updated 5/10/2005 12:10:41 PM ET 2005-05-10T16:10:41

Guest: John Harwood, David Wijewickrama, Frank Lowe, Drew Pinsky

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

The president asks for the yeas and nays on his judicial nominees.  The Senate Republican leader prepares for the nuclear option.  The Senate Democratic leader promises a filibuster-free vote on a controversy-free nominee.

More controversy in Waynesboro, North Carolina.  Now the Baptist pastor there denies anybody was expelled for how they voted.  That‘s a surprise to nine church members, some of whom now say they are staying.  It‘s the pastor who will have to go.  Sounds like a hidden advertising opportunity.  What an ad on the side of the pastor.

We will meet the people behind the guerrilla ad campaigns, those folks who buy up all the weird stuff on eBay for the publicity.

And she went away, but her story did not.  Jennifer Wilbanks turns out to be a recovered shoplifter, while the fiance claims to be a born-again virgin.  When did they change that rule?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Exactly how long we have been dancing along the tightrope, insisting that politics and religion are separate, except sometimes when we don‘t want them to be unless somebody makes a stink about it or somebody makes a stink about somebody making a stink?

Exactly how long that‘s been going on in this country is not certain.  But William Jennings Bryan made his famous speech to the Democratic convention, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns.  You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” exactly 108 years and 10 months ago today.

And later, he insisted it had no religious overtones.

Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, the latest on those Baptists who say they were thrown out of their North Carolina church because they did not vote the way their pastor told them to.

And a new salvo on the judicial nominations front, the one characterized in a broadcast in which senator majority leader Frist appeared, as a filibuster against people of faith.  The president has distanced himself from that religious aspect.

But while he was technically midair somewhere between Russia and the nation of Georgia, the president today jumped into the filibuster fray anew.  In a written statement, he noted that four years ago today, he had nominated Justice Priscilla Owen and Judge Terry Boyle to posts on federal appeals courts and urged the Senate to finally vote on them.

“Over the course of the past four years,” the president wrote, “the blocking of judicial nominees in the Senate has escalated to an unprecedented level.  Last Congress, 10 of my appeals courts nominees were filibustered.  Each of these highly qualified nominees enjoyed the bipartisan support of a majority of senators.  Each would have been confirmed if given a simple up-or-down vote.  Each deserved a simple up-or-down vote by the entire Senate.”

Senate minority leader Harry Reid immediately responded that as a gesture of goodwill, the Democrats would not filibuster Thomas Griffith, the president‘s nominee for the D.C. Circuit bench.  Of course, Griffith was not a very controversial candidate.

Unlike William Pryor.  The former Alabama attorney general has been sitting temporarily on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal.  Approval of his nomination, previously filibustered by Senate Democrats, will apparently be voted on by the entire Judiciary Committee Thursday.  That, according to Senate Republicans, brings Senator Frist‘s so-called nuclear option back onto to the table, the bid to end Senate filibusters against judicial nominees.

Those same unnamed Republicans telling NBC News that they expect the nuclear option to be attempted within three weeks.

Battle stations.  It‘s DEFCon 5.

With that not enough fireworks to make the week in Washington worth watching, there‘s also the vote scheduled Thursday in the House Foreign Relations Committee on U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton.  It‘s been held up for weeks, first by Democrats, who questioned Bolton‘s fitness for the post, and his past conduct towards co-workers and employees, and then by four Republicans, who got cold feet over those same issues.

It‘s looking like a party-line vote.  But contained within, there‘s another nuclear option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FACE THE NATION,” CBS)

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR ®, CHAIR, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: 

Republicans, I suspect, will vote in favor John Bolton.  Democrats, I suspect, will vote unanimously against him.  I think the vote may be 10 to eight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s if there‘s a vote Thursday.  Senator—senior committee Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware says he still wants State Department data on Bolton‘s past comments about weapons of mass destruction in Cuba and the Sudan, and whether or not those comments were exaggerations of intelligence, Biden suggesting if he doesn‘t get it, he‘ll use procedural tools to delay the vote yet again.  He‘s the boss, needs the info.

Thus for my next guest, it‘s kind of like Christmas in May in Washington.  John Harwood is the political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”

Good evening, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hey, Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN:  Not bad.  How‘s Mr. Bolton, first?  Have the Republicans lined up their votes behind him?  Is a stall the best Joe Biden can do at this point?

HARWOOD:  Keith, I don‘t think Richard Lugar would have said over the weekend, it‘s going to be a 10-eight vote, unless he knew he had those votes in his pocket.  And when I talked to aides, Senate aides on both sides today, everybody seemed to concede that it is highly likely that‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.

