updated 11/11/2004 10:56:30 AM ET 2004-11-11T15:56:30

Guest: David Dill, Mark Mazzarella, Paul Burka

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Hostage slaughterhouses?  That‘s what an Iraqi general says troops have found today in Fallujah.  What they have not found is great resistance. 

Attorney general departing.  Attorney general arriving.  Mr. Ashcroft, gone as in Mr. Gonzales. 

The voting mess.  No big deal.  North Carolina may have to have a second election.  Other than that, not much news.  Ralph Nader had a news conference about it and did his Richard Nixon did his bit. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You won‘t have me to kick around anymore.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  So what next for the Democrats?  Who better to speak to that? 

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Denial is not an acceptable strategy. 

OLBERMANN:  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  It is described as being 70 percent under U.S. control.  Not last week‘s elections here.  We‘ll get to tonight‘s report from the electoral circus later in this news hour.  Rather, Fallujah is 70 percent under U.S. control. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Iraq and the offensive that continues to meet little defensive possibly because the insurgents were elsewhere trying yet another new and horrible way to influence events.  Our correspondent in Baghdad is Richard Engel. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The top marine commander in Fallujah today described the fighting as close.  And violent.  Over roof tops, in houses, around corners, and in mosques. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re taking fire from the mosque. 

ENGEL:  Moments later, the marines fire back.  And storm the mosque grounds.  Then U.S. forces spot a sniper. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right there!

ENGEL:  And unleash on the building he is in.  U.S. commanders say they‘ve dominated 70 percent of Fallujah and are now chasing small bands of four to five militants. 

LT. GENERAL JOHN SATTLER:  We‘re comfortable that they are not able to communicate, to work out any coordination. 

ENGEL:  And new details today showing the mindset of the fighters. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We did capture one individual today who is they believe to be a Yemeni national and this person was carrying dozens and dozens of vials of adrenaline which the commanders here believe is what fighters are using to boost themselves up for the fight here.

ENGEL:  Another insurgent tactic, kidnapping.  Militants released this video showing 20 captured Iraqi soldiers.  And they struck a personal blow right at Iraq‘s interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.  At this Baghdad house, kidnapping his cousin, the cousin‘s wife and their daughter-in-law.  Militants threatened to behead them in 48 hours unless the offensive stops in Fallujah where Iraqi troops today uncovered what they call a slaughterhouse, where kidnappers killed their victims. 

Still, military officials now say most of the insurgents have left Fallujah.  In Baghdad today, police saw 100 of them brazenly setting up checkpoints in two neighborhoods.  Others have moved to the northern city of Mosul, now under curfew suggesting U.S. troops, even if they deny insurgents Fallujah, their strongest bastion, will have to continue to fight them elsewhere.  NBC News, Baghdad. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  For the U.S. troops, the fighting in Fallujah has proved unexpectedly to be about more than just insurgents and territory and control.  Our correspondent Kevin Sites is embedded with the 3rd Battalion First Marines.  Tonight he reports that for them, it all has a certain most hallowed ground quality. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN SITES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  These marines had 10 men wounded by snipers in RPG fire on this street yesterday.  Today they‘re not taking any chances.  They‘re moving up slowly, block by block, punctuating their advance with tank rounds.  Overnight, the insurgents who caused such chaos here the day before seem to have disappeared.  But their weapons did not.  At this store front, marines find the cache of ammunition, homemade rocket tubes and RPG launchers.  And on this last day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they also destroyed this building. 

Behind me is the rubble of a building only minutes ago destroyed by a U.S. Abrams A-1 tank.  But this building was a mosque.  This is the kind of act that enrages Iraqis who say the U.S. military is neither sensitive nor considerate about their religion and their culture.  The U.S. marines here say they had every right to take it down. 

STAFF SGT. SAM MORTIMER:  When they‘re using the mosque to do command and control for insurgents and kill my fellow marines and fellow soldiers and airmen that are out here, I mean, no holds barred.  The gloves are off. 

SITES:  And further off in a large pit, Sergeant Matthew Henderson and his squad find the bodies of two men likely killed by U.S. artillery earlier, an AK-47 and RPG launcher nearby. 

Near the end of the day, and the end of the street, this comes into view. 

SERGEANT MATTHEW HENDERSON:  It brings up a lot of angry feelings about what they did to those contractors.

SITES:  It‘s the bridge where the bodies of four U.S. security contractors were hanged after they were beaten to death and burned by a Fallujah mob last March.  It is also a symbol of disappointment for the marines when their first siege of the city in the aftermath of those killings was called off.  Today their thoughts went beyond the bridge. 

