updated 5/6/2005 11:52:47 AM ET 2005-05-06T15:52:47

Guest: James Bone, Dana Milbank, Mo Rocca

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

They don‘t make terrorists like they used to.  Two toy grenades filled with gunpowder go off on a New York City street in the middle of the night, with no injuries.

Is it a good day or a bad day to be Tom DeLay?  As the travel part of the ethics investigations continues, we‘ll talk to the reporter who spent much of yesterday tracing DeLay‘s steps.

The big “American Idol” expose.  Not exactly the fixing of the 1919 World Series, was it?  But at least now we know what Paula Abdul calls her chihuahuas.

And, well, this will never get Jennifer Wilbanks into the COUNTDOWN Apology Hall of Fame.  She doesn‘t read her own apology.  She apologizes only to the families and the churches.  How about the police?  How about the communities that spent cash looking for her?  She even denies it was cold feet.

Forget it.  We‘re inducting Pat O‘Brien instead.  Mo Rocca will join us.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

If they were as painted by at least one news organization, the first, quote, “terrorist attacks” in New York since 9/11, there is this important development to consider.  Terrorists are now reduced to filling toy grenades with gunpowder and hurling their missiles while riding bicycles.

Their yield and actual damage, a foot-long chunk taken out of a streetside flowerbox, and one shattered window at the Manhattan office building that houses the British consulate.

The two toy grenades, believed by the New York bomb squad to have been the size of a lemon and a pineapple, respectively, went off outside 845 Third Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets at 3:35 this morning Eastern time.  There were no injuries.

Whether the British were targeted is speculative.  It was election day in the U.K.  But the consular staff doesn‘t see a connection.

And just how sophisticated this entire operation was is also speculative.  Police have the video from at least one security camera to study.  Sources telling the Reuters news service one of those tapes shows the minimum-force grenades being thrown by a passing bicyclist.

Do investigators have anything more than that?

Our correspondent, Kristen Dahlgren, is at the scene.

Kristen, good evening.

KRISTEN DAHLGREN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The FBI and city police had someone in for questioning. 

Do we know if they got anything out of that person?

DAHLGREN:  Yes, “had” the operative word there.  You know, all day we heard about this Dutch national, a U.N. employee that police were questioning.  Late this afternoon, they announced that they had released him from custody and that he has been cleared as a suspect.

So nothing there.  Police seem to be back at square one, asking anyone who was here early this morning to give them a call.

OLBERMANN:  Has anybody yet decided to classify this as a terrorist act?

DAHLGREN:  You know, we haven‘t heard anything from police or from Mayor Mike Bloomberg.  They had a lot of cautions this morning, not even to link this directly to the British consulate.  There are a lot of other residents in the building that you see behind me.  So they‘re not saying at this point what exactly the motive was.

OLBERMANN:  And assuming that it—it‘s a bomber, it‘s not—you know, it‘s not a bomber on a bicycle who just doesn‘t like planters on the streets of New York City, we obviously know it‘s the British consulate on the ninth and 10th floors of that building.  Do we know anything else about the other occupants of that building who might have been some sort of symbolic target, or some sort of personal target for somebody?

DAHLGREN:  Well, it is interesting.  At that news conference this afternoon, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly floated another possible motive idea out there.  He said that one of the other residents of this building is a board member of Caterpillar, the company that makes that heavy equipment, and that there have been protests outside here, people that disagree with Caterpillar equipment being used in parts of Gaza in the Middle East.

So floating that out there as a possibility, when all is said and done, this could be a very different story than what it was early this morning.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, terrorism, ecoterrorism, or goodness knows what. 

Kristen Dahlgren in New York City, great thanks, Kristen.

Whether or not these explosions had anything to do with the British or the British elections, they held them today.  A curious vote in which the opposition Conservatives tried to unseat the incumbent Labour Party of Prime Minister Tony Blair by beating him up over the Iraq War.  The conservatives, of course, have totally supported the Iraq War.

With Blair favored to win his third consecutive election since 1997, to become the first Labour leader ever to do that, the questions were by how much, and would a significantly reduced majority hasten his turning over the premiership to chancellor of the exchequer and heir apparent, Gordon Brown, and if that smaller majority might hamstring Blair in the immediate future over issues like Iraq.

The current split in parliament showed Labour with 62 percent of the seats, the conservatives with 24 percent, everybody else, 14 percent.  That‘s a Labour majority of 161 seats.  But voting closed at 5:00 p.m.  Eastern time, and the exit polls in Britain were released at 5:01.  The projected split of the new parliament, showing the Conservatives now with 32 percent of the seats, picking up a few, not clearly enough.  Labour, still a clear winner at 55 percent, but its majority down from 161 seats to 66 seats.

