updated 8/25/2004 11:44:34 AM ET 2004-08-25T15:44:34

Guests: John DeVore, Derek Willis, John Harwood

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The president says stop all the soft money ads, including the Swift Boat ads.  Going on the air in three states today, new Swift Boat ads. 

Going on the screen in a gala premium here tonight, 14 new anti-Bush ads.  This all seems to be quieting down, huh?

John Kerry goes one on one with the host of the newscast chosen the best by the TV Critics Association, Jon Stewart.  Politics are funny.

And the Abu Ghraib investigation.  It confirmed sadism, it continues to track upward but it will not require the sworn poetic testimony of Donald Rumsfeld.

And thou art weighed in the balance and found to be an elephant.  This is not a 527 ad.  It‘s a gimmick at the Louisville Zoo.  And the elephant is thinking, I know I‘m pleasingly plump, do we need to do this in public? 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, August 24.  Seventy days until the 2004 presidential election.  Yesterday George W. Bush told the nation, his supporters and detractors alike, that the advertisements by the organization Swift Boat Veterans For Truth should be discontinued along with all the other advertisements by the soft money so-called 527 groups. 

Today the Swift Boat Vets‘ new ad premiered on television stations in three states meaning they either did not hear the president or they did not listen to him. 

Our fifth story in the countdown, the issues be dammed, the truth be secondary.  American politics continuing to tell the American voter, you can kiss my ads.  If not for cable news networks like this one, it is unlikely many Americans would even see the new advertisement airing today in just four cities in just three states:  Albuquerque and Harrisburg and Las Vegas and Reno, three of the places where it is thought this election will be decided.  The one-minute ad highlighting Lieutenant Kerry‘s anti-war testimony before Congress after he came home from Vietnam.  Here now, some of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in north Vietnam in the prison camps took torture to avoid saying.  It demoralizes...

AD ANNOUNCER:  Crimes committed on the day-to-day basis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now? 

AD ANNOUNCER:  Ravaged the countryside in south Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He dishonored his country and more importantly, the people he served with.  He just sold them out. 

AD ANNOUNCER:  Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And since no Swift Boat ad or Swift Boat ad story would be complete without some recanting of some kind, we take you now to the Swift Boat Veterans website which claims of all the officers who served with Lieutenant Kerry, only one of them supports him now in his bid for presidency.  That was news to two more Veterans in the photo, Rich McCann (ph) and Rich Baker (ph).  They say they support Kerry after all. 

The website lists them as neutral but McCann says he was never neutral about John Kerry only neutral about whether or not the Swift Boat Veterans should use his picture.  He told “USA Today,” quote, “if the question is whether John Kerry is fit to be commander in, my answer is absolutely.”

Suffice to say that sometime this afternoon after Mr. McCann‘s comments hit the newspapers, the graphic on the Swift Boat website was updated.  Funny how that happens.  The Swift Boat Vets have prioritized extending their 20 days of fame well ahead of listening to their own president‘s admonitions about keeping this fight going.  The 527 group from the left of center might best be described as having listened to Mr. Bush while sticking their fingers in their ears and singing the, “I feel like I‘m fixing to die” rag by Country Joe and the Fish as loudly as they can. 

Moveon.org tonight premiering in New York 14 new anti-Bush commercials featuring everybody from Howard Dean to Rebecca Romijn, from Margaret Cho to Janeane Garofalo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey.  Are you a Republican? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get in.  Must be hard not having a candidate for president. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you mean? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, Republicans would never create the largest budget deficits in history or take away personal civil liberties like privacy or due process of law and they would never send troops into war without checking all the facts.  I mean, they are the party that runs things like a business, right? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like this country and the Soviet Union in the sixties and seventies, the 527 ad arms race continues to spiral upwards.  The “Wall Street Journal”  reporting that a group of well connected Republicans is now starting something called The November Fund to produce ads attacking John Edwards.  “It‘s our legal right,” says group co-chair Craig Fuller speaking of the president‘s comments.  Fuller was chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush.  He says the 527 horse, quote, “left the barn, left the corral, and left the ranch months ago.” 

The Democrats have spent over $100 million on 527s, he adds.  The figure given by the Bush campaign itself on Sunday was $63 million. 

One‘s dreams are haunted by what television will look like on October 20 of this year.  The occasional commercial for the upcoming new film “Surviving Christmas” with Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini swimming hopelessly in election ad after election ad after election ad.  Can anything be done to avert the catastrophe that could consume America‘s collective brain?  Joining me now, Derek Willis of the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan think-thank that investigates public policy issues like this one.

Mr. Willis, good evening. 

The head of a new pro-Bush 527 group basically tells Mr. Bush to kiss off, we‘re going to go do it anyway.  On the surface that sure looks like a literal fulfillment of the law that requires that there be no coordination between a formal campaign and a 527 but does it also mean that the 527 groups are the thing that ate the campaign?  Are they unstoppable?

DEREK WILLIS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY:  I don‘t know that they‘re unstoppable but what they are is you can‘t really shut them off entirely.  You could perhaps shame some of them or as Republicans have tried to do with some of Moveon‘s ads and as Democrats have tried to do, sort of shout down the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads.  But they are not particularly stoppable in terms of constitutional law because there is that first amendment issue they have to deal with before they get to shutting these type of groups down.

OLBERMANN:  The Republican groups have answered every criticism about the Swift Boat ads with some sort of statement like that of Mr. Fuller which I just read of this new John Edwards—or anti-John Edwards group.  Well, the Democrats have spent $100 million on the same kind of ads.  Is that an honest answer in your investigation and in your interpretations either in scope or in tone or is it something of a red herring? 

WILLIS:  The Democratic groups have spent more than $100 million but it hasn‘t gone all gone to advertising and in fact a good chunk of it has gone to voter registration and turnout which arguably is as important as television advertising and less viewable for the American public.  It doesn‘t really interrupt their nightly television viewing.

OLBERMANN:  The Moveon.org ads though, the ones being premiered tonight as this one here we‘re seeing which is one about the dismantling as they put it of the clean air regulations by the Bush administration.  These are really slick.  They make the Swift Boat ads, in terms of production value, we‘re not talking about truth or anything else, but in terms of production value they look like medium quality documentaries, while these look like, as you‘re just seeing in this stuff, 30-second, big budget Hollywood films.  Is this—that‘s actually the apex of this process or are we going further from here either in expenditures or in outlandishness?

WILLIS:  I don‘t think there is any doubt that we will probably go further in expenditures and almost certainly in outlandishness and production quality.  But it‘s also worth noting that you don‘t have to have a very high production quality in order to get your message across effectively.  I think the 1988 Willie Horton ads with grainy images and stark images really showed us that you cannot have great production values and still get a meaningful message across effectively to voters. 

But I think the sort of the gold standard was the “Man From Hope” video in 1992 and I think that is sort of what a lot of these liberal groups are sort of shooting for, to repeat that kind of atmosphere and that takes Hollywood production value so I don‘t see that sort of thing going away anytime soon.

OLBERMANN:  And if you make them 14 at a time, you might get lucky.  Derek Willis of the Center for Public Integrity.  We appreciate your insight and your time.

WILLIS:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  In addition to the overall charge that 527s are eating through the woodframe of the democracy, there remains the interior question about those Swift Boat ads.  Do they survive the smell test?  So far they‘ve provoked the resignation of one member of the Veterans for Bush, Kerry‘s steering committee recanted statements by at least one of the guys in the ads.  An angry protest by now four Swift Boat Veterans who claim the group used their images and lied about their opinions without their permission.  Now our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers tries to fact check the commercials themselves. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry saved my life. 

LISA MYERS, MSNBC INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Former Green Beret Jim Rassmann says on March 13, 1969, an injured John Kerry plucked him from the river in the face of enemy fire for which Kerry was awarded a Bronze Star and a third Purple Heart. 

35 years later, this man, former Swift Boat Lieutenant Larry Thurlow is leading the charge to discredit this key chapter of Kerry‘s story, claiming there was no enemy fire and that Kerry exaggerated his injuries. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He lied to manufacture that third Purple Heart.  The plan was to use his Vietnam experience and use that as a platform into basically a career in politics. 

MYERS:  Here is what everyone agrees on.  Five swiftboats come to a series of poles and fishing nets stretched across the river.  Three boats go around to the left and two including Kerry‘s go right.  A mine explodes under the lead boat on the left badly injuring the crew.  Kerry‘s boat races through on the right.  In the ensuing chaos, Rassmann falls into the river and Kerry pulls him out.  Kerry was honored to great personal courage under fire, but Thurlow, two swiftboat skippers and an enlisted man are now saying there was no enemy fire. 

THURLOW:  We took no enemy fire from either bank.  There not one manned wounded.  There‘s not one bullet hole that day in any boat. 

MYERS:  This battle damage report from Kerry‘s boat does not show any bullet holes.  But this one from another boat does, three .30 caliber bullet holes.  Thurlow, claims that damage was from a sniper the day before. 

(on camera):  What‘s more, Thurlow, also received a bronze star for heroism that day.  And his own citation reportedly refers to “Enemy bullets flying about him.” 

If this is false, why did you accept the bronze star and will you now return it? 

THURLOW:  I knew it was false, but nobody else was going see it.  I accepted it, because I felt at the time I had been given the thing because I saved the wounded on the boat and saved the boat. 

