updated 5/4/2005 2:44:14 PM ET 2005-05-04T18:44:14

Guest: Terrence Real, Tim Carvell

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

Not the first time she left a guy at the church?  Not true.  Now the rumors fueling the continuing saga of Jennifer Wilbanks.

And the very real concept of IEDs, improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs in Iraq.  Steps to protect the troops from them.

Would national driver‘s licenses protect us, or become a license to steal our privacy?

And as a child, were you beauty challenged?  Did Mom ever say you had a face only a mother could love, but that she wasn‘t that mother?  A study that actually suggests how much care parents take of their kids depends on how attractive the kids are.

And sir, there‘s a jetski coming.  There‘s a jetski coming.  There‘s a

·         Just trying to help.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

OK, it is not the sinking of the “Lusitania,” it is not Richard Nixon‘s resignation, nor the Supreme Court ruling in the Dredd Scott case.

But our number five on the COUNTDOWN tonight continues to resonate with Americans, particularly newscasters.

So let‘s clear up the latest round of facts and fictions in the Jennifer Wilbanks case.

That she‘s broken up marriages before—fiction.  That wasn‘t her, it was the media, the movie about her, or a person like her.  That she‘s still working on crafting a statement to alert the media.  That‘s a fact.  That she‘s going to be criminally or financially charged, fiction, so far, anyway.  Prosecutors say they may not decide for weeks, but we‘re beginning to get a time frame.  That, though she would stay over at her fiance‘s place, they had never—you know.  Fact?

And people are still having trouble figuring all this out?  To rumor-quelling first.

During a news conference held yesterday, Gwinnett County district attorney Danny Porter said a call to a tip line had suggested that John Mason was not the first groom that his fleet-footed fiancee had ditched.  The bells you heard ringing, not so much about weddings, more about newsroom bulletins running with that story without confirmation.

The DA cannot verify it.  What he will confirm is his consideration of every facet of the case before deciding to proceed or not proceed with charges.  The process could take weeks.  Paramount in the decision, the degree to which the prenuptial road trip was, in his words, quote, “a planned action.”

Ms. Wilbanks‘ level of remorse certainly a factor in the court of public opinion, her family announcing she‘s working on a public apology.  That, perhaps, in reaction to authorities saying she did not specifically apologize for her actions when they interviewed her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLAUDE MASON, FIANCE‘S FATHER:  She with her actions, doing what she did, I don‘t think she had any thought that it would create the national story that it has.  She would --  So I don‘t --  There‘s not (INAUDIBLE) -- there may not be any remorse from what they‘re saying, simply because she doesn‘t understand the magnitude of what she created.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, we helped, say about 125 percent.

It is thus perhaps refreshing, even redeeming, that Ms. Wilbanks knew nothing about the media hype.  John Mason did.  He has so far restrained himself through one interview.  But he quotes his on-again, off-again, apparently on-again, fiancee as indeed saying, she only saw “USA Today” on her travels, never TV.

After calling the preacher that got him through his ordeal a, quote, “special breed of cat man,” he went on to characterize his relationship with Ms. Wilbanks as, quote, “very pure.”  Just how pure, we‘ll get to in a moment.

First, those rumors about a previous fiance, and everything else Wilbanksian.

Joining me from Duluth, Georgia, our correspondent covering this real-life soap opera for yet another day, Kerry Sanders.

Good evening, Kerry.

KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Let me begin with that rumor that Ms. Wilbanks had been engaged before.  There—are there any details on its origin, or how it got around so far, so fast, so—and so far?

SANDERS:  Well, it got around really quickly, because the Associated Press made an error and sent it out.  And once it hits the Associated Press, a lot of people pick it up very quickly.  The Associated (INAUDIBLE) retracted it and said the story was incorrect.  But once it‘s out there, people are talking about it.

You know, there was calls in to radio talk shows here.  There were e-mails flying around, and sort of this information goes fast and furious.  But there is no reason to believe that that is indeed true.  It is simply a rumor, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, Kerry, there‘s a rumor there.  But we‘re beginning to get something of a timeline about a significant fact, or fact of the future, whether or not there will be charges in this case.  That seems to have crystallized a little bit better today,  has it not?

SANDERS:  It has.  Indeed, the district attorney says that he will be taking this to the grand jury in a little bit more than a week, meaning that he‘ll have all of his facts together.  He‘ll present it to the grand jury.  And the grand jury will then return what they decide to return.

It appears that the likelihood is that the district attorney is going to see if he can bring a felony charge here.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  That would be their statement.  I gather we have nothing yet on the public statement that she is said to be crafting.  Correct?

SANDERS:  Exactly.  She said, of course, you know, in a statement that was handed out in New Mexico before she left, that she recognized that she needed to make a public statement, a fact folks here in this town have stopped me and said that they not only expect a statement, they expect a tearful, sorrowful apology.

