updated 12/9/2004 10:45:29 AM ET 2004-12-09T15:45:29

Guest: Jim Vandehei, Todd Shields, Jason Dearen

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Group hug gone bad: the secretary of defense goes to Kuwait to thank the troops.  Some of them are not interested.  Mr. Rumsfeld hears of U.S. servicemen forced to dig through landfills to find scrap metal with which to protect themselves. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why don‘t we have those resources readily available to us? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The military and political implications of the big surprise for the secretary. 

It would be like Laci never existed, so Scott Peterson‘s mother tells the jury that‘s what would happen if they give her son the death penalty. 

Formal charges in the basket brawl.  Ron artest is not the lead suspect. 

The steroid fallout begins.  No sponsorship deal for Barry Bonds pursuit of the home run record. 

And yes, we have no tomatoes: Why a pound now costs twice as much as a gallon of gas.  The ketchup crisis. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  Whether you support the war in Iraq or have protested against it, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, whether you are a veteran or a conscientious objector, it is an apalling image: American service men preparing for combat by scrouging through garbage to find materials with which to protect themselves and their vehicles. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: the insufficient armoring of the military has been a campaign issue, a lightning rod for accusations for insufficient patriotism and an urban legend of sorts.  Today it became a public complaint, almost an I accuse moment. 

The accuser was a Tennessee national guardsman.  The accused was the secretary of defense.  Donald Rumsfeld diverted a trip to India to touch down at a forward camp Kuwait.  He said it was for a pep talk to thank the 2,300 soldiers on site.  He also said they could ask him questions.  Tough questions, he said.  Yes, sir. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve had troops in Iraq for coming up on 3 years, and we‘ve always staged here out of Kuwait.  Now why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised balistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?  And why don‘t we have those resources readily available to us? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  It isn‘t a matter of money.  It isn‘t a matter on the part of the Army of desire.  It‘s a matter of production and capability of doing it.  As you know, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For the record, that questioner, Specialist Thomas Wilson‘s former wife says today that she and her ex-husband both voted for President Bush and that they support him, quote, 100 percent.  She also said she did not like the reply he got, quoting her, “Rumsfeld‘s answer seemed like he was side-stepping around the question.  If there is something lacking, perhaps that is why our death toll is climbing.”

Wilson‘s question was just the beginning for Mr. Rumsfeld.  Another soldier said the best equipment had been reserved for the active duty Army units, and that guardsmen and reservists got antiquated equipment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My question is, what is the Department of Defense, more specifically, the Army side of the house, doing to address shortages and antiquated equipment that National Guard soldiers, such as the 116th Cav brigade and the 278th ACR are going to roll into Iraq with?

RUMSFELD:  The—now, settle down, settle down.  What the hell, I‘m an old man and it‘s early in the morning.  I‘m just gathering my thoughts here. 

Somebody is always going to be at that level as things are constantly replaced.  And things are being constantly replaced.  And, I mean, I believe them when they tell me that they have made a major effort to see that there dealing equitably as between the forces.  And seeing that the ones that are likely to be going into combat and have the greatest needs are the ones that have the equipment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If it was possible for the troops to hit another nerve they managed to do so.  The final question was from a severwoman about the so-called stop-loss program in which tours in Iraq can be extended past their experation for the sake of continuity on the battlefield. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My husband and myself, we both joined a volunteer Army.  Currently I‘m serving under the stop loss program.  I would like to know how much longer do you foresee the military using this program?

RUMSFELD:  Stop loss has been used by the mailtary for years and years and years.  It‘s basically a sound principle.  It‘s nothing new.  It‘s been well understood.  It‘s been used as little as possible.  And my guess is that it will continue to be used as little as possible, but that it will continue to be used. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like it or not, that kind of candor in wartime is extraordinarily rare.  And it would seem as if it had extraordinary ramifications both politically and perhaps militarily.  Militarily first.

For that we turn to retired U.S. Army general, now MSNBC analyst Barry McCaffrey.  General, thanks again for joining us tonight.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET):  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN;  What kind of insight did that impromptu semi-hostile news conference from our troops to our defense secretary give us about what‘s really going on on the ground in Iraq? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well I think first of all, you talk to American soldiers, young Marines, you‘re going to get the truth out of them.  You know, they‘re 20-years-old, 25-years-old, they‘re very frank.  They‘re unintimidated by authority. 

I think their questions are right on the mark.  And I was very disappointed in Secretary Rumsfeld‘s answer.  There‘s been some misjudgments here.  We‘re trying to fight the war on the cheap.  Secretary Rumsfeld has dug in his heels. 

