updated 6/21/2004 11:49:26 AM ET 2004-06-21T15:49:26

Guests: Steve Emerson, Walid Phares, Margaret Carlson

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The American hostage, Paul Johnson, is dead in Saudi Arabia.  Other Americans there reported under surveillance.  Al-Qaeda claims responsibility, the U.S. agrees.  What if anything has this country done to make that region safe for ordinary Americans?  Reaction from Washington, from the Middle East, from the hometown of the latest victim. 

What does the word “word” mean?  Washington, where the term “parsing” is back in vogue, as the White House insists there is an Iraq/al-Qaeda connection while still insisting it never said there was an Iraq/al-Qaeda 9/11 connection. 

Speaking of parsing, parts of the Bill Clinton audio book, the one that fills 41 CDs are out tonight. 

And for moviegoers out tonight, the story may seem farfetched.  A Tom Hanks character forced by diplomatic snafu to live in an airport.  We‘ll meet the man still living the reality. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you met Tom Hanks? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not directly. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you like to meet him? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  What, she asked, can do I?  That was the last plea of the wife of Paul Johnson, Jr. and explains why the news of the murder of one American in a region that has for four months seen an average of three Americans dying per day, is so piercing and so painful. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight:  In the face of an ultimatum designed to terrify, his family could do nothing, 20 FBI negotiators in Saudi Arabia could do nothing, 15,000 Saudi police officers searching for him could do nothing.  All we could do was await news of his death.  And four hours later, news of the death of the man the U.S. suspected was behind the murder. 

That first news came at 1:24 Eastern time, today on the Arab TV network Al-Arabiya, and al-Qaeda claimed it had beheaded the 49-year-old Lockheed Martin employee as it had threatened to do unless Saudi Arabia released from prison a group of al-Qaeda suspects. 

Within two hours, a body had been found in Riyadh and identified as that of Mr. Johnson.  Not long after, State Department sources identified al-Qaeda‘s top henchman in Saudi Arabia as the likeliest suspect, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin.  Not two hours after those sources spoke, the Arab TV network reported al-Muqrin was dead, killed along with three colleagues, quote, “as they disposed of Johnson‘s body.” 

To Mr. Johnson‘s hometown in a moment, first the beheadings of Nicholas Berg in Iraq and now Mr. Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.  Middle Eastern terrorism seems to have taken on the grim equivalent of the structure of public speaking.  First, tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you just told them. 

Lisa Myers reports now, on the horrible new choreography of anti-American terror—Lisa.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, al-Muqrin topped Saudi Arabia‘s most wanted list, was a veteran of al-Qaeda campaigns from Bosnia to Afghanistan, hand picked by Osama bin Laden for promotion.  In the four months since he took command of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, he masterminded a bloody campaign targeting westerners and shook the Saudi royal family to its roots.  Tonight is a huge victory for the Saudi government. 

(voice-over):  Al Qaeda‘s cell in Saudi Arabia signaled this new strategy in late March, when its leader, Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, posted this military handbook on the Internet, urging terrorists to start targeting individuals and listing preferred human targets.  Since May 1, Johnson is one of 15 Westerners murdered or kidnapped and murdered.  The last three, including Robert Jacobs, were American military contractors.  Many recent al-Qaeda killings are especially savage, throats being slit or beheadings. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I cannot imagine of a more terrifying, frightening image of someone getting executed by having their throat slit or their head decapitated, and the terrorists know this.

MYERS:  Ironically, al-Muqrin, who was killed today, had been released from a Saudi jail shortly before 9/11 for, quote, “good behavior.”  Today U.S. intelligence called him “one of the most ruthless, cold-blooded killers in al-Qaeda” and he had taken dead aim at the Saudi regime. 

In a chilling Internet posting obtained by NBC News, a terrorist describes this recent rampage through the Saudi housing complex, murdering only non-Muslims, quote, “Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate, so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting all part of the strategy.” 

EVAN KOHLMANN, TERRORISM EXPERT:  By throwing fear into their hearts, by executing them one by one, if necessary, this is what will drive Westerners out of the Middle East. 

MYERS:  The new tactics show al-Qaeda is adapting, hitting softer targets and by targeting individual Westerners, there is less chance of alienating the Saudi population which was upset when Muslim were killed in previous bombings. 

(on camera):  But the loss of al-Muqrin is a serious blow to al-Qaeda. 

He was creative, lethal, considered perhaps al-Qaeda‘s top young commander

·         Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Lisa Myers in Washington.  Great thanks. 

Joining us now, counterterrorism expert and MSNBC analyst, Steve Emerson. 

Steve, good evening to you. 

