updated 11/23/2004 10:25:33 AM ET 2004-11-23T15:25:33

Guest: Jim Gray, Robin Ficker, Maureen Ryan

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Fights at basketball games, fights at football games, fights at baseball news conferences?  The NBA commissioner comes down on the players, but will the suspensions hold up and will the district attorney prosecute?

The deer hunter.  At least five are dead in Wisconsin because they confronted another who was hunting from their tree stand. 

The Ohio recount.  Is John Kerry connected to it or not?  Did he refer to it or not in a mass e-mail as videotape sent to his supporters?

And free stuff from the rich lady.  Oprah Winfrey showers teachers with high priced gifts.  Not just ordinary teacher, screaming teachers.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  On April 17, 1977, a basketball playoff game at Oakland between the Detroit Pistons and Golden State Warriors was halted for 10 minutes during the third quarter when fans suddenly poured out of the stands and joined a brawl between two players.  Soon, all of the players and the coaches were in the middle of the melee and police and security personnel had to break it up. 

But there were two key elements left out of that chaos.  There was no national telecast of the mayhem and no live cable on which it could be replayed again and again. 

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN,” Friday night at Auburn Hills, Michigan, all the components were in place.  Thus what may or may not have factually been the worst episode of fan/player violence in basketball or sports history sure looked like it.  If you‘re just returning to the planet from a weekend away, this was the scene as time ran out from the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.  Controversial Indiana player Ron Artest clothes lining Detroit‘s Ben Wallace, a Detroit fan throwing a beverage at Artest.  Artest going into the stands and appearing to hit the wrong fan.  And then it was ollie ollie oxen free. 

Artest was last night suspended for the balance of the season.  His teammate Stephen Jackson suspended for 30 games, his teammate Jermaine O‘Neal for 25.  Five other players got shorter suspensions.  Pacers management said today it was standing behind its players 100 percent.  Coach Rick Carlisle saying the excessive negative portrayal of the team was not consistent with the players he coaches.  Today police and prosecutors filed no charges against anybody, though they ruled out self-defense for player Artest and they did not rule out prosecuting later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF DOREEN OLKO, AUBURN HILLS POLICE DEPT: We have been in contact with the Pacer organization and expect that they will cooperate fully with our investigation as it continues.  No special treatment is being accorded to any person because of their status as a player, a member of either organization or for any other reason. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of possible interest to the authorities, the fan in the white hat as he‘s been described who appears to have thrown the beer that started it all and then tried to get Artest from behind, was identified by Detroit area media as John Green of West Bloomfield, Michigan.  Meantime, my old NBC sports colleague and friend Jim Gray was the sideline reporter for ESPN‘s live telecast of the event.  He joins us now. Jim, good evening. 

JIM GRAY, ESPN:  Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN:  Well, where we are again talking about the same old stuff, fans versus players.  Was this worse than television showed or did television make it worse than it actually was?

GRAY:  That‘s an interesting question, Keith.  Having seen it both live and on the replay now several times, I‘m not sure I can sugar coat it either way.  It was just deplorable in all instances.  The behavior of the fans was despicable.  Ron Artest going into the stands indiscriminately swinging after people.  You can‘t condone in any way, shape or form that.  That was horrible and it just disintegrated from there.  So I think it was as bad on tape as it was live and it‘s never going to look any good. 

OLBERMANN:  The suspensions, they were hefty.  Are they fitting and given the history of what happens when the NBA tries to suspend a player, are they going to stick or are they going to wind up being reduced, do you think?

GRAY:  Well, Latrell Sprewell‘s suspension was reduced.  It was supposed to be for a year and then they decided to lop off those games when the next year started.  So there is precedent for a reduction. Stephen Jackson should have gotten more games.  What did he was just outright horrendous.  Ron Artest, that‘s a very tough penalty by the commissioner.  It is setting the precedent.  It‘s setting the bar very high.  The commissioner and the NBA don‘t want any people going into the stands.  I don‘t know.  Maybe in a few weeks or with the players‘ association, it could be reduced somewhat but it‘s not going to be reduced substantially.  It‘s going to be a hefty, hefty fine and a major, major suspension. 

But I think Jermaine O‘Neal, I think there‘s a legitimate reason for that one to be reduced.  He never left the court, 25 games and $4.5 million.  That‘s an all of lot of money.  He did punch somebody who came out onto the court but I think that he has a pretty good case with his appeal and maybe that one will be reduced the most Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Jim, give me some context.  This is Ron Artest who we‘re just seeing getting doused on his way out after the entire incident pretty much wound down.  Artest has had a troubled career in the NBA and a particularly trouble season, has he not?

