updated 7/15/2004 11:11:45 AM ET 2004-07-15T15:11:45

Guests: Robin Wright, Steve Sipek, Tom Squitieri, Mike Silva

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The British version of the Iraq intelligence investigation:  Open to doubt, seriously flawed, qualifiers left out, no weapons of mass destruction, but no intent to deceive.  And Britain‘s leader accepts responsibility, but not the blame.

They shot his Bobo:  Did police act too quickly in the hunt for an escaped pet tiger in Florida?  Whatever happened to tranquilizer guns?  Its grieving owner joins us live. 

Politics:  How come Hillary is not speaking in Boston?  Is there something about Mike Ditka that could make him an even more controversial Senate candidate than the former Mr. Jeri Ryan?  And which Senate candidate lives here? 

And now it belongs to the ages:  The bull run is over at Pamplona, we‘ll be joined live by one of the bulls—I‘m sorry, by one of the people. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It was the matchless political impersonator David Fry who could twist his vocal cords to make himself sound exactly like everyone from William F. Buckley, Jr. to Ted Kennedy, who said it.  Portraying a mid-Watergate Richard Nixon, Fry said, “As the man in charge, I accept responsibility, but not the blame.  Those who are to blame lose their jobs; those who are responsible do not.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN:  The Butler report.  Britain‘s investigation into Iraq pre-war intel, dodgy dossiers and such, has concluded there were no weapons of mass destruction there, and the government exaggerated what evidence it made public, but there was no intent to mislead. 

Following which, Prime Minister Tony Blair immediately announced, “I accept responsibility.” 

In several ways, the conclusions echoed the results of last week‘s Senate Intelligence report—Iraq did not have the deployable chemical or biological weapons, as Blair and Bush both claimed, and intelligence gathering was, quote, “seriously flawed, often relying on third hand reporting.”  But when it came to the question of blame, the British were much more hesitant to point any fingers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORD ROBIN BUTLER, HEAD OF U.K. WMD INQUIRY:  I think that no single individual is to blame.  This was a collective operation in which—there were the failures that we‘ve identified, but as I said, no, in my view, no deliberate attempt on the part of the government to mislead. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now the part about responsibility, but not the blame.  Prime Minister Blair got a sneak preview of that report yesterday and thus had a long time to prepare his remarks to Parliament, which sounded extraordinarily similar to his remarks to Parliament for the last year. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  Any mistakes made, as this report finds, in good faith, I of course take responsibility.  But I cannot honestly say that I believe getting rid of Saddam was a mistake at all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But here, here, the more diffuse investigations have suffered another blow, according to congressional officials quoted by the “New York Times.”  They say the White House and CIA have refused to give the Senate Intelligence Committee a key one-page summary of all the pre-war intel.  The review was prepared for Mr. Bush in October 2002.  It summarizes the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate.  Ninety pages, all told, about what, if any, illicit weapons were in Saddam Hussein‘s hands, pre-war.  The one-page summary is important, because it could tell investigators whether or not the president ever saw any of the disclaimers from various intelligence agencies which doubted some of the stuff coming in over the transit, particularly about Iraqi nukes. 

Lending us some expertise tonight, to assess the investigations from both sides of the Atlantic, Robin Wright, the diplomatic correspondent for the “Washington Post.” 

Ms. Wright, pleasure to have you back on the program. 

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST,” DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT:  Always nice to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Everybody‘s responsible, but nobody is to blame.  Is that the gist of the Butler report? 

WRIGHT:  That is.  It was very striking.  The tone was just as critical, in terms of the conclusions that there were no weapons of mass destruction, but the blame was much less specific than the Senate report in the United States.  But there is likely to be a consequence in that it‘s quite likely that John Scarlet (ph), who was the British official—intelligence official, who orchestrated their initial intelligence finding, is now a head of MI-5, could lose his job.  There‘s a great deal of speculation about that now. 

OLBERMANN:  And yet even Lord Butler said he should not lose his job.  Is it fair to say—obviously it‘s fair to say that the Senate report actually came down harder on the White House than the Butler report did on 10 Downing Street.  But why is that? 

WRIGHT:  I don‘t know what the thinking was in Britain, but I think one of the striking things about it was the way—it was the response of the two governments.  The Bush administration was very critical of its intelligence agency, while Tony Blair said it wasn‘t the fault of the intelligence community and that he accepted full blame, that the buck stops at his office. 

OLBERMANN:  The October 2002 one-page summary of the National Intelligence Estimate, it seems to be fairly clear why the Senate Intelligence Committee would want it.  Is it clear why the White House and the CIA won‘t provide it? 

WRIGHT:  Well, it‘s clearly the most sensitive document, in that it will spell out the scope of what the president himself saw, and how specific the CIA was in making very simplistic or very short-ish answers, and that could be, in some ways, the most damning document. 

