updated 1/10/2005 1:43:40 PM ET 2005-01-10T18:43:40

Guest: Eric Geist, Greg Toppo, Deborah Potter

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The death toll rises: 7,000 more tsunami victims reported from Indonesia.  You wonder, says the U.N. secretary-general, as he toured Meulaboh, where are the people?

Others wonder, why did this happen?  The Arab world thinks it was American nuclear tests.  The American rumor mill thinks it could have been big oil‘s underwater site tests.  We‘ll ask a geophysicist if anybody can cause an earthquake. 

The CIA‘s internal investigation into 9/11, its inspector general saying its leaders did not spend the money they could have before the attacks.  

Many children left behind.  The Department of Education secretly paying a quarter million to a conservative commentator to promote No Child Left Behind on his TV show.  He says he wanted to do it because it‘s something he believes in. 

Yes, well, how do we know they didn‘t pay him to say that, too?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening. 

About this time tomorrow night, it will have been two weeks since a tectonic plate near Sumatra moved with a sudden jolt of incomprehensible force, triggering a tsunami that devastated 11 countries surrounding the Indian Ocean. 

Two weeks and still we are receiving new and horrible details, and new and horrible discoveries. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, 7,000 previously uncounted fatalities reported today from Indonesia.  The death toll thus at 153,357, more than 101,000 of those in that one country. 

And grim new details from the chief executive of the relief agency World Vision, in the Tamilnadu province on India‘s southeast coast where 8,000 died, half were women or children. 

And an unusually high percentage of the victims were women with long hair.  As they tried to survive the wave, the hair, this man says, got tangled in brambles, trees and debris, pulling them under water. 

The sheer force of the wave and its genesis evident in remarkable new animations that recreate what happened to the waters above when the Indian and Asian tectonic plates of the Earth‘s crust ground together with unimaginable force deep beneath the ocean floor. 

The geophysicist who created these animations joins us shortly. 

By sheer volume, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were the locations for the vast majority of deaths and disappearances.  But the search for Americans is centered on the tourist beaches of Thailand.

With sunrise now reaching that region, our correspondent, Charles Sabine joins us now from Phuket, Thailand. 

Charles, good morning.  First, not to get too focused on just the U.S., but put it into context for us.  What does the search for international victims, dead or alive, look like and how does the search for Americans fit into that?

CHARLES SABINE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the first thing I would say, Keith, is it looks harrowing.  An enormous, an enormous task. 

We‘ve got almost 3,000 people here still missing.  And for those families, it is an unimaginable experience for them. 

I spent today with a man called Dan Walker, a 77-year-old man from Vero Beach, California.  Now, just take his case.  He‘s looking for his 12-year-old grandson, Christian, who went missing on Khao Lak Beach the day the tsunami struck. 

At one point, it was thought that Christian had been abducted from a hospital here in Thailand.  That turned out, we think, to be a case of mistaken identity. 

So this 77-year-old from Florida doesn‘t know if his grandson is dead, alive or kidnapped.  This is unimaginable, isn‘t it?  That kind of uncertainty for any kind of parent or grandparent. 

Then you multiply that by the sheer numbers here.  Take Sweden: 1,500 people have been killed from a country of—a country population of seven million.  I was talking to a Swedish chaplain here today who said there is no one in the country of Sweden who doesn‘t know someone who was killed or injured in this tsunami. 

Why is this process taking so long?  Well, firstly, the real thought is that many people may have been swept out to sea and will never be found.  And the problem is that the body identification at these morgues that we‘re seeing at Buddhist temples along the coast here by DNA sampling is now getting very tortuous. 

They‘re now having to take bone samples for DNA testing, because the muscle tissues are not any good any more because of the tropical heat here deteriorating those bodies. 

And it‘s the sheer numbers involved.  The World Health Organization today said that the forensic crisis facing just southern Thailand now, the DNA matching, they‘re going to have to do, bigger than the whole of 9/11 for the United States.  So that gives you an idea of the kind of figures here.  And that‘s why many, many scientists here say it‘s going to take months if ever it‘s going to be completed at all—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Charles, in the days immediately after the tsunami, there were obviously focuses solely on the injuries and on the damage and the attempts just to get people standing on their feet again, and less focus on this warning that the scientists of Thailand chose not to give. 

But is that failure to warn now beginning to be a central issue in that country?

SABINE:  It has been a very contentious issue.  There was—there was a senior government scientific advisor here who says that he was trying to get hold of government—senior government members here to tell them that the tsunami was coming after he had heard that the earthquake had struck about 600 miles away in Sumatra.  But he either didn‘t get through to them or they chose not to act on his words.  We don‘t know.

