updated 7/8/2004 12:29:55 PM ET 2004-07-08T16:29:55

Guests: Jim Warren; David Gergen, James Dunnigan, Blaire Allison

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Wasting no time: The Democratic ticket spends its first full day in swingland, Ohio and Florida.  It also spends its first full day eight whole points ahead of the incumbents. 

The image of the war in Iraq: the manufactured image of the war in Iraq.  This was brought to you, not by liberated Iraqis, but by the U.S.  Army, so says the U.S. Army. 

And this easy to steal is new car is brought to you by the police department of Columbus, Ohio. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Damn.  He got a gun out.  They must‘ve new this was stolen.

OLBERMANN:  Right you are, grand theft auto brat.  Neat bait car. 

And who is bait and who is baited, when the men start trampling the bulls in Pamplona?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  The first full day of the first bid since 1828 to elect a president and a vice president both named John, opened with an eight-point lead, a mad swing from the two likeliest swing states and the supporters of the incumbent playing ketchup.  Not catch-up, ketchup, as in tomatoes. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: “T” minus 118 day and the Democratic challengers, Senators Kerry and Edwards hit the road, partially fueled by an NBC News overnight poll giving the ticked a lead larger than the percentage of undecided with the caveat that there is a margin of error, a plus or a minus five percent.  It‘s Kerry/Edwards 49, Bush/Cheney 41, Nader/Camejo four, undecided/wouldn‘t answer/not interested six.  And the immediate impact of the Edwards announcement, 24 percent said his presence made them less likely to vote for Kerry, seven percent said it may them less likely to do so, 63 percent said it made no difference. 

The No. 2 job, only a heartbeat away from the presidency, the worst-case scenario bringing what might be the most striking result of the survey.  When asked who would do a better job running the country, John Edwards at 45 percent and the incumbent Vice President Dick Cheney at 38. 

Something the polling data will not tell you, but a look at the videotape will.  The breakout stars of the Democratic ticket, Emma Claire and Jack Edwards.  The youngest members of the Edwards clan pulling faces, as well as focus today away from their parents.  The adult children of the candidates, be they Edwards, Kerry, or Hines, never stood a chance.  Part of Emma Claire and Jack‘s genetic gift, if you will, thick heads of adorable blond hair.  As we heard today, more than once, from Senator Kerry, the Edwards hair thing is a major selling point. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I can‘t tell you how excited we are to be a team and doing it.  And it‘s a thrill for me to have another guy with hair on the road. 

And I want you to know, we think this is a dream ticket.  We‘ve got better vision, we‘ve got better ideas, we‘ve got real plans, we‘ve got a better sense of what‘s happening to America and we‘ve got better hair.  And I‘ll tell you, that goes a long way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hair today, gone to Florida.  Pittsburgh and Cleveland, just the beginning of the four-day, seven state campaign swing.  The Democratic ticket in Saint Petersburg, tonight, then New York, West Virginia, New Mexico, and North Carolina—all by Saturday.  Most them, the so-called battleground swing states where this election will presumably be decided.  The except is North Carolina, already painted Bush red by political analysts, even though it is Edwards‘ home state, and of course, New York, a place to raise millions in a benefit concert, tomorrow night. 

So we‘re underway and unless Nader pulls out, there are not likely to be any major personnel changes between now and November 2.  To help us take the early temperatures of the challenger‘s campaign, we‘re joined by Jim Warren, deputy managing editor or the “Chicago Tribune.” 

Jim, good evening. 

JIM WARREN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Keith, good evening.

The Bush operatives suggested Kerry just settling on a V.P., might give them a 15-point bounce.  These NBC poll numbers aside, have the Democrats gotten the momentum started which they had hoped and which the White House had feared? 

WARREN:  Interesting spin based on a half truth.  Traditionally, yeah, you talked about a 15 percent bounce, Keith, but that was in the days when the selection of a V.P. was much, much closer to the convention.  You usually talk about a 15 percentage point post convention bounce, so this is OK, this is probably right within the normal range. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it overdoing the subject of the vice presidency and the candidacy, anyway? 

WARREN:  Say it again, I‘m sorry. 

OLBERMANN:  Are we overdoing the importance of the candidacy of the identity of the vice presidential candidate? 

WARREN:  The most interesting—one of the most interesting stats was that 62 or three percent indifferent, essentially, to the selection of Edwards, and it won‘t make a difference.  I mean, look at history.  Good for folks for who are being indifferent to what tends to be the overblown analysis, us folks in the media make.  I mean if you look at ‘68 and Nixon picks the unknown Agnew, everybody‘s scratching their head—Nixon wins.  You look at ‘84 and the supposedly transformational, historic pick of Geraldine Ferraro by Walter Mondale, which would bring scads of women into the Democratic camp.  Mondale somehow loses 49 states.  And then take look at somebody, who was sort of pilloried in the same way the Bush folks are going to try to pillory Edwards as in experienced and a bit of a light weight—that‘s Dan Quayle in ‘88 when the elder Bush picks him, and particularly after that before and after the debate with his senatorial and veteran Lloyd Benson.  Quayle was pilloried and Bush still wins.