And Democrats seem to be backing away from this notion that they might try to deny Republicans a quorum by not showing up for the hearing.  That might not look very good.  They did succeed in winning a postponement a couple of weeks ago.  But what‘s happened is that during that two-week period, Bolton has got stronger, not weaker, as they anticipated, and it looks likely at this point that the president‘s going to get his nominee at the U.N.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly what happened in that three-week period?  I mean, have they turned up nothing to tip over the Hagels or the Voinoviches, and, in fact, gotten them to return to the fold, as it were?

HARWOOD:  Well, a couple of things.  One, we haven‘t had a lot of new information come out that is material to Bolton‘s prospects.  Second, if you talk to the Republicans, they say that both the White House and the—

Bolton himself have been very responsive.  Bolton‘s met with 23 senators.  They‘ve answered over 150 questions posed by members of the committee.  Lot of consultation.

We had the president get involved at his news conference and, in effect, link the attacks on Bolton to attacks on him, saying he‘s blunt, so am I.

Democrats, on the other hand, say that basically what happened was that the White House raised the stakes on this nomination and told Republicans that if John Bolton goes down, you‘re going to be blamed for the beginning of the sort of lame-duck period of the Bush presidency, and put a lot of pressure on those guys.

And so when we saw George Voinovich a couple weeks ago saying, My conscience got the better of me, I‘m looking for a postponement, Democrats say that they‘ve managed to put that back in his pocket, so to speak, and get these guys too concerned to do something against the White House on this.

OLBERMANN:  To the judgeships, now, John.  Am I missing something in the president‘s statement today?  Is there some sort of set of instructions to Senate Republicans as to how he wants them to act in there, or was this just anniversary of the “I‘m disappointed” message?

HARWOOD:  Well, it‘s an anniversary, Keith, but it‘s also prepositioning for the PR war.  Harry Reid played his card today by offering a—to move through that one judge, judicial nominee that you mentioned.  But look, it‘s not clear that the White House—they may have the votes on Bolton.  It‘s not clear that they have the votes on nuclear option.

Usually in Washington, when you have the votes, you call the vote.  And it is—the Republican leadership‘s put out the word, that‘s not going to happen this week.  They‘re going to focus on the highway bill and some other things before the Senate.

So I think the outcome on this is still unclear.  There‘s some talk of negotiations between the two parties to try to sort of back away from this.  But Bill Frist, the majority leader, has got himself in a position where he‘s probably got to go for this.  But he may not have 50 votes to make this happen.

OLBERMANN:  Is he in that position because of the religious element?  I mean, is he backed into a corner?  Does he have to try to end the judicial filibusters through the so-called nuclear option?  And if he fails, what kind of backlash is he going to get from those people who are watching that filibuster-against-people-of-faith broadcast?

HARWOOD:  Well, a couple of things are going on.  One is, as the Republican leader in the Senate, he‘s trying to support his president, and the president has been frustrated on these nominees.  And he‘s got a more important fight coming this summer, expected, for a Supreme Court nomination.  We don‘t have one yet.  But many people in Washington think we‘re going to get one this summer.  Chief Justice Rehnquist obviously has serious health problems.

The other thing is that Bill Frist wants to run for president in 2008.  He‘s looking for a way to distinguish himself.  And one of the ways you can do that in the Republican Party is by making common cause with the religious right.  For social conservatives, religious conservatives, this is a very big deal.  And so once you‘ve raised this possibility, it‘s difficult not to pull the trigger on it.

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood, political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time and your insight.

HARWOOD:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  It was all thanks and “I‘m glad you‘re here” from the pulpit of the East Waynesville Baptist Church in North Carolina yesterday, far different than the story we told you about on Friday.

Nine members of that church, including one of the deacons, say they were voted out by the pastor because they didn‘t vote the way he told them to in last fall‘s presidential election.

Our guest last Friday, member David Richardson, summed it up when he said, “They don‘t have the legal right to tell us who to vote for.  God wouldn‘t appreciate it either.”

Since COUNTDOWN‘s report, the story has gotten a lot of additional nationwide attention.  And the man at the center of the controversy, Pastor Chan Chandler, tried to strike a conciliatory tone yesterday, inviting all members of the congregation, including those who were apparently expelled and those who left in protest, another 40 or so, to attend a business meeting tomorrow, claiming this should all be cleared up by the end of the week.

But Chandler did not offer any apologies, and in a written statement, he again denied that anyone had been expelled from the church for partisan reasons, saying, quote, “No one has ever been voted from the membership of this church due to an individual‘s support or lack of support for a political party or candidate.”

Joining me now, two people who would probably take issue with that.  Frank Lowe has been a member of that church for 43 years, till last week, when he and the eight others were voted out, and the attorney for Mr. Lowe and the other ousted members, David Wijewickrama.

Gentlemen, thanks for your time tonight.

DAVID WIJEWICKRAMA, ATTORNEY FOR OUSTED CHURCH MEMBERS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Lowe, let me start with you.  Did that last statement from Pastor Chandler come as a surprise to you, that nobody was voted out of the church for the political beliefs?

