updated 8/22/2005 10:22:02 AM ET 2005-08-22T14:22:02

Guest: Carl Basham, Howard Bryant, LaChania Govan

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  American awareness of international terror began not at the World Trade Center nor the Pentagon nor in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  It began aboard the U.S. “Cole” as it sat harbored in Yemen five years ago this October.  Thus what happened today at the port of Aqaba Jordan stirred primal echoes—rockets launched from a warehouse above the docks, at least one, for certain, aimed at the U.S.S. “Ashland.”

Which of these stories will be talking about tomorrow?It was just good luck that they missed.  Who did it?

Outraged resolve.  A native Texan couldn‘t get his native Texan college tuition discount because he‘d been out of state, serving in Iraq.  He‘ll join us.

Two hundred and fifty-three million, four hundred thousand dollars awarded by a Texas court to a woman who says her husband was killed by Vioxx.

And she had the nerve to complain to the cable company, so they changed her name on her bill.  To what, you will not believe.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

They‘re called Katyusha rockets.  They have range, they have portability, but, fortunately, for as many as 900 sailors and Marines aboard the U.S.S. “Ashland,” they‘re also notoriously inaccurate.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, that was confirmed at 8:44 local time this morning in the waters off Jordan, when one of the Katyushas became, literally, a shot across the bow of the “Ashland,” inflicting no damage, but killing a Jordanian at the port.

All told, three rockets fired from the hills above Aqaba, the other two evidently aimed at Israel.  The first missile hit a nearby warehouse.  That is where the Jordanian soldier died and a second one was injured.  The “Ashland” and another ship, the U.S.S. “Kiersarge,” had been carrying out joint training exercises with the Jordanian navy.  Both ships left port shortly after the attack.

Of the other two rockets, one landing about nine miles away near the airport serving an Israeli resort town.  A taxi driver passing by at that time slightly wounded, and his vehicle damaged.  The other missile hitting the backyard wall of a Jordanian military hospital somewhere in between the points.

Time now to call in MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann of GlobalTerrorAlert.com to try to figure out who might be responsible for the attack today.

Good evening, Evan.

EVAN KOHLMANN, GLOBALTERRORALERT.COM:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Have any credible claims of responsibility emerged yet?

KOHLMANN:  Well, thus far, the only claim I‘ve seen has been the one from the, quote unquote, “Abdullah Azam” brigades, a group that was named after the first founder of al Qaeda, Sheikh Abdullah Azam.

Unfortunately, this claim of responsibility has gotten a lot of play, but it doesn‘t appear to be so legitimate.  The same sources that first printed this communique later on i the day took it offline, saying that it was not legitimate, it was not authentic.  And much has been said for other communiques that have been issued by this same purported group.

That being said, is this al Qaeda?  Yes, it‘s almost certainly.  There are a number of indications that lead us to believe this is al Qaeda.  First of all, this comes as a string of series of terrorist attacks in the Sinai peninsula and in the area around the Red Sea between Egypt‘s the border with both Israel and Jordan.  It seems that the attackers here probably did have links to the same cell responsible for Sharm el-Sheikh, the bombings there just a few weeks ago.

And, of course, Jordanian police right now are looking for individuals with Syrian and Iraqi passports.  And whenever you see that Syrian and Iraqi passports, the immediate thought is, Well, perhaps this is somehow connected to the network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al Qaeda‘s front men in Iraq.

And there have been other indications that Zarqawi‘s influence is spreading, and that there are groups that are emerging in places like Gaza Strip, in places like Jordan and Syria, groups that basically empathize with Zarqawi, that are in communication with him, and believe that what he has done in Iraq is a model to be replicated elsewhere.

And that is potentially what we‘re seeing here.

OLBERMANN:  When you have rockets, though, that are as unreliable as these turned out to be, in terms of aiming them, it‘s often difficult to ascertain what this, what the target was, let alone what the intent was, are we confident that Israel was indeed a target?  Or were these three things fired at the U.S. interests, the two ships in port, and two of them just missed wildly?

KOHLMANN:  Well, no, I would say Israel was almost certainly a target here.  One of the big efforts behind this, I believe, anyway, is that these folks have been upset for a long time that, despite all the propaganda from Osama bin Laden, there haven‘t been any effective terrorist attacks on Israeli soil.  And Israel is one of really al Qaeda‘s main enemies.  And I think it‘s a big effort to rally the troops by attacking the Israelis, the Jews, the people that many of those in Zarqawi‘s movement and Zawahiri‘s movement and bin Laden‘s movement see as the primary enemies.

