updated 4/22/2005 2:38:33 PM ET 2005-04-22T18:38:33

Guest: Thomas McSweeney, Linda Deutsch, Janet Paskin, Jim Raines

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Modern technology, live coverage of the chimney.  Black smoke, no pope, no soap.  We‘ll have full coverage, serious and otherwise, ahead.

Domestic, Tom DeLay in trouble.  New trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  When a man‘s in trouble, or in a good fight, you want all your friends around him, preferably armed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Jackson trial.  His attorney accuses the accuser‘s mother of trying to be somebody.  She insists she‘s still a nobody.

How to succeed in the sports reporting business without really trying.  A supposed sportscaster arrested at the ballpark.  Unbelievably, the rest of the story is even more unbelievable.

And there‘s tough skiing ahead, because they ran out of snow.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The ancient solemnities of nearly a thousand years, the rituals and secrecies that have built up since the College of Cardinals elected its first pope, Alexander II, in 1061.

The majesties and the mysteries of the Roman Catholic hierarchy today met for the first time the crass, vulgar commercial realities of the age of instant electronic communications.

We did not get a successor to John Paul.  We did get live coverage for hours on many networks, on most continents, of a nondescript, run-of-the-mill smokestack, with nothing coming out of it.

The conclave meets the cable news.  All Vatican, all the time, beginning with a special memorial mass for the late John Paul II.  Cardinal Josef Ratzinger making an appeal for another conservative pope in his homily by warning that the church must take a strict line against moral drift and relativism.

Later in the day, the cardinals, marching two by two into the Sistine Chapel, each one of them provided with a conclave rule book.  Only two of the 115 cardinals were in the last conclave that met more than 26 years ago.

Each, then, placing a right hand on the Bible, pledging never to reveal what happened in the conclave.  The penalty, severe, automatic excommunication.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., the papal master of ceremonies, Archbishop Marini, announcing “Extra omnes,” that‘s Latin for, “All out,” before closing those huge oaken doors.

All cameras now focused on that chimney.  It‘s off the chapel.  The first vote at first glance seemed to have produced a pope.  White smoke.  Actually it was just smoke on its way to becoming black smoke.  The crowd, even Vatican radio, got fooled.

More on that, including a live demonstration on making white smoke and black smoke, later in this news hour.

Also coming up in a moment, the state-of-the-conclave report from Monsignor Thomas McSweeney.

But first, if you think the first day of the collision between the thousand years of papal elections and the information age of the new millennium looked odd from where you sat, imagine the picture at the Vatican.

Whence we are joined by MSNBC‘s own David Shuster.

David, good morning.

Let‘s start with that feeling that must have been there when it seemed to have been white smoke, nobody expecting an election on the first ballot.  Yet for a moment, it must have been a mass adrenaline rush there.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Keith, not only for those of us who had the advantage of looking at the telephoto lenses on monitors against the night sky, even to us it looked a little bit like the white smoke was coming out.  But that view was even more pronounced for the tourists down at St. Peter‘s Square.  What they saw against the night sky looked even more dramatic.  And they burst out into applause and cheers.

Our sister network, Telemundo, got videotape of some Spaniards screaming, “Blanco, blanco, blanco”... white, white, white—and at least for a few minutes, everybody was hanging on waiting for the telltale sign, the bells that are supposed to confirm that a pope has been chosen, and that the smoke is indeed white.  The bells didn‘t come, the smoke got thicker, and everyone realized that they were simply retiring for the night.

OLBERMANN:  One of the cardinals who‘s past voting age, the maximum voting age of 80, says that everybody who tries so hard to find out what‘s going on or what it‘s like to be inside the conclave would be amazed, that what we had today with this false white sign was as exciting as it gets, that it‘s exceptionally boring inside the process.

Is that a fair statement?

SHUSTER:  Right.  As far as the Sistine Chapel is concerned.  The ballot process itself sometimes takes up to an hour and a half or two hours for each ballot.  And then they do that twice.  And then they burn the smoke, at least starting tomorrow.  And there‘s no—there are no open statements, there are no arguments made in the Sistine Chapel.  Rarely does anybody say anything except when they announce the vote totals.

Most of the politicking, if you want to call it that, that happens when the cardinals are on their strolls or when they‘re eating dinner, or when some of them are smoking or drinking brandy at the end of the night.  That‘s apparently when some of the best decisions, some of the vote counting, if you will, actually happens.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, David, this homily that Cardinal Ratzinger gave to John Paul, an exceptional kind of statement.  Was it seen as a campaign speech?  Was he trying to attach himself to John Paul‘s pontificate?  Did he damage his candidacy?  What was the reaction, can you tell?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, the Italian media seemed to suggest that it did damage his candidacy, simply because Cardinal Ratzinger, all of this other cardinals knows where he stands, knows that these issues of relativism that he was talking about today during his homily are very important to him.

