updated 1/25/2005 3:48:42 PM ET 2005-01-25T20:48:42

Guests: Mary Murphy, Claudia Cohen

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Saying goodbye to a legend.  He was the boy next door that became an American icon.  For over 30 years Johnny Carson was the face of late night television. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He had a great pulse reading on America.  He knew exactly what the country wanted. 

Tonight, the impact, the legacy, and the last years of Johnny Carson. 

In Iraq, the shadow of terror looms over the Iraqi election.  Now just six days away from the pivotal vote, a declaration of war on democracy from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Residents of an upstate New York town feel like they‘re living a real life Hitchcock horror.  Attack of the crows.  And counter attack of the humans. 

And it was the wedding of the millennium.  The Donald tied his third knot and Billy Joel had a good time.  A really good time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I saw Donald but could I barely see his wife.  She was well covered up with that whole veil bit. 

All that and more on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann is on vacation this week.  For 30 years, he was the unparalleled king of late night TV sparking laughter in living rooms across the country and leaving behind an enduring mark on American culture.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the life and legacy of Johnny Carson. 

Since his death on Sunday from emphysema, fans have gathered at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, taking the time to pay tribute with flowers and candles.  His family will not be holding a public memorial service but that has not stopped hundreds of people and celebrities from honoring John William Carson with personal notes and statements.  That includes former president Bill Clinton.  He acknowledged his own fond memories of appearing on “The Tonight Show” after giving that widely panned speech endorsing Michael Dukakis for president. 

Quote, “Johnny Carson‘s unmatched contributions to American comedy and culture made us laugh and lightened our load.  of course I owe him a great personal debt for giving me the chance to redeem myself on his show after my long speech at the 1988 Democratic convention.  He was very funny, gracious and kind to me when I was down as he was to many others.”

Gary Shandling was a regular stand up guest on “The Tonight Show.”  It was Shandling who parodied late night talk shows with his own comedy, the “Larry Sanders Show.”  Shandling said, quote, “Johnny Carson was a genius who was extraordinarily funny, intelligent and charming.  Under it all there was a kindness and a love that makes this a deep personal loss for me.”

And currently hot talker Ellen Degeneres got her national break courtesy of Johnny Carson.  Ellen said, quote, “if I had to name one person who singlehandedly influenced, inspired, and altered my career, it was Johnny Carson.  He was and will remain the greatest talk show host we‘ve ever had.”

Ellen Degeneres, Gary Shandling, just two of the dozens of comedians and entertainers who got their big break on “The Tonight Show.”  Even Johnny Carson‘s own successors Jay Leno and David Letterman first appeared under his watch as he nurtured a whole new generation of comics, Carson was clearly a funny guy in his own right.  He perfected the late night witty one liner, that daily dose of political humor of the day.  And now the requisite opening monologue.  Our correspondent Mike Taibbi takes a closer look at Johnny Carson‘s legacy of laughter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Like all kings, Johnny Carson‘s power was partly the ability to confer power at his choosing on others. 

JOHNNY CARSON:  You‘re going to be a big star in this business. 

Because you are unique and you‘re different. 

TAIBBI:  So if you were young Bette Midler, Jay Leno, Woody Allen, Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, if you made it to Johnny‘s stage, there was a good chance you had it. 

And if you already had it, you could plug your latest gig and have a few laughs with the host before 10 or 15 million viewers. 

CARSON:  Exactly what time did I lose control of the show? 

TAIBBI:  Jackie Mason was an established Broadway star when he made his first of many “Tonight Show” appearances. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You could bet your life that as soon as you made an appearance on Carson, an hour later, 100,000 tickets are sold. 

TAIBBI:  But Carson‘s broader influence was on television.  When he moved “The Tonight Show” from New York to L.A., and from a live stage to videotape, he moved the center of the entertainment industry from Broadway and the last hints of vaudeville to Hollywood and packaged production.  And as a uniquely accessible (UNINTELLIGIBLE). 

He honed his nightly monologue into the kind of elegant, sharp humor others tried to copy, or at least remember. 

(on camera):  I‘m still getting laughs from a monologue joke I heard back in college.  On a day like today, Carson saying, boy, was it cold in New York today.  Audience, how cold was it?  Carson, it was so cold the exhibitionists in Central Park were describing themselves. 

(voice-over):  And Carson, with a lance that never seemed tipped with malice...

CARSON:  That would have been a great ticket, Reagan and Ford.  An actor and a stunt man. 

TAIBBI:  To find the kind of political humor that became an anticipated part of mainstream mass market comedy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He would lift his head up.  His vulnerability had such charm and appeal that everybody loved him because of it. 

TAIBBI:  And found him and the jokes that you always got irresistible. 

