updated 11/5/2004 10:30:46 AM ET 2004-11-05T15:30:46

Guest: Andy Borowitz, Lee Maringoff, Karen Tumulty, Alexis Simendinger

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The president meets the press.  An unexpected news conference full of plans to spend his political capital, and reiterations of his plans to reach out to his opponents.  Can he possibly do both? 

Election fallout, day 2.  How did John Kerry win the exit polls, but lose the presidency?  Sad news from the Kerry campaign about the health of Mrs. Elizabeth Edwards. 

Confusing news from Paris, the Middle East and Luxembourg about the health of Yasser Arafat, if any.

And fire and ice, a volcano in Iceland.  Frostbite from the lava, or just kiss your ash goodbye. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  Whether the kinder, gentler George W. Bush really lasts is up to him and circumstances.  But whether symbolic or genuine good faith, the freshly reelected president took an extraordinary step today to mend fences with the other side.  He unexpectedly called a news conference. 

The 16th of his presidency putting him only 78 behind Dwight Eisenhower at the same point of his incumbency.  Our 5th story in the COUNTDOWN, I’m willing to reach out to everybody, the president said today, including the White House Press Corps.  The format, not without its limitations: reporters were restricted to one question with no follow-ups.  Even the debates had more wiggle room than that.  Yet the president, feeling magnanimous, said he believes there will be good will allowing him to work with Democrats during his second term, while at the same time, giving them impression he doesn’t need cooperation to pass an ambitious second term agenda. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Let me put it to you this way.  I earned capital in the campaign, political capital.  And now I intend to spend it.  It is my style.  That’s what happened in—after the 2000 election.  I earned some capital.  I’ve earned capital in this election.  And I’m going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on, which is, you’ve heard the agenda.  Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As the old gag and piece of homespun advice goes, don’t spend it all in one place.  To try to analyze what the president meant, and how it juxtaposes with what he said yesterday about reaching out to the 55 million people who voted against him, and what the vice president said about a mandate, I’m joined again by Karen Tumulty, White House correspondent of “Time” magazine.  Karen, good evening. 

KAREN TUMULTY, “TIME”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, the president is going to go on a spending spree focusing on the economy, education, counterterrorism.  I get the idea behind that.  But in this metaphor, who does he pay the political capital to? 

TUMULTY:  Well, political capital is a suggestion that he thinks he has enough of a mandate, enough of a margin of public support that he can pursue his agenda very, very aggressively, and not in fact have to reach out to the other side, not have to cut deals across the aisle in Congress.  It is actually a contradiction of his statements from yesterday about reconciliation.  He clearly plans—he sees himself as having a window and he will use to it push his agenda as hard as he can. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it really we’re hearing the message backwards, that he means it as the opposition ought to reach out to me? 

TUMULTY:  I think so.  I think so.  He certainly said that it was the greatest regret of his presidency that in fact the country is more divided, not less, even though he came into office promising to be a uniter not a divider.  But this is a president who has a set of things that he wants to get done and he believes limited time to get them done.  And so he is going to push as hard as he can. 

OLBERMANN:  So when Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania says to him as he did today, don’t nominate Supreme Court justices who want to overturn Roe V Wade, you’re going to get bogged down again, is the president going to listen to that in terms of trying to maintain this balance between his mandate as he perceives it, and reaching out to the other side and spending his political capital? 

TUMULTY:  I really doubt it.  There was an immediate back lash from conservatives against Arlen Spector, who reminded him that he barely won his own primary to get back to the Senate.  The president has more conservative Republican Senators, not fewer this time.  It is still short of that 60 votes that he needs to block a filibuster.  But I think, if anything, it’s going to be somewhat easier for him this time to get through conservative judicial nominees. 

OLBERMANN:  To that big question of balancing the days worth of statements and what that important portends for the second term, the president had the greatest opportunity in at least 60 years, maybe in all of our history, to unite the country after 9/11, and for many reasons, it didn’t last.  56 million people, if you downtown Ralph Nader vote, 56 million people voted against him on Tuesday.  Does he see it, to some degree, as somebody else’s fault that it didn’t last?  Or does he sit there and say, if I’d, for instance, appointed a Democrat to run Homeland Security 3 years ago, the war on terror might have been perceived as bipartisan and much of this divide might have been erased before it even happened? 

TUMULTY:  Oh, that is not how they see it at all.  They will point out that this president is the first president since 1988 to get more than 50 percent of the vote.  That he is the first president in close to a century, at least 80 years, to actually see his margins in Congress improve when he runs for re-election.  So I think there’s not a lot of remorse right now about those people who didn’t vote for him, because they’re quite frankly exulting over the ones who did.

OLBERMANN:  Karen Tumulty, prominently featured in the special postelection issue of “Time” magazine, which reached news stands today.  Karen, as always, great thanks. 