OLBERMANN:  Putting these two together, do we at this stage, have an idea of how it was that the English and American intelligence services and governments both rushed to essentially the same conclusions, making the same mistakes?

WRIGHT:  I think it is in part because they relied on some of the same faulty sources, particularly defectors who were channeled through the Iraqi National Congress led by Ahmed Chalabi, which is widely acknowledged now to have been the source of some very erroneous information.  That was the single biggest problem. 

The other problem was that neither of them really had any human intelligence on the ground and had to rely on technical knowledge, or technical satellite information—intercepts, and not enough firsthand reporting. 

OLBERMANN:  Robin Wright of “The Washington Post.”  As always, great, thanks for your time tonight. 

WRIGHT:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And another day, another confusing set of poll numbers.  Yesterday, the president was found to be decisive but arrogant and not as smart as the other guy.  Today, it appears more people approve of the way Mr. Bush is handling the war on terror and more people believe he is losing the war on terror. 

In a poll that might tell you more about polls than it does about presidents, a “Washington Post” survey indicates 55 percent of American approve of Mr. Bush‘s handling of the war on terror—up five points in three weeks.  But only 46 percent think the U.S. is winning that war.  In April, in the same poll, that number was 54 percent.  As to who was better trusted to handle terrorism, Mr. Bush has broken what was, three weeks ago, a tie.  It is now 51-42 over Senator Kerry. 

Opinion making elsewhere, by hostage taking, the government of the Philippines confirming now it is preparing to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Iraq earlier than planned in hopes of saving the life of one of its citizens.  The group of Filipinos, now down from 51 to just 43 members, will leave Iraq by next Tuesday.  It had been scheduled to go home a month later than that.  It is unclear if the announcement has indeed secured the release of Angelo de la Cruz, but the government is firmly standing by its decision.  The vice president issuing a statement today saying simply, “What is important now is the safety of Angelo.” 

But any illusion of safety in Iraq was violently shattered today.  A suicide car bomber struck in the center of Baghdad.  A blast powered by 1,000 pounds of explosives targeting the heavily guarded American compound known as the Green Zone, headquarters now to the new Iraqi interim government and the U.S. embassy and the British embassy.  It killed at least 10, it wounded another 40.  The bombing thus the deadliest insurgent attack to hit Iraq since the installation of the new government late last month. 

And in another assault on its stability, insurgents killed the governor of Mosul.  Youssef Kashmola, seen here to the left of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, was gunned down today during an ambush north of Tikrit. 

Back here, authorities say residents and convention goers should be buoyed by the readiness that this news indicates.  That might not be the universal reaction.  The Centers for Disease Control confirming it has expedited shipments to Boston and New York of antidotes for chemical attacks.  The CDC saying both kinds of drugs, the ones for use in hospitals, the ones for use in the field, will be in place in plenty of time for both the Democratic and Republican conventions. 

And lastly, as part of our fifth story tonight:  During the Second World War, every town, big or small, had an air raid warden or more than one, a civilian who volunteered to watch the skies just in case the Luftwaffe tried to attack Muncie, Indiana. 

News now that in the post 9/11 world, we‘re turning to civilians again.  Bus drivers, truckers, toll booth attendants, repairmen, and building superintendents.  Supers, doormen, handymen, and the 28,000 other staffer of New York City‘s countless apartment buildings are undergoing four-hour courses provided at the local police precinct.  How to spot suspicious packages or spot suspicious New Yorkers.  Like there‘s any other kind!

It‘s not just the big city.  Homeland Security and the American Trucking Association are spending $19 million to recruit truck drivers into a group called Highway Watch.  “Time” magazine quoting the manager of a public bus system in rural Arkansas as saying, “We got a terroristic phone call the other day, but it turned out it was just a boyfriend of an employee.” 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with pre-war intelligence and post-war problems. 

Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The questions surrounding the shooting death of Bobo the tiger.  Why was the animal not tranquilized instead of killed?  Bobo‘s owner will join us after the break.

And later, Hillary Clinton‘s convention snub:  She is not a scheduled speaker for John Kerry‘s coming out party in Boston.  Is it really as simple as she never asked anybody if she could speak? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Straight ahead on COUNTDOWN, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The shooting of a pet tiger in Florida.  Authorizes say it was lunging at them, the owner says the fact don‘t support that.  And did having a tiger at your house become OK?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It simply is not everyday that a pet tiger escapes from a man‘s home and the man turns out to have portrayed Tarzan in two foreign films from the ‘70s and the police wind up shooting and killing the tiger while they search for it, and the owner calls it murder and says somebody deliberately let his cat out of its cage. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  They shoot tigers, don‘t they? 

