updated 7/7/2004 10:11:35 AM ET 2004-07-07T14:11:35

Guest: Congressman Harold Ford, Tom Squitieri, Pamela Hess

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The John-John ticket:  All senators all the time.  Kerry picks his last rival standing, the man who fared so well among the independents and republicans, voting in the Wisconsin primary.  Just like it said in the “New York Post,” Kerry and G—guys, Kerry and Edwards. 

A kidnapped Lebanese-American corporal is reportedly freed.  The price is discomforting.  Wassef Ali Hassoun purportedly promised his captors he would not return to the U.S. military. 

That is more than just symbolism:  Uncle Sam needs you, or him, or somebody.  With the Army manpower shortages, ever wonder about all those gays who got kicked out of the military? 

And looking for authenticity when you‘re casting that gang member role in your next film? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I notice in your “special abilities” it says you can speak, read, write Spanish and that you can dance and shoot weapon.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.  In retrospect, especially if they win, it will be relegated to the no-brainier dust bin of history.  Let it be recorded for the proverbial ages yet unborn, that John Kerry‘s selection of John Edwards as his running mate on the 2004 democratic presidential ticket was enough of an open question that this morning‘s edition of the “New York Post” featured a front page exclusive:  “Kerry‘s Choice: Dem Picks Gephardt as V.P.  Candidate.  John Kerry‘s running mate will be veteran U.S. Rep.  Richard Gephardt from Missouri, the Post has learned.”  There are only 896 copies of that paper up for auction right now on eBay.  Dewey may have defeated Truman, but the “New York Post” defeated than that. 

Moreover, another one of journalism‘s mysteries a noted self-promoting Internet Web site proclaimed just last week that Kerry had decided to stun the nation by choosing Hillary Clinton as his vice president.  In fact the media, mainstream and lunatic fringe alike, was scooped on this early leader for political story of the summer by a chat room on a Web site called “USAviation.com.”  A poster identifying himself only as “Aerosmith,” wrote:  “John Kerry‘s 757 was in (hangar) four (Pittsburgh) tonight John Edwards V.P.  decals were being put up on engine cowlings and upper fuselage.” 

That little acorn from where mighty campaign oaks grow was posted online at 9:44 Eastern time last night.  The scoop award, thus to you, “Aerosmith.” 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:   Get ready for the nickname.  It is the John-John ticket, the two of the Johns, two of the Johns v.  a Cheney and a Bush.  These are the rules, let‘s play to feud. 

The newspaper and online gas we‘re not entirely without explanation, if not excuse.  The Kerry campaign went so far to protect those who were not chosen and the secret that it printed up campaign signs for all the possibilities, including this one that paired Kerry with Senator Bob Graham of Florida on the front and Kerry and Edwards on the reverse, of the same sign.  Regardless, the others are souvenirs, that is sign they put to work 20 days before the democrats convened in Boston. 

Arriving in Pittsburgh, earlier tonight, the man of the hour or more than a dozen consecutive hours, judging by coverage on talk radio and cable news channels like this, Senator John Edwards would-be vice president, first official public appearance as a candidate since he had abandoned his bid for the top spot on the ticket on the third of March.  Another carefully controlled event out of a carefully controlled announcement that is beginning to feel almost stepford.  It makes one wonder what Howard Dean is up to in Vermont. 

Tonight, Senator Edwards will stay in the home of the man who brought him to Pittsburgh a man who hopes Edwards will swing enough votes to bring them both to the White House.  Would-be arrival time, January 20, 2005.  At this morning‘s rally in Pittsburgh, candidate Kerry elaborated on his choice. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America, a man who has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle class Americans and for those struggling to reach the middle class, a man who has shown guts and determination and political skill in his own race for the presidency of the United States.  A man—a man whose life has prepared him for leadership and whose character brings him to exercise it.  I am pleased to announce that with your help, the next vice president of the United States of America will be Senator John Edwards from North Carolina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That is why John Kerry thinks John Edwards is the best choice for this ticket, now for a different analysis, but possibly the same conclusion, I‘m joined by the national co-chair of the Kerry campaign, Representative Harold Ford of Tennessee. 

Congressman, it‘s been a while, nice to have you back. 

REP.  HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE:  Glad to be back.  Good to see you. 

OLBERMANN:  So many things go into selecting the vice president, the prospect of the individual actually succeeding to the presidency, his or her interact with the presidential nomination, his or her vote getting ability, how he or she fits into that jigsaw puzzle that our politics became four years ago.  Which do you think John Edwards was chosen for? 