TUMULTY:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  At his news conference, the president acknowledged that speculating about cabinet changes was a great Washington sport.  But he add he has not played it, let alone made any decisions.  He is going to Camp David to try do so.  He gathered with its current members this morning.  And did not go around the room saying, “you’re fired.” 

He did tell them we’ve got work to do, still.  And added, we’re here for a reason.  It is a privilege to sit around this table. 

The president also observed that working at the White House was exhausting.  An interesting choice of words in so much as that within an hour, there was an Associated Press story saying that Attorney General John Ashcroft is exhausted and plans to step down presently.  Aides speaking on condition of anonymity, telling that news service that Ashcroft is expected to leave even before Mr. Bush’s inauguration on January 20. 

Many Washington journalists have told us that Ashcroft’s departure was likely.  Then last night, came another story that he might be staying on after that. 

One man has gone on the record about service in the cabinet, Senator John McCain of Arizona telling NBC’s “Today Show” this morning that he is not interested.  We have been discussing possible cabinet changes here since last week. 

Now that the president has said they always happen, now that it appears the first of them may be in the works, it is time to talk about the topic more concretely.  We’re joined now by Alexis Simendinger, the White House correspondent for the “National Journal.”  And good evening to you. 

ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, NATIONAL JOURNAL:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  With these leaks, would you suspect that maybe we saw the tip of some behind the scenes drama emerging today about the attorney general?  Was this evidence that either he was trying to stay on, but failed or that they were trying to talk him into staying but couldn’t? 

SIMENDINGER:  You know, it’s interesting, because my magazine and the staff at National Journal started working on a cabinet story almost back at the Republican National Convention in New York.  And the word about John Ashcroft was that he was leaving.  And the question was, would he leap or would he be nudged? 

So, I think he has seen, not only the handwriting on the wall in terms of what has been in print and what others in the administration have said about him but he is also sending, it sounds like from the Justice Department today, a few conflicting signals.  Which is, I’m ready to leave if that’s what Andy Card tells him the president wants, but also he’s sending signals that he wants to be helpful if he can.  And that sort of saves him if there is some effort on the president’s part to talk him into even serving in a different capacity. 

OLBERMANN:  Now you would never get anybody in the administration to admit it, but obviously, it has been a long time since the secretaries of defense and state have been on the same page, at least completely.  Is a change, or are change going to alter that?  Are we going to have new players in both positions or just one, and is it going to be more aligned?  How is it going to work out?

SINMENDINGER:  It looks today as if what is going to happen is probably a transition of stability for a short period of time.  The president actually today, at the news conference that I was at, was talking about how the kind of conflict or friction, the creative tension that may have been in his war cabinet, to him, was a positive, because he wanted good vigorous arguments, and that he set policy, he made up his mind. 

The word that we got or our story, and certainly today, suggests that Colin Powell, secretary of state, is ready to depart.  And that perhaps Donald Rumsfeld will stay, maybe just long enough to see through that military reorganization that he has been interested in, the president has depended on him to do. 

So we are likely to see a change, but the White House is trying to send signals today that the transitions that we’re talking about may not all happen in one big fell swoop. 

OLBERMANN:  That would be, obviously, a big change for second administrations. 

Let me finish this up by giving you a clear playing field.  Outside attorney general, defense and state, where is the most impactful change, whenever it occurs, likely to be? 

SIMENDINGER:  For me, covering the White House, I think one of the interesting things to watch with President Bush is what’s going to happen with his White House staff?  And the reason I say that is because this is a president who drives policy out of the West Wing into the executive departments.  And as fascinated as we may be in the secretaries in the cabinet, it is the president and his staff that are setting the policy and then disseminating that out. 

So he has been surrounded by a core of loyalists, people who served in his president’s—his father’s presidency and who also came with him from Texas.  So he has been very comforted by those familiar faces. 

The question that we’re asking as White House reporters is, that exhaustion, that fatigue that he’s talking about, how much of that will affect the people he’s dependent upon? 

Dr. Rice, for instance, at the National Security Council or his communications team, Dan Bartlett, a young man who has worked with only two people in his life, his bosses, President Bush and Karl Rove.  Or even, we’re talking a lot about the chief of staff, Andy Card.  Unbelievable that he’s been there four years.  That is a grueling, grueling job to stick with for all four years. 

OLBERMANN:  “The National Journal” White House Correspondent, Alexis Simendinger, many thanks again for your time and your insight tonight. 

SIMENDINGER:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  No guessing game needed to gauge how the world at large views Mr. Bush’s re-election.  To put it mildly, they didn’t much care for it.  Newspaper headlines around the globe have made that dissatisfaction clear. 

The front page of Britain’s “Daily Mirror” asking, how 59,054,087 people be so dumb? 