This is Bobo, the 6-year-old, 600 pound Bengal Siberian mix raised by Steve Sipek on his property outside West Palm Beach, Florida.  On Monday, Bobo escaped.  How, still under investigation. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife officials searched through the five acre property and the surrounding area before they found Bobo yesterday evening.  According to the authorities, when he was discovered, the tiger immediately lunged at a 24-year-old officer armed with a shotgun, killed him.  Mr.  Sipek was on the scene only minutes later, too late to save his beloved animal, clearly distraught, clearly angered.  He blamed Florida Fish and Wildlife, charges they responded this afternoon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. CHARLIE DENNIS, FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE COMMISSION:  In this particular incidence, we had an unfortunate occurrence.  We regret that.  There‘s just no way we can—we like these things to end up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Steve Sipek is joining us now from his home in Loxahatchee, Florida.  Mr. Sipek, thank you for your time tonight.  We‘re sorry for your sadness. 

STEVE SIPEK, OWNER, BOBO THE TIGER:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  I gather that you think almost nothing in the Fish and Wildlife officers‘ report of what happened last night when they encountered Bobo was true. 

SIPEK:  Total lies.  Total lies.

OLBERMANN:  What did they tell you happened and what do you disagree with? 

SIPEK:  I disagree with everything.  They claimed that Bobo charged them and that the officer had no choice but to shoot him.  I accept that.  I accept the fact that if that was true, I would have no problem with that whatsoever.  We do not want people to get killed by tigers. 

The problem is that I examined the area where Bobo lay found and dead.  Bobo was under the natural underbrush.  It was perfectly—was perfectly, in every aspect the way nature had created it.  Bobo found a spot and felt safe, and he slept there all day.  Being chased by helicopters for two days was exhausted.  He was thirsty and hungry and lonely and scared, and he fell asleep. 

He didn‘t even hear the lady that walked by and that found him, went to the authorities, say, “Yeah, Bobo is right here by the fence.” 

And the next thing, they rush around the corner, about 51 feet from him.  I measured, I walked it—the distance, and Bobo must have raised his head for a split second to see what‘s going on, because he heard footsteps.  Never a chance to even get up, never a chance to do any of it.  Didn‘t have a chance to escape or nothing.  He dropped dead on the spot.  Because if he did have a chance to get away, all the shrubbery that grew normally for years and years would have been destroyed.  If you‘re 600 pounds, you instantly destroy everything.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.

SIPEK:  Everything was in a perfect condition, everything. 

OLBERMANN:  When...

SIPEK:  That‘s how I know that Bobo died being murdered. 

OLBERMANN:  When animal control officers are out there in these situations, why aren‘t they shooting tranquilizer darts, or at least shooting tranquilizer darts before they start using shotguns? 

SIPEK:  Because they believe that the tranquilizer gun cannot put the cat down while they‘re present, and they feel that the tiger will charge them then and kill them. 

So, I asked them that question myself.  And I asked them why shotguns and why guns?  They said, “Well, we got our orders from higher up.” 

OLBERMANN:  The last question... 

SIPEK:  And I have the bullets in my hand that I picked up, at the—at the 51 feet from Bobo.  I only found three, even though I heard five shots that killed Bobo.  Here are the bullets that killed Bobo.  Why five shots?  If they fired one shot up in the air, Bobo would take off the other direction.  Now I‘m sorry, but I have to feed my baby.  She is waiting for me.  Hi, sweetheart.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll let you do that, Mr. Sipek.  Steve Sipek, many thanks for your time tonight. 

It was last October, of course, that another pet tiger was found in a more unusual setting, still -- 141st Street and 7th Avenue in New York City.  The Housing Authority had ignored the complaints of the downstairs neighbor that tiger urine was leaking from the apartment above hers.  Not long after, Ming the tiger was tranquilized by police and relocated to a wildlife shelter in Cleveland, along with a boa constrictor, two bear cubs, an alligator and a tarantula.  This begs the question, addressed now by our correspondent, Don Teague—what the what the? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As bad ideas go, you might think keeping two dozen Bengal tigers on a farm in New Jersey or an alligator and a 600-pound tiger in a New York apartment rank near the top.  But Antoine Yates, who was mauled by that apartment tiger last year, is fighting to get his big cat back. 

ANTOINE YATES, TIGER OWNER:  The time we spent was real magical, and it was a true bond and a true love. 

TEAGUE:  Yates is one of those owners who believe their exotic animals pose no danger to the public.  Many owners aren‘t that loyal, says Mary Lynn Roberts, whose Tennessee tiger rescue facility is among the largest in the country.  Many of the 200 big cats here come from owners who suddenly realized they were dangerously in over their heads. 