Whether you saw and heard Johnny live, on tape or in a boxed DVD  collector‘s set, how could you forget?  Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Now, by the time he left that famous desk, Johnny Carson had interviewed about 24,000 guests.  That‘s enough people to fill an eight-mile long couch.  Many of them considered Johnny to be a personal friend and mentor.  And hundreds of others who knew and worked with him felt exactly the same way. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL REINER, FRIEND OF JOHNNY CARSON:  He was kind.  You were always happy to see Johnny Carson because he was always happy to see you. 

DICK CAVETT, FRIEND OF JOHNNY CARSON:  He invited me to a restaurant in California.  And I was taping out there.  He told me where to go.  I had to call him because I got stuck in traffic and I said, Johnny, I shouldn‘t come to this place.  I‘m wearing white running shoes.  I did not get to change.  He said that‘s all right, Richard.  I finally got there, opened the door, a dark bar, a familiar figure sitting there.  Beautifully dress in the dark clothing and wearing white running shoes.  And he had sent out for them or had somebody come get them.  But that was touching. 

DAVID BRENNER, JOHNNY CARSON‘S FREQUENT GUEST:  When he had on regular people, he could be the regular Johnny Carson.  And that‘s how I think people really at home would get an insight into the man himself.  When he was with the old lady, or children, or even with a monkey or something from the zoo, the San Diego Zoo, you saw the real human being part of him come out.  And he was a glorious human being as well as one of the funniest people you ever met. 

RICH LITTLE, COMEDIAN:  He would just sit back in that chair and scream.  Because I would do all his mannerisms.  And he was not aware of them at first.  I did a Dean Martin roast once.  The routine was that Johnny had 23 mannerisms.  And I did them all.  23.  And he said afterwards, he said, I did not realize that I did that.  He said, I should be in a straitjacket.  If I probably was I probably could not perform. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was like a party.  Because he made you feel very comfortable.  He always pitched you the softball so you could hit it out of the park.  Most memorable was my last performance on the show which was his last week.  There was a kind of sadness there especially for me because I had been on 47 times.  And I said, Johnny, I wanted to have the big 50.  I wanted to be able to say in history, I was on your show 50 times.  Do you know what he did?  He gave me three introductions that night.  I came out three times.  I turned my jacket inside out.  I sat without a jacket at one point, and the guest next to me took his jacket.  So it looks like a different day. 

PHYLLIS DILLER, FREQUENT “TONIGHT SHOW” GUEST:  You seldom laugh out loud anymore at people on television.  He was just so fantastic as an artist, you see, he started when he was a very young boy doing magic.  Therefore, he had such a background for discipline.  And he was so disciplined.  And so funny.  I don‘t believe he‘ll ever be topped. 

ED MCMAHON, “TONIGHT SHOW” CO-HOST:  He just captured what was going on in the country and he felt what the people needed.  The joke that they needed about something in politics, something in more, something in habits, whatever was happening, he could grab that and make it funny but still get the message across in a gentle way. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  After spending 30-plus years entertaining millions of people, Johnny Carson chose to spend the last 12 years of his life in privacy and seclusion.  He rarely stepped out in public and only kept contact with a few close friends and family.  For a look at the last years of Johnny‘s life, I‘m joined by Mary Murphy, a senior writer for “TV Guide.” Thanks for your time tonight. 

MARY MURPHY, “TV GUIDE”:  It‘s good to be here. 

STEWART:  I understand you spoke with Ed McMahon today.  Where was he when he found out about Mr. Carson and how is he actually holding up? 

MURPHY:  Ed McMahon was at home when the phone call came.  He said he watched the color drain from his wife‘s face and he knew that somebody in the family had died.  And of course, that‘s how he felt about Johnny.  Somebody in the family.  He said he spent the day yesterday between tears and laughter.  And I understood what he meant, because any of us who have watched these fantastic clips of “The Tonight Show” had been laughing along with Ed and what we saw from Johnny Carson.  What a brilliant, not only a talk show host but comedian and the physical comedy.  It was, it‘s just so reminiscent and brilliant to watch. 

STEWART:  And from all accounts, a very kind and nice man as well. 

MURPHY:  Carson, you know, he—when you asked me about the last few years, I mean, he withdrew slowly from his friends, but really in the last year and a half, he was out of contact with almost everyone, except his wife and his family and maybe one or two friends.  He sailed on his boat.  He had what I call full service isolation in Hollywood, because he was behind those big, big, broad walls of his home in Point Dume, with the cameras looking on, so no one could possibly, you know, come over those barricades. 

But Carson—as Carson‘s body deteriorated, his mind kept very active.  And that is really the thing that comes out of this.  What a full and intelligent human being he was, until the very end. 