STEVE EMERSON, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Have we indeed gotten a tactical sea change in the Middle East?  Particularly in Saudi Arabia?  Eighty-four Americana died in Iraq last month and no network went live to the hometown of any one of them.  Have we just provided the terrorist with a low-cost means of more terror? 

EMERSON:  Well, certainly they got a lot of bang for their buck here.  You know, tactically, they‘ve magnified their ability to gain the attention of the world here, and obviously they know exactly what sells.  They know what sells here, they know what captures our attention.  Look, the question really is, whether this is just a drama, the story du jour, or whether we‘re going to back tomorrow to business as usual, or if the Saudis really are going to crack down or whether it‘s just going to be this ratcheting up, as we‘ve seen in the past year, Keith, when they started bombings, then targeting Americans and Westerners three weeks ago, and then specifically seeking out assassinations and executions in the last three days.  Remember this is the third execution in the last five days, the first being a BBC cameraman, the second being an American killed on Saturday, and the third being, obviously, Mr. Johnson, today. 

OLBERMANN:  Conversely, has our government succeeded at all in making the rest of the world safe for the ordinary American who is living abroad? 

EMERSON:  Look, I think it‘s—security is really your environment. 

I think we‘re definitely safer in the United States, but not entirely safe. 

Remember, a week ago, there was an indictment of a guy planning to bomb

shopping malls in Columbus.  On the other hand, this country is safer,

certain other countries are.  Saudi Arabia is certainly not as safe as we

thought it was supposed to be, and as much as the Saudis protested our

declarations that Americans should leave, it now is obvious that Americans

are very unsafe there, and very unsafe in other part of the world.  So it‘s

sort of a—you know, it‘s a very jagged map, Chris, in terms—Keith in

term of looking at where we‘re safe.  It‘s—there‘s no harmony here in

terms of what is contiguous, what is logical, it‘s country by country. 

OLBERMANN:  Steve, finally there has been some thought that there is a second dimension, apart from the actual terror of the murders, the kidnap victims in Saudi Arabia, anyway, have been—defense contractor employees, have been involved in that industry.  Has that industry, as much as the nationality been targeted because of that?  Are their abductors torturing them for information in advance, hoping to set up later attacks on facilities or compounds?  Is there another dimension to this? 

EMERSON:  You‘re probably right that they are torturing them.  They‘re probably extracting as much information as they can about the networks of other American.  Look, the odds are that if you kill an American in Saudi Arabia, you‘re going to kill a defense contractor because that‘s generally what most American are doing there.  So—you know, it could be the luck of the draw. 

But clearly, we know last year, and the year before, there were picture of American military installations posted on Saudi Web sites with diagram how the penetrate them.  So, they‘re doing reconnaissance, they‘re doing their strategic spying, and they know how the pick off Americans with impunity, here.  The question is whether the Saudis are going to be able to stop this or whether they‘re really going clamp down as opposed to just killing one guy.  This guy was number three on the Saudi Web site, he‘s now gone.  No. 4 takes his place.  But, who‘s to stop him from carrying out the same type of execution tomorrow? 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, there have been a succession of al-Qaeda leaders in Saudi Arabia, this is just another one, and as you say, another one will take his place. 

The counterterrorism expert, MSNBC analyst, Steve Emerson.  Great thanks, Steve. 

EMERSON:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  Within four hours of the news of Paul Johnson‘s death, an adviser to the Saudi royal family held a news conference at his nation‘s embassy in Washington to express condolences and address the mutual enemy.  The reaction throughout the Middle East is already coming in and from London, our correspondent; Dawna Friesen has been getting an early morning handle on it. 

Dawna, good morning.

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, there, Keith.  Official reaction from the Saudi regime is one of remorse, of sorrow for Johnson‘s family, and also a vow to hunt down all of those responsible.  The foreign affairs adviser to Crown Prince Abdullah said Saudi security forces did everything they could to try and find Johnson and are deeply sorry it was not enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN AFFAIRS ADVISER:  This is a crime against humanity.  This is an attack against decency.  This is an attack against the innocent.  This is an attack against the universal values that we all share as human beings. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRIESEN:  Al-Jubeir said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are in this together and will continue to fight it together—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What, Dawna, has the reporting been like on the Arab networks themselves? 