So by and large, it doesn‘t make much a difference.  If there is one that I can think of off the top of my head, it might be 1960, Jack Kennedy and brother, Bobby, picked Lyndon Johnson, whom they did not like at all and Johnson help them win Texas.  That‘s probably the only example in recent annals of a side getting a state they would not have gotten otherwise as a result of the VP selection. 

OLBERMANN:  But back to this one, the president himself barely stuck a toe in the waters on the second day of the Kerry-Edwards campaign, even that he did a little obliquely in North Carolina.  A reporter noted that Edwards had been described as “charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy,” then asked how he stacked up against Dick Cheney, and Mr. Bush replied, “Rather succinctly,” and then Mr. Kerry answered back, “Rather acidly.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Dick Cheney can be president. 

Next? 

KERRY:  He was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on day one and he did and he has been ever since, folks, and that‘s what we‘ve got to change. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So Jim, we‘re off to a good incongenial in this campaign.

WARREN:  Yeah, I mean that—Kerry particularly falls somewhat short of the satiric standards of Leno, Letterman, Olbermann, and come to think of it, even my dad‘s beloved “Wayne and Schuster” via Canada on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”  However, I think more important, Bush makes a point, and I think he tips us off to what part of the obvious strategy is going to be—portray Edwards as almost a juvenile, in over his head.  Portray him as someone we should not have trusted.  And of course, then you can work two ways, especially with the misgivings about Cheney, a little bit, a few misgivings about his health, namely.  If you‘re going for a change, bring in somebody nice and fresh and new, and that‘s what Edwards is.

OLBERMANN:  “Wayne and Schuster” make the big show courtesy Jim Warren of the “Chicago Tribune.”  As always sir, a pleasure. 

WARREN:  Pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Other than Mr. Bush‘s brief comment in North Carolina today, the incumbents stayed pretty much out of the way of the Edward‘s boomlet, although the RNC is continuing to disseminate data on his short career in politics and in particular, how it has been largely financed by fellow lawyers.  They have contributed nearly half of the $45 million Edwards has raised since he ran for the senate in 1998.  One potential boomerang to that, in that line of criticism, much of Edwards‘ success in the courtroom came defending average Americans, the proverbial little guys against the big corporations. 

If today that Bush campaign response was muted, yesterday it didn‘t even wait until lunch.  Edwards was attacked for being a lawyer, for being disingenuous, for being unaccomplished.  Do they had a target?  And what else would they try to hit it with?  We turn, once again, to the editor, academic, and survivor of four separate presidential administrations, David Gergen. 

Thanks again for your time, sir. 

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Are there indications that any of the Edwards soft spots, that the White House perceives, really are soft spots, and are there other vulnerability that they have not yet probed, but can be expected to? 

GERGEN:  Well, one of the interesting questions is what they‘ll discover now coming through the John Edwards records as a lawyer, to go back to the transcripts of various trials to see what he has said.  You know, his Democratic rivals during the presidential campaign weren‘t able to find very much, but perhaps the Republicans will be more successful, they‘ll certainly spend a lot of time, money, and effort doing that.  And they may be able to come one some—you know, some off-the-wall kind of comments that will come back to haunt him, we‘ll to have wait and see.  But so far, I have to tell you, I think the Kerry campaign is getting a strong and positive ride out of the Edwards selection and it‘s turning out to be, in the minds of many who are watching this race, I believe, a—the best move Kerry has made since he got the nomination. 

OLBERMANN:  The immediate response from the other side was a Web site devoted, in large part, not to what John Edwards may have said in the past, but how John Kerry had spoken of John Edwards during the primary campaign.  Is that a politically sophisticated strategy or does it just wind up teeing up the Democrats to come back and say, “How about what George Bush‘s father said about Ronald Reagan in 1980?” 

GERGEN:  I think everybody marks that off, probably, I think that‘s a non -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE), sure he may bullet (ph) one or two comments back there, but it didn‘t—it didn‘t make a hill of bean about the voodoo economics that George H.W. Bush used against Reagan, and—because everybody understands that politics brings forward these kind of semi-hysterical or hyped kind of comments. 

But, I tell what you I think is really—what the—what is very different about this choice from what we‘ve seen in the past, is that Dick Cheney has been such a highly influential vice president.  Indeed, many think that he‘s the single most important advisor the president has.  I think it‘s elevated the importance of the vice-presidency far more than we‘ve seen in most campaigns.  And so that the—John Edwards will now be taken more seriously, both by the press and the voters to see—to pair him against Dick Cheney.  So, the number that was really interesting in the surveys was that in the initial take, now people—this is an uninformed take, most voters don‘t know a lot about John Edwards, but that right now they—in your own survey, they say he‘s better equipped to run the country than Dick Cheney.  Now, that is a very, very interesting number.  And I think it‘s going to—I think we‘re going to see now almost two parallel races in this, and a huge interest in the Cheney/Edwards debate. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, the vice presidency has come a long way since the time it was described as not quite a crime.  Lastly David...