FORD:  John Edwards is ready to be president if, God forbid, something were to happen to John Kerry.  John Edwards has a story that, I think, is quintessential American.  The son of a mill worker, first in his family to go to college, graduated from law school, started his own business, was very successful as a trial attorney, elected to the United States Senate in an off year, in presidential—off presidential year and he‘s done an extraordinary job in five years there, serving on the judiciary and intelligence committees.  I think what John Kerry also saw in John Edwards is someone who can tell a story.  Who can resonate and connect with voters, not only in North Carolina and all across the South, but all across America.  If there‘s anybody in our party who personifies this notion of America, meaning if you work hard and play by the rules, you can achieve your dream, John Edwards, indeed, has that story and he will bring that to the ticket and bring that to the vice president‘s job, as well. 

OLBERMANN:  As his name has been mentioned again and again in the last few weeks, I kept harkening back to the exit polls from the Wisconsin primary.  Senator Edwards, a strong second to Senator Kerry and everybody, at the time, or a lot of the people at the time were saying, “Oh, it‘s a two-horse race.”  Turned out it was not.  But, buried in that was the fact that in that state, where you don‘t have to be a democrat to vote in the democratic primary, Edwards beat Kerry by double digits among the independents and three-quarters of those who voted for him decided to do so in the last week.  Is part of his position, tonight, on the ticket, the potential appeal to the independent and to the undecided voters? 

FORD:  I think both he and John Kerry will be able to appeal to independent and swing and even moderate republicans who I think are deeply concerned about the direction of the nation‘s foreign policy and the fact that gas, tuition, prices are higher than ever been and the only answer we continue to receive from this administration is the same old thing. 

John Edwards showed throughout this presidential campaign an amazing ability to stay positive.  An amazing ability to offer compelling and again, positive visions for where—what America could be if we had strong leadership in the White House. 

This ticket will be one, I think, that will connect with Americans, again everywhere.  And for those who thought that democrats, and particularly John Kerry, would ignore the South, this selection proves that not only will my state, Tennessee, not be ignored, but voters in rural and urban and suburban America, all across the South, will be engaged and their votes will be competed for in a very aggressive way. 

OLBERMANN:  Any worry about the all-senator ticket?  Kennedy and Johnson won in ‘60, McGovern and Eagleton didn‘t even survive to Election Day in ‘72, and it doesn‘t seem to have much of an historical track record, this idea. 

FORD:  Well, I mean, you never had a vice president, chair of a vice-presidential selection committee select himself until four years ago, and that set a precedent, so we‘re not as concerned about that.  What we are focused on is a ticket that again, looks, sounds, and offers America a contrast in what we have today and more important, offers America something we can all strive to be.  These two United States senators who have devoted a lot of their live to making life better for everyday Americans, if given a chance, and I believe when given chance of serving the White House and vice president‘s house, will make all American‘s proud.  It‘s a good day for democrats, a good day for the country.

OLBERMANN:  Congressman Harold Ford at Tennessee, the Kerry campaign co-chair.  Good to talk to you again, sir.  Many thanks. 

FORD:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The incumbent party responded to the Edwards selection with might—might—might fairly be called a mixed message.  The president said he and the vice president called the senator to welcome him into the battle.  The chairman of the Republican National Committee then called Senator Edwards as well, called him “disingenuous and unaccomplished.”  Then the president‘s reelection campaign released an advertisement featuring a testimonial from Senator John McCain, whom that campaign calls “Kerry‘s first choice” for the vice presidential running mate.  No mention was made in the ad or the news release about the strained relationships between the candidates, Bush and McCain in 2000, we will start here with the good cop part of the GOP message. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I welcome Senator Edwards on the ticket.  The vice president called him earlier this morning to say, after the announced was made, to say that he welcomes him to the race, and as do I.  And I look forward to a good spirited contest. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You say “spirited contest,” I say “disingenuous, unaccomplished.”  The republicans put up a Web site with a litany of anti-Edwards comments, most of them from his new ticket mate, Senator Kerry.  Their third least favorite thing about him, quote, “Friend to personal injury trial lawyers.”  As soon as the republicans rolled out their first choice ads, starting—starring, rather, Senator McCain, the Democratic National Committee issued its own news release, listing the number of terrible things McCain had said about the president, particularly when he blasted him on national TV in 2000 for the way he was conducting his campaign.  If the McCain spot was and instant attack ad, the Dems also managed to counter it with an almost instant attack the attack ad. 

Republicans first:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  The big thing, this war.  It‘s a fight between right and wrong, good and evil, and should our enemies acquire, for their arsenal, the chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons they seek, this war will become an even bigger thing.  It will become a fight for our survival.  America is under attack by depraved enemies who oppose our every interest and hate every value we hold dear.  It is the great test of our generation and he has led with great moral clarity and firm resolve.  He has not wavered, he has not flinched from the hard choices, he was determined and remain determined to make this world a better, safer, freer place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Bush wants to give 38 percent of his tax cuts to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) one percent of Americans. 

(JEERING)

MCCAIN:  My friends—my friends, I don‘t think Bill Gates needs a tax cut.

