updated 8/17/2005 10:29:54 AM ET 2005-08-17T14:29:54

Guest: Mary Schiavo, Ingrid Sanden, Dana Milbank, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  You have already met the bunch of guys named David Nelson, who each kept getting stopped from getting on commercial flights because they were on one of the no-fly lists.

But this takes the cake.  Security at Sky Harbor in Phoenix stopping a woman passenger named Sanden, her name apparently matching one on the list.  Well, woman is not exactly the right term.  Ms. Sanden stopped from boarding on a no-fly list was 23 months old.  A baby.  On a no-fly list.  She will join us.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Four serious aviation troubles, another crash in western Venezuela, 160 aboard, all feared dead.

The John Roberts nomination.  His connection to Michael Jackson?  No, I‘m not kidding.

I am quitting.  We continue our tips and hints on how you can, joined by another us, the suddenly motivated, my NBC colleague Mike Taibbi.

And if you gossip or read gossip or watch gossip, and feel guilty about it, you can quit that too, the guilt, that is.  Gossip, science tells us today, is good for you.  Even the stuff about Paris Hilton‘s doggie?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

When you fly internationally, how do you know you are safe?  We‘re not talking terrorism here, just the simple but vital question of whether or not the plane is in any condition to get from you here to there.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, 160 are dead in Venezuela after a West Caribbean Airlines MD-82 crashed there this morning, one day after it passed a safety inspection, but just months after the firm had been penalized again for excessive weight and inconsistencies in crew training, this on the same day that a Greek airline confirmed that its plane that had crashed Sunday had lost cabin pressure last year.

The most recent crash first, taking tourists back from Panama to the French island of Martinique aboard a charter flight.  The plane belonged to a troubled carrier of Colombian registry.  Near the border of Colombia and Venezuela, the pilots reported engine trouble, asked to divert for an emergency landing.  They did not make it.

Both engines went out about 400 miles west of Caracas, in a remote mountainous region near that border with Colombia.  The rescuers there found a scene of utter devastation, pieces of wreckage and body parts scattered across the area.  According to officials, most of the 152 passengers were local government officials from Martinique returning from vacation with their families.

In March of this year, one of the airlines‘ smaller planes had crashed on takeoff from the Colombian island of Old Providence.  It killed eight people, injured six others.  West Caribbean Airlines, based in the infamous Colombian city of Medellin.  As they rationalize that one, it crashed later, said the head of civil aviation in Colombia.  But there are many variables affecting an aircraft in flight.

This day has also brought still more questions than answers 48 hours after a Boeing 737 apparently depressurized and crashed outside of Athens, Greece, the coroner there reporting that at least 26 people out of the 121 on board were alive when the plane crashed, including the co-pilot and two of the flight attendance.  It is unclear whether or not they were conscious, but the news does appear to conflict with earlier claims that all the passengers were frozen solid at the time of impact.

According to a local Greek newspaper, F-16 pilots who flanked the doomed airliner before the crash actually videotaped a female flight attendant trying to take control of the plane while the co-pilot was slumped in his seat.  Their bodies were in the wreckage.  There‘s still no sign of the pilot.

And while investigators wait on toxicology results to see if a loss of cabin pressure or perhaps toxic fumes caused the passengers and crew to pass out, comes the disturbing news that the crashed plane had a decompression issue last year while flying to Poland.  The co-pilot also had reportedly told his own mother twice last week that he was worried about problems with the aircraft, and that it often seemed to be too cold on board.

But Helios Airways says the plane was serviced last Friday and was in working order.

And there it is in a nutshell.  Without getting xenophobic or chauvinistic, what does “in working order” mean in Athens or in northern Colombia?

Let‘s call on the expertise of Mary Schiavo, the former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and currently an attorney representing some of the people on board the Air France plane that crashed in Toronto two weeks ago.

Thanks for your time tonight.

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF

TRANSPORTATION:  Thank you.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Are safety standards, especially putting planes back up that have had problems of some kind previously, are they lower internationally, or could these two things have happened just as easily in Kansas and Florida?

SCHIAVO:  Well, certainly similar instances have happened in this country.  But no, safety standards around the world are not all the same.  And passengers can be more at risk in certain countries than others.

Fortunately, that is one thing our government provides a little bit of help on.  The Federal Aviation Administration does actually rank foreign countries‘ compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization standards.  Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, those countries all not only conditional ratings, countries, Greece and other countries, even in Western Europe had received conditional ratings.

And air carriers are not all alike.  Some have very dismal standards.  You can check them out online now, which is one of the benefits of the Internet.  But some of their maintenance is woeful, and they are not all equal.  The best advice is, stick with known major carriers, because some of them are quite dismal and are not up to our standards.

OLBERMANN:  If it is carrier specific, what is that database?  Where do people go to check to see if something like West Caribbean Airlines is safe enough to fly, merely on its own reputation?

SCHIAVO:  Well, there are some that are dated, updated more recently than others.  There‘s one called airsafe.com, planesafe.org.  There are other air disaster statistics.  I and others have written books.  In my book, I ranked and rated some international carriers and various countries.

