updated 7/16/2004 9:44:41 AM ET 2004-07-16T13:44:41

Guest: Howard Fineman, Will Durst, James Bamford, Harry Shearer

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The Cheney rumor: It is nearly six months old, but now it is in the “New York Times.”  Off the ticket for health reasons?  And the political world is weighing with the pure gossipy fun of it. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘ll mean that the president word once again doesn‘t mean anything, that he himself is the flip-flopper of all flip-flopper. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll try to stop the madness with Howard Fineman. 

How much time in the big house?   For Martha, my dear, it is the night before. 

And “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”  “Baby, You‘re a Rich Man.”  You found something discarded like an “Old Brown Shoe.”  Missing Beatles songs. 

And the full gamut of news from Bobo the dead tiger to Stephen Hawking‘s new theory of black holes which might explain the meaning of the universe.  That‘s a full service newscast!  Now, on COUNTDOWN!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  The chatter was first reported in an unlikely venue.  Our pal, Jeannette Walls, gossip columnist of “MSNBC.com” who treats her beat as thoroughly as if it were covering the Vatican, reported it on January 27 that according to a well placed source, President Bush was “most likely” to drop Dick Cheney from the 2004 ticket, and when he did, it would be announced as a matter of the vice president‘s health. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: A day of what was, even in a political world in which rumors are lifeblood, rumor mongering at its finest or its worst.  And the diligence of the reporting of Ms. Walls notwithstanding, it was something else altogether to read on page one of the “New York Times” the headline, “Hear the Rumor on Cheney?  Capital Buzzes, Denials Aside.”  The great gray lady of the print media goes on to detail a conspiracy theory, quote, “as ingenious as it is farfetched.”  That Cheney recently fired his personal doctor with the intent of having to get a new one who, quote, “will conveniently tell him in August that his heart problems make him unfit to run with Mr. Bush.” 

It was early last week when the cardiologist who cleared candidate Cheney suddenly to run back in 2000, suddenly turned out to be a relapsed prescription drug addict who had just been put on leave by George Washington University Medical Center.  At the top of the rumor to replace Cheney if the Cheney rumor is correct list, the “Times” put the outgoing secretary of state, Mr. Powell; and the senator from Arizona, John McCain.  Mr. Powell‘s relationship with the president has not been good. 

Last week McCain said he was not running for vice president on any ticket, Democratic, Republican, or vegetarian.  Other names floated: Dr.  Condoleezza Rice, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and the name in the original January story, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  Although even then, Ms. Walls reported that his candidacy could easily be overridden by Mr. Bush‘s supporters from the far right.  Anyway, everybody is denying it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT:  If I thought it were appropriate, I would.  He‘s made it very clear that he wants me to run again.  The way I got here in the first place was he persuaded me four years ago that I was the man he wanted in that post, not just as a candidate but as somebody to be part of the governing team.  And he‘s been very clear, he doesn‘t want to break up the team. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But, no world likes gossip the way politics likes gossip.  And nobody in politics likes gossip like the opposition.  How John Kerry relished the moment this morning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  It‘ll mean the president‘s word once again doesn‘t mean anything, that he‘s the biggest—that he himself is the flip-flopper of all flip-floppers. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We hope that was an adlib.  Joining us now, the voice of political reason, Howard Fineman, senior political correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine. 

Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  That‘s a very low standard, by the way. 

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s politics, by the way. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s politics.  This can‘t be coming from democrats, I mean, anti-Cheney sentiment is gold for them.  Where is it coming from? 

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s from a number places.  First of all, it is a slow season right now.  We‘re after the naming of the democratic running mate John Edwards, there‘s not a lot going on now until the convention.  Nature abhors a vacuum and so does politics.  There are the health rumors, there are unhelpful polls by organizations such as ours, at “Newsweek.” 

We ran a poll in which we ran—put other people on the ticket besides Cheney, and when we put Colin Powell up there, or John McCain up there, George Bush ran a lot better than he did.  And there are, out there, republicans, outside the beltway in states such as Pennsylvania where they pine away for Tom Ridge, and elsewhere, who would like to see Cheney gone.  I talked to Republican advisors to the White House who say it‘ll never happen.  But—you know, there‘s just enough plausibility to it in terms of the effect on the Republican ticket that people are going to talk. 

OLBERMANN:  The president has gotten the reputation as an “ultra loyalist” who would never do something like this, never.  Yet you have pointed out, a true skeleton in the old loyalty closet that dates back to when his father was president. 

