updated 10/15/2004 10:35:04 AM ET 2004-10-15T14:35:04

Guests: John Kelly, Michael Wolff, Bill Bradbury, Dana Milbank

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  And now, they belong to the ages. 

The debates are history.  How much history did they make?  How much history quoted was made up and who if anybody won? 

There are no winners here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bad day.  Bad day for me. 

OLBERMANN:  O‘Reillygate day two.  This is a loofa.  And this is a falafel.  And could this be a producer with an axe to grind? 

Life can be a grind if you have a bad credit rating before you have a vocabulary.  We‘ll meet the parents of Andrew who owed $94 at age four weeks.

And can I get that seat for you, miss?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Thursday, October 14.  Nineteen days until the 2004 presidential election.  The first one ever to be held under the shadow of a television news commentator claiming that his private life and his inability to tell the difference between a loofa sponge and a falafel had been exposed in the nation‘s justice system as part of a political conspiracy to alter the outcome of the presidential balloting.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the falafel factor coming up in just a bit.  Right now the COUNTDOWN and the falafel will wait because first try as it may have been, indicative as it may have been of the usefulness of two debates but not three.  The last head to head meeting of the presidential candidates finished up their debating 24 hours ago. 

And they merit analysis.  A clear majority of debate watchers surveyed by Gallup for “USA Today” believe Senator Kerry won last night, compared to 39 percent for President Bush.  In an ABC News instapoll, a statistical dead heat.  42 Kerry.  41 Bush.  That 1 percent win might be significant if you factor in the make-up of those surveyed.  38 percent Republican.  30 percent Democrat.  Nearly as many identifying themselves as Independent. 

CBS News limiting its surveys to uncommitted voters.  39 percent of whom declared Kerry the winner, 36 percent felt it was a tie.  That was well ahead of the 25 percent favoring the president.

Back to the familiar scores table, judging it round by round, we called it Kerry 12, Bush five rounds.  Even four.  Although the chief scorer was not all that captivated by anybody out there.  That‘s the debate. 

Now the horse race at large.  The two-day log jam in the Zogby daily tracking poll for Reuters jammed no more.  The president picking up 1 percent today.  While in the “Washington Post” daily survey, Senator Kerry, having yesterday rallied to a one-point lead in that poll.  Today that lead such as it was erased.  The candidates even at 48-all. 

The numbers give you no idea of the degree to which predebate analysis failed and flailed.  This was to be the debate in which George Bush hit John Kerry over the head with that word “liberal” until the senator‘s hair actually moved.  Mr. Bush used the term only once and that was one hour and one minute after Bob Schieffer called the candidates to order.  Even synonyms, references to the left bank, were limited to three or four. 

The cornerstone of Mr. Bush‘s stump speech is about Kerry‘s record.  He can run but he can‘t hide entirely absent from the debate.  Presumably a coincidence that it vanished right after MSNBC‘s Craig Crawford pointed out that this was the exact phrase the president had used about Osama bin Laden. 

The gloves clearly were on.  Some critics, even some supporters have said they saw three different George Bush in the three different debates.  We know this.  Last night‘s smiling, controlled, happy,, joy, president who largely eclipsed the podium smacking president who did break through once or twice.  He was the one who made it on to Air Force One today.  And it did what he has not done in years.  Gone back to affably play with the media corps, dragging what seemed to be an unwilling John McCain with him, answering questions about the polls. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The voters will decide.  They‘ll decide on November 2 who they want to be the president.  Thank you.  Good to see you, Dan.  Get a smile on your face, everybody.  19 days left. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If we have learned anything during the past 14 days it is this, trust no one.  Just because a candidate has trotted out a version of history, a figure, a charge, a counter charge, and said it with conviction and/or authority, that does not mean it is true.  We not only heard some new inaccuracies in debate number three but both candidates somehow managed to repeat many of the same misstatements they had trotted out in the first two debates. 

Eyebrows everywhere inching upwards last night only minutes in during an exchange concerning the war on terror.  First what was said last night, followed by what the president had to say about Osama bin Laden in March, 2002. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Six months after he said Osama bin Laden must be caught dead or alive, this president was asked where is Osama bin Laden?  He said I don‘t know.  I don‘t really think about him very much.  I‘m not that concerned.  We need a president who stays deadly focused on the real war on terror. 

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  Mr. President? 

BUSH:  Gosh.  I don‘t think I ever said I‘m not worried about Osama bin Laden.  That‘s kind of one of those exaggerations. 

BUSH:  I don‘t know where he is.  I just don‘t spend that much time on it.  I repeat what I said.  I truly am not that concerned about him. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Here to help us referee the misstatements and oh, so many others, our own Craig Crawford also a columnist for “Congressional Quarterly.”  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  I don‘t know whether I need green eye shade or a shovel.  Maybe both. 

