updated 8/27/2004 1:02:54 PM ET 2004-08-27T17:02:54

Guests: Dan Klaidman, Gregory Rodriguez, Al Franken, Timothy Shipman

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  John Kerry on the attack, accuses the president of flip-flopping, learns of another startling new version of the swift boat story, and leads handily in the electoral college poll. 

The Marine family nightmare.  The son is dead in Najaf.  The father is inconsolable, suicidal, and a blaze.  One of the Marines who was there is here.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) revisited.  President Kennedy‘s nephew, acquitted of rape 13 years ago, sued now by a different woman claiming sexual assault. 

And we hoped to put our political problems behind us.  But protests at the Republican Convention are indeed getting ugly, and this may not be the end of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER FINCH, ACTOR:  Go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell I‘m as mad as hell and I‘m not going to take this anymore!

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  How Al Franken hopes to repeat Howard Beal‘s success next week.  He will join us.  Al, not Howard Beal.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Thursday, August 26, 68 days until the 2004 presidential election.  But tonight, the key numbers may be 2 to 1 and 286.  The latter is the number of votes in the electoral college currently within John Kerry‘s grasp, according to the polling done in the so-called purple states.  Two to one?  That now the number of witnesses at the swift boat event who now support John Kerry‘s version of it, not Larry Thurlow‘s.  And the new one is an anti-Kerry retired Naval chief petty officer. 

Our fifth story on THE COUNTDOWN tonight, it was a good day to be John Kerry.  Thurlow, the boat captain who has insisted there was no enemy fire the day in March 1969 he and Kerry got Bronze Stars along the Mekong Delta has been outvoted.  The records of the radar operator who received the third Bronze Star that day not only indicate that there was significant enemy fire, but that at one point during the chaos Thurlow fell into the river and had to be rescued by that radar man.  Retired Chief Petty Officer Robert Lambert has tonight confirmed a “Newsweek” report that the records of his citation indicate there was enemy fire.

Quote: “I thought we were under fire.  I believed we were under fire,” Lambert told the Associated Press.  “Thurlow was far too distracted with rescue efforts to even realize he was under fire.  He was concentrating on trying to save lives.” 

As to John Kerry, Lambert, who served 22 years in the Navy, added, quote, “I don‘t like the man himself, but I think what happened happened, and he was there.  Kerry was out in front of us, on down the river,” Lambert added, “he had to come back up the river to get to us.”

Thurlow not only said that Kerry‘s assertion of enemy fire was false, he also suggested the senator himself wrote after-action reports that led to all of their medals.  The document uncovered today not only supports the senator‘s version of events, but also includes details Kerry could never have witnessed, negating the charge that he wrote those reports.  One detail in particular, that Lambert plucked Thurlow out of the water, where he had been thrown during the confusion. 

Meantime, back in this century, the campaign itself, as opposed to the unending swift boat debate, heated up today and focused.  In Anoka, Minnesota, Kerry threw a hay maker at the president, turning a question about flip-flopping into an answer about the incumbent.

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SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s standard Republican play book.  It is the same thing they said about Al Gore, it‘s the same thing they said about John McCain down in South Carolina.  They just say it.  And if you spend enough money and say it enough, people like you are going to ask the question.

Now, let me ask you something.  Is opposing the Homeland Security Department and then suddenly embracing it when the newspapers write something, is that flip-flopping?  Is opposing 9/11 and then suddenly turning around and supporting it?  Is telling us Condoleezza Rice is not going to testify—then she does testify, is that a flip-flop?  I mean, you know, is telling you you‘re going to fund No Child Left Behind, and then stripping it for $27 billion, is that a flip-flop?  I mean, you tell me, ladies and gentlemen.  Let‘s get real here. 

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OLBERMANN:  Whether or not that hay maker landed or missed remains to be seen.  Another Kerry jab seems to have missed completely today.  His campaign challenged President Bush to debate once a week.  The Bush campaign‘s Steve Schmidt (ph) immediately replied, “John Kerry should take the time to finish the debates with himself.”  Adding, “there will be time for debates after the convention.”

Kerry told that same audience in Minnesota that three debates were insufficient.  He may have coined a new catch phrase, “America deserves a serious discussion about its future, it does not deserve a campaign of fear and smear.” 

Yes, but once a week?  The Democratic primaries, they didn‘t debate once a week during them.  We‘re only human beings, sir!  We can only handle so much! 

If anyone is equipped to handle more than that, it would be our next guest.  Dan Klaidman is the Washington bureau chief for “Newsweek” magazine.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

DAN KLAIDMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Good to be here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with John Barry‘s report in your magazine about Chief Petty Officer Lambert, and now confirmed by him with quotes on the AP, are they—should they be dancing at Kerry headquarters?  Does this not boil down to this man, Lambert, saying, I don‘t like John Kerry but his version of events is correct and Larry Thurlow‘s isn‘t, because Larry Thurlow fell in the water and probably couldn‘t tell what was going on? 