This thing, when we come, something in the past, something we‘ll never forget.  But it will become something in the past. 

SITES:  And that could happen even sooner if the marines succeed in their mission here.  Kevin Sites, NBC News, Fallujah. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Well, as some things do become things of the past, the future always seems to have a new and cruel variation.  The latest, the kidnapping of those three members of the family of the Iraqi prime minister Mr. Allawi.  As we have frequently done when the insurgents have introduced new horrors to the realm of tactics in Iraq we turn for perspective to Retired U.S. Army General Wayne Downing, now an NBC News military analyst.  General Downing, thanks again for your time.  Good to see you in person, sir.

In a land that has been bloodied by this conflict and for decades before, by Saddam Hussein can something like that actually be impactful against Prime Minister Allawi? 

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Well, I think Allawi and his family, I must tell you, just about every Iraqi that I know, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, has had violence of this type perpetrated against them personally or against their families.  To us, as Americans, this is horrifying.  To them it is personally horrifying but they‘ve seen this and they‘ve lived through this before.  It was a very, very violent regime before this. 

OLBERMANN:  What does a step like this being taken say not just about the intentions of the insurgency but also the size, the wherewithal, the capacity to operate under these circumstances? 

DOWNING:  It is certainly an escalation.  They‘ve taken these family members who are really, Keith, when you think about it, distant family member.  They are cousins.  It certainly is going to cause more people to protect their families.  Is this an escalation?  Definitely it is.  And it does show that this insurgency is in certain key areas of the country.  The Fallujah operation seems to be going very, very well.  It becomes fairly apparent that the key leadership left and probably the majority of the fighting forces left. 

And so where did they go?  The military keeps their plans closely held, which they should.  I‘m sure there are going to be other operations going on as this takes place.  But we‘re already starting to see some of these elements surface.  But this is a tough war when you get into these insurgencies.  They become violent.  You have double, triple agents.  People betray each other.  And we‘ve got a long way to go down this road before we get this under control.  And Keith, we have to control this insurgency.  If we‘re going to have elections.  If we‘re going to economically develop the country.  And if we‘re going to restore services to that country. 

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday we heard and reported here that the chief U.S.  weapons inspector at Iraq, Charles Duelfer, had been in a narrow escape in a car bombing situation involving one of the roads outside Baghdad.  And a year ago, I would assume we would have been saying, well, obviously he was targeted.  It was a specific hit.  They knew where he was going to be.  They thought he could be a prime target.  Is there now such violence and threat of violence, kidnapping, car bombs, against all westerners, that this could have been just a coincidence?  They didn‘t know who it was? 

DOWNING:  I personally think it was a coincidence because these roads now, this highway, 11 to 12 kilometers of highway, 7.2 miles between the Green Zone and Baghdad International Airport, still to this day, Keith, is subject to attack.  So for Charles Duelfer to be hit like that very well could have been a random assault. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  General Wayne Downing.  As always, sir, a pleasure and again a pleasure to have you here in person. 

DOWNING:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Addended to our number five story.  More on the other Middle Eastern crisis, the health of Yasser Arafat.  He is still alive but he is also said to still be near death.  According to the Palestinian foreign minister, Arafat is suffering from brain damage, only his heart and lungs are functioning properly.  The French prime minister echoed the severity of his condition saying the 75-year-old leader is living his final hours while a Palestinian aide said Arafat is in, quote, “the final phase of his life.”  Those phrases were first used last week. 

A top Islamic cleric was dispatched to Paris today to read the Koran at his bedside.  And Palestinian officials made plans to fly his body to Cairo for a funeral.  And then on to his compound in Ramallah for burial. 

The first nominee to the president‘s new cabinet is announced here today.  Mr. Gonzales said to take over as the top man at justice.  Will his confirmation be about him, his heritage or his past connection to Enron? 

And making your vote count, maybe.  Drastic measures in the works in North Carolina because of a machine error, a machine with no paper trail.  Now the entire state may have to vote all over again.  Standby. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Who is Alberto Gonzales, and why has President Bush now appointed him to five jobs in nine, year.  The attorney general designate, next here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Here comes the judge, no disrespect intended.  That‘s what his White House colleague call the newly announced attorney general designate. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, less than 24 hours after revealing John Ashcroft‘s resignation, the White House has revealed his successor.  Pending confirmation, Alberto Gonzales, would become the first Hispanic attorney general in American history.  This is his fifth appointment by George Bush as governor of Texas or as president of the United States since 1996.  From general counsel to the governor to Texas secretary of state to Texas Supreme Court justice to White House counsel. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Do I look forward if confirmed to continue to work with my friend and colleagues in the White House in a different capacity on behalf of our president.  As we move forward to make America better, safer, and stronger. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like his presumed predecessor, Gonzales, himself is not without controversy.  He‘s the author of the memo giving the president the authority to wave the anti-torture tenants of the Geneva Convention.