FINEMAN:  Yeah, well as a matter of fact, in 1992, when George H.W.  Bush‘s ticket was kind floundering around, there was very strong pressure from a lot of republicans and a lot of people inside the White House to remove Dan Quayle from the ticket—and guess what?  One of the advisers of George H.W. Bush suggesting that Dan Quayle get gone was none other than George W. Bush.  “Anything to shake up the campaign,” he said. 

Now, this is a somewhat different situation, in that after months of negative publicity out of Iraq, bad news from Abu Ghraib—you know, all the good publicity that the democratic ticket got for naming John Edwards, according to the “Washington Post‘s” latest poll, this race is tied.  So, there‘s no panic in the White House, far from it, there‘s a kind of quiet confidence.  Whether it‘s justified or not is unclear, obviously. 

OLBERMANN:  So the bottom line, the Judy Tenuta bottom line here, the comedian who used to say “it couldn‘t happen.”  Could it happen?  And what would the odds be?

FINEMAN:  You never say never in politics.  I say this is one in 100 if not more, because Cheney defines the Bush presidency.  If George Bush were to fire Dick Cheney or Dick Cheney would suddenly be asked to go jogging every day with George Bush, that would be like admitting nolo contendere and George Bush isn‘t going to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  One in 100?  Well, at least those are enough for us to keep talking about it until the convention...

FINEMAN:  Of course, hey it‘s only July 15. 

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweeks” Howard Fineman As always sir, a pleasure and thanks for being the voice of reason. 

FINEMAN:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  And from rumors of a Bush-Cheney split to reports of a split over intelligence.  Much more substantial, these.  When the secretary of state laid out his case against Iraq to the U.N. in February 2003, there was widespread speculation that the man sitting behind him in that picture, to the left of your screen, George Tenet, had done some serious arm twisting to get Mr. Powell into that chair. 

The “Los Angeles Times” report suggested it may have been far worse than even we knew.  It quotes two previously unseen State Department memos which state that Powell‘s advisers voiced strenuous objections to several drafts of the U.N. speech given to the secretary.  Thirty-eight claims they found error with just five days before he delivered it.  Among the disputed intelligence, a claim that photographs of marks on an Iraqi‘s man‘s arm had proved that Saddam was performing biological experiments on humans.  Twenty-eight of the 38 claims were subsequently edited or edited out of the speech, another 10 were kept in. 

Nearly four years of bitter resentment could apparently be kept in no longer on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, today.  After some Democrats harkened back to the ever-controversial 2000 election and asked that the United Nations monitor this fall‘s voting.  Republicans introduced a measure that would prohibit such a thing.  Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown flat out lost it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONGRESSWOMAN CORRINE BROWN (D) JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA:  I come from Florida where you and others participated in what I called the United States coup d‘etat.  We need to make sure that it doesn‘t happen again.  Over and over again, after the election when you stole the election, you came back here and said, “Get over it.”  No, we‘re not going to get over it, and we want verification from the world. 

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) words were taken down.  She said that you stole an election.  I believe that those...

BROWN:  You participated in a coup d‘etat.  And it‘s a fact you participated in it.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All members will suspend...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The legislation passed along party lines.  Representative Brown was reprimand by being denied speaking privileges for the rest of the day and by having her words stricken from the Congressional record.  So, you never saw that, just pretend it didn‘t happen. 

Compromise somewhere tonight.  A liberal group thwarted in its efforts to put an anti-war billboard in New York‘s Time Square, says it has reached a compromise with the company that owns the space.  Project Billboard will give up the original location, drop its lawsuits, and it will, as it previously offered, change that bomb to a dove in exchange for which Clear Channels Communications will put the new billboard up in two locations, each of them closer to dead center in Times Square than was the original one. 

And on the local level, the republicans aren‘t one wit closer to finding a candidate to run for Senate in Illinois.  Former football coach, Mike Ditka saying he was not sure if he could control himself if he was disagreed with on the Senate floor, removed his name from consideration as the replacement for the scannedlized Jack Ryan, who pulled out prematurely.  Ditka today announced he‘s joining the Chicago CBS television station as a sportscaster.  Yeah.  That‘s a man‘s job. 

A hundred and 10 days before the election, democratic state legislator and national convention keynote speaker, Barak Obama, is still running unopposed. 

And the storm in a teapot over the fact that Hillary Clinton isn‘t speaking at the convention has been resolved tonight and very simply, she now is.  Senator Kerry has asked Senator Clinton to introduce her husband when he speaks on the first night of the convention a week from Monday in Boston, and she says she is honored and delighted. 

