updated 8/11/2004 9:57:28 AM ET 2004-08-11T13:57:28

Guest: Oscar Goodman; Larry Johnson, Judy Messoline

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

“Las Vegas,” the ads go.  “What happens here, stays here.”  Did news of terrorist recon video of the city stay there?  The city‘s mayor joins us to answer charges that Las Vegas covered this up for the sake of the casinos? 

Please watch: at the Peterson trial, Amber Frey testifies. 

In the Bryant case, he gets sued in the civil court. 

All along the watchtower, ranchers kept the view while the UFOs came and went.  We‘ll be joined by the woman who opened her own intergalactic viewing station. 

And I feel the earth move under my feet: no one injured while this happened in Japan.  Put those trees anywhere, pal. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It is apparently one of the hazards of working in the counter-terrorism business that you can be accused of simultaneously giving out too much information and also too little. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: as complaints about the outing of our man inside al Qaeda rose abroad and at home so too, about questions of whether or not the city of Las Vegas deliberately stifled news and videotaped evidence that it had been cased by terrorists, stifled it so the gaming and tourist mega industries would not be hurt. 

The mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, joins presently.  First, the tale of the tape, what may look like a tourist‘s home movie is purported to be anything but.  This is a surveillance tape seized at a 2002 raid of a Detroit terrorist cell.  It appears to show terrorists casing Las Vegas casinos.  And, the footage is nearly identical to another al Qaeda casing tape which had been seized in Spain.  Sounds like something Las Vegas officials would no doubt take seriously if informed of its existence.  At the very least, surely it would view the tape.  But the “Associated Press” quotes memos and e-mails from the federal prosecutors office in Detroit which alleged that that not only did Vegas‘ leaders not warn of the threat, they didn‘t even watch the tape for fear that they may be held liable in civil court should an attack occurred. 

As mentioned, I spoke with the second term mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar B. Goodman, earlier this evening. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Mayor Goodman, thanks for some of you time tonight. 

MAYOR OSCAR B. GOODMAN (D), LAS VEGAS:  Pleasure to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  The “Associated Press” story today placed responsibility for the fact that the existence of these Las Vegas reconnaissance not being made public, at your feet.  There‘s an e-mail supposedly quoting a federal prosecutor in your city who said that you were concerned about the deleterious effect of the Las Vegas tourism industry if the evidence became public.  I‘d like your response to that, sir. 

GOODMAN:  Absolute lie.  It‘s an absolute lie.  The whole story is made out of whole cloth, I called the U.S. attorney‘s office this morning when I read the story as well, and I said, “is there a memo?”  And he said, “absolutely not.”  I was never advised of any kind of credible threat, I was never advised about the tapes.  The first time I heard about anything was yesterday.  And I don‘t know whether the prosecutor in Detroit is the one who‘s causing the issue to be brought forward, if he is, shame on him.  He‘s a guy who‘s already under trouble himself, apparently he‘s under investigation.  He stands to lose the convictions that he got in Detroit based on prosecutorial misconduct, not turning over exculpatory information to the defense attorneys.

I don‘t know where this story‘s coming from, I can tell you this though, nobody ever told me that there was a credible threat to Las Vegas. 

OLBERMANN:  The report went on to say that late in 2002, an FBI supervisory agent flew to Las Vegas to show the tapes to law enforcement agencies, to casino representatives, and that basically nobody showed up, not even the Las Vegas bureau representative from the FBI and the assistant U.S. attorney in Detroit, you just mentioned, Mr. Convertino... 

GOODMAN:  Well, let me—let me say this...

OLBERMANN:  ... he‘s quoted as saying though, that the FBI agent said the reason that he was given, for the low turnout, was because of liability, that if people in Las Vegas heard this information, they would have to act on it. 

Firstly, is this story of the tape true?

GOODMAN:  A bunch of bull.  A bunch of baloney.

OLBERMANN:  And secondly, the idea of increased financial liability. 

I don‘t necessarily follow the logic of that.  Why would you be more...

GOODMAN:  I have no idea—I have no idea what the man is talking about.  This guy must be smoking something that to the government seized.  I—I find this to be an incredible story.  First of all, nobody ever told me about the tape, as I said.  If I found out that there was a credible threat, of course I‘m going to tell the public that, we‘re going to mobilize our law enforcement people here, we‘re going address it. 

But, since 9/11, I‘ve been told time and time again, in briefing after briefing with the federal people, with the local people, with the state people, no credible threat in Las Vegas.  And I have to believe that or else they‘re letting me go out and tell Las Vegas is safe, it would be a sin on their part, if they were mis-advising me and I don‘t believe that they‘re sinners.  But, I do take great issue with the moment of this particular videotape. 

