updated 10/4/2004 11:00:26 AM ET 2004-10-04T15:00:26

Guests: Margaret Carlson, Susan Page, Nick Warnock, Amy Henry

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX WITT, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Must-see political TV.  More than 60 million people watched.  And by all accounts, we have ourselves a real horse race in the final countdown to election day.  The points, the punches, political payoff and where they go from here. 

Lights, camera, celebration?  The faceoff that has this face and this face and this face.  Who won the star race and did the rules stack the deck in anyone‘s favor? 

The great apprentice debate.  First (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two Jewish women got her fired by the Donald now she is about to get fired in real life. 

And Mountain St. Helens rumbles to life after a week of warnings and eruption hints.  Is this all she has got or is there something bigger coming soon?  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Good evening everyone, I‘m Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann.  This is Friday, October 1, 32 days before the presidential election, one day after the first presidential debate of the season.  Millions of voters tuned in last night to see President Bush and Senator Kerry squaring off on foreign policy and since then we have heard nearly as many opinions about who won.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, separating spin from substance.  The spin cycle is in overdrive tonight.  Time to put on the breaks and take a look at how the candidates performed on the merits of what they actually said.  The overnight numbers giving Senator Kerry the edge up by nine in the ABC News instant poll of registered voters.  CBS has him winning by a decisive 15 points among undecided voters, more of them declaring the race a tie than a win for the president.  The margin of error there, 7 percent.  And in “USA Today” a clear majority of registered voters feel that Mr.  Kerry is the winner.  And 46 percent now have a more favorable opinion of him as a result.

Last night‘s spirited exchange highlighting sharp differences between the candidates on the topic of foreign policy, most of the evening devoted to the war in Iraq.  To help us analyze what was said and the potential impact it could have on a razor-close race, we‘re joined now by “TIME” magazine senior correspondent Margaret Carlson.  Good evening. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Alex, good evening. 

WITT:  Senator Kerry argued last night that President Bush made a colossal error in judgment invading Iraq while Mr. Bush accused his opponent of being a weak leader who doesn‘t stick to his convictions.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Help is on the way but it‘s certainly hard to tell that when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental to provide equipment for our troops and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it.  That‘s not what a commander-in-chief does when you are trying to lead troops. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, you know when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talked about the war.  But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq.  Which is worse? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Margaret, how did Senator Kerry do fighting off his Bush-imposed image as a flip-flopper?  Did he come across as a potential commander-in-chief to you? 

CARLSON:  Alex, I thought that Bush was going to rely entirely on style and Kerry was going to have to overcome his style, but in fact Kerry went right at the heart of what the Bush people have done to paint him as a flip-flopper and said, hey, he took it on.  Hey. I made a mistake but my mistake was words.  I thought it was a brilliant move to admit error, Americans never mind that in a president or a candidate.  And to also put a stop somewhat to the accusation that he is a flip-flopper. 

WITT:  You know, Margaret, in fact, the most recent NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll showed that 25 percent of voters said they would be measuring Senator Kerry‘s success in the debate by his ability to communicate a clear and consistent plan on defense issues such as Iraq of course.  Let‘s listen now to Senator Kerry addressing that in last night‘s debate and then the president‘s response. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY:  So the choice for America is, you can have a plan that I have laid out in four points, each of which I can tell you more about or you can go to JohnKerry.com and see more of it.  Or you can have the president‘s plan which is four words, more of the same.  I think my plan is better. 

BUSH:  Yes, I—I understand what it means to be the commander-in-chief and if I were to ever say this is the wrong war at the wrong time at the wrong place, the troops would wonder, how can I follow this guy? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Margaret, two things here, did we learn more about what Mr.  Kerry would do differently in Iraq and then turn the tables, whether the president has a plan for winning the peace? 

CARLSON:  We learned from neither one of them what their plan would be because the nature of a quagmire is not to have a plan.  The burden, however, is more on the president to have one.  And to first acknowledge something which Kerry has done.  If Bush is going to be believable on Iraq, and that is another version of the pottery barn rule is that you have to recognize it‘s broken before you can begin to fix it.  Bush insists everything is fine.  And Kerry, of course, doesn‘t. 

And, so, if you are worried about a plan on how to get out, you turn more to Senator Kerry than you would to President Bush because he is not even realistic enough to see that a., we‘re not succeeding there.  We have to find a way to stabilize it and not leave it worse off than we found it. 

WITT:  OK, now let‘s turn to the war on terror.  The question of who is the proper target of that war.  In fact last night Senator Kerry said President Bush of diverting resources from the most important target, that being Afghanistan, just to pursue the unnecessary (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in Iraq.  Moderator Jim Lehrer, he asked the president whether he would be likely to take the United States into another preemptive military action, take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I understand how hard it is to commit troops.  I never wanted to commit troops, I never—when I was running, when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I would be doing that, but the enemy attacked us and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us. 