STEWART:  You make an interesting point, that he had had bypass surgery in 1999.  But in terms of his health, how was it in his later years? 

MURPHY:  You know, the emphysema really took its toll.  You know, he was able to recover from the bypass surgery, although there was a scare this summer that he was back in the hospital.  Which is what I started to check out.  He had not gone to the hospital, but the emphysema was really, you know, catching up with him.  He wasn‘t using oxygen at the time, but I‘m sure soon after that, he was. 

And the latest picture we saw of him 10 days ago, which I‘m sure he would be very sorry that anybody saw, was a bloated Carson.  Really, you know, from the ravages of emphysema.  But you know, as we can tell from all these clips we‘ve seen, he smoked so much, even on the show.  Until the last, say, 10 years of the show, he was smoking. 

STEWART:  Now, I know that Johnny Carson‘s later years have been somewhat of your beat over the past few years or so.  Why do you think, from all your reporting, why do you think he pulled a Garbo and withdrew? 

MURPHY:  I think that what in his nature.  I think that‘s what he wanted to do.  I think he started to do it every night after the show when he got into his Mercedes.  He cut off the world.  And you know, one of the things that McMahon told me, which was so fascinating, was whenever they had dinner after the show, he never, ever once talked about what happened on the show.  Johnny wanted to leave it on the stage, and he did, and he wanted a life.  He wanted some life.  He didn‘t retire.  He retired from the public, but not from living. 

STEWART:  A lot of people say he left at the top of his game.  Why would he do that? 

MURPHY:  He left at the top of his game because he never, ever wanted to grow old on television.  He wanted to be there at the top of his game.  It was a very smart move.  Also, he was concerned about what was going to happen to his show afterward, and I think he wanted to get out before the late night wars started, which they did right on the heels of his departure. 

STEWART:  Mary Murphy, we know you‘re terribly busy today and we appreciate you taking the time.  Mary Murphy with “TV Guide.”  Thanks so much. 

MURPHY:  Thank you. 

STEWART:  Now, we‘ve heard from friends, from fellow comedians and from reporters.  Now we‘ll hear Johnny in his own words.  His final monologue to America.  That‘s coming up next.

And later, the final countdown in Iraq.  Days away from elections, and the most wanted terrorist on the ground there declares war against democracy.  This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In his final interview with “Esquire” magazine back in 2002, Johnny Carson said he believed he left TV at the right time.  Quote, “You got to know when to get the hell off the stage.  And the timing was right for me.  The reason I really don‘t go back or do interviews is because I just let the work speak for itself,” end quote.

In that spirit, we come to our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN.  Johnny Carson saying goodbye in his own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNNY CARSON, TALK SHOW HOST:  This show tonight is our farewell show.  It is going to be a little bit quieter, it‘s not going to be a performance show.  And one of the questions that people have asked me, specially last month, is what is it like doing “The Tonight Show” and what has it meant to me. 

Well, let me try to explain it.  If I could magically, somehow, that tape you just saw, make it run backwards, I would like to do the whole thing all over again. 

(APPLAUSE)

It has been—it has been just a hell of a lot of fun.  As an entertainer, it has been the great experience in my life, and I cannot imagine finding something, after I leave tonight in television, that would give me as much joy and pleasure and a sense of exhilaration as this show has given me.  It‘s just very hard to explain. 

During the run of the show, there have been seven different United States presidents, and thankfully for comedy, there have been eight vice presidents of the United States.  Now, I know I‘ve made a lot of jokes at the expense of Dan Quayle, but I really want to thank him tonight for making my final week so fruitful. 

(LAUGHTER)

Here is an interesting—here is an interesting statistic that may stun you.  When we started the show, October of 1962, the total population of the Earth was three billion, 100 million people.  This summer it is five billion, 500 million people, which is a net increase of two billion, 400 million people, which should give us some pause. 

More amazing statistic is that half of those two billion, 400 million people will soon have their own late night TV show. 

(LAUGHTER)

Now originally, originally NBC came and said, you know what we would like you to do in the final show?  We would like you to do a two-hour, prime-time special with a lot of celebrities and a star-studded audience.  And I said, well, I would really prefer to end like we started, rather quietly, in our same time slot, in front of our same shabby little set.  It is rather shabby.  We offered it to a homeless shelter and they said, no, thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

I am taking the applause sign home, putting it in the bedroom.

(LAUGHTER)

CARSON:  Maybe once a week, just turn it on. 

You people watching, I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your home all these years and entertain you.  And I hope and I find something that I want to do and I think you will like and come back, if you‘ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been.  I bid you a very heart felt good night. 

(APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Tonight friend and colleague of Johnny Carson will share their memories in a special report, Chris Matthews hosts “Remembering Johnny.”  That‘s happening at 9:00 Eastern tonight on MSNBC. 

And if you would like to pay tribute to Johnny or read more about his life and legacy, log on to countdown.msnbc.com. 

We turn now from the serious news of the day.  The news that turn your stomach.  “Oddball” is next.  Get your own Tums, hands off mine. 

And 29,000 residents, 68,000 crows, you do the math.  Counting crows goes to the extreme, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Allison Stewart, holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann.  And it‘s time once again to pause our COUNTDOWN of the days real news for our segment devoted to the days surreal news.  Lets play “Oddball.”

And so we begin in Madiran, France where authorities say the man they rescued from this cave in the Pyrenees Mountain is doing just fine.  Despite being lost for 34 days, Jean-Luc Verges says he was depressed when he entered the cave with a bottle of whiskey last December 18.  But if you thought he was depressed then, after getting lost in the cave and presumably knocking back the bottle of hooch, he said he survived by wrapping himself in a plastic sheet, eating mushrooms he found growing in the cave, and licking rocks so his body would get iron.  And something tells me the shrooms and the rocking licking maybe linked.  Safely back at home, his wife Ginou told the local newspaper, “At last I could see him, stroke his cheek and tell him there were plenty of do it yourself chores in need of his attention.” We may now know what lead to la depression. 

Do you know what would have cheered that guy up, a big cheese burger.  Though you should really pace yourself before you step up to the Big Daddy Barrick Burger .  The tasty treat weighs in at nine pound with a one foot bun, lettuce, tomato and twelve slices of American cheese, and it was center piece of the latest big money competitive eating event.  And the winner of this particular scarfathon at the Plaza Hotel in Vegas was none other than her, “The Black Widow.”  One hundred and five pound Sonja Thomas.  You‘ve seen her before.  The chicken wings, the pizza.  The world eating champion took home $3,200 for finishing her burger first and for keeping it down barely.  Just barely. 

But what do you do for dessert after a 9 pound burger, how about a gargantuan Frosted Flake.  EBay bidding ended last night at reasonable $47 for this two inch by three inch flake sold by a Texas many, cashing in on the giant Cheeto craze of 2004.  But if you missed out on this auction, don‘t fear, there are currently three other giant frosted flakes for sale on eBay.  Each priced only slightly higher than you would pay for say, a whole box of Frost Flakes.  They‘re great!

Insurgents starting to derail Iraq‘s election.  Rumblings, that Iraq‘s future leaders could derail the notion of one unified Iraq.

And later, you weren‘t invited to the Trump?  Me neither neither.  It doesn‘t matter, we‘ll take you inside the nuptials of someone who has been to not one, but two Trump Unions.  Those stories ahead. 

Now here COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day. 

Number three, Elias I. Elias of Maine, a judge there has sentenced the 54-year-old to 90 days in jail after his 13th conviction for theft of services.  Police say 13 times, Elias I. Elias went to restaurant for dinner, had a nice meal, then when it was time to pay the check, he‘d fake a heart attack to get out of the bill.  Each time he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, then left before the cops showed up. 

Number two, Andre Moore of New Castle, Delaware.  He and two other men have been arrested for allegedly robbing a Dominos Pizza delivery woman of two pizzas and all her cash.  Police say they were able to track Moore down when he later called the delivery woman from a cell phone to apologize and you know, ask her out on a date. 

And number one, Ion Garnob, a former reporter for the Romanian tabloid, “Libertatea.”  I think that‘s how you say it.  He was fired this week after admitting he made up the story about a couple naming their baby, Yahoo!, in appreciation for meeting over the Internet.  Garnob, even went so far as to doctoring his own child‘s birth certificate for the story.  There might be a network here that might hire that guy. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  With just six days until the Iraqi election the forces trying to derail and those trying to secure it are both claiming victories.  Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the price of democracy on the ground in Iraq and back here at home. 

We begin with the rising costs.  We‘ve learned that President Bush plans to ask Congress for more money to fight the war on terror.  $80 billion more.  That‘s to cover continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And that would bring the total request for this fiscal year to $105 billion.  Meanwhile, in Iraq, al Qaeda‘s leader there, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, declares an all out war against the election in an audio tape released on the Internet.  Iraqi authorities fire back, saying Abu Musab Zarqawi‘s most lethal lieutenant has been arrested, a man who claims to be responsible for 75 percent of the car bombs used in attacks in Baghdad since March of 2003.  Yet as our correspondent Richard Engel reports from Baghdad, that arrest did not stop today‘s attack and does nothing to quell the intense political battles still to come. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The suicide bomber was aiming for Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.  He wasn‘t at his office but 10 people were injured.  Al Qaeda‘s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility.  Hours later, the Iraqi government announced the arrest nine days ago of Sammy al-Jaffe (ph) described as the most lethal of Zarqawi‘s lieutenants.  He is accused of orchestrating more than 30 car bombings, including the Jordanian embassy and the U.N. headquarters.  Al-Jaffe and Zarqawi fought together in Afghanistan and U.S. intelligence believes his capture could lead to more arrests. 