I think, first of all, it‘s clear to me that we‘ve got to configure the force of the ground on Iraq with armor to fight some very bitter battles.  This is not stability operations, this is counterinsurgency.  And I think he‘s ignoring that. 

You know, he talked about the Abrams tank being subject to being blown up.  For god‘s sake, of course you‘re better off behind armor. 

I don‘t know Keith, I thought it was a surprisingly nonresponsive performance by the secretary. 

OLBERMANN:  As to the specifics—or the stop loss policy in particular, but especially that image of these men and women having to jerry-rig armor using garbage, I don‘t know if I want to weep or punch somebody.  Which is the correct emotion in this situation? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, we haven‘t put enough resources in this whole program.  We haven‘t rebuilt the Bradley and Abrams fighting fleet that was used by the division during the initial intervention.  We‘re behind the curve on uparmoring Humvees, which is completely inadequate for most of these missions. 

And I think basically you‘re seeing the Army and the Marine Corps encountering increasing difficulties with resources and personnel: stop loss, calling up the individual ready reservists, masive reliance on National Guard and reserve, over 200,000 called up.  The Army and the Marine Corps are too small.  And there‘s too short of resources.  And we‘ve got to fix it now. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘d like you to answer a final question from the strictest, most regular Army, most chain of command viewpoint you can muster.  I know you touched on this to some degree before, but those two men and one woman who asked those questions that we heard, and there were others who asked some challenging questions as well, how should civilians view them and what they did today?  Are they complainers?  Are they patriots?  Was that bravery?  What? 

MCCAFFREY:  You go back to World War II, you ask a question of American soldiers, you‘re going to get the truth.  Absolutely nothing will be done to them.  We ought to be proud of, in our Democratic society, when we call up the Guard, the Reserve, or enlist these kids in the active forces, you ask them a question you‘re going to get a straight answer. 

OLBERMANN:  And give them an opportunity to ask a question, you‘d beter give them a straight answer, too, right? 

MCCAFFREY:  Yeah, sure.  These are disciplined, courageous troops.  We‘ve had 11,000 killed and wounded and injured.  None of them are refusing orders.  Basically is the toughest, most effective Army and Marine corps we‘ve ever put into combat.  But there aren‘t enough of them.  We‘ve got to put some money into rebuilding the armor fleet. 

OLBERMANN:  General Barry McCaffrey.  As always, sir, thanks for your perspective and for joining us tonight. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All this on the day that the Pentagon confirmed that the number of U.S. troops killed in action in Iraq crossed the 1,000 mark. 

To the political reaction.  After the fact, a Defense Department spokesman insisted that the town hall was routine and even enjoyable for Secretary Rumsfeld, but for an administration that careful choreographs almost every public appearance by almost everybody, that meeting seemed to go seriously off-script. 

Joining us again, Jim Vandehe, White House correpsondent with the Washington Post.  Jim, good evening, thanks for your time. 

JIM VANDEHEI, WASHINGTON POST:  Good to be back, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m gathering that that was not the way Mr. Rumsfeld expected that to play out in Kuwait this morning.  Are there ramifications?  Are there going to be ramifactions? 

VANDEHEI:  It‘s definitely not how the White House wanted it played out.  This week was very much dedicated to boosting troop morale.  I was with the president yesterday at Camp Pendelton in California.  Very optomistic speech, very hoorarah, let‘s go, this is a good mission, everything is on aim.  You also had Vice President Cheney talking to the troops.  And then you had Donald Rumsfeld doing this event.

He has has done these town hall forums before.  He has not done many of them overseas.  And to have this reaction, to have the newscast playing this over and over, it‘s not what the White House wants at this point.

OLBERMANN:  Presumably, there will be no indication of that.  We just heard from the Pentagon that, oh, he enjoyed this.  But even if nothing overtly happens, is this the kind of thing for which Rumsfeld himself could catch hell, internally, within the administration, as in, how could you let this happen?

VANDEHEI:  Maybe.  But momentarily.  I don‘t think this is something

that would cost him his job.  I don‘t think it would force the president to

re-evaluate his decision to keep him on as defense secretary.  You know,

very well, that when this president makes a decision, it‘s very hard to change his mind.  And he has said to Donald Rumsfeld is his guy.  He‘s going to carry out this war in Iraq.  And he‘s going to be the defense secretary for the foreseeable future. 

OLBERMANN:  What about externally?  It would seem like this was such -

·         would have been, perhaps, a rallying point, not merely for critics of the premise of the war, but for the whole range of groups that are not satisfied with its conduct nor for the safety of American troops. 

Does anybody do anything about this? 

