updated 6/30/2005 9:11:46 AM ET 2005-06-30T13:11:46

Guest: Clint Van Zandt

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

Like the nightmare which you can‘t stop remembering.  In a Kansas courtroom, the public, matter-of-fact, remorseless confessions of the BTK  killer.

The news crawl.  Looks like nothing to you and me, but an amazing admission from the former head of Homeland Security.  His office canceled dozens of Christmastime flights into this country based on what they thought were secret messages in a news crawl.

Secret trysts between Princess Diana and JFK Jr.?  It is the Ewww story of the day.

And this is the greatest monkey ever.  As part of a shameless corporate-wide promotion of the new King Kong flick, which one is the gorilla your dreams?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Perhaps it shouldn‘t surprise us.  Perhaps it shouldn‘t appall us. 

Perhaps it shouldn‘t attract us in some deep and dark way that is almost impossible to resist.

Yet in our number five story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it has done all that.  The 40-minute public televised confession of the so-called BTK killer, Dennis Rader, the ultimate nightmare, the serial murderer next door, who, when finally caught, is concerned only with being as detailed as possible about what he called his “projects.”

Rader waiving his right to trial, confessing to 10 murders.  There was no plea deal.  Sentencing will be August 17.

Rader‘s account was precise, seemingly proud, but ultimately oblivious, oblivious to the fact that his “projects” had been human beings whose lives he ended with his bare hands.

As we suggested, maybe this should not surprise nor shock us.  Ted Bundy confessed in matter-of-fact, proud tones to his murders.  Jeffrey Dahmer was equally blase.

History is stained by such men and such admissions.  It was Alfred Hitchcock, of all people, who got it right.  True terror, he said, is not the demonic murderer, but the even-tempered murderer, the one who tells you that he‘s terribly sorry, but this is just something he has to do.  And then he shoots you.

Dennis Rader‘s public recitation today lasted 40 minutes.  We will now show you a little more than 1/10 of it.  We warn you that in many instances, it is graphic, and in all instances, it is terrifyingly even tempered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENNIS RADER:  First of all, Mr. Otero was strangled, or a bag put over his head and strangled.  Then I thought he was going down.  And I went over and strangled Mrs. Otero.  And I thought she was down.  Then I strangled Josephine, and she was down.  And then I went over to Junior and put the bag on his head.

After that, Mrs. Otero woke back up, and, you know, she was pretty upset.  What‘s going on?  So I came back, and at that point in time, strangled her for the death strangle at that time.

What I call them, projects.  There were different people in the town that I followed, watched.  Captain Bright was one of the next targets, I guess.

She and Kevin Bright came in.  I wasn‘t expecting him to be there.  I stabbed her, I think (INAUDIBLE) either stabbed two or three times, either here or here.  Maybe two back here and one here, or maybe just two times.

At that point in time, well, it was a total mess, because I didn‘t have control on it.  She was bleeding.  She went down.  I think I just went back to check on Kevin, or, at that basically same time, I heard him escape.  It could be one of the two.  But all of a sudden, the front door of the house was open, and he was gone.

If I had brought my stuff and used my stuff, Kevin would probably be dead today.  I‘m not bragging on that.  It is just a matter of fact.

She was completely random.  There was actually someone across from Dylan‘s (ph) was potential target.  And it was called Project Green, I think.  Anyway, we went back to the—her bedroom, and I proceeded to tie the kids up.  And they started crying and got real upset.  So I said, No, this is not going to work.

So we moved them to the bathroom.  She helped me.  And then I tied the door shut.  We put some toys and blankets and odds and ends in there for the kids, to make them as comfortable as I could.  Tied the—we tied one of the bathroom doors shut so they couldn‘t open it.  Then we shoved—she went back and helped me shove the bed up against the other bathroom door.

And then I proceeded to tie her up.  She got sick and threw up.  Got her a glass of water, comforted her a little bit, and then I went ahead and tied her up, and then put a bag over her head and strangled her.

I confronted her.  I told her there I was a—that I had a problems, sexual problems, that I would have to tie her up and have sex with her.  She was a little upset.  We talked for a while.  She smoked a cigarette.  While we smoked a cigarette, I went through her purse, identifying some stuff.

And she finally said, Well, let‘s get this over with, so I can go call the police.  And I said OK.

I handcuffed her, had her lay on the bed.  And then I tied her feet, and then I—I was also undressed to a certain degree.  And then I got on top of her, and then I reached over, took—either her feet were tied or not tied.  But anyway, I took—I think I had a belt.  I took the belt and then strangled her.

