updated 6/20/2005 8:12:17 AM ET 2005-06-20T12:12:17

Guest: Tom Finns, Clint Van Zandt, Tom O‘Neill, Casimir Nozkowski

ALEX WITT, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Authorities investigating what could be the worst serial pedophile case ever.  Notebooks full of alleged victims, as many as 36,000 names in at least six different states, three different countries.  The suspect in the 30-year trail of terror now behind bars.

The war on terror.  Al Qaeda‘s number two surfaces to make another videotaped statement.  Is the tape a harbinger of an al Qaeda attack soon to come?

Tom Cruise in love with Katie Holmes, acting out for weeks, and now engaged at the Eiffel Tower.  Alison Stewart‘s been along for the whole big love fest, even dished with Katie.  But talk about feeling like a third wheel.

Tom Cruise off the market got you crying in your Cheerios?  Now there‘s an outlet to share your pain with the whole world, CryingWhileEating.com.  You got to love the Internets.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening, everyone.  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.

It is a story as shocking as it is unseemly, the kind of story you don‘t want to believe because that would mean it could just as easily happen on your street, with your neighbor, to your kid.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, police in San Jose, California, say they have found someone who might be the most active child molester in history.

The numbers are staggering.  One man who may have molested 36,000 children over the course of 30 years, and the evidence, police say, is in his own handwriting.

Investigators say that seven notebooks taken from the home of Dean Arthur Schwartzmiller contain logs of possible victims, the names of more than 36,000 children, most of them boys, and codes that appear to indicate how he abused them.

The suspect was taken into custody last week after being extradited from Washington state.  Investigators say he has been arrested for child molestation in at least six states, plus Mexico and Brazil.

Police are releasing his photo because they want victims to come forward, asking anyone who recognizes this man to contact them.  Schwartzmiller‘s neighbors say they were suspicious about the young boys who would go into his San Jose home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He would (INAUDIBLE) say at a times, they were there because they were giving him access to computers, to play on the computers or whatever.  And it just didn‘t seem right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I was shocked that, you know, your suspicions are actually coming true, to, you know, be this horrible child molester that lives two doors down from you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Sergeant Tom Finns (ph) is the head of the San Jose Police Department‘s child exploitation unit, and he joins us now.

Sergeant, thank you much for your time tonight.

SGT. TOM FINNS, SAN JOSE POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Thank you.

WITT:  What was the initial tip that led you to Schwartzmiller‘s home?

FINNS:  Well, we had a—the parents of a 12-year-old victim come to the San Jose Police Department, reporting what they thought was some suspicious activity and some images that they had viewed regarding their own son.  Once that was reported, the ball started rolling.

WITT:  So sergeant, as the head of the child exploitation unit, you have no doubt seen very some disturbing things.  But have you ever seen anything quite like this?

FINNS:  No.  This is by far one of the most—the largest-scale child-molest situations I‘ve ever seen.

WITT:  Is it the notebooks themselves?  That‘s a huge problem there.  I mean, they contain some 36,000 entries.  You know, if you do the math, and over that 30 years, that breaks down to an unlikely three children, three acts of molestation, a day.  Is there any way to really tell how many kids might have been actually victimized here?

FINNS:  Well, understand, that 36,000 just covers the names that are listed in those journals.  A lot of those names are duplicated and seen three and four times, actually, throughout the pages.  And so, and again, the different types of molestation that we‘re talking about covers a wide range of issues.  So not all those kids, not all those 36,000 kids have been molested.

WITT:  Sergeant, can you talk about those, some of the things that are entailed inside those notebooks, any of the details?  Kind of encrypt them for us.  Or, I mean, I guess decipher them for us, I should say.

FINNS:  I can‘t go into details about what are in those ledgers, other than, we have names, we have codes associated with those names.  And we‘re currently working on deciphering those codes at this time.

WITT:  Are more people now coming forward who might have been abused

by Schwartzmiller?

FINNS:  Yes.  In fact, we have open phone lines now.  We‘ve been receiving numerous calls from across the country.  People are reporting contacts with Mr. Schwartzmiller, and we‘re working on investigating those tips now.

WITT:  You said across the country.  How much across the country do you mean?

FINNS:  Right now, generally referring to most of the Western state, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California.

WITT:  Had this man ever popped up on your radar for anything other than child abuse allegations?

FINNS:  Not that I‘m aware of.  There have been prior incidents of law enforcement contacts, but again, I can‘t go into specifics regarding those.

WITT:  OK.  Sergeant, can you tell us what‘s going to happen next in this case?

FINNS:  Well, again, right now, we are currently working with the FBI and the our U.S. Customs ice to basically bring all our evidence together and kind of triage what we have, figure out what the most important role for us is right now, and then to get all that evidence together and really figure out how we‘re going to be investigating this.

And the most important thing right now, though, is, we have the guy in custody, and so we can slow things down a little bit.