MARY LYNN ROBERTS, TIGER HAVEN:  Because the breeders are going to tell them it‘s a big old pussy cat laying on the couch.  And it‘s not.  It‘s a tiger. 

TEAGUE (on camera):  Experts say most people who own big cats like these have no qualifications to do so safely.  But in many states around the country, that‘s no problem. 

(voice-over):  Only 19 states ban private ownership of big cats and other exotic animals.  While the Bush administration recently strengthened federal regulations, the Humane Society says existing laws don‘t go far enough. 

WAYNE PACELLE, CEO, UNITED STATES HUMANE SOCIETY:  It‘s not amateur hour any longer here in the United States, it‘s too dangerous for the cats and for the people involved. 

TEAGUE:  People like Steve Sipek, who once played Tarzan in a movie and still considers living with his tigers a good idea. 

Don Teague, NBC News, Kingston, Tennessee. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The fourth story completed, now.  Up next, “Oddball.”  In a race you simply have to see to believe, and even then you might still be scratching your head.  High tide, I see. 

And later, a tradition since 1591 or 1867 or—a little less romance, a few harder facts.  Taking the bull out of the running of the bulls at Pamplona.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and pause the COUNTDOWN because this remains the only show in which you can get exclusive primetime coverage of one of the world‘s most famous continuing battles between man and beast.  A battle that begins when I say, “Let‘s play Oddball.” 

And this is not the battle of which I spoke.  It‘s the New York City equivalent, the running of the cabs.  Courtesy of “Late Night with David Letterman” from CBS.  Twice the danger plus you have to tip the guy.  Your nightly fix of stampeding mayhem comes up later.  To commemorate this, the last day of the 2004 Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, we will have an actual live guest an and actual live retrospective. 

For less slaughter and more weirdness, we can go to the smallest town in Great Britain, Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales.  It is currently playing host to one of the world‘s strangest sporting events—bike bog snorkeling.  Organizers, digging a six-foot trench, filling it up with freezing cold, foul smelly water, then they invited the athletes to try and make it through the sludge.  The wannabes have to peddle furiously underwater for 15 meters, breathing through the snorkel before coming back on dry land.  This year the 2003 champ retained his world title.  Reportedly this is all done because peddling thought six feet of ice cold sludge is still better than just being in the rest Wales. 

And to complete this rare “Oddball” theme of sports, Delta‘s low-budget carrier Song Airlines, is offering its passengers a mid-flight workout, quote, “It‘s designed to decrease stress and fatigue and improve strength and flexibility, all while burning calories.”  All for eight bucks, for use on the line‘s routes from Miami to New York.  No rowing machine in the aisle, no chin bar in the lavatory.  No, for your eight bucks you get this:  An elastic band and a squeezable ball.  You know, for kids.  No, they say you can do almost a full workout with those.  Of course once the TSA realizes that in the band and ball, you have the basic building blocks of a sling shot, they are going to be Song Airlines flights grounded quicker than you can say Dennis the Menace. 

“Oddball” officially in the record books.  Up next the No. 3 story:

Senator Hillary Clinton.  Her name floated as potential V.P., rumors of a 2008 White House run.  Why is she being left out of the convention? 

And from snub politics to strange politics: The gentleman from Illinois.  We‘re not kidding.  These stories ahead.  First here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: An unnamed burglar from East Lansing, Michigan, broke into an art gallery and doing either a “Spider-Man” or “Mission Impossible” bit, went in through skylight by rope and got stuck there, so he called 911. 

No. 2: Just like an episode of “M.A.S.H.” man goes into a Port-a-Potty, suddenly there‘s an explosion.  Explanation—he lit a cigarette in there ignoring the fact that most outhouses contain explosive gases. 

And No. 1: Daryl Miller who literally could not keep his pants on at airport security.  Minneapolis, this was.  They wand him so he drops his shorts and says to the screener, “There.  How do you like your job?”  The problem—Mr. Miller was not wearing any underwear at the time.  Officials say the self-exposed Mr. Miller constituted only a minor threat. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Christie Vilsack is not a name that is likely to jump out at you from the pages of American politics, unless you live in Iowa, and maybe not even then.  But Mrs. Vilsack, the wife of the governor of Iowa, has attained a certain unexpected status today.  She is one of the women who will address the Democratic National Convention two weeks hence in Boston.  And Hillary Clinton is not. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the political contenders, from those who could have been, like Senator Clinton, to those who may yet be, like Mike Ditka, and a guy who lives in a bus station in the Midwest. 

First up, where‘s Hillary?  Every other prominent member of the party has a speaking role.  Why not her?  The head of the New York Democratic Party among the many interpreting this as—quote—“a slap in the face.”  Senator Kerry‘s office spinning it as, she didn‘t ask to speak, no big deal.  Convention officials doing little to clarify, saying Mrs. Clinton will appear on the convention‘s first night as part of a special segment featuring all female senators, but she is still not expected to speak.  Maybe they‘ll all sing. 