So it was seen as a play for the cameras, a scene for the people who would be watching on television.  And as a result, some people suggested, at least in the Italian media, that it was too much sort of in-your-face, This is what we, the cardinals, need to do.

But for his supporters, I‘m sure it was music to their ears to sort of see this guy that they want to become the pope being very clear up front as to what he would do if, in fact, he is the next pope.

OLBERMANN:  David Shuster, keeping one eye on that smokestack just in case.  Great thanks, sir.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Italians have a saying that any cardinal who enters the conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.  The same futility, it would follow, applying to anyone tries to make a wager or a guess on exactly who the next pontiff will be.  Last time, in its piece on the funeral of the first pope John Paul in October 1978, “The Washington Post” felt confident enough about his apparent likely successor to mention the man‘s name in the ninth paragraph of its story, Cardinal Giovanni Binelli of Florence.  Close, but no pope.  That would be John Paul II.

Here to help us make our papal guesses, at the very least, educated ones, Monsignor Thomas McSweeney, the former director of the Christophers, a Catholic outreach program in New York, and now an MSNBC analyst.

Monsignor, good to talk to you again, sir.

MONSIGNOR THOMAS MCSWEENEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, THE CHRISTOPHERS:  Keith,

always good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let‘s begin with the man who led the preconclave mass, Cardinal Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, an obvious candidate for long before this point.  But over the weekend, these reports resurfaced that had he had been a member of the Hitler Youth in his native Germany, served in a Nazi antiaircraft unit.

Do those revelations effectively end his chances?

MCSWEENEY:  It would appear not.  First of all, Keith, remember that the cardinals, of course, are all in secrecy.  They cannot receive any news reports at all.  But as for that particular issue, Ratzinger himself gave a complete expose of his involvement in the youth Hitler—or, excuse me, the Hitler Youth society, of course, that he was, you know, consigned into that, and also, his work at the antiaircraft plant.

He gave an expose of it in his memoirs, actually, and he has had, pursuant to that, a number of interviews where he‘s freely discussed it.  For some, the controversy is over.  What is happening, however, in the press is that the media is feeding this with a particularly fine angle.  They‘re saying, OK, Ratzinger was in Germany, and he was conscripted into these various services.

But where was the real resistance?  They would compare him, and they are comparing him, to, of course, Karol Wojtyla, who was also living in an occupied country, the Nazis were there.  And he himself was involved in a resistance.  He was underground, he was doing theater.  That, they would have been caught for, he would have certainly have been arrested.  He avoided arrest on a number of occasions because of some of his resistant activities.

When they make that comparison between Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, and Josef Ratzinger as a young man, then, of course, we see where there could be some controversy.

My suspicion on the whole thing is, is that Ratzinger, because of his honesty about this in his own memoirs, Keith, and after his 30-plus years of service to the Vatican, has clearly gone beyond that controversy in his own life.  And I suspect amongst the cardinals, who are going to be the electors, they will be sensitive to the fact that he has been forgiven, if you will, if there is any need for forgiveness.

Ratzinger, I should say, his own father was anti-Nazi, and they moved the family several times.  The full story will be told in the press, and I think he‘ll be exonerated.

OLBERMANN:  Back in 1978, when last we had this situation, people thought it might be Cardinal Binelli, as the “Washington Post” quote refers to.  They were not only wrong, they were as wrong as you could be.  It was ultimately Karol Wojtyla, first non-Italian pope in almost 500 years.

The geography question, is there pressure to swing back to an Italian pope, like Cardinal Tettamanzi of Milan?  Or is that over with now after the many successes of John Paul?

MCSWEENEY:  One has a suspicion that that kind of controversy is over, although don‘t tell the Italians that.  John Paul II, of course, reduced the number of cardinals in Italy.  They—when he was elected, 25 percent of the electing cardinals were, in fact, Italian.

That has fallen off radically and is only just a couple of electors above the United States, where we have 11 electors.

So the dominance of the Italian presence in the electorate, of course, has been greatly diminished.  And they have been replaced by many, many Eastern European cardinals.

My sense is, talking to people about this, that there is a bit of a longing for a pope—and this is where you get the Italian thing factored in here, Keith—to take over the bureaucracy of the Vatican.  There are many people that have said that the thing has gone a little bit of amok.  If we need to have somebody with real papal oversight over the Vatican bureaucracy, because after all, the pope is the bishop of Rome, and should be more involved in that activity.

So there you get a suggestion that maybe an Italian candidate for the papacy.  But otherwise, we‘re not hearing much on that score.