But it‘s very important to check them out.  People assume that someone is looking out for them all over the world.  And that‘s not the case.  And the U.S. has no jurisdiction.  Every country has their own safety oversight.  And in particular, maintenance is very troublesome in some foreign countries.  The Venezuelan plane, or the Venezuelan crash, that plane had had some maintenance done to its engines, hush kits to make the engines quieter, in just a few weeks, or days, preceding the accident.

And a plane had that has pressurization problems, unless they are fixed very well and very carefully, those problems can be very tricky and persistent.  So if you‘ve had problems with maintenance, well, the plane is only good as the people and the parts that worked on it.

It can be very tricky, particularly.

OLBERMANN:  Turning—yes, turning to the depressurization issue, just from what you‘ve read about the Greek crash, do you have any idea what happened there?  First, there was the nightmarish report that the plane had depressurized and everybody froze to death in midair.  Now the suggestion that contradicts that.  Any idea of what happened, or what was likely to have happened?

SCHIAVO:  Yes.  It appears that whatever the problem was, because the flight attendant and some from the cabin were still alive, it was not what‘s known as a rapid decompression, which is an explosive decompression.  That‘s if you blow out a bulkhead or lose a window.  There, you‘ve only got a few seconds, or everyone would be dead.  And you would have to have your oxygen mask on.  And the flight attendant was not apparently wearing hers.

So it appears that one of the pilots left the cockpit.  The remaining pilot is supposed to put, under U.S. regulations, must have on his or her oxygen.  That did not appear to be the case there.  So it appears that some sort of fume or something, a fume or a lack of oxygen, did take out the only pilot in the cockpit at the time.  That would have been avoided under U.S. aviation rules that do not permit the pilot, when he or she is the only one in the cockpit, not to have on his or her oxygen mask.

OLBERMANN:  Of all the aspects of that crash in Greece, the one that might be most relevant to us, this videotape reportedly shot from the F-16 that shows the flight attendant trying to gain control of the plane, could even that heroic effort, successful or unsuccessful, happen in this country after the 9/11 safety measures?  Isn‘t it the case that if the pilot is not capable of letting someone into the cockpit, nobody‘s going to get into the cockpit?

SCHIAVO:  Well, that is a very real scenario after 9/11.  And certainly the fact that the heroic passengers on flight 93 on 9/11 could get in the cockpit and fight back.  There are certainly, that was the issue before 9/11.  The cockpit doors were supposed to be able to be breached, in some cases, so people could get in and help the pilots if necessary.

That will undoubtedly be an issue, because the whole point of bolting the door, it was the pilots and the flight attendants who must have a system, a signal as to when they can open the door.  And after 9/11, that would, of course, be an additional risk.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE)...

SCHIAVO:  They won‘t be able to do it unless we have additional procedures.

OLBERMANN:  A horrible tradeoff to consider.  The former inspector general of the United States Department of Transportation, Mary Schiavo.  Great thanks for your time and your insight tonight.

SCHIAVO:  Thank you.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Another aviation issue tonight, obviously not life or death, but maybe just as inconceivable.  You will recall that twice, on one round trip in 2002, Al Gore was pulled out of boarding lines and his carry-on bag subjected to a public search, possibly because the name Al Gore might have sounded to some moron way too similar to al Qaeda.

From that file of areas in which the terrorists have already won, there are infants on the various no-fly lists.  We know this because a month ago, Sarah Zapolski (ph), her husband, and their 11-month-old son were delayed from boarding a flight at Dulles Airport outside Washington because one of them was on a government watch list, the baby.

The Zapolskis were finally permitted to fly after the baby‘s passport was faxed to the appropriate authorities.

There was also a case last Thanksgiving in Phoenix, where Ingrid Sanden‘s trip back to D.C. was delayed because her daughter, then 23 months old, turned up on the list.  Ms. Sanden‘s daughter joining everybody named Peter Williams and David Nelson, along with at least some of the John Lewises and Edward Kennedys, on the list.

She and her mother join us now from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  We‘ll let Mom do the talking.  Thanks much for your time tonight.

INGRID SANDEN, DAUGHTER ON NO-FLY LIST:  It‘s my pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  So when this happened, did you think this was an episode of “Candid Camera” or “Punked” or something?  Could you believe it?

SANDEN:  No.  I just—you know, you kind of stand in line in a daze at Thanksgiving with, like, 300,000 other people.  And you kind of just walk through the motions.  And if there‘s a snafu, you sort of figure, Well, this is what happens at the airport.

But then when they actually said, Your daughter‘s on the no-fly list, we kind of looked at each other, my husband and I, and kind of didn‘t really understand and know if it was funny, or just shocking, or what.

OLBERMANN:  Now, there‘s the assumption that there might be toddlers, or fairly young kids, on one of these lists, but presumably, they would be the kids of adults who are also on a no-fly list.  But that‘s not what happened to you, right?  I mean, were they willing to let you board as long as you left your daughter at the airport?