Joining me now to help paint a picture of the nominee in full is Paul Burka, the executive editor of “Texas Monthly” magazine.  Mr Burka, thanks again for your time. 

PAUL BURKA, “TEXAS MONTHLY”:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, if the same man has hired you for your last five jobs, he must like what you‘re doing. 

What‘s the origin of the bond between Judge Gonzales and the president? 

BURKA:  Well, they just have hit it off from the beginning.  And Governor Bush, when he was in Texas, made him his general counsel at the governor‘s office.  They are very close and I think it‘s the kind of appointment that you would expect in the second term, to have someone who is 100 percent loyal to the president.  This is not a political appointment, like John Ashcroft was to satisfy the base.  This is an appointment to help the president. 

OLBERMANN:  Those who do not like the appointment suggest that Alberto Gonzales has a connection to Enron.  Can you explain that, and is that criticism really fair or is it too far off on a tangent? 

BURKA:  It is pretty much a tangent.  Benson and Elkens (ph) which is the firm that Alberto Gonzales came out of has been Enron‘s lawyer and they were at the end of Enron, which was in 2001.  They were very controversial because they gave it a clean bill of health.  But by that time, Alberto Gonzales was no longer, of course, with Benson and Elkens and he hadn‘t been for six years.  I‘ve never heard any indication that Alberto Gonzales was involved in doing legal work for Enron.  So I just, I think that‘s a stretch.  It is kind of guilt by association. 

OLBERMANN:  That sounds like exactly what it is.  He had been mentioned, though, as a possible Supreme Court nominee for the last month or so.  At first blush (ph), you might stay that this appointment as A.G.  would preclude that, but this is really, I guess, a question about the president.  He moved Judge Gonzales to a new job every two years in Texas and then finally into the White House. 

Could you foresee him moving him again before his term is up?  If there is a future, if not immediate vacancy in the Supreme Court two years from now, say, could you see now or then the Attorney General Gonzales being nominated for the Supreme Court? 

BURKA:  I think that‘s an astute observation.  It could well happen.  It doesn‘t look like the timing is right for it now though, because if the Rehnquist seat becomes vacant, I‘m sure that the president will want to replace him with a strong conservative.  And the conservatives view Alberto Gonzalez as a moderate based on the Texas Supreme Court. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul Burka, the executive editor of “Texas Monthly” magazine, we thank you again for your time and your perspective tonight, sir. 

When he announced his resignation yesterday, the current attorney general said, “The objective of securing the safety of American from crime and terror has been achieved.”  Today Homeland Security Department dropped the heightened terror alert status of the financials institutions in New York, News Jersey and Washington.  Homeland Deputy Secretary James Lloyd telling reporters in a conference call that the color coding would go back from orange to yellow. 

In August, in the aftermath of the discovery of the surveillance of the site, Homeland Security raised the level on the Citigroup Center and the stock exchange in New York, the IMF and World Bank headquarters in D.C.  and Prudential headquarters in New Jersey.  The surveillance data later turned out to be several years old.  Since New York city has technically remained at orange alert since 9/11, it is unclear how that would practically impact the locations there. 

History of another kind in New York.  A woman gives birth to twins three days before her birthday, her 57th birthday.  Therein lies perhaps the definition of our nightly segment “Oddball.”

And another day, another ex-juror in the Peterson trial.  They‘re dropping like flies in there.  What‘s going on?  Answers later here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back.  And we pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s important news and world affairs for the segment full of strange people, weird animals that have nothing to do with American politics.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin in New York, where the mother of newborn twins Francesca and Gian Saint James (ph) is herself just 8 years shy of mandatory retirement.  Aleta Saint James, a 57-year-old motivational speaker, about to become 57-years-old, is believed to be the oldest woman in America to give birth to twins.  She‘s also the sister of Guardian Angels founder and former MSNBC personality Curtis Slewa (ph). 

All of which means, A, that by the time they‘re graduating high school, mommy will be 76.  And B, the number of children of former MSNBC personalities has just crossed the 10,000 mark. 

Moving to other natural curiosities, we go to New Orleans and the Auto Bahn Aquarium of the Americas.  This is the new home for the Finsky, the 5 legged frog.  Hello! 