OLBERMANN:  I know the premise of the vote is that the cardinals will be moved by the Holy Spirit, they perceive.  But as you suggested, there may be—you know, clearly, there are practical element here.

Is it plausible that there would be as much practicality as spirituality in the vote?  Namely, in the discussions, in the lobbying, is somebody saying, The church‘s well being, its vitality is being hurt in North America and in Europe because of a perceived gap between its teachings and the reality of secular life, and it‘s being thwarted in Africa, because of AIDS and the church‘s teachings about prophylactics?

Could cardinals be talking now not necessarily like men who have been inspired, but like stockholders of a company, saying, We could be in trouble in these two key areas?

MCSWEENEY:  I think, Keith, a bit of both of that.  Clearly, when they are in the Sistine Chapel, everything that happens there is enveloped in liturgical actions and prayer.  They are immersed in it.  These now are believers in the Holy Spirit, and they are looking for guidance on that spiritual level.

But as has been indicated in the piece before I came on, surely they are walking around the gardens.  They are talking.  And this—there are cardinals—cardinal Mahoney made it clear when he left the United States and went over, he says, We‘ve got to get this on the table.  The priest shortage issue has to be on the table.

So yes, they are talking those political issues in a very practical way.

OLBERMANN:  Monsignor Thomas McSweeney, as always, sir, great thanks for your insights.  And who knows how long we‘ll be meeting like this for the rest of the week?

MCSWEENEY:  Hope it helps.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.

Also tonight, he would seem to need to avoid creating headlines and controversy.  That is not how House majority leader Tom DeLay sees it, as he creates a little more of each.

And the Michael Jackson trial could avoid some craziness.  But with the accuser‘s mother on the stand, it would necessarily be yet another wild day.  We will take you inside that courtroom.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After the last controversial speech barely three weeks ago, he wound up apologizing for his implicit suggestions about recriminations, and, some read into it, maybe even violence against judges.

One just assumed that in the light of that, and the light of the ethics controversy that has now led at least four prominent members of his own party to question his role as majority leader in the House, there was not to be another controversial speech from Tom DeLay.

But as our correspondent Chip Reid reports from Capitol Hill, there was, complete with another violent undertone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIP REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Outside the National Rifle Association convention in Houston this weekend, protesters took aim at powerful House Republican leader Tom DeLay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Tom DeLay has got to go!

REID:  Inside, DeLay rallied his supporters in his usual take-no-prisoners style.

DELAY:  When a man‘s in trouble, or in a good fight, you want all your friends around him, preferably armed.

REID:  DeLay is under scrutiny for his political fund-raising, for his overseas trips, and for his connections to lobbyists under federal investigation.  All that comes on top of three admonishments by the House Ethics Committee last year.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  We‘re not talking about pecadillos here.  We‘re talking about a serious corruption in the public policy process.

REID:  Some political analysts say DeLay‘s troubles could hurt the whole party.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE:  DeLay‘s ethics problems are dangerously close to moving over to affect the Republican Party.  One more incident, and I think it‘s really going to be close to the end.

REID:  But for now, most of his Republican colleagues are firmly behind him.

REP. DAVID DREIER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Tom DeLay has not been found in violation of a single rule, law, regulation, or statute.

REID:  And, they say, DeLay is ready, even eager, for the fight of his political life.

REP. ROY BLUNT ®, MISSOURI:  Given the choice of running away from a fight or running to a fight, Tom DeLay‘s going to run to a fight every time.

REID:  Chip Reid, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Is this just another storm for Tom DeLay, or is it the last one?

Joined now by Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for “Newsweek.”

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did he do that at the NRA convention accidentally, the

reference to “armed,” or is that his defense against the comment about the

judges and about the ethics accusations?

FINEMAN:  Oh, I don‘t think anything that he does is accidental.  I think he wanted to dive right into the controversy.  I think he wanted to dare the Democrats to come get him.  I think he wants to wrap himself further in the identity of the Republican Party, whatever the cost to the party, as long as it makes it more difficult to remove him.

OLBERMANN:  But it isn‘t the Democrats who would come get him, is it?  I mean, you‘re now adding in Bob Dole after yesterday to Republicans who have, at minimum, said he needs to say more about the ethics issues, Shays, Santorum, Tancredo.  If he‘s broken, he‘s not going to be broken by the Democrats.

FINEMAN:  No, I agree with that.  But what he wants to do is turn it into an us-versus-them fight, saying to other Republicans, You‘ve got to stick with me out of party loyalty.  That was my point.

I agree with you, though, because even though most Republicans, when asked, are willing to say supportive things about him, in private, there are many other Republicans who share the views that have now been expressed by people like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich and others, who‘ve said, at the very least he needs to come forward and give further explanations.