FRIESEN:  Well, Johnson‘s kidnapping—first of all, it‘s been front page news the past few days in the Arabic language newspapers, there.  Tonight his death received intense coverage on the Arab satellite news channels.  Some analysts have been critical of the approach to combating terrorism of both the Saudi regime and of the U.S. administration. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  A long-term solution has a clear vision that would counter the culture promoted by this terrorist ideology.  And the U.S. should work along side the Arab countries from within to present a different model that would tell people that goals will not be accomplished by terrorism. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  There is an internal problem that is facing the Arab and Islamic world that has to be dealt with.  But also, there is a problem with the American policies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRIESEN:  And apart from the analysis, they‘ve done pretty straightforward reporting of the facts, including a personal angle on Johnson‘s life.  They showed pictures from that vigil in New Jersey, the town where Johnson grew up.  They ran interviews of his wife and other family members who issued those pleas to the captors not to kill him.  Now, Al-Arabiya did once show pictures from the Islamic Web site of Paul Johnson‘s body after the beheading, though it may have been done inadvertently while scrolling down through that Web site, rather than deliberately—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Dawna Friesen, monitoring the Middle East reaction in London.  Many thanks, Dawna.

All of the reaction, all the analysis is, in at least one American town, devoid of all meaning—Tuckerton, New Jersey, the home of Paul Johnson‘s family.  Our correspondent, Michelle Franzen, is outside his sister‘s home, there.  She joins us now. 

Michelle, good evening. 

MICHELLE FRANZEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening to you, Keith. 

It has been a devastating day for Johnson‘s family.  His sister lives

in this house behind me, but after news of Johnson‘s murder, the family

left for an undisclosed location.  They are in seclusion at this hour, but

a short time ago, they did issue a statement through an FBI spokesman and

they said that they realized the law enforcement here in the United States,

as well as in the Saudi Arabia—in Saudi Arabia did all that they could,

and they said that they realized the odds were against the law enforcement

agents and they also reached out to the citizens of Saudi Arabia

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BILLY, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Paul considered Saudi Arabia his home and he loved the people and their country.  They also know that this act of terrorism was committed by extremists and does not represent the Saudi Arabia that Paul often spoke and wrote about to his family.  And, they also know that the vast majority of the citizens in Saudi Arabia also grieve with them at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANZEN:  And Johnson grew up in this New Jersey neighborhood just 20 miles north of Atlantic City.  His childhood friends remember him from high school, as well as when he grew up here.  They spoke highly of him this week and they said they were devastated that he had been kidnapped and now the community is also having a mixture of anger, grief and disbelief that he has been killed.  As for the family, they continue to mourn privately, but they did say they realize that Johnson‘s life was in Saudi Arabia.  He had remarried, there.  They visited occasionally with each other and also, contact through the phone and through photographs.  But certainly, they are mourning his loss, tonight—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Michelle Franzen, reporting from outside the Johnson family home in New Jersey.  Many thanks. 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight, with the murder in Saudi Arabia of the American hostage, Paul Johnson.  Up next, the chilling impact of the slaying on the security of the 35,000 or so American still in that kingdom. 

And later, al-Qaeda and Iraq:  Was there a connection there or not?  Does the answer lie in the art of presidential parsing?  Margaret Carlson will join us to sort all of it out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Next up, our No. 4 story, tonight:  The fallout in the Middle East from the murder of America Paul Johnson today, is a security nightmare awaiting all American businesses and workers in that area.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  According to the Bush administration, it is not the central stage of the war on terror, that spotlight remains reserved for Iraq.  But over the past six weeks, a steady stream of car bombings, drive-by shootings, ambushes, and now beheadings have claimed the lives of over 30 civilians, most of them foreigner.  The violence threatening to destabilize U.S./Saudi relations all at a time when security is as elusive as is a functional pipeline in Iraq. 

The No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN:  The magnified view of today‘s murder of the American, Paul Johnson, the impact on the Middle East. 

Walid Phares, a professor from Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University and MSNBC analyst lending us his insight, tonight. 

Dr. Phares, thanks for joining us, again. 

WALID PHARES, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EAST STUDIES:  Sure, thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  An American is beheaded in the Saudi Arabia, an al-Qaeda leader is identified as the lead suspect within hours, and within a few more hours, he too is dead.  Who, to the average Arab, is the victim and who is the criminal today? 

PHARES:  Well, it depends.  The Arab world is not just one block.  Those who were with al-Qaeda, certainly the Saudi regime is going to appear as the criminal because it killed an al-Qaeda leader.  Those who are against al-Qaeda and the region supporter, probably of Saudi regime, will feel that al-Qaeda is dragging Saudi Arabia into a war that the Saudis didn‘t really want.  That is a full-fledged war against al-Qaeda.  Today was really dramatic because it showed that al-Qaeda wants to force the Saudis into choosing between al-Qaeda‘s objectives and the United States and it failed to do so. 

