updated 6/10/2005 11:55:45 AM ET 2005-06-10T15:55:45

Guest: John Harwood, Judy Leon, Garnet Hertz

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

The president, on renewing the PATRIOT Act, warns that the expiring sunset clauses could leave cops and agents in the dark.

Judging the political book by its cover.  The Princeton study that can predict the result of two out of three elections in the House of Representatives and nearly three out of every four in the Senate.

Don‘t tell me cockroaches won‘t take over the earth.  Look, now they‘re driving cars.  Great, just what we need.

And graduation 2005.  It cut short the deliberation day at the Jackson trial, and it lets us hear wise words from great men in funny robes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW:  Real life is not college.  Real life is not high school. 

Here is a secret that no one has told you.  Real life is junior high.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The analogy has been made before, the PATRIOT Act of 2001 to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, each controversial in its day, each adopted for a specified, limited time, preplanned to go out of existence, and each dealing, in some respects, with enemies at a time of war in this country.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, each was sold differently by the president of the day.  John Adams, fearing internal sabotage by French immigrants, warned that foreign influence in the country needed to be, quote, “exterminated.”

George W. Bush has used no such inflammatory language, but in coming out for the renewal of the PATRIOT Act, he today picked a symbolically inflammatory place, Columbus, Ohio, at the State Highway Patrol Academy, Columbus.  That‘s where a Pakistani-born truck driver hatched a not-too-practical plan to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge by cutting through the suspension cables which hold its deck in place.  He was arrested two years ago, sentenced to 20 years in prison.

While the Senate, in secret meeting, has been considering legislation that would expand the reach of the act, Mr. Bush was merely pushing renewal of the current provisions that are nearing expiration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The problem is, at the end of this year, 16 critical provisions of the PATRIOT Act are scheduled to expire.  Some people call these sunset provisions.  That‘s a good name, because letting that—those provisions expire would leave law enforcement in the dark.

My message to Congress is clear.  The terrorist threats against us will not expire at the end of the year, and neither should the protections of the PATRIOT Act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  “Wall Street Journal” national political editor John Harwood is our protector of all things political—a title last, I think, conferred on Oliver Cromwell—who joins us now from Washington.

Good evening, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: 

Hey, Keith, I‘ll do my best.

OLBERMANN:  Before today, the president had not talked much recently about the PATRIOT Act.  Has that been deliberate?  Has he wanted others to carry the water on this?

HARWOOD:  Well, he‘s had a lot of things on his agenda, as you know, Keith.  And the PATRIOT Act is one of those things that‘s going to be pretty easy for him to accomplish.  Even Democrats, critics on the left and on the right, to some degree, are adopting a sort of mend it, don‘t end it approach to the PATRIOT Act.

So we know, certainly we saw this week, by a strong vote out of the Intelligence Committee, moving this bill forward, that it‘s going to happen.  And after all the hits the president‘s taken on various things, he returned today to an issue that he‘s been strong with the public on and that‘s something he knows that when he asks Congress for it, he‘s likely to get it.

OLBERMANN:  So in returning to it today, if a cynic said that today was an attempt to divert attention from those political hits that you mention, ranging from the economy, to Gitmo, to Iraq, how would you answer said cynic?

HARWOOD:  Well, you know, the cynic might be onto something.  I mean, the president has got a lot of things to do at any one time, and he was going to have to address this sooner or later.  But look, this is a lot better topic for him to be on right now than say, Social Security, which he was on earlier in the week.  The polls are showing he‘s been going backwards on that issue.

He‘s even struggled on terrorism.  The Iraq war, the difficulties, the violence that people are seeing have people questioning his approach to the war on terror.  But when the president goes to the conduct of homeland security, trying to keep Americans safe, that‘s his wheelhouse, and he‘s trying to play that for all it‘s worth today.

OLBERMANN:  And playing it for all that it‘s worth, does the emphasis in the remarks today on the renewing the kinder, gentler aspects of the act, rather than pushing for more, as is being discussed in the Senate, does that mean that some of the more controversial ones like library and bookstore record access and the sneak-and-peek warrants, that those might not be made permanent?

HARWOOD:  No, I don‘t think those are going away.  And even Democrats concede that.  They also give credit to Alberto Gonzales, the new attorney general, who was with the president today, for showing somewhat more flexibility than John Ashcroft, his predecessor, did on modifying the act.  Gonzales has agreed, for example, that there ought to be some relevance test applied to some of the business records that authorities can seek under the PATRIOT Act.

