updated 5/11/2004 1:38:36 PM ET 2004-05-11T17:38:36

Guests: Mark Pryor; Danielle Guebert; Rose Mary Zapor; Carl McGuire, John Zogby

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

The president defends the defense secretary, again.  A Senate committee will see many of the unseen photos and a grim videotape.  What will you see?  Senator Pryor of Arkansas joins us. 

The presidential election, undecideds tend to decide late and against an incumbent.  The challenger is a good closer, thus predicts pollster John Zogby, the election will be won by...

We‘ll let Mr. Zogby tell you. 

Letting Mrs.  Reagan tell the White House:  The former first lady on why restrictions on stem cell research must be relaxed.

And we hope you‘ve already eaten. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s cooking?  Scorpions.  The trick is, they have to get enough heat to neutralize the poison.

OLBERMANN:  Fortunately if you get grossed out easily, our special tonight is a nice tarantula in a very nice cognac that comes sauteed or deep fried.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  For the second time in three business days, the president of the United States has given his secretary of defense a public vote of confidence.  In business or sports, that would be to proverbial lead pipe synch that the guy would be fired within 74 hour.  But George Bush was not a typical businessman, not a typical sports owner, and he certainly has not been a typical president. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  What the president calls Donald Rumsfeld “superb job.”  Considering the statement was made on a day when more stark photographs emerged from Abu Ghraib Prison and the military tried to figure out how best to release those worse ones yet to come.  The real question might be if the buck does not stop with Mr. Rumsfeld, where does it?  First the president and the secretary and an unexpected twist to the Abu Ghraib video as reported by our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski.

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JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  One week after he privately scolded his defense secretary, President Bush came to the Pentagon today, not to fire Donald Rumsfeld, but to praise him. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You‘re doing a superb job, you are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  While at the Pentagon, Bush also got a personal look at a dozen or so photographs and stills taken from digital videos—images of prisoner abuse not yet seen by the public. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president‘s reaction was one of deep disgust and disbelief that anyone who wears our uniform would engage in such shameful and appalling acts. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  It came on the same day the “New Yorker” magazine release a photo showing U.S. soldiers using attack dogs against a naked Iraqi prisoner cringing in terror.  Pentagon official say there are some 1,000 photos depicting prisoner abuse and several short digital videos on disk, but no video tapes. 

Military officials report however, most of the videos show consensual sex between U.S. soldiers, primarily military Guards Corporal Charles Graner and Private First Class Lynndie England.  On Capitol Hill, lawmakers warn the worst is yet to come. 

SEN.  BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA:  Although, I understand that we haven‘t seen nothing yet. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  But those under investigation are not all military police.  Pentagon sources tell NBC News, two military intelligence officers are under investigation for sexual assault, allegedly caught kissing and molesting an Iraqi female prisoner.  In fact, military officials tell NBC News, there‘s growing evidence that military intelligence encouraged or was directly involved in prisoner abuse. 

GEN.  MARK KIMMITT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR COALITION OPERATIONS:  We‘re taking a hard look, right now, at the military intelligence and the interrogation.  And we may see more people involved. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Army Sergeant David Ensminger, a former M.P. at Abu Ghraib Prison, claims that the military guards got little or no training and were stretched too thin. 

SGT.  DAVID ENSMINGER, FMR.  ABU GHRAIB M.P.:  There weren‘t enough people.  There weren‘t enough people for the missions we were handed. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Despite today‘s vote of confidence from President Bush, there are surprising voices now calling for Rumsfeld‘s resignation.  Conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote today that leading republican lawmakers and contributors told him, Rumsfeld had to go. 

(on camera):  Rumsfeld‘s likely to take even more political heat when he goes back up to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to ask Congress for an additional $25 billion to go on fighting the war in Iraq. 

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon. 

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OLBERMANN:  Three of the attorneys for private 1st Class England will join us later in this news hour.

With Mr. Bush now, having seen a representative sampling and Secretary Rumsfeld having seen nearly everything, next is the question of what the congress and the public will see.  Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which continues its hearings tomorrow, expect to see at least one video, possibly hundreds of photos in a classified briefing on the Hill, probably tomorrow or Wednesday.  That same senior Pentagon source says the Defense Department is in discussions with the committee about releasing some or all images publicly. 

Three prominent members of that committee, including republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain have already said that any unseen pictures should be shown to the country.  As Graham put it on “Meet the Press,” yesterday, “For god‘s sake, let‘s talk about, let‘s get it all out on the table.”

And, it was nonbinding, and thus, largely symbolic, but the entire Senate passed a resolution, late this afternoon, condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody.  Though, it was 92, nothing on the Senate floor, the House had passed a similar bill  last week.  And the symbolism was accompanied by a call that “no one should be immune to questions about detainees held in U.S. prisons around the world,” from Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts. 