VANDEHEI:  Had we been in a presidential election, you would have had John Kerry who had a great form to criticize the president, really would have hammering the defense secretary and the president over this.  Unfortunately, for critics of the war, you now have Democrats spending all  their time fighting each other about why Bush won the election instead of holding the president accountable for his actions in Iraq, and about meetings like this one, between Donald Rumsfeld and soldiers.   

OLBERMANN:  Senator Kennedy said something late this afternoon, but really that‘s been about it.

VANDEHEI:  Right, very little.

OLBERMANN Jim Vandehei, White House correspondent with the “Washington Post.”  Great thanks again for your time tonight. 

VANDEHEI:  Take care.  See you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In Iraq, if you felt the difficulties surrounding the January 30 election were staggering, tonight the suggestion that their resolution might be staggering.  Two European newspaper citing Prime Minister Allawi as having proposed that the Iraqi elections be staggered, held over a two or three week period.  Although Iraq‘s Electoral Commission is still confirming that Allawi actually made those remarks, the interior ministry there says, “This is an excellent suggestion.  It would it much easer to ensure safety at the polls.”  Insurgents have been threatening to attack polling stations.  Some areas in Iraq have already been deemed too dangerous to even begin voter registration. 

In our elected government, a ringing endorsements for the 9/11 intelligence bill.  It today passed the Senate, 89 votes for, two against, having finally cleared the House yesterday.  When signed, it will mark the biggest overhaul of U.S. intelligence since the creation of the CIA.  Biggest among the biggest, it establishes a national intelligence director to oversee the nation‘s 15 military and civilian spy agencies and to report directly to the president.  But there will also be a new director of a new national counterterrorism center, also to report directly to the president.  That president praised the legislation today saying, quote, “We remain a nation at war and intelligence is our first line of defense against the terrorists.” He‘s expected to sign the bill next week. 

Also, tonight Scott Peterson‘s mother finishes her emotional plea to the jury to spare her son‘s life.  Then the defense may call one more witness tomorrow.  Who else could there possibly be?  And making your vote count, Representative John Conyers makes a very public promise to the voters of Ohio and raises an unexpected possibility of objecting to the electoral college voters from Ohio.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Will Scott Peterson get life or death?  His mother pleaded with the jury today.  Will tomorrow bring a decision or a mystery witness?

Standby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sympathy for the defendant‘s family is not a matter the jury can consider in a capital case.  That, the ruling of Judge Alfred Delucchi before the emotional testimony from the defendant‘s mother today. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the Peterson trial.  The murder‘s mother‘s plea to a jury that will decide his life or death, and an unexpected wrinkle.  Was she the last defense witness or is there a surprise up some lawyer‘s sleeve? 

Defense attorney Mark Geragos, compared her to Laci Peterson‘s mother, quoting him, “She is just as much a victim as Sharon Rocha.”  Jackie Peterson, talked to the jurors for 45 minutes today.  She described her how hardships, including having faced the murder of her father as a child, her subsequent upbringing in an orphanage.  Most relevant in this context, her comment, “If you were to take Scott away from us, we would lose a whole family.  It would be like Laci never existed.”  Closing arguments, jury deliberations expected to begin tomorrow. 

Our eyes and ears throughout the process have been those of Jason Dearen, reporter for the “San Mateo County Times” who has been covering all this since January. 

Jason, good evening. 

JASON DEAREN, “SAN MATEO COUNTY TIMES”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  What kind of picture was Jackie Peterson able to paint of her son? 

DEAREN:  Well, throughout the whole process, he‘s been painted as a very kind, you know, empathetic person who is a great friend, brother and son.  And today a lot of the testimony that she gave focused more on her than it did on him.  The defense continuing with their tactic of trying to make the jury feel sympathy for his parents and his family and how much they‘ve suffered throughout this whole process.  Because we know how they feel about him from their verdict. 

Today she talked a lot about her childhood.  Her father was murdered when she was just a baby.  She spent much of her childhood growing up in an orphanage with her three older brothers and had a really tough life.  So they heard a lot about that.  But at the in the end, she did break down.  She pled for his life and said that losing Laci and Conner affected her just as much as it affected Sharon Rocha.  And that if they also put her son to death, they‘d lose a whole family. 

And there were some tears in the jury box.  I saw one or two jurors‘ eyes water up.  But mostly they just watched kind of with a stone-faced expressions.  There wasn‘t a whole lot of nothing compared to what the room was like when Sharon Rocha testified, and everybody broke down.  The whole jury broke down during that.  So it was a much more subdued day, a much more quiet.  But she was certainly a sympathetic figure on the stand.  She had an oxygen tank because she has a lung ailment and can‘t breathe without the use of it.  She did—she presented a very sympathetic picture.  But as you said in your intro, the judge has said that they can‘t take that into account.  It‘s Scott Peterson that‘s on trial here, not his family. 