So the administration is trying to be a little bit more cooperative than they‘ve been in the past.  And I think the mainstream in the Congress is receptive to that.

You do have some criticism from liberals and civil libertarians on the right.

OLBERMANN:  So if there‘s little appetite among Democrats to challenge this, and there‘s little, seemingly there‘s little need for at least the mainstream Democrats to challenge this, what do we have, expect to happen next with the renewal of those 16 clauses and the possible expansion of the act?

HARWOOD:  Well, it‘s gone now through the Intelligence Committee, and it‘s got to go through Senate Judiciary as well.  And then it‘s got to move through the House.  But we know the House is very likely to support it.

So I think the road‘s pretty well paved for this to become law.  There will be some flak along the way.  I think the expansion is likely to go through, as it was in the bill that moved through the Intelligence Committee.  Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Committee, said he was going to keep working on it.  But he wanted to move it forward, because he thought it was important.

OLBERMANN:  “Wall Street Journal” national political editor, John Harwood.  As always, sir, great thanks.

HARWOOD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  No indication that anybody scooped up under that PATRIOT Act has wound up at Guantanamo Bay.  But some rumbling this week that perhaps soon no one scooped up anywhere will wind up at Guantanamo Bay.  The treatment of suspected terrorists there, and how that is being perceived around the globe, continuing to raise calls for shutting down the entire operation.

The question of what to do about Gitmo following Donald Rumsfeld all the way to Belgium today.  There the defense secretary was attending a NATO meeting in Brussels.  His stated position on closing Gitmo, shifting ever slightly in the 24 hours since President Bush said the government was exploring all alternatives.  Yesterday, Rumsfeld saying it‘s not even being discussed, today Rumsfeld saying, We don‘t want the detainees anyway, and where do you suggest we go with them instead?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  So if you closed it, where would you go?  And our goal is not to obviously have these people, but to have them off the street, but in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Emphasis on “for the most part.”

The probable impetus behind the defense secretary‘s subtle shift in terminology there, what the president, in fact, said yesterday when asked about closing Gitmo.  As we mentioned it last night, quote, “We‘re exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America.  What we don‘t want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us.  And so we‘re looking at all alternatives and have been.”

For some guidance on what the alternatives might be, as well as their relative merits, we‘re joined by MSNBC terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem of Harvard‘s Kennedy School of Government.

Good evening, Juliette.

JULIETTE KAYYEM, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  First of all, adding up what the president said yesterday and what Mr. Rumsfeld said today, are they approaching this from the same perspective, something along the lines of, We realize we have a problem here, maybe it‘s just a PR problem, maybe it‘s much more than that, but we don‘t yet know how to go about fixing it?

KAYYEM:  I think that‘s exactly right.  And the differences in Rumsfeld yesterday and today are sort of symptomatic, I think, of the fissures within the administration, which have been, basically since Gitmo started, debates with—between the State Department and the military civilians and the military lawyers and the White House about the best way to deal with detainees.

Those fissures are, some are coming to the surface right now, almost a year after the Supreme Court said, You have to do something with these guys.  You can‘t hold them indefinitely.

So it wouldn‘t be a surprise to me that the administration is thinking of a new course, and certainly, liberals and human rights activists and others would love to close Gitmo, because symbolically, it‘s just a stain on who we are as Americans.

My concern is, you know, it is only a symbolic gesture.  You close Gitmo, you‘re still going to have detentions.  You‘re still going to have interrogations.  And neither Democrats nor Republicans have seemed to figure out what are the proper standards to deal with people that we collect or that we hold or that we capture in this fight against terrorism, what to do with them once we have them.

And so even if you close Gitmo, you can put them on Disneyland, and then you‘d have to close Disneyland.  I mean, it‘s the substance of the procedures that has to change, not the place.

OLBERMANN:  That having been said, the place, the logistics, that is actually a relevant question to this too, because, as Mr. Rumsfeld raised in Brussels, if not Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, in the small part of Cuba that the America—United States happens to own, where do you put them?  You can‘t put them at Disneyland.

KAYYEM:  You can‘t.  You can (INAUDIBLE), well, you can (INAUDIBLE) take them to their place of origin or put them there.  We‘ve done that.  We‘ve done it with Saudi Arabians, we‘ve done with it the British, we‘ve done it with the French.  We‘re doing that now.  You can either try them in a criminal court here, or certainly use the military tribunals.

