updated 4/25/2005 8:49:52 AM ET 2005-04-25T12:49:52

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

Iraq, again front of mind, six American contractors dead, their helicopter shot down north of Baghdad.

More charges against, more defenses of the U.N. ambassador-designate, John Bolton.  Another Republican senator now has his doubts.

This guy?  No doubts at all.  A South Carolina state representative who says...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re not (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You just have to live with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This from a man who supported anti-cockfighting legislation but not anti-domestic violence legislation.

And this is the man who has become Pope Benedict XVI.  But this is the man who owns the Web site PopeBenedictXVI.com.  What will it take for him to give it to the Vatican?  He says he wants one of those hats.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Breaking news on the nomination of John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador coming up in just a moment.

First, two years ago today, on April 21, 2003, retired U.S. general Jake Garner arrived in Baghdad to begin the reconstruction of that nation.  His first photo-op provided a shock.  He went to a bombed-out, looted hospital, where one of the nurses said, They said they came as liberators.  What liberation?  This is an occupation.

If the insurgency did not truly start on that day two years ago, it might just as well have.

Tonight there are six more Americans, private contractors, dead, not far from where General Garner got his surprise two years ago, and they were in a downed chopper.  The MI-8 helicopter shot down by missile fire 12 miles north of Baghdad, essentially a commercial chopper, knocked out of the sky.  All 11 on board killed, including six Americans who worked for Blackwater USA, a security contractor based in South Carolina.

While elsewhere, near the capital city, a roadside bomb exploding on the highway to Baghdad‘s airport.  That stretch considered one of the most dangerous pieces of road in Iraq, if not the world.

Today‘s attacks coming at the end of a week of stepped-up violence.  The terror group al Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for yesterday‘s suicide car bombing, which had targeted a convoy carrying Ayad Allawi.  The interim prime minister was not harmed in that assault.

The Iraqi government might have been, though.  Today‘s planned announcement of the full makeup of the full slate of officials has been postponed.

I‘m joined now by retired general Barry McCaffrey, currently a professor at West Point, and, of course, an MSNBC military analyst.

General McCaffrey, good evening.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), WEST POINT:  Yes, hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What kind of firepower and what kind of planning does it take to take a chopper like that down?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I‘m not sure right now whether it was a surface-to-air missile, you know, one of the Soviet Strella (ph) missiles.  Or was it simply barrage firing, blind luck, with an RPG?  It may well have been a rocket-propelled grenade.

Look, it‘s dangerous over there, Keith.  These aircraft are flying at very low level, trying to stay low and fast.  They‘re getting hit by ground fire, small arms, machine guns, RPGs.  It‘s still a dangerous environment.  We had 20 car bombings in the last week.  So this insurgency is still active.  It‘s still lethal.

OLBERMANN:  Does this particular event, though, affect the assessment that the insurgency was now limited in sophistication to things like roadside bombs?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think it‘s actually getting more complex in many ways.  They‘re using mortars fairly effectively, rockets, roadside bombs.  They‘re getting increasingly sophisticated.  They‘re appearing in actually larger units, 30-, 40-, 50-man attacks.

This attack on the Marines out in the western frontier with Syria was extremely dangerous, three truck bombs one after another against the same point on the wire.

So again, look, the U.S. forces are dangerous to attack.  They‘re concentrating on the Iraqi security forces.  But this is still a very dangerous situation.  We need a year or more to build Iraqi police, Iraqi army, Iraqi border patrol.

OLBERMANN:  And that dovetails to the point that it‘s just a couple weeks since the Pentagon started talking about pulling out troops next year, perhaps.  Is that no longer viable?  Should that not even be thought of?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I must say, I was a little bit disappointed that they started raising expectations this early.  Part of the problem is, the Army and the Marine Corps, in my judgment, are going over the edge in another year.  We can‘t sustain this rate of deployment.

So we‘re going to have to draw down within 12 months or so.  We‘ve expended the U.S. National Guard, as an example.

Having said that, I think there‘s a lot of reason for optimism that this brilliant lieutenant general, Dave Patraeus (ph), General George Casey, are actually succeeding in slowly building an Iraqi security capability.

It isn‘t there yet, but they certainly made a major step forward, maybe 140,00 of them now on the ground.

OLBERMANN:  And how are both of those issues affected by whatever kind of message was sent today by the postponement of the announcement of the interim government?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, you know, I think it‘s a problem.  You got—we tend to listen to this, the Iraqis that say, Look, we‘re Iraqis first.  There really isn‘t a factionalism in all this.  I think that‘s nonsense.  The Sunnis dominated and absolutely corrupted that society.  Now the Shi‘a and the Kurds are in a struggle for survival.  It‘s going to be very complex.  It‘s on the edge of a civil war.

OLBERMANN:  General Barry McCaffrey, great insight.  Many thanks for it, and, as always, for your time tonight, sir.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The diplomatic setbacks of Iraq matched here at home by the diplomatic setbacks regarding diplomacy.