OLBERMANN:  The timeline of events, as I suggested, was obviously very rapid.  In some quarters, I‘m sure, almost too rapid to be believed.  What do we think happened today?  Were the Saudis close to rescuing Paul Johnson or did they just happened on al-Muqrin as they were dumping the body or does it smell of a set-up of some kind?  What happened? 

PHARES:  Keith, just speculation, what might have happened was the fact that the Saudis were getting close.  They were combing the areas where they thought the cell was detaining the victim.  But at a time when the cell had a deadline, that is, Friday, and they executed—kill him.  At a time when the Saudi security forces reached that area, it was too late and they just met the perpetrators and there was a firefight and finally, they killed the head of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.  But this raises one other issue.  They knew more or less where the area was.  The Saudi intelligence services have a lot of information on al-Qaeda.  The problem in Saudi Arabia is the political decision to go full-fledged against it or not.  That‘s the issue. 

OLBERMANN:  Where are relations in that context between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia right now?  Earlier this week, we heard the comments with Lisa Myers‘ interview with Crown Prince Abdullah blaming one of the earlier attacks on westerners on, quote, “Zionists,” today the suggestion that there is a half heartedness or a partial heartedness to Saudi efforts against al-Qaeda.  Where are the relations, now? 

PHARES:  Look, the Saudis basically have produced an ideology, as everybody knows, basically, that created al-Qaeda.  Until about 9/11, many in the Saudi royal family even sympathized this ideology, but after 9/11, it changed, especially after the collapse of the Taliban.  Many among the al-Qaeda leadership decided to come to Arabia and then create a Taliban model again.  That opened a war between the Saudi state, if you wish, and the clerics, which is a war that we are witnessing today.  The problem is that the Saudis will have to make a strategic decision, as of, probably this week or the next weeks to come.  If they want to go full-fledged against al-Qaeda, this means they may risk a civil war. 

OLBERMANN:  The Middle East expert, Dr. Walid Phares.  We appreciate your time tonight.  Thank you, sir. 

PHARES:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story.  It‘s worse and worse.  Still ahead of us tonight, awaiting American democratic politics:  John Kerry‘s first big decision as the apparent nominee, his choice for running mate.  We are pretty sure after today, who it is not going to be.  And there is word of who is rising to the top of the short list of those who may be it. 

And later, burn, baby, burn:  The group that claims it knocked the Reagan miniseries off CBS now is taking aim at “Fahrenheit 9/11” and the liberal group is aiming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now, and as we do each night at this time, we pause the COUNTDOWN for a much needed, especially tonight, respite from the realities of the day’s harder news and turning to a lighter fare of strange stories and amazing feats.  Let’s play “Oddball.”

So you’ve got these two rare (UNINTELLIGIBLE) eagles, and you want to bring them back home to their mountain migration route.  The only problem is, that mountain is Mount Everest.  What do you do?  Bring out your hand glider and say, “birdies, birdies, follow me.”  Angelo Darrigo (ph), an Italian adventurer, became the first person to hand-glide over the world’s tallest mountain in the process, reaching the highest altitude ever achieved in free flight, nearly 30,000 feet. As he flew over the summit, with the birds right behind him, Darrigo (ph) saw some Italian—no, rather, Irish climbers, just steps from reaching the very peak.  Quote, “I waved at the climbers, and they waved back.”

They weren’t waving, they were begging for a lift home, fellow.

To Key West, Florida, where every weekend brings a new excuse to get all boozed up.  This week is the big annual chicken festival.  Now, is that a big annual festival or big annual chickens?  Drunken residents dressing up in honor of their fine-feathered friends and the small white vessels whence they came, but conspicuously absent from the festivities, Matilda, the world’s oldest chicken.  Matilda, a magician’s assistant, was certified this week by the Guinness Book of Records as the Earth’s most elderly hen at the age of 14 years.  Man, those Guinness guys are busy, and that magician must pay just lousy.  Chicken assistant.

And finally, to Buenos Aires, where all they’re saying is give peace a chance.  Topless Argentinian  models marching in favor of peace.  They said they wanted to transmit a positive message to a world caught up in war.  Thousands showing up to see the demonstration.  Of course, if the models were going topless in favor of war, we would have expected the same amount of spectators.

“Oddball” and the record book, straight ahead.  The number three story of the night.  Your preview: Saddam Hussein, friend or foe of al Qaeda?  If you were confused before, things just got even foggier, thanks to Vladimir Putin.

The fogginess between reality and the movies.  The guy living in an airport terminal for years?  Who’s going to believe that?  How about a guy who is living in an airport terminal for years?  We’ll meet him.

Those stories ahead.  Here are your COUNTDOWN top three “Newsmakers of the Day.”