The key here, Keith, is what the federal grand jury does.  The federal grand jury is looking into a lot of friends and associates of DeLay‘s.  They‘re looking into a lot of fundraising practices.  If any of them are indicted, and if any of them flip, namely, decide to go after their former friend DeLay, then we could have a real, real situation here.

OLBERMANN:  Somebody asked me about this big picture last week.  And I said it—very much like the case of Newt Gingrich in his last few days before the surprise revolution that unseated him, if you will, Mr. DeLay is like the proverbial idea of the universal solvent.  You can dissolve anything in it.  It‘s great for a big, dramatic splash.  But ultimately, you can‘t keep the universal solvent inside anything, because it eventually eats through the vase that it‘s in and the table and the floor.

Is Tom DeLay right now eating through his own floor?  Or is this just the elbows-up thing that has succeeded for him for so long?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think he could be putting himself in danger, because I happen to know some other top Republicans in the House who I‘ve interviewed on the deepest of background, who say very different things in private from what they say in public.

I think that if there is another slip-up, and certainly if there‘s news that key figures of, and former friends of his have been indicted by a federal grand jury, then I think the atmosphere could change very quickly in the Republican conference.

I say only half-facetiously that you always know when a leader is in trouble when he starts convening a memorial—a celebratory dinner for himself.  There‘s a testimonial dinner for Tom DeLay that‘s being ginned up for May 12.  And that could provide some very interesting footage, I should say.

OLBERMANN:  I think Dr. Freud just spoke through you there with the memorial dinner.  Maybe by May 12, it will be.  We‘ll find out.

FINEMAN:  Yes, well, Dr. Freud is not a consultant that I deal with here on politics.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, our doctor in all cases, as always, my friend, great thanks for your insight.

FINEMAN:  OK, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  From the political dogfight over Tom DeLay to the ceaseless Sturm und Drang on the highways of our great nation.  Yes, that is a car chase, the cops following a guy in a cherry picker.

And the sportscaster at the fringes of his business who could not get arrested in this town, he‘s been arrested in this town.  This one boggles the mind.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back.

We‘ve had the smoke at the Vatican.  Time now for those stories that seemingly represent smoke and mirrors.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Clayton County, Georgia, with the COUNTDOWN car chase of the week.  It is hot pursuit of a suspect in a stolen cherrypicker utility truck, down two-lane roads at speeds approaching 35 miles per hour.

Checking the Oddball scoreboard for the year, it‘s cops 24, guys who think they can escape the cops, zippety doo-dah.

And you have to wonder if part of the reason the cops are undefeated, again, is because people like this guy really had no plan.  I mean, buster, where do you think you‘re going in that thing, up a tree?

Ah, but perhaps if in this renegade roadhog was a better planner, he wouldn‘t have chosen a life of crime in the first place.  He definitely would not have chosen a getaway car that would roll over the first time he took it off-road.

Well, it‘s something he‘ll have plenty of time to contemplate while he‘s wearing pink pajamas in the Big House.

Think I made that up about the pink pajamas?  Take a look at this.  This is the Big House in Phoenix.  The Towers Jail is overcrowd and dilapidated, so almost 3,000 prisoners are moving down the street to the new Lower Buckeye Jail.  The guy calling the shots likes to refer to himself as the toughest sheriff in America, so he‘s dressed the inmates in nothing but pink underwear and shower shoes for the four-block walk.

You‘re tough, so you make people dress in pink.  There may be an underlying motive there, sir.

The more dangerous criminals, of course, made the trip by an underground tunnel.  They were dressed as members of the College of Cardinals.

I made that up.

What do you wear to the annual Slush Cup in Girdwood, Alaska?  Anything you want.  Crazy costumes are a crowd favorite, though.  At the Arizona prisoner look, we‘ll get your big jeer two.  There you go.

Ski down the hill, then fall in the water.  That‘s all you have to do.  You try to make it across, but honestly, everybody is so drunk, they cannot remember who made it and who didn‘t.  The Slush Cup marking the arrival of spring in Alaska.  The arrival of summer is marked by a big snowman contest.

Release, rotation, splash.

From Alaska craziness to its courtroom equivalent, the Michael Jackson trial.  Day four of the accuser‘s mother on the stands.

And the drama that is the election of the next pope.  The world wondered, Is it white or is it black?  We have found smoke experts on your full-service newscast.

All ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, U.S Airways.  If you have Web access, you know this already.  Due to a computer glitch, it was selling some flights to places like Asheville and Hilton Head and Watertown, New York, for $1.86 a ticket.  But then somebody went and put it on the Internet.  And even U.S. Air officials noticed.  They changed the prices.  They will honor the tickets.  Of course, you have to sit on the exterior of the aircraft.

