updated 12/13/2004 1:58:25 PM ET 2004-12-13T18:58:25

Guest: Larry Johnson, Bryan Bender, David Conn, Nick Warnock

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

I‘ve got a secret.  Controversy over a multi-billion dollar spy program so clandestine, nobody can even say what it is.  We think it‘s spy satellites.  All we know is, Senator Rockefeller thinks it‘s stunningly expensive.  And when a Rockefeller thinks something is stunningly expensive, we‘re not talking $49.95. 

Armor for the Humvees.  The contractor said it could up production 20 percent, but the Army never asked.  Today, the Army asked. 

Another weekend of the Peterson jurors asking themselves, “Does no penalty verdict yet mean no death penalty?” 

And it‘s that time again: 13,000 holiday decorating related injuries this year.  How to make sure he‘s Chevy Chase and you‘re not. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening. 

If the government asked to you spend billions of dollars on a high-tech spy project, what would you ask back?  Would you ask what‘s it called?  And what if the government replied, can‘t tell you that. 

Would you ask, what does it do?  And what if the government replied can‘t tell you that? 

Would you ask, what‘s the cost?  And what if the government replied can‘t tell you that either? 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, four senators led by West Virginia‘s Jay Rockefeller says that‘s exactly what we‘re being asked to do.  And that‘s exactly how the government is answering.  Or is not answering those questions? 

If we have to play I‘ve got a secret, then the first question is, is it spy satellites?  Or devices that neutralize spy satellites?

Whatever it is, Senator Rockefeller does say it is stunningly expensive.  And it is in the new blue print for U.S. intelligence spending, approved by the joint Senate- House committee negotiating the intelligence budget, after having apparently been killed from that budget in each of the last two years. 

The idea this is about satellites and possibly weapons in space is not some wild hunch.  It is informed speculation by experts.  Jeffery Richelson (ph), an intelligence historian and author of a dozen books on spy technology, telling NBC News, quote, “It almost has to be a spy satellite.  The cost element Rockefeller talks about would indicate that.”

Other intelligence experts who asked not to be quoted suggested it could be more than that: technology that could intercept and shut down other nations‘ spy satellites.  Those space devices would not necessarily use weapons.  They would act more like radar-jammers. 

William E. Burrows of New York University saying they could emit, quote, “a signal that would tell the satellite to take the rest of the afternoon off.” 

We‘re not necessarily at the threshold of that old bad joke, if I tell you any more I‘ll to have kill you, but we‘re in the ballpark.  Of course, all the lights are off in the ballpark. 

To help us grope around in the dark, I‘m joined by Larry Johnson, former CIA officer, former deputy director of the State Department Office of Counter Terrorism. 

Larry, good evening.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Hi, Keith.

CAVUTO:  So the hell what is this all about and should we be interviewing you in silhouette?

JOHNSON:  Yes.  I was going to bring my trench coat and hat over my eyes to hide out. 

Look, this is fairly extraordinary for the senators to go public like this.  In the past, when you‘ve had some super sexy technology, when there‘s agreement on that project, that stays secret.  Remember, the Glomar Explorer that was being used to mine for Soviet submarines, nuclear weapons at the bottom of the ocean. 

So the fact that these senators felt compelled to go out and say, wait a second.  We‘ve got a boondoggle going on here.  I think this speaks volumes, that this is not just some extra special technology and that we shouldn‘t know about it.  It underscores that the senators are trying to figure out how to debate a secret without divulging the secret. 

OLBERMANN:  And Senator Rockefeller said, the other issues seemingly as important, stunningly expense, the expense was dangerous to the national security.  And obviously, Rockefeller is, if anybody would know they‘re stunningly expensive subjects. 

But has anybody actually suggested how much money we could be talking about here?

JOHNSON:  No.  I‘ve not heard any dollar figure.  But I—Keith, I think this goes to the heart of a very serious problem or a tendency we have in Washington which is, you think if you throw more money at something, if you spend more money on something, it‘s going to improve it. 

And very candidly, I think the intelligence community could be helped by having a budget cut, as opposed to a budget expansion.  So the fact that they‘re trying to exercise some fiscal responsibility here and ask the tough questions of is this really an essential technology, or is this a bell and whistle that might be nice to have but has some down sides?  And I think it‘s—the down sides of possible blowback from some other countries, it would have them concerned.

OLBERMANN:  And by that, you mean what?  That if it is, in fact, something regarding satellites, somebody is going to say we can‘t afford this super secret technology.  We‘re just going to put lasers on our satellites to defend them. 

JOHNSON:  Well, for example, if it is a satellite that can take out other systems, this is not a—this is a technology treadmill until everybody else will fire theirs up.  And we can rapidly find themselves with people putting systems in space that would make our satellites vulnerable. 

So there are certain roads you may not want to down.  If you go down them, you want to make sure you‘ve got some backup.

So I think, you know, what I‘m hearing—this is not just Democrat senators.  This is also some Republican senators on the intelligence committee.  I think what‘s got them, their ire up, is that they recommended not to go forward with it and somebody got their hooks into an appropriations chairman, and voila, there‘s the money. 