KLAIDMAN:  Well, it‘s another in a series of pieces of evidence that tends to undermine the story put out by the Swift Boat for Truth Veterans. 

But it‘s an important one, for a couple of reasons.  One, this is a guy who is not a supporter of Kerry—he, in fact, as you alluded to before, he says he doesn‘t like Kerry.  So that tends to adds to his credibility.  And also, he adds important information that undermines the story that Thurlow had been telling, that all of these citations were based on eyewitness accounts from John Kerry. 

Kerry was 75 yards across the river, dealing with his own problems.  He likely could not have seen what was going on.  And so this I think is pretty powerful evidence that in the fog of war, people‘s recollections, some people‘s recollections might have been wrong, and Senator Kerry‘s, it looks like, were probably right. 

OLBERMANN:  And also it explains Thurlow‘s view without condemning Thurlow, which is perhaps the first time that anything has come up in this in which somebody has not been condemned. 

Now, I would not expect there would be a knockout punch in the swift boat saga, but is there a knock-down punch?  Is this a knock down?

KLAIDMAN:  Look, I mean, so far, just about everybody who was on the boat or right there near Senator Kerry supports his story.  Every piece of documentary evidence has supported his story.  There are a lot of people who were fairly close but not close enough to necessarily see exactly what went on, who tended to undermine the story or say that it didn‘t happen, that they were not under fire, but, you know, they have not in a few days been able to produce any more evidence to support their side of the story, not a single piece of documentary evidence to support it, and unless that new information comes out, I think people have began to move on. 

It may have done damage.  The polls indicate that it probably has done some damage, but at this point I think it‘s probably not going to do any more. 

OLBERMANN:  On the subject of the debate idea, confirm for me two assumptions I have about the debate proposal there.  First of all, that there‘s not a chance the president would go along with it, and secondly, no challenger has ever gotten serious mileage out of the complaint “he won‘t debate me?”

KLAIDMAN:  Look, this is part of the quadrennial dance that presidential contenders go through.  Has to do with the expectations game.

Look, I‘m sure that John Kerry would like to debate President Bush as many times as possible.  He wants as many direct shots at the president as he can get, and he wants to be up there on the stage with the president as much as possible, but it‘s just not going to happen.  It‘s not in the interests of this president.  It‘s hasn‘t happened, really, since the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  And so it‘s not—it‘s not a real issue at this point.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, and Lincoln-Douglas wasn‘t even for president, it was for senator.

KLAIDMAN:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s how they got away with it.  Quickly, lastly, on this flip-flop reference in Minnesota, redirecting the phrase at the president.  Was there a reason that that hasn‘t been done previously?  It seems, hearing it, that that‘s the obvious answer for John Kerry.  Was the campaign holding back and debating whether or not that was an acceptable tactic? 

KLAIDMAN:  They‘ve always debated about whether or not they want to go on the attack.  What they don‘t want to do is they don‘t want to step on their message.  John Kerry, there is no question he‘s a strong closer, he‘s tough when his back is up against the wall, and he will fight back when he needs to.

But he can‘t win this thing if all he does is cut down President Bush.  He‘s got to raise himself up.  And you don‘t do that by going on the attack.  That‘s been the dilemma that they‘ve had all along. 

At this point, after all of the attacks on his war record, they felt they had to do it, and to they‘re doing it. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, they did it today.  Dan Klaidman, Washington bureau chief of “Newsweek,” many thanks. 

KLAIDMAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday, the national counsel for the president‘s reelection campaign, Benjamin Ginsberg, resigned after confirming that he had also provided legal advice to that swift boat group.  Ginsberg clearly was damned if he did and damned if he didn‘t.  To continue as a living link between the organizations that are not supposed to coordinate between each other, or to resign and invite assumption of smoke behind fire.  Let the assuming begin. 

Democratic Representative John Dingell of Michigan has written Attorney General John Ashcroft.  He wants a Justice Department investigation into any ties between Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the campaign, which, suggested Dingell, anyway, quote, “illegal coordination.”  And today, Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill sending a letter to Ken Mehlman, the campaign manager for President Bush asking him to clarify what she characterized as “the widening web of connections.”

The president continues to deny any coordination between his campaign and the commercials, condemning what both he and the White House spokesman Scott McClellan called, quote, “all such ads.”  Mr. Bush going so far as to phone the most outspoken critic of the spot, Senator John McCain.  En route to a campaign stop in New Mexico, the president pledged that he would work with the Arizona senator to pursue legal action against the Federal Election Commission to stop all 527 group ads.  He would not specifically condemn the swift boat commercials.  Spokesman McClellan telling the media after the phone call that legislative action would be a second option.

Nobody, though, put a timeframe on any of this. 