MCCAIN:  Mistakes happen in war, that‘s why we try to avoid them. 

Mistakes have been made. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just 119 more fun days like this until the election itself.  If this was opening day, it looks like a season ahead of brush-backs, bean ball, sharpened spikes, and accusations of steroid use to.  To try to anticipate its breadth and affect, I‘m joined now by the Tom Squitieri, the national correspondent from “USA Today.”

Tom, thanks, nice to talk to you, again. 

TOM SQUITIERI, “USA TODAY”: Thanks Keith.  Your flack (sic) jack is waiting for you for this battle.  I thing we‘re at DEFCON three, already.

OLBERMANN:  Is the cumulative impact, though, of ads like the ones that we just saw less than political pros think?  I mean, if George Bush uses McCain to attack Kerry and Edwards, isn‘t he going to dredge up as much of his own negative interaction of the past with McCain?  And if John Kerry attacks John McCain isn‘t he going to dredge up much of his own recent positive interaction with McCain? 

SQUITIERI:  Absolutely, it‘s interesting that the Bush campaign chose to use their McCain ad, sort of, the first out of the gate, now.  McCain is an interesting political force in this county, without dwelling on it too much.  Having covered that 2000 campaign, you saw the sort of natural effervescence people were giving to him and he carries a lot of sway. 

That‘s why Kerry wanted him so badly to be his running mate, and that‘s why Bush has work so—Bush‘s people have worked so hard to sort of neutralize McCain on the Hill when he does stuff the White House doesn‘t like.  But, McCain is never going to say anything particularly bad about Kerry, who—they have a real friendship, nor will he say anything particularly bad about the president from here on in.  So, you‘re going to be using clips like the one the Bush campaign used now, where he‘s praising -- where McCain is praising Bush, but not really attacking Kerry. 

OLBERMANN:  Judging by the ceremonial first punches today, although your point the fact that that was a fairly innocuous, at least relative to Kerry and Edwards, comment from McCain in the spot—how nasty could this campaign get? 

SQUITIERI:  Oh, I think it‘s going to be very nasty.  I think you‘ve already seen it.  When President Bush called Senator Kerry earlier this year to congratulate him when it appeared he would get the nomination, and then he started ripping him apart.  And then, as you pointed out, Vice President Cheney called Edwards this morning, and the republicans, all day, have been sending e-mails out to reporters, anyone else, ripping Edwards already. 

So, this is just the first day, they haven‘t even been nominated . 

And I just think it‘s going to be nasty.  Now, on the democratic side,

you‘ve heard Kerry say many times that he will not let what happened to

Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who was pretty well bludgeoned by

the older Bush in 1988, happen to him, he‘s going to fight back.  So, they

·         you know, they‘re gong to be—they‘re going be knocking each other around pretty good. 

OLBERMANN:  And the first vice presidential debate in Cleveland, in October, will be an inexperienced disingenuous punk kid versus a troglodyte divider of the country? 

SQUITIERI:  In certain terms like that.  I think it‘s going to be very good because as Edwards plays strong to people who can—you know, need new or more jobs and “it‘s your fight too,” the old Gephardt line, and the two Americas, that‘s Ohio—it‘s a battleground state where there‘s a lot of industrial jobs that‘s been lost.  Likewise, however, that‘s a state that sends a lot of people to the military, a very patriotic state, not that other states are not, but it‘s a high tradition of military service, there.  They‘re going to be debating in Cleveland, which is the home to a lot of groups of people who come—whose origins come from eastern and southern Europe.  So the foreign policy of the Bush administration versus the domestic, two Americas coming to one America theme that the Kerry Edwards people will be promoting. 

OLBERMANN:  Tom Squitieri, national correspondent for “USA Today.” 

Once again, thanks for your time tonight, Tom. 

SQUITIERI:  Always a pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN opening with the new democratic ticket: Kerry and Edwards in ‘04. 

Up next, the No. 4 story: After more than a week of pleas and prayers, the family of Wassef Hassoun says his captors in Iraq have set him free in exchange for a promise. 

And later, from gangster in real life to gangsters in make-up:  What Hollywood would call verisimilitude, if many of them there knew what the word meant.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  No. 4 on COUNTDOWN‘s nightly big five, up next.  After the hostage murders in Iraq, Arab-American soldier, Wassef Hassoun, may have been spared.  That word from his family, today.  Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It appears to have been a dilemma we can all imagine, if not envision—murderers holding you hostage, they will free you if you promise to do something you swore to do.  If you know your history, you will know that the British politician, Sir Thomas Moore, could not promise that, that he would stop opposing King Henry VIII‘s right to divorce his queen.  He would up with his head on a pike. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  The news is not yet official and his family and government sources in Lebanon say that the abducted U.S.—

Army Corporal Wassef Hassoun chose to promise, rather than the awful consequences of refusing the promise. 