Number two, Garry Kasparov, the chess legend.  In Moscow, a fan asked him to autograph a chessboard.  He did.  He gave it back to the fan, who then promptly hit Kasparov over the head with it.  Apparently a political dispute.  Kasparov is an opponent of Russia‘s President Putin.

And number one, George Molchan of Hobart, Indiana.  In 36 years of commercials, he portrayed Little Oscar, the driver of the Oscar Meyer Frankfurter Weinermobile.  He died last week at the age of 82.  On the way to the cemetery, with the utmost dignity, the hearse was preceded by the Weinermobile.  And at the gravesite, 50 mourners actually broke into the company theme song, “I Wish I Were an Oscar Meyer Weiner.”  This was spoiled, oh, however, when a group of protesters outside the gates, who in turn sang “Hot Dogs, Armor Hot Dogs!”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.  We are all in some way being besmirched by the Michael Jackson trial.  From the “head-licking” phrase to the subpoena of Larry King, it‘s been bad.  Today it gets worse, defense attorney Thomas Mesereau asking the accuser‘s mother why, in an interview with police in 1991, she had mentioned Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and my old LA television colleague, weatherman Fritz Coleman.  She explained that after a domestic dispute, her husband, quote, “was calling me a whore, and said I was having sex with these people.”

It‘s your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 518 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

There seems to have been a method to today‘s madness, a defense theme that the accuser‘s mother has a tendency to latch onto celebrities with the hope of currying favors, at best, and swindling cash, at worst, and being a wannabe a all times, Mesereau asking her about a disability claim she made in the late ‘90s.  In it, she cited depression and said she was, quote, “sad about being a nobody,” the accuser‘s mother countering three time, quote, “I‘m still a nobody.”  She later said of the defendant—you remember him—that Jackson, quote, “really didn‘t care about the children, he just cared about what he was doing with the children.”

Joining me now from the trial, Linda Deutsch, the mainstay of The Associated Press bureau in Los Angeles.  Thank you for your time tonight.

LINDA DEUTSCH, ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There seems to have been a perception that the prosecution was doing fairly well in this case, but that the demeanor of this woman, the accuser‘s mother, had thrown the whole process into confusion.  Has it become about her?

DEUTSCH:  Well, I think that we are learning that the case has always been about her, that she is the center of this case almost as much as her son is because her credibility is at issue here.  And in the conspiracy count, there are 28 overt acts listed.  Twenty of those are based on the story that this woman told to authorities.  So if her credibility is undermined, the conspiracy count goes.

She also could be accused of programming her children to tell lies, to say things that would help her, that would get them money.  Money is at issue in this whole thing.

However, the prosecution has already begun its redirect questioning, and they have come out swinging.  They have shown pictures of the woman beaten and bruised from head to foot in what they said—what she has said was a dispute with security guards at a department store long before she ever met Michael Jackson.  The defense has said the whole thing was bogus, that it was made up stuff so that she could get a settlement of $150,000, but now we‘re seeing her looking like a victim.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that beaten and bruised story had been pretty much beaten up.  And now as you suggest, perhaps the whole perception of what happened at the J.C. Penney store has been changed today.  But another thing, while it was still Mesereau in cross, the judge repeatedly struck down her replies to his questions?  What was happening there?

DEUTSCH:  This witness was virtually unable to answer a question directly.  She could not answer yes or no.  She felt that every question was an opportunity to give a speech.  Most of the speeches were demeaning Michael Jackson, or stating something that would help her establish her credibility, and they were not directed at the questions.  And so you constantly had objections.  And the judge would say, Stricken from the record because she‘s not answering the question.  He instructed her over and over, Please listen to the question and answer it yes or no.  That almost never happened.  Instead, she chose to continue giving her speeches.

OLBERMANN:  Also, this woman and Mesereau were fighting today over whether or not she had had an attorney during that time that she claims to have been, in effect, held hostage by Jackson.  What‘s the background of that story?

DEUTSCH:  Well, one of the big issues with the defense is saying that there‘s no way this woman could have been held hostage because she had friends in the police department.  She was being taken around to places, like a federal building and a nail salon and a hotel, and that now today, they‘re saying she actually had a lawyer representing her.  And why didn‘t she tell any of these people if she truly felt that she was being held against her will?  Her answer was, I couldn‘t.  At one point, he said to her, Why didn‘t you call 911?  And she said, I am now.

OLBERMANN:  Linda Deutsch, special correspondent of The Associated Press at the Jackson trial in Santa Maria, our great thanks for your time tonight.