Senator Clinton, Mr. Obama, and the other democrats headed to Boston may have a much more you are urgent problem even than trying to unseat an incumbent president.  In an age of terror, you just can‘t have Port-a-Potties all a over city‘s downtown.  Boston has exactly five permanent coin operated public toilets and they close at 5:00 p.m. and you know what that means.  Hey, isn‘t that the chairman of the state committee writing his name in the snow over there—even though it is July?  The “Boston Herald” reporting today on the quote “11th hour realization” that there simply will not be enough public toilet space to accommodate the 35,000 expected to flood the city and attend the Democratic conventions.  Some of whom at lease, will be on the streets of Old Town after the bars and their bathrooms close. 

A spokesman for Boston‘s mayor, Thomas Menino tells that paper, “I think we can flush these fears away.”  Well, its city counselors are worried about a repeat of the partying and public relieving that occurred in Boston after the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in January, something new for those covering the convention to consider.  Among them, Will Durst, political satirist and occasional guest here on COUNTDOWN, who joins us again this evening. 

Will, good to talk to you again. 

WILL DURST, POLITICAL SATIRIST:  Hey Keith, how‘s it going? 

OLBERMANN:  Are you worried about this?  I mean, we‘ve never really known any politician worth their name who wasn‘t able to pish away week at a time. 

DURST:  Well, you know, both they‘re—both candidates are Johns and if you think of the delegates as being Johns for the—there‘s no Johns for the Johns for the Johns, I mean, it‘s a wonderful head—it‘s a headline writer‘s dream, it really is. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s all Johns, is basically what it boils down to.  The other stuff here, that‘s almost ridiculous.  Mike Ditka dropping out of the picture for the Senate seat from Illinois.  It‘s a long shot, you heard Howard Fineman say it‘s 100 to one at this point, but Dick Cheney might exit, too.  If that happens, given the Ditka thing already having happen, will like Monday be declared National Day of Mourning for political satirists? 

DURST:  Yeah, we were actually thinking of holding a benefit to raise money for Ditka‘s candidacy.  Can you imagine the skeletons in his closet?  They got to rival a New Orleans graveyard, I mean, he was a player for the NFL for nine years, he was a coach for eight years.  I mean, just on the road—oh, it would be wonderful.  It would be heaven, it really would. 

OLBERMANN:  And, if it does come to pass that dick Cheney is not on the Republican ticket, is that cause also for additional mourning?  Is he not just crafted for political satirists? 

DURST:  Yeah.  He‘s—I mean, he even looks like a sleepy lizard in search of a warm rock.  I mean, you see Cheney, he‘s got that—you know, he‘s just got look.  Every time I see him on “Meet the Press,” I expect him to detach his jaw and swallow Tim Russert whole.  I don‘t know if we‘re asking the right question, Mr. Olbermann.  I think, will Cheney dump Bush?  I think that‘s the question we should be asking. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m hands off on that, I‘ll let you do the—the strictly political material.  But, here‘s one last one and it is pure politics.  The Democratic congresswoman, I‘m sure you just heard it, Corrine Brown, detonating on the floor of the House, this afternoon.  Was that a surprise or was it just a surprise that it took that long for a Florida Democrat to just lose it? 

DURST:  Yeah, I think you‘re right.  I think it was a pressure cooker thing.  It—I mean, the fact that—that we‘re finally realizing, I don‘t know if it was Michael Moore or who told us, but you know, they guy who won, his brother was the governor of the state, his father is a former head of the CIA.  He went to the Supreme Court, five of whose members were appointed while his dad was either president or vice president and he wins five to four, I mean come on.  For a brief shining moment, we were Guatemala. 

OLBERMANN:  At the very least, it left a bad impression.  I guess that‘s the way—we‘ve got to leave it that way.  That was what she was trying to say, I think.

The political satirist, Will Durst.  Good luck at the Democratic Convention and in light of the potty story, do not wear your good shoes. 

DURST:  I‘ll see you in the 617 area code, man. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Will.

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with politics, everything from rumors to restroomers. 

Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story: The Beatles.  Brand new, never before heard songs from the “Fab Four” right here on our shoe.

And later, Martha Stewart‘s final days before sentencing:  Party hearty and clear up those lingering real estate deals. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Up next on COUNTDOWN, the lost and found bin of the music world.  A rare find that has Beatles fans excited around the world.  And another big group today saying, “Hey, who stole our CD?”  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you are of a certain age or of a certain historical bent, news about missing U2s will mean only one thing, the day in 1960 when the Russians shot down the American U2 spy jet piloted by Francis Gary Powers, making the Cold War even colder.  While our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN is about missing U2s, it has nothing to do with Russian-American relations, although it might have to do with spying.  It‘s the rock band U2.  Some of their new songs are missing, ironically just as some old songs of the Beatles have just been found. 