OLBERMANN:  What is this murmur, Jason, that she might not be the last witness? 

DEAREN:  That‘s more of a scheduling issue, I believe.  They had one more witness scheduled to go on before her that apparently had some travel problems.  That‘s what the judge alluded to in previous days.  He‘s only expected to testify for about five minutes.  So I don‘t think it‘s some sort of trick up Mark Geragos‘ sleeve or a surprise witness.  I think more it‘s been a scheduling difficulty.  And it‘s a witness that has a point to make. 

One—one point that they want to get across, that they haven‘t been able to do so, so far.  I think it‘s more of a scheduling conflict.

OLBERMANN:  Might be a symbolic witness.  I mean, there have been a lot of criticisms about how this defense has handled the penalty phase: 36 witnesses, the prosecution had four, at least 3 of the 36 told the jurors to their faces they reached the wrong verdict.  Up close, did this whole penalty phase seem to you as bad as it appeared from a distance from the defense point of view? 

DEAREN:  Yes.  Throughout the whole penalty phase the defense‘s case, the jurors, most of the time, seemed, frankly, bored.  They were paying attention, but there was doodling on their pads.  A lot of staring out into the seating gallery at people.  You know, there were times when some of the more emotional testimony from Lee Peterson, Scott‘s father, of course, Jacqui and some of his brothers and sisters, they were paying very close attention. 

But most of the time throughout this whole process they were looking at one another at certain points, asking themselves what‘s going on here.  Why are they bringing up so many people?  It definitely wasn‘t effective.  And I think a lot of the legal analysts I talked to agreed and said if the defense was trying to win an emotional tug-of-war between, you know, the victims‘ family and Scott‘s family, that‘s a losing proposition.  That‘s something they just can‘t do in this case.  So, it was certainly—it certainly seemed to fail. 

OLBERMANN:  As a lawyer once told me, if a jury is counting the house while one of your people is on the stand, you are in trouble.  Jason Dearen of the San Mateo County Times, as always, great thanks for insight, sir. 

DEAREN:  Thanks so much.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s put the hard news of this day on ice, and talk about the ice news, literally.  Oddball just around the corner. 

And the great condiment crisis.  No tomato for you.  Ketchup?  Well, how much is the worth to you? 

rMDNM_rMDNM_rMDNM_(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you now.  And we pause the COUNTDOWN to look instead for a moment at life‘s little lunacies.  Perfectly fitting, given that today is the exact 110th anniversary of birth of one of America‘s greatest humorists James Thurber.  He drew the famed Thurber dogs, so he would have liked this story.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tokyo.  The Japanese honoring Thurber and Woody Allen‘s robot dog from “Sleeper” and Bob and Ray‘s world‘s leading manufacturer of artificial police dogs, it‘s Roborrior.  The world‘s first robot guard dog.  It‘s loyal.  It‘ll keep a vigilant watch over your house.  It might even mess the carpet if you press the right button. 

Roborrior moves around the house with a camera in its nose which can transmit live images to your cell phone to alert you if there‘s an intruder in your house, or as demonstrated here, you can just prop it on top of the headboard and point it at the bed. 

Ah, science.  Every new dawn bringing another technological advance in the field of home-made pornography. 

To Lubek, Germany where dozens of the best ice sculptors on the planet have gathered for their world championships.  Provided all 70 participants pass their steroid tests, the winner will be crowned later this week. 

In the meantime, judges and members of the public have been invited to peruse the 100 sculptures that are being kept in this giant refrigerated warehouse, but with this caveat.  Please do not lick the statues.  Officials say the artwork is made with a special type of ice which is kept in stainless steel vats and freezes from the bottom up.  I‘m going to try to take a moment here and figure out how the hell that is possible. 

No, I got nothing. 

This is a little more my speed.  It‘s the gingerbread version of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and just like the real White House, it is completely edible.  This one is on display in St. Germaine, Wisconsin, features little candy soldiers with little candy rifles posted all around the little candy gates.  Apparently, somebody declared little candy martial law. 

Actually the gingerbread architect has 2 sons currently serving in Iraq. She has dedicated her creation to honoring our troops in harms way this holiday season. 

As the recount gets ready to start in Ohio, today on Capitol Hill a senior Congressman pledges to bring the voting investigation to Ohio as well. 

And the values debate over TV.  A new report putting into perspective who‘s complaining the loudest, 99 percent of the complaints are from one group?  Those stories ahead. 

Now here are the top three newsmakers. 

No. 3, Spongebob again, This time the one Norwich, Connecticut.  He was reported stolen, would that it were true.  In fact, the folks at the Burger King had simply placed him too close to the heating system air ducts on the roof, Bob melted. 