OLBERMANN:  Bringing us back to that original to topic, secrecy as policy.  When this country was developing the atomic bomb during the Second World War, a reporter got wind of just the name, Manhattan Project.  Went to his old friend, Harry Truman, who was heading the Senate committee on national defense.

Truman went to see the secretary of war.  The secretary of war told him not only do you have to forget this, but that small folder you have of information, that stays here when you leave. 

Is there not a place for secrecy on matters like this?  Or is there just a question of whether or not this meets the minimum standard for that?

JOHNSON:  Absolutely.  You know, you do not want—this is like playing poker.  You don‘t want to show your cards to your adversaries and let them know what you‘re holding, particularly if you‘ve got some breakthrough technology. 

So I think in this case, we want to make sure that we, you know, we protect the secrets. 

And you score another point here which, in my experience, I found reporters, when they do have access to certain classified information that could compromise national security, they normally don‘t go with it.  They‘re not like Bob Novak, for example, who will out officials. 

OLBERMANN:  Another topic for another time. 

JOHNSON:  That‘s all right.  Couldn‘t resist.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe we‘re sending him into space.  Larry Johnson, the former director of the State Department Office of Counter Terrorism.  As always, sir, great thanks.

JOHNSON:  Thank you, Keith.

And we may not be buying space lasers, but we are worried about terror lasers, as it proves.  Federal officials now say they are concerned that terrorists could try to down aircraft by blinding pilots with laser beams as pilots try to land their craft. 

A memo sent to law enforcement agencies by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security saying there is evidence that terrorists could be using, exploring, or having explored using lasers to bring down planes. 

In September, a pilot for Delta Airlines reported an eye injury from a laser beam that was shined into his cockpit during a landing at Salt Lake City.  The Airline Pilots Association says there has been a recent increase in laser incidents, but it doesn‘t know what to make of them. 

Federal officials say there is no evidence that terrorist groups have managed to attain the powerful military grade lasers that would be required. 

On a lighter note, there is the more seasonal threat of terrorism by fruitcake.  A Transportation Safety Administration now advising holiday travelers to leave the doorstop like confection at home. 

And a new cottage industry is also trying to dress travelers in clothes that are airport screener friendly. 

First the fashion.  Since almost anything with metal in it from shoes to suspenders now puts passengers into added scrutiny at TSA checkpoints, retailers are now offering clothes to go through screening in.  There‘s even a frequent flyer bra: no underwire, no hassle. 

Entire web sites are now devoted to innocuous clothing.  The TSA even holding a fashion show.

And TSA employees, it now seems, have been left holding the fruitcake.  The agency warning this weak that since the leaden delight is often mistaken for contraband by baggage screening sensors, you‘re better off leaving it out of your Samsonite.  It‘s a density question here.

The same goes for other dense foods, like chocolate, peanut butter, cheese.  Nothing says I love you at Christmas time like cheese. 

Now that fruitcake is no longer an option, TSA working on its list of acceptable re-gifting alternatives for Aunt Mildred. 

This sounds like a tasteless joke.  Unfortunately, it‘s not.  Many soldiers in Iraq have been asking Santa for body armor.  And the one guardsman in Kuwait who on Wednesday asked Secretary Rumsfeld about increased armor plating for military vehicles has today gotten his wish. 

The Pentagon announcing this afternoon that it will increase its order with the Armor Holdings Company from 450 fully protected new Humvees a month to 550. 

The firm had said yesterday it had the capacity to do exactly that, but it had not an increased order from the military.  Today it got one. 

Pentagon officials insisting there was a miscommunication.  They say they believed 450 a month was the most the company could make.  They say the company was actually already making 100 more a month for other clients. 

Bottom line, the Army‘s total order with Armor Holdings, 8,100 Humvees will be completed in March rather than in May, by which time, the problem will be two years old.  More than that, in fact. 

Here to help gauge the problem and the solution, the Pentagon reporter of “The Boston Globe,” Bryan Bender. 

Mr. Bender, good evening.

BRYAN BENDER, “BOSTON GLOBE”:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We always check first to make sure that the logical fallacy is not in play here.  The question to Secretary Rumsfeld on Wednesday, the order to increase the Humvee armoring today.  That‘s not a coincidence, right?

BENDER:  No, I think there‘s no doubt that they‘re connected.  This has been an issue that the Army has grappled with for months.  But it‘s one of many issues it‘s grappled with. 

And certainly it got much more attention this week when the soldier, Specialist Thomas Wilson, took Rumsfeld to task in the town hall meeting in Kuwait.  That sort of created the snowball effect, which got members of Congress and others to press the Pentagon and say, you know, “Why are you not doing this faster?”

And then you have the company, Armor Holdings, as you said, come out and say, “Well, we could do it faster.  But the Pentagon hasn‘t given us the go-ahead.”

OLBERMANN:  So ultimately, the idea that that question from Specialist Wilson was a partial plant or encouraged by the media, by a particular reporter from Chattanooga, made no difference whatsoever in terms of how the Army reacted? 

