updated 10/5/2004 1:07:51 PM ET 2004-10-05T17:07:51

Guests: Marcus Mabry, Mort Zuckerman, Robert Thompson, Robin Wright, Mark Abrams

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Jumping on the band wagon.  More poll numbers in.

John Kerry won the debate and then some, and tied the race, leaving it up to the vice president to staunch the Republican flow.

He and Senator Edwards debate tomorrow in Cleveland.  What is that going to look like?

What goes up, natural division.  Good thing those Mount St. Helens rumbles were nothing serious.

What goes up, man-made division.  SpaceShipOne makes space trip two.

And it ain‘t rocket science, but where would man be without it.  Awards for practical inventions like the guy who dreamt up the comb-over - the ig-nobel prize.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Monday, October 4th, 29 days until the 2004 presidential election, and one day until the vice presidential debate, which has tonight taken on perhaps unprecedented importance after the big pollsters came in and repeated the assessments of the smaller ones from last Friday and the weekend.

That for those of you who can‘t tell the difference, John Kerry beat the Shinola out of the president in their debate last Thursday.

Our number five story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it‘s a tie, with one notable exception.  Let‘s run the scoreboard first.

Today‘s USA Today Gallup poll—Bush 49, Kerry 49.  The debate having thus erased the president‘s eight-point lead in the same poll last week.

The Zogby poll—Bush 46, Kerry 45.  Zogby has been consistently closer.  Its last one was Bush by three.

The “Washington Post” poll—the only name-brand one holding for the president by any margin -- 51-46.

“Newsweek”—you may have seen this over the weekend—Kerry 47, Bush 45, Nader 2.

Some intriguing interior numbers from this poll.  Which one of them is the strong leader?  Kerry actually outpacing Bush 47-44, in what was supposed to be the president‘s lifeline of strength.

Who‘s more likable?  The president‘s grimaces did not serve him well. 

Kerry by six points.

Who had the better command of the issues?  Kerry 51, Bush 37.  Kerry

by 14.  The undecideds on this were just 12.

Who was more confident?  No contest—Kerry 62 percent.

The one bright spot for the president, was either candidate too wordy?  Low score wins this one.  But before the debate, the senator‘s wordiness count might have been expected to be at 50 or 60 percent.

How about, anybody too repetitive?  Again, low score wins.  Kerry 22, Bush 57.

Apparently, debating is hard work.

To try to read more of those interior numbers and the broader tea leaves, we‘re joined now by Marcus Mabry, “Newsweek‘s” senior editor and chief of correspondents.

Mr. Mabry, good evening.

MARCUS MABRY, SENIOR EDITOR & CHIEF OF CORRESPONDENTS, NEWSWEEK:  A

pleasure to be here.

OLBERMANN:  There seems to be no doubt of it any more.  If the polls reflect margin of victory, John Kerry won that debate three to one.

But how impactful—how lastingly impactful—is that victory on the campaign and the election?

MABRY:  That we can‘t know.  We‘ll know in exactly 29 days.

The fact is, tomorrow‘s debate is more important than ever.  Rarely have we seen after a debate, what Kerry got out of this debate was a debate bounce.

Rarely have we seen that.  We usually see that at conventions.  Kerry didn‘t get much of a bounce out of his convention.  The president got a huge bounce—relative to Kerry—out of his convention.

And the president‘s kept that lead until Thursday night‘s debate.

What we see now is that this is a race again.  And with one outlying poll the only one that doesn‘t show this sucker in a statistical dead heat.

I think that this really is going to be an incredibly close election, which we thought from the very beginning, and it‘s going to be until November 2nd before we know who‘s going to win.

OLBERMANN:  The Republican spin after that debate was based on heavily on Senator Kerry‘s use of the term “global test,” and the implications that he would be giving too much weight to international reaction or cooperation, in the event that he needed to defend this country or needed to be proactive militarily.

Are there indications here that the Bush-Cheney team may have made a mistake in taking that tack?  Because there were two questions in your poll which seemed to favor the multilateralism that Senator Kerry referred to—the numbers about anti-Americanism and the allies questions.

MABRY:  That‘s right.  When we asked, has the president‘s foreign policy over the last almost four years—do you think—has it made America‘s image in the world better?  Or has it increased anti-Americanism?

I was quite surprised to see a very solid majority of 60 percent of registered voters telling us that the president‘s policies have actually increased anti-Americanism.

And that‘s been the case for a long time.  And I think many international observers have believed it, Keith.  But the fact is, the American people, until very recently, a majority didn‘t believe that.  The American people kind of didn‘t want to believe that.

On the same token, we also asked—and we‘ve asked this question, too, for the last two years—has the president‘s policies and his attempts to bring along allies and international organizations to meet the United States‘ foreign policy goals—has the president been too much reaching out to allies and the U.N. and other organizations?