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SEN.  EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  We need a full, independent investigation and full accountability, including a comprehensive review of all detention and interrogation policies used by military and intelligence officials abroad in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.  The American people and the Iraqi people deserve answers and they deserve them quickly. 

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OLBERMANN:  The photographs screamed from the front page of newspapers, but the goriest detail may be in a Red Cross report revealed today.  It quotes coalition intelligence officers as estimating that 70 percent to 90 percent of all the Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake and it documents complaints from that organization to the Pentagon about mistreatment of prisoners, dating as far back as March 2003.  A Red Cross spokeswoman in Geneva tells NBC News that at least 29 oral and written reports were given to U.S. official between March and November of 2003, complaining of abuses at 14 coalition prisons in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib.  The spokeswoman also says the Red Cross brought another report to Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and American force commander, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, after there was no response to those initial complaints. 

Mark Pryor is the first-term senator from Arkansas, member of the Armed Services Committee.  We spoke late this afternoon. 

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Pryor, great thanks for your time tonight. 

SEN.  MARK PRYOR, ARKANSAS:  You bet.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you know yet how and when and what visual images from Iraq you and your fellow committee members will be seeing, and if there‘s going to be context commentary explanation?  Do you know the process yet? 

PRYOR:  We do not know the process yet.  We know that there are apparently dozens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of images; we know it‘s a big number.  But, we don‘t know what‘s in there and we don‘t know what sort of explanation or—you know, what comments we‘ll have on those yet. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it thus premature to ask, what should the public see and how you would knowingly release photos or even video images of worse than what we‘ve already seen? 

PRYOR:  Well, it‘s hard to imagine things that are much worse.  You know, Secretary Rumsfeld talked, the other day, talked about a videotape and he said that some of the images that are to come are worse.  But, you know, generally speaking—you know, my philosophy of this is that we live in an open society, a democratic society and the public does have a right to know, even though sometimes the truth is painful, I do think we have a right to know. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush, today, re-endorsed, if you will, the work of Secretary Rumsfeld for the second time since last Thursday.  Obviously there is an awful big buck going around and if it does not stop with Mr.  Rumsfeld, where does it stop?  Whose responsibility is all this?

PRYOR:  Well, I think we need to look at that very closely.  Certainly it looks like some G.I.‘s and some sergeants will be tried for this.  But I think, certainly we cannot stop there, we have to go on up through the chain of command.  I‘m not one of the senators who‘s calling for senator—

I mean, for Secretary‘s Rumsfeld resignation, although, I must say, some of these photos and some the revelations we‘ve heard coming out of Iraq in the last few days, have shaken my confidence in him a little bit.  But still, I think—you know, when you look at the constitution—you know, the buck stops with the commander-in-chief, that‘s the president of the United States.  So, we‘ll just see, I think that‘s why we have elections.  Obviously, the national attention is very focused on this, certainly people in the House and the Senate are very focused on this, so we‘ll just watch and see how this unfolds over the next few days. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, Senator Pryor.  The Red Cross report that was revealed today suggesting that they had repeatedly observed abuse of detainees in Iraq throughout last year, that even went directly to Ambassador Bremer and General Sanchez—you‘re a former state attorney general, beyond the individual servicemen and the women who are being court-martialed, potentially, is there the potential criminality in other areas here?  Is there someone else criminally at fault? 

PRYOR:  Well, there could be and it‘s just too early for us to know the answer to that, but I must say, I was very disturbed when I learned, like you, that the International Red Cross had repeatedly contacted the Department of Defense and others about the abuses and the problems, the human rights violations, going on in this prison.  It is not America‘s finest hour, but certainly, it‘s something that we need to get to the bottom of and—you know, try to sort out and work through.  I do know this that already in Iraq, there are a number of locals who‘ve come out and said they are not satisfied with these American G.I.‘s being, tried to court-martial, they would like to try them under local Iraqi law. 

OLBERMANN:  Hmm.

PRYOR:  I don‘t think that‘s a good thing to do, but nonetheless—you know, some of the local population will not be satisfied. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas and the Armed Services Committee, good luck looking at those pictures and thanks for your time, tonight. 

PRYOR:  Thank you, Keith.  Thanks for having me on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And Senator Pryor will be back here on MSNBC tomorrow morning along with the rest of the Armed Services Committee.  Starting at 9:30 Eastern time, MSNBC will carry scheduled testimony from Major General Antonio Taguba who prepared an internal report for the Army that sharply criticized the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib.  Testimony will also be taken from Steven Cambone, the Pentagon‘s top intelligence official, and as Jim Miklaszewski reported, evidence is being developed showing that military intelligence may have played a major role in the scandal. 