Number three, the fine folks at the Boston branch of the FAA.  They saw nothing wrong with letting five propeller aircraft fly above the city yesterday to shoot a promotional film.  Problem?  They flew it 1,500 feet right past the Prudential Center, which is only 750 feet tall, they streamed smoke.  Workers on the 23rd floor of the skyscraper evacuated, thinking they had another 9/11.  Your tax dollars at action.

Number two, Stephen Cairney of East Kilbride (ph) in Scotland.  On trial for having mugged two students.  He may have been convicted because of this—police have surveillance video of him showing him wearing a custom facsimile uniform of the soccer team Glasgow Rangers, with his last name, Cairney, emblazoned on the back.  It is a bad idea to go mugging on sports jersey day.

And number one, Stephen Alborn, part of a church group that went spelunking in a cave just south of the town of Mountain Home, Idaho.  The others got out through the small cave passage, but Mr. Alborn’s 250 pounds.  He did not.  They eventually freed him by greasing him up with Crisco.  The name of the cave with a tight fit?  Smith’s (ph) Crack.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  During the Senate Watergate hearings, Howard Baker famously asked about Richard Nixon, “what did he know and when did he know it?”  That question has been revised and reapplied a million times since.  Were it to be so reused today about President Bush, it might be, “what did he say it and when did he say it?”

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, elected officials massaging the English language—there is a surprise—to their advantage.  First, the angry reactions of Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney to the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that there was no tangible link between Iraq and al Qaeda, later than 1994 and no connection at all in regards to 9/11.

Now, an unlikely new participant in the who, where, when and exactly what game—President Vladimir Putin of Russia, telling reporters today he warned the U.S. on several occasions that Saddam was planning terrorist attacks on American soil.  Quote: “After the events of September 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services several times received information that the official services of the Saddam regime were preparing terrorist acts on the United States,” passing that information onto their American colleagues.  Those would be the same special services in Russia who did such a bang-up job when a theater in Moscow was seized by Chechen terrorists for three days in 2002. 

Senior State Department official says of Mr. Putin’s remarks, it’s not aware of any such information being related to the United States, quoting here, “we’re all scratching our heads,” unquote.

The problem for our president on this subject would seem to be those opinion polls here that at their maximum suggested that 75 percent of the public believed that Saddam Hussein was, to a great degree or small one, directly involved in 9/11.  Specifically, the problem is that the thought did not get into everybody’s head because the tooth fairy put it there one night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Both of them need to be dealt with.  The war on terror—you can’t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror.  We’ve removed an ally of al Qaeda and cut off—cut off a source of terrorist funding.  And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more.

(APPLAUSE)

No, we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September the 11th.

The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

This administration never said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda.  We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  Turning me now to parse the parsing, one of those licensed to use political words in Washington, Margaret Carlson, contributing editor at “Time” magazine.

Good evening, Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Good evening, Keith.  Licensed to parse.  That‘s a new one.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, yes.  I‘m going to drag in also some 834-year-old British politics here.

King Henry II is really ticked off at the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett.  So he says, to no one in particular, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

Two weeks later, boom.  Archbishop is murdered by four British knights.  King says, I didn‘t order it.

Margaret, I‘m hearing Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney doing this one better.  They implied what they said they‘d implied about Iraq and 9/11.  They got the reaction they wanted, plausibly denied actually saying it.

Now they‘ve come back and implied it again.

CARLSON:  Right.  You know, obviously, they were lawyering the thing all along, so that they would be able to refer back to some of these things and say, oh, no.  We never said that.

But, as you said earlier, the tooth fairy got 75 percent of the American people to believe that there was a connection between Iraq and the war on terror there and September 11 attacks on America.  That‘s what the White House wanted, and that‘s what they got.

OLBERMANN:  Not to strain the teeth analogy here, but could the administration have bitten off more than it can chew by attacking the 9/11 Commission‘s assessment of this?

I mean, I haven‘t seen anybody asking for approval ratings on this commission, but I would suspect they‘d be pretty high.

CARLSON:  Well, you know, they‘ve gone to war with “The New York Times” over this in the last day or so, and with Gloria Borger of this network, saying, well, we never said this.

But, you know, there are a couple of things that the commission found.  One is that the so-called relationship, every time there was any “contact,” it came to nothing.

The meeting in Sudan where Osama bin Laden asked for training camps in Iraq rebuffed.  It never happened.

The vaunted meeting between Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague, the commission says it didn‘t happen because phone and other records show that Mohammed Atta was in Florida at the time.  None of these things have really borne fruit as the commission has gotten into them.

But especially Vice President Cheney is intent upon saying, oh, no, no, no, no.  There is a relationship.  It makes it sound as if it‘s Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, that they were totally in synch.