Our correspondent, Roger Downey, is at the family‘s home in West Jordan, Utah. 

Roger, good evening.

ROGER DOWNEY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening, Keith.  That‘s you—like you‘ve mentioned, we have some positive signs, but no confirmation yet that Marine Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun has been released by his kidnappers in Iraq, but just the fact that there is talk about his being released is totally opposite that—what we were hearing over the weekend, which was that he had been killed.  A Lebanese government spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity says the kidnappers have released Hassoun on condition that he not return to the Marines.  Now, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is also saying that Hassoun is alive, but they are not commenting on his whereabouts. 

One Hassoun‘s brothers is in Tripoli where the family has a home, because they are Lebanese-Americans.  Sammy Hassoun said he is confident his brother is free and well.  In fact, he says he got a sign from a person who is knowledgeable about the situation, who visited the family‘s home over the weekend who said that his brother was doing well. 

Hassoun now makes his home here in the Salt Lake City area in South Jordan, which just south—a suburb just of Salt Lake City.  Now, the home is ringed with American flags framing the front yard.  There is a Marine Corps standard standing in front of the—of the home.  And there‘s also a small memorial near a tree, here in the front yard. 

The question they‘re asking, obviously around this country, and perhaps around the world, why is Hassoun not being killed?  Why is he being released?  Now, that‘s positive, obviously, but it seems that—as perhaps it‘s because he is Muslim and he is of Lebanese descent.  Now, other Muslims are saying that‘s not it at all, because the kidnappers are not practicing Muslims.  Whatever, the outcome would be welcome news to the Hassoun family who soon hope to have their son home—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Roger, you mentioned it is ringed with flags; it‘s also ringed with reporters.  Are we going to hear from the family in the immediate future? 

DOWNEY:  We asked the spokesman for the family that today.  The family will have no comment, Keith, until, they say, they have their son home and in their arms. 

OLBERMANN:  Roger Downey outside the Hassoun family home in Utah. 

Many thanks to you, goodnight. 

COUNTDOWN past our No. 4 story.  Up next, news of the twisted and the weird.  Our nightly tiptoe through garden of “Oddball,” next.  Those are caskets.

And later, a royal reunion making headlines:  The Windsor‘s and the Spencer, together for the first time since that stinging eulogy from Princess Diana‘s brother in 1997. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you from New York and we pause the COUNTDOWN for the latest on the kind of news that at once mean nothing and everything.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

First, it was the funeral home in Spokane that remodeled its reception room to look like the Titanic, complete with iceberg.  Now it‘s the annual casket exhibit in Berlin.  Courtesy of a German museum devoted to caskets, this year‘s display is not only the Italian designer caskets, but also a bunch of freaky ones created by an artist from Ghana named Kane Kwei.  Your big fish casket, your giant onion casket, your Mercedes sedan casket.  I know, I know, you wouldn‘t get caught dead in one of these. 

On the other hand, if you‘re in a hurry to try on of them out, you still got time to make your way to beautiful down-town Pamplona, Spain.  The annual running of the bulls starts tomorrow.  It is officially known as the Fiesta of San Fermin—the bull are always slaughtered at the end of the 2,700-foot course through town, but only 15 people have been killed since 1910.  Bulls, you‘re not trying hard enough. 

And just to round out this upbeat theme tonight, from Storrs, Connecticut, it is the Corpse Flower.  Botanists at the University of Connecticut planted this thing a decade ago and have been waiting for it ever since, because the giant exotic plant has an equally giant and exotic odor.  A smell that aficionados describe as “just like rotting flesh”.  The university expects more than 10,000 visitors are going to head there to partake of the aroma and that not one of them will ever set foot in Connecticut again. 

Back to the COUNTDOWN, per se, and our third story, tonight:  The most wanted terrorist in Iraq, now has a new group of people hunting him down—other terrorists. 

And later, thousands of former soldiers are being recalled to Iraq for involuntary service because the U.S. is short on specialists.  We‘ll find out what happened to nearly a thousand specialists kicked out of the military over these last five years. 

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

No. 3: Artie Moreno, the owner of the baseball Anaheim Angels.  He has taken—reportedly asked if it would be OK to rename the team Los Angeles Angels.  Seven years ago, the team got permission to rename itself the Anaheim Angels because the previous name, the California angel, was not specific enough.  Thirty-nine years ago, it got permission to rename itself the California Angels because the original name was too specific, that‘s when they were the—Los Angeles Angels.  They want to be it again.  Please stick to one.  Just choose one and stick to it. 

No. 2:  Actor Tom Hanks, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out of the blue, a cappuccino machine has show up in the White House press room as his gift.  Well, he once bought me a smoothie. 