To the question, how best to save the nomination of John Bolton for U.N. ambassador, the president today answering, Blame the other guys, even if the stalled nomination is the result of renegade Republicans, with an unlikely name turning out to be at their head, President Bush leaving the whole sordid Bolton mess on the doorstep of Senate Democrats, saying today that it is time to set aside partisan politics, not acknowledging that it was a Republican, George Voinovich of Ohio, who agreed with the Democrats on the need to delay a vote on Bolton‘s confirmation, not mentioning that another Republican, Lincoln Chafee, said he is now less likely to vote for John Bolton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John‘s distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment.  I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now is “Washington Post” White House reporter Jim Vandehei, who has written about the Bolton battle for tomorrow‘s paper.

Jim, good evening.

JIM VANDEHEI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And it is quite a story.  You want to share the gist of this?  The—a rather unlikely name pops up as to who is responsible for getting word out to some of those Republican senators that Bolton may not be—or may require a closer look?

VANDEHEI:  Right, it‘s what we‘re reporting on our Web site right now.  No other than Colin Powell has come out, and he‘s been talking to some of these senators like Chafee and Voinovich—or not Voinovich, Chafee and Hagel, and raising concerns about his temperament.  He‘s not told them specifically not to vote for the nomination, but he has talked about concerns he‘s had with working with Bolton in the past.

OLBERMANN:  Explain that, if you can, in brief.  What are the bona fides?  What are the connections between Bolton and the former secretary of state?

VANDEHEI:  They worked together when Colin Powell was over at—was secretary of state.  Bolton worked underneath him.  And they clashed on different issues.

And I think a lot of senators were looking for Colin Powell to find out, you know, What do you think of this guy?  You worked closely with him.  You‘re someone that we respect.  Let us know where you are.

So there was some phone conversations, and that took place mostly this week.  And I think that could have an influence in this debate, because this nomination is really up for grabs at this point.  No Republican has stepped forward and said, I‘m absolutely voting against him.  But there‘s now three key members of that committee that are saying, I might not vote for him.

OLBERMANN:  To steer it away just from Bolton for a second, the idea of Colin Powell even saying something in a filling-in-information kind of way against the Bush administration interests, even having left the Bush administration, does that have a political standing as a story by itself?

VANDEHEI:  Oh, absolutely.  This is sort of one of the great ongoing sagas in Washington.  There‘s always been this clash, usually in private, between Colin Powell and the administration, Bush, Vice President Cheney, starting with the buildup to the Iraq war.  But it‘s also played itself out in many foreign policy debates.

And now you see itself surfacing again.  So this, you know, this is, A, is a saga of political interest, but it also has big consequences, I think, for this nomination, because so many people do respect the advice of Colin Powell.

I mean, take Chuck Hagel, who‘s one of the more respected voices on foreign policy.  He talks all the time with Colin Powell.  And I think that when he wants to sort of get a clue on the character or the temperament of this man, he‘s really going to listen to Colin Powell.

OLBERMANN:  Does George Bush listen to Colin Powell, or at least Colin Powell‘s effect on the Republicans in this case?  I mean, is—why is he as adamant about this under these circumstances?  This has already been a rough ride.  And it‘s obviously not getting any easier.

VANDEHEI:  No, I mean, George Bush always stands by his man.  And he showed no sign whatsoever today that he‘s going to back off from Bolton.  He thinks that the guy has ruffled some feathers.  But he think that‘s a good thing.  If you go back to the Bernie Kerik debate about whether he should be heading Homeland Security, he said he likes these guys who break china.  He likes these guys who come in and really can shake things up.

And he thinks that you‘re going to irritate people in the process.  He thinks these allegations are unfounded that are being waged against Bolton.  And he says he‘s going to fight for him, thinks this is all about politics and is not going to back off.

OLBERMANN:  But there‘s another one tonight, another development, another charge.  CBS News interviewed Mr. Bush‘s former ambassador to South Korea, Thomas Hubbard.  And at the hearings, Bolton had been asked about a very hardline speech he had made about North Korea, and he said Ambassador Hubbard had approved it, he‘d endorsed it, he said it was helpful.

Tonight, basically, Hubbard called Bolton a liar.  He said he told Bolton it was unhelpful.  And then Hubbard threw in another story about the man‘s supposed extraordinary temper.  That‘s another Republican.  But this is a Republican and an active diplomat challenging Bolton‘s honesty and self-control.  This is not Joe Biden turning red in front of the Senate.  This is something else, right?

VANDEHEI:  Right.  Listen, when the sharks are circling, you don‘t want to be sitting in open waters for three weeks.  And that‘s what‘s happening with Bolton right now.  Anybody who has a bone to pick with this guy over the course of his career can now come forward and talk to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and they‘re going to have their voices heard.