So I‘m not surprised about that.  Now, whether or not we can see, potentially see more attacks like this in the future, unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Number one, if you take a look at the “Cole” attack, for instance, the “Cole” attack was the second effort to bring down a U.S.  Vessel in—off the coast of Yemen.  The first attack failed.  So unfortunately, we‘ve got to be careful here that the same thing doesn‘t repeat itself.  We don‘t want the first attempt, which was a miss, to be followed up with a second attempt which succeeds.

And, you know, as unreliable, as inaccurate the Katyushas are, someone that has access to Katyusha rockets presumably has access to other military hardware as well.  And that‘s got to be a source of continuing concern in the days ahead.

OLBERMANN:  Evan Kohlmann of GlobalTerrorAlert.com and MSNBC, as always, sir, great thanks.

KOHLMANN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Even when military service for Americans in the Middle East is comparatively uneventful on the ground, there can still be unforeseen consequences.  They can even happen here, like the one that befell former Marine corporal Carl Basham.  Like many veterans, he wanted to pick up his life and keep going when he got back Stateside, so he went back to Beaville (ph), Texas, and decided to enroll at nearby Austin Community College in the state capital.

Being a native of the state, he was entitled to a significant tuition discount, it would be about $500 for a semester, as opposed to about $2,600.  But the admissions office initially said there that Basham was no longer entitled to the state resident status, because he‘d been living elsewhere, namely, in the Marines at Camp Pendleton and in Iraq for two tours.

That got the college some bad pub, even earned them runner-up status in our nightly list of Worst Persons in the World the other night.  But as Corporal Carl Basham joins us tonight, this has apparently been resolved to the good.

Thank you for your time tonight.  What‘s the latest on this?

CPL. CARL BASHAM (RET.), U.S. MARINES:  Well, the latest on this is that this afternoon, at about 1:30, I headed over the ACC, and I went in there with the original paperwork and some new paperwork based off of ACC‘s requirements for in-state tuition.  Turned that over, and they went on ahead and approved of my in-state tuition.

OLBERMANN:  Well, congratulations on that.  Do you have an idea what you think happened here?  Was somebody in the school just reading the regulations without thinking, or did somebody mess something up here?

BASHAM:  I think that it kind of all worked together.  I think people were not communicating with each other and making it to where the full information based off of everything that was needed for myself for in-state tuition residency, so I could actually present myself with all the paperwork correctly.

OLBERMANN:  When this story got out that they weren‘t going to grant you this—and obviously that‘s changed now—but when it first got out, you got all kinds of offers of support of people willing to pay some of the tuition, people in government willing to talk to the college on your behalf.  Tell me about that.

BASHAM:  I actually got requests from all over, mostly in, like, San Diego area, a bunch of people out here, a bunch of veterans, especially, my fellow veterans from Vietnam.  A lot of individuals were willing to pay my entire tuition for up to about a full year, including books.  I had a couple bookstores willing to pay all my books and supplies as well.

OLBERMANN:  And the governor‘s office called?  What were they going to do?

BASHAM:  The governor‘s office wanted to get in contact with me and get a list of all the paperwork and everything that was required by ACC as well, and wanted to get my input on everything that was needed for in-state tuition, so can I get more assistance as well from the governor‘s office.

OLBERMANN:  And presumably, they would now be prepared, in case this happens again to somebody else who‘s been out of state for the same reason you were.

Let me ask you, lastly, so you‘re going to get this education at the Austin Community College, the one you want at the price you‘re entitled to..  What are you going to do with it?  What‘s your career goal?

BASHAM:  My career goal is to be a paramedic, a first-response paramedic for the City of Austin.  So I plan to do it for many years.

OLBERMANN:  Paramedic.  Well, good luck with it, sir.  Corporal Carl Basham, U.S. Marines...

BASHAM:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  ... retired, and now just another student paying the state freight at Austin Community College.  We‘re glad it worked out for you.  Thanks for your time.

BASHAM:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Hundred miles up the road in Crawford, Texas, the efforts of the mother of another U.S. soldier, one who never got the chance to become a veteran of the war in Iraq, continuing tonight, this even though the mother herself is now 1,200 miles away.