Found in Kiln, Mississippi by—actually that‘s Keen, Kiln, Mississippi.  By a cat, the frog has one big extra leg sticking high out of his left side.  Great for volleyball, terrible for wind resistant hopping.  Despite the high price Finski might fetch in, say a French restaurant, the aquarium will do the right thing and offer him safe harbor in their froggy freak show.  Always saying, hello!

And finally to the Howl barracks in Canterbury, England, where her majesty the Queen visited in her official role as commander of the armed forces, photographed here as she sat with the 1st battalion of the Southerland Highlanders, decked out in their traditional uniform and kilts. 

A no nonsense bunch to be sure.  With the exception of this guy.  What is he smiling about?  Well, perhaps it is because unlike the rest of the men, Colonel Simon West never took the time to adjust his difficult into the sitting position.  Onlookers said the kilt flapped in the breeze for the duration of the event.  Repeat, the kilt flapped in the breeze. 

It appears the queen never noticed that the colonel had gone commando next to her, and thus she never had to repeat words of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, namely, we are not amused.

The Ohio county that locked down its vote count, because of warnings from the FBI and homeland security.  Remember them?  It turns out the FBI and homeland security know nothing about that warning.  Oh, and the glitch in another state is so bad, they may have to have another election there.  And the former president on what Democrats need to do in 2008 to get in some kind of win column.  Those stories ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWNS top 3 newsmakers of this day.  A special all dumb criminal edition. 

No. 3: Paul Eugene Levengood, manager of an ice cream shop in Red Bank, Tennessee, facing charges after 2 female employees accused him of spanking them for mistakes they made on the job.  His defense, they had signed a waiver when they were hired that read quote, “I give Gene permission to bust my behind anyway he sees fit.”  I don‘t think that‘s legally binding, Gene, but a nice try. 

No. 2, Stephen Buyter, a 28-year-old truck driver from Texas arrested after he flagged down state police in Louisiana telling them he had believed that someone had stashed illegal drugs in his big rig.  After a thorough search, cops did in fact find illegal drugs, methamphetamines in the cab.  To which Buyter said, no, those are mine. 

And No. 1, Claude Gibson Reynold from Sonoma County, California, arrested by police after he was got with his fire engine stuck in the mud and called police from the emergency radio.  The problem was not only was he completely intoxicated, also he had stolen the truck, smashed it through the fire station doors to get it out, with the intention—he had tried to push his own car, which had also been stuck in the same mud.  Mr. Gibson Reynolds later told the San Francisco Chronicle quote, “I could probably get on the World‘s Dumbest Criminal show.”  As we call it, the news makers segment of COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Seven little words in a headline in a major metropolitan daily newspaper, a sentence that could encapsulate all the fears of the age of electronic voting, glitch could force state to vote again.  Another Internet aluminum foil hat nightmare scenario, nope.  The actual headlines screaming from the Charlotte Observer.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, North Carolina may have to hold a second election for some or all statewide offices, because of one failed computer voting apparatus.  Professor David Dill on e-voting and “Newsweek”‘s Jonathan Alter covering the coverage. 

But, first, it‘s your tax dollars in action, day nine of the 2004 election irregularities investigations.  The possible do-over in North Carolina owes to a UniLect Corporation machine in Carteret County.  It ate 4,532 votes.  It just stopped counting at 3,005.  There are two statewide races that could be decided by less than that number of votes.  And the losing candidate would be entitled to a new election. 

But state law appears to prevent North Carolina from just holding a second vote in the affected county, Carteret.  It reads—quote—“The new election shall be held in the entire jurisdiction in which the original election was held.”  Does that mean the whole state?  The head of North Carolina‘s Board of Elections isn‘t sure.  And he does not know if North Carolina has ever had to conduct such a second vote. 

If it happens, though, it apparently will not impact the presidential vote from North Carolina. 

Same state, different problem.  Gaston has become the sixth North Carolina county to revise its vote totals from Election Day.  Turnout was not 45 percent there.  It was 57 percent.  They were off by nearly 12,000 votes.  Someone, said county elections director Sandra Page, forgot to follow the point-and-click procedure. 

Speaking of forgetting procedures, somebody forgot something in Ohio.  That mysterious lockdown in Warren County outside Cincinnati has gotten even stranger.  The county commission president had said, officials of the FBI and Homeland Security had repeatedly warned them in person that they faced a terrorist threat that ranked a 10 on a scale of one to 10, so they walled off the vote count there last Tuesday night. 

Now officials at both the FBI and Homeland Security say they never notified anybody in Warren County of any such terrorist threats, raising the question anew, why did they seal that building off? 

