updated 4/27/2004 10:34:14 AM ET 2004-04-27T14:34:14

Guests: Rick Francona, Dana M. Cole

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The ceasefire in Fallujah: Ceasefire means something different there than it does elsewhere.  The military situation in Iraq and why 52 top British diplomats just called U.S. policy there, doomed. 

Full medal jacket: Did John Kerry give his Vietnam medals or his ribbons, and what‘s the difference?  What are these critics trying to accomplish with this? 

Three months, three lead attorneys.  Mike Jackson says you‘re fired more often than Donald Trump. 

And never imply all you can eat to a couple on a low-crab diet:  The two Utah meat eaters who got kicked out of the Chuck-A-Rama on a charge of abusing the buffet. 

All that and more on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  Loud explosions tonight outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf.  Loud explosions and a firefight this afternoon in the Sunni city of Fallujah.  And loud explosions, and afterwards, loud cheers from Iraqis as a building collapsed atop coalition forces in Baghdad. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  Even as, late this afternoon, Secretary of State Powell said the U.S. was going to continue to hesitate turning Fallujah into an open battleground, it is all getting louder in Iraq.  Our correspondent in Baghdad is Richard Engel. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A raid today, gone wrong.  American soldiers and CIA operatives investigating a perfume factory in Baghdad, tipped as a hiding place for weapons of mass destruction.  But, as the U.S. team entered the door, an explosion leveled the building, killing at least two American and destroying their humvees parked outside.  Iraqi police suspect a set-up.  Within minutes, crowds gathered to celebrate the American losses, showing off U.S. helmets and shredding American uniform. 

Thirty-five miles west in Fallujah, a U.S. Marine killed in a gun battle.  Despite the urban war, U.S. officials hope joint patrol with Iraqi police later this week will end the tense stand-off, though military says it will quiet Fallujah one way or another. 

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY DIR. COALITION OPS:  We‘ll do that through negotiations; we will do that through a political track; or we will do that through force of arms, but it will be done. 

ENGEL:  On Iraq‘s second front, 150 miles south of Fallujah, in Najaf, where radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is believed hiding.  U.S. forces today were reinforcing their positions as U.S. officials accused al-Sadr‘s men of hiding weapons in holy sites in the city. 

DAN SENOR, COALITION SPOKESMAN:  We will not tolerate mosques being used to stockpile weapons. 

ENGEL:  And a third front, civilians.  A new hostage video today, showing three Italians for the first time in two weeks.  There had been four, the kidnappers killed one and said today, they‘d execute the rest in five days if Italians don‘t take to the streets to protest the war. 

(on camera):  Tonight Shiite militias, for the second straight night, launched rockets at a U.S. base outside Najaf—a sign militants could be trying to draw Americans into a fight they prefer to avoid. 

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And a story in the newest issue of “week?”  magazine suggests that as many one quarter of all coalition fatalities in Iraq could have been avoided—avoided if the U.S. military had brought more armored vehicles and done more to reinforce the Humvees that provide much of the coalition transport. 

In the words of the Brigadier General Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division, “The Humvee was never designed to do this, it was never anticipated that we would have things like road-side bombs in the vast number that we‘ve had here.”

According to an unofficial study now circulating through Army, that failure of anticipation could be responsible for as many as 190 deaths. 

All troopers who might have been spared had their vehicles been better

armored.  And as U.S. forces prepare for more fighting, they‘re doing most

·         or doing without most of their main battle tanks.  Those numbers have dropped, too:  From more than 400 last year to about 70 this year.

As Fallujah and Najaf continue to dominate the headlines from Iraq, we turn to military analyst, retired Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona who has been there and back.  ]

Rick, good evening. 

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET), MILITARY ANALYST:  How are you doing, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Explain Fallujah to me.  It looks like we‘ve gotten a ceasefire in which only the coalition ceases firing and everybody from the generals on the ground to the secretary of state are looking less cautious than indecisive. 

FRANCONA:  Yeah, this has been a real problem; it‘s been going on for sometime.  Now, it‘s called a cessation of offensive operations, in effect, it‘s a ceasefire, but it‘s a one-way ceasefire.  We‘re ceasing fire, they‘re not.  And the problem here, Keith, is this makes us look weak to the Iraqis.  The perception there, is not that this is something that shows our strength, to them, this shows our weakness and it shows the other people in these other towns, that if the united states is not willing to fight in Fallujah, they‘re not willing to fight elsewhere and this may cause an uptake in the amount of violence. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s going to turn out here?  How is this going to end and how soon? 