WITT:  All right.  Well, best of luck to you.  And that we say with heartfelt intention here.  Sergeant Tom Finns, thank you very much.  Appreciate your time.

FINNS:  Thank you.

WITT:  Meantime, half a world away in Sri Lanka, investigators are dealing with another troubling discovery, a convicted American sex offender who was running an orphanage for tsunami victims.  The man called himself Daniel Curry.  That‘s one of his names.  He‘s known also as Daniel Taze, a registered sex offender in the state of California.

And under even more aliases, he has also received felony convictions for drug trafficking and check fraud.  The check fraud conviction raises more troubling questions about money, specifically, what happened to the donations that were pouring into that orphanage.  Thousands of dollars directly deposited into the personal checking account of the sex offender‘s companion, Michelle Curry, who agreed to send the orphanage accounts to MSNBC.com to review, but has not yet done so.

No formal charges have been filed against the couple, but both have been banned from the orphanage, along with all other foreign volunteers, until the investigation is over.

Excuse me.

Tracing the globetrotting whereabouts of would-be child molesters may soon be a lot easier with the creation of the first worldwide pedophile registry.  The idea has been in the works for two years now, the brainchild of the G8, the informal group of the eight nations that are economic superpowers, including the U.S.  The interior minister of the United Kingdom says there are technical details that still need to be ironed out, but the database will be up and running by the end of the year.

For some guidance on all these serving cases, we are joined now by former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who‘s now an esteemed MSNBC analyst.

Good evening, Clint.  Nice to see you.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Hi, Alex.  Long day, huh?

WITT:  Yes.  This is a day, huh?

We have to start right now in San Jose, California, Clint, with the man suspected of being the most prolific child molester ever.  Have you ever heard anything like this?

VAN ZANDT:  No.  I mean, these numbers are staggering.  I did the same thing you did, I ran the math, and it was just overwhelming.  I mean, you know, this guy, it was like he was working a double shift every day being a child molester.  But, you know, it‘s almost unfathomable that a monster, that a creature like this, could have walked on two legs and not been locked up with the key thrown away.  I mean, this guy is an absolute poster boy for the one-strike rule, and not the 38,000 strike rule.

WITT:  Clint, what is the most chilling part of this discovery?  I know I‘m personally creeped out by the sight of these notebooks, that‘s for sure.

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, yes.  Well, you know, you‘ve got this obsessive-compulsive nature of this individual, to record all this, perhaps to help him go back and relive some of the horrific things that he did.

But, you know, there‘s two other issues, Alex.  Number one is, where were the caregivers of all these children?  How did they allow their children to be with this monster?  And why didn‘t they pick up the clues that the children must have had, that they had been molested?

And number two, where were—where‘s the empowerment that you and I and, you know, and others give to our children, where we say, No one has a right to touch you, no one has a right to do anything you don‘t want them to do to you.  And if they do, you come tell Mama Daddy, a schoolteacher, a police officer.  You know, how did this take place so many times without either children or parents raising their hand and saying, There‘s a monster on the street?

WITT:  You know, Clint, you bring up a very good point.  But do you think it could be that he had some sort of ability to speak to these children in a way that just made them fearful of speaking out?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, you know, you know, one of the things, like, on a Web site we‘ve got, LiveSecure.org, where we‘ve got a DVD, we try to help people identify predators.  And one of the things I say in that DVD is the tricks that a predator will use.

He will tell the children, This is what adults do.  We—I‘ll let you act like a grownup.  He‘ll politically them with candy, with drugs, with money.  He‘ll show them pornography on the television, and books.  He‘ll tell them this is a four-letter word, L-O-V-E, and you get to experience it now.  He‘ll also say, I‘m your best friend, and if you tell anybody, I go to jail.

Well, you know, children need to understand these ploys, these hooks are going to be there to be able to resist, to stand up against somebody like this.  What a horrible history, Alex.  This guy is 63 years old.  He probably started this in his early teens.  He‘s been doing this over four decades.

WITT:  It is absolutely mind-boggling.

Anyway, let‘s turn right now, Clint, turn our focus to Sri Lanka and the American sex offender and drug trafficker discovered to be running an orphanage.  I mean, it is, is it, rather, beyond cynical to think the most surprising thing here is that we haven‘t yet heard of more cases like this?  I mean, the potential for abuse in this region is just enormous right now.

VAN ZANDT:  Well, you know, we always see, in a tragedy like this scale, we always see the best and the worst of human behavior.  We see the Americans who have contributed tens of millions of dollars, and we‘ve deployed government and civilian assets to support these children, and people have lost their homes.  I mean, your heart just goes.  We‘ll say, Whatever it takes, here‘s my wallet, let me help you.

But there are always these predators, this—what—the—these people we find under the—on the underside of stones in a pond that are just so slimy that they look at this, not as an opportunity to help, but as an opportunity to take advantage.

So, you know, this has been with us.  There will be people who will continue to take advantage of human beings at their weakest, most vulnerable time.  And how they still, you know, how they still carry the title of human being just defies me.