Senator McCain did more than listen.  The Vietnam vet talked to reporters, told them he‘s fed up with refighting the ever-controversial conflict.  Asked if he‘d like to see the president specifically condemn the swift boat ads, McCain replied “probably, because of the sensitivity of the war issue to me.” 

McCain‘s opposition extended equally, though, to both candidates.  Today, the Kerry campaign acceded to McCain‘s request and pulled an ad using the McCain 2000 primary campaign as a tool to rebuke those swift boat ads.  “I‘m sick and tired of opening the wounds of the Vietnam War which I spent the last 30 years trying to heal,” McCain told the Gannett papers, “it‘s offensive to me, and it‘s angering to me that we‘re doing this.  It is time to move on.”  End quote.

And also still in full gale, a controversy between the Bush ad men and, improbably enough, the United States Olympic Committee.  The latter group today formally asked Mr. Bush to withdraw a TV spot that mentions the Olympics, talks about how the president enabled Afghanistan and Iraq to send teams to the current games in Athens.  Some Iraqi athletes have objected, loudly, strenuously, on political and personal grounds.  The USOC is interested only in the money.  It says it has exclusive rights to the term Olympics in all advertising.  The Bush campaign said it will ignore the request.  It will keep running the ads through the close of the Olympics Sunday, even though a 1999 act of Congress gives the Olympic Committee all rights to those terms, and requires that the Olympics be, quote, “non-political” and “not promote the candidacy of an individual seeking public office.”

Coming up, the latest twist on the polls, and the chance that Florida‘s vote will be counted correctly, but not matter at all.  First, campaign light, the polls suggesting both of the candidates are playing catch-up. 

As we told you earlier in the campaign, to try to balance the products of Teresa Heinz Kerry and the empire, a company has introduced a rival tomato colloid, what some wags have called a neocondiment.  Test marketing is under way in Pinedale, California.  People reported to be buying cases of W. Ketchup.  The manufacturers claim the W is for Washington.  But please note, the Bush campaign has not disavowed commercials for the product.

Reporter Alex Delgado took a taste test among three voters. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like this one better. 

ALEX DELGADO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Our taste tester preferred Heinz. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not so—it‘s not so sweet.

DELGADO:  But seeing that Ryan is a righty... 

(on camera):  Which one would you buy, seeing that you‘re a Republican? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, the W. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  He doesn‘t like it, but he‘s going to buy it.  And if that isn‘t indication enough of the decline—of the fall of the democracy, there is this: A dog snack company is now getting into the election—by the way, that‘s the company that makes snacks for dogs, not a snack manufacturer operated by dogs—the Van Dough (ph) Company says dogs can express an electoral preference by eating either Bush bites or Kerry waffles.  Currently, Bush bites are outselling Kerry waffles two to one.  Of course, dogs understand little enough human as it is, without asking them to decide if they‘re pro or anti-John Kerry based on whether or not they prefer Kerry waffles.

And yes, there was a Nader biscuit too, but all it did was obstruct Fido‘s intestines. 

COUNTDOWN opening up with politics, from the latest evidence in swift boat to John Kerry‘s fighting words on flip-flop.  Up next, the number four story, how this is playing out in the polls.  New numbers today showing the race neck and neck. 

And later, the eve of the Republican Convention, the perspectives and the novel protest plans of Al Franken.  He will join us tonight here on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s No. 4 story up next.  Decision 2004 through the eyes of the pollsters.  America‘s preference for president still within margin of error in the polls, but it might not be so close when it comes to the electoral college.  You‘ll remember that from the last election.

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OLBERMANN:  Polling data 10 weeks out from an election can be as deceptive and fatal as quicksand.  But there is a new bog in sight tonight, and it fascinates for at least one reason.  It has an electoral college vote count that, if accurate, means John Kerry would be the next president of the United States no matter what happened in Florida or Missouri. 

The number four story on the COUNTDOWN tonight—Bush versus Kerry by the numbers, and the numbers, to say nothing of the interpretations of them, are numerous.

First, the basics.  Tonight‘s new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll—

Bush 44, Kerry 42.  Margin of error, 35.  And if that‘s not close enough for you, look at leaning.  Even leaning is tied.  That poll closed yesterday. 

An “L.A. Times” poll closed Tuesday.  It has Mr. Bush with an even bigger margin a whole 3 points, and when factoring in Ralph Nader, it still has Mr. Bush by 3 whole points.  The newspaper did some polling on interior numbers, like the impact of the swift boat ads.  Forty-eight percent of respondents said they had seen the first commercial; 20 percent more had heard about it.  Even though it was only released a week ago tomorrow, the second commercial has had similar impact already.  Forty-four percent had seen it; 17 percent had heard about it.

And now about the good, old electoral college.  Working on behalf of “The Wall Street Journal,” Zogby International has created a unique poll predicated on the notion that 34 of the states will go exactly as they did in 2000.  That the other 16 are the battlegrounds, so do your polling there.  And the new Zogby count has Kerry over the minimum 72 electoral votes, ahead of George Bush.