Our man in London, Charles Sabine with more tonight on the overseas reaction, shock and awe—Charles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES SABINE, NBC NEWS:  Keith, this election brought more polling of opinion outside the U.S. than any other.  And one thing is for certain, if the rest of the world had been voting, John Kerry would have won by a land slide.  And now Americans have made their choice, those opinions don’t seem to have changed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bush beats Kerry...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George W. Bush...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bush (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SABINE, (voice-over):  The result was followed in every corner of the world.  The majority agreeing, this was the most important election for a generation, and not just an American one.  World leaders may have been diplomatic in their congratulations, but much of the popular press overseas was not. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he has become more and more unilateral. 

He doesn’t seem to listen to the outside world. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You don’t think it makes a terrorist target. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You think it has increased the terrorism threat to London and the U.K. with Bush getting reelected. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I believe it has. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some text messages, four years, that the other, 225 countries on this planet will pay for the ignorance of American voters. 

SABINE:  All that from the U.S.’s closest ally.  In other European countries, Bush’s win was even less popular. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have a kind of strong anti-Americanism here in Germany and maybe all over Europe.  And I think that will become stronger because of this election. 

CHRISTINE OKRENT, FRENCH TV ANCHOR WOMAN:  I am—I am concerned about this growing gap between Europe and conservative religious America, which is precisely that America, which we Europeans know so little about. 

SABINE:  But despite the feeling of most Europeans, the Bush has made the world a more dangerous place, the reality is he has a bigger mandate than ever. 

JOHN MICKLEWAITH, EDITOR, “THE ECONOMIST”:  Now the Europeans have to accept that Bush is not some aberration.  He represents a large big vocal part of America.  And the Europeans have to deal with that. 

SABINE, (on camera):  And there lies the crux of the matter.  George W. Bush may not be popular outside the United States, but those people don’t have a vote in the U.S. election.  The concern is a president who won by more than three and a half million votes will be less inclined than ever to listen to criticism overseas—Keith. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Charles Sabine in London, many thanks. 

Back here, sad and shocking news from the Kerry/Edwards campaign the day after it formerly disbanded.  John Edwards, wife Elizabeth has been diagnose with breast cancer.  It is invasive ductal cancer, the most common type.  And in the average case, the most beatable type.  Mrs. Edwards discovered a lump in her right breast while on a campaign trip last week.  That trip happened to take her home to North Carolina on Friday when she got to consult with her own doctor, who said it appeared cancerous and she needed a needle biopsy.  She postponed that until yesterday so as not to interfere with the campaign.  In fact, she went directly from the concession speech to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston where the diagnosis was confirmed.  Mrs. Edwards is 55-years-old.  You will forgive the introduction of the personal, but she was a guest on this program and a generous and pleasant one.  She described herself as a viewer and thus for all of us on this staff, she and her family are in our prayers. 

The news is much brighter for the president’s wife.  Today is her 58th birthday.  Tomorrow is her 27th anniversary.  Her husband has already unveiled one of her gifts.  No it is not simply the world’s largest umbrella.  The president has spent his non-political capital on another dog, a Scottish terrier puppy who is the daughter to the half brother of bush’s senior dog Barney.  That’s a big umbrella.  The new dog has already been named Miss Beasley for a dinosaur character in a children’s book named by the Bush daughters, who are 22-years-old. 

Which is how much members of the Bush campaign aged Tuesday afternoon and evening as the exit polls came in.  Why did they vary so much with the polling inside the voting booths. 

And presidential predictors, Halloween masks had it right, Redskins had it wrong.  The election that broke all the rules. 

This is COUNTDOWN, where the rules are broken ever two and one half minutes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As the disparity between exit poll and Tuesday’s actual voting continues to troublesome, as voting irregularities ranging from the realistic too the science fiction like continue to be reported or rumored, this tantalizing truth.  There is nothing in any presidential candidate’s concession speech ever that is ever legally binding.  The campaigns don’t decide who is president.  The state certification boards and the electoral college do. 

Our Fourth story, did your vote count and what about the comments you made about your vote to your local neighborhood pollster? 

With the preface that a “USA Today”/Gallup poll shows that 80 percent agree with Kerry’s decision to concede, even though at least a quarter of those represented in that figure had to have voted for him.  And despite the fact that the absentee and provisional ballots are still being counted and four states are still too close to call. 

Results in New Mexico, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin are all tight.  Only 10 to 15,000 votes separating the candidates there.  All four states are leaning toward Mr. Bush.  But NBC will not call them for the president until the votes are decisive.  Even the states already counted for President Bush, there are questions about whether every vote really got counted.  In Ohio, 155,000 provisional ballots still being tallied.  Absentee ballots still need to be counted, 92,000 votes were discounted.  All which of has led to speculation in the blogosphere that John Kerry may have conceded too early.  To say nothing of pictures purportedly showing bags of votes being dumped into trucks bearing Bush/Cheney bumper stickers. 