COUNTDOWN tonight, opening with the political fallout from the Iraqi abuse scandal.  And, straight ahead, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The real life personal fallout from the prisoner abuse:  Soldiers facing court-martial.  Are they being made scapegoats? 

And later, stem cell research close to home:  The wife of a former president asks the current president to change his mind.

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OLBERMANN:   COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story straight ahead and your preview: 

The U.S. soldiers caught up in the prisoner abuse firestorm.  Reaction from one hometown and from our guests—three attorneys who will defend the woman at the center of the scandal.

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OLBERMANN:  We‘ll ask it again, if the Iraqi prison abuse buck does not stop at Secretary Rumsfeld, where does it? 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Two of the easier targets are named Jeremy Sivits and Lynndie England.  One took some of the photos; the other appeared in many of them.  Specialist Sivits will be tried in Baghdad, in public, a week from Wednesday.  He faces a special court-martial, he could receive a bad conduct discharge and with it, a maximum sentence of a year.  That special court suggests he might have cut a deal to testify against others, but as David Shuster reports from near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border, those in his hometown cannot assimilate any of this. 

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DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At the house where Jeremy Sivits grew up, this was not the Mother‘s Day Sissy Sivits had expected.  Too upset to speak to reporter, she learned that her son, who was believed to have taken some of the photos in the Abu Ghraib Prison, is facing a court-martial.  Many hear remember Sivits from photos like this one, from his high school year book picture which lists the sports he use to play.

His former baseball coach calls the news about Sivits, “shocking.” 

JAMES LEYDIG, SIVITS‘ FMR.  BASEBALL COACH:  He never was a troublemaker, never in trouble that I knew of around Hyndman, never. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  In this town of 1,000, Jeremy Sivits is described as a friendly young man who looked after a disabled neighbor and did well in school. 

(voice-over):  In front of his high school, those who served in the military are honored.  Sivits told friends, he looked forward to joining the Army Reserves after graduation.  He was trained as a mechanic to fix heavy equipment, but like other members of his military police unit, Sivits was sent to work at Abu Ghraib Prison.  Kerry Schumacher-Davis worked in the same reserve unit with Sivits, several years ago. 

KERRY SCHUMACHER-DAVIS, SERVED WITH SIVITS:  It saddens me that he was caught up in it, too, because he, too, is a good person.  Very charming, and he was a damn good mechanic. 

SHUSTER:  A mechanic who now faces a dishonorable discharge and up to a year in prison, something his hometown friend and neighbors find unimaginable. 

David Shuster, NBC News, Hyndman, Pennsylvania. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Specialist Sivits‘ father, Daniel, said last month that his son was told to take the picture and he did what he was told.  We‘re hearing a similar explanation in the case of the young woman who already made herself—or was already made notorious.  Twenty-one-year-old Private 1st Class Lynndie England also faces court-martial, basing on the photos, showing her posing in front groups of naked prisoners, pointing to their genitals, holding a leash attached to the neck of one detainee.  When the story broke, Private England was removed from duty in Iraq, she was subsequently revealed state sighed when it was revealed she was pregnant by another soldier, Charles Graner, who appears with her in some of the photos. 

Three of Private England‘s attorneys join us, now:  Carl McGuire, Rose Mary Zapor, and Danielle Guebert. 

And we thank you all for joining us.  Mr. McGuire, let me start with you.  Please, tell me your client‘s explanation for these photos. 

CARL MCGUIRE, CO-COUNSEL FOR PRIVATE LYNNDIE ENGLAND:  Well, we haven‘t had the opportunity to talk to our client just yet, but the information that we‘ve received is that the cell block that they were assigned to, or associated with, was actually overrun and taken over by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and some military operations doing psychological operations so they could use these photos and this information to humiliate and degrade other prisoners in an effort to collect information and intelligence as to the activities that are going on in Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  So Mr. McGuire, her appearance in these photographs was not voluntary?

MCGUIRE:  They—she was told by the civilian information, or pardon me, the civilian intelligence associations that was involved with taking these pictures, to pose there, to do these things so that they could use this in an effort to avoid possibly other September 11 sort of catastrophes and to save American live, and that they could use this information to break down other prisoners to get intelligence that was—that they said was desperately needed. 

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Zapor, let me ask you, why, if this was the case, if in essence, Ms. England was ordered to appear in these photos for the purposes that Mr. McGuire just described, why her in particular?  Was there a reason that an American service woman would be asked for by American intelligence? 

ROSE MARY ZAPOR, CO-COUNSEL FOR PRIVATE LYNNDIE ENGLAND:  Yes.  We‘ve heard, over the past several weeks, before we even became involved in this case, that the ultimate humiliation for a Muslim male, in that area of the country, is to appear in front of the opposite sex without clothes, and to have these prisoners put in this position with, not just in an American service woman, but such a small, petite American service woman, who had authority over them, would be an ultimate humiliation.  It is the use of this humiliating—poses in pictures which have then—since been used by the intelligence community, and it is my information today, that these pictures were even used to boost morale among the American troops stationed at Abu Ghraib by telling them that these pictures were being successful in obtaining further information to prevent other catastrophes, both in the United Sates and elsewhere in the world. 