KERRY:  The president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate.  In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said the enemy attacked us.  Saddam Hussein didn‘t attack us.  Osama bin Laden attacked us.  al Qaeda attacked us.

BUSH:  Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us.  I know that.  And secondly, to think that another round of resolutions would have caused Saddam Hussein to disarm, disclose is ludicrous in my judgment.  It shows a significant difference of opinion. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  What you are hearing there is Senator Kerry certainly trying to separate Osama bin Laden from Saddam Hussein rather in the minds of the voters.  Do you think he succeeded in doing that? 

CARLSON:  It is the hardest thing.  Seventy percent of Americans still believe there is some connection but I thought that was a very powerful moment and I thought it was also Bush‘s lowest moment personality wise.  He has a great personality actually but he was so petulant at that moment that you thought he just wants to get away from this low company he is keeping and that the debate was an interruption in his schedule.  Also, he was so repetitive, the president kept repeating the same things and I think it might be the first time in history that a candidate has lost points for staying on message. 

WITT:  Margaret, what about the question of who is perceived as a stronger leader?  Who in effect more presidential?  After last night, is that man still President Bush? 

CARLSON:  Well, if you remember the Carter-Reagan race, the Democrats had characterized Reagan as so incredibly inadequate and dumb, too much so to be president.  Then when he comes to the debate and people see that he is not that dumb, the bar is so low that he clears it and I think at that point, a lot of people didn‘t want to re-elect Carter.  There were the hostages, the gas lines, malaise, a whole bunch of other reasons.  And suddenly, they saw that Reagan was an alternative.  Last night, the first step may have been taken.  Prior to this, the American people, if they only had listened to Bush and the Bush campaign, had a very bleak picture of Senator Kerry and whether he was presidential.  Last night was a step towards clearing that up.  I don‘t think the game is over, but now Kerry gets a good look and goes into this next debate ahead. 

WITT:  And how important is that, Margaret, the creation of that image as being presidential at this point in the race? 

CARLSON:  It‘s so important and I thought and I wrote that Bush would rely on his style.  And it would carry the day, but it didn‘t.  It just didn‘t last night.  And partly, I thought there is something wrong with the president last night, that maybe he was sad about the hurricane, maybe he is—because he spent the day with victims in Florida, maybe the war is beginning to wear on him because he was certainly—the genial optimistic president wasn‘t on that stage last night. 

And Kerry, you know, his moves and his manner were all just made for television.  He won that part of it. 

WITT:  Yes, we have been talking about it all day.  We thank you for joining us.  From “TIME” magazine, Margaret Carlson.  Thanks, Margaret. 

Another yardstick by which to measure last night‘s debate was everything each candidate said entirely accurate?  That‘s the question.  The answer to that, well, no, not really.  We asked Lisa Myers to put the facts and figures to the test. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There were no whoppers, but a few liberties with the facts.  First, the president on how many Iraqis are now trained to defend their country. 

BUSH:  There‘s 100,000 troops trained, police, guard, special units, border patrol. 

MYERS:  That overstates Iraq‘s progress. 

BROOKS JACKSON, FACTCHECK.ORG:  A lot of those are three-week trainees, and what his own deputy secretary of state called “shake and bake” trainees.

MYERS:  What‘s more, NBC News reported that Iraq‘s Interior Ministry plans to fire 40,000 policemen considered incompetent or untrustworthy. 

Kerry‘s complaint about the cost of the Iraq war. 

KERRY:  $200 billion, $200 billion that could have been used for health care, for schools, for construction.

MYERS:  Also overstated. 

JACKSON:  What the war has cost so far is a little over $120 billion. 

MYERS:  The Congressional Budget Office agrees, and a year ago Kerry had a different position, arguing the U.S. should spend more in Iraq. 

KERRY:  I think we should increase it. 

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Increase funding? 

KERRY:  Yes. 

RUSSERT:  By how much?

KERRY:  By whatever number of billions of dollars it takes to win. 

MYERS:  The president boasting about creating the Department of Homeland Security. 

BUSH:  My administration worked with the Congress to create the Department of Homeland Security.

MYERS:  In fact, the president initially opposed creation of a cabinet-level department, embracing the idea after it was clear Congress was going to approve one anyway. 

Kerry accusing the president of not putting sanctions on Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons. 

KERRY:  They weren‘t willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together.  The president did nothing.

BUSH:  We have already sanctioned Iran.  We can‘t sanction them anymore.  There are sanctions in place on Iran.