And it‘s preposterous, because there‘s nothing that even approaches a partnership here.

OLBERMANN:  One final point.  Vladimir Putin riding in on his horse to try to help here, when the State Department then responds and says, gee.  If you left us messages about problems with attacks on U.S. soil by Saddam Hussein, we didn‘t get them.

How does Putin get involved in all this?  And did they really want him to?

CARLSON:  Well, they were together last week.  And the first time they met at the ranch, President Bush looked into his soul.  And, remember, he liked what he saw.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

CARLSON:  And he‘s proving to be quite an ally, because the timing on this couldn‘t be better from Bush‘s point of view.  We‘ve never heard about this before, but here it is now.  And that‘s another thing that remains to be parsed.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ll do that next week.  Margaret Carlson of “Time” magazine.  As always, many thanks.  Have a great weekend.

CARLSON:  You, too, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The politics and the number three story do not stop here.

If John McCain hadn‘t already extinguished that tiny flame of possibility that he‘d wind up as John Kerry‘s running mate, he did so today, introducing and informally endorsing President Bush in a speech at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Thus, we will not have a unity ticket for the first time since Abraham Lincoln chose the Democrat Andrew Johnson as his vice president in 1964.

The “Washington Post” reporting that Kerry has been burning the midnight oil, making the midnight phone calls, reviewing all of the vice presidential choices since 1932.  Maybe he‘s going to pick John Nance Garner.

We know Dick Gephardt has been interviewed.  “The New York Times” profiles him as the first to get an audience, if not necessarily the first choice.  The “Post” says Kerry interviewed Florida Senator Bob Graham two weeks ago.  The names of governors Tom Vilsack of Iowa and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas have been mentioned.

And the “Post” reports John Edwards‘ stock has shot up in recent weeks as polling shows the freshman senator providing a boost to the ticket in key states, because of his southern appeal.

It quotes a Democrat close to Kerry also as saying, the delay in announcing someone has helped Edwards.

Another politician with southern appeal has nailed how to make his new book appeal to buyers five days before it even hits the shelves.  More excerpts released today, juicy ones in print, namedropping ones on tape.

His new book, “My Life,” Bill Clinton admits that when he finally confessed his affair with Monica Lewinsky to his wife, the First Lady looked like she‘d been punched in the gut.

And he found himself sleeping on the couch for months thereafter, that the subsequent marriage counseling led him to discover he was prone to self-destructive behavior when tired, angry or lonely.

That, they didn‘t put on tape.  Clinton recounting the day he met JFK as a kid, they did.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President Kennedy walked out of the Oval Office into the bright sunshine and made some brief remarks, complimenting our work, especially our support for civil rights.

After accepting a Boys‘ Nation tee-shirt, Kennedy walked down the steps and began shaking hands.  I was in the front.  And being bigger, and a bigger supporter of the president than most of the others, I make sure I get to shake his hand, even if he only shook two or three.

It was an amazing moment for me, meeting the president whom I had supported in my ninth grade class debates, and about whom I felt even more strongly after his 2.5 years in office.

A friend took a photo for me, and later we found film footage of the handshake in the Kennedy Library.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Incidentally, Clinton the historian says historians and his own mother, who thought that was the moment he decided to go into politics and run for president, may be wrong.  He says he gave a speech at an American Legion post not long after that, and he did not make too much of the handshake.

But enough of the picklocks of history.  Back to the sex, and what biographer David Maraniss here called last night Clinton‘s surprisingly honest explanation of the Lewinsky mess.  “I did it because I could” has been answered by the other person involved.

On her way to the former president‘s former stomping grounds, Ms.  Lewinsky issued a terse “No comment.”  She will be in Little Rock, Arkansas to attend the wedding of a close friend with whom she worked at the White House.

COUNTDOWN now three-fifths complete.  Up next from the politics of politics to the politics of movies, “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  No political fund-raising will be admitted after the first five minutes of this film.

And later, the name Mel Gibson in a list of the world‘s 100 most powerful celebrities may be no surprise.  But the guy who‘s number 96 on the list sure is.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Democrats are mad about the remake of the John Frankenheimer classic, “The Manchurian Candidate.”  What was an evil Angela Lansbury character in the original has in the new version turned into an apparently all-to-convincing Hillary Clinton impression supplied by Meryl Streep.

The Republicans are mad about the Michael Moore film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which will open nationwide next week.

The Democrats are mad about the Republicans being mad about “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and one of the left‘s activist groups has mass e-mailed its membership, insisting they all pack theaters as a political statement.