Less obvious than the street battles are major political battles that could radically alter the map of Iraq.  Today the main Shiite political coalition proposed the creation of a federation that would combine the southern provinces of Maysan, Fika (ph) and Basra into a powerful bloc.  They are predominantly Shiite, contain Iraq‘s huge southern oil fields and control access to the Persian Gulf.  The proposal was announced today by Ahmed Chalabi who is fighting charges of both corruption and libel.  He said the southern federation is a model on the Kurdish semiautonomous region in northern Iraq.  It also contains three provinces and the Kurds are fighting to include Kirkuk which holds the rest of Iraq‘s known oil reserves.  The Shiite and Kurdish plants wouldn‘t leave much for the Sunnis, 20 percent of the population who live in Iraq‘s heartland where oil hasn‘t been found. 

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  There is a huge fear that the Sunnis are already marginalized.  If there is to be a south bloc for the Shias, then that itself could create further tensions. 

ENGEL:  Although talk of new regional divisions is still at early stages, it reflects fears that after Sunday‘s elections, the new Iraqi government won‘t be strong or united enough to hold this country together.  Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  With insurgent attacks continuing on a daily basis, one might wonder what an all-out war would look like.  That is exactly what is being called for by al Qaeda‘s leader in Iraq.  An Internet audio tape claiming to be the voice of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi takes direct aim at the upcoming elections and anyone who takes part.  Quoting, “we have declared an all out war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology.”  The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) continues.  “Anyone who tries to set up this system is part of it.”

And as if that were not clear not Zarqawi declares that anyone who participates in the election is a, quote, “infidel.”  Zarqawi has previously claimed responsibility for dozens of car bombings, as well as the most brutal evidence of the insurgency, its kidnappings and beheadings. 

That this is no ordinary election only underscored by today‘s headlines.  Joining us now to help understand what is at stake as we ramp up to this election, MSNBC military analyst General Barry McCaffrey. 

General McCaffrey, good evening to you.  Thanks for your time.  We want to talk to you about the elections.  First, let me get your response to Richard Engel‘s report about Chalabi‘s suggestion that Iraq could break down into states.  The Shiites wanting their own land in the south to balance out the Kurds in the north.  Is this feasible that that could happen and peace could be maintained? 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  It is a very interesting concept.  Why not?  Why shouldn‘t there be some sort of regional representation, political ideology?  The factions would come together with their own police forces and national guard.  Then have some sort of loose federal structure, monetary policy, diplomatic services, national defense.  It might well be the beginnings of a more stable Iraq.  Certainly the one we now look at. 

STEWART:  And as we look at how unstable Iraq is with the election just six days away.  Is the U.S. military prepared to handle this?  What does it mean militarily if the election does not go out—does not go well, it turns out to be a violent day? 

MCCAFFREY:  I‘m sure the election will be a violent day.  There will be a very low turnout.  Probably in the contested parts of the country, which include Baghdad.  Maybe 40 percent, 50 percent of the population.  There will be a lot of trouble.  The election, nonetheless, is an important weigh station en route to some form of legitimate regime.  So I think we ought to be very optimistic that a year from now, if we continue on the present path, U.S. armed forces are not going to be fazed by this kind of a threat.  They‘ll deal with it.  A year from now, we ought to be better for sure than we are today. 

STEWART:  As you know, and everybody heard when I read some of those statements, from Zarqawi, he released this message.  A call to insurgents that really uses this hearts and minds argument that we all talk about.  Don‘t let this election happen.  Don‘t believe this big American lie of democracy.  Don‘t let it sway you.  How do we counter the hearts and mind argument with six days left to the election? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think you‘ll see very widespread support for the notion of elections.  Certainly from the Shia majority.  The underclass of Iraqi society had been terrorized for 40 years by Saddam and his thugs.  They welcome this.  And so do the Kurds in the north, the other 20 percent of the population.  So we‘ve got a struggle, a civil war going on for the Sunni to regain control of a country that they dominated and terrorized for a lot of years.  We should expect it.  We‘ll to have deal with it.  The outcome probably, if we have the political will and the courage to stay with this, will be better for the region and for the Iraqis. 

STEWART:  General Barry McCaffrey, MSNBC military analyst.  We thank you so much for taking the time tonight. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you. 

