Guest: Barry Mccaffrey, Jim Miklaszewski, Jerry Della Femina, Enrique Garcia
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
She thought it was a gold finger. Instead, it pointed first to her, and today we learned, to her own husband. The so-called Wendy‘s fingertip, he got it as a gift.
The Pentagon to close 33 major military bases. Pain and anger in the regions affected. But there may be gifts here too, a net gain of thousands of military jobs, for instance, in Texas, in New York.
The Freedom Tower plan, sidelined for security concerns. The best alternative? Rebuild them. But make one exactly 229 feet and four inches shorter than the other. We will explain why.
And no explanations needed nor possible, six color photos stuck to six Popsicle sticks. We auctioned them for charity, and we got $15,099.99 for them. Hey, bring in that load of a million new puppets, huh?
All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.
Boy, you know the world has changed when a husband gives his wife the finger and it‘s national news.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, police in San Jose, California, have identified the origin of the digit that they claim Ana Ayala placed in a bowl of chili and blamed on Wendy‘s Restaurants. It was lost by an unidentified man in an industrial accident last December in Nevada, and he gave it to Ayala‘s husband, a man named James Placentia (ph).
This afternoon, San Jose police, after their tradition of thanking everybody except Irving G. Thalberg, said that in trying her alleged scam in their town, Ms. Ayala was really hanging by her fingertips.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF ROB DAVIS, SAN JOSE POLICE DEPARTMENT: They chose the wrong city to come to to try and victimize others and to perpetrate this hoax. We‘re not going to allow it to happen in the city of San Jose.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Ayala, arrested nearly a month ago, is still in jail in California, unable to raise bail of half a million dollars, charged with attempted grand theft, namely, the theft of Wendy‘s good name and business. “CSI” finger-lickin‘ good already had the apparent accomplice in custody as well, it turns out. Ayala‘s husband, Mr. Placentia, was arrested last week near Las Vegas on charges of identity theft, failure to pay child support, child abandonment, and fraudulent use of official documents. Nothing to do with the finger flinger.
Joining me now from San Jose, the police department‘s public information officer, Enrique Garcia.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
ENRIQUE GARCIA, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SAN JOSE POLICE
DEPARTMENT: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The procedures first. Ms. Ayala obviously has been charged in this case, and intriguingly so. Is her husband going to wind up being charged?
GARCIA: Well, you know, that‘s a possibility. Our district attorney‘s office here in Santa Clara County will be reviewing our investigation once it‘s all complete. We actually have detectives right now in Nevada still doing follow-up. So once they prepare the reports and submit the new reports to the district attorney‘s office, they‘ll be able to review it and determine if, in fact, there is going to be additional charges, or new charges, for James himself.
OLBERMANN: As you say, if there‘s investigation continuing here in this bizarre case, it—what‘s left to find out? I mean, as you understand it, isn‘t it pretty much all out in the open now? Or could there be something significant more?
GARCIA: Well, it‘s still an open case, which means that anything‘s a possibility. And we certainly are not going to rule anything out. We don‘t know if there‘s other people that are involved in this scam, if you will. So we need to make sure that we cover all the angles, and that‘s what we intend to do is, we need to look at everybody that could have had any part of this case.
And we‘re certainly going to just cover all our bases.
OLBERMANN: How did you cover these bases so far? I mean, obviously, finding the origin of part of a human finger and tracing it back to last December and an industrial accident somewhere in Nevada is, I guess, the closest equivalent to trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. What was the process?
GARCIA: You know, it‘s—first of all, there‘s a lot of work and effort that was put in by our detectives here at San Jose Police Department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. They also assisted us, as well as other agencies, you know, Santa Clara County, health department and coroner‘s office.
And what happens is, ultimately, is people providing information to the police department, building a trust with the police department, and them being able to give us the information that allows to us proceed and conduct additional follow-up. So this is—you know, it‘s that simple.
The other thing also is that you got to take into account the reward money that Wendy‘s put out. You know, they put out $100,000. And as a result of that, that motivated people to come forward with information. We received a whole bunch of leads. And as a result, May 4, we developed this new lead, and we were able to follow up, and this is where we‘re at right now.
OLBERMANN: Somebody played name-that-finger. I got to ask this finally. The chief‘s first conference, April 21, there was a lot of good publicity or good vibes about Wendy‘s. Today‘s news conference, again, a lot of good vibes about Wendy‘s. Was that intentional? Are you trying to help them with the damage to their business, or did they ask you to do some helping, or what?