BENDER:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, I think all you have to do is look at President Bush‘s comments yesterday, in which he acknowledged that this was a legitimate gripe for soldiers in the field. 

So whether it was a question they came up with on their own or a reporter nudged them a little bit, I don‘t think it really diminishes the importance of the issue. 

OLBERMANN:  As we have heard a lot from e-mails from men who served in Iraq or are still there in the last couple of days since this happened, they don‘t drive around only in Humvees there. 

What else do they have to retrofit or improve in temperatures of armor?  What is the status of other vehicles like there?

BENDER:  Well, the spotlight has been on the Humvees.  But I think there‘s about 8,000 that they need to be armored.  They‘re about at 6,000, so there‘s about 2,000 to go.

But that doesn‘t account for tens of thousands of trucks: heavy and medium size trucks that are used for supply convoys.  And those are largely operated by the National Guard and the reserves.  They‘re not very well protected. 

And there are no front lines in Iraq.  In the old days, the transportation unit, a supply convoy, would be in the rear.  And they‘d be in relative safety.  That‘s not the case in Iraq. 

And I think down the road, in the coming months, the Pentagon is going to have to tackle that problem, too.  In fact, I heard that today, they‘re going to start 24-hour work shifts at some of these Army depots that are making armor plates for the trucks. 

So the Humvees are moving along.  But the trucks are, I think, only 10 to 15 percent are armored. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness.  Bryan Bender, the Pentagon reporter of the “Boston Globe.”  Great thanks for your perspective tonight. 

BENDER:  Sure. 

OLBERMANN:  The process by which the lack of armored vehicles in Iraq became the topic of national attention is now the focus of circumspection at that newspaper in Chattanooga, the center of the story. 

You will recall that in Kuwait on Wednesday, “Chattanooga Times Free Press” reporter Lee Pitts, embedded with the 278th Regimental Combat Team, convinced a soldier from that team to ask Secretary Rumsfeld about armored plating for him, since no reporter would be asked—allowed to ask any questions of the defense secretary himself. 

Today in a front-page article, the publisher of that newspaper says the question needed to be asked.  But he acknowledges the genesis of the question should have been made public. 

“In hindsight, information on how the question was framed should have been included in Thursday‘s story.  It was not.  Mr. Pitts used the tools available to him as a journalist to report on a story that has been and remains important to members of the 278th and those back at home.”

As to the most important big picture question back home, a majority of Americans now believe stability in Iraq in the form of a democratic government is not likely to happen. 

Fifty percent of those surveyed by the IPSOS company for the Associated Press say they now believe it will not happen, compared to 47 percent who do.  The public‘s faith slipping, slightly, at least, since spring when 55 percent in this country said that a stable Democratic government in Iraq was likely and only 44 percent believed otherwise. 

One more thing.  The last polling on democracy here indicated fully one fifth of the electorate did not think the last election was legitimate. 

After exploring voting irregularities in an informal forum in Washington the day before yesterday, a group of House Democrats is taking the act on the road Monday in Ohio. 

John Conyers of Michigan, Ted Strickland of Ohio—excuse me, Ohio, will conduct another forum inside Columbus city hall Monday morning, they announced today. 

Columbus is going to be a busy place on Monday.  That is the day that electors in each state will cast their Electoral College votes in their state capital.  Ohio‘s is Columbus. 

Just after noon, one of the third party candidates got the recount of the presidential voting in Ohio going.  David Cobb of the Green Party will make a speech on the steps of the state capitol. 

Let‘s hope they don‘t all get trapped in the same elevator. 

The 12 people who took so little time convicting Scott Peterson have surprisingly made no decision yet on what his punishment should be. 

And the teenage grandchild of the biggest winner in Powerball history has disappeared.  Police are calling that unusual. 

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The jury got the penalty verdict phase of the Scott Peterson trial yesterday at 2:02 Pacific Time.  By 4, they had packed up and gone home for the night.  They resumed at 8 this morning and quit again at 3:30 this afternoon. 

Our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN, does the jury‘s delay in deciding mean they are considering life instead of death?

It‘s the same jury that so rapidly convicted Scott Peterson a month ago Sunday, the same jury that wept openly as Laci Peterson‘s mother, Sharon Rocha, first whispered her pain and then screamed at the man who was her son-in-law. 

The same jury that listened to three dozen defense witnesses begging that Peterson not be put to death and seemed disinterested by much of what it heard.  Except, perhaps, for the three witnesses who openly stated that they, the jury, had made the wrong decision. 

None of this seemed to augur well for a life sentence.  Yet the death card has not been turned over, not yet, anyway. 

Joining us to discuss whether or not that means anything is David Conn, criminal defense attorney, formerly the prosecutor in the case of the Menendez brothers. 

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

DAVID CONN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Hi, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  They decided so quickly, relatively speaking, on guilt or innocence.  Is there any inference to be drawn from them not doing so on the penalty phase?

CONN:  No, not really.  A jury such as this is facing one of the most important decisions that they will ever face in their life.  That is, whether someone should be executed. 