WITT:  Yes.  I‘m trying to make a positive note out of this.  This world pedophile registry that the G8‘s offering, do you think this will work?  Is this a good idea, or a bad idea?

VAN ZANDT:  Yes, it‘s a starter.  It‘s just like in the United States, we want a national registry.  There should be an international registry.  But that‘s half the battle, Alex.  The other half says that second- and third-world countries, where they have these child brothels, where people from the United States many other Western and other countries, will fly and take their vacation just to take advantage of children.

I mean, you and I, you know, you want to put your hands over your ears and say, No, I don‘t want to hear this.  But that is the absolute reality.  And we have to shut those outlets off too.  Nations have to stand up and say, We will not allow this to happen to our country.

Nor, just like the terrorism watch list we have that keeps terrorists out, we have to keep these type of people out of countries too.

WITT:  I‘ll tell you, hands over your ears sometimes.  I find I want to just punch somebody out.

But anyway, Clint Van Zandt, former FBI profiler, now MSNBC analyst, thanks for your time, as always, Clint.

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you, Alex.

WITT:  Osama bin Laden‘s deputy addresses the Arab world and says there can be no peaceful path to reform.  The impact of this message, and is there a hidden meaning?

And the engagement talked about around the world.  Tom Cruise pops the question to Katie Holmes.  And now the whirlwind romance is heading down the aisle.

This is COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  The statistics are too chilling to ignore.  At least seven times since 1998, a message from Ayman al-Zawahiri has been followed in short order by an al Qaeda attack.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the new statement from Osama bin Laden‘s chief deputy, claiming, among other things, that armed jihad is the only way to bring change in the Arab world.

Andrea Mitchell reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On the new videotape, Ayman al-Zawahiri strikes a familiar pose against a nondescript background, an automatic weapon at his side.

His rhetoric is also familiar.  Zawahiri tries to incite his followers by attacking the treatment of U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The tape was likely made in the last three weeks, after women protesters were attacked by security forces during Egypt‘s May referendum.  Zawahiri denounces those attacks and the election process, saying...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI (through translator):  Reform and expelling the invaders from Muslim countries cannot be accomplished except by fighting for the sake of God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s very afraid that this democratic wave is going to spread throughout the Middle East, including Egypt.

MITCHELL:  At least seven times in the past six years, Zawahiri‘s messages have been followed closely by a terror attack, including the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, and the bombing of a nightclub in Bali in October 2002.

Only today, before Zawahiri‘s taped message, a new terror alert closed the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ll reopen when we think it‘s safe to reopen.

MITCHELL:  The tape offers no clue to Zawahiri‘s whereabouts.  In recent months, U.S. and Pakistani forces have tracked other al Qaeda leaders to this compound in northern Pakistan near the Afghan border.  American officials called it al Qaeda‘s winter headquarters.

Last month, Pakistani authorities burned part of it down to punish tribal supporters of bin Laden.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERROR ANALYST:  Most people believe that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are in the general vicinity together, that they probably do not travel together for operational security reasons.

MITCHELL (on camera):  Tonight, as intelligence officials analyze Zawahiri‘s latest attack on the democracy movement in the Middle East, Secretary of State Rice is flying to the region on a previously scheduled trip to promote democracy.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, at the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Despite the fact that we don‘t have a lead on the whereabouts of bin Laden or his henchman, the administration is getting high marks for its antiterrorism efforts.  The latest “New York Times”-CBS poll gives the president a 52 percent approval rating for his handling of the war on terror, which is significantly higher than his overall approval rating of 42 percent.  That is one of the lowest showings of any two-term president at this stage of his tenure in 50 years.

Congress fared even worse in the poll, with only a 33 percent approval rating.

As to the war in Iraq, 45 percent of those polled say the invasion was the right thing to do, but 51 percent now say we should have stayed out of that country.

As to all the U.S. is doing in the war in Iraq, only 7 percent say it is going very well, 33 percent say somewhat well, 34 percent say it‘s going somewhat badly, and over a quarter of those polled, 26 percent, say it is going very badly.

That perception no doubt formed in part by the seemingly relentless violence in Iraq, a Shi‘ite mosque the target today of a suicide bomber in Baghdad.  Witnesses say he blew up his car just as worshipers were leaving after Friday prayers.  Four people were wounded.

To the west, U.S. troops launched a new offensive against insurgents code-named Operation Spear.  One thousand Marines and Iraqi soldiers fanned out across the restive province of Anbar along the Syrian border, pledging to hunt down foreign fighters and local terrorists.  The Marines have lost 13 troops in that area in the past week.

Time now for a much-needed break from the serious headlines of this day.

The old, old West meets the 21st century.  Oddball asks, can it really be a cattle drive if cell phones are involved?

And breaking arcade news, yes, guess who‘s 25?  This guy.  Wait until you hear what Pac-Man was almost called.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  I‘m Alex Witt, wrapping up the week for Keith Olbermann.