MYERS (on camera):  On this, President Bush is right.  President Clinton imposed sanctions on Iran in 1996, and Mr. Bush renewed that.  A minor infraction on a night without any major deceptions. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And perhaps the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on Iraq lies not in the candidates‘ rhetoric, but some 7,000 miles away, in the town of Samarra, where U.S.-led troops launched a major offensive today, engaging in street to street combat with insurgents as they struggled to regain control of the city. 

It is the first strike in what is likely to be a several months long campaign against militant strongholds in more than a dozen Iraqi cities.  1st Infantry soldiers pushed into Samarra, along with Iraqi troops, backed by warplanes planes and tanks, seizing government buildings and attacking militant hideouts. 

According to one Iraqi official, more than 100 guerrillas were killed, and the gunfire in the city has been replaced by calm tonight.  One U.S.  soldier died in that assault. 

It should be no surprise then that the war in Iraq dominated last night‘s discussion.  We round out our fifty story look at round one with a look at the debate by the numbers.  The candidates talking about the conflict for more than 38 minutes of the 90-minute debate, twice as much time as the 19 minutes devoted to the war on terror, Afghanistan and domestic security combined.  And when you add up Iran, North Korea and nuclear proliferation, they came in third, at nearly 11 minutes. 

From debate substance to debate style.  Did that infamous 32-page rule book cramp anyone‘s style or did it help give one candidate the edge?  And later, Mount St. Helens and 18 years of silence.  After a week of quakes under the lava dome today came the eruption.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Two minutes seems an inadequate amount of time to lay out a plan for the future of democracy.  A 90-second rebuttal perhaps insufficient to describe America‘s place on the global stage.  Our No. 4 story on THE COUNTDOWN tonight, thank goodness there are 32 more days of campaigning to do.  Both President Bush and Senator Kerry hitting the trail today, expanding on themes, and responding to charges from last night‘s debate, all without the constriction of that merciless red light.  Our correspondent in Washington is Brian Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH:  We had a great debate last night.

BRIAN MOORE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Their first debate over, the candidates continued their dialogue on the campaign trail. 

In Tampa, Florida, Democrat John Kerry criticized what he called the president‘s go-it-along policies on Iraq.

KERRY:  I laid out a policy last night, and the president keeps trying to debate himself on this. 

MOORE:  In Allentown, Pennsylvania, President Bush belittled Kerry‘s idea for a summit to bring peace to Iraq. 

BUSH:  I‘ve been to a lot of summits.  I have never seen a meeting that would depose a tyrant, or bring a terrorist to justice. 

MOORE:  And each man portrayed himself as the stronger leader. 

BUSH:  The most important question for voters in this election, who can lead this war against terror to victory? 

KERRY:  I will fight and hunt down and kill the terrorists wherever they are.

MOORE:  Though flash polls after the debate seemed to favor Kerry, each side was declaring victory. 

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  John Kerry was decisive, knowledgeable and strong. 

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE:  President Bush‘s strengths are his conviction, his clarity, his vision.  All of these he communicated with the American people last night. 

MOORE:  President Bush and John Kerry continue their great debate on the campaign trail, until their next face-to-face showdown. 

Brian Moore, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And that showdown coming exactly one week from today in St.  Louis.  The ramp-up already under way as the candidates once again barn storming the swing states.  For what we can expect from the next debate, as well as a look ahead to round three, I‘m joined by “USA Today‘s” Washington bureau chief Susan Page.  Susan, good evening.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY:  Alex, it‘s great to be with you. 

WITT:  Thank you for being here.

We‘re now past the president‘s strongest policy issues, so can he make up ground on the campaign trail?  What does he mean to do at this point to get back on track?

PAGE:  You know, I think the train gets harder for him now.  The topics in the next debate, town hall meeting, anything could come up next week in St. Louis, and in Phoenix in the final debate, the topic will be economics, domestic issues, health care—things on which President Bush does have some vulnerabilities, Senator Kerry has some advantages. 

So I think that was the debate that the Republicans hoped would kind of put the campaign away.  It didn‘t do that.  We still have a pretty close race. 

WITT:  You bring up St. Louis, so let‘s look to next week‘s debate now.  I mean, despite Senator Kerry‘s strong performance last night, he has really been behind in head to head polling for a few weeks now.  So does he need to exceed expectations in St. Louis to change that? 

PAGE:  Yes, I mean, I think President Bush is still in a pretty good position.  He has been up six to eight points in the polling that has been done in the past week or so.  We may see that get a little narrower before the next debate as a result of this first debate.  So Senator Kerry still needs to make his case against President Bush and make the case that he is an adequate president, that he would be a good commander in chief, that he would do something about job outsourcing or health care coverage that President Bush is not doing. 