And No. 1: Oh, this can‘t true.  An initiative to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in Nevada may be off the ballot because organizers forgot to file petitions with 6,000 signatures on them.  Oh, man, you meant this June 15, man, oh no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The constant viewer may have heeded the words here last night of counter-terrorism expert Ben Benski (ph), who suggested that, counter intuitive as it might sound, the idea of offering terrorists a kind of amnesty could be a good one, as good as any other idea that makes terrorists fear each other. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN has nothing to do with amnesty, per se, but it does have everything to do with making terrorists fear or at least oppose each other. 

A group of terrorists has threatened to kill Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  He is easily the most wanted man in Iraq, thought to be responsible for the murder—and coalition forces, civilian and political leaders, and hostages.  In a video sent to Al-Arabiya Television, a group calling itself the Salvation Movement issued an ultimatum to al-Zarqawi: leave Iraq immediately or it would do to him what the coalition forces have so far failed to do—kill him. 

The Iraqi insurgents accuse the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi murdering innocent Iraqis and defiling the Muslim religion. 

Does this change the picture in Iraq?  Does it hinder the prestige of al Qaeda?

I‘m joined now from Portland, Oregon, by Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, now NBC military analyst, Rick Francona.  Rick, good evening.

RICK FRANCONA, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did this come out of the blue or has there been an anti-Zarqawi movement developing in Iraq for a while? 

FRANCONA:  Well, the Zarqawi movement is pretty much an Islamist movement, and they‘ve been operating almost exclusively in the Sunni Triangle.  People in the Sunni Triangle are generally not that Islamic.  Most of these resistance groups we‘ve seen are more secular in nature.  So while there‘s been anti-Zarqawi feelings, we‘ve not seen any organized Zarqawi resistance.  

OLBERMANN:  Does a group like this know, though, something called the Salvation Movement that we have not heard of until today, does it have any shot at hunting down a man like this when the full force of the U.S.  military has not been able to do so? 

FRANCONA:  Actually, they do, because they live there.  Now, this is an Iraqi group.  We were able to tell from the accent that these people are Iraqis.  The Iraqis can move around Iraq much better.  They blend in.  They know where people are.  They have tribal affiliations, family affiliations, a much better on the ground intelligence network than the U.S. military will ever have. 

So they‘ve got a shot of possibly locating him.  And they might be looking for the $25 million that they might be able to gain from turning him in.  

OLBERMANN:  Big picture on this.  For nearly three years, analysts who have been assessing al Qaeda have kept saying that we‘ve, to some degree, obviously, being where we have been, we‘ve missed the point, that for whatever else it has or has not accomplished, al Qaeda‘s goal was not just terrorism or dead Americans, but those were means to an end.  And the end was a fanatical, fundamentalist Islamist revolution in each of the secular nations in the Middle East.  And it‘s not only not happened, not even in the chaos in Iraq has it happened, but now there are vigilante groups going after al Qaeda henchmen.  It seem like a positive sign.  

FRANCONA:  Well, it‘s a positive sign if you think that stopping the formation of these al Qaeda dominated governments is a good thing, and that is a good thing.  These are home grown groups.  The Iraqis, whether they‘re Muslim, or Christian, or Kurdish, or Sunni, or Shia, are Iraqis first.  We‘ve seen that surprisingly over the last year, when they banned together as Iraqis first.  So these nationalist groups arise and are willing to fight al Qaeda.  Now, that‘s a positive.  That still doesn‘t solve the big problems in Iraq, because there‘s a power struggle going on between all of these groups.  

OLBERMANN:  Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, as always, Rick, great. 

Thanks for your time.  

FRANCONA:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  Nothing, regrettably, can change the immediate demands on Americans in Iraq.  While the Pentagon says 5,600 deployment notification letters did not go out to members of the Individual Ready Reserve today as planned, they will before the end of the week.  The IRR has not been tapped as a source of personnel since the Gulf War. 

Many of its members thought, or at least hoped, they had already concluded their military commitments.  The Pentagon might have been able to save itself some paperwork on the IRR call-up if it weren‘t for “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  The irony of the military‘s position is that the personnel shortages are in specific areas: food service, healthcare, truck driving, law enforcement, translation, and auto repair. 

Our report tonight, that in the last five years, ending in December, the various branches of the military kicked out nearly a thousand specialists in those and other fields because they were gay.  Joining me now, the reporter who put the analysis together for United Press International, their Pentagon correspondent, Pamela Hess.  

Pam, good evening.  

PAMELA HESS, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What are the highlights or the low lights here numerically?  How many medical personnel are we short?  How many did we kick out? 

HESS:  I went through list of the MOSs—I‘m sorry, the military occupational specialists that they‘re activating in the Individual Ready Reserve, and they need 307 medical specialists.  When I compared that to a spreadsheet of people who have been separated from the military for homosexuality, I found 212 medical treatment specialists who were general.  So those correlated.  There‘s lots of others as well.  Administration specialists, 531 they need.  They‘ve separated 234 supply administration specialists, 143 combat engineers.  Fifty-seven were separated in the last five years because of homosexuality.