SANDEN:  No.  Oh, well, yes, of course.  No, we actually—my husband and I checked in via those little computers that you use at the airport.  And we were able to get our boarding passes.  But our daughter, when we tried to get hers the same way, we were not able to do that.  And the computer said, Unable to perform, or whatever, and sent us to the desk.  And so that‘s when we figured it out.  Neither one of my husband or I are on the no-fly list, actually.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe she‘s a midget, and she‘s running some sort of operation, and she didn‘t tell you that.

Has—did anybody...

SANDEN:  It‘s possible.

OLBERMANN:  ... anybody in authority with whom you dealt at that time or since, seriously suggested that there isn‘t something intuitively insane about a 2-year-old child being on a no-fly list when the parents are not on the no-fly list?

SANDEN:  No.  I mean, when we were at the airport, the airline people that we worked with were very nice and very good.  But they were, you know, they were doing their jobs.  And they were kind of chuckling, but they had to do their jobs.  I mean, they didn‘t just say, Oh, you get a pass, go ahead.  I mean, they had to go through the correct channels to make the thing happen the way we needed it to happen.  So, yes, it was kind of strange.

But no, they did—they definitely did their jobs, which I thought was good.  But they were very nice and very friendly about it.

OLBERMANN:  As we learned in this Zapolski case from last month at Dulles, obviously it‘s still happening.  Do you have any advice from your experience for other parents who might end up in a similar predicament, especially if they have suspicious-looking kids?

SANDEN:  Well, as you saw, mine is very suspicious-looking.  Anyway, the person at the airport that helped us said that if we would use her nickname, my daughter‘s nickname, or use her middle initial while we were booking her next ticket, we would probably avoid the problems.  And in fact, when we flew to Florida in May, we did that.  And we didn‘t have any problems at all.

OLBERMANN:  So she...

SANDEN:  Which is good and bad, I suppose.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  She now travels under an alias, which is good for you, but presumably, presumably other people who should be on the no-fly list could also get an alias.

SANDEN:  Well, yes.  Probably.  Probably.  Although she doesn‘t have to show ID, so...

OLBERMANN:  Not yet.  Ingrid Sanden and her daughter, who now travels with an a.k.a., an also-known-as, great thanks for joining us tonight.  Thank you for your time.  Good luck with this.

SANDEN:  Thank you.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, an NBC News exclusive, videotape of Turkish officials interrogating one of the last men on the cruise ship, that cruise ship, who saw the missing Connecticut groom alive.

And this is no typo.  The connection tonight between Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and Michael Jackson.

And thus, of course, as the night follows the day, the first edition ever of Michael Jackson Supreme Court Puppet Theater.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is just a matter of time now.  Soon, on a very special edition of some edition of some newsmagazine somewhere, we will be subjected to a how-to report on how you can survive if you happen to fall off a cruise ship into the ocean on your honeymoon.  It will be complete with the expertise of Mark Spitz, Jack LaLanne, and the guy who dog paddled over Niagara Falls.

In the interim, there is our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, another edition of Stories My Producers Forced Me to Do, an NBC News exclusive, the police questioning of a fellow passenger who may have been one of the last people on board the ship “Brilliance of the Sea” to see George Smith alive.

Our correspondent is Dawn Fratangelo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWN FRATANGELO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It is a confusing interrogation.  Turkish authorities question cruise passenger Josh Askin about the missing honeymooner, George Smith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You were in the casino of the ship with George and his wife?

JOSH ASKIN, PASSENGER:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRATANGELO:  In videotape obtained exclusively by NBC News, the 20-year-old from California explains to an interpreter, who‘s holding her child, that he and three other men were with Smith shortly before he disappeared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is George (INAUDIBLE), he was very drunk.

ASKIN:  This is—yes, but you‘re missing a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Josh (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRATANGELO:  On a honeymoon cruise with his new bride, Jennifer Hankel (ph), Smith was reported missing July 5 after blood was found on the side of the ship.  Askin says the night before, after partying together in the casino, he and the other men, fellow passengers, left Smith in his room just before 4:00 in the morning, alive, and without his wife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASKIN:  I said, (INAUDIBLE).  I didn‘t see if he was laying on the bed or anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRATANGELO:  The timing coincides with what Clete Hyman (ph) heard in the room next door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In the room, we were awakened about 4:00 in the morning by loud yelling coming from the cabin.  It sounded like people cheering like a drinking contest-type-thing.

FRATANGELO:  At one point, the interrogation appears over.  The camera is stopped.

(on camera):  According to his attorney, Josh then asked the prosecutor off camera what was to happen next.  He was reportedly told, George‘s wife, Jennifer, may be charged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASKIN:  But she has no idea what happened.  She was with another man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We watched her (INAUDIBLE).

ASKIN:  The casino manager (INAUDIBLE).  You need to get him in here, because...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE)...