FRANCONA:  Well, the end result is going to be the same.  As General Kimmit said, we‘re going to disarm that militia and those fighters will be either neutralized, arrested, or killed in Fallujah.  The question is how it‘s going to be done.  And, I think patience is starting to wear thin, as it should.  This could happen as early as tomorrow, it could happen in the next few days, but one way or another, Fallujah is going to have to be settled.  I‘m afraid it‘s going to take an assault by the Marines. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, when we look at Najaf and we see the stalemate with Moqtada al-Sadr, from the exterior, it looks an --  an identical problem to the one in Fallujah, at least a similar one, but I gather it is not so at all.

FRANCONA:  No. No, Najaf is a different situation because, in—whereas in Fallujah, there‘s nobody really there that can negotiate for the insurgents.  These town leaders have no real authority over the insurgents.  The insurgents are going to do what they want.  Down in Najaf, were you‘ve got Moqtada al-Sadr holed up there, you‘ve got people in that town—you‘ve got the moderate clergy, you‘ve got al-Sistani down there, who do have tremendous moral authority in the town.  And not going into Najaf and s probably the right course of action here, completely opposite of Fallujah.  This does show our strength down there.  And eventually, I think the moderate clergy will win. 

OLBERMANN:  Last issue, address this “Newsweek?”  story for me.  That perhaps a quarter of fatalities could have been avoided, the idea that a 21st century U.S. military force could be under-armored seem almost implausible.  Did it happen?  If so, how did it happen? 

FRANCONA:  Well, it did happen and the reason was that the Humvee was never designed to be used in urban warfare like this.  The Humvee was the replacement for the jeep, it was primarily designed as an administrative vehicle and a transport vehicle, it was never designed for infantry fighting.  I mean, we have infantry fighting vehicles, but they‘re not being deployed over there.  We have follow-on vehicles, now.  There‘s up-armored Humvee and there‘s also the new Striker fighting vehicles, which are much better, but yeah, this was a real problem and the failure to acquire the armored Humvees cost a lot of live over there. 

OLBERMANN:  Retired lieutenant colonel, and military analyst, Rick Francona.  As always, Rick, thanks very much for your time and goodnight. 

FRANCONA:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  As if the Bush administration and the men on the ground in Iraq did not have enough trouble right now, U.S. policy in Iraq was described as “doomed” by 52 senior diplomats from this nation‘s primary ally.  Those 52 men, among them:  Great Britain‘s former ambassador to Israel, it‘s former ambassador to Iraq, Greece, to Moscow, to the U.N., wrote today to Mr. Bush‘s staunchest supporter, Prime Minister Tony Blair.  They urge Blair to use his alliance with Mr. Bush to exert, quote, “real influence as a loyal ally on Washington to organize a plan for post-war Iraq and an Arab/Israeli peace plan, or to break off Britain‘s support.”  No comment from Blair. 

Three Japanese civilians held hostage in Iraq for a week have something new to think about while they are recovering at home from their ordeal:  Their bill.  Their bill from the Japanese government for flying them back to Japan.  Their kidnappers had threatened to burn them alive before Islamic clerics arranged the release of the three people, but there were no yellow ribbons on their return home, just angry complaints that they had risked the country‘s Iraq policy by recklessly traveling to a country they‘d been warned was so dangerous.  So far, the hostages are not talking publicly about being charged seven grand a piece. 

Back here a major foreign policy statement from Vice President Cheney, at least that‘s what it said on the invitation to his speech at the same small Missouri college where Winston Churchill introduced the phrase, “Iron Curtain” in 1946.  While telling the audience at Westminster College that he too fears that terrorist activity here, could occur before the election, much of Mr. Cheney‘s address was an attack on democratic challenger John Kerry who he says, “has given us ample grounds to doubt the judgment and the attitude he brings to bear in the vital issues of national security.”  Cheney pointed out, Kerry has often voted against defensive weapon programs.  The democrats replied that Cheney cut about $232 billion worth of weapons out of the defense program while he was secretary of defense and that Kerry‘s votes often coincided with Cheney‘s cuts.

A new wrinkle tonight to the private contractors fired for photographing flag draped coffins of U.S. service personnel back from Iraq.  Although it is anybody‘s guess whether it means something or nothing.  The “New York Daily News” reporting that in 2000, Tami Silicio sued over and received a settlement for a sexual harassment claim against the Halliburton Corporation.  And the woman who passed Silicio‘s photo to the “Seattle Times” sued over and received a settlement for a sexual harassment claim against the Halliburton Corporation. 

And lastly, as part of the No. 5 story:  In war it is a fine line between honoring and exploiting one or both now happening to the late pat Tillman.  The body of the former football player with the Arizona Cardinals, the first recently active American pro athlete to die in the line of duty since football‘s Bob Kalsu was killed in Vietnam in 1970, was to be returned to this country, today.  Accompanying the casket, his brother and fellow 75th Airborne Ranger, Kevin Tillman.  His former football employers said they planned to flame the concourse surrounding the new stadium in Glendale, Arizona, “Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza” and at Saturday‘s college player draft, National Football Leader commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, said “Tillman personified all the best values of his country and the NFL.”  Tagliabue then supervised the selection of the No. 1 draft pick who refused to play for the team which had chosen him, San Diego, and who forced that had team to trade him to one of the New York franchises. 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the new fighting in Iraq and the human toll there. 