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Zapor, in the pictures, though, Ms. England does not seem to be ill at ease or uncomfortable.  Why is she smiling in the photographs? 

ZAPOR:  We haven‘t spoken with our client, and I don‘t know why she‘s smiling in the photographs.  I don‘t know if she was told to do that, so that it was a further humiliation.  I don‘t know what that situation is.  So I‘m—you know, I can‘t—I prefer not to speculate. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. McGuire, I would be remiss if I didn‘t ask you a question about a detail that Jim Miklaszewski reported from the Pentagon tonight, that confuses, me about the short digital videos that are now in the Pentagon‘s hands.  And I‘ll ready you some of Jim‘s report, “Most show consensual sex between soldiers, primarily Corporal Graner and PFC.  England.”  Can you comment on whether or not that report is accurate, Mr.

McGuire? 

MCGUIRE:  You know, I haven‘t seen any of these videos.  I don‘t know anything about them, but Ms. Zapor may be better able to answer that question for you. 

ZAPOR:  You know, we haven‘t seen these videos, we don‘t know what is in them.  We don‘t know if these things are just rumor or if they are actual fact.  Until we have the videos, and can confirm their contents with our client, we really can‘t speculate on what they are or why they‘re there.  I would question as to why they may be relevant to the conditions of the Iraqi prisoners and why our client was instructed to do what she did. 

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Guebert, I understand you have just joined this defense team, today.  Less a question of logistics than of philosophy, I guess, but why have you, in fact, joined this team? 

DANIELLE GUEBERT, GO-COUNSEL FOR PRIVATE LYNNDIE ENGLAND:  Well, there are several reasons, but two main reasons come to mind.  First, I‘m outraged that this 21-year-old woman has the weight of the world on her shoulders, right now, being made an example of, being used as a scapegoat.  I think it is unjust, and if I can offer any assistance to these attorneys to help ensure a fair trial for her, I plan to do so. 

Secondly, I had the opportunity to work with four very esteemed attorneys.  I was given that opportunity by lead counsel Giorgio Ra‘shadd and I wanted to jump on the opportunity and hopefully I can offer something to this case. 

OLBERMANN:  Danielle Guebert and Rose Mary Zapor and Carl McGuire, all representing Private Lynndie England.  Thanks for your time tonight, we appreciate your insights. 

MCGUIRE:  Thank you, sir.

GUEBERT:  Thank you.

ZAPOR:  Thanks for having us.

OLBERMANN:  That wraps up the fourth story in the COUNTDOWN:  The human faces of the abuse scandals. 

Up next, those tales of the absurd and the unlikely that can only be described as “Oddball,” like a 12-foot long reptile lounging on the lawn of your Rocky Mountain home? 

And later, the revenge of the humans:  Frittered critters, toasted roaches, baked bugs—a smorgasbord of crispy crawlies, ahead on the COUNTDOWN.  There you see my assistant eating dinner. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now, and pause the COUNTDOWN for a much-needed break from the day‘s real news, for a short detour into the day‘s fun news.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And, we begin in a fun place, a slaughterhouse in Newark, New Jersey.  A cow in a dairy nighttime escape made it across the street from this place to the safety of Judy Borcellino‘s (PH) tow truck garage.  Ms. Borcellino says, “He knew if he came here, somehow he knew, he would be safe and I think that he would be—I think he was guided here.”  Uh-huh.  Ms.  Borcellino will not return the cow even though meat packers have reported him stolen; she‘s sending it to an animal rescue home.  She will, in other words, moo the right thing.  Ha ha ha.  She also says the meat company owes her $4,000 in truck repairs, anyway, so she‘ll just deduct the value of the cow from that.  This all, of course, is the reversal of the standard plot you see on TV shows about New Jersey wherein somebody goes to the truck garage and winds up at the slaughterhouse. 

To Colorado and another animal fugitive, this time it‘s a 550 pound alligator named “Fluffy” who‘s managed to escape from his handler‘s minivan and into the front yard in this suburban Colorado Springs neighborhood.  I‘m not an expert, but I don‘t think 12 foot alligators are indigenous to the Rocky Mountains.  That might explain why those two men are appearing to be trying to ride him.  Actually, it took them and three more strapping young lads to wrangle “Fluffy” to the cart four-point restraint and cart him away.  His handler was ticketed for possession of an alligator without a permit.  As for fluffy, he‘s going away for a long, long time. 