So he still has to perform in these debates.  But in the next debate, we‘re going to be looking to see if President Bush can improve some of those characteristics last night that drew a lot of remarks today.  You know, the sighing, the grimacing, the fidgeting.  Those pictures we saw all over cable TV today. 

WITT:  Yes, that which we know a lot of attendants were telling him not to do. 

Susan, next week, Tuesday, it also brings the one and only vice presidential debate.  I mean, how will their performances influence the overall perception the voters really have of the running mates? 

PAGE:  You know, in a way I think that doesn‘t matter.  When you look at past vice presidential debates, like when Lloyd Bentsen debated Dan Quayle in 1980, no question Senator Bentsen won that debate.  It didn‘t matter in the election.  The election is about the guys at the top of the ticket.

But the vice presidential candidates can make a case about those presidential candidates.  And we have seen Vice President Cheney be extremely tough on John Kerry on the campaign trail, really making a case against John Kerry.  He could do that in his vice presidential debate, and that could be important. 

WITT:  Susan, take a look ahead for me to the week after the last presidential debate, domestic policy the theme there.  This is a core issues for the Democrats.  Is it a must-win for the senator? 

PAGE:  Oh, absolutely.  You know, this is the terrain on which people say—voters say I prefer the Democrats, I prefer Senator Kerry over President Bush.  And if the topic is less terrorism and the war in Iraq and more things like creation of jobs, health care coverage, what is happening with the education system, that is a debate that Democrats would very much like to have. 

WITT:  All right, Susan Page, “USA Today.”  Susan Page, that is. 

Thank you for your time on this Friday.  We appreciate it. 

PAGE:  Thanks, Alex. 

WITT:  So the pressure is on for the future face-offs.  We have talked substance, so coming up, the lowdown on style.  Do either of the candidates need an overhaul before the next week‘s debates?  Craig Crawford gives us his take. 

But up next, a break from the political fight for a fight to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records.  “Oddball” just around the corner.  We know you want to stay tuned. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann, and we‘ll have more analysis of the presidential debate and look forward to round two after we take a short detour into our nightly news segment that all spin doctors agree is just strange.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin in Wisconsin, where a friendly post-debate argument degenerated into a giant melee on the streets of Dodgeville.  Actually, it was the world‘s largest pillow fight.  Over 3,000 combatants swung away in the brawl arranged by the Lands‘ End company to raise money for charity.  All of the pillows used in the fight were donated to the Hole in the Wall camp.  In the end, a new Guinness world record was set, another 65 people were dead.  No, no, we just made that up.  I‘m really sorry.

Well, speaking of pillows, there is one that might be a great idea if if wasn‘t so creepy.  Ladies, who needs a boyfriend when you can sleep with a pillow in the shape of a man‘s arm and disembodied torso?  It‘s the product from Japan, the boyfriend‘s arm pillow, offering women the sensation of sleeping next to a man without the hassles of fighting over the covers, loud snoring or the dreaded jimmy legs.  It‘s available over the Internet for about $80.  And when combined with a few other optional accessories, you can completely eliminate the need for a man ever again. 

Finally, to beautiful downtown Hartford, Connecticut, corruption-free for more than three months.  But there is something fishy going on down at the Mark Twain house.  The former home of the legendary writer is being investigated by ghost busters.  Who you‘re going to call?  Workers and visitors have recorded cold spots, bumps in the night, a presence in the basement.  Curators believe it may be the ghost of Twain‘s late daughter, Suzy Clemens, who died in that house in 1896.  Or possibly, it‘s disgraced Governor John Rowland, looking for a place to sleep at night.

No rest at all for the men running for the White House.  President Bush and Senator Kerry hit the ground running after the first of three debates.  After Kerry scored well on the foreign policy debate, does that spell a rough road ahead for the president on the domestic front? 

And later, nervous residents in Washington State looking over their shoulder today.  Mount St. Helens comes to life, but some worry if today‘s eruption isn‘t a preview of something much bigger to come. 

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

No. 3, Bob Novak.  The 73-year-old conservative columnist and CNN “CROSSFIRE” cost reported that he slipped in the shower in his Miami hotel room this morning and broke his hip.  Report says Novak is in the hospital, awaiting a partial replacement of that broken hip, and having Paul Begala removed from the other one. 

No, 2, Intelligent Products Incorporated.  The Cincinnati company is suing rival Thegany (ph) Company for stealing the idea for their product and selling cheap imitation knock-offs.  Intelligent Products says they have an open and shut case, because they have patented their (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the plastic tooth picker-upper glove.