Up next, our No. 4 story:  Michael Jackson.  He‘s just been indicted by a jury of his peers, or whoever.  Well, what does he do?  Gets rid of his legal team. 

And later, what happened to John Kerry‘s Vietnam war medals?  And, should it even matter?  It is front and center from the GOP.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:    Ahead on COUNTDOWN, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  You‘re fired.  Michael Jackson pulls a page from the book of the Donald and reshuffles his legal team, yet again.  We‘ll profile the new head of the new Jackson circus after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Donald Trump is trying to trademark the phrase and George Steinbrenner, owner of baseball‘s New York Yankees is suppose to have used it most frequently when he offed 19 team managers in 18 calendar years.  But, the real historical parallel in our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN might be Herald Ross, the founder of the magazine, the “New Yorker,” who is believe to have changed managing editors on an average of once every three months during the 1920‘s. 

Yes, it‘s your entertainment dollars in action, day 161 in the Michael Jackson investigation.  And like some rookie challenger to Harold Ross and Steinbrenner and Trump, Jackson has again said to his attorneys:  “You‘re fired.” 

It was only a little over three months ago that Jackson devoted his lead man, his lead attorney, Mark Geragos, to, at best, co-counsel with Benjamin Brafman, formerly the attorney for P.  Diddy, now he‘s fired the pair of them—“terminated the services effective immediately,” Jackson says in a statement, today.  “My life is at stake,” he adds.  In for Brafman and Geragos, Thomas Mesereau, Jr. who used to represent Robert Blake and that‘s the end of that story. 

Like a Yankee‘s manager or a “New Yorker” managing editor, Mesereau gets to jump in at the deep, icy end of the pool.  Jackson is supposed to be arraigned Friday on the indictments handed up last week by a grand jury in Santa Barbara, California.  So who is he and why did Jackson choose him and why did he choose him so late, relatively speaking, in the game? 

I‘m joined now by Dana M.  Cole, an attorney who has worked with Mr.

Mesereau on the Blake case and several others.

Mr. Cole, good evening. 

DANA M.  COLE, COLLEAGUE OF JACKSON‘S NEW ATTORNEY:  Good evening, Keith.  How are you? 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not bad.  And yourself? 

COLE:  OK.  Doing fine, thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Who is Tom Mesereau and why is he suddenly Michael Jackson‘s attorney? 

COLE:  Yeah.  You know, some people are saying, there are only two lawyers in the United States:  There‘s Mark Geragos and then there‘s Tom Mesereau, not necessarily in that order.  But, Tom has quite a reputation here in Los Angeles.  He‘s really a—what one might call a lone gun slinger, a true champion.  He has stellar credentials in the African-American community.  He volunteers once a year to go to the Deep South to represent a African-American who‘s accused of a capital offense, he does it on his dime—all for free.  He‘s won incredibly difficult cases, he has a track record of victories that are really unparalleled from any other lawyer and you would think I‘m doing a tremendous P.R. job on Tom, but I‘m not, this just happens to be the facts.  I mean, this guy is a true believer and a committed person and Michael Jackson has a terrific lawyer in Tom Mesereau. 

OLBERMANN:  So, why was he not Michael Jackson‘s attorney as of 161 days ago? 

COLE:  A great question, but the fact of the matter is, Michael Jackson tried desperately to hire Tom because Michael knew all these things about Tom, but Tom was committed to the Robert Blake case, and he‘s a loyal guy and when he‘s committed to a client, that‘s where he stays.  Now, unfortunately the Blake case didn‘t work out.  He was forced to withdraw simply because things got way too difficult and the case was not being handled the way Tom Mesereau wanted to handle it, so he was forced to withdraw and now he has a clean calendar, he‘s available and Michael Jackson took advantage of that and called him up. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of doing things the way that the attorney wants them done, several of the reporters who have done some solid reporting on this case, Harvey Levin from “Celebrity Justice,” and Dianne Dimond from “Court TV” and a couple others, keep coming back with one characterization of Jackson‘s relationships with his misers Geragos and Brafman, that they were finding it hard to get his attention, that they would say, “dancing on top of a car after an arraignment—bad idea,” and he would ignore them, literally not even answer them.  If placed in that kind of position, do you think Mr. Mesereau will fare better in getting his point across to Mr.  Jackson? 