GARCIA: No, we are running our investigation, and we‘re—you know, there‘s—I‘m not aware of them telling us how to run our investigation. We wouldn‘t allow them to do that. So, you know, quite frankly, they deserve to get a lot of praise, because they were—they‘ve been cooperative with us from the beginning. All their employees have been instrumental in providing information. They‘ve been open with us. So good for them.
OLBERMANN: Enrique Garcia, public information officer with the police department of San Jose, California, great thanks for making this special effort to join us tonight, sir.
GARCIA: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So to the point of the fickle finger of public perception, damaged reputations, efforts to repair them. Few have had a better feel for this than the American advertising legend Jerry Della Femina, CEO, chairman, and creative director at Della Femina, Rothschild, Geary, and Partners.
And thank you for your time tonight, sir.
JERRY DELLA FEMINA, CEO, DELLA FEMINA, ROTHSCHILD, GEARY, AND
PARTNERS: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: You be the head of damage control here for Wendy‘s. You get two police news conferences. Everybody steps up, talks about how your company‘s been damaged and how innocent they‘ve been. And as you just heard the police information officer say, how they have been so cooperative, and also mentioning that they‘ve been victimized. Does that help at all?
DELLA FEMINA: It doesn‘t help. (INAUDIBLE) ridiculous situation. They just want it to go away, because people hear half of the story right now. So they hear finger, they found a finger, or they found the guy who gave the finger. I mean, you know, when they got that finger, I mean, they obviously thought it was, you know, it was the gift that keeps on giving. This was, you know, this was going to be a big scam.
Wendy‘s is a victim, and it‘s costing them millions of dollars. I laughed at the thought of a $100,000 reward. Hundred thousand dollar reward is nothing compared to how much they‘ve lost and how much they will lose. People are going to take a long time coming back. I know they have a special giveaway now, some sort of a frosted giveaway for this whole weekend. That‘s fine. But, you know, it‘s going to be, you know, unless somebody finds a cold finger in there, they‘re still going to have trouble.
OLBERMANN: Yes, something to keep your finger in in case something happens.
DELLA FEMINA: It‘s hard not to say—to come up with finger jokes.
OLBERMANN: Yes, exactly, now the associations are being made, they‘re automatic.
But one of the favorite theories around the office here, and you may have heard it expressed in the last question that I asked the information officer, was that generally speaking, police departments don‘t hold charity benefits for multibillion dollar corporations, that somebody at Wendy‘s might have said, You know, police in San Jose, you investigated this woman‘s fake charges and gave them authenticity. You kind of owe us. Would somebody at Wendy‘s think that way and make the mistake of thinking that publicity is a good thing at this point?
DELLA FEMINA: No. I think that it would be totally ridiculous to think that anybody from Wendy‘s thinks that anything good is going to come from this. This has been a disaster. I mean, forget about their chili sales. Every—you know, people still believe it. I mean, you know, you, you, the public hears half of a story, and the finger-in-the-chili story is not going to go away.
I mean, there have been, you know, rocks in the bubble story. They‘ve had stories about products in the past, and they weren‘t true.
But the fact is, this woman, she pulled a scam. I mean, the worst thing that happened to her was that the police—that it was exposed. Because she would have scammed them, and to keep the story from breaking. I mean, someone at Wendy‘s would have said, Please, let‘s, you know, let‘s pay her off. So the police department broke the story, and in the end, Wendy‘s got really hurt.
OLBERMANN: So you‘re Wendy‘s, the provenance of the finger has been established. You get criminal charges. They may be unprecedented criminal charges against the person who‘s said to have pulled off the hoax. What do you do now?
DELLA FEMINA: You prosecute. You make sure that she winds up in jail. She has to serve jail time so people don‘t do this again. And of course, you know, there‘s always a chance that, once she‘s in jail, she has her first meal in prison, and she‘s going to find another finger.
OLBERMANN: How about from a marketing point of view? Can you continue to serve chili?
DELLA FEMINA: I would probably take chili off the menu for a long time. I think that chili is out. I think that they should skip the chili part. Their business is hamburgers anyway. They‘re lucky that she didn‘t find anything in her hamburger.
OLBERMANN: Somebody asked me today why the Chicago Cubs baseball team has been historically more popular than the Chicago White Sox baseball team over the last, maybe, 80 years. And I thought for a little while, and I thought, You know when it started? It started when the Chicago White Sox baseball team, when eight members were thrown out for fixing, throwing intentionally, losing intentionally the 1919 World Series.
And even though all those players went away, and nothing like that happened again, those next 10 years, the White Sox stopped being as popular as the Cubs, and they‘ve never caught up. Can Wendy‘s avoid becoming the White Sox?