OK, we are here.  If you do not recognize this map, please ask the attendant for help.  Yellow states are too close to call.  Red states to Mr. Bush.  There are only two of them among the disputed sates, Ohio and West Virginia, adjoining there towards the right.  Twelve of the 16 other battleground states, some by awfully thin margins would, if voting were held tonight, go to Kerry, including Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. 

Giving you this vibrant picture of the entire country.  As you see, there is a lot of tomato sauce towards the middle, enough blue that even if the yellow turned red, blue still wins. 

To put a number on it, Zogby says just the blue and red states right now would make it Kerry 286, Bush 214 in the electoral college, so much of a margin that even if both remaining yellow states, Missouri and Florida, went to Mr. Bush, it wouldn‘t matter.  Still, Kerry by 34 votes; 16 more than needed for electoral certification.  Tim Russert would not even have time to get out his grease board. 

Now, that poll comes, of course, with a hatful of caveats.  And to analyze them and the poll itself, I am joined by Gregory Rodriguez, contributing editor to “The Los Angeles Times,” and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.  Once again, sir, thank you for your time.

GREGORY RODRIGUEZ, L.A. TIMES:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Democrats look at those numbers and say, Kerry remains comfortably ahead, he‘s been ahead that way, about that way since July.  It‘s his to lose.  Republicans say, hold on there, in five of the battleground states, Kerry is ahead by less than 3 points, and if he lost all five of those states, Bush would win the election by 10 points.  It‘s spinnable.  Is there any truth in a poll like this at this time? 

RODRIGUEZ:  You know what?  There‘s a tendency for me to say, you know what, we‘re really counting the angels on the heads of pins right now.  We‘re still in the margin of error for the popular vote. 

But really, the vote—the poll that really matters here seems to be the Zogby poll.  We seem to have not learned the lesson from 2000 that it‘s the electoral college votes that matter more than the popular vote.  So it seems to me the side that should be worried right now is the Bush campaign.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, it‘s like darts. It‘s placement and location.

The Zogby poll on August 3, back in the pre-swift boat era, right after the Democratic Convention, had it 291-215 Kerry.  This one is 286-214 Kerry, it‘s virtually unchanged.  Since that polling hinges on the states where the swift boat ads actually played on TV, as opposed to merely on cable, does this suggest that those ads in fact turned out to be an enormous amount of smoke but no fire? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, no.  I mean, I think we know now that they‘re very targeted.  That the actual—that people who are convinced on either side are still very convinced, and the undecided are still undecided.  What it seems to have moved is the veteran vote, and those people, that support has really declined significantly for Kerry. 

But what we haven‘t seen now, and it depends on how the Ginsberg story, the resigning of the Republican lawyer, how it‘s played out—but will there be a backlash now against the Bush campaign for playing a little dirty? 

OLBERMANN:  Let me run, lastly, some of the interior numbers out of the new NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll and get your overall impression of these, which are you know, some of them are bean scratchers.  Mr. Bush is minus 8 on foreign policy, but plus he‘s 11 on the war on terror.  This is where we frame the graphics, I think.  Not only that, but his terror number, and that‘s a sick phrase to begin with, is up 5 points since June. 

Then there is the question, where is the nation headed?  We‘re a little bit behind.  I‘ll wait for you to catch up. 

RODRIGUEZ:  You know, I think there‘s a way to explain this.  Really, the terror question is a visceral question.  Is, I mean, are you supporting the president in the fight against terror?  Is the president doing his best in the fight against terror?  And most people are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and defend the president and support the president. 

However, the question regarding policy, foreign policy is really, does the president have a plan?  And more people have—fewer people have confidence in the president that he has a long-term plan to defend the country, whereas most people seem to believe that the president is doing the best he can to defend the country now.  So I think that‘s the difference between—it‘s the visceral answer and a cerebral answer. 

OLBERMANN:  The other one of the early numbers here was about the president deserving reelection.  And 50 percent of the country said no, and yet he is leading John Kerry in the poll like 2 points.  Is somebody saying, are the American people saying, we want another candidate at this point?  What—how these two really strange statistics justify against each other? 

RODRIGUEZ:  You know what?  That seems to make sense, though.  They may want another candidate.  What it means, though, is that there is room for Kerry to grow, that there is actually a bigger group of people who are dissatisfied with the president, the job he‘s doing and the direction of the country, than there are Kerry‘s supporters.  That means Kerry can still dig into that group of discontented Americans and perhaps widen his base of support. 

OLBERMANN:  Gregory Rodriguez of “The Los Angeles Times,” as always, sir, a pleasure.  Thank you for your time.

RODRIGUEZ:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  This programming note: Next week, we will be live among the Republicans.  COUNTDOWN to the convention.  All the political news, the non-political news and, most importantly, the political non-news, 5:00 p.m.  Eastern, 2:00 p.m. Pacific.  Be there, aloha. 