COLE:  You know, I can‘t say that he will or he won‘t.  Michael Jackson is an unbelievably famous individual and he may decide, “Hey, look.  I‘m going to do it the way I‘m going to do it.  I‘m going to live my life the way I choose,” but I know that‘s not what Tom‘s advice would be to him and I can only hope that Michael will take Tom‘s advice and alter what has previously been—you know, sort of playing his own tune. 

OLBERMANN:  A couple of further quotes to wrap this up, from Mr.  Jackson‘s statement, suggesting that he “must feel confident that my interests are of the highest priority.  That I have the full attention of those representing me.”  Is that as it would obviously seem to be about Mr.  Geragos‘ representation of Scott Peterson in addition to Michael Jackson, or is there even more to it than meets the eye? 

COLE:  You know, I don‘t think there is.  Mark Geragos is a terrific

lawyer, but it‘s really difficult, frankly, if not impossible to juggle two

high profile cases, and two clients who really command 100 percent of your

attention, and if two people are asking for 100 percent of your time—you

know, by definition, that can‘t happen.  So, I think Michael Jackson was

very concerned that Mark Geragos is tied up in the Scott Peterson case and

·         you know, that‘s a death penalty case and Mark has to give his full undivided attention to that case, and it‘s very difficult to handle both. 

OLBERMANN:  Guess, if one of your clients is dancing atop a car, he‘s asking for somebody‘s attention, we know that much for sure. 

Dana M.  Cole, former associate of Thomas Mesereau, Jr., who becomes, in essence, Michael Jackson‘s third lead attorney in these last three months, plus. 

Many thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

COLE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  By the way, four more things you need to know about our No. 4 story, particularly about the suddenly former Jackson attorney, Mark Geragos.  His last four high profile clients:

Rapper Nate Dogg, aka Nathaniel Hale, accused of kidnapping an ex-girlfriend, threatening to kill her, threatening to torch one of her friend‘s cars.  Geragos had the most serious charges dropped.  Dogg pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor three years and $100,000 fine.  That‘s a win. 

No. 3: Roger Clinton, you may have heard of his brother, Bill.  Arrested and charged with drunk driving, Roger, not Bill, and disturbing the peace, also Roger, not Bill.  Geragos negotiated a plea to misdemeanor reckless driving—two years probation, 1,300 in fine.  Avoiding drunk driving charges?  That‘s a win, as well. 

No. 2: Speaking of Clinto, the friend Bill, Susan Mcdougall, Geragos winning her acquit in two separate trials, as well as negotiating her presidential pardon.  You can call that one a will, as well.

And No. 1: Wynona Ryder acquitted of burglary, but convicted of grand theft and vandalism for shoplifting more than $5,000 worth of stuff from Saks Fifth Avenue.  Well, you can‘t carry them all off successfully.  Although you know, carrying off is kind of an unfortunate choice of words in a shoplifting case. 

There is another half to tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The trials of Michael Jackson, and the trials of Kobe Bryant.  This, the first of three days of closed-door arguments which will determine the outcome of two defense motions and three issues.  The admissibility of the accuser‘s sexual history, whether or not Bryant‘s recorded statement to investigators will be heard at trial, whether or not a t-shirt stained with the woman‘s blood will be seen in court. 

The defense will also be filing a formal motion to ban the word “victim,” from any court proceedings or documents.  The defense lost a huge opening round decision last week, Judge Terry Ruckriegel ruling the accuser‘s medical records would remain sealed. 

There have been other professional athletes charged with major crimes who continued on with their playing careers: Jerry Newsome (ph) of the Pittsburgh Steelers was accused and acquitted of murder in 1951, but few, if any, have had balance their self-defense and their game defense simultaneously. 

MSNBC‘s Jennifer London now, on a day in the life of Kobe Bryant, which, whether you admire him or revile him, you have to admit, is about the equivalent of two days in almost anybody else‘s life. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Kobe Bryant leads his team to a victory over the Sacramento lings, scoring 36 point.  Impressive, yes, but consider this:  Bryant‘s day on March 24, began in the predawn hours, he sat in court all day facing his accuser.  After the hearing, he‘s back on the plane to join his teammates.  Bryant leaves one court as an accused rapist, making it to another just before tip-off as a hero. 

MARC GANIS, SPORTS MARKETING EXPERT:  He is able to go, literally in the same day, from a major hearing on his criminal trial, and go down and play on the court...

LONDON:  For Bryant, days like March 24, are now the norm, not the exception. 

Flashback:  December 19, another pretrial hearing has Bryant flying back to Eagle.  He‘s got a game at home that night against, of all teams, the Denver Nuggets.  Court runs late, Bryant hustles back to L.A.  making the second half, he score the winning point. 

GANIS:  He‘s done an exceptional job of being able to separate the two and perform at a very high level on the court. 

LONDON:  There have been a few tough times on the road.  A hissing hostile crowd in Denver didn‘t hold back.  Still, Bryant appears unfazed. 