I have no doubt that closing Gitmo will give us some PR support, in the sense that we will disperse these guys.  They will no longer be in one place that‘s viewed as this sort of haven of badness, so to speak.

But I think we sort of delude ourselves just to think the Arab or Muslim world is going to sort of, you know, come and love us if we close Gitmo.  I mean, if you read the Arab and Muslim Web sites like I do, I mean, they basically, Gitmo is just a symptom, it‘s just a symbol.  What they don‘t like about us now, of course, is Iraq, and all the other issues that we‘re engaged with in the Middle East.

So while I think it might be important to close and to disperse these guys, the truth is that in war, you need detentions.  Everyone believes that since wars began.  We‘re going to capture people, and we‘re going to have to have detainees somewhere.  If not Gitmo, they‘re going to, we‘re going to have to have some site somewhere.  And it may be in Pakistan, unlikely, but it may be in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan or Yemen, even.

And then we might be starting all over again, unless we have appropriate detention standards and policies, which we still don‘t have.

OLBERMANN:  An unrelated terrorist story tonight, Juliette.  CBS News reported that the last orange alert last summer in the financial centers in New York and in Jersey and in D.C. had far more to it than anybody let on at the time.

Specifically, let me recap what they reported, that the so-called report in the laptop, the terrorist‘s laptop, though it might have been several years old, was actually 50 pages‘ worth of documents, basically a how-to on to blow up the Citicorp Center, that Citicorp was a house of glass in this thing, it was described that way, and would be devastating if it were to be bombed, that the stoplights in the area in New York had all been timed for escape, and that a reminder in there that the bathroom stalls in the United States are not fully private, so if you‘re building anything in one, like a bomb or something, remember to put it atop the toilet so no one can see down and around it.

What do you make of all this detail?

KAYYEM:  I mean, I think it shows to me, at least, that there‘s a big (INAUDIBLE) fight probably within the Department of Homeland Security about whether to scrap the color-coded system.  This may be being leaked by someone who wants to say, Hey, it works, there was this really scary thing happening last year.

To me it suggested what‘s so bad about the color-coded system.  If this evidence or intelligence was so specific, why in God‘s name did we sort of terrify the entire East Coast into thinking that some attack was imminent somewhere on the East Coast?  If this intelligence was as good as is now being claimed, it would suggest having focused on Citicorp and having people not go to work for a couple weeks or whatever else.

So I think what, I hate to be a cynic here, but I think what we‘re seeing is sort of a fight that‘s going on, clearly within the Department of Homeland Security, about what to do about the color-coded system, and we may be getting selective intelligence from someone who wants to say, Well, it works, when, in fact, I think it sort of cuts the other way, and, in fact, suggests that if the intelligence is that good, we probably shouldn‘t have put everyone on alert.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  If you have a specific intersection, if you can say 51st and Third Avenue in New York, that may an little too broad to give a general orange alert.

KAYYEM:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Juliette Kayyem, the executive director of the national security program at Harvard‘s Kennedy School.  Great thanks.

KAYYEM:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We mentioned Afghanistan, speaking of, the Army seeking to quell suspicion that it tried to cover up the circumstances surrounding the death there of the former pro football player Pat Tillman.  You will recall that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, a fact that did not, however, become public until a full month after his death last spring.

Tillman‘s Ranger unit kept that information to itself, in fact.  Now, in the wake of a letter to the editor of “The Washington Post” by Tillman‘s father, in which Tillman‘s father again claimed all that was deliberate on the Army‘s part, the Army has shot back a statement today.

“While procedural misjudgments and mistakes contributed to an air of suspicion, no one intended to deceive the Tillman family or the public as to the cause of his death.”  The withholding of the information by the Ranger unit, quote, “was an application of judgment, not a willful violation of regulation.  Nevertheless, it was procedurally wrong,” end quote.

From perception in the military to perception in politics.  What could be the It Factor in every election?  A study suggesting a snap judgment by voters can at least predict three times out of four who will win a particular election.

And her parents say their 12-year-old does not need radiation treatment to battle cancer.  The state of Texas said, Oh, yes, she does.  The latest on this epic collision.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MNSBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Amber Alert went out last Thursday in Texas.  A 12-year-old girl with Hodgkin‘s disease was missing, and it wasn‘t just a question of wanting to get her back, but in some senses, needing to get her back.