No. 4 and five now behind us on COUNTDOWN.  We will still have more politics ahead.  This?  No, no, the slithery underbelly of the world of news signals not more politics, but that “Oddball” is around the corner.  Yeah.

And later, we think these are political protesters in New York.  Of course, they could just be natives, or leaders of local government.

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OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for some stories about a banned TV ad, a huge hunk of pork, and a two-headed snake.  And surprisingly, none of that is the political news. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin with the great St. Louis snake heist.  Two former workers at the city museum there are under arrest this evening after having been caught with this very rare albino black rat snake.  What‘s so rare about it?  First off, it‘s a black snake, but it‘s white.  Oh, and by the way, if you didn‘t notice, it has two heads, pointing in opposite directions. 

Cops say the two men absconded with the two-headed serpent over the weekend and made a run for the border, perhaps thinking they could sell the rat snake and live like kings in South America, you know, like Butch and Sundance.  But there was a rat snake in the gang as well.  Somebody turned them in.  The snake called Oui (ph) is back, safe and sound, and comfortable in a tiny glass box in St. Louis, and having proved that two heads are not better than one.

To the Kentucky State Fair, the same place that has the statue head of Saddam Hussein on display.  No, this would be something else.  This is the blue ribbon prize ham of 2004.  And it was served up this morning on the charity auction block.  A group of bankers won the 14.5 pounds of pork, for $60,000.  That‘s $4,100 a pound.  That‘s more than in the MSNBC commissary. 

Mm, phenomenally overpriced ham, ah! 

And finally, this will be the last time you‘ll see this ad for General Motors 2005 Corvette, entitled “A Boy‘s Dream.”  It features a child, clearly too young for a driver‘s license, behind the wheel of a speeding ‘vette, speeding and flying. 

In a letter to GM‘s chief, a consumer advocacy group wrote, quote, “this ad is certainly among the most dangerous anti-safety messages to be aired on national television in recent years.”  Yeah, but the car‘s cool, man.

President Bush this afternoon refused to denounce this ad either, but he called on Senator Kerry to join him in condemning all flying car ads, even the trailer for the second “Harry Potter” film. 

“Oddball” over. 

Up next, tonight‘s No. 3 story.  After the Marines his son had been killed in action in Iraq, a father loses control—the latest on his condition.  And we‘ll talk to one of the Marines who had to break the awful news to the family.  Also, a day of chaos in Iraq giving way to hope that the three-week-old standoff in Najaf could really be over this time. 

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

No. 3 -- by the way, there‘s a partial theme tonight, episodes of “The Simpsons” coming to life.

No. 3, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, just like his “Simpsons”‘ counterpart, Rainier Wolfcastle in episode “EABF04,” the governor will oversee a rummage sale behind the state Capitol, furniture, cars, scissors, stuff confiscated in drug raids. 

No. 2, as you see already, police in Denver, just like those in Springfield in episode “DABF11,” overcome by fumes when they tried to burned no-longer-needed evidence, a pile of marijuana.

And, No. 1 -- sorry, no “Simpsons” parallel—just Jake Shimabukuro of Hawaii, who has taken Japan by storm, drawing thousands of fans into arenas for his concerts on the ukulele.  One Japanese music critic has compared him to Jimi Hendrix, presumably in the hope that he will light the bloody ukulele on fire. 

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OLBERMANN:  Through operations yesterday, 964 U.S. service personnel had lost their lives since the beginning of military operations in Iraq.  And while that number is often updated and reported, there are 964 separate tales of grief which typically get no such attention, until yesterday. 

Our No. 3 story tonight, the war on terror and its terrible personal consequences.  As we told you first last night, Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo was killed in action at Najaf.  When a contingent of Marines went to family‘s home to report the awful news, Arredondo‘s father lost control.  He smashed his way into the Marine Corps van and used gasoline and propane to set it ablaze.  Marines pulled Arredondo from the burning vehicle.

He is hospitalized tonight with second-degree burns to nearly 50 percent of his body. 

Timothy Shipman is a member of the Marines Casualty Assistance Team and was one of the officers at the Arredondo home yesterday. 

First, Sergeant Shipman, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it. 

1ST SGT. TIMOTHY SHIPMAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  I imagine they‘re all bad, sir, but this looked one like it was all the family‘s worst fears followed by all of your worst fears.  What was that experience like yesterday? 

SHIPMAN:  It was—it wasn‘t a scary experience, but you try to prepare yourself for the worst when you go to someone‘s house. 

OLBERMANN:  Are they ever—I don‘t want to say good . That‘s the wrong word, but are there ever events that leave you more touched and more in touch with humanity than experiencing somebody else‘s grief?  Are they ever bearable I guess is the question? 