Has he done too little, or the right amount?

For the first time ever, in last weekend‘s poll, we find that a majority -- 51 percent of registered voters—say the president has done too little to reach out.

So, in fact, it‘s really great to beat John Kerry over that—over the head with that term—“global test.”  And, of course, it was in the context of a global test for preemptive action, like the one that we undertook in Iraq.

But the president—I think what we‘re finding is, a lot of the American people agree with John Kerry.  We‘re mostly a multilateralist country.

We don‘t want to have the burdens of the world on our shoulders by ourselves.  We want our friends along with us.

OLBERMANN:  Assess the whole thing for me finally, sir.

Was this poll—in addition to the debate having been a comparative disaster for the president—was this poll a disaster?

Or would those good numbers—the ones about handling terrorism, his personal appeal—were they good enough?

MABRY:  Well, two things.  Number one, they weren‘t good enough.

The fact is, number two, this race is not over.  There is no reason for the Bush campaign to look at this poll—and I don‘t think it‘s in their nature to do this—to look at this poll or any other and say, OK.  Well, that‘s it.  It‘s over.

The fact that the president still leads John Kerry by 12 points among registered voters on the issue of who do you trust more to keep America safe from terrorism, and who do you trust more on national security.

The fact that the president leads in the double digits on that subject is an important lead, and the president‘s going to hammer that subject home until November 2nd.

His problem, of course, is that John Kerry leads by 13 points on the issue of the economy and jobs, and by 22 points—which is pretty extraordinary—on health care.

The next two presidential debates are going to be a lot more about domestic policy issues—not the president‘s strong point.

So, the president really did not help himself on Thursday night.

But this thing is so far from over, there‘s no point in trying to declare who is going to win on November 2nd.

OLBERMANN:  Nonetheless, we will continue to do so for the next 28 days.  And then, of course, on the 29th.

MABRY:  That‘s what we‘re here for.

OLBERMANN:  Marcus Mabry, senior editor, chief of correspondents of “Newsweek” magazine.  Many thanks, sir.

MABRY:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Well, what was presumed to be the under-card in the debate schedule—Vice President Cheney versus Senator Edwards in Cleveland tomorrow—becomes the Republicans‘ best immediate chance to stop the hemorrhaging in the polls.

But what will we see?  The Dick Cheney who outraged the Democrats by implying that a Kerry victory meant a greater chance of terrorism in this country?  Or the Dick Cheney who stumped Joe Lieberman in 2000, by being calm, cool and civil towards him?

Whatever the answer, Cheney is apparently satisfied with his debate preparations.  He went fishing today.  This after a three-day weekend at his home in Wyoming, spent in mock debate with Congressman Rob Portman of Ohio, continuing to serve as the stand-in for Senator Edwards.

Mr. Cheney‘s handlers suggest he is going to focus on the issues, not on Edwards.  And they expect Edwards to focus on attacking Cheney.

As to the senator, he and Mrs. Edwards arrived in Cleveland late this afternoon, and as far as we know, was at no time fishing the waters of Lake Erie.

Senator Edwards‘ debate prep time had been spent in upstate New York.  Chances are the word “Halliburton” came up frequently during those practice sessions.

Democrats expect their vice presidential challenger to make hay of Mr.  Cheney‘s connections to the biggest military contractor in Iraq, and has the potential to make up to $18 billion there.

To take us through the weigh-in of Cheney and Edwards, I‘m delighted to be joined again by Mort Zuckerman, the chairman and editor-in-chief of “U.S. News & World Report,” and the publisher of the “New York Daily News.”

Mort, good evening.

MORT ZUCKERMAN, CHAIRMAN & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT,

AND PUBLISHER, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS:  Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  What does the vice president have to do to win that debate tomorrow night?  Does he have to make John Edwards into the 21st century Dan Quayle?  Or should he try that soft glove approach that worked with Lieberman four years ago?

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s his nature.  But I think what both debaters are going to have to do is try and put the other on the defensive.

So, I think Cheney‘s going to have to go on the offensive, based on what Kerry said and didn‘t say about his positions on the war against terrorism and Iraq.

And I think Edwards has to go on the offensive in terms of, in fact, domestic policies, and how the tax cuts and similar programs from the Republicans have developed what Edwards calls the “two Americas,” which is a very, very potent issue for the Democrats.

OLBERMANN:  It was, of course, that subject of terrorism, and what would happen in the event of a Democratic victory, that so stung from Dick Cheney‘s mouth less than a month ago.

And the man in the Democratic campaign who answered that was John Edwards, first, and then John Kerry.

Are we likely to see that be an extraordinarily contentious issue, no matter how it comes up?  Or even if it doesn‘t come up, is somebody going to bring it up?

