updated 10/13/2004 10:28:00 AM ET 2004-10-13T14:28:00

Guest: Glynda Chu, Karen Tumulty, Mort Zuckerman


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

Eleven thousand questions for the third Bush-Kerry debate, and they are all from one organization.  The candidates prepare for the tempest in Tempe. 

And the Democrats prepare for war on anti-Kerry film to be show on a string of right-wing stations.  While Michael Moore has something just as nasty for election eve. 

The latest flu epidemic; not the bug yet, just the price gauging. 

And Trent Spencer, super generous.  Desperate to save his marriage, he schemes to look like a hero to his wife by staging a burglary getting her tied up and rescuing her himself.  One problem, she escaped.  Oops. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Good evening, this is Tuesday, October 12, 21 days until the 2004 presidential election, and one day until the last of the three debates.  And as if these past four years have not been indication enough of the divide that is facing this country going into its 53rd election, this stunning fact provided by the man who will moderate tomorrow night‘s gathering. 

Bob Schieffer, says that last week he received a box of questions for the candidates all from one organization, the name of which he cannot remember.  The box weighed 50 pounds. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, Bush/Kerry III: the tempest in Tempe.  How both candidates are preparing.  How anti-Bush and anti-Kerry films are making waves on TV.  And the race to get out the vote. 

First the polls and they are converging again toward the middle.  In the “USA Today”/Gallup poll, tied last week, and Bush plus 8 the week before, it‘s now 49/48 Kerry.  Forty-eight/45 Kerry in the seventeen states deemed most competitive by both parties. 

The “USA Today” interior number, the key one at it‘s lowest point in this poll since July, 47 percent approval of the president.  On the other hand, the Zogby tracing poll for Reuters which yesterday showed Kerry ahead, now shows president having pulled back up into a 45 all tie.  And just to confuse the issue further, newly registered voters are leaning Kerry by seven points.  And it‘s official, there‘s a poll for ever voter.  We may soon mean that literally.  The Rasmussen tracking poll, the president in that one up by just under a point and a half.  In the Sunset poll form the “Washington Post,” so nicked-named because we get to see it around sunset, Kerry down 6 yesterday, 51/45, down three today.  

And if you don‘t like national polls, there are state by state polls for state by state polls.  Quinnipiac University has Kerry 49/47 among likely voters in Pennsylvania.  And somewhat unexpectedly, that Kerry support is stronger than is the president.  Ninety-five percent of his voters say they‘ve decided for good, a little more you can still lose me on the Bush the side. 

And one last one, the effect of the hurricane on Florida‘s undecideds.  Thirteen percent say the president‘s handling of Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, make them more likely to vote for him, 77 percent say it will not impact their decision making at all.

Hurricanes are not likely to be among the domestic issues promised in tomorrow‘s debate, but who knows for sure? 

More likely it will be taxes, welfare and stuff, two things President Bush said were intertwined in John Kerry‘s plans.  He said that as he spoke to supporters in Colorado Springs today.  Mr. Bush added, “I am looking forward to probably spending a little time hopefully on the war on terror” during tomorrow‘s debate.  The president was headed to Arizona for a fund raiser this evening and the debate tomorrow. 

Senator Kerry doesn‘t get to Tempe tomorrow.  In fact, he had no public events today.  He spent the day prepping with two hopeful breaks for a bike ride and to watch tonight‘s Yankees/Red Sox baseball playoff game.  No fair.  I don‘t get to watch it, nobody gets to watch it. 

Besides watching the game, and the president might have an interest too.  Two of his former employees play for the Yankees, Kevin Brown and Ruben Sierra. 

What are these debate preps likely to have been like? 

For informed estimation, we turn to “Time” magazine national political correspondent, Karen Tumulty.  Karen, welcome back, good evening. 


OLBERMANN:  There was a time when we thought the election would be almost entirely about domestic issues, economy, education, healthcare, and that any Democrat would have an edge on the president.  Are Mr. Bush‘s preparation sessions likely to have been designed to develop really strong-sounding answers to potentially really savage questions on those issues? 

TUMULTY:  Well, certainly we‘re moving now into terrain that should be friendly—more friendly to John Kerry.  Because polls consistently show on these domestic issues like healthcare, even the economy, that the Democrats have had an edge.  But what we‘ve seen from the president, and particularly starting with last week‘s debate was a real effort, I think, to just sort of push these domestic issues into two areas.  One is his assertion that John Kerry is liberal and out of the mainstream.  And another is to turn the topics to these hot-button social issues like abortion, gay marriage, that really do excite the Republican base. 

OLBERMANN:  The Kerry camp for most worry is which of those, that Mr.  Bush will be carrying a big foam rubber letter “L” with him on stage and go over and actually hit John Kerry over the head with it? 