MYERS:  Thurlow, says that if being under enemy fire is required to earn the medal, he will give it back.  Rassmann, Kerry‘s crew and an enlisted man on another boat insists Kerry was under significant enemy fire. 

RASSMANN:  He put his life on the line by coming out of that pilot and coming up and pulling me onto the deck.  There was fire there.  He thought he was going to get killed, I was amazed he didn‘t get killed. 

MYERS:  For you to be right, all available military documentation would have to be wrong, and all those vets supporting Kerry would have to be mistaken or lying. 

THURLOW:  Yes, they would. 

MYERS (voice-over):  There also are inconsistencies in Kerry‘s version of the events.  His medal citation says his arm was bleeding and in pain, but a Doctor‘s report refers only to a contusion or bruise.  

Thurlow, a Republican, acknowledges his memory may be colored over Kerry‘s subsequent public opposition to the war.  A war still being waged today.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Kansas. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Continuing the fifth story, the first lady and the women who would be first lady, both in the news, both in unflattering light. 

The newspaper in Tucson, “The Arizona Daily Star,” probably made a mistake in granting Elizabeth Edwards request that she get to pick who would interview her for that newspaper.  But she helped.  John Edwards wife, asked that women reporter be assigned to do the feature on her, and the paper consented.  But then Mrs. Edwards staff asked for Cathalena E.  Burch and the paper said no way.  Ms. Birch is “The Daily Star‘s” music critic.  The newspaper says it regrets giving Mrs. Edwards input into the identity of her interviewer. 

What if anything Laura Bush did at a gala in Cincinnati last night remains unconfirmed, but “The New York Post” reporting that the first lady refused to appear on the same stage as hip hop star, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.  Each was to be on hand for dedication of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, along side Angela Bassett, the actress, Bono from U2 and other politicians. 

But according to “The Post,” Mrs. Bush‘s people quote “Made it very clear to Freedom Center that they would not have Laura Bush appearing in the same photo op as P. Diddy.”  She made it to the event, he did not, leading credence to this report.  Combs, himself then pulled out of the event telling organizers he had a, “Unexpected personal obligation.” 

Quite a surprise for Mrs. Bush‘s husband, if anybody would have read one of the news magazine to him, there would have been an item in there, that he would have learned about, that the man who is to introduce him at the Republican Convention a week from Thursday is reportedly making preparations to run for the presidency himself in 2008. 

“Newsweek,” reporting that the governor‘s convention scheduled, George Pataki‘s schedule next week reads suspiciously, aspirational.  He will be the featured guest at the raiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party on Monday.  New Hampshire, where the first primary is just three years and five months away.  The magazine also reports, the strategy meeting, with key advisors, to discussing a possible Pataki White House run, four years hence. 

His aides and advisor tried to defuse the issue today, calling it, just the political rumor mill at work.  You speak as if the political rumor mill were a bad thing.  Without it our special shows from the Republican Convention next we would be almost impossible. 

COUNTDOWN to the convention, weekday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Pacific.  All the day‘s political news, it‘s non-political news and the political non-news, live at 5:00.  Be there, aloha. 

This edition of COUNTDOWN opening up with politics, specificly the growing barrage of 527 ads. 

Up next, the Nader affect.  Right now Florida is a tie without him. 

Come election day, will Florida be without him? 

And later, John Kerry has completed his first major interview since the swiftboat controversy surfaced.  It will air on Comedy Central.  What does that say about the state of decision 2004.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story is next.  Without him, Florida is a statical dead heat in the damp heat.  Will Florida be without him come election day.  Ralph Nader, his story, the latest on him, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the coil and recoil over the swiftboats in the choppy seas between the two political conventions, two important words about the 2004 election have not within spoken much recently, Ralph, Nader. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, if his performance spoiling Florida and perhaps the 2000 election for Al Gore, had not be achievement enough, the independent presidential candidate has been singled out in the subject of an attack ad of his known.  Recoiling at the thought of what they see as another spoiler in the maker, liberal activist group, “The Nader Factor,” led by former campaign workers for Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt has taken to the airwaves. 

A 60 second commercial that began running in Wisconsin and New Mexico today.  And the group charges Republican groups have assisted Nader efforts to get on the ballot in key battleground states, because “The right wing believes that helping Ralph Nader helps George Bush.”  He certainly seems to be doing so in Florida, again. 

So far, Nader, has met the qualifications to be on the ballots of only 11 states, but one of those is the sunshine where he will be included as the Reform Party Candidate.  A “USA TODAY”/Gallop poll released today, shows the Democratic challenger in razor thin race for Florida. 

Among likely voters, the president leads the senator 48 to 46 percent; the other 2 percent to Nader.  With no Nader in the poll picture, it is a dead heat.  Florida‘s electoral votes would then go to Mr. Margin of Error.

Nader was on 43 state ballots four years ago.  Florida is a yes, but he didn‘t make it in Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, eight others.  He faces petition challenges in many more.  And a spokesman‘s hope today that he will be on a, quote, “vast majority” of vast ballots seems optimistic.  And the rumors continue of his own supporters desperately pleading with him to drop out and endorse John Kerry. 

To take the Nader temperature, I‘m joined again by “The Wall Street Journal‘s” national political editor, John Harwood.  John, good evening.

JOHN HARWOOD, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Previously on this newscast, we have psychoanalyzed why he might be running, but what about how long he can keep running?  Is there a point at which the money dries up and it‘s not a question of snipe ads or pleadings, but just practicality?

HARWOOD:  Well, as long as he has got enough money for a plane ticket, he will get some attention in some places.  The question is how many people are going to get a chance to vote for him?  The market is smaller for Ralph Nader this year.  That means he has got less ground troops, less people willing to give him money, although he has picked up some support from Republicans, which he is happy to accept even though Democrats are protesting. 

But I think Ralph Nader is going to stay at this as long as he can, see how many ballots he can get on and try to make his point. 

OLBERMANN:  In that one shot there, he seemed to be low on graffiti (sic).  It looked there were about six pieces of paper flying by his head as he celebrated. 

If he discontinued, voluntarily and involuntarily, what happens to his name on the ballots in the states he‘s already in?  Specifically we‘re talking about Florida.  Does it stay there anyway?  Could he still impact a swing state, sort of postmortem, after the death of his campaign? 

HARWOOD:  Often times you can, Keith, because the process of printing ballots is moving forward, and one of the interesting things about this election is voters are going to actually start voting in just a few weeks, because so many states have gone to these easy absentee voting procedures.  Some states are going to start voting in mid-September.  In Florida, it‘s mid-October, and at that point ballots will have been printed, a lot of people will have votes in their hands and they will be able to vote for Ralph Nader, assuming that nothing has impeded his qualifications between now and then. 

OLBERMANN:  Who knows what the anti-Nader that we‘re talking about would do the audience that sees them?  What will he think of them?  Will they just serve to reinforce his sense of being on a mission from something? 

HARWOOD:  All the evidence so far suggests, Keith, this is just firming up his desire to stay in the race and try to make his point.  He gets very indignant about Democrats and other liberals coming after him.  There is a lot of them.  He is getting a lot of flak from his own base, people who supported him last time, people who have been historically with him.  And you see in these “Nader Factor” ads, they are interesting attack ads.  They‘re not all that negative toward Nader, but they talk about the impact that he is going to have, and they are running them now, while Nader volunteers are trying to collect petitions.  In some of these states, where they are trying to go to shopping malls and places to get support, they are trying to cut off his oxygen before he can get on the ballot. 

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood, the national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  As always, sir, we appreciate your perspective and especially your time.  

HARWOOD:  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Later tonight on COUNTDOWN, why John Kerry gave his first big one-on-one post convention interview to Jon Stewart. 

First, from being on the ballot in Florida to not getting a ballot in Florida.  An investigation by the newspaper “The New York Daily News” found 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both New York State and Florida.  And now both states are clamping down on them.  A study of computer records found as many as 1,000 people who voted twice in at least one election, some in as many as seven.  One case has been referred to Florida state‘s attorney general for criminal prosecution.  Please leave the chads to the natives.

Numbers five and four completed.  We will pause the COUNTDOWN in a moment for a nightly dose of “Oddball.”  Pamplona may long be over, but fear not, the bulls are running on this continent now.  It‘s like a rock concert tour.  Although they don‘t seem to be running too much. 

And later, a 7-year-old hero.  He holds it together in a moment of crisis.  He saves his grandfather‘s life with a call to 911.  And we‘ll listen to it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we take leave from the news of political wars and partisan bickering, and enter the segment full of the neat video and oh those cute little animals with 23 toes.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And why fly all the way to Spain for the running of the bulls when you can get the cheap Mexican knockoff right here on this continent?  They have actually been running their imitation event annually for 50 years in La Montla (ph), but that does not mean they have got the whole process down just yet.  It‘s the running part that seems to escape them. 

Here, the bulls seem to be milling around in the crowd, just looking for somebody to gore, perhaps pick a pocket or pester.  Of course, as in Pamplona, our four-legged friends meet the same horrible fate in the bull ring at the end of the run.  That‘s why we‘re always rooting for the bulls to take a few people down with them.  The organizers say they were no serious injuries to humans this year, although you might get a second opinion from that guy.