But this Amber Alert had an extraordinary twist.  It was not the parents wondering where their daughter was.  It was the state‘s department of child protective services.  The girl was with her mother.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, when it comes to serious medical care, when are the parents wrong and the government right?

This singular case reported for us tonight by the correspondent Kerrey Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERREY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Twelve-year-old Katie (ph) Wernecke isn‘t just battling cancer.  She‘s also taking on the state of Texas, which has taken her into custody, they say, to save her life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE WERNECKE:  I have been fine for two months since the last chemo treatment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  Doctors say Katie needs radiation to continue fighting her Hodgkin‘s disease.  But in this statement, recorded by her parents, Katie says she doesn‘t want it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE WERNECKE:  I am gaining weight, and my hair is coming back.  I feel great.  I don‘t need radiation treatment.  And nobody asked me what I wanted.  It‘s my body.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS:  Her father, Edward, who has a Ph.D. in agricultural sciences, says doctors told him his daughter‘s cancer was in remission.

EDWARD WERNECKE, KATIE‘S FATHER:  They just say radiation is here, and you have to do it.  (INAUDIBLE) they don‘t give an explanation of why.  You know, why treat a cancer that‘s already dead?

SANDERS:  In any case, both parents argue the government is meddling in a private family matter.

Their attorney, Luis Corona.

LUIS CORONA, WERNECKES‘ ATTORNEY:  They respect the doctors, they respect the government.  But this is a case in which a parent‘s rights have to be paramount.

SANDERS:  Texas state officials say in this case, their parental rights don‘t matter.

Doctors have told the state without radiation, Katie could die.

DARRELL AZAR, TEXAS FAMILY AND PROTECTIVE SERVICES:  There‘s been a second opinion, a third opinion, now a fourth opinion.  And all the doctors agree.  The conclusion is the same, that this second treatment is essential for her health and welfare.

SANDERS (on camera):  But so far, the family has not been able to find a doctor who agrees with them.

This is not the first dispute the family‘s had over Katie‘s medical care.  Earlier, her parents said their religious beliefs were being violated when doctors ordered a blood transfusion using a stranger‘s blood.

(voice-over):  The family ultimately consented, accepting it was in Katie‘s best interests.

Kerrey Sanders, NBC News, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And then there‘s the anything but life or death news. 

More mechanical creations from Japan.  Yes, dances with robots.

And like you haven‘t seen enough of her, stand by for the Jennifer Wilbanks movie.  We will give you an exclusive sneak peek at the casting here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Each evening at this time, we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real and important news for this brief segment that reminds us that even on our darkest of days, there is still cool video and weird people who need our attention too.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Oscaloosa (ph), Kansas, hello.  Dramatic video there of a tornado with a rainbow going through it.  A rainbow, in Kansas.  Look, if you‘re expecting me to do the whole Dorothy thing here, the Yellow Brick Road, you can just forget it.  Now “Twister,” that was a movie.  I don‘t think it had a rainbow, but it had Bill Paxton in his prime, man.  And plenty of, you know, hilarious flying-cow gags.

No one, by the way, was injured by this twister.  There was some serious damage, but everybody agrees that for a beautiful sight like this, it‘s almost worth losing your house.

And your little dog, too.

To Japan, where they have now a robot for everything.  This one is just for dancing, just for dancing.  That‘s just for dancing, pal.  Keep your paws off her.  She is five-and-a-half feet tall, 220 pounds, dances like a dream.  Could anything be more romantic?

Where did he get that suit?

Beautiful, and you don‘t to have worry about stepping on her toes, since she didn‘t have any.  Of course, if she rolls over your toes, you can rule out walking for the rest of your life.

The dancers are the big hit at the Aichi (ph) Robot Expo that‘s being held in Nagano this week.  They‘re available in pink and green, and they seem to serve absolutely no useful purpose whatsoever.

Finally, to Moscow, a very special fashion show there.  All the outfits were designed by convicts from various Russian prisons.  Isn‘t that rehabilitated?  I wonder if the guy in the skirt is a convict.  Part of a new campaign in the prison system to help cons turn their lives around.  In typical flamboyant Russian fashion, they have named the show “You Cannot Suppress Beautiful Sewing.”