She came in with a male visitor.  They were there for maybe an hour or so.  And he left.  And I waited until wee hours of the morning.  And then proceeded to sneak into her bedroom and flipped the lights on (INAUDIBLE), I think the bathroom lights, I just—I didn‘t want to flip her lights on.  And she screamed.

And I jumped on the bed and strangled her manually.  She was already dead, so I took pictures of her in different forms of bondage.  And that‘s probably what got me in trouble was the bondage thing.

Vicki Wegerle was another potential victim.  I went through those different phases.  Walked in on her, as I would call it, and decided that I would try that day.  I used a ruse as a telephone repairman to get into her house.

I went over and found out where the telephone was, simulated that I was checking the telephone.  I had a make-believe instrument.  And after she was looking away, I drew a pistol at her and asked her if she‘d go back to the bedroom with me.

Finally got the hand on her and got a nylon sock and started strangling her.

I handcuffed her and kind of talked to her, told her that I would like to get some food, get her keys to her car, and kind of rest assured, you know, (INAUDIBLE), talked with her a little bit to calm her down a little bit.  And then eventually, I checked, I think she was still handcuffed.  I went back and checked out where the car was.  Simulated getting some food, odds and ends in the house, sort of like I was leaving.

Then I went back and removed her handcuffs, and then tied her up, and then eventually strangled her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Dennis Rader, strangler, former president of the church council at Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita.

To try to help us understand what we just saw there, I‘m joined by former FBI profiler and now MSNBC analyst Clint Van Zandt.

Good evening, Clint.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Hi, Keith, good evening.

OLBERMANN:  This performance by Rader today, this must have been as much a part of his ritual as the murders themselves, was it not?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, I think it was.  You know, Keith, I‘ve never seen anybody on TV before that I wanted to reach right through that television and grab him and put them out of their misery.  But see, I would be doing it out of anger.  Rader did it because he liked to do it.  That‘s the difference.

And today, as you suggest, what we saw on television, this was the top of the mountain for him.  This was the chance to strut his stuff.  This was the chance to tell us all how smart, how wise, how dedicated, how really good he was to be able to keep this up for 31 years.

OLBERMANN:  Then let him do this?  Why give him the 40 minutes to speak his piece?  And sort of part B of that question, should it have been on television?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, number one, I would have had this guy in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed, shackled, ball and chain, his mouth taped up if I had to.  Not to let him—Keith, he comes in dressed like you and I.  He‘s got a suit, a tie, a white shirt.  He is a professor, he‘s telling us—he‘s telling us—educating us about this.

Now, the reality is, in a situation like this, even though someone enters a plea, the judge has to be convinced that the person actually did what he is confessing to.

So did this to have take place?  Yes.  Did the family have to sit there and hear this monster go over what did to their loved ones?  I don‘t think so.  Should it be something that we, like when we go to the zoo and we want to smell the breath of the lion, in this case, we want to get up to the tube and see what‘s the difference between Rader and ourselves?

We want to know why there are two-legged monsters and there are not. 

I don‘t know this is a lesson that we all need to learn.

OLBERMANN:  The DA‘s office insists, and insisted again on this network not an hour ago, that there was no plea deal.  But if he were to go to trial, quite clear from that, that an insanity plea would have been a realistic possibility, because he is not of this earth, as you hear him talk.

Could this have been a de facto plea deal?  Listen, plead guilty, and we will let you go into the detail that you want to during the plea colloquy, as they call it, just as we saw today, a kind of quid pro quo?

VAN ZANDT:  Well, I‘m really surprised that he—were this a deal, that he bought into this.  I mean, as much as he describes his sexual fantasy, this psychosexual aspect to his crimes, I would think this guy would have loved to sit in a courtroom, hear the victims‘ family members cry, hear the police officers tell how they couldn‘t find this guy for 31 years.

I‘m really surprised that he gave up, that he gave up that opportunity.  But, Keith, the crimes that he confessed to, none of them were during the period of time that Kansas had the death penalty.  So should he have done other murders, he‘s keeping them to himself.

OLBERMANN:  One more piece of this performance that we wanted to play and then get your reaction.  Here‘s the tape first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RADER:  If you‘ve read much about serial killers, they go through what they call the different phases.  That‘s one of the phases they go through, is, (INAUDIBLE) as a (INAUDIBLE) stage.  You‘re (INAUDIBLE), basically you‘re looking for a victim at that time.  And that—you could be trolling for months or years.  But once you lock in on a certain person, you begin to stalk him.  And that might be several of them.  But you really home in on that person.  They basically come the—that‘s the victim.  Or at least that‘s what you want it to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s the Hitchcock thing that I was describing earlier. 

It‘s the guy saying, Gee, I‘m sorry I had to do this, but I had to do it. 