DEUTSCH:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And the nightly reminder that whatever else the Jackson trial is or is not, it is not the worst thing imaginable.  The first court appearance today of the registered sex offender who has confessed to having killed 13-year-old Sarah Lunde.  David Onstott was ordered held without bail on charges of first degree murder.  Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.

He said nothing during today‘s proceedings, but on Saturday, he had confessed after authorities found the girl‘s partially clothed remains in a fish pond hear her home.  The sheriff says Onstott went to the girl‘s home looking for her mother, whom he once dated.  He got into an argument with the girl, put her in a chokehold and killed her.  Authorities still trying to confirm the cause of death and if there was sexual assault.  In 2001, Onstott had served—finished serving five-and-a-half years in prison for the rape of an adult.

Also tonight, much less serious crime, but a guy who seemed to be a TV sports reporter was arrested as he tried to enter a stadium.  You will not believe this one.  And if you can have politicians jockeying for the 2008 Republican nomination already, why can‘t you have speculation already about the president‘s next job?  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The reporter showed his identification to the people in charge of credentials for the event he was to cover.  He reached to sign the document indicating he‘d received them, but instead of being handed a media pass, he was arrested.  An unusual story under any circumstances, but that it was just the tip of the iceberg of what law enforcement believes is an incredibly ingenious long-running, even money-making scam raises it almost to a form of art.

He appeared to be a very unsuccessful freelance TV sportscaster.  In fact, it is alleged he was an entrepreneur of sorts.  Jeff Gannon, move over.  Meet Mark Sabia.  At Shea Stadium in New York, when Sabia attempted to pick up the credentials that would admit him and colleagues of his tiny media outlet to New York Mets baseball games this season, he was arrested by Queens County officers and charged with five felony count of falsifying business records and 16 misdemeanor counts running the gamut from petty larceny to criminal impersonation.

Sabia and his custom-made yellow mike flag for “Mark Sabia‘s Sports Zone” were regulars at Shea Stadium, at Yankee Stadium, at Madison Square Garden, at Giants Football Stadium for years.  He was fully accredited season after season by as many as half a dozen teams who believed he worked for Westchester Cable Services, supplying interviews for small TV outlets in the suburbs and in upstate New York.  Except Westchester Cable Services reportedly went out of business years ago, but Sabia didn‘t.

His own dubious status is not what would get him arrested.  If you started arresting everybody who didn‘t really belong in a sports press box, how would you know when to stop?  Actually, Mr. Sabia was usually accompanied by a cameraman, sometime also a producer and an intern.  And last year, he complained to another reporter that the Yankees had, quote, “taken away,” unquote, two of his credentials.  The reporter asked him how many credentials he had.  He reportedly applied, Five.

The members of his camera crew, as the New York newspaper “Newsday” put it, his quote, “alleged employees,” were evidently civilians.  And sources close to the investigation tell COUNTDOWN, that authorities believe Sabia was selling the other credentials for a fee, supposed to be $100 a pop.  He was allegedly bringing non-reporters onto the fields, into the press boxes, into the locker rooms to see the players up close.

The story was originally broken by Bill Hughes and Janet Paskin of the suburban New York paper “The Journal News,” and Janet Paskin joins us now.  Thanks for your time tonight.

JANET PASKIN, “THE JOURNAL NEWS”:  Hello.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s the real crux of this, isn‘t it?  I mean, it wasn‘t just he was not a reporter, but the charges that every time he went to a game, he may have been making a profit selling access?

PASKIN:  Well, I can certainly see how that would upset the powers that be in New York sports.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But I mean, again, you wouldn‘t simply arrest a guy because he had been getting a credential under false pretenses.  I mean, would they go to the trouble to do that?

PASKIN:  Well, I think they might.  They would certainly take the credential away.  I don‘t know—I can‘t say whether or not they‘d arrest him.  Certainly, if he was making a profit, that would be out of bounds.

OLBERMANN:  To give Mr. Sabia‘s side of the story, you quoted him in your article last week as saying, “I‘m just a little guy trying to make a living, and I would never intentionally or unintentionally hurt or defraud anyone.  I will tell you this.  I‘ve worked very hard since I was 17 years old to earn a living in this business, and I‘ve never lied or misrepresented myself to anyone.”

So we can skip the jokes there about a little guy trying to make a living, but he denies all this, he denies it utterly?

PASKIN:  He does.  He thinks that he is a legitimate reporter, and he may well be.  These are all just charges at this point.

OLBERMANN:  Do we know anything more about this than we knew as of the time of your piece last Thursday?

PASKIN:  Nothing that I can say right now, nothing that will be in “The Journal News.”

