘d rather die as a martyr than be captured.  Sadr is now negotiating both an end to the uprising he raised in several Shia dominated cities in the south, and possibly to surrender.  He has some incentive to back down, U.S. troops have him surrounded in the holy city of Najaf and they have taken control of three other cities that had been held by Sadr‘s militia Kut, Kufa, and Nasariya. 

Negotiations also going on in Fallujah where a cease fire still seems to be holding, albeit not too well.  This though, Marines shot and killed two insurgents they said were trying to set up a heavy machine gun near their positions.  The Marines also say three of their troops were killed Sunday in the province that includes the city. 

As American public opinion continues to grow, that the administration does not have anything resembling a plan for Iraq, “Time” magazine has taken upon itself to ask several authorities for one.  It began with the retired four star general and MSNBC analyst Barry McCaffrey.  One of his first suggestions, grow the army by 80,000 troops.  The general join us now. 

Good evening, sir.  Thanks for your time, tonight.

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

OLBERMANN:  Well, the Army increase first.  Why and how quickly would you like to see that affective? 

MCCAFFREY:  We can‘t keep this level of deployment up.  Essentially, you‘ve got over 70 percent of the Army‘s combat units deployed: 

Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea.  This is the second rotation now going into Iraq.  Forty percent of it‘s reserved component, a couple a hundred-thousand National Guard members of the reserves called up.  So, as we look toward the future, if we‘re going to continue to maintain peace and try to build Afghanistan and Iraq into viable states, we can‘t do it with the smallest Army since 1939. 

OLBERMANN:  What is going to happen in Iraq, not on just the issue of manpower, but if events proceed in the same direction that the course seems to have been set over the last two weeks?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, the military situation, in the short run, will have probably improve considerably, rapidly.  You know, General John Abizaid, an enormously competent soldier, Lieutenant General Rick Sanchez, the actual joint task force commander on the ground.  The Marine and Army units will retake Baghdad, I‘m sure, in the coming several weeks, open these supply lines back to Kuwait.  And the Marines, at some point, will either get a negotiated settlement or they‘ll go in and sack the uprising in Fallujah. 

The problem is political.  There is no legitimate government to turn this country over to on one July, and what would the legal status be when we do?  To what extent will it cause further problems to the coalition and trying to jump-start the economy and build a viable state?  It‘s a real tricky, complex, bloody situation. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of turnovers, in your piece in “Time,” you suggest that the responsibility for policy in Iraq should be turned over from the Department of Defense from Donald Rumsfeld to the Department of State, Mr. Colin Powell.  A:  Why, and B:  Is that foreseeable? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I certainly hope it is.  You know, Secretary Powell has enormous international stature, people trust him.  The biggest challenge we face now, Keith, it seems to many of us is get Arab forces involved in the future of Iraq.  Try and gain U.N. legitimacy on the ground, and for that matter, potentially, elicit the support of NATO in taking control of the actual peace keeping forces in the coming five years or more that someone will be there.  And the State Department is uniquely situated to conduct those kinds of diplomatic and economic activities to have time to move it over to that department of government as the lead agency. 

OLBERMANN:  General Barry McCaffrey, MSNBC analyst and this week contributing to “Time” magazine and the long term picture in Iraq.  General, as always, great thanks your time tonight. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And to take tonight‘s fifth story back to where it began, the very human detail of the worsening picture in Iraq.  The movie, “Saving Private Ryan” was a fictionalized account of a truly awful reality of a family at risk in World War II. 

The death of a member of the Wisconsin National Guard is an all too real 21st century version of more or less that same story.  And as our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles reports, this time it is not about a band of brothers. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  She was just 20 years old, Specialist Michelle Witmer of New Berlin, Wisconsin, one of three sisters all serving in Iraq. 

JOAN APT, FAMILY FRIEND:  Michelle believed in her Mission.  And she made a real difference in the lives of many people. 

TIBBLES:  Witmer was killed Friday after her Humvee came under attack.  She had been in Iraq for over a year.  Family and friends are now pleading with the National Guard to remove her sisters from harm‘s way. 

APT:  We have appealed to the Army National Guard to grant whatever exceptions necessary to make sure Rachel and Charity are not returned to Iraq. 