In two years of war, the number of British fatalities in Iraq is 87.  But each has been its own separate big news story.  When British Guardsman Anthony Wakefield was killed by a roadside bomb on May 2, his wife went on British cable television and blamed Tony Blair personally.  “He sent the troops over, and he should not have done that,” she said.  “If it was not for that, their dad”—meaning his—her kids‘ dad—“would have been here today.”

The British, Iraq, and the U.S. in a moment.

First, the insurgents in Iraq, and another day with another awful death toll, insurgents killing 26 people in four separate attacks that we know of, most of them targeting Iraqi security forces in what is now a familiar scenario, a man strapped with explosives, blowing himself up while waiting in line at a recruitment center.

Many centers have been turned into small fortresses, surrounded by things like concrete blast walls, razor wire to prevent against car bombings.  But the insurgency adapting, striking back with an old weapon, the suicide bomber and his explosives belt.

It is grim and getting grimmer in Iraq.  But once again, as in this country and in Australia, that fact did not overturn a sitting government, even as an opinion poll here indicated that 57 percent of Americans now feel it was not worth it to go into Iraq.

I‘m joined now by James Bone, the New York correspondent for “The Times” of London.

Mr. Bone, good evening.  Thanks for your time tonight.

JAMES BONE, NEW YORK CORRESPONDENT, “THE TIMES” OF LONDON:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  No surprise, obviously, in the outcome of the British elections.  But clearly, Tony Blair‘s latitude, what has been almost omnipotence the last eight years, is going to be severely restricted by this.  Does—is there a chance that he would appease his opponents now by sacrificing some of this controversial Iraq policy?

BONE:  Well, it certainly is being seen in Britain as a kick in the pants to Tony Blair.  And the reason for the kick in the pants is Iraq.  And you see, wherever the voters had an opportunity to stick it to Tony Blair, they went out and voted for whichever party had the best opportunity to defeat him.

That exit poll you mentioned, though, with the projected majority of 66 -- which is already down almost 100 on his current majority or his previous majority—that seemed to be slightly optimistic, because the swing is actually larger in the marginal constituencies, which is where the votes are won or lost, the seats are won or lost.

So he could come out with a significantly smaller majority even than that.  And that will limit his room for maneuver a lot.

The other thing is a kind of demographic thing within the Labour Party, which is that the New Labour that Tony Blair represents, which is this centrist Labour, the kind of Clintonian Labour, a lot of those people came into parliament in the last election.  And those are the people who will be losing their seats this time around.

And therefore, it will be the old more left-wing Labour Party that is stronger in parliament.

OLBERMANN:  So as I mentioned, appeasing his opponents, conceivably, he might wind up appeasing his supporters.  If he only has a majority of 66 or less in the House of Commons, will he now be hearing from those antiwar members of his own party, and could they and the opposition materially affect how committed Britain remains in Iraq?

BONE:  Yes, I think he‘ll to have read the message of the voters.  And it will restrict him on his policy in Iraq.  And it will mean that British troops are more likely to come home sooner.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure President Bush did not write Mr. Blair or Labour or Britain off when Bill Clinton wound up doing an election appearance for Blair via satellite.  But what happens now to the closest-ally stuff that Blair has managed to maintain with, first, the Democratic president, and then a Republican president, if he has to broach the subject to the U.S. of the possibility, even, of reducing Britain‘s role in Iraq?

BONE:  Well, that‘s all—his relationship with President Bush has obviously rebounded on him with the British electorate, and he‘ll have to be more distant.  He‘s seen as having given a lot to President Bush and not having got a lot in return.  He‘s pushed on things like Middle East peace, he wants more commitment for the Americans with Middle East peace, on things like the environment.  He wants American support for limiting global warming.

And he hasn‘t really been repaid.  And a lot of people in Britain say, Why are you giving so much to the Americans and you‘re not getting so much in return?

OLBERMANN:  Last question, it‘s almost a given that Gordon Brown will accede to the throne, if you will, of the prime minister‘s house at Number 10 Downing Street sooner rather than later.  If it‘s sooner, does he—would he have a different policy about Iraq than Blair does now?

BONE:  Well, the thing about Gordon Brown is, although he‘s painted as being to the left of Tony Blair, he is actually a strong transatlantic supporter.  And he summers every year in Cape Cod.  So it‘s not necessarily clear that he would pursue a less pro-American policy.