To Sturetsville (ph), Minnesota where over the last decade or so a lot of strange things have crawled out of that local pond.  So when two girls found a frog with five legs, that barely raised an eyebrow.  But there was something different about this five-legged frog.  Something horrifying.  It is 23 toes.  Twenty-three toes! 

Experts who know nothing about the top secret experimenters being conducted by the pedicure industry say the cause could be environmental or perhaps evolutional, or it might just be a resurgence in breeding attempts by the French National Association of Frog Leg Development.

Finally, to the Louisville zoo, where it‘s time to give the elephants their annual physicals.  I feel like Kent Brockman. 

They put it off for long enough, but every pachyderm knows the key to long-term health is exercise and regular checkups.  Got to keep the weight down.  Portable scales, used usually to weight tractor trailer trucks, were brought in for Dumbo and company.  Mickey, the African elephant, checked in at 7,750 pounds; Paunch the Asian at 10,660, and Chuckles the Clown is no longer with us. 

“Oddball” now belongs to the ages.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 3 story:

The abuses at Abu Ghraib.  One official calls it “animal house on the night shift.”  But the blame is clearly also going to members of the faculty. 

And later, one Russian passenger aircraft crashes, another, same model, same airport, at the same time disappears.  Could it be something other than terrorism?  These stories ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, Roy Ritenaur of Summerduck, Virginia.  He was hit by lightning last week.  That would be number six to Roy in just 35 years.  He‘s one bolt short of Park Ranger Ray Sullivan‘s state record of seven.  Good luck to you, Roy!

No. 2, Air Canada.  The national airline almost lost the national treasure.  Hockey‘s Stanley Cup trophy was bumped from a flight from Vancouver Sunday because the plane was too heavy.  It was left overnight in a storage room.  The cup has seen worse.  It has been left on a Montreal street, put on display in a bowling alley and was once drop-kicked into Ottawa‘s Rideau Canal.

And, No. 1, Allyssa and Grant Kuseske.  A year ago next Monday, Allyssa gave birth to twins.  Last Thursday, she gave birth to two more twins.  The Kuseskes live in St. Paul, which is one of Minnesota‘s twin cities. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was May 8, 2002.  One passenger flight crashed off the coast of China, a second in the same day in Tunisia.  That coincidence was extraordinary enough.  And the timing, three days short of eight months after 9/11, still made it suspicious. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, terror and its presumption.  Two jets of the same make and model took off from the same Russian airport on the same day.  One is confirmed down and the other declared missing at almost the same time.  Officials have now verified the crash of the first jet, about 125 miles south of Moscow, 42 people on bored.  No survivors expected. 

At about the same time, a second jet with another 46 on board vanished from radar screens about 600 miles south of Moscow.  Both planes were Tupolev Tu-154 jets, a standard airliner on domestic flights in Russia.  Officials are not ruling out terrorism.  They have increased security at all Russian airports, but there have been no groundings reported. 

There are now also reports that witnesses saw an explosion before the crash of the first aircraft.  And the Interfax news agency say emergency workers spotted a fire in the region where the second aircraft vanished. 

Terrorism expert MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson joins me now. 

Steve, good evening.

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Same airport, same kind of planes, same day, same disappearance time.  Are the odds not too overwhelming for this not to have been deliberate, whether it‘s terrorism, per se, or just sabotage of some sort? 

EMERSON:  No, I think you pointed out well that it could have been sabotage or terrorism.  The odds of it being a spontaneous malfunction are just too great.  It is always possible, but the bottom line here is that it could have been sabotage or terrorism.  Investigators really don‘t know at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  Are they not, though, some of the least reliable planes?  Is there not a factor which doesn‘t necessarily preclude terrorism?  It might just be an easier target.  But these are not Boeings out there.

EMERSON:  I was speaking to an airplane—aviation specialist about an hour ago.  And he said that this has high rate of malfunctions and certain a higher rate of disasters than other airplanes.  Clearly, the fact is that they don‘t know at this point, as you pointed out.  The coincidences are bizarre when we think about a simultaneous explosion of both planes. 

OLBERMANN:  If you think Russia, you think Chechen terrorists.  And if you think Chechen terrorists and you think of the Russian security agency, the FSB, tonight, President Putin has ordered that the FSB investigate these two incidents. 

Moscow theater atrocity, the subway bombing earlier this year.  Would this be within that pattern of what the Chechen have shown their terrorist acts have shown their terrorist acts being, just kill as many people as possible and make a statement later?

EMERSON:  And find vulnerabilities in the system.

Clearly, they don‘t even follow any pattern.  They are always inventing and pushing the envelope of terrorism to the point of carrying out rock concert suicide bombings, as you pointed out, the Moscow theater episode.  And so clearly right now, that is on the table.  Of course, there could have been organized crime motivation here, because there is a lot of that type of sabotage and killings going on in Russia. 

OLBERMANN:  Map out for me lastly what the first stages of the investigation would be in Russia if there is no claim of responsibility for this.  How would you go about proving that this was terror? 

EMERSON:  Even if there is a claim, the Chechens might—and even if they didn‘t take it out, do it, they might claim responsibility as an opportunistic thing.  But, clearly, there are flight recorders.  There‘s the pinning of the fragmentation.  There‘s the issue of whether in fact the passenger manifest had been reconciled with the baggage. 

So there are all these telltale signs.  And I think they will be able to determine within 24 to 48 hours whether in fact it was terrorism or just sabotage done by some disgruntled organized crime motivated factor. 

OLBERMANN:  Or the most extraordinary set of air disasters in aviation history, I guess. 

MSNBC‘s terrorism expert, Steve Emerson—thanks for coming in, Steve.

EMERSON:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  On the other end of the terrorism stick, the U.S. military continues to investigate what went wrong in the treatment and interrogation of terror suspects in Iraq. 

Since the emergence of the graphic details of prison abuse at the Abu Ghraib, the focus has been on two explanations, rogue soldiers at the prison level or misguided leadership, two explanations, now two investigations.  Mannheim, Germany, a military judge presiding over the trial of seven Army reservists charged in the abuse scandal ruled out what would have been a headline-making witness.  Judge James Pohl rejected a defense attorney‘s request to force Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to submit to an interview about what he knew about the treatment of prisoners.

Pohl stated the request for an interview could be raised again if the defense can show a Rumsfeld connection to the case.

And, last night, our correspondent Fred Francis reported from Mannheim exclusive details about a searing Pentagon inquiry into how far up the chain of command responsibility goes.  Today, the full scope of that investigation, led by the former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, became public. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

FRED FRANCIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The panel said there was chaos at the prison, severe understaffing and failures of leadership at every level, allowing sadism among a small group of G.I.s.

JAMES SCHLESINGER, CHAIRMAN OF ABU GHRAIB INVESTIGATIVE PANEL:  Sadism that was certainly not organized.  It was a kind of animal house on the night shift. 

FRANCIS:  Schlesinger and the others on the panel said the actions of some M.P.s did not result from a policy of torture and abuse, but from serious gaps and confusion in lines of command. 

TILLIE FOWLER, ABU GHRAIB PANEL MEMBER:  It was shocking to find that during the time the worst abuses that were occurring, it was not clear who if anyone was really in charge at Abu Ghraib. 

FRANCIS:  Today, Schlesinger was only mildly critical of the secretary of defense, saying his office was only indirectly to blame. 

There was harsher criticism for his top generals.  And the panel directed its toughest words for the senior officers at Abu Ghraib, saying they should have known what was going on. 

(on camera):  The news from Washington was good for some of the accused M.P.s who had pretrial hearings here in Germany, giving credence to their defense that they did not act alone, that now in an official report some of their senior officers share some of the blame.

The lawyer for Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who agreed to plead guilty to some charges this week, thinks the numbers of accused will grow. 

GARY MYERS, ATTORNEY FOR IVAN FREDERICK:  After today, we will no longer hear that it was just seven rogue soldiers.  After today, the second line of defense from the government seems to be now that it was just 28 rogue soldiers. 

FRANCIS (voice-over):  Sergeant Frederick said the guilty plea will end a nightmare that began when he was assigned to the prison. 

IVAN FREDERICK, CHARGED IN ABU GHRAIB SCANDAL:  Everything just went down hill since we got to Abu Ghraib in October, that the whole mission just turned upside down.

FRANCIS:  Upside down for the Pentagon, too, and no end is near.  In the military court here today, Army prosecutors said for the first time that officers may be charged. 

Fred Francis, NBC News, Mannheim, Germany.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back in Iraq itself, despite another apparent cease-fire agreement, despite the release of an American hostage, nothing is yet settled in Najaf. 

For the third night in a row, strong explosions rocked that city, bombings conducted by U.S. aircraft intended to tighten the ring around insurgents loyal to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.  The Iraq government‘s troops have now closed to within 200 yards, as close as they have gotten yet of the Imam Ali shrine, where al-Sadr and his supporters remain. 

Iraqi‘s defense minister says the insurgents have only hours to surrender or they will face a violent raid.

Two stories left on COUNTDOWN.  Up next, little boy, big hero, how a 7-year-old kid managed to save his grandfather‘s life.  Then later, a heavenly new job for Ellen DeGeneres, reprising a classic George Burns‘ role. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARTURO SANTIAGO:  And take a look down this street here.  This—this has been closed down—whoa.  OK, we almost got hit by an automobile here.  Sorry about that, folks.  Caution tape almost took our light out and my head off.  Let‘s try to help her out here a little bit here.  This is an elderly woman. 