Cindy Sheehan is now caring for her ailing mother in California, doing little to deter the other Gold Star members at Camp Casey, pledging to stick it out on the hot Texas prairie, to keep pushing the president for answers about the U.S. mission in Iraq.  No update on Sheehan‘s mother‘s condition, nor the timing of her own possible return.

But those efforts were answered in kind today by a contingent firmly behind the president, these images in the aftermath of a rally at the Crawford Community Center, folded-up sheets tied with yellow ribbons taken to the Bush compound.  They had previously been unfurled and waved with messages of support upon them.  The demonstration appropriately titled, I Give a Sheet.

And late political news out of Washington tonight.  Senate minority leader Harry Reid has suffered a mild stroke, according to aides.  The 65-year-old senator from Nevada complained of having felt lightheaded on Tuesday.  He saw a doctor and was informed he had had a stroke, a transient stroke that may have affected him for no more than 24 hours.  The only other details at this point is that there were not expected to be long-ranging consequences to his illness.  A spokeswoman for the senator says there are no complications, no restrictions on Reid‘s activities, adding, quoting here, “His doctors have recommended that he take advantage of the summer congressional recess for some downtime.”

Also tonight, back to Texas.  A jury there has just ruled that Vioxx killed a local man, and it wants to give his widow over $250 million.

And a nightmare in Kansas, a teenager killed while posing with a tiger for a photograph, this while some ecologists want to introduce wild cheetahs to the American plains.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was a year ago next month when thousands of Vioxx users symbolically went through the windshield.  Merck, the manufacturer of the wonder drug for arthritis pain, yanked it off the market, having suddenly discovered that it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if sufferers took it for a year and a half or longer.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the other shoe dropped this afternoon.  Fifty miles west of Galveston, Texas, a jury awarded more than a quarter of a billion dollars to a woman who said Vioxx killed her husband.

With a batch of other similar lawsuits already in the pipeline, as Ron Allen reports, today it was Merck symbolically going through that windshield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  (INAUDIBLE) called it the end of a long, tough road.  The Texas widow had blamed the corporate giant Merck and its painkiller Vioxx for her husband‘s death.  And today, a jury agreed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He would be so proud of me.  It‘s been difficult.  It is hard to put yourself in this position.

ALLEN:  The jury awarded her more than $250 million, most of it punitive damages directed at Merck.  Robert Ernst was a personal trainer, marathon runner, produce manager at a Wal-Mart, who died in his sleep next to his wife back in 2001.  He was 59.  Ernst‘s widow said he took Vioxx for about eight months before his death to relieve pain in his hands.  She insisted the drug caused a heart attack that led to a fatal irregular heartbeat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I hope this will be a wakeup call for consumers. 

Have the right to know what the risks are when you take a drug.

ALLEN:  Vioxx was introduced with great fanfare in 1999.  But it became a huge problem for Merck last September.

RAY MARTIN, MERCK CEO:  Merck is announcing a voluntary worldwide withdrawal of Vioxx.

ALLEN:  The popular painkiller was off the shelves because a study showed it could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken for 18 months or longer.

(on camera):  And while today‘s verdict was the first time the painkiller was blamed for a death, Merck still faces some 4,200 Vioxx-related lawsuits across the country.

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC PHARMACEUTICALS REPORTER:  There are many on Wall Street who think that Merck needs to put away, sock away billions of dollars, possibly tens of billions of dollars, to settle these cases, perhaps, in the long run.

ALLEN:  Today, Merck‘s lawyers said they‘d appeal.

JONATHAN SKIDMORE, MERCK LAWYER:  The scientific evidence did not exist to link Mr. Ernst‘s death with Vioxx.

ALLEN:  The verdict also could mean trouble for other manufacturers of so-called Cox-2 inhibitors like Pfizer, whose painkiller Bextra also was pulled from shelves.  Pfizer still markets Celebrex.  Both drugs are the subject of lawsuits.

The jury vote against Merck was 10 to two, not unanimous.  The next trial is expected next month in New Jersey, Merck‘s home base.

Ron Allen, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, no, it‘s not the music critics versus the guys who can‘t carry a tune.  They meant to do this at the concert.