KOBE BRYANT, L.A.  LAKERS:  I mean, I don‘t pay any attention to it.  I‘m out there playing basketball.  I mean, you can‘t please everybody, some people don‘t believe, some people don‘t. 

LONDON:  And the pressure is now really starting to build.  The Lakers are in the first round of playoffs and the game that really counts, the fight of his life, is just beginning. 

For COUNTDOWN, I‘m Jennifer London, Eagle, Colorado. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story, tonight. 

Coming up, those news tales that are short on news and long on the tales.  And do—do I smell rope burning?  Good lord, the marijuana rec center is on fire! (SNIFF)

And later, Martha Stewart living, literally.  Her life as a girl, up for auction on eBay.  Her own family cashing in on it. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now, and we pause the COUNTDOWN for the stories slightly more weird than the day‘s regular news.  Tonight‘s theme: 

Things You Might See When You‘re Stoned, for a thousand—Alex.

And we begin with fire, man‘s oldest foe—insatiable, remorseless, unquenchable fire.  This may look like any other run-of-the-mill big local news story building fire, except that we‘re in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the two businesses destroyed were the Blunt Brothers Marijuana Cafe and a nearby fetish store called Cabbages and Kicks.  Oh, the humanity.  The fire apparently started in a dumpster behind the Blunt Brother‘s Cafe.  Possibly where the bus boys threw out the half smoked—cigarettes, probably.  And it covered the downtown area in a thick blanket of smoke, dude.  No one was hurt in the blaze, but three firefighters did succumb to severe cases of the munchies. 

If only those suffering in Vancouver had had access to the world‘s largest ham and cheese sandwich, but alas, it was still being put together thousands of mile away in Mexico City.  And it‘s official, the Guinness folks were on hand to declare this sammie the world‘s largest, narrowly edging out one tuna on wheat that was built last year in the U.K.  Mmmm, giant ham sandwich.  To be served alongside a cup of coffee the size of Grand Island, Nebraska.  

Speaking of which, “all I really know,” wrote Robert Fulghum, “I learned in kindergarten.”  Well, every other news story I report, I think I saw first on the “Simpson‘s.”  Yes, we all laughed when we saw a cabal of restaurateurs decide to kill Homer because he had bankrupted several all-you-can-eat restaurants.  Yes, we all smiled knowingly when another character said, “I‘ve seen that man eat a bowl of change.”

Isabelle Leota and Sui Amaama were not laughing at the Chuck-A-Rama in Taylorsville, Utah, not when the manager there called the cops and said the couple had abused the buffet.  The husband and wife are both on the good old Atkins diet.  That means pretty much all meat all the time.  Chuck-A-Rama has an $8.99 special.  So when Mr. Amaama went up for his 12th slice of roast beef, the manager said, in effect, sir, I think you‘ve had enough.  He asked them to stop eating roast beef.  No, they said.  I‘m calling the cops, he said.  We‘re calling our lawyer, they said. 

Ms. Leota says she was under the impression it was an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The manager said, not true, just a regular buffet.  So now we have got this legal definition headed on the inexorable path towards the Supreme Court, right alongside the possible case of Villanova class of 2004 vs. Big Bird. 

The Philadelphia University has hired Carroll Spinney to give the commencement address at the Villanova graduation on the 16th of May.  The school calls Spinney a world-class educator.  Villanova seniors, some of whom spent $112,000 to last long enough to hear that speech, call him something else.  Big Bird.  That‘s who Spinney has portrayed for 35 years on “Sesame Street.”  Villanova‘s commencement address will be given by Big Bird.  A number of seniors there have complained for some reason.  We‘ll stay out of it, noting only that my 1998 convocation address at Cornell University drew about 6,000 people the day before the actual graduation, at a time when they should have all been out getting very, very drunk. 

COUNTDOWN picking back up with our No. 3 story after this break.  Your preview inside John Kerry‘s career, new questions about an old headline: 

What happened to his war medals.  And later, first, it was Jerry Springer the show?  Then it was Jerry Springer the award-winning opera in London.  Coming up, coming here? 

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

No. 3, Joshua Baldwin of Bay City, Michigan, accused of flashing at least 16 times in one shopping area.  Explanation, he says he was just trying to meet women.  “But I went about it the wrong way,” he revealed. 

No. 2, Eddie May Jr. of Hickory, North Carolina.  Driving and eating at the same time, he choked on the food, blacked out at the wheel and crashed the car.  The impact of the collision caused the piece of food to dislodge from his throat, saving his life. 