TUMULTY:  Right.  I think that is not allowed, specificly not allowed under the 32 pages of debate rules.  But I think one thing they‘ve got to be worried about is the fact that that last week when the topic did get to abortion, that is when Senator Kerry really seemed to lose his focus.  I think, they‘re going to be work being hard making his answers on these social issues far crisper.  And then he is going to be pushing the idea that George Bush is out of touch with the concerns of average Americans and that he is more interested in protecting corporate and his political allies.  So, I think the lines of attack are predictable here. 

OLBERMANN:  But the pre-spin-spin isn‘t—it just apparently has changed.  We heard from Joe Lockhart, from the Kerry camp today, instead of saying as they did before the first one, George Bush never lost a debate.  Or saying before as they did before the second one, George Bush is really good in town hall.  Lockhart said today, and you‘ve been reading already, the pressure is obviously on the president to salvage one debate victor out of the there.   I think, Karen, that‘s rather strong and confident language given what they‘ve been saying for the first two debates. 

TUMULTY:  Well, it is.  And certainly we discovered that the spin is as important almost as the actuality.  So what the Kerry people know is that people are looking at John Kerry, I think, in a different way than they were looking at him before these debates.  And that essentially both, you know, the first two debates, the second one was possibly closer to a draw.  The first one he took it away.  And so they are, A, feeling confident.  And B, trying to push this idea John Kerry is, in fact, a winner. 

OLBERMANN:  And where conversely are the Republicans placing the bar for George Bush tomorrow night?

TUMULTY:  Well, they are, again, going after these social issues and talking about how the president is a plainspoken man.  I think that they are definitely preparing us for a debate if anything is going to be more aggressive, more hostile even than the last one. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, if that is the case, don‘t sit in the front rows and make sure Mr. Schieffer‘s insurance policy is paid up. 

Karen Tumulty, “Time” magazines national political correspondent, as always, Karen, great thanks. 

TUMULTY:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The third man in tomorrow night is Bob Schieffer of CBS News.  We know this much for certain, he will not run out of questions.  Schieffer saying today, he‘s received thousands upon thousands of e-mails and letters containing things to ask Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry.  Eleven thousand of them from one organization in one box weighing 50 pounds.  He says he does not remember who sent it. 

The approximate weight of the words 50 pounds that I will type during tomorrow‘s debate, as COUNTDOWN‘s own blog, bloggermann, makes it‘s debut at msnbc.com.  That‘s Bloggermann with two n‘s.  Almost live round by round scoring of the third and final presidential debate.  Be there aloha. 

For those of you with television, don‘t forget tomorrow‘s special COUNTDOWN to the debate.  All the political news, the non-political, and the political non-news.  Are regular format, not our regular time, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m. Pacific.

And speaking of televisions controversy tonight over the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Groups‘ 62 TV stations in 39 different cities and their plan to cut out the middleman and broadcast an anti-Kerry film at various times between now and election day.  The film is called “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” featuring many of the figures in the swift boat ads.  It alleges that Kerry‘s 1971 Senate testimony was used by North Vietnamese interrogators against American POW‘s.  The Democratic National Committee has already filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission, claiming showing that show the film on what are largely WB and Fox stations from Syracuse to Sacramento is a, “illegal in kind contribution to the Bush/Cheney campaign.”  Eighteen Democratic senators today asked the FCC to investigate the possibility that it was also and improper use of public airwaves.  

Something tonight for everybody.  Something there that will honk off the senator supporters and something else that will frost the beer steins of the president‘s people. 

How about “Fahrenheit 9-11” on pay-per-view television.  That‘s Michael Moore‘s latest plan to cable cast his film along with interviews of celebrities for $9.95 between 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern time Monday November 1.  That‘s right, the eve of the election.  Moore says there is no deal in place—yet. 

So, now you know the real difference between the two parties.  One is pay-per-view and the other is the WB.  Inside the jokes obviously is a seriously gray area between news and party politics.

Joining me now to again discuss the implications of this Mort Zuckerman, the editor-in-chief and publisher of “U.S. News & World Report” and publisher of the “New York Daily News.”  Mort, good evening. 

MORT ZUCKERMAN, “U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT”:  Good evening to you. 

OLBERMANN:  Is the Moore thing less of a danger zone journalistically here because you have to buy it?  You have to go out and actually agree to watch it.  He is not presenting it as news, but the airing of “Stolen Honor” is being presented over the air and served up as essentially unadulterated fact? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I am not sure how the latter is being presented.  I don‘t think we know that yet, whether it is being presented as a point of view or as unadulterated fact.  Certainly Michael Moore‘s documentary, so-called, is not unadulterated fact either.  So I think what we are in for and it‘s just the beginning, we‘re going to have a lot more partisanship on both sides of this particular aisle.  It‘s going to feed its way through the media no matter what anybody wants and no matter what anybody thinks. 