And it‘s just natural that they would want to take as much time as possible, that they would want to go over aspect of the case.  Not only the sufficiency of the evidence but their conscience and how they feel about what penalty this man truly deserves. 

So it‘s very understandable that they would want to explore that issue.  And they may be very close to a death verdict.  They may be very close to a verdict of life imprisonment.  But there‘s just no telling at this point in time. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it too much the layman speaking, to say, well, maybe they are close to either one of those decisions, but somebody said, “Look, whatever we‘re going to do, why don‘t we take the weekend to think about it”?

CONN:  That‘s very possible.  You know, you never know whether they‘re exploring a huge problem, that is a great difference of opinion in the jury room, about what punishment is appropriate, or whether there‘s just one juror who is having a little bit of a problem with the decision that all of the other jurors have reached. 

So it‘s really speculative at this point.  And virtually anything can happen. 

OLBERMANN:  There was a tactic that the defense attorney, Mark Geragos, took yesterday that intrigued me.  It was the equivalence of a reporter trying to disarm an interviewee by saying, “Look, I‘m not that bright.  I don‘t know too much.  I just showed up.  Can you explain the story to me?”

He said, Geragos, that this was all his fault that the penalty phase was delayed, that he was not prepared, that he never thought it would come to this.  Could that work?  The old blame me, don‘t blame my client technique?

CONN:  Well, I think it‘s a very brilliant argument.  I don‘t believe it‘s factually true.  I think that Geragos is a very well prepared lawyer in all of his cases.  And this is a tactical issue that he‘s presenting to the jury. 

But I think—I think it‘s a well-reasoned strategy.  That is, to try to get the jury to think that there‘s something that should have been presented on behalf of Mr. Peterson that has not been presented.  And perhaps it‘s the attorney‘s fault. 

So it‘s brilliant, I think, because it undermines the legitimacy of the proceedings.  It makes the jury think that Mr. Peterson, perhaps, has not really received a fair trial. 

So I think it‘s courageous for—for Geragos to lay himself out like that and to make that sort of a statement.  But I think it‘s a brilliant strategy that could perhaps help Mr. Peterson. 

OLBERMANN:  And he‘s a lawyer in court.  So he does not necessarily have to be telling them the truth.  As you point out, it doesn‘t have to be factually correct. 

Criminal defense attorney David...

CONN:  That‘s absolutely correct. 

OLBERMANN:  David Conn, great thanks for your insight.  Maybe we‘ll see you come Monday.  Thank you kindly.

CONN:  OK, great.

OLBERMANN:  Not to beat you over the head with the celebrity crime news.  Authorities aren‘t sure there‘s been a crime here.  But when the teenage granddaughter of the biggest Powerball lottery winner in history disappears, people ask questions. 

Jack Whittaker, the West Virginia man who won $315 million two Christmases ago and took a $115 million lump sum payment after taxes, has reported that his 17-year-old granddaughter is missing.  The county‘s sheriff‘s office says at this time we‘re treating this as an unusual disappearance. 

Seventeen-year-old Brandi Lasha Bragg was last seen by her family at 9 p.m. last Saturday night.  Late yesterday, she was registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  There has been no ransom note and no indication of foul play, but she‘s missing. 

And lastly, a development today in the plane crash that injured NBC Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol and claimed the life of his youngest son. 

The plane had been checked for ice on the wings.  Initial reports after the November 28 crash in Colorado indicated that the crew of the private jet had not asked to have it de-iced, that the ground crew at the airport did not volunteer to de-ice it.  The possibility that the plane‘s ability to take off had been compromised by ice was thus the leading informed guest about the accident‘s cause. 

But the National Transportation Safety Board today says the cockpit voice recorder captured a conversation between the pilot and co-pilot in which it was clear that they believed the wings were clear of ice. 

Moving from the tragic to the just plain strange.  Meet this guy on the right.  Either the “Oddball” segment is approaching or it‘s Lon Chaney time, or we‘re going to sing Warren Zevon‘s greatest hits. 

And speaking of things that make you want to howl, in addition to the screaming baby, the kicking child, the nasty food, and the lack of pillows and the guy with the giant ring on his finger, how about having to deal with everybody on the plane using their cell phones at the same time? 

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and it‘s Friday night so it must be time to fill the house with red ladies, make sure the booze hose is attached to the booze hydrant and start howling at the moon.  This will all make sense in a moment.  I hope. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Haskell County, Oklahoma.  You know they say it‘s bad luck to kill a ladybug.  But Miss Shirley Gregory may have to take her chances on that.  Her house has been invaded by tens of thousands of the little red cuties, piling up by the hundreds on nearly every surface of her home. 

Not all ladybugs are ladies, by the way.  Anybody who‘s ever seen the movie “A Bug‘s Life” knows that the male ones have a bit of a complex about that. 

Anyway, these guys have more serious things to worry about now, like the clouds of deadly poison gas that will be coming their way this weekend. 

To Lithuania where the price of alcohol has jumped so high since the company joined the European Union, smuggling of illegal moonshine into that nation has skyrocketed. 