GRAY:  Well, on the court, his season was going pretty well.  He had asked for some time off because he has a CD coming out tomorrow and so he had asked, could he have some time off to be able to promote that CD and to spend some time, he said, with his family.  He asked for a month off.  It was quickly denied.  It was ridiculed.  It was outrageous.  It was asinine for him to be asking this.  He said he needed the time and then he could come back and pay full attention to basketball. 

I believe it was Shaquille O‘Neal who said last week, you‘d better go with where your butter—with the butter on your bread and you‘d better learn real quickly that it is basketball that is carrying the freight here, not your CD.  So troubled? I don‘t know that it has been troubled this season, but it‘s been amusing to some people up until this fight that a guy would ask for time off with the season just starting.  It‘s not very amusing to those who are hard core fans who think that it‘s behavior that‘s outrageous. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, he‘s got the time off.  We know that. 

GRAY:  He does now. 

OLBERMANN:  One last one Jim. Beyond these suspensions, is there a realization that alone among the team sports, that basketball does not even have that token barrier of offense between players and fans and that that might somehow have to change now?

GRAY:  I think security is going to be reviewed in all of the buildings.  There‘s a mandate from the NBA.  Players I don‘t think will ever go back into the stands again.  I mean it would have to take some kind of an incredible episode for there to be a player to go into the stands.  As far as the barrier, I just can‘t see it.  Let‘s not paint the entire canvas with one stroke of the brush.  They‘ve played thousands upon thousands upon thousands of games and Keith, this doesn‘t happen.  This is a very abnormal occurrence.  It is something that everybody‘s going to have to learn from.  The one thing that I would say is I think that we were kind of lucky, lucky insofar as not to have a disturbance, but lucky that there was nobody seriously injured and lucky that there weren‘t a lot of Pacer fans who had traveled to this game, because had this been a playoff game, we‘d have had 1,000, 2,000 Pacers fans. Then we really could have had a melee. 

OLBERMANN:  A superb point.  Jim Gray of ABC Sports and ESPN, as always my friend, a pleasure to talk to you.  I‘m sorry it had to be about this. 

GRAY:  Keith, thank you for having me on.  Good to talk to you as well. 

OLBERMANN:  Take care. As I suggested, unlike in football, baseball or hockey, the line separating fans and players in basketball is entirely imaginary and for an imaginary line, it has worked surprisingly well at least until last Friday.  For 12 seasons, attorney Robin Ficker was the foremost fan at that invisible barricade.  He attended the games of the Washington Bullets, now called the Washington Wizards, sat behind the visiting team‘s bench, well occasionally he sat.  Most of the time he stood up and became known to every player in the league for his verbal virtuosity. He yelled at them. They yelled back at him, but the only actual contact, the occasional towel thrown his way.  Robin Ficker joins us now from Washington. God evening to you sir.

ROBIN FICKER, SPORTS FAN AND FAMED HECKLER:  Well, it is nice to be with you.  Actually I did have Gatorade thrown at me a number of times and I would look up and say, is it raining in here? The Golden State Warriors threw towels, cups, and Gatorade and I looked at them and said I was the only thing you hit all night.  I don‘t think fans should be throwing beer on to the court.  Maybe they should face a disorderly conduct charge, certainly it‘s not a jailable offense.  When the players are earning more for playing a single game than the average American is earning a whole year, I think that the players should be able to withstand the arrows and jabs of the words and also perhaps a beer shower. 

OLBERMANN:  And just say like you did, I wonder if it is raining.  I was thinking of the baseball episode in Oakland in September where the Texas pitcher threw a chair into the stands at one of the hecklers there and the infamous 10 cent beer night in Cleveland, which is 30 years ago.  There was a fan there went on to the field and took a folding metal chair and hit Jeff Burrows (ph) of the Texas Rangers over the head with it.  I was thinking about all these incidents that involve fans and players and crossing the line and one, the fans go onto the field, the players go into the stands.  They all seem to have one thing in common, alcohol.  Do we underestimate the impact of alcohol in things like this?