No. 2, Robert Graves, another Bob, the new Dean of students at Bennington College in Vermont.  Mr. Unpopularity there.  He‘s trying to stop a tradition of students going around naked.  Why those are not ivy covered walls, are they?

And No. 1, a little bit of a theme here.  Dwayne Crandall of Vancouver, British Columbia.  He and Nathan McLean was driving through rush hour traffic.  McLean with his bare bottom mooning out the window of the car, Crandall driving, while also spanking the mooner.  It was too much to do, Mr. Crandall promptly crashing into the car ahead of him.  That‘s right, he reended it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The story of the 2004 election irregularities has been largely dismissed because of the extreme likelihood that none of them will actually impact the outcome of last month‘s presidential election. 

But at the end of a House Judiciary Committee unofficial forum this morning on Capitol Hill, that may have changed somewhat.  Asked by his fellow Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. if any members of the House were considering actually objecting to the Ohio votes in the Electoral College, John Conyers of Michigan answered, we are now. 

Our third story of the COUNTDOWN, protests, why just one group is reported to be responsible for 99 percent of those made to the FCC and why a seemingly partisan protest in Washington might yet produce a full-scale political donnybrook. 

Washington first.  That‘s where we sent COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny to cover today‘s voting forum.

Monica, good evening. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

Today, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee met here to address reports of Ohio voter irregularities.  But just in case any information was left behind, Congressman John Conyers, the minority leader on the committee, made this announcement. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN:  This committee will go to Ohio for hearings. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Representative John Conyers stepping up to the challenge issued by Reverend Jesse Jackson in today‘s forum on Ohio‘s voting irregularities, saying he will hold hearings there. 

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION:  I urge Congress to come to Ohio immediately. 

NOVOTNY:  That was just the beginning.  Over the course of two hours, panelists ran through a laundry list of voting problems, focusing on minority voter suppression and computer glitches. 

RALPH NEAS, PRESIDENT, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY:  Why were there so many people in line in urban, poor areas? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When machines cast a negative 25 million votes in Mahoning County, that bears investigation. 

NOVOTNY:  And no shortage of criticism for Ohio‘s secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell. 

JOHN BONIFAZ, NATIONAL VOTING INSTITUTE:  No secretary of state has the right to certify the presidential electors until a final determination of the vote count is made. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Democrats here today insist the question is not did their candidate win in Ohio, but did any Americans lose their right to vote on Election Day?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS:  Voting is like the air we breathe.  It does not work if it is not pure. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Republican members of the Judiciary Committee did not attend, but did speak out today. 

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE:  There was an election, and they lost.  And there are not enough ghost votes, there are not enough miscounted or conspiracy votes to get them to where they want to be. 

NOVOTNY:  And the reality, though Congressman Conyers invited all Republican members of this House to the forum...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What was the response that Mr. Conyers received? 

CONYERS:  Well, it was entirely in the negative, sir. 

NOVOTNY:  Without Republican support, there will be no official hearings. 

BLACKBURN:  I think that the state of Ohio and the counties should deal with this. 

REP. ROBERT C. SCOTT (D), VIRGINIA:  Our power is to just expose enough anomalies that people get embarrassed into taking action. 

CONYERS:  We can‘t let people, by their abstention, prevent us from doing what ought to be done. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, Congressman Conyers also told me he believes GAINING Republican support is still a possibility.  His hope is that these Ohio hearings will be a bipartisan effort.  But the Republicans we spoke to say while there is room for improvement in the election process, they are confident Secretary of State Blackwell ran a fair election there—Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of Secretary Blackwell, did Conyers and his office get any response from that office? 

NOVOTNY:  No.  Actually, the congressman said that he personally placed several phone cause, a few yesterday and even one as late as this morning, because they hadn‘t received any sort of RSVP or response at all from the secretary.  He thought perhaps he might still show up, but he said he one got through to his assistant, and he just left his name and number and that was it. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny in Washington, many thanks. 

The election reform just part a major speech on how to reform the Democratic Party, the remarks made by the ultimate party outsider, now considered either the best or worst choice to rebuild the Dems from within, Howard Dean, once again emerging as the early front-runner, but this time in the race to become Democratic National Committee chairman. 

The former presidential candidate, governor of Vermont, addressing a friendly crowd of supporters in Washington.  And while Governor Dean is still just weighing a bid for the chairmanship, he sure made it sound like an official announcement would be a mere afterthought. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Four years ago, the president won with 49 percent of the vote and the Republican Party treated it as a mandate and the Democrats let him get away with it; 49 percent is not a mandate, and 51 percent is not a mandate, and this time they‘re not getting away with it. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And then there was the silent majority finally speaking out.  It was dramatic testimony, Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell telling Congress last February that viewer complaints about indecency has soared, from 350 to his office in 2001 to 14,000 in 2002, to 240,000 in 2003. 