And forget about pumas and bears.  If a bunch of scientists from my alma mater get their way, America will soon get some new wildlife out of Africa—lions, elephants, and cheetahs.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s Friday, so we thought we‘d change things up a bit and forego our normal strange news and cool video segment for one dedicated instead to the culture and high society of Finland.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin at the Turku (ph) Philharmonic, where apparently a gunfight has broken out during the orchestra‘s rendition of Beethoven‘s Battle Symphony, every time we play this song.  Actually, unlike America‘s Source awards, the gunplay here was part of the show.  The orchestras were divided into an English unit and a French unit for a musical battle royal complete with 200 cannon blasts and hundreds of musket shots.  Forty-seven buildings were destroyed.

Only kidding.

Elsewhere in Finnish cultural news, check out this crane accident in Maryland.  All right, we tried.  There wasn‘t that much Finnish cultural news.  No one was injured when the crane tipped over while it was installing a giant air conditioning unit on top of that building there.  The building has been evacuated until it can be checked for structural damage.  There‘s no word on when or if these people will actually get air conditioning.

Then finally, the wonders of nature.  A rare glimpse today of a giant Boeing bird flying south, carrying her young chick, which clings claims desperately to her back.  Flying east, actually.  The space shuttle making its traditional way home to Florida today on the back of a 747.  “Discovery” started its trip in California, where it had landed when weather kept it out of Florida last week.  To get it home, the craft had to be attached to that plane, piggy-backed 3,000 miles, a stop in Oklahoma this afternoon for a refuel.

And that is why every time they desperately try to land in Florida in the first place.

Also tonight, a plan to reintroduce big cats on the American plains.  Unfortunately, it coincides with another fatal tiger attack, this one actually happening on the plains in Kansas.

Then a missing persons case that might actually have been solved.  Not in Aruba, not on a Turkish cruise ship, but in the Big Apple.  This one ran for 75 years.  How did we miss this in cable news?  Have they actually found Judge Crater?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Roger Jackson, Jr., of Tulsa.  You know in movies when the suspect sees his crime in a headline on the newsstand, and he tries to cover it up or buy all the papers?  Not Mr. Jackson.  Suspected in the kidnapping of his daughter, he was arrested while sitting in the barber shop reading about how police wanted to arrest him.

Number two, same vein.  An unnamed suspect in Saint John‘s County, Florida, allegedly broke into a car.  The owner happened by, the suspect fled, dropped his cell phone in the car.  He then called his own cell number, hoping to get the phone back.  Guess who answered?  Right.  The policeman.

And number one, the unnamed pilot of a Cessna flying from Ireland to Portugal.  He and his three passengers did not notice that on takeoff, they had hit a tree, and five feet of the left wing, including the left fuel tank, had been ripped off the plane.  Two hours later, just before the emergency landing, that‘s when they noticed.  Everybody was OK, including the two passengers on board, who were flight engineers on their way to Lisbon to fix a Boeing 767.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Animals on the loose.  The news industry almost faints when something like this happens.  There‘s a crocodile on the loose in southern California.  You will remember the bear bouncing on the trampoline in Missoula, Montana.  Heck, any time a horse wanders away from a race track, somebody sends up a news copter.

So our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight ought to throw you a bit, a suggestion that we should restock the American plains with wildlife, real wildlife, elephants and cheetahs and stuff.

Details in a moment.

First, by means of contrast, and perhaps by means of warning, another tiger attack, this time a fatal one.  And as our correspondent Michael Okwu reports, one that occurred inside the supposedly controlled environment of a wildlife sanctuary.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Haley Hilderbrand was taking her senior high school photos on Thursday, doing what others in her school have reportedly also done, posing with a Siberian tiger like this one at a family-run wildlife sanctuary.

Suddenly, the 7-year-old tiger turned and mauled her.  The Labette County sheriff‘s office released a statement saying the tiger “was being restrained by its handler when it turned and attack Miss Hilderbrand.  Responding officers and the handler killed the animal.”

Hilderbrand was pronounced dead at the scene.  She would have begun her senior year of high school today.

According to its Web site, the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary has been open since 1994, an 80-acre home to almost two dozen rescued wild animals.  In a statement, Lost Creek‘s owners offered condolences and called Hildebrand a friend.

“At no time in the facility‘s 10-year history,” the statement said, “has there been any incident of injury.  Every precaution was taken to ensure the safety of Haley.”