FICKER:  You can‘t bring back prohibition.  I know that the NBA is promoting propinquity, closeness, intimacy with the players.  The Washington Wizards last week had a promotion, even giving a date with one of the players.  The players have to deal with fans who have been drinking in bars after the game, so they should be able to deal with fans, some of whom have been drinking, during the game.  In some of the cities, the courtside seats, they give away as many drinks as you could possibly want.  I never used to drink anything at the games.  That way you‘re under control.  No swearing, no racial or sexual comments, no comments about children.  But perhaps these players could put in ear plugs, which they can buy for $3.  Perhaps they should have sensitivity training like the police have in dealing with people who they‘re going to arrest and learn to withstand some of the comments.  Perhaps there should be some role playing during the exhibition season, rather than just some practice games. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, is what we saw Friday an isolated incident, do you think? Or has the relationship between the fan and the player coarsened to the point now of being dangerous?

FICKER:  Well, I think any time you have people close together where they have diametrically different points of view and it‘s a highly competitive situation, you‘re going to have some things said that perhaps shouldn‘t be said and some actions taken that shouldn‘t be taken.  But you can‘t have thought police going up into the stands and say, well, you said Charles Barkley has guts and that‘s OK.  But you said this one, the other person said you said Charlie Barkley has guts and that‘s the problem.  He has three of them and that‘s improper.  You can‘t have policing of the words.  Perhaps a plastic barrier, like they have at banks or like they have at the hockey games.  Perhaps ring ropes like they have in boxing.  But here you have the equivalent of fans sitting in a boxing ring, having something to drink in a very competitive situation. 

OLBERMANN:  Robin Ficker, attorney and for 12 seasons, the best known NBA fan, at least this side of Spike Lee. Many thanks for your time tonight sir.

FICKER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The National Basketball Association is probably the most successfully marketed sport in American history.  A quarter of a century ago, as many as half of its teams were on such shaky financial ground that a threatened players strike would have probably bankrupted them.  But the league turned into a financial Garden of Eden, pivoting on promotional ads based on one simple phrase, I love this game.  Now the COUNTDOWN version thereof. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A suspicious lack of security.  Sleeper holes, open handed chop to the Adam‘s apple.  More knuckle sandwiches than you can fit in your lunch box.  And oh, yeah, cool beverages.  The NBA.  I love this game!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It all went to hell for them once they went to NBC.  Extraordinarily though, this did not end with the last punch thrown nor the last beer hurled.  Outside Detroit Friday night, fights had to be broken up at a college football game, at a baseball news conference and at a diplomatic dinner in Chile.  The South Carolina Clemson football game Saturday night, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden saying the players for 24 hours, they watched that basketball fiasco on TV.  That‘s all they watched.  They sat there and watched it and watched it and watched it. 

Who says you can‘t learn things from television? This began as Clemson‘s players ran on to the field for the start of the game and after referees failed to call what might have been a series of personal fouls, it erupted in full with five minutes to go in a 29-7 Clemson victory.  No players have been punished but in a form of self-punishment, today both schools said they would not accept any invitations to the lucrative post-season bowl games.

And your sport does not even have to be in season for a brawl to break out.  At the news conference announcing the name of the new baseball team in Washington, the Washington Nationals, a man protesting the public financing of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) new stadium got on the stage.  A scuffle ensued. The podium was nearly toppled, as was Washington‘s veteran 73-year-old public address announcer Charlie Brotman (ph), the man in the back with the glasses.  Can‘t you boys wait for opening day?

And if you like the theory that violence moves like an unseen cloud around the globe, it has wafted from Michigan to Washington, from South Carolina to Chile.  There, members of the president‘s Secret Service detail got into a shoving and pushing match outside the dining room where Mr. Bush was to join 20 other world leaders.  The president‘s body guards had been denied access to that room by their Chilean counterparts. 

In a major role reversal, the president himself intervened, breaking away from a photo op with the first lady and Chile‘s president and his wife, to pull his lead agent out of the fracas.  None of the agents have yet been signed by the National Basketball Association. 

Speaking of intervening, the Democratic party does so unexpectedly in the Ohio recount and John Kerry speaks to his supporters.  No media involved.

The war in Iraq.  Some military brass say to stay ahead of the insurgents, they‘ll to have increase the American head count.  And now stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  More soldiers, less debt, less certainty about whether dead insurgents really are dead. More context from our reporter who bore witness to the hellish confirmation that such an insurgent really was dead.  Our reports in the COUNTDOWN tonight, Iraq and we begin with the issue of American troop strength with another call for a higher number.  Senior offices, officers rather, quoted by the “Washington Post” today, estimating an extra 3,000 more troops needed in order to hunt down insurgents and to rebuild Fallujah. 

The question is, where would those extra soldiers be found? Commanders could keep the current troops past their rotation dates or bring the third infantry division in ahead of schedule, but it is most likely that the 82nd airborne, currently on emergency stand by here in the states would be flown into Iraq to fill up the gaps. 