But these rumors have been flying around.  Of course, they may make people here very angry.  The Thai government here has said that it wants to see an early morning system set up in six months—within six months from now.  But of course, the people here are very concerned that perhaps the Thai government put the tourism before their lives—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s Charles Sabine in Phuket, Thailand, for us early this morning.  Charles, many thanks. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of warnings, depending on what part of the world you live in, you may think there were a lot of people who could have warned about the tsunami, because you may think there were a lot of people who caused it. 

The Al Jazeera network, among other broadcasters and newspapers in the Arabic world and elsewhere has reported seriously on theories that the U.S. and Indian governments were testing weapons in the area, possibly nuclear, possibly electromagnetic, and that that caused the earthquake. 

Or that if the U.S. did not cause it, it had plenty of warning that it was happening but deliberately did not transmit that warning so that the disaster would kill thousand of Asians or Muslims. 

Here, the Internet is full of speculation that not the U.S. government, but rather big oil might have been the, quote unquote, “cause,” triggering the disaster during its searches for new oil fields under the Indian Ocean. 

I took two years of geology, and thus I know just enough to be dangerous on this topic.  But my next guest has the full spectrum of knowledge.  Eric Geist, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, a specialist in quakes and tsunamis. 

Mr. Geist, thanks for your time.  Good evening.

ERIC GEIST, GEOPHYSICIST, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the top theory in the—in the east, if you.  That American nuclear or electromagnetic testing that set off the earthquake that unleashed the tsunami like in the “Superman” movie.  Is there any evidence that nuclear testing can induce earthquakes?

GEIST:  Well, for a little background, this kind of falls into a specialized field called induced seismology.  And behind all these theories, I think there‘s a little bit of science involved. 

Certainly, the one we can go back to is the Amchitka (ph) nuclear test that occurred in the Aleutian Islands back in 1965 and 1971. 

And in general, I think humans can cause very limited changes in stress in the crust, induce very small, localized earthquakes.  However, it‘s a real question of scale, going from these small events that humans can cause to major earthquakes such as a magnitude 9 earthquake that occurred on December 26. 

OLBERMANN:  The other one that we‘ve seen a lot on the Internet locally, the idea that it was not nuclear testing but some sort of big oil hunt for reserves under the Indian Ocean using sonar or radar or both. 

Is there any evidence that concentrated sound waves could induce earthquakes or seismic activity of any kind?

GEIST:  Well, in terms of what typically goes on in seismic exploration for these oil fields, what they‘re trying to do is to get a very fine picture of the layering of sediments in the earth. 

So in order to do that, you don‘t need a really big source like an earthquake to do that.  You need, actually, a very sensitive source. 

So I think that there is probably the least likely that these controlled source explosions, or air gun blasts in the ocean, can actually trigger an earthquake.  They‘re much more finely tuned in order to pick up very fine layering in the sediments. 

OLBERMANN:  The last question, the limited seismic activity that you talked about, that man have records of bringing on, those occur with—explain the process by which and the degree to which seismic activity results. 

GEIST:  OK.  It‘s a good question, because generally, they fall in a couple of categories.  One is when you‘re constructing very large dams.  You‘re affecting the stress or the pressure on the earth from the weight of that water. 

Similarly, with classic cases in 1960 in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, you‘re pumping high pressure fluid three and a half kilometers down in the earth.  So you‘re affecting the stresses over small regions, or very shallow in the crust. 

And if there‘s any nearby faults, they can be loaded sometimes so that they‘ll slip and trigger an earthquake, or they can either be clamped down and actually reduce the likelihood of earthquakes. 

But again, these are all happening in very shallow in the earth, and major subduction earthquakes where you have the Indian Ocean plate going beneath Asia, that‘s occurring at a much deeper depth.  Thirty kilometers was the depth of this earthquake.

So there‘s a big gap between what man can cause and the natural processes of the tectonic movement of these plates. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if there‘s any human out there who can cause a 9.0 earthquake, we‘d all better go to his house and worship him. 

Eric Geist of the U.S. Geological Survey, great thanks for your time and your insights, sir.

GEIST:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  The outpouring of donations to that region bringing news both good and bad tonight. 

Beginning with the good: American taxpayers given an extra month to make their contributions deductible.  The president signing into law a measure today that will make any relief gifts donated this first month of 2005 tax deductible for the year 2004.  Perhaps that will be more incentive enough for anyone who has yet to get out the checkbook.  There really aren‘t that many of them.

Twenty-six percent of those surveyed by “USA Today” saying they have thought about donating but have not yet done so.  Forty-five percent already making contributions.  Forty-five percent. 

Seventy-four percent giving instead or in addition the gift of prayer. 

No number yet, though, on exactly how many scam artists are trying to exploit the tragedy.  The FBI issuing a warning about fraud, especially off the Internet. 

First there are unsolicited e-mail message from scam artists seeking money.  Then there are phony relief web sites that are capable of depositing viruses onto the computers of those who visit them.

Even worse are the rogue brokers, who e-mail the families of the missing, offering to help the search for their loved ones for a fee. 