An estimated 10,000 tigers in the U.S. are being cared for by private owners.  Carol Esestes, executive director of the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas, says there‘s always a risk.

CAROL ESESTES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WILD ANIMAL ORPHANAGE:  It‘s a huge problem.  These are wild animals.  Whether they‘re raised by the bottle and handled continuously, they have wild instincts, and they are predators, and they are dangerous.

OKWU:  An investigation is now under way to determine how this horrifying event happened.

Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So we can‘t handle supposedly tamed tigers on Las Vegas stages or off them.  But some ecologists want to relocate bigger, even wilder beasts to the American Midwest, largely on the premise that the species‘ ancestors used to live here.

Peter Alexander has our report from London.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It would give a whole new meaning to the wild, wild West, elephants roaming Oklahoma, cheetahs prowling Texas.

A team of U.S. scientists formed this bold new vision.  The proposal, saving endangered African mammals by relocating some of them into North America‘s Great Plains, a strategy they call rewilding.

JOSH DONLAN, CORNELL UNIVERSITY BIOLOGIST:  We do see a century-long vision, where we would have this vast ecological park in the Midwest with free-roaming carnivores, free-roaming elephants, and the other large biodiversity that we once had 13,000 years ago.

ALEXANDER:  Critics say the idea sounds like “Jurassic Park” meets “Jumanji.”  And it‘s not without risk.

DONLAN:  There‘s clear potential for unexpected consequences, for putting these animals back in the landscape.

ALEXANDER:  This summer, tourists at one British safari park have witnessed the potential dangers up close and personal.

(on camera):  Now park managers are offering a warning.  It seems some lions have taken a big interest in small cars, possibly mistaking them as prey.

(voice-over):  While most modern African species never lived in North America, their now-extinct biological relatives did.  And the scientists say, in part, it‘s their ethical responsible to bring them home.

Peter Alexander, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Notice those were Cornell ecologists.  My alumni fund dollars in action.

To lighten this mood somewhat, a reminder that an animal does not have to be exotic, wild, or even large to pose a danger to the public safety.  Police in Leominster, Mass., were briefly deterred from arresting a drug suspect because her pet attacked them.  Her pet, Spanky, Spanky the squirrel.

Keeping a straight face is our correspondent Erin Logan from our NBC affiliate WHDH, Boston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN LOGAN, REPORTER, WHDH, BOSTON:  A day on the job Officer Flowers will never forget, and, at first, didn‘t believe.

OFF. DWANE FLOWERS, ATTACKED BY A SQUIRREL:  Animals have come after me in the past.  And the squirrel was moving at such speed that I didn‘t see it, and nor did my partner, standing, you know, shoulder‘s width away from me.

LOGAN:  Shoulder‘s width away laughing, while Spanky was running all around over his body, even on top of his head.

FLOWERS:  The claws are very sharp, obviously, to climb trees.  And I guess he mistook me for a tree.

LOGAN:  The officer showed up at this Leominster home, attempting to conduct a warrant arrest involving an alleged drug dependency.  But the homeowner, Monica Marcill‘s (ph) pet, Spanky, delayed the process.  Her son Nick says he saw this coming.

NICK MARCILL:  I said, Don‘t go in there, you know.  And as soon as he walked in, I went to go take it into a different room.

LOGAN:  But it was too late.  Spanky wanted to make friends with the officer.

MARCILL:  It was jumping around, and it was pretty funny.  I mean, it‘s something that doesn‘t happen every day.

LOGAN:  Officer Flowers laughed, saying, No harm done.

FLOWERS:  My skin was never broken, and it required no medical attention.  I‘ve been in soap and water.

LOGAN:  While he drove himself to the hospital, his co-workers took over for him, making an arrest, and then had some fun.

FLOWERS:  He had a good chuckle.  I tried to raise him on the radio, and they couldn‘t answer their radio call because they were too busy laughing.  And I imagine it was funny.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Erin Logan on Spanky watch, outside Boston.

Speaking of the plains, the story of the grasslands, and the Moss.  That would be Randy Moss of football‘s Oakland Raiders and his comments about having smoked marijuana, grass.  Ha-ha.

And on the rehab round-up, shockingly, there‘s also a Courtney Love story tonight.

All that ahead.