OLBERMANN:  The Osama stuff speaks for itself.  We had a very ripped from today‘s headlines kind of truth foul last night, too when the president was asked to explain the sudden shortage of flu vaccine.  Let‘s listen to the tape first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We relied upon a company out of England to provide about half of the flu vaccines for United States citizens, and it turned out the vaccine they were producing was contaminated. 

We have a problem with litigation in the United States of America.  Vaccine manufacturers are worried about getting sued and so therefore, they have backed off from providing this kind of vaccine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Craig, there were two things wrong in the vaccine story in there.  Correct? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, he gave the impression of a student who had crammed all night in his oral exams, tried to get the facts out.  It was not a British company quite like he said it.  It was a California company with a factory in Britain.  And the British authorities are the ones who stopped the inflow because of contamination.  That was one problem.  As far as the litigation stuff, very few experts will say that that is the problem with the vaccines not being available is lawsuits.  In fact, the president has banned the lawsuits in some circumstances.  But somehow this president, every time he talks about health care, it ends up at lawsuit reform.  Doesn‘t it? 

OLBERMANN:  We had everything but the OB-GYNS coming. 

They‘re not giving out those vaccines that they love.  There was a foul upon a foul here.  Senator Kerry said Mr. Bush was a president who has not met with the Black Congressional Caucus.  Mr. Bush immediately criticized Senator Kerry for saying that because he had met with the caucus.  A, Kerry got the name of the group wrong.  B, the president didn‘t do so well on the subject either, did he? 

CRAWFORD:  This is an example for black voters out there.  They‘re often very frustrated because the Democrats take them for granted and the Republicans ignore them because they are reliable Democratic voters.  And Kerry is sometimes a little—he has a bit of a tin ear for the Democratic African-American politics. 

And he did get the name of the group wrong.  It is Congressional Black Caucus, not the Black Congressional Caucus.  Somebody like Bill Clinton would not get that wrong.  The president did meet one time with that caucus shortly after inauguration, the full caucus.  He met with a few members later.  He turned down six invitations since then.  So I think neither one of them came out too far ahead on this score. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s like saying he spent a lot of time with Al Gore.  The most egregious blooper from Senator Kerry last night would have been his claim that half a million kids lost afterschool programs.  That didn‘t hold up very well in the truth test afterwards, did it? 

CRAWFORD:  No.  As Mark Twain said, the truth is a precious commodity which is why we use it so sparingly.  I‘m not real sure where Kerry was going with this one.  A much better attack would have been to say the president tried to cut $400 million from these programs.  Congress didn‘t go along with that.  But it simply isn‘t the case that half a million kids are out of that program.  There isn‘t any evidence that any of them are.  It has stayed on track under the Bush administration. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly.” 

Good enough to truth squad for us tonight on getaway day after the debate. 

CRAWFORD:  Good thing I packed my shovel. 

OLBERMANN:  Useful at all times in politics. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  From Craig, we go to the newsroom in the “Washington Post” and its White House correspondent Dana Milbank to assess the overall effect of last night‘s debate.  Dana, thanks for your time.  Good evening.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it fair to say that whatever else that debate was or was not last night, the reaction to it pretty much has been all about President Bush and very little to do with John Kerry? 

MILBANK:  It is absolutely true.  That is the microcosm of this campaign.  At all times, when a president is running for reelection it is a referendum on his presidency.  There‘s no question about that.  In this case, Bush is particularly a polarizing figure.  I noted earlier this week, I had spent some time on the trail with both candidates.  The Bush crowds love him.  It is like a rock star.  It‘s almost messianic.  The Kerry folks, they like Kerry OK.  But the only reason they really feel passionate about him is because they think he can beat Bush who they really hate.  So even the Kerry folks only like him as a vessel for defeating Bush.  That‘s why last night‘s debate was again and again all about Bush. 

OLBERMANN:  Is that the reason what you‘ve experienced at these crowds, was that the reason, not that neither of them was especially defensive last night, necessarily, but they were clearly both playing defense last night.  They were playing very conservatively, answering very conservatively.  Is that somehow connected to those responses out there in real life? 

MILBANK:  Partially.  I think it is even more connected to the fact that going into this debate, unlike going into the first debate, you actually have a virtual tie in the polls.  Neither side wants to make a mistake. 

You can win the debate or lose the debate marginally.  And things won‘t change very much.  But if you really fall on your face, the election is over. 

So both sides, realizing that things are so close, are trying not to allow that to happen.  The first debate was more interesting, because John Kerry had very little to lose.  And so he came in and he hit it out of the park in that one.  And now they‘re just trying to bunt. 