All of the above, unfortunately, not isolated phenomena.  Scams prevalent for every major disaster.  The first 9/11-related schemes popping up within hours of those attacks. 

The U.S. military‘s massive relief effort in the tsunami vote has generated enormous good will, especially in Indonesia, the world‘s most populous Muslim country. 

But despite the P.R. boon to the war on terror, there remains a concern that the American military and others involved in the relief effort could become targets of a terrorist attack.  The chief source of that concern, the radical Islamic group with alleged ties to al Qaeda that‘s helping in the relief effort, known by the name, Laskar Mujahideen.  The group has set up a relief camp in Banda Aceh. 

It is perhaps most notorious for having killed Christians during a civil conflict in another part of Indonesia.  American officials say they are aware of security threats in the region and are taking precautions. 

Also, tonight, threats in other, more familiar, regions.  The new military assessment of Iraq next, including the possible extension of reservist service indefinitely. 

And 240,000 of your taxpayer dollars went to a right-wing TV and radio personality so he would plug the No Child Left Behind idea.  How many things are wrong with this picture?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Critics of this planning—of the planning of this country‘s involvement in the Iraq war these last few years are probably amazed by this headline.  The Pentagon is sending a retired four star Army general there for what it calls an open-ended review of the Defense Department‘s entire strategy. 

His name is Gary E. Luck.  And thus the military is literally trusting to General Luck. 

Our No. 4 story on the COUNTDOWN, more on what he will be doing there in a moment. 

First the day‘s headlines on the ground.  Witnesses in Mosul say that a building bombed today was supposed to be an election center on January 30.  The city is part of the Sunni Triangle and has been a frequent target of insurgents. 

South of Baghdad, meanwhile, one Iraqi civilian injured when a roadside bomb exploded close to a U.S. military convoy.  One Humvee damaged, no U.S. forces hurt after nine servicemen had been killed yesterday in the worst single day toll in Iraq in three weeks. 

Meanwhile, to the inspection of General Luck.  The former head of American forces in South Korea and commander of the U.S. 18th Airborne Corps in the Gulf War is now a senior advisor to the military‘s joint forces command. 

He‘ll leave next week for Iraq with a small team of military specialists.  His charge, to see if the Pentagon has it right about troop levels, training Iraqi security and police and the strategy against the insurgency. 

And while an Air Force brigadier general, Erv Lessel, told the Associated Press today that the military expects that insurgency to attempt, quote, “spectacular attacks” between now and the January 30 elections, the commander-in-chief remains sanguine about the vote.  The president explaining today, both General Luck‘s assessment trip and his view of the voting this morning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Part of a successful strategy is one that says there will be elections and the political process will be going forward.  But one in which the Iraqis assumed more and more responsible for their own security.  And that‘s precisely why the assessment team is going to Iraq. 

Fourteen of the 18 provinces appear to be relatively calm.  Four of the 18 provinces are places where the terrorists are trying to stop people from voting. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Unfortunately, one of those four provinces is Baghdad. 

Let‘s do our own review of Iraq with MSNBC military analyst, retired Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Col. Jack Jacobs.

Jack, good evening.

COL JACK JACOBS (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Working backwards, the president‘s optimist about the election.  According to General Lessel, the military is afraid of spectacular attacks by the insurgents. 

Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor for the first President Bush, said if there is a vote without full Sunni participation, that could trigger a full-scale civil war. 

Is Mr. Bush whistling past graveyards or is any election on the 30th a good election?

JACOBS:  Any—probably any election on the 30th is a good election.  I can‘t imagine that the election will be delayed, even though the large proportion of the Sunnis probably either won‘t vote or won‘t get to vote or—or will refuse to go and vote because they‘re scared. 

It is better to have a partial election in the Kurdish areas and the—and the Shia areas than it is to have no election at all.  So I think they‘re nuts if they don‘t go ahead. 

OLBERMANN:  Tell me about the trip of General Luck.  Who, what and why?

JACOBS:  Well, General Luck is very well thought of throughout the military.  He‘s, as you mentioned, he was commander of the 18th Airborne Corps.  When he was a lieutenant general, he commands Korea.  Very well thought of.  He‘s got a master‘s degree in chemical engineering. 

You can‘t find a single person in any service who will say anything other than very, very good things about him.  And he‘s going to do a top to bottom evaluation, the kind that hasn‘t been done in a year.  So it‘s about time that one was done and done by somebody who‘s outside the organization.  And so this is both a good time and a good guy to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  Contained in the announcement of the general‘s trip, the idea that reservists could be extended past the two-year service mark and that the 30,000 troops who are only going to be there for the election might stay there after the election. 

Is this unavoidable?  What is the impact going to be on those men who suddenly find out that that two-year deadline is not a deadline?