And once again, we pause our COUNTDOWN of what tonight passes for real news, and bring you a brief segment of really stupid news.  But here, we admit it‘s stupid.

Let‘s play Oddball.

(singing):  Rollin‘, rollin‘, rollin‘, get them doggies rollin.

This is a scene right out of the old West, a good old-fashioned cattle drive from California to Reno, Nevada.  Three hundred head of cattle, complete with authentic-looking cowboys talking on cell phones, just like they did in the old days.  And plenty of old West-style fancy talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s really awesome.  It‘s tight.  I‘ve never seen a cattle drive before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s tight?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, real cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  They were headed for the Reno Livestock Event Center for the big rodeo and state dinner.  The steers are invited to the rodeo, and they‘re guests of honor at the dinner.

To Berlin, Germany, for the world‘s largest Monopoly game, a 9,000-square-foot board set up in a soccer stadium to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Hasbro favorite.

As you can see, a crowd of nearly three people turned out for the event to watch players move around that board, struggling to roll the enormous 40-pound dice.  Ooh, a six!  Go directly to the hospital, because you‘ve got a hernia.

And finally, in case you missed this one yesterday, the number two race at Hollywood Park.  Lady in the Shane was leading comfortably when the ground began to shake in Southern California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Having a good time, and Arta Be Good second and third.

And we are in the midst of an earthquake here in Southern California as Lady la Cane (ph) goes past the half-mile pole.  And Lady la Cane is the leader.  Two and a half lengths further back.

By the way, folks, I want you to know I love you all, and horse racing was my first love.

Off to the far turn, we hope.  Dark Beauty‘s (ph) a neck in front, Pleasant Thunder alongside these two.  Come to the wire in a shaker!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Dark Beauty, your winner, and is it sweet that when the specter of death reared its ugly head, announcer Vic Stouffer (ph) let his family know it was horse racing he truly loved, not them.

Speaking of true love, Tom and Katie, Katie and Tom.  Oh, the engagement‘s official.  Now, here comes a flood of questions.  Tom O‘Neill joins us with the inside scoop.

And love on the run, Jennifer and John and Katie, Katie and Jennifer and John.

Oh, we‘re less than 96 hours from the exclusive interview.  You‘ll be hooked when you see tonight‘s cliffhanger from the runaway bride.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Martin Crowson of London.  He‘s been jailed for falsely collecting more than $30,000 in government benefits, claiming he was too disabled to work.  Investigators found Crowson was not only healthy enough to work, he had spent his money becoming a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and on a tropical vacation, where he was photographed wrestling alligators.

Number two, Deanne Miller Boschert of Fargo, North Dakota.  She told police that all she wanted was for her husband to sleep on his side, because his loud snoring was keeping her awake.  So she poured water on him.  When that didn‘t work, she stabbed him twice with a ballpoint pen.  Finally, she whacked him with a dumbbell.

His snoring stopped, but he called the police, he did.  And she is charged with assault.

And number one, Georgio Angelozzi of Italy.  You may remember the very touching story of this 80-year-old man who put an ad in the paper last year looking for a family to adopt him as a grandfather.  Well, a family did, and he lived with them until a month ago, when he suddenly ran away from home, leaving that family with a mountain of bills he‘d run up.

On his way out of town, police say, he visited another family, and stole about $7,000 in checks.  Say it ain‘t so, Grandpa, just say it ain‘t so.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  In his book, “The Devil‘s Dictionary,” the great American novelist Ambrose Bierce defined love as a, quote, “temporary insanity, curable by marriage.”  For all our sakes, let‘s hope he was right.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN: Weddings of the weird and famous or both.  In a moment, wide-eyed runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks breaks her silence.

But we begin with wife number three for Tom Cruise.  The 42-year-old actor was in Paris promoting his new film, “War of the Worlds,” and after 20 minutes of mundane discussion about said production, a reporter finally asked the one thing any of us are really interested in, is he getting married to Katie Holmes?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE, “WAR OF THE WORLDS”:  The premiere we wanted here in France because it‘s beautiful and it‘s romantic.  And yes, I proposed to Kate last night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  That was it.  After weeks of public canoodling, sofa-jumping, loud and obnoxious proclamations of undying love, the announcement of impending nuptials took a mere 10 seconds.  Now, to be fair, Cruise had apparently pulled an all-nighter, proposing to Ms. Holmes underneath the Eiffel Tower in the wee hours of the morning before dragging himself to that press conference.  After that, he and his fiancee hopped on a private train to the south of France and gave a ride to our very own Alison Stewart, who promptly called us to share all the juicy details.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC:  Well, Alex, just moments after that press conference, we boarded Tom Cruise‘s private train en route to Marseilles.  And at some point during the train ride, I found myself in a car with him, Katie, and about five other people.  Just said congratulations to her, and she said, I‘m so excited.  (INAUDIBLE) I looked at Tom and said, Hey, how‘re you feeling, bud?  And he said, I am so happy.  This is just amazing.  They then proceeded to smooch like a couple who‘d just gotten engaged.