And he‘s not making any excuses for it.

VAN ZANDT:  This is somebody who studies serial killers.  He knows the Bundys and the Dahmers of this world.  He‘s read about them, he knows the mistakes they‘ve made, he copies their activities, he copies their movements.

But now, Keith, he‘s lecturing the judge.  He‘s lecturing the jury.  And Keith, he is revictimizing these family members one more time as he struts around like a visiting professor telling a class of sophomores what the real definition of serial killer is.

I mean, this guy is the poster boy for psychopaths, and he makes somebody like Dr. Lecter in “Silence of the Lamb” look like a candy salesman.

OLBERMANN:  Clint Van Zandt, the former FBI profiler, MSNBC analyst.  I‘m sorry it‘s under these circumstances for—but thanks for joining us, Clint.

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the Supreme Court splits on the 10 Commandments.  But the head fellow there is not splitting, not yet, anyway.

And an extraordinary exclusive tonight, the reasons behind the terror alerts of Christmas 2003.  Tom Ridge telling Lisa Myers that the CIA  Thought the Al Jazeera network was sending out secret messages in the news crawl on the bottom of the screen.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Like the awful commercials with David Spade in them, today‘s featured word out of the Supreme Court was no, no review for the two reporters facing jail time as part of the Robert Novak-Joe Wilson investigation, no 10 Commandments inside courthouses, and, most intriguingly for the rumor-mongerers who had spent the weekend believing otherwise, no retirements by ailing chief justices.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, there is no better reporter covering the court than Pete Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  With emotions running high nationwide over public depictions of the 10 Commandments,...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... and crying out for your mercy...

WILLIAMS:  ... the court said today that whether such displays violate the Constitution‘s ban on endorsing religion depends on when and why they were put up in the first place.

The court struck down framed displays of the commandments in two Kentucky courthouses, finding the purpose there was clearly religious.  A former Kentucky county judge said he was stunned.

JIMMIE GREENE, FORMER KENTUCKY STATE COURT JUDGE:  I cried.  My heart was broken, because it means so much to me.

WILLIAMS:  But the court, ruling five to four, noted that at a ceremony posting the commandments, a county official brought his pastor to talk about God.  And an official resolution calling for their display referred to, quote, “Jesus Christ, the Prince of Ethics.”

But in a stinging dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia accused the court of ignoring the country‘s religious heritage, obvious in statements like the presidential oath...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... so help me God.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... so help me God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  ... and in political speeches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... and God bless the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  But by another five-to-four ruling, the court approved a granite 10 Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol.  In casting deciding the deciding vote, Justice Steven Breyer said the state intended it to send a moral message, reflecting historical ideals.  And he said the monument stood for 40 years without sparking a court challenge until now, suggesting that few found it to be a government endorsement of religion.

Both sides in the debate agreed today‘s rulings likely saved thousands of other granite monuments like the one in Texas, placed years ago in public parks nationwide.  But civil liberties groups say more recent postings could be in trouble.

BARRY LYNN, OPPOSED COMMANDMENTS DISPLAYS:  New placements of the 10 Commandments, placements of the 10 Commandments where they will have a clear promotional effect on young children, those are forbidden by today‘s decisions.

WILLIAMS:  And advocates of government display say today‘s ruling may invite more lawsuits.

JAY SEKULOW, FAVORED COMMANDMENTS DISPLAY:  These cases are so close that the facts of the individual display are going to make all the difference in the world here.

WILLIAMS (on camera):  In fact, the court today declined to come up with what both sides wanted, a simple test for telling when the 10 Commandments are a neutral history lesson, and when they‘re a government endorsement of religion.

Now, one other point about the Supreme Court today.  Of course, there was a great deal of interest in whether anyone would announce a retirement today, especially Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who‘s been fighting thyroid cancer.  Not a peep about that.

In fact, the chief justice actually managed a little joke in the courtroom today when he was announcing his side in the Texas case.  He went through all the concurrences and all the dissents and then stopped and said, “I didn‘t realize we had that many justices on our court,” which broke up the courtroom.

So not a mention of it.

Now, the court will do one other thing tomorrow, and that‘s issue a list of other cases that it may take to hear next fall, so there is one additional shoe to drop here, in essence.  The justices don‘t come back, but it‘s possible, if a written statement is going to come out from any—on any resignations or retirements, we could hear that tomorrow, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Pete Williams at the Supreme Court.  Great thanks.

From the courts to the crime fighters, 21st century-style.  It‘s the safe robot.

And Princess Diana has been gone nearly eight years.  But that‘s no stopping for her former energy healer from starting a new rumor that she had an affair with John F. Kennedy Jr.  How about the rumor that Diana employed an energy healer?