JACOBS:  Well, I think it is unavoidable.  Don‘t forget that we‘ve got almost 50 percent of the troops in Iraq are reservists and guardsmen.  A lot of the—and that—that may even increase. 

Don‘t forget, also, that because of the nature of the service by the reservists, that recruitment for reserve components is probably going down in the future.  And so the only thing that you can do to keep these people on, or to keep the same number on, is to extend them involuntarily. 

Which is what they‘ve already done to some people who wanted to retire from active service.  And will continue to do that in the reserve components. 

OLBERMANN:  Retired Army Colonel, now MSNBC military analyst, Jack Jacobs.  As always, Jack, thanks for joining us. 

JACOBS:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  One other note from this field.  The deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects of the war in Iraq, issued a brief statement about his future on the job today. 

Quoting him, the Reuters news service says, “I have been asked to say and have been accepted.  I can‘t imagine life after Don Rumsfeld.” 

One political note tonight, as well.  Dino Rossi and the Washington state Republican Party have made it official: they will to go court to contest the gubernatorial election there, seeking a new vote.

On the third count, Rossi lost by 129 votes out of nearly three million, to the Democrat Christine Gregoire.  She is to be inaugurated as governor next Wednesday. 

But the state GOP says now it has evidence that some provisional ballots may have been counted immediately on election night, rather than being held for later verification. 

On the other hand, a week ago today, Washington secretary of state Sam Reed certified the election of the Democrat, Gregoire, saying, quote, “Nothing that I have been informed about rises to the level of fraud.  There have been human errors.  There have been mistakes.”

And Secretary of State Reed is a Republican. 

Also tonight, you get a medal from the president one day and then a kick in the pants from your own agency‘s inspector general the next.  The CIA‘s investigation of the CIA pre-9/11. 

And moving from the serious to the ridiculous, a fugitive who made the most of life on the lam.  It‘s hidey-hole, the extreme makeover edition.  It could only be on “Oddball.”  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Back again and just in time, too, to pause the COUNTDOWN for our nightly segment of weird news, strange video and general stupidity.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Moscow, where today is orthodox Christmas.  So the faithful are celebrating in the traditional manner by flailing around in the freezing cold water alongside a guy dressed as the Roman God Neptune.  Hello! 

It is an annual event, this swimming festival.  So far no one has been frozen solid.  Though we wonder what effects swimming in 20-degree weather may have had on this guy who today celebrates his 29th birthday. 

Thank you, sir.

And to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Police have finally caught the criminal known as the Roof Top Robber.  He escaped from prison there in June.  Jeffrey Manchester was found living under a stairwell in an abandoned Circuit City store.  His hovel was completely furnished with items he‘d stolen from the Toys ‘R‘ Us next door. 

Police releasing this video showing this hideaway stocked with toys, DVD‘s, and is that an original Van Gogh?  Goodness.  Did he steal those Munches, too?

Manchester had 41 years remaining on his sentence before he escaped.  Now this toy store transgressor is taking his ball and chain and going home to the big house!

Finally, to Mombassa, Kenya, where in December of last year, Owen, the hippopotamus, became separated from his herd.  He was later discovered in the wilderness, alone, dehydrated and not too crazy about that name Owen. 

With nowhere else to go, game wardens at the Haller Wildlife Sanctuary put him Owen in the same compound as Mzee, a 120-year-old giant tortoise.  The two have now become closest buddies possible.  They‘re completely inseparable over the past weeks, each seeming to have adopted the other as a friend, or perhaps it is that Owens thinks Mzee is his mother. 

But wildlife officials wonder, can a turtle that‘s been around since the Chester A. Arthur administration and a hippo fat enough to crush a coconut live together without driving each other crazy?

(MUSIC: “THE ODD COUPLE” THEME)

OK.  Talk about can they live together.  Can you be an honest commentator and take $240,000 from the government in order to say nice things about one of its programs?

And if you thought Janet‘s right breast was bad, at least you‘ll be spared Mickey‘s right buttock in this year‘s Super Bowl.  These stories ahead.  But now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers at this day. 

No. 3, the U.S. Census Bureau, whose records erroneously list the body of water 25 miles northeast of Seattle as Butthead Lake.  Real name, Beavis Lake. 

No. 2, three thieves who busted into a high-end car show on Bonne, Germany, walked right past the keys to the dozens of brand new Citroens and instead, stole the showroom coffee machine.  Yes, but is some coffee machine. 

Yes, but that is some coffee machine.

The No. 1, Freddie, the 13-year-old Pekinese mix who belongs to the Slevin family of Bozeman, Montana, who was minding his own business inspecting the neighbor‘s driveway a week ago Wednesday when an eagle swooped down and carried him off. 

Forty-eight hours ago, Freddie showed up at the Slevins‘ house.  He‘s a little lighter.  He‘s got some cuts still from the eagle‘s talons, but otherwise, he‘s OK, except for the fact that he keeps looking back over his shoulder and he can now say in human language, “Don‘t creep up on me like that.”