LAURA MCPHERSON, REPORTER:  The chase finally ended when the car came to a stop right up there on the Franklin Road overpass.  Some driver tells us that he had a perfectly good explanation for not wanting to stop. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just told you because I‘m drunk and I ain‘t got a license. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  General Myers, the vice president, and Condi and I just had a long-ranging discussion with our key members of the defense team about a variety of subjects.  We talked about Iraq.  We‘re making progress on the ground.  We were briefed not...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, a child‘s heroism at a time of crisis, the call to 911 that saved his grandfather‘s life.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What was life like for you at the age of 7?  Tom Sawyer‘s summers, a world where everything was silly and life consisted of a series of cascading snickers.  Did you have fun?  Did you ever save somebody‘s life? 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, 7 years old and when crisis came, he knew exactly what to do. 

Our correspondent is Cheryl Preheim of our station in Denver, KUSA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good catch. 

CHERYL PREHEIM, KUSA REPORTER (voice-over):  Seven-year-old Trystan Meadows (ph) and his grandpa are bed buds. 

TRYSTAN:  We do a lot of stuff with each other. 

PREHEIM:  They will have many more special times like this.

TRYSTAN:  Let‘s try it again, grandpa.

PREHEIM:  He Trystan knew just what to do when his grandpa collapsed. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRYSTAN:  Hello, my grandpa, he fell and now he can‘t talk.  I need help immediately.

SHENIKWA TIGNER, DISPATCHER:  OK.  how old are you, honey?

TRYSTAN:  Seven.

TIGNER:  You‘re 7.  OK.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TRYSTAN:  He was doing weird movements. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Having a seizure.  I guess my arms were flailing, my legs.

TRYSTAN:  The lady on the phone told me what to do. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  I want to go lay your ear next to his nose and listen for him to breath and his chest.

TRYSTAN:  OK, he‘s breathing because I think he‘s snoring.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PREHEIM:  Shenikwa Tigner was the dispatcher that day. 

TIGNER:  We deal with people at the worse moments of their lives and this kid held it together the whole way.  So he did awesome. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  Push his forehead back until his chin tilts up. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was amazing that a 7-year-old had that much presence.

TRYSTAN:  I was scared. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  You need to stay right there with him. 

TRYSTAN:  This is so, so scary. 

TIGNER:  OK, you are doing really good, sweetie, OK?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PREHEIM:  The ambulance came within five minutes. 

LT. BILL BRANDT, AURORA FIRE DEPARTMENT:  Oh, it was a very serious call.  Yes, he was completely unconscious and unresponsive when we got there. 

PREHEIM:  Aurora Fire paramedics say the fast call to 911 saved grandpa Meadows his life.  Now Trystan is an honorary junior EMT. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am so proud of my little boy.

PREHEIM:  And a hero in his grandpa‘s eyes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m so glad he was there. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Cheryl Preheim of KUSA in Denver reporting there.

Time to make the nightly segue from the top five stories to the top fame stories, the segment we like to call “Keeping Tabs.”

And the most eagerly anticipated witness, if not the most important one, in the Scott Peterson murder case can go home now.  Under cross-examination, Amber Frey maintained her composure today, replying to Mark Geragos‘s questions calmly, telling the court that Peterson had never asked her not to go to the police, that he was never violent with her, that he never actually said he loved her. 

She never even looked at him as she spoke.  Geragos even played one of Ms. Frey‘s recorded conversations in which she asks Scott Peterson about his wife‘s disappearance, saying—quote—“I assume that she is missing because you love me, right?”  To which Peterson replied, “Amber, she is missing because someone abducted her.” 

More traditional tabs, another Hollywood movie remake, but this one has as big a twist as you might be able to imagine.  God is not merely a woman.  She is a lesbian and for that matter she is a lesbian talk show host.  I knew it.  Warner Brothers casting Ellen DeGeneres to star in the remake of the 1977 comedy “Oh, God.”  The producer of the new film produced the original two in which the deity was played by George Burns, not exactly the same kind of character.

Fortunately, nobody has nominated Russell Crowe.  A British tabloid

says the intense Australian actor has pulled a Mike Tyson and bit the ear

of a friend and bodyguard named Spud.  London‘s “Sunday Mirror” reports

that Crowe was in Toronto filming ironically enough a boxing picture and

out having a few beers with his bodyguard Spud Carroll, when Carroll

suggested it was time for Crowe to go home to the wife and kid.  Crowe then

·         quote—“flipped,” according to a supposed witness, and bit his friend. 

And it‘s not truly fair to his friends or family, but the line is irresistible and it has already been nationwide and locally.  The man who coined the term “Elvis has left the building” has left the building.  Al Dvorin was not the first arena announcer to actually use the phrase in hopes of clearing out hangers-around after Elvis Presley concerts, but he was the most famous and he used it for years and years.  Dvorin died in a traffic accident just days after his last performance at a concert and panel discussion by the Elvis impersonator Paul Casey in California over the weekend.  Al Dvorin was 81 years old. 

Still ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN, you will see why one of these men is giving his first one-on-one interview in weeks to a guy who was once the host of the TV series “Short Attention Span Theater.”

Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Every day on this newscast, we walk a fine line, trying to balance the required effort at responsible journalism with the option to frequently focus on the less serious issues—oh, a kitty. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Nobody here thinks we‘re reshaping the world.  It just is beginning to look more and more like our cockeyed view of it. 

The No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, for his first national one-on-one interview in weeks, Democratic candidate John Kerry selected a man whose previous journalistic credentials include hosting the Comedy Channel‘s “Short Attention Span Theater,” a cameo in a Steve Martin movie and his role listed 40th in the credits in the pot-smoking genre film classic “Half-Baked,” Jon Stewart of Comedy Central‘s “The Daily Show.”

Not to question his intelligence, nor the biting wit of his program—and my 25 years in broadcasting basically divvy up into 20 years of sports and five of news—but today‘s sit-down, at-length interview with Kerry seemed to signal a sea change in the relationship between satirical television pseudo-news and the real world of contemporary politics. 

Responding to a question abortion swift boat ads, the senator said—quote—“It is disappointing, because I think most Americans would like to have a much more intelligent conversation about where the country is going.”  But he also told Stewart, “Believe it or not, I‘ve been through worse.”

Political satirist John DeVore is now an associate editor with “Maxim” magazine.  He was the lead writer for “The Daily Show” and “Indecision 2000” Web sites. 

Mr. DeVore, good evening. 

JOHN DEVORE, “MAXIM”:  How you doing, Keith?  What‘s up?

OLBERMANN:  Is this phenomenon purely a party thing?  Could you ever see George Bush doing a one-on-one with Jon Stewart or is this John Kerry going where his potential voters are? 

DEVORE:  Well, you know, first of all, I don‘t think it‘s an alliance between comedy and politics.  I think politicians are using the satire platform to get their message out, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And yet much of the destruction of the fire wall, if you will, between those—thou shalt not go where humor or entertainment is used was in some way enabled by Rush Limbaugh, wasn‘t it?  Didn‘t this sort of erasure start with the conservatives?

DEVORE:  Oh, sure.

Limbaugh for years, fruitcake that he is, used—told people that he was an entertainer, that he made jokes, that he wasn‘t this fanatical like right-wing comedian—or, rather, ideologue, but he always kind of hid behind the veneer of comedy.  And a lot of—like Air America is another liberal example of that. 

OLBERMANN:  Was Jon Stewart‘s show in particular and in fact the whole concept of mixing news and satire authenticated earlier this year when Ted Koppel said—let me get the quote exactly right—“A lot of television viewers, more quite frankly than I‘m comfortable with, get their news from a program called ‘The Daily Show‘”?

With a statement like that, was he saying to people who watch “The Daily Show” or perhaps some of the spillover that watches this one, you‘re going to sit there and be bored and you‘re going to watch us whether you like us or not? 

DEVORE:  You know, it made me feel sorry actually for Ted when I saw him make that statement.  I wanted to give him a hug.  That was more of a message from another era of the three network era kind of being upset that people are finding new platforms in which to get their political information.

It just kind of made me sad, actually, that that happened,really.  I mean, Ted is behind the times. 

OLBERMANN:  Can this get—can this go further?  Is there something that‘s going to wind up where a presidential candidate is interviewed by “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” or something? 

(LAUGHTER)

DEVORE:  I don‘t know.  It‘s weird, this election cycle.  It‘s like the marriage between Milton Berle and Lee Atwater, this use of humor as a facade for political agenda. 

I think—it‘s like Bill Clinton used Arsenio Hall‘s show playing saxophone to great effect.  So I don‘t really think there‘s anything strange about this combination of like entertainment and politics. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, it was—it certainly is not as strange as that sight we just saw there of the motorcycle ride of John Kerry onto the “Jay Leno” set.  And, by the way, thank you for passing the information on.  I didn‘t know that Lee Atwater and Milton Berle actually had gotten married. 

DEVORE:  They had a love child, actually.

OLBERMANN:  John DeVore of “Maxim” magazine, thank you for your time tonight, sir.

DEVORE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  A final reminder.  Next week, when the Republicans go to New York, we will, too, COUNTDOWN to the convention, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 Pacific, next week here on MSNBC.  Be there.  Aloha.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other

proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The president says stop all the soft money ads, including the Swift Boat ads.  Going on the air in three states today, new Swift Boat ads. 