STEWART:  Two major papers have run with this story.  The Pentagon is responding, sort of.  Here the gist.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld doesn‘t think the United States has enough spies or at least not enough under his control.  The “Washington Post” was the first to report that Rumsfeld has created a new spy unit at the Defense Department and has its own interpretation of U.S. law on espionage operations.  All in an effort to end his dependence on the CIA.  This so-called strategic support branch has been operating secretly for two years in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other undisclosed locations.  A spokesman said that the Defense Department did not break or even bend any laws. 

Senator John McCain wants the armed services committee to look into that but the committee‘s chair tonight is supporting the program.  Senator John Warner says he and the ranking Democrat met with Defense Department officials today.  Warner calls the program vital.  And will offer full briefings on the matter to senators on the committee. 

The battle between man and beast.  Or rather man and bird.  An aviary emergency in one town in New York.  They have something like that.  There are at least two crows for every person.  That can be a problem. 

And what‘s the problem with Paige?  TLC doing a little renovation of the hit show “Trading Spaces” and giving the old heave-ho to the perky hostess?  Those stories are ahead.  Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Alfredo Virgara (ph), street named Free, defines hip in commercials and music videos with his gravity defining body art.  He is the epitome of cool. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘ve got half a teacup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, if you want to be down with it, hit to the vibe, breaking down some beats, we don‘t call this breakdancing anymore.  That is so 1980‘s. 

Yes, B-boying is the correct term. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ocean water, yes.  The water was coming in at one point, there was like a river in the driveway, and it just pours into the basement.  And usually it‘s OK, because they have the sub pump (ph).  But with no electricity, no pumps. 

JOHN ASHCROFT:  Take your seat.  Please be seated.  Things are good, but I don‘t know if they‘re that good.  For example, someone already swiped that clock they gave me.  I don‘t know where my—Mother I want you to get on that right away, if you would.

(SINGING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  A town spends 13 grand to crack down on crows.  And later, is the third time the charm for Donald Trump?  We‘ll take you behind the scenes at the Donald‘s weekend wedding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Sheryl Crow, good.  The band the Black Crow is really good.  Eating crow, sometimes necessary.  But in rural city of Auburn, New York crows not so good.  It wasn‘t always that way, but the simple co-existence of man and crow was tolerated for generations until the one day those darn birds got all Hitchcock on their—you got the idea. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, crying foul literally. 

COUNTDOWN‘s own Monica Novotny with the story of how one small city looked at their burgeoning bird problem and then declared war, literally. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Exactly.  Allison, good evening. 

It may have started with a story reported back in May of 2003 about an American military unit in Iraq specializing in psychological operations, also known as PysOps.  Are you still with me? 

STEWART:  I am. 

NOVOTNY:  All right.  In an attempt to deprive Iraqi prisoners from sleep so they might break down and talk, the PysOps unit repeated played heavy metal music and children‘s songs.  Well, some people at the U.S.  Department of Agriculture may have taken note.  Because now they are using a similar strategy to break the menace that plagues one upstate New York town. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAYOR TIMOTHY LATTIMORE, AUBURN, NEW YORK:  If they ever due a remake of “The Birds,” Alfred Hitchcock‘s, we could film it here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think these were crows. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  There‘s something in the air in upstate New York—and in the trees and on the sidewalks, and over the fences—crows. 

LATTIMORE:  If you‘re a bird watcher, this might be a nice place to be. 

NOVOTNY:  Or not.  So, it was no real surprise when the mayor of Auburn, New York, called to check in with his counterpart in a neighboring town. 

LATTIMORE:  He indicated he had a crow problem.  He had 8,000 crows, while the city of Auburn had 68,000 crows.  He said to me, “Mayor, you‘ve got a problem.” 

NOVOTNY:  No kidding.  The 29,000 people of Auburn found themselves outnumbered by more than 2-1.  These crows go wherever they like. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They move through trees, they fly around. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They flock in big groups. 

NOVOTNY:  And go wherever they like. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As soon as you get out of the car wash, bam, you get hit again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They were using umbrellas when it wasn‘t raining, if you get my idea here.  It was pretty smelly. 

NOVOTNY:  Most residents agree. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It just is disgusting. 

NOVOTNY:  But for the crows, flying in for more than a decade now, Auburn is paradise. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The city is a little bit warmer, there‘s lots of ambient light, and the crows can see predators coming so they feel a little bit safer. 

NOVOTNY:  So, the city hired Rich Chipman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at a close of close to $14,000 to free them from the crow‘s claws. 

When he arrived? 

RICH CHIPMAN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE:  It looked like the leaves were back on the trees.  That‘s how many crows there were. 