GERGEN:  Not worth a bucket of warm spit...

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Or something close—something similar to that. 

GERGEN:  That‘s right. 

OLBERMANN:  The last thing, the characterization, “unaccomplished,” is that another bomb that can go off before it gets thrown?  Mr. Bush, after all, had exactly six years as governor of Texas as compared to Mr. Edwards six sears in the Senate and it might be noted Mr. Edwards is only running for vice president. 

GERGEN:  That‘s a good point, Keith, and I think a lot of that depends on how the campaign plays out.  If he makes him gasp (ph) now, I mean, he was a—he had a pretty smooth campaign running for Democratic nomination, he lost, but he had a pretty smooth campaign.  No, if he makes a couple of gasps, then the inexperience will come back to haunt him.  But, you know, for example, there‘s some people compared him to Dan Quayle. 

Well—you know, Quayle had one terrible start, as you‘ll recall, when people went after him.  If Edwards were to get into that situation, of course he would be a drag, but there‘s no indication that he will, and he‘s a very smooth talking fellow.  I—you know, think that this is a—he brings a warmth to the ticket that is enormously important to Kerry.  You‘re seeing this initial bounce.  I would imagine the Repub—the Democrats will get an additional bounce out of the convention, then the Democrats should have a lead of say, double digits, possibly 10 points or so.  But then the republican will have their turn, and that‘s when the Republicans will really try to close that gap.  We‘ll not know until Labor Day, really, how this thing is going to settle out.  We‘ll have a much better chance, or a much better sense of how does it all play out after the both sides have their chance at the conventions and with their speeches, and that sort of thing. 

OLBERMANN:  David Gergen of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and of “U.S. News and World Report,” Always an honor to speak with you, David, thanks. 

GERGEN:  Thank you.  Thank you for having me back. 

OLBERMANN:  One hitch already for Kerry-Edwards campaign, a Web site. 

Somebody, it turns out to already ones the web domain kerryedwards.com.  He‘s willing to sell it.  He wants five figures for it, he says he‘s already turned down 15 grand.  And the Kerry/Edwards campaign already turned him down, even though guy‘s name is Kerry Edwards. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY EDWARDS, WEB DOMAIN OWNER:  I looked at the headlines and, “Oh, there‘s my name again,” and that‘s never ever happened before, because—you know, seeing my name is kind of a rare thing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, if the Republicans seem to be playing ketchup, they brought on it themselves—ketchup, the condiment, is in the backbone of the financial empire of Teresa Heinz Kerry.  Say the makers of “W” ketchup, “If you don‘t support Democrats, why should your ketchup?”  This would be a neocon—a neocon-diment.

A spokeswoman for the Heinz Company, which ironically has donated three times as much to Republicans this year as it has to Democrats, responds, “We don‘t want to get into a political food fight.”  Arr, arr.

And Mr. Bush may win in November or Mr. Kerry will, but one thing is already decided, the “New York Post” lost big time, yesterday.  If somehow you missed it, the “Post‘s,” quote, “exclusive,” unquote, continued to be a hot topic today.  The front page scoop that Kerry had selected not Edwards, but Dick Gephardt.  The “Post: tried to smile through its whoas by merely replicating Tuesday‘s front page, this morning, only with the name of the correct vice-presidential pick. 

But, the final word may have come from a “Los Angeles Times” columnist who noted that perhaps the right leaning post should have made lemonade out it‘s lemons with “Kerry Flip-Flops, Dumps Gephardt for Edwards.”

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with politics, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story: The Enron indictment.  The Justice Department finally slapping Ken Lay with charges and an arrest warrant.  Breaking news up next, from correspondent Lisa Myers. 

And later, the newest high-tech chapter between cops and robbers:  The police beating car thieves at they‘ve at their own game and rubbing their noses in it a little. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story straight ahead.  As the countdown for jail time for Ken Lay just begun, the man President Bush used to call Kenny Boy is supposed to give himself up to the feds tomorrow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On Monday, his attorneys scoffed at the suggestion that Ken Lay would be indicted by a federal grand jury.  “Indicted for what?”  said Mark Ramsey (sic).  The correct answer may prove to be:  Indict him for five minutes, or until they finish reading all the charges, whichever comes first. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, as Lisa Myers reports from Washington, the former chairman and CEO of the infamous Enron corporation has today been indicted and an arrest warrant issued. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today on the eighth floor of the federal courthouse in Houston, a grand jury writes the final act of the Enron drama.  Criminal charges against Enron‘s former chairman and CEO, Ken Lay. 