To help us gauge how much we should reasonably read into this, I‘m joined by Tom Squitieri, national correspondent for “USA Today.” 

Tom, good evening.  Thanks again for your time. 

TOM SQUITIERI, “USA TODAY”:  Good evening, Keith. 

I will guarantee you, you are not going to see the Rockettes up there. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s hope not.

SQUITIERI:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Christie Vilsack, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, Tammy Baldwin Martin O‘Malley  Janet Napolitano, and Bob Menendez are all on the prime-time speakers list.  Senator Clinton is not.  And yet everyone connected to there is saying, no, it‘s not intentional or a slight or a rift.  Could the simple explanation possibly be true? 

SQUITIERI:  It could be true.  And I bet, in some regards, it is true.  But the real reality is that her husband, President Clinton, is going to be speaking.  And one Clinton is about all the gamble that the Democrats can take.  And if you have to pick one, you might as well pick the guy who is going to be out on the book in the rural hamlets in October and November drumming up votes for you. 

OLBERMANN:  From her viewpoint, though, even if she is only the emergency candidate for 2008 in the event that they don‘t unseat Bush in November, should she not be fighting for every opportunity she can to sort of show her mettle to large groups of Democrats and at least comparatively large groups of TV viewer? 

SQUITIERI:  I think that there‘s a part of her that would like to speak, because she sees herself as a leader in the party, and deservedly so.  She has been a good senator. 

But I‘ll you, I‘ll be the odd man out on this tonight, Keith.  I think that she risks overexposure at the convention if, for some reason, her speech does not live up to the great hype that it would get ahead of time.  Her husband will probably give a pretty good speech.  Ted Kennedy is planning to give the second greatest speech at the convention of his life. 

So she‘s going to be up against some stiff competition.  And also, it will give the opportunity for the Republicans, if she did speak, to pick apart the video of that and use it in countless ads against the Democrats. 

OLBERMANN:  Tom, lastly, on a broader topic, we‘re basically going to shut down part of Boston 12 days from now, much of Manhattan a month from now, going to spend $150 million on security between the two cities.  There hasn‘t been any real news out of one of these things since ‘84, maybe ‘88. 

The broadcast networks don‘t give a damn anymore.  And even those of us in cable are kind of, feh.  Could these be the last full-scale nominating conventions? 

SQUITIERI:  I think that you‘re going to see conventions go on for a while for the simple reason that political parties like them, because it gets people together away from everyone who can rat them out.  It is sort of like Las Vegas this year in Boston and New York City. 

But my suggestion, there‘s a lot of bull at this conventions.  Bring in the guys from Spain.  That will liven things up. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, all right.  And they definitely televise it every night. 

Tom Squitieri of “USA Today,” as always, Tom, many thanks. 

SQUITIERI:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  On the other side of the political fence, a huge but hardly an unexpected loss today for the Republicans.  The constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is dead.  A procedural motion to move the amendment to the Senate floor lost 50-48 this afternoon.

It needed 60 votes to pass just that procedural barrier.  It would have needed 67 to actually pass as an amendment.  Six Republicans voted against it today, three Democrats for it.  Its proponents insist they will continue the push for an amendment again at some point in the future. 

The Republicans meanwhile are dealing with a couple of state-level brushfires.  A same-party marriage isn‘t going well between the president and the Republican governor of Massachusetts.  Mitt Romney today managed to slam both Mr. Bush and his own state‘s senator, Mr. Kerry.  The White House has no problem with the latter, but might just be offended by the former. 

The governor says the administration spends taxpayer money—quote—

“based on who will vote for us or for our party.  In effect, we buy votes.  We fund programs that don‘t work.  We tolerate abuse and cheating in the multiples of billions of dollars.”

Looking similarly distressed is Senator Kerry, because, of him, Mit Romney added: “He wants a leaner governor, but he can‘t face down the public employee unions.  He is quick to point out of the obvious flaws in the Iraq military campaign, but slow to tell us what he would do from here.”

That‘s Massachusetts.  In Illinois, 111 days before the election, Republicans don‘t even have a candidate for the U.S. Senate, although it is increasingly likely that the GOP will turn to former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka.  Ditka of course would succeed the first Republican candidate, Jack Ryan, who withdrew after a very unseemly scandal.  The problem here is, you‘re replacing a guy whose ex-wife charges he wanted her to perform sex acts in front of witnesses with a guy who serves as a spokesman for an erectile dysfunction drug.  See, politics does make strange bedfellows. 

Here‘s Ron Allen. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Here, he‘s known as da coach, iron Mike Ditka, coach of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears, a bold and blunt sports legend. 