JOHN ASHCROFT (singing):  Let the eagles soar, like she‘s never soared before...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Notorious was the 1980s Philadelphia television sportscaster who would devote minimal time to showing the highlights of the local teams, but spent minute upon minute every night referencing boxing matches and other events at an Atlantic City casino.  It turned out he was taking bribes from the casino. 

Infamous were the great rock ‘n‘ roll disc jockeys of the 1950s whose choices of which records to play made performers and music companies rich.  It turned out the companies had already been making the disc jockeys rich in the first payola scandal. 

But in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, what might be a first even for the often ethically elastic world of American broadcasting, the government paying a commentator to endorse one of its policies.  “USA Today” breaking the story that the Education Department through a public relations firm paid conservative commentator Armstrong Williams $240,000 last year to promote the so-called No Child Left Behind program.  There was even a contract.  It was obtained by the newspaper in a Freedom of Information Act request. 

Williams not only included positive comments about the program in his broadcasts, but was also asked to persuade other African-American broadcast journalists to support it and even to arrange interviews for Education Secretary Rod Paige.  The Education Department said its actions were perfectly legal.  The top Democrat on the House Education Committee doesn‘t agree. 

For his part, Mr. Williams told the newspaper—quote—“I wanted to do it because it‘s something I believe in.”  It‘s not explicitly clear if by that he was saying he believes in No Child Left Behind or that he believe in getting $240,000. 

In part of an interview with Mr. Williams, we‘ll hear his comments in a moment. 

First, the “USA Today” reporter who broke the story, Greg Toppo. 

Mr. Toppo, good evening. 

GREG TOPPO, “USA TODAY”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Are we clear yet if Mr. Williams just did in essence commercials for No Child Left Behind during his own show and didn‘t really make that clear that they were commercials or that he actually wove support into his show itself and acted essentially like an undeclared lobbyist? 

TOPPO:  I think the latter.  He is pretty open about admitting that he was an undeclared lobbyist. 

He openly supports the law.  He likes what the Bush administration is doing.  And he is happy to say how great No Child Left Behind is. 

OLBERMANN:  What set you started on this story?  Where did the spark come from, without giving away too much? 

TOPPO:  Well, the good old-fashioned tip, I guess. 

We heard that this relationship existed, that Armstrong Williams was being paid basically to promote the program, to talk to the secretary of education.  And we tried to get goods for a couple weeks.  Nothing really came of it, so we finally decided to file FOIA, Freedom of Information Act, request.  And six weeks later, the contract arrived on my desk. 

OLBERMANN:  Is the case isolated, to your knowledge, or is this going to turn out to be the tip of a very dubious iceberg? 

TOPPO:  Well, I don‘t have anything suggesting that this is just the tip, although I guess Congress is pretty interested in seeing what else is out there. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, a few months back, we had the Karen Ryan case, the former reporter creating what looked like TV news reports that were actually government, essentially, video press releases.  And the GAO looked at them and said, illegal. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Is there any indication yet about the legality of the deal with a commentator to endorse a government policy? 

TOPPO:  Well, I think the problem comes in when you‘re using government money to basically lobby Congress through the American people.  I think a lot of people would make the case that it is illegal.  And, actually, for what it is worth, this whole story for us came about as sort of an offshoot of the Karen Ryan cases, because they not only did that for the Medicare drug prescription plan, but No Child Left Behind had its own Karen Ryan ads. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Greg Toppo, education reporter with “USA Today” who broke the Armstrong Williams story, many thanks for your time and many thanks for the story. 

TOPPO:  Thanks.  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  While three Democratic senators have now written to the president asking him to terminate the deal between Education and Williams and get the government‘s money back, Mr. Williams has today offered several different and not necessarily consistent explanations of his actions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I would not do this again because I can understand why the ethics questions are being raised.  And, on hindsight, I just judgment that I shouldn‘t have used.  And I just wouldn‘t do it again because we‘re already under a microscope.  And people have got to trust us and our institution.  And even though I‘m not a journalist, I am a commentator, I should be held to the same standard. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That was early this afternoon here on MSNBC, when he said he was not a journalist.  A few hours later on CNN, Mr. Williams said he is a journalist. 

There‘s probably not enough time left in the weekend to list all the things that are wrong with this picture journalistically, but here to at least help us be certain that we‘re worrying about what we should be worrying about is Deborah Potter, the CBS News and CNN correspondent, now president and executive director of the Journalism Training and Research Center NewsLab. 

Deborah, thanks for your time.  Good evening.

DEBORAH POTTER, NEWSLAB:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, what is the ethical headline here?  What is worst? 

POTTER:  What is worst? 