ZUCKERMAN:  It‘s possible.  But you will recall that Cheney sort of said that he misspoke on that, and didn‘t really quite mean it in the way that it came out.

I don‘t think that‘s going to be a major issue.  I do think that each is going to go after what they perceive to be the other‘s weakness.

As I said, I think there is a very, very strong argument on the part of the Democrats for the 70 or 75 percent of this country who earn under $75,000 a year, and who have really been squeezed in the last couple of years, particularly by rising health care costs, education costs and gasoline costs.

And, of course, I do think that Cheney is—who is Mr. National Security in one sense—is going to go after Edwards.  And, indeed, through Edwards, go after Kerry for what, in a sense, was his, shall we say, his change of positions on Iraq and the war against terrorism and those kinds of issues.

OLBERMANN:  But if Senator Edwards sticks to this, or keeps this focus

·         or at least himself focused—on these domestic issues and the economy, and the points that you just raised, is that the vulnerability for Dick Cheney?  Does that suddenly become John Edwards‘ home field advantage?

ZUCKERMAN:  Right.  I‘ve always thought that was the strongest issue for the Democrats.

And in the Fabrizio McLaughlin poll, it showed that 70.6 percent of the Americans really felt very strongly that this was the issue that was troubling to them, in the domestic area.

And that‘s why I think Cheney is going to try and deal with that by talking about the tax cuts.

But he‘s going to go right after Kerry and Edwards again on the whole issue of national security.  That‘s the strongest issue for the Republicans.

OLBERMANN:  Last question, and fairly quickly on this.  Are we over-emphasizing the importance of this?  Or has it actually taken on the kind of importance that I said two minutes ago?

ZUCKERMAN:  Well, you know, somebody once said that the vice presidency isn‘t worth a pitcher of warm spit.

I don‘t think that the vice presidents determine the election at all, have no real influence on it.  Except in terms of the next day‘s headlines or that—the evening news—of that day and the morning news of the next day, to really see who got the advantage.  Who put the other on the defense?

And if—whoever succeeds in doing that best, I think, will help their respective colleagues.

OLBERMANN:  Chairman and editor-in-chief of “U.S. News & World Report,” publisher of the “New York Daily News,” Mort Zuckerman, many thanks again for your time, sir.

ZUCKERMAN:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  We ask for your time tomorrow at a different time.  The special COUNTDOWN to the vice presidential debate airs at 6 p.m. Eastern, 3 p.m. Pacific.

As ever, all the political news, all the non-political news and all the political non-news.  Be there.  Aloha.

The Democrat at the top of the ticket, using the time before his next face-off with the president on Friday, to broaden his attack on domestic policy issues.

As he hinted, by dropping the topic in during the first debate, John Kerry brought up stem cell research.  The senator today accusing his rival of ignoring science, when stem cells could offer millions of sick Americans at least a chance of a cure.

On hand to offer some alias support, Parkinson‘s sufferer Michael J.  Fox, who played a character named Alex Keaton on “Family Ties.”  Perhaps that is why Mr. Kerry introduced him as Michael Keaton at today‘s event.

This gaff did not get the play it might have, had President Bush been the one making it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR & STEM CELL RESEARCH ACTIVIST:  This touches so many people in so many ways.  And so, it‘s like being stuck in a mine.  It‘s not like I don‘t want to get out of the mine.  I want us all to get out of the mine.

And this is a ray of light, and we‘re going towards that light.  And John Kerry will make that light brighter, and not try to snuff it out, as is happening now.

JOHN KERRY, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The hard truth is, that when it comes to stem cell research, this president is making the wrong choice—to sacrifice science for extreme, right-wing ideology.  And that‘s unacceptable.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  The domestic policy issue-of-choice today for the other ticket—tax cuts—bread and butter to the Republican faithful.  And the president served up his fourth slice in as many years.

Only this time, instead of signing the legislation at the White House, President Bush took his pen all the way to Iowa—a swing state, in case you had not noticed.

Mr. Bush, accusing his opponent of voting to raise taxes 98 times in the Senate.  The Kerry campaign has disagreed with that statement.

And as long as we‘re counting, he promised to deliver more tax cuts if

re-elected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  This act of Congress is essential, but it‘s only a start.  Over the next few years, if we fail to take further action, the tax relief will expire, and federal income taxes will go up for every American who pays them.

For the sake of our families and small businesses and farmers, investors and seniors, we need to make all the tax relief permanent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  From campaign trail reality to the late night parody.

“Saturday Night Live” weighs in with its take on debate number one. 

And Fox News makes not one, but two big blunders.

Where is the volcano of outrage?

Well, at least there‘s a real volcano.  More steam, courtesy of Mount St. Helens.  But this was not the big one.

The ka-boom forecast ahead.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Fox News makes up quotes from John Kerry and doesn‘t do any background checks on another group claiming to support him.

