updated 9/9/2004 1:50:04 PM ET 2004-09-09T17:50:04

Guests: John Harwood, Wayne Downing, Elizabeth Edwards

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Terror, terror.  The Democrats roar over Dick Cheney‘s warning that we‘ll get hit again if voters make the wrong choice.  Some Republicans support the vice president, some say that‘s not what he meant.  Others say nothing, one of them is Mr. Bush. 

We will take all measures to liquidate terrorism in all bases of the world.  Something else from Secretary Powell?  No, from the Russian military.  More than one can play this game. 

And more of that rarest of political commodities, the plain speaker, the wife of John Edwards. 

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS:  This is going to sound sort of sound bitey.  And I don‘t—I‘m not so much of a sound bite kind of person. 

OLBERMANN:  What about him?  Him—the mayor of Phoenix from January to May 18, ‘99.  Does he remind you of somebody? 

And catch a falling star and put it in your pocket.  Recovering the solar probe Genesis.  I‘ve got it!  I‘ve got it!  I‘ve got it—I don‘t got it.  All that more on now COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, September 8, 55 days until the 2004 presidential election.  If are the vice president of the United States, any of the 46 of the vice presidents of the United States, and you say something controversial.  And when the president is asked if he supports what you said, he just looks blankly off to the side and waits for the cameras and reporters to leave, that can‘t be good. 

Our 5th story on the COUNTDOWN, the continuing fallout from Dick Cheney‘s assertion, if it was that, that electing anybody else means the danger of a devastating terrorist attack here.  The reactions, the non-reactions, the analysis of Howard Fineman in a moment.  First, exactly what the vice president said last night in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It is absolutely essential that weeks from today on November 2, we make the right choice.  If we make the wrong choice, the danger is that we‘ll get hit again.  We‘ll be hit in a way that would be devastating from the stand point of the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Cheney has not elaborated on those remarks.  Coincidentally, his campaign schedule today was blank.  Before he left for Florida came the president‘s moment of silence.  It was a photo opportunity before a bipartisan Congressional meeting.  And Mr. Bush was asked for his response to Mr. Cheney‘s remarks by our own White House correspondent David Gregory. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you very much. 

QUESTION:  Do you agree with your vice president when he said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) November, will we get hit again?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll leave the body language interpretation to you, along with that of the reverse angle shot of the vice president‘s reaction as that question was being asked. 

The Democrats were not steering away reporters.  Some urged the president to renounce Mr. Cheney‘s statement.  Speaking to townhall meeting in West Virginia.  The man who hopes to be vice president called the remarks dishonorable, among other things. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  This statement by the vice president of the United States was intended to divide us.  It was calculated to divide us on an issue of safety and security for the American people.  It‘s wrong and it‘s unAmerican. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed Edwards sentiments.  Her word for the remarks was dangerous. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  It is completely inappropriate for the president—the vice president to in effect threaten the American people.  To instill—to be part of instilling fear into our country, and I would hope that the president of the United States would disassociate himself from any such comments. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But back on Mr. Cheney‘s side of the ball, no one from the White House was even to talk about statement in the presence of a camera.  While, some Republicans raced to support the vice president, there positions seem to have been complicated by a clarification on board Air Force 2, this time last night by Mr. Cheney‘s spokeswoman, Anne Womack. 

“Whoever is elected in November” she said, “face the prospect of another terrorist attack.  The question is whether or not the right policies are in place to best protect our country.  That‘s what the Vice President was saying.”

There was similar back filling from the press secretary today.  Scott McClellan, of camera, offering his own version of what the vice president meant. 

“There are differences how the two candidates approach the war on terror.  That‘s what the Vice President was talking about in his remarks.”

Joining us from Washington,”Newsweek” chief political correspondent and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.  Howard, good evening. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s the president‘s silence on this mean? 

FINEMAN:  It mean that Dick Cheney stated in two blunt a fashion, in too negative a fashion to suit the strategists at the White House, what is essentially the Bush administration position.  The president has gone around saying, we will be safer if he‘s reelected.  He hasn‘t said that the bombs will fall or the bombs will explode if John Kerry arrives on the scene.  Dick Cheney, was kind of like the sort of unbounded Id, leaping out there, stating things much more bluntly than the White House thought it was wise and they‘ve been spending the day not only hiding Cheney, but basically saying what he said was more benign than what he said. 

OLBERMANN:  Surprisingly enough, much of the dirty work of both Mr.  Bush and Mr. Kerry has been done, you may have heard about this, by surrogates. 