I guess the very fact that the government was paying someone essentially to be their mouthpiece and that mouthpiece was not disclosing his role to his listeners and viewers.  It seems to me that, if Mr. Williams equates this with taking advertising money, he has to recognize that, when you take advertising money, you tell people who your advertisers are.  And he just didn‘t do that. 

OLBERMANN:  Some people have defended him because he is a commentator and a frequent cable news guest.  He has been on this program—not on this program, but on this network.  He is not a journalist in the traditional sense. 

But, of course, many viewers and listeners don‘t distinguish between two things.  People think Bill O‘Reilly is a newscaster, for instance.  And to complicate it, this idea that he said, Mr. Williams said today, he was a journalist.  Then he said he was a journalist.  Does it matter whether or not he is a dues-paying member of a journalists club and goes to all the meetings?  Does it make a difference in terms of the ethics? 

POTTER:  Well, I think the ethics are pretty clear.  It doesn‘t matter much what exactly the role is that he plays.  The fact is that he took money to take a position and didn‘t disclose that he did it.  He‘s also, by the way, a syndicated columnist.  And, as I understand it, the Tribune Service, that distributes his column, is considering their relationship with him. 

So it‘s pretty clear the government wanted to buy his credibility.  And whether he‘s a commentator or a journalist, that was their goal.  And as soon as it is known that he was being paid to take these positions, it seems to me his credibility is kind of shot. 

OLBERMANN:  Have you ever heard of this happening before?  We used those examples of the Philadelphia sportscaster who was on the take to promote an Atlantic City casino and the payola disc jockey scandal of the late ‘50s.  But have you ever heard of this in the broad sense in American news? 

POTTER:  I have not and certainly not where government money was used in this way. 

But it seems to me that—you mentioned earlier these video news releases.  This administration has a position that it believes in business values.  And it is sort of playing as if it were a business, as a business corporation would do.  They would buy time.  They would promote themselves in news releases and so forth. 

And the problem here, as the reporter correctly pointed out is, they‘re using taxpayer money to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  And then not telling anybody when they do it.

(CROSSTALK)

POTTER:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s the two key things. 

But, obviously, once you see one really big forest fire that suddenly appears fully grown, the same question I guess I asked Mr. Toppo before, and he didn‘t really seem to know, do you think this is one isolated case or are there others out there? 

POTTER:  Well, it is impossible to really know, but I‘ll bet you dollars to doughnuts somebody is out looking right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.

Deborah Potter, former correspondent for CBS and current president of NewsLab, once again, many thanks for coming back on the program.

POTTER:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, he gets the Medal of Freedom one month ago.  Now he is about to get a stinging rebuke over 9/11 from the agency he once led. 

And he caught a piece of baseball history.  Now his bosses want him to give it back to them.  Only the Boston Red Sox could have a controversy like that two months after they finally won the World Series.  That‘s next.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Not that it is relevant, I like you.  I like you.  You‘re the real deal.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Senator Biden, your red light is on. 

BIDEN:  My red light is on.  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The hockey rink in the yard of the Frasier (ph) family in Alberton (ph) is off to a solid start.  Leonard Frasier (ph) is the dad who made it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Me and my neighbor came up the idea of making a Zamboni. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are there any other Zambonis like that around here? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  Only the one over at the rink there. 

BRUCE MCFEE, PRESIDENT, SAYLOR BEALL MANUFACTURING CO.:  Also a manufacturer of air compressors. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  OK, good.  And you‘re the president of the company? 

MCFEE:  I‘m the president, yes. 

BUSH:  Mr. President. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  And so, why are you here? 

MCFEE:  Well, that‘s a good question. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Praise from the president, now censure from the CIA, George Tenet back in the hot seat next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the case of Armstrong Williams, you may have just heard Deborah Potter of NewsLab say there were reports that the Tribune Media Services, which distributes his syndicated column, was about to be cancel that column.  They have just done so, saying that, after the events of today, as reported by “USA Today”: “Under these circumstances, readers may well ask themselves if the views expressed in his columns are his own or whether they have been purchased by a third party.”

Deborah Potter‘s surmise was correct.  And the Tribune Media Services company has just canceled the syndicated column of the TV and radio commentator Armstrong Williams. 

Elsewhere, in a memorable scene in Joseph Heller‘s novel “Catch-22,” the hero, a World War II bombardier named Yossarian decides he doesn‘t want to kill people anymore.  So he drops his bombs over the Mediterranean Sea.  When his superior officers tell the local general, they have decided to award Yossarian a medal, the general responds with incredulity, until that is, the officers explain, that it is either give Yossarian a medal or court-martial him, and a medal will give them all better publicity. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, that might be in play in an internal report by the Central Intelligence Agency‘s inspector general about who in the agency was culpable for intelligence failures pre-9/11.  According to today‘s “New York Times,” the bulk of the blame lands at the feet of a man to whom the president just gave a medal. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Under fire again.  The new findings reportedly hold former CIA Director George Tenet and others personally accountable for intelligence lapses before 9/11, this according to a near final version of the report from the CIA‘s internal investigator obtained by “The New York Times.”