Federal law enforcement officials confirm the charges, first reported by CNBC, will be made public tomorrow.  Sources say they focus on Lay‘s words and actions in the months before Enron‘s collapse.  Allegedly misrepresenting the value and health of the company to workers and investors, selling millions in stock while urging others to buy more. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ken Lay, chairman and chief executive officer, Enron. 

(APPLAUSE)

MYERS:  Once one of the most respected CEOs in America, and among President Bush‘s biggest contributors.  Lay is to surrender to the FBI tomorrow morning, culminating a two-and-a-half year investigation by prosecutors. 

JOHN COFFEE, SECURITIES LAW EXPERT:  They have now reached the top of the food chain.  They‘ve gotten the No. 1 person, the name everyone knew. 

MYERS:  Sources say the criminal charges are likely to hinge on Lay telling workers during an online chat in late September of 2001 that Enron stock was an incredible bargain.  And Lay‘s rosy public remarks, October 16, 2001, after Enron stuns Wall Street with a $1 billion loss, he predicts better times ahead. 

KEN LAY, FORMER ENRON CEO:  Our balance sheet will be back even in stronger shape than it is—or was before the write-offs. 

MYERS:  Six weeks later, Enron filed for bankruptcy.  Lay adamantly denies wrongdoing.  He insists he bought stock, as well as sold it, and did not know Enron‘s chief financial officer Andy Fastow was cooking the books. 

LAY:  I and my team are convinced that there absolute—there‘s absolutely nothing there that would even come close to being considered criminal. 

MYERS (on camera):  Experts believe proving Ken Lay knowingly deceived workers and investors may not be easy.  He was not a hands-on manager, and was a true believer in the company he founded until the bitter end. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Lay‘s response to that tonight, “I have been advised that I have been indicted.  I will surrender in the morning.  I have done nothing wrong,” he says, “and the indictment is not justified,” end quote. 

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Up next, we pause the trek to first communicate the ineffable and the bizarre.  “Oddball” up next, including your complete coverage of day one of the running of the bulls. 

And later, one woman‘s frustration with finding a mate.  She started her own countdown to find a husband, or else. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN once again for our nightly survey of the weird and bizarre news, like the stuff that happens when the worlds of animal and man collide.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And for the next nine days, “Oddball” will be your exclusive MSNBC prime-time home for daily coverage of the running of the bulls from Pamplona, via satellite.  From today‘s opening rocket until the last moron is trampled a week from Thursday.

Day one was a spectacular affair.  Even the former NBA star, a Chicago Bull no less, Dennis Rodman, ran today.  Sadly, he was uninjured, like you could tell. 

But there were several tramplings, including an instance of a bull falling down and being trampled by a man, and then the man fell down and was in turn trampled by the bull.  It‘s a tie. 

Three people were injured, but because everyone of the four-legged competitors faces certain death in the bull ring at the end of the run, we have to score it:  Western Bipeds one, Los Toros nothing, it‘s a final. 

Now for the strange things people do in this country.  Here‘s a duck wearing a vest.  Aflac!  It‘s Cherry Festival time in Travers City, Michigan.  Local residents get a free pass to dress up like animals, dress their pets up like people, then get drunk, and, as you see, pretend they‘re Dennis Rodman. 

It‘s a week-long event held every year since 1926 to celebrate and promote cherries.  I don‘t see any cherries.  Obviously the festival has evolved into other things, like bed racing, over time.  Unlike Pamplona, the beds are not slaughtered at the end of the run.  We only hope we can say the same for the duck. 

And last of the “Oddball” pile, in an attempt to break a record from 1909, a crowd at Campanelli Stadium in Brockton, Massachusetts, sat totally silent for the first five innings of the Brockton Rocks minor league game against a team called the Aces, sometimes using duct tape to keep their big yaps shut.  They held up a sign saying “boo” and “Yay.” 

A school librarian kept watch, to keep everybody quiet.  For the visiting Aces, the silence was all too familiar.  They are a traveling team.  They play no home games.  They‘re used to that sound of silence.  As to the supposed record for quiet, absolute silence for five innings.  Wow.  Ever been to a Montreal Expos game? 

“Oddball” in the record books now.  Up next, the No. 3 story:  Putting the theater into the theater of war.  A new admission from our military that the image of the war in Iraq was coordinated by our troops. 

And later, an up close and personal look at car thieves caught red-hand and red-faced.  Where are these guys going to wind up?  In the big house!  Getting laughed at. 

These stories ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.  The theme is “Hit By”:

No. 3:  Sara Denoyer of Saint Louis, hit in the neck by a foul ball early in the baseball game at Busch Stadium there.  Boy, was she surprised in the ninth inning, when she was hit by another foul ball.  This is almost a record.  Not quite.  Alice Roth was hit by two foul balls during the same at-bat by Ritchie Ashburn in the Philadelphia Phillies in 1957.  I swear. 