TIBBLES:  There is a rule in the military named for the Sullivan brothers in World War II, that prohibits family members from serving side-by-side after all five Sullivan‘s were killed at sea.  And in the film “Saving Private Ryan,” the military notifies a Midwestern mother that three of her four sons are dead.  It‘s a scene a Wisconsin family doesn‘t want repeated. 

APT:  We trust that those in charge of making such a decision will realize that we have already sacrificed enough and that our family must not be asked to bear such an impossible burden. 

TIBBLES:  Before leaving for Iraq, Michelle Witmer said she was prepared to serve. 

SPECIALIST MICHELLE WITMER, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD:  I‘m ready to step up and do what is asked of me for my country. 

TIBBLES:  Now with her death, many are saying her family has sacrificed enough. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN beginning as it has so often in the past two weeks, with news from Iraq.  Straight ahead, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  Move over, Ralph Nader:  Will the swing vote in the race for the White House be decided by one angry announcer? 

And later, those newly inspired by William Hung‘s inspiration:  His album is no joke to one group which is beginning to think that the local stylings of Mr. Hung have become its good luck charm.  We‘ll tell you who, you will not believe it but you will see it later on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story, next up.  Your preview:  Decision 2004, the experts saying it‘s likely to be as close an election as last time around, and it might be decided by—Howard Stern?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is an overlooked classic of 20th century American film.  Andy Griffith playing, not just a heavy, but a true demagogue, a drifter named “Lonesome Roads,” who moves up from the country jails of Arkansas to the local radio station and ultimately to the highest rated program in television, where his nod towards a candidate is enough to get the man elected president. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN:  The movie is called “A Face in the Crowd,” and while the parallel is not exact, shock jock Howard Stern might be starring in a real-life remake of it. 

On Stern‘s show, the lewd jokes and the sound track of flatulence have recently taken a backseat to political diatribe.  Transformed into public enemy No. 1 by the FCC, his suspension from six Clear Channel radio stations made permanent last week.  Stern is now waging an all-out air war to get George Bush out of office.  Chiding his listeners to prove their loyalty by voting for John Kerry in November, Stern even provides his fans with detailed instructions on how to write to their own congressional representatives via his Web site.  But, while his message may not be mainstream democrat, his methods remain signature Stern, case in point, a recent ode to bad presidents. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Today we salute you, President George W. Bush. 

(SINGING):  Bush is a bad president.

ANNOUNCER:  You committed American troops to war.  But, when it was your turn to go to war, you went to daddy and said, “Boo-hoo! I want to go to the Texas Air National Guard.”

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Stern does not have just a lot of listeners, he‘s got a lot of listeners who are men.  The very voters the republicans most covet.  So, just how much influence could Howard Stern actually have on the election?  Joining us now assess the Stern factor is Michael Harrison, publisher of “Talkers,” trade magazine for the radio industry.

Mr. Harrison, welcome back to the program. 

MICHAEL HARRISON, PUBLISHER, “TALKER” MAGAZINE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  There has been a lot of dismissing of Howard Stern‘s influence in the last couple of weeks, since this all started, because the assumption is --  A:  His listeners are teenagers, and B:  They didn‘t know we had elections let alone have an idea who they wanted to vote for.  I gather you‘ve researched this and come up with a different kind of demographic for his audience. 

HARRISON:  Oh, yeah and it‘s obvious, his listeners were teenagers 10, 15, 20 years ago, his listeners are 20, 30, and 40 something professions.  They‘re lawyers, they‘re accountants, they‘re pharmacists, they‘re teachers, they are mainstream people who have a stake in this country, and they vote.  And they‘re not political zealots, they‘re interested in politics, but they haven‘t made their mind up the way the audiences of many other talk shows already have.  So they‘re very, very pliable, they believe in Stern.  There‘s more to Stern than just being a quote unquote “shock jock,” and he‘s going to be an influence in this election without question. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘ve never liked his show.  I will go to the barricades with him on free speech and I admire what he‘s done professionally, we know he wins the loyalty contest when it come to having his listeners place prank phone calls to news organizations, but does that really translate to voting?  I mean, voting involves a little bit more effort than most radio hosts of any kind are asking—actually asking their listeners to perform. 