ASKIN:  (INAUDIBLE)?  I‘m not letting, I‘m not letting her go to jail.  I‘m not letting her go to jail.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRATANGELO:  Askin‘s later seen signing a statement on the videotape, his account of George Smith‘s puzzling disappearance at sea.

Dawn Fratangelo, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, happy birthday, Madonna.  She winds up spending part of it in a hospital.

And when the answer is, I do, but the question might have been, You want fries with that?  The drive-through wedding in a drive-through edition of Oddball, next here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and it‘s that time of night where I get to invite you to climb aboard my Popsicle-stick Viking ship and go to for a tour of the oddest parts of Pennsylvania and all points east.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Amsterdam with the christening of a 45-foot Viking ship built out of more than 15 million Popsicle sticks.  That‘s enough for, like, a season and a half of Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.

It took retired American stuntman Robert McDonald more than two years to build this ship, which he now plans to sail across the Atlantic to pillage and plunder the New World, if he can just get his horde together in time.

The final Popsicle stick made out of solid gold attached today aboard ship was christened the “New Mir” (ph), named for the hammer of Thor.  And by the hammer of Thor, if that thing even makes out of the harbor without sinking, I‘ll eat my Viking horns hat.

To North Huntington, Pennsylvania, where the institution of marriage has been dealt another body blow at the drive-through wedding of Mr. and Mrs. Ken Sinchar (ph).  Ken and the former Miss Laurie Sherbandi (ph) tied the knot at the place they say they met and fell in love, the pickup window at the McDonald‘s drive-through.

With this onion ring, I thee wed.

Sinchar wore his best T-shirt for the big day, and a good time was had by all, unless Grimace got drunk at the reception and tried to make out with the Hamburglar.

Finally, we turn to odd entertainment news, where the artist formerly known as P. Diddy, formerly known as Puff Daddy, formerly known as Sean Puffy Combs, has changed his name again.  Now he‘s just Diddy.  Not Doo-wa Diddy, just Diddy.  I don‘t know, did he?

The rap star music mogul made the big announcement on the “TODAY” show this morning.  Either that, he was revealing he finally had stopped wetting the bed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

DIDDY:  It felt like the P was getting between me and my fans.  And now we‘re closer.  We‘ve ended that era, it‘s the era of Diddy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  “The P was getting between me and my fans.”  Same thing happened to R. Kelly.

Speaking of PR disasters, Michael Jackson.  Not the 2004-2005 vintage, stuff from 1984 that, incredibly, ticked off the man who‘s currently nominated for the Supreme Court.  Not making this up.

And emotions boiling over in Crawford, Texas, a man vandalizing Camp Casey, the tribute to Cindy Sheehan‘s fallen son and other soldiers.

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, Posh Spice, also known as Mrs. David Beckham, proudly telling an interviewer she has never read a book in her life, presumably including her new 528-page autobiography.  Golly, I‘m shocked, shocked, I tells you, shocked.

Number two, Kevin Tucker, suspect in a burglary in Villa Rica in Georgia.  Police allege that after breaking into a home, he made a phone call.  When the owner returned, she hit redial on her phone for some reason and reached the suspect‘s mother.  Hi, Ma.

Number one, Mckinley Chase and DaJuan Lord of Gary, Indiana.  The first part of their story was inevitable.  Spiraling prices inspired them to allegedly steal gas from a pump at a construction company.  Problem?  The car needed regular.  The pump was diesel.  And they got stuck in the middle of the road.

Siphon some brains while you‘re out stealing stuff.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It immediately goes somewhere into the vast catalogue of the incongruous, if not the impossible. It is near the fact that comedians Albert Brooks and super Dave Osborne are actually brothers or that Al Gore‘s college roommate was actor Tommy Lee Jones.

Stated simply, there‘s a connection between Supreme Court nominee John Roberts and Michael Jackson. Our third story on THE COUNTDOWN, in 1984, Jackson‘s publicists twice requested that their client receive a letter of public praise from President Reagan. The young deputy to the White House counsel assigned to handle those requests was none other than John Roberts.  He basically told Jackson to beat it.

So reports Dana Milbank in “The Washington Post.”  Having sifted through thousands of pages of documents released pertaining to Roberts stay in the Reagan White House, in May 1984 President Reagan gave Jackson a Presidential Public Safety Communication Award because the singer had done a public service announcement against drunk driving.

A month later Jackson‘s PR people asked for the White House to issue a letter over Reagan‘s signature praising the same work. A letter that would be published in “Billboard” magazine. Roberts wrote to his boss, Counsel Fred Fielding, I see no need to have the president send a letter to Mr.  Jackson simply because Mr. Jackson‘s public relations firm has requested one. Enough is enough.” 

That September it was Jackson‘s personal manager, Frank Dileo, asking that Reagan sign a letter thanking Jackson for performing in Washington and for having given 400 tickets to underprivileged children.  This time Roberts writes that Jackson doesn‘t deserve the letter because the gesture was not charitable.

“It was a calculated commercial decision. It does not warrant gratitude from our nation‘s chief executive.”