No. 1, Jorge Lozano Lopez of San Nicolas de Los Garza in Mexico.  The 32-year-old electrician got drunk, fell asleep on the railroad tracks and was run over by a train, and uninjured, all because Mr. Lozano Lopez remembered COUNTDOWN‘s No. 1 safety tip.  For those of you planning to get drunk and fall asleep on the railroad tracks, remember, please, lie down between the tracks and not across them.  Thank you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Thirty-three years ago, the very notion of heroism was unraveling.  Many of the men exalted as heroes of the Vietnam War shunned the symbols of their accomplishments and were called heroes for doing so. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one of them happens to be running for president.  And the issue of what did he with medals, his and others, and what at various times he has said he has done with those medals is suddenly as controversial in 2004 as it has been in 1971, Bronze and Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, all discarded on the steps leading up to Congress, the symbols of our heroism made deliberately to look unimportant or worse. 

Today, when the bigger picture has been settled politically, one group believes one thing, another believes the opposite, and never shall the twain meet, that which seemed unimportant then is the only thing that‘s vital now, the debate focusing not on the context, but narrowly on the content of one interview aired in April of 1971 with 27-year-old John Kerry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY:  I gave back—I can‘t remember—six, seven, eight, nine. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, you were awarded the Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. 

KERRY:  Well, and above that, I gave back my others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Kerry‘s own Web site says it is—quote—“right-wing fiction” that he threw away his medals during a Vietnam War protest. 

But according to Kerry, the “others” he referred to in that interview were his ribbons.  And while he readily admits to throwing medals over this fence, along with hundreds of other veterans, the senator maintains that those were not his medals, but ones belonging to others.  Senior Bush adviser Karen Hughes says that Kerry‘s semantic slip-up is—quote—

“very revealing.” 

And for the Republicans, nothing could help make the election more decisive than a decisively negative view of Teresa Heinz Kerry.  But the woman best known for her half-billion-dollar ketchup fortune has so far defied definition.  Indeed, categorizing the candidate‘s wife is such a challenge that “Newsweek” magazine has awkwardly lodged her on its cover between the titles “Loose Cannon” and “Crazy Like a Fox,” not the most flattering of choices for Mrs. Heinz Kerry. 

But then, the would-be first lady hardly seems interested in the obvious choices, possibly because the daughter of a Portuguese doctor who grew up making house called in Mozambique, one of whose own favorite words is “saucy,” has not yet lived a life of one of the more obvious ones. 

As always when the presidential campaign come down to the vital issues affecting future, is Teresa Heinz nuts, did John Kerry throw away his medals or his ribbons or somebody else‘s or all three, we turn to “Newsweek” senior political correspondent Howard Fineman. 

Good evening, Howard.

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

OLBERMANN:  The medals and the ribbons first.  One can‘t listen to this story without hearing some echoes of Bill Clinton and that depends on your definition of is, is.  Is this damaging to John Kerry? 

FINEMAN:  I think the bigger questions of the campaign are the ones he hope to run on, on where we go in Iraq, an increasingly difficult situation, what we do about manufacturing and so on. 

But, unfortunately for John Kerry, he rose in the race, in the primaries, in Iowa and New Hampshire, by selling the story of his here heroism in Vietnam, very legitimately so.  That‘s the core of his experience, the defining experience.  And, therefore, he set the terms of his own campaign.  And that‘s why the issue of where he stood and the anti-war movement that he helped lead when he came back is important and helps to define him. 

The other thing is, the Republican have spent a ton of money trying to define him as a flip-flopper, as a guy who is a hopeless insider, always slicing the baloney too thin.  And this story about whether they‘re ribbons or medals just sort of plays into the Republican storyline about him. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, we saw that film there.  There were other people there in April of 1971.  Somebody must have been standing near him, seeing what he threw, what was in his hand.  If that—if those people or a person came forward and explained it, would that settle this?  Or would it still linger because of the semantic issue that you just raised? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think there‘s a semantic issue where he says they were the ribbons and not the medals.  But now he‘s saying ribbons and medals are the same thing.  So, presumably, if people come forward to say, yes, indeed, he just threw his ribbons, he‘s going to argue that that is consistent with that interview that ABC News unearthed and which he was at the height of his period as an—a sort woebegone anti-war guy. 

You saw him in that video with the weight of the world on him, which I think he felt coming back from Vietnam.  So this was a guy who was conflicted then.  And the symbolism about ribbons and medals reflects the deeper conflicts that he felt and I think to some extent still feels. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, there has to be a dangerous in the White House response to this to do too much with it.  The 1973, ‘74 era is kind of a black hole for them. 

Kerry said in response tonight, all this is coming from a president who can‘t even prove that he showed up for duty with the National Guard.  That is perhaps not a serve that goes right past your opponent, but it is a pretty good return volley. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think it is.  I think it is a very good one. 

And I know a lot of Republican strategists who wish that this whole story would just be dropped.  And there are even some of us who are Dem—some of a Machiavellian cast of mind who think it is all a Kerry plot to keep the story of Vietnam in front of the public.  I don‘t think that that is really the case.  I think Kerry would just as soon let it go.  And I think that the Republicans would just as well. 