Could we be seeing that here or was this planned to unfold in a way similar to this, and it just didn‘t go well? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think the white house wants to keep attention on the war on terrorism issue.  There‘s no question about it.  John Kerry is seeking to turn his campaign toward questions of the economy and spending and the budget and so forth.  The Bush campaign would be happy to keep it on this.  I think Dick Cheney wants to keep the heat on the question, but he turned it up a just a little bit too much for the strategists at the White House. 

By the way, the Kerry campaign people I talked to, are convince that had Dick Cheney said exactly what he meant to say and that it was extremely deliberate, word for word.  I think that‘s wrong.  I don‘t think Cheney meant it, meant those words exactly.  But the intent was clear, to keep the issue on the front burner if possible. 

OLBERMANN:  The response, the Kerry people.  Why is it John Edwards? 

Why is it Nancy Pelosi?  Why is it not John Kerry?  Where is John Kerry? 

FINEMAN:  That‘s a very good question which I asked the Kerry people today.  Their answer is, as loathsome as they viewed Cheney‘s remarks, they don‘t want their man, Kerry, to get drawn into a discussion like that.  Because they don‘t want to be debating terrorism policy per se.  The Kerry campaign wants to turn the campaign toward the economy.  The problem is, that if these remarks by Cheney were as unAmerican and as out of bound as the Kerry campaign says they are, then I think to underscore it, they need the candidate himself to do so. 

And many times in this campaign over the last six weeks, John Kerry, has not taken up the challenge of directly confronting the president.  He didn‘t do it after the swiftboat story emerged in early August.  It took him two weeks to respond.  He‘s not doing it here.  There‘s some people in the Democratic camp who want him to do so.  But for right now, as of an hour ago, the Kerry campaign was resisting turning the top of the ticket to this topic. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s an extraordinary restraint, and it‘s come through in many different areas and perhaps not to Mr. Kerry‘s benefit. 

FINEMAN:  Not necessarily. 

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, always a pleasure and always informative, sir.  Thank you, much. 

FINEMAN:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  And not once did we mention Mr. Cheney‘s military service.  That‘s something not often accomplished in the 2004 campaign on the heels of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, we now have the Texans for Truth. 

And what appears to be a mirror image effort to attack the other guy.  Last night, we first introduced you to the Texans, and their plans to launch an attack ad next week, one which ask whether Mr. Bush was AWOL in Alabama, while serving or not serving in the air national guard.  And while the group is not officially affiliated with the Kerry campaign, or the Democratic Party, the party notably has not been silent on this issue. 

Dem‘s chair, Terry McAuliffe, telling reporters to day, “We know that John Kerry was in Vietnam.  My question, Mr. President, is where were you, sir?” Good of him to remembers to say, sir. 

But wait there‘s more.  Some evidence for a change, something tangible that could perhaps shed some light on this situation, documents.  More documents detailing the president‘s military service, even though Mr. Bush, at the Pentagon have both previously said they had hand over everything they had.  The documents were found under the pressure of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the “Associated Press.”

Among other things, they said that Lieutenant Bush ranked in the middle of these 1969 Texas Air National Guard flight class.  Also flew 336 hours in a fighter jet before letting his pilot status lapse.  Also missing the key readiness drill.  What the documents do not address, his later service, circa 1972, in you guessed it, The Alabama Air National Guard. 

If this all seems a bit repetitive to you, welcome to the club.  Stop the madness.  Here to sort out the punching and counter punch and counter-counter punch of this punchiest campaign, John Harwood, political editor of “Wall Street Journal.” 

John, good evening. 

JOHN HARWOOD, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There seem to be a certain scattered quality to the various campaigns that oppose Mr. Bush.  Mr. Kerry wanted to defend his own service in Vietnam.  Mr. Clinton said to Mr. Kerry, stay in the present. 

Now these guys are running what amounts to Swiftboat ads on dry land. 

Is that scatteredness inadvertent, accidental or is this a way for Mr.

Kerry supporters to hit every note on the scale? 

HARWOOD:  I think they‘re trying to hit every note on the scale.  The Democrats that I talked to today are thrilled that this is happening.  They think it is time the Democratic side of the argument stepped up and really went after President Bush hard.  I talked to a Democratic member of Congress a few minutes ago who was saying, they should have hit hard on Cheney‘s remarks and gone after the remarks that you were just discussing with Howard Fineman.  And they ought to go hard on this Guard stuff.  We‘re at war time and this is a way of both neutralizing the attacks on John Kerry which hurt him very badly in the month of August, and also just boosting the morale on the Democratic side.  You can‘t underestimate that as a factor.