OLBERMANN:  The question of a balance between these two things, the Sinclair people had offered a form of rebuttal here, offering to let Senator Kerry come on and they said they would then ask him tough questions about his military record.  But today their vice president, who is also the chief political commentator said that the broadcast networks should have covered this film as news, they should have done news stories about it and because they didn‘t, quote, referring to the networks, “they are acting like Holocaust deniers.”  Is this still political discourse at this point or has it moved closer to Lyndon (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the American Nazi Party demanding air time? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I have to tell you, I think that language is outrageous.  Comparing that to the Holocaust is like comparing Sumo wrestling to finger exercises.  You just should not involve that kind of language to discuss this kind of an issue.  I do think there is a legitimate way to argue and they should do this that they are going to take whatever it is they are going to take out of this so-called documentary and offer some people the right to rebut it.  That it seems to me it‘s a legitimate issue to talk about what Senator Kerry said way back when. 

There are a lot of people who served in Vietnam who feel very strongly about it.  And it does go to certain issues that they feel are relevant to this man‘s qualifications to be the commander-in-chief.  But there is a rebuttal to it.  And I think if they offer somebody and not just Senator Kerry the chance to rebut it, I think that meets a certain minimum standard.  I also think that if Michael Moore‘s documentary, which I did happen to see, I didn‘t see the other one, if that is treated as a documentary, that is nonsense.  It is a political documentary, it is a political diatribe in many ways and that too deserves to get a response in some way. 

So I think that‘s the journalistic way to handle it without saying that this is just political propaganda on either side.  If it is political propaganda it deserves to be rebutted.  We are going to have a lot of political propaganda between now and the next 21 days. 

OLBERMANN:  But would it be better in either case if it were just political or just philosophical?  Sinclair in particular has been petitioning the FCC to ease the restrictions on crossover ownership between newspapers and TV in a city and the volume of station ownership limits and all sorts of other things that a Democratic FCC chairman would never let happen in a million years.  They have a business interest in how this election turns out. 

ZUCKERMAN:  I think we have a public interest in this ridiculous concentration of ownership of media.  I think it is outrageous what the FCC in terms of allowing the big networks to grab on to more stations and a larger piece of the audience and then to allow them to have more stations in a single market, and then in addition to that to allow them to control newspapers in single markets.  Because when you break down the U.S. Senate, you could have one company controlling all the dominant media in a single state and in many states.  That is an outrageous way to allow the media to be concentrated.  There, I think, the Federal Communications Commission has done a disastrous disservice to the American public.  And to the extent that anybody participates in that in my judgment, I think that is one of the worst things that has been done in this administration. 

OLBERMANN:  And you see how it feeds back on itself...

ZUCKERMAN:  Absolutely.  It just shows you what can happen if you have this number of stations and one ownership. 

OLBERMANN:  Mort Zuckerman, the editor-in-chief and publisher of “U.S.

News & World Report” and we thank you again for your time tonight, sir.

ZUCKERMAN:  It‘s my pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Apropos of the election, all of this is irrelevant because as we know the way to America‘s vote is through its stomach.  And the Republicans have won another food fight.  Albeit, not without controversy.  In the “Family Circle” magazine recipe contest.  Recipe?  In English, that‘s recipe, right?  Laura Bush‘s chocolate chunk cookie plan got 67 percent of the votes cast by readers.  Just 33 percent for Teresa Heinz Kerry‘s pumpkin spice cookies.  However when the contest was originally announced in July Mrs. Kerry said publicly that the pumpkin spice recipe was not hers.  That it had been submitted by somebody in her office.  Quote, “I never made pumpkin cookies.  I don‘t like pumpkin cookies.”

Thus reminiscent of the year 2000, the great cookie recipe vote will have to go to the delectable college. 

How the cookie crumbles on election day will all depend on the turnout.  Getting out the vote, who is better at it? 

And more power to the people.  Three women make a wrong turn inside the capital and walk away with a big promise from a big man.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  In two critical elections in this country‘s history, 1928 and 1960 we were presented with the notion that to elect a Catholic president was to elect a man whose first allegiance was not to the constitution but rather to the pope.  How times have changed.  Our number four story in the COUNTDOWN, 76 years after Al Smith and 44 after John Kennedy, three American Catholic archbishops have now made statements of some kind suggesting to their faithful that a vote for John Kerry is a sin. 

The “New York Times” interviewed Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Colorado

saying that a candidate‘s stance on abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research is everything. 

Chaput asked a series of rhetorical questions about supporting John Kerry, himself a Catholic.  Quote, “if you vote this way are you cooperating in evil and if you know you are cooperating in evil should you go to confession?  The answer is yes.”