FRANK LOWE, FORMER MEMBER, EAST WAYNESVILLE, GEORGIA, BAPTIST CHURCH: 

It did, sir.

OLBERMANN:  What, to your knowledge, what, to your knowledge, happened on Sunday and in previous days?

LOWE:  What happened was that he just come out in the open and politely said this was going to be a politically active church, and if we did not like it, to get out.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Lowe, I spoke to Mr. Richardson last week, as I mentioned.  And he says he‘s a Republican who voted for George Bush, and he thought the pastor was all wrong on politicizing the church.  I gathered that you voted for John Kerry.  But if Pastor Chandler had said to the congregation, You all need to vote for John Kerry or you have to leave, would you have thought that was wrong too?

LOWE:  I would, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Wijewickrama, where does this all stand right now with Pastor Chandler?  Are your clients all going to be back in the church, and he‘s going to be out?  Or how do you expect this to be resolved?

WIJEWICKRAMA:  We‘re cautiously optimistic that hopefully, within the next week or so, we‘ll be able to open up a dialogue and explore all available options.  There is a church meeting tomorrow night, in which all members have been invited to attend.  And hopefully, after tomorrow, we‘ll have a more clear vision of which way we need to proceed after that.

OLBERMANN:  Mr.  Lowe, do you have a vision in your mind of how you‘d like this all to be resolved?  Is it best for you if everybody stays put?  Or does the pastor have to go?  Or do you—does it not make much difference to you?

LOWE:  Yes, it makes a difference to me.  I‘m concerned for the church and its people.  I would prefer we could all come together and ask God to forgive us and repent, all of us together, and go on with serving God.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Lowe, how did this—when did this all start?  I mean, we‘ve heard the stories about the sermons last October regarding the election.  But was it00 was this just something that came upon Pastor Chandler suddenly?  Or have you been all of you dealing with political elements there in the church for quite some time?

LOWE:  Well, I had the feeling that he was not happy with my views of what he was trying to teach.  It really didn‘t surprise me.  But it just gradually got worse and worse and worse until Sunday, when it erupted.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you one final question, Mr. Lowe.  I‘d like your opinion.  It seems like there‘s a lot more mixing of churches and politics in this country, and not just in Waynesville, but around the country.  Do you --  The way I was raised, it was—you know, you can have church and you can have beliefs and you can have politics and you can have beliefs.  But the one thing you don‘t do is mix them.

Do you think it‘s a good idea or a bad idea to mix these things?

LOWE:  I think it‘s a terrible idea to mix them.

OLBERMANN:  I guess you‘re seeing the results of it right there in Waynesville.  Frank Lowe, one of the nine members of the East Waynesville Baptist Church who say they have been voted out, and the attorney for that group, David Wijewickrama.  We thank you both for your time tonight.

WIJEWICKRAMA:  Thank you, sir.

LOWE:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the insurgency has been growing in Iraq. 

Now apparently it is the U.S. response that is going to increase.

And a Mother‘s Day nightmare in the Chicago area.  Two young friends, 8- and 9-year-old girls, who did not return home after playing.  Now a small town on edge.  Police are trying to find at least one murderer, it appears.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It has been a long time since what were, in retrospect, almost comforting accusations that the U.S. media was not reporting the good news from Iraq.

There hasn‘t been much lately.  The successful elections begat only political stalemate, with the occasional comic relief, like today‘s news that the prime minister‘s nominee for human rights minister found out about his candidacy in a TV news report.

Now, the car bombs continue unabated, at least three more today, with at least two Iraqi policemen and at least four civilians reported dead.

But as our correspondent Richard Engel reports, American forces have begun a new push to abate the unabated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The U.S. military expected to fight and came prepared, launching a major offensive against foreign insurgents and the al Qaeda network.  Marine Corps F-18s from the “Carl Vincent” in the Persian Gulf strafed 20-millimeter cannon fire, while Air Force F-15s dropped two 500-pound bombs.

The fighting is concentrated near the border with Syria in a seven-mile stretch along the Euphrates River between Qaim and Obeidi.  Marines say more than 100 insurgents were killed, most in Obeidi, where they were dug in.

James Janeja, a reporter with the “Chicago Tribune,” is embedded with the Marines.

JAMES JANEJA, REPORTER, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE” (by phone):  The Marines approached town and began taking machine-gun fire that you could hear knocking off of the armored personnel carrier, you know, as though somebody were hitting the outside of the vehicle with a hammer.  A couple of rockets flew by.  One flew overhead at one point.  And then the Marines got close enough where they were able to identify targets, and we began hearing return fire.

ENGEL:  At least two Marines have been killed in what is shaping up to be the most aggressive assault since their attack on Fallujah in November.  The target this time?  Several bases insurgents use to train and equip new recruits who have come across the Syrian border to fight alongside the followers of al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But Colonel Chase, a Marine war planner, says the desert was not a good choice for the insurgents.