During a photo shoot in the South of France, lead singer Bono and the boys lost track of a CD containing a rough cut of their upcoming album.  The disk itself has little monetary value, but fears an early release of the new cuts via the Internet.  Police are questioning about 20 people who had access to that photo studio.  While I have the chance here, Bono‘s real name is Paul Houston, he was born exactly nine days after the Russians shot down Francis Gary Powers in the U2 plane. 

By that date, the Beatles had already recorded rehearsals of songs they would later release like “When I‘m 64” and “I‘ll Follow the Sun.”  This is not just coincidental trivia because the subject of Beatles tape-recordings is the other big rock ‘n‘ roll news of the week.  There had not been any lost Beatles songs found in about a decade.  But as Keith Miller reports from London now, that may have all changed because a guy from the Kettish coast of England changed his mind and went to a friend‘s 50th birthday party in Australia, after all. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This is a “Magical Mystery Tour” of Beatles‘ memorabilia: Photographs, concert programs, and most remarkable of all, Beatles recordings.  Some never heard before. 

All of this discovered in a suitcase by a British terrorist visiting a flea market in Australia.  Fraser Claughton says he was searching for a suitcase, not hidden treasure.  It cost him $35.

FRASER CLAUGHTON, LUCKY SUITCASE BUYER:  I thought it was expensive at the time, but when I came home and saw the true potential of it all, it‘s pretty amazing, really. 

MILLER:  Claughton never even owned a Beatles record before.  But today, he may have a small fortune worth of Beatles recordings. 

JOHN READ, PUBLISHER:  When I actually opened the suitcase, I was absolutely amazed.  I said we‘ve hit on something, here. 

MILLER:  The material appears to be 30 years old, and may have been the collection of Beatles associate Mal Evans. 

(on camera):  Evans worked as a roadie for the Beatles and even preformed on some of their recordings.  He was always keeping souvenirs, but his collection vanished in the late ‘70s when he was killed in a shootout with police in Los Angeles. 

(voice-over):  It will take long time to authenticate the material. 

Ted Owen is a rock memorabilia expert.

TED OWENS, ROCK MEMORABILIA EXPERT:  If it sounds like the—you know, the style of their music, the style of their guitar playing, the style of their drumming all sounds like the Beatles. 

MILLER:  And it may still belong to the Beatles, or at least their company, Apple Records.  Past court cases concerning recordings have ended in favor of the band.  If the material is genuine, then Claughton may have to see it their way.  This is, after all, the age where all you need is copyright. 

Keith Miller, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Quickly, sir, make a dub.  COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Up next, an update on Bobo the tiger.  Charges have already been filed in this case, but you probably will not guess against who and for what?  It is so weird it can only live in “Oddball.” 

And later, a picture says a thousand words, but in what language? 

We‘ll try to translate this stuff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We now pause the COUNTDOWN to bring you the snack foods of news, and please don‘t notice that the first item is a follow-up to last night‘s No. 4 story on the program.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

Bobo the tiger is still dead, but Linda Meredith‘s piglet called “Baby” is very much alive.  After having heard of the disappearance of Steve‘s Sipek‘s pet tiger, his neighbor, Ms. Meredith drove over to the Sipek compound with what she thought was a fool proof plan to lure Bobo back.  Use this here pig, she brung (sic) with her as bait.  Animal Care and Control has charged Ms. Meredith with animal cruelty, not for the plan, but for the fact that she transported “Baby,” the 5-month-old piglet in the trunk of her Cadillac.  Ms. Meredith says the trunk has air conditioning and she was planning to eat the pig anyway after it got full grown, so she don‘t know what the complaints all about. 

You going to cook it first or just al dente?  I got to feed my “Baby,” now. 

Well, it saddens us that another 51 weeks must pass until the next installment of “Oddball‘s” exclusive primetime wall to wall coverage of the Running of the Bulls.  Tonight, we‘re making due with more pigs.  Not so much running as more milling about. 

Milling about, being all that‘s needed to stop traffic on a Japanese highway.  The other white meat relishing their brief taste of freedom after their tractor-trailer overturned.  Squeezed left.  As with the bulls of Pamplona, the ultimate fate of the sign o‘ swine is uncertain, but they will, we think, go from roadside attraction to teriyaki pork chops. 

Stretching the thematic potential to the outer limits in this edition of “Oddball,” pig tails were a possibility for this guy, about 15 feet and about 30 odd years ago, and they have been odd years.  That‘s how long it‘s been since Vietnam‘s Tran Von Hay cut his hair, which is now 18 feet long and counting.  Imagine all you could do with every last inch of this.  You‘ve got your examining of it, your twirling, your twisting, your keeping it under wraps, your unraveling it like that.  What you don‘t got is your washing, Tran says it has been many years since those mighty long locks have seen any shampoo.  Perhaps another pig theme, there. 