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Part of how COUNTDOWN is revolutionizing the evening news comes in our delivery of the so-called kicker stories.  These boring old newscasts take one funny story, play it at the end of the show.  We, I say we, play it in the middle of the show.  I know, it‘s genius.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Tokyo, hello.  It is the leader in this world when it comes to wicked cool robots.  This is Guard Robo D-1, programmed for crime fighting, home security, and fire extinguishing.  Guard Robo D-1 shown here demonstrating what he would do if he happened on a game of Jenga which had suddenly caught fire.

His built-in smoke detector alerts the authorities, his camera guy—or camera eyes send them live video, and Guard Robo also sprays the small fire continuously until not only does the fire go out, but his need to go to the little robot‘s room is relieved.

Tipperary, Ireland, bringing us the failed attempt of the Guinness Book of World Records for most bees on a guy‘s body.  Hey, they chose me.  That‘s 59-year-old Phillip McCabe under there.  He was going for a half-million bees.  You know how much a half-million bees weigh?  About 100 pounds.  And before he reached that many, the load became too much for McCabe, and he bailed out, getting stung multiple times as he jumped off that platform.

Why on earth we weren‘t provided with that video, that‘s an issue we‘ll be taking up with Mr. McCabe presently.

One of the greatest scenes in the history of cheating in baseball occurred on the mound at Anaheim Stadium in California, August 1987.  Minnesota pitcher Joe Nikro (ph) accused of stuffing the ball with a hidden nail file and, as he was approached by the umpires, he unsuccessfully tried to ditch the thing, which they then found on the ground.

Now, in Seoul, South Korea, Bears star pitcher Park Yung Wong (ph) was similarly caught on tape.  What was that that fell out of his hat twice during the game?  Cabbage, a frozen cabbage leaf that he was using to keep cool.

Now, cabbage is part of the most traditional Korean foods, kim chee.  Though American players used to wear cabbage and lettuce leaves under their caps in the 19th and 20th centuries, Korean league officials quickly sprang into action, saying the cabbage patch kid was breaking the rules about uniforms.

They banned cabbage from the playing field.  Also corned beef, just for good measure.

Also tonight, that big terror alert from Christmas 2003 turns out to have been a big mistake.  An NBC News investigation into what the CIA was really seeing in the news crawl on Al Jazeera.

And Secretary Rumsfeld in full explanation mode.  Yesterday they were meetings with Iraqi insurgents.  Today they are not so much meetings and maybe not really insurgents.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Williams Jones of Bismarck, North Dakota, tried to break into a motel there.  Got stuck in the window.  So instead of being charged with breaking and entering, Mr. Jones faces an accusation of simply breaking.

Number two, Matt Thornton, pitcher of the Seattle Mariners.  On the road in San Diego, in the ballpark there, he discovered that the team bullpen did not have a bathroom.  So he hopped over the fence, went into the stands, and got in line with the fans to use the public bathroom.  Thornton is, of course, a relief pitcher.

And number one, Arthur Richardson of North Platte, Nebraska.  He plunked a friend—or punked a friend, rather, by slipping the friend‘s car key into his mouth and pretending to swallow it.  Then he accidentally really did swallow it.  The friend needed the car key, and there was no getting it out of Arthur.  So he took the x-rays of Arthur‘s insides to a locksmith.  The locksmith managed to recreate the key, and the friend got his car started.

As to the original key, the friend says Arthur can keep it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just as polls suggest, the American public has been reluctantly but steadily backing slowly, slowly away from the war in Iraq.  The president will take to the airwaves tomorrow night to try to galvanize flagging support, probably wondering why in the hell his secretary of defense chose yesterday to suggest the insurgency there could last another 12 years.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, to reprise an old phrase from the 60s, the credibility gap.

But we begin not in Iraq, but in another place about which more and more Americans are having their doubts: the Department of Homeland Security.  We often bill the work of our senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers as exclusive reporting. 

In this case, that is especially true.  But tonight, it is also startling reporting.  The first chief of homeland security admitting to Lisa that the most tangible, specific warning yet issued by that department was based on lousy information.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Christmas 2003: the federal government raises the terror-alert level.

OLBERMANN:  A credible terror threat involving al Qaeda and overseas flights.

MYERS:  Almost 30 flights canceled.  For weeks, America is on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It makes me pretty nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Scary times.

MYERS (on camera):  But senior U.S. officials now tell NBC News that the key piece of information which triggered the holiday alert was a bizarre CIA analysis which turned out to be wrong.  CIA analysts mistakenly thought they‘d found secret al Qaeda messages embedded here, in the crawl of the Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera.