OLBERMANN:  To the content of these ads, there appears to have been some meat put on these bones.  How much is unclear, certainly.  But when the White House releases newly discovered documents after saying that it gave out everything it had in February, and then there‘s this story in the “Boston Globe” today about Mr. Bush‘s nonservice in Boston, what exactly is the Boston story and how might it be intertwined with these advertisements? 

HARWOOD:  The “Boston Globe,” Keith, did a very fine piece of reporting where they discovered that when George W. Bush transferred from Texas to Cambridge to go to Harvard Business School, he agreed that he was going to get some additional training there to complete his Guard service.

During the 2000 campaign, they interviewed Dan Bartlett, who is now the White House communications director.  And he indicated that George W.  Bush had fulfilled that requirement at some Boston area air base. 

Now in the “Globe” story today, Mr. Bartlett is saying he misspoke and apparently George W. Bush did not do that.  So this is a damaging story for the White House.  One of the things the Democrats and the Kerry campaign is hoping is that they can take a little chink out of the president‘s reputation for being honest and straightforward.  That‘s one of his big political assets. 

OLBERMANN:  So they go after this then as, what, a historical flip-flop, an informational flip-flop? 

HARWOOD:  That he hasn‘t been candid about exactly what he did.  It‘s hard to take an incumbent president who has been serving for four years and discredit him as a potential commander-in-chief.  He‘s been serving.  Voters can take his measure on that.  But they do evaluate presidents and candidates on how straightforward and truthful they are.  And one thing the Democrats are hoping is that this Texans For Truth advertisement and disclosures about his Guard service make people think he hasn‘t been so forthcoming in the past. 

OLBERMANN:  So presumably what stops the ads, the dawning of the morning of Tuesday, November 2.  John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  As always, you‘re great.  Thanks.

HARWOOD:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  The political climate actually warmed up a few degrees today.  An above average heckler greeting John Kerry in Cincinnati, escorted out roughly by event security and Secret Service.  The punch line, the heckler has been identified as a local Republican politician who has spoken out on behalf of the Swift Boat Vets. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Of the courage and the patriotism of Robin O‘Brien (ph).  Will you all join me with Robin O‘Brien, will you all join me in saying thank you to Robin O‘Brien for her wonderful...

We—ladies and gentlemen, please.  Please, everybody, thank you.  I have nothing but the greatest respect for people‘s right to have their opinions and to express them here in the United States of America.  And I might add, it‘s a terrific tactic of the Bush team.  They love to disrupt.  They love to interrupt.  They don‘t want America to hear the truth.  But we will talk the truth. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One piece of advice, if you‘re going to heckle, don‘t sit next to sheet metal workers.  Heckle, then headlock.  Attempt to stand, opposite of not equal force stuffing him back down.  If it looked to you like those gentlemen in yellow were bringing perhaps too much force to the situation, this gentleman, Michael Russell (ph), agrees with you. 

He would be the heckler.  He said he was assaulted.  Russell ran unsuccessfully for the chief administrative post in Bracken County, Kentucky across the river from Cincinnati.  Judge executive in 2000 and he volunteered for the Bush-Cheney campaign that year by putting up signs. 

The Kentucky Republican party also says he served on some kind of committee that year. 

Politics of and by terror.  Politics of and by advertising and next to sheet metal. 

Topping the COUNTDOWN.  For those of you staying with us, tonight‘s number four story, the next terror war will be at Russia‘s time and choosing of place.  Today military leaders there say they have their own right to stop the terrorists away from their homeland.  And later, NASA‘s big mission to the sun ends with a major thud in Utah.  Literally.  Boys, the Olympics discus discuss throw ended two weeks ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On September 20, 2001, nine days after the terror attacks on this nation‘s soil, the president addressed Congress and set down the essence of what has since been called the Bush doctrine.  Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.  He later expanded that by saying that we could pick the time and place of our fights against al Qaeda and other organizations. 

Our number four story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, in retrospect, it was inevitable.  Today was proclaimed what might be called the Putin doctrine.  Five days after the end of the nightmare stand-off in middle school number one in Beslan, two weeks after the attacks on two passenger airliners on the same day, Russian General Yuri Baluyevsky announced, quote, “as for carrying out preventive strikes against terrorist bases, we will take all measures to liquidate terrorist bases in any region of the world.”  He told that to the European Union. 