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN,” NBC)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  This week, the Weather Channel announced they‘re changing their slogan to, Bringing Weather to Life.  Yes, they‘re going to have a new slogan, Bringing Weather to Life, yes.  Apparently they decided it was better than their old slogan, Look Out the Window, You Lazy (expletive deleted).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “RON AND MONICA”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... really is.  So we‘re in a position right now where this legislation, which not only... It sounds like a fire alarm going off there or something.  I don‘t know, what is that?

RON REAGAN, HOST:  Yes, it‘s somebody‘s car alarm, perhaps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is here in Secaucus (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, it‘s (INAUDIBLE) -- is that your car, Ron?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, it‘s here in Secaucus, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, no worries.

REAGAN:  Somebody will turn that alarm off.  Oh, there it went.  That‘s nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Deborah Howe still wonders how it all could have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Her bathroom was a mess.  The shower had a leak in it.  The drywall man had to knock a big hole to fix it.  And they had come that day to repair it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When she got home, the wall was fixed, but something wasn‘t right.  It was Needles, her beloved cat, nowhere to be found.

Two weeks later...

DEBORAH HOWE:  I hear this, Meow.  And I said, No way.  And then I said, Needles!  And I knelt down.  Meow!  I said, Needles!  Meow.  And I was, like, Jesus Christ, they sealed my cat up in the wall.  And I called 911.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The collegiate and professional career of football star Randy Moss has not been a simple thing.  Where he went to college, with whom he played professionally, and why he might have pushed a meter maid with his car at slow speeds, just some of the highlights of the Moss experience.  And you‘ll remember his pantomime mooning of the fans in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for which the National Football League fined him $10,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, were you upset about the fight?

RANDY MOSS:  No, (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).  (INAUDIBLE), to me. 

Right?  Next time on my (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Another chapter this week.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Randy Moss admitting to past marijuana use, telling a television interviewer, he still might enjoy it once in a blue moon, and then denying he said anything about present use, only past indulgence.  And the sports world has lit up.  A rolling Moss gathers he‘s stoned.

During an interview with HBO‘s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Moss indicated he had smoked in the past and might still again.  HBO put out the quote as publicity.  It is a slow time for sports news.  It became the top topic of conversation yesterday and today in the sports world.

Moss‘s agent saw ulterior motives.  “In an attempt to promote their dying network, they have maliciously couched his remarks in a manner that is confusing and leaves room for negative interpretation.”

A dying network.  HBO.  Who‘s been smoking what, exactly?

There are all sorts of angles to this story.  And to explore them, let me again call in “Boston Herald” sports columnist Howard Bryant, who‘s also the author of the baseball steroid expose, “Juicing the Game.”

Howard, thanks again for your time.

HOWARD BRYANT, SPORTS COLUMNIST, “THE BOSTON HERALD”:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  A theory here.  This is a story only because it really has been a dull week in sports, and Randy Moss is a lightning rod for controversy, and controversy sells newspapers and radio sports talk and sports TV.

BRYANT:  Oh, no question, especially when you look at what is happening with sports in general.  I mean, this is one of those deals where there‘s no reason for this.  This is nonsense.  I don‘t think Randy Moss has done anything that 150 million people in this country have done.  And this is just really silly to me.

OLBERMANN:  Now, I‘m part of this sports media thing again.  And today, just before the hour that I share with my friend Dan Patrick on ESPN Radio, he talked to Robert Smith, who was formerly Moss‘s teammate with the Minnesota Vikings, who said, This is very simple.  They test you for marijuana and other nonsteroidal drugs during training camp, and then they don‘t do it again till well into the regular season.  So once you pass that training camp test, players can smoke pot with impunity, literally for weeks.

Is that the case, as you understand it?  And does that present a problem, either in terms of the health of the players, or the reputation of the sport?

BRYANT:  Well, sure.  It creates a problem because what the sport has sent out as a message to the public is that it‘s drug-free.  And we all know better.  I don‘t think that it creates any kind of crisis in terms of the country, because I think marijuana isn‘t considered much of a hardcore drug in the first place.

But what it does do is, it sends a message that, obviously, players get to use what they want.  It‘s really no different than what‘s going on in the general society.  I was—I think I‘ve been drug-tested twice in my professional career, both times to receive a job.  And after that, I‘ve never been drug-tested since.  So it‘s really no different.