HARRISON:  Well, there‘s more to Stern than just that level of—for which he‘s famous among people who don‘t listen to him.  He‘s more than just a prankster; he‘s more than just a dirty guy.  You don‘t have the kind of audience and the kind of loyalty that he has with that audience unless there‘s an underlying intelligence, a satirical genius, if you will.  He has credibility, he punctures holes in the balloons of hypocrisy, and he is an accomplished artist who has amassed one of the largest radio audiences in modern history.

How do you know you don‘t like his show?  Have you listened to it? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I have been forced against my will to listen to it on several occasions.  But, my point being, it doesn‘t matter whether or not I like his show.  I would be at the barricades with him fighting this fight about the first amendment.  But my question to you is this: 

Obviously eight and a half million Stern listeners, if they all voted against George Bush, this could have a startlingly impactful—impact on the close election or what then would not be a close election.  But, does it have to be that kind of a massive Stern turnout?  Could the impact be just in the swing states?  What is—what are thing like for him in Florida right now? 

HARRISON:  Well, in Florida he was thrown off a few stations and that

·         you know, the republicans and the Bush supporters say, “Well, he‘s not on anymore, so what harm could he do?”  Most of the harm‘s been done because his listeners there are among the most angry.  Also, those eight and a half million listeners have friends.  Actually there are more than eight and a half million listeners, a lot of people never admit to listening to Stern, so they‘re not counted in the diaries.  And the story is reported on shows like this, it‘s on the Internet, he has a cable TV show, and it is in the newspapers.  So, it‘s not just played out on the radio show.  It‘ll have an impact in big cities, it‘ll have an impact on swing states, but it has a subtle impact all across the country because it‘s bringing to the attention of people who otherwise might not have noticed the fact that there is an assault on the first amendment that‘s happening under the watch of the Bush presidency. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question.  I don‘t have a lot of time.  The television element, I know the drag between the radio shows and the TV shows is at least a couple weeks.  Has he begun the Bush bashing, if you will, on television and how is that going play, obviously, the freedom, the political freedom on radio is significantly still wider than it is on TV? 

HARRISON:  And I think that the radio show has a larger audience than the TV show, at this point.  I‘m not quite sure how it‘s going play out on television.  There‘s also a difference, there‘s more on the radio show than on the television show, so that—time will tell how that works out. 

OLBERMANN:  Michael Harrison of “Talkers” magazine.  Many thanks for your time, sir. 

HARRISON:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And from the courts of public opinion to the courts of basketball, the high doyens of decency are ever present.  The newest offense, comes courtesy of the great offensive players of basketball: 

Shaquille O‘Neal. 

The Los Angeles Lakers star used one of his favorite adjectives, the one that begins with “F” during a post game news conference.  Mr. O‘Neal said this of his rivals, the Sacramento Kings, quote, “Not impressed, not impressed, not (bleeping) impressed.”

Mr. Dictionary has failed us yet again.  Those comments were broadcast live by at least one L.A.  TV station that was apparently done so without the star center‘s knowledge, earlier this season.  Shaquille O‘Neal was suspended for one game after using profanities to describe the referees. 

Speaking of not impressed, we may have the first instanced a show actually canceled because of poor ratings, but getting itself blamed on the decency issue.  The annual “Victoria‘s Secret Runway Show” was apparently scrapped by CBS weeks ago in the wake of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl event.  But, a spokesperson for Victoria Secret‘s parent company said that amounted—or counted for only about a quarter of the problem, the rest of it apparently, ratings, like the outfits, that were skimpy. 

And finally, we return to the source of all this trouble, the woman whose performance could end up tipping the election.  Janet Jackson was back in top form this weekend hosting “Saturday Night Live” and with the spotlight squarely back on her—head, Miss Jackson dared to tempt the FCC gods again, baring all, this time in a spoof of another widely recently televised event. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION:  You just came into office, you‘ve just been through a very difficult campaign.  To walk in and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is talking about al-Qaeda should be our No. 1 priority.  What do you think and what did you tell the president, as you hit that kind of—I suppose new information for you? 

JANET JACKSON, AS CONDOLEEZZA RICE ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

(STUTTERING):  Well, well, well...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Up next, those stories that know no shame and therefore, also know no COUNTDOWN number.  “Oddball” right around the corner, including this bizarre ritual, you cannot possibly guess what this is supposed to commemorate. 