What you‘re hearing today, with this allegation from the ambassador, is just a string of allegations that talk about his temperament and talk about his character.  If you remember, at the beginning of this debate, it was all about, Hey, you‘ve nominated a harsh U.N. critic to run the U.N..  Now, it‘s all about, Is this guy—is he too much of a hothead?  Is he, does he have the temperament to go in and to do this job?

And I think this allegation just sort of fits into this pattern.  And I think that‘s the problem Bolton faces right now.

OLBERMANN:  Jim, finally, this has He ain‘t gonna to make it written all over it, doesn‘t it?

VANDEHEI:  You know, I don‘t know.  I mean, the problem that you have here is that you now have Republicans that are standing up and staying, I might vote against him.  But they‘ve not said definitively that they are voting against him.

So the president have time to work with these numbers and address their concerns.  Republicans instinctively want to give the president his nominees.  They are very reluctant to vote against them.  But I think if you have this three-week period, which you have, you have a minimum of three weeks now, where you‘re going to be talking about these allegations and talking about his temperament, I don‘t think that‘s good news for the administration.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s going to probably occur during a news vacuum, so the thing is just going to inflate more and more.

“Washington Post” White House reporter Jim Vandehei, with a great story in tomorrow‘s “Post,” online right now, great thanks, Jim.

VANDEHEI:  Take care, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The man whose job John Bolton wants himself has a new one of his own tonight, the confirmation process installing John Negroponte this afternoon as the country‘s first national intelligence director, and largely absent of controversy.

Negroponte sworn in in just 45 minutes after the Senate vote was completed.  His job created last year after the 9/11 commission said one person needed to be in charge of coordinating the nation‘s intelligence agencies after failures, failures including the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks and the prewar intelligence on Iraq‘s weapons of mass destruction.

Also tonight, the Governator in political hot water in California, and then out of it again.  He says, Close the borders with Mexico.  Then he says he meant, secure the borders, and his opponents accept his apology.

And real pain at the pump, rising gas prices taking their toll on Americans in very unexpected ways.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is as much a feature of American life as the price of gas going up, your representatives in Washington meeting the media to wring their hands about the price of gas going up.

And it is an especially infuriating one, because every time the leaders assembled at a gas station on Capitol Hill to deliver their sound bites, newspaper photographers and TV cameramen would capture the identical telling, humiliating image, congressmen showing up to protest high gas prices, showing up in gigantic police-driven gas-guzzling SUVs.

But, ah, like the gophers who‘ve learned to eat the plastic insulation that has blighted their environments, the politicos have figured it out, finally.  Today, at this year‘s high-price-of-gas hand-wringing, speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and associates had their police-driven gas-guzzling SUVs let them out around the corner from the gas station, so that the only shot anybody got of them was of Hastert walking to the gas station.

The Republicans hyped the bill that will increase production for a mere $89 billion, and then admitted it would not lower the price at the pump now by even a penny.

The gas price issue is beginning to affect the economy in ways and in places that would not immediately come to mind—school buses in Louisiana, farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, all-news radio stations in L.A.  Fifty-one percent of the people in this country telling pollsters today the prices are now hurting them personally.

How hard it hurts and where, as reported by our correspondent George Lewis tonight in Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Dennis Yellow Horse, a traveling salesman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who sells Native American jewelry, says it costs him $50 a day to keep his tank full.

DENNIS YELLOW HORSE, SALESMAN:  It‘s killing us.  I drive around 75,000 miles a year throughout the Southwest.

LEWIS:  The American Automobile Association says since February, the national average price of a gallon of regular gas has risen from $1.89 to $2.22.  The AAA says people heading out on vacation this year should take that into account.

MANTILL WILLIAMS, AAA SPOKESMAN:  It may cost you an extra $20 to go on a 1,000-mile trip.  But I think $20 is something you have to plan for, something you have to budget for.

LEWIS:  But in Monroe (ph), Louisiana, local educators say their budget for keeping school buses running has been torn to shreds.

SKEETER BOYD, LOUISIANA SCHOOL OFFICIAL:  Our fuel bill runs basically $9,000 a week.  And due to the increase, it‘s raised it $2,000 a week.  So we‘re now paying $11,000 a week.

LEWIS:  Higher fuel prices are also hurting farmers like Don Cameron from California‘s San Joaquin Valley.  He says eventually consumers will see that reflected at the supermarkets.

DON CAMERON, FARMER:  (INAUDIBLE) long term.  (INAUDIBLE) ripple down to their pocketbook.  We‘re going to have to see increases in food prices.

LEWIS:  In Los Angeles today, where full-serve gas is way over $3 a gallon in a few spots, a local radio station gives hourly tips on where to find the cheapest price.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Or in Downy (ph), you‘ll find gas at $2.45 a gallon.  That‘s at the fast lane at Imperial and Old River School Road.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  George Lewis on the gas prices in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, what kind of mileage you getting on that 1989 Death Star Mobile?  The remaining friends of Jar-Jar overtake Indianapolis, Indiana.  Biggest “Star Wars” (INAUDIBLE) sci-fi con ever.