DELLA FEMINA: Well, they have a good product, and they have to just hope that people forget. I mean, let‘s face it, there are young people who like their hamburgers, and it really does, it is a good product. It‘s one of the better products.
It‘s going to hurt. It‘s going to be around for a long time. People don‘t forget. And, you know, it‘s the White Sox. It‘s anything that people remember. And they have it in the back of their heads. Have a choice, are we going to Wendy‘s, are we going to go to McDonald‘s? Let‘s to go McDonald‘s. They don‘t have fingers in their food.
OLBERMANN: Right. For now.
DELLA FEMINA: For now. Oh, they serve finger food.
OLBERMANN: Advertising expert Jerry Della Femina. As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.
DELLA FEMINA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: If the fingerprinting has not yet relieved the finger-pointing at Wendy‘s the episode has improved the marketability of at least one person involved in this case, the San Jose police chief, Rob Davis. His announcement of Ms. Ayala‘s arrest on April 21 was delayed because he gave the longest public thank-you since the last Academy Awards presentation. Commentary about that fact apparently chastened Chief Davis today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: I‘m not going to go into a long description of the many people that we owe thanks to...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, amen. Finally, a news conference where the police get right down to brass tacks, give us the information without praising everyone involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: ... other than to say thanks very much, once again, to Sheriff Bill Young in Las Vegas, for the assistance we‘ve received from them, as well as to give credit to the Santa Clara County crime lab, as well as the investigators involved in this case, which would be Lieutenant Stan Falwetter (ph), Sergeant Lou Famm (ph), and detectives Christopher Wilson, Noreen Marinelli (ph), Jose Martinez, Albert Morales, and Fred Mills.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Is that where Detective Fred Mills is working? I‘d lost track of where Fred was.
Fortunately, the preamble, before the finger news, was there finally over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: I‘m also going to ask you to bear with me for just a moment while I make a comment in Spanish. And then I‘ll fill you in on the details.
(speaks in Spanish)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Et bonjour, messieurs et mesdames, nous sommes ici cette apres-midi pour faire une annonce concernante le doit du Wendy‘s.
Guten Nachmittag, Damen und Herren. Finger Ansage (ph) und (INAUDIBLE) Wendy‘s...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVIS: This is a case where there are some true victims. And this is not a crime to be smiling about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Yes. Try saying that without smiling, and I might buy it.
Turning to another nonlaughing matter, another fast-food finger. This one, no hoax, all too real, was found in a pint of Cole‘s frozen custard in Wilmington, North Carolina. The unfortunate employee who had accidentally stuck his hand into the mixing machine, his finger lopped off. And while he was seeking first aid, it got accidentally got served up in a pint of custard.
The unlucky customer who bit into the severed digit, Mr. Clarence Stowers (ph), held the finger hostage for days, refusing to return it until he got a lawyer. Finally, Mr. Stowers consented to return the finger, but only if it were to be reattached. Unfortunately for the original owner, it has long since been way too late for that. So Mr. Stowers is now keeping his custard surprise. Won‘t that be a nice family heirloom?
Or, you know, call this Ms. Ayala. Maybe she has some ideas.
From missing digits to missing bases. The Pentagon announcing a list of major base closings across this country, as most states vow to fight. Some are being quiet because they turn out to be winners in the reshuffling.
(INAUDIBLE) been called disgusting, a pile of junk. The old Freedom Tower may be out, a new one in development. We‘ll tell why you New York City should rebuild the original Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with one vital modification.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Is it possible for the same presidential administration to win two Middle Eastern wars and peaces costing hundreds of billions of dollars, while trimming what it perceives as fat from the rest of the military-industrial complex?
It has been Donald Rumsfeld‘s dream for years, if not decades.
Leaner, and if not meaner, then at least more mobile.
Today, his dreams seemed to come true, along with nightmares at 188 separate military facilities. In a moment, the consequences, with General Barry McCaffrey.
First, the truth from our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Keith, this list of proposed base closings is aimed at saving money and streamlining the military. But it‘s already ignited a political firestorm.
(voice-over): Soldiers, sailors, and Marines hit Capitol Hill today to deliver the long-dreaded report on military base closings. And while it targets fewer bases than originally feared, it has enough bad news to go around.
In all, the report recommends 33 major bases be shut down, spread fairly evenly across the services and the country. But the Northeast took the biggest hits. The Navy submarine base at Groton, Connecticut, would be closed, with a loss of 8,000 military and civilian jobs.
Senate Democrat Joseph Lieberman promises a fight to keep it open.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: It really was like a punch in the stomach. But we‘re tough people here in Connecticut. They‘ve hit us, but they haven‘t knocked us down.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Mary and David Street are worried their laundry business will go bust without the base.