In Florida, where concern that the new touch-screen voting machines would be vulnerable to hackers and errors, especially without any paper trail, there were relatively few problems reported on Election Day but several dozen people there and in five other states reported an anomaly on the checkout screen.  The same anomaly that was making the e-mail rounds as a joke late in October.  Voters say when they tried to verify their pick of John Kerry, the computer kept asking them to verify their pick of George Bush. 

What exit polling was used to verify was whatever the reader wanted to it verify.  The head of the polling organization today answered criticism that he got it wrong, saying the polls were spot on.  It was their use and interpretation that were way off. 

The first wave of exit poll data leaped out to bloggers and some pseudo-news Web sites early Tuesday.  It showed John Kerry with a lead in key battleground states.  Three percent in Florida, three points in Ohio.  Even issue-related poll numbers, broadcast on TV and radio, seem to be lining up in favor of Senator Kerry, or at worst, neutral to him. 

Now the media is promising to look into why the polls initially indicated Kerry could win.  NBC’s Tom Brokaw called the exit polls distorted.  ABC’s Charles Gibson said they got it, quote, “flat wrong.” 

Lee Meringoff is the director of the well respected Marist Poll, and the president of the National Council on Public Polls.  And thanks for joining us here tonight, Lee. 

LEE MERINGOFF, MARIST POLL:  My pleasure, Keith, how are you? 

OLBERMANN:  Kerry supporters are sitting there still wondering how did the exit polls, and not just the who is winning or who is losing, but those issue polls seem to go favor their candidates so strongly, yet the election turned out the way it id.  From the poll position, what’s the explanation? 

MERINGOFF:  Well, and I should say at the outset, we weren’t involved in directly collecting the exit poll, but my understanding is, I saw those first waves come in.  The problem with the first wave on the exit polls is it’s like the Yankee-Red Sox game in around the third inning.  If the Yankees are ahead 4-3, you just don’t know what’s going to happen down the road. 

And the trouble is, a lot of people got those preliminary early returns, and then they thought they really had something really cooking.  And really, it was within the error margin anyway.  The so-called lead really wasn’t.  And you don’t want to put the mortgage up on those kinds of preliminary results anyway. 

So basically, we really rely on the exit polls to help us better understand why people voted as they did, but wait until the end of the ninth inning so we have a better sense of what the entire electorate looked like, not these preliminary things.  Unfortunately, they leaked out, and then you still have all this confusion and conspiracy theories and God knows what broke loose.  It was wildfire for a while. 

OLBERMANN:  It’s more than leaking out, though.  I mean, I was taking notes during our coverage here on MSNBC.  And shortly after 6:00, we had the first exit poll data.  Again, not on who is winning where, but issues.  Is the economy good?  Not good.  It was not good by 54-45, just what you’re seeing there.  Are you better off or worse off today than you were four years ago?  Better by 46-21.  At 7:20 or so, we had two more critical numbers.  Is the country on the right track or the wrong track?  And wrong was leading 50 to 47.  Do you approve or disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing?  Which was 51-47 approve, which is very close for an incumbent president.  But...

MERINGOFF:  That helps explain, Keith, why the race was as close as it was.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.

MERINGOFF:  And that’s a good use of exit poll.  The problem is when people hear Ohio, you know, at 2:00 in the afternoon, three point edge.  Boy, that looks like Kerry is on his way.  And that’s very misleading. 

Look, this is a creation of the media to help guide them in their analysis of what went on.  And I think we’ve been asking over the years more of the exit polls than they really can meaningfully fulfill.  I think they did a good job.  I think for the most part, they were very accurate.  They said the race was going to be close.  It was close.  They helped guide the issues.  There were no wrong projections after the polls had closed, unlike 2000, when obviously we had the whole problem in Florida, the fiasco down there. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there also a question of weighting each statistic equally?  In other words, the four that I just showed you, all—the first three all looked like they suggested a Kerry victory based on how people had voted and what they were thinking.  And in fact, the only one that came close to any of the final results was, do you approve or disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing?  Which turned out 51-47, which nearly matched the final vote. 

Is that also a problem?  When you just take even one of those issue polls and separate it from the whole pack, you’re going to get into trouble? 

MERINGOFF:  But you want to do just what you did.  You look at the entire picture.  I mean, public opinion is a complex phenomenon.  And the exit poll hopefully taps into the many different aspects of it.  Clearly, a lot of what went on was a referendum on the incumbent.  That we know.  When Bush’s approval rating is 51 percent, that’s a very good barometer. 

Now, the right direction, wrong direction question usually is very good.  But what you had here were a lot of people thinking that they did not necessarily like George Bush’s policies, his issues, but they liked the character.  So you can think the country was headed in the wrong direction, you could be upset with Iraq, upset with economy, and you still might pull Bush’s lever.  That has to do with the campaign dynamics between Kerry not responding to all the character charges early on, dating back to August.  I think people were very much into personal qualities, and Bush maximized that. 