OLBERMANN:  This last question might be a little broad.  But if you had say, 90 seconds, which is in fact what you have, to summarize the impact of all three of these debates on the race, on the President Bush, and on Senator Kerry, what would your headlines be for those 90 seconds? 

MILBANK:  I would give you one word.  Misunderestimated.  We‘ve applied this to President Bush forever.  For the first time now, it can really be applied to John Kerry.  Bush was so effective at demonizing Kerry in the spring and the summer, people thought he was so wishy washy and flip-flopping all over the place, that he couldn‘t string a sentence together or keep up any sort of coherent view.  What that had the effect of doing is lowering expectations for Kerry.  So much like Bush was when he faced Al Gore in 2000. 

So, just by standing there and not drooling and not tripping, suddenly people said, this isn‘t a monster, this isn‘t an ogre, he‘s a human being.  His favorability ratings shot up.  Suddenly, even without really clobbering Bush, he is right back in contention. 

OLBERMANN:  Quickly, if John Kerry wins this election, will we say it was largely or entirely due to the debates? 

MILBANK:  Barring things otherwise, you would have to say it is entirely because of the debates that he‘s back in this race.  And if he wins, that will be the reason. 

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank, White House correspondent for the “Washington Post.”  As always, many thanks for your time, sir. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There was another tempest in a tea pot last night, but it was kind of hard to figure out the prominence it got.  Last night, responding after the president had been asked if he thought homosexuality was a choice, Senator Kerry mentioned Mary Cheney. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re all God‘s children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney‘s daughter who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she‘s being who she was.  She‘s being who she was born as.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  On August 24, in a town hall in Michigan, Vice President Cheney answered a question about same sex marriage by saying, Lynn and I have a gay daughter.  During the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Cheney and Senator Edwards were asked about the issue, specifically about Mr. Cheney‘s daughter.  They not only both discussed it, but that discussion provided the warmest moment of the debate.  But Kerry‘s referencing it last night just ticked Mrs. Cheney off. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNN CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY‘S WIFE:  This is not a good man.  This is an good man.  And of course I‘m speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom.  This is not a good man.  What a cheap and tawdry political trick!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Kerry‘s day after response, quote, “I love my daughters, they, the Cheney‘s, love their daughter.  I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue.” 

And as to Mrs. Cheney‘s opposite number. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS‘ WIFE:  “Lynne Cheney has been, I think, a wonderful advocate for her daughter in so many respects that she has overreacted this, and treated it as if it is shameful to have this discussion.  I think that‘s a very sad state of affairs. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It was a domestic debate last night, but Iraq inevitably worked its way into that debate, just as it inevitably works its way into our daily lives.  At least 3 more American lives ended today in Baghdad,  continuing a series of most worrisome events.  Insurgents actually got into the so-called green zone and detonated explosives at a market and a heavily trafficked cafe today. 

According to the State Department, 3 Americans among the 5 confirmed killed, and an American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the city‘s Eastern sector today, bringing the Defense Department figure to the total of American war casualties to 1,081. 

Democracy coming painfully to Iraq.  And minus the violence, it seems as painful here.  Oregon‘s battle against registration shenanigans.  And the COUNTDOWN factor, or, the factor COUNTDOWN.  “bill O‘Reilley says today is the worst day of his life.  He may just not be giving tomorrow enough credit.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Making your vote count.  The good news from Oregon is that 200,000 more people may have registered to vote in the presidential election 19 days hence, than did there in 2000.  Meaning perhaps as many as 4 out of 5 eligible voters will have done so. 

In our fought story on the COUNTDOWN, though, the bad news is Oregon may be the hot spot for registration problems.  It started Tuesday night.  At least the reportage of it did when a local TV station, KGW, interviewed a canvasser who said he only got paid for turning in Republican signatures and would consider destroying cards filled out by Democrats. 

Then in Nevada, reports that Voters Outreach, a company run by Spreull and associates, and under contract for the Republican National Committee, was ripping up Democratic registrations. 

Now, the Associated Press citing an Oregon County clerk who says voters have complained to him that people from Voters Outreach pushed them to register Republican and implied that their cards would not be turned in if they registered as Democrats.  Bill Bradbury, Oregon secretary of state joining us now from Portland.  Thank you for your time, Mr. Secretary. 

BILL BRADBURY, OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE:  It‘s a pleasure to be here. 

Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  I know you can‘t reveal too much, because it is an investigation that is ongoing.  But what can you tell us about how you‘re investigating the registration problem in your state tonight? 

BRADBURY:  I can tell you that 3 specific complaints have been filed. 