MIKE DITKA, FORMER CHICAGO BEARS COACH:  See that?  That‘s your I.Q., buddy.  Zero. 

If you think this is a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) soap opera, you‘re full of (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

Ah, shut up.

ALLEN:  Tantalizing the hometown crowd with talk of running as a Republican for the U.S. Senate. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What began as a dream by some of his admirers is taking on more credibility with each passing day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Da coach for da Senate.

DITKA:  The question in my mind is if I really think I can make a difference, if I can represent the people the way they should be represented. 

ALLEN:  The GOP‘s first choice, Jack Ryan quit, when divorce records detailed embarrassing sexual allegations.  Now, Ditka, a pitch man for everything from casinos to an anti-impotence drug, may decide to play politics. 

KIRK DILLARD ®, ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR:  As both major Chicago newspapers said, it is third and long and it is a Hail Mary pass.  But anything is possible. 

ALLEN (on camera):  For three weeks now, this state‘s Republicans have been unable to find a candidate with the money and name recognition to run. 

BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  I am fired up. 

ALLEN (voice-over):  Here‘s a big part of the Republican problem, Democratic contender State Senator Barack Obama. 

OBAMA:  My father was from Kenya.  My mother was from Kansas. 

ALLEN:  A biracial Harvard-educated lawyer trying to become the only African-American in the Senate. 

OBAMA:  I think the big issues of this campaign are the difficulties that the middle class is experiencing in making ends meet. 

ALLEN:  A rising star on the national stage raising money at a record pace and ready, he says, to tackle coach Ditka. 

OBAMA: I‘m going to be asking him why the ‘85 Bears only won one Super Bowl. 

JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  It‘s bizarre.  You have a Democratic candidate running essentially against nobody.  The Republican Party is scared to put anybody up against him. 

ALLEN:  Until da coach or someone else become da candidate, their Democratic opponent has a clear run to the end zone. 

Ron Allen, NBC News, Chicago. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  It could be worse.  This could be happening in Wisconsin, where, according to the newspaper “The Green Bay News Chronicle,” an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate there has turned in his required 2,015 petition signatures and the authorities are checking all of them, including his. 

Would-be candidate Eugene A. Hemm (ph) lists his home address as 800 Cedar Street, green Bay, Wisconsin, 54301.  That happens to be the address of the Greyhound bus station.  A Wisconsin election official tells the paper there‘s no law keeping someone who lives in the bus station from running for the Senate.  It might be a step down. 

Our No. 3 story is behind us now, putting the tick back in politics.  Up next, you‘ve no doubt heard of ladies night at the bar.  How about bald night at the local diner?  And later, as Martha Stewart awaits sentencing Friday, one insider reportedly contacts the judge to say please lock her in jail and throw away the key.  those stories ahead. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ladies and gentlemen, give a big warm (INAUDIBLE) welcome to the president of the United States!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

ROBERT BAZELL, NBC CHIEF SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT:  The spirit of people on “The Today Show” presenting their insides on television. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bob Bazell‘s guts on TV. 

BAZELL:  At least I have guts.

(LAUGHTER)

BAZELL:  This is my insides.  And if anybody has ever had tripe in a restaurant, that is what it looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Look, if I got ice cream on my face (INAUDIBLE)  She likes it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Two more stories to go in our trek to tonight‘s No. 1, bulls gone wild, surf and turf, and with a toupee on the side, and a celebrity endorsement yanked.  Which one will be No. 1? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Long ago and far away, there was a popular and memorable radio advertisement from a pasta company that told of young Anthony Martinieri (ph), racing home through the streets of Boston because it was Wednesday.  And he knew that, in Boston, Wednesday was spaghetti day. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN takes us not to the teeming streets of the hub city, but rather to the arid flats of California, where a local restaurateur has also claimed Wednesday as a special day for dining. 

As correspondent Rich Ibarra of our Sacramento affiliate KCRA reports, in Lodi, Wednesday is bald men eat free day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know that God only made a few perfect heads. 

And on the rest of them, he put hair. 

RICH IBARRA, KCRA REPORTER (voice-over):  Bald guys in Lodi are feeling a little special these days. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Best deal in town. 

IBARRA:  Because at Gary‘s Uptown Grill...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bald men eat free on Wednesdays. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Great idea, seeing as I‘m a bald guy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wednesdays was our slower night of the week, so we decided to have it be our bald guys night.  And now it‘s turned out to be our best night of the week.

IBARRA:  They get to pick from their own menu.  And you don‘t have to be totally bald to have a little taken off the top, off the bill, that is. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think you‘re at least 60 percent bald.  And so we‘ll give you 60 percent off the menu price there. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Thank you very much.