MARY STREET, LAUNDRY OWNER: You know, it‘s going to be like a ghost town, actually, without them.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine would also be closed, 4,000 jobs would be gone. The Portsmouth mayor is taking her appeal to the top.
MAYOR EVELYN SIRRELL, (I), PORTSMOUTH, MAINE: The president must decide. He must decide. We‘ve got to get to him. I mean, God help us, he comes from around here.
MIKLASZEWSKI: No service was spared. Fourteen major Army installations and 10 Air Force bases would be shut down.
But the biggest surprise came out of Washington. Walter Reed Hospital, which treats most of the seriously wounded soldiers from the war, would lose 5,000 jobs. Many of the medical services would be transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital, eventually creating one major military hospital, closing the current Walter Reed within six years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it‘s a little unnerving, you know, little unsettling.
MIKLASZEWSKI: The Pentagon says the recommendations would save nearly $49 billion over the next 20 years.
(on camera): An independent commission now begins public hearings on Monday and must submit a final list of recommendations to the president by September 8. If he approves, the list then goes to Congress for an up-or-down vote. So it‘s clear, Keith, that the fight over these base closings hasn‘t even started.
OLBERMANN: Jim, great thanks. Jim Miklaszewski at the Pentagon.
As he just mentioned, some states on the hit list fare much worse than others, in large part because the majority of jobs would merely shift to other military installations. Thus what the Pentagon taketh away, it can giveth right back again.
Among the big winners, then, the president‘s home state of Texas, with a net gain of 9,000 military jobs. Maryland could gain 6,500 hundred, largely the result of that move of the Walter Reed Medical Center to the suburb of Bethesda.
Jim Miklaszewski mentioning the huge hits taken by Connecticut and Maine. New Jersey also losing an additional 3,432 places, Massachusetts actually gains 491. But the Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, one of the most famous facilities in the country, would close. And it is also possibly the top base for homeland defense on the East Coast.
More losses centered along the Pacific coast, Washington state the exception there. A possible note, this is what you get when you superimpose the red state-blue state map from the 2004 presidential election with today‘s news.
We leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
For some insight into the impact these base closings and realignments
could have, and the wisdom of making them in the first place, we‘re joined
by retired four-star general Barry McCaffrey.
Good evening, sir.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That basic question first, closing bases during a war. Do you buy it?
MCCAFFREY: Well, possibly. The BRAC (ph) process makes a lot of sense. You know, we do have to reexamine the proposition on where the military is based. Joint realignment makes a lot of sense. Sometimes consolidation makes sense.
Keith, the bigger question is, who says we ought to bring 70,000 troops home from Europe and Korea in the middle of a war to bases where it will cost $7 billion immediately to try to absorb them? Is Congress engaged in the strategy that should drive this base-closing process?
OLBERMANN: Which leads to the question, is there a master plan? Does this all fit together with our current commitments in Iraq and elsewhere, and what does it say about our plans there, and our plans for those troops when they come back here?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, it‘s hard to imagine that you‘re better off bringing two Army divisions out of Germany, where they‘re postured to go into the Balkans, into the Middle East, and then put them in places like Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Riley. Certainly in the short run, it doesn‘t make much sense.
And if you do it, have we thought through the implications to our powerful Air Force and Navy, so that we‘re sure we have the C-17 airlift, the air-to-air refueling, to presumably launch these people back 7,000, 10,000 miles to get to their area of operations?
So again, the strategy ought to get examined. That‘s the role of Congress under Article 1 of the Constitution.
OLBERMANN: And when we talk about bringing people back and basing them no longer in South Korea, when, at the same time, North Korea is at the top of the mind in terms of potential problems, does that make logical sense to you?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, you wouldn‘t think it would enhance the deterrence ability, that it would shore up our diplomatic leverage.
Some of this, by the way, in the short run is simply driven by the fact that the Army and the Marine Corps are struggling to maintain our troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we‘ve hauled forces in contact, really, with North Korean capabilities, and stuck them fighting in the Middle East, along with much of our training establishment and our stateside forces.
We are stretched to the max. It‘s hard to imagine, during a war, that this is going to be a very sensible process.
I might also add, you know, you look back in history, the 1991 base closings apparently so far have cost $6.5 billion and saved $6.2 billion. So, you know, from an accountant‘s viewpoint, this is not always what it may seem.
OLBERMANN: Yes, what‘s $300 million among friends?
Is it startling, as we talk about those past base closings, that all the promises of reversing these individual decisions by all the politicians today, yet the statistics show that over history, 85 percent of the recommendations become reality? Is that much of a percentage going to be hit this time? Is that much of this going to happen?