Going on the screen in a gala premium here tonight, 14 new anti-Bush ads.  This all seems to be quieting down, huh?

John Kerry goes one on one with the host of the newscast chosen the best by the TV Critics Association, Jon Stewart.  Politics are funny.

And the Abu Ghraib investigation.  It confirmed sadism, it continues to track upward but it will not require the sworn poetic testimony of Donald Rumsfeld.

And thou art weighed in the balance and found to be an elephant.  This is not a 527 ad.  It‘s a gimmick at the Louisville Zoo.  And the elephant is thinking, I know I‘m pleasingly plump, do we need to do this in public? 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, August 24.  Seventy days until the 2004 presidential election.  Yesterday George W. Bush told the nation, his supporters and detractors alike, that the advertisements by the organization Swift Boat Veterans For Truth should be discontinued along with all the other advertisements by the soft money so-called 527 groups. 

Today the Swift Boat Vets‘ new ad premiered on television stations in three states meaning they either did not hear the president or they did not listen to him. 

Our fifth story in the countdown, the issues be dammed, the truth be secondary.  American politics continuing to tell the American voter, you can kiss my ads.  If not for cable news networks like this one, it is unlikely many Americans would even see the new advertisement airing today in just four cities in just three states:  Albuquerque and Harrisburg and Las Vegas and Reno, three of the places where it is thought this election will be decided.  The one-minute ad highlighting Lieutenant Kerry‘s anti-war testimony before Congress after he came home from Vietnam.  Here now, some of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in north Vietnam in the prison camps took torture to avoid saying.  It demoralizes...

AD ANNOUNCER:  Crimes committed on the day-to-day basis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He betrayed us in the past, how could we be loyal to him now? 

AD ANNOUNCER:  Ravaged the countryside in south Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He dishonored his country and more importantly, the people he served with.  He just sold them out. 

AD ANNOUNCER:  Swift Boat Veterans For Truth is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And since no Swift Boat ad or Swift Boat ad story would be complete without some recanting of some kind, we take you now to the Swift Boat Veterans website which claims of all the officers who served with Lieutenant Kerry, only one of them supports him now in his bid for presidency.  That was news to two more Veterans in the photo, Rich McCann (ph) and Rich Baker (ph).  They say they support Kerry after all. 

The website lists them as neutral but McCann says he was never neutral about John Kerry only neutral about whether or not the Swift Boat Veterans should use his picture.  He told “USA Today,” quote, “if the question is whether John Kerry is fit to be commander in, my answer is absolutely.”

Suffice to say that sometime this afternoon after Mr. McCann‘s comments hit the newspapers, the graphic on the Swift Boat website was updated.  Funny how that happens.  The Swift Boat Vets have prioritized extending their 20 days of fame well ahead of listening to their own president‘s admonitions about keeping this fight going.  The 527 group from the left of center might best be described as having listened to Mr. Bush while sticking their fingers in their ears and singing the, “I feel like I‘m fixing to die” rag by Country Joe and the Fish as loudly as they can. 

Moveon.org tonight premiering in New York 14 new anti-Bush commercials featuring everybody from Howard Dean to Rebecca Romijn, from Margaret Cho to Janeane Garofalo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hey.  Are you a Republican? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Get in.  Must be hard not having a candidate for president. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you mean? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, Republicans would never create the largest budget deficits in history or take away personal civil liberties like privacy or due process of law and they would never send troops into war without checking all the facts.  I mean, they are the party that runs things like a business, right? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like this country and the Soviet Union in the sixties and seventies, the 527 ad arms race continues to spiral upwards.  The “Wall Street Journal”  reporting that a group of well connected Republicans is now starting something called The November Fund to produce ads attacking John Edwards.  “It‘s our legal right,” says group co-chair Craig Fuller speaking of the president‘s comments.  Fuller was chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush.  He says the 527 horse, quote, “left the barn, left the corral, and left the ranch months ago.” 

The Democrats have spent over $100 million on 527s, he adds.  The figure given by the Bush campaign itself on Sunday was $63 million. 

One‘s dreams are haunted by what television will look like on October 20 of this year.  The occasional commercial for the upcoming new film “Surviving Christmas” with Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini swimming hopelessly in election ad after election ad after election ad.  Can anything be done to avert the catastrophe that could consume America‘s collective brain?  Joining me now, Derek Willis of the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan think-thank that investigates public policy issues like this one.

Mr. Willis, good evening. 

The head of a new pro-Bush 527 group basically tells Mr. Bush to kiss off, we‘re going to go do it anyway.  On the surface that sure looks like a literal fulfillment of the law that requires that there be no coordination between a formal campaign and a 527 but does it also mean that the 527 groups are the thing that ate the campaign?  Are they unstoppable?

DEREK WILLIS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY:  I don‘t know that they‘re unstoppable but what they are is you can‘t really shut them off entirely.  You could perhaps shame some of them or as Republicans have tried to do with some of Moveon‘s ads and as Democrats have tried to do, sort of shout down the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth ads.  But they are not particularly stoppable in terms of constitutional law because there is that first amendment issue they have to deal with before they get to shutting these type of groups down.

OLBERMANN:  The Republican groups have answered every criticism about the Swift Boat ads with some sort of statement like that of Mr. Fuller which I just read of this new John Edwards—or anti-John Edwards group.  Well, the Democrats have spent $100 million on the same kind of ads.  Is that an honest answer in your investigation and in your interpretations either in scope or in tone or is it something of a red herring? 

WILLIS:  The Democratic groups have spent more than $100 million but it hasn‘t gone all gone to advertising and in fact a good chunk of it has gone to voter registration and turnout which arguably is as important as television advertising and less viewable for the American public.  It doesn‘t really interrupt their nightly television viewing.

OLBERMANN:  The Moveon.org ads though, the ones being premiered tonight as this one here we‘re seeing which is one about the dismantling as they put it of the clean air regulations by the Bush administration.  These are really slick.  They make the Swift Boat ads, in terms of production value, we‘re not talking about truth or anything else, but in terms of production value they look like medium quality documentaries, while these look like, as you‘re just seeing in this stuff, 30-second, big budget Hollywood films.  Is this—that‘s actually the apex of this process or are we going further from here either in expenditures or in outlandishness?

WILLIS:  I don‘t think there is any doubt that we will probably go further in expenditures and almost certainly in outlandishness and production quality.  But it‘s also worth noting that you don‘t have to have a very high production quality in order to get your message across effectively.  I think the 1988 Willie Horton ads with grainy images and stark images really showed us that you cannot have great production values and still get a meaningful message across effectively to voters. 

But I think the sort of the gold standard was the “Man From Hope” video in 1992 and I think that is sort of what a lot of these liberal groups are sort of shooting for, to repeat that kind of atmosphere and that takes Hollywood production value so I don‘t see that sort of thing going away anytime soon.

OLBERMANN:  And if you make them 14 at a time, you might get lucky.  Derek Willis of the Center for Public Integrity.  We appreciate your insight and your time.

WILLIS:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  In addition to the overall charge that 527s are eating through the woodframe of the democracy, there remains the interior question about those Swift Boat ads.  Do they survive the smell test?  So far they‘ve provoked the resignation of one member of the Veterans for Bush, Kerry‘s steering committee recanted statements by at least one of the guys in the ads.  An angry protest by now four Swift Boat Veterans who claim the group used their images and lied about their opinions without their permission.  Now our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers tries to fact check the commercials themselves. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thirty-five years ago, John Kerry saved my life. 

LISA MYERS, MSNBC INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Former Green Beret Jim Rassmann says on March 13, 1969, an injured John Kerry plucked him from the river in the face of enemy fire for which Kerry was awarded a Bronze Star and a third Purple Heart. 

35 years later, this man, former Swift Boat Lieutenant Larry Thurlow is leading the charge to discredit this key chapter of Kerry‘s story, claiming there was no enemy fire and that Kerry exaggerated his injuries. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He lied to manufacture that third Purple Heart.  The plan was to use his Vietnam experience and use that as a platform into basically a career in politics. 

MYERS:  Here is what everyone agrees on.  Five swiftboats come to a series of poles and fishing nets stretched across the river.  Three boats go around to the left and two including Kerry‘s go right.  A mine explodes under the lead boat on the left badly injuring the crew.  Kerry‘s boat races through on the right.  In the ensuing chaos, Rassmann falls into the river and Kerry pulls him out.  Kerry was honored to great personal courage under fire, but Thurlow, two swiftboat skippers and an enlisted man are now saying there was no enemy fire. 

THURLOW:  We took no enemy fire from either bank.  There not one manned wounded.  There‘s not one bullet hole that day in any boat. 

MYERS:  This battle damage report from Kerry‘s boat does not show any bullet holes.  But this one from another boat does, three .30 caliber bullet holes.  Thurlow, claims that damage was from a sniper the day before. 

(on camera):  What‘s more, Thurlow, also received a bronze star for heroism that day.  And his own citation reportedly refers to “Enemy bullets flying about him.” 

If this is false, why did you accept the bronze star and will you now return it? 

THURLOW:  I knew it was false, but nobody else was going see it.  I accepted it, because I felt at the time I had been given the thing because I saved the wounded on the boat and saved the boat. 