NOVOTNY:  The theory is simple, using recorded songs of crows in distress, laser beams and light and pyrotechnics.  Chipman harasses the crows where they sleep. 

CHIPMAN:  We‘re not killing birds, we‘re just relocating them.  So, obviously, it is like getting a hair cut or snow plowing.  You know, the job is not done every time.  If you look around, you can see there‘s not a single crow in any of these trees.  Quiet as a cemetery. 

NOVOTNY:  After a week of clearing the roosts. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We haven‘t seen them. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They haven‘t been there.

NOVOTNY:  And if or when they come back, the mayor is planning a party. 

LATTIMORE:  We‘re going to have Sheryl Crow, and Russell Crow and Counting Crows—it could put Auburn on the map. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, the original plan was for the USDA to spend a week attempting to move the crows from Auburn.  But after that week, their crow count was still at about 24,000.  An improvement but still not quite good enough for the town.  Today after several more days of gentle harassment and the addition of an inflatable scare crow.  Don‘t ask me.  They say they‘ve made additional progress and they will count again on Thursday. 

STEWART:  Aside from the need for umbrellas, as that nice man put it, a very nice way, there‘s obviously got to be some health concerns. 

NOVOTNY:  Well, yes.  Apparently some of the people were concerned about West Nile.  Something we‘ve heard a lot about, especially in the northeast.  But the mayor seems to think that the crows are in good health, so that would be the good news.  But again, they‘re hoping to move them out at least temporarily.  And this may be something that they need to do year after year from now on. 

STEWART:  Looking forward to that crow count on Thursday.  I‘ll be checking back with you.

NOVOTNY:  I‘ll keep you posted.

STEWART:  Monica Novotny, thank you so much. 

And with that we make the transition to the super mart checkout aisle of news where you can find candy and the entertainment stories are keeping tabs, and the hit TLC show “Trading Spaces” is about to undergo renovation of its own, beginning with the removal of a perky host, Paige Davis.  The Learning Channel says the announcement is about creative changes to a hostless of the show.  But you might remember, TLC execs were none too happy with the wholesome host since she flashed her thong during a strip tease dance at charity benefit in New York.  Davis, who is married to Broadway actor Patrick Paige, making her married name, Paige Paige, will appear on shows through March, and then can begin searching for a gig at any of the “Trading Spaces” 65 spin shows.

OK, we have some breaking fashion news at this moment, which may mean nothing to you unless you‘re this big and have this much money.  Helmut Lang is leaving Prada.  I‘ll give you a moment to collect yourselves.  The famed designer cited irreconcilable differences with the company that purchased his line last year, but Prada will continue to sell clothing with the Helmut Lang label. 

As for Helmut himself, when you‘re this fabulous, who needs Prada? 

And finally tonight, more labor strikes for the FOX cartoon “The Simpsons,” this time in Mexico.  A dispute between the Mexican Actor‘s Union and the firm that dubs the show into Spanish has future “Simpsons” episodes on hold in Latin America, while a Mexican labor arbitrator disputes—reviews the dispute. 

The actors went on strike outside the firm which may eventually use non-union actors or stop the translations altogether, leaving the population with a show where the only character they can understand is the Bumblebee Man. 

The guest list included the Clintons, Rege, Kelly, Shaq and our next guest.  Inside the marriage of Donald Trump to Melania Knauss.  That is fun to say.  And the answer to the question, is this wife really for keeps?  Melania Knauss.  Try it.  It is fun. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It‘s a wedding story, and it‘s not about Star Jones, excuse me, Star Jones-Reynolds.  It involves another person with a penchant for splashy nuptials.  To the top story of the COUNTDOWN tonight, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss tie the knot.  And the safe money, the third time‘s the charm for the Donald.  And if you‘re a betting fool, the overwhelming favorite at 1-6 odds the two will stay married and live happily ever after. 

Roughly 400 guests bore witness to the Saturday wedding, including NBC‘s Katie Couric, Billy Joel, Senator Hillary Clinton and “Access Hollywood‘s” Billy Bush. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILLY BUSH, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD (voice-over):  Fresh from the altar, the Donald led the new Mrs. Trump to an awaiting town car, from which Melania waved to the eager and excited paparazzi, who chased the car to get a better shot of the blushing bride. 

Helicopters flew overhead.  Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the stars.  A plane even delivered a message to Trump‘s better half.  Then the wedding for the 500 or so guests.  As Donald Jr. told me, this one went all night.

(on camera):  At the party, at the pool, the disco party at the pool, your father—the Donald stayed for a long time.  He was...

DONALD TRUMP JR.:  He was getting down, didn‘t he?  BUSH:  When‘d he go bed, like 3:00? 

TRUMP JR.:  I pulled out at about 3:00, and I know he was still in full effect. 