You‘ll have to tune in tomorrow for another edition of “Oddball.”  Speaking of tuning in tomorrow, that‘s what we‘ll be doing as we wait to hear if Martha Stewart will do hard time behind bars or community service or house arrest or what.  A preview of the sentencing next. 

Also ahead, an artificial insemination gone bad:  A woman gets the wrong sperm.  Well, it wasn‘t wrong, she got pregnant only it was by somebody besides her fiance. 

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

No. 3: An unnamed woman in Shawnee, Kansas.  First she was broken hearted when she lost her pet parrot, “Reggie.”  Then a man called and said he had her bird and would return it in exchange for sex.  He‘s been arrested and what‘s worse, he didn‘t even have the bird. 

No. 2: You think politics is rough in this country.  For 20 hours, the official website of the president of South Korea featured a picture of the head of the leader of the opposition party edited onto the body of an actress from a soft porn movie. 

And No. 1: A woman named Dawn Marie Duccini of Huntington, New York, allegedly inebriated, she fled the scene of a fender-bender in the parking lot at the Wall Bound supermarket and then drove right back to the same store and then picked up some groceries.  She has now been charged by police with drinking and driving and hitting and running and shopping. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Bush administration, which incidentally has made no comment on the Martha Stewart case, was probably well on its way to a White House record for not commenting on the most different subjects.

But in our third story on the countdown, terror, terrorists, and terrible tactics.  All that was before the president urged his staff to tell all at a federal grand jury issued three subpoenas in the Valerie plane case.  Plane, the former covert CIA agent whose cover was blown by columnist Robert Novak in a story that implied she had used her influence to get government work for her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.  Why was her name leaked to Novak? Administration officials told “The Washington Post” some of their colleagues hoped would it damage Wilson‘s credibility after he‘d attack White House claims that Saddam Hussein had acquired uranium for nuclear weapons from Africa.

And among the latest subpoenas, requests for documents connected with the so-called White House Iraq Group.  That‘s a term, or a team rather, assigned to create a P.R. strategy to back White House claims against Saddam Hussein.  A team that included Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the president‘s chief political advisor Karl Rove, and his former counselor, Karen Hughes, and the vice president‘s former counselor, Mary Matilyn.

Joining me now to discuss the latest in this investigation, James Bamford, an expert on the U.S. intelligence community and author of two ground-breaking books on the super secretive National Security Agency.  They‘re called “Body of Secrets” and “The Puzzle Palace.”

Mr. Bamford, good evening. 

JAMES BAMFORD, AUTHOR, “BODY OF SECRETS”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The headlines during the week were about the grand jury subpoena and how it included the log of a week‘s worth of phone calls from an Air Force One or from Air Force One last July and the guest list from the Gerald Ford birthday party at the White House.  Dramatic ideas and venues, but do they mean progress in this investigation?  Or just a high profile fishing exhibition?

BAMFORD:  Well, it seems like they‘re narrowing it down to at least a smaller group right now, focusing mainly on some of the people within Vice President Cheney‘s office and some of the people right near the Oval Office.  They subpoenaed the files from Air Force One, which seems to indicate that there, that would seem to indicate that they‘re closer to looking at the White House as opposed to Cheney‘s office.  But they‘ve also interviewed quite a few people from Cheney‘s office.  So it seems like those two areas. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House Iraq Group, that—their interest in that, does that particularly give us a better idea on how the grand jury is focusing in this case?

BAMFORD:  Well, that seems like it would be a very key area to look in, because the whole purpose for that White House Iraq Group was basically to take information that was supplied to it by the Pentagon, which was information taken from intelligence reports that seemed to argue the administration‘s case for war.  And the White House Iraq Group was basically using that information to push its side of the story to the press.

So there was a lot of interaction between those people and the White House Iraq group.  And members of the press, especially pushing information they got from intelligence sources.  So that would seem to be a very logical place. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s such an unusual case, a leak about an intelligence officer‘s identity.  How unusual is the investigation of the unusual case?

BAMFORD:  Well, it‘s very unusual.  There have actually been a number of cases of leaks that have been done in the past.  None of them have gone very far.  There‘s only been one case in at least recent U.S. history where any leaker has actually gone to jail.  That was back in the 1980s.

This case is very unusual because the person whose name was leaked was very secret CIA person.  The person was what was known as a NOC, a non official cover.  It was most secret form, most secret part of the CIA, where the person who was working in this position has no contact whatsoever with the U.S.   government, supposedly.