And a big papal congratulations to pass along.  No, not to the man, to the man who planned ahead and snatched up the domain name on the Web, BenedictXVI.com.  He will join us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and once again we put our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news on hold to help our keep our ever-watchful eye on the world of really strange people and really cool video.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Indianapolis, Indiana, hello.  Site of the world‘s biggest “Star Wars” convention.  We don‘t know if it is the world‘s biggest, but we can only hope.  And I wonder who that guy had to sleep with to get to be Darth Vader.

Twenty-five thousand will gather this weekend for the convention to celebrate the upcoming “Star Wars” episode 3, chapter 14, subsection 6, titled, “The Phantom Plot.”

But today, hundreds of diehard fans put untold social engagements on stage—on hold to stage this storm-trooper assault on downtown Indy.  Later, Homeland Security forces, acting under a provision of the PATRIOT Act regarding large gatherings of the obsessed, turned the fire hoses on the lot of them.

To Las Vegas.  You remember a couple of weeks ago when we introduced you to this brand-new scary ride, the Insanity, 900 feet above the Las Vegas Strip, on top of the Stratosphere Tower Hotel?  It whips riders around at high speeds... yuck... out and over the edge of the building.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

Oh, boy.  Apparently it stuck.  The wind gets a tad strong when you‘re that high up.  Usually they shut it down when it exceeds 35 miles an hour.  They had a wind gust, as you see, of 61.  Two teenage girls ended up being trapped, stuck dangling 900 feet up.  They are fine now.  They might have considered a lawsuit, but remember, they signed the waiver at the airport that reads, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”

Now, this is a ride to Toulouse, France, where dozens turned out to see the first test run of the brand-new Airbus A-380, biggest airplane ever.  If they didn‘t actually fly it today, that wasn‘t that big of a deal.  This was the ground test to make sure the thing could even move under its own power.

Well, it can.  Two hundred and thirty-nine feet long, a 261-foot wingspan, 1.2 million pounds, able to seat 555 passengers, and the bearer of more statistics than any other aircraft.  Even if it can‘t take off, engineers now know it can still be used as the biggest bus ever.

Also tonight, two politicians running in a contest for the open-mouth-insert-foot award of the week.  Will it be the Governator, or the South Carolina legislator who attacks the reporter who asks him why they cracked down on cockfighting and not domestic violence.

These stories ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

And there‘s kind of a thread here tonight.

Number three, KFC, the fast-food company, opening the first of 50 stores under a new name.  That new name is Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Haven‘t used it in a while.

Number two, Kroger Foods, a new product with a new name.  It‘s introducing a dog food called Disney‘s Old Yeller.  Let‘s just be clear here, it is not made out of Old Yeller.

And number one, Joanna Gair of Creative Paper Tasmania, the Australian company, publicized for what it makes its paper out of, kangaroo dung.  Up until now, making stuff out of kangaroo dung had been the exclusive right of the Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To paraphrase Art Linkletter, politicians say the darnedest things.  Tonight, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger suffers a temporary loss of his capacity to speak English, and a Southern politician suffers a temporary loss of his capacity to remain a Southern gentleman.  First, the Governator and what he said on Tuesday about immigration and the American-Mexican border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - APRIL 19, 2005)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Close the borders.  Close the borders in California and all across between Mexico and the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s a big surprise.  That didn‘t go over too well with California‘s large Hispanic population.  A bigger surprise, even though he has said stuff like that before, his explanation that what he had meant to say lost something in translation inside his own head was fully accepted by the Hispanic and Democratic speaker of the state assembly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - APRIL 20, 2005)

SCHWARZENEGGER:  The bottom line is I misspoke.  And I‘m sorry if that, you know, offended anyone, but it was a language problem because I meant securing our borders, rather than closing our borders, because, of course, we don‘t want to close the borders because I think that we have a terrific relationship with Mexico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That would be different.  Never mind.

Joining me now to analyze the governor‘s bilingual week, possibly tri-lingual week, is Phil Bronstein, editor and executive vice president of the newspaper “The San Francisco Chronicle.”  Phil, thanks for your time tonight.

PHIL BRONSTEIN, “SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE”:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  So he suddenly forgot...

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN:  You have to laugh at that!

OLBERMANN:  ... 35 years of speaking English and couldn‘t tell the difference between close the borders and secure the borders?  Is that plausible to you?

BRONSTEIN:  Not to me.  I mean, it‘s—you know, he‘s a guy who calculates everything.  He‘s the—he used to be—when he was just a top star in Hollywood, he used to be the guy that everyone would go to for advice on how to deal with the press and how to answer questions in a way that was good for your image.  So I think that—you know, he‘s known for speaking very bluntly.  Occasionally, he apologizes.  He apologized for all the groping allegations.  He didn‘t apologize for telling the California nurses he was going to kick their butts.  So you know, he kind of picks and chooses.