No. 2.  Karl and Susan Womphrey, whose house in Cleethorpes in England was destroyed by lightning three years ago.  So, they moved 20 miles away to Welton, where their new house was just destroyed by lightning.  Lou Christy in the house?

And No. 1:  Dr. Leif Lange of Tampa.  He was hit by lightning while he was out walking his pet pig.  We‘ll skip the idea that a doctor had a pet pig.  Paramedic believe Dr. Lange survived the direct hit because the pig did not.  “I got the best pig in the world, even though he‘s dead,” says Dr. Lange, who added, “do I smell bacon?” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They were perhaps the two greatest perceived heresies that could have been wrought during the mainstream media coverage of the invasion of Iraq. 

Even the slightest hint that the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in April 2003 might not have been the idea of the Iraqis, but rather of American soldiers, and just the suggestion that among Afghanistan, Iraq and counterterrorism efforts, the American military had been spread too thin and was dangerously understaffed, merely asking if either of those things was true in March or April of a year ago was enough to invoke the wrath of the radical right and even of the not-so-radical middle. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, in the last six days, the military has admitted both are true and were true.  How and why we pulled down statue of Saddam in a moment. 

First our correspondent Chip Reid reporting from Capitol Hill on today‘s startling confirmation to Congress of some of the worst-case military manpower scenarios yet postulated. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Iraq today, overworked U.S. troops, as usual, doing it all, fighting, policing, guarding, rebuilding, often handling jobs they were never trained to do, a situation that led to a rare candid admission today in Congress from the Army‘s new No. 2. 

GEN. RICHARD CODY, U.S. ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF:  Are we stretched thin with our active and reserve component forces right now?  Absolutely.  We just did the largest move of the Army since World War II. 

REID:  Frustrated member of Congress say they‘re getting an earful from military families back home. 

REP. IKE SKELTON (D), MISSOURI:  I think we‘re wearing our people out.  And today, we‘re watching the Defense Department take some drastic measures to man the next rotation of forces to Iraq and Afghanistan. 

REID:  Those drastic measures include involuntary recall announced last week of 5,600 soldiers who were already discharged, a new requirement that most Army officers get retirements approved by the Pentagon and stop-loss orders which prevent troops from leaving if their units are going to Iraq. 

Adding to the strain, the percentage of reserves and National Guard troops in Iraq is now up to 39 percent. 

CODY:  It‘s not just the National Guard or the Reserve component units that are doing missions other than what we designed them for.  Our entire force is doing that. 

REID:  One example, Cody warned that the Army needs 9,000 more military intelligence officers who can‘t be trained quickly.  Some military analysts say the Army is simply too small and that poses serious long-term risks. 

MICHAEL O‘HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:  You have got a vicious spiral, a vicious cycle downward where the more you try to make do with a smaller force, the more you drive the remaining people out of the military. 

REID (on camera):  The Pentagon agrees that troop strength needs to be increased, at least temporarily.  But many here in Congress say the Pentagon is moving too slowly to fix a gaping hole. 

Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That gaping hole, that strain on American troops may be creating a weak link in one area that actually had been improving for the Army. 

“The Washington Post” reports that while the war has had the positive effect of forcing the Army to revamp the way it trains its soldiers, many of those best equipped to prepare new recruits for Iraq now have had to ship out themselves.  Key personnel from two of the Army‘s three major training centers are reportedly now being sent to serve in Iraq, depleting the Army of some of its most innovative instructors. 

It is a move that not only leaves American troops ill-prepared, but,

as one colonel told a newspaper, could force our best soldiers to—quote

·         “leave in disgust.”

And then there is the toppling of the Saddam statue.  A new Army report more or less sneaked out over the weekend concluding that the history we thought we saw in the making was actually made by a Marine colonel.  That it was not entirely a grassroots effort was painfully obvious to anyone who witnessed live the actual event, the fruitless attempts to take it down, first by sledgehammer, then by rope. 

And, as we noted on COUNTDOWN, on that day, it was ultimately American Marines who hoisted a chain around Saddam‘s statue‘s neck and then pulled it to the ground.  But what we did not know is that the toppling of the statue was staged by an Army psychological operations team.  As Marines converged on Fardus Square in central Baghdad, a psy-ops colonel identified the statue as a—quote—“target of opportunity.”

And as one member of the team told Army investigators, testified to them, the colonel—quote—“decided that the statue must come down.”  The psy-ops team had reportedly used loudspeakers to get Iraqis into the process, even placing Iraqi kids on the Marine vehicle that had been brought into pull the statue down.  But the props used on that day may not have been limited to sledgehammers and kids. 