But at this point, with that legal possibility hanging over her head, she and her lawyer have been talking, and there‘s been no real indication of when she‘s going to make any sort of statement.  Will it be a video statement?  Will she hold a news conference?  Will she just release something on a piece of paper?

And I think her lawyer probably is discussing with her that if anything she says may later be used against her, if there is a criminal case here.  So I imagine they‘re crafting a response.  And no timetable at all, Keith, on when we‘re going to hear that.

And it could be worse there.  I guess the townsfolk could ask her to run a couple of laps around the town in a bridal gown.  But have we got a handle, if you‘re talking about speaking to people who live there, have we got a local pulse handle about whether or not this question of reimbursement of the search expenses should be followed through?  Should she wind up paying?  Do the people there in Duluth feel that way?

SANDERS:  Well, we didn‘t run a poll, but I certainly have heard many people say that indeed, they do believe the $40,000 to $60,000, perhaps upwards of $100,000 that was spent here, should be reimbursed.  But just as many people say that they want to think this one through.  And here why.  If she‘s handed the bill, let‘s understand the timetable here.  She is not the one who said early on that she had been abducted.  That was a suspicion.  It wasn‘t until days later, four days later, that she called in with this bogus story.

And the cops actually had finished that extensive search with all the overtime that took place.  And the concern is, well, will there be a backlash?  Could there be some sort of chilling effect if they hand her a bill of $60,000-some-odd, then next time somebody‘s missing, will they say, Ooh, I better not call in.  Maybe they‘re not really missing.  Am I going to get stuck with a big bill?

OLBERMANN:  Oh, boy.  A superb point.  Kerry Sanders of NBC News at Runaway Bride Central, Duluth, Georgia, great thanks, Kerry.

SANDERS:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  While a world full of amateur psychiatrists continues to analyze Ms. Wilbanks‘ behavior, fewer seem focused on that of the fiance, Mr. Mason.

Well, we‘re already in this deep.  So while we‘re here, let‘s change all that.

I‘m joined now by Terrence Real, a psychotherapist and the author of “How Can I Get Through to You? Reconnecting Men and Women.”

Mr. Real, good evening.

TERRENCE REAL, AUTHOR, “HOW CAN I GET THROUGH TO YOU?”:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  In Mr. Mason, do you think we‘re dealing here with somebody who knows his fiancee very well, or doesn‘t know his fiancee at all?

REAL:  Well, yes.  I think it‘s one or the other.  It really depends on how he sees her.  This could be anything from a real profound dysfunctional problem to the three worst days of this woman‘s life.  And how he sees her will determine whether he really knows her and he‘s forgiving, or whether he is just, as we say, in denial.

OLBERMANN:  We would tend to assume on a general level that the person who gets jilted at the wedding, no matter the gender, would happily turn around and sock person who does the jilting in the jaw.  But is it—is that really the likeliest reaction, generally speaking?  I mean, wouldn‘t relief and gratitude tend to overwhelm any second thoughts on somebody who is in the role that Mr. Mason finds himself in now?

REAL:  Well, I think that‘s obviously true.  I mean, when he‘s considering what the alternative could possibly be, it—this issue, as important as it seems to us, would pale in comparison to his worries that his fiancee had been harmed or even killed.

OLBERMANN:  Or even the lesser one, that he—she had simply split and never wanted to see him again.

REAL:  Well, there‘s that.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Two specific quotes from him that I‘d like your reaction to.  “She‘d, over the last months and weeks, just moved stuff down,” meaning into her—into his house.  “She started, kind of started staying the night at the house.  It was just convenience more than anything else.  Our relationship from that standpoint is still very pure.  We have not, you know, broken the sanctity of marriage yet, if that‘s the right way of putting it,” he said.

Not to disparage people who do not believe in premarital sex, by any extreme, but could its absence here be central to both her actions and his actions?

REAL:  Well, it is a sign of the times in some ways, that I‘m being asked if the absence of premarital sex is a sign of pathology.  But...

OLBERMANN:  And somebody forgiving somebody (INAUDIBLE) is also evidence of pathology.

(LAUGHTER)

REAL:  But I think of what this does speak to is, the possibility of his maintaining this position because of his religious convictions.  And clearly, he‘s devoutly religious, very conservative in his religious beliefs.  And so he may feel like he has made a promise to this woman, and ethically, has to follow through.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, his assessment of hers, another quote.  “She just never has been good about talking about stuff inside.”  Is that a good sign, or is that a bad sign?

REAL:  I would say to that, Duh!  You know, there‘s a psychiatric term for people who impulsively act out, move on their impulses, instead of digesting them, thinking about them, turning to friends.  And we call that acting out.  And generally speaking, if somebody acts out their fear or anger or sexual feelings, no, it‘s not a good thing at all.