OLBERMANN:  The New York correspondent for “The Times” of London, James Bone.  Great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

BONE:  Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You do not become the number-three man in al Qaeda by getting elected.  Nonetheless, fascinating new details tonight about the big capture in Pakistan earlier this week of Faraj al-Libbi, U.S. officials telling NBC News that Libbi was carrying a notebook when caught, apparently trying to rip it up before he was taken and before it was taken from him.

Investigators now studying its contents, also interrogating al-Libbi.  The two key questions they want answered, obviously, Do you know where is Osama bin Laden, and what are al Qaeda‘s future plans?  Broad questions, obviously, officials telling NBC News that nothing he has told them so far has been valuable in either regard.  And the interrogation process, they say, going slowly.

From al-Libbi to al Qaeda‘s man in Iraq, and first there was the report last week that we had nearly captured Abu Musab Zarqawi in February.  Now another one, that last week, Zarqawi was hospitalized.  From the Al Assad Air Base in Iraq, the “Washington Post” reporting that the U.S.  military is investigating reports that Zarqawi was at a medical facility in the Anbar Province last week, near Ramadi, possibly ill, possibly wounded.

“The Post” says its sources would not elaborate, but it also says that when he left behind a laptop computer when nearly caught two-and-a-half months ago, it contained information about his health.

Also tonight, information about Tom DeLay‘s alleged ethics violation in short supply indeed.  And could that be one of the reasons Capitol Hill has turned into the great chase to find the House majority leader on camera?

And worst apology ever.  The runaway bride doesn‘t even show up to say her “I‘m sorries” herself.  Mo Rocca will join us himself, and we will visit the COUNTDOWN Apology Hall of Fame.  Jennifer Wilbanks will not be in it.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  News that the House majority leader has found a new way of dealing with the ever-present media cameras, duck and run.

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” spent part of his week tracking down the elusive leader.  We will hear from him in a moment.

First, the latest Tom DeLay developments.  Two of the five Republicans on the House Ethics Committee have now recused themselves from any probe of their leader.  Representative Lamar Smith of Texas and Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma made that decision, because both of them, through their political action committees, have given DeLay‘s defense fund a little financial boost, Representative Smith forking over $10,000, and Congressman Cole donating five G‘s to the cause.

Then there‘s Jack Abramoff, already accused of having illegally funded some of Tom DeLay‘s travel expenses.  His firm is now accused of paying at least part of the way for two of DeLay‘s aides, and also for two House Democrats, South Carolina‘s James E. Clyburn and Mississippi‘s Benny Thompson.

As for the House majority leader, he made what is now a rare scheduled public appearance at the National Day of Prayer gathering on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER:  With God, all things are possible, ladies and gentlemen.  And even greatness from lowly sinners like you and me, especially me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For weeks, the once-camera-houndish DeLay has been ducking and weaving out of potential situations when the issue of sinning, at least against congressional ethics, might have come up, and while the videotape was rolling.

But hot on his trail, “Washington Post” correspondent Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So is this the new game on Capitol Hill, hunt the House majority leader?

MILBANK:  Oh, it‘s an old game.  I‘ve been a DeLay stalker for much of the last 10 years, on and off.  But it‘s definitely gotten more interesting now.  He was always really a backroom kind of guy.  He didn‘t mind being seen in public, but he didn‘t want to be questioned in public.

And now we are at a point where a lot of people want to ask him questions, and he is not going to have that done.  So he‘s literally sort of scurrying through basement passengers in the Capitol, sneaking out back doors into other doors.  He has locations scouted as to where the press is going to be and then goes the other direction.

So it‘s become quite a cat-and-mouse game, and I joined in for a day.

OLBERMANN:  And when he gets caught, we have this extraordinary image from a week or two ago, he‘s actually gotten—called for security help and gotten caught calling for security help.

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s not very pleasant having a lot of cameras in your face, unless you‘re hosting a show, as you are.  Then you have some control over the matter.  But it‘s not that Tom DeLay is not open at all.  He has, behind closed doors, off camera, moments when he‘ll explain himself.  He‘ll answer questions.  And he‘s reasonably effective at that.

But what he knows is that as soon as you‘re seen being chased around the Capitol, as he was yesterday, saying Ronnie Earl, the district attorney down in Austin, says, You‘re America‘s problem, what do you say to that?  I mean, there‘s nothing to be won by that.  It‘s literally as if he were—had a coat over his head and handcuffs on his back.  You can‘t look good doing that.

OLBERMANN:  So apart from that obvious idea that it might look like a perp walk, does it translate to his supporters, though, as confirmation that he is being literally chased down the halls of Congress by the evil media?

MILBANK:  Well, not much confirmation of that is need.  In fact, during his off-camera session yesterday, he was asked about whether this is injuring him politically.  And he thought that was rather comical, and that the people support him will see that this is the liberal media, the liberal interest groups, and the Democrats.  So he is holding up a very brave front that way.