But tenacious border agents announced this week they have discovered at least four underground liquor pipelines.  They‘re pumping moonshine into Venios (ph) from the neighboring country of Belarus. 

The agents are shown here ripping up one such booze hose, which ran under the border, along a riverbed, under several roads, into a home and ended directly in the mouth of a really drunk Lithuanian guy. 

And the last part of our things to do this weekend segment.  To Devon England where the writer Shaun Ellis is Wolfman.  Ellis has shed the trappings of daily ordinary life amongst the humans to spend seven months with a pack of wolf cubs. 

His goal, teaching them to live on their own in the wild.  He will sleep outside in freezing conditions, relying only on the body heat of the three wolves to keep himself warm. 

If that doesn‘t work, there is a motel nearby that allows pets. 

It is not quite “Werewolves of London,” but it will have to do. 

It‘s one of the oldest of cliches.  “And that‘s when the wheels fell off.”  Unfortunately, for owners of 600,000 SUVs, there is no joke at all.  Recall details. 

And this became a cliche.  But what befell Clark Griswold happens more during the holiday season for real than you might think.  Tips for injury avoidance.  These stories ahead.

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.  There‘s an invisible thread warning here, by the way. 

No. 3, Raymond White Jr. of Dayton, Texas.  He said he had no idea how the skidmarks appeared on the roof of his 18-wheeler tractor trailer truck while he was driving it just east of El Paso.

The explanation was a single engine plane made an emergency landing on top of his truck.  Pilot and passenger are fine, even though the plane promptly fell off the truck.

No. 2, something else gets dropped, the unnamed apartment resident in Kaspiiski Street in Moscow in Russia.  Annoyed by—in the middle of the night by, what else, but a car alarm going off, the apartment dweller leaned out his window and dropped a sink on to the car.  Who has a spare sink? 

And, No. 1, also from Russia, Alexei Pivovarov, Moscow newscaster, suspended by the MTV News Channel.  He reported that his boss had fired one of the reporters and said this was the boss‘ -- quote—“personal contribution to the history of Russian television.”  Pivovarov has been suspended—quote—“for sarcasm during his newscast.”

Remind me not to do this show from Moscow. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Good news, you may soon be able to use your cell phone on a plane.  Bad news, so could everybody else on the plane.  Good news, it is the holiday season.  Bad news, 13,000 people will now go to the E.R.  injured while putting up holiday decorations.  Good news, more people than ever can afford an SUV.  Bad news, three manufacturers today recalled more than 1.3 million SUVs.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, caveat emptor, buyer beware.  Let‘s start with those SUVs.  Some are recalled because their wheels might fall off.  Happy motoring.

Here‘s our correspondent Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The recall order affects 600,000 Durango SUVs and Dakota pickups.  DaimlerChrysler tells NBC News it will now agree to the government‘s request for a recall after reviewing dozens of cases where a front wheel fell off. 

JASON VINES, DAIMLERCHRYSLER:  We don‘t like our customers in any type of a panic mode.  And from the actions we heard today at the dealer level, lots of calls were coming in.  Customers were upset. 

COSTELLO:  But just yesterday, the company said the issue doesn‘t rise to the level of a safety defect.  The problem has been under investigation for a year.  The upper ball joint can come apart, causing the vehicle suspension to collapse and the wheel to fall off. 

COSTELLO:  It happened to Tina Check (ph) from Massachusetts.  With two small children in her 2000 Durango, she was trying to turn into a parking lot just before getting into the expressway. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was driving along.  The wheel fell off. 

COSTELLO:  Consumers advocates have been demanding a recall.

JOAN CLAYBROOK, SPOKESWOMAN, PUBLIC CITIZEN:  There‘s an instance where a woman who was pregnant almost lost her baby and had her neck broken when this happened.  This is not a small problem. 

COSTELLO:  Both the Dakota and the Durango are assembled at this plant in Kokomo, Indiana.  The parts come from another plant.  The company says it will now recall all the models made in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, extend the warranties on 2004 model ball joints and reimburse customers who have had to pay for repairs. 

(on camera):  As recalls go, 600,000 is not particularly large.  Past recalls have included up to eight million vehicles.  But for DaimlerChrysler, which until now has had a good year, this recall will be expensive. 

ANGUS MACKENZIE, EDITOR IN CHIEF, “MOTOR TREND”:  Even if you calculated at $100 per truck in a recall, they‘re still looking at something like $60 million to fix all those trucks and get them back out in the hands of consumers. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  And there were other recalls today.  Honda recalled its CRV after a series of fires linked to its oil filter seals, while Ford is recalling 474,000 Escape SUVs because of an accelerator problem. 

While DaimlerChrysler today insisted it was not backtracking or caving into public outrage, Tina Check says the company has already waited too long. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Them just sweeping this under the rug could have caused one of my children to be hurt or worse. 

COSTELLO:  Tom Costello, NBC News, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From wheels falling off to something that could make you want to knock somebody else‘s wheels off. 

Your cell phone may soon work on airplanes.  Soon is a relative term here.  “The New York Times” reporting it could be a few years.  But next Wednesday, the FCC is expected to begin the process of considering what, if any, technical innovations could be done to allow personal cell phone usage in flight.  One scheme is to route calls through a device called a pico cell, a miniaturized cell phone tower that would sit inside the cabin. 