MCCAFFREY: Well, first of all, you know, it‘s a six-year process or longer. You drive by places like Fort Ord, California, Fort Dix, New Jersey, you know, they‘ve been close a decade, there‘s still gate guards, military housing, a commissary.
You find out that the law also requires you to offer these bases to other federal agencies, to state government. So, you know, it‘s not clear to me what this actually leads to.
The good news out of the BRAC this time was, we didn‘t close big troop-basing areas. We‘re going to have to absorb and retain a mobilization capability.
Now, the other thing, I think, Keith, that hasn‘t been talked about, there‘s a huge closure of National Guard and Reserve training facilities implicit in this suggestion. It would be interesting to see what the Guard and the Reserve have to say about it in the coming months.
OLBERMANN: It will indeed. General Barry McCaffrey, military analyst for MSNBC, as always, sir, great thanks for your insight tonight.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps to all the people left out in the cold by these closures, the Pentagon could send a nice little I‘m-sorry afghan. If so, we‘ve got somebody they need to enlist promptly, her.
And you‘ve lived through the hype all week. Your chance to own broadcasting history is now history. The eBay auction is over. Were we punked by the bidders, or was it all legit?
OLBERMANN: You might think a newscast that begins with the mystery of chili finger would not need to carve out a special segment of odd news in addition to that, but here we are. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin in Loveland, Colorado, home of Lily Chin (ph), the world‘s faster crocheter. Is that a word, crocheter, one who crochets? Never mind all that nonsense. This woman just knit three afghans while you were jerking around. Chin is the undisputed world champion of this discipline, once logging 92 double crochets in three minutes. I know what you‘re thinking. Ninety-two? Is that clocked? Yes, clocked.
She‘s the Eddie van Halen of frumpy sweater making, that‘s what she is, Lily Chin, the author of three books on this subject, rumored to be working with the Pentagon to develop a top secret missile defense program. Details sketchy, but it involves her knitting a really big net really, really fast.
For those of us who can‘t crochet ourselves a pair of jeans in 38 seconds, there‘s a new easy way to pick up the perfect pants. Just step into the Sizeolator machine. It‘s actually called Intellifit, and it‘s absolutely safe. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this idea. Unless you‘re pregnant, nursing, you have a pacemaker, or you‘re carrying explosives in your pockets. The machine is being held as a time saver for American women, who try on an average of 15 pair of jeans before buying one. It uses an X-ray. It takes more than 300 measurements in a few seconds, then broadcasts all those numbers to the entire store, so everyone can snicker at you.
Finally, to Bethel, Alaska, where the first sign of spring is always the ice flowing out of the Kuskokwim River. It‘s a beautiful scene. And when you visit, make sure you park your car right up close to the edge there. Nothing really to worry about, nothing at all, just a little ice. The home video shot by a man who may beg to differ on that point. It was a close call, but his truck is fine, thank you. But you have just witnessed the most exciting thing to happen in Bethel, Alaska, in more than 47 years.
Also tonight, the restarted push to rebuild the twin towers. Why it is the right answer, as long as they make one of them shorter than the other.
And back to the comic relief. Michael Jackson‘s old lawyer given a choice, testify or go to jail yourself. And then there‘s our choice about the Jackson puppet auction. Say thanks or—well, that‘s about it, really. Thanks.
That‘s all ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. Number three, Princess and Hero, two horses that ran wild and uninjured in the streets west of Union Square in New York City today after the stagecoach they were pulling was hit by a truck.
Wait a minute. There‘s a stagecoach line still running in New York?
Number two, Rush Limbaugh, the blowhard announcing that Evanston Township High School students in Illinois, quote, “don‘t know anything about World War II and have probably never heard the name Adolf Hitler” because, he claims, they are so focused on a multi-cultural curriculum. Today the students there, who annually host the town‘s Holocaust remembrance week, challenged him to a public debate on American history. Sarah Loeb (ph) said it would, quote, “be great because then we‘d prove him wrong and open up his opinion a little bit.” Sarah is a sophomore.
And Limbaugh is down! He‘s down, sent to the canvas by a 15-year-old little girl! He‘s down!
And number one, the Pine Creek School in Winnipeg, Canada. It had a bully problem, so a teacher decided to punish four of them by making them wear helmets reading “Bullies are losers.” She will not be punished for doing this, which is amazing because—you‘re giving the bullies helmets? Why don‘t you just give them nightsticks or body armor? Helmets? Now even if three nerds get smart and they fight back all at the same time, you‘ve made the bully untouchable! This is how Rush Limbaugh started!