Apologies issued, but where‘s the national outrage that Dan Rather got?

And the impact on the election of “Saturday Night Live”?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARRELL HAMMOND AS AL GORE, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  Well, let me add something.  In my plan, the lockbox would also be camouflaged.

(LAUGHTER)

Now, to all outward appearances, it would be a leather-bound edition of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas.

But it wouldn‘t be.  It would be the lockbox.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Vice President Gore‘s campaign took that so seriously, they made the candidate watch that “Saturday Night Live” take on his first presidential debate, four years ago this Thursday.

Television can report politics.  It can also influence politics.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN.  That influence has already begun.

Two attempts to be funny being taken far more seriously than could have been expected.

The more important of them came from Fox News Channel, the first from

SNL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILL FORTE, ACTOR, AS GEORGE W. BUSH, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  Jim, our plan in Iraq has always been a three phase plan.

CHRIS PARNELL, ACTOR, AS JIM LEHRER, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  And what happens in Phase Three?

FORTE:  Jim, you know, we‘re still working on Phase Three.  You know, and believe me, you know, we‘re working hard.

(LAUGHTER)

Because it‘s—you know, it‘s hard work.  And we‘re working hard.

We‘re just, you know—every day.

(LAUGHTER)

Just, you know, working evenings and ordering in.

(LAUGHTER)

Working hard together.

PARNELL:  Senator, the president appears to be leveling a charge he frequently repeats against you, that you‘re a flip-flopper.  How do you respond?

SETH MYERS, ACTOR, AS JOHN KERRY, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  My opponent would like you to believe that I‘ve changed my opinion on the war.

The fact is, I have one position, and one position only.  Was Saddam a threat?  Yes.  I‘ve said so since day one.

Was his regime dangerous to the security of the United States?  Of course not.

Did he deserved to be removed?  You bet.

Was it the right action to remove him from power?  No way.

(LAUGHTER)

Was he in possession of weapons of mass destruction?  Absolutely.  Did he possess these weapons?  No, he did not.

(LAUGHTER)

And that has always been my position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  They meant to put that into the public discourse.  Fox News says, it did not.

But the gag reporting by its chief political correspondent, Carl Cameron, including made-up quotes attributed to John Kerry, was not supposed to be put on its Web site last Friday as actual news, entitled “The Metrosexual and the Cowboy.”

Fox says it was drawn from what somebody did not know was a farcical script written by Cameron, placed in the wrong part of its news computer, and simply rewritten by somebody else.

This, even though the mock script quoted the senator as saying, “Didn‘t my nails and cuticles look great?  What a good debate.”  And “I‘m a metrosexual.  He‘s a cowboy.”

The network issued an apology, calling it a poor attempt at humor and a lapse in judgment, and said Cameron had been, quote, reprimanded.

Fox was just getting back on its feet when another political correspondent, Jane Roh, filed a report about a parody group called Communists for Kerry.

One problem—she forgot to mention it was a parody, and she forgot to mention the group was actually pro-Bush.

Fox‘s response to that—Roh was duped.  She actually believed the folks were serious.

The faux news stories got some media attention, but not a fraction of the CBS Killian memos saga.

Is that appropriate?  Or is there a political bias there, or what?

Joining me now, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University, where he founded and directs the Center for the Study of Popular Television.

Professor Thompson, good evening.

PROF. ROBERT THOMPSON, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF POPULAR TELEVISION,

SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Well, let‘s try to get some perspective.  Are these Fox gaffs even in the same league as what we think we know happened at CBS?

THOMPSON:  Well, they‘re not, insofar as they‘re not claiming that Kerry did something that he could be court-martialed for.

It‘s on a Web site, as opposed to “60 Minutes.”  And they apologized for it, really, really quickly, as opposed to CBS, which kept saying, you know, the sources were false, but the spirit was true.

Fox never said the quotes were made up, but the spirit was true. 

Which I suppose they could of.

John Kerry‘s cuticles did look pretty good on Thursday night.

OLBERMANN:  There is an irony to this thing, in particular, because of all the people on the air at Fox News, Carl Cameron probably gets the least amount of grief about purportedly having a political agenda.

But let‘s say somebody, whose neutrality was equally respected at CNN or at MSNBC, made up quotes about George Bush and they wound up on those Web sites for a similar period of time.

Would we not already be living in the middle of a second maelstrom of, these people are trying to influence the election, get Congress to investigate?

THOMPSON:  The first debate would be history.

Could you imagine if Jennings or Brokaw or, heaven forbid, Rather had put this on one of their respective Web sites?

And, you know, there should be a hue and cry about this.  Even though it was a silly story, even though it was relatively easy to find out—or to realize that it was fake—let‘s remember that Rather, in fact, put something on from a source that due diligence was not done upon.