And while the investigation into what seemed to be a Marine shooting an unarmed insurgent inside a Fallujah mosque, is still ongoing. The reporter who videotaped the incident, broke his week-long silence using the Internet to put his experience into context.  On his personal blog, which is not affiliated with MSNBC or NBC, Kevin Sites wrote an open letter to the Marine division with whom he is in embedded, seeking to offer them as he put it, the facts from me in my own words about what I saw. 

Sites says he looked closely at the dead and wounded insurgents inside the mosque and did not see any weapons and no movement apart from breathing and as to the shooting itself, he says the wounded Iraqi did not make any sudden movements before the Marine opened fire.  Over the course of the five page post, Sites says he heard the Marine say twice of one of men, he is faking he‘s dead.  And that he couldn‘t possibly know what was going on inside the serviceman‘s head at the time of the shooting. 

But Sites says after the Marine fired, he told the Marine that the wounded man had been there since the previous day and that the Marine‘s anger suddenly turned into fear and dread.  And he told Sites quote, I did not know, sir.  I didn‘t know. Sites also said he agonized over what to do about the footage which NBC was obligated to share with all other networks.  Quote, I considered not feeding the tape to the pool or even for a moment destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong.

A week after that incident was caught on camera, a military spokesman in Fallujah says another group of Marines encountered a faking dead crisis of their own.  According to central command, a unit from the first Marine division was on a security and clearing patrol yesterday afternoon when it came across a militant who quote, while faking dead, opened fire, unquote.  Marines returned that fire and killed him.  No further details have been made public. 

This has been, the world‘s leading industrial nation‘s agreed to waive 80 percent of the nearly $39 billion Iraq owes them in debt.  But it‘s the other $90 billion Iraq owes mostly to Middle Eastern countries that will not be so easily forgiven. None of those nations were party to that weekend agreement.

And a slight change to a long standing political agreement.  Regardless of the fact that one in six voter registration centers are currently closed because of the violence in Iraq, the government has officially scheduled election day, not January 27 as originally planned, but rather, Sunday, January 30. 

Holidays getting to you? Post election stress trauma, perhaps? Hit something with a big stick while watching “Oddball.”

And that screeching sound you heard from your neighbor‘s TV today? It was Oprah again.  Some favorite things show or something.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and if I recall correctly, this is the time in the show when we pause the countdown of the day‘s breaking news for a quick segment filled with the day‘s broken news.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin with a new one from the strange things people do in other countries file.  In Spain, they call this therapy.  We call it smashy smashy.  Dozens of patients shelling out minor fees for the event in Mubia (ph), Spain.  It brought them a hard hat, a sledgehammer and a car to smash, please, to their heart‘s content.  All as live heavy metal music soothed the communal ear.  It‘s all the thrills of destroying and rolling over cars without having to wait for your team to win the World Series.

All very odd to be sure, but what happened next was especially disturbing.  And here come the mascots with the mounts.  It is difficult even to explain what‘s happening now.  Either this is extreme smash therapy with role play, or a deleted scene from the Tom Cruise bomb “Eyes Wide Shut.”  Sorry you had to witness that. 

To Australia, where nothing beats a relaxing game of golf played on the runway of a major international airport.  Make sure you adjust your lineup for wake turbulence, mate.  In a promotion for an upcoming golf tournament, the Sydney airport agreed to shut one runway down for this long drive competition.  Today featuring pro golfer Stuart Appleby, Peter O‘Malley and two other guys you‘ve never heard of.  Appleby won the competition.  Yay!  He won the competition with a 690-yard drive, a new world record, though we do not think the previous record took place on a mile and a half stretch of concrete.  Ah, heck.  This is just miniature golf with an attitude. 

Finally, to Chiang Mai, Thailand for the festival of the floating lanterns, an annual ritual for Buddhists who seek peace of mind and believe that flying lanterns will guide them along the path of good life and good luck.  More than 4,000 of them were set alight and launched into the night sky.  Many of them will float along that path to the good life.  The rest will simply catch fire and rain flaming debris onto hundreds of area homes. 

Amidst the debris of a failed presidential bid, is something still squiggling down at the bottom of the John Kerry pile?  Unexpected news from the Democrats about that recount in Ohio today.

And the implausible from Wisconsin.  Hunter on hunter violence.  Five dead, apparently in an argument over who got to shoot deer from which spot. 

These stories ahead now.  Here our COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.