OLBERMANN:  Terrence Real, psychotherapist and author of “How Can I Get Through to You? Reconnecting Men and Women,” great thanks for your insights on Mr. Mason tonight, and others like him.

REAL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And another story that is not exactly the moon landing.  Moon walk, maybe.  That‘s your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 533 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  The prosecution continuing to move slowly towards wrapping up its case maybe tomorrow, while the defense dropped at least one name while hinting at its early lineup of witnesses.

A forensic accountant testified today that Michael Jackson‘s finances were bleak at least as late as 2003.  He was spending $20 to $30 million more than he was taking in.  That would be bleak.

Before that, the prosecution tried to neutralize last week‘s surprisingly Jackson-friendly testimony by the mother of two of his children, his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, calling a sheriff‘s investigator to the stand.  DA Tom Sneddon said he wanted to impeach the testimony of Rowe, his own witness.  The investigator, Steve Robell (ph), said Rowe had told him last year that she and Jackson had worked out a post-divorce plan, which was for her to talk positive about Mr. Jackson.

The sergeant also testified that Rowe had called Jackson a sociopath, meaning he had an antisocial personality disorder.

Whenever the defense begins its case, it will begin it with the actor McCauley Culkin.  He‘ll be one of the first three witnesses on Jackson‘s behalf, so NBC News has learned.  The other two, like Culkin, have publicly denied being molested by Jackson when they were teenagers.

Of course, we continue to operate from a considerable disadvantage at the Jackson trial, no cameras.  That serves neither the truth nor the hype.  Thus, some networks are relying on recreations of the testimony.  And we go that one better, recreations of the testimony and of Jackson‘s inner dialogue.  And with Popsicle sticks.

Another inside glimpse, courtesy of Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank goodness this is almost over.

Who is this guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m Sergeant Steve Robell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The dude from Studio 54?  Wow!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m an investigator with the Santa Barbara County sheriff‘s office.  Bummer.

I interviewed Mr. Jackson‘s ex-wife, Deborah Rowe, last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Uh-oh

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She referred to Michael as a sociopath and his children as being possessions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Homeopath?  I don‘t believe in any of that New Age stuff.  I support Dristan and plastic surgery.  Whoo-hoo-hoo!

OLBERMANN:  There is never whoo-hoo-hooing at the Department of Motor Vehicles in your town.  But could the delays there actually get worse?  And for all of us, would that actually be better?

And changing the reality on the ground in Iraq.  More of our soldiers getting killed by roadside bombs than by guns.  A rare look inside what the Pentagon is trying to do to stop that.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The urban legend is that it‘s so easy to get a driver‘s license in this country that the 9/11 hijackers had amassed 63 of them.  In fact, they had 16, five of them duplicates.  They also had 19 other state or federal IDs.  Bad enough.

But efforts to toughen up the standards with a system called Real ID is meeting opposition in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, even though, as our correspondent Pete Williams reports, the main provision of the new system is asking states to verify that your birth certificate is not a phony.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  With over 200 million cars on the road, a driver‘s license is considered a birthright.  But for millions of immigrants like Omar Morra (ph), getting his license in Miami, it‘s about much more than driving.  “It‘s critical,” he says, “for opening a bank account, finding work, and registering children in school.”

That‘s one reason why Congress is on the verge of, for the first time, requiring proof that noncitizens are in the U.S. legally.  States would verify and electronically store the proof.  A former 9/11 commission staffer says it would discourage potential terrorists.

JANICE KEDHART, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF MEMBER: We are requiring verification of who you are when you come into this country.  I think it‘s in our national interest to require verification of who you are when you want to stay here.

WILLIAMS:  Most states already demand at least some proof of legal status, but 12 do not.  And even in those that do, there‘s often little connection between license expiration and how long an immigrant can legally stay.  9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta, for example, had a visa valid through May 2005.  But the Florida driver‘s license he got didn‘t expire until September 2007.

But Mark Rotenberg (ph) of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says state licensing bureaus should not gather all this new information, because they are targets for ID theft.

MARK ROTENBERG, ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER:  There have been cases reported in Florida, in Nevada and Maryland, where state DMV records have been improperly used.  And that should be a warning to Congress.

WILLIAMS:  And advocates for immigrants say the plan would push illegals further underground.

CHERYL LITTLE, FLORIDA MIGRANT ADVOCATE:  Many people end up driving anyway.  They‘re unlicensed, they‘re uninsured.  And that affects everybody.

WILLIAMS (on camera):  Even so, officials here at Homeland Security support the idea.  And tonight, congressional leaders have agreed to include it in a must-pass spending bill.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Well, what do you think?  Does this guy have a license to drive anything?  Yes, close call caught on tape on the high seas.  Hang 10 for Oddball.