Here you‘ve got a guy who made up the quotes, put them in there.  And I don‘t care how it got on the air, that stuff shouldn‘t be happening.  Those kinds of things shouldn‘t be being written in the newsroom and put in places where they can get on to the Web site.

I think the people at CBS were responsible for that.  Heads ought to roll.  I think the same thing ought to happen over at Fox News.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any chance, any hope, that two gaffs by the troops from fair-and-balanced-land might make any measurable percentage of the news consumers and the politically active people of this country on all sides step back from the brink of politicizing literally everything in news, and say, you know what?  This has just gotten too heated.  We need to go back to the days when fair and balanced was not just some meaningless brand name.

THOMPSON:  Well, you would have thought that this may have really made a splash.

But it‘s—when that Dan Rather story broke, my phone rang all day long.  Today I could hear the crickets in the background and see the sagebrush blowing across my telephone.

This has really been, I think, under-reported.

The second story, the Communists for Kerry thing, you have a hard time locating that story on the Internet when you‘re looking for it.

So, I think in the end, probably, we‘re not going to hear much about this at all after tonight.

OLBERMANN:  To Fox‘s credit, though, as you said, they did—they apologized for it and they damage controlled brilliantly, as opposed to CBS, which did neither brilliantly.

So, that may be a factor in addition to anything else.

Well, Professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University.  As always, sir, we appreciate your time tonight.

THOMPSON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And we did (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

In Iraq today, not one, but two car bombs go off.  And the debate over the intelligence that got us there, that goes off again.

New questions about how the intel was used and how it could impact tomorrow‘s debate.

But up next, an oddball you have to see to believe.  And even then, you may not believe it.

“Escape from Alcatraz” performed by a cast of dogs.  Seriously.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nightly at this time, we pause the COUNTDOWN for the irrelevant and the entertaining.

But in this news hour, this next thing you see may be the story you wind up talking about tomorrow.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We are watching the security camera video at the Battersea Dogs Home in London.  Watch Red there.

Red is what the British call a lurcher—a part greyhound, former dog racing hound.  Red is now what we call an escaped con.

Not only did he figure out how to get out of his cage, he has also figured out how to get all the other dogs out of their cages.

The dogs then proceeded to the kitchen, where they ate whatever they wanted, and planned a re-enactment in Britain‘s great train robbery.

All the dogs have now been rounded up and re-caged, their cell doors made more secure.  And, of course, in a flea bargain, Red has been made the warden.

If you think that‘s impressive, check out this.  It‘s a really big yoyo.

It‘s the world‘s largest, they say -- 256 pounds—and it was the highlight of the national yoyo competition this weekend in Chico, California.

A big weekend in Chico, obviously.  Hundreds of competitors from the professional yo-yo circuit traveled from as far as away as La Jolla and Pismo to show their stuff for a shot to compete in the world championships next year in Orlando, Florida.  As for the big yo, it‘s back to its day job knocking down buildings in downtown Chico. 

And finally, it‘s safe to go back to Wood‘s Hole, Mass, they got that big shark out of the waters around Cape Cod.  Marine biologists today successfully lured the 1,700-pound great white using hoses to spray around the shark driving her back to open ocean.  You have to tip your hat for anyone crazy enough to get into a 15-foot boat and annoy a great white.  The big fish has been fitted with a GPS unit on its dorsal fin which will allow scientists to track her around the world and will also allow the shark to use the EZ Pass lanes at the toll booths.

Let‘s go fast to the administration on Iraq pre-war intel.  Experts say the debate on those aluminum tubes is over, Dr.  Condoleezza Rice disagrees.  And Tourists in space!  Five days later up it goes again.  These stories ahead.  First, your COUNTDOWN top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, scientists in at Oxford University in England, they say they have trained blind Mexican cave fish to learn how to negotiate an obstacle course.  They say the fish are smarter than dogs.  Yeah, well, if they were as smart as Red from London is, they would have figured a way out of Oxford, wouldn‘t they?

Number two, Elton John.  Last week it was Taiwan, now it‘s Madonna absorbing the abuse of the rocker, accusing her of lip-synching.  He added Madonna, best F-ing live act?  F off!

And number one, Lynne Bryant, manager at the cafeteria at Mackay Airport in Australia who wins the annual “I knew that sound was familiar” Award.  Hearing a vibrating hum coming from inside a bag, she alerted airport managers and within moments the terminal had been evacuated and some flights rerouted.  That vibrating sound turned out to be coming from an adult toy.  Two things, this happens so often that passengers carrying these things ought to have their own check-in line and exactly how long and boring a flight are these passengers expecting?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When, during the debate last Thursday, Senator Kerry left Poland off the list of this country‘s major allies in Iraq, the President called him on it.  Turns out Kerry was accidentally or otherwise way ahead of Mr. Bush on the subject.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, as the prewar intelligence debate heats up again, now there may also be a question about the current intel.  The Poles today announced they will withdraw all 2,500 of their troops from Iraq during 2005, ostensibly because the actual Iraqi government will be up to speed by then.  Not yet it isn‘t.  A pair of car bombs today, one outside the heavily guarded Green Zone in Baghdad which houses the interim government and the U.S. embassy, 15 killed and 81 wounded.  An hour later, another bomb targeting a convoy of vehicles of civilian vehicles, leaving hotel complex where many foreign journalists and U.S. contractors reside.  At least six killed there and 15 wounded.