One Ohio mystery has been clear up, however, the infamous Cleveland area precincts which appeared to have more votes than voters.  It was absentee ballots, specifically ballots where, say, a congressman is shared among several precincts.  All the absentee ballots would be assigned to just one of those precincts, making it look as if more than 100 percent of voters had voted in that precinct. 

Boulder County, Colorado.  An optical scanning system may cost an election official her job.  County Clerk Linda Salas now says, “I am sure they will want to recall me or get rid of me, and that‘s fine,” after it took three days for her office to produce vote totals for the local congressional race and which party was in charge of the state legislature. 

The optical scanners stretched or squashed thousands of paper ballots in Boulder County, rendering their bar codes unreadable and causing Ms.  Salas and her staff to have to count those ballots by hand. 

Prospects for a recount in New Hampshire dimmed when Assistant Attorney General Bud Fitch told COUNTDOWN today that not only would Ralph Nader have to pay a $2,000 filing fee, but he would also be liable for the entire cost of a recount, perhaps $50,000. 

At a news conference today, Nader demanded recounts in four voting districts in that state.  And he said the national vote had made this county—quote—“the laughing stock of the world,” that—quote—

“this election is not over,” that the outcome in Ohio had been—quote—

“hijacked from A to Z” and that John Kerry should demand a recount there. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want him to say that he conceded too quickly and that subsequent information that has come out indicates that there needs to be a thorough recount and a thorough investigation.  And, second, he should say even that if it doesn‘t change the outcome, he wants to fulfill his promise. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  There are really only three possible explanations for all of this.  The first is hoped for virtually unanimously by supporters of every candidate and every party, namely, that all those elected last Tuesday got in because that‘s the way the people voted. 

The second is that some of them got in through manipulation of a series of insufficiently sophisticated, insufficiently secure computer voting machines that might be hacked into by the nearest 9-year-old.  But the third possibility is actually more heart-stopping, still, one that threatens the democracy in the way 100 terrorist rings could not, that the president or the District 90 dog catcher or other Republicans or other Democrats were elected because a series of insufficiently sophisticated, insufficiently secure computer voting machines was affected by bad design, bad use, damp ballots, power surges, and/or static cling. 

To talk about those computers, I‘m joined now by an expert in the field.  David Dill is a professor of computer science at Stanford University, founder and board director of the nonpartisan group Verified Voting Foundation. 

Professor Dill, good evening.  Thanks for your time. 

DAVID DILL, FOUNDER, VERIFIED VOTING FOUNDATION:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  I didn‘t make that up about the static cling.  One of the big glitches has been attributed to static electricity. 

Which of the overall explanations seems likelier to you, a combination of malfunction and misuse or deliberate hacking to alter the results? 

DILL:  Malfunction is usually, or incompetence sometimes, is usually the better explanation when you have a choice.

There‘s a big difference between the Carteret story, where the votes are just lost and maybe they have to hold a new election, and the stories of static cling or wet ballots.  With the wet ballots, you can do a manual recount and we can eventually get the answer without holding a new election.  With electronic voting, there‘s no safety net.  And so, if you lose the votes, all you can do is hold a new election. 

OLBERMANN:  If there had been hacking, would there be evidence of it?  Or are all these stories getting out about these disasters with the computers in fact evidence that there hasn‘t been hacking because we found out about it?

DILL:  We don‘t know whether there‘s hacking or not.  I haven‘t seen convincing evidence that there‘s been any kind of hacking. 

I know that there are a lot of different ways to hack the machines.  And the auditing that we ought to be doing to catch it is in many cases not being done.  Yes, so, basically, I don‘t know. 

OLBERMANN:  You say that the auditing that we need to be doing isn‘t being done.  Can you be specific?  What needs to be done that isn‘t being done? 

DILL:  Well, first of all, you need audit records, right?  You need paper ballots, I think, with the current technology we have. 

And you need to do the audits.  In California, we recount 1 percent—or manually count 1 percent of the precincts in places where we have paper ballots to count.  No other state does that, to my knowledge.  And that ought to be done everywhere.  It ought to be very easy for candidates to just ask for a recount at reasonable cost and get it.  That‘s not true in most states.  And because of this, we never really know whether our elections are correct. 

OLBERMANN:  I know this is an apples-and-oranges question.  And I‘m asking you as an expert in one of the fields, but not necessarily both. 

But it seems a lot of the skepticism about the presidential results and other results in the election seems to boil down to this one question.  Would it be easier to broadly fix the election electronically or to broadly fix the exit polling? 

DILL:  I think accidental error is the most likely explanation if there‘s a problem with the exit poll. 