It is hard to imagine that a new mechanical butt-kicking machine could engender two controversies in less than a week, but then again the world of “Oddball” seems to have its own oxygen and its own gravity. 

This was last week‘s Butt-kicking Machine developed by the Leavitt Company of Boise, Idaho.  Turned out another man had patented his own auto keister kicker five years earlier. 

Now search for the first butt-kicker has taken to us Rockport, Washington, and this, no fancy electricity, here—hand cranked, chain-drive, and at least 50 years old, this is, proving that the average American 1954 was just as good at wasting time as we are today. 

And, now another one of those moments from the Internet.  We don‘t know where this is from, we don‘t know how old it is, we can‘t guarantee this wasn‘t computer generated, although we would wager against it.  The guess is this is a kids soccer game in an area with a very poor weather forecaster.  Let‘s listen in. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OH! Oh, god! Stop, stop, stop!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Shazaam! Or for those of you my age, Mr. Clean, stronger than dirt.  No one was apparently injured. 

We‘ll return to the COUNTDOWN, per se, and our third story up next: 

He is statistically tied in the polls; he has not capitalized on the administration‘s bad April.  So, why would a prominent pollster call it John Kerry‘s election to lose?  We‘ll ask that prominent pollster, next. 

And later, Ronald Reagan‘s wife urges Ronald Reagan‘s vice president‘s son to change his stance on stem cell research. 

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

No. 3:  Daniel Axworthy, a British violinist, who will, later this month, compete against world bantam weight champion of competitive arm wrestling.  Axworthy says arm wrestling has strengthened his violin playing, they know he isn‘t just fiddling around. 

No. 2:  Security Pierre Trudeau Airport in Montreal, as part of routine testing, they placed real TNT, without a detonator, into the bags of a security agent.  Well, that was the plan.  Actually, they got the wrong bag, thus a passenger got home, opened his bag and found the TNT.  A security spokesman said, “Our investigation is going to reveal exactly what happened.  You know, I wouldn‘t bet on that, buddy. 

And, No. 1, Michael Blankenhorn, an accused drunk driver in Ormond Beach, Florida, trying to stop at a liquor store, he spun out of control and instead drove into the adjoining wicker store.  As Ogden Nash wrote, candy is dandy, but wicker is thicker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The forecast is so outrageously definitive that its own author asks of himself in his fifth sentence, is this guy nuts? 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, 176 days to the election, 25 weeks from tomorrow, with 0 percent of the vote record and the church precinct still to be heard from, a prominent pollster has a six-word forecast:  John Kerry will win the election.  The latest poll from Zogby and the accompanying text from its chief, John Zogby, headline, “The Election is Kerry‘s to Lose,” looking not too different than the other surveys at first glance, Kerry leading Bush by three percentage points in a two-man race, tied if Nader is factored in.

But perhaps the more telling of these statistics, 51 percent of his respondents said it was time for someone new in the White House. 

Joining us now, John Zogby. 

Good evening, sir.

JOHN ZOGBY, ZOGBY INTERNATIONAL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, two points that you made in your forecast are that, historically, the number of undecideds increase as a campaign goes along, that these usually go from the incumbent to the challenger you, and suggest that John Kerry is a good closer.  Are these interpretations of data or are they intuition? 

ZOGBY:  No, they‘re actually interpretations of data. 

Historically, the incumbent is the better known candidate.  And voters who are undecided have pretty much made a decision about whoever the incumbent is.  Generally, the undecideds do break towards the incumbent, unless there‘s some sort much extenuating circumstances.  And, secondly, John Kerry is a good closer.  Bill Weld knows that, the governor of Massachusetts, who was leading in the polls until the last few days for the U.S. Senate against John Kerry. 

And then we saw Kerry in a dismal campaign throughout 2003 turn that into a victory with a very powerful turnaround in Iowa. 

OLBERMANN:  Various polls have asked, is the country going in the right direction?  The answer is—not by a lot, but the answer is no.  Does the president deserve reelection?  The answer again is always no, or it has been in the last two or three months worth of polls.  Is it going well in Iraq?  The answer is no. 

Yet, when the question is put simply Bush vs. Kerry, at the worst for the president, it is still a statistical tie.  Does this suggest that we have got a situation not unlike where a bunch of boxing fans are watching their favorite fighter getting pummeled round after round and they‘re still rooting for him, but that the odds are still going to be that he‘s going to get knocked out at some point? 

ZOGBY:  Keith, I think you have put the best words on that.  I mean, basically, you‘re not going to see a drastic change in numbers over the next five months.  I mean, essentially, it is not so much that Kerry and Bush are tied.  The nation is tied. 