OLBERMANN:  According to your newspaper, two Democrats also had part of their travel expenses, at least initially, paid for by this man Jack Abramoff, who is so closely tied to Mr. DeLay, especially in the past.  If there is an ethics investigation, A, is it, in fact, going to focus again on Mr. DeLay?  Is it going to be about him, or is it suddenly going to be a roundup?  Is it going to be half of Congress in there?

MILBANK:  Well, there‘s definitely going to be an ethics investigation of DeLay, because he has said he would like to have one to clear the air here.

That said, as you indicated, it is not just two more Democrats.  Lots of members throughout the Congress are having problems with their reporting.  There‘s all these amended reports coming in right now.  It could become one of those things that we all remember for when the house members were having overdrafts on their House bank accounts.

The thing—this could damage everybody.  The tendency, though, is it for to damage the party that‘s in power, and the leaders of those parties.  So it may blunt the impact on DeLay somewhat.  But it could cause a sort of toss-the-bums out kind of a reaction backlash from the voters.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank, who drew the short straw in the “Washington Post” newsroom and has been chasing the House majority leader.  We appreciate the results of your chasing.  Thanks for sharing with us.

MILBANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, it‘s not exactly the Virgin Mary, but we know someone will still buy it, the runaway bride appearing in toast form on the left of your screen.

And “American Idol” was all flowers and support on the show.  But on another network, we were learning about Paula Abdul‘s dirty laundry.  Well, at least about the name of her pet chihuahuas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and once again we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for our nightly dose of the day‘s surreal news.

Let‘s play Oddball.

It‘s been a week and a half since she disappeared, traveled cross-country, and returned a media supersensation.  But the only images we have of the runaway bride are these old “Do I look like I have a glandular condition to you?” pictures.  And, of course, the now-infamous shot of her in the airport after the blanket fell on her head from the sky.

But alas, like the Virgin Mary herself, Ms. Wilbanks has been appearing all over the place anyway.  One needs only to visit eBay.

The first sighting was the runaway bride on a piece of toast.  It immediately became an Internet sensation, 85,000 visitors to the auction bidding for that piece of toast, climbing to higher than $500 American.

Then there were more eBay apparitions—the runaway bride on a coffee cup, the runaway bride a peanut, on a light bulb stuck into the top of a Bud bottle, a chicken nugget in the shape of the runway bride, and a vision of Wilbanks due to a rare printing error on the back of a Wisconsin quarter.

So far, GoldenPalace.com is nowhere to be found in these auctions, possibly because, as we already know from her itinerary of the week she spent during her spree, Ms. Wilbanks already has a deal with the Treasure Island Hotel in Vegas.

To Salt Lake City, home of Don Bright, the singing UPS guy.  Don‘s dulcet tones can be heard every day all along his route.  He‘s singing in the van, he‘s singing during deliveries, and he‘s singing even when people are trying to talk to him.

Don Bright, a man on a mission to take a routine event like package delivery and turn it into an unbearably uncomfortable experience for everybody involved.

What can Brown do for you?  How about starting with shutting up, Brown?

And to India, where an entire village has banded together to save a baby elephant who has fallen into a well.  They‘re sending their love down the well.  Also some rope.  The elephant slipped down into the 32-foot-deep well during a rainstorm more than two days ago.  The villagers were alerted when the elephant‘s mother let out a huge cry.  Other elephants arrived on the scene to help as well, but left when they realized they had no arms.

A group of men finally saved the elephant by digging a slope so he could simply walk up and out.

And then, they ate him.  No, we just made the last part up for comedic effect.

Come on, little feller.  There he goes.  He‘s up, he‘s out, he‘s healthy, he‘s going to live 75 years, and he‘ll never forget any of those people.

Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you for helping me out.

Also tonight, there‘s no joke about a huge error at the FBI, an alleged serial cuss—killer was in custody but set free, apparently murdering again.

And Michael Jackson‘s attorneys get their chance now to put on a bunch of kids who say they were not molested.  But as Puppet Theater will reenact for you, they do say Jackson encouraged them to throw stuff at lions.

Those stories are ahead.

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

Number three, Napoleon Bonaparte.  Swiss medical investigators not convinced that the French emperor really died 200 years ago of stomach cancer.  They are going to examine his trousers to see if he was poisoned.  His trousers?  My God, poisoned with what?

Number two, Paula Dawning, superintendent of schools in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  She has prohibited a middle-school marching band from appearing in a parade Saturday and performing the Kingsmen‘s song “Louie Louie” because of its bawdy lyrics.