Well, you know, it‘s hard to argue with that.

Admittedly, some of the outfits appear to have been designed by guys who have been inside for a very long time, like the 16th century.

Speaking of important first appearances, how could political novices correctly pick the winners by just looking at their pictures, and only for a few seconds?

And we‘ve shown you the beautiful ballet that ensues when man dances with machine.  Now the giant Madagascar hissing cockroach gets his own car.

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, Milton Kellerman, police officer from Warren, Ohio, called in to break up a rowdy party, surrounded by as many as 25 drunken teenagers.  And intelligently, he cut and ran.  The kids were Amish.  By day, they raise barns.  By night, they raise hell.

Number two, Diana Hampton.  The new municipal court judge, elected to a six-year term by the people of Henderson, Nevada, she‘s now 39.  Fourteen years ago, says Judge Hampton, she worked her way through college as a stripper.  Yes, like she‘s the first Nevada judge who used to be a stripper.

And number one, a thief in Cyprus, identified only by authorities as a 30-year-old Greek.  He led police on a high-speed chase that spilled onto the tarmac at Warnaka (ph) International Airport, the thief driving under and around parked aircraft.  He had allegedly stolen cookies from a bakery.

My big fat Greek cookie addiction.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Gamblers will tell you that any system that predicts winners 67 to 72 percent of the time is a system you should get to learn quickly.  So, too, will political operatives.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN: While the fall-out continues from Howard Dean‘s description of Republicans as white male Christians mostly, it turns out that the appearance aspect of politics may be more important than even Mr. Dean realizes.

Which system predicts election winners 67 to 72 percent of the time?  One in which test subjects who knew nothing of politics or of politicians were asked to pick by sight alone which candidate looked more competent—competent, mind you, not prettier, not cooler, not more composed, not less 5:00-o‘clock-shadowy, as in the first and most famous example of the image influence campaign, the Nixon-Kennedy debates of 1960.  Of course, pretty, cool, composed, less 5:00-o‘clock-shadowy—all those could be a part of the perception of competence.

A Princeton social psychology professor and his grad student assistants showed volunteers photos of pairs of politicians who‘d actually run against each other, 1,400 different photos covering 700 different pairs, 700 different House and Senate elections.  The test subjects only saw the pictures briefly for a few seconds.  They were then asked which candidate out of each pair was more competent: 66.8 percent of the time in the House races, the politician they chose won or had won, 71.6 percent of the time in the Senate races, the politician they chose won or had won.

Of course, the system is not flawless, as “The Chicago Tribune” will report tomorrow.  Looking at the 2002 Senate race in Illinois, the Princeton volunteers found Republican Jim Durkin (ph), on the right, to be more competent.  And Democrat Dick Durbin won reelection by 22 points.  And in last year‘s race in Illinois, the one in which Barack Obama (INAUDIBLE) Alan Keyes, the study group had picked Keyes.  Not making sense.

Let‘s see how all this sits with the professionals.  Judy Leon is a media consultant with Decision Quest.  She prepares corporate and political clients for public appearances.  Ms. Leon, good evening.

JUDY LEON, MEDIA CONSULTANT:  Good evening, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  OK.  And yourself?

LEON:  Good.  Great.

OLBERMANN:  Well, do you buy this?  I mean, could people who don‘t

know anything about politics judge a book, or in this case, a politician,

by its cover and do so successfully?

LEON:  You know, I really don‘t—I wouldn‘t put too much stock in that study.  There‘s a well-known saying in this town: Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.  And while that sound really harsh, I mean, the fact is, if we put a lot of stock in that study, we‘d all be spending a lot more time watching C-Span and a lot less time watching “Desperate Housewives.”  I mean, if appearance were that important, I think John Edwards would be president today, and we know he‘s not even vice president today.  So I think that tells you something.

OLBERMANN:  But that does play into one thing here.  There was very little detail, either in “The Chicago Tribune” piece or in the actual study report, which will be in the journal “Science,” about what the volunteers meant when they said this guy looked competent.

LEON:  Well, I...

OLBERMANN:  But this—apparently, they‘re going to do that in a different study.  But there was one sidebar report that says that they think they know one part of that.  If you want to look competent, don‘t look baby-faced, which might explain the John Edwards thing or maybe how they got this Obama-Keyes election so wildly wrong.