And the hits just keep on coming.  In today‘s “Post” he wrote, there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr.  Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name Prince and is apparently planning a Washington concert.  Will he receive a presidential letter?” 

Wow!  John Roberts music visionary. And he added that if Bruce Springsteen didn‘t get a letter of thanks from President Reagan, he saw no reason Jackson should. So amid the dreamy wistful wish of Michael Jackson somehow winding up testifying before Roberts Senate confirmation hearings, we drift inevitably to what you, the sharp-eyed viewer, already saw coming like cab down Main Street with the doors open, Michael Jackson Supreme Court puppet theater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson‘s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we do not approve this letter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why does Reggie Jackson need a letter from me again?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, can I have a presidential letter praising Bubbles?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, woo-hoo!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As promised, proudly joining us now to you discuss the implications of the Jacko-Robo connection, is Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we giggle at this, but so much of the political world has no sense of humor whatsoever. Is this going to wind up being taken seriously somehow during these hearings?

MILBANK:  You never know. It does give new meaning to the judicial activism, I suppose. Think about it, 21 years ago, this man was prescient enough to advise the president that you do not want to get into bed with Michael Jackson. If nothing else, this means he should race through the Senate.

OLBERMANN:  These requests are old. They‘re in 1984. It is 21 years ago. Even though all the people that are mentioned in it, relatively, Springsteen and Prince, they are all still on the scene are. These things typical from administration to administration? The first President Bush get a stack of requests for letters from Tiffany and Debbie Gibson and did President Clinton get one from the guys who did the Macarena?

MILBANK:  Oh, yeah. There‘s a whole office of presidential correspondence. They send out hundreds and thousands of these letters. I brought one that was addressed to my daughter. She‘s only 19 months old and she has no hit albums to her credit yet whatsoever. So not only do they have letters sent out to these people. They have proclamations. You can get a day or a week or a month named after you. Really Mr. Jackson‘s requests were quite modest.

OLBERMANN:  But your daughter at 19 months, is she on the no fly list?

Going back to one of our earlier stories? Never mind.

The letters being talked about in to Judge Roberts‘ nomination?  I guess in the sense that the story is on this program, it made it on to page four of your newspaper. If that‘s the hot topic, is it a safe bet to say the confirmation hearings are not going to be even as slightly contentious as we might have been thinking a month ago or at the point of the nomination?

MILBANK:  That‘s exactly the point, Keith. And in keeping in the pattern of your puppet theater, I brought my own. The Democrats were hoping that John Roberts would be something like this fellow. They are instead, they are finding him to be much more like this fellow. As a result, I believe you can expect the hearings, the Democrats to be something like this fellow right here. If we don‘t find out in the next few days that he is a member of NAMBLA, I mean, forget about the Federalist Society, this man is going to sail right through.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve corrupted one of the great “Washington Post” reporters here with puppet theater.

Pull back the journalistic curtain a bit as a last point. The four memos, as you wrote in your piece today, tucked in the thousands of pages of documents.  They were only released yesterday.  Did you know they were in there? Or is there a Dana Milbank wing of assistance at “The Post” who plow through stuff like this for you?

MILBANK:  Keith, you know better than to think I read through 5,500 pages of documents in a year, much less than a day. No, I have some high placed sources in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

OLBERMANN:  And they served you well, clearly, at this time.  They are also the sources, no doubt, of the stuffed animals, right?  Fess up.

Dana Milbank, “The Washington Post” national political correspondent, helping advance both the Michael Jackson story and Michael Jackson Supreme Court Puppet Theater.  Many thanks on both counts, sir.

MILBANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Sadly, nothing nearly as humorous in the story from the makeshift camp of the gold star mother Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas.  Some of the residents there are petitioning the McClennan County Commission to ban large gatherings near President Bush‘s estate there.  One landowner saying that his and his family‘s civil rights are being seriously compromised by the makeshift Sheehan camp.  Those complaints might be small potatoes compared to two physical manifestations of backlash against that protest.  One in which a Crawford resident fired shots into the air yesterday.  And another, as Kelly O‘Donnell reports from the scene, in which a Waco resident ran over the wooden crosses Sheehan and other had erected in memory of the American dead in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLY O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  A summer storm named Cindy.

CINDY SHEEHAN, WAR PROTESTOR:  We‘re not moving till he comes out.

O‘DONNELL:  A force that hasn‘t blown over quickly. An American mom jolting both the political left and right.

SHEEHAN:  Yes, I have put myself out on the forefront. And I have made myself vulnerable.

O‘DONNELL:  Today, new passions after hundred of crosses and flags honoring those killed in Iraq were mowed down by a pickup truck last night.  Fifty-nine year-old Larry Northern of Waco was booked on a misdemeanor charge. New support for Sheehan came today in a letter from Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the form Democratic vice presidential candidate who urges, “Listen to Cindy. She is earned the right to be heard.”