He went on to actually pilot the train at one point.  She was right there by his side.  A little later on, they went to Marseilles via boat in, might I add, color-coordinated outfits.  I caught up with him there and asked him, What was it like?  What were you feeling the moment before you were about to announce to the world that you had got engaged and were getting married again?  He took a deep breath, put his hand on his chest and said, I was just so proud.  This is so real.

Cruise is headed to London for yet another of his movie premieres, and then on to Madrid as “War of the Worlds” makes its way to the United States, where it‘s premiering on June 29 in New York.  Alex, back to you.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

WITT:  Very cool, Alison Stewart.  Now, is this engagement truly so real or so scripted?  As we often do when news of this nature crosses the horizon, we turn to Tom O‘Neill, senior editor of”In Touch Weekly” magazine, to shake some sense out of this.  Tom, thanks so much for joining us.

TOM O‘NEILL, “IN TOUCH WEEKLY”:  Oh, thanks for having me.  This was a fun one!

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  ... this was fun!

O‘NEILL:  And why—why are we so skeptical?

WITT:  I don‘t know.  What is your take on this marriage?

O‘NEILL:  I think we‘re seeing a really desperate man.  We forget how lonely celebrities are, on one hand.  They live isolated lives.  There are alley cat stars, like Bruce Willis, who gets a date a week.  Tom Cruise doesn‘t date that much, probably not even as much as the average guy.

And issue number two—and I believe it‘s the most important of all -

·         and that is, we‘re seeing the superstar in his 40s, desperate to stay on top.  This is a star who no longer makes art house movies like “Magnolia” or other Oscar-worthy roles.  He wants stardom, and he knows a love interest is necessary.

WITT:  OK.  Now, whether or not this is true love, or at least they think it‘s true love at this point, doesn‘t this seem awfully sudden?  Wasn‘t it just a few months ago, in March, that Katie was engaged to another man, living with him, as well?

O‘NEILL:  Right, right, right.  But don‘t you think this is all kind of Tom?  He‘s forcing this.  We‘re seeing one of the worst performances of his career, and it‘s no longer a mystery why this man doesn‘t have an Oscar.  This is just such hambone!  Even today—the Eiffel Tower?  Come on!  Yes, this is scripted.  It‘s a bad script!

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  OK.  Talk to us about the script, though, the future—the nuptials, all that, because I understand you got...

O‘NEILL:  This is what we‘re hearing...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘NEILL:  Yes, yes, yes.  We‘ve been talking to family and friends, and Katie‘s telling them that it‘s OK with her if they get married in a Scientology service at the LA Center.

WITT:  Oh!

O‘NEILL:  But the Scientologists said that, Oh, we have much better idea, much more romantic.  We‘ll do it aboard the Black Yacht.  That is the boat of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.  Now, if they‘re dumb enough to do this, don‘t they realize what that looks like?  That looks as if these are two willing captives on this almost pirate ship held by cultists.

WITT:  What‘s the name of this boat again?  What‘s it called?

O‘NEILL:  It‘s called the Black Yacht.  That‘s its name.

WITT:  Black Yacht?

O‘NEILL:  How ominous!

WITT:  That doesn‘t—yes.  That doesn‘t bode well for a marriage.  I mean, the white yacht would make it a little better.  I don‘t know.

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  But it stays consistently creepy, doesn‘t it.

WITT:  Yes.  It does.  Well, I want to play you Katie‘s reaction to a question about how she felt about her upcoming nuptials, you know, get your reaction, on the way out.  Take a listen.

O‘NEILL:  Okeydoke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  (INAUDIBLE) feeling today (INAUDIBLE)

KATIE HOLMES, ACTRESS:  So happy.

QUESTION:  OK (INAUDIBLE)

HOLMES:  (INAUDIBLE) thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  OK, no you have to be a little bit fair, everybody.  We‘ll try to be fair here because she‘d apparently been up all night, you know, smooching with Tom at the Eiffel Tower and stuff like that, so she was kind of tired.  But this “So happy” sounded almost sarcastic.

O‘NEILL:  I know.  I know.

WITT:  Don‘t you think?

O‘NEILL:  I know.

WITT:  Like it was just some scripted, throwaway...

O‘NEILL:  I feel sorry for her.  I think she‘s been pushed into this, to some extent, by Tom‘s enthusiasm and perhaps loneliness, and she knows how important this is to her career because look what it did for Nicole Kidman.

WITT:  Now, I have a theory that these two meet, they get all caught up in all the press and publicity with these two mega-films coming out, and that they actually really believe that they‘re in love.  I mean, you know, don‘t you think that‘s possible, that they...

O‘NEILL:  I think they want to believe that...

WITT:  ... want to believe it?

O‘NEILL:  ... they‘re in love.  Yes.  Yes.  And just look at last weekend.  We saw how important romance is to the success of film stars.  “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” was only supposed to make $20 million.  It made $50 million!