And No. 1, the city of Melbourne, Australia.  After months of debate, counselors there finally caved in and decided to name one of the city‘s streets after their most famous musical residents.  Angus Young was on hand today for the official dedication of the AC/DC Lane. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  In the post-debate game of spin and counterspin, winners and losers, reality checks and media saturation, style can easily trump substance and a campaign can be won or lost on a look or a sigh. 

Last night‘s debate offered no obvious gaffes, no watch checking or eye rolling.  Instead, it seemed to come down to a broader question, one that does hold a certain sway with voters.  Who looked more presidential?  Our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there will be points for style, gentleman.  There was a certain amount of posturing last night.  The most telling took place while the candidates were listening to their opponents.

At times, the president looked merely annoyed, at others, flat-out exacerbated by Senator Kerry‘s criticism.  The senator had his own way of handling Bush‘s blows, scribbling copious notes at the podium the whole way through.  And what about that 32-page rule book?  Was it worth all the hemming and hawing?  And who did it really end up benefiting?

To take us through the nuances, it‘s a pleasure as always to be joined by MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” contributor, a good friend, Craig Crawford. 

Good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi.  Now, Alex Witt, there is style.  We‘re talking style.

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  OK, we are going to move on that one really quickly. 

Now, did the rules that the Bush campaign insisted upon, did they backfire somewhat?  For example, Craig, this red light, the warning light, it seemed to be a lot bigger issue for the president, right?

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  And the Kerry people had fought that light all the way up to the bitter end, even threatening to bring a screwdriver and take that little black box off the podium.

But it‘s the best thing that ever happened to John Kerry.  I mean, he finally shortened his sentences, punched them at the end.  You could follow him much more easily than usual.  I think they should take that box and hang it around his neck at every public appearance. 

WITT:  What about that rule against asking one another the direct questions?  There was lots of guff about that, killing it as a debate.  Who did that end up playing to, Craig? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, it was very interesting, because Kerry was much more on the offensive last night.  And you run a risk when you have got the president of the United States sitting there looking like you are being disrespectful. 

And so he managed to balance that very well.  He got some tough hits in there without overdoing it.  And one reason, I think, is that rule that he was not allowed to directly address the president and hurl those insults at him directly.  So it was more indirect and almost passive in a way and it didn‘t come across as disrespectful or too harsh.  And that helped Kerry in the end.

WITT:  But what about the reactions from the president and from the senator when we were looking at them split-screen?  Didn‘t all of their handlers say, just chill? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  That was phenomenal, all the focus on cutaway shots and how dangerous they can be.  Al Gore learned that with all of his sighing in the 2000 -- I just thought that, you know, the president would be better prepped for that. 

Kerry obviously was, and he was very careful about taking notes, not doing anything too noticeable, even agreeing a few times, shaking his head in agreement to the things the president said.  The president, on the other hand, was terrible.

WITT:  And smiling, too.  He would smile as well, Mr. Kerry, lots of times.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, even when Bush was attacking him.  Kerry would smile and agree with him. 

And in Bush‘s case, he just looked angry and irritated, almost like a monarch or something when one of his subjects has upset him.  I think this happens with people in office.  That‘s what happened with Al Gore.  They are surrounded by yes-men all the time and it‘s a little shocking to them to all of the sudden be in the face of someone who is criticizing them, especially as harshly as Kerry was.

WITT:  So, Craig, let‘s say you are watching the debate with the sound off.  You‘re just looking at the candidates in that split-screen.  Who to you appeared more presidential overall? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think in the traditional style of the stature of a president, Kerry I think won that hands down. 

But that has also been a strength for George Bush.  He has never tried to be the Hollywood president, the solid bearing.  He kind of hunched over his podium and played the good guy around your kitchen table character.  And that works for him, but there are moments maybe like last night when he needed to at least stand up straight and look like a president. 

WITT:  Let‘s do some Monday-morning quarterbacking here?  If you are advising these guys, what style lessons should each candidate take away from the debate heading into the next one, which is next Friday? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, keying off what I just said, the first rule for President Bush will be stand up straight.  That hunching over the podium I think just looked weird.  And with Kerry, he still needs to reveal something of himself, be a little more personal, maybe a personal anecdote or two. 

Actually, one of his better moments Bush brought on in talking about their daughters, and when Kerry then responded to that, I thought that was a nice personal moment that actually George Bush hand-delivered to him.  And that‘s the sort of moments that I think he needs more of, because people, well, they see the presidential stature, but they‘re still not sure they are comfortable with him.  When you elect a president, you invite that person into your living room for four years. 

WITT:  But, Craig, isn‘t the president‘s plainspokenness, if you will, isn‘t that something that is endearing to many persons Americans across the country? 