Today, I did take a look at it because the issue has been brought to my attention.  I went to the FBI‘s office, I watched it and at best, it‘s a puerile, 8-year-old‘s rendition of a travel log with a homemade camera, walking down the Las Vegas strip, nothing which would suggest any kind of surveillance activity at all.  The only thing that I saw with any interest on it were these people, who appeared to be Middle Eastern, enjoying Las Vegas, eating our ice cream, wearing Western clothes, and playing slot machines.  So, if that‘s bad, then so be it.

OLBERMANN:  One thing last thing sir, after 9/11, Las Vegas was one of the first cities named as a possible terror target, identified because of tourism, the symbolism, lifestyle.  The county sheriff made blunt remarks about the risk factor in December of 2002.  Last winter, when your city was reported likeliest target of some of those canceled Air France flights.  I don‘t recall you or any of your civic leaders trying to bury news of any of those threats. 

So what do you suppose this particular thing is all about? 

Why would news of this tape come out now, and why would it be blamed on you? 

GOODMAN:  You know, I don‘t know.  That‘s very interesting and if it‘s being blamed on me, I‘d like to find the person who‘s caused the problem, because I‘ll cause that person a real big problem.  The bottom line really is that I never heard about the tapes until yesterday.  And today, I looked at it and it‘s a very, very benign—benign tape.  I—had I seen it two years ago, I wouldn‘t have make mention of it at that time because, there is nothing on there which would suggest any kind of terrorist activity.  I‘m briefed all the time by the FBI, by the local sheriff, by Homeland Security and never have been told that Las Vegas is a target. 

OLBERMANN:  Mayor Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Many thanks for your time tonight, sir.

GOODMAN:  Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department also responding to the allegations tonight, saying in a statement, that it did watch the tapes nearly two years ago, “Members of this agency,” it says, “reviewed both tapes mentioned in the articles.  Additionally, we notified local properties depicted in the videos so they could view them.”  The department adding, it concluded from those viewings that the information did not merit changing the threat level for the city. 

If you think Mayor Goodman is unhappy, try Mohdar Abdullah, the only known reader of the summer‘s best seller to publicly state how much he did not like the book.  The book, of course, is the report of 9/11 Commission, and Abdullah is identified in it as “friend” and basically “accessory before the fact” to two of the hijackers.  They were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who made it through a security checkpoint at Dulles Airport, outside Washington, before boarding American Airline‘s Flight 77 and crashing it into the Pentagon.  That friendship was enough to put Abdullah in U.S. custody for nearly three years, enough for the 9/11 Commission to conclude he was perfectly suited to assist the hijackers in pursuing their mission. 

Not so, says Abdullah, calling the 9/11 report “propaganda.”  In an interview with the “Washington Post,” he adds he has no idea his friends were about to take part in a terror assault, quoting, “If I could have done anything to prevent this heinous attack from happening, I would have done it.”  Abdullah is back in Yemen, now, after this country deported him, a country of which he says, “I considered it my own land.”

Meantime, there is the continuing case of Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan and why we know his name and why he isn‘t continuing as the a double agent in the West inside al Qaeda.  Today, officials in Pakistan said because those two facts turned out the way they did, several al Qaeda suspects have escaped.  As we told you yesterday, Kahn is the 25-year-old so-called computer master picked up by Pakistani authorities.  After his arrest, he flipped, he continued to e-mail other al Qaeda operatives on behalf of Pakistani, British, and American intelligence. 

Then, as two senior Pakistani officials phrased it today, his name was leaked to Western media as part of the administration‘s attempt to backfield the justifications for last week‘s terror warnings. 

“This intelligence leak,” said one of the men in Pakistan, “jeopardized our plan and some al Qaeda suspects ran away.”  Sunday, National Security Advisor Rice confirmed that Kahn‘s name had been disclosed to reporters in Washington, quote, “On background.”  Now, New York Senator Charles Schumer had asked the White House to explain who disclosed Khan‘s name and why, that if national security has been compromised. 

Has it?  Let‘s ask former State Department counterterrorism officer and ex-CIA intelligence analyst, Larry Johnson. 

Larry, good evening.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA ANALYST:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, there‘s the simple question.  Did somebody just blow an opportunity for more inroads into al Qaeda or has indeed, national security actually been compromised by the leak of Kahn‘s name? 

JOHNSON:  Ah, yes, and yes.  Yes on both points.  I mean, look, at least we can say the White House is consistent.  I mean—you know, last year, White House officials leaked the name of a clandestine operative at the CIA, Valerie Plame.  This year, they take out an al Qaeda mole who‘s helping us and leak his name so other al Qaeda guys escape.  I mean, you know, how many boneheads do we need over at the White House before they figure this out?  Shut up.  Stop talking about this stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a way to extrapolate from the information that Kahn apparently was leading the West to try to guess or estimate what they had in working on when his identity was blown or how valuable would it have been? 