And later, the gambler:  He bet everything he owned on one spin of the wheel.  His story and what he has to do with Rudyard Kipling, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you the juicy center in the Fig Newton that is news.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

In Poland, they throw water on each other in the festival of Schvingus Gingus (ph); In Czechoslovakia, they celebrate with an Easter Birching; and on the Greek island of Cheos, they do this:  Two rival churches spend the holy holiday firing homemade rockets at each other.  More than 25,000 were fired this year alone.  Drowning out church bells and sending residents running for cover.  The tradition dates back over 200 years.  Kind of surprising because you‘d think they‘d have run out of rockets by now, or of parishioners. 

Speaking of not having anything left, you‘ve seen car races before, you‘ve seen demolition derbies before, but you ain‘t lived until you‘ve seen how they get rid of old campers in Bovington, England.  And they‘re off! Twenty different drivers and the best of the best, pitting steel against steel and camper against camper, 10 laps, no second chances.  Of course, speeding around corners while lugging a camper is the perfected recipe for a rollover.  SUV this!

So, there were a number of pile-ups to keep the crowd excited.  Phill Broadfast (ph), a rookie driver from London—a mighty roar goes up from the crowd, takes home the prize, this year a trophy and the glory of beating 19 other campers.  And don‘t tell anybody you saw this, they‘ll make it to the next subdivision of NASCAR. 

Do you think I‘m kidding?  Somebody mentioned sperm racing and the next thing you know the Brits put that on TV.  The BBC is pitting the reproductive prowess of scientists Dr. Mike Lahey and Canadian Zeron Gibson.  There race will be filmed inside two tiny glass tubes by a microscope and then relayed to a cheering and presumably wagering crowd watching in a nearby pub.  Bringing a whole new meaning to that familiar phrase, “He hit the ball real hard.” 

COUNTDOWN picking back up with our No. 3 story.  Next, your preview: 

The Presidential Daily Briefing:  After a week of political firestorms, it was finally released.  Is there a political silver bullet buried within? 

And later, monkey pox may be damned:  We‘ll introduce you to one lady who has crated a safe haven for prairie dogs.  Prairie dogs, again.

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

No. 3:  Robert Gully, wanted to be a state trooper in Washington, but apparently he was a little nervous about it.  So, before stopping in to apply, he got really drunk.  The troopers noticed, he denied it, they gave him a breathalyzer test, he failed it.  They suggested he should not try to drive home, he did anyway, they arrested him. 

No. 2:  An unknown federal air marshal who forgot to bring her gun with her on her flight out of Hopkins in Cleveland.  We know this because a passenger found it where the marshal had left it, in the ladies‘ room. 

And No. 1:  The unnamed man who dangled off a New Jersey bridge for more than two hours before being rescued, yesterday.  He had been hung by a rope attached to his ankle from the bridge over a lake.  He would not tell police how he got there, nor who put him there.  Here are your clues again:

Dangling from a bridge, in Jersey, won‘t tell the cops who put him there. 

You ever seen the “Soprano‘s?”  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  At this time tomorrow, the president will be giving the 12th solo press conference of his administration, his first since the capture of Saddam Hussein.  That is not the anticipated mood for tomorrow night‘s assembly. 

Our third story tonight, the president again saying today there was

nothing in the daily briefing he received on August 6, 2001, that told him

·         quote—“Oh, by the way, we‘ve got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America.”  His administration thus seemingly on the verge of resembling the old joke about the man who loses his wallet on a city street at night.  A policeman finds him searching for it under a streetlamp and asks, is this where you lost it?  And the man replies, no, I lost it over there in the dark.  The policeman says, then why are you looking under the streetlamp?  And the mans answer, because it‘s not so dark over here. 

The president‘s daily briefing for August 6, 2001, was finally released unceremoniously at 5:45 on Saturday weekend during a holiday weekend.  Suddenly, the object of so much speculation was available for all to read with just a few words blacked out to protect foreign intelligence services.  Tonight, though, the Associated Press reporting that the day after the president received that PDB, another memo with the same title, “Bin Laden Intent to Strike in the United States,” was distributed as a senior executive intelligence brief, except this memo excluded the information about the then current threats and investigations. 

Those in government who read it did not get to read what President Bush had, that there was evidence of possible al Qaeda activity inside this country.  Tomorrow night‘s questions will also be defined against the background of these images, the worst fighting Iraq has seen since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago. 