SHIPMAN:  It‘s never easy.  It‘s never bearable when you have to go and tell someone that their loved one is gone.  We just try to make the best out of it and try to treat the family with as much dignity as possible in this time of need. 

OLBERMANN:  In that situation yesterday, when you went to tell Mr.  Arredondo that his son was dead, at one point, he was so grief-stricken he actually ran away from you.  Is that right? 

SHIPMAN:  Yes. 

When we arrived at the house, he was doing some type of yard work. 

When we approached him, identified ourself and confirmed that he was Mr.  Arredondo, we talked to him.  And after he heard the news, he ran, moved away from us and actually went to another side of the house and called his mother. 

OLBERMANN:  And what happened after that?  How did this escalate to the idea that he had to—that he was just lashing out in anger at the first thing he could find, which happened to be your vehicle? 

SHIPMAN:  Well, as it first came out, the grandmother came out and she was screaming.  I don‘t know what she was saying.  She was speaking Spanish.  Staff Sergeant Magrone (ph), my translator, was trying to talk to her and calm her down and tell her what happened. 

In the process, we were still trying to talk to the dad to get him calmed down.  He moved toward the garage at one time, grabbed a hammer and proceeded to go toward the vehicle.  We talked to him.  The grandmother was telling him not to.  He stopped, went back to the front area of the house and we began to talk to him again. 

As it went on, it began to escalate.  He became a little more agitated after making some phone calls and so forth.  And all of us ended up back outside in the garage again at one point.  At that point, he actually grabbed the propane tank with the gallon of fuel and proceeded to go toward the vehicle again.  At that time, the mother was saying no and we were telling him to stop, it‘s not worth it. 

He continued to go to the vehicle.  My Marines asked if they wanted me to ask them to give them the authority to grab him and try and apprehend him.  And my response was no.  And as he tried to go to the vehicle, he continued.  His mother was pulling on him, trying to get him off, not to do it.  He proceeded to the driver‘s side of the vehicle, broke the window with the propane tank and began—opened the door, got inside and began breaking the windows. 

Upon breaking the windows, he was pouring gas at the same time, went to the back of the vehicle.  And he was getting ready to come to the front of the vehicle, he stopped between the driver‘s seat and the steering wheel in a crouched position standing up and actually lit the vehicle.  At that time, he was caught on fire.  At that time, when the vehicle was ignited, I don‘t know if he jumped out of the vehicle or from the small explosion that occurred he was blown out of the vehicle like middle ways of the road. 

At that time, he was on fire in the lower extremities, his upper hands and so forth.  His mother was screaming.  We pulled him over to the side of the road.  As we pulled him to the side of the road, he was still fighting.  We sort of patted the fire out with our hands over his body.  And then we continued to hold him down. 

As we held him down, the vehicle was beginning to cause more damage.  Gunnery Sergeant Melvin (ph), the Marine that was there, is saying, 1st Sergeant, we need to move him because the vehicle is going to blow.  We picked him up and moved him forward about 15 to 20 yards to safety and held him there until authorities came. 

OLBERMANN:  An extraordinary story.  Thank goodness you‘re all, all right.  First Sergeant Timothy Shipman, many thanks you for your time tonight, sir.

SHIPMAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Lance Corporal Arredondo was killed while fighting in the three-week-old standoff in Najaf between a rebel cleric and a coalition of U.S. and Iraq forces.

Tonight, there‘s word that a peace deal has been brokered that would end the hostilities there.  The deal was drawn up with the assistance of Iraq‘s most revered Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.  Among the terms of the agreement, rebel fighters loyal to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are to leave the sacred shrine by tomorrow morning, U.S.-led forces to withdraw to outside Najaf, Al-Sadr goes free, and Najaf is to be declared a weapons-free zone. 

Still ahead of here on COUNTDOWN, once again, William Kennedy Smith stands accused a sexual crime, but he is not facing criminal charges.  The details in our second story next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  She says he violated her innocence.  He calls her allegations outrageous and untrue.  It‘s the tabloid story, the grandmother of them all.  And we‘ll have it again next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The history of the live televised trial is shorter than it seems.  The case of the State of Florida vs. William Kennedy Smith was one of its earliest events.  That was in 1991.  A low-tech blue dot covered the face of the woman who accused the Smith, nephew to President Kennedy, of having raped her. 

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN tonight, as Michael Okwu reports, Smith in the news again. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The woman accusing William Kennedy Smith has come forward, identifying herself as Audra Soulias.  Five years ago, she worked as his personal assistant at the Chicago-based nonprofit group Kennedy Smith, founded to help land mine victims. 

In a civil suit filed Wednesday, Soulias says that, in 1999, she and three friends went out to celebrate her birthday at this bar.  According to the suit, Kennedy Smith arrived uninvited and kept buying her drinks.  He allegedly forced her into his home. 