Is there any idea who or what kind of suspects they had him going after?

JOHNSON:  No, we had—literally, it looks like we had broken open the family jewels.  In other words, al Qaeda‘s ability to communicate has been compromised on several fronts.  And it looks like what they have been doing is communicating over the Internet, using Internet chat rooms, but they had devised some fairly sophisticated methods for doing that.  And so, here we have the guy who is sort of communication central that we‘re into, he‘s able to both send them messages which allows us to locate these individuals.  That‘s one of the reason we‘ve had this flurry of arrests over the last several weeks, and to take that opportunity and squander it, is—it‘s—frankly it‘s criminal in my view. 

OLBERMANN:  Big picture on that, once again.  When we give control of counterterror operations to politicians, Republicans, Democrats, whoever, and politicians screw it up. 

What do we need to counteract that? 

I mean do we have to have political eunuchs?  Do we have people who swear not to affiliate with either party?  Do we have a Homeland Security head who‘s a Republican, if it‘s a Democrat in the White House and vice versa? 

How do we put national security at least tied with, if not ahead of, party security? 

JOHNSON:  You know, unfortunately Keith, this is maybe the second oldest profession, this dynamic between politicians and spies.  It is up to the intelligence professionals to tell them the president the truth and to protect the secrets.  It‘s the responsibility of the politicians to protect those secrets as well.  And then you get this dynamics sometimes of where the spies want to curry favor (ph) with the politicians or the politicians are putting pressure on the spies.  But in this case, it comes down to the integrity of the individuals involved. 

Look, I say this as someone who voted for Bush.  I do not understand how Republicans sit back and say nothing when a Republican White House is divulging the names of clandestine assets.  That is unbelievable to me and there‘s no excuse for it. 

OLBERMANN:  Counterterrorism analyst, Larry Johnson.  As always Larry, thanks for your forthrightness and we appreciate your time. 

JOHNSON:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It is against this backdrop that the president today selected a new director of Central Intelligence; his identity was not a surprise.  The vitriolic response to his selection now may have been.  “The worst appointment that‘s ever been made to the office,” says former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, because that‘s an office that needs to be kept above partisan politics.”  Turner concluded that the former Republican congressman from Fort Myers and Naples, Porter Goss was chosen, quote, “to help George Bush win votes in Florida.”

Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell now at the political fireworks factory exploding in Washington. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Under pleasure to do something to fix the CIA, the president named a veteran congressman who was a CIA Officer 40-years-ago. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He knows the CIA inside and out.  He‘s a right man to lead this important agency. 

REP. PORTER GOSS ®, FLORIDA:  I think every American knows the importance of the best possible intelligence we can get toward decision makers. 

MITCHELL:  President Bush has long wanted Porter Goss for the job.  Friends say, Goss stayed in Congress two years a go only because the White House all but promised him the CIA post.  Like the president, Goss is a Yale graduate.  He was in Army intelligence and CIA case officer for nine years in the ‘60s.  Local official in Florida, then member of Congress for 16 years, including seven as House Intelligence chairman. 

SEN. PAT ROBERTS ®, INTELLIGENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  The man‘s qualified.  He‘s experienced.  He has expertise.

MITCHELL:  But, critics say Goss‘ years in Congress should disqualify him.  Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner, a Kerry supporter:

STANSFIELD TURNER, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR:  It‘s a very, very bad appointment because it‘s essential that the director of Central Intelligence be seen as nonpolitical. 

MITCHELL:  And Democrats say Goss has been very political.  In June, blasting John Kerry. 

GOSS:  That kind of statement, just before no votes on supporting the intelligence community, happens to have been made by such distinguished members of the Congress as Senator John Kerry. 

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  To see the chairman of this committee, my friend, Porter Goss, distort the record on the floor of the House is really surprising to me, stunning.

MITCHELL:  And how will a new CIA director fit into the president‘s decision to create a new national intelligence director? 

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CMTE.:  I think we‘re in total state of confusion, at this point.  The 9/11 Commission is talking about a brand-new structure for intelligence.  The president‘s proposing an appointment for someone in the old structure.

MITCHELL (on camera):  If Goss is confirmed his first challenge may be morale.  After his committee recently called the CIA “dysfunctional.”