OLBERMANN: The governor of New York is insisting now that by next month, there will be a revised plan that will allow the construction of the so-called Freedom Tower where the World Trade Center once stood. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN: Let‘s hope he‘s wrong. Not to suggest that on this subject, George Pataki is operating with anything less than the best of intentions. But this week, a couple of people brought a plastic model into these studios, and to a lot of us, it suddenly became unmistakably clear. Those people argued that the perfect way to both memorialize the victims of 9/11 and restore their community is to make their model real, their model of the World Trade Center towers, which they believe should be rebuilt.
(voice-over): They are absolutely right, with one minor caveat. One of the towers should be exactly 229 feet, 4 inches shorter than the other. I‘ll explain why in a bit.
But before that, I have a confession to make. I hated the place. My first job in television was in the lobby of World Trade Center number one, which is what we called it. I never heard “north tower” or “south tower” until the day of the attacks. That‘s where CNN‘s New York bureau was located until 1984, behind a two-story thick glass wall that, when we put the studio lights on, made us look like a very cheap high school science experiment. And what the heck was this Trade Center architecture supposed to look like? The world‘s largest salute to oblong, perhaps, with the faux Gothic grillwork on the outside, tacked on in a fruitless attempt to class up the joint?
I went in there to clean out my desk on the afternoon of Saturday, March 31, 1984. I would not return until Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Then, of course, the sense of drudgery that only a disliked workplace can represent had been transformed into the terrible meaning we all now intuit. And that gaudy grillwork, the only remains standing, stuck out against the smoking pyre of the place with the starkness and the sudden antiquity of the Roman Coliseum.
How, in 40 days as a street reporter after the attacks, my memories of the place changed, I needn‘t tell you. But as the searing pain of those first few weeks gradually gave way to sadness and thoughts of what, if anything, should be placed on this most hallowed ground, the only thing, the only thing that seemed to make sense, was that the towers be recreated as originally designed, oblong boxiness and all, with that one minor caveat about the 229 feet and 4 inches.
I was not among the voices insisting that only rebuilding it as it was would show that we hadn‘t been beaten, merely that all other forms of construction there would offend the sensibility and diminish, not enhance, the remembrance. I haven‘t thought much lately of the rebuilding. The process of healing in humans is a regretful one, in a way. We are designed to forget, not to forget the whole, but merely to forget the sharp edges.
I had not forgotten the Trade Center, nor my three years in it, nor had I forgotten the fact that some creatures had managed to use two planes that each contained a friend of mine. Ace Bailey, the former hockey player and executive, was on one of the planes. And Tom Peccarelli (ph), who had been one of the studio cameramen for my shows at Fox Sports, was on the other plane. And they used those planes to kill so many innocents in the buildings, including two college classmates of mine. Mike Tanner (ph) and Amon McIneny (ph), who happened also to have been the quarterback and the receiver for Cornell University football in the first sporting event I ever actually got paid to go cover.
Those memories had not passed, and they will not, nor will the simple reality that it all happened, a reality that will still of a morning unexpectedly punch me in the stomach or make me wonder for a moment if something so horrible could have actually occurred, or if I must have imagined it in a consummate moment in a dream from an endless night.
But I had forgotten about the rightness of putting the Trade Center back where it stood, forgotten it until I saw those models in our studios and it all came back to me. The Freedom Tower design wasn‘t somebody trying to be disrespectful, it was just the unavoidable project of an architectural trend in which everything has to look like somebody just built it with a kid‘s erector set. But it was wrong. The best way, the only way, to further soothe our pain is to rebuild it as it was.
Which brings me to my caveat. Use the original blueprints and design the new Trade Center exactly as it had been, but ensure that one of the towers be exactly 229 feet, 4 inches shorter than the other. It‘s an uncomplicated gimmick that will guarantee remembrance because as long as these new towers stand, someone, unaware, will ask, Why is one of them shorter than the other? Whereupon an old timer can explain solemnly that the difference between the heights of the towers is intentional. The 229 feet, 4 inches—that‘s exactly 2,752 inches, one inch for each of the victims.
And that would be all the memorial we would ever need. We‘ll continue in a moment.
OLBERMANN: It was Cooperstown, New York, 1968, my parents and I enjoying a night at the movies, a Dick van Dyke flick, as I remember it. Unfortunately, it was “Fitzwilly” and not “Mary Poppins.” The folks shut me up by giving me an entire box of miniature Reese‘s peanut butter cups to feed on. When the movie ended, my mother saw the empty box. Where, she asks, are the wrappers? The brown cellophane or whatever it is wrapped around each cup, I thought that was, like, the skin. I thought they were crunchy peanut butter cups.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Kids eat a lot of things they‘re not supposed to. Hi, how are you? And as our correspondent, Martin Savidge, reports, on the list of the top million examples of this, I‘m not even honorable mention.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kids swallow the darnedest things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... toy objects like ...