In Samarra, cautious optimism by the military officials after a joint three-day operation with Iraqi security forces reclaimed the embattled city from the insurgents there claiming to have killed 125 of them, captured another 80.  Some Iraqis have been critical of this operation, saying there were several civilian casualties, no independent confirmation of those claims.

That‘s a phrase that has haunted the subject of nuclear weapons in Iraq since long before Colin Powell got up in front of the United Nations and insisted that Saddam Hussein‘s purchase of aluminum tubes was proof positive he was preparing a nuclear arsenal.  Day two of a “New York Times” series detailing just how not positive the intelligence community really was over Powell‘s assertion.  Documents obtained by that paper showed nuclear experts from the Energy Department in September 2002 adamantly disagreeing with the CIA‘s assessment.  Energy insisted that the tubes were actually for rockets, not nuclear centrifuges.  The Senate Intelligence Committee reported in this past July that the Energy Department was right, the CIA was wrong.  The paperwork also suggested that National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice knew about the argument, she confirmed that, and said it didn‘t matter and said she still is not convinced the tubes were not intended for nuclear use.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  The fact is that what you know today can affect what you do tomorrow but not what you did yesterday.  As I understand it, people are still debating this.  I‘m sure they will continue to debate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To help us try to sort it out, we again turn to the expertise of Robin Wright, diplomatic correspondent for the “Washington Post”.  Robin, good evening.

ROBIN WRIGHT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Nice to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  First off, is Dr. Rice correct in the last part, are people still debating this?

WRIGHT:  Well, that‘s the first I‘ve heard of it I think for several months, almost a year.  There‘s been a general conclusion by the United Nations as well as a bipartisan senate select committee on intelligence that, in fact, they were probably for production of a rocket rather than a nuclear weapon.

OLBERMANN:  Dr. Rice also said yesterday that no matter what the truth was or is about those tubes, again quoting her from the “George Stephanopoulos Show” on ABC, “I stand by the decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein and remove this threat to American security, but of all the evidence upon which the administration branded Saddam a threat and an imminent threat, how much of it remains unchallenged?  What is left here that was not guesswork and bad guesswork at that?

WRIGHT:  Well, the only real question is what did Saddam do with his weapons of mass destruction after 1991?  The chief UN—U.S. weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer is expected to testify on the Hill on Wednesday, so we may get the first answers where they stand on that pursuit, but the issue of weapons of mass destruction has been generally thought to be one that it‘s not even in the framework of justifying the war, that the administration has actually moved on more to talk about democracy promotion, changing the dynamics of the region, changing life for ordinary Iraqis.

OLBERMANN:  So did Dr. Rice not get the memo or is she the one designated as sort of the fall person to still continue to toe this original hard party line?

WRIGHT:  I don‘t work at the White House so I don‘t know the answer to that question, but it was very surprising.

OLBERMANN:  So harken back to the politics of this, do the developments of the last few days relative to this give us a clearer picture of the vice president‘s role in the decision to go to war and how vulnerable would that make Mr. Cheney in tomorrow‘s debate with Senator Edwards?

WRIGHT:  There‘s no question that this issue is going to come up in the debate tomorrow night.  A third of it is supposed to address foreign policy issues and I think secretary—or Condoleezza Rice‘s comments will be part of the debate and will be fuel to say what is the justification for war if everyone else has agreed that, in fact, weapons of mass destruction did not exist at the time that the United States invaded Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Robin Wright, the diplomatic correspondent of the “Washington Post,” we always appreciate you helping us clear this stuff up and thank you again for your time.

WRIGHT:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely nothing to see here said the scientists at mount St. Helens.  So that stuff coming out of the top there is—cigar smoke?  And, hey, Mr. Pilot, you may have already won $10 million.  These stories ahead, but now here are our COUNTDOWN top three soundbites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The South Lawn of the White House has a lot of grass.  I‘m looking for somebody to mow it.  We shall now be known as grass mowers.

SEN. JOHN F. KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There are so many hands up and—don‘t worry about it, it‘s not only a nonexistent candidacy, it‘s really bad singing, so...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People from all over the place coming in to look. 