(voice-over): U.S. officials tell NBC News CIA experts thought they‘d found numbers hidden in the crawl signaling upcoming attacks, dates and flights numbers, geographic coordinates for targets, including the White House, Seattle‘s Space Needle, even the tiny town of Tappahannock, Virginia.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge was briefed.

(on camera):  Did that strike you as a little bit bizarre?

TOM RIDGE, FMR. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  Bizarre, unique, unorthodox, unprecedented.  Again, speaking for myself - you know, I - I got to admit to wondering whether or not it was credible.

MYERS (voice-over):  Intelligence sources say even some CIA officials didn‘t buy it.  But Ridge argues that the hidden messages could not be discounted, given other intelligence chatter and a recent attack in Saudi Arabia.

The alleged threats were found through speg (ph) analysis, using sophisticated software to analyze images for hidden messages.  This expert says such analysis is valuable, but not always reliable.

NASIR MEMON, COMPUTER EXPERT:  It‘s not something I would bet the farm on, because there is a significant chance that it could be wrong.

MYERS:  Ridge admits that the CIA analysis did turn out to be wrong; there were no hidden messages.

(on camera):  In retrospect, was this a mistake?

RIDGE:  No.

MYERS:  But by raising the alert level, you frightened a lot of people.

RIDGE:  No, we informed a lot of people, and we acted according to - based on our best - best information and best conclusions on the information we had at the time.

MYERS (voice-over):  The CIA would not confirm or deny this report, but says it‘s the agency‘s job to run all plausible theories to the ground, especially when American lives could be at risk.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The other headlines there were courtesy a secretary still on the job.  Donald Rumsfeld‘s Pentagon briefing, easily reminiscent of a scene out of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, today looked more like pro-wrestling. 

“There‘s too much yelling,” said the secretary. 

“I‘m not yelling,” yelled a reporter in reply. 

“Too much yelling and not enough hands,” Rumsfeld yelled in response.

“I wouldn‘t yell,” yelled the reporter.

His two admissions yesterday are still startling Washington, perhaps the country too.  The first of them, a confirmation that representatives of our military have sat down to talk with groups identified in a news report from London as participating in the insurgency.  “The Times of London,” saying among the groups represented, one that murdered an Italian journalist, another that claimed responsibility for the Christmastime bombing of the mess hall at the American military base in Mosul.

If talking to those people was not surprise enough, Mr. Rumsfeld had a second shocker: he thinks the expiration date on the insurgency could be as late as the year 2017.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  There are meetings going on all the time between people in Iraq and other people in Iraq, attempting to get them to be supportive of the government, which is obviously the logical thing one does in a political process.

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD:  No, and certainly not with people like Zarqawi.  I mean, that‘s just someone‘s imagination running wild.

I honestly believe that this insurgency is going to be defeated by the Iraqi people and not by coalition countries and not by the United States.  Insurgencies can last periods of years, as we know from history.  And countries can do just fine.  They can continue and have elections and go about their business and their economies can grow and there can be a low-level insurgency.

It is hard, I understand, to connect all of the pieces.  But the reality is, we‘re an awful lot better off fighting against the extremists and the terrorists in other parts of the world than having to do it here at home.  And I don‘t doubt for a minute but that the American remember September 11 well, and that they understand that what‘s taking place is a global struggle against people who are determined to - to destroy our way of life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The public baton now passing to Mr. Rumsfeld‘s boss, President Bush, who will be making a direct appeal to the nation tomorrow night.  As we mentioned, the commander in chief planning to give a nationally televised speech in primetime from North Carolina‘s Fort Bragg. 

That address at the heart of the administration‘s attempt to shore up plummeting support for the war effort.  The latest polls - a handful of them - now showing a majority of Americans believing the war in Iraq is a mistake.  Lowest level of support since the conflict began.

To analyze the last few days of Iraq news and preview the next day of it, a pleasure as always to be joined by Andrea Mitchell, NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent.

Good evening, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening.  The pleasure‘s all mine.

OLBERMANN:  Before the specifics, the timing of this - could the White House have been pleased that Mr. Rumsfeld confirmed the meetings with whomever they were, or suggested how long the insurgency might last?  Or had this bar fight with the media, when Mr. Bush is speaking tomorrow?

MITCHELL:  Well, in fact, Donald Rumsfeld hit all the right talking points for the White House, for what the president is going to say. 

And he was in sync with the State Department today.  The State Department also confirmed the meetings.  They say these are not negotiations with terrorists; they‘re not meeting with the foreign fighters.  They are meeting with people who are against the Iraqi regime, the Iraqi government, to try to bring them into the process.  And these are not only Sunnis, but others who have also been objectionists.