And a miracle of a much different kind.  Incapable of speech or recognition or sight for nearly a decade, an injured firefighter suddenly starts talking and identifies every voice he hears.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re just days away from the thrill, the color, and the pageantry that is the 131st Kentucky Derby.  We‘d be remiss if we didn‘t devote a small portion of our program to this magnificent event.

Then again, we‘re remiss all the time, aren‘t we?  Why should tonight be any different?  Let‘s play Oddball.

Look at them run.  Burros, little donkeys.  This is Otumba (ph), Mexico‘s 44th annual Burro Festival.  The highlight is this race, the fastest 14-and-a-half minutes in sports.  Your winner, there goes My Economy, owned by George Steinbrenner, paying 3 cents.

Since 1961, Otumba has given the underappreciated little guys their one day in the sun.  And by that, of course, we refer to the burros.  Tomorrow, they return to backbreaking labor.

To Tahiti, where all I need is a cool buzz and a tasty wave.  No jetskiing in the tasty waves.  That‘s Raymayna Van Bastoliere (ph).  He‘s a world-class surfer.  The guy with the jetski is a world-class moron.  This channel is already one of the most dangerous surfing areas in the world.  It was slightly more so on this occasion.  Van Bastoliere was uninjured. 

The jetskier was uninjured.  The jetski, that was injured.

Next time, set sail on a Viking ship made out of Popsicle sticks.  This one looks like a sturdy enough vessel.  It was built in Immelurd (ph) in the Netherlands by a guy named Captain Rob.  He used more than 5 million Popsicle sticks.  That would be enough to keep Michael Jackson Puppet Theater in production well into the next century.

This is already a Guinness record, but Captain Rob now plans to set another one of them by trying to sail the thing across the Atlantic.  We‘ll miss you, Captain Rob.

And the subject of all things odd, you remember this one, Ahmed Chalabi, the dubious intelligence source, the dubious intelligence handler?  New job today, vice premier of Iraq.  OK.

And that classic Mom and Dad cliche about loving all the children equally, it has been squashed by Canadian research.  There‘s evidence suggesting that parents, at least subconsciously, care more about the prettiest of their children.  The evidence?  Watched parents with kids in a supermarket in Alberta, Canada.  OK.

These stories ahead.

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

Number one, Brandon Arp and Aric Davenport of Laramie, Wyoming, arrested on obscenity charges for having built an anatomically correct snowman.  Their lawyer is arguing something clever.  Says it is selective enforcement.  Says if it had been a sculpture, not a snowman, nobody would have been arrested.  Oh-ho.

Number two, the Bright brothers of Indiana.  They borrowed their folks‘ van, drove it across the four-lane highway, crashed into a big pile of dirt, nobody injured.  Chandler Bright is 3 years old, his 5-year-old brother, at the wheel, is perfectly named Chase Bright.

And number one, 74-year-old Rudolph Richter (ph), 73-year-old Wilfred Ackerman (ph), and 64-year-old Lothar Ackerman, they‘re the Grandpa Gang of Hagen in Germany, accused of robbing 14 banks and getting away with $1.3 million.  And no truth to rumors that they have been hired to consult on the president‘s plan to revise Social Security.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are few absolutes in Iraq.  And if the idea needed underscoring that there is no black or white, only gray, there was today‘s ceremony ushering in that nation‘s first democratically elected government.  Seven cabinet posts in that government unfilled, the squabbling over who should get them unrelenting.  As James Hattori reports from Baghdad, among the portfolios without ministers, in the middle of an insurgency that has killed at least 170 people in just the past six days, is the Ministry of Defense.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMES HATTORI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Iraq‘s new cabinet took office today in a ceremony with little pomp and circumstance and even fewer assembly members who bothered to stay to the end, a telling sign of Iraq‘s fractured politics.  Still, new prime minister Ibrahim al Jaafari addressed the challenges ahead.

IBRAHIM AL JAAFARI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER:  We are suffering from corruption and the lack of services and employment and employment and the mass graves.

HATTORI:  “I would like to tell the widows and orphans your sacrifices have not gone in vain,” he added, sacrifices hard to ignore.  More than 170 people have been killed here just in the last six days.  Many hope the new government will crack down on the violence, but so far, Jaafari has had trouble reining in a different kind of fighting, political in-fighting.  Seven cabinet posts are still vacant.  For now, he will run the Defense Ministry.  And in the midst of the political chaos, a stunning comeback by Iraq‘s ultimate political survivor Ahmed Chalabi, as of today, a vice premier and acting minister of oil.

AHMED CHALABI, IRAQI VICE PREMIER:  This is a government that came out from the elections, is elected by the Iraqi people.