A note to Ms. Dawning, who evidently a bit dim.  It‘s a marching band. 

They don‘t sing lyrics in a marching band.  No lyrics.

And number one, Dennis Avner of Yuete (ph), California.  He‘s had his teeth replaced with dentures that look like tiger fangs.  He has had metal studs implanted in his upper lip so he can attach cat whiskers.  He has had plastic surgery on his ears to make them pointy like a cat‘s.  And he‘s had his body covered in tiger tattoos.

Mr. Avner, who answers to Cat or Catman or Tiger, is a computer technician.  But he has found that he‘s having trouble finding work, for some unexplained reason.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For all of the consequences of 9/11, this one falls into the not merely unbelievable but perhaps the unimaginable.  Even with the surge in the security industry, in increased patriotism, and a jump in the tangible quality of the often apocryphal clear and present danger, the FBI is still having problems hiring and keeping key employees.  And when the bureau does hire them, it has trouble keeping them from making often deadly mistakes.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the hiring part first, a Justice Department audit finding that one third of bureau intelligence analysts positions are still unfilled.  And worse still, morale is so bad, especially among the new hires, that many analysts are quitting.  New intelligence analysts say they were asked to man the telephone switchboard, they were asked to supervise repairmen completing their work, even do Internet searches for other agents, anything, it seems, other than doing actual intelligence analysis.

In the three years after September‘s terror attacks, the FBI analyst corps increased by 37, from 1,023 to 1,403, but 291 analysts left their positions during that same period, so the FBI really increased the corps by only a net of 89.  The bureau still says it hopes to meet its hiring goals for analysts by the end of the year.  That would be 880 of them.  To do that, however, they would have to hire three times as many in the next seven months as it has in the last three years.

The FBI‘s apparent malaise is not limited to hiring nor analysis.  A suspected serial killer, though captured, managed to elude the bureau simply by giving authorities a false name and then letting the bureau‘s computers do the rest.

As our correspondent, Don Teague, reports from Atlanta, the suspect was released 15 months ago, and since the mistake, he was allegedly to be able to kill twice more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Thirty-two-year-old Jeremy Jones is suspected in at least 20 murders, charged in three states and considered a person of interest in killings across the country.  But the FBI now admits four murders might have been prevented if its fingerprint analysis system had worked.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  This is the worst-possible-case scenario.  This is the last guy you want to miss.

TEAGUE:  The bureau says it did miss Jeremy Jones twice, failing to match fingerprints after Jones was arrested for minor offenses in 2003 and 2004 that should have identified him as being wanted for rape in Oklahoma.  Instead, he was let go and allegedly killed four more women...

ROB ENDRES, HUSBAND OF VICTIM:  It‘s not acceptable.

TEAGUE:  ... including Rob Endres‘s wife, Patrice, in Georgia.

ENDRES:  The FBI owes it to these four women and themselves and the country to find out where their failure was and resolve it.

TEAGUE:  In a statement, the FBI says it regrets this incident, which it describes as “a technical database error, not a human examiner failing to make an appropriate match.”  Little comfort to Jennifer Murphy, whose mother was allegedly killed by Jones last September.

JENNIFER MURPHY, DAUGHTER OF MURDER VICTIM:  There‘s nothing we can do that‘s going to bring her back.  We would like to know what happened, how it happened, and what are they going to do in the future to prevent it from happening again?

TEAGUE:  When the FBI realized its mistake, Jones was already in custody, awaiting trial in Alabama for the murder of Lisa Nichols.  Jones maintains he‘s not guilty of any murders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - OCTOBER, 2004)

JEREMY JONES, SERIAL KILLER SUSPECT:  Every time I hear about something on TV, I hear that another state‘s coming after me.  There‘s the state of California, these other states I‘ve never been to, you know?  Give it up, all right?  I‘m not the person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TEAGUE:  But prosecutors won‘t give up.  And the FBI promises a thorough review of the system used more than 50,000 times a day to match crimes and criminals.  Don Teague, NBC News, Atlanta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And from the most serious kind of criminal evasion to our nightly criminal case diversion.  It is your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 535 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

Judge Rodney Melville today denied the standard-issue defense motions to dismiss all charges and declare a mistrial, so the defense began its case, put up its first two witnesses.  Both deny claims by earlier prosecution witnesses that Jackson fondled them when they visited his Neverland ranch more than a decade ago.