The archbishops of Newark and St. Louis also issued similar warnings.  The “National Catholic Reporter” newspaper reported that on a visit to Pope John Paul II earlier this year, President Bush asked Vatican officials for direct assistance in lining up support from American bishops. 

If you want a true image of the undecided, a Catholic who rigorously observes his faith yet wants to vote for John Kerry, we‘ll provide one definition.  But with so few undecideds remaining now, the key three weeks away from today, may turn out to be turnout.  We call places like Ohio swing states because they may wind up going either way, but as our correspondent Ron Allen reports from Columbus, we might also call them that because somebody there is willing to swing by your house and give you a lift to the voting booth. 


RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  While Cory Dolger (ph) battles door-to-door in Columbus...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, we‘re volunteers with the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

ALLEN:  ... in rural Clark County, Betty Kitchen (ph) plans a phone bank for President Bush. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You have got enough people for this evening? 

ALLEN:  Two volunteers in Ohio, where a neck and neck race makes the ground war more urgent.  Both campaigns say they are recruiting volunteers and spending money in unprecedented numbers. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is just too important to sit by.  I have to do this. 

ALLEN:  Making voter contacts, which in a close race could prove decisive. 

HERB ASHER, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY:  The ground game could make perhaps a difference of 3 to 4 percent on election day.  It might even be more on this election day.

ALLEN (on camera):  Back in 2000, President Bush won here by just over 3.5 percent, after watching a larger lead disappear during the final days of the campaign.  Many Republicans believe a superior Democratic ground effort made the race much closer, and they are determined not to let that happen again. 

(voice-over):  Big turnouts tend to help Democrats, so the GOP put Kitchen (ph) to work back in February, with a specific plan. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The first month, we were to get the steering committee together.

We‘re going to run phone banks...

ALLEN:  Her goal, recruit a team of 643 volunteers countywide.  Her incentive, autographed pictures and meeting the president when he came to town. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was awesome. 

ALLEN:  The Democrats insist they‘ve already won a big battle, registering 300,000 new voters.  Much of that done by newly formed independent groups.  Republicans claim 200,000 new voters and challenge the Democrats‘ numbers. 

DAVID BECKWITH, BUSH CAMPAIGN:  They signed up duplicates, and they paid people to get signatures.  Some of them appear to be fraudulent. 

ALLEN:  Some experts estimate about 2.5 million votes could win Ohio.  And Democrats say by August they‘ve identified the voters to get them above that mark. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Somebody in the campaign, whether it be a volunteer, had knocked on their door or had spoken with them over the phone. 

ALLEN:  Look for massive 72-hour pushes leading up to election day, with troops like Kitchen (ph) and Dolger (ph) leading the charge. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Vote early.  We‘re expecting a big turnout on election day.

ALLEN:  Ron Allen, NBC News, Columbus, Ohio. 


OLBERMANN:  And lastly on the voting front, if you think the swift boat stuff was bad, or the questions about the president‘s reserve service, consider the position of Texas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions.  Sessions is opposed now by Democratic Congressman Martin Frost, who was redistricted out of business last year.  Now Frost has said to Sessions, “redistrict this.” 

This is a series of 1974 photos of a streak, conducted by hundreds of students at the college formerly known as Southwest Texas State University.  Among them, 18-year-old freshman Pete Sessions.  His opponent, Frost, says now Congressman Sessions exposed himself to children and strangers. 

I didn‘t know Texas was a swing state. 

Five months old and already got bad credit.  You get no respect.  Good luck getting into college, kids.  Sounds like “Oddball,” and it is.

And a plot to save a marriage instead ruins one man‘s reputation, maybe his career.  At least the police got a few laughs.  Stand by.


OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you.  And it seems that now more than ever, it has become essential to take a few moments to recognize that despite this heated presidential campaign, the rest of the world keeps turning.  And it is a really strange world. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin with Andrew X.  He is five months old, he lives in Bothell, Washington, and according to financial documents, the kid‘s got worse credit than M.C. Hammer.  Because when he was 3 weeks old, that is five lifetimes ago for Andrew, Andrew X was a victim of identity theft.  Someone pretending to be Andrew opened up accounts in his name and has been busy spending, spending, spending.  His parents traced the problem to paperwork filed at the hospital.  Police do have a suspect.  They have yet to track him down.  Police report they are on the lookout for a man in a diaper driving a new Corvette. 

To the crime blotter now and the town of Crystal, Minnesota.  Police there responding to an emergency call last night alerting them that a man dressed as Elvis had fallen down the stairs at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Upon arrival, officials found intoxicated Elvis impersonator Terrence Schultz (ph) on the ground, but when they approached, police say he jumped to his feet, screamed, quote, “praise the Lord and viva Las Vegas” and starting singing show tunes.  Show tunes! 