No. 3, our COUNTDOWN welcome to Jonathan Klein, today appointed this month‘s president at CNN. 

No. 2, Denise Carman of Bellville, Missouri.  The 7-year-old girl was leaning from the top of the escalator at a local mall to get a better look at Santa.  She fell.  She fell onto a Christmas tree, bounced off of it, and landed on a pile of presents 30 feet below.  Denise has a broken shoulder.  Otherwise, she‘s OK.  Christmas coming early for her and her family. 

And number one, Lewis Montague of Fabbingworth (ph) in London.  He was at his mobile phone service office, practicing one of his hobbies, when three burglars broke in.  Mr. Montague is a third don black belt in karate, and he was also practicing with his ceremonial sword.  Tune in next week for another edition of “Samurai Cell Provider!”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The much discussed and much dismissed presidential recount in Ohio may have moved significantly closer to the mainstream late this afternoon.  The Ohio Democratic Party says it will—quote—

“participate”—unquote—in the initiative to retally the presidential results in the Buckeye State. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, in a late afternoon news release, state chair Dennis White changing the dynamics of what had been an obscure third-party effort in the election‘s decisive state.  It‘s your tax dollars in action, day 21 of the 2004 election irregularities investigations.  To quote Mr. White: “As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change.  However, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone‘s vote is counted fairly and accurately.”

That phrase, we do not necessarily expect the election to change is a new stance for Kerry supporters following his calculus on November 3 that there were not enough potential votes among the provisional ballots to justify a recount or a challenge of any kind in Ohio and he and his party‘s relative silence on the issue has been maintained ever since. 

Referring to the Kerry national campaign, the Democratic state party communications director Dan Trevas tells COUNTDOWN, “They gave us the authority to proceed with this” and that he anticipates having a letter from the national campaign tomorrow about the recount addressed to Ohio‘s secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell. 

The head Kerry lawyer in Ohio, Daniel Hoffheimer, telling us tonight that the campaign is not itself asking for a recount.  It is just willing to put witnesses in the boards of elections in the event of a recount.  More on Mr. Kerry in a moment with Howard Fineman. 

First about Mr. Blackwell.  He was already dealing with at least three separate official protests in progress in his state, the Green and Libertarian parties, the Glibs, for short, depositing their bond of $133,600.  That covers the cost of a full presidential recount.  The Glibs also today filed a lawsuit against Mr. Blackwell to get him to certify the count quickly, because, otherwise, there would be or could be as little as a week to conduct a recount.

However, though Ohio‘s votes are supposed to be cast along with everybody else‘s attention Electoral College on December 13, in the remote event that a recount actually changed the outcome, a challenge could be filed in Congress as late as the actual opening of the college results on January 6. 

In the meantime, the newspaper “The Columbus Dispatch” reports that the Ohio State Democratic Party had joined another lawsuit over confusing rules about the counting of the provisional ballots there.  As the newspaper put it, it is a—quote—“move the party said will keep its options open if problems will ballots surface.”

Speaking of problems, a lawsuit by citizens groups asks the state Supreme Court to toss out the entire election based on a series of public hearings there in which residents said they were denied access to voting places.  “Please make no mistake,” said Susan Truitt of the Citizens Alliance For Secure Elections in Ohio.  “There‘s nothing short of democracy at risk here.”

And what of the Democrats?  Well, there has been a John Kerry sighting.  Some three million of his supporters received part of a mass e-mail from him as recently as yesterday.  It linked to an online petition for a universal child health care bill he plans to propose.  And it linked to a lot more than, a Web-only video in which Kerry said, “Despite the words of cooperation and moderate sounding promises, this administration is planning a right-wing assault on values and ideals we hold most deeply.”  There was also a very odd reference to that presidential vote. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Regardless of the outcome of this election, once all the votes are counted, and believe me, they will be counted, we will continue to challenge this administration.  This is not a time for Democrats to retreat and accommodate extremists on critical principles.  It is a time to stand firm. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now to figure out what that phrase mean or could mean, what the whole statement mean, what the developments in Ohio mean, is Howard Fineman, “Newsweek” magazine chief political correspondent and NBC News analyst. 

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m either really insightful or I‘m having a flashback to the Clinton-Lewinsky story and I‘m parsing everything again. 

But, on that Friday, in that clip that we used, John Kerry used the phrase, regardless of the outcome of this election once all the votes are counted, and today, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Ohio added, the adjective to the party line, we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change.  Did Kerry and the Democrats just reopen the door in Ohio by the slimmest margin by which could you open a door? 