HATTORI:  After more than 40 years in exile, Chalabi, backed by the Bush administration, returned to Iraq, but his pre-war intelligence turned out to be wrong and his fortunes quickly soured.  Iraqis raided his home after allegations of counterfeiting.  The U.S. abandoned him after suspicions that he passed secrets to Iran.

SAAD AL HASSANI, IRAQI JOURNALIST:  His credibility in the street is rather low, like any other member of the government.

HATTORI:  To mount his political comeback, Chalabi nurtured ties with Shi‘ites and used his negotiating skills to help end a stand-off with the militant Sunni cleric Muqtada al Sadr.

MICHAEL O‘HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION:  We‘d better hope for the best and hope that in this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, we‘re going to see the better part of his personality come through in the future.

HATTORI (on camera):  Iraqis are hoping the best for their country, which must forge a constitution this summer and hold another election by the end of the year.  James Hattori, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Reports of roadside bombings now coming daily, if not hourly, from Iraq, adding a new acronym to the American lexicon, IED—that‘s improvised explosive devices—improvised making them no less deadly.  They are, in fact, the number one killer of U.S. soldiers there.  That‘s why finding new tools to combat them has become a top priority.  Our correspondent Carl Quintanilla with an exclusive report tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  They kill without warning and without prejudice, improvised explosive devices.  They are cheap, easy to assemble and effective, responsible for half of the nearly 1,600 U.S. soldiers killed and 6,000 wounded in Iraq.  Now the Pentagon is redoubling its efforts to fight IEDs.

At Fort Hope, Louisiana, every Army soldier bound for Iraq now undergoes training to counter a roadside bomb attack.  A Pentagon task force is developing anti-IED technology, spending half a billion dollars last year on tools like remote-controlled robots that inspect bombs up close, so troops don‘t have to, and that fit into small spaces, or take a beating.

COL. GREGORY TUBBS, U.S. ARMY:  We think that it‘s a great success and it has saved a lot of soldiers‘ lives.

QUINTANILLA:  But the latest state-of-the-art technology is being tested here, the Yuma Proving Ground in southwestern Arizona.  NBC News got an exclusive firsthand look at this new low-cost unmanned drone equipped with high-quality surveillance.

(on camera):  In battle, intelligence is what‘s key to staying safe.  And for a moving convoy, the technology is now available to have a live video feed fed directly from the drone flying above, telling soldiers what danger may be down the road before they have to drive through it.

(voice-over):  The general in charge of the task force says avoiding bombs like this one has helped reduce the number of IED-related deaths significantly in the past year.

BRIG. GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, JOINT IED TASK FORCE:  And that‘s attributable to better protection, better training, more experienced troops and then smart application of technology.

QUINTANILLA:  The future looks even more high-tech, vehicles like this that could run ahead of the convoy and discharge 500,000 kilovolts into the ground to safely detonate any hidden bombs.

(on camera):  Is this as out-of-the-box as you‘ve seen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is pretty out-of-the-box, and—but this is what we‘re looking for, quite honestly.

QUINTANILLA (voice-over):  High-tech tools to fight the low-tech bombs that have turned every Iraqi road into the front lines.  Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, Yuma, Arizona.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And it is anecdotal, of course, but there are beginning to become some drivers in this country who are wondering why, after two years of military action in Iraq, we don‘t seem to be getting any of their oil.  There‘s no logic behind that question, just frustration.  And there may also be no logic behind basing the president‘s approval rating on the price of gas.  But as our correspondent Norah O‘Donnell reports, that‘s the way it is, to the White House‘s frustration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  With gas prices up, the president‘s approval ratings are down.

CHARLIE COOK, POLITICAL ANALYST:  There‘s nothing the president can do to turn around high gasoline prices, but he‘s got to start showing some empathy or it‘s going to hurt his numbers even more.

O‘DONNELL:  And there is growing anxiety in the president‘s party.  NBC News has obtained this confidential memo warning lawmakers that, quote, “increasing gas prices have changed the issue environment.  Republicans need to immediately engage the public on gas prices.”  The president‘s advisers admit that‘s why Mr. Bush began his rare primetime press conference by first addressing the pain at the pump.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  My administration is doing everything we can to make gasoline more affordable.

O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Bush said Congress needs to pass his energy bill.

BUSH:  American consumers have waited long enough.

O‘DONNELL:  But now former president Clinton has weighed in, recently calling President Bush‘s energy policy, quote, “dumb economics.”

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I‘m against the energy bill before Congress because it subsidizes more greenhouse gas burning, keeps us in an old energy path.

O‘DONNELL:  Historically, gas prices drive Americans‘ views of the economy and the president.  Jimmy Carter faced a much greater energy crisis and was ridiculed for donning a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat.

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our program will emphasize conservation...

O‘DONNELL:  Today, the problem facing President Bush is less dire, but with his approval ratings at a new low, the stakes are enormous.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  It‘s a double-edged sword.  If the president can step up and resolve the problem, it‘ll be a huge positive.  If he‘s unable to deal with it and things go south, it‘ll be a negative.