And this was a very sensitive position.  And the question is whether the information really needed to be leaked.  It was probably just as well that the information could have been given in the article without mentioning the name. 

OLBERMANN:  A question which will be delved into repeatedly in the ensuing weeks.  James Bamford, the author of “Body of Secrets” and “The Puzzle Palace,” many thanks for joining us tonight. 

BAMFORD:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Continuing with our number three story and the terrible tactics part of it, the latest skirmish over the images of ground zero.  The self-proclaimed world‘s largest independent credit card issuer, the MBNA Corporation has now pulled a credit card from its collection.  It‘s this one.  The company said it withdrew the spirit of America card because it was concerned that families of 9/11 victims might be offended by it.  It also insisted the company lost around $80,000 on these cards.  The propriety of using images from ground zero had become a political ground zero earlier this week when critics attacked the president‘s re-election campaign for using those images in his first round of national TV ads.

No doubt the president would rather have this video of that guy with the word “captured” flashing in big bold red letters underneath.  However, the latest information from Afghanistan is that Osama bin Laden may have evaded the latest attempt to grab him.

An Afghan provincial governor has told the BBC that bin Laden escaped when Pakistani groups tried to grab him on their side of the border.  The governor‘s source, a former Taliban member who told him he had received a fax saying the sheikh, that would be bin Laden‘s Muslim title and his nom de guerre, was alive and well despite the Pakistani attempt.  That has not been confirmed by U.S. sources.

New information, though, in our third story about Osama bin Laden from a Canadian documentary.  The CBC program featuring the family of accused al Qaeda financier Aimed Saeed Kadir, who moved to Afghanistan and lived in bin Laden‘s compound for several years before 9/11.

One of the Kadir daughters told the CBC that bin Laden loved playing volleyball, well, the height thing would explain that, and horseback riding but he did not let his family have American soft drinks or even cold water so as to keep them from getting soft.  Despite the restrictions, and all that terrorism business going on around her...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Me?  I used to admire them because I knew they were very, very rich family.  And they lived in a very, very, really simple, I mean, I was like a queen comparing to them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So our third story on the COUNTDOWN, terror and terrorists and terrible tactics.  And three more things you need to know about number our three.  The three most common ways of spelling Osama.  They are in order, Osama, O-s-a-m-a in MSNBC, Usama with a U-s-a-m-a in the FBI style.  And Osama, in what no doubt is the Al Jazeera style, given that it is the Arabic spelling in the Arabic—yes.

Straight ahead on COUNTDOWN, tonight‘s number two story.  The family that‘s probably edging out the royals for the weirdest headlines ever.  Take a guess which family.  And which angle of the Martha Stewart saga will make our number one story tonight?  Stand by to find out.

First, hear COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENNEGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  I‘m announcing here today that I will be from now on, the executive editor of “Muscle and Fitness and Flex” magazine.  Is that a good move or what, huh?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now we‘ve a pro-growth, pro-entrepreneur, pro small business agenda that is making this economy stronger.  Do you want to translate that, Patsy?

PATSY:  Yes, sure. 

BUSH:  OK, you don‘t have to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ...with a light dusting of paprika.

CONAN O‘BRIEN, COMEDIAN:  Now Martha, you could go to jail for up to 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  La, la, la, la, la, la.

O‘BRIEN:  OK, Martha, I don‘t think you‘re hearing me.  What I‘m trying...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Silence!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in.  They being the Jackson‘s.  Our number two story in the COUNTDOWN this evening, for the first time since last week, maybe, more from the wacky world of the Jackson siblings.  Two in particular.

We begin with Jackson the younger still feeling the fallout from the fallout.  Janet Jackson has now taken her case to the pages of “Ebony” magazine‘s April edition.  It‘s her first full length interview since the February 1st event.  The first two apologies not being overwhelming enough to stem the tide of bad press and publicity.

This time, as Jackson states, once more for the record, “it was not intentional.  It was a costume accident.”  So please in your handwritten notes about that story, replace all references to “wardrobe malfunction” with “costume accident.”

No replacing the older sibling.  Story number two, also featuring day 110 of your entertainment dollars in action.  The Michael Jackson investigations.  New search warrants executed late in the week by the Santa Barbara sheriff‘s department.  Authorities seizing records from the Charter plane company extra jet and from Jackson‘s primary travel agency, Air Apparent.

Investigators sought flight records and passenger profiles.  The passenger profiles detailing Jackson‘s preference for Kentucky Fried Chicken, according to the report.  Flight records, according to TV‘s “Celebrity Justice” confirming trips to Florida and Brazil.