AUDRA SOULIAS, PLAINTIFF:  On January 16, 1999, my innocence was involuntary taken from me in a manner by someone who I trusted and respected.  It was taken in a violent act that will haunt me to the day I die. 

OKWU:  According to the suit, Kennedy Smith left her voice messages saying: “It was not your fault.  I have a problem.  I will get help.”

But Soulias also told local reporters that, months after the incident, she and Kennedy Smith began a physical relationship.  Other women under Kennedy Smith‘s supervision have now come forward alleging harassment and unwanted sexual advances.  Back in 1991, Kennedy Smith was acquitted of rape at the Kennedy compound in Florida.

Wednesday, he issued a statement calling the allegations “outrageous, untrue, and without merit.” 

Michael Okwu, NBC News, Chicago.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Leaving the supermarket aisle newspaper‘s front pages now to delve a little deeper into the stories of “Keeping Tabs,” settlement has been reached between the publishers of Woody Guthrie‘s classic song “This Land Is Your Land” and the creators of an Internet parody that swept the nation; 20 million people have downloaded the Bush and Kerry JibJab duet since its debut, but JibJab was sued by Ludlow Music for using the Guthrie song without permission. 

The settlement allows JibJab to keep the video on the Net, but it will also have to include a link to the song‘s original lyrics, donate 20 percent of any profits to the Woody Guthrie Foundation.  And they all have to go out and print out the lyrics to Guthrie‘s “Relativity” song and sing it aloud without reading it first, just for the laughs.

Coming up, Al Franken will join us.  As COUNTDOWN wraps up, the political world of protests.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned yesterday, among New Yorkers, the phrase, I will be on vacation next week has replaced the more familiar phrase, hello.  T-minus four days to the Republican Convention, zero hours for the protests. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, an original mass protest proposed by humorist and commentator Al Franken suggested by one of the most telling movies of all time. 

First, however, the extremely low-tech grassroots effort today in big town.   I did say grass.  This is a group of AIDS activists outside Madison Square Garden demanding the president fulfill his pledge to combat HIV in Third World nations.  That‘s right, politics getting ugly.  A total of 11 protesters arrested.  Other escaped arrest by hurriedly putting on their clothes, to say nothing of escaping the booing and visible blanching of the crowd.

But that‘s just a warm-up.  Thousands massed someone south of Madison Square Garden, whispered rumors of anarchists, and perhaps most challenging of all, a protest drawing for its methodology from the mad-as-hell scene immortally enacted by Peter Finch in the movie classic “Network.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “NETWORK”)

PETER FINCH, ACTOR:  You have GOT to get mad.  You have GOT to say, I‘m a human being (EXPLETIVE DELETED) damn it.  My life has value. 

So I want you to get up now.  I want all of you to get up out of your chairs.  I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, I‘m as mad as hell and I‘m not going to take this anymore!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Worked in the movie, but how is it supposed to work during the Republican Convention? 

Al Franken of Air America and the still selling book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them” joining us. 

It‘s great to have you here, first off.

AL FRANKEN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, thanks for having me, Keith. 

Love the show. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir. 

How are you—what is it you are going to do?  It‘s not, “I‘m mad as hell.”  And it doesn‘t have to be raining and don‘t you to have a raincoat on, right?  What are you trying to do with this? 

FRANKEN:  OK, it‘s pretty—this is a nondisruptive way of protesting. 

And there‘s a lot of us in this country who—you saw earlier in your polling data that 50 percent of the people in the country don‘t want this president to be reelected.  And a lot of us are sort of angry at a lot of the things he‘s done.  And when he—and by Thursday, we‘re going to be really, you know—we‘re going to be tense. 

And so here‘s the idea.  When he comes out—this is when he comes out on your TV, when the president comes out to give his speech, you go to your window, in New York, anyway.

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

FRANKEN:  And you open the window and yell, forget about it!  Forget about it!

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  And you do that for about two or three minutes. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  And then—and stop before he speaks, in respect for his office. 

OLBERMANN:  Just to drown out the applause, as opposed to what he is saying? 

FRANKEN:  Well, there will be so many more—we have a Web site, TheGreatAmericanShoutOut.org.  And we‘re expecting about 100 million people to do this. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

FRANKEN:  And this—they can be all around the country. 

On our show, “The Al Franken Show,” on Air America, we‘ve had people call in with regionalism. 

OLBERMANN:  Customizing it.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  So, in like Minnesota, people will yell, oh, no, you don‘t.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  Oh, no, you don‘t.

OLBERMANN:  For two or three minutes. 

FRANKEN:  Yes.  Oh, no, you don‘t. 

OLBERMANN:  What, 750,000 or so in Minnesota, probably, proportionally? 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  Yes.  That‘s about right.  That‘s about right, very, very good quick calculation. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you much. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  You got any others there for around the country specific? 

Is there something in California or...

FRANKEN:  No, dude. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

FRANKEN:  And that would be Southern California.  And Northern California is, no, way, dude. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  I don‘t know. 