But it happens to dovetail right now with the massive advertising campaign they‘ve got going on in a lot of states in which they‘re criticizing Kerry‘s votes on various defense spending issue, trying to portray him as weak on defense. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Howard, Teresa Heinz Kerry is on the cover of your magazine this week.

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Is she John Kerry‘s secret weapon, ready to be rolled out and fired, or is she capable and rolling herself right down the side of his campaign as the proverbial loose cannon? 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  We have got to call on you to write some cover lines for us. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  We could maybe use the help sometimes.

I think, on balance, she‘s a benefit, because she softens him up.  She makes him more human on the stage.  She‘s a great campaigner, as she proved in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  And she‘s a moderate politically in many ways.  It might help Republicans pull in some—excuse me—help the Democrats pull in some of those country-club Republicans—and there aren‘t many—who don‘t like George Bush and are nervous about his policies. 

So, on balance, yes, she has a half-a-billion dollars.  Yes, she‘s thin-skinned.  Yes, she has five homes.  Yes, she and John Kerry help make George Bush sometimes look like he came from a trailer park by comparison.  But, on balance, I think she‘s good for Kerry. 

OLBERMANN:  And at least she made your cover this week. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” as always, sir, thanks for your insight and your time. 

FINEMAN:  You‘re welcome, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  One last component to our third story tonight.  And it is the most entertaining, if not the most important bit of political news at the moment.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice reportedly told a Washington dinner last week—quote—“As I was telling my husband”—then she trailed off.  “New York” magazine claims Dr. Rice, who is single, followed up that abandoned sentence by starting anew with, “As I was telling President Bush,” but there is some uncertainty about that second part. 

The dinner was hosted by the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Times.”  And in attendance, perhaps 10 of the papers‘ reporters and editors, all of it off the record, obviously.

Which leads to three more things you need to know about tonight‘s No.  3 story, the three other things Dr. Rice could have been stopping herself when she reportedly said “As I was telling my husb”—No. 3, “As I was telling my Husby representative.”  Husby is the largest privately held logging company in Canada.  No. 2, “As I was telling my Hussite.”  The Hussites are those who follow the teachings the 14th century cleric John Huss.  And, No. 1, exactly what she was saying, right there, “”As I was telling my HUSB,” H-U-S-B, H-U-S-B, HUSB, the Howard University School of Business on 6th Street in Washington, D.C.

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 3 story.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 2, your hint, the Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the FCC.  Huh? 

And later, Piano Man meets Mr. Maaco man yet again, Billy Joel in another fender bender.  “Keeping Tabs” is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ahead on COUNTDOWN, first, Janet Jackson‘s wardrobe malfunction, now Fidel Castro‘s telephone confusion.  Is he the latest guy in the crosshairs of the FCC? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  Back to the COUNTDOWN and tonight‘s No. 2 story, the reach of the FCC extending across borders, beyond the strobe-lit stage of a Super Bowl halftime show, past the embittered stringy hair of Howard Stern, the long arm of the decency police has landed in Cuba.

The story is one we‘ve told you before.  It starts in Miami with two radio hosts with a penchant for prank calls.  Last summer, they got the interview of a lifetime, getting Fidel Castro live on a phone.  The only problem is, they got the interview by pretending to be the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a bit of trickery that the FCC—is a violation of the station codes, because the station used President Chavez‘s voice without first notifying him. 

The story may be what did not catch FCC attention.  When Castro finally figured out he was being pranked, what followed was a torrent of profanity.  For those that do not know Spanish, a translation will follow.  For those who do know Spanish, my apologies in advance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SPEAKING SPANISH)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And here‘s the translation of that little exchange.  Ferrero starts, “All Miami is listening to you.  What do you want to tell us?”

Castro responds, “You ‘expletive.‘”

Ferrero: “What do you have to tell us?”

Castro: “No ‘expletive,‘ ‘expletive.”         

The D.J. asks again, “What do you have to tell us?”  And Castro fired back, “Go to hell, you mother of all ‘expletives.”

On that note , we turn to the misbehaving and offensive celebrities in our own country and the stories we call “Keeping Tabs.” 

And what does it take for our rock star heroes to fall from grace?  A late-night, high-speed car accident?  Yes, that‘s rock star standard, even if was the rocker‘s third car accident in two years, as this one was for the singer Billy Joel.  Joel was more embarrassed than hurt, only slightly injured his ring finger after losing control of his vehicle on a rain-slicked road in Long Island, New York.

But there was maybe booze involved, a brand new Ferrari with groupies?  No, Joel was perfectly sober, driving a 1967 Citroen.  And he crashed the car into a house.  Worse yet, his destination when the accident occurred, he was rushing to pick up a pizza.  Only the good die young, huh, Bill? 