OLBERMANN:  So ultimately, Lee, where did—you mention these numbers leaking out, and mostly into the blogs.  The television networks were very responsible... 

MERINGOFF:  Yes, I thought so. 

OLBERMANN:  ... on all these things, but how did they leak out? 

MERINGOFF:  Well, I don’t really know that.  I mean, they disseminate to so many different sources during the day, and it’s not uncommon that they—I mean, judges had them early for years.  There’s a lot of people with the information.  The key thing is from the media standpoint, to use that responsibly.  And most of the folks I saw were, but there’s a lot of coverage today about how the exit polls were wrong because of those early waves.  It’s just not true.  It’s a bad test of their value. 

OLBERMANN:  Lee Meringoff, the director of the Marist Poll, and we thank you for your interpretation of our polls from the other night. 

MERINGOFF:  Yeah, good, Keith.  I appreciate that. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.

It’s not the end of the world.  Not this, but it sure looks like it was.  “Oddball” next with the extraordinary display from Mother Nature.  And speaking of extraordinary displays, but not necessarily Mother Nature, Michael Jackson says to Tom Sneddon, get off my case.  He’s not being figurative.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We’re back, and with the presidential election in the rearview mirror, Americans will now search to fill the void of weird news, strange people and cool video.  Tell a friend, we have got it all here, every night, at bargain basement prices.  Let’s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin in Chicago with the eighth annual great American baby derby.  Five hundred babies scrambling 10 feet for the grand prize of 15 percent off a box of diapers.  And it’s problems out of the starting gate for all but the baby in lane three.  It’s little red baby way out in front.  Now, the others are getting the idea.   Don’t just sit there like a baby.  But when you’re the lead baby, everyone else is just staring down at your diaper.  And down the stretch they come!  It’s little red baby, little red baby, little red baby by eight lengths.  It’s not even close!  Little red baby is the winner, by a nose!

Little red baby is your winner by a nose.  Little red baby paid 420, 270 and 228 exactly, as little red baby and Little Red Riding Hood paid out three bowls of porridge and a visit to grandma’s house in a time of two minutes and six seconds. 

And now to Iceland.  Uh-oh.  This is the remote Vatnajokull glacier, and the volcano underneath has erupted and burst through hundreds of feet of ice.  Mmm, icy on the outside, hot molten lava on the inside.  The eruption set off tremors throughout the region and officials immediately warned pilots to avoid flying through the gases in the atmosphere.  Apparently, they didn’t warn those two guys, pedestrians.  They seem to be enjoying the show like it’s a juggling act in Central Park.  Get a little closer, boys.  Now, go on.  Don’t be shy.

In case you couldn’t tell, the volcano is in a remote and unpopulated region of Iceland known as Iceland. 

And to Denmark now and a scene just as spectacular, but far more deadly, one firefighter killed, 17 people injured, when that worst of combinations hit, fire and fireworks factory.  Huge explosions could be felt for miles around the town of Kolding, and panic as well; 2,000 people were evacuated as the fireworks continued to detonate throughout the night;

350 homes were damaged, 20 of them destroyed.  Officials say the factory was housing 2,000 tons of Chinese fireworks, more than six times the legal capacity. 

And a bizarre day in international politics, conflicting reports over Yasser Arafat.  He is dead or he is alive, adding to the questions looming over the future of Middle East peace.  Later, a blind date captured on camera leads to a real-life capture of an accused rapist.  Those stories ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day.

No. 3, the unnamed National Guard pilot of an F-16 fighter.  Nobody yet knows why.  In the middle of a training mission last night, he fired 25 rounds of ammo into the elementary school in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey.  It was empty, save for the janitor.  He’s OK.

No. 2, Clemenstine Fannin, who was driving her school bus in Montgomery County, Alabama, yesterday morning when the kids saw a rat on it.  They screamed.  The rat hid in the only place it could hide, under the gas pedal.  Nine kids and the driver were hurt in the subsequent crash, but none seriously.

And numbers one.  Robert Swetich and Raymond Urrizaga, the candidates for the seat on the County Commission of Pine County, Nevada.  Each got 1,847 votes on Tuesday, a tie.  So, according to state law, they got a deck of cards and they each drew one.  High card wins, the commissioner’s office won by a draw of a card.  Urrizaga drew first, a queen, Swetich a seven, Urrizaga the winner.  Of course, also according to Nevada state law, there was a two-drink minimum at an-all-you-can-eat waffle buffet. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If the confusion over Yasser Arafat’s health grows to any great degree, this is going to turn into the Middle East politics version of “Weekend at Bernie’s.”

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Washington braced for the impact of the death of the Palestinian leader.  The president was even asked about it directly at his news conference. 