CRAWFORD:  Oh, absolutely.  And I don‘t want to diminish that.  I have always believed that is a major strength for him. 

He talks like people talk.  Sometimes it‘s a little inarticulate, but so are the rest of us.  And so people recognize.  I think Bush is a more recognizable figure than Kerry, someone that you know as a neighbor or a relative or something.  And that‘s very powerful in presidential politics. 

WITT:  OK, Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” and MSNBC, thank you for your insights and for your style this evening.  We love it, as always.  Thank you. 

CRAWFORD:  Pleasure. 

WITT:  Politics heating up, and so is Mount Saint Helens, steam sent spewing out of that volcano.  Is the worst over or yet to come?  And later, Jen C. might have been spewing some steam on “The Apprentice” that got her fired from the hit reality show.  And to prove reality really bites, she is about to get canned from her real job, too. 

But, first, a special edition of the sound bites of the day paying tribute to the kickoff debate in decision 2004 and its recurring themes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, where do you want me to begin?  Now, he misled the American people in his speech. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He said I misled on Iraq. 

KERRY:  He misled when he said...

BUSH:  I don‘t this he was misleading. 

KERRY:  He misled again this evening.

BUSH:  I don‘t think he misled you when he said...

KERRY:  I wasn‘t misleading when I said I acknowledge the—his daughters.  I have watched them.

BUSH:  And not sending mixed messages.

Mixed messages.

Mixed signals. 

Mixed messages.

If you send mixed messages.

KERRY:  You talk about mixed messages. 

The future belongs to freedom.

BUSH:  Freedom around the world. 

That if given a chance to be free...

Free nations will answer.

Free nations.

KERRY:  He has more of the same now. 

BUSH:  You can‘t be free.  You don‘t desire freedom.

The free world. 

KERRY:  More of the same.

BUSH:  A free Iraq. 

A free Iraq. 

A free Iraq. 

KERRY:  More of the same.

BUSH:  A free Iraq. 

Understand free nations.

Free nations.

Free nations.

Free nations will help.

We have done a lot of hard work. 

It‘s hard work. 

It‘s hard work to try to love her as best as I can. 

It is hard work.

It is hard work.

It is hard work.

And it is hard work.

But, again, I want to tell the American people, it‘s hard work. 

I understand how hard it is. 

Everybody knows it‘s hard work. 

No doubt about it, it‘s tough.

Hard work.

KERRY:  I couldn‘t agree more that the Iraqis want to be free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Eighteen years of silence at Mount Saint Helens came to an end today.  It erupted just like the geologists predicted.  But some residents are still nervous that they haven‘t heard the last of her yet.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  After a week of will she or won‘t she, Mount Saint Helens spewed a huge column of steam and ash this afternoon, erupting for the first time in 18 years.  She blows into the No. 2 spot on the COUNTDOWN.

The show was spectacular, but short-lived.  One scientist even dubbed it as a throat-clearing.

Our correspondent James Hattori had a front-row seat when the volcano rumbled back to life and joins us now from Washington state. 

Good evening, James. 

JAMES HATTORI, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Alex.

You can see behind me that the dust and steam have long since cleared out.  But that doesn‘t mean the work—in fact, maybe even the work is beginning even more in earnest now, as scientists try to figure out exactly what happened. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HATTORI (voice-over):  The volcano exploded back to life today, sending a plume of steam and ash thousands of feet into the sky, a volcanic release coming just days after the U.S. Geological Survey issued an erupted alert. 

JOHN MAJOR, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY:  Saint Helens‘ attempt at telling us, hey, I‘m still a live volcano.  Don‘t write me off.

HATTORI:  Scientists say it was a relatively small event, resulting from extreme heat below a glacier on the southern rim of lava dome, melting it into water, which exploded on contact.  The eruption followed days of heightened seismic activity, as many as three or four earthquake per minute.

MAJOR:  This event is pretty much what we expected and anticipated and over the past several days.  It‘s a small, relatively small explosion from the lava dome. 

HATTORI:  Air traffic was temporarily restricted around the volcano in southwest Washington just as a precaution.  No mud flows or flooding are expected. 

In 1980, an eruption at Saint Helens blew 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain, leveling hundreds of square miles of forest; 57 people died.  Today, tourists stood in awe as at an observatory just five miles away, watching a spectacle of nature they won‘t soon forget. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s beautiful.  It was just gorgeous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HATTORI:  And scientists are beginning to get a little bit of information as to what happened up there.

In fact, a briefing was going on just a while ago where they said that they did lose some monitoring equipment that was near the dome.  You might expect that to have happened after today‘ event.  They also said that they believe that some boulders the size of automobiles were tossed out from the crater, but not very far, only about 400 or 500 feet, 400 to 500 yards, rather, that is, Alex.