COL. ROBERT CHASE, 2ND MARINE DIVISION (on phone):  There was nowhere for them to run or hide.  They couldn‘t run into the city.  They couldn‘t mask themselves behind women and children, which is their recent technique.

ENGEL:  One reason for the offensive, car bombings here have nearly doubled, from 69 in March to 135 in April, the highest monthly total since the war began.  And for the first time, the U.S. military reports that half of them were suicide attacks by foreign fighters.

(on camera):  Tonight, U.S. military commanders say this offensive is ongoing, and that a battalion of Iraqi troops will soon be joining the battle.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  A break now from the real conflicts around the world.

You wonder why Switzerland stays out of wars?  It‘s because these are the top fighters in Switzerland.

And what do the new pope‘s car, Britney Spears‘ pregnancy test, and new species of monkey have in common?  They‘re all part of one ingenious publicity machine.

There‘s the monkey.  That‘s not Britney Spears‘ pregnancy test.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s more important news for our traditional segment of strange stories, weird animals, cool video, stuff.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And I‘d like to be a cow in Switzerland.  We begin high in the Swiss Alps, in the town of Apros (ph), for the annual event known as the Queen Fights.  They‘re actually cow fights, case you got confused, a tradition in Switzerland going back 83 years.

Look at them go.  Each spring, hundreds turn out to watch the cows settle the hierarchy of the herd through battle, each with a big, noisy bell around her neck just to make the experience that much more annoying.

The grand winner of this year‘s fights, a cow named Pepsi.  That‘s right, no Coke, Pepsi.  We assume she‘s still dispenses only milk.

To Spokane, Washington, we‘re at the Humane Society shelter, where the cats and squirrels are living together.  Awwww!  Or you can say it‘s just another measure of the depravity of the administration of Mayor James West.  More on him in a bit.

But seriously, they keep squirrels at animal shelters.  Now, what‘s next?  Pigeons?  The cat actually adopted the injured squirrel some time ago, and they‘ve been sharing a space with the cat‘s natural kitty offspring ever since.

Later, of course, when that kitten is old enough, he‘ll take care of that little homewrecking squirrel once and for all.  Yes, he‘s going to get what‘s coming to him, all right.

North of the border now for a glimpse of Canadian organized labor in action.  Those folks in the circle there were employees of the Wal-Mart in Jenquiere (ph), Quebec, near Chacutemie (ph), until they all lost their jobs a few weeks ago.  They wanted to unionize.  Wal-Mart responded by closing the store there.

Now, after weeks of planning, untold meetings, and votes, the employees assembled for this spectacular waste of fuel for the helicopter shooting the videotape.  No word on how many of these people have landed jobs yet in their new profession, group mime.

Also tonight, back to Spokane.  As a politician, he opposed gay rights and fought against teenaged sex.  But tonight, the mayor admits, he‘s had sex with men, and a local newspaper says it trapped him into soliciting what he thought was a teenage boy on the Internet.

Could be a problem for him politically later.

And then, the comic relief that will not go away.  Why did Jennifer Wilbanks pick that particular attorney?  Because she knew her when the attorney prosecuted Wilbanks for shoplifting.

Oh, there‘s more to that story.

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, the Sea Harvest Restaurant in New Smyrna Beach in Florida, one of several local restaurants found by undercover TV investigative team reporters to be selling fish, like the white snapper and the silver snapper.

So?  There is no such fish as a white snapper or a silver snapper. 

The species do not exist.  And do not fall for their mermaid soup, either.

Number two, Risden Prison in Sydney, Australia, not to say that the convicts there have lower expectations than ours.  But guards have quelled a 42-hour hostage standoff by buying the prisoners 15 pizzas—five of them with white snapper, please.

And number one, Yasumuki Yanagi, a researcher at an institute in Kyoto, Japan, he has developed a smell cannon.  A smell cannon.  It will shoot an odor directly at one person.  That person will be immersed in the smell, but the person next to him will never notice.

I hate to disappoint Mr. Yanagi, but in 1968, my childhood next-door neighbors Jim, Jack, and Paul, they each had their own smell cannons, which they kept hidden on their persons at all times, if you know what I mean.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is eight decades later, and yet a missing child, just as spring finally comes to Chicago, can send chills there that nothing off the lake can match.  It was 81 years ago this month that Bobby Franks disappeared.  Days later, his body would turn up in a culvert.  He was the murder victim of the infamous Leopold and Loeb.  And tonight, 50 miles to the north, there is again a nightmare just as spring finally comes to Chicago, two little girls, 8 and 9 years old respectively, first missing, now discovered stabbed to death in the town of Zion, Illinois, up near the Wisconsin border.

For the latest, we‘re join by Amy Jacobson of our NBC station in Chicago, WMAQ.  Amy, good evening.