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, remember if you heard the term PAC in relation to a film, it meant not political action committee, but the thing that the gum stuck under your seat had come in?

Here‘s Carl Quintanilla.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With everything going wrong, he did what any of us would do.  He went on vacation.

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK:  It‘s the most talked about film of the year.  And now, whether you buy a ticket is becoming a political statement.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” and its director Michael Moore, being targeted by a conservative political group, the same one that pressured the made-for-TV movie, “The Reagans,” off broadcast television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Congratulations, Governor Reagan.

HOWARD KALOOGIAN, MOVEAMERICAFORWARD.ORG:  They created a drama, and then tried to match it up with history.

QUINTANILLA:  This time the group has published the e-mail addresses of movie theater executives, hoping the public will pressure them not to carry Moore‘s film, and sparking a fiery response.

MoveOn.org, a liberal group, is asking members to pledge to see the film opening night.

ADAM RUBEN, MOVEON.ORG:  I think that they‘re going to see a real backlash.  Anybody who tries to censor a movie in America, we get our hackles up.  That‘s what Americans do.

QUINTANILLA:  Hollywood and politics have always been a potent mix. 

This summer‘s “The Day After Tomorrow” comes to mind.

Usually, box office receipts are the only thing at stake.  But in an election year, Moore‘s film raises other questions.  Is it journalism, or a political op ed piece, intended to have an effect on who will be president this November?

KALOOGIAN:  This movie is not a documentary.  It‘s not even entertainment.  It‘s purported to be a documentary.  But what it is is a biased, politically-driven agenda movie.

QUINTANILLA:  Michael Moore says he isn‘t campaigning for Democrats, but admits he serves a certain audience in an exclusive interview with MATT LAUER.

MATT LAUER, CO-ANCHOR, NBC‘S “TODAY SHOW”:  Who is the audience here? 

Who are you preaching to?  Are you preaching to the converted here?

I mean, if someone hates George Bush, they‘re going to love your movie.  How is someone going to feel who does not hate George Bush?  How would you like that person to react?

MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”:  That‘s a good question.  You know, I - if you support Bush, I hope that you would consider taking a look at this movie and some of the things that I‘m saying.

I have to tell you, I‘ve met a lot of recovering Republicans lately.  Otherwise good people, who are Republicans, but are embarrassed and ashamed of the man who sits in the White House.

And, you know, I think Bush, one of his problems come November 2, is going to be just getting his own base out, because his base is demoralized.  His base is now the way the Democratic base has been for so many years, where people kind of just give up and don‘t vote.

QUINTANILLA:  That kind of rhetoric and the attention it‘s getting could mean more money for Moore and his film.  But the debate surrounding it seems destined to last long after the ending credits roll.

Carl Quintanilla, NBC, New York.

(END VIDEO)

OLBERMANN:  Our nightly segment of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” opens somberly with the funeral of the music legend, Ray Charles.

More than 5,000 people attended the public viewing yesterday.  The private ceremonies today at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles was limited to family, friends and his colleagues and admirers in the entertainment world.  Among them Glen Campbell, Stevie Wonder, B.B.  King and Willie Nelson.

Ray Charles died a week ago yesterday at the age of 73.

And as with most lists, you can make out the purpose of this new one by reading some of the names and rankings.

Mel Gibson, number one.  J.K. Rowling, sixth.  Sandra Bullock, 44th

Wolfgang Puck, 85th.

Sounds like an entertainment ranking list of some sort, right?  What happens when I mention that number 96 is William Hung.

The Forbes.com 100 most powerful celebrities in the world, based on four categories - pay, Web hits, press clips and TV and radio appearances.  He‘s 55th in TV and radio appearances.

Laugh all you want.  Hung‘s 96th placement ranks favorably with number 92, Jack Welch, and a lot better than numbers 97 and 98, the young actresses Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes.

William Hung is the 96th most powerful celebrity in the world.  “And I he‘ped.”

Tonight‘s number one story still ahead of us.  Your preview, a film about a guy living for years in an airport.  It would be farfetched, were we not about to introduce you to the man for who it is everyday reality.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To the top of the COUNTDOWN.  And these days, as they say, you cannot swing a dead cat without hitting a movie about a dead cat and a political protest about the movie about the dead cat.

Motion pictures affect people.  Some are affected by being in them, some merely by watching them.

The viewer first.  Sometime around 1974, a 32-year-old Lithuanian photographer named Algimantas Archimevisius (ph) saw one of the Tarzan movies and swallowed it hook, line and sinker, especially the line.

That summer and every summer since, he has made his way to the woods of Ignalina, Lithuania, where he has become Tarzanas.