Whether you dispute the description of any American actions as preemptive, the Russian generals obviously don‘t have a problem with that word.  For what this could mean for us and what it could mean for the world, we turn to MSNBC analyst General Wayne Downing.  He served this White House‘s national director and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.  General, good evening. 

What do you make of the Russian version of the Bush doctrine, if you will? 

GEN. WAYNE A. DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  It is pretty interesting that the chief of their general staff has said this.  But Putin himself has not said it.  It will be interesting to see if we‘re going to get a stronger statement.  But, you know, very provocative statement, certainly one that you might expect with these five very serious attacks they‘ve had since the two airliners went down on August 24. 

You know, of course, Keith, the thing that comes to my mind is the United States can make that kind of a statement and we can kind of back it up.  I wonder if the Russians really have the capability.  If their weakened armed forces, their weakened intelligence forces can truly strike out and go and get some of these terrorist groups at their bases. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, there‘s another element to it for the Russians.  Presumably, one of the problems history will point out about 9/11 is that al Qaeda was not a country.  Any nation‘s response to attack is to attack back.  So, we had to attack host or friendlies or surrogates or whatever you will.  I‘m not going to go down that argument.  But the Russians have a clear and easily identifiable place to go.  Are they essentially today saying to Chechnya, be prepared if this continued, tomorrow your region may become a parking lot. 

DOWNING:  Well, Keith, they‘ve already tried to make it a parking lot.  That war has been going on there for about 14, 15 years.  I mean, really, 60, 70 years.  But—they‘ve already tried it. 

But I don‘t think they‘re just talking about Chechnya.  I think they‘re talking about some of the other regions, Islamic regions in Russia around Chechnya.  And then, of course, you‘ve got the former Soviet state of Georgia. 

The Russians have claimed that the Chechens are using an area called a the Pankisi Gorge.  And they have threatened military operations there.  We, of course, have tried to help the Georgians develop a democracy.  That‘s a potential flash point where we, because the last time I checked, we had U.S. special forces in there working with the Georgian armed forces.  We might, if they are using that base area, getting into some problems there, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is it fair to say, sir, that one of the problems inherent in the Bush doctrine has just become evident, the copycat one.  If one country, correctly or incorrectly can say we have the right to the initial action.  Let‘s call it initial action.  Then another one can say the same, whether or not they can back it up.  But perhaps they can, and perhaps others around the globe.  And then perhaps you‘re almost in a cold war stance, only with countless powers involved. 

DOWNING:  Yeah Keith.  I think, I mean, on the academic level, there is an argument like that.  But when you really get down and look at it, every country, every sovereign state has the right to defend itself.  And really, every sovereign state, if they have the right kind of information, has a right to preemptively defend themselves. 

But I go back to this original question.  How many countries truly can reach out?  I mean certainly, you can hit areas around your borders sometime.  But I mean, I don‘t think, few countries on the face of the earth have the capability to reach out, for example, as we did, in Afghanistan.  Or as we did in Iraq.  So some of this just may be words, rhetoric, and may not mean anything, Keith.  Let‘s see what happens here.  In the next couple days.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see what Mr. Putin says.  And we‘ll see what Mr.  Putin does.  General Wayne Downing, the former deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism for the Bush White House.  As always, sir, many thanks for your time. 

DOWNING:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Moving from preemption to paying attention.  First it was the slip on the cat walk, now it‘s a trip into the river.  Miss Universe returns to “Oddball.”  I think we should sign her to a contract. 

And later, a Hollywood stunt helicopter plucking a spaceship out of the sky.  It sounded too fantastic to work.  It was!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back.  And we pause the COUNTDOWN now for the less earth shattering stories, those that can be told trippingly from the tongue or trippingly down the stairs.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

No, you may not have voted for her, but she‘s the queen of our universe and deserves the respect that goes with the position.  That said, the Australian Jennifer Hawkins appears to be something of a klutz.  Photographers caught the blond bombshell stumbling down some stairs yesterday in Melbourne.  Knee-length dress High heels, not mixing well with stone steps. 

Miss Universe was uninjured, though she may have slightly bruised her bum. 

And if you‘re thinking, wait a minute, I remember that bum, the world had already met it last week at a fashion show in Sydney where once again, the combination of high heels and long dress worked against Ms. Universe.  Right there.  And her orb and scepter as well. 

To Aiken, South Carolina, a daring daytime bank robbery.  The perpetrator, obviously a criminal mastermind has a sack on his head.  He is armed with a pitchfork.  And he‘s not wearing pants.  OK.  He‘s wearing shorts, but with black socks?  Oh, please. 