And I think this one was essentially throwing a nuclear device into the Latino caucus.  And he‘s a guy who, despite his popularity, is less popular than he used to be.  And I think there are those who feel like he was really pushing—you know, the code word “close the border,” is a code phrase that I think conservative Republicans in California love to hear.  So this way, he‘s like the lawyer who gets something in a trial, the judge tells the jury to disregard it, but it‘s in.  So he said it.  He appealed to a conservative Republican base that he needs, if his popularity is slipping.  And then he apologized.  So I think it was the perfect Arnold maneuver.

OLBERMANN:  But then I don‘t get the response to it.  If you‘re a California Democrat, especially a California Hispanic Democrat, as the speaker is, why wouldn‘t you then jump all over him for this, refuse the apology and kick him from Sacramento to San Diego?

BRONSTEIN:  Because he‘s still got a 50-percent-plus popularity rating, and he still is enormously popular and well liked.  And he‘s really good at selling his agenda.  And there‘s a big agenda that he‘s selling, and he‘s looking at the option of calling a special election in November.  And he‘s proven himself to be very good in winning those.  So I think that, you know, the Democrats are look at him cautiously.

When his poll numbers went down, you know, this was the first time that a majority of Democrats said they didn‘t like him.  So I think he‘s still got a lot of support in Democratic Party.  And the Democrats in the state, although they hold a lot of offices, are looking at a very popular, very skillful governor.

OLBERMANN:  Could there be something else here, too?  I mean, as he sneaked it in, as you pointed out, and got it in even though the judge then ruled it out of order and told the jury to disregard it, could the Democrats have been saying, OK, if he apologizes for this and says that‘s not what he meant, the next time this comes up, we have him saying, No, I didn‘t mean close the borders, I meant secure the borders?  In other words, do they think perhaps they pinned him down and changed his opinion on this issue?

BRONSTEIN:  No.  I think what they got is the best they were going to get, which is, Gee, I‘m sorry, I didn‘t mean that.  I don‘t think this is going to come up again.  I don‘t think the borders are ever going to get closed, and I think that this is probably a non-issue for Democrats moving forward.  They may raise it again, you know, next time they have their litany of things that the governor said that they didn‘t like.  But again, I think they‘re concerned about the muscle, political muscle that he still has in California, and you know, they‘re thinking ahead to November and how they‘re going to fight legitimate issues, as opposed to ones where he‘s skinned back.

OLBERMANN:  Phil Bronstein, the editor and executive VP of “The San Francisco Chronicle,” Arnold watching with us tonight.  It‘s a full-time job.  Great.  Thanks, sir.

BRONSTEIN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of actors, if you saw the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” you are going to think that the man featured in this South Carolina story is deliberately doing an impression of a character in that film, the candidate for governor, Homer Stokes, who was portrayed beautifully by an actor named Wayne Duvall (ph).  No, he isn‘t, it‘s just an amazing coincidence, as, apparently, was the fact that the judiciary committee of the state House of Representatives in South Carolina considered in the same week a bill to protect chickens from cock-fighting and another bill to protect women from domestic violence, and they only passed one of them.

Want to take a guess?  Yes, the anti-cock-fighting bill sailed through.  That makes that blood sport a felony.  But the anti-domestic violence bill was tabled, keeping some versions of it a misdemeanor, which is where the guy who talks like Homer Stokes comes in.  He is Judiciary Committee member John Graham Altman from the 119th district in Charleston.  He voted for the chicken bill and against the violence bill, and he didn‘t much cotton to the way he was asked about this curious stance by reporter Kara Gormley of our affiliate in Colombia, South Carolina, WIS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GRAHAM ALTMAN ®, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Cock-fighting reminds me, and pitbull-fighting, of the Roman circus at the Colosseum.  And I can‘t manage any people who take pleasure in seeing animals destroy themselves.  Animals don‘t kill for pleasure or sport.  They kill for territory, sex.  They kill for food.  These people in these cock-fighting things are subhuman.

KARA GORMLEY, WIS-TV:  The advocates of criminal domestic violence legislation feel that by protecting the gamecocks...

ALTMAN:  Yes.

GORMLEY:  ... more greatly...

ALTMAN:  Right.

GORMLEY:  ... and maybe not choosing to move on something that protects women more greatly...

ALTMAN:  Right.

GORMLEY:  That we value the gamecock more than we value women.

ALTMAN:  Well, that shows you their low level of intelligence, doesn‘t it.  And you don‘t have a lot of intelligence for asking that question to me.  I‘m not (INAUDIBLE) you‘re a prisoner of the pretty girl TV industry.  You‘re going to use these coxy (ph), classy little stories and not get at the truth.  This is not a good story for TV.

GORMLEY:  OK, but I‘m just asking...

ALTMAN:  Don‘t you know the difference between CDV and gamecock fighting?

GORMLEY:  I want you to explain, though...