Getting the Sheehan message out, full-time public relations help here form San Francisco.  Paid for by liberal ice cream mogul Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry‘s.  A Web site churns out daily press releases and on Waco, Texas cable, a spot financed by the liberal group moveon.org.

SHEEHAN:  But how many more of our loved ones need to die in this senseless war?

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Sheehan, as times, veered off her main anti-war message. One example, she voiced what had some considered pro-Palestinian views. That prompted a mass mailing from the Republican Jewish coalition, which accused her of blaming Israel.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Yeah, I think some of the things she says probably are distractions.

O‘DONNELL (voice over):  Sheehan herself admits she needs to refocus.  While the whole political spectrum watches her every move. Kelly O‘Donnell, NBC News, Crawford.

(END VIDEOTAPE)  

OLBERMANN:  And another NBC News correspondent with a very different kind of message. Mike Taibbi join us tonight. Here as part of our “I Quit” program. Madonna, meanwhile, will have to quit riding horses for a while.  Who is that girl desperately seeking attention at the hospital? Her not-so-serious birthday injuries ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, HOST, GOOD MORNING AMERICA:  What about the high fat content of some of these foods?

MERAB MORGAN, LOST 37 POUNDS EATING McDONALD‘S:  They‘ve got the bag a meal on their page. They give you and extensive layout of every single thing.  So, it was like well, I‘m going to have the salads.  I‘m going to have the fruit, take Metamucil capsules for your fiber.

COURIC:  All righty then. OK!

MORGAN:  Not a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right over there. You come there and get your peanut butter and nanner sandwich and Elvis will pump your gas.

Elvis pumping gas in the magic city. I love peanut butter and nanner sandwiches. All the way from Memphis.  I have a confession to make. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What‘s that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I went over about 4 cents on your gasoline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Forty dollars and 4 cents.  Elvis just wants to pump your gas today. Let me go get the pump for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   Susie, I have to ask you, does Sam have a girlfriend?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   Well, he kind of has three. He has a little harem at home. Tatter is one of them.  Tatter is a two-time ugliest mixed-breed champion. Sometimes they have lover‘s spats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I understand that through Max, are you OK?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Quite yet?  Just finishing up day 18 over here.  We continue our nightly round up of tips, testimonials and quirky viewer suggestions about how you can end your connection to nicotine.  All of this in the wake of deaths of Peter Jennings and Barbara BelGettes and the lung cancer diagnosis for nonsmoker Dana Reeve.

Our Number 2 story on THE COUNTDOWN, “I Quit” with a special guest, himself, just wrapping up day number eight. After the passing of Peter Jennings, you may have seen Mike Taibbi‘s report on the grim facts about lung cancer; 160,000 American deaths each year, 17 every hour, around 85 percent of them smokers, just like Mike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  A lot of journalists used to smoke.  Or as I must admit, still do, especially under the pressure of a big story deadline.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That was then, and this is now. The new smoke-free Mike Taibbi. 

Welcome.

TAIBBI:  Yes, I‘m not taking any credit or taking anything for granted yet, Keith.  It‘s been one week, actually 7:30 tonight, a week ago that I sat on the couch with my dog and said this is the last one. After 40 years of a pack of non-filters a day.

OLBERMANN:  So you subscribe to that theory, even though it was a short time. You set a time and said I‘m going to have a last one, and you have a ceremony, which a lot of people say it is important in the process.

TAIBBI:  Everything about smoking is ritualistic anyway. It was for me. I smoked a pack. I wouldn‘t buy the second. I smoked a certain kind of cigarette. I didn‘t like buying cartons. I had all of these rituals.  And then all the rationalizations that you have as you continue to smoke when everybody around you, who loves you, says don‘t do it.  They became very stylized and ritualistic.

I can deal with it, I‘ve had a good life. If it took me tomorrow, life doesn‘t owe me anything. All those rationalizations flew in the face of a lifetime habit of mine as a reporter, of collecting all the facts not in dispute, and dispassionately measuring them against what I saw to be the emerging truth.

I somehow ignored or suppressed some of the truths that have been available for a long time about lung cancer, about smoking. For example, when you notice the symptoms, it‘s probably already too late. Peter Jennings taught me that in a way that had me come home to me before. A lot of things like that were suddenly very clear on the day he died, when we did that stand-up and that report on for “Nightly News”.

And the next day, I woke up the next day with six cigarettes left. I called my physician, my long-term physician and said I‘m going to do this time. As they always say about habits like that you quit when you‘re ready to quit. I was that day, ready to quit.

OLBERMANN:  A couple things you blogged about that really do work against somebody trying to quit. And working against talking about lung cancer, the blame the victim mentality regarding the disease.

TAIBBI:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  It is extraordinary.  And perhaps it is unlike anything that‘s left in our society.

TAIBBI:  Yes, I once had a relationship, a short-lived, thank god, in which she said at one point, when you die of lung cancer, it will be your fault. Not a particularly generous point of view, but not an unrare point of view either about people who smoke.