The pico cell would be attached to a miniaturized satellite dish atop the plane.  Presto, you could use your cell.  There would be additional charges, to say nothing of the chance that the one guy trying to sleep in 173-K might finally lose it and try to break the pico cell and eat it. 

In the interim, there are still cell phone problems on the ground, bogus e-mails warning cell owners that their numbers are going to be made available to telemarketers.  They aren‘t.  But a lot of people now think they are, a lot.  In the last two weeks alone, three million new phone numbers have been registered by their owners with the government‘s telemarketing do-not-call list. 

That is a million and a half per week.  The list had been growing by an average of 200,000 a week.  Then came this e-mail.  The do-not-call folks remind that you the telemarketers are not allowed to call cell phone numbers anyway.  Nor are pollsters, if you‘ll recall that.  They think the confusion arose from the announcement by several cell providers that a 411 directory assistance service would be set up for mobile phones next spring. 

Even that, though, requires to you actively consent to having your number listed.  If you say no or if you say nothing, you do not get listed. 

And if the SUV or the cell phone don‘t get you, there‘s always the deck the halls safety crisis that can, the Centers for Disease Control reporting that another 5,800 holiday casualties are expected in emergency rooms between now and the 1st of the year, most of that coming from falls, falls from rooftops, from ladders, even from furniture.  Whoops.  Broken bones, most common.  The injuries happen mostly to men. 

Falling, broken bones, men, common denominator here?  It‘s boast No.  337 in the guy handbook.  I can, too, stand on the recliner and hang the star on the tree.  Recommendations on avoiding injury range from the logical to the ridiculously obvious.  On ladders, unless you want to wind up like this guy, use the 4-1 rule.  If you are four feet up the ladder, the base should be one foot away from the wall.  At eight feet up, the ladder should be two feet from the wall and so on. 

And if your Christmas tree looks like this, something has gone wrong.  Mr. Science reminds you, keep lit candles at least three feet from your tree.  Same thing for radiators, fireplaces, portable heaters, and any member of your family you think is a likely candidate for spontaneous human combustion. 

Consumer issues of a different kind.  A lot of sports experts believe fans will be indifferent to the burgeoning baseball drug scandal.  As they say, chicks dig the long ball.  But a new poll indicating tonight that consumers of baseball are not happy about consumers of steroids. 

A national Gallup poll indicating 86 percent of fans say players and owners should come together with a tougher steroid testing program before the start of the new season; 59 percent are even in favor of congressional action if the two sides can‘t get it done themselves.  Most importantly, perhaps, asked if they are now less enthusiastic about the sport because of the steroid crisis, better than three in five fans said yes, all which of makes a promotion tonight in New York City a very dicey proposition. 

It is called the Ultimate Experience, baseball fans paying $7,500 a piece to meet Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, implicated in the mess, and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees, who is not.  Rodriguez is to donate his share of the proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of America.  Bonds is to donate his share to the Barry Bonds wallet fund.  Only 100 tickets to tonight‘s cocktail party were made available.  There was to be a question-and-answer session.  Gee, I‘ve got a question. 

Of course, everything is relative; $7,500 wouldn‘t get you a napkin and an hors d‘oeuvre at the upcoming inaugural.  The actual inauguration on the 20th of January will be handled by the ailing chief justice of the United States, William H. Rehnquist.  That was announced today.

But that‘s just the ceremony, not the party.  The Bush-Cheney Inaugural Committee has solicited hundreds of its supporters and others to spend the big money to attend on the 19th.  The goal is to raise more than $40 million.  Not hard to see how.  The price list, $100,000 will get you a sponsorship package, an undisclosed number of tickets to one of three candlelit dinners on inaugural eve in which the president and vice president are to make appearances, plus four more tickets to a youth concert hosted by the first daughters.  And it will be $120,000 if you don‘t want them to make any more jokes. 

But $250,000 will get you 20 tickets to one of those dinners, plus the tickets to the youth concert, plus two tickets to an exclusive lunch with the president and the vice president. 

And attention, Ohio.  All tickets are nonrefundable. 

Down to the wire in “The Apprentice,” as Trump cuts the contenders in half, not literally, though.  And the man who called Mike Tyson his all-time favorite boxer drops charges against my cousin.  Not for the love of Mike, but for the love of a strip club?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I cajoled.  I begged.  I threatened.  I even tried to squeeze out a tear, all to no avail.  The weekly news quiz looms anyway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And then there were two.  The final culling of the wanna-be apprentices our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN tonight, as it is every Friday.

After grilling by four of the nation‘s top CEOs, it was down to Donald Trump to decide whether Kelly, Kevin, Jen or Sandy would live to see the final episode. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE APPRENTICE”)

DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  To start the evening, I have to say, Kevin, you‘re fired. 

I have to be honest with you, ladies.  The business leaders and George and Carolyn feel Kelly has done an amazing job.  And I think unless he says something very, very stupid, he‘s going to make it. 