And all this comes against the calculus of the poll numbers, the latest “Newsweek” ratings showing that John Kerry has widened his lead over the president.  In a two-way race, Kerry polls at 50 percent, the president at 43 percent.  Even with Ralph Nader entered in the equation, Kerry maintaining a four-point lead over Mr. Bush. 

But the most worrisome numbers for Mr. Bush may be focused on what could happen in Iraq.  A full 40 percent say they are now very worried that Iraq could turn into another Vietnam; 24 percent are somewhat worried, 14 percent not too worried; 20 percent say they are not worried at all. 

Joining us now to talk about what is at stake during tomorrow night‘s news conference tomorrow, Margaret Carlson, senior writer for “TIME” magazine.

Margaret, good evening. 

MARGARET CARLSON, SENIOR WRITER, “TIME”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s talk about the news conference tomorrow.  Is it as obvious as it seems that they‘re trotting out Mr. Bush in hopes of putting out the fire over the August 2001 memo? 

CARLSON:  Well, he‘s tried a couple times to put out the fire.  And it hasn‘t worked.  So the default position is a full-fledged press conference, which is not the president‘s ideal forum.  He doesn‘t like them very much.  I think he does fine.  But he wouldn‘t be doing it if his other comments had quelled the storm. 

OLBERMANN:  Margaret, the president referred to the intelligence about bin Laden and al Qaeda and the PDB as historical, which has been repeated several times throughout the administration, also not specific enough, and in some cases, inaccurate.  Is somebody going to ask him tomorrow night, yes, sir, but the intelligence about Saddam Hussein and Iraq was historical and not specific enough and in some cases inaccurate.

CARLSON:  Well, if someone listening to you or if you‘re going to be there, it should be asked. 

The information didn‘t have to be terribly specific or up to date on Iraq because it was the grand vision of the Bush administration to topple Saddam Hussein.  Al Qaeda was an inconvenience, a little place.  It wasn‘t even a place with a flag and uniforms.  It was just a group.  And if I had read a memo that said there were 70 FBI investigations going on, I would have said, what is happening with those?  There seems some obvious questions after that. 

And just because whatever the president might have done in response to that brief might not have kept 9/11 from happening, it doesn‘t mean that he shouldn‘t have done anything, that there were action things that could have been done as a follow-up on that brief, which he asked for.  It wasn‘t a routine brief that got lost amid so many others.  It was one he asked for and which would have raised so many questions.  And the president could at least say, in hindsight, I should have acted on that memo.  He hasn‘t said that yet. 

OLBERMANN:  In terms of hindsight and getting it back to the current day and the politics, are we in another one of these, the president should have said in hindsight things?  Shouldn‘t the president‘s men have had him release the PDB, make a speech, explain it, or explain why it may say hijackings, but the administration can still insist nobody had the slightest idea about hijackers, instead of having him go in front of what is going to certainly be the most hostile news conference in his administration and coming off the TKO by Tim Russert two months ago?

Politically, did Mr. Bush‘s people strike out again by the timing of this? 

CARLSON:  They may have assumed that his comments so far haven‘t worked.  So an Oval Office speech wasn‘t going to quiet his critics. 

And going before the press corps is at least doing battle against your critics, some of whom are in the press corps, and answering the questions.  If he gets through that, he will have come out on the other side perhaps having satisfied some of the questions, which he wouldn‘t have done if he had only given a speech.  That must be think thinking. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see how good the thinking was. 

Margaret Carlson of “TIME” magazine, as always, Margaret, many thanks. 

CARLSON:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That wraps up the third story in the COUNTDOWN, what did we know and when did we know it? 

Coming up here, No. 2, the return of the dreaded prairie dog, carrier of monkeypox and causer of little girl to fall over in lawn chairs.  And later, William Hung‘s contribution to baseball.  You heard me, baseball. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHITNEY PING, U.S. OLYMPIC TABLE TENNIS TEAM:  I‘m not a basketball high school star or anything.  I‘m a ping-pong player.  And my last name is Ping.

ROD PAIGE, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION:  I‘ve already seen some of my favorite characters, Clifford the Big Red Dog.  Let‘s give him a big round of applause.  Clifford.  And the Berenstain Bears and of course Elmo.  A round of applause for them as well.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re thinking about that ourselves and we look forward to working with the commission. 