At the same time, a John Belushi impersonator, 47-year-old Roger Arnison (ph) -- a convincing outfit by the way—bolted from the building, jumped into a stolen car and let police on a high-speed chase that ended in a crash on the runway of the Crystal Airport.  The pseudo-Belushi was arrested for felony auto theft, DIU and evasion.  The semi-Elvis with disorderly conduct, and I just got me a great idea for a buddy road picture. 

And finally, it would not be autumn in America without giant freakish pumpkin contests.  This is the 31st annual Safeway world championships in Half Moon Bay, California.  Competitors travel from up and down the West Coast to compete for the $6,000 grand prize for heaviest gourd.  This year‘s champion was a monster pumpkin from Washington state, weighing in at 1,229 pounds.  Meaning that after they leave it out Halloween night, it will be shriveling continuously for the next 35 years. 

The most powerful man in the House of Representatives has a very unexpected encounter in the halls of Congress.  Now, he‘s got one big promise to live up to. 

Also, the pre-flu chills.  Who is going to vaccinate the doctors against sticker shock over skyrocketing vaccine prices?  These stories ahead.

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.

No. 3: James Abney of Mariana, Florida.  His trailer was a victim of a tornado spawned by Hurricane Ivan.  All that was left was a faucet.  The manufacturers of the faucet, Delta, recognized it as their work, and gave Mr. Abney 10 grand to use as a downpayment on a new home.  That‘s right, Mr. Abney literally lost everything, including the kitchen sink.  But not that faucet.

No. 2: Sheriff‘s deputies in Licking County, Ohio.  They‘re now equipping the country‘s—or the county‘s three police dogs with bulletproof vests.  You know, I thought they had looked like hidden audio receivers, but, apparently, they are bulletproof vests. 

No. 1, France‘s minister of Industry, Patrick Devedjian, who has approved a request from the Movie Operators Federation to install jamming devices in theaters, concert halls and cinemas to block cell phone usage.  Our dispute was with the French are over.  Congratulations. 


OLBERMANN:  While, in some corners, the battle still rages over whether or not Saddam Hussein had or sought the equipment or materials with which to build nuclear weapons of mass destruction, exactly those kinds of materials are disappearing from Iraq now under the less-than-watchful eyes of the new Iraqi government and the U.S.

Our third story on COUNTDOWN, terror there and here.  The International Atomic Energy Agency says that satellite imagery shows that entire buildings inside Iraq have been dismantled.  They used to contain precision equipment used in the construction of nuclear explosives.  Also missing from Iraq, reports the IAEA, electron beam welders and high-strength aluminum.  Saddam Hussein‘s interest in getting high-strength aluminum was one of the cornerstones of the Colin Powell case for war to the U.N.

Movement of any of those materials would require notification to the agency.  Unfortunately, international nuclear inspectors have been banned from Iraq since the fall of the Hussein dictatorship.  Iraq‘s interim technology minister says nothing is missing and the buildings are only being remodeled. 

That government‘s troops, with the support of U.S. Marines today, began a series of predawn raids on seven mosques suspected of harboring insurgents in and around Ramadi.  The military issuing a statement stressing that Marines and soldiers were providing backup for Iraqi soldiers and they did not themselves enter the mosques.  A leading cleric nonetheless called it cowboy behavior and said the Americans—quote—

“have gone out of control.”

And a raid in Fallujah as well leveling the city‘s most popular restaurant, the Haji Hussein.  A U.S. spokesman said, after it was bombed, there were secondary explosions, indicating bombs and other weapons had been stored in the restaurant. 

And the group Human Rights Watch says at least 11 al Qaeda suspects have disappeared in U.S. custody.  It alleges some may have been tortured, in violation of the Geneva Conventions.  The group says the U.S. government has violated international law by refusing to reveal the prisoners‘ locations, or, in some cases, even acknowledging that they are in custody.  Among the so-called ghost prisoners on the Human Rights Watch list, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Ramzi Binalshibh.  The CIA says it has not seen any such report and has declined to comment. 

Back here, eyebrows are in the fixed and raised position after a United States senator today closed his Washington office, then told his constituents not to come to the Capitol between now and the election.  Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton was one of dozens of senators given a classified briefing about Capitol safety in the last few weeks.  He was the only one to then run screaming into the street, figuratively.

“I take this step out of extreme, but necessary, precaution,” he said in a statement today, “to protect the lives and safety of my Senate staff and my Minnesota constituents, who might otherwise be visiting my Senate office in the next three weeks.”

Senator Dayton says he will reopen the Washington office after the election.  Federal security officials tell NBC News they think they know what happened.  The counterterror briefings included a—quote—“worst-case scenario.”  They suspect Senator Dayton did not realize it was a scenario.  Those same officials say there is—quote—“nothing new about any security issues in Washington between now and Election Day.”