Running one of my companies is a very complex subject.  It is complex in every way. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I understand that, but I...

TRUMP:  Financially, legally.  And I just don‘t see you being equipped for that. 

Sandy, you‘re fired. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Famous last words, “I understand that, but.”

I‘m joined once again by one of our regular Friday-night quarterbacks, season one survivor Nick Warnock. 

Nick, hi.  How are you?

NICK WARNOCK, FORMER “APPRENTICE” CONTESTANT:  Keith, good evening.

OLBERMANN:  I tell you, by the way, that Amy Henry is on stage right now playing in “The Nutcracker,” which is why she could not join us.  And don‘t say anything about that. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Last night, Sandy and Kevin get fired.  Kelly and Jen battle it out in the finale next week.

Is that Mr. Trump making the correct choice of the finalists? 

WARNOCK:  Absolutely. 

Who he fired last night was dead on.  Kevin has no real work experience.  And Sandy really has not proven herself in the corporate world, though she‘s been successful in retail.  But I‘m predicting a Jen M.  victory next week.  And I‘ll take a page out of Joe Willie‘s book and say I guarantee it, right here, right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, and to be fair, you also predicted it last week. 

So, so far, you‘re in good shape on this. 

Your man Raj is now back on the scene with Kelly‘s team, making it fairly obvious he couldn‘t care less whether or not Kelly wins or loses.  Even despite what you‘re saying, it is clear that Kelly would appear to be the front-runner right now, but Raj could screw it all up for him? 

WARNOCK:  Yes, I didn‘t like that one bit.

It‘s almost like he‘s as this season‘s Omarosa, that comment about he could not care less.  But Kelly has got to deal with that, just like he would in the workplace if he winds up winning this thing.  And it is going to be interesting to see how he does it, how he gets by this obstacle.  We have got the micromanager, which is Kelly, vs. the delegator, which is Jen M.  And it is shaping up to be a beauty next week, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

And the actual task competition, Kelly‘s is to run this charity polo

match.  Jennifer has to the run a charity basketball game.  And the episode

last night ending with both of them facing real problems, Kelly because it

would not stop raining and Jen because her emcee was trying to bail.  How -

·         what are the strategies towards getting out of those two jams that will result, as you suggested, in Jen winning? 

WARNOCK:  Well, I think Jen M. has it al other easier.  I don‘t know how is going to control the weather.  They can always get a replacement for the emcee.

But something tells me they‘re going to be able to get over those obstacles and really, really perform next week.  And I like Jen M.  She‘s smart.  She has got a great education.  And I think she‘s going to make a wonderful apprentice. 

OLBERMANN:  With one episode to go, and these two finalists being the two finalists having been whittled down, if you had gone back now and looked at the original field, would these have been the two people you would have picked? 

WARNOCK:  No, not at all. 

I had Raj going the distance.  But Jen M. had that certain spark in the beginning.  Now, she gets a lot of guff because she argues a lot.  But it‘s just—I think women get a bad rap on that.  If it was a guy, they would be calling him tough.  Jen is just sticking up for herself.  And she‘s a brilliant litigator.  And I think we saw that last night.  She is making her move. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  And we now know from your prediction that she‘s going to win.  Therefore, there‘s no reason to watch the finale next...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Well, perhaps I don‘t want to go finish that line off.

Nick Warnock, as always, thanks for joining us.  Have a good weekend.

WARNOCK:  Thanks a lot, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll see you next week for the big finale. 

WARNOCK:  Bye-bye.

OLBERMANN:  And we make the quick and easy turn into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news. 

But another star has bad news, prostate cancer.  James Brown will undergo surgery next Wednesday at a Georgia hospital.  Other than that, his publicist is giving no details.  Next month, the 71-year-old singer‘s autobiography is to be published.  Its title, ironic in the face of this news, is “I Feel Good.”

My cousin Mike does, however.  The guy whose car hood Mike Tyson jumped on two weeks ago will not press charges, not because he‘s a fan of Mike Tyson‘s, though he is, but because of respect for the strip club that Tyson was leaving at the time.  The driver says, it is unfortunate that Tyson‘s misbehavior besmirched the good name of the Pussycat Lounge in Scottsdale, Arizona.  And so to minimize its connection to Tyson, he will drop the legal complaint.  When you can hurt the reputation of a strip joint, it‘s about time to wrap that up. 

Speaking of which, wrapping it up.  Finally, the dreaded hour is here.  Our weekly news quiz “What Have We Learned?” it‘s coming up next.  What I have learned is, don‘t take the bloody news quiz anymore.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I‘ve worked hard this week.  I‘ve been good to people.  I‘ve washed behind my ears.  I‘ve watched C-SPAN.  And here I am punished yet again. 

If you are not a constant viewer, you don‘t the torture they put me through, instead of a No. 1 story on Friday‘s COUNTDOWN.  Well, you‘re about to find out.  It laughingly called a news quiz.  It is given the formal title of:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

OLBERMANN:  So now I leave you in the capable hands of the genial emcee of “What Have We Learned?” Monica Novotny, better known as wit mistress of the Western world.