OLBERMANN:  The, if there is a story here, is it in the reaction from Moss and his agent, Mr. DiTrapano (ph), particularly?  He, Mr. DiTrapano, called HBO a dying network.  We should all be dying like that in this business.  And Randy Moss himself denying that he said anything about current usage when apparently he is on tape saying the other thing.  Did they make this situation worse?  I mean, don‘t those two remarks, on their face, simply erase the credibility of each of the people who said them?

BRYANT:  Yes.  Well, it‘s silly.  And ball players do this all the time.  Here‘s what happens.  They go out, they say something outrageous.  They don‘t think it‘s a very big deal.  And then they see the reaction.  And then after the reaction, they start running scared and backtrack from everything and blame the media, blame whomever, blame everybody for what they‘ve already said.

And if Randy Moss has this reputation of being such a big tough guy renegade classic Oakland Raider, then he should stand by what he said.  I mean, he knows what he said.  It‘s no different than the thing that happened with Gary Sheffield and every other athlete that gets themselves into hot water.  Because now, what they realize is, after the reaction, they‘re costing themselves potentially millions of dollars in endorsements, and then they have to run away from what they already said.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, especially when there‘s tape.  That makes it a whole different—it‘s not my word, your word, there‘s a tape.  (INAUDIBLE)...

BRYANT:  Yes, exactly.

OLBERMANN:  I referred to this interview with Robert Smith, who was one, before his retirement, one of the true, I think intellectuals is not too tough a term there, not just in football, but in sports.  And he brought up a fascinating sidebar.  Brett Favre, quarterback, Green Bay Packer, admitting about a decade ago dependency on painkillers, on Vicodin.  Got a round of applause and basically, an FTD get-out-of-rehab-soon bouquet from everybody.

Randy Moss, not exactly the same response.  Is that, do you think, a question of bad reputation versus good reputation?  Is it the nature of the drug?  Is it the respective races of the players?

BRYANT:  Sure, well, I think it‘s all of the above, especially when you look at, number one, there‘s—you‘re never going to be able to bridge the distance between the African-Americans who cover this game, who generally aren‘t upper-middle-class, and the writers who cover them, who are generally white.  You never get away from that.  You also don‘t get away from the fact that Randy Moss has never been considered an upstanding NFL citizen.

And you also don‘t get past the nature of the drugs.  I think people have a sympathy for painkillers, and they don‘t have a lot of sympathy for Randy Moss smoking pot, hanging out with his friends, which is kind of what he said.

Now, I think that the other thing that happens here, Keith, is that, you know, we all know that every sport has its dark corner.  And basketball, it‘s marijuana.  Remember when Charles Oakley said, If you tested NBA players for marijuana, you wouldn‘t have a league.  With baseball players, it is amphetamines and alcohol.  And with football players, it‘s painkillers.

So I think that people have some sort of leniency, or they make an allowance for football players and painkillers, because of the nature of the sport.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s like a different language sometimes, isn‘t it?  Howard Bryant of “The Boston Herald,” helping us—well, you knew this was inevitable—helping us clear the smoke around the Randy Moss story.  Thank you, sir.

BRYANT:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Well, here‘s a segue, from a marijuana story to our nightly segment on why smoking is bad for you, complete with suggestions on how to stop.  It is called I Quit.

And tonight, we begin with an essential question.  Are you really ready to quit smoking?

There‘s a lot of research about not just quitting but about who succeeds and who fails.  And the results may surprise you.  The biggest hurled isn‘t withdrawal, expense, peer pressure, habit, boredom, or inertia.  The biggest hurdle appears to be, have you really decided to quit?

There are four questions used to determine this, apparently.  A yes to any of them, and your brain might just be ready.

First, do you believe that you might get a tobacco-related disease, and does this worry you?Second, do you believe you can make an honest attempt at quitting?  Not, Yes, I quit, but just, Yes, I have a decent chance of quitting?

Third, do you believe that the benefits of quitting outweigh the benefits of continuing your smoking, your chewing or snuffing or rubbing it on your forehead?

And fourth, do you know, or just know of, somebody else who has had health problems as a result of their use of tobacco?

You want me to tell you the story of the tumor in my mouth again, of having it cut out, of waiting five days to find out whether or not it was cancerous, and if I need chemo or radiation or lord knows what?  No.