The robber brandished a rusty farmers tool, demanding money, then escaped into nearby woods with an undisclosed of of cash.  Police have no leads, only that pitchfork.  The robber dropped it at the scene.  And they put out an all points bulletin on his getaway mule. 

Finally, it was not exactly a stellar day for our space program as we will explain later.  But maybe it‘s because we don‘t have the kind of forward thinking people that other countries employ.  While we‘re busy collecting space dust, the head of the European Space Agency is proposing a plan to send Noah‘s Ark to the moon. 

Dr. Bernard Foeing‘s (ph) idea, we could repopulate the planet from D.N.A. samples if every living creature that would be kept in a colony on the Moon for safe keeping, just in case the Earth is destroyed by an asteroid or nuclear war or Paris Hilton becoming president. 

This picture is only a dramatization of that lunar colony.  The real one would have lots of craters and stuff. 

Oddball is preserved now for repopulation of the Moon itself.  Still ahead, he‘s been called every woman.  A sort of secret weapon in the Kerry campaign who appeals to ordinary people across the board.  I asked Elizabeth Edwards about that title.  Among other things, her answers next. 

And later, hitting paydirt at the Republican convention.  Why Michael Moore should seriously think about getting John McCain on his P.R. team. 

Also, breaking news on Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame. 

Those stories ahead.  First here are your COUNTDOWN‘S top 3 news makers of the day. 

No. 3, chief deputy John Gossage of the Green Bay, Wisconsin Sheriff‘s Department acting on a tip the drug officer discovered a crop of marijuana plants growing in a big flower pot just outside the county courthouse.  How did they ever spot it?

No. 2., Jewel, the aging camel at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, suffering from severe arthritis in her front legs.  Zookeepers have tried everything to relieve her pain.  They‘ve now resorted to an acupuncture specialist.  They say it‘s working.  Jewel couldn‘t be happier.  Plus, she loves the free facial and pedicure.

No. 1, Gary Baja, owner of the Smoking Chicks establishment in Michigan.  He doesn‘t open for a couple of weeks yet, but his sign is already up.  And already men have driven in asking to see the strippers.  Women have driven in looking for jobs as dancers.  There‘s one catch. 

Smoking Chicks is a chicken restaurant. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Read into the presidential campaign and sooner rather than later you will come across a glowing tribute to the wife of the Democrat‘s vice presidential nominee, Elizabeth Edwards. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, part two of my interview yesterday with Mrs. Edwards.  Every story you see about her will mention three things, the second family she and her husband began when she was 48, her firstborn son, Wade, who died in an automobile accident at age 16 eight years ago, and a description of her, which I asked if she was comfortable with, as “everywoman.”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS:  Well, I went to English graduate school, so I think of everyman, sort of back from medieval English literature. 

And I‘m not uncomfortable with it.  I think that it probably means that I have made meat loaf for dinner and had my children not want to eat it.  I even had a child say that they prefer the spaghetti at the school cafeteria to my spaghetti. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh.

EDWARDS:  I‘ve gone to the PTA meetings.  I‘ve done the soccer practices and cut the oranges.  And I‘ve done all those things.  And maybe that‘s what they mean.  You would have to ask them.  But I‘m not uncomfortable with that description of myself. 

OLBERMANN:  And yet one of those profiles also said that, of you and your husband and the Kerrys, with your background as a lawyer and your background in life, that you might be the most qualified out of the four of you to be president.  What was it like hearing that? 

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  I actually hadn‘t heard that before. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll fax it to you. 

EDWARDS:  And it‘s pretty silly. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s silly. 

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

I mean, that‘s—these are men who have really spent their lives, I think, working in big ways to influence the course of individual families‘ lives and the course of the country.  I‘ve worked on one little family. 

OLBERMANN:  But anybody who read the question-and-answer session in “The New York Times” magazine this past Sunday has to have, I think, without regard for their political orientation, has to have laughed out loud at some of your answers.

As the example, the question was, do you ever wish that you, not your husband, were the candidate for vice president?  And your answer was, “No, I was president of my junior class, so I got all of that out of my system.” 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  So we have everywoman.  We have maybe the most qualified, but you think that is silly, and someone who can parry and thrust humorously in the middle of a serious, serious campaign.  Apart from supporting the ticket, per se, how do you see your role in all this? 

EDWARDS:  Well, because I have a family, because I have a 6-year-old who started first grade today, I have a 4-year-old to take care of, I have a household to make certain there‘s milk and bread there, that‘s sort of the other part of my life that I have to take care of. 