(CROSSTALK)

ALTMAN:  Yes, I said people who compare those two are not very smart.  And if you don‘t understand the difference, Ms. Gormley, between trying to ban that savage practice of watching and betting on chickens trying to kill one another and protecting people‘s rights in criminal domestic violence statutes, I‘ll never be able to explain it to you.  Not in 100 years, ma‘am.

GORMLEY:  But—and that‘s what—and that‘s fine, if you feel that way...

(CROSSTALK)

ALTMAN:  I do.

GORMLEY:  ... be able to explain it to me.  But my question to you is, Does that show that we‘re valuing a gamecock‘s life over a woman‘s life?

ALTMAN:  You really are not very bright.  And I know (INAUDIBLE) not accustomed to this, but I really am accustomed to reporters having a better sense of the depth of things.  And of course, it does not, and you‘re asking the question would indicate to me that you can‘t understand the answer.

GORMLEY:  OK.

ALTMAN:  To ask the question is to demonstrate an enormous amount of ignorance.  I‘m not trying to be rude or hostile (INAUDIBLE) understand...

GORMLEY:  Well, I mean, if...

(CROSSTALK)

GORMLEY:  ... not very bright, but that‘s OK.

ALTMAN:  You‘re not—you‘re not very bright.

GORMLEY:  OK.

ALTMAN:  And you just have to live with that.  You‘re pretty.  You‘re going to do well on TV and get the contract renewed.  But if you don‘t—if you have to ask that question, you ought not to be reporting a story like that.

GORMLEY:  OK.

ALTMAN:  It‘s just unbelievable to me that you can equate trying to stop the savagery of cock-fighting—we don‘t have domestic violence scenes when a woman‘s beaten up her boyfriend and we don‘t say, Y‘all come, we‘ll sell tickets, and let people watch as the woman beats the boyfriend with a crowbar.

GORMLEY:  That‘s true.

ALTMAN:  You women want it one way or the another (INAUDIBLE) women want to punish the men, and I do not understand why women continue to go back around men who hat abuse them.  It‘s not the woman‘s fault.  It‘s not blame the victim.  But tell me what self-respecting person is going back around someone who beats them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s an original form of media relations.  Somewhere in there, Representative Altman also said he believed that South Carolina‘s current laws against domestic violence were sufficient and that upgrading all of them from misdemeanors to felonies would not mean more jail time for offenders.

From the legislative equivalent of the circus to the legal equivalent, the Michael Jackson trial.  One of his character witnesses arrested, charged with sex with a minor.  That wouldn‘t help, would it?

And either this is the result of salt seepage from the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago or the Virgin Mary has just made another appearance.  This one would be the real “Highway to Heaven.”  Those stories ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  D‘Ette finds frogs fascinating, although she can‘t figure out why.

D‘ETTE SAWYER, THE FROG LADY:  I don‘t know.  Wherever I go, I seem to want a frog.  (INAUDIBLE) crazy!  So if I have 900 in here, I think I have about the same in the bedroom and the rest of the house.

JAY LENO, “TONIGHT” SHOW HOST:  Here he is Monday in South Carolina, reporting on President Bush.

BOB KUR, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  He arrived here in South Carolina today...

LENO:  I want to show what you he was doing two seconds before that camera went on.

KUR:  (CLEARS THROAT)  Yes.  He arrived here in South Carolina only to be reminded of what‘s become obvious...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Six owners entered their dogs for the barking rights as the ugliest dog in the show.  Some dogs didn‘t have a prayer of winning.  Pebbles‘s painted toenails hurt her chances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think Elvis is so ugly, he‘s cute.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  If he loses, then I know he‘s not as ugly as everybody tells me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Permit me to apologize to my friend and colleague, Bob Kur, for that segment.  The sound bites of the day that you saw a few moments ago, showing some off-camera or off-air recordings of what Bob said are repeated from the “Tonight” show.  I‘m not sure it belonged on that.  It certainly didn‘t belong on this broadcast.  I didn‘t know it was coming. 

Sorry it did.

We‘ll be back in a moment with the Michael Jackson story and a big MSNBC farewell after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 521 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  And you may recall that a former bodyguard for the pop star, Christopher Eric Carter, was indicted less than a month ago on charges that he had robbed two banks.  But he was expected to be a prosecution witness in this case.  Now a defense witness has been arrested, accused of having had sex with a minor.  Oops!  Our correspondent at the trial is Karen Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAREN BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As Michael Jackson waved to his fans at the courthouse in California, one of the pop star‘s most vocal supporters was in legal trouble in New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Criminal sexual contact with a minor...

BROWN:  Potential defense witness Ahman Elatab, seen here in November, 2003, has been arrested for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girl.

DET. CAPT. ROBERT ROWAN, CLIFTON, NEW JERSEY, POLICE DEPT.:  The victim in this case told us that Mr. Elatab had told her that he had been to Michael Jackson‘s house and had seen Michael Jackson seduce a girl and he wanted to do the same thing to her.