AMY JACOBSON, WMAQ-TV:  Good evening, Keith.  The 2nd-graders were best friends last seen riding their bikes through the neighborhood, and when they didn‘t come home for Mother‘s Day dinner, their parents called the police.  Now, this morning, around 6:00 AM, a man found the bodies of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias.  According to police, they were both stabbed several time in the throat.  They were fully clothed, their bodies next to one another, and they were face up.  Now, they were not sexually assaulted.  And their bodies were found—I should say, the bicycles were found about 50 yards away from them.  All of this, of course, taking place in a heavily wooded area near their homes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF DOUG MALCOLM, ZION POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Right now, there‘s no solid leads that we‘re focusing in on.  No stone will be unturned.  This is a heinous crime.  It‘s a crime against not only those kids but against all of us.  And we‘re doing everything.

EMILY HOLLABAUGH, VICTIM‘S GRANDMOTHER:  She was just a sweet little girl.  She would do anything for anybody.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACOBSON:  Now, that was Laura Hobbs‘s grandmother.  The Hobbses recently moved here from Texas.  Now, with most murder cases, family members are being interviewed.  They have not recovered the weapon, which was a knife that was used.  And by all accounts, Keith, these two girls were very well loved in this community, their teacher describing them as vivacious and very creative.  Tonight, police are still looking for a suspect, and a community is on edge.

OLBERMANN:  Amy, any community would be on edge.  Any community would be shocked, as we suggested.  In Chicagoland area, this strikes nerve upon nerve upon nerve.  What‘s the—is there a community reaction?  Is there a sense of fear or apprehension or a sense that this might go further?  What‘s going on there?

JACOBSON:  Well, Keith, those girls both attended Beulah Elementary School, and today, they were on lockdown.  The principal was actually—she was awoken in the middle of the night by police, letting her know that her two students were missing.  Of course, when they found the bodies this morning, the school was on lockdown.  Some parents even came to pick up their kids from school.

And just a few minutes ago, members from this Baptist church here in Zion have been handing out this community warning.  They want people to know what happened, and they‘re also asking the public to come forward.  If they saw the little girls any time at all over the weekend, they‘re asking them to call the Zion, Illinois, police department.

OLBERMANN:  Amy Jacobson of WMAQ in Chicago with the latest on an ugly story.  Our great thanks.

Meantime, in the Northwest, ugliness of a far different kind.  The truth is sometimes midwifed by a lie, but those are always ugly and dangerous births.  Should a politician be exposed as a hypocrite, an abuser of power and a possible pedophile?  Obviously.  Should he be exposed because a newspaper created the on-line profile of an imaginary 17-year-old boy?  That answer is a little more complicated.

Mark Mullen reports now on the leave of absence taken by the mayor of Spokane, while some in journalism wonder if the newspaper took leave of its ethics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When Mayor James West was elected 16 months ago, Spokane residents knew they were getting a former paratrooper, cop and politically conservative Republican.

TODD MIELIKE, MAYOR JAMES WEST‘S FRIEND:  He believed in equal rights for everyone, and there‘s a lot of people who believe that.

MULLEN:  But as mayor, and before that as state senator, West fought gay marriage legislation, domestic partner benefits, even gays working in schools.  However, rumors alleging West had molested two boys decades ago, along with speculation he cruised gay Web sites, prompted a newspaper to launch an investigation.  The “Spokesman Review” newspaper hired a forensic computer expert to pose as a high schooler.

STEVEN SMITH, “SPOKESMAN-REVIEW” EDITOR:  He created the profile of a 17-year-old high school student (INAUDIBLE) put it out there on Gay.com and waited for the mayor to contact him, and that‘s what happened.

MULLEN (on camera):  The “Spokesman Review” newspaper also published the e-mails it says the mayor wrote to the fictitious 17-year-old.

(voice-over):  The paper says in one exchange, the mayor wrote, “What did you think when you shower at school?”  In another, the paper said the mayor tried to protect his secret life, saying, “Someday I may run for governor, and this would be bad, if you know what I mean.”  The paper also reports the mayor offered the fictitious 17-year-old the prospect of a city hall internship.  The paper‘s editor says that offer made this a public, not a private issue.

SMITH:  ... because the mayor was using the benefits and perks of his office to attract young men...

MULLEN:  After the mayor went public, the mayor held a press conference, vehemently denying the molestation allegations, but admitting this:

MAYOR JAMES WEST ®, SPOKANE:  The newspaper also reported that I visited a gay Internet chat line and had relations with adult men.  I don‘t deny that.

MULLEN:  No charges have been filed, though there are calls for West‘s resignation.

WEST:  I‘m a law-abiding citizen, and I believe my public record of service stands on its own merit.