Those complaints do involve Spruell and concerns about voter registration.  The attorney general has initiated an investigation of the problems.  And there are criminal investigations, because doing the kinds of things that are alleged in terms of voter registration, can be a class C felony. 

OLBERMANN:  How big a problem do you think this is going to turn out to be on November 2, not just in Oregon but judging by what you can tell from your colleagues around the country nationally? 

BRADBURY:  Well, I don‘t know yet.  And that‘s partly why we‘re doing the investigation.  I don‘t know whether it is some isolated instances where people really were violating the law, driven by what I call a bounty system where they get paid by signature, or whether it is a larger problem that was driven really from the top by the company doing it.  And we just don‘t know that yet.  And I‘m certainly not going to make any claims, because we don‘t know.  And that‘s why we investigate. 

OLBERMANN:  To the degree that it is a problem, presuming that it is, what can be done about it long term? 

Do we have to eliminate voter registration at anything but government offices, is that the only solution? 

BRADBURY:  No.  I don‘t think so.  I think the real problem from Oregon‘s standpoint is what I call the bounty system.  Where basically, people are paid by registration, and in this case, they were paid by Republican registration.  But it could be the other side, too.  It could be being paid by Democratic registration.  That creates an incredible incentive for people in the field to commit fraud.  And we‘ve dealt with that in Oregon.  We had—we used to allow people to get paid by the signature to collect initiative petition signatures.  And the people were fed up with the fraud and they enacted a ballot measure in this state that said, you can‘t pay by the signature for initiative petitions.  You can pay people by the hour, but you cannot pay by the signature.  And we‘ve seen a dramatic decline in signature collection fraud because of that.  Maybe the same thing should be applied to voter registration and other kinds of circulating efforts. 

OLBERMANN:  Sound like an effective and potentially quick solution to it.  Bill Bradbury, the Oregon secretary of state.  Thanks for the information and thank you for your time tonight. 

BRADBURY:  All right.  Pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  The time in O‘Reillygate is day two.  Attorney John Q.  Kelly on the legalities, media critic Michael Wolf on the implication, batteries not included. 

And from the headlines and devices that can shock to the headlines that are shockingly weird. 

Who is this man, Watson?  “Oddball” is next here on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and just in time to pause the COUNTDOWN for another visit to the toy box of news—no I‘m not talking about Bill O‘Reilly‘s travel bag, lets play “Oddball.”

We begin with a case Sherlock Holmes and the big city bike ride down under.  Actually, that is British Leukemia survivor Lloyd Scott dressed as Holmes.  Well, Holmes never had a mustache.  You may remember Mr. Scott, in 2002, he walked the New York City Marathon in a vintage deep sea driver‘s suit.  It took him five days, nearly.  Now he is peddling across Australia on a bicycle older than the country itself, a Penny Farthing Cycle, built inn 1885, six years before Australian independence.  It may be old, but Scott has greased the chain and filled the tires with hopes he‘ll make it through the 2,700 miles from Perth to Sydney.  Unless that mustache leap off his face and eats him. 

To Moscow now for the big annual strong man competition.  Mere feats of strength alone not enough, you‘ve also got to be entertaining, such as lifting a chair with a woman sitting on it with your teeth.  Which is why Omar Conchev (ph) may not have won the event, but he certainly was the crowd favorite.  And friend, stunt is impressive on so many different levels.  And wait for it, wait for it—that‘s it.

Finally, to India, where the dating scene is so bad, even the dogs are turning to the Internet.  A Web site has been set up for pups of all pedigrees to meet their four-legged soul mates through online ads and picture.  Single black lab seeks frisky friend for possible long term relationship and mating.  Lab enjoys long walks on a leash, chasing cars and sniffing rear ends.  No smokers, no mutts. 

We continue our COUNTDOWN tonight to O‘Reilly-gate.  He said he‘s prepared to lose his career to fight the harassment allegation leveled against him by one of his producers.  OK.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top Three News Makers” of this day. 

Number three, the Ferrari car company is going to make the new pope mobile for John Paul II.  He is 84.  He‘s got Parkinson‘s.  He‘s the pope.  He‘s getting a new Ferrari.  It is the thought that counts. 

Number two, Wal-Mart, making more friends across America.  It‘s opened a store in Honolulu that it acknowledges was built atop ancient native Hawaiian burial grounds.  Said a spokeswoman, the company disinterred the remains and placed them in an air conditioned darkened trailer in a secure location.  Good. 