Brett Barnes began a friendship with Jackson after he wrote the entertainer a fan letter in 1991.  That was when Barnes was 11 years old.  He said that Jackson had never touched him in a sexual manner.  Same for 22-year-old choreographer and dancer Wade Robson.  He won a Michael Jackson dance contest once, and at the age of 5, met Jackson.  He said he stayed at Neverland 20 times, considered Jackson a close friend, insisted Jackson never touched him sexually.  Under cross-examination, Robson did describe a sleepover that included himself, Jackson, Macaulay Culkin, Culkin‘s brother, and the boy who accused Jackson of molestation in 1993.  Robson said Michael Jackson slept on a cot.

One particular memory of Mr. Robson provided a dramatic and unexpected moment in the courtroom today.  We‘d love to show you videotape of this, but I‘m afraid the best we can do is another edition of “The Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Michael would kiss me on the cheek but never on the mouth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Was there ever any unruliness?

“MICHAEL JACKSON”:  Oh-oh!  I smell a flashback scene coming on.  Go ahead, boys.  Throw stones at the lions, just as I have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Michael, I thought only he who is without sin should cast the first stone?

“MICHAEL JACKSON:  We‘ll let a jury determine that, boys.  Whoo-hoo!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just a coincidence that they‘re also questioning the appropriateness of kisses on “American Idol.”  Not exactly a scandal, but we‘ll do the best we can.  And the stunning upset in the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” voting.  The favorite falls short, and an unlikely candidate is elected.  That‘s ahead.

First now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mark and Michael Brummer (ph) are sending two tons of salami to the 42nd Infantry Division.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For $10, we could send a salami.  We‘re not making money on this, so it‘s like a salami and a half, plus mustard and postage.  And 100 percent of everything goes to salamis.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Good afternoon.  We begin with one world leader called from earlier today.  The president had a good conversation with President Hu of China.

QUESTION:  Who?

QUESTION:  Hu?

QUESTION:  Who?

MCCLELLAN:  There we go.  You all need to go home and pack and get ready for the trip.

DAVE LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Whoa!  He‘ll bite into something electric!

JACK HANNAH, COLUMBUS ZOO:  Ow!  Oh!

LETTERMAN:  Look out!  What‘s happening here?  Oh, look out.  What‘s that?

HANNAH:  Dave!  Dave!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Well, cancel that Pulitzer Prize judging.  Thanks to the investigation of the TV show “American Idol” by the TV show “Primetime Live,” we now know that Paula Abdul‘s chihuahuas are named Tinkerbell, Tulip and Thumbelina, and they have their own ramp on which to climb up into her bed.  It‘s like reading them Watergate stories!

“We have concerns about the motives behind last night‘s purported news special,” Fox Broadcasting responded today, “as much of it was filled with rumor, speculation and assertions from a disqualified contestant who admitted during the special to telling lies.  Regardless, we are absolutely committed to the fairness of the competition, and we have already begun looking into this.”

The rest of the story of false idols and less than idyllic ideals from our correspondent, Melissa Stark.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MELISSA STARK, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The allegations are explosive and detailed.

COREY CLARK, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  She needed a way to get in contact me, so she gave me one of her old phones.

STARK:  Former “American Idol” contestant Corey Clark tells of secret phone calls.

CLARK:  She‘s calling, and we‘re having a conversations for, like, two and three hour.

STARK:  Clark claims he received coaching and wardrobe consulting and alleges he had a sexual affair with Judge Paula Abdul during the show‘s second season.

CLARK:  She came up behind me and she just started kissing my neck. 

And you know, that‘s the first night that we had ever been together.

STARK:  Clark was dropped from the contest when producers of the show learned that he had a criminal record.  Now he‘s releasing a new album and has plans for a tell-all book.  Clark says when Abdul learned of those book plans, after not speaking to him for two years, Abdul allegedly called him and left this message.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  Hi, it‘s Paula.  Call me back. 

Listen, if the press is trying to talk to you, you say absolutely nothing. 

That‘s all you do.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STARK:  No comment this morning from Abdul.  Last week, her spokesperson had called Clark, quote, “an admitted liar and opportunist.”  If Clark can be believed, some say it spells trouble for one of America‘s top-rated shows.

CYNTHIA LITTLETON, “HOLLYWOOD REPORTER”:  Did she coach him?  Did she give him advice on song selection, on wardrobe, on everything, including his haircut?  If that is true on any level, that cannot stand.

STARK:  But last night, the show went on, and it was business as usual on stage during the live broadcast.  The only hint of the brewing storm came when contestants presented the judges with flowers.

LITTLETON:  There will be some repercussions, but I would find it hard to believe that this would bring an end to the show.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  An easy segue from Melissa Stark‘s report to our nightly round-up of the celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  We go from one lousy program that‘s still on television to one terrific program that suddenly and mysteriously is not.  Dave Chappelle‘s show is a no-show.  A day after trumpeting its third season at its so-called “up front” presentation for advertisers, the Comedy Central network suddenly announced that Chappelle‘s has halted production.  The season premier scheduled for later this month has been postponed.  No explanation, other than the statement that all parties are optimistic that production will resume in the near future.