So they believe that that is an appropriate thing of - obviously they didn‘t announce it and couldn‘t have been thrilled that the London Times printed it.  But they did not run away from that story.

The other point is that Rumsfeld and the officials at the White House today - Scott McClellan - kept bring up 9/11.  They believe that the other numbers in the polls that you cited are - that are so worrying to them - is that it‘s an even split as to whether Americans believe the president is doing a good in the war on terror.  This is the lowest ranking - the lowest favorability that he‘s had on that account since 9/11.

And that is of great concern, because, as you recall, this was their main theme during the campaign, the re-election campaign, that this was the president to trust in battling those terrorists.  And they need to link that, and to remind people of what they believe a larger war is, that Iraq is only part of a larger war. 

Now, whether or not they‘ve ever proved a connection between the 9/11 perpetrators and Iraq and Saddam Hussein is irrelevant, really, because they are portraying Iraq as part of the war on terror.

OLBERMANN:  And continuing on that theme, looking to the president‘s speech tomorrow night.  Last week, Karl Rove divided the post-9/11 country into people who supported the administration and people who had some sympathy, however small, for the terrorists.

Today, Mr. Rumsfeld invoked 9/11 three different times. 

Is there any reason to assume that Mr. Bush will not go heavily into 9/11 tomorrow night?

MITCHELL:  No, I think, in fact, he will.

Look, the Karl Rove speech was deliberate.  It was planed; he was not ad-libbing.  He was playing to his base.  It was a red-meat speech.

But it was a scripted speech; he was reading from his text.  That is the plan right now: they want to energize the base, they want to speak above our heads, over the heads of the Washington journalists.  The speech is not being given in the Oval Office or the East Room.  He‘s not having a press conference to do this. 

He‘s going to Fort Bragg.  He will have a great reception there, and he will try to demonstrate that the morale is - is not being affected by all of the criticism and by the declining polls.  And they are going to try to shore up those polls, because he thinks that he needs that base.  They are concerned about the declining polls and declining support for the war.

OLBERMANN:  One number in those polls, particularly the Gallup one last week, was the statistic that suggested that 40 percent of us believe.

MITCHELL:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  .that Iraq now has striking similarities to the U.S.  experience in Vietnam.

How much trouble is that one statistic for the White House, and what does the president do about it tomorrow night?

MITCHELL:  Well, that is worrying, and that‘s why he‘s going to go to a very supportive, favorable location tomorrow, Fort Bragg.  He‘ll be surrounded by the troops.  And he will speak, as I say, over our heads, directly to the American people, hoping for a biog primetime audience. 

And the president is very effective in that kind of setting.  And he‘s going to make a broader argument about Iraq, and about what has been achieved.  He‘s going to be very specific: 8 and a half million people voted; they‘ve made progress, he will claim, towards a constitution.  He will gloss over the problems they‘ve had in these three and a half months since the voting in - at the end of January, which has been worrisome to them. 

And he will emphasize the positive, that they are moving towards a democracy, flawed as it may be.

And notice also what Rumsfeld was doing today: he was lowering the bar for success, redefining success.  They don‘t have to conquer the insurgents for us to begin having an exit strategy.  They can have what he called a low-level insurgency for as long as a dozen years.

OLBERMANN:  Big speech tomorrow night.

MITCHELL:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. 

Great thanks for staying late with us, Andrea.

MITCHELL:  You bet.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, we‘ve all seen the global impact of Rev.  Billy Graham.  What about the biker preacher, who was another man cut from and of the same cloth?

And tongues wagging from London to New York: JFK Jr. and Princess Diana?  Well, why not Marilyn Monroe and Edgar Allen Poe?

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:   You know the one man and probably know the estimate, that he preached to 220 million over the years; that he has seen the central casting view of the evangelist, and that after nearly seven decades at the pulpit, this may have been his farewell.

You probably do not know the other man though.  He preached to only hundreds, looked anything but an evangelist, and with shocking quickness, his farewell came upon him earlier this month.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN: Billy Graham and Marvin Dean. 

After three addresses to a total of about 230,000 over the weekend in the stifling heat of Flushing Meadow, New York, near Shea Stadium, near where the World‘s Fair was 40 years ago, the 86-year-old Graham said that would be his last crusade in the U.S., perhaps his last anywhere, ever.

But tonight, let‘s focus on a very different preacher, a man as comfortable behind a pulpit as he was atop a Harley.  And the friends of Rev. Marvin Dean have bid him goodbye.  He died nine days ago at the age of 51 from complications after heart surgery.

But before he passed away, he was well on his way towards making his mission a reality: creating a spiritual environment for his fellow motorcyclists.