The investigation faults senior CIA officials with failing to allocate adequate resources to fight terrorism, with criticisms more direct and personal than those raised during the joint congressional panel and independent commission on 9/11.  Former Deputy State Department Director Larry Johnson believes it will be hard to refute the report‘s findings. 

LARRY JOHNSON, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT:  This is not a failure of the checkbook or the pocketbook.  This is a failure of leadership and has been over the last several years.  It is time that we put the blame where it belongs, instead of just trying to say, oh, we didn‘t have enough money.  Money isn‘t the problem here.  It is leadership. 

OLBERMANN:  The investigation also points a finger at former CIA Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt.  It reportedly criticizes Pavitt for failing to meet an acceptable standard of performance and recommends further investigation for possible disciplinary action. 

But what actions could be taken against Tenet or Pavitt?  Both stepped town from their posts last summer.  The sanctions may prove less punitive and more cautionary. 

JOHNSON:  What this signals is that CIA managers will know that in the future, they‘re responsible for doing their jobs and ensuring that it is done properly. 

OLBERMANN:  Both Tenet and Pavitt have seen portions of the report.  Though Tenet would not comment for “The Times” story, Pavitt said he disagreed with the findings on many accounts.

The investigation is yet another headache for the already troubled CIA, but it may prove to be a bigger one for the Bush administration.  Just last month, the president awarded George Tenet the Medal of Freedom. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From uncovering truth at the CIA to uncovering old men‘s backsides on national television, only on COUNTDOWN and only in our segment “Keeping Tabs.”

We start with this question.  What could be so gross that the Fox network would refuse to run it?  How about Mickey Rooney‘s derriere?  The 84-year-old actor was to star in a Super Bowl ad for a homeopathic cold remedy.  In it, he was supposed to rush out of a sauna and his towel would drop to the floor, exposing his behind for about two seconds.               

“Our standards department reviewed the ad,” says Fox, which is televising this year‘s Super Bowl, “and it was deemed inappropriate for broadcast.”

Fox has a standards department?  Where? 

Meanwhile, the curse lasted 86 baseball seasons and only 73 days after it ended, it has been replaced by the controversy.  Boston Red Sox backup first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz has the baseball with which the final out was recorded in his team‘s first World Series triumph since 1918. 

And the Red Sox want it back.  A disclaimer here, Mientkiewicz is a professional friend of mine.  He caught the throw from pitcher Keith Foulke for the last out of game four, a Boston sweep of the Saint Louis Cardinals.  And he kept the ball.  Today‘s “Boston Globe” quotes his boss, Red Sox chairman Larry Lucchino, as saying, “We‘re going to ask Doug for the ball.” 

But complicating this, a spokesperson for Major League Baseball who says Mientkiewicz is the rightful owner.  And ever since the season ended, the Red Sox have been talking about trading him to another team.  Better get the ball back first. 

Speaking of transactions, who would have expected to see this?  Seller, Donald Rumsfeld.  Buyer, Julia Roberts?  The item is 32 acres of land in Taos, New Mexico.  It was part of Rumsfeld‘s ranch.  Now it‘s part of his neighbor‘s, Roberts.  Acreage there goes for about $100,000 per.  Rumsfeld is a fan enough of the community that he has been known to quiz Pentagon reporters who have vacationed in Taos as to whether or not they have gone to the mud baths in the local spa. 

And breaking tabloid news tonight.  It is splitsville in the land of the beautiful people.  Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are breaking up, the Hollywood power couple issuing a joint statement published on the Web site of “People” magazine, saying that their formal separation—quote—“is not the result of any of the speculation reported by the tabloid media.”

Do you mean Jen didn‘t give birth to an alien baby?  No.  The two say the decision came after thoughtful consideration, and they will remain committed and caring friends. 

Coming up, “What Have We Learned?” returns with a new dimension, money, my money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you were with us for the last 2004 edition of our weekly news quiz, you may remember that I promised an exciting new element for the new year, exciting for you, costly for me, money. 

For each wrong answer, I now have to pay $50.  I get four wrong each week, that‘s $10,000 over the course of the year.  It‘ll all go to charity, so that‘s good, but it‘ll still be me out here absorbing all the humiliation myself.  I don‘t see the charities out here doing this.

So time for another edition of the public dunking we call:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

OLBERMANN:  Without further kvetching for the time being, I turn it over to the genial emcee of the new $50 “What Have We Learned?” Monica Novotny. 

Good evening.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

And nothing pleases me more than having a hand in your wallet, especially when the money goes to charity, of course.