In a new documentary about the war called “Control Room,” a producer for the network Al-Jazeera claims that the civilians we see stomping on Saddam‘s head and cheering their liberation were not even Iraqis, that anyone familiar with the various accents of the Middle East could tell you they were not Iraqis. 

So what actually happened in Fardus Square on April 9, 2003, and what actually happened the same day in newsrooms and homes around this country? 

James Dunnigan is a military historian and strategist, lecturer to the State Department and the FBI, and author of many books, including “How To Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare in the 21st century.”

Welcome back, sir.

JAMES DUNNIGAN, MILITARY HISTORIAN:  Glad to help. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, the pulling down of the statue may not have been premeditated psy-ops, or not very premeditated, more of an opportunity seized. 

But here‘s the question.  Who were these psy-ops guys trying to influence, Iraqis or American or both? 

DUNNIGAN:   Both. 

The main objective is to get the enemy to stop fighting as soon as possible.  If you can win the war with words, instead of bullets, it is a much sweeter victory. 

OLBERMANN:  So pulling down the statue in your opinion, actually impacted the battle for Baghdad or the lack of a battle for Baghdad? 

DUNNIGAN:   Oh, yes.  Well, most of the things we did once we reached the outskirts of Baghdad were to intimidate the Iraqis who still had guns and could still resist into not resisting, because everybody was talking about bloody street fighting if we went into Baghdad. 

And the psychological warfare people knew that their job would be more important because we did not have enough guns to take on every armed Iraqi.  But we might have enough good ideas.  And taking down the statue was one of them, because, basically, it showed the Arab world, as well as most Iraqis, that Saddam was really gone. 

You have got to remember that Saddam had terrorized the Iraqis for 30 years.  And the psychological warfare people knew from what they had seen in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism that this leaves a population traumatized and not quite sure that they are freer that the tyrant is gone.  And we‘ve seen examples of that in the last year.  So symbols are extremely important. 

OLBERMANN:  So, in reviewing this, we‘re still at the point where, boom, the guys see the crowd.  They see the statue.  They put two and two together and do a great job of arranging this.  And down the statue comes.  And I don‘t think anybody pro-war, anti-war—well, maybe anti-war,-- but certainly anybody on the left or the right has a real objection to that gesture to this point. 

But, afterwards, when reporters asked questions about, was that an American flag over his face?  Who did the pulling, the American soldiers or the Iraqi civilians, who did this, the military came down on them, on us like that statue falling.  I mean, I asked those questions.  I had my patriotism and my loyalty questioned.  And I would like to know where it is written that, as part of psy-ops, it is OK to try to also strong-arm a free press in this country and dress up a lie in a flag and try to shove it down the throats of the citizens.  What part of psy-ops is that? 

DUNNIGAN:   Well, because a free press can get American soldiers killed.  Basically, if you tell the Iraqis that Saddam really isn‘t gone, that we that he had to put up a huge staged destruction of his statue—remember, Saddam wasn‘t captured yet—you can basically convince the—a lot more Iraqis that, well, maybe Saddam is going to make a comeback. 

There are many Iraqis who to this day believe that.  And that‘s why a lot of them are fighting.  So it‘s literally a matter of life and death. 

OLBERMANN:  Does it call for at some point, in the, say, future, whether that‘s six months or a year later, saying to the American people, we had more of a hand in this than we admitted to at the time? 

DUNNIGAN:   That‘s exactly what they did over the weekend. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, I‘ll buy that. 

James Dunnigan, his Web site is StrategyPage.com.  Thanks again for your time tonight, sir.

DUNNIGAN:   Glad to help. 

OLBERMANN:  And from the staging of the fall of Baghdad to what Pentagon officials suspect might be the staging of a kidnapping.

For more than two weeks, Corporal Wassef Ali Hassoun‘s family has pleaded for prayers.  But today, it wasn‘t just prayers that arrived at their footstep—rather, their doorstep, but rather FBI agents.  NBC‘s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reporting exclusively tonight that military sources tell him that the Navy has launched a criminal investigation exploring the possibility that Hassoun‘s kidnapping was actually a hoax, a strange twist on the same day that Hassoun‘s family announced it had received a—quote—“sign” that their son had been safely released by his kidnappers.

The Pentagon said it was in the dark about that claim, but did confirm that it received a call from someone claiming to be Hassoun, that person apparently telling them that he was now in Lebanon and—quote—“waiting to be picked up.”  And where he really is and whether he‘s actually waiting for that pickup remain mysteries.

That wraps up the third story tonight, intelligence at home and intent in Iraq.  Coming up, what do you suppose you would find at a Web site called MarryBlaire.com?  Well, we‘ll introduce to you Blaire in just a moment.  And how police are catching car thieves without the obligatory car chase.