If you‘ve never seen it, you have missed episodes in which squeaky-clean comedian Wayne Brady turns out to be a pimp and a murderer who eventually kneecaps Chappelle, and another in which various races conduct a draft of multi-racial celebrities, with blacks choosing Tiger Woods with the first choice, and Asians with a later upset selection, the Wu-Tang Clan.

Meanwhile, Pat O‘Brien says he‘s entered alcohol rehabilitation, quote, “because I was dying,” unquote, not to avoid stories circulating on the Internet that he had supposedly left a series of bawdy messages on the voice-mails of women acquaintances.  “Thank God, on some level, this happened, and I‘m not dead,” he said, the “Insider” host speaking with Dr.  Phil, also known as America‘s new confessional.  O‘Brien was back at work tonight, just a week-and-a-half after having left the rehab program.  In that interview, O‘Brien said he was, quote, “out of control.”  “I started drinking in the late ‘60s,” he said.  “I kept drinking.”  He did not volunteer to expand upon his apology in a series of messages on the voice-mails of women acquaintances.

Speaking of apologies, is it OK to issue a public one and have somebody else read it?  The runaway bride a runaway loser in the latest elections for the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame.”  We will have news of this latest apologist elected.  We will show you the entire “Apology Hall of Fame” tape, and Jennifer Wilbanks will be analyzed by the one and only Mo Rocca next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Simply one of the greatest upsets in the history of the voting for the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame.”  Jennifer Wilbanks was a lead-pipe cinch of a lock for election.  All she had to do was show up.  She didn‘t even have to cry.  A little nervous tremor would have been enough.  She would have gotten in unanimously.

No, she tanked, had her pastor do it for her this afternoon.  He read a statement about how she‘s getting professional help, how she was excited about the wedding, how it wasn‘t about her fiance, and about how you at home could send her prayers by e-mail.  And as he explained as he read her apology to everybody but the police and the searchers and the taxpayers, she was, quote, “running away from myself.”  Sounds like she still is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. TOM SMILEY, WILBANKS FAMILY MINISTER:  “Please, may I assure you my running away had nothing do with cold feet, nor was it ever about leaving John.  I am sorry for the troubles I caused, and I offer my deep and sincere apology.  I understand that many people wanted to hear from me personally, and I wanted to be here.  However, I look forward to the days ahead when I am strong enough to speak for myself.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As if we‘ll still care.

So there‘s the voting -- 375 votes required for election.  Pat O‘Brien the only electee to the CHOF, this time with 404 votes.  Jennifer Wilbanks not even breaking triple digits, what a disappointment, barely finishing ahead of Paula Abdul, who got 44 mercy votes.  We will go live to the induction ceremonies for Pat O‘Brien, and as for tradition, we will show you the entire revised video tour of the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” from Bryant to Schwarzenegger.

All that in a moment, but first, back to Jennifer Wilbanks.  And I‘m joined now by TV personality Mo Rocca.  It‘s been too long, Mo.  I‘m delighted you‘re back.  I‘m only sorry it‘s under such disappointing circumstances.

MO ROCCA, TELEVISION PERSONALITY:  It is.  Well, Jennifer apparently is still shrouded beneath her beach towel burqa, and I suppose she couldn‘t deliver an apology from there.  The sound could be quite muffled.  Her very absence, Keith, I think, makes this a non-apology apology, quite frankly.  It reminded me so much of the so-called Japanese apology for the atrocities in Manchuria recently.  And let‘s not be surprised if the Chinese in Duluth, Georgia, begin rioting en mass in reaction to this.  I mean, it made Jane Fonda‘s recent sort of apology for Vietnam seem like the full apology that she‘s about to offer for “Monster-in-Law.”

OLBERMANN:  If it was not also cold feet, as she said—or I correct myself again—her spokes-pastor said...

ROCCA:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  If it was not cold feet, was it, what, damp brain?

ROCCA:  No, I think she‘s suffering from exhaustion.  I mean, it‘s evident that the woman can‘t shut her eyes.  Her eyes don‘t close.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

ROCCA:  And so she‘s just extremely tired.  It‘s like a “Clockwork Orange” nightmare that she has to live with.  And you know, let‘s just face it.  John Mason for his next book should read what is sure to be the next best-seller in America, “She‘s Just Not That Into You.”  I mean, it‘s just evident right there.  (INAUDIBLE) disappointed that she didn‘t apologize to Hispanic men.  So I hope she‘s not planning on attending any of tonight‘s Cinco de Mayo parties in Duluth.