MYERS:  Thurlow, says that if being under enemy fire is required to earn the medal, he will give it back.  Rassmann, Kerry‘s crew and an enlisted man on another boat insists Kerry was under significant enemy fire. 

RASSMANN:  He put his life on the line by coming out of that pilot and coming up and pulling me onto the deck.  There was fire there.  He thought he was going to get killed, I was amazed he didn‘t get killed. 

MYERS:  For you to be right, all available military documentation would have to be wrong, and all those vets supporting Kerry would have to be mistaken or lying. 

THURLOW:  Yes, they would. 

MYERS (voice-over):  There also are inconsistencies in Kerry‘s version of the events.  His medal citation says his arm was bleeding and in pain, but a Doctor‘s report refers only to a contusion or bruise.  

Thurlow, a Republican, acknowledges his memory may be colored over Kerry‘s subsequent public opposition to the war.  A war still being waged today.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Kansas. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Continuing the fifth story, the first lady and the women who would be first lady, both in the news, both in unflattering light. 

The newspaper in Tucson, “The Arizona Daily Star,” probably made a mistake in granting Elizabeth Edwards request that she get to pick who would interview her for that newspaper.  But she helped.  John Edwards wife, asked that women reporter be assigned to do the feature on her, and the paper consented.  But then Mrs. Edwards staff asked for Cathalena E.  Burch and the paper said no way.  Ms. Birch is “The Daily Star‘s” music critic.  The newspaper says it regrets giving Mrs. Edwards input into the identity of her interviewer. 

What if anything Laura Bush did at a gala in Cincinnati last night remains unconfirmed, but “The New York Post” reporting that the first lady refused to appear on the same stage as hip hop star, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.  Each was to be on hand for dedication of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, along side Angela Bassett, the actress, Bono from U2 and other politicians. 

But according to “The Post,” Mrs. Bush‘s people quote “Made it very clear to Freedom Center that they would not have Laura Bush appearing in the same photo op as P. Diddy.”  She made it to the event, he did not, leading credence to this report.  Combs, himself then pulled out of the event telling organizers he had a, “Unexpected personal obligation.” 

Quite a surprise for Mrs. Bush‘s husband, if anybody would have read one of the news magazine to him, there would have been an item in there, that he would have learned about, that the man who is to introduce him at the Republican Convention a week from Thursday is reportedly making preparations to run for the presidency himself in 2008. 

“Newsweek,” reporting that the governor‘s convention scheduled, George Pataki‘s schedule next week reads suspiciously, aspirational.  He will be the featured guest at the raiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party on Monday.  New Hampshire, where the first primary is just three years and five months away.  The magazine also reports, the strategy meeting, with key advisors, to discussing a possible Pataki White House run, four years hence. 

His aides and advisor tried to defuse the issue today, calling it, just the political rumor mill at work.  You speak as if the political rumor mill were a bad thing.  Without it our special shows from the Republican Convention next we would be almost impossible. 

COUNTDOWN to the convention, weekday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Pacific.  All the day‘s political news, it‘s non-political news and the political non-news, live at 5:00.  Be there, aloha. 

This edition of COUNTDOWN opening up with politics, specificly the growing barrage of 527 ads. 

Up next, the Nader affect.  Right now Florida is a tie without him. 

Come election day, will Florida be without him? 

And later, John Kerry has completed his first major interview since the swiftboat controversy surfaced.  It will air on Comedy Central.  What does that say about the state of decision 2004.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 4 story is next.  Without him, Florida is a statical dead heat in the damp heat.  Will Florida be without him come election day.  Ralph Nader, his story, the latest on him, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the coil and recoil over the swiftboats in the choppy seas between the two political conventions, two important words about the 2004 election have not within spoken much recently, Ralph, Nader. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, if his performance spoiling Florida and perhaps the 2000 election for Al Gore, had not be achievement enough, the independent presidential candidate has been singled out in the subject of an attack ad of his known.  Recoiling at the thought of what they see as another spoiler in the maker, liberal activist group, “The Nader Factor,” led by former campaign workers for Wesley Clark, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt has taken to the airwaves. 

A 60 second commercial that began running in Wisconsin and New Mexico today.  And the group charges Republican groups have assisted Nader efforts to get on the ballot in key battleground states, because “The right wing believes that helping Ralph Nader helps George Bush.”  He certainly seems to be doing so in Florida, again. 

So far, Nader, has met the qualifications to be on the ballots of only 11 states, but one of those is the sunshine where he will be included as the Reform Party Candidate.  A “USA TODAY”/Gallop poll released today, shows the Democratic challenger in razor thin race for Florida. 

Among likely voters, the president leads the senator 48 to 46 percent; the other 2 percent to Nader.  With no Nader in the poll picture, it is a dead heat.  Florida‘s electoral votes would then go to Mr. Margin of Error.

Nader was on 43 state ballots four years ago.  Florida is a yes, but he didn‘t make it in Missouri, South Carolina, Texas, eight others.  He faces petition challenges in many more.  And a spokesman‘s hope today that he will be on a, quote, “vast majority” of vast ballots seems optimistic.  And the rumors continue of his own supporters desperately pleading with him to drop out and endorse John Kerry. 

To take the Nader temperature, I‘m joined again by “The Wall Street Journal‘s” national political editor, John Harwood.  John, good evening.

JOHN HARWOOD, WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Previously on this newscast, we have psychoanalyzed why he might be running, but what about how long he can keep running?  Is there a point at which the money dries up and it‘s not a question of snipe ads or pleadings, but just practicality?

HARWOOD:  Well, as long as he has got enough money for a plane ticket, he will get some attention in some places.  The question is how many people are going to get a chance to vote for him?  The market is smaller for Ralph Nader this year.  That means he has got less ground troops, less people willing to give him money, although he has picked up some support from Republicans, which he is happy to accept even though Democrats are protesting. 

But I think Ralph Nader is going to stay at this as long as he can, see how many ballots he can get on and try to make his point. 

OLBERMANN:  In that one shot there, he seemed to be low on graffiti (sic).  It looked there were about six pieces of paper flying by his head as he celebrated. 

If he discontinued, voluntarily and involuntarily, what happens to his name on the ballots in the states he‘s already in?  Specifically we‘re talking about Florida.  Does it stay there anyway?  Could he still impact a swing state, sort of postmortem, after the death of his campaign? 

HARWOOD:  Often times you can, Keith, because the process of printing ballots is moving forward, and one of the interesting things about this election is voters are going to actually start voting in just a few weeks, because so many states have gone to these easy absentee voting procedures.  Some states are going to start voting in mid-September.  In Florida, it‘s mid-October, and at that point ballots will have been printed, a lot of people will have votes in their hands and they will be able to vote for Ralph Nader, assuming that nothing has impeded his qualifications between now and then. 

OLBERMANN:  Who knows what the anti-Nader that we‘re talking about would do the audience that sees them?  What will he think of them?  Will they just serve to reinforce his sense of being on a mission from something? 

HARWOOD:  All the evidence so far suggests, Keith, this is just firming up his desire to stay in the race and try to make his point.  He gets very indignant about Democrats and other liberals coming after him.  There is a lot of them.  He is getting a lot of flak from his own base, people who supported him last time, people who have been historically with him.  And you see in these “Nader Factor” ads, they are interesting attack ads.  They‘re not all that negative toward Nader, but they talk about the impact that he is going to have, and they are running them now, while Nader volunteers are trying to collect petitions.  In some of these states, where they are trying to go to shopping malls and places to get support, they are trying to cut off his oxygen before he can get on the ballot. 

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood, the national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  As always, sir, we appreciate your perspective and especially your time.  

HARWOOD:  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Later tonight on COUNTDOWN, why John Kerry gave his first big one-on-one post convention interview to Jon Stewart. 

First, from being on the ballot in Florida to not getting a ballot in Florida.  An investigation by the newspaper “The New York Daily News” found 46,000 New Yorkers are registered to vote in both New York State and Florida.  And now both states are clamping down on them.  A study of computer records found as many as 1,000 people who voted twice in at least one election, some in as many as seven.  One case has been referred to Florida state‘s attorney general for criminal prosecution.  Please leave the chads to the natives.

Numbers five and four completed.  We will pause the COUNTDOWN in a moment for a nightly dose of “Oddball.”  Pamplona may long be over, but fear not, the bulls are running on this continent now.  It‘s like a rock concert tour.  Although they don‘t seem to be running too much. 

And later, a 7-year-old hero.  He holds it together in a moment of crisis.  He saves his grandfather‘s life with a call to 911.  And we‘ll listen to it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we take leave from the news of political wars and partisan bickering, and enter the segment full of the neat video and oh those cute little animals with 23 toes.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And why fly all the way to Spain for the running of the bulls when you can get the cheap Mexican knockoff right here on this continent?  They have actually been running their imitation event annually for 50 years in La Montla (ph), but that does not mean they have got the whole process down just yet.  It‘s the running part that seems to escape them. 

Here, the bulls seem to be milling around in the crowd, just looking for somebody to gore, perhaps pick a pocket or pester.  Of course, as in Pamplona, our four-legged friends meet the same horrible fate in the bull ring at the end of the run.  That‘s why we‘re always rooting for the bulls to take a few people down with them.  The organizers say they were no serious injuries to humans this year, although you might get a second opinion from that guy.