OLBERMANN:  The translator number, it might be much smaller than that.  But the military is short of translators, so it winds up, in Iraq, hiring contractors, and three of the hired contractors wind up implicated in this scandal at Abu Ghraib. 

Essentially, “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” feeds into the prison scandal in Iraq?

HESS:  I guess you could make that argument.  There have been 15 language specialists or interpreters that have been separated in the last five years.  Seven of them were Arabic speakers.  We do not have many Arabic speakers in the U.S. military, so the fact that seven left under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” really, I think, cripples the military interpretation program.

OLBERMANN:  It startles me, as you think about this, the irony probably, it‘s overwhelming that the fear, the abhorrence, the over reaction, if you‘ll forgive the use of that term, towards gays in the military, and this sort of back of the mind fear that they‘d all wind up in a pile, naked, taking pictures of themselves.  So instead, we wind up having a bunch of straight guys in Iraq putting prisoners in a pile, naked, and taking pictures of them.

Did anybody in the military, in your experience, in being in Iraq and Afghanistan, did that irony strike anybody?

HESS:  It struck a couple of people.  And especially as you lay it out here, Keith, I have a hard time not seeing it.  Yes, there is some irony there.  The important point, I think, to note is that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is not just a military policy, it‘s also the law of the land.  So if there were to be any changes in it, they‘re going to have to come from Congress.

And I don‘t think that this Congress, particularly, is going to be likely—I mean, what Congressman wants to come out now for gays in the military?  This is not an active debate.  But as I came across the numbers last week, I thought they were interesting and merited pointing out.

OLBERMANN:  But is there any kind of official reaction that would suggest that, certainly, we‘ve picked the wrong time to enforce this regulation, in hindsight at least?  Is somebody acknowledging in hindsight that it was a bad idea?

HESS:  I don‘t know that they‘re saying that it‘s a bad idea, but I think some of the numbers are interesting.  In 2001, before the war started, you had 1,227 that were separated under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  In 2002, after Afghanistan got under way, and when Iraq was threatening, 885.  In 2003, 770.  So the enforcement seems to be going down, or people aren‘t volunteering that they are gay, because they perhaps want to stay and fight.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Pam Hess, the Pentagon correspondent of UPI, they‘re extraordinary numbers.  I appreciate them, and always a pleasure to speak to you, my friend.

HESS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.

HESS:  Bye.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s one more would-be soldier who is also not headed to Iraq, not because of his lifestyle, really, not because the Army‘s eight-year window to call on him has elapsed.  That‘s certainly not the case.  No, all because he arrived pre-camouflaged.  Felix Groman of New York had volunteered for the Army.  They let him in.  He let the lease on his apartment lapse, and he was literally about to board the bus to boot camp when they did that bit on him.  You know, “All those men leaving for basic training, step forward.  Not so fast, Groman.”

Higher ups had decided he had too many tattoos to join.  How many is too many?  Enough to cover two-thirds of his body in that Spiderman technique.  None of these, he says, and the Army agrees with him, none of these have anything to do with gangs or anything unfortunate.  They can‘t necessarily be seen when he‘s in his uniform.  They‘ve just decided he has too many tattoos to serve in Iraq. 

They‘re getting kind of picky.  Tattoos, troops, and terrorists threatening other terrorists, all making our third story on COUNTDOWN tonight.  Up next, an agency for actors, who certainly don‘t need the Stanislavsky method to learn their roles.  They‘ve already lived the part, not to say nothing of the tattoos.  And later, a very public display to heal the very public rift between the royals and the relatives of the late Princess Diana.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  A great bonus... jobs that‘s we‘re losing... now wait, we‘ve got plenty of those, don‘t we?  Those who are doing very well.  We‘ve got four months.  Every generation in America.  There aren‘t people who are powerful and special interest that you take...

KATIE COURIC, NBC:  Can you tell me what‘s the biggest issue you all had?

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR:  Are we about to make out right now?  Is there something going on between us right now, Katie?

COURIC:  What were you afraid of?

FERRELL:  What percentage of—would you say a 40 percent chance that I‘m about to kiss you?

COURIC:  Get away from me, you big lug.  All right, let me ask you what...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Please do not breakout in “Happy Birthday.”  It will embarrass me.  Thank you.

GROUP:  Happy birthday to you.  Happy birthday to you.

BUSH:  I asked you not to breakout in “Happy Birthday.”

GROUP:  Happy birthday, Mr. President.  Happy Birthday to you.

BUSH:  Thank you.  Did you actually call that singing?