What Chairman Powell did not say, and reportedly did not know, was that literally 99.8 of those 240,000 complaints were filed by just one group.  “MediaWeek” magazine quotes FCC records as saying that the group is the Parents Television Council founded by the conservative who also established Media Research Center, well, Brent Bozell III. 

The magazine‘s story further reports that, as of last week, the commission estimated it had received about 1,069,000 indecency complaints this year.  A little more than half were about the notorious Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction incident.  The other half were virtually all from the Parents Television Council. 

Todd Shields wrote the piece for “MediaWeek.”  He is its Washington editor.  And he joins us tonight. 

Thank you for your time, sir. 

TODD SHIELDS, WASHINGTON EDITOR, “MEDIAWEEK”:  Good evening.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the response from the Parents Television Council and from the FCC, which were, in essence, the same.  It doesn‘t matter what percentage of complaints comes from one group or are just form letters or whatever.  It is whether or not there‘s been indecency on television.  Aren‘t they right about that? 

SHIELDS:  I‘m not sure how to judge that question.  The complaint system has—the Internet, shall we say, has changed the nature of it. 

It used to be that citizens who see something and are offended by it file a complaint with the FCC.  The FCC acts.  Now we have a system where groups monitor the television and set up a complaint system, and people who may never have seen a program file complaints.  In essence, they‘re saying I‘m offended that something was on TV that neither I nor a person in my family saw.  So who is right in this argument?  I‘m not sure what the procedure is.  The FCC acts on complaints. 

OLBERMANN:  Relative to using that number, as Commissioner Powell did in February in front of Congress, the man behind this council and behind the Media Research Center, Brent Bozell, if the viewers are unfamiliar with him, his group puts out various daily e-mailings about purported liberal bias in the media.  I made it to No. 4 on his list today, because last night, I quoted the Green Party presidential candidate on the air.  And Matt Lauer was in at No. 2 because he did a story this morning about the cheesiest lines in movie history and he said he was baffled by the Mel Gibson line in “Braveheart” about freedom.

So, I know how Mr. Bozell is viewed within the television industry, kind of a poor-man‘s Ted Kirkpatrick, the guy who ran Red Channels in the ‘50s and got the TV blacklist going.  But did the FCC not know that he was running a factory that turned out form letter indecency complaints? 

SHIELDS:  Apparently not. 

The Chairman Powell testimony that you cited to Congress in February didn‘t mention that it came from one group.  In April, two months later, he told the National Association of Broadcasters that he wasn‘t sure how much of it came from one group.  They‘ve become aware recently.  The estimate I obtained was, I believe, dated in October.  So they decided to count, to try to figure out where their mail is coming from. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess the bottom line on this, except for the Janet

Jackson incident, there‘s no evidence of any groundswell of public opinion

against indecency on television, even that “Monday Night Football” thing

from last month, except for that which has in essence been sponsored by a

group with a transparent political agenda.  Is that fair to say/

SHIELDS:  I don‘t think so. 

Let‘s not confuse them having an—PTC having an overwhelming count in registered complaints at the FCC with the entire universe of disquiet with television.  In fact, PTC says that the FCC is not only undercounting them, but undercounting other groups, like the—there‘s a family association in Alabama that objected two years ago and recently to “Saving Private Ryan” for its use of obscenities during that movie. 

So it‘s not quite equivalent or congruent, but it is true, I think you can say, that the spur to the FCC may largely have come from this group, aside from the Super Bowl. 

OLBERMANN:  A couple of weeks ago, some of the networks were telling the Supreme Court they might be challenging the famous case that is the cornerstone on which most FCC power rests, the 1969 Red Lion Broadcasting vs. FCC.  What happens if there‘s an FCC with reduced power or no enforcement power at all?  What happens to the Parents Television Council then?  Who do they complain to? 

SHIELDS:  I‘m not sure.  But that‘s a bit of a stretch.

We‘ve got a lot of process to go in Washington now.  And groups like the Parents Television Council will are going to knocking on Congress‘ door.  And, remember, we just had the so-called values election.  They feel the wind in their sails.  And there is going to be efforts on Capitol Hill to perhaps even bring cable and satellite, which are not regulated for indecency, into indecency regulation. 

How far that gets, I can‘t tell.  It‘s a political thing in Washington at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  Todd Shields, the Washington editor of “MediaWeek” magazine, I can‘t see how far we reach on Mr. Bozell‘s crap list tomorrow.  I‘m thinking we may make No. 1. 