But I‘m pretty upset about this whole exit poll problem.  And I think that the American people should be.  If they‘re Bush supporters, they should be angry that the legitimacy of the elected person has been called into question.  If they‘re Kerry supporters, maybe they‘re suspicious. 

I think that those exit poll companies owe an explanation to the American people.  And they owe us the release of the data, so that independent experts can check their claims. 

OLBERMANN:  Professor David Dill of the computer science department at Stanford and of the Verified Voting Foundation, great thanks for your time and your insight, sir.

DILL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  As you know, our reporting on the election irregularities began on the Internet Sunday and on COUNTDOWN Monday.

Listen night, ABC News did a brief and dismissive report on the subject.  Today, the subject appeared in “The Boston Globe,” late this afternoon on a CNN political program.  And that remains about it for the coverage. 

Joining me to try to figure out why and whether or not the media can help influence the fixing of the manifold problems, I‘m joined again by “Newsweek” senior editor and columnist and NBC News political analyst Jonathan Alter. 

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Even assuming there‘s nothing nefarious about the national election, why has the cascade of irregularities around this country occurred virtually in a news blackout? 

ALTER:  Well, I‘m not justifying this, but, by way of explanation, I think it is that there‘s no sense that, with a three and a half million vote difference, that this would affect the outcome, even if there were widespread irregularities found. 

So, right off the bat, a lot of news organizations are going to say, well, this is a local story about problems here or problems there, but nothing that would turn this into a 2000 election repeat. 

OLBERMANN:  So, if it‘s a local story, though, you‘re throwing not spotlights on programs, but flashlights.  And if that‘s the case, how is anything about the Rube Goldberg voting process of ours and the individual state-by-state Rube Goldberg processes ever going to be fixed?

Because, obviously, the politicians are not going to volunteer to fix it, because the system as it is benefits incumbents of any party. 

ALTER:  Well, it‘s a problem. 

I think we have to look to the political process here to fix it.  Congressman Rush Holt has a bill in the House that would require a paper trail.  They have legislated nationally already on elections.  Remember, these provisional ballots that we‘ve heard about a lot this year, they were mandated by a federal law in the year 2002. 

If they can mandate provisional ballots, they can mandate other things nationwide to make these elections cleaner and make the voters feel as if their votes have been counted.  It‘s crazy that we‘re going to have elections soon in Iraq and we can‘t get our act together here in the United States.  So this is about the press and the people starting to exert political pressure.  Your program is a great example of it in action, so that Congress takes some responsibility. 

If the next election is close, we won‘t have confidence in it.  The only reason we dodged a bullet this time is because the margin was 3.5 million. 

OLBERMANN:  But, as a last point—and I guess this is the sort of journalistic thumb-sucking thing here—but if I said to you a county in the decisive state of Ohio kept the media out, even briefly kept out one of the ballot count watchers from the ballot count, announced it had been warned by the FBI and Homeland Security that there was terror threat, a 10 on the scale, and a week later, the FBI and Homeland Security say, we never warned anybody about anything, if you‘re a reporter, magazine, TV, radio, Internet, you‘re the town crier, don‘t you just say, regardless of the long-term impact, don‘t you say, what a story; I‘m heading out there to find out what the hell happened?

ALTER:  Absolutely.  And they should be.

And you are absolutely right to be like a dog with a bone on this story.  And I think you‘ll see over the next few days other reporters starting to get their act together.  Remember, some of them are coming back from vacation. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

ALTER:  They were pretty exhausted after the election.  And you‘ll hear more about this story in the days and weeks to come. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  This is twice in two nights that I‘ve kind of pounded other people in this profession, and I don‘t mean to do that. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Because it‘s the longest—on top of everything else, it was the longest campaign we had.  And people just saw—when John Kerry conceded, they saw an opportunity to get four days off in a row. 

ALTER:  Don‘t give up on it, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Jon, Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek.”  And thanks, also, for joining us, as always, sir.

ALTER:  Thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  From making your vote count, the second or third try, to making your party count, second or third try, Bill Clinton in his own words, candid talk about what went wrong for the Democrats and what to do to fix that. 

And what‘s going wrong with the Peterson jury?  Today, the jury foreman got the boot.  Any hope of ending this long national nightmare? 

Now, with a special appearance by Ralph Nader as Richard Nixon, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NADER:  The shock of losing is accompanied by, you must go out with class, John.  You must be seen in history not to go out like Richard Nixon.  You won‘t have me to kick around anymore. 

(LAUGHTER)

ALISON STEWART, NBC ANCHOR:  And how many alternates remain at this point? 