IBARRA:  And they aren‘t worried about losing money, because bald men don‘t dine alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have got one gentleman from a nursing home down the road.  He had five single widows with him.  And he was bald, so he was having a great time. 

IBARRA:  But there are some who definitely fare better than others. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t think he expected a whole family, a bald family to come.  But the kids and I, we look forward to it big time.  We‘re regulars now. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would rather have hair. 

IBARRA:  And there are less who care less about the discount. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I wouldn‘t want to be bald just to get a free meal. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get free food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bald ladies eat free, too. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, well, I have a little more hair.  I think I can not eat free. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  These are all free. 

IBARRA:  But for those who are follicly challenged...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is great.  I got mine totally free. 

IBARRA:  This bill is not going to be a hair-raising experience. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I‘m not even totally bald. 

IBARRA (on camera):  Don‘t tell them that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I won‘t. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of eating and a change in the menu and the price, Whoopi Goldberg fired by Slim-Fast today leading our “Keeping Tabs” celebrity segment tonight.

The axe fell a week after the comedienne and actress went blue during a Democratic fund-raiser in New York.  She made a few puns on the president‘s last name.  The diet product company, which had centered a $7.5 million campaign around Ms. Goldberg said in a statement today that it trusts—quote—“The public understands that the way in which she chose to express her own personal beliefs does not reflect the views and values of Slim-Fast.”  No comment from Whoopi and no truth to rumors that she‘ll be replaced on the weight loss ads by Vice President Cheney, since he found such creative ways to end a sentence with the word off.

And the high doyen of household hints will be sentenced day after tomorrow for a long time, if someone has their way.  We‘re not clear if the judge in the case has even seen a letter which arrived purportedly from the second wife of Martha Stewart‘s ex-husband.  Andy Stewart‘s current wife, Robin Faircloth (ph), has denied she wrote anything suggesting that the judge should give her matrimonial predecessor the maximum of 16 months. 

Meanwhile, Pete Townshend, behind such anti-establishment anthems as “Won‘t Get Fooled Again” and “My Generation,” is at odds with the auteur of the film “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  First, Michael Moore blasted the rock ‘n‘ roller for not letting him used “Won‘t Get Fooled Again” in the flick.  Moore claimed Townshend refused permission for The Who hit because Townshend originally supported the war in Iraq. 

Now Pete Townshend has said in fact Moore simply didn‘t offer enough money for the licensing of the song and he wasn‘t a big fan of Moore‘s to begin with, and that after Moore‘s public criticism of Pete Townshend—quote—“It seems to me that this aspect of his nature is not unlike that of the powerful and willful man at the center of his new documentary. 

Tonight‘s No. 1 story is up next, the closing ceremonies of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, which looks surprisingly like the first seven days of the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  That next. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just when it all started is shrouded in mystery.  And, frankly, the fact that most people really don‘t care when it all started, but the bull fighting festival at Pamplona, Spain, dates back to the year 1385.  The actual running of the bulls is the remnant of a simple practical pre-transportation era means of getting them from the pen into the ring.  It may be 400 years old or it may only be less than 200.  City fathers made running with the bulls legal in 1867. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, that‘s when it started.  Today was when it ended.  An actual bull runner joins us in a moment.  We‘ll look back at bull highlights or bull-lights of the 2004 campaign. 

First, let‘s go to the videotape.  And another poor showing by our friends the bulls, with this, their very last opportunity to take control of the sangria-soaked Spanish streets and stick it to the man, literally.  Three injuries today, only one goring, bringing up totals from local health officials, total festival injuries at 886, down 123 from last year, 56 bull-related injuries.  That‘s down by one. 

But los toros of 2004 upped the severity level with 16 gorings, five more than their predecessors were able to accomplish.  And so the final score, locos eight, toros nothing.  Better off next year, bulls. 

In a moment, we‘ll try to understand why people participate in this. 

One of that species, a veteran of Pamplona, will join us live. 

But first, we already know why the bulls run.  They don‘t have any choice.  This is just another one of man‘s inexplicable rituals.  The animals do not get a vote, but they do, do their damndest to make it interesting. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  In England, it‘s the cheese chase.  In Finland, you carry your wife on your head.  Here in the U.S., we shove tube steaks into our pie holes.  Broken bones, chapped necks and gastrointestinal meltdowns ensue, but only those who choose to participate get hurt.  There are no victims, just volunteers. 

In Pamplona, it is otherwise.  Each year, for 400 years or more, fireworks go off, gates swing open and the bovine assault on the biped wearing the neckerchief begins.  Hunting runners with the singular imperative of making them ride the high horn highway, these bulls will not be denied.  Right here.