WITT:  Right.  They‘re taking a page out of this maybe...

O‘NEILL:  Yes.

WITT:  ... because “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”—I mean, that thing has gone gangbusters far more than people thought and the critics...

O‘NEILL:  Because of the romance around it.

WITT:  Right.

O‘NEILL:  And Tom knows that now.

WITT:  Right.  OK, now we have to bring in the British, since this was done overseas, the British bookie, Ladbrokes (ph) already—I checked my numbers here—offering odds of 5-to-1 that Tom and Katie will divorce next year.

O‘NEILL:  Next year?WITT:  What do you think?

O‘NEILL:  I give it two.  I was thinking about this earlier.  If Jennifer and Brad could make it four—and that was a real marriage, I think...

WITT:  Yes, I think...

O‘NEILL:  Let‘s divide that in half...

WITT:  ... that was a real one.

O‘NEILL:  Is that logical?

WITT:  Yes, that‘s logical.  I don‘t know.  I—poor—Jen and Brad, we got to bring you back to talk about that because that one‘s still sad.

O‘NEILL:  I know.  It‘s very sad.

WITT:  And did you see “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”?

O‘NEILL:  Yes.

WITT:  Yes, that was kind of hot between them, wasn‘t it.

O‘NEILL:  Yes, a little too hot.

WITT:  OK.  All right, that would be...

O‘NEILL:  They‘re still married, aren‘t they?

WITT:  ... Angelina and Brad.  Yes.  All right, we‘ll have to have you come back and talk about that, too.

O‘NEILL:  Thanks, Alex.

WITT:  Thank you, Tom.  It was good to see you, as always.

Well, now to our other favorite crazy in love or just crazy couple, the runaway bride and her “stand by your woman” man.  Jennifer Wilbanks is finally telling her side of the story.  She sat down with the “Today” show‘s Katie Couric for her first interview since jumping on a Greyhound bus days before her wedding, calling 911 to say she‘d been kidnapped and later confessing that it had all been a hoax.  Her fiance, John Mason, sat beside her as she talked about the pressures of planning their wedding and what she now calls the best mistake she ever made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER WILBANKS, RUNAWAY BRIDE:  It was stressful because I am a perfectionist and I want everything perfect.  That was the hard part for me.

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST:  Let‘s move on to the night of Tuesday, April 26.  Around 8:30 that evening, you told John you were going to go out for a run.  You don‘t run together, so you were going out by yourself.

JOHN MASON, FIANCE:  I had just gotten back.

COURIC:  You had just gotten back from?

MASON:  Running.

COURIC:  So tell me about that night.

WILBANKS:  First of all, that night, my running had absolutely nothing to do with this wonderful man sitting right here beside me.  With what we‘ve just said, I mean, it would be so simplistic to break all this down and say that it was—you know, break it into certain things.  Oh, I had cold feet.  I was stressed out.  There was pressure.  But you know, that is just a very small part of it.  It‘s a little bit more serious than that.  That night in that moment, it really became a life-or-death decision for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  The entire Jennifer Wilbanks interview can be seen Tuesday night on a Katie Couric special at 8:00 PM Eastern, 7:00 Central.

And you can start obsessively checking your local listings for the inevitable made-for-television movie pretty soon.  Wilbanks and Mason struck a deal with Reagan Media, selling the exclusive rights to the stories.  The tag price—price tag, rather, 500,000 smackers.  Judith Regan calls it a compelling story of love and forgiveness.  Word has it their props department is already looking for just the right afghan.

We can only hope their marriage is as successful as Pac-Man, celebrating its silver anniversary on the run.  The wild success of the popular game and what it was almost called, and a bizarre Web site offering voyeurs loads of twisted fun.  We‘re going to talk to one of the minds behind Cryingwhileeating.com.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  Fair warning, this story will make you feel old.  Pac-Man is turning 25 and taking his rightful place as the second story on our COUNTDOWN tonight.  In 1980, the little yellow video game hero exploded onto the American pop culture scene.  He was the first ever video game persona.  Before him, games centered on controlling inanimate objects.  The Pac-Man was the brainchild of a young Japanese designer inspired by the sight of a pizza pie with one slice missing.  Originally, our round friend was named Puck-Man, but because of the resemblance to a certain American four-letter word, he was rechristened Pac-Man before his debut in this country.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Our correspondent is Michael Okwu.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This is a story about what can happen when a simple concept gets under our skin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Pac-Man was the most popular game, more than any video game, more than Monopoly, more than Scrabble, anything.

OKWU:  Pac-Man, the game where a yellow circle with a mouth runs around a maze eating dots and prizes, always in danger of being gobbled by a ghost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Basically, my love for Pac-Man came out of an obsession that I had.

OKWU:  Twenty-five years ago, the nation shared Bill Mitchell‘s (ph) obsession.  And Bill eventually became one of only three to ever play a perfect game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The 25th anniversary of Pac-Man is significant because it‘s an icon in our society now.