We are two warring camps.  We‘ve been polarized.  There‘s barely a center left in American politics today.  And I suspect there won‘t be on November 2.  But the bottom line here is that, no matter which way you look at it, the numbers right now are not good for the incumbent.  This is a report card.  We framed it in the form of a prediction.  And, essentially, that prediction can change two months down the road.  But as we stand today, I‘m saying, if the election were held, indeed, John Kerry would win. 

OLBERMANN:  It is certainly true now.  And it will obviously still largely be true to some degree or another in October.  The race is largely Bush vs. anybody but Bush.  Does not American history suggest that the anybody but candidate ultimately does not win against the incumbent, Charles Evans Hughes against Woodrow Wilson or Thomas E. Dewey, most famously, against Harry Truman? 

ZOGBY:  Except that we are so uniquely polarized today that this is an incumbent president that everyone knows.  And yet, to the degree that we‘re able to take as many polls as we‘re able to, what we‘re finding is the president not really budging. 

And if the president is locked in at 45-46, 47 percent, he‘s falling short.  But, at the same time, his opponent is locked in at 45, 46, 47 percent.  And, as I pointed out at the top of this interview, there‘s only a handful, a relative handful of undecideds left, 5 percent to 7 percent.  Normally, I have 20 percent who are undecided, not much wiggle room. 

Where are those 5, 6, 7 percent going to go?  Presumably, at this point in time, they‘ve made up their minds about the president.  They‘re just looking to see if the other guy is worth voting for. 

OLBERMANN:  John Zogby of Zogby International, many thanks for your time, sir. 

ZOGBY:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Now more about the Ralph Nader candidacy. 

As of tonight, he is 0-2 and suing for it.  The office of the Texas secretary of state says Nader failed to meet today‘s deadline for submitting the requisite 64,076 petition signatures.  Thus, he will not be on the ballot in Texas.  A Nader spokesman claims the group had about 50,000 John Hancocks.

The secretary of state‘s office Nader has written a letter indicating he will sue over the stringency of the petition rules in the Longhorn state, that nearly 65,000 signatures had to be from registered Texas voters who did not cast ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primaries.  A month ago, Nader failed to get enough signatures in Oregon.  He will not be on the ballot there.  So far, he is not on any state ballot. 

Democrats, of course, blame Nader for their 2002 presidential loss and especially the voting chaos in Florida.  Thus, they chortled loud and long over the weekend over the news that one voter had been disqualified from a local election in the Florida town of Longboat Key, her vote, Katherine Harris, the then Florida secretary of state who oversaw the Bush-Gore recount four years ago. 

In the March 9 poll in a small coastal community just north of Sarasota, now Congresswoman Harris says she voted by absentee ballot, filled it out as she raced to catch a flight to Washington, handed it to her husband to send in, handed it to her husband without signing it. 

With decreasing frequency, politics in this country is about conscience, rather than about party line.  But decreasing frequency does not mean never.  Every research study on controversial issues, gay marriage, abortion, race relations, shows time after time that no individuals belief or dogma or political stance can hold up if the life of that individual has been personally touched by the topic in question. 

George Lewis tonight from Los Angeles on a plea to the Bush administration to broaden its mind on stem cell research, a plea from the wife of the icon of American conservatism. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the middle of an election year, Nancy Reagan has put herself square in the center of a hot political debate. 

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY:  I‘m so grateful to all of you for coming tonight and showing your interest in stem cell research. 

LEWIS:  Research that is opposed by anti-abortion groups because stem cell come from human embryos. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Embryonic stem cell research offers both great promise and great peril.  So I have decided we must proceed with great care. 

LEWIS:  Three years ago, the president announced federal backing for stem cell projects would be limited.  But over the weekend, Mrs. Reagan said the barriers to that research should be lifted. 

REAGAN:  I just don‘t see how we can turn our backs on this. 

LEWIS:  Since all of the cells in the body are formed from stem cells, scientists believe they may hold the key to treating many diseases, including juvenile diabetes, Parkinson‘s and Alzheimer‘s.  Former President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer‘s 10 years ago. 

REAGAN:  Ronnie‘s long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him. 

LEWIS:  Now she is trying to reach Washington, urging the Bush administration to take a new look at stem cell research. 

George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That wraps up the No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN.  Up next, a plethora of discombobulated terms, perfect for persnickety flibbertigibbets.  Our second story straight ahead.

Later, chowing down on nature‘s bounty, an insider‘s guide to micro livestock coming up.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK LOVE, WRITER:  I stand by this very strongly.  I think that, if someone is going to watch a film for an hour and a half and after an hour and a half, they‘re going to want to go out and go out and batter someone, I think they‘re going to want to batter someone before they watch this film. 