Number one, Katherine Williams (ph) of Spring Hill, Tennessee.  She was cited by police in a local flea market when they found her selling a yellow ducky sponge.  The little ducky vibrates.  She said it‘s just a child‘s toy.  Police will not prosecute, but Miss Williams has been told to expect a phone call from Mr. O‘Reilly of New York. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The man who syndicates Bill O‘Reilly‘s newspaper column says he‘s standing by the commentator, that the sexual harassment lawsuit against O‘Reilly is politically motivated, that O‘Reilly‘s family is very important to O‘Reilly, and that—quote—“O‘Reilly is a big target.”  The Andrea Mackris suit against O‘Reilly claims he made her listen as he talked about just how big a target he really is.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the falafel factor.  And that

reference is to another part of the purported taped conversations between

the Fox commentator and the associated producer in which he allegedly talks about showering with a woman and employing a loofah sponge and then inexplicable refers to it again not as a loofah, but as a falafel. 

In a moment, Michael Wolff of “Vanity Fair” and why this matters, assuming it does, and attorney John Q. Kelly on the legal landscape and his own experiences with the lawyer handling that suit against O‘Reilly. 

First, it‘s your entertainment dollars in action, day two of the Bill O‘Reilly investigations.  Love him or hate him, he had a big enough target to still go out in public today to promote a children‘s book in the middle of a sexual harassment investigation and allegation scandal.  He called this the worst day of his life. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS:  A short time ago, this came into Fox and they want $60 million.  Now, just think about that.  The 9/11 families didn‘t get anywhere near that -- $60 million because O‘Reilly did X, Y and Z.  And I‘m looking at this and I‘m going, enough.  Enough.  Now, if I have to go down, I‘m willing to do it.  But I‘ve got to make a stand.  I‘m a bit mouth on the air.  I‘m a big mouth off the air. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One of the biggest questions facing the 33-year-old Fox News associate producer accusing him of using the big mouth on the phone against her will is her career path.  After four years with O‘Reilly‘s show, she left Fox for CNN in January of this year, only to return to Fox five or six months later and in so doing personally negotiating her salary with O‘Reilly. 

Andrea Mackris and her attorney appearing this morning on “The Today Show” to discuss the suit.  For the sake of full disclosure, Ms. Mackris she used to also work for NBC News.  And in one of the few times her lawyer permitted her to speak this morning, she explained why she decided to file. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MACKRIS, ACCUSER:  When this inappropriate conversation had happened, the last time, he said it was going to be in person, and I felt extremely threatened for many reasons. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That, allegedly, just over two months ago. 

Do the accusations past the smell or, in this case, the falafel test?  Could O‘Reilly‘s odd response, not a denial, nor an explanation, but an accusation that he‘s being targeted politically by an attorney connected to Democrats in hopes of influencing the presidential election possibly be true? 

I‘m joined now by John Q. Kelly, defense attorney, former prosecutor who once handled a case in opposition to that lawyer, Benedict Morelli. 

John, welcome back.  Good evening.

JOHN Q. KELLY, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Hey, Keith.  How you doing?

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with Mr. Morelli and this prospect that this is political water carrying.  Your assessment of that possibility and of the attorney himself? 

(CROSSTALK)

KELLY:  Well, it is obviously a play for big bucks.  He wanted to get a quick hit.  He laid the groundwork.  And when he didn‘t get money he wanted, he went ahead and filed suit. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it possible, as O‘Reilly answers this, that this is because he is connected to the Democrats, that is, Morelli is, and that is what this is timed to try to impact the presidential election?

KELLY:  No, I don‘t think there‘s much weight or credence to that. 

I think it is a clear play for money.  I think they knew he was a very pro high-profile public figure.  They thought they could embarrass him into a substantial settlement.  And that‘s what they were looking for, a quick hit with very little work and a lot of money to gain from it. 

OLBERMANN:  A question about the accuser‘s actions in this, which I can‘t follow this precisely. 

Leaves O‘Reilly, goes back to work for O‘Reilly, sues O‘Reilly.  Does that follow any kind of pattern for sexual harassment in your experience?  Or does it better fit a setup of some kind? 

KELLY:  Well, sort of a setup.  There is—you mentioned it before—the smell test, Keith.  And it has problems passing that.  She left and came back after he had supposedly engaged in boorish behavior before she left much.  She put herself in a position where she was alone in person with him. 

She had drinks with him on several occasions.  She goes out to dinner with him on several occasions.  She took his phone calls.  She answered his phone calls and she clearly never hung up the phone during the course of these rather lengthy alleged conversations, too.  So, one, either she had her hands tied with the phone to her ear or she was tape-recording it and doing something else and building a case. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we haven‘t heard about the hands tied to the—yet, but that may come up later. 

KELLY:  It could, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And this, goodness knows, is going to be—this story is going to around for a while. 