It is not all hair-pulling and panic.  It is not even all politics, not even when it comes to the subject of terror raised in that very building, the U.S. Capitol. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins me now for an extraordinary story of the ultimate intersection of the power and the people, an intersection that was totally accidental. 

Monica, good evening. 


It is the story of three women, members of the

9/11 Family Steering Committee, who went to Washington last week in support of the 9/11 intelligence reform bill.  And while walking through the Capitol Building, they lost their way and then found exactly what they were looking for. 


BEVERLY ECKERT, 9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE:  We took this wrong turn and found ourselves in Hastert‘s hallway. 

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  I met with three women who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks. 

ECKERT:  We were very insistent.

HASTERT:  I know the passion that they bring to this debate today. 

ECKERT:  We said, we‘re here.  Can we have a meeting? 

HASTERT:  I have a simple message for them.  We will get this job done. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  They weren‘t supposed to meet with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.  It was literally an accident.  A wrong turn down an unfamiliar hallway in the Capitol led them to his inner sanctum, where the speaker made them an unexpected promise, to get the 9/11 intelligence reform bill to the president by Election Day.  For Carol Ashley, Mary Fetchet and Beverly Eckert, it was divine intervention. 

MARY FETCHET,  9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE:  I don‘t think it was a coincidence.  I feel that our family members that died brought us down that path and are pushing us forward really to do what should be done. 

NOVOTNY:  Since September 11, these women have devoted themselves to making America safer.  Their mission, to put legislation through Congress before November 2, restructuring the intelligence community based on the core recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. 

So when they spotted the speaker last week, they insisted on a meeting.  And though it broke all the rules of Washington bureaucracy, they got it. 

ECKERT:  We don‘t really play by the rules.  We sort of understand what the rules are, but I don‘t think we really sense that they apply to us. 

NOVOTNY:  More surprising than the meeting, the outcome, a pledge to push the 9/11 bill to push the bill through the system in days, not months or years. 

ECKERT:  There was a total commitment that the House would work with the Senate to get a bill on the president‘s desk before the election.  That‘s the promise.

NOVOTNY:  The Senate and the House have passed very different versions of the bill, and though Congress is recessed for the election, the women want a compromise. 

CAROL ASHLEY, 9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE:  Speaker Hastert‘s response was that the controversial issues would not derail the process. 

NOVOTNY:  A response that surprised the women and Washington. 

NBC producer Mike Vicara (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What most congressional observers had thought all along was that the bill would not be done until after the election, when Congress is due to come back for a lame-duck session. 

NOVOTNY:  They held a press conference to announce Hastert‘s pledge. 

FETCHET:  ... remain true to his promise.

NOVOTNY:  But can the speaker keep his word? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The speaker is probably the most powerful man in Congress.  If he really wants to follow through on that promise, in all likelihood, he can do so. 

ASHLEY:  The security of our nation is not a political issue.  And there should just not be any partisan politics involved at all. 

ECKERT:  It would be, I think, politically and morally reprehensible for the speaker to somehow renege on that promise.  I think he owes it to us, to all America and to those who died on September 11. 


NOVOTNY:  Now it is in the hands of Congress.  In order on this promise, a final bill must be negotiated.  And members would have to return to Washington in about two weeks if they hope to get something to the president before the election. 

Clearly, there are challenges ahead, including the fact that both the House and Senate still stand by their respective versions of the bill.  Now, the women are headed to Washington again tomorrow to continue to do whatever they can to see this through. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  What is the difference between the two bills?  What‘s the argument about?

NOVOTNY:  Well, it‘s interesting.  Both the House and Senate at this point have come up with—they‘re following many of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission‘s final report put out there.  So the women are very happy about that. 

However, the House bill goes a few steps further.  There are a few more provisions in there that Republicans say are necessary to make this impactful, but the Democrats are calling some of them Patriot Act provisions.  So, clearly, still a strong debate. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, if they get it done before the election, we‘ve got a second story to go do. 

NOVOTNY:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, many thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  The drug wars, not illegal drugs, legal ones.  Prices for the vile of a flu vaccine hitting $1,000, slightly up.

Also, rocker Tommy Lee heading back to school.  Getting him the degree, though, would be the further thing from his mind.  This is about television.

That‘s ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.



NATALIE MORALES, NBC ANCHOR:  It is now six minutes past the hour. 

Back over the Katie, Lester and Al.

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST:  OK, Natalie, before we get to weather, Joe, pop up Norah O‘Donnell on the monitor.  Do you feel like you‘re watching “The Patty Duke Show”?  Do you ever call each other? 

MORALES:  I told her to make sure tomorrow she knows I‘m wearing Navy blue. 