The only complication here was, as our correspondent Keith Miller reports from Paris, Arafat isn’t dead yet, we think. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Reports of Yasser Arafat’s death were exaggerated, as it turned out, but still widespread today, announced as a bulletin on Israeli TV, reported by the prime minister of Luxembourg.  Finally, a French military spokesman, urged on by Arafat’s wife, set the record straight.  In French, “He’s not dead.”  But Arafat is desperately ill. 

(on camera):  French doctors have still not made public what is wrong with Arafat.  Overnight, he was moved into intensive care.  He slipped into a coma, according to medical sources, who described the condition as grave. 

(voice-over):  So sensitive is the Palestinian leadership to negative health reports that today they seemed in denial.

AHMED QUREIA, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER:  Nothing.  No coma, no coma, no coma.  He is in a treatment.  He is in a treatment. 

ROSEMARY HOLLIS, ROYAL INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS:  Yasser Arafat is a symbol.  He is representative of years, decades of struggle on the part of the Palestinians.  And it is not an easy thing to say goodbye to this symbolic figure. 

MILLER:  Already, there is speculation about who will replace Arafat as Palestinian president.  The current prime minister, Ahmed Qureia, is considered a skilled politician, but lacks charisma.  The No. 2 in the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, has experience, but does not have popular support. 

Mohammed Dahlan, the former interior minister, is a popular strong man.  He is seen as one of the leaders of the new generation of Palestinians who can do business with Israel. 

HAZIR TEIMOURIAN, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST:  What the Palestinians need is a leader who is going to stamp his authority on them, to bring under control his rivals, for example, Hamas.

MILLER:  Tonight, Palestinians set up a candlelight vigil outside the hospital gates.  Inside, Arafat is reportedly unconscious and, according to medical sources, there is little they can do to save his life. 

Keith Miller, NBC News, Paris. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Certainly, the reverse reversal of the old Generalissimo Francisco Franco bit from “Saturday Night Live” is playing havoc with American foreign policy.  Arafat has been marginalized, literally imprisoned within his compound in Ramallah.  And the administration seemed quite content to just let him sit there forever and deal with the Palestinian question only it had to. 

As our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, reports, now it may have to. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

The president has long blamed Yasser Arafat for not controlling the violence against Israel and cut off all contact with him after this meeting two years ago, sidelining diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Aides say Mr. Bush viewed Arafat as the chief obstacle to peace. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. 

MITCHELL:  But today, when a reporter mistakenly thought Arafat had already died, the president had this to say. 

BUSH:  My first reaction is, God bless his soul. 

MITCHELL:  With the president having no confidence in Arafat, critics say Mr. Bush has been in lockstep with Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, siding with him against the Palestinians at every turn. 

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT:  They’ve said Arafat was an obstacle.  Now we have real change and possibly a leader the U.S. might want to deal with.  You have the international community completely focused, saying this is the priority issue. 

MITCHELL:  Even the president’s closest ally, Tony Blair, is now pressing him to launch a serious Middle East peace initiative. 

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  I won’t argue that the need to revitalize the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political challenge in our world today. 

MITCHELL:  But would Arafat’s death create opportunities?  The U.S.  fears there will be a period of protracted violence among Palestinians, as rival groups fight to succeed Arafat. 

MARTIN INDYK, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL:  His departure from the West Bank and his grave illness really create a situation in which there’s a very large leadership vacuum left behind. 

MITCHELL:  And officials say the administration will be careful not to endorse any successor too quickly. 

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER MIDDLE EAST PEACE NEGOTIATOR:  The worst thing we could do right now is to identify ourselves with a successor that isn’t legitimized by the Palestinians. 

MITCHELL (on camera):  Critics say the president has been so focused on Iraq, he has all but ignored the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  Now they hope for a fresh start that could also improve America’s image in the Arab world. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back home, this guy was trying to make a love connection on a TV show.  Instead, his only date will be with the one before the judge.  And Michael Jackson is trying to get his archenemy booted off his case.  A judge rules on whether Tom Sneddon is prosecuting or persecuting.  That’s ahead. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O’BRIEN”)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I’ve only got one regret about winning. 

CONAN O’BRIEN, HOST:  And what’s that, sir? 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  I worked real hard on a concession speech and now I won’t get to read it.  You folks want to hear it? 

O’BRIEN:  Well, sure. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR:  Ladies and gentlemen, you have voted unwisely. 

And I have no choice but to impose martial law. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST:  You sound like Hillary Clinton when she heard that John Kerry had lost.  Oh, oh, I’m so upset.  It started already this morning.  Did you see MSNBC?  Look, watch this in the background. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  ... successful reelection for the president.  He has won what his father didn’t win, a second term. 

LENO:  Look at that, Hillary.