But the $64,000 question about this whole thing, Fox was to seek a court order today asking that any evidence, including what are believed to exist, tapes of these conversations, should be made public, presumably because they are convinced that the tapes would either show O‘Reilly didn‘t say or do any of this or that they would show perhaps that this woman, Ms.  Mackris, was a willing participant in the conversations. 

But how would Fox know this?  Who could their source be if not Bill O‘Reilly?  And, last year, it was Bill O‘Reilly who talked them somehow into suing Al Franken, which was an utter disaster for them.  What if O‘Reilly is wrong he is deluding himself on this?

KELLY:  Well, first of all, I think Fox had a certain comfort level knowing that no court is going to order those tapes, if they do exist, be made public right away or be turned over right away.

During the course of the litigation, they‘ll be turned over and Fox will have the option themselves at some point making them public.  So they really were at no risk of that happening right now.  And I think the actions and their lawsuit as a whole was just—was P.R., spin control, quite frankly.  They wanted to show they had sexual harassment guidelines in place.  They wanted to show this woman never availed herself of them and that this is basically about money, big money.

OLBERMANN:  The noted criminal defense attorney John Q. Kelly, thank

you, sir, for the very useful legal background on this

(CROSSTALK)    

KELLY:  Sure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  If this actually rises above the level of a very expensive he said/she said, if it is more than just a sexual harassment case or more than just about the money, it will be because of quotes buried deep in the 22-page-long suit filed by Ms. Mackris against O‘Reilly. 

Speaking of a theoretical harassment suit by another woman, O‘Reilly reportedly told his producer: “If you cross Fox News Channel, it‘s not just me, it‘s [Fox President] Roger Ailes who will go after you.  I‘m the street guy out front, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day, bam, the person gets what‘s coming to them but never sees it coming.  Look at Al Franken.  One day he‘s going to get a knock on his door and life as he‘s known it will change forever.  That day will happen.  Trust me.  Ailes knows very powerful people and this goes all the way to the top.”

Mackris claims she asked O‘Reilly, to the top of what?  And he replied: “Top of the country.  Just look at who‘s on the cover of Franken‘s book.  They‘re watching him and will be for years.  He‘s finished, and he‘s going to be sorry he ever took Fox News Channel on.”  Actually, I think Franken said he‘s sorry he ever put Fox News Channel on.

So to borrow a phrase familiar to you watching this hour on this hour on this network six years ago, it is not about the sex.  Well, maybe it is.  But there might be more meaning here.

To help us try to assess what and how much, Michael Wolff, columnist, contributing editor for “Vanity Fair” magazine and author of “Autumn of the Moguls.”

Mr. Wolff, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

MICHAEL WOLFF, “VANITY FAIR”:  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  Well, does this have meaning besides the tabloid headlines?  And, if so, what is it? 

WOLFF:  Well, it has meanings on a couple of fronts. 

First thing, we have the language of a blowhard.  And it could be that that is just what this means.  Bill O‘Reilly is a blowhard, which, by the way, everyone knows.  But he‘s used his blowhardness to become a sexual harasser, predator, what have you. 

But I think that the interesting thing is, how does Fox react to this?  Finally, this is a corporate problem.  It is Bill O‘Reilly‘s problem, but even lesser than that.  Does Fox and its parent, News Corp., stand by him?  And I think that‘s what everyone is waiting to see. 

Now, the interesting thing is that his audience probably does stand by him.  So he can probably weather this.  He can weather this by suing this woman, as he has, by saying it is a political vendetta.  But the question is, does Fox stand by this?  Because Fox has other agendas here.  Does Fox and its parent, News Corp., want to be seen as tolerating a sexual harasser?  We wait and see. 

OLBERMANN:  That leads to the thing that I‘ve been fascinated by, these quotations about Roger Ailes that are attributed to O‘Reilly.  And I thought one of the keys to having that kind of power that Roger Ailes obviously has, not just within the news business, but within the country, is that you don‘t have anybody screaming at the top of his lungs that there is such power to be had and this guy Ailes has it. 

Is presumably, just on that level, stepping aside from the harassment thing, but is, at that level, Roger Ailes or the people above him in News Corp. ready to break a chair over Bill O‘Reilly‘s head? 

WOLFF:  You know, I would say that they‘re very, very unhappy at this point, balanced by the fact that Bill O‘Reilly makes $60 million for the company every year. 

But, having said that, you don‘t know.  There is a horrible thing for them.  It is a horrible thing for—Roger Ailes is an enormously successful guy.  He is someone I know.  He is—I wouldn‘t want him to be my enemy but he is in every way certainly in my experience a very professional guy.  He is certainly not as Bill O‘Reilly makes him out to be a hit man.  So I think they‘re sitting there and saying—they‘re smacking their heads and saying what have we gotten ourselves into here?  What has he gotten us into? 