COURIC:  That‘s funny, isn‘t it?




JAY LENO, HOST:  Hey, did you hear about this?  Martha Stewart got her first visitor in prison today.  The bad news, she was in the shower at the time. 


LENO:  Yes. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I tell people, and this is true—I think it‘s true, it‘s got some truth to it, at least—either when I asked her or shortly thereafter, Laura said, You know, I never want to have to give a political speech.  I‘ll marry you, but I don‘t want to give a speech. 

I said, OK.  You got a deal.  But fortunately, she didn‘t hold me to the deal. 



OLBERMANN:  Flu shots costing an arm and leg, Michael Jackson perhaps suing Eminem, and one man‘s mission to save his marriage ends with him facing police charges. 


OLBERMANN:  With half of the nation‘s flu supply vaccine suddenly up in smoke or in contamination in England, the government began to do what it could with the situation, prioritize.  And the private sector began to do what it could with the situation, price-gouge. 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, paying more and enjoying it less and the government‘s attempt to circumvent the whole process by allowing manufacturers to ship the children‘s supply directly to pediatricians.  The unconscionable profits in a moment.

First, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this afternoon about prioritization. 


DR. JULIE GERBERDING, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL:  Planning in this first phase of allocation to ensure that high-risk children and the vaccines for children program will receive vaccine.  But we also will be prioritizing the seniors over age 65 and older who have not yet been included in the vaccine catchment. 


OLBERMANN:  A week since the shortage came into play, a week for the government to respond, a week for private business to respond.  One Kansas City pharmacy reporting that as soon as the shortage was revealed, the price from its distributors for 10-dose vial jumped from $100 to $900. 

As our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports, that is anything but isolated. 


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Across the country, people at higher risk are rushing to get their flu shots.  But, in some states, like Colorado, the shortage of vaccine has caused some clinics to turn people away.  And now some fear what little supply is left is being marked up, way up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  While I was on the phone with a person, the price went up $150 just while I was on the phone. 

TIBBLES:  This Colorado pharmacy buyer only wants to use his first name, Scott.  He says he‘s blowing the whistle on what he calls the vaccine gray market, where some vials now sell for over $1,000, 10 times the original price. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For somebody that might not get a flu shot because they can‘t afford it and die from it is just—it‘s just not right. 

TIBBLES:  Englewood, Colorado‘s Dr. Holbrooke‘s (ph) staff says the notion of profiteering at a time when the elderly, young or infirm are in need is wrong. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That is an immoral thing to do.  We are hurting the population that needs this most. 

TIBBLES:  Colorado was ground zero of the flu epidemic last year, over 12,000 reported cases, 600 deaths, 12 of them children. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As a physician and a parent, it makes you angry. 

How could it not? 

TIBBLES:  What many doctors are now asking is whether insurance plans or Medicare will boost their coverage to help pay for a flu vaccine that all of a sudden is worth its weight in gold. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago. 


OLBERMANN:  Did somebody say immoral?  Must be time to that segue from the second story to our celebrity news roundup, “Keeping Tabs.”

And with whom better to start than rocker Tommy Lee?  The former Mr.  Pamela Anderson heading to the University of Nebraska today to start taking classes in chemistry, literature and the history of rock ‘n‘ roll.  No, he‘s not going for a degree.  He is going for ratings.  This is part of an upcoming NBC reality series.  And on Monday, the former Motley Crue will try out for Nebraska‘s University marching band, and then cheerleading practice. 

Just in case you need news of more people who can make your skin squirm, there is the potential lawsuit pitting Michael Jackson vs. rapper Eminem.  By God, who do you root for in that one, the bailiff?  The rapper‘s newest video, “Just Lose It,” depicts him as a Jackson-esque character whose nose falls off his face and who is shown sitting on a bed with children bouncing on it behind him. 

Jackson says, if the production is not withdrawn, he will sue.  Over the weekend, the video began airing on MTV and VH-1.  Wait a minute, they air videos on MTV?  How could this not have been tonight‘s No. 1 story?

And the on again-off again Princess Diana memorial fountain is off again, literally.  Opened on July 6 at a cost of $6.5 million, it was closed July 22 after visitors had begun to let their dogs play in the water and change their baby‘s diapers in it.  The fountain reopened on the 20th of August, but despite guards, warning and a less slick rock surface, the place still had one problem, visitors, too many of them. 

They splashed so much water into the park around the fountain that it became permanently soggy and muddy.  Now the whole thing is closed again indefinitely while they figure out what, if anything, to do next. 