Monica, good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, punchy tonight.

All right, good evening.  Please keep the whining to a dull roar while I remind viewers that, if you would like to take the official MSNBC News quiz, you will find it on our Web site at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. 

And now for the rules.  We‘ll put two minutes on the clock and ask your quiz questions and maybe a couple of ours.  If the anchorman answers at least half correctly, he wins a prize.  If not, he‘s banished to the boardroom or something like that. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, yes, all right.

NOVOTNY:  Two minutes on the clock, please.

Are you ready, sir? 

OLBERMANN:  And what if I said no?  We would do it anyway.  Go ahead.

NOVOTNY:  All right. 

OLBERMANN:  Engage.

NOVOTNY:  Two minutes.

No. 1, name the shepherd and a wise man in the Madame Tussaud nativity scene. 

OLBERMANN:  The shepherd and the wise man. 

NOVOTNY:  One of each. 

OLBERMANN:  One of each.

Tony Blair. 

NOVOTNY:  Was a?

OLBERMANN:  Was one of the wise men?

NOVOTNY:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And the shepherds, Paul McCartney. 

NOVOTNY:  No, I‘m sorry.  You‘re wrong. 

OLBERMANN:  Nuts.

NOVOTNY:  Hugh Grant or Samuel L. Jackson was the shepherd.  The other wise man was George Bush.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVOTNY:  From Jan (ph), name the judge who ordered 11 people arrested for failure to appear after courthouse personnel had directed those people to the wrong courtroom.

OLBERMANN:  Name the judge?

NOVOTNY:  Name the judge.

OLBERMANN:  Judge Roy Bean. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  Wrong.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t remember his name.

NOVOTNY:  Judge John R. Sloop.  Oh, you love that name.

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely.  I screwed that one up.

NOVOTNY:  No. 3, how many Americans are now super-commuters, traveling 90 minutes or more each way to get to work?

OLBERMANN:  All right, there‘s Denis Horgan of our staff.

NOVOTNY:  Plus or minus half a million.

OLBERMANN:  There was the other guy over there at CBS. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Three million. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes, you‘re right, 3.5 million almost.  So, we‘ll give you that.  Bonus question.  Why did COUNTDOWN super-commuter, Denis Horgan, say he gets gas in New Jersey? 

OLBERMANN:  Because he eats at our commissary.  That‘s why.  No.  It‘s full service, full service.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right.  Please, keep it tasteful. 

OLBERMANN:  Both of these answers are correct.

NOVOTNY:  No. 5 from Teresa (ph), question, who won this year‘s Miss World contest? 

OLBERMANN:  Monica Novotny. 

NOVOTNY:  Nice try.

OLBERMANN:  No idea.

NOVOTNY:  Miss Peru. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.NOVOTNY:  From Michael.  What did Sonya Thomas win this week? 

OLBERMANN:  Sonya Thomas.  As I said to you beforehand, a lot of these, I don‘t remember, but I know I should know the answer to this.  I have no idea.  I‘m going to down to defeat.

NOVOTNY:  She won yet another eating competition. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  She‘s the eater.  That‘s right.  Yes. 

NOVOTNY:  Plus or minus five, how many meatballs did Sonya Thomas eat in 12 minutes? 

OLBERMANN:  Seventy-eight.

NOVOTNY:  No, 89.   

OLBERMANN:  Well, it wasn‘t that bad.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s not plus or minus five.

Name the soldier who asked Donald Rumsfeld why soldiers had to search for scrap medal to armor their vehicles.

OLBERMANN:  Thomas Wilson.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right, Army Specialist Thomas Wilson.

OLBERMANN:  Right. 

NOVOTNY:  What did the head chef at Zafferano restaurant in London do that makes him, by Olbermann definition, a moron?

OLBERMANN:  He got a giant—cooked a truffle and then locked it in the safe and went away without giving anybody the key. 

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right.  But I don‘t know. 

Did he get half?  Judges?  Judges?  Did you get half? 

OLBERMANN:  Four out of nine.  I go down in blistering defeat.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVOTNY:  And I think even our math shows us. 

OLBERMANN:  Although, if you had given me half credit on the Madame Tussaud‘s thing, I would have gotten 4 ½ out of nine. 

NOVOTNY:  No.  No half credit.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m changing the rules next week. 

NOVOTNY:  Unfortunately, we had a great prize lined up for you. 

But since you lost, instead, instead, we have got your own DVD for the weekend viewing, “The Movie For Dogs.”  It got four paws up from “The Daily...”

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  And Denis wanted me to tell you that. 

(BARKING) 

NOVOTNY:  It‘s one of those movies that you put on when you leave the house and your dogs can watch. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t have a dog.

NOVOTNY:  Well, I know.  That‘s why it‘s for you.

OLBERMANN:  Time for me to go get neutered. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Monica.  Thank you, viewers who submitted questions. 

Joining us again next time—why, oh, why, is there always a next time? -- when again we play:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

OLBERMANN:  A dog movie. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  This show sometimes make me think of a dog movie.  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 nor 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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