To Sturetsville (ph), Minnesota where over the last decade or so a lot of strange things have crawled out of that local pond.  So when two girls found a frog with five legs, that barely raised an eyebrow.  But there was something different about this five-legged frog.  Something horrifying.  It is 23 toes.  Twenty-three toes! 

Experts who know nothing about the top secret experimenters being conducted by the pedicure industry say the cause could be environmental or perhaps evolutional, or it might just be a resurgence in breeding attempts by the French National Association of Frog Leg Development.

Finally, to the Louisville zoo, where it‘s time to give the elephants their annual physicals.  I feel like Kent Brockman. 

They put it off for long enough, but every pachyderm knows the key to long-term health is exercise and regular checkups.  Got to keep the weight down.  Portable scales, used usually to weight tractor trailer trucks, were brought in for Dumbo and company.  Mickey, the African elephant, checked in at 7,750 pounds; Paunch the Asian at 10,660, and Chuckles the Clown is no longer with us. 

“Oddball” now belongs to the ages.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 3 story:

The abuses at Abu Ghraib.  One official calls it “animal house on the night shift.”  But the blame is clearly also going to members of the faculty. 

And later, one Russian passenger aircraft crashes, another, same model, same airport, at the same time disappears.  Could it be something other than terrorism?  These stories ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, Roy Ritenaur of Summerduck, Virginia.  He was hit by lightning last week.  That would be number six to Roy in just 35 years.  He‘s one bolt short of Park Ranger Ray Sullivan‘s state record of seven.  Good luck to you, Roy!

No. 2, Air Canada.  The national airline almost lost the national treasure.  Hockey‘s Stanley Cup trophy was bumped from a flight from Vancouver Sunday because the plane was too heavy.  It was left overnight in a storage room.  The cup has seen worse.  It has been left on a Montreal street, put on display in a bowling alley and was once drop-kicked into Ottawa‘s Rideau Canal.

And, No. 1, Allyssa and Grant Kuseske.  A year ago next Monday, Allyssa gave birth to twins.  Last Thursday, she gave birth to two more twins.  The Kuseskes live in St. Paul, which is one of Minnesota‘s twin cities. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was May 8, 2002.  One passenger flight crashed off the coast of China, a second in the same day in Tunisia.  That coincidence was extraordinary enough.  And the timing, three days short of eight months after 9/11, still made it suspicious. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, terror and its presumption.  Two jets of the same make and model took off from the same Russian airport on the same day.  One is confirmed down and the other declared missing at almost the same time.  Officials have now verified the crash of the first jet, about 125 miles south of Moscow, 42 people on bored.  No survivors expected. 

At about the same time, a second jet with another 46 on board vanished from radar screens about 600 miles south of Moscow.  Both planes were Tupolev Tu-154 jets, a standard airliner on domestic flights in Russia.  Officials are not ruling out terrorism.  They have increased security at all Russian airports, but there have been no groundings reported. 

There are now also reports that witnesses saw an explosion before the crash of the first aircraft.  And the Interfax news agency say emergency workers spotted a fire in the region where the second aircraft vanished. 

Terrorism expert MSNBC analyst Steve Emerson joins me now. 

Steve, good evening.

STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Same airport, same kind of planes, same day, same disappearance time.  Are the odds not too overwhelming for this not to have been deliberate, whether it‘s terrorism, per se, or just sabotage of some sort? 

EMERSON:  No, I think you pointed out well that it could have been sabotage or terrorism.  The odds of it being a spontaneous malfunction are just too great.  It is always possible, but the bottom line here is that it could have been sabotage or terrorism.  Investigators really don‘t know at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  Are they not, though, some of the least reliable planes?  Is there not a factor which doesn‘t necessarily preclude terrorism?  It might just be an easier target.  But these are not Boeings out there.

EMERSON:  I was speaking to an airplane—aviation specialist about an hour ago.  And he said that this has high rate of malfunctions and certain a higher rate of disasters than other airplanes.  Clearly, the fact is that they don‘t know at this point, as you pointed out.  The coincidences are bizarre when we think about a simultaneous explosion of both planes. 

OLBERMANN:  If you think Russia, you think Chechen terrorists.  And if you think Chechen terrorists and you think of the Russian security agency, the FSB, tonight, President Putin has ordered that the FSB investigate these two incidents. 

Moscow theater atrocity, the subway bombing earlier this year.  Would this be within that pattern of what the Chechen have shown their terrorist acts have shown their terrorist acts being, just kill as many people as possible and make a statement later?

EMERSON:  And find vulnerabilities in the system.

Clearly, they don‘t even follow any pattern.  They are always inventing and pushing the envelope of terrorism to the point of carrying out rock concert suicide bombings, as you pointed out, the Moscow theater episode.  And so clearly right now, that is on the table.  Of course, there could have been organized crime motivation here, because there is a lot of that type of sabotage and killings going on in Russia. 

OLBERMANN:  Map out for me lastly what the first stages of the investigation would be in Russia if there is no claim of responsibility for this.  How would you go about proving that this was terror? 

EMERSON:  Even if there is a claim, the Chechens might—and even if they didn‘t take it out, do it, they might claim responsibility as an opportunistic thing.  But, clearly, there are flight recorders.  There‘s the pinning of the fragmentation.  There‘s the issue of whether in fact the passenger manifest had been reconciled with the baggage. 

So there are all these telltale signs.  And I think they will be able to determine within 24 to 48 hours whether in fact it was terrorism or just sabotage done by some disgruntled organized crime motivated factor. 

OLBERMANN:  Or the most extraordinary set of air disasters in aviation history, I guess. 

MSNBC‘s terrorism expert, Steve Emerson—thanks for coming in, Steve.

EMERSON:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  On the other end of the terrorism stick, the U.S. military continues to investigate what went wrong in the treatment and interrogation of terror suspects in Iraq. 

Since the emergence of the graphic details of prison abuse at the Abu Ghraib, the focus has been on two explanations, rogue soldiers at the prison level or misguided leadership, two explanations, now two investigations.  Mannheim, Germany, a military judge presiding over the trial of seven Army reservists charged in the abuse scandal ruled out what would have been a headline-making witness.  Judge James Pohl rejected a defense attorney‘s request to force Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to submit to an interview about what he knew about the treatment of prisoners.

Pohl stated the request for an interview could be raised again if the defense can show a Rumsfeld connection to the case.

And, last night, our correspondent Fred Francis reported from Mannheim exclusive details about a searing Pentagon inquiry into how far up the chain of command responsibility goes.  Today, the full scope of that investigation, led by the former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, became public. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

FRED FRANCIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The panel said there was chaos at the prison, severe understaffing and failures of leadership at every level, allowing sadism among a small group of G.I.s.

JAMES SCHLESINGER, CHAIRMAN OF ABU GHRAIB INVESTIGATIVE PANEL:  Sadism that was certainly not organized.  It was a kind of animal house on the night shift. 

FRANCIS:  Schlesinger and the others on the panel said the actions of some M.P.s did not result from a policy of torture and abuse, but from serious gaps and confusion in lines of command. 

TILLIE FOWLER, ABU GHRAIB PANEL MEMBER:  It was shocking to find that during the time the worst abuses that were occurring, it was not clear who if anyone was really in charge at Abu Ghraib. 

FRANCIS:  Today, Schlesinger was only mildly critical of the secretary of defense, saying his office was only indirectly to blame. 

There was harsher criticism for his top generals.  And the panel directed its toughest words for the senior officers at Abu Ghraib, saying they should have known what was going on. 

(on camera):  The news from Washington was good for some of the accused M.P.s who had pretrial hearings here in Germany, giving credence to their defense that they did not act alone, that now in an official report some of their senior officers share some of the blame.

The lawyer for Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who agreed to plead guilty to some charges this week, thinks the numbers of accused will grow. 

GARY MYERS, ATTORNEY FOR IVAN FREDERICK:  After today, we will no longer hear that it was just seven rogue soldiers.  After today, the second line of defense from the government seems to be now that it was just 28 rogue soldiers. 

FRANCIS (voice-over):  Sergeant Frederick said the guilty plea will end a nightmare that began when he was assigned to the prison. 

IVAN FREDERICK, CHARGED IN ABU GHRAIB SCANDAL:  Everything just went down hill since we got to Abu Ghraib in October, that the whole mission just turned upside down.

FRANCIS:  Upside down for the Pentagon, too, and no end is near.  In the military court here today, Army prosecutors said for the first time that officers may be charged. 

Fred Francis, NBC News, Mannheim, Germany.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back in Iraq itself, despite another apparent cease-fire agreement, despite the release of an American hostage, nothing is yet settled in Najaf. 

For the third night in a row, strong explosions rocked that city, bombings conducted by U.S. aircraft intended to tighten the ring around insurgents loyal to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.  The Iraq government‘s troops have now closed to within 200 yards, as close as they have gotten yet of the Imam Ali shrine, where al-Sadr and his supporters remain. 

Iraqi‘s defense minister says the insurgents have only hours to surrender or they will face a violent raid.

Two stories left on COUNTDOWN.  Up next, little boy, big hero, how a 7-year-old kid managed to save his grandfather‘s life.  Then later, a heavenly new job for Ellen DeGeneres, reprising a classic George Burns‘ role. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARTURO SANTIAGO:  And take a look down this street here.  This—this has been closed down—whoa.  OK, we almost got hit by an automobile here.  Sorry about that, folks.  Caution tape almost took our light out and my head off.  Let‘s try to help her out here a little bit here.  This is an elderly woman. 