FINEMAN:  Well, they keep saying that they don‘t really think there‘s any likelihood that the results will end up being different.  And again this evening, I was speaking to people in and around what was the Kerry campaign and the Democrats in and around Ohio.  And they keep saying that they don‘t expect anything to really happen. 

But they keep saying these little things designed to make clear at least to their own supporters and the whole blogosphere out there that they take possibility and the need for a recount seriously.  And I talked to Ken Blackwell tonight, the secretary of state that you were showing before.  And there in fact will be a recount.  And we‘re about to enter, dare I say it, the land of chads.  We will be talking about chads once again. 

OLBERMANN:  What is it, 70 percent of paper ballots in Ohio?  Is that what we‘re going to be dealing with, with actual measurements of the chads‘ faces?

FINEMAN:  Seventy percent.  Right.  Yes.  And all the talk has been about provisional ballots, but there aren‘t really going to be enough provisional votes counted, allowed to be counted, or sanctioned to be counted that would change it. 

If there is going to be an upset, a last-minute miraculous or nightmarish upset here, it is going to be in the so-called undercount.  That is maybe 50, 60,000 ballots where it looks like nobody marked anything for the presidential race.  And you now remember this from Florida.  On the punch card ballots, those are the famous chads.  There‘s a clear rule in Ohio on that.  And Blackwell—and I think even privately, the Democrats think that not much will come of that.  But we‘re going to have to be talking about it again. 

OLBERMANN:  Back to John Kerry and that video and the e-mail Friday and over the weekend.  And, forgive me, I think we‘ve both used this analogy.  It looked like he was in the proverbial secure undisclosed location.  What was that all about? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, he was like daring Karl Rove to locate him.  You‘re

never going to take me alive

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  No, I think Kerry is reintroducing himself to the world of partisanship on the Hill. 

Look, the Democrats don‘t have a very charismatic new leader on the Senate side.  Harry Reid, a great inside guy, but not much of a charisma person, and even John Kerry looks charismatic compared to him.  Kerry got 56 million or so votes in this election, which is the most votes that any candidate for president has ever gotten except, of course, for George W.  Bush, who got 3.5 million more.  So he thinks he is sort of entitled to be the titular leader of the Democratic Party. 

But if you want to do that, you have got to get out there with a video and you have got to have a cause, which is health care now in his case.  And he has not ruled out the possibility of trying to make another run at it four years from now.  And depending on what happens, you want to keep your options open.  And John Kerry‘s whole life has been about keeping his options open. 

OLBERMANN:  It is not just charisma, though, is it, Howard?  The language in that statement was—with the rest of the Democrats being fairly submissive since the election, he said, “Healthy debate and diverse opinion are being eliminated at the State Department and CIA, Cabinet being reduced or remade to rubber-stamp policies.”  It doesn‘t sound like he‘s going for the bipartisan angle. 

FINEMAN:  No, he‘s not at all.  And I think there are probably a lot of Democrat who wish he had that kind of take-no-prisoners attitude and emotion and language during the campaign. 

But, yes, I think a lot of Democrats are very concerned about the way the new Bush administration is proceeding, the way they‘re extending their power to the bureaucracy.  And Kerry, who styles himself a fighter, is trying to come again out that way.  But, typically, in his own very cautious style, you had to really hunt.  I needed the advice of your producers up there to be able to find that video.  So he‘s not out there on national TV. 

OLBERMANN:  Right.  And, also, if you try transfer that video from the computer to television, it looks like “Max Headroom.”  I don‘t know if you noticed that. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  There‘s an obscure reference for you. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but, unfortunately, it‘s obscure and correct.  Many thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK.   

OLBERMANN:  Two addenda to the No. 3 story, political failure and political tragedy, over the weekend, conservative Republicans in the House successfully blocking passage of the legislation that would have put the terror fighting recommendations made by the September 11 Commission into action.  That means it is unlikely the bill could pass this year and that would mean lawmakers would have to start from scratch in ‘05, if they even pick up the issue again at all. 

For a time on Saturday, it looks like the lawmakers had a deal.  It was so close to passing that one key senator asked for a cigar in anticipation of a victory celebration.  But critics kept fighting, claiming that the Pentagon would lose control over battlefield intelligence.  That would put American troops at risk.  They also felt the bill did not do enough to change immigration laws. 