WITT:  Yes. 

James, you saw those tourists there.  I am wondering about those people, because I think in the fall months, about 90,000 people go and visit that area.  Are you seeing more people coming in or are people being scared off, tourist-wise? 

HATTORI:  Well, the tourist centers have been—visitors centers have been open this whole time.  And I‘m sure that the people here are welcoming all the tourists to come by and in fact learn a little bit more about the earthquakes, rather, the volcanoes and the earthquakes that have come along with the seismic activity and the eruption or the explosion, rather, today. 

By the way, this is not technically an eruption, Alex.  An eruption would be a little more prolonged and would involve magma usually coming to the surface.  There was no magma this time. 

WITT:  OK, just a lot of steam and then those car-size boulders you‘re talking about. 

All right, James Hattori, NBC News there from Mount Saint Helens in Washington, thank you, James.

Well, volcano activity abounded today.  Italy‘s Mount Etna rivaled Helens with its spewing streams of molten lava.  This week marked its first major eruption in 19 months.  Etna is Europe‘s most active volcano.  Two new fissures opened today, sending fresh cascades of the liquid down the mountain.  Scientists are closely monitoring the eruptions, but they say right now there is no danger to residents. 

And not to be outdone, western Mexico‘s Volcano of Fire belched plumes of smoke and ash into the air today after lava poured from its peak overnight.  A light dusting of ash covered nearby communities.  Its last major eruption was in 1999. 

A sad start to the stories of “Keeping Tabs” tonight, as police in Salt Lake City confirm they have found the remains of murder victim Lori Hacking.  Authorities have spent weeks combing through an area landfill for the body of Hacking, missing since July 18.  This morning, they discovered her remains, which were confirmed by dental records, this in an area of compacted garbage 20 feet deep.  Police say newspapers found near the body were dated from the time she disappeared. 

Lori‘s husband, Mark Hacking, has been charged with her murder and being held on $1 million bail.  He allegedly confessed to the murder and the general location of the body, this to his brother while he was hospitalized in a psychiatrist unit.

Well, if you were planning to see the movie “Anacondas” attention Tinseltown Cinema in Houston this weekend, you may want to make other plans.  Here‘s why.  The theater owner says he is not showing any movies until they find the giant snake that is supposedly roaming through that cineplex.  But so far, nothing has been found.  Snake experts have been searching.  Some are wondering if perhaps the janitor who reported seeing the eight-foot snake in the theater was just a little bit creeped out by   the movie showing at the time, “Anacondas: The Hunt For the Blood Orchid,” an instant classic starring Morris Chestnut and a bunch of really big snakes. 

Straight ahead, “The Apprentice,” could it ruin Jen C.‘s life twice?  Because first she gets booted from the hit reality show.  Now she is facing big, big problems at her real job after she makes some alleged anti-Semitic remarks.  “Apprentice” alums from season one join us to talk about whether she is getting a raw deal. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  We end tonight where we began, with a debate, but not the whole world watching, geopolitical, who‘s going to lead our nation variety.  No, no, matters of much lesser import for us.

Our No. 1 story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, should you lose your job for what you say on TV?  You‘re fired.  Hard enough to hear once, but the last person at the wrong end of Donald Trump‘s index finger may in fact hear it again in real life, Jennifer Crisafulli, the latest boardroom casualty, fired Wednesday for mismanaging her team as they stumbled through the launch of a New York City restaurant, and now facing termination from her actual job as a real estate broker, this for comments she made on the show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE APPRENTICE”)

JENNIFER CRISAFULLI, CONTESTANT:  It was those two old Jewish fat ladies.  Really, they were like the pinnacle of the New York jaded old bags. 

Talk about that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about the decor can kiss my ass. 

What do you think of the decor? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  For me, it‘s a little too strong.  I‘m surprised there‘s red in an Asian kind of (INAUDIBLE)

CRISAFULLI:  Well, it‘s fusion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

CRISAFULLI:  So it‘s everything.  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right. 

CRISAFULLI:  They told me, you don‘t want us to write a review.  I heard that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I heard that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How did she know? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m not going to say it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She didn‘t mean it in a derogatory way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I think she mismanaged us. 

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  Jennifer, you chose not to be a leered leader.  Your entire team hated you.  And when you had a chance to bring one person in who really did mess up, it was Sandy, and you chose not to do that. 

CRISAFULLI:  I regret it. 

TRUMP:  And you regret it.  Jennifer, this is really easy.  You‘re fired. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Ouch. 