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Republicans say they still have a political advantage on this issue because, they argue, Democrats are not offering any of their ideas.  Democratic leader Harry Reid has suggested that the president could stop filling the strategic petroleum reserve and that that would immediately ease gas prices.  The president disagrees.  Norah O‘Donnell, NBC News, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, a firefighter injured in the line of duty, unable to talk for nearly 10 years, suddenly asks to speak with his wife and just about everybody else he can think of.  And Brad and Angelina.  What has brought them together?  Would you believe small arms fire?  That‘s all ahead.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The system didn‘t provide enough for her to retire on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just another desperate housewife.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  This has been my week to be around funny women, you know?  Good one.  Once again, I‘m speechless.

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  The 91st annual correspondents dinner.  All the biggest names were there—Andrea Mitchell, Chris Wallace, Blitzer, Cornplant (ph), Hemmer, and Van Susteren.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was Clarence Stowers‘s first and last time eating at the Kohl‘s restaurant on South College Road in Wilmington after an unappetizing discovery, a fingertip inside his custard.

CLARENCE STOWERS, FOUND FINGER IN FROZEN CUSTARD:  I‘m still nauseated.  I have this bad taste in my mouth, and I can‘t get rid of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here he dropped the bucket and he attempted to catch it in mid-air.  And when he did, his finger went right in the hole.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  After that, an employee over at the drive-through came over to the machine, without knowing, scooped up the custard and sold it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is the stuff of film or other fiction.  Steven King‘s “The Dead Zone” comes to mind, in fact.  A perfectly ordinary statement inside a hospital room—in this case, “I want to talk to my wife”—stuns doctors, religious leaders, attorneys and family members.  The question was asked by a firefighter, horribly injured, almost blinded, incoherent, incapable of recognizing anybody, a man virtually insensate to the world around him for nearly a full decade.  His name is Don Herbert, and suddenly, he had a lot to say.  Our correspondent in Buffalo is Scott Brown of our NBC station there, WGRZ.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON MANKA, FIREFIGHTER‘S UNCLE:  He did not want to go to sleep.

QUESTION:  He just wanted to keep talking and...

MANKA:  Very much.

SCOTT BROWN, WGRZ-TV (voice-over):  After not communicating with anyone for years, Don Herbert, seen here nine years ago, didn‘t want to stop talking on Saturday.  Family, friends, firefighters, he was able to have limited conversations with all of them for hours and hours.  It all started Saturday afternoon.  Herbert was sitting in his room.

MANKA:  Donny was looking out the window at the facility.  And he said, “I want to talk to my wife,” OK, at which time, the staff here put him on the phone with Linda, and he was carrying on a phone conversation with Linda.

BROWN:  After that, his wife, Linda, three of his four sons and firefighters came to see him and speak with him well into Saturday night.

MANKA:  It was amazing.  When he started recognizing people after nine-and-a-half years, you can only imagine.

BROWN:  It‘s almost too hard to imagine.  All this from a man who was left blind and brain-damaged after he fell through a roof while fighting this fire and was left without oxygen for more than six minutes.  As for the future, Herbert‘s family says they‘re waiting for doctors to do an evaluation of him to try and figure out what has happened and what may happen from here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Scott Brown in Buffalo. (INAUDIBLE) firefighter (INAUDIBLE) -- oh, we‘ve made a mistake there.  My apology.  Scott Brown in Buffalo.  And if that firefighter‘s name rang a bell, that might be because he shares it with a man who starred on an NBC television show, and what did he might freak you out a little bit.  The other Don Herbert was TV‘s scientist for kids, Mr. Wizard.

From that startling and even inspiring story to the amazing stupidity of the questions we in the media ask celebrities and the even greater stupidity with which they answer them.  It‘s our nightly round-up of the celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”

While she would not admit that she and Brad Pitt are more than close friends, Angelina Jolie has let slip the key to their close relationship.  She tells “Vanity Fair” magazine that it‘s the rigorous weapons training they did while learning to play assassins in their new movie.  Quote, “You had to trust each other to cross under or over and only move when the other person moved.  So the trust—when somebody‘s got a loaded gun at your back, it made us trust each other quickly.”

So apart from the odd quote, we are to believe now that Hollywood studios are letting their multi-million-dollar stars aim live ammo at each other?

And more magazine madness.  It‘s not clear if Jennifer Lopez is really this nit-witted or a German publication has merely made her seem that way, but the singer/actress is quoted by the celebrity mag “Bravo” as saying she wants to become the first woman president of the United States.  And that, quote, “The first thing I would do is redecorate the White House.  It doesn‘t look very cozy.”  The other quote: “If you ask me, I‘d like the become the first female president.  That would be really cool.”