MULLEN:  West says he won‘t resign, though did he announce he will take a few weeks off.  Mark Mullen, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, turning the on-line auction into priceless publicity.  You know their name already.  If it is a face on toast, they will buy it.  Their next possibility?  Yes, we are auctioning the puppets from one of our favorite editions of “Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre.”  Woo-hoo!  The details ahead.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I.J. HUDSON, WRC-TV:  It‘s karaoke, but there‘s no box, no need for CDs.  It‘ll all built into the microphone.  (SINGING) Yesterday my life was filled with pain...

You almost forget yourself and wander off toward that next career.

“HARRY CARAY” FERRELL:  Well, I got to be honest with you.  The guys are not playing up to snuff!  We don‘t hit for Jack squat!

(SINGING) Take me out to the crowd, buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks...

MIKE DITKA:  (SINGING) Take me out to the crowd, buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks...

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s not cold at

all.    This is nice, don‘t you think?

                Swimming is very good for you.  You look fit!  You still got the great

indoor swimming pool.

He‘s giving me a driving lesson!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nearly 50 years ago, the immortal humorists, Bob and Ray, once aired a mock interview of an advertising man whose job it was, they said, to find unusual new locations for billboards.  With the public ignoring conventional advertising, his bright idea was to buy up the soles of business executive‘s shoes for when they put their feet up on their desk.  The percentage of Bob and Ray‘s satire that has now become fact is up to at least 25 percent.  Four words.  Goldenpalace.com.  Joining me to explain them, three words, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.  If those four words somehow don‘t yet ring a bell, they will soon.  The Golden Palace is an on-line casino that‘s on a shopping spree, spending thousands of dollars on unusual items, hoping you‘ll pay attention and then place your bets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Who‘s this?

MELISSA HEUSCHKEL, NEW MOTHER:  Goldenpalace.com.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Which can only mean one thing.  Mom hit the jackpot, cashing in on a bizarre ad campaign, Goldenpalace.com, an on-line casino based in the Caribbean, buying outrageous Internet auction items, from the pope‘s mobile to a Virgin Mary grilled cheese, and betting on their attention-getting marketing strategy.  So when Melissa Heuschkel put the naming rights for her fourth child up for auction on eBay, Golden Palace bid big.

(on camera):  How much did you expect to get?

HEUSCHKEL:  Twenty dollars.

NOVOTNY:  Twenty dollars.

HEUSCHKEL:  Two packs of diapers, maybe.

NOVOTNY:  And how much did you get?

HEUSCHKEL:  I got $15,100.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  A small price to pay for media exposure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  An on-line casino...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  An on-line casino is creating some buzz...

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Their headline-making purchases are out there.  The cane they say belonged to a ghost, $65,000.  The alleged Britney Spears pregnancy test, $5,001.  The naming rights for a newly discovered monkey species, $650,000.  And plenty of advertising spaces in unusual places.  Over the past year, they say they‘ve spent more than $1 million on odd purchases, and it‘s worth millions more in free publicity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re running somewhere between 20 and 30-to-1 on our spending.

NOVOTNY:  Steven Baker (ph) heads the casino‘s marketing group.  Their plan started out off-line, written on the backs of boxers and streakers at European sporting events.  But soon they found something closer to home on line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s very difficult in today‘s world to be able to differentiate yourself, and some of the wild and wacky things that were happening on eBay were exactly that kind of things that we would like to do.

NOVOTNY:  The casino doesn‘t have traditional advertising options because of laws restricting gambling at off-shore sites.

JON FINE, “ADVERTISING AGE”:  They‘ve made the limitations on their marketing a virtue.  There‘s no question a lot of this is tacky and tasteless and inappropriate, but I‘m not sure that those are necessarily negative brand connotations for a casino.  Does this work forever?  Probably not.  But is it working right now?  Well, yes.  We‘re talking about it.

NOVOTNY:  And while your baby‘s name may not be up for sale, Melissa says she gambled and beat the house.

HEUSCHKEL:  The name Golden is definitely unique.  I looked up the meaning in the dictionary, and it says “radiant and precious.”  And if that doesn‘t describe a baby, I don‘t know what does.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Much of the money spent in these auctions does go to charity, as was the case when they purchased the naming rights for that new monkey species.  Now, if you‘re wondering what they think of all the people that are pandering to them with outrageous items now up for bid on line, they‘re thrilled about it.  They say they‘d be happy if eBay started a Golden Palace category.

OLBERMANN:  She looked up the meaning of golden, did she?

NOVOTNY:  She did.  Radiant.

OLBERMANN:  And you kept—and you kept on right through the interview, even at that point?  You didn‘t just pitch forward laughing when she said that?  She didn‘t know what it meant?

NOVOTNY:  We should also point out she‘s not keeping the .com.  It‘s on the birth certificate, but the kids won‘t have to call her “.com” because she didn‘t want her to be teased for it.

OLBERMANN:  I bet she knew what “.com” meant.  And are they going to do this forever?