OLBERMANN:  No, that‘s good. 

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  I think you‘re absolutely right.  There is a divide around Sacramento. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And, in Sacramento, it‘s something like that, but with an Austrian accent. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Nein.

FRANKEN:  Nein, dude. 

(LAUGHTER)

FRANKEN:  Yah.

OLBERMANN:  So this would be the ultimate expression of the voice of the people, as it were?

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

And what it does, it doesn‘t tax or burden in any way our public safety system here in New York.  You know, they‘re not allowing the protesters to go to Central Park.  They‘re putting them on the West Side Highway, which is really bad, because I understand they‘re not closing down the West Side Highway. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a problem. 

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Have you thought, though, about the impact on police dogs of all...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  Yes, we‘ve thought this through.

OLBERMANN:  The K-9 unit, one of the hardworking, nonpartisan parts of the police force in New York. 

FRANKEN:  We did a study on police dogs.  And unless it‘s very high—we‘re telling no high-pitched whistles. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m comforted.

FRANKEN:  That‘s why—forget about it is fine for dogs.  And we want it all—and we‘re hoping that we‘ll—the networks will cut to a split screen, because there will be more people shouting outside, obviously, than in Madison Square Garden.  It‘s almost a bigger story.

In Madison Square Garden, they will be going, like, thanks for my tax cut or thanks for rolling back environmental regulations, so my business can pollute.  Thank you.  Thank you for sending someone else‘s kid to Iraq. 

That‘s what they will be saying inside.  And we‘ll be going, forget about it. 

OLBERMANN:  And, nein, dude. 

FRANKEN:  And nein—well, that actually will be in the Garden. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s true, too. 

FRANKEN:  And, no—and, oh, no, you don‘t. 

OLBERMANN:  Not—so you can wear that official, sanctioned “I‘m an

OK person”

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  That‘s right. 

I believe if you sign on to the Web site, you actually—you can sign up to host a party, to find a party or just do it alone.  And you qualify as a nonviolent pro—so you can get your discount at Applebee‘s.  I think that‘s...

OLBERMANN:  Right.  You get a discount at Applebee‘s.  You can get into the Museum of Sex for less, too, according—if you are wearing one of those buttons in New York. 

FRANKEN:  Right.  So there‘s all kinds of advantages to this, in addition to having the catharsis of yelling at the president. 

OLBERMANN:  And you don‘t have to—can you...

FRANKEN:  Again, out of respect to the office...

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t yell while he‘s talking, but beforehand.

FRANKEN:  No. 

And this will be at about 10:05, 10:10. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

FRANKEN:  So you won‘t be waking your neighbors.  It would be like if the Yankees or the Mets had won the World Series.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, like the Mets are going to win the World Series

(CROSSTALK)  

FRANKEN:  Well, they did once. 

OLBERMANN:  But what—we just showed that video of the AIDS protesters naked. 

FRANKEN:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Could you do this protest naked? 

FRANKEN:  Yes.  That‘s one of the beauty parts. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But not too close to the window would be probably

(CROSSTALK)  

FRANKEN:  Lower—if the window—most windows...

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKEN:  You know?

And, yes, this is another thing.  Anybody can do it.  And anybody any

·         you can be in the middle of farmland and do it for yourself in Nebraska or in, like, in Mankato, Minnesota.  If you are on a farm near Mankato, you can go, oh, no, you don‘t. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Out at the silo. 

FRANKEN:  At the silo. 

OLBERMANN:  At the silo. 

FRANKEN:  You can do that.  So it‘s actually quite an elegant solution to—and, again, it does not burden our public safety. 

OLBERMANN:  One hundred -- 100 million? 

FRANKEN:  We‘re expecting about 100 million. 

OLBERMANN:  Is that the mean, or could there be a low—is there a range?  It‘s like 2,000 to 260 million? 

FRANKEN:  Somewhere in there.

OLBERMANN:  Got it. 

FRANKEN:  We actually have an amazing number; 26,000 have already logged on and we‘re—yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, thanks for coming out and joining us here in the hinterlands here on COUNTDOWN. 

FRANKEN:  Well, in Secaucus, you can also say, forget about it. 

OLBERMANN:  Forget about it.  And...

FRANKEN:  That‘s a New Jersey thing. 

OLBERMANN:  Right. 

FRANKEN:  We‘ve had actually on the show a couple members of “The Sopranos” to explain how to yell forget about it.

OLBERMANN:  And the horse you road in on.

FRANKEN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘re done, Al.  Thanks for joining us, though.

FRANKEN:  No, we‘re not done yet.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we are.  

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

FRANKEN:  Why are we done?

OLBERMANN:  Because it‘s 9:00.  Debbie is next.  Come on, Deborah Norville is next.  Good night. 

FRANKEN:  Oh.

OLBERMANN:  Bye.  Bye.

END   

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