Our correspondent is Carl Quintanilla.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In Jonesboro, Georgia, there‘s a new sound: the rumble of Harley Davidson, every Friday night driven by the pony-tailed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks for coming by. 

QUINTANILLIA:  .and the tattooed, who show up here to pray.

(SINGING)

QUINTANILLA:  They call it Bikers the Church, but little of it resembles modern-day churchgoing: the collection basket is a motorcycle helmet, the band echoes Lynyrd Skynyrd.  And the dress code - well, as they say, these are my church clothes.

REV. MARVIN DEAN, THE BIKER‘S CHURCH:  There‘s some churches that

would just - you wouldn‘t know what to do with us.  I mean, you know, like

·         there‘s bikers.

QUINTANILLA:  Pastor Marvin Dean is an ordained Southern Baptist minister.  He rides a Harley Ultra Classic (ph), and who saw a need for a new kind of ministry.

DEAN:  Do you want to turn to Luke, Chapter 8?

QUINTANILLA:  One whose sermons are aimed at those wrestling with demons, alcoholism, drug use.

DEAN:  There‘s a difference of what you want and what you need.

QUINTANILLA:  Drawing in those leery of organized religion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Coming to a church, not being looked down upon, and walking out feeling great - you know, it‘s wonderful.

QUINTANILLA (on camera):  There are tens of thousands of registered bikers in the Atlanta area, many of whom Dean says would never set foot in a traditional church.  And yet, that‘s exactly who‘s making this type of renegade ministry possible.

(SINGING)

QUINTANILLA (voice-over):  The First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, a so-called mega church, sponsors the biker service and says other churches hungry for growth might do the same.

REV, DEAN HAUN, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF JONESBORO:  It could certainly be a model - you know, we want to reach everybody and tell everybody about God‘s love.

QUINTANILLA:  Even those whose lifestyle may not fit with America‘s image of the faithful.

DEAN:  We love freedom.

QUINTANILLA:  Freedom of the road, and now freedom to worship on their own terms.

Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, Jonesboro, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And now, in the wake of Pastor Dean‘s death, his friends say they will continue to meet every Friday night to keep his crusade alive.

Even their greatest critics will admit that evangelists at least occasionally show honor and purpose.  Not so celebrity biographers.

Another reminder of that, leading our nightly roundup of entertainment and gossip news, “Keeping Tabs.”

The nice thing about writing about famous dead people is that they‘re dead.  So if you want to pair them off and claim they had romantic relationships, what‘s going to stop you?  Your conscience?

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  A new book about the late Princess Diana insisting she had a one-night stand with the late John F. Kennedy Jr. in New York in 1995.  This according to Simone Simmons, who claims to have been Diana‘s - quote - “energy healer.”  Up next, a book on the affair of Cleopatra and William Shakespeare. 

The Diana-JFK Jr. liaison was laughed at.  Unfortunately, it was laughed at by her former butler, Paul Burrell, whose own book asserted that Diana had warned him the royal family would try to kill her in a car and make it look like an accident.

Back here, not many American entertainers created ventriloquists‘ dummies whose named are still remembered 50 years later, and created unforgettable voices for animated characters, and created an artificial heart.  Paul Winchell did all that.  The entertainer and inventor died Friday at his Southern California home.

He started on radio as a teenage recovering from a stammer and polio in the 30s.  As a TV ventriloquist, he was on almost constantly from the late 40s to the late 60s, creating and voicing the likes of Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith. 

Then, in 1968, came the chance to the voice of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.  Winchell kept doing that voice, along with hundreds of others, until 1999. 

Less well known of Paul Winchell:  he held 30 patents.  He invented a flameless cigarette lighter, an early version of a disposable razor, and in 1963, an artificial heart later used in their research by Dr. Robert Jarvik and those who created the first artificial heart that would be implanted in a human in 1982. 

Paul Winchell, of many voices and of many talents, was 82 years old.

From Winnie the Pooh to modern movie magic, we are just minutes away from the world-premiere of the “King Kong” trailer.  And more to the point, coming up even sooner than that, COUNTDOWN suggests the greatest American monkey.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Fame is fleeting.  That‘s the man who won an online poll just two years ago this month when he was voted the greatest America.  Last night when the Discovery Channel and our bud Matt Lauer finished off their list of the greatest Americans, the individual was not only no longer No.  1, he wasn‘t even in Top 5.

Our No. 1 story tonight, various numbers 1, all of a self-promotional.

First, the newest greatest American.  At No. 5, signer of the Declaration of the Independence, inventor of the bifocal, Benjamin Franklin.

Next, the first military commander, first president, George Washington.

Third, the civil rights leader whose “I Have a Dream” speech, perhaps the most recognized and influential oratory of modern times, Dr. King.