DR. WADIH ARAP, RESEARCHER:  What we observed was quite striking.  The mice that got treated, they lost weight.  And over a period of a month, they were again looking lean and happy and moving about the cage.  So we were happy about that.  Of course, mice cannot pick up the phone and complain that they have a headache. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I like it when a kicker ends up winning the game.  You like it when the kicker ends up winning the game.  I know Adam is with us today. I am really impressed at how cool you are under fire and how—like, I need a few suggestions before a press conference, if you don‘t mind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Fussy about small details and having shapely buttocks, the definitions of two of the world‘s top 10 favorite words, according to our second story, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t have to have paid attention in school to use words.  Symbols are nice.  Eloquent grunts and other body sounds have their place, but words are better.  Consider this:  Without words, crossword puzzles would be nearly impossible to finish. 

The No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the top 10 favorite words of

2004 as voted today by the users of the Web site maintained by the people

who put out the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  No. 10 is flibbertigibbet, a

silly or flighty person.  No. 9 is kerfuffle, more popular in Britain than

it is here, a disturbance or fuss.  No. 6 -- and, yes, we‘re skipping some

·         callipygian, which has nothing to do with flying rats.  It‘s an adjective meaning having shapely buttocks.

No. 5, plethora, a lot, too much.  It actually comes from the Latin word meaning retaining water.  And, No. 1, which the Merriam-Webster folks say won in landslide, defenestration, which used to be the cool word nobody really knew, but it is now way too mainstream.  From the French fenetre, meaning window, ouvrez la fenetre.  Defenestration means to throw out the window.

For the other top five on the top 10, visit our Web site, COUNTDOWN@MSNBC.com

Now, we polled our professional wordsmiths here and came up with COUNTDOWN‘s top five favorite words of 2004.  And here they are.  No.  caveat, beware, on this list because I use it on almost every show.  No. 4, verisimilitude, a good old French word meaning not accurate, but looking like it.  No. 3, clams, the colloquial usage meaning money, because I like to call dollars fish.  And one of the producers prefers clam.  No. 2, antidisestablishmentarianism, well, of course, the term applied to those who opposed the creation of the Church of England.  Duh.

And No. 1, d‘oh.  Well, it is now in the dictionary, so it is a word. 

From words about words to words about celebs.  The segment is called “Keeping Tabs.”  And the trial of the century is over.  Well, the mug shot of the month, Glen Campbell pleading guilty in Phoenix to extreme driving under the influence.  Extreme.  That‘s the kind of driving under the influence they show on ESPN2.  He gets 48 hour in jail, 75 hours of community service, plus this mug shot, suitable for framing, and, of course, the revision of his lyrics to, “By the time I get to Phoenix, my blood alcohol content will be rising.”

The entertainment world has lost one of its originals.  Alan King, whose urban ethnic New York City style successfully hit home with middle America, has died.  Described by his friend Jerry Stiller as a Jewish Will Rogers, King made at least 93 appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”  He performed on Broadway, in Las Vegas, in films.  He guest-hosted “The Tonight Show.”  He wrote joke books.  He wrote cookbooks.  And he contributed two benchmark jokes to the culture, one the title of his 1964 book depicting the message in a fortune cookie, “Help, I‘m a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.” 

And the second a line from half a century ago when he called New York‘s notorious Long Island Express Way, the world‘s largest parking lot.  Irwin Alan Kniberg, Alan King, dead at 76. 

And, finally, it‘s just 12 weeks until I‘ll be bringing you the 2004 Olympics here on MSNBC.  And the news today from Athens, the Olympic Stadium roof moved.  No, intentionally.  It‘s a retractable roof.  And its first six foot test slide is said to have brought the secretary general of the Games nearly to tears.  “I have seen with my own eyes, the roof can slide,” he said.  “We will have a magical Games.”

This follows fast upon the recent completion for the track and field events of a track and a field. 

Tonight‘s top story, creepy, crawly cuisine.  Mmm, mmm, good.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Four years later, the image remains seared into my mind.  There in the delicatessen case at the corner store next to the imposing hams and turkeys, just behind the vats of coleslaw and potato salad, sat the purple and gold boxes that, to a 5-year-old‘s mind contained all the horrors of this world and the next, chocolate-covered ants. 

Certainly, I reassured myself, those weren‘t really chocolate-covered ants.  It was one of those grownup things where they told us kids that the word meant one thing and then they went and used it totally differently just to confuse us.  Chocolate-covered ants probably meant some kind of peanut that was shaped like an ant enveloped in something like a Milky Way bar.  I asked my mother.  She told me the awful truth.  I don‘t remember when the nightmares stopped. 

The No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, if you‘re 5 years old or if you‘ve got one of those stomachs, let me wish you good night and good luck right now, because you don‘t want to see this. 

For the rest of you, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is here with a truth more awful still.  Chocolate covered ants are only the beginning. 

Good evening, Monica. 