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Is there something, do you think, remarkable about, or perhaps telling about the idea that this allegedly dates back to 1998 or maybe earlier, and every time he went to a ballgame, he was literally surrounded, surrounded by dozens of reporters and nobody ever reported him?  And none of the teams even, as you said before, revoked his credentials?

PASKIN:  Sure.  As you well know, Keith, the press box can be a weird place.  People are colleagues but not co-workers.  And so everybody does, in a way, mind their own business.  And there are lots of characters.  So another guy with a weird set-up and maybe a loud shirt wouldn‘t necessarily stand out.  And by all regards, he behaved professionally.

OLBERMANN:  So that raises a final question about this.  When somebody finally issued a complaint, where did that complaint come from?  I mean, the police would not have known in Queens to arrest him at Shea Stadium without somebody saying something to them.  Do we know who that was or what organization said something?

PASKIN:  Well, I believe the complaint came—was lodged with major league baseball, and they launched an investigation that I believe spanned a couple months, and then he was finally arrested last week.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Janet Paskin of Westchester County‘s “Journal News” on the remarkable Mark Sabia.  It‘s a kind of genius, I think.  Anyway, thanks for your time tonight.

PASKIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Perfect segue to the lead item in tonight‘s round-up of celebrity and gossip news, “Keeping Tabs.”  It is a baseball story.  Well, it‘s a little bigger than that, actually.  It‘s about President Bush becoming commissioner of baseball, New York “Newsday” reporting that two of the president‘s old friends from his days as an owner of the Texas Rangers, quote, “still envision Bush wanting to become baseball commissioner,” unquote.

Conveniently, the contract of the current commissioner, Bud Selig, expires in 2009.  That would be the same year that the president‘s contract expires.  White House comment?  “The president remains focused on a full plate of priorities in his current job.  He certainly has a love for the game of baseball, but we don‘t get into hypotheticals.”

No hypotheticals anymore after last week‘s fracas at Fenway Park in Boston, no more tickets, either.  As New York Yankees rightfielder Gary Sheffield tried to retrieve a base hit, a familiar scene for the team and its fans this year, a Boston fan identified later as Chris House appeared to swipe at Sheffield with his hand.  Sheffield said he thought he‘d been punched in the mouth.  Today the Red Sox revoked House‘s season tickets, although he can apply for reinstatement next year.  And the other fan who apparently spilled a beer on Sheffield has also been banished for this season.  Sheffield, who restrained himself other than a brief shove back, is not expected to be punished by baseball.

And just one last sports story.  Promise.  It‘s been mumbled about for years.  Now it‘s happening.  “Monday Night Football” is going to cable.  But “Sunday Night Football” is leaving cable and going back to network TV.  Not just any network.  NBC is going back into the football business.  The landmark football broadcast once considered such a long shot that its creators at CBS Sports could not get network, CBS, to schedule it, went instead to ABC on Monday nights in 1970 and was a top-rated hit for 35 years.  But now it will go to ESPN in time for the 2006 season.

And late this afternoon, our parent network announced it had obtained what had been ESPN‘s game of the week, the “Sunday Night Football,” show for six years beginning in ‘06, along with the 2009 and the 2012 Super Bowls.  We last had football in 1998.  Reported price tags, $600 million a year for the Sunday night games on NBC, a billion a year for the Mondays on ESPN.

Lastly, from “Tabs”—and I‘d rather read any story besides this one, any story—the legendary newscaster Tom Snyder says he has been diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia.  The former host of NBC‘s “Tomorrow” show and “The Late, Late Show” on CBS and one of the great local and national news anchors reporting from his Web site, colortini.com, that after weeks of various symptoms, doctors told him he has chronic lymphocytic leukemia and told him that those diagnosed with it can live with it for 30 years.

“Considering I will be 69 years old next month,” he writes, “I ain‘t looking for 30 years, but 15 more would be nice,” a sentiment shared by all of your fans, Tom, and a few of us hero worshipers out here, too.

Also tonight, all this technology and we still can‘t immediately tell if the smoke is black or white?  What went wrong?  Smoke experts join us next.  No, I‘m not kidding!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So if the television was broken all day or you hid from it or you‘re just returning now from the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda, they did not elect a pope today.  Although for a moment, wisps of white smoke were seen on the live Chimneycam at the Vatican, enough to fool even Vatican radio.  Then it turned from wisps of whiteness into belches of black smoke, it was not burnt popcorn.

More on the seeming color mess-up and how they make the smoke black or white in a moment.  First, it would be unfair compare the substance of the papal conclave with any other story, like the ever-ongoing Michael Jackson trial, but those two events do share one overwhelming truth in our age: In this electronic time, when news must have pictures and action, each story gives us nothing but secrecy and cloistered deliberations.  And smoke.  Figurative or literal?