NOVOTNY:  Golden Palace says this is their neverending story.  They love it.  They‘re willing to spend even more money on it.  And they say as long as people keep coming up with weird stuff, they‘ll be out there buying it.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  And we have something to test them with, don‘t we.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, as always, many thanks.

So you‘re probably thinking, How can I sell something to these morons?  Well, to hell with you, we want to cash in.  So how would you like to own a piece of this broadcasting history?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

“MICHAEL JACKSON”:  Oh, Mr. Mesmo, my back really hurts.  Ow!  Ow, ow!

“THOMAS MESEREAU”:  Michael, you do understand that if you‘re not here by 9:35, the judge will put you in jail and he will forfeit your bond of $3 million?

“MICHAEL JACKSON”:  It‘s a miracle.  I‘ll be right over, Mr. Mesmo. 

Tito, get me some jammies.  Woo-hoo-hoo!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Exclusively yours for the bidding, six—count them, six

·         Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre stick puppets, the originals.  No substitutes accepted here, please.  There‘s Michael, the defendant, Mesereau, the lawyer—with the long hair—Sneddon, the cold man, Melville, the judge—yes, you don‘t recognize him—Bubbles, the monkey, and of course, the accessory, the comfy jammies.  Each signed personally by me, and ripe for the picking, starting at the top of the hour on eBay.  So you have plenty of time to mortgage your house before these babies hit the Internets.  And you don‘t even have to name your children after them.

They‘re unique.  They are in beautiful colors for spring, Monica.  And one size, best of all, fits all!  Isn‘t the craftsmanship just to die for?

NOVOTNY:  Lovely.

OLBERMANN:  The results will be revealed live, live, live on Friday‘s COUNTDOWN.  All proceeds will go to charity.  After I get my cut.

Go to our Web page at countdown.msnbc.com for a link on how to bid for these.  Get moving, folks.  That clock is there for a reason.

Now, when we used to have an FCC, this would have been called a program-length commercial—smoothest segue ever.  It‘s our nightly round-up of celebrity news and non-news, “Keeping Tabs,” and we begin with day 539 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

No Macaulay Culkin in court today, but the place was stinking with employees, the former head of housekeeping at Neverland ranch testifying that the mother of the accuser once asked her for a job, saying she would live in her car, if necessary.  And one hit for the prosecution.  On cross, the current Neverland head of security, Violet Silva, acknowledging that she would not bring her children to the place because, quote, “some of the activity was beyond my comfort level.”

It is the British equivalent of West Point.  Prince Harry has just started there, and the betting is 3-to-1 that he will quit.  The third in line to the British crown reported for the start of his tenure at Sandhurst, the UK‘s elite military academy.  He‘ll be Officer Cadet Wales, and he‘ll be out of bed at dawn each day.  And in case you think his life is still always easier than yours is, Britain‘s legal bookmakers are actually taking bets already on how he‘ll do at Sandhurst: 25-to-1 that he‘ll be named the best cadet in the class, 4-to-5 that he‘ll simple complete the course, and 3-to-1 that like his uncle, Prince Edward, did during his marine training, that he‘ll bail out, wash out, flunk book, blow town, or as the British themselves might say, scoffa.

Then again, he can always go back and call himself a born-again cadet. 

I mean, why not?  You can call yourself a born-again virgin, apparently.  No less an authority than Dr. Drew Pinsky will be here to explain when they changed that rule, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Jennifer Wilbanks, still.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, when she ran away, maybe we should have just let her.  That story that she‘s done this before has come up again, “The New York post” quoting an unnamed woman who says she wound up marrying a guy Wilbanks dumped eight years ago, while they were engaged, by phone.  This is the same rumor phoned into a Georgia tipline last week, inadvertently run by the Associated Press, then retracted, which authorities said they could not confirm.

On the other hand, there is her record: shoplifting.  Puts those airport pictures of her wearing that rug in a whole new context, doesn‘t it?  Three times, it proves, she was arrested in Hall County for shoplifting between 1996 and 1998.  The largest of her takes, 1,740 bucks worth of merchandise from a mall in her native Gainesville, Georgia.  The prosecutor?  The woman now serving as Ms. Wilbanks‘s attorney.  Oops.

But of course, she isn‘t the only one about whom there are still lingering questions.  As we mentioned Friday, there‘s the apparently still a fiance John Mason.  Here, we were advised, was once a rowdy, hard-living, dating kind of guy, but while rededicating himself to his faith, he declared himself a born-again virgin.

As I asked on Friday night, when did they change that rule?

Well, let‘s ask an authority.  Dr. Drew Pinsky, who a month from now will return to television with a new series for Discovery Health channel called “strictly Sex.”  Dr. Drew, thanks for your time tonight.

DR. DREW PINSKY, “STRICTLY SEX”:  My pleasure, Keith.  Hurry up.  I got to go bid on the Michael Jackson puppets.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Before that, maybe I have just not been paying attention, but when did they change that rule?  What in the world is a born-again virgin?