QUESTION:  What‘s on the table in the way of reform? 

BUSH:  Hold on a second please.  I don‘t want to lecture you hear, but you were given one question and President Mubarak‘s going to wonder, is the press corps totally out of control here in America?  So I‘m going to have to cut you off at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When good pets get bad press, you end up with a house full of prairie dogs—the No. 2 story next on the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Schyan Kautzer, will start kindergarten in the fall.  Chuckles Kautzer will not.  Chuckles was the family prairie dog, the one who helped bring monkeypox to the Kautzer family and thus helped to bring Schyan to national attention. 

The state of Wisconsin ordered the that Chuckles the prairie dog be sent to his final reward.  So our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, monkeypox is not back, but prairie dogs are. 

First, a refresher course on Kautzers.  They all got monkeypox.  Little Schyan got it worst of all, when a group of prairie dogs infected the disease was inadvertently distributed around the Midwest.  They all recovered, well, all of them except Chuckles, the prairie dog. 

And we were interviewing the Kautzers here on COUNTDOWN when little Schyan decided to pull up a chair and join us. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Steve, Tammy and Schyan Kautzer, along with the surviving prairie dog, Chuckles.  And you saw Schyan pulled up a chair and joined us right in the middle of the interview outside their home in Wisconsin.

Oh, you‘d better take care of her. 

(CRYING)

OLBERMANN:  It never stops.  Thanks for your time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  From the night that happened, right until this afternoon, the Kautzers said they had never seen anything funnier than that.  We would not have run it again if they had not thought so.  Schyan was fine.

Not so Ms. Pete Smith of Redmond, Washington.  When the game of prairie dogs musical chairs ended with the government saying you can‘t sell or even give away prairie dogs anymore because of the monkeypox risk, Ms.  Smith was the one who was left standing. 

As our correspondent John Miller (ph) reports, she was left standing with a few extra prairie dogs, 35 of them. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The ducks out front, the copper pig on the porch, even the squirrels adorning the doorbell can‘t prepare you for what lurks inside Pete Smith‘s house. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What dwells within. 

MILLER (on camera):  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, baby. 

These guys are black tailed prairie dogs. 

Yes.  I hope you weren‘t too fond of those shoe laces. 

MILLER:  No.  That‘s all right.

Who is this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is Maggie. 

MILLER (voice-over):  Their names? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Stinky.  Booger. 

MILLER (on camera):  Booger?

(voice-over):  Often a reflection of their personalities. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Psycho.  This is Earl (ph).  He was in a parking lot in an office complex.  Somebody had dumped him there. 

MILLER:  Which is why he ended up here. 

(on camera):  Now, you are affectionately known as the prairie dog rescue lady. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  Buddy, be nice.  Don‘t eat the camera, sweetie. 

MILLER:  It‘s funny.  Every time we come back to you, you‘re holding another one.  Who is this? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is Daisy, not to be confused with Davy. 

MILLER:  Or Booger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MILLER:  Or? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Virgil (ph).

MILLER:  Or? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Petey (ph).

MILLER:  Or? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Or Colani (ph).

MILLER:  Or? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Matty (ph).  We could go on all day. 

MILLER:  How many are there? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thirty-five. 

MILLER:  Is that including the one that is currently climbing up my leg? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

MILLER:  Look, he‘s eating the camera guy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, he may end up in your jacket. 

MILLER:  He may end up shooting this story.  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Could you be the cameraman, Davy?   Yes, he is very interactive. 

MILLER:  Right.  Tah-dah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They make really good pets because they are so loving. 

MILLER (voice-over):  It‘s a good thing, too, since a Wisconsin-based prairie dog related-monkeypox outbreak in 2003 prevents her from adopting out, taking in, buying, selling, or moving them, meaning Pete, Petey and all 34 of his roommates will be together....

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Come on, babies.

MILLER:  For a good long time. 

(on camera):  That‘s all right with you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s right.  And they‘ll have a safe haven here for as long as they live. 

There you go. 

MILLER (voice-over):  John Miller for NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  What good was that report?  Nobody even fell over.  John Miller in Redmond, Washington. 

All of which brings us to our nightly roundup of the celebrity stuff. 

Junk news is an ugly term.  So, instead, we call it “Keeping Tabs.” 