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Getting gang members off the street by putting them in a theater near you, and the newspaper that lost the race to be first to our own Andrea Mitchell, and then lost the race to be right to everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He was probably not the first, but he may have been the most prominent.  The late Trinidad Silva was a regular in the landmark ‘80s series “Hill Street Blues,” and appeared in the film “Colors” as well.  He played a gang member.  He always played a gang member.  Publicists, in fact, said he had once been a gang member. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the Hollywood Casting Company did not name itself in memory of Mr. Silva, but perhaps it should have, because as COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny found out, on the mean Hollywood walk of fame covered streets of Los Angeles, casting ex-gang members as movie and TV gang members is rapidly becoming the industry standard. 

Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC REPORTER:  Keith, good evening.  It is only about 12 miles from East LA to Hollywood, California, but these are two very different worlds that rarely intersect, until now, as former gang members create a new life for themselves, acting like they‘re still on the streets.  But instead of getting arrested or even worse, these days, they‘re getting paid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I come from a life of crime, gangs, violence, drugs.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  From the “hood” to Hollywood, they‘re not the usual suspects.  Former gang members who‘ve gone from mug shots to head shots, thanks to Suspect Entertainment, a talent agency that‘s all about keeping it real.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I noticed in your special abilities it says that you can speak, read, and write Spanish, and that you can dance, and that you can shoot weapons.

NOVOTNY:  It started seven years ago, when Manny Jiminez left life on the streets to start a talent agency, turning other former gang members into Hollywood actors, offering an alternative to thug life.

MIKE MANZO, FORMER GANG MEMBER:  I was involved with gangs, but I opened my eyes and realized that, I mean, once you die you die.  And I didn‘t want my kids to grow up without me.

NOVOTNY:  Casting directors notice the new guys.

MIMI WEBB MILLER, CASTING DIRECTOR:  They‘ve learned the system really well, which is unusual for a group of people coming from an outside source like this.

NOVOTNY:  You‘ll see Suspect actors in films, on television shows—in music videos and commercials.  You‘ve compared life in Hollywood to life in a gang and life on the streets.

MANNY JIMINEZ, SUSPECT ENTERTAINMENT:  Yeah, it‘s the simular, you know.  Everybody‘s back stabbing each other, drugs, scandal, alcohol.

NOVOTNY:  So at Suspect, they stick together.

FRANK ALVAREZ, ACTOR:  When we go on the set, we‘re on time, we‘re professional.  We make sure our guys know their lines.  We make sure that everyone‘s comfortable.

NOVOTNY:  But are they glamorizing the gang life?

ALVAREZ:  Nobody‘s knocking on our door saying, you know, “we‘ve got this leading role with Denzel Washington coming up.”  It‘s not saying it‘s never going to happen, it‘s just not happening right now.  So we take the smaller roles, show them what we can do, and then we surprise them.

NOVOTNY:  And they haven‘t forgotten the little people.

MANZOLBERMANN:  We go talk to kids at juvenile detention centers, drug homes, and runaway shelters and all that, and we tell them there‘s a better life out there other than drugs, gangs, and violence.  So you know, and it‘s a good, positive message, and it feels good.

NOVOTNY:  So the focus now is on the future.

JIMINEZ:  My big goal for Hollywood is to direct movies.

NOVOTNY:  I thought so.  Until then, Hollywood, listen up: the gang‘s all here.

ALVAREZ:  We can do it in real life or we can do it on the screen, however they, you know—what they would prefer us to do—I think, on screen.

JIMINEZ:  I know a lot of people say, “oh, you can‘t change the world.”  You know, I‘m going to give it my best shot, though, you know what I mean?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Suspect Entertainment also provides casting directors with low rider cars, clothing, gangster consultations, and, in one case, a group of Latina grandmothers.  And in a true sign of validation, Suspect now has its own agent.  They are represented by the talent agency ICM—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Monica, other than the great tradition of casting agents having criminal records, what made an ex-gang member think that he could break into show business?

NOVOTNY:  It actually goes back to The Tonight Show of all things.  Back in December of 1997, Manny says that he was watching and he saw director Quentin Tarantino talking to Jay Leno about the fact that anyone can make it in Hollywood, even if you‘ve been in jail.  And Manny had always been interested in Hollywood, but he didn‘t think that with his background that he‘d be accepted.  But after he heard that, he went for it.

OLBERMANN:  Studio presidency is the next step.  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, many thanks.  

The segue thus is not difficult to our nightly round up of the celebrity news, keeping tabs.   And the star has clearly faded, but if six years ago, perhaps, we had reported on the first meetings since the funeral of Britain‘s royal family and the family of late Princess Dianna, a it would have run far earlier in the show, and it would have been treated more like a gathering of the Capulets and the Montagues than a fond remembrance of a troubled and lost woman. 