What we‘ll do next, tonight‘s No. 1 story.  How can a robbery plot save a marriage?  Well, it can‘t.  And that‘s a lesson this man knows all too well right now.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN:  If you could somehow reclaim all the energy men have wasted in harebrained schemes to impress women, you would have enough to put every gas station and power plant on Earth out of business for a millennium, at least. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, there goes another 22 kilowatt hours in Edmond, Oklahoma.  In an apparent effort to save a troubled marriage, Mr. Trent Spencer, a teacher in this affluence suburb of Oklahoma City, convinced two of his students to break into his home and duct-tape his wife and start to steal their stereo.  At that point, Mr. Spencer would suddenly appear at the house, hit one of the kids with a plank of wood, scare them off, be a hero to the Mrs., all this costing him just $200, $100 each for the students, plus the cost of the wood, and now the cost of a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report.  Spencer for hire, indeed. 

A spokeswoman for the Edmond Police Department, Glynda Chu, was called to the scene as this sad tale of desperation unfolded. 

Ms. Chu, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

GLYNDA CHU, EDMOND POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Thank you, Keith.  I am impressed when my husband makes me coffee.  So this was way over the top. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I guess.

This “I will save you honey” business would have worked, except for one small detail, as I gather it.  What was the one small detail? 

CHU:  He really didn‘t count on his wife fighting back.  He didn‘t think this through, obviously, because he thought that he would just rush back in and be her hero and really save his troubled marriage and she would just be all in love with him again. 

And he just didn‘t count that she would get free of the duct tape and call 911.  And, basically, that is what happened here.  While he was out allegedly chasing the bad guys, she was untying herself and—because they were only high school students.  So they hadn‘t tied her up very well.  And they thought it was a big joke anyway.  They didn‘t really realize what he was doing at all.  They were convinced that it was just a prank, that he was their teacher and they really trusted him. 

And so she got free, called 911.  Two shifts of police officers, a canine dog, myself, we were all out there until all hours of the night looking for the suspects.  The neighbors were panicky.  The neighbors got so panicked that many of them went out the next day and bought really expensive alarm systems.  So...


CHU:  I know.  So it just kind of snowballed.  And he had no idea what to do.  And I was out there that night and spoke with the couple.  And she was very, visibly upset, as you would be if somebody had broke into your house and duct-taped you. 

OLBERMANN:  Sure.  Yes. 

CHU:  And he was very—kind of quiet and really wouldn‘t look at me.  And I thought, well, maybe—everybody handles things differently.  So—but I would have been more like she was, pretty panicked.

But then it was like, overnight, he thought about it and the next day he called the police department, about 8:30 the next morning, and said, you know, I made the whole thing up.  I am really sorry.  I had no idea it was going to go this far.  And I just—I don‘t want the kids to get into any trouble.  And I just wanted to be a hero in her eyes.  And, you know...

OLBERMANN:  Is that it? 


CHU:  I think diamonds are still—are a girl‘s best friend. 

OLBERMANN:  They are a girl‘s best friend. 


OLBERMANN:  But you don‘t then stage a fake robbery to get them back. 

CHU:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  But what happened—so, did anything happen to these boys, the kids? 

CHU:  Not the kids because they are only 17 and 18 years old.  They are still high school students at that high school where he was a teacher. 

And we really—they didn‘t know what they were—they believed their teacher that it was just a prank, just a joke.  And they had no idea that they were going to be in trouble, that this was a criminal offense and that it was going to turn into this. 

Another thing that this teacher didn‘t really think through is, his wife didn‘t know about this.  And he really underestimated her.  And she could have had some scissors handy.  She could have stabbed one of these kids. 


CHU:  We could have gotten there really a little bit earlier. 

OLBERMANN:  It would have been a very serious...

CHU:  And if we had seen guys running in ski masks, we could have shot them. 


OLBERMANN:  So I guess—but my last question here in the 30 seconds or so that I have remaining here, is, do we know what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Spencer?  As harebrained a scheme as this is, sometimes this stuff works.  Did it work?  Does she feel sorry for him? 

CHU:  You know, I don‘t think so. 


CHU:  I don‘t think so.  I think it was already on rocky ground.  And I think she probably felt sorry for him.


CHU:  But I‘m not sure that she wants to be married to someone like this.  I‘m not sure she—you know, last I heard, she was very unhappy and obviously very embarrassed.  The neighbors were mad at them.  And he lost his job.  He went ahead and he quit his job.  So, hopefully, it will be better .

OLBERMANN:  Just because it got national TV attention.  I can‘t imagine why anybody would be upset with that.

Glynda Chu from the Edmond, Oklahoma, Police Department, thanks for your time tonight.  And as dumb as this one was, it‘s really too bad they‘re not all just dim-witted husbands trying to impress the Mrs. 

Thanks again. 

CHU:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it. 

Don‘t forget, we‘ll see you tomorrow at 6:00 Eastern, 3:00 Pacific, for the COUNTDOWN to the debate.

In the interim, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.  



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