DR. FRANK MCGEORGE, WILLIAM BEAUMONT HOSPITAL: ... individual little magnetic pieces.
SAVIDGE: Doctors are amazed, and the X-rays amazing, of just what can end up in a child. ER physicians William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, have quite a collection of X-rays the hope make parents aware, like a screw in a child‘s lung. Dr. Frank McGeorge.
MCGEORGE: This is something that is never coming out without surgery.
SAVIDGE: Somehow, this toddler managed to swallowed a toy fork. And if you‘re wondering where all your money goes...
MCGEORGE: A coin can go down in a nano-second.
SAVIDGE: Kids can become human piggy banks. Coins are by far the most commonly and easily swallowed item.
JACK RUSSELL, SWALLOWED QUARTER: I found a quarter on the ground. I put it on my tongue. I leaned back a little, and then it fell down into my throat and I...
SAVIDGE: Jack Russell was 3 when he came to his mom, pointing to his throat.
DANIELLE RUSSELL, JACK‘S MOTHER: But to actually swallow it I think was the shocking thing. And then you went—you go through that panic state of, Are they OK?
SAVIDGE: The coin passed without a problem. But coin swallowing can be deadly.
MCGEORGE: ... this coin, which is actually perched right at the breathing tube, and this child would be in severe respiratory distress.
SAVIDGE: Also deadly, watch batteries. These next X-rays are almost too painful to look at—needles and safety pins.
MCGEORGE: You need to let them know, the child, that it‘s OK, if they swallow something, to tell you.
SAVIDGE: And don‘t be afraid to get an X-ray and help, a lesson little Jack learned.
JACK RUSSELL: You might get choked, and you might die a little.
SAVIDGE: After all, when it comes to what gets into kids, doctors have seen it all.
MCGEORGE: ... ornamental stones...
SAVIDGE: Martin Savidge, NBC News, Atlanta.
OLBERMANN: Remember, kids, keep the change in your pockets.
From things that are far too easy to swallow to that news which seldom goes down without a fight, our nightly round-up of entertainment and celebrity stuff, “Keeping Tabs.” And joining the ranks of Machiavelli, Mahatma Gandhi and Thomas More as guys who wrote books in prison is Saddam Hussein, one of the lawyers for Hussein telling “The London Financial Times” that the former dictator has been using his down time in jail to start writing his autobiography.
Saddam has already written quite a bit of poetry in prison. He apparently considers himself something of a great novelist. Before his downfall, he had published three books, although he had a team of ghost writers—at least they ended up as ghost writers. A fourth novel about an Arab who defeated his Jewish and American enemies was going to be published in early 2003. But then “The Saddam Times” stopped publishing its weekly book review, and that was that.
And it wouldn‘t be “Keeping Tabs” without this, your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 543 of the Michael Jackson‘s investigations. Jackson‘s former lawyer, Mark Geragos, arrived with time to spare after the judge had threatened to arrest him if he did not show up. So when the defense kept another witness on the stand for most of the morning, Judge Melville got pretty upset. Quote, “I have this picture of a lawyer upstairs walking back and forth, pulling his hair out of his head, wondering why I called him here today under threat of a warrant while Mr. Mesereau goes on and on. What‘s wrong with that picture?” To which Jackson‘s lead defense attorney applied, “It‘s pretty accurate, I think, Your Honor.” Here‘s hoping Geragos didn‘t really pull any of his hair out.
Finally to the stand, he said Jackson was ripe as a target and he feared the accuser‘s family would take advantage of him. And repeating what others have testified, Jackson slept alongside his accusers—no sex. For Geragos, no finish. He‘ll finish his testimony next Friday. And then on the 24th, “Tonight” show host Jay Leno testifies. On the 25th, it‘s Kevin Eubanks, and on the 26th, John Melendez.
From the trial news to the puppet news. Which has been more riveting this week? And now it belongs to the ages and the high bidder. The puppet auction is over. The results when we return. And also, our top five stories that we liked a whole lot on COUNTDOWN, the top five COUNTDOWN stories of this week this week next.
OLBERMANN: It is our mission statement: information, truth, illumination. COUNTDOWN aims for public service, and when none of that is possible, it‘s time for the stick puppets. And somehow, we screwed up in reverse. The three-day extravaganza of charity auctioning on eBay is over, our crack team monitoring all bidding, genuine and phony, separating the wheat from the chaff. Good thing to our charity of choice, the Celiac Sprue Association, for people whose health and even lives can be endangered by gluten, by wheat. And we got them a lot of dough.