And a nightmare out of Texas coming with a political footnote that it could have been extraordinarily worse.  A private jet crashed early this morning in Houston.  It killed all three crew members on board.  The plane was on its way to pick up the first President Bush when it clipped a light pole, lost part of a wing and went down in extremely foggy conditions.  The former president had flown with that crew before and says he was deeply saddened by the news. 

Saddened here.  A hunting dispute ends in madness, five dead, a suspect in custody.  Police still searching for what really happened.  Then how will the Super Bowl follow up last year‘s jaw-dropping election-altering halftime show?  The answer is in “Keeping Tabs.” 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILLY MARTIN, MAYOR OF PEANUT CITY:  Population two.  I‘m one of them and she‘s in the house, the other one.  Oh, I can run Peanut City.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Green (ph) pull into his West Bloomfield driveway around 10:30 this morning.  When he sees me, he immediately says no comment.  Then, to emphasize the point, he orders his German shepherd to attack.  When the dog run the wrong way, he redirects the dog by pointing at me and yelling, go get him. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wrinkles are in—for dogs, anyway.  There‘s a nationwide hunt for the pooch with the biggest pout. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One program would let you hunt and kill live animals.  The other lets you shoot at a president of the United States—coming soon to a home computer near you, unless somebody stops them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They are in disbelief in Wisconsin, where five hunters were dead at the scene, reportedly killed by another hunter.  They are in disbelief in Houston, where the owner of a Web site wants to let hunters chase real game over the Internet.  And they are in disbelief in Hyannis Port and elsewhere, where somebody thinks the Kennedy assassination will make a good video game. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, kinds of hunting that nearly all hunters would recoil from. 

We begin with an incidence of hunting rage 125 miles east of Saint Paul, Minnesota. 

Our correspondent there is Pat Dawson—Pat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAT DAWSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, authorities here are using two words to describe what took place in the woods yesterday, bizarre and tragic, a sequence of events that they say is almost inexplicable.  And, at this point, although they say the suspect in custody, 36-year-old Chai Vang of Saint Paul, Minnesota, has been cooperative, they say that he hasn‘t given them any real insight into what motivated him to get involved in this confrontation with a group of local hunters. 

At this point, we have five people who are dead, among those five, a father and son, also a 27-year-old woman whose father was among the wounded.  The confrontation took place yesterday over a tree stand, a vantage point from which to hunt deer.  And this was on private property that belonged to one of those—that group of local hunters.  When he saw Mr. Vang, according to police description, in this tree stand, he basically went to ask him to leave. 

JIM MEIER, SAWYER COUNTY SHERIFF:  He said he was going to approach the person and ask him to leave, at which time the property owner and others joined in and went out on their ATVs and the subject was walking away at that time.  And for some apparent reason, he turned and opened fire on them. 

DAWSON:  Authorities say that, among the dead, some of them actually had multiple gunshot wounds and that at least two people were apparently shot off their ATVs as they tried to come to the aid of their fellow hunters. 

Now, Mr. Vang, who is the suspect in custody, is a naturalized American citizen of Laotian descent.  He is said to be calm and cooperative with authorities, but, at this point, has not denied or admitted any guilt.  Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Pat Dawson near Meteor, Wisconsin, many thanks.

In an irony of timing, a prospect raised today in which no hunter would ever have to fight another over a tree stand.  If a Texas rancher has his way, hunters will soon be able to fire live ammunition at deer, antelope and wild pigs without ever getting up from their computers. 

He has built a platform for a rifle and camera that could be aimed by remote from any computer with Internet access at any animal on his 330-acre ranch in Southwest Texas.  Naturally, this would be for a fee.  State and wildlife officials are concerned, but say they cannot do anything about it under state law.  It only allows them to regulate native animals, not animals which have been imported. 

And this is not a bad segue.  On this, the exact 41st anniversary of John F. Kennedy‘s assassination, a computer game has been released in the which the player assumes the role of Lee Harvey Oswald.  It is called “JFK Reloaded.”  The Scottish company with the game says it believe it has created an educational docu-game that will help disprove conspiracy theories about JFK‘s death. 

A spokesman for the president‘s brother, Senator Edward Kennedy, has a different take, calling the game despicable.  The senator‘s spokesman would not say whether or not the family has taken any steps to stop the game‘s release.  In case you want to protest, the name of the manufacturer is Traffic Games.  And its managing director is named Kirk Ewing. 

From the unconscionable to the absurd, we segue to our nightly roundup of celebrity news.