BROWN:  The 18-year-old met Jackson about a decade ago.  And after the pop star was arrested, Elatab came forward to claim that Jackson had never done anything inappropriate.

AHMAN ELATAB, JACKSON DEFENSE WITNESS:  Oh, it‘s all lies.

BROWN:  Because of his arrest, the defense may not call him as a witness.

JIM MORET, COURT OBSERVER:  Whenever the defense has one less witness to call in its favor, it‘s harmful.

BROWN:  Taking the stand for the prosecution for the second day was former security guard Brian Barron (ph).  He claims to have seen a directive to keep the accuser from leaving the Neverland ranch during the time that the family claims they were being held against their will.

SUSAN FILAN, CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR:  There was a greaseboard directive saying, Do not let John Doe leave.  This witness testified he‘s never seen that with respect to anybody in the five years that he worked security at Neverland ranch.

BROWN:  Michael Jackson‘s defense team could get its chance to start telling its side of the story within the next couple of weeks.  Karen Brown, NBC News, Santa Maria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And we segue neatly to our nightly round-up of the celebrity and gossip news, “Keeping Tabs.”  It‘s been nearly 20 years since Anna Nicole Smith was underage.  But it always seems to be only about 20 minutes since she was last in the news.  Miss Smith flashed the crowd at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville the other night, so reports Jeanette Walls of msnbc.com.  Quoting a ticket holder, “She was on stage dancing with some cloggers”—well, that alone was probably worth the price of a ticket—

“then suddenly,” reports the witness, “she was shimmying around, shaking her breasts, lifted up her skirt in a kind of square dance cancan move, and gave the audience a view of her panties, then stuck her butt out at the audience and lifted her skirt.  At one point, her boob popped out,” now available without a prescription.

And an emotional moment right here at MSNBC worldwide headquarters this afternoon, our surprise farewell to an original.  Our vice president of primetime programing, Phil Griffin, here since the network signed on in 1996.  But he has a new assignment as senior vice president of NBC News, executive in charge of the “Today” show.  It was with humility and amid the hoopla that Phil gracefully accepted his demotion.

Among the gifts from his grateful colleagues?  Well, our show gave him stick puppets of Katie, Matt, Al and Ann so he can do his own version of “Today Show Staff Meeting Puppet Theatre.”  And to help deal with them in case they‘re difficult, he was also given a bullwhip and a copy of my book, for some reason.

Finally, it was time for Phil to leave in the family car.  His wife, Corey (ph), his great kids, Riley (ph) and Jackson (ph), with him, of course.  I have known Phil Griffin since he was my first producer in television at CNN in 1981, so long that, for me, this was the second Phil‘s going to the “Today” show going-away party.

I‘ll miss you every minute, buddy.  And most importantly, I just wanted to remind you, you still owe me $180.

Also tonight, the first new pope of the 21st century embracing modern technology.  You got an issue, you can e-mail Pope Benedict directly.  But you want to go to benedictxvi.com?  Oh, that‘s a different story.  Stand by for it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Unless you‘re just back on the planet, you probably noticed that there‘s been a lot of religion in the news lately, specifically, a lot about the Catholic Church.  But tonight, a new twist on the pope story, what we might call the e-pope story, the pope and the Internet, and also a new stop on what some wags would call the 2004-2005 road tour of the Virgin Mary.  She had already showed up on grilled cheese sandwich in Florida, a hospital window in Massachusetts, a piece of driftwood in Indiana and a steamed-up mirror in Ohio.  As our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles, reports, obviously, the Midwest leg of the tour is continuing—Kevin.

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, they come because they believe it‘s a vision from above in a most unlikely place, here under an overpass along Chicago‘s busy and noisy Kennedy Expressway.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s really a miracle.

TIBBLES (voice-over):  To the faithful, this white and yellow stain on a dingy concrete wall is a vision of the Virgin Mary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These things are miracles, and you have to honor and respect that.

TIBBLES:  And for days, they‘ve come by the hundreds with flowers and candles, some even having their picture taken beside it.  The Illinois Department of Transportation says the image is a creation of winter salt and water runoff, but many in the steady stream of onlookers feel it‘s a gift.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s (INAUDIBLE) But when they see it, it change something in you.

TIBBLES:  Some in Chicago‘s Polish community feel the image celebrates the life of Pope John Paul II.  Others believe it resembles the patron saint of Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re just curious, and at the same time, we‘re kind of scared, wondering why she‘s there and what‘s her meaning of her being there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TIBBLES:  And while police do say there are some safety concerns about so many people congregating alongside a busy roadway, the Department of Transportation here says it has no plans to scrub this vision from the wall.  Instead, it‘s going to treat it as a roadside memorial.  And Keith, you know, and when I heard it looked like the—Our Lady of Guadalupe, I actually did a Google search, and you know what?  It really does.  Keith, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  It sure does.  Kevin Tibbles in Chicago with the drive-by Virgin Mary, great.  Thanks.