The Brazil trip was by a private investigator.  The one to Florida by the family of Jackson‘s accuser.  Both were at about the same time as the controversial documentary on Jackson actually aired last year.

The Brits seemed to have cornered the market on Michael Jackson documentaries.  The latest scheduled to air on the BBC 3 Channel tomorrow evening.  “The boy that Michael Jackson paid off,” is its title.  And it details the ordeal of the first Jackson accuser.  That boy‘s uncle telling the BBC that the family received dozens of death threats per day.  They even felt it was necessary to arm themselves.  Quoting here “mentally, emotionally, physically, it was a siege.”

Now that we‘re all Jacksoned up, time to pause the COUNTDOWN again for our nightly stop at the cotton candy machine of news, the words of celebrities and other dubious characters that‘s we call “Keeping Tabs.”

Love him or loathe him, Howard Stern certainly has kept the far edge of that envelope of free speech elastic and supple all these years, bouncing off it as often as he does.  But now the radio shock jock says he‘s awakened to a real shock.  He thinks the FCC is going to sacrifice him to “Clear Channel, Fox, all of them, all part of the religious right.”

Having lost his spot on six Clear Channel stations, Stern now says he expects to be forced off the air by massive fines, assessed on the other stations that still carry him.

And he may get no respect, but he‘s going to get a movie made about him.  Rodney Dangerfield‘s new autobiography isn‘t even out yet, and they‘ve already sold the film rights.  Fox TV Studios will produce it reports “Variety.”  The magazine, quoting the comedian as saying, “I hope they do it soon.  Remember that time and tide and hookers wait for no man.  Anyway, I‘ve just finished my first book.”  The quote continues, “Now I‘m going to read another one.  It‘s called, ‘It‘s Not Easy Being Me,‘” which will never have been truer than when they tried cast somebody to play Rodney.

We near the top of the COUNTDOWN;  Your preview of tonight‘s number one story, an expert on punch lines, noted actor, humorist, star from “The Simpsons,” Harry Shearer.  Whether or not all the jokes are fair, whether we all have so to speak, released the hounds on Martha Stewart.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  40 days exactly, that‘s how long it has been since prosecutors began their opening statements.  For 40 days, we‘ve been bombarded with relentless commentary, drama and humor.

Our number one story in the countdown tonight, well the attempted humor at Martha Stewart‘s expense.  In a moment, Harry Sheerer, one of the funniest, sharpest men on the planet, star of “The Simpsons” and much more, on whether or not any of this is funny and whether or not too much of this makes it not funny. 

First, in mid trial, we offered you our own poisoned pen love note to the Martha Stewart machine.  “Her” tips to a smoother courthouse visit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Martha Stewart‘s Courtroom Decorum Do‘s and Don‘t‘s.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do show up promptly for court every day.  At least 10 minutes early.  Don‘t be late.  Judges tend to get annoyed if you show up 20 minutes late with a caravan of vehicles, a crowd of protesting fans, and a trailer full of circus animals.

Do always look your best.  Consider a trip to the hair salon.  Choose a proper hair style and stick with it.  One never knows when the authorities may want to take your picture.

Remember, a photograph lasts forever.  And always dress appropriately.  I find business attire works best.  And you can never splurge too much on accessories.  But whatever you do, keep your clothes on at all times.  This is a court of law, not a Super Bowl halftime show.

Do sit quietly in the courtroom and pay attention.  Take notes if you like.  Get involved.  Don‘t be disruptive.  Resist the urge to growl or hiss at the judge or to say anything that might be used against you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a drug dealer, not a bank robber.  I‘m a the drug dealer. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do leave every day without a fuss.  Remember, the court of public opinion never takes a recess.  Don‘t make a spectacle of yourself outside.  Leave the dancing and singing to those unconcerned with projecting a proper image.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Somewhere...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And wild rants on the courthouse steps are best left to the wild and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ROSIE O‘DONNELL:  True or false.  True.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do always be gracious.  Thank the judge when the trial is over.  Try to help find the real killers if appropriate.  Remember, revenge is a dish best served cold.  Much like a plate of tasty cyanide laced smoked salmon canape.  Mmm, delish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  B, B minus, but eerily predictive.  What did Ms. Stewart‘s attorney do after the guilty verdicts yesterday?  He thanked everybody, judge included.  Polite to the end. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MORVILLO, STEWART‘S ATTORNEY:  We want to thank everybody, this group, the marshals, the jurors, the judge, and everybody that was part of this case for being cooperative at all times, polite. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So with that final mix of parody and reality out of the way, we welcome our final guest tonight.  He‘s not only a very funny man, but a man with his finger on the pulse of humor and culture whenever and wherever they collide.