We did not ask you!

Here‘s a question, though, for J.Lo and Angelina and Brad.  Could a Canadian study be right?  Could parents be more protective of good-looking children than of their less cosmetic brothers and sisters?  You know, like the media is more protective of J.Lo, Angelina and Brad.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Did your mother ever call you “fathead?”  How about “flathead?”  If you think it‘s getting easier to raise kids these days, think again.  Researchers are now concluding that you may be more protective of your good-looking children than of your not-so-good—well, let‘s just call them your other children.  And after years of insisting you should make sure your babies should sleep on their backs, experts are saying now that, yes, that‘s true, but there can be a mild side effect.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins me now with a warning that could affect your child‘s hat size.  Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN:  Keith, good evening.  Safe to say that most parents want their children to have all of the advantages possible as they set out into the world, which often means offering a little help along the way—braces, eyeglasses, and now headgear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Caden (ph), where‘s your helmet?  Where‘s your helmet?

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  No they‘re not gearing up for football yet, but these tots will be well-rounded.  Sixteen-month-old Caden O‘Connell is one of thousands of children in the U.S. diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a misshapen or flattened head, that custom-fitted helmet designed to round him out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  People asked me if it was for riding on a bicycle, or a motorcycle, at one point.

NOVOTNY:  The O‘Connells first noticed Caden‘s flat spot when he was eight weeks old.  Their pediatrician said he would grow out of it, which often is the case.  But not for Caden.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  As his head grew, it made kind of more of an odd angle and filled out in other areas that we didn‘t really expect.

NOVOTNY:  Experts say plagiocephaly now affects as many as 1 in 10 infants, likely the result of parents following the American Academy of Pediatrics back to sleep recommendations first set in 1992, placing infants to sleep on their backs to decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.  The good news?  SIDS deaths are down as much as 40 percent.  But plagiocephaly can be a side effect.

DR. JOSEPH MADSEN, BOSTON CHILDREN‘S HOSPITAL:  It seems that when some children are allowed to sleep on their back, they tend to sleep in one position only, and that tends to flatten the skull out a little bit.

NOVOTNY:  Other than the most severe cases, the problem is primarily an esthetic one.  But for parents, it‘s about more than vanity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s a boy.  He‘s going to play sports (INAUDIBLE) be on a bicycle, presumably wearing a helmet.  He‘s going to be skiing, presumably wearing a helmet.  Things like—I mean, there are just practical matters associated with, you know, having an oddly shaped head.

NOVOTNY:  And in many cases, this customized headgear fixes that.

JOE TERPENNING, ORTHOTIST:  It provides a mold for the child while they‘re growing to fill.  The helmet does not provide force, like you would think teeth braces do.  The helmet just provides a counterforce that the child grows up against.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Still, the decision is not an easy one.  The commitment is big.  Each child must wear their helmet for 23-and-a-half a day every day, seven days a week, for as long as six months.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Shall we take your helmet off?

NOVOTNY:  Many insurance companies do not cover costs, which can run as high as $3,500.  And though critics say the treatment may be extreme, for the O‘Connells, the helmet is a no-brainer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is pretty much like braces.  You just—you know, you suck up it for a short period of time.  There‘s no emotional impact on the child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re really glad we did it.  You know, the results have been great.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Doctors stress that sleeping on their backs is still the only way to go with infants, but they do say a lot of supervised tummy time while the baby is awake can help prevent those flat spots.

OLBERMANN:  So I was from the “keep them on their stomachs”...

NOVOTNY:  Right.  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... generation, so my head is size 7 and 7/8.  And it is, you know, round as an egg.

NOVOTNY:  Right.  Mine‘s very round, too.  My brother used to call me “fathead,” actually.

OLBERMANN:  Really?

NOVOTNY:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I‘ve met your brother.  I...

(LAUGHTER)

NOVOTNY:  And his head‘s even larger.

OLBERMANN:  I was going to say, he really doesn‘t have much to talk about.

NOVOTNY:  No.  I hope he‘s not watching.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I hope he is, actually, because you just got your revenge.  And now, of course—then we, of course, have to deal with this other subject.

NOVOTNY:  Which is?

OLBERMANN:  Well, taking care of the good-looking member of the family, as opposed to...

NOVOTNY:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  ... your brother.

NOVOTNY:  Well—right.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  All right, Monica.  Thanks.

Now to that study which says that good-looking children get better care from their parents and the laboratory used for the study, the local supermarket.   Researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada observed how attentive and protective parents were towards their children, kids 2 to 5 years old, and noted their activity in three basic areas.  First test, whether or not the parent buckled the child into the grocery cart seat.  When mom was pushing the cart, 4 percent of the homely kids were strapped in, while the most attractive children were belted in three times as often, 13 percent.  But the observations were even more stark when dad was in charge.  None of the least attractive kids were buckled in.  Might say something more about dad than about the kids.  but more than 12 percent of the prettiest children got seat belt security.  Maybe one of the unintended consequences of the study, the shock at how little parents bother to strap in any of their children.