OLBERMANN:  One of these nights I‘m going to take the time and tell the story of Boake Carter and why Bill O‘Reilly, his story always reminded me of him, never more so than at the moment.

But I‘m much more interested right now in your insights here and this

sort of ultimate question of how far this damage can radiate.  Is this

enough to deflate O‘Reilly‘s growth, influence, enough to make actually Fox

fire him, suspend him?  What is the potential

(CROSSTALK)

WOLFF:  Well, I think there‘s two things here. 

If there are tapes here, if this can be shown to be largely true, then I would—then I would say, my gut is that Bill O‘Reilly is finished, at least finished at Fox.  Now, having said that, we also have the recent example of Rush Limbaugh.  And I would have said, well, he‘s finished.  So what we have here are two guys with very, very loyal and powerful and profitable audiences.  Does that save them?  Well, I don‘t know.  Everybody is right now this evening asking that very question. 

OLBERMANN:  “Vanity Fair”‘s Michael Wolff. 

We‘ll see how long this makes headlines.  It could be quite a right here, I think.  Many thanks for helping us start on our coverage. 

WOLFF:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks for your time. 

A quick self-serving promotional announcement.  We‘ve unveiled the program‘s official blog, Bloggermann, at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.  Today‘s posting, surprisingly enough, is O‘Reilly-gate in-depth.  I took the time to write this.  The least you could do is take the time to read it. 

Last night, you heard the president proudly saying he would not be getting a flu shot.  Tonight, reports of back-scene theft in the flu area.

And move over, Billy Crystal.  There‘s a new comedian stepping in to wrangle the Oscar ceremonies. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF:  When the president said he wasn‘t sure whether being gay was a matter of choice...

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR:  Right. 

RUSSERT:  ... John Kerry I thought came down very firmly and said it is a matter of biology. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  I was waiting for John Kerry to come back to the president and say, when did you choose?  He didn‘t do that, obviously.  He didn‘t have a sense of humor.  But I think that would have been a great response—Tom.

BROKAW:  You‘re not going to get me to respond to your response, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

RANDY HORNSBY, FORMER MAYOR OF COOLVILLE:  It is with a heavy heart that I resign as mayor of Coolville effective immediately. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The mayor gave his resignation for, he says, to better the village. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can see now why no one wants to move in to Coolville. 

TRIUMPH, THE INSULT COMIC DOG:  What happened to the world? 

Pat and I are old friends, though, right, Pat? 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right, we are. 

TRIUMPH:  Let‘s go out to dinner, and for dessert, we can alert the INS about the kitchen staff. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Stolen shots, old wives‘ recipes and an unprotected president.  Flu season is definitely under way next on COUNTDOWN.

And don‘t forget, tomorrow‘s news quiz, your chance to grill me.  Send your questions to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are now flu vaccine rustlers.  There are now clinics offering not shots, but chicken soup. 

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, the flu blues topped by what might have seen like a nightmare to a lot of people.  Last night, there was a commander in chief once immunized against anthrax proudly talking about flu shots and encouraging the American public to follow his lead by not getting one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:                 I haven‘t gotten a flu shot, and I don‘t intend to because I want to make sure those who are most vulnerable get treated. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As to the rustlers, some of those must vulnerable the president mentioned will not be treated in Colorado this flu season, not by choice either. 

Thieves stole nearly 800 doses of vaccine from a children‘s clinic in Aurora, leaving behind enough to immunize just 120 kids.  The clinic, which had already decide who had would get its full supply of about 920 doses, is now having to figure out who will be the eight out of nine kids who will now have to take their chances.  It is presumed that the thieves plan to hock the vaccine on the Internet or maybe just to another clinic. 

And in the coda, about which you‘re not sure whether to laugh or cry, there‘s no chance of getting a flu vaccine at one local clinic in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  But the 20 people who showed up there looking for a shot were instead handed a pack of tissues and a can of chicken noodle soup. 

A farewell headlines our nightly look at the celebrity and showbiz news, “Keeping Tabs.”

An angelic harpist strummed at the chapel entry.  The chapel grounds were covered with canopied clouds of softly lit chiffon, fragrant.  Candles and flowers hugged the pathways.  So reads the press release describing a private memorial for Rodney Dangerfield?  It‘s true.  Sunday night, out of the public glare, the comedian‘s widow, Joan, hosted 500 friends at a memorial park in Westwood, California, complete with master of ceremonies Bob Saget and guests Jay Leno, Roseanne, Tim Allen, George Carlin, Andrew Dice Clay, Adam Sandler, Dyan Cannon, Jim Carrey, Stiller and Meara, Connie Stevens, and “The Tonight Show” band with Kevin Eubanks.