LEON:  Well, I think you can make a logical assumption that someone who looks more youthful might be associated with less confidence or authority generally, which is why they got the Barack Obama call so wrong in that case.

But I mean, I think what you have to look at is the whole package.  If you want to look at what is the single most determinative thing in politics today, it‘s not what a candidate looks like.  It‘s not even what he says.  It‘s what‘s said about him.  And if you do negative advertising, in a carpet-bombing kind of fashion, and you repeat it over and over again and it‘s negative, it will be established as a kind of truth in the mind of the American public.  Is that a good thing for American politics or democracy?  No.  But I think that‘s the reality, rather than a particular aspect of someone‘s appearance.

OLBERMANN:  Could this be, to some degree—or are you saying that there‘s actually something more important in the standard House or Senate race than first impression?

LEON:  Well, first impression is important, but I think we have to ask ourselves what makes up a first impression.  Certainly, appearance is a part of that.  But what the message is, the strategy behind the message, the clarity and the persuasiveness, and repeating it to the extent that it can get kind of stuck in the mind of the listener—that‘s true in corporate arenas, in any public forum.  It‘s especially true in politics.

And unfortunately, negative advertising campaigns have a tsunami effect in terms of overriding any kind of positive message.  That‘s why negative advertising—if we‘re looking for one factor that‘s determinative, I think that would be the one.

The other question is, What does competence look like?  If you‘re looking around Washington today and you look at our elected leaders, I think that would be a real question, in terms of what does competence look like, what does it sound like?  I think that would be a real intangible and interesting to see how they defined the look of competence in elected leaders.

OLBERMANN:  But even if they defined it by gut feeling and there was no real scientific quality to it, anything, as I said, that predicts a winner or affirms a winner in a race 67 percent of the time or 72 percent of the time—this has got to be useful somehow.  Somebody in your field or in a more directly political field is going to try this, aren‘t they?

LEON:  Well, that kind of statistical anomaly or statistical event might be most useful in Las Vegas, shooting craps.  I‘m not sure because I don‘t really know what the methodology was or how significant 67 percent is over, you know, every other time you try it.

But I do know that if you give people only a picture to look at and they can only base it on appearance, and you ask them to attribute a positive or negative trait to something—or someone, rather—they‘re more likely to give the more attractive and more appealing person the positive characteristic.  I think that‘s probably all we can take from this study is that overarching importance of appearance as part of a positive first impression because we‘re really talking about first impressions.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s what it boils down to.  Media consultant Judy Leon of Decision Quest, great.  Thanks for your insight and for your time tonight.

LEON:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And an apparently less exact way of determining competence: judging a politician‘s actions.  If there was a method behind Democratic chair How Dean‘s apparent madness of referring to the Republicans as pretty much a white Christian party, he really sought to make himself a lightning rod, the electrical storm continues.

Today, it was inside Capitol Hill, where a photo op between the DNC chair and Senate minority leader Harry Reid intended to address energy legislation and Social Security reform devolved back into the white Christians thing.  Senator Reid did his best, quoting here, “There isn‘t a single person, whether it‘s any of us in this room or Governor Dean or RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who haven‘t misspoken.”  The Democratic Party chairman equally unsuccessful with his attempts to deflect, saying, quote, “I think a lot of this is exactly what the Republicans want, and that‘s a diversion.  And we‘re going to talk about our agenda.  We‘re not going to let the Republicans set the agenda.  And to be quite honest, we‘re not going to let you, the media, set the agenda.”

Oh, great!  Now nobody‘s going to let us set the agenda!

From politics to pomp and circumstance.  Those who were freshmen on 9/11 are graduating now.  Highlights of what they are hearing and what they are saying.  And runaway bride, part two, the Jennifer Wilbanks story, electric boogaloo! The movie‘s in the works.  We have your special COUNTDOWN casting call.