Runner up, Abraham Lincoln.  Emancipation Proclamation, Gettysburg Address, Civil War - yes, but evidently treated with that familiar phrase of his day and ours - “What have you done for us lately?”

Because voted No. 1 was Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States, whose 64 percent end-of-presidency-public-opinion-approval rate was just 1 point behind that of Bill Clinton.  Also, lover of jellybeans, original choice to star in the movie of “Casablanca,” and the headliner in the film “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

More on Bonzo in a moment. 

But first, as I mentioned, the 2003 online poll by the BBC gave a different Top 5.  Mr. T was fifth, Jefferson fourth, Dr King was third, Lincoln was still 2nd and the landslide winner was, Homer Simpson.  Historians will be debating that one forever: Homer versus the Gipper.  Or, if you prefer, Professor Peter Boyd, Reagan‘s character in “Bedtime for Bonzo.”

Never ones to fail to launch on to other people‘s promotional stunts, we are tonight bridging a gap between the greatest American stuff, the world premiere of the trailer for the new “King Kong” movie.  We are bringing you the greatest American monkey, as voted by you.  Actually, as voted by us.  And when we say monkey, we‘re including any apes, chimps or other animals that look like monkeys including cartoon monkeys to say nothing of people dressed up as monkeys.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  COUNTDOWN presents “The Greatest American Monkeys.”

(MUSIC)

OLBERMANN:  No. 10, Bonzo.  As a Hollywood leading man, Bonzo wasn‘t exactly Brando.  In fact, he wasn‘t even a man.  A girl chimp named Peggy played Bonzo in the Reagan film and also the far less famous sequel, “Bonzo Goes to College.”  But any monkey that gets top billing over the No. 1 greatest American human of all time gets on the Top 10 list easily and spanks many of the other monkeys.

No. 9, Jay Fred Muggs, the first co-host of NBC‘s “TODAY” show.  As Dave Garaway‘s lovable sidekick in the 1950s, Muggs was a TV revolutionary.  He spanned 50 years of copycats.  That‘s the copycat on the left, incidentally.

No. 8.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!

OLBERMANN:  Many of us have dressed up as monkeys, but nobody‘s ever given a more chilling vision of where that could all lead than Roddy McDowell and Morris Evans as Cornelius and Dr. Zaius in “Planet of the Apes.”  Honorable mention goes to the producers of “Trading Places,” who put a man in a monkey suit in a cage with another man in a monkey in “Ladder One” (ph) as opposed to being actually a (ph) a real monkey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This last one looks (INAUIDIBLE)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s filmmaking.

No. 7, Albert Six, a monkey who actually did something for his country, as the first American of any species to fly into space and return to Earth alive in 1951.  Of course, he died two hours after his round trip.  But he returned alive.

No. 6, among animated monkeys, the field is diverse, though as much as we love Magilla Gorilla, Mr. Bananas and the great Curious George, in the end we could use only one of them, and we went with Grape Ape.  Why?  Because he‘s got a funny name.

No. 5, the smoking chimp from that South African zoo.  Yes, smoking is bad for you; he‘s a poor role model; he‘s not even an American.  But you‘ve got to admit, he has a whole James Dean thing going on.  You‘re tearing me apart!

No. 4, the best damn fighting orangutan of all the great 1970s movies monkeys, Clyde from “Every Which Way But Loose.”  And he did all his own stunts.

No. 3, Mickey Dolenz, from the TV series “The Monkees” with two e‘s.  Look, he may not have had Davey Jones‘ cute, nor the rugged good looks of Michael Naismith in that cap, but he had what the rest of the film didn‘t:

a car to get back and forth from the gigs.

No. 2, Donkey Kong.  He‘s big, he‘s bad, he stole Mario‘s girlfriend, now he‘s hucking barrels like it‘s going out of style.  No, Pauline!  Born in 1981, still living in some pizza shops that were too cheap to upgrade, Donkey Kong, a great American monkey.

But No. 1, there‘s a reason they called him king: because he was one big monkey.  He burst onto the scene in 1938, a true superstar from the word go.  He dated all the hottest actresses, got invited to all the cool parties.  He lives hard, he died young, and he left a good-looking corpse.  More or less.

In the pantheon of great American monkey, is befit to wear the crown of king.  It‘s King Kong, the greatest American monkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So why all this?  Because we‘re just seconds away from the worldwide premiere of the trailer for Universal‘s new version of the movie “King Kong.”  There is, Mr. Beal, only one holistic system of systems, one vast and imane (ph), interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational, dominion of dollars.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.

Stay tuned for a monkey.

(KING KONG TRAILER)

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