Well, if you can have her on a superhighway, why can‘t you have the pope on the information superhighway?  Benedict XVI may be 78 years old, but he‘s hip to e-mail, the Vatican announcing that it has installed an e-mail generator at its home page, so there is now one-click service, in case you want to e-mail the pope.  What a world we‘re living in!  Prayers, questions, jokes, Virgin Mary sightings, whatever you got, the e-mail address directly is benedictxvi@vatican.va.

But do not try to find him at benedictxvi.com.  That address happens to belong instead to a quick-thinking Florida man named Rogers Cadenhead.  He bought the domain name three weeks ago.  Cost, $12.  Mr. Cadenhead joins us now from St. Augustine, Florida.  Good evening, sir.

ROGERS CADENHEAD, REGISTERED BENEDICTXVI.COM:  Hello, Keith.  Am I the number one story?

OLBERMANN:  You are, indeed, the number one story of the day.

CADENHEAD:  Scoreboard!  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  All right, so only two popes since the year 1740 had selected the name Benedict out of all these names.  So why did you buy that one?

CADENHEAD:  Well, one thing about the Internet is that any idiot can register a domain.  And I registered six because I knew that a new pope would have to select a name, and as a raised Catholic, I was always interested in the process.  And so only eight names have been used the last 300 years.  So six of the eight were available, and it was like playing roulette.  I put one down on Benedict and one down on Clement and one down on Innocent and the other three.  So—and it was several weeks before he chose his name.

OLBERMANN:  But obviously, you were not counting on the pope to pick one of those one-shot names from antiquity, like Pope Cletus or Pope Hilarius, right?

CADENHEAD:  Yes.  I stopped at 1700 because I‘d spent $72, and I knew I was about to have to tell my wife I was registering pope domains.

OLBERMANN:  So what do you do now with benedictxvi.com?  I mean, do you sell it to an on-line casino?  Do you give it to the Vatican?  What happens to it?

CADENHEAD:  No, I do not.  I put together a wish list on my Web site, but since doing that, I‘ve heard from hundreds of people who say that it is inappropriate to ask the pope for one of those hats.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s what you want for it?

CADENHEAD:  So mea culpa, mea culpa.  And I am—I‘m starting to—

I‘ve sent an e-mail to the new e-mail address to the pope, to the Vatican, asking if they want the domains.  But in the meantime, I‘m working with a charity because I‘m getting a quarter million hits in the last two days.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.

CADENHEAD:  So I wanted to do something with that, other than show people me.

OLBERMANN:  So the real bottom line here, though, regarding this Web site, your Web site, is that because of that, the Vatican being an independent nation and having its own identifier on the Internet that we mentioned before, they don‘t really need your Web site, do they?

CADENHEAD:  That‘s possible.  I wasn‘t really sure.  I just knew that if I didn‘t register, or somebody didn‘t register the domains, they were likely to fall into the hands of a pornographer or casino operator or someone less reputable than me.

OLBERMANN:  Well, that never happens, does it?  On the Internet?

CADENHEAD:  I‘m a blogger, but there are people less reputable than bloggers.

OLBERMANN:  You have done this also with other public figures in the past, not just the pope?

CADENHEAD:  Yes.  Drudge.com became available, and I registered it.  And we‘ve—TV writer Jonathan Bourne (ph) and I have been publishing there for several years.

OLBERMANN:  And what do you put on there?

CADENHEAD:  Well, it‘s kind of a bizarro-world version of “The Drudge Report.”  We used to compete—we used to write fake news, but reality was funnier, so we‘ve been doing yellow-dog Democrat news and commiserating over the fact that everyone we vote for gets beaten like a drum.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  And it must be quite a shock to anybody looking for the other thing that—what we—on the Internet...

CADENHEAD:  Yes, it is.

OLBERMANN:  At least you‘re admitting that you‘re making it up.

CADENHEAD:  Sometimes.  Sometimes we throw one in there and mix it up.

OLBERMANN:  As opposed to the other Drudge site, where they don‘t admit that they‘re making it up.  That‘s...

CADENHEAD:  He‘s 70 percent accurate.

OLBERMANN:  Yes?

CADENHEAD:  I‘m sorry.  He‘s 70 percent accurate.  We figured if we could be half as accurate, we might be half as successful.

OLBERMANN:  Excellent.  All right.  Well, there‘s a combination not made in heaven, the pope and Matt Drudge.  Rogers Cadenhead, the computer book author from St. Augustine, Florida, and for the moment, at least, the owner of benedictxvi.com.  Good luck.  I hope it turns out...

CADENHEAD:  Can I send it...

OLBERMANN:  Yes, sir?  You were going to say?

CADENHEAD:  Can I send it back to you?

OLBERMANN:  Would you please?

CADENHEAD:  Can I send it back to you?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, you can.

CADENHEAD:  Back to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Rogers.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  My purpose and

presence here would seem to be superfluous.  He can come in and do the show

by himself tomorrow.  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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