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  Look.  It’s started already.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Deficit.  The deficit is less than we thought because the revenues is exceeding projections.  And the reasons why the revenues—the revenues are exceeding projections.  Sometimes I mangle the English language.  I get that.  Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The waiting game for Scott Peterson, the jury deliberating his fate.  Another appearance on a reality TV show game led to a big break in a cold case, his. 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It’s remarkable how one phrase can stick to a man or a group of men.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, 14-karat blank-blanks, the phrase derived from how his attorney described Scott Peterson’s introspective view of himself after being unfaithful to his wife, but perhaps applying also to a rape suspect who had the audacity to go on a television dating show. 

Thirty seconds on the Peterson case first.  Jurors have completed their first full day of deliberations.  They spent four hours at it yesterday, dispatched to the jury room after closing arguments in which the best thing Peterson’s attorney, Mark Geragos, could say about him was he was a—quote—“jerk and a liar,” conceding that the prosecution had successfully portrayed Peterson as a cheating husband, but not as a murderer. 

The jury, sequestered until it reaches a verdict, can convict in one of two ways, second-degree murder or first-degree, carrying a possible death sentence. 

And from the last phase of criminal prosecution to the first.  It seems so obvious a rule of thumb that to violate it would seem almost evidence of innocence.  If you are suspected of rape and you elude authorities for a year, it is probably best to not to appear on TV, certainly not on a dating program, where your alleged victim might see you, record the broadcast and call the cops. 

From Los Angeles, our correspondent Michael Okwu with the story of an entirely new kind of reality show. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When a 35-year-old woman saw this man last week on the popular dating show “Blind Date,” she couldn’t believe her eyes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BLIND DATE”)

ULRICK KEVIN WHITE, DEFENDANT:  You’re dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OKWU:  She claims that same man, now appearing on national television without a care in the world, raped her a year ago.  That videotape led to the arrest of 31-year-old Ulrick White, a handyman and private security guard from Santa Barbara.  The alleged victim claims that White offered her a ride home while she was waiting for a cab outside this bar.  Instead of taking her home, she says, White raped her. 

Police say a warrant had been out for his arrest, but they couldn’t find him because he was a transient. 

SGT. SEAN CONROY, VENTURA POLICE DEPARTMENT:  When she saw him on TV, it gave the investigation new direction to go as far as locating him. 

OKWU:  Prosecutors say the woman called 911 during the alleged attack and that the incident was recorded on tape. 

DOUGLAS RIDLEY, ASSISTANT DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The defendant is actually on tape refusing the victim’s requests for help and to stop and to let her go. 

OKWU (on camera):  Solid evidence, they say, that can finally be used after a year of searching, thanks to a dating show that unwittingly tipped them off. 

Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And another blur between entertainment and reality TV leading our nightly roundup of the celebrities stories we call “Keeping Tabs.” 

Your entertainment dollars in action, day 353 of the Michael Jackson case.  Oh, the anniversary is on the 17th.  Come that day, district attorney Tom Sneddon will still be prosecuting him, this after a judge turned down Jackson’s request to remove Sneddon from the trial, ruling that he has not been—quote—“excessively zealous.”

Jackson’s lawyer had argued that the entire district attorney’s office was emotionally invested in getting a case against his client.  And speaking of cases against Jackson, a man from Louisiana has filed suit as well, claiming he was molested by the pop star more than 20 years ago. 

It is November 4.  And you know what we do on even-numbered days.  We announce the creation of a brand new reality show.  The latest will reportedly begin airing on NBC next summer and will be part “American Idol,” part “Apprentice” and part “Saturday Night Live.”  “The Hollywood Reporter” reports, Lorne Michaels, creator of “SNL”, will play the Donald Trump role in a series following a group of young comedians as they vie for a job on a weekend comedy standard, which was how they got the cast member Charlie Rocket, wasn’t it, in 1980?

And then there’s the honor, commander of the order of the British Empire.  You don’t get that by collecting the most box tops.  The newest recipient is Eric Clapton.  The legendary rock guitarist accepted the honor at Buckingham Palace and admitted he would have had a hard time accepting it earlier in his life, when he had a rebellious streak.  Clapton also revealed his wife is six months later.  She’s 28.  He’s 58.  And you don’t get that by collecting the most box tops either. 

Our No. 1 story, presidential predictors turned on their head, the Redskins rule. 

Thank you, Eric. 

It was not supposed to apply only to the exit polls.  It was supposed to be about the actual vote.  Conventional stupidity with Andy Borowitz straight ahead. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As mandates go, it may not have held up to some previous standard.  In fact, not counting his own victory four years ago, Mr. Bush’s 2004 Electoral College vote could be the lowest since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and his margin in the popular vote smaller than anybody since Jimmy Carter.  On the other hand, you should have been able to make millions of dollars off of it by betting it was going to happen.  If only you could have told the right indicators from the wrong ones. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, sell your stock in Zogby.  Take no stocks in the Dow Jones.  And not hail to the Redskins, but the hell with the Redskins.  They all forecast a Kerry victory.  Some had said the Boston Red Sox would have to win the World Series before John Kerry could be elected.  Technically, that turned out to be true.  They won before Kerry could be elected.