Those stories ahead, but, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They came over to dinner.  I think it took about five minutes before little Jack and Emma Claire were in the pool swimming around and having fun.  Jack does a mean cannonball, ladies and gentlemen.  And I‘ll tell you something else. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  They say Kerry‘s choice—it was big picture—and they say it is Dick Gephardt, a huge mistake.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is not the only major mistake “The Post” has made.  Pretty amazing.  “Dick Cheney Wins New York Marathon.”

(LAUGHTER)

O‘BRIEN:  Here‘s an article about Paris Hilton.  And this is what they went with, “Still a Virgin.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Do you want some? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH:  It‘s really good.  Lemonade.  Lemonade.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One hundred, seventy-seven days, four hours and about 16 minutes and 10 seconds to go, self-imposed countdown added to one woman‘s rules of engagement next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  All of us who are or have been single, we have at some point looked enviously at the professionals and their prospects of finding true love and marriage, the professionals, the matchmakers, the organizers of the bachelorette parties, even the newest response to the desperation of singlehood, the dating coach. 

Surely, these people have the inside track.  They can skip the nightmares of dating and relationships that the rest of us have suffered, like the mythical character Sisyphus, pushing the damned rock up the damned hill every day for eternity.  Evidently not. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Blaire Allison and her hunt for a hubby, which has led her to put up a Web site and set down a deadline for herself to be engaged by the end of this calendar year.  And Ms.  Allison has been a matchmaker, an organizer of bachelorette parties and even a dating coach. 

The proprietor of MarryBlaire.com joins us now. 

Ms. Allison, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

BLAIRE ALLISON, MARRYBLAIRE.COM:  Hi.  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, what the hell is the problem here? 

ALLISON:  I don‘t know.  I need to get myself more out there.  I‘m not meeting him.  You know? 

OLBERMANN:  Now, to be fair, you do have some pretty specific requirements.  You‘ve got age requirements, religious requirements, height requirements, and the timing requirement here.  Give me the rundown on this. 

ALLISON:  All right. 

Well, you know, I usually like—I‘m very attracted to more—for taller men.  But, for something like this, I‘ll go for a 5‘8“er.  I want a man that is in his 20s.  I‘ll stretch it to maybe 32 at most.  But I really would like someone close to my age. 

OLBERMANN:  And you are going to be, what, 27? 

ALLISON:  I‘m going to be 27 in like nine days here. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, well, when you get to 45, you can adopt that tone with me.  But, in the interim, just calm down. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  What has the reaction to all this been?  How many dates?  How many possibles?  Obviously, it‘s turned into something of a story if you‘ve gotten on television.  What are the dating results here? 

ALLISON:  Well, keep in mind that the Web site has only been up for two weeks.  So I went on one date two weeks ago when it first went up the first week.  Now, the second week, I had another man up.  And everyone gets to vote on him.  And he actually never called me.  So he was kind of like dumped from the site there.  And now everyone is voting on this new man of the week, which he seems to be doing pretty well in the polls. 

OLBERMANN:  Big picture, based on your experiences and the dating coach thing, what does the fact that you felt the need to open up this Web site and sort of not say about your own condition or circumstances but about what is perceived as the deterioration of the dating world? 

ALLISON:  Well, I don‘t really know how to answer your question here.  I go to—I date online.  I‘ve been on several Web sites.  I go to the singles—the different events.  And it‘s tough.  There‘s more singles than ever and no one is meeting anyone. 

I think a lot of people out there are just kind of like a little fed up.  They don‘t know what to do. 

OLBERMANN:  As I said, at 45, come back and check with me. 

ALLISON:  Why do we all to have get married in our 30s?  These days, it‘s like that‘s the norm, especially in New York, mid to late-30s.  Then it is OK to be complaining.  I don‘t want to get married and have kids right away.  I want to live with this man for a while, enjoy our lives, and then have kids. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, good for you.  I think that‘s a refreshing attitude.  And I think that will add to it once you get past all the people who are just signing on to the Web site to sign on for a Web site. 

Blaire Allison.  The Web site is Mary-Blaire—that‘s one word—

Blaire has an E on it at the end of her name -- .com.  Good luck with it. 

Thanks for coming on the show.

ALLISON:  Thank you so much.

OLBERMANN:  And, neatly, we segue out of a love story into our celebrity and gossip segment, “Keeping Tabs,” with a story about Love, the omnipresent Courtney Love. 

America‘s favorite defendant and most frequent one will be back on the Web herself by Friday.  The actress and singer‘s Web site, kittyradio, has been shuddered because she did not pay the bills.  She then solicited donations from fans.  She has now posted another message online saying the pledge drive was a success and oh, by the way, T-shirts for kittyradio are also available. 

The other “Tabs” tonight, though, are not nearly so happy.  The actor James Doohan has been diagnosed with Alzheimer‘s disease.  His agent has confirmed the sad news, saying that the 84-year-old got that news within the last few months and that, right now, only his short-term memory is affected.  Said his son Chris, “If you asked him how he got his role on ‘Star Trek‘ or about D-Day, he can talk about that for an hour.”  He did in fact serve at Normandy. 