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Now lastly, on the topic and only in the age of terror, move over, “Puss in Boots”, and the “Cat in the Hat,” it‘s the cat in the cockpit, a passenger‘s pet.  When a flight from Brussels, Belgium to Vienna, Australia—Austria rather, escaped from its flight transport bag and got into the cockpit while the flight was airborne.  And we worry about airline security in this country. 

SN Brussels Air had one of its cockpits broken into by a cat.  No evidence that the cat forced the cockpit door, rather he slipped in while attendants were delivering meals to the pilots.  But this was not just any cat, it was a quote, “agitated and nervous cat which promptly scratched the arm of the co-pilot.”  At this point, the pilot decided he had better return to Brussels.  Fifty-eight passengers, they went back to Belgium catching a second cat-free flight two hours later.  The pilot turned around the flight because of the suspicious cat.  See somebody misunderstood something, the cat is a weapon of mouse destruction. 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with terror from warnings to leaks to CIA and cats.

Up next, the No. 4 story: Amber Frey tells the jury how Scott Peterson rubbed roses on her face. 

How did her testimony rub the jury today?

And later, we‘ll hit the campaign trail.  The candidates extending their war of words over the war in Iraq.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story is next, the legal stories that simultaneously mean nothing and everything.  The other woman in the Laci Peterson case testifies.  The other case in the Kobe Bryant case begins.  Stand by, please.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As a morality play or a courtroom drama or whatever it‘s supposed to be, the case of the state of California vs. Scott Peterson has seemed, even to the aficionados, to have lost a lot of luster.  That‘s why today was so eagerly anticipated, the day they put, if not the luster, at least the lust, back into the trial. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN: The testimony of the other woman, well one of the other women.  Jason Dearen has been covering the case for the “San Mateo County Times” since January.  He was in the courtroom today, when Amber Frey testified for the first time. 

Mr. Dearen, good evening. 

JASON DEAREN, “SAN MATEO COUNTY TIMES”:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Give me the color first, if you will.  What kind of impression did she make?  What kind of reaction was there to her in the courtroom?  What was her composure like? 

DEAREN:  When she took the stand, she seemed very nervous, but very composed at the same time.  You can tell that Gloria Allred, her attorney, had done a good job of getting her ready for the first day of testimony.  The courtroom was packed with reporters and members of public.  People were eagerly anticipating it—you know, craning their heads to be able to see her on the stand.  She took the stand and only once looked at Scott Peterson and that was when the D.A. asked her to identify him.  She pointed to him quickly, described his suit, and that was the only eye contact that I saw them make, today. 

OLBERMANN:  What was the story?  What did she—what did she tell, essentially, about him that was relative to this trial? 

DEAREN:  Well, they went chronologically through their whole relationship, which lasted about a month and a half.  She described their dates and how Scott Peterson wooed her, different ways.  The first date he -- you know, picked her up, and then the first thing he did was take her to his hotel room so he could take a shower and then, she said, he uncorked some champagne and some strawberries and then they went to dinner to a karaoke bar, and then went back to his hotel room where, she testified, they had sex for the first time that night. 

OLBERMANN:  What was the story about the rose and the face? 

DEAREN:  That was in—that was in mid-December.  They went to a formal Christmas party and he showed up with a, I guess, a dozen pink roses.  He took one out, cut the stem off, dimmed the lights, lit a candle, rubbed the rose on her face, she said, and then they kissed and that‘s where the testimony stopped.  But, you can, I guess you can draw collusions about what happened next. 

OLBERMANN:  She, I presume, returns to the stand tomorrow? 

DEAREN:  She returns to the stand tomorrow.  Right now, they‘ve just hit the recorded telephone calls.  On December 30, she began recording phone calls between she and Scott Peterson.  And she‘ll come back tomorrow. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, I hate to reduce this to the level of soap opera, but for a lot of people, I guess, that‘s exactly what it is.  So lastly, give me your assessment.  Did she live up to her billing as the witness? 

DEAREN:  Well, I think the expectations were so high that she did not live up to, at least the sensational expectations, but she was a very composed, I think she was a very good witness for the prosecution who has been struggling throughout this case.  I think she may be helping them turn this around. 

OLBERMANN:  Jason Dearen covering the Peterson trial for the “San Mateo County Times.”  Many thanks for insightful word pictures, sir.  Thank you.

DEAREN:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, it might look like an escalation of the Kobe Bryant case, in fact, it could the last act before that particular curtain falls.  The alleged victim today, filed suit against Bryant in a civil court seeking $75,000, or perhaps more, in compensatory and punitive damage for pain, suffering, and public scorn, hatred, and ridicule. 