Her employer, New York real estate firm Douglas Elliman, would not use the actual words, she is fired, citing legal reasons.  But the company senior vice president telling an Albany paper—quote—“We do not intend to have an individual in our organization who subscribes to this point of view.”

Perspective now from our friends in reality TV from “Apprentice” season one, Amy Henry and Nick Warnock.

Good evening to you both. 

AMY HENRY, FORMER “APPRENTICE” CONTESTANT:  Good evening.

NICK WARNOCK, FORMER CONTESTANT, “THE APPRENTICE”:  Good evening.

WITT:  All right, Amy, let me start with you.

Jen C., she is claiming right now she was a victim of editing.  Could that be the case, Amy?

HENRY:  Well, I would never say that it‘s a victim of editing. 

I mean, at the end of the day, they didn‘t create the words and put them in her mouth.  She said something stupid, ignorant, insensitive.  And I think that the only thing they are going to do is use the footage that they have got on film. 

WITT:  Hey, Nick, do the producers ever try to edit in such a way that they actually create controversy that you think didn‘t necessarily exist, from your experience? 

WARNOCK:  Not as much as people think. 

I mean, anyone who blames it on the evil editing genie just can‘t deal with themselves going through some tough times.  It‘s ridiculous.  She gave them the material to piece.  But I don‘t think that‘s the case at all.  I just think she is a little miserable, to tell you the truth.

WITT:  Yes. 

You know, Amy, you are really basically arguing here that, regardless of the editing, she said what she said.  But here is the question.  How hard is it to police yourself when that camera is on you all the time? 

HENRY:  Well, I‘ll put it this way.  I never got in a catfight on national television. 

Why?  Because I know 25 million viewers are watching.  I find it easy to avoid from cussing all the time.  Why?  Because 25 million viewers are watching.  I don‘t know if it‘s easy for everybody, but I‘m conscious of the fact that, at some point, you have to pay for what you say on TV.  So keep your mouth shut if you don‘t want to hear yourself saying stupid things. 

WITT:  Nick, is there a double-edged sword to appearing in a reality show.  Is that what you think be happening to Jen C.?  Is it fair? 

(CROSSTALK)

WARNOCK:  No, absolutely. 

What we have and what we have done from this, that was the best experience of my life.  And, unfortunately, for Jennifer C., her marketability post-show has dropped to zero.  Who is going to want to hire here?  She is a poor leader.  She said some things that I didn‘t think were right.  And she presented herself poorly and she just got fired from her firm.  So basically her career is over, I think. 

WITT:  Amy, you agree.  What bodes for her future?

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY:  I have to disagree in that assessment, because while I say what Jennifer said is completely insensitive and ignorant, the people that you really need to blame are the real estate company here. 

I mean, I don‘t know if you are aware of this, but about four weeks ago, her company ran the biggest ad you have ever seen in “The New York Post,” a full-page ad with her picture on it, hoping to leverage her marketability on the show as free advertising.  And now they are running for cover, because they wish they hadn‘t run that ad.  And so they have no choice but to fire her to cover their butts.  So it wasn‘t an appropriate comment, but should she be fired?  No.  She was not advertising on the company.  She was not a representative of the company when she was on “The Apprentice.”  And I think their actions are completely inappropriate.

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  Yes, Nick.  Go ahead.

WARNOCK:  If she was part of my organization, if she was part of my organization, I would have done the same exact thing.  I would have fired her.  She represents the organization. 

I think she is working for them now.  And she deserves to be let go. 

I mean, it‘s incredible. 

WITT:  OK, so Nick, speak of firing, who do you think is the next one to go on the show? 

WARNOCK:  You know, I see a Mosaic loss this week in my crystal ball. 

And I think that Chris is going to be let go. 

WITT:  All right, Amy, what do you think?  What is your vote? 

HENRY:  Well, I wish Chris would be let go because he drives me crazy. 

But, I honestly have to say that Mosaic has got to win again.  These women are way too catty.  And this time, I‘m having to vote for little Stacy. 

WITT:  So you guys think the guys are going to end up back in the boardroom?  Nick. 

WARNOCK:  I hope so.  I hope the guys get in there.  I just think they‘re going to do something or something is going to happen.

Pamela is going back to the girls.  She is a strong leader, I think she will revive this team right now.  And I think Mosaic is going to lose and someone is going home from the guys. 

WITT:  OK, “Apprentice” alums Amy Henry, Nick Warnock, once again, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.  Have a good one.

WARNOCK:  Thank you. 

HENRY:  Thanks for having me.

WITT:  And that wraps it up for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.  Keith will be back on Monday.

Thanks for watching, everyone.  Good night and good luck and great weekend to you. 

Let‘s see how I do this, shall we? 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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