OLBERMANN:  The other thing you mentioned, it is so much a part of many professions. It is a reportorial thing, among other things, we have that image, Peter Jennings presented that image. Probably gotten from one of his role model, Edward R. Murrow, who had the cigarette in hand at all times.

TAIBBI:  My brand.

OLBERMANN:  Right—and died of it. 

TAIBBI:  Well, I was talking to Pete Simmons, who still works at ABC, a producer who worked both with Peter and with me when I worked in London with Peter, ‘76, ‘77, ‘78, a million years ago.  And Pete called him three-pack a day life.  In those days it was film. We would ship our stories on film and then go back to the hotel bar, the bureau, or wherever we were working and chain smoke and talk about our next story. It was just part of a life.

And I was—and am—a reporter, was and am a writer. I‘m a sailor.  I love to sail.  All these things that have to do with smoking. It is all part of it. I got all these photographs of me, it wasn‘t hard to find them, of me with a cigarette dangling out of my mouth, one after the other.

OLBERMANN:  My first job, United Press International, 1979.  I thought it was the pattern on the floor of the tile floor at UPI.  It was stubbed out cigarettes. There were six of us in the afternoon shift, five of us smoked pipes. It was built into the whole equation.

TAIBBI:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  How have you found doing this first week? Have there been tips? Have there been low points? Anything you want to pass along?

TAIBBI:  I‘ve had one tense moment on Saturday. I was on the boat and had some crew onboard, didn‘t know what they were doing. The sat on the mainsheet (ph) of the boat, went forward and went over the mooring line. I had to dive under the boat and cut it free. Kind of a mini crises you have on boats, which I‘ve done a 100 times before.

Afterward, I would always reward myself with a cigarette.  It is what you do. It is how you deal with a tense moment, a good moment, whatever it is.  And I sat in the cockpit knowing there were cigarettes below decks.  And didn‘t have one.  Passed that moment.  I think I was just ready to quit at this point.

I keep remembering that one fact. That when you get symptoms, it is already too late. I don‘t want to wake up one day with a fever that won‘t go away, with a headache that won‘t go away, with a respiratory problem that has kicked in. I don‘t want any of that. And there is no—I thought there was a screening process.

I would have a lung X-ray with my annual physical. I had a couple of CAT scans thinking that would get it, only to find out now that a conventional CAT scan won‘t screen for it. An X-ray won‘t screen for it. I don‘t know whether the time bomb is already there. I hope it‘s not. But I believe at this stage in my life, I finally had made a decision that was available to me a long time ago.

OLBERMANN:  Even if it isn‘t, even if a thousand other things that can go wrong related to smoking.  Like the thing I went through, I had to have a benign tumor removed the—who wants to go through that?

TAIBBI:  Right. 

The bottom line for me, I want more life. I don‘t want that deal that I made before, like everything is fine.  I might get hit tomorrow.  I‘ve got a wife I love, a kid I want to know the rest of his story. A job I‘m passionate about. And things that I like to do, a 10 handicap. All these things matter to me and I want more of it.

OLBERMANN:  I buy all those argument except the golf one. But anything that works, any excuse you can come up with.

Mike Taibbi of NBC News.  Great thanks. Good luck to you.  Good luck to all of us. Indeed. 

And we again solicit your tips for quitting.  E-mail them to us at  countdown@msnbc.com. Go there and read the other ones. Something will help.  Tomorrow, more of the crazy ideas that might help you beat the craziest idea of them all, smoking.

Now the nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs”.  And for Madonna, it is the case of—and the horse she rode in on.  The material almost middle-aged woman was not seriously injured when she tumbled from a horse at Ashcom (ph) House, her English country estate today, on this her 47th birthday.  She suffered three cracked ribs, a broken collar bone, a broken hand. Her husband filmmaker Guy Richie rushed her to the hospital. She has since been released.

Her publicist said it was a new horse, not her regular one. And adds that in the fall Madonna did not break her Kabala.

We welcome another COUNTDOWN viewer to the world. We think!  The son of our senior producer Dennis Horgan (ph), chief of “oddball” operations here, and his wife Tanya, meet Jack Cornelius Horgan, born July 14 with his thumb in his mouth. Actually, that‘s Dennis with the thumb in the mouth.  Never mind.

Dennis writes, of the heir, the kid loves the eat. We foolishly believed we could impose a schedule on him, nurse every two and a half hours, sleep, change diaper, repeat.  It is more like nurse every 20 minutes, cry, nurse again, sleep for six minutes, cry, nurse, nurse, cry, nurse, nurse, cry, nurse, nurse, nurse, poop, cry, cry, nurse”, end quote.

You know between ESPN and here, Horgan has worked with me for eight years. You would have thought he would have gotten used to that kind of sequence by now.

Also tonight, when we talk about Paris Hilton and her Chihuahua getting too fat, we may actually be upholding the very fabric of our society. Gossip is crucial to our survival. So says science. At least that is the scuttlebutt.  That‘s ahead. First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for today‘s coveted title of worst person in the world.