Last week, MSNBC‘s Dan Abrams and the syndicated series “Celebrity Justice” both reported that the Bryant criminal case would be pleaded out and the allegation would move to the civil court with Bryant either settling financially with the alleged victim and apologizing to her on an immediate basis, or going to court against her.  All of it is still being played very close to the vest.  A spokeswoman for the prosecution today, declined to comment on whether the civil case could complicate an effort to win a conviction in the criminal case if it continues. 

And to finish it off, Mark Hacking got his first taste of court today, electronically.  He appeared before a judge via video feed from the county jail.  The judge read the charges against him, the murder of his wife.  He said only three words, “Yeah.  Yes, sir,” and they were in answer to the question is your name Mark Hacking?  He remains in jail.

From the sleaze to the trees.  Up next, no one hurt, everybody amazed as COUNTDOWN visits the world of “Oddball,” next. 

And later, COUNTDOWN back-to-school extravaganza continues with one of our favorite political memories.  Take it away, Mr. Secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE:  We‘re between a rock and a hard place. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and we pause the COUNTDOWN for a moment to bring you the strange stories and cool video that has no real news value, but that‘s half the fun.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin with “Oddball” traffic and weather together on the eighths.  If you‘re trying to get through the narrow region of central Japan on a mountain road, merge right.  Merge right, you‘ll be there a while with some delays.  Nobody hurt.  Everybody astounded.  Heavy rains in the area causing this major landslide which was caught on tape, as you saw, by the Ministry of Land Officials who just happened to be there inspecting the region and rolling tape to check for instability.  Yeah, good call.  I‘ve seen instability before and that‘s what it looks like.  Those land officials, with the perfect timing, are now back home buying lottery tickets and hunting for lost wallets. 

Meanwhile, Coral Gables, Florida has crabs.  Seriously, it‘s nice there this time of the year if you don‘t mind tens of thousands of sex-crazed crustaceans staging “Crabs Gone Wild” in the neighborhood streets. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s mating season.  They‘re frisky at this time of the year, they‘re very frisky and they want to come out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) season, Spring break in August for the Florida blueland crab population.  Good for them, bad for the drivers.  Crabs are protected during mating season, so it is illegal to hara-harass (SIC) them, or English, harass them or to harvest them or to run them over or to have them over for dinner, so residents just have to deal with them.  Luckily, the invasion only lasts another three months.  And they really are cute as a button, aren‘t they.  That‘s why they call them “crabs.”

Finally to London.  Look, it‘s already snowing there.  Perhaps not, maybe it‘s just Harrod‘s department store opening its holiday department a little early, because remember, there‘s only 136 shopping days ‘til Christmas.  And oh, look, it‘s Santie.  He was on hand for the event prancing around in summer duds after a machine pumped fake snow all over the sidewalk.  Now with 20 percent less asbestos. 

That‘s not Santa Claus.  That‘s our stage manager, Tim Bendis (ph).

Coming up in the real news, why the Bush-Cheney point man on stem cell is not a man.  And, later, seeing strange things and meeting even stranger people all in a day‘s work for one woman and her UFO watchtower.  These stories ahead. 

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

No. 3, the badgers, badgers, badgers, mushroom.  The badgers in Britain are digging under the famous Stonehenge, endangering the place.  The military being called in to encourage them to move.  There is videotape of it, but we don‘t got to show you no stinking badgers. 

No. 2, the British drinking water inspectorate.  Never mind the threat of fluorination.  It reports that the nation‘s tap water has begun to show trace amounts of Prozac, recycled Prozac.  You know how people recycle Prozac?  Think about it. 

No. 2, Delmer Jefferson of Des Moines.  He is a clown.  And a month ago, they stole his bright yellow clown car.  That‘s bad enough.  But, of course, since it was a clown car, police also report that the thief unknowingly drove off while the car still contained Baffle (ph), Squidgy (ph), Bozo, Shakes, Stenchy, Binky, HoHo, Sparky, Pennywise, Dooley, Gabbo, Lord Widebottom and Krusty. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  T-minus 84 days and counting and the presidential race presented us with a moment of thought today.  Speaking on behalf of the incumbent, a man whom the challenge early talked to about running with him as vice president. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN starts with the president near Pensacola, Florida, and thus White House correspondent David Gregory near Pensacola, Florida. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Barnstorming through the Florida Panhandle today, where the military and Republicans are a huge presence, the president again taunted Senator Kerry over Iraq. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Almost 220 days after switching positions to declare himself the anti-war candidate, my opponent has found a new nuance.  He now agrees it was the right decision to go into Iraq. 

GREGORY:  For days, the president has challenged Kerry to say whether he would vote again to authorize the war despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. 