But first, we guide our loyal viewers to our Web site at COUNTDOWN@MSNBC.com, where you can take the official MSNBC news quiz.  Here in the studio, we‘ll put two minutes on the clock.  If the Bloggermann answers at least half the questions correctly, he wins a prize.  If not, as you just heard, it‘s going to cost him. 

Are you ready, sir? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I have put my cuffs into the correct answering position. 

NOVOTNY:  All right. 

Please don‘t be ornery tonight.  We‘ll start with question No. 1.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVOTNY:  I‘m just giving a warning. 

From Jan (ph) in California, name the height and weight of the Eagle River, Wisconsin, Ice Castle?  Height and weight.

OLBERMANN:  Twenty feet. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes.  And?

OLBERMANN:  Twenty thousand pounds. 

NOVOTNY:  No, 100,000 pounds. 

OLBERMANN:  The deal was less math. 

NOVOTNY:  No. 2, according to previously filed documents from the Michael Jackson obtained by the SmokingGun.com, the pop star had what nicknames for his 13-year-old accuser and the accuser‘s younger brother?

OLBERMANN:  “Doo-Doo Head” and “Blowhole.”    

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right.  We just wanted to hear you say that. 

No. 3 from Todd (ph) in Ohio, how many ounces—once is never enough—how many ounces are in the Steeler Burger sold in Pennsylvania? 

OLBERMANN:  Three hundred and seventy-five. 

NOVOTNY:  Wrong. 

OLBERMANN:  Less math.  Three questions, two math questions. 

NOVOTNY:  Fifteen.

No. 4 from Jennifer (ph) in Maryland, what exactly did Kellar Autumn discover? 

OLBERMANN:  Kellar Autumn discovered that the geckos don‘t get dirty and why their feet don‘t get dirty when they climb surfaces. 

(BELL RINGING)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I got the bell already.  Whatever. 

NOVOTNY:  We‘ll give you that.  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ll give me.  Once again, thank you.  Oh, thank you, Monica.

(LAUGHTER) 

NOVOTNY:  I try.

No. 5, what do police say Timothy Brown of New Haven, Connecticut, did after he locked his keys in his car?  And what was the consequence? 

OLBERMANN:  He called the fire department to get them out.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right. 

OLBERMANN:  And they arrested him for false reporting of a fire. 

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right. 

And when Darren Brosseau‘s dump truck caught on fire, what did he do? 

OLBERMANN:  He drove to the fire department.

NOVOTNY:  He did.

OLBERMANN:  Because he‘s smart. 

NOVOTNY:  No. 7, the name of Anna Nicole Smith‘s attorney.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, Howard K. Stern. 

NOVOTNY:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  I love—Howard K. Stern.  I wonder how they met? 

NOVOTNY:  No. 8.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

NOVOTNY:  When does the Chinese new year already being celebrated in Lithuania, as you reported earlier this week, when does it begin? 

OLBERMANN:  February. 

NOVOTNY:  We need a day, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  February the 5th

NOVOTNY:  No, February the 9th.  The show is on at 8:00 if you want to catch it next week Monday through Friday. 

OLBERMANN:  I wonder who will be hosting this segment. 

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  Name the medical procedure performed on King Tut this week. 

OLBERMANN:  They gave him a CAT scan.

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right. 

OLBERMANN:  To see if he was murdered or not. 

NOVOTNY:  And what was noteworthy this week about Kelsey (ph) and Rorian Gavel (ph) of Leominster, Massachusetts? 

OLBERMANN:  Of Leominster, Massachusetts. 

NOVOTNY:  That‘s the one.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘re past the time. 

NOVOTNY:  There you go.

OLBERMANN:  so it doesn‘t make a difference.  So that doesn‘t count as an...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVOTNY:  First babies born. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right, two years in a row. 

NOVOTNY:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  But I got six and a half right. 

NOVOTNY:  That‘s right, six and a half right.  We‘re going to give you that. 

OLBERMANN:  But the most important question now is how many I got wrong, which is like three. 

NOVOTNY:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  I got three wrong so, OK, all right, $150.  That‘s not a bad start.

NOVOTNY:  You get the prize.

OLBERMANN:  I get the prize and the personal satisfaction.  What is this? 

NOVOTNY:  A very special prize this week.  It‘s a talking Ann Coulter doll. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, of course it‘s a talking Ann Coulter doll.  There couldn‘t be any other kind.  Does it speak English?  Or what is it, just that usual stuff she speaks? 

NOVOTNY:  Yes, something like that. 

OLBERMANN:  So Ann—OK.  All right, take the wide shot.  You have got the wide shot?  OK.  

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  How embarrassing when you do these things. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s $150 out of my pocket.  But let me tell you, that was worth it.  Only 51 weeks to go.  Happy new year, time for another well-rounded public humiliation at my expense when we again play:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?”

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.  That‘s all that is left.

NOVOTNY:  Put it away.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not acting anything out.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, 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 Voxant, 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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