If you thought about bidding for some of Elvis Presley‘s hair or maybe the toothpick used by baseball great Tom Seaver, then this will make perfect sense to you?  Martha Stewart‘s childhood sewing machine will be available on eBay.  Frank Kostyra, the brother of the high doyen of household hints, is auctioning off the singer, along with her oak rocking chair, the first car with which she used to run her catering business, and her pink Formica kitchen table. 

He says he is delaying the auction sale now.  But  Kostyra says he is not betraying his sister.  He‘s just selling junk that she gave him as junk.  Of those junk items, their mother tells “The New York Post” they belong to him, until the price is right. 

COUNTDOWN almost at the top.  Your preview of No. 1, either an all new high in low or something else.  America lived through “Taboo,” but can it survive “Jerry” the musical? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Only the English could embrace “Baby Mama Drama” as poetry.  Only our friends across the pond would hold “I Slept With My Grandmother‘s Boyfriend‘s Sister” as high art.  “I Married A Klansman” satirical genius, of course.

The No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, only the Brits would take “The Jerry Springer Show” and make it into an opera.  Well, not only the Brits anymore.  Producers reveal that, by next February or March, “Jerry Springer: The Opera” will open at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco and on October 20 of next year, it will move to Broadway, yes, Broadway in New York. 

When the opera hit the big time in London, we spent correspondent Dawna Friesen to see it.  We‘ve shown you this story before.  It turns out to have been eerily prophetic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Move over, Shakespeare.  Make room, “Les Miserables.”  A new show has hit London‘s West End, “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” an unlikely marriage of TV talk show and musical, with a lead actor who looks uncannily like the real Jerry. 

MICHAEL BRANDON, ACTOR:  Welcome to the show, Tremont.

There‘s a flow.  There‘s this glide that Jerry has as he moves through the people and he‘s sort of unwrinkled.

FRIESEN:  Critics and the crowd love the mix of triumph, tragedy and trailer trash. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is possibly the most surreal thing I have ever seen. 

(on camera):  This show is not for the timid or the easily offended, with songs like “My Mom Used to be My Dad,” with dancing Ku Klux Klansmen and Jesus in diapers.  It‘s foul-mouthed and it‘s blasphemous, in fact, so much so, we can‘t show you much of it without censoring it. 

(voice-over):  You might say it is art imitating life, because the real show is almost as vulgar. 

Few would look at this and think opera.  But British composer Richard Thomas, a huge Springer fan, did.

RICHARD THOMAS, CREATOR, “JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA”:  You have got people screaming at each other.  There‘s violence.  There‘s sex, betrayal, infidelity, and a big chorus.  And Jerry Springer is a perfect vehicle for opera.

FRIESEN:  For the cast, it‘s meant tackling roles and singing lyrics they had never imagined.  Andrew Bevis‘ last job was playing Romeo.  Now he‘s Tremont, a transsexual. 

ANDREW BEVIS, ACTOR:  I‘m still kind of a romantic lead, but I‘m now the woman, as opposed to the boy.

FRIESEN:  The real Jerry has endorsed the show, saying, “I only wish I had thought of it first.”  Talks are under way to bring it to Broadway, but some critics wonder if Americans are ready. 

MATT WOLF, “VARIETY”:  It is audacious.  It‘s rude.  It‘s in your face.  It is also fantastically clever and witty.  And the question is whether people will get beyond the rudeness to find the wit. 

FRIESEN:  And that will determine how long this Jerry Springer moment will last. 

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned, talks are no longer under way.  They‘ve ended, San Francisco next February and Broadway a year from October. 

And yet still there is one more thing you need to know about tonight‘s No. 1 story.  The Brits love that thing so much, they awarded it the Olivier Award for best musical, the Olivier Award, their version of the Tonys.  Jerry Springer, our version of—of—of Jerry Springer. 

Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.  No. 5, 50 days until the handover of power in Iraq and unrest continues in Baghdad, Fallujah to the west and Najaf to the south.  Four, Michael Jackson and his legal dream team.  It‘s “You‘re fired” to Mark Geragos and Benjamin Brafman.  The new attorney, Tom Mesereau, takes over at the arraignment this Friday. 

Three, the flap over John Kerry and his Vietnam war medals, Republicans reigniting a decades-old story that Kerry threw his medals away.  Kerry says it is a phony controversy and, if you want to talk about military records, ask the president to prove he showed up for duty during his National Guard days.  Two, the decency wars, the FCC fining a Miami station for pranking Fidel Castro live on the air.  But did the FCC turn a blind eye to all that swearing from the dictator?  And, No. 1, speaking of swearing, the Londoners could not get enough of it.  “Jerry Springer: The Opera,” it‘s going to Broadway. 

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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