Nominated at the bronze level right here on MSNBC today, David Horowitz, author of “Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.” Having written a book with that kind of happy title, he actually said of Cathy Sheehan, this afternoon, quote, “This is a hateful woman with a hateful message.”  Like her politics, or hate them, this is a gold star mother, sir. Shut your mouth.

But the winner, for the first time ever, we have a tie. Pitcher Levan Hernandez of baseball‘s Washington Nationals, upset at being removed from a game, he fired his glove into the stands at RFK Stadium in Washington and then was upset when the fan who grabbed it would not give it back. However, the fan is no day at the beach either. He offered to give it back in exchange for playoff tickets this year, season tickets next year, and 18,000 in cash.  Levan Hernandez and the fan who has all of his glove, today‘s Worst Persons in the World! 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Gossip is good for you. Gossip is good for society. Gossip may have even helped the structure of society develop. Our Number 1 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight—no, these aren‘t the sweet dreams of Liz Smith.  These are research from places like the Anthropology Department in University of Wisconsin, and the State University of New York at Binghamton -- science.

Excuse me.

It is the cover story in that priceless weekly read, the Tuesday “Science Section” of  “The New York Times”, a host of studies whose subjects range from Pacific Islanders to American middle school kids.  Researchers say that gossip can serve as life‘s informal handbook on how to behave.

Gossip clarifies unwritten rules among groups is loaded with information you would never find anywhere else. It makes all kinds of people, especially newcomers to a group feel less isolated. Still it‘s a double-edged sword. It‘s very essence is to talk about someone else, someone not present to defend theirselves. 

And gossip‘s time-tested favorites lying and cheating involve the kind of intimate embarrassing details that could hurt a person‘s reputation, but make for a hell of a television segment. And for that, let‘s call in Michael Musto, columnist for the “Village Voice”.

Good evening, Michael.

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE VILLAGE VOICE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Do you feel validated here?  Did you know that without gossip what passes for human society might not exist?

MUSTO:  I‘m totally vindicated, Keith. Everyone says I was the skanky trash peddler. Turns our I‘m the new Mother Teresa, spreading joy and wisdom through the world.  I just say a piece of gossip, I don‘t know, like Lil‘ Kim is a total ho. And I‘m adding to purity and goodness to the world.  Bring on the Pulitzer, bring on the Bravos.

OLBERMANN:  Now, of course, one caveat to that which is the research in the universities didn‘t apply directly to celebrity gossip. It was more for gossiping about your friends and neighbors, you know, the kind of stuff that could ruin people forever and break up families and stuff. But do you think gossiping about the famous has similar value or are we just killing time here?

MUSTO:  Well, for me it does because celebrities are my friends and neighbors, Keith. Meryl Streep calls me often to go bowling and such. Even when celebrities aren‘t my friends, I manage to make the time to both back stab my friends in the office and also make time to talk trash about stars.  You can do it all.  Celebrity gossip is the best of all.  But I don‘t know, you could apply celebrity gossip principles to the workplace, for example, and find out when is the Angelina in the office who is going to ruin your happy home. Who is the Billy Crudup that will impregnate and you dump you when you are popping out the baby. Oh, I‘ve been there.

OLBERMANN:  And also, Streep never pays.  You have to get that word in there. 

MUSTO:  Exactly.  She won‘t even pay for bowling.

OLBERMANN:  One thing in the “Science Times” piece was that people in intermediate positions in a company wind up becoming the power brokers because they fed gossip back-and-forth between different levels or between different factions. Does this explain there‘d be a friend that tells us Paris Hilton got rid of her Chihuahua when it got too big for her to carry?

MUSTO:  Absolutely. He‘s a gossip man middleman, he‘s important, whoever the hell he is.  And give him a little gold star for passing that on.  That might not really be profound information but it helps you to understand larger topics like how she obviously traded in Nick Carter because he gained a few pounds.

She trades something in for something smaller, OK?  If the woman ever had a baby, god forbid, she‘d is bring it back to the store when it started growing up.  And say do you have anything smaller like in a pink Prada?  It‘s sick, but profound.

OLBERMANN:  Humor was once defined as the way society inflexible  behavior.  Is gossip like that, when Eminem plays Maria Carey‘s voice mail during the concert?  Is he providing a public service against silly people? 

MUSTO:  Absolutely.  I use humor as you may have noticed, because I have no real information. Neither does Eminem. But look he‘s playing around.  By the way, I wish him and Mariah the best. I think they‘re sweet kids—kidding. It‘s a total skankfest.

But I really think that he‘s going for the humor. He‘s not as skanky as he could be. He could have played a tape of her throwing plates and having a public meltdown a few years ago. And while he does actually puked into a toilet bowl—did you read about this Keith? -- while he singing his song. Weren‘t we all doing that when we watched “glitter?” he‘s just appealing to a commonality in all of us.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s the profound science and sociology of Michael Musto, with the “Village Voice”.  And you should hear what they say about him.

Thank, Michael.

MUSTO:  Off to play billiards with Sandra Bullock.  Bye.

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

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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