Turn No. 3 saw more pileups than Lower Wacker Drive in Chicago.  And after four centuries, you‘d think somebody would have done something about those blasted cobblestones.  Thus, boss toro, already facing his own death in the bull ring and dealing with animals dumber than himself, obviously, must also face a road surface ill-designed for the kind of braking and handling required for a half-ton beast on hooves. 

You can understand why they pile it on the bipeds in a manner that might even be frowned upon in the National Hockey League.  And there they go.  Here, a bull goes down, gets run over by his amigo.  Yet, undeterred, he exacts his revenge.  Hello!

The odds are stacked, yet the bull fights on, taking his fleeting vengeance where he can, at the bottleneck at the very entrance of the Plaza Del Toros, for instance.  Ignoring the tail tugging and the manly slow green hat waving, he bravely pierces a pile of people, never knowing the fate that he will face inside the stadium. 

We have yet to see, however, true bull vengeance, in which one of them gets into those houses and takes human hostages.  At the end of the line, all bulls go to heaven and all runners party their tiny little heads off.  But for eight days in July, these bulls have at least a shot at skewering the citizens of Pamplona.  For some, it doesn‘t quite work out.  For others, they glory in their one moment in time.  Cue the song. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  And in that one moment of time, I will be, I will be, I will be free.  I will be, I will be free.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Mike Silva is a high-tech employee of AT&T Wireless in Seattle.  He ran with them in 1995 and joins us now to try to explain. 

Mr. Silva, good evening. 

MIKE SILVA, RAN WITH THE BULLS:  Hi, Keith.  How you doing? 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  I‘m going to ask you why, but I‘m going to guess.  It had something to do with Hemingway‘s novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

SILVA:  That was it.  I read it when I was 13 years old and for about 20 years, it was a lifelong dream of mine to go run with the bulls, and it lived up to its expectations. 

OLBERMANN:  What are the other runners like?  What percentage are locals?  What percentage are internationals?  What percentage are drunk? 

(LAUGHTER)

SILVA:  I‘d say 80, 90 percent drunk or heading for a hangover.  And locals, you know, when I ran in 1995, were probably about 50 percent.  I imagine they‘re probably lower now because there‘s been a lot of media attention in the last several years. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you find anybody there who‘s rooting for the bulls after all this time? 

SILVA:  They do, especially after the run, after the big part of the run, there‘s this whole event inside the ring.  And it‘s all about the bulls.  It‘s great. 

OLBERMANN:  What are we not seeing?  The video all seems to look the same, pretty much.  We got a better look at the entrance to the Plaza Del Toros this year I think than we have had previously.  But what are we missing that being there provides you? 

SILVA:  Well, for about two hours before the run, people are basically warming up.  They‘re drinking sangria.  They‘re basically mapping out strategies.  And then also there‘s—as you‘re running, one of the things do you see is people with like red handkerchiefs.

And they‘re waving papers.  And so one of the things they‘re trying to do is distract the bulls, you know, and actually have the bull aim for that far appendage.  And the other thing that you‘re not seeing is, a lot of times, it will rain or they‘ll wash the streets off because there‘s so much sangria in the streets.  And so it‘s pretty slippery. 

And so, as you‘re heading down the corridor there, a lot of times, there‘s very few places to actually jump up.  It‘s just houses.  And so you‘d better be next to the bull or in front of them when you‘re running.  At the very end, it‘s basically a funnel that goes from a very narrow two-lane street down to basically half a lane into the bull ring. 

OLBERMANN:  I literally have a minute.  We did the story earlier of the ex-Tarzan in Florida whose pet tiger was shot.  And a lot of people are shocked at the outcome of that.

Doe it seem to you that enough people are shocked at the fact that these bulls are all then killed in the bull ring? 

SILVA:  I get probably two to five e-mails a year saying, shame on you for having a Web site that glorifies the run.  But, predominantly, about 99 percent of the e-mail I get is, “I can‘t wait to do it.  How do I get there?  Where do I stay?” things like that. 

OLBERMANN:  So there‘s no backlash?  I guess if it‘s been running for at least 200 years, I guess the concept that somebody is going to say, no, bull fighting is immoral and too aggressive and too dangerous for the bull, I guess there‘s no groundswell of support for the bull. 

SILVA:  You know, there is, but it‘s just, the people who are showing up for the event are there for the passion and there for the event.  And that‘s the predominant flavor you get out of people who are talking about it. 

Every now and then, you will get people who are animal activists, the PETA people.  But, for the most part, it‘s about jumping in and joining in. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, maybe, someday, we‘ll have the bull run without the bull ring at the end of it. 

Mike Silva, veteran of the 1995 running of the bulls in Pamplona, many thanks for your insights, sir. 

SILVA:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And, as they wrap up the bull run, so, too, do we wrap up this bull session we call COUNTDOWN. 

Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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