I made that up about the band.  A full-figure bronze statue, this press released advises, will be created to adorn Mr. Dangerfield‘s grave.  It will not comment on the service and thus will not bear the inscription, “I finally got too much respect.”

Fortunately, funny man Chris Rock only has to follow that story on this show.  He today received a far easier assignment.  He‘s going to host the Oscars.  So announced the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today, the 77th Academy Awards telecast scheduled for February 27.  Billy Crystal handled the emcee duties last year, Steve Martin the year before. 

And are you in debt?  Are creditors keeping you up nights?  Or could that actually be not creditors, but rather teething or colic?  If you are 5 months old or younger, you could still a victim of bad credit and identity theft.  We‘ll meet just such a consumer next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This shouldn‘t really be a surprise. 

In a country where credit cards have been issued to cats and mansions have been inherited by dogs, why shouldn‘t a 5-month-old child be a victim of identity theft? 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s like stealing credit from a baby.  As we told you the other night, at the tender age of 3 weeks, Andrew (ph) in the state of Washington started raking up a credit rating to rival that of M.C. Hammer and bill collectors began to hound the kid.  Baby Andrew, who just turned 5, 5 months, has already been the victim of identity theft.  His parents got their son‘s very first piece of mail and it was a bill, $94 from a nearby clinic where the records showed he walked in suffering from a lumbar disc displacement.  They prescribed a narcotic to ease his back pain. 

Andrew‘s parents traced the problem to paperwork filed at the hospital.  Police do have a suspect, though they‘ve yet to track him down. 

Andrew joins us now from Washington state.  And, oh, yes, so do his parents, who have asked us to keep their last name private in hopes of shielding their son from additional identity fraud.

Mr. and Mrs. X, John and Katrina, good evening.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

JOHN “X”, FATHER OF ANDREW:  Good evening.  Thank you for having us. 

KATRINA “X”, MOTHER OF ANDREW:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  John and Katrina, you can jump in on this if you desire.  That must be some smart son you got there, arranging his own medical treatment all by himself already.

JOHN:  He‘s a bright boy.  We‘re very proud of him. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Katrina, when you went to the authorities on this, had they ever heard of identity theft involving an infant before? 

KATRINA:  No, not somebody this young. 

OLBERMANN:  So, John, is there a theory as to how it actually happened? 

JOHN:  We believe the information came from the hospital.  The police emphasis on identity theft tends to focus on mail being removed from a mailbox, but a 3-week-old doesn‘t get a whole lot of mail. 

At the time the I.D. theft occurred, there were only five pieces of paper in existence with his name on it.  So we pretty much, through process of elimination, determined that it had to be the hospital. 

OLBERMANN:  Katrina, if somebody did this to your young man there, who I think has just seen himself on television, they are going to try to do it on somebody else in our youngest viewing demographic group.  Is there something that you have learned in this process, in this investigation, that the parents of other newborns should know about protecting their kids‘ credit ratings and identities? 

KATRINA:  I think, you know, when you are naming your baby, you are so proud of the whole name, the first, middle and last name.  And if the middle name is not asked for, don‘t volunteer it.  Keep that as private as possible.  Don‘t list any information that you are not required to. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s an easy solution, it would seem.

But, John, there‘s another problem to this later on at some point.  He may have just figured it out, because he has already just figured himself on that monitor that must be right above the TV.  But when are going to you tell Andrew about this or does he already know? 

JOHN:  I don‘t think he knows much of anything right now.  I think teething is his biggest concern. 

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN:  We‘re going to have to tell him to take steps to protect his credit.  We don‘t know if this will affect him when he goes to apply for college loans.  We don‘t know if it will affect him when he goes to buy his first house. 

We don‘t know if he‘s alone in this.  An angle that we‘ve been trying to get the police to pursue is, are there are other kids out there that have had their identity taken?  Most parents don‘t check their credit report on their kids.  I think, in this new age we‘re in, it‘s going to be up to parents to start running credit checks on their kids and find out if they‘ve established credit without their knowledge. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we hope this is utterly cleared up and it doesn‘t become a problem in the year 2020 or whatever. 

I see now Andrew is finally chiming in with the comments that we‘ve been waiting for all night.  There he is.  But we have got to know from you later on what his first word is and if it turns out to be something like Amex or something like that. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  In the interim, John, Katrina, and baby Andrew of family X out there somewhere in Washington, we appreciate your sharing this story.  And tell Andrew to stop kidding around.  I know he understood every word we‘ve said so far. 

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks a lot.

KATRINA:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  A baby with a credit rating. 

Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night.

Good luck, Andrew.

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

END   

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