But I think that just by having listened to that, you have already answered yes to questions one and four, Do you believe you could get sick?  And, Do you know of anybody who has?

Number three is iffy.  You could hear my story or somebody else‘s and say, Well, that‘s one more benign tumor out there that did not have my name on it.

So it all hinges, apparently, on number two.  Do you think you might succeed?  Or maybe you could look at this way.  If you stopped smoking or just cut back significantly, it‘s like playing Russian roulette a lot less often.  Ideally, you should not play it at all.  Maybe you will wind up not playing it at all.

But in the interim, think of how many fewer bullets you‘ll to have dodge.

Your e-mails have been flooding in all week.  One thing‘s pretty clear, there is no one magic method for quitting.  You just have to keep trying until something sticks.

To that end, we will continue posting your correspondence on our Web site and sharing your stories, tips, and gimmicks on the air.  So keep those e-mails coming to countdown@msnbc.com.

And the theme that just keeps on giving, smoking, Courtney Love, keeping tabs, controlled substance violation, more rehab.  Ms. Love wiped tears from her eyes as Judge Rand Reuben (ph) today ordered her into immediate rehab, today, for the next 28 days.  “I think you need to hit rock bottom,” he said, “before you make a decision about what you‘re going to do in the future.”

Love has previously and very publicly claimed that she has been clean and sober for more than a year.  After her drying-out will come her sentencing on September 16 for having violated probation in three separate cases.

“I think you either need a long-term drug program,” Judge Reuben said today, “or a long term in county jail.”

And time it was that Joseph Force Crater was as famous as Courtney Love, or almost anybody else.  For decades, he was known as the missingest man in America.  He was the punch line to a million jokes.  A play on his name was half the plot of one episode of the old “Dick van Dyke Show.”

Seventy-five years and 13 days ago, Crater, prominent New York politico and newly appointed state supreme court judge, told his assistant, Don‘t forget to turn out the lights, Johnson.  He stepped out into Times Square, and he was never seen again.  He vanished, four decades before Jimmy Hoffa vanished.

And he may have just turned up.  Missing persons case 13595 was closed in 1979.  But “The New York Post” and “The New York Daily News” reporting today that a Do Not Open Until My Death letter about Crater‘s disappearance is being taken seriously by local police.  The judge, to have been metaphorically thought all these years sleeping with the fishes, may have been literally sleeping with the fishes.

That letter turned up in the effects of a 91-year-old woman who died in Queens in June.  In it, Stella Farucci Goode (ph) confesses that her husband, along with a police officer and his cab-driver brother, murdered Judge Crater in 1930 and buried his body under the Coney Island boardwalk near West Eighth Street.

If you‘ve ever been to Coney Island in, say, the last 48 years, you might recognize that address.  It‘s the site of the New York Aquarium.  Sleeping with the fishes, indeed.  Could have been worse.  Judge Crater could have been buried in a crater.

And no, the Rolling Stones have not been around so long that they played at Judge Crater‘s wedding, but they have been around so long that they broke in when rock was being recorded in mono, and they have lasted till a time when police will be able to test their concert in Boston Sunday night for noise-level violations.  Cops carrying handheld decibel meters say if the Stones exceed 70 at Fenway Park Sunday night, promoters will be told to turn down the volume or shut down the  concert.

And if Mick, Keith, Charlie, Ron, Dopey, or Sneezy show any particularly fluid arm motion, they will also be ordered to pitch for the Red Sox.

Also tonight, LaChania Govan had a problem with her cable in Illinois, so she called the company, then the company called her something, something bad, on her bill.  She‘ll join us and explain it next.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s nominees to the coveted title of Worst Person in the World.

There‘s just two tonight.

A very close second, Brent Bozell.  Yes, the wacky guy from that Media Research Center scam accused me of distortion for having said that Rush Limbaugh had said on air, quote, “Cindy Sheehan is just Bill Burkett.  Her story is nothing more than forged documents.  There‘s nothing about it that‘s real.”

The only person distorting, as usual, is Bozell.  Limbaugh said it on the air on August 15.  We have the transcript.  Nothing in the transcript mitigates what he said.  I‘ll put it online over the weekend.

So Bozell is close, but the winner is Limbaugh, for saying, I never said this, when, of course, he sure did, especially considering the line comparing Sheehan to Burkett was a featured