And, gentlemen, the news you have been waiting for:  Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is available.  She and actor John Stamos are separating after five years of wedded bliss.  A spokesman for the couple tells “The New York Daily News” the split is amicable.  On behalf of all unmarried men everywhere, I would like to point out that we don‘t care.  Amicable, flamethrowers at 50 paces, everywhere, whatever. 

“There‘s no real reason except they decided to go in separate directions,” says a spokesman.  There‘s no third party.  OK.  I‘ve got to go.  Thanks for watching.  Good night and good...

Meanwhile, bad news for you ladies:  David Beckham is not available.  Two women have come forward claiming to have had affairs with the British soccer star, perhaps the world‘s best known athlete, except in this country.  Beckham and his wife, Victoria, AKA Posh Spice, are denying rumors.  Today, they revealed they have brought in their lawyers, not for divorcing, but for suing the claimants, or suing somebody.

Of course, Beckham had authorized this statement before he had heard about Rebecca Romijn. 

Meantime, a sports record that was thought to be unbreakable was broken in the last week and almost nobody noticed.  Baseball immortal Hank Aaron had held it for nearly half a century.  He established the record exactly 50 years ago tomorrow, April 13, 1954.  While sports fans have been focused on Barry Bonds chasing Aaron‘s record of 715 career home runs, they miss the fact that one of Bonds‘ teammates already caught Aaron, rookie pitcher David Aardsma. 

When he got into his first Major League game, Aardsma replaced Aaron for first place on baseball‘s all-time alphabetical list of players, Aardsma, A-A-R-D-S-M-A, alphabetically ahead of Aaron, A-A-R-O-N.  Aaron himself had taken the record from the John Abadee (ph), who had set it in 1875.  Now it‘s Aardsma.

And speaking of baseball and records, well, C.D.s, William Hung‘s debut album is apparently doing more than making us happy.  Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Shawn Green bought Williams‘ C.D. last week and brought it into their clubhouse five games ago.  The Dodgers listened to it before each of the first four games.  They won all four.  But yesterday, Dodgers starting pitcher Odalis Perez insisted on hearing not Hung, but his own preference, some pregame merengue music.  Dodgers lose.  The Dodgers lose 4-2. 

The team is off tonight.  They play in San Diego tomorrow night.  And you can bet everything you own that they will be playing William Hung‘s C.D. in the clubhouse before the contest. 

Speaking of betting everything you have, upcoming, our No. 1 story, your hint, there‘s a reason they call Russian roulette, roulette. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on one turn of pitch and toss and lose and start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss, yours is the earth and everything that‘s in it.  And which is more, you‘ll be a man, my son. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the British writer Rudyard Kipling wasn‘t the first to ponder gambling it all, but few have said it better than he did in that poem, “If.”  But even Kipling had nothing on Ashley Revell.  He actually did it. 

The 32-year-old from Britain cashed in all his chips, sold everything he owned, including his clothes, and went to Las Vegas in a renting tux, betting the $135,000 that he was able to raise on whether the roulette ball would end up on red or on black.  Throwing in all his travel tiles, as it were, he bet red.  It came up red.  He won $270,600.  Revell tipped the croupier $600 part of it and then he went out to restock.  “I‘m going,” he said, “to buy some fresh underwear.”

Just to make you think about that old saw that says go with your first instinct, all week, he says he was planning to bet on black. 

And just to make you think about replicating Mr. Revell‘s risk, remember that, if he had lost, he would have had to give back that tux and go live in the street in old underwear. 

Are we now going to see others try this?  Let‘s ask our next guest, Rob Wiser, the managing editor of “Casino Player” magazine.

Mr. Wiser, good evening. 

ROB WISER, MANAGING EDITOR, “CASINO PLAYER”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  So give me the pro‘s perspective.  Is the strip now going to be filled with guys who have sold everything they have and are playing the financial equivalent of Russian roulette? 

WISER:  I don‘t think so. 

Every day, people come to Las Vegas on various gambling missions, desperate gambling missions, to risk it all.  In this case, he won, he marched out with his winnings, and he brought a reality TV crew along.  Maybe that‘s the moral of the story.  If you‘re going to risk it all, might as well get some 15 minutes of fame out of it.

OLBERMANN:  Have you heard of anybody doing this before?  Is this a common occurrence in Vegas? 