(LAUGHTER)

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

As you‘re about to see, those ants are now just for amateurs.  In fact, more than 1,400 species of insects are eaten around the world intentionally.  We recently got a taste of a few of the more popular ones.  And when I say we, I do not mean me—at a museum seminar call—adventures in the Global Kitchen, not the place to be if you‘re squeamish or starving. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s cooking?  Scorpions, little baby scorpions. 

Now, the trick is, they have to get enough heat to neutralize the poison. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  You know it‘s bad when a fly in your soup would be good news.

(on camera):  At first, it‘s a little jarring to see bugs on the good.

(CROSSTALK)

BILL VOSSES, PASTRY CHEF:  Yes.  And as you see, people kind of...

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  It‘s the fear factor of fast food.  At New York‘s City‘s American Museum of National History, an entomologist meets a pastry chef meets an international explorer to create a bug banquet for stomachs of steel. 

VOSSES:  We‘ve done meal worms, wax worms, butter worms, several kinds of crickets, some small scorpions. 

NOVOTNY:  All for a class for international insect cuisine. 

GEN RURKA, CHAIRMAN, EXPLORERS CLUB:  Someone today is eating an insect to survive. 

LOUIS SORKIN, ENTOMOLOGIST:  And they‘re quite tasty if prepared correctly. 

RURKA:  The tarantula in a fine cognac before we saute it or deep-fry its legs. 

NOVOTNY:  Add fava beans and a nice chianti and dinner is served. 

(on camera):  One of the appetizers being served tonight is the scorpion on herb (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  And, of course we wanted to taste it for you.  So I brought my taster, Molly (ph). 

Molly, you ready to give it a try? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sure, why not. 

Molly‘s on COUNTDOWN staff.  So she has to do this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, it‘s crunchy. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  But there was one reporter-friendly served without legs, wine with butterfly pheromones. 

(on camera):  Oh, can we taste any? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Drink up, but don‘t go looking for desert. 

VOSSES:  I wanted to eliminate sugar as an element, because that seemed to me kind of like cheating. 

NOVOTNY:  Who doesn‘t love candied crickets? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Crispy.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Buttered. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  OK.

(voice-over):  High in protein and some vitamins and minerals, something these frenzied feeders found out for themselves.  They chomped. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I bit into it and it just, seem to me, exploded a little bit. 

NOVOTNY:  And munched. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The legs kind of stick to your tongue as you‘re chewing them up. 

NOVOTNY:  And crunched. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I feel as though I have parts of bugs stuck in my teeth and that when I floss tonight, I‘ll be pulling them out. 

NOVOTNY:  While you‘re brushing, remember, crawling cuisine is practical. 

SORKIN:  It‘s easier to raise in their apartment insects than it is a chicken. 

NOVOTNY:  Maybe so, but even these guys won‘t eat everything. 

VOSSES:  This tarantula that we have here is a friendly one that‘s kind of a pet.  We‘re fond of her, so we don‘t want to eat her. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is there any more left?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Unfortunately, there was nothing left for us to bring back. 

But if you‘d like, you can plan a trip up to Montreal, where the Insect Museum holds an annual month-long insect eating extravaganza that attracts about 25,000 tasters. 

And we have to thank Molly McDonald (ph).  I have to thank Molly, because, if it weren‘t for her, I probably would have been eating the scorpions. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s Molly.  Molly is my assistant.  And the visiting hours for her are 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  No, she‘s fine, apparently. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Or at least she‘s the same as she was earlier.

NOVOTNY:  And she ate more than the scorpion.  She ate a lot of bugs, too. 

OLBERMANN:  No, I don‘t want to hear it.  I will never be able to look at her the same way again. 

Is this cheap or is it expensive? 

NOVOTNY:  Expensive.  Tarantulas go for about $1,200 a pound. 

OLBERMANN:  Another reason not to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, some good ideas for you if you have any catered events coming up. 

One more thing you need to know about our No. 1 story.  Are you on Atkins?  For an ideal snack, try Lethocerus indicus, better known as the giant water bug.  It weighs in with a whopping 38 percent protein, only six percent fat per hundred grams.  Fat water bugs.

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

No. 5, investigating the images.  The president again defends the secretary of defense while getting a firsthand look at some of the still classified pictures of abuse.  Members of Senate Armed Services Committee will get a chance to view this material later this week.  Four, trying Lynndie England, the five-months pregnant private now facing a court-martial possibly back in Baghdad.  Her lawyers say she was ordered to pose in those pictures. 

Three, calling John Kerry.  Pollster John Zogby says the presidential hopeful will win this November largely because undecided voters become that way late and always leave undecided—or leave the incumbent for the challenger.  Two, top terminology, Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary asking its online visitors to name their favorite words.  Defenestration is No. 1.  And No. 1 in our list, using one of those words, onomatopoeia, crunch, the culinary art of edible insects.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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