G. BUSH:  I think the candidates for president must say yes or no whether or not they would have made the same decision. 

GREGORY:  Touring the Grand Canyon Monday, Kerry said he would, but would have handled the war differently.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My question to President Bush is, why did he rush to war without a plan to win the peace?  Why did he rush to war on faulty intelligence and not do the hard work necessary to give America the truth? 

GREGORY (on camera):  It‘s clear both campaigns believe the election will be decided largely on the war.  While most polls show the public split on Iraq, Bush campaign officials hope to score points by painting Kerry as a flip-flopper. 

STEVE KRULL, PUBLIC OPINION SCHOLAR:  There is a danger that he will been seen as having so much complexity that there‘s no direction there, there‘s no message, there‘s no thrust. 

GREGORY (voice-over):  Kerry campaign officials insist, it‘s the administration‘s handling of Iraq that remains under fire.  But touring Florida by bus the , Mr. Bush elicited the highly valued support of John McCain, whom he greeted more like a running mate than a one-time political nemesis.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  This president went to Iraq.  It is a noble and just cause.  And, believe me, America, the world and Iraq is a better place for having been liberated from Saddam Hussein. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

GREGORY:  A judgment both sides believe will be put to the test in November. 

David Gregory, NBC News, Panama City, Florida. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Who‘s that on the right of the president and Senator McCain?  Who is that on the right?  Was that?

Meanwhile, it‘s three years to the month that Mr. Bush in essence froze stem cell research and provided opponents with a ready club for this campaign.  Little did he know he would be beaten with it by the widow and son of the party‘s most iconic president. 

Now, as Norah O‘Donnell reports, the president seems to have decided, if there‘s a former first lady on one side of the issue, maybe there should be a current one on the other side. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The debate over the limits of stem cell research could be the social issue of this presidential campaign.  Democrats have used the issue to attack the president on so-called science and health issues.  The president is concerned that his position is being distorted and sent perhaps his most effective messenger out to defend him. 

(voice-over):  First lady Laura Bush offered an emotional defense of her husband‘s decision to limit federal funding on stem cell research. 

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  And the implication that cures for Alzheimer‘s around the corner is just not right. 

G. BUSH:  Good evening.

O‘DONNELL:  Three years ago, the president offered what he considered to be a compromise between science and morality, allowing federal funds to be used for existing stem cell lines, but not the destruction of human embryos. 

G. BUSH:  I have an important obligation to foster and encourage respect for life. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Kerry promises to expand funding and accuses the president of putting ideology before science. 

KERRY:  If we can save millions of lives by doing research on something that may be destroyed anything, that the balance is important. 

O‘DONNELL:  Democrats are encouraged a new poll which shows overwhelming public support, 64 percent for expanding research, including a majority of Republicans. 

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  Stem cell research is an issue with political legs, which is a way of saying it reaches into constituents that Democrats could never touch. 

(on camera):  There are Republicans who disagree with the president and want him to expand the research.  One of them, Senator John McCain, is campaigning with the president today in Florida, as the president launches an intensive week of campaigning. 

Norah O‘Donnell, NBC News, outside Andrews Air Force Base.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And the political arena is where we will find tonight‘s edition of COUNTDOWN‘s back-to-school week.  We are celebrating our record-breaking 16th month on the air by looking back at some of the best guests and best moments.

In the moments division, we offer you one from each party.  First, the first time we noticed it was hardly secondary that the man who would be the 44th president likes to number things, say, five times out of 10, the 48-second version of “Meet the Press” and John Kerry from last April. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  Welcome. 

KERRY:  Glad to be here.  Thank you, Tim.

KERRY:  First of all, No. 1.  No. 2.  No. 1.  No. 2.  No. 3, we need a president who understands.

No. 4.  Guess what, Tim?  Eight million, 10 million.  Guess what, Tim, 11 million. 

Let me just finish.

Speaking of the year 2000 -- 2004.  The year 2020 -- 2029.  I think we can do better -- 2037.  Let me be very clear to you.  You and I earn a lot of money -- $6 trillion in the last about four years.  That‘s what you said.  But that said.  No. 1.  No. 2.  No. 3.  No. 4.  but here‘s the bottom lean. 

No. 1. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  At least he was wearing a suit for that.  When Secretary of state Powell made his appearance at the annual final night dinner of the Conference of Asian States, he looked kind of like a member of the Village People. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE (singing):  Don‘t hold your breath for the E.U.  RPMC.  It‘s got everything for ministers to enjoy.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s a certain indomitable pride to that, and also in our No. 2 story, which is next. 