All that ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And I appreciate my friend, Attorney General Al Gonzales, joining me today.  Thanks for coming over to introduce me.  Get back to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A dog is a man‘s best friend.  Well, yellow labs Gooch and Duke give that saying a whole new meaning.  See, they help their owner with his roofing business.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She was at the bottom of the ladder barking one day, and I said, Well, come on, and here she came.  And she‘s been doing it ever since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What exactly did the mother-son combination help with?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nothing.  (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And they can get in active and fun situations with me now.  I can play soccer.  I can play baseball and basketball. It‘s great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I know that our own Amy loves clowns, so you‘ve got a long and...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And she‘s working with one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Very nice!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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OLBERMANN:  There is a fascinating phenomenon that recurs every year at this time.  I experienced it in 1979, on the day of my graduation from Cornell University.  I‘d never really liked the place—too corporate, too controlling, too many damn hills.  But that morning, I awoke to find myself absolutely and utterly nostalgic.  I really had liked it, even some of the hills.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN: Turns out that‘s a very common effect.  And for thousands of student who have graduated in these past few weeks, it has been accompanied by another surprise.  Sometimes your commencement address actually contain useful advice and information.  The collective experience of graduation 2005 herein condensed for you.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It hits me, now that it‘s absolutely over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, yes.  Time to pack this stuff up.  No, no! 

That‘s supposed to go in here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And that‘s that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Almost 9:00 o‘clock!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This will be my last bagel as an undergraduate.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR:  You must help.  Please help!  Please provide help.  Please be willing to help.  Help, and you will make a huge impact on the life of the street, the town, the country and our planet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to be a physician.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Professor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Professional DJ.  Seriously.

BUSH:  Some day, you will appreciate the grammar and verbal skills you learned here.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  And if any of you wonder how far a mastery of the English language can take you, just look what it did for me.

(LAUGHTER)

NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT:  Students of my vintage did not have calculators, cell phones, credit cards, personal computers, Internet or reality TV.  Some might say they were very fortunate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I did it, Mama!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will Master Sergeant Tracy Senstock (ph) in Baghdad, Iraq, please stand.  Major McKinney, will you please present the sergeant with his diploma?

SHEILA CRUMP JOHNSON, MARY BALDWIN COLLEGE:  Follow your heart.  And every day, say to yourself, I know who I am.  I know who I am, and I know who I am!

JOAQUIM ENCARNACA, EMERSON COLLEGE VALEDICTORIAN:  You remember what happened our first week here.  September 11, 2001, was the least mundane day of our entire lives.  What else in these past 48 months?  There was and still is a war going on.  There was a papal conclave.  The Red Sox winning the World Series turned reality on its head.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  Real life is not college.  Real life is not high school.  Here is a secret that no one has told you.  Real life is junior high.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN:  My appeal to you as the leaders of tomorrow, as people who will be in the position to make decisions of consequence, is to allow morality and a sense of fundamental concern for humanity to guide your decisions.

KOFI ANNAN, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY GENERAL:  The story of your lives will be the story of your struggle to be true to the ideas you believe in.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS:  You are the products of greatness.  Things will be asked of you, and lives may depend on you.  And you are ready.  We are ready to watch you lead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I need a lot of money.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A hug.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Go through your life with kindness.  Give it wherever you can, even if you don‘t expect it in return.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If it seemed as if the jurors at the Michael Jackson trial had a bunch of graduations to run off to this afternoon, that‘s only because they did.  It‘s a neat segue into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 570 of the Michael Jackson investigations, and still no verdict, deliberations ending at 10:55 AM Santa Maria time.  They were at it for a back-breaking 2 hours and 27 minutes.  The judge had said last week that several jurors were obligated to attend school graduation ceremonies today.  There will be a full day‘s think tomorrow.

Plus, the theory that Jackson‘s visits to a local hospital correlated directly to the most tense moments in the trial seems to have been disproved.  He went there back last night.  No explanation as to what is wrong with him—medically.

Jackson, surprisingly, is an unlikely bet to be the subject of the next big blockbuster film.  That would be instead the Jennifer Wilbanks story, “The New York Daily News” reporting that the runaway bride is on the verge of a six-figure package deal—no, not to Vegas, a deal for a book, an exclusive TV interview and a TV movie possibly for NBC.

In light of that, I think I can add something to this story.  Some of the early casting decisions have been made.  While they have not decided on who will play Ms. Wilbanks, I‘m hearing around the building that the finalists are Kristin Davis (ph) from “Sex and the City,” “Saturday Night Live‘s” Rachel Dratch—long shot—and the late, great Marty Feldman from “Young Frankenstein,” and of course, the favorite, Shelly Duval (ph).