OKWU:  It all began when game designer Toru Iwatani (ph) was inspired by a pizza with one slice missing and created Pac-Man for the Japanese company Namco.

(on camera):  After a quarter century, the success of Pac-Man is now measured in the billions.  Namco says the original game has been played more than 10 billion times, earning the company about $1 billion, playing a crucial role in what is now a multi-billion-dollar industry.

(voice-over):  Pac-Man is now played on cell phones and with amazing graphics, played on all the latest hardware.  But Namco says the new Pac-Man is true to the original.

YOSHI NIKI, HOMETEK, INC.:  I think the very nature of Pac-Man games has always remained the same—simple, fun and nonviolent.

OKWU:  In an era when video games are often riddled with violence, this new Pac-Man will have none, the game to be unveiled later this year celebrating a dynasty begun 25 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The introduction of Pac-Man caused the video game industry to become what it is today.

OKWU:  And video games historian Walter Day (ph) is convinced Pac-Man is here to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Pac-Man actually is in the heart of America even more than the mind of America.

OKWU:  For COUNTDOWN, Michael Okwu, NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Arcades perhaps not the place to look for Michael Jackson these days.  The freshly acquitted pop stars tops the list of entertainment news and gossip we call “Keeping Tabs.”  But if you happen to be one of the devout fans heard shrieking outside that courtroom in Santa Maria these past few weeks, you may find him at the Choomash (ph) casino in Santa Ynez, California, tomorrow night.  That‘s the venue for the invitation-only post-verdict soiree being thrown by the Jackson family for a few select supporters.

There are plans for a full-fledged concert, although no word yet on whether Michael Jackson will take the stage.  The menu also still in question.  Absolutely no mention of “Jesus juice.”  Go figure.

And apparently, one “American Idol” contestant was doing some celebrating of his own for losing, Bo Bice telling “Rolling Stone” magazine that as he stood up there in the final moments of the “American Idol” contest, the only thing running through his mind was, quote, “Please, God, don‘t let me win this thing!”  Bice was afraid a win would ruin his rockin‘ street cred because his rendition for the love of money in front of $40 million totally didn‘t.

Finally tonight, a little shameless self-promotion.  COUNTDOWN‘s beloved host, Keith Olbermann, who you may have noticed isn‘t here, is heading to Los Angeles, where he will appear Monday night on the “Tonight” show Jay Leno.  Stay up late.  Set your Tivos, whatever.  Keith on the couch this Monday, 11:30 PM Eastern.  Do not miss it.

And what‘s going on in this picture?  Well, crying while eating, of course.  Duh!  It‘s all over the Internets.  Where have you been?  We‘re going to talk to the creator next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  One could conceivably draw the parallel to the early 20th century artistic movement Dadaism.  A bunch of artists, despondent about a world war and raging against the homogeny surrounding them created works that were, well, slightly non-traditional.  It was only months ago, in fact, that Marcel Duchamps‘s (ph) signed urinal was voted the most influential work of modern art.  Yes, I said urinal.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Your crash course in art history now complete, we present to you Cryingwhileeating.  The site was created by two friends, Casimir Nozkowski and Dan Engber (ph), and features clips of people doing, what else, sobbing as they stuff their faces.

Nozkowski and Engber began by recruiting friends to appear in the 30-second vignettes, which are posted on the site by first name, what they‘re eating and why they are crying.  Nate and Shawn (ph), lobster bisque and Sam Adams Summer Ale.  They weep because they haven‘t lived up to each other‘s expectations.  Some of the explanations, however, are slightly less esoteric.  (INAUDIBLE) caption, “Not even a chocolate eclair could pacify his hysteria over a lack of positive news stories.”

I‘m sorry.  Perhaps this will because we‘ve got one of the creators of Cryingwhileeating.com, Casimir Nozkowski.  Thanks so much for joining us.

CASIMIR NOZKOWSKI, CRYINGWHILEEATING.COM:  My pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

WITT:  OK, so let me start really simply here.  What the heck is this?

NOZKOWSKI:  That is a really good question, and I just don‘t know.  No, it‘s a Web site.  It‘s our gesture to the Internet that you can make really weird stuff that‘s not derivative of anything.  It‘s not a pop culture reference.  It‘s just funny and uncomfortable and a little disturbing, and you can put it out there and lots of people can look at it.

WITT:  Now, originally, you guys had friends and performers appear in these things, but now you‘re actually getting submissions, right?  I mean, how do you decide what makes up it there?

NOZKOWSKI:  It‘s—well, it‘s—first of all, the reaction has been bonkers.  I mean, it‘s literally coming from all over the world.  I think our first submission was, like, five minutes after we launched it, and it was coming from Australia.

Our basic policy is to include everything, get everything up there.  You know, we don‘t want to censor.  The few people that I think we‘ve cut out have been people who are either trying to advertise, let‘s say, a new play or a product, and they have, like, a logo up front, or people who, while I want to include everyone, were a little gross, and we had to draw the line.  And you know, God bless them for being that brave and that ugly, but you know, we had to just—we had to put them aside.