Who‘s paying up? Who‘s the big fan? Well, it‘s Goldenpalace.com. No, I‘m not kidding. Just because it paid the big money, though, the on-line gambling site, which has no way of legally advertising unless it buys anything it can find that might get it into the news, is not going to get a free ride here with more purchase publicity. We have standards! No!
Hammer price, $15,099.99. That is, for the arithmetically challenged, $2,516.66 per puppet. These puppets, of course, went for that price, he said with an evil glint in his eyes suggesting there might be more for sale.
Their Web site says it will display the Jackson 6 among its other eBay publicity finds, such as the invitation to the wedding of runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks to her fiance John Mason. They paid 355 bucks for one? I got mine for $90! Hah! A Volkswagen once owned by Pope Benedict XVI. And more to come. Well, that‘s not all. There‘s also a chicken breast bearing the likeness of Pope John Paul II. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, a positive pregnancy test, allegedly DNA marked by the pop tart Britney Spears.
Not to be outdone, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, and of course, the incredible shrinking machine invented in the year 2241 and somehow found in a 2005 guy‘s attic, and it doesn‘t work unless it used to be bigger than that.
They may have beaten you to the punch regarding our puppet players, but not to worry. Just like a wide-eyed tourist locked out of a Hard Rock Cafe anywhere in this world, you can still buy the cheesy knock-offs for much less, ranging from this clever forgery, which includes puppets never featured on this show, to the just plain silly, a COUNTDOWN puppet set, so you can pretend to run the show. You know, like I pretend to run the show. It also includes puppets of a few of our favorite guests.
One quick-witted bidder noted that they did not include a puppet of Craig Crawford. But there‘s also toast. And this ain‘t the Virgin Mary. Benefiting, perhaps, from our puppet madness, an auction that was on line even before our little experiment. It‘s supposed to be me. And then there‘s these jeans. That‘s supposed to be me on denim, like the Shroud of Turin, only sacrilegious.
But all kidding aside, this was a chance for us to bring a little attention to a disease that probably affects 1 out of every 100 of us, Celiac disease, wheat intolerance and the Celiac Sprue Association. I‘ve got it, in fact, a marginal case, but enough of one that I‘ve eliminated wheat from my diet. Kids who have it often wind up are unable to assimilate nutrients from all foods, which means they really cannot grow.
The auction started, the CSA tells us it‘s been getting about 30,000 more hits each day on its Web site than usual, a jump of about 36 percent. So that helps. As will this giant novelty check, which, if we‘re smart, we‘ll auction this off next week. We‘ll make Golden Palace buy its own money back!
Thanks to all of you who bid or who just tolerated this nonsense this week. And in thanks, we offer our weekly review of the week in review. We call it the COUNTDOWN top five.
It didn‘t bounce.
And it‘s in color.
(voice-over): Number five, King Tut, French scientists using reconstruction technology to give us the first look at what the boy pharaoh of the ancients might have looked like if he had been sitting on a lazy Susan. Funny, is it me, or have I seen this king in Egypt before in “The Prince of Tides?”
Number four, our friends, the Swiss. Sure, they have cow fights, but there‘s a lot of smart people there, too. Here‘s some who think they‘ve solved global warming by covering an entire glacier in reflective polyester. Just for the summer months, mind you. No self-respecting mountain would wear white after Labor Day.
Number three, Henderson, North Carolina. Meet Ricky Pearce (ph), part-time artist, full-time back hoe operator. And this sculpture is his masterpiece. But neighbors say, Hey, you know, we like art, too. It‘s just that 20-foot high naked legs spread-eagled between two churches with strategically planted bushes in between—it ain‘t exactly Raphael‘s Madonna and child, you know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why they just show the legs? If it‘s a woman, why not show her—her...
OLBERMANN: Hey, where are you going with this, pal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... beautiful face.
OLBERMANN: Oh. OK. Yes. Good idea!
Number two, who‘s the boss? Not Tony Danza. The “Taxi” star turned talk show host turned upside-down, go-kart racing Rusty Wallace. He‘ll be all right, folks. He landed on his head.
And number one, we all heard Pope Benedict XVI was old school, but we never knew he was old school! This is the new label on a wheat beer brewed in the Pope‘s home country, Germany. It‘s Benedict‘s favorite brand. He gave them permission to do this. In return, the brewery sent a truck to the Vatican with 160 gallons of the stuff. It‘s good to be the pope!
I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.
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