And as the fiancee, John Mason, co-starting golf‘s (ph) John Daly (ph), with a special cameo by Dave Chappelle as a fellow passenger on Jennifer‘s bus who teaches her that she‘s only running away from herself, something he knows because he‘s only running away from himself.  And special guest star, Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe as the 911 operator who took Jennifer‘s call, didn‘t like it and then threw the phone across the room.  The “Jennifer Wilbanks Story,” scheduled for Saturday, December 10, but to be mysteriously postponed at the last minute.

This is not a bizarre movie shoot, it is science.  No, seriously, it‘s science.  Cockroaches and cameras and robots, oh, my.  Next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  The roach-mobile.  If you‘ve never owned one, you‘ve probably known somebody who did.  It‘s a common enough term for a car somewhere in age past that of being used or being old and having advance to a state of decrepitude where the only way you get rid of the roaches living inside it is if they fall through the holes that have rusted out in the floor.  Then there‘s the roach coach.  You‘ve probably bought a dubious looking burger from one of those, never to see that food truck, the roach coach, again.

But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, new meanings for those terms, the roach mobile or the roach coach, a battery-operated three-wheeled car, of sorts, driven by a roach.  Not just any roach, of course, one of those big ones that can kick your domestic cockroach‘s feelers from here to Canada.  These are giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches.  Well, how does a cockroach drive a car?  By walking, as he ordinarily does on the floor, but this time on a modified computer trackball pointer.

And this is for why?  It‘s part of an experiment in robot development being conducted at the University of California by a graduate student named Garnet Hertz.  And Mr. Hertz, without his cockroaches, joins us now.  Good evening to you, sir.

GARNET HERTZ, ROBO-ROACH RESEARCHER:  Hi.

OLBERMANN:  So what do car-driving cockroaches have to do with robots?

HERTZ:  Well, initially, I became interested in working with cockroaches as a result of being interested in the ability for cockroaches to be able to move really well through terrain, and to combine that with a system where sort of the natural ability for these insects to move is put into a computer—or put into a robotic system where the insect could navigate the machine around, as opposed to a computer controlling the system.

OLBERMANN:  So you‘re trying to get some of the biological elements into a robot system.  Do you make the roaches drive the car, or are they doing it willingly somehow?

HERTZ:  Well, I haven‘t perfected my ability to speak cockroach yet, so I‘m not quite sure exactly what they‘re saying to me.  But they do hiss if they‘re upset, and the cockroaches don‘t hiss when they‘re in the robot, so I think it‘s all good.

OLBERMANN:  Well, now, to this point, “The New York Times” Science Tuesday section, which is one of the great reads in America, wrote your story up this week, your story on the cockroaches, obviously.  And there was one line in there in the account which fascinated me.  Let me just read this.  “Sometimes a roach appears perfectly happy to sit motionless on the ball for minutes at a time.  Some roaches ignore the lights”—the lights being used to sort of guide them around while they‘re driving this car—

“and once in awhile, some of them, Mr. Hertz believes, seem to enjoy bumping the cart into walls.”

What do you mean they enjoy bumping the cart into walls?

HERTZ:  Well, the robot is oriented and built on the premise that cockroaches don‘t like light.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

HERTZ:  In other words, in order for the system to avoid running into objects, there is an array of lights that shines lights in the cockroach‘s face as it‘s approaching an obstacle.  Now, cockroaches don‘t always—or I‘ve discovered that cockroaches don‘t always avoid the light.  Some do and some don‘t.  And it‘s—it does vary from insect to insect.  So it‘s interesting putting the insects in and seeing what they‘re doing, and they really do have different behaviors between the individual insects.

OLBERMANN:  And just like a 3-year-old kid on a tricycle, they might actually enjoy bumping the thing into the wall?  Do you have any—is that just a hunch, or do you have empirical evidence of this?

HERTZ:  I don‘t know if “enjoying” is the exact proper term, but they

·         you know, it‘s tough to say.  You know, these insects—some are very afraid of the light and some aren‘t.  And it‘s actually quite difficult to design this system because, essentially, I‘m trying to build, like, an immersive environment for these insects to fall into and to be able to navigate this robot accurately.  And so far, there‘s not a lot of information on how to build a virtual reality system for an insect like that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, there‘s more than there used to be.  Garnet Hertz, who was good enough to leave the cockroaches back home.  Best of luck with the project.  Thanks very much for your time tonight.

HERTZ:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  You can see it, can‘t you?  One roach will find out about this, then he tells the others.  Soon they‘ll all be driving cars around your kitchen.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night, and good luck.

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