Thank you for demonstrating.  From “The Simpsons,” “This is Spinal Tap,” “A Mighty Wind,” and of course, “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,” Harry Shearer.  A pleasure to talk to you again, sir. 

HARRY SHEARER, WRITER/ACTOR:  Thank you, Keith.  And here‘s another T-shirt you can‘t read. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, good.  We graphic the T-shirts to death.  Well, Martha is the punchline at the moment.  Sometimes we forget the first word - the first part of the word is punch.  Is she being hit too hard now?

SHEARER:  Well, look, we‘re living in a world where Martha Stewart is going up some river and O.J. Simpson just has to stay in Florida.  And that,  you know, frames some sense of feeling about the whole thing.

Even satirists have to empathize in their spare time.  But I understand why she‘s such a great punchline.  I mean, almost everybody, save K-Mart, had a reason for wanting to see her reduced in stature.  Men, because the way she made her billions was to teach our wives and girlfriends how to tastefully spend more of our money.  Women because they were tired of being compared to her.

You know, just when you get old enough that you don‘t have to be compared to Kate Moss anymore, you have to measure up to Martha Stewart.

She represented this kind of snooty perfection, you know.  She was Margaret Dumont.  And the feds were Groucho Marx.  Now any time the feds get to be Groucho, they‘re ahead of the game.

And she was too successful, Keith, in turning herself into a brand.  We don‘t sympathize with brands.  We may respect them or be loyal to them, but you know, imagine the glee to see Betty Crocker up on tax fraud charges or Mr. Goodwrench‘s perp walk when he‘s arrested with a pistol and a small amount of marijuana. 

OLBERMANN:  Was there anything about it that everybody else missed that you saw that made you laugh or made you laugh in an ironic way?

SHEARER:  You mean that ha-ha kind of laugh?  No, I mean I think—

I‘m no jury Spence, but... 

OLBERMANN:  Thank goodness. 

SHEARER:  ...you know, buck skins makes me look heavy.  But I do think that she‘s not going to jail, Keith.  And I can‘t put my finger on the moment when I thought that.  But it‘s just that, thinking about the way that prominent people these days are treated when they are caught not telling the truth, I think she‘s just going to be made to appointed to an independent investigation commission to look into her stock tips. 

OLBERMANN:  Or forwards slow speed car chase?

SHEARER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  I can‘t resist asking you if we could turn to one of your greatest character‘s expertise here.  Next to Ken Lay or Martha Stewart herself,  Montgomery Burns from “The Simpsons,” probably the most famous high profile corporate figure in America.  Can I ask Mr. Burns a question?

SHEARER:  Of course, you can. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, well Mr. Burns, what would your advice now be to your fellow entrepreneur, Martha Stewart?

SHEARER:  Keith, I‘d advise Martha to do as I would.  Go to prison, take your medicine, wait until they privatize prison, and then buy the dump. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m supposed to have a follow-up, Mr. Burns, but I thought that was such a great observation you‘ve left me in stitches.

SHEARER:  Well, I have a follow-up, Keith but he won‘t let me give it to him. 

OLBERMANN:  Now go ahead, Mr. Smithers.  That‘ll be fine. 

SHEARER:  I just wanted to show him my Malibu Stacy collection but it‘s too late. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Mr. Smithers.  Thank you, Mr. Burns.  And thank you, Harry Shearer.  As I said, a pleasure to speak with you again.

SHEARER:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And by the way, thank you for “The Simpsons,” which most of us could not live without.  So thank you again. 

SHEARER:  Thank you.  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Last point, the number one thing you needed to know about our number one story, the real punchline of this whole joke, Erbitux, the ImClone cancer treatment drug which the FDA refused to review two years ago, which resulted in Martha Stewart selling her stock so hastily, was approved by the agency on February 12th.  ImClone closing up yesterday at $46.40 a share.  Doh!

Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.  Number five, Martha Stewart is still guilty, spending her weekend looking at possible 16 months in jail.  End of 16 months, preparing to go to the federal probation office on Monday.

Four, what about Martha‘s fan club?  The guy who set up savemartha.com says she‘s not done yet.  He may push for a petition to get her a presidential pardon.

Three, the CIA leak investigation.  The federal grand jury subpoenas the federal government, specifically the White House.

Two, the Jackson siblings back again.  Janet says her Super Bowl exposure was a costume accident.  And the investigation into Michael leads to two more search warrants.

And number one, the comedic mileage from Martha and the advice from Mr. Burns, just buy the dump.  Excellent.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  We‘ll be back Monday night at our regular appointed hour like this one, which is just ending now.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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