I mean, I support the candidacies and talk about the programs.  And I try to be also—this is going to sort of sound-bitey and I‘m not much of a sound bite kind of person—I try to be a window into the values that they have.  And I think you know a lot about somebody by the kind of person that they marry.  So I try to be as open and honest with everybody I talk, so they can make a judgment not about me, but about my husband and about the person about—about John Kerry, because he picked my husband. 

OLBERMANN:  That brings to us something that seems to be changing in American politics.  Are you comfortable with the roles that family members are playing on both sides of particularly this campaign?  We had the satirist Lewis Black on last week at the Republican Convention after the Bush twins did that stand-up routine.  And he said, when did this happen, dragging the families out there?  Now I really don‘t care what happens. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Do you feel at all conflicted, not just about your own family‘s role in a campaign, but anybody‘s family‘s role in any campaign? 

EDWARDS:  Well, that‘s where the window part provides a lot of insulation, because, I think if you start thinking that it‘s about you and about what you want, whether people are particularly interested in your biography or what you like to do in your spare time, then I think that maybe that becomes a diversion and is not appropriate. 

When really what you are is a window, that‘s useful.  I‘ve always found it useful to see what kind of people a candidate surrounds himself with.  And certainly it‘s important, a life choice they make in a spouse. 

OLBERMANN:  But, oddly enough, the American media was surprisingly respectful of the privacy of the children of the last two presidents.  So how do you balance this? 

You mentioned your 6-year-old daughter was the person who told you your husband had been selected for the ticket.  Today is her first day of first grade.  Your 4-year-old son starts pre-kindergarten on Thursday.  He has already given a campaign speech, albeit a very brief one.  If you win 56 days from now, how do you keep their lives private enough? 

EDWARDS:  Nobody knows really the answer to that question until you get there. 

We have an advantage, though.  And that is that we have raised two children.  And we sort of know what it feels like to have them have a normal childhood.  And we just have to do everything we can to replicate that, to be involved in their lives, to make certain that they stand in line when there is a line and don‘t think they have any right to go to the front of it for any reason, that they still put their dirty clothes in the laundry and, as they get a little older, are able to make their own beds. 

All those kinds of things we did with our first two.  We have the experience of having done and having raised I think great kids as a result of that.  And so all I have to do is do it again two more times. 

OLBERMANN:  And if they‘re not funny as adults, will you tell them that they‘re not funny? 

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, we‘ll just pass that one. 

I would be remiss here if I didn‘t get your assessment of Teresa Heinz Kerry.  You presumably knew her before this campaign, but have come to know her much better since.  What is she like, in your opinion? 

EDWARDS:  This is an immensely intelligent woman who has an incredibly interesting life. 

And she has chosen as an adult, when she could have chosen any kind of idle activity that she wanted, has chosen instead to spend virtually all of her free time devoted to causes that she makes happen through her foundations that her husband‘s company and her husband‘s, her first husband‘s wealth provided her.  She has made a difference in health care in western Pennsylvania and really across the world. 

She‘s fought environmental fights.  She‘s worked for prescription drug plans in a number of states across this country.  And this is a woman who didn‘t have to do any of it.  And I have immense respect for her. 

OLBERMANN:  The role of loss in this campaign.  I was just—I thought of it because you mentioned—you happened to mention her first husband. 

And I was thinking of a baseball team that was particularly successful that survived as a group because four or five of the prayers lost their fathers in the space of about two years.  And it seemed to make a totally different perspective on life.  And I am wondering if that is in fact a sort of a subtext to the entirety of your campaign.

EDWARDS:  I think that it provides a texture for some people.  But I think that probably—and it may expose the kinds of commitment that you see in Teresa and that you see, frankly, in my own husband.  But the seeds have got to be there to begin with. 

I have to say, on a completely personal note—and not kissing up to you in any way—I was saying before this interview started what a great treat my son would have thought this was, to—for me to be spending any time talking to you, after he was a devoted watcher of you while you were on the—ESPN with Dan Patrick and Chris Berman.  That was a great show. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you so much for saying that. 

EDWARDS:  You‘re very welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, and probably least importantly here. 

EDWARDS:  All right. 

OLBERMANN:  You actually watch this show? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not trying to be falsely humble here...

EDWARDS:  No, no.

OLBERMANN:  But it just surprises us whenever we hear that. 

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  Well, I‘m sure that your advertisers will be glad to hear that, yes, there‘s an audience out there.  And I don‘t want to kiss up again.