The word these folks say is fat and they are proud of it.  We‘ll explain.  And later, Paris Hilton is attacked by bees.  All that ahead. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

G. BUSH:  The Oval Office is a powerful place.  It‘s the kind of place where my mother walks in and feel so overwhelmed, she won‘t tell me what to do. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a beautiful sight from up here.  But we‘re not very safe, are we? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, we‘re extremely safe, but we have to keep an eye on the other balloons, because there‘s a lot of balloons around. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST:  Alice Cooper‘s pet python needed emergency surgery after it swallowed a heating pad.  Let me tell you something.  That‘s when you know you‘re getting too old for rock ‘n‘ roll, when your snake eats your heating, OK?  Right there.  Right there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bucking the trend by choosing to be big and beautiful.  We‘ll take you to an annual celebration of what polite folk call pleasingly plump—next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The last year has been one of signal change in the issue of obesity.  Last spring, lawsuits claiming that fast-food chains had hooked overweight people on fat were laughed at.  Last summer, many of those same companies begin to alter their menus.  The Atkins diet, meanwhile, went from a fad to a lifestyle choice.

Thus, in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the inevitable backlash, in New Jersey this week, delegates from around the country joining together to reclaim that word fat, a gathering of the great, a convention of the chubby, an assemblance of avoirdupois.  And we sent the world‘s skinniest newswoman, Monica Novotny, to cover it.  Ain‘t we stinkers?

Monica, good evening. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

You won‘t hear them debating the merits of South Beach or Weight Watchers, because, frankly, they‘re fed up with counting calories and say hefty bodies can be healthy.  These activists call themselves the nation‘s civil rights organization for people of all sizes.  But, really, they‘re focused on the larger ones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  They‘re big, they‘re bold and they‘re not afraid of the F-word. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m fat. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m fat, blonde, cute.  It‘s all me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I enjoy the word fat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s an attitude.

NOVOTNY:  Welcome to NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, celebrating 35 years promoting supersized fashion, fitness and fun. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Think proud.

NOVOTNY:  Tired of hearing thin is in, when it comes to health and happiness, they say size doesn‘t matter. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Most of you have pocketbooks that weigh 100 million pounds. 

NOVOTNY:  And the only word here is diet. 

MARILYN WANN, NAAFA:  Ninety to 98 percent of people who lose weight gain it back.  I just wouldn‘t recommend something with that kind of failure rate.

NOVOTNY:  Marilyn Wann is a NAAFA board member. 

(on camera):  Is it OK if I use the word fat? 

WANN:  I would love it.  Please.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Wann is working with NAAFA to challenge what she says is the medical establishment‘s campaign against obesity. 

WANN:  I encourage people to question the propaganda and the hysteria around the so-called obesity epidemic, because I just don‘t see piles of bodies.  I see people like me.

NOVOTNY:  NAAFA supporter Paul Campos agrees.

PAUL CAMPOS, AUTHOR, “THE OBESITY MYTH”:  A very significant portion of the population is going to be quite a bit heavier than the government guidelines.  It makes as much sense to say everybody should be thin as saying everybody should be tall. 

WANN:  What I would really love from health care providers is for people to look at my health, not my weight, and to stop assuming that correlation is causation.  Just because a fat person has a health problem doesn‘t mean the fat caused them to have that. 

NOVOTNY:  True, but doctors point out that, for some, more pounds may mean more problems. 

DR. MICHAEL ROSENBAUM, COLUMBIA MEDICAL CENTER:  There are associations between body weight and certain diseases, like type II diabetes and sleep apnea and hypertension; 95 percent of type II diabetic adults and children are overweight.  So it doesn‘t take an M.D. to tell you that there‘s some association there. 

NOVOTNY:  But here, living large means simply eating right and keeping fit. 

ANDI BRAY, NAAFA MEMBER:  I work out three times a week.  I eat my vedgeys.  If I want a piece of cake, I‘m going to have the cake. 

DEIDRA EVERETT, NAAFA MEMBER:  Obviously, I‘m not a marathon runner. 

I‘m like 450 pounds, but I do the exercise that I can do. 

NOVOTNY:  And though caution is prescribed...

ROSENBAUM:  Your doctor should take a look at your level of body fatness and consider it in the context of your family history of diseases that would be made worse by being overweight. 

NOVOTNY:  The bottom line here, fat is not a four-letter word. 

WANN:  We want an end to weight-based discrimination and a celebration of every type of beautiful body. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, the numbers are not good.  In March, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention say that, as of the year 2000, obesity was killing at least 400,000 Americans a year.  That is a 33 percent jump from 1990.  At that rate, researchers say obesity could soon become the No.  1 cause of preventative death in the U.S., beating out smoking. 

OLBERMANN:  Or, as my doctor said in counseling me about my own problem, you ever notice you never see people who are both really fat and really old?  It‘s true. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, many thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, thin kills too, a subject you might want to remember as we begin our nightly roundup of those who think they can never be too, nor too rich, “Keeping Tabs.”