Anyway, many thanks. 

SHIELDS:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  From the outrage over TV to the outrage at the NBA, prosecutors today finally throwing charges at the players and fans who themselves had thrown cups and punches and chairs.  And Martha Stewart is still in the pokey, but she‘s also still making deals.  The icing awaiting Martha when she is finished at Camp Cupcake. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(LAUGHTER)

DEAN:  Let me thank Melissa (ph) for a very nice introduction.  Let me tell you what my plan for the Democratic Party is.  We‘re going to win Mississippi and then we‘re going to win in Alabama.  We‘re going to win Idaho and South Carolina. 

(LAUGHTER)

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

JAY LENO, HOST:  But the good news is, Yankee slugger Jason Giambi, he is officially off steroids.  You hear that?  He is officially off steroids.  But, see, I don‘t know what kind of season he‘s going to have, because he‘s not as big as he was.  And he‘s off those steroids.  Did you see him today?  He didn‘t look that healthy.  Show them his batting practice today.  You see what I‘m saying?  Look.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A postgame analysis like we have never seen before, prosecutors giving their play-by-play from the basketball brawl, 10 people facing charges.  And Barry Bonds of baseball, financial pressure on him from the steroid scandal.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  It could still get worse in sports.  Players could wind up going into the stands and throwing their steroid samples at the fans. 

Until then, though, there is our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, official charges in the basket brawl and the first indication that the steroid scandal is going to hit Barry Bonds in the area he holds the dearest, his wallet. 

First, assault and basketball.  Prosecutors in Oakland County, Michigan, charged five Indiana Pacers players and five Detroit Pistons fans for the November 19 melee, which is the worst incidence of player-fan violence since November 19. 

Though player Ron Artest was considered the pathfinder here, he and three teammates were charged with only one count each of assault and battery.  But his teammate Jermaine O‘Neal was hit with two counts.  The players got a good tongue-lashing from the prosecutor.  But, ultimately, he blamed one of the five fans, John Green, the guy who threw the beer cup that started the mess. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GORCYCA, PROSECUTOR:  John Green we will depict, in my mind, single-handedly incited this whole interaction between the fans and the players and probably is one that is most culpable. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Still, Green only got one count of assault and battery.  But prosecutors said they have filed a felony assault complaint against the man they said threw a chair during the mini-riot.  Bryant Jackson.  He could spend up to four years in jail if convicted.  Mr. Jackson has turned himself in to the local authorities.  It is all a big if.

All these charges are probable plea deals in the making.  The interesting name here among the fans charged is that of David Wallace, who is from Alabama and was only at the game to watch his brother, Ben, play for the Pistons.  And among the players, as I said, O‘Neal, two counts of assault and battery, the others, one each.  Each count could be punished by three months in jail and a fine of 500 fish, but are not likely to be. 

Now to another sport that starts with a B and could end with indictments.  Right now, the punishment in baseball‘s burgeoning steroid scandal are exclusively financial ones.  Cancel that big Barry Bonds home run promotion.  Bonds did not admit to a grand jury that he used steroids, but he did admit taking substances, substances that another player who also took them said were steroids and human growth hormone. 

It‘s apparently all the same to the advertisers.  Baseball was negotiating with MasterCard to sponsor Bonds‘ chase of the all-time home run record this year.  That proposal has been tabled now, a baseball spokeswoman telling “The San Francisco Chronicle” that everyone is waiting to see what happens in the steroid story and nobody knows if the sponsorship idea could be revived at a later date. 

How seriously the sponsors take this scandal can be gauged thusly.  In 1999, MasterCard was eager to pay for a baseball promotion involving Pete Rose, who had been banned for life for gambling on games.  The company even insisted that Rose‘s ban be temporarily lifted so he could participate in the on-field climax to the stunt.  That was OK. 

One more baseball shoe dropped today, an old shoe.  Jose Canseco, who hit 462 home runs in a 17-year career that ended in 2001, has already admitted he used steroids, but in an upcoming book, Canseco also accuses at least one prominent teammate of doing the same.  “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big” will not be published by Regan Books until next May.  But a baseball source familiar with the manuscript tells COUNTDOWN that, in it, Canseco describes how he personally injected steroids into the backside of one of his former teammates with the Oakland A‘s and that the ex-teammate returned the favor. 

With Canseco‘s admission and that of Jason Giambi and that of the late Ken Caminiti, along with the questions about Barry Bonds, it means that the men who won 10 of the most valuable player awards over the last 17 years have either admitted to using steroids or have been accused of it before a grand jury. 