OLBERMANN:  So that...

ROCCA:  Duluth is very international, by the way.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  And as we all do our impression of her from those pictures, it is—it is—what, she‘s got the Chinese and then the Hispanics after her.  But perhaps more than that, because the pastor gave out an e-mail address for people to send her prayers.  Are we thinking that she might get a lot more than just prayers in those e-mails?

ROCCA:  She‘s going to get some prayers, but she‘s also probably going to get about 14 hateful e-mails from her bridesmaids that are all now saddled with hundreds of dollars worth of taffeta.  And I don‘t know what they‘re going to do with it.  Maybe strangle her?

By the way, if you have HDTV, it‘s not actually a beach towel burqa, it‘s more of a crocheted blanket burqa that she‘s wearing in those shots.  You can see very closely if you do have HDTV.  There you go.

OLBERMANN:  Why did this story, on the whole, Mo—why did this resonate in this country, apart from the fact that the cable networks covered it non-stop for a week?

ROCCA:  Oh, well, that always helps just to sort of spoonfeed us, so that we know what to look for.  I think it‘s—you know, she‘s a character that many of us know, that many of us relate to.  It‘s a very human story.  And it doesn‘t involve upwards of 60 innocent people being blown up in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Would you think that anybody who had dated somebody like this would have gotten a sign earlier that this was prospectively going to occur?

ROCCA:  Geez, I don‘t know.  I mean, I‘m not sure how many bus trips she took to Albuquerque.  And by the way, that‘s going to be the new hot destination, not just the destination because Albuquerque is great, but getting there by bus via Las Vegas.

OLBERMANN:  I bet you the price on Greyhound has just gone up 10 bucks in the last week.  Television personality Mo Rocca.

ROCCA:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Great.  Thank you, sir.

OK.  So tonight we have a new “Hall of Fame” apologist, but as the white smoke pours out of the exhaust pipe at the rear of the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” and National Museum, it is not the person we thought it would be.  The pantheon of the greats opens again tonight, but Jennifer Wilbanks still has to buy a ticket to get in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s get crazy, get some coke, hire a hooker.  If you agree with this, just look at me and say yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sorry I did it.  I‘m sorry it offended people. 

And I apologize to the people that this has offended.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS:  It was a mistake.  CBS News deeply regrets it. 

Also, I want to say personal and directly, I‘m sorry.

TERRELL OWENS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES:  Personally, I didn‘t think it would have offended anyone, and...

Oh, hell!

You know, if it did, you know, we apologize.

GOV. JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY:  I am sorry, so, sorry that mistakes...

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  To those the Iraqis who were mistreated by the members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER:  I apologize to anybody that‘s been brought into this unnecessarily.

ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER:  I feel so bad.  My (INAUDIBLE) the wrong song.  And I (INAUDIBLE) excuse, so I thought I‘d do a hoedown.  I‘m sorry!

JANET JACKSON, SINGER:  And unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.  I‘m really sorry.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression.  I misled people, including even my wife.

KOBE BRYANT, LA LAKERS:  I‘m so sorry.  I love my wife so much.

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior.  I don‘t feel superior to you at all.  I don‘t believe any man or any woman is superior to any other...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But did you always hold that view?

LOTT:  I think I did.

TONYA HARDING, FIGURE SKATER:  I feel really bad for Nancy, and I feel really lucky that it wasn‘t me.

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT” SHOW:  What the hell were you thinking?

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR:  I think you know in life pretty much what‘s a good thing to do and what‘s a bad thing.  And I did a bad thing, and there you have it.

STEVE IRWIN, “CROCODILE HUNTER”:  Sweetheart, who do you want to be when you grow up?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD:  Just like my daddy!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Steve?  Steve?

IRWIN:  Poor little thing!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let me—let me...

IRWIN:  You know what?  I am...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... jump in here.

IRWIN:  ... sorry, Matt!

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  ... that I have behaved badly sometimes.  And to those people that I have offended, I want to say that I‘m deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.

RICHARD M. NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  But if some of my judgments were wrong—and some were wrong—they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation.

REV. JIMMY SWAGGART:  Please forgive me!  I have sinned against you, my Lord!  And I would ask that your precious (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I know that‘s the ninth time we‘ve shown that, but I‘m not sorry.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it.  (INAUDIBLE) is—

“THE ABRAMS REPORT”—in English—“THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams is next here on MSNBC.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night, and good luck.  It had been such a good show until that point, too.

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.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,