This study was led by Dr. W. Andrew Harrell, based on 426 observations at 14 local supermarkets, and it rated each kid‘s attractiveness on a 10-point scale.  It also found that homely children were more often allowed to engage in potentially dangerous activities, like standing up in the shopping cart.  Whee!  Now, they‘re also more frequently allowed to wander out of their parents‘ sight.

Once again, we‘re greeted with what seems like scientific gibberish about child raising.  This time, we‘re sure this study really happened.  We‘re just not sure if it makes any sense.  I am joined by Tim Carvell,, one of the gifted writers of Comedy Central‘s “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.  Tim, thanks for coming back on the program.

TIM CARVELL, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Thank you for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I guess we‘re asking you if you trust the methodology.  Parents taking better care of good-looking kids, based on some guy watching 426 kids in a supermarket in Alberta, Canada.

CARVELL:  Yes, I mean, if I understand it, the study hasn‘t yet been published.  And I do have some questions about it.  Chiefly, as I understand it, these researchers were in supermarkets, observing parents with their children and rating the children on a scale of 1 to 10 for attractiveness, which to me raises the question of, Have they no laws in Canada?  There‘s a group of people with clipboards in the supermarket going, That kid‘s a 10, and nobody says boo.  I know the Canadians are polite, but frankly, it does seem a little bit odd to me.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  They may have been mistaken for the scouting squad for Michael Jackson.  now, your own qualifications as an expert on this story tonight?  Are you a parent or were you a baby?

CARVELL:  I was at one time a child.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Any kind of child?  Do you fit into any of these categories that we‘ve been discussing?

CARVELL:  I believe we may have a photo of me at the age I figured out that I was not a cute child.  I was, I would say, a 6...

OLBERMANN:  OK.

CARVELL:  ... maybe a 7.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you might be being a little hard on—well, no, maybe not.  There‘s long-standing research that cuteness in baby animals of all kinds is not an accident.  It‘s genetically programmed to remind parents of all kinds that infants need care.  Do you think that might be in play here?

CARVELL:  I suppose it could.  I don‘t know if it‘s—you know, we care for them because they‘re cute on or we think that they‘re cute because we care about them.  I don‘t know what the exact genetic methodology there is.  I mean, it does seem to me, though, that if evolution is sort of selecting for cuteness, if, you know, the cute kids are the ones that make it, evolution is doing a fairly lousy job.  I don‘t know if you‘ve looked at humanity lately.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

CARVELL:  It‘s not a cute species.

OLBERMANN:  But it may—it does seem to have kept people alive who spend a lot of time in supermarkets.  We‘re doing that, at least.

CARVELL:  Yes.  No.  That‘s true.  Although to me, it seems like there may also be a cause-and-effect thing there.  It may not be that the parents of the ugly children are more neglectful, it may be that the ugly children have figured out what the shot is.  They know they‘re not going to do as well as their better-looking brethren.  You might as well just kind of take a sprint down the candy aisle.  This may be your one shot at anything.

OLBERMANN:  So I mean, did you have experiences in a supermarket or in a supermarket cart?  I was thinking about, you know, being 9 years old and wandering away and going into the aisle that the manager kept highly waxed and sliding up and down, but that‘s only one I can remember.  Do you have one?

CARVELL:  I do remember frequently getting lost or misplaced at stores, which up until now, I had written off to my own sort of aimless nature.

OLBERMANN:  Oh!

CARVELL:  But thanks to this story tonight, Keith, I know now know that my parents cared less for me because I was a homely, homely child.

OLBERMANN:  Oh.  And they didn‘t buckle you in?  They didn‘t have the buckles, right?

CARVELL:  Yes.  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  So you fell—did you fall out of the cart a lot, too?

CARVELL:  More than you probably even would think.

OLBERMANN:  Did you bounce, or...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Or just splat, kind of?

CARVELL:  It was more of a splat-type thing.  Although it was probably too late, at that point.  My sister delights in telling me that as a baby, my skull was very, very soft and easy to press in.

OLBERMANN:  Did you have one of those helmets that we just did a report on?  No.

CARVELL:  No.

OLBERMANN:  All right.

CARVELL:  What did I have?

OLBERMANN:  We‘re out of time, but we may be sending you out to the University of Alberta to help them with their studies, their follow-up.  Tim Carvell, writer for “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, great.  Thanks for coming back on the show and for your time tonight, sir.

CARVELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being a part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, size 7-and-7/8 head.  Good night.  And also, hard as a rock.  Good night, and good luck.

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

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