PINSKY:  You know, unfortunately, that rule has been changed quite some time ago by young people.  They‘ve made virginity some sort of technicality.  Back in the days when we were deciding what was sex and what wasn‘t sex, young people were also sort of deciding about what was virginity and what wasn‘t.  And they were engaging in all kinds of crazy and intimate acts—oh, there we go.  I got four minutes left...

(LAUGHTER)

PINSKY:  ... crazy and intimate acts and declaring themselves still virgin.  The whole idea of chastity has been completely lost on people.  It‘s become just some sort of technicality.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s more than that, though, in some respects—virginity, re-virginity—it‘s not just a state of mind or a technicality for at least the one gender.  There‘s a physical element to this.  Don‘t you have to get around that problem?

PINSKY:  Well, believe it or not, there are gynecologists out there doing hymenoplasty.

OLBERMANN:  Oh!

PINSKY:  They‘re reconstructing the anatomy, yes.  And for cultural and religious reasons, they say this is a very important thing for some women.  But for others, it‘s, again, just that technicality.

The unhealthy thing for me, from an emotional standpoint, is that somehow, by just declaring yourself a virgin, you are expunging yourself and putting aside things that you‘re guilty about or ashamed of, and opposed to understanding those behaviors, making them a sort of—a part of the cohesive narrative of your life, maybe not deciding not to behave like that again for specific reasons and understanding those reasons, but to sort of put it aside and say it didn‘t happen.  That‘s a big mistake.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s like alcoholics who rehabilitate themselves say, I‘m still an alcoholic, even though I haven‘t had a drink.  I mean, you carry that onus with you as a reminder not to—not to do it again.  But now, let‘s put...

PINSKY:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Put this back into the context of this story that we‘re actually talking about, about Ms. Wilbanks and Mr. Mason here.  Evaluate it for me as a function of relationships.  I mean, if somebody explains themselves to you as, I‘m a virgin take 2, should you not look at this somewhat askance?  Is it not like that used car dealer who says, This is not used, it‘s pre-owned?

PINSKY:  Right.  You‘re sort of buying into their nonsense.  You‘re saying, Oh, oh, I get it.  None of that really happened.  And who knows what else next is going to be dismissed under those same ideas, which is going to be which—consider maybe somebody becomes aggressive or violent.  Well, I‘m never going to do that again.  That was my past.

And we, of course, know in domestic violence situations, you can‘t just decide that‘s not going to happen, you have to engage in some sort of process that takes a more definitive action on these things that end up resulting in these behaviors, rather than completely dismissing them as something that‘s just never going to happen again.  It‘s not realistic.

And people—yes, if you‘re getting involved with somebody who declared themselves a virgin, yes, I‘d think about that.  It‘s, like, What‘s that all about?

OLBERMANN:  So do you have, in fact, a take on this whole Wilbanks/Mason thing?  Have you looked into this and the dynamics of, you know, preserving themselves for marriage, except he‘s a born-again virgin and she is a born-again shoplifter or something?  Do you have any—any understanding, more than the rest of us do, on this one?

PINSKY:  There is a lot more to be told.  I hate to speculate when I don‘t know people, but I keep adding the score up and I keep getting—she had a—what appears to be a psychotic episode.  I know in my professional life, when I‘m dealing with female shoplifters, I‘m almost always dealing with addiction.  And so it keeps—it keeps adding up to that.  And I don‘t mean to sort of pass judgment on this, but I keep wondering, Why aren‘t they coming forward?  What is going on with her?  If she were bipolar, they‘d say, Well, she‘s bipolar.  We‘re going to put her on meds, and everything‘ll be fine.  But we‘re not hearing that.  So something more is going on here.

OLBERMANN:  Last thing, back to the re-virginity.  Do I have to file paperwork on this, or do I have to get a note signed by a clergyman, or do I just have to put my hand on a rock and say, I am a born-again virgin?

PINSKY:  Keith, I know you‘re very interested in this kind of thing, and we can arrange it for you.  But as far I know, there‘s no formal paperwork available yet, so—none that I‘m aware of, anyway.  But I can arrange something for you, I‘m sure.

OLBERMANN:  I—well, I‘ll—I‘m thinking about it.  I‘m not sure if I want to go that—don‘t want to make the commitment yet.  Maybe I‘ll—maybe I‘ll preserve my born-again virginity until—until before my wedding, or something like that.  Sounds like a good idea.

Dr. Drew Pinsky.  The new series is “Strictly Sex,” and it will premiere on Discovery Health on June 8.  And among your many admirers on television, I‘m glad to see you‘re going to go back and risk it all once again.

PINSKY:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.  All the best.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Oh!  Got to get to that bidding now, huh?  Suckers!  Good night, and—no, no.  It‘s for charity.  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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