The occasion was the dedication of a fountain in her honor.   And the correspondent is Paul Davis of our affiliated British network ITV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL DAVIS, CORRESPONDENT, ITV (voice-over):  While this was what today was supposed to be about—the opening of the fountain in Princess Diana‘s memory—the eyes of the world were on the coming together of her two families.  The house of Spencer, led by her brother Charles, and the house of Windsor, headed by Diana‘s former mother-in-law.  In Diana‘s lifetime, and in her death, the relationship between the two royal houses had been strained.  No one is likely to forget the pointed words of Earl Spencer at his sister‘s funeral.

EARL SPENCER:  On behalf of her mother and sisters, I pledge that we, your blood family, will do all we can to continue the imaginative and loving way in which you were steering these two exceptional young men, so that their souls are not simply immersed by duty and tradition, but can sing openly, as you planned.  

DAVIS:  Today, a courteous bow for the queen as the Spencers and Windsors came together again.  The two Charles shook hands briefly, though there was very little eye contact.  The formality was noticeably relaxed as Earl Spencer greeted his nephews, William and Harry—the two princes clearly at home in this family gathering in their mother‘s name.  In her opening speech, the queen recalled that morning the news of the princess‘ death reached Britain.  

QUEEN ELIZABETH:  Certainly, the days that followed are etched on my memory as we, as a family and nation, came to terms with the loss, united by an extraordinary sense of shock, grief, and sadness.  

DAVIS:  There was an acknowledgment that the relationship hadn‘t always been easy.  

QUEEN ELIZABETH:  Of course, there were difficult times, but memories mellow with the passing of the years.  I remember especially the happiness she gave to my two grand sons.  

DAVIS:  The ceremony ended with a royal walkabout, Prince William once again evoking memories of his mother as he greeted the delighted crowd.  Paul Davis, ITV News.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll be back to wrap up the COUNTDOWN in a moment, and we know what we can wrap it up in.  Welcome New York Post to that Valhalla of news organizations that have reported in haste and repented even more hastily.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So we end where we began.  As with any well-managed news event, the John Kerry campaign managed to get the media to speculate for weeks about his vice presidential choice, then belch forth a controlled leak last week to intensify that speculation.  Got most of the media to take a guess, and some of them to pretend the guess was a scoop.

And as the coup de grace, he‘s now getting the media to cover those others in the media who got it wrong.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s Hillary, it‘s Gephardt, it‘s wrong.  And as Fred Francis reports, it also ain‘t the first time.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRED FRANCIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  John Kerry has perfected one skill needed in the Oval Office.  

KERRY:  The next vice president of the United States of America will be...

FRANCIS:  He can keep a secret.  But the New York Post said it broke Kerry‘s code, reporting early today Gephardt was the one.  Ouch.  Instant ridicule.  Fictional anchorman Will Ferrell on “THE TODAY SHOW”.  

WILL FERRELL:  This is an excellent journalism—excellent journalism periodical.

FRANCIS:  The Post apologized, but its place alongside other outrageous gaffes is assured.  History‘s biggest goof?  The Chicago Daily Tribune in ‘48, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”  Whoops! That, more than 50 years ago, is somewhat forgivable, given poor communications of the day.  But what about Bob Hope‘s death, announced on the floor of Congress six years ago, after the AP mistakenly sent an obituary.  

CONGRESSMAN:  I have the sad responsibility to tell you this afternoon that Bob Hope passed away.  

FRANCIS:  Yikes.  Though Hope enjoyed a good chuckle.  Sometimes there‘s just too much information out there from really good sources.  That‘s where editors come in to make sure reporters get it right.  So whenever there‘s a goof, it‘s very often a management malfunction.  Last election night, for NBC News and others, virtually everything was confusing.  

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  We don‘t just have egg in our face. 

We‘ve got omelet all over our suits.  

FRANCIS:  For Ed Helms, a comedian on cable‘s Daily Show, the Post flub is wonderful fodder.  

ED HELMS, COMEDIAN:  They did their research.  If anyone is going to be embarrassed, it‘s probably John Kerry, because he announced that his running mate is Edwards, and clearly he‘s wrong.  

FRANCIS:  So in the end, how solid was Kerry‘s secret? Late yesterday, Richard Gephardt was hosting a cookout and knew nothing, while the New York Post was preparing its exclusive for print.  And for a few hours before dawn today, perhaps Richard Gephardt thought after hearing of the “post” exclusive, he had a chance.  

RICHARD GEPHARDT, CONGRESSMAN:  I guess I‘m from Missouri.  Show me.  

FRANCIS:  Fred Francis, NBC News, Washington.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  As someone who once reported that in college football, the University of Southern California had beaten archrival USC, you guys at the Post have my empathy—just not too much of it.  From New York, that‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it.  Up next, bonus “HARDBALL” coverage of the John-John ticket.  Chris Matthews waiting with bated breath.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Goodnight and good luck.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, 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.

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