And the so-called BALCO part of the scandal has now prompted an investigation by the International Olympic Committee, one that could result in American athlete Marion Jones losing her five medals from the 2000 Games in Sydney.  Victor Conte, the founder of the BALCO lab which produced the steroids used by Jason Giambi and perhaps by Barry Bonds, says he personally sat next to Marion Jones as she injected herself with steroids the month before the 2000 Olympics. 

She has called him a liar and said that she herself has passed a lie-detector test on this same issue.  But IOC president Jacques Rogge has now established a disciplinary commission to look into Conte‘s allegations about Jones.  The head of the World Anti-Doping Organization says, if Conte is proved correct, Jones should be stripped of her three golds and two bronzes from 2000. 

And we segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” with what is reported as a minor medical setback for America‘s eternal teenager.  Dick Clark has had a stroke.  And it‘s unclear if the 75-year-old emcee and entrepreneur is even still hospitalized.  Clark‘s publicist said he suffered a minor stroke this week and released a statement in which Clark is quoted as saying: “The doctors tell me I should be back in the swing of things before too long, so I‘m hopeful to be able to make it to Times Square”—unquote.  So we don‘t have to cancel New Year‘s Eve, after all. 

And you‘ve heard of organized crime figures still managing to lead their nefarious organizations from behind bars.  Well, here‘s a neat trick.  Martha Stewart has just signed to do a new television show.  The high doyen of household hints could not attend today‘s news conference because she‘s in stir.  Once she gets sprung, however, she will host a daily, hour-long syndicated show produced by reality show whiz Mark Burnett‘s company and syndicated by NBC, one of the parents of MSNBC, which is why we‘re called that. 

“The New York Post” speculated Ms. Stewart could earn up to $8 million a year on the program.  Today, its producers announced that among her show‘s topics will be cooking, entertaining, decorating, home renovating, and how to make a useful and attractive shiv out of discarded prisoner visitor I.D.s. 

As Mr. Burns once asked on “The Simpsons,” catsup, ketchup, catsup, ketchup.  Whatever you call it, it now costs too much to drink it, why that is bad news for Americans, who consume 92 pounds of tomato products a piece every year. 

Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We will not pry.  We will just assume that you have done it, too, made ketchup into an inappropriate or at least an unexpected part of a meal, you know, stocked for soup or as a salad dressing or in a ketchup sandwich. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, those days are gone now, tomatoes now being in fact rationed like water during a drought, bad news for you, considering that the estimate for how much in tomatoes and ketchup and paste and sauce this country consumed last year is 27,133,749,888 pounds. 

And it‘s expensive news for you too, as our correspondent Don Teague now reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  If your favorite pizza seems a little light on sauce and your supersalad seems a bit less super these days, it‘s probably not in your head.  The problem, thankfully, isn‘t an attack of killer tomatoes, but killer tomato prices, which have forced some restaurants to seriously cut back. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You can‘t cut out the tomato, tomatoes and cheese.

TEAGUE:  At Wendy‘s, you can still get a tomato on your burger, but only if you ask.  Some McDonald‘s restaurants are even charging for extra ketchup.  And this Washington juice bar has dropped tomatoes from the menu altogether.

TOM HOLLAND, JUICE JOINT CAFE:  It was quality and price.  About eight weeks ago, we made the decision to stop serving tomatoes because the price had almost tripled. 

TEAGUE:  To $70 a case.  Shoppers at some grocery stores are paying $5 a pound for tomatoes.  Not Atlanta college student Katie Jah (ph). 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have the canned vegetables, and that‘s not as healthy for you, but it‘s cheaper. 

TEAGUE:  The reason for the skyrocketing prices:

HUDSON RIEHLE, NATIONAL RESTAURANT ASSOCIATION:  There was the hurricane situation in the Florida, the multiple hurricanes.  And coincident with this, that there were unseasonably heavy rains in California and also at the same time there was a pest problem with the tomato crops in Mexico. 

TEAGUE:  Fortunately, experts say the crops will recover and prices should fall in a few weeks, good news for a tomato-hungry nation and filmmakers.

(on camera):  So yet another sequel to “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” would cost a fortune today to produce, because tomatoes like this vine ripe tomato, $3.99 a pound.  That‘s about $2 for this tomato.  The good news, though, lower prices, they tell us, are on the horizon. 

Don Teague, NBC News, in Roswell, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Two rumors to dispel immediately about the tomato crisis.  It‘s not the result of this, the annual La Tomatina Festival in Bunol, Spain, where, last August, 36,000 people took to the streets to destroy 140 tons of tomatoes in a tradition that dates back to 1945, when they needed new wasteful things to do after the war. 

And the other rumor that isn‘t true, the tomato and ketchup shortage is not an act of political vengeance by Teresa Heinz Kerry. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  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   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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