Thus has become conventional wisdom become conventional stupidity.  And whenever that happens, we turn to Andy Borowitz, author of “The Borowitz Report: The Big Book of Shockers,” as well as the online humor column of the same name.

Andy, good evening.

ANDY BOROWITZ, AUTHOR, “THE BOROWITZ REPORT”:  Thanks for bringing me in on the whole stupidity thing.  I appreciate that. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  It’s a certainly kind of perverse honor, I suppose.

Let’s start down with breakdown of the Redskins.  The previous 17 elections, if they lost their last home game before the vote, the incumbent lost the presidency.  Oops.  On the other hand, the fine folks at 7/Eleven offered coffee in cups with each candidate’s name on them and they sold more Bush cups.  What is the lesson we can draw from these two rights and wrongs here? 

BOROWITZ:  Well, none, because, really, the only sports indicator that counts is Curt Schilling.  He is always right.

On the other hand, Manny Ramirez, I am pretty sure, did not know there was an election this week.  So you don’t go to him.  The 7/Eleven thing, I just throw all that out, because, in that same period, 7/Eleven moved a record number of ketchup packages, which should have been very good for Kerry. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh.  And, by the way, you should also mention that Curt Schilling will also tell you that he’s always right, in case you ever have to ask him.

BOROWITZ:  That’s true.

OLBERMANN:  Since 1888, the taller candidate has won 30 out of 32 elections.  Now it’s 30 out of 33.  On the other hand, the streak of victories by the candidate who owns the most pets continues.  Is there a lesson here? 

BOROWITZ:  Well, I think the pets thing is very dangerous, Keith, because we are trying to export democracy now to places like Iraq.  Do we really want to tell the Shiites that their goats are going to decide this thing?  I don’t think so. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

BOROWITZ:  It’s very sad.

OLBERMANN:  Goats may have other contexts in the history of the administration as well.  But speaking...

BOROWITZ:  That is true. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of the pets, Jackie Stallone made the correct prediction here based on her dogs telling her that Bush was going to win.  What does that tell us? 

BOROWITZ:  Yes.  Well, not much, Keith. 

I am very close personal friends with Mary Jo Van Damme (ph), who is the mom of Claude Van Damme.  And she actually said that—she said that Nader actually had the most... 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Excellent.  She’s kind of the poor man’s Jackie Stallone, I would guess. 

BOROWITZ:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  Here’s one that shocked even the most sensible among us.

The preeminent pollster, John Zogby, the final exit poll forecast a 100-or-more-point win in the Electoral College.  But the children’s magazine “Scholastic News” has now been right every year since 1940, except for twice.  And its readers even came close to the actual outcome, 52 to 47.  So this is, what, “Scholastic News” is better at this than the Zogby polling group? 

BOROWITZ:  Well, I think so. 

But “Scholastic” has just been blowing its horn about this.  But, actually, the children’s magazine that I go to for all my polling data is “Highlights for Children” because if you go to that, Goofus voted for Kerry and Gallant voted for Bush. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I saw that coming, boy, oh, boy.  The moment you said “Highlights,” I’m thinking Goofus and Gallant. 

BOROWITZ:  Sorry.

OLBERMANN:  But it still worked.  It was coming down Broadway with its doors open, but it still worked. 

BOROWITZ:  Had to do it.  Had to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  The other one here, the “Family Circle” first ladies recipe contest also forecast a Bush win correct.  And the sales of Bush Halloween masks exceeded the sales of Kerry masks, but the whole business about the stock market and how the Dow Jones does in the month prior to the election, that didn’t work.  What does all that mean? 

BOROWITZ:  Well, first of all, the mask thing, you just know that Karl Rove just went out and bought a bunch of Bush masks.  So that doesn’t mean anything. 

(LAUGHTER)

BOROWITZ:  In terms of, like, the recipes thing, I think, traditionally, the candidate whose daughter has the best recipe for Jell-O shots always wins.  That’s what I’ve heard.  That’s what I’ve heard. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  And we have...

BOROWITZ:  That goes back to Rutherford B. Hayes. 

OLBERMANN:  That’s right Rutherford B.  At least you didn’t pick one of the bachelor presidents when you said that.

Buchanan’s daughter, that’s a whole ‘nother story.  We can talk about Buchanan’s daughter some other time.  I guess the Kerry daughters had moved past the Jell-O shot stage, so they were not eligible.

BOROWITZ:  I guess not.

OLBERMANN:  Andy Borowitz, the author of “The Borowitz Report: The Big Book of Shockers,” and online at Borowitz Report, many thanks for your time tonight.  And congratulations on your predicting that big Nader victory, too. 

BOROWITZ:  Four more years. 

OLBERMANN:  Four more years. 

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

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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