But it‘s smart and fast.  I think it probably is the kind of news program that we‘re going to need in the future as we try to pull young people off of less news-heavy formats and into someplace where they‘re going to really learn something.  I think that this is a perfect format for that, combining both the real information, some humor in it, and also with a great pace.  So, yes, I watch it. 

Plus, it comes on again at midnight, which is a great time for those of us who get in late. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Well, I almost don‘t know what to say at this point, which, as you know, is a very rare event for me. 

Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of the Democratic nominee for vice president of the United States, thank you for your time.  It‘s been—it‘s been a hoot. 

EDWARDS:  It‘s a treat, Keith, for me, too.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead here on COUNTDOWN, the falling star, three years of planning and training to catch the Genesis space module.  Maybe they needed four. 

And “Keeping Tabs,” breaking news on the “Jeopardy” winning streak.  And does this 15th mayor of Phoenix, C.J. Dyer, from 1899, does he look at all familiar to you? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Small saucer-shaped spacecraft seen crashing to Earth in the southwestern desert.  Government officials afraid to go near it.  Uh-oh.  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday, they were going to have chopper stunt pilots catch it out of midair like some sort of intergalactic Frisbee.  Today, having missed it and having documented its crash with camera work worthy of a slow-mo replay of a stock car wheel going flying into a crowd, the recovery team is afraid to touch the solar explorer Genesis. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, a Zero Mostel finally shouted at Gene Wilder in “The Producers,” you mean, oops, don‘t you?  Just say oops and get out. 

Live to Dugway, Utah, where standing by is our correspondent George Lewis. 

George, good evening. 

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Keith. 

It sounded like something right out of the movies, get a Hollywood stunt pilot in a helicopter to swoop down on a space capsule and pluck it out of midair.  Only, things didn‘t go exactly according to the script. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Got a visual right now of the target at this time. 

LEWIS (voice-over):  At first, everything appeared to go perfectly.  NASA engineers and scientists on the ground who have devoted years of their lives to this mission were elated.  A trio of helicopters, the lead chopper flown by a Hollywood stunt pilot, moved into position to grab the capsule.  The plan called for the pilot to use a space-age fish hook to snag the capsule‘s parachute in midair to cushion the landing.  But the spacecraft pulled a stunt of its own. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We see negative drouge, negative chute.

LEWIS:  This is what happens when you get negative chute. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Impact.  Impact at 5855. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Impact bearing 2008 miles. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We estimate that the capsule hit the ground at about 193 miles per hour. 

LEWIS:  As recovery crews inspected the capsule, they found it had broken open and, in classic NASA bureaucratic style, described it this way. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have an unquantified science degradation. 

LEWIS:  Genesis was launched in August of 2001.  Its scientific task, gathering tiny particles given off by the sun, with the aim of learning more about the origins of the solar system.  After today‘s crash landing, some team members said it was like a kick in the gut. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sad.  I‘m frustrated.  I wish I knew exactly what went wrong.  But we‘ll find out. 

LEWIS:  This as scientists wonder tonight how much of their $260 million mission can be salvaged. 

(voice-over):  Maybe, instead of Genesis, they should have called this Icarus, after the Greek guy who flew too close to the sun and crashed back to Earth. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS:  And maybe the Hollywood stunt pilot summed it up best when he said, out here working with NASA, there‘s no take two—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  George, they say they‘re afraid to touch it because it could have these undetonated explosives.  Don‘t they really mean they‘re afraid to touch it because there are dead extraterrestrials on board? 

LEWIS:  Hate to disappoint you, Keith, but they have touched it tonight.  They have moved it back here to the air base for examination.  They‘re going to take to it Houston for further examination.

OLBERMANN:  One day, I‘ll get the answer I‘m seeking on that. 

George Lewis, a fine reporter in a superb sport, live in Dugway, Utah, thanks, as always, George. 

LEWIS:  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  We segue now to the news of celebrity and gossip, which we‘ve entitled “Keeping Tabs.” 

A warning.  We have breaking news about the Ken Jennings winning streak on “Jeopardy.”  If you don‘t want to have your fun spoiled, be prepared to hit the mute button in about one minute. 

First, we begin with a confluence of celebrity and real news.  Michael Moore, perhaps you‘ll remember John McCain‘s reference to him during the senator‘s speech to the Republican Convention last Monday as a—quote—

“disingenuous filmmaker.”  The result, the box office take for “Fahrenheit 9/11” went up by 10 percent last weekend, compared to the one before McCain‘s plug, even though the film was booked into 21 percent fewer theaters.  The Arizona senator helped put another $358,748 in Moore‘s pocket. 