Paris Hilton has been attacked by bees on the carpet outside the Teen Choice Awards.  She and co-hostess Nicole Richie were swarmed at Universal City, California, one performing theorizing it was all the hair spray.  Another thought the insects had merely recognized a potential B-movie star or that they had all seen Hilton‘s TV series. 

Speaking of TV hosts with weird hair, Donald Trump managed to cut a deal today with his bankers, principally Credit Suisse First Boston.  He will remain chairman of the board of his troubled casinos.  But as for staying on as chief executive officers, That‘s right.  They have told him, “Yo is discharged.”  Trump giving up the CEO duties as the bankers pump in $400 million to recapitalize Trump Casinos and start pull down its debt of $1.8 billion, all of which explains why he wanted that raise from our brothers at NBC from $50,000 per episode of “The Apprentice” to $18 million. 

Up next, close encounters of the Colorado kind.  We will meet the keeper of what is believed to be the world‘s only UFO watchtower.  That‘s next. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ever met anybody who‘s been abducted by an alien?  How about someone who can distinguish among the 157 different extraterrestrial species, a gentleman who sets his clock too Martian standard time, or perhaps all of the above? 

Our top story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the woman who believes she owns and operates the world‘s first UFO watchtower.  Judy Messoline‘s tower in Hooper, Colorado, stands around 20 or so feet off the ground, right above her spaceship-shaped gift shop.  She opened it four years ago, when the economy and dwindling pasture land led her to sell the cattle on her ranch.  A friend said, why not put up a UFO watchtower?  The rest was history. 

Ms. Messoline may not have seen it all, but she certainly has seen everybody who claims that they‘ve seen it all. 

Joining us now from what we believe is the world‘s only privately run UFO observatory, Judy Messoline. 

Thanks for your time.  Good evening.

JUDY MESSOLINE, RUNS UFO WATCHTOWER:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Do we have any out-of-galaxy visitors today or are they only visible at night? 

MESSOLINE:  No.  The only aliens we‘ve had today have been from Canada and Netherlands.  So...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  How big are your crowds, and, by that, of course, I mean your crowds of Earthlings?  What‘s attendance like in a day? 

MESSOLINE:  In the summer, 50 to 75 people a day.  In the winter, not many, but still some. 

OLBERMANN:  And why are they coming there?  Are these all true believers?  Are there some people there just along for the ride, or how do they break down?  Do you have an idea? 

MESSOLINE:  I‘d say about 98 percent of them truly believe that there is life someplace else.  The other 2 percent, some are skeptics.  Others don‘t believe it at all. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, do you advertise this or do the people just tell each other word-of-mouth or do they get the word telepathically like in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; they just show up because they know to come to your place? 

MESSOLINE:  I think it‘s all of the above. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I imagine—we suggested you have heard a number of bizarre stories in the four years that you have had this place going.  Does one strike you as the weirdest event that‘s happened since you‘ve been there? 

MESSOLINE:  Yes. 

The weirdest one has been—well, it was described as looking up at the bottom of a roulette wheel that hovered over the campground at night.  My son, who is in the Navy, he got up about the same time and saw the whole area over here lit up, so I don‘t discount the fact that something was going on here. 

OLBERMANN:  So evidently, the watchtower works.  Have you seen more than just the one UFO?  What are your feelings on this? 

MESSOLINE:  You know, I never saw anything.  And since I opened this and have had to be out at night, that really helps, getting out at night and looking.  We‘ve had just some really, really bizarre sightings. 

OLBERMANN:  And then there would be the ones that could be confined to the ground, the people themselves.  What‘s the weirdest story any one of your guests has told you? 

MESSOLINE:  I think it was the gentleman who pulled in here and asked me if I had a place to sign in.  And I said, well, yes, I have a guest book inside.  And he said, no, for us. 

And, you know, I didn‘t even want to go there.  It just—it was just too, too crazy for me.  But, anyway, it‘s something you have to deal with when you do this.  And I‘ll tell you, the craziest thing about it is, he had the weirdest blue eyes I think I‘ve ever seen.  The blue went from corner to corner. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Did he—when he signed in, I hope he used his hands, right?  He used his hands?  It all depends...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  All right, just checking on that one. 

Judy, we‘ll keep the camera crew there and see if anybody drops by tonight.  Judy Messoline, manager of her own UFO Watchtower at Hooper, Colorado, great thanks. 

MESSOLINE:  Great thanks to you. 

OLBERMANN:  And keep watching the skis—skies, skies, skies. 

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

And I‘m originally from here.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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