WISER:  It‘s highly unusual.

The last story that I can recall was back in 1980, when somebody famously walked into Binion‘s Horseshoe Casino with a suitcase full of cash with over $700,000, bet it all on the don‘t pass lane at a craps table and won, and left with his winnings.  He then returned at a later date and lost it all.  So the fact that this guy walked out with his money is the unique aspect of the story. 

OLBERMANN:  Are we sure that this guy has walked out and left town?  Is he out of the country or is he going to come back and blow this all before like 8:00 p.m. Thursday ?

WISER:  I‘ve heard he‘s still in town and having a blast.  So the question is, how much will he leave town with?  Because, even outside of a casino, there are plenty of ways for you to spend your money in a hurry. 

OLBERMANN:  As anyone who has come within 30 miles of Las Vegas knows very well. 

WISER:  Absolutely, as I know.

OLBERMANN:  I gather that, as Vegas has gotten more corporate, more button-down, if you will, the casinos have been less and less likely to encourage what we might call stunt wagering.  Does this give an indication of a change in that? 

WISER:  It won‘t change.  Casinos don‘t need this kind of action.  The slots are their bread and butter.  And they‘re very concerned about their P.R., their image these days, as there are corporate ties.  And no casino wants to be seen as the evil empire who has relieved a guy of his life savings.  So, no, I don‘t see them shifting in any other direction.

OLBERMANN:  Does it help them actually to have lost this bet? 

WISER:  Actually, in this scenario, yes.  The casino where it was done was a downtown Las Vegas, downtown casino, older Las Vegas.  So for them, it was great publicity. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve discussed the possible effect on the industry.  What about the other gamblers in Las Vegas?  Does it affect them at all or not at all? 

WISER:  Well, pro gamblers are very savvy, very methodical.  And their No. 1 rule is bankroll management.  Never bet more than you can afford to lose.  So to them, it‘s a great story.  It‘s a classic Las Vegas story.  We all love a winner. 

But real players I don‘t think will take this very seriously.  It‘s just a great story. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but one last thing about it.  Maybe you know.  This was occurring and bothering me all day about this Mr. Revell and him having sold everything that he owned and such.  But, as you pointed out, there‘s a camera crew there with him to shoot this as a reality show for British television.

WISER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Was he going to get paid afterwards either way?  In other words, was this a guy who would have been broke for like two weeks perhaps? 

WISER:  I think he was the real deal.  I think he went in there risking it all, literally risking it all.  And that‘s what got all this attention. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s pretty stupid, isn‘t it? 

(LAUGHTER)

WISER:  It‘s very foolhardy.  We would not recommend it. 

(LAUGHTER)

WISER:  And the casinos would never encourage this kind of behavior.  It was an isolated incident.  It was a publicity stunt.  And it was a win-win situation in this instance. 

OLBERMANN:  Sounds like that “Twilight Zone” episode where the guy says he‘s going to not speak for a year and he cuts off his vocal cords. 

WISER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Rob Wiser, managing editor of “Casino Player” magazine, many thanks for your insight, sir.

WISER:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Before we part ways with our No. 1 story, one bit of perspective on that $130,000 win.  The world‘s largest casino gaming company, Caesars Entertainment, owners of resorts such as Caesars Palace, Bally‘s in Vegas, took last year a total of $4 billion.  So you might say the house always wins. 

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

No. 5, the new threats in Iraq, kidnappings of civilian workers, including Thomas Hamill of Macon, Mississippi, who found himself in Iraq because he was having difficulty making a living here.  The Iraq and the economy issues come head to head.  Four, the Howard Stern factor in the election.  Political pros pooh-pooh his bid for vengeance against George Bush.  Radio pros suggest his listeners are engaged, intelligent, and they were likelier to vote for Mr. Bush until recently.

Three, the presidential daily briefing, the president once again today saying there was nothing actionable in it.  How actionable will tomorrow night be, when Mr. Bush holds only his 12th live prime-time news conference?  About 60 behind his father at this point in their respective administrations.  Two, the prairie dog woman, no monkeypox fear for her, proving that she can provide a safe haven for any prairie dog that makes its way to her dog.  And, one, the boldest or dumbest bet.  Ashley Revell, selling it all and putting it all on the line, wins big in Vegas. 

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

Good night, bet red, and good luck. 

END   

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