Another political entertainment in confluence in Phoenix.  For nearly a century, they‘ve been looking to hang in city hall a photograph one of their earliest mayors, C.J. Dyer, who served for five months in 1899.  But they can‘t find a picture of him, so they put up the next best thing, the portrait of actor Michael Richards in his role of Kramer from the sitcom “Seinfeld.”

An assistant to Phoenix current mayor was having some fun.  Scott Phelps told the newspaper “The Arizona Republic” that visitors to their gallery haven‘t really figured it out—quote—“People sense something, but they‘re not exactly sure what it is.”

The promised breaking news from the glittering world of game shows, if you don‘t want to know about Ken Jennings, hit the mute button now.  He reportedly lost today in a taping of the show in California, so says the trade publication “Television Week” tonight, quoting sources on the set who say Jennings lost after having extended his winning streak to 74 games.  He lost the 75th.  The shows are taped well in advance.  The game Jennings was shown winning on air tonight was his 41st in a row. 

So, again, according to “Television Week,” Ken Jennings wins 34 more games for a total of about $2.5 million, then loses the 75th on a show that will not be broadcast for another seven weeks. 

Breaking “Tabs” news, too.  Please join us on “The Tonight Show‘ on your local NBC station Friday, when Jay Leno‘s guests will include me.  Well, you knew this had to happen.  They have finally run out of real guests. 

Still ahead here on COUNTDOWN, why this man was the only one getting it right last night in last night‘s No. 1 story. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Medieval English provides the current language with few more colorful expressions than he was hoist by his own petard.  A petard was an explosive device used in the warfare of the time.  To be hoist by a petard was literally to be blown up by your own bomb. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, we‘ve been hoisted.  In our search such numbers one, we look for the unusual, the salient, the subtle, the ironic, the curious, the sociologically telling.  And we find it a lot, sometimes even when it isn‘t there, sometimes like last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A five-year study just concluded at Indiana University suggesting that upon the birth of their first child, 100 percent of parents lose at least 12 I.Q. points, and the average loss is 20. The loss may not be reversible.  It may be compounded for each child you have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The perfect COUNTDOWN No. 1 story.  It‘s unusual.  It‘s sociologically telling.  It‘s funny.  Sadly, it isn‘t also true. 

There is a Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.  It does study stuff.  It did not study the purported loss of brain power among parents.  The source was an article on a Web site called “The Hoosier Gazette,” a perfectly reasonable Web site, perfectly reasonable name for an Indiana newspaper, probably rural, probably weekly.  Sadly, probably does not mean definitely. 

“The Hoosier Gazette” is a satirical Web site.  Its other articles at the moment include a feature on an Indiana Korean War veteran who supposedly picked up a taste for eating dogs while in that country and a small county that every August reenacts the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  None of that is true either.

I got an e-mail last night from a very nice named David Ricker (ph), who is public information officer at Indiana University and a COUNTDOWN viewer.  He did not ask for a retraction.  He was not angry.  He just wanted to let us know that whole I.Q. loss story was a hoax.  And he wanted to remind us that people like him exist so we can verify off-the-wall stories like this with him, something we apparently need reminding of hourly. 

Ordinarily, here at our vast COUNTDOWN fact-checking headquarters, we meticulously vet all those weird sagas.  In this case, there were lots of people who should have, but didn‘t.  But, ultimately, I‘m the managing editor and the guy who writes it and reads it, so I should have known.  And, ultimately, it is my fault.  So I apologize.

The problem is, I don‘t have children.  So for the plausibility of the story that you get measurably dumber when you do have kids, I turn to others more experts.  This is our executive producer, Izzy Povich.  Izzy has two children, Molly (ph) and Ben (ph).  And when she first heard that a study shows that a parent loses 12 I.Q. points after childbirth, she said, only 12? 

Fortunately, someone here was sufficiently skeptical, our guest expert on the I.Q. story, the Hollywood legend Carl Reiner. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Do you buy any of this? 

CARL REINER, ACTOR/WRITER:  Not at all. 

What happens, if you have kids, you get busy.  Who has time to take tests?  You take a test, you don‘t care about the test. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Thank goodness Mr. Reiner retained his journalistic credibility.  So there is survey showing that parenthood will cost you at least 12 and an average of 20 I.Q. points.  But did you hear the one about showing how many I.Q.s point newscasters lose when they see a story they really want to run? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  A lot. 

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

Just say oops and get out!  Oops.

END   

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