BUSH (voice-over):  As for the details of the wedding reception, the ballroom was adorned with white tulips.  There was a 50-pound seven-tiered wedding cake, and the guests dined on steamed shrimp salad and beef tenderloin.  Donald Jr. and his brother Eric were the best men. 

(on camera):  Melania speaking to you and Eric, what can—right after you guys spoke, and she looked at you and she said, I want to thank you guys for accepting me. 

TRUMP JR.:  Yes.

BUSH:  I thought that was very, very nice.

TRUMP JR.:  That was a very classy—a very classy thing to say. 

BUSH:  How did that feel when she said that to you? 

TRUMP JR.:  It meant a lot to me.  It meant a lot to me, obviously, because there‘s the whole history of the family.  You know, it‘s an interesting thing.  And you know, things can be complicated in certain relationships.  But she‘s always been really good with us, actually. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Hey, the kids like her.  Never hurts, let me tell you. 

So does that follow that the third Mrs. Trump will also be the lastrMDNM_ Mrs. Trump?   Claudia Cohen is the entertainment reporter for “Live With Regis & Kelly,” and she‘s also a longtime friend of Donald Trump, and was a guest at the wedding.  Claudia, thanks for being with us tonight. 

CLAUDIA COHEN, GUEST AT TRUMP WEDDING:  Well, thanks for having me. 

STEWART:  All right.  They say it‘s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding in her dress, but we all saw the bride in her dress....

COHEN:  We did.

STEWART:  ... on the cover of “Vogue.”  Was it as fabulous as advertised? 

COHEN:  The dress was even more fabulous.  You know, the people were straining in the church like crazy, they were trying to look past—well, first of all, in the church, all eyes were glued originally on the front pew, where there sat together Hillary Clinton and Shaquille O‘Neal.  I mean, what a pair together!  But once we got over that, everyone was straining to see the dress.  And it was even more spectacular, far more beautiful in person. 

Interestingly enough, and maybe it‘s because the train was so big, the bride, you know, she‘s something of a—she follows her own drummer.  She walked down the aisle of the church alone.  All by herself.  Didn‘t even carry a bouquet.  She met her father only at the end of the aisle.  He took her arm, and handed her over to her now husband, the Donald, who, I have to say, the Donald I think has slimmed down a little, and he had gotten his hair cut and specially coiffed for the occasion.  It‘s much shorter.  And he looked very handsome. 

STEWART:  They touched the hair?

COHEN:  They did.  Someone gets to touch it, I am not sure who. 

STEWART:  All right.  There were reports that Donald was actually a little bit nervous? 

COHEN:  No, I don‘t think so at all.  I think he was ecstatic.  I know he turned all of the decor over to Melania and didn‘t even see it until the afternoon of the wedding, about an hour before they went into the church.  He went into the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago and first saw the flowers.  And then, well, actually, you‘re right, then he did get a little nervous, because he wasn‘t sure if he liked the way that they looked.  And he was thinking, should I redo them all now, should I do them on my own?  Wisely, decided not to, because he came back later and saw them when the lights went down, the candles were on, and he realized how breathtaking a job she had done. 

But no, he was exuberant.  So exuberant and happy that after the vows, Donald kissed the bride, not once, not twice—Donald kissed the bride three times.  But it was done very tastefully.  It was not one of those Liza Minnelli-David Gest, you know, heavy tongue action. 

STEWART:  Oh, we don‘t need that.  Nobody needs to see that. 

COHEN:  It was strictly for family viewing. 

STEWART:  You brought back a bad memory for me there, Claudia. 

Question about these big celebrity weddings.  We hear about the Hillary Clintons, and the Shaqs and the Barbara Walters.  What about the real folks in these people‘s lives?  Do they attend these weddings?  Are they part of it all, or is it celebrities and then family over on the other side? 

COHEN:  Very much a part of it all.  You know, Donald loves to play golf.  Other than business, that‘s his big thing in life.  And he had all of his golfing buddies there, and they‘re just there—well, I don‘t know how average they are, but they‘re, you know, they‘re doctors and dentists and real estate guys, and they‘re his pals.  And a lot of them were out in force.  There also were a lot of people there who I think were invited because they were members of the Mar-a-Lago club.  That isn‘t just Donald‘s house down there, you know, he operates it as a club and he has a suite of rooms for himself. 

And people were invited because they were members, and because he likes them as well.  So there were an awful lot of people like that.  There were people from his business too, a lot of people from the office as well. 

STEWART:  Sure.  Claudia Cohen, we appreciate you taking the time. 

COHEN:  Great to be here. 

STEWART:  Pleasure speaking with you. 

COHEN:  And that is it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  Have a really fantastic night.

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

END   

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