So to recap the events at the Vatican today, we turn to the same new journalistic form that has so faithfully served us during the Jackson trial.  With all due respect, after all, this is a story that pretty much consists of live television coverage of a smokestack.  We bring you “Papal Conclave Puppet Theatre.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, got enough votes for anybody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nah.  How many-a votes you got?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nah, not enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, no pope today.  Make with the white smoke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That-a was a close one.  Whoa~!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Didn‘t know till just then that one of the cardinals was Chico Marx of the Marx Brothers, did you.

But back to the smokestack.  The difference between black and white is supposed to be black and white.  But even the savvy crowd at St. Peter‘s was cheering, “E bianco!  E bianco!”  “It‘s white!  It‘s white!”  today, the confusion raising the question, Is the process of creating black or white smoke more of an art than it is a science?  Here to help us read the smoke signals tonight, fire captain Jim Raines, an arson investigator with the San Diego Fire Department, joined tonight by many of his colleagues, for reasons of safety that will soon be obvious.

Jim, good evening.  Thank‘s for your time tonight.

JIM RAINES, SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPT.:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  We know that the Vatican adds chemicals to the burning ballots to make the white smoke or the black smoke.  We don‘t know exactly what the process is, but I gather you‘ve got one really good method of making black smoke that you can demonstrate for us now.

RAINES:  What we‘ve got here is the example set up with some ordinary white paper, which could simulate some ballots.  And we‘ve added some hydrocarbon-based substance to it, just ordinary motor oil, some diesel.  And once that starts burning, then you‘ve got some pretty good black smoke.  Anything that has a petroleum base to it is going to produce some black smoke.

OLBERMANN:  Is there—would you have a guess on why it appeared that the smoke was white today for 30, 35 seconds before it turned black?  Is there any—is there anything from a fire stance that explains that?

RAINES:  Well, my guess is they probably used some ordinary combustibles to try to start.  If they‘re using a hydrocarbon-based fluid that‘s not real flammable, then they may be using ordinary paper to get that flammable liquid started, and that‘ll start some white smoke first before the black smoke gets going.  So that‘s probably a good explanation of what happened, although that‘s a guess.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well, you‘d think after 940 years, they‘d have this pretty much nailed down.  But I guess it‘s been so long since the last one that no one remembers.  I understand also here, white smoke would be much trickier to manufacture.  Can you walk us through how you‘re going to try to create some white smoke for us as you do it?

RAINES:  Sure.  What—once again, white smoke is just basically ordinary combustibles, paper products made from wood and wood-type products.  And it will burn either clear or gray, and once it gets going, if it is kind of stopped by adding some water to it, like they used to do on some straw, which is exactly what we have here, then you‘ll actually see some pretty good white smoke and some steam, which actually gives the appearance of some real white smoke.

OLBERMANN:  And conveniently, with the two experiments going on simultaneously, we‘re getting to see what the difference is between black smoke and white smoke as they sort of move off in the same direction, so you know how to you tell one from the other, which was a big question this afternoon.  Nobody could figure that out.

Are there other good ways—you mentioned simple motor oil and oil-based products.  Are there other good ways to make the black smoke?  Is there something else that they could be using in there?

RAINES:  Oh, absolutely.  If they want to just create colored smoke, you could you use a smoke grenade, which produces probably the best-colored smoke there is, the kind that the sky divers use in any variety of colors.  So there‘s some really quality industrial-grade smoke producers that will produce smoke, but there‘s not a lot of combustion going on behind them.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and you wouldn‘t—I mean, you just can‘t envision cardinals -- 115 cardinals carrying smoke grenades.  So that‘s another story altogether.  Anything else for...

RAINES:  I wouldn‘t think so.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Anything else for white?  I mean, we saw the straw.  We saw the immediate effect.  Is there anything to get that sort of puffy, billowy white smoke that would be visible from, you know, St. Peter‘s Square?  Is there something else besides that method you just showed?

RAINES:  Well, really, just more of it.  You know, like I said, if you

add some water to it and inhibit it, it‘ll create some—it‘ll create some

·         a pretty good white smoke.  You could also add flares to it, any number of chemicals that would make it whiter and make it more predominant than just a simple ordinary combustion fire.

OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s an extraordinary ritual, and given that it seems so simple, we saw what happens when it doesn‘t go completely correctly.  So our great appreciation for you to take time from doing important things to help explain this for us.  Arson investigator Jim Raines of the San Diego Fire Department and his friends there—thank you, guys.  You were en fuego, to borrow a phrase.

RAINES:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN.

Can I smell that smoke in here?  Is that just—it‘s the script.  Sorry.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, and I‘m going evacuate now—meaning I‘m going leave.  Good night, and good luck.

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

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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