And proving that whether moral values matter or not, no titillating deed will ever go unpunished.  A week after the “Desperate Housewives” incident on “Monday Night Football,” the stars of that show today made the front page of “The New York Times” and the cover of “Newsweek.”  Others have written about them, too.  The Federal Communications Commission confirms it has gotten more than 50,000 comments about last week‘s Nicolette Sheridan-Terrell Owens cross-promotional event on ABC, which is a remarkable coincidence, because right now, right now, this showing marks the 50,000th time it‘s been shown on TV, usually while a commentator decries showing it on TV. 

Meanwhile, America‘s crisis at the corner of sports street and entertainment boulevard continues to reverberate.  With the one-year anniversary of the infamous wardrobe malfunction just two months away, the producers of this year‘s Super Bowl halftime show have selected a much safer musical act, Paul McCartney.  “There‘s nothing bigger than being asked to perform at the Super Bowl,” Sir Paul said in a statement announcing his role. 

Paul, by the way, best to just skip the use of that word bigger. 

Coming up, the squeals bursting today from TV sets across the country could have been only one thing.  Oprah topped the car giveaway.  The Olympics of product placement next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When, more than two months ago, Oprah Winfrey gave away Pontiacs to the auto-challenged members of her studio audience—you get a new car—you get a new car—you get a new car—people wondered, how could she ever top herself, both in terms of self-promotion and product placement?

Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, you need not have wondered.  You get assorted brand name products and you get assorted brand name products, and you—her annual favorite things episode.  The lucky recipients today, teachers lured into the studio not knowing they were the lucky recipients, airing today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”)

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST:  I wanted to give you the hottest ticket in television!  It‘s my favorite things 2004!  Favorite things 2004!  Favorite things 2004!  Oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes, oh, yes.  You‘re all going (UNINTELLIGIBLE) The treatment, the works! 

Take a breath.  Take a breath.  Take a breath. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Their students will never let them live that down, will they? 

In total, the teachers got 21 freebies, from the high-end widescreen TVs, free plane tickets, at the low end, a Starbucks gift card and a bunt cake, not that anyone seemed to be complaining. 

But to make some sense of what we just witnessed, I‘m joined by Maureen Ryan, “Chicago Tribune” staff reporter who covers TV programming. 

Welcome.  Thanks for your time tonight. 

MAUREEN RYAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  No problem.  I might have a little bit of trouble hearing you because I‘m still deaf from having watched Oprah‘s favorite things today. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  There was about an hour here, too, where I just was sort of going to board up the door to my office. 

RYAN:  And are your ears still ringing? 

OLBERMANN:  This was billed as the biggest thing she‘s ever done.  Did it live up to that billing? 

RYAN:  I think so.  I actually think the car thing will still always rank higher because it got more coverage in the media.  It was on the front page of newspapers all around the world for days. 

This, I think, certainly in terms of her favorite things shows, she‘s topped herself yet again with a lot of help from a lot of major marketers and corporations. 

OLBERMANN:  But would this work with any other TV personality?  I look at this in sheer disbelief.  I‘m not somebody who can take her seriously. 

But, obviously, I‘m in a significantly small minority.  Has she cornered the art of giving away other people‘s stuff and making it look like she‘s in fact the benefactress? 

RYAN:  I think she has.  I think really does actually go through the products, that things that are offered to her.  And she does—she is the final arbiter, but clearly, there are a lot of other forces at work.  There are a lot of people at these companies involved in offering things to Oprah that, when that product placement goes through, I think all those people get bonuses. 

It‘s a much bigger beast than it was a few years ago even. 

OLBERMANN:  But at least there‘s still hope if she actually does prefer lemon bunt cake. 

The last thing here, I guess, at some point does this have to collapse of its own weight, that people into the audience clue into the fact that they‘re getting sold goods? 

RYAN:  No.  I think the ecstatic reception of her audience is a pretty good indicator.  I don‘t think she‘s gotten a lot of grief about the product placement because people like free stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  Our last point on the teachers.  Is it worth it?  Was it worth going through this just to see a whole bunch of teachers reduced to the appearance of screaming schoolchildren? 

RYAN:  It was like Woodstock for teachers, wasn‘t it?  I got that impression.  Just to have their students have something to mock them for, for all time, I think that was definitely worth it. 

OLBERMANN:  After a day‘s worth of dealing probably with the worst and unhappiest substitutes you can imagine. 

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN:  Definitely.

OLBERMANN:  Maureen Ryan with “The Chicago Tribune” on the Oprah Winfrey story of the month, many thanks for your time tonight.

RYAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, tonight, I gave my staff Altoids, the ones I was given last month for going on “Last Call With Carson Daly.”  They call it repurposing. 

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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