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Alison, before this latest shakeup, we had four alternates left.  If we‘re taking No. 3, well, we can do the math there.  That would leave with us two alternates left. 

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

JAY LENO, HOST:  Hey, did you see President Bush‘s press conference the other day?  He got a little testy with one reporter. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Ed, and then Stevens. 

QUESTION:  There‘s a perception out there that your administration has been one that favors big business.

LENO:  Look at him.  Doesn‘t he look mad?  Now, did you see what happened when he ran into that reporter in the hall right afterwards?  Keep the tape rolling.  Oh, no, man.  Look at that.  What was that all about?  What was that all about? 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Former President Clinton taking part of the blame for why the country is so divided.  And is there deep division in the Peterson jury?  Another juror gone.  What are they doing in there, filming a new series of “Survivor”?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Upon John Kerry‘s concession, political dialogue in this country immediately and almost exclusively became about one topic. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not do anything but conduct an autopsy on the Democratic Party.  If even the guest speaker at an Upstate New York college is doing it, it must be the thing.  Bill Clinton at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There was an astonishing turnout among evangelical Christians, who said they were voting on the basis of moral values. 

I do not believe either party has a monopoly on morality or truth.  I do not believe that the Democrats can seek to be a truly national party—they may win more national elections, but we cannot be nationally competitive unless we feel comfortable talking about our convictions. 

Denial is not an acceptable strategy when issues are of obsessive concern to huge numbers of the American people.  We had a story to tell about abortion.  It wasn‘t told.  We had a position to take on gay marriage. 

I think that the current divisions are partly the fault of me, of the people in my party, for not engaging the Christian evangelical community in a serious discussion of what it would take to promote a real culture of life and what the best strategy for reducing abortions is or an open discussion of where we are on the issue of gays in America. 

On every issue, you could organize a national political party in America or any other country in the world, one slightly right of center, the other slightly left of center.  The only thing that can derail us is if we get into a position where we say politics is evidence-free.  Don‘t bother me with the facts.  And if you‘re not in my party, you‘ve got nothing to tell me.  And if you don‘t agree with me, then you deserve whatever you get. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Something to cheer Mr. Clinton up courtesy of Cosma Shalizi of the Center For the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan and two colleagues. 

It is an alteration of the red states-blue states map which resizes the states by population.  This is the strict red-blue state map.  What is next is a cartogram, computerized redesign, based on how many live where.  It looks a little different.  It like a butterfly.  No, it is Catwoman, Catwoman.  No, it is a talking fish from movie “Monty Python‘s Meaning of Life.” 

Well, whatever, they‘ve actually gone further than this.  This is the cartogram in which the red and blue counties are resized according to population.  And this is clearly a chicken with a cat‘s head facing left. 

Lastly on this political and public policy front, I messed up here last night.  We had the investigative author Gerald Posner to dispute the recent series of advertisements claiming that, on 9/11, the Pentagon was not hit by a plane and that World Trade Center building No. 7 did not collapse because of the terrorist attack, but rather because somebody deliberately blew it up internally with explosives. 

Well, I asked Mr. Posner a lot of things, but, stupidly, I never asked him how building seven did collapse.  So we asked him today by e-mail.  Gerald Posner‘s response in part: “It suffered structural damage from the collapse of World Trade Center one and two.  A fire had started.  The real problem was that 42,000 gallons of diesel fuel was stored near ground level to run emergency backup systems for the mayor‘s command center and the Secret Service.

“When that fuel burned, it undermined a series of steel beams that originally allowed the skyscraper to be built on top of multistory electrical transformers.  Those steel beams, called transfer trusses in the construction business, were critical to the building‘s integrity.  Once they failed, the building collapsed.  Without the diesel fuel, the building would have done fine.”

No easy transition tonight into our nightly round-up of celebrity news and gossip.  So we simply welcome back an old favorite to “Keeping Tabs,” Liza with a Z and a lawsuit.  Once again, Ms. Minnelli accused of beating up a man in her home.  First, it was estranged husband David Gest.  This time, it‘s her former driver and bodyguard.  What is she, Xena the warrior princess? 

M‘Hammed Soumayah sued her claiming that she used to beat him up and eventually, after prolonged attempts, forced him to have sex with her.  Now she has countersued for at least a quarter of a million dollars.  If you‘re the judge, do you really want this case?  Apparently, she can knock you into next week or seduce you in only four to six weeks. 

And stop me if this storyline sounds familiar.  A high-profile celebrity familiar from television files a lawsuit against a woman accusing her of extortion and blackmail.  And, then a day later, the woman files a suit of her own rife with shocking allegations of abuse.  No, there was no falafel involved. 