LAURA MCPHERSON, REPORTER:  The chase finally ended when the car came to a stop right up there on the Franklin Road overpass.  Some driver tells us that he had a perfectly good explanation for not wanting to stop. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just told you because I‘m drunk and I ain‘t got a license. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  General Myers, the vice president, and Condi and I just had a long-ranging discussion with our key members of the defense team about a variety of subjects.  We talked about Iraq.  We‘re making progress on the ground.  We were briefed not...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, a child‘s heroism at a time of crisis, the call to 911 that saved his grandfather‘s life.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What was life like for you at the age of 7?  Tom Sawyer‘s summers, a world where everything was silly and life consisted of a series of cascading snickers.  Did you have fun?  Did you ever save somebody‘s life? 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, 7 years old and when crisis came, he knew exactly what to do. 

Our correspondent is Cheryl Preheim of our station in Denver, KUSA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good catch. 

CHERYL PREHEIM, KUSA REPORTER (voice-over):  Seven-year-old Trystan Meadows (ph) and his grandpa are bed buds. 

TRYSTAN:  We do a lot of stuff with each other. 

PREHEIM:  They will have many more special times like this.

TRYSTAN:  Let‘s try it again, grandpa.

PREHEIM:  He Trystan knew just what to do when his grandpa collapsed. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRYSTAN:  Hello, my grandpa, he fell and now he can‘t talk.  I need help immediately.

SHENIKWA TIGNER, DISPATCHER:  OK.  how old are you, honey?

TRYSTAN:  Seven.

TIGNER:  You‘re 7.  OK.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TRYSTAN:  He was doing weird movements. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Having a seizure.  I guess my arms were flailing, my legs.

TRYSTAN:  The lady on the phone told me what to do. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  I want to go lay your ear next to his nose and listen for him to breath and his chest.

TRYSTAN:  OK, he‘s breathing because I think he‘s snoring.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PREHEIM:  Shenikwa Tigner was the dispatcher that day. 

TIGNER:  We deal with people at the worse moments of their lives and this kid held it together the whole way.  So he did awesome. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  Push his forehead back until his chin tilts up. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was amazing that a 7-year-old had that much presence.

TRYSTAN:  I was scared. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TIGNER:  You need to stay right there with him. 

TRYSTAN:  This is so, so scary. 

TIGNER:  OK, you are doing really good, sweetie, OK?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

PREHEIM:  The ambulance came within five minutes. 

LT. BILL BRANDT, AURORA FIRE DEPARTMENT:  Oh, it was a very serious call.  Yes, he was completely unconscious and unresponsive when we got there. 

PREHEIM:  Aurora Fire paramedics say the fast call to 911 saved grandpa Meadows his life.  Now Trystan is an honorary junior EMT. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am so proud of my little boy.

PREHEIM:  And a hero in his grandpa‘s eyes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m so glad he was there. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Cheryl Preheim of KUSA in Denver reporting there.

Time to make the nightly segue from the top five stories to the top fame stories, the segment we like to call “Keeping Tabs.”

And the most eagerly anticipated witness, if not the most important one, in the Scott Peterson murder case can go home now.  Under cross-examination, Amber Frey maintained her composure today, replying to Mark Geragos‘s questions calmly, telling the court that Peterson had never asked her not to go to the police, that he was never violent with her, that he never actually said he loved her. 

She never even looked at him as she spoke.  Geragos even played one of Ms. Frey‘s recorded conversations in which she asks Scott Peterson about his wife‘s disappearance, saying—quote—“I assume that she is missing because you love me, right?”  To which Peterson replied, “Amber, she is missing because someone abducted her.” 

More traditional tabs, another Hollywood movie remake, but this one has as big a twist as you might be able to imagine.  God is not merely a woman.  She is a lesbian and for that matter she is a lesbian talk show host.  I knew it.  Warner Brothers casting Ellen DeGeneres to star in the remake of the 1977 comedy “Oh, God.”  The producer of the new film produced the original two in which the deity was played by George Burns, not exactly the same kind of character.

Fortunately, nobody has nominated Russell Crowe.  A British tabloid

says the intense Australian actor has pulled a Mike Tyson and bit the ear

of a friend and bodyguard named Spud.  London‘s “Sunday Mirror” reports

that Crowe was in Toronto filming ironically enough a boxing picture and

out having a few beers with his bodyguard Spud Carroll, when Carroll

suggested it was time for Crowe to go home to the wife and kid.  Crowe then

·         quote—“flipped,” according to a supposed witness, and bit his friend. 

And it‘s not truly fair to his friends or family, but the line is irresistible and it has already been nationwide and locally.  The man who coined the term “Elvis has left the building” has left the building.  Al Dvorin was not the first arena announcer to actually use the phrase in hopes of clearing out hangers-around after Elvis Presley concerts, but he was the most famous and he used it for years and years.  Dvorin died in a traffic accident just days after his last performance at a concert and panel discussion by the Elvis impersonator Paul Casey in California over the weekend.  Al Dvorin was 81 years old. 

Still ahead of us here on COUNTDOWN, you will see why one of these men is giving his first one-on-one interview in weeks to a guy who was once the host of the TV series “Short Attention Span Theater.”

Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Every day on this newscast, we walk a fine line, trying to balance the required effort at responsible journalism with the option to frequently focus on the less serious issues—oh, a kitty. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Nobody here thinks we‘re reshaping the world.  It just is beginning to look more and more like our cockeyed view of it. 

The No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, for his first national one-on-one interview in weeks, Democratic candidate John Kerry selected a man whose previous journalistic credentials include hosting the Comedy Channel‘s “Short Attention Span Theater,” a cameo in a Steve Martin movie and his role listed 40th in the credits in the pot-smoking genre film classic “Half-Baked,” Jon Stewart of Comedy Central‘s “The Daily Show.”

Not to question his intelligence, nor the biting wit of his program—and my 25 years in broadcasting basically divvy up into 20 years of sports and five of news—but today‘s sit-down, at-length interview with Kerry seemed to signal a sea change in the relationship between satirical television pseudo-news and the real world of contemporary politics. 

Responding to a question abortion swift boat ads, the senator said—quote—“It is disappointing, because I think most Americans would like to have a much more intelligent conversation about where the country is going.”  But he also told Stewart, “Believe it or not, I‘ve been through worse.”

Political satirist John DeVore is now an associate editor with “Maxim” magazine.  He was the lead writer for “The Daily Show” and “Indecision 2000” Web sites. 

Mr. DeVore, good evening. 

JOHN DEVORE, “MAXIM”:  How you doing, Keith?  What‘s up?

OLBERMANN:  Is this phenomenon purely a party thing?  Could you ever see George Bush doing a one-on-one with Jon Stewart or is this John Kerry going where his potential voters are? 

DEVORE:  Well, you know, first of all, I don‘t think it‘s an alliance between comedy and politics.  I think politicians are using the satire platform to get their message out, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And yet much of the destruction of the fire wall, if you will, between those—thou shalt not go where humor or entertainment is used was in some way enabled by Rush Limbaugh, wasn‘t it?  Didn‘t this sort of erasure start with the conservatives?

DEVORE:  Oh, sure.

Limbaugh for years, fruitcake that he is, used—told people that he was an entertainer, that he made jokes, that he wasn‘t this fanatical like right-wing comedian—or, rather, ideologue, but he always kind of hid behind the veneer of comedy.  And a lot of—like Air America is another liberal example of that. 

OLBERMANN:  Was Jon Stewart‘s show in particular and in fact the whole concept of mixing news and satire authenticated earlier this year when Ted Koppel said—let me get the quote exactly right—“A lot of television viewers, more quite frankly than I‘m comfortable with, get their news from a program called ‘The Daily Show‘”?

With a statement like that, was he saying to people who watch “The Daily Show” or perhaps some of the spillover that watches this one, you‘re going to sit there and be bored and you‘re going to watch us whether you like us or not? 

DEVORE:  You know, it made me feel sorry actually for Ted when I saw him make that statement.  I wanted to give him a hug.  That was more of a message from another era of the three network era kind of being upset that people are finding new platforms in which to get their political information.

It just kind of made me sad, actually, that that happened,really.  I mean, Ted is behind the times. 

OLBERMANN:  Can this get—can this go further?  Is there something that‘s going to wind up where a presidential candidate is interviewed by “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” or something? 

(LAUGHTER)

DEVORE:  I don‘t know.  It‘s weird, this election cycle.  It‘s like the marriage between Milton Berle and Lee Atwater, this use of humor as a facade for political agenda. 

I think—it‘s like Bill Clinton used Arsenio Hall‘s show playing saxophone to great effect.  So I don‘t really think there‘s anything strange about this combination of like entertainment and politics. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, it was—it certainly is not as strange as that sight we just saw there of the motorcycle ride of John Kerry onto the “Jay Leno” set.  And, by the way, thank you for passing the information on.  I didn‘t know that Lee Atwater and Milton Berle actually had gotten married. 

DEVORE:  They had a love child, actually.

OLBERMANN:  John DeVore of “Maxim” magazine, thank you for your time tonight, sir.

DEVORE:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  A final reminder.  Next week, when the Republicans go to New York, we will, too, COUNTDOWN to the convention, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, 2:00 Pacific, next week here on MSNBC.  Be there.  Aloha.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,