It‘s a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t want to be burned up by last of extra but I would like to see a big ash cloud and steam all over the place.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was a week ago when the good news came from Mt. St.  Helens.  Two days of frequent earthquakes under America‘s most dangerous volcanic ash hauler had quieted down and seismologists said there was no reason to panic.  So that gigantic injection of steam thousands of feet into the air above Washington State today, that would have been what, a burp?

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, stuff shooting straight up in the sky, some of it manmade, some of it not so much.  The spaceship part in a moment, first to our correspondent James Hattori for the latest on all that nothing happening at Mount St. Helens.  James, good evening.

JAMES HATTORI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.  I think the geologists here would take a different opinion of that assessment, but technically the last Friday steam emission, that was being called a burp.  Today‘s was considerably larger and actually was like the fourth one in recent days, but scientists believe it‘s the latest step towards an actual explosive eruption, which still could come at any time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HATTORI (voice-over):  The plume of steam and ash rose up to 12,000 feet this morning, the largest emission since Mount St. Helens began stirring 11 days ago.  But unlike previous events, the nearly constant earthquakes within the volcano didn‘t stop.  In fact, seismic activity picked up.  Inside the crater, you can see the hole where the steam blasted into the sky, also there‘s a quarter-mile wide piece of the lava dome which has been pushed up.  Scientists say all signs indicate magma is continuing to move toward the surface, which will likely erupt with explosive force and spew ash tens of thousands of feet into the sky.

WILLIE SCOTT, US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY:  The concern is that it could go to this more explosive state , you know, very suddenly, without much in the way of warning.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HATTORI:  Now there are tools, of course, this will give them some signs of an impending eruption.  They‘ll be obviously, monitoring seismic activity, especially looking for so-called harmonic tremors which are indications of magma moving towards the surface.  They‘ve also placed microphones on the slopes of the mountain which will, believe it or not, pick up explosions and let them know, especially when it starts to rain here, which should happen in a couple of days and you may not be able to see much of the mountain.  There is a very small chance of a disastrous kind of eruption and there‘s also a chance that the mountain could all of a sudden just quiet down and go to sleep again.  But scientists at this point say neither of those scenarios is likely, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  James Hattori at Mount St. Helens.  Many thanks.  Just remember scientists do not expect a repeat of 1980 which I presume means we should.

Something else that happened again today is the far more encouraging second part of tonight‘s second story.  I said it to Orville and said it to Wilbur, that thing will never get off the ground.  Spaceship One making its second successful trip into the near reaches of space, 62 miles up, since last Wednesday.  The prototype for a privately built and manned space tourism craft thus wins the $10 million X-prize designed to jump-start such travel as an industry.  There were two changes today, possibly related.  The thing did not spin out and roll over like a daredevil at an aeronautics show.  Now that wasn‘t Michael Melvill at the wheel.  He was replaced, that was your Captain Brian Binnie thanking you for choosing Spaceship One airlines and reminding you if you look out of the left side of the craft, you can just see Mount St. Helens not erupting.

A sad irony of timing, just as we seem to be on the cusp of manned private space travel, one of the seven original Mercury astronauts has died today.  Gordon Cooper tied in his home, in Ventura, California, aged 77.  He commanded Gemini V and earlier had piloted the last of the Mercury flights solo for 34 hours and 22 orbits around the earth, tripling the previous American record.  Cooper‘s death means only three of the originals are left—Scott Carpenter, John Glenn and Wally Schirra.

Back on this planet, well, not really, we‘re going to do the celebrity news now, back on “Keeping Tabs.”  We would like to warn you, some of what you see next may be disturbing to you.  Two of the New York newspapers, the “Daily News” and the “Post” capturing photographs of Martha Stewart on her last pre-stir vacation.  It‘s not a good thing.  The high doyen of household hints in the Bahamas for a wedding reception described by a newspaper as, “Even stopping to examine pieces of shattered seashells, she sees shattered sea shells.  Soon she‘ll sharp shivs in showers.”

And from the Bahamas we move to Miami University in Ohio.  One of whose recent graduates who just married rocker Billy Joel.  Uh-oh.  The new Mrs. Billy Joel is 23-year-old Katie Lee, also a restaurant correspondent for a television series on PBS and despite the age difference, the series has nothing to do with antiques.  Joel is 55, they got married on Long Island, New York Saturday.  Among the guests, the previous Mrs. Joel, Christie Brinkley.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, police announced today they were investigating a drive-by shooting at the home of Siegfried and Roy.  Nobody injured in the incident on September 21st, but witnesses say a man in a white van fired four shots into the house breaking two windows, leaving a 12-inch hole in the side of the home.  All while shouting that Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn should get out of the country.  It‘s not known if anyone was at home at the time.  Police have issued a warrant for the gunman.  They have not identified him.  Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of Roy Horn‘s near fatal mauling at the paws of his white tiger Manticore who is also not considered a suspect in the shooting, very nice.