Not Bill O‘Reilly this time, but rather Burt Reynolds today sued by Pamela Seals, his ex-girlfriend.  In the suit, Seals seeks punitive damages and half of Reynolds‘ Florida home and assets—half of the home? -- alleging the actor verbally and physically abused her, regularly screaming at her and, in one incident, allegedly stomping on her toes.  We can hook him up with Liza. 

Reynolds filed the preemption extortion lawsuit yesterday, alleging Seals threatened to go public with abuse allegations if he didn‘t agree to settlement.  That sounds familiar, too.  Loofah.  Loofah.  Loofah. 

Speaking of legal cases, it is actually possible that the Scott Peterson trial has been eclipsed by the Scott Peterson jury.  And another one bites the dust inside that jury room—next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Most theatrical images of juries date back to the Henry Fonda movie classic “12 Angry Men,” perspiring through their clothes, aspiring only to go home early.  Nowadays, they have air conditioning and women jurors.

But in our top story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a modified title would still work.  As another juror is kicked out of the Scott Peterson trial, it‘s 12 angry men and women.  Today, juror No. 5 relieved of his deliberation duties.  He was the jury foreman, a doctor and lawyer in his mid-40s, no reason officially given for his dismissal, although we have some pretty good guesses coming. 

And for the second time in as many days, Judge Alfred Delucchi instructed the latest incarnation of the Peterson jury to begin at the beginning. 

Here to help us sort out what seems to be at first blush nothing less than jury anarchy, trial lawyer and consultant Mark Mazzarella, also the co-author of “Reading People,” which he wrote with Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who we should note is a consultant for the defense in this case.

Mr. Mazzarella, good evening.

MARK MAZZARELLA, CO-AUTHOR, “READING PEOPLE”:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  I used the analogy earlier of the “Survivor” show from TV. 

Is that what‘s going on inside that jury room? 

MAZZARELLA:  There‘s an element of that, probably.

They‘re getting down to the point where they‘ve been deliberating for almost six days.  And you would expect them to start forming factions and trying to basically get alliances and pick up a juror here and a juror there until they get in this case a majority—a unanimous verdict. 

OLBERMANN:  The one they offed yesterday, who apparently did her own research on the case, I assume that there‘s only one way the judge could have known that, that the jurors—jurors are ratting each other out, aren‘t they? 

MAZZARELLA:  Well, typically, that‘s what happens. 

What happens is, somebody is using some facts as basically ammunition to try to persuade the other jurors.  And those facts weren‘t part of the testimony at trial.  They discover those facts through their own separate research.  And they do get ratted out.  That‘s usually what happens.

OLBERMANN:  What happened to the foreman?  That‘s a very unusual thing, to see the foreman go in the middle of a trial, isn‘t it, in the middle of deliberations, certainly.

MAZZARELLA:  Yes, it is interesting. 

And there certainly were reports that he was pretty tired and looked like he just basically had been through the wringer.  I suspect that would be something that, again, would be consistent with the idea that that‘s a tough deliberation in there right now.  And, as the foreman, he‘s getting the brunt of it. 

OLBERMANN:  Any others coming or going in the immediate future, do we know? 

MAZZARELLA:  Well, I have it on pretty good authority that juror No. 8 wanted out on Monday for financial reasons.  And the judge told him to get back and continue deliberating.  But he apparently wants out in the worst way. 

OLBERMANN:  So, ultimately, what is going to decide this case, the jury or the jury‘s conduct?  Are we going to get a verdict or a hung jury out of this?  Or there just aren‘t going to be enough of them left at the end? 

MAZZARELLA:  Well, part of the problem with this, even though it‘s gone for quite a while, there‘s been so much disruption and they do have to sort of retool every time, that the fact that they‘ve been going for five ½ days doesn‘t necessarily mean that there‘s going to be a hung jury. 

There‘s a lot of cases where they have a lot of trouble getting to a verdict.  In this case, the judge has probably two more admonitions before he gets to the point where he will call a hung jury.  He‘s going to tell them to get back in, that it‘s their duty to go back and come with a decision, that they‘re just as smart as the next jury, so they might as well do their job.  And he‘ll tell them that twice before he declares a hung jury. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see how it turns out.

Jury consultant and lawyer Mark Mazzarella, many thanks for your insights tonight, sir.

MAZZARELLA:  You‘re welcome.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  We have just touched on the case.  Up next here on MSNBC, a special prime-time edition of “THE ABRAMS REPORT,” Dan Abrams on not just the jury, which is what we touched on, but the entire circus, the trial as it proceeds now with yet another composition of another jury. 

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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