Tarzanas is 62 now, and many similarities to the movie Tarzan, he say, go much further than just his costume.  “My home here is in a tree,” he explains, “and I swing on a rope.”

Even though there is no Jane and no Cheetah, tourists visit him all summer long.  He asks for a small donation, and he asks if they observe his jungle rules of etiquette.

“I strictly prohibit people from smoking here, drinking and making the forest messy.”

So that‘s the effect of a movie on a person.  Then there‘s the effect of a person on a movie.

Months ago, we introduced you to Sir Alfred.  Full name, Merhan Nasseri.  He is the man who brought a new literal meaning to “stuck at the airport.”

Tonight a film based loosely on his life opened across this country.  Its‘ called “Terminal,” and basically, he is played by Tom Hanks.  Alfred would like to see it, provided they could set up a screening at his home - Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, terminal number one.

Our correspondent Charles Sabine went back there to visit his old friend, the new movie prototype, Alfred.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

CHARLES SABINE, NBC NEWS, PARIS:  It has the look of being one of the biggest movies of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  While you were in the air, there was a military coup in your country.

SABINE:  A moving tale in which Tom Hanks plays a victim of the modern world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Beyond those doors is American soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re not to leave this building.

SABINE:  That a man could spend months in diplomatic limbo, living in an airport, may seem farfetched.  But in fact, the movie‘s inspired by a real-life character living here at terminal one, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.

The living urban legend is Mehran Nasseri, known as Sir Alfred for those who work at the airport.  Stranded without papers, a stateless refugee from Iran, unwanted by any nation in 1988.

The red plastic bench beside a luggage store has been his home for no less than 15 years.

Spielberg may have moved the airport to New York and made Hanks‘ character East European, but there‘s no doubt who the movie is based on.

Time, punctuated by the rhythm of the flights, Alfred keeps the boxes that are his home meticulously clean, and shaves in the airport bathroom.

SABINE:  The setting of Alfred‘s surreal existence was irresistible.

STEVEN SPIELBERG, FILM DIRECTOR, “THE TERMINAL”:  In one room you can meet everybody from every single country on the face of the planet.  It‘s usually an international terminal.

SABINE:  And now, people from every country are wanting to meet Alfred.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tell me, please, do you know that in the United States they make it already a film from your history?  You know that?

MEHRAN KARIMI NASSERI, RESIDENT, CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT, PARIS: 

Yes.  I‘m happy for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...

SABINE:  He‘s followed news about the movie from radio, newspapers and magazines.

NASSERI:  Yes.  Wandering in the departure level when I arrived in 1988.

NASSERI:  I had a bag like this, yes.

SABINE:  Alfred hopes that when the movie opens in Paris, he may be able to see it, perhaps even meet the cast.

Have you met Tom Hanks?

NASSERI:  Not directly.

SABINE:  Would you like to meet him?

NASSERI:  Oh, yes.

SABINE:  In the movie, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a clumsy stewardess who falls for the hero‘s simple charm.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR:  I am delayed long time.

SABINE:  But for Fred, that‘s Hollywood.  He‘s no girlfriend to send his journal to, no family or real friends outside the walls of the airport.

He does get mail, though, sometimes addressed simply to Alfred, Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Ironically, the snafu that caused his predicament has now been solved, and he has the papers to leave.

The six-figure dollar sum the movie companies paid him should be enough to set him up, but his fragile mental state makes it difficult for him to imagine life outside.

SERGE CUBAYNES (ph), MANAGER, CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT, PARIS:  That is a life, is maybe to stay in the terminal one.  It‘s strange, but it‘s the story of Alfred.

NASSERI:  No, I love (ph) confidence (ph).

SABINE:  He has spent some of his newfound money on a second set of clothes and bought some more books.  He has a B.A. in psychology.  But otherwise, the money stays in the bank and Fred where he is.

So, as Hollywood‘s great and good celebrated the premiere of “The Terminal,” the man who inspired it all was preparing for yet another night on his bench.

NASSERI:  It is a very small place.

SABINE:  It‘s not a good way to sleep.

NASSERI:  No.

SABINE:  And you‘ve been sleeping like that for 15 years.

NASSERI:  Yes.

SABINE:  The ending of the movie is, of course, a happy one.  But Alfred will not head into the sunset with Catherine Zeta-Jones.  He may never leave the terminal at all.

Charles Sabine, NBC News, Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris.

(END VIDEO)

OLBERMANN:  Its producers tell COUNTDOWN they will not screen “Terminal” at the terminal or bring Nasseri to the Paris premiere in September, nor organize a meeting with Tom Hanks.

Sounds pretty consistent with the rest of Alfred‘s luck.

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

Good night and good luck.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,