Finally perhaps the most famous victim of cinematic violence in movie history is dead.  The actress Janet Leigh died yesterday.  Her long and successful career in Hollywood was largely obscured by the 45-second shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock‘s “Psycho”.  Only 20 of which seconds showed Leigh actually being attacked by Anthony Perkins and at no time was a knife seen penetrating flesh but even she said after that scene, she could no longer take a shower.  Janet Leigh was outstanding in the original “Manchurian Candidate,” also in “A Touch of Evil.”  Her husband reported her two actress daughters, Kelly Curtis and Jamie Lee Curtis were by her mother‘s side, their mother‘s side when she died of vascular disease.  Janet Leigh was 77 years old.

Ahead, a head.  The comb-over.  Think the guy who dreamt this up deserves a Nobel Prize?  Well, he got something close to it.  History‘s lesson...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Which got the actual Nobel Prize and which got the satirical version of it?  Research discovering how people can remember 10,000 different smells or the application of physics, genetics and aerosols that led to the invention of the comb-over?  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight Mr. Science is back with the real awards and the get real awards.  Professor Richard Axel and researcher Linda Buck will split $1.3 million in prize money for their Nobel prize in medicine for comb-overs?  No.  For how and why we recognize scent, which will explain a lot of psychology and, of course, Marcel Proust‘s “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” and of course, Robert Duval loving the smell of napalm in the morning.

You might think that one would go down in the annals of improbable research.  Prizes have already been bestowed, however, at Harvard no less.  Winners including a father-son team whom we can blame for the comb-over.  The inventor, also, of karaoke got one of the awards and a past guest on this program, Jillian Clark, she got one for her study on the five-second food rule.  Mark Abrams is the editor of the “Annals of Improbable Research,” also the author of “The Ig Nobel,” rewarding the world‘s unlikeliest research.  Mr. Abrams, good evening.

MARK ABRAMS, “ANNALS OF IMPROBABLE RESEARCH”:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  So who won the IG Nobel prize for comb-overs and how did you find them and how come they don‘t own the planet from patents?

ABRAMS:  Well, many questions in there.  It was the prize we gave this year in the field of engineering, a father and son team, the father is deceased but the son carries on, about 25 years ago they got a patent with the United States government for the comb-over.

OLBERMANN:  But if there‘s a patent, why aren‘t people paying them royalties?

ABRAMS:  Because they‘re not enforcing the patent rights.

OLBERMANN:  So these are humanitarian—you could have given them...

ABRAMS:  By publicizing this, you may be tempting them to do that.

OLBERMANN:  But for 25 years, they have been worthy of the humanitarian awards as well.

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s one way of looking at it.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I think the people who have that situation and you and I are not in that group, they...

ABRAMS:  No, we‘re special.

OLBERMANN:  Where did this idea for these awards come from?

ABRAMS:  Started these about 14 years ago.  I‘d become the editor of a science magazine, suddenly half the world seemed to be phoning up describing the things they had invented or discovered and asking for advice on how to win a Nobel Prize, which I thought was a pretty strange thing to ask me but a few of them had done things that seemed so—so something—that it was a shame they weren‘t getting some kind of official recognition, so we started the Ig Nobel Prize ceremony.

OLBERMANN:  And you wind up giving the comb-over creators the engineering prize.

ABRAMS:  Well, and many others.  These things are going for—there‘s one criterion, you can win an Ig Nobel Prize for doing something that first makes people laugh and then makes them think.  And that‘s it.  What people think, that‘s up to them.

OLBERMANN:  When you heard today that the Nobel Prize for medicine had actually gone to research into smelling, did you think these Nobel sons of guns are working my side of the street here?

ABRAMS:  Well, it‘s a very complicated street.  The whole history of science is usually taught in terms of what are called “breakthroughs.”  And nothing would ever be called a breakthrough if it hadn‘t seemed pretty crazy and maybe funny beforehand, so the fact something makes you laugh, that doesn‘t really indicate whether it‘s good or bad or valuable or worthless.

OLBERMANN:  They all laughed at the comb-over obviously, so that‘s not a good example...

ABRAMS:  Not all of them.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I‘m going to leave out...

ABRAMS:  They lost what they had and then they laughed.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going to leave out the people that I know and who—

OK.  We‘ll just skip the topic because I can just get myself into more trouble in eight seconds than it‘s worth.

ABRAMS:  A wise decision, I think.

OLBERMANN:  Mark Abrams of the “Annals of Improbable Research” and the Ig Nobel awards.  Ig Nobel.  I want to give it the right pronunciation.  Many thanks.

ABRAMS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  We appreciate your time.  And keep watching the skies. 

For what, I don‘t know.  That‘s COUNTDOWN thanks for being a part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  The show has ended very strangely.  Good night and good luck.

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

END   

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