Doohan, of course, played Scotty in the original TV series of “Star Trek” and the subsequent movies.

And lastly, before the final commercial break and our No. 1 story of the night, one of the great radio newscasters has left us.  For more than four decades, Bob Hagen represented the best of journalism in Akron, Cleveland, in Philadelphia and Chicago and most notably in New York. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

BOB HAGEN, RADIO NEWSCASTER:  Good morning, 39 degrees at 11:40 on this Friday, February 26.  I‘m Bob Hagen.  Here‘s what is happening.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Intelligent, quick-witted, honest, with a crisp delivery and a firm grasp of all he covered, he was also the best friend a broadcasting rookie could have ever had, which was how I met him at WNEW Radio in 1980.  Bob Hagen died Sunday at the age of 68.  To his wife, Keta, and his children, our deepest condolences.

And to Bob himself, my deepest gratitude.  Bob Hagen‘s last newscast was at WINS Radio in 1999. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

HAGEN: I‘m Bob Hagen.  This is the most listened-to radio station in New York City.  The news watch never stops on 1010 WINS, WINS, New York.  Keep a light on for me, New York. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We may be the newscast of record for car chases, but like the rest of society, we would be delighted if there never was another one again.  To whatever degree we approach that impossible dream will be largely dependent on new ways to thwart the oldest of crimes, theft. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, boy, oh, boy, do they have a new way in the Midwest. 

As Tom Costello reports, in Minneapolis, in Columbus, Ohio, the police have in essence built a better mousetrap. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s become a staple of afternoon drive time, a stolen car and a dangerous police chase.  With a car stolen every 27 seconds in America, police and insurers have found a proactive way to get car thieves off the street safely. 

SGT. LARRY YATES, COLUMBUS, OHIO, POLICE DEPARTMENT:  This is our record right here.  He took the car in seven seconds. 

COSTELLO:  They‘re called bait cars. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Better not drive crazy or stupid.

COSTELLO:  Keys left inside, the cars are loaded with cameras and GPS satellite trackers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s for sale.

COSTELLO:  And rigged so police dispatchers can follow the car on a computer, then kill the engine and lock the suspects inside once they‘re surrounded.  For most, the whole thing comes as a big surprise. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Damn, he got a gun out.  They must have knew this was stolen. 

COSTELLO:  And remove every word recorded for use in court. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hit it.

COSTELLO:  Here, two brothers celebrate scoring a sedan while police trace them to the scene of their next crime, a home burglary. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the cars that we‘ve had stolen this month in this particular area. 

COSTELLO:  Investigator Wayne Johnson (ph) runs a fleet of bait cars from a dusty undercover warehouse in Minneapolis.  He won‘t say how many, but within the first six months of putting them on the street, auto theft here dropped by 35 percent. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We want people to believe that there‘s a car out on every street, in every neighborhood. 

COSTELLO (on camera):  And is there? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO:  As soon as the car thief opens the door, the cameras insides are triggered and you never know where they‘re hidden.  They could be in the heater.  It could be in the rearview mirror.  It could even be hidden in the clock. 

Police here in Minneapolis say, with this little camera, they have never lost a case. 

(voice-over):  In Columbus, Ohio, where 8,000 cars are stolen each year, police couldn‘t resist adding their own special gotcha. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cuz, it‘s a setup car.  It‘s a setup car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A distraction for the two to three seconds it takes to us to get up to the car, get them at gunpoint, get their hands up and secure them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, sir.  My hands are up.

COSTELLO:  And police say most suspects aren‘t just car thieves.  Most have guns, drugs, and arrest records.  Grand theft auto charged whether driving or just along for the ride. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, Minneapolis. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Moral?  Never steal a car that has a camera in a dashboard or is already playing the theme from “Cops” as you get inside. 

To recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow, No. 5, the double John debut, John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, stumping in three swing states today, a new NBC poll putting the poll eight points ahead of the current president and his partner and Mr. Edwards seven points ahead of Mr. Cheney in the worst-case scenario question, who would be the better president? 

Four, Kenny-boy‘s comeuppance.  A grand jury finally returns the sealed indictments against Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron.  He says he will surrender tomorrow and there‘s nothing to any of the charges.  Three, staging the spontaneity.  An internal military report now acknowledges, the Army rounded up Iraqis to take part in this highly symbolic toppling of Saddam‘s statue in April of last year psy-ops decided it was a good target of opportunity. 

Two, e-marriage, 26-year-old wanna-be bride Blaire Allison, who has set up a Web site devoted to finding herself a husband, at least an engagement, before year‘s end.  And, No. 1, bait for the bad boys, police using cars with candid cameras to catch thieves in the act, for your dining and dancing pleasure. 

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

,