WITT:  OK.  Here‘s a review of your site.  Quote, “The scenes evoke the kind of unselfconscious, shame-free expresses of psychic pain,” yada, yada.  You know, you get the idea.  Did you guys mean to have these artistic parallels drawn, or did you just think this was just going to be downright hilarious?

NOZKOWSKI:  Well, I think our main thought was it‘s got to be really funny.  And then when we made it, we were, like, Hey, it‘s really funny, so let‘s put it out there.  And it got out there, and the success was, like, just amazing and kind of overwhelming.  And the minute that people keep telling you that you‘re—you‘ve got something that‘s kind of a phenomenon, you‘re, like, Yes, well, that was our plan.  You see, we‘re trying to create this new genre.  And I will wax pretentiously about it, but you know, it‘s exciting.  It‘s a private moment being shared in a—like, that you never see, being shared in a really public form.  And I think there‘s something arty there, and I hope we‘ve, you know, captured it, I guess.

WITT:  You‘re talking about success.  Are you guys making money off of this?

NOZKOWSKI:  Absolutely not!

(LAUGHTER)

NOZKOWSKI:  We—well, what happened—we‘ve been offered a couple things about—you know, putting banners and ads up there.  And while I would love to do projects like this all the time and get—you know, I need a little cash to get that rolling, Dan and I, you know, we thought that it was best—we wanted to just present it without the ads.  We don‘t want things getting in the way.  It‘s a weird image.  You don‘t want to be looking at an ad while you‘re watching someone cry into their salad, salad dressing, whatnot.

WITT:  Do you have any plans to branch out to something else, or is this kind of crying genre all played out for you?

NOZKOWSKI:  Well, I think—I think the next obvious step is the Cryingwhileeating movie, and we‘re totally—you know, we‘re ready to get some bids right away.

No, I think—I think—we want to take this as far as it‘ll go.  We want to see what happens with it.  I just love that people are sending stuff in.  It‘s amazing.  It‘s, like—I feel like we‘re tied into an Internet community, and I want to, you know, just see where it goes.  I‘d love to make more stuff like this.  I know Dan would.  I know we—it‘s—you know, you want to take advantage of the Internet.  You can literally show stuff to bazillions of people immediately, across all borders, you know?

WITT:  Yes, it‘s pretty cool.  And do you have one favorite?

NOZKOWSKI:  One favorite clip?  Besides my own because I eat some strawberries on there.  It‘s pretty dynamic.

WITT:  OK, you know what?  Then that‘s it.  That‘s the answer right there.

NOZKOWSKI:  Done.

WITT:  That is the favorite.  Casimir Nozkowski, co-creator of Cryingwhileeating.com, thanks for joining us.

NOZKOWSKI:  Oh, my pleasure.  Thanks for having me.

WITT:  Now, don‘t go crying into your Rice Chex just yet, kids.  We could not possibly leave you without the usual Friday night finale, a compilation of the good, the bad and the just plain bizarre.  Here‘s Keith Olbermann with COUNTDOWN‘s top five of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Number five: What a week Michael Jackson was having.  First cleared of all charges in his sex trial, then word came that he might be the star of a new reality show, just like “The Osbournes,” except that instead of it starring a guy who seems 80 years old for some reason, shuffling around, mumbling to himself, with his wacky family—wait a minute.  It‘s exactly like “The Osbournes”!

Number 4 four, the fabulous Guantanamo Bay detention center.  Come for the waterboarding, stay for the lemon fish.  California congressman Duncan Hunter calling a press conference this week to say the food at Gitmo is Mm-mm good.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better.

OLBERMANN:  Tropical climate, Christina Aguilera music 24/7, and great grub?  Call your travel agent today and say, Get me to Gitmo!

Number three, the quarter wars.  There‘s a two-bit ruckus brewing between the states of Colorado and Minnesota after one governor dissed the other governor‘s new quarter.

GOV. BILL OWENS ®, COLORADO:  What the hell is going on with this quarter?  You know, that is one ugly quarter!

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA:  ... because I think there‘s some subliminal messaging in these mountain peaks depicting Governor Owens of Colorado in the buff.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I think I see it!  Ew!

Number two, the image of Jesus appearing once again in the strangest of places, as a water stain on a Fort Worth, Texas, apartment window.  So many people flocked to catch a glimpse, it was decided the window should to be moved to a safer location.  Oh, that ain‘t good.

And number one, third floor, ladies‘ shoes, lingerie, hen‘s wear.  The latest fashions from Austrian designer Edgar Honedschlager (ph), knitted suits and faux fur for your foul.  Jeez, when I ordered the dressed chicken, who knew she‘s be wearing a $65 pantsuit?

I‘m Keith Olbermann, and that‘s the top five.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.  I‘ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.  “THE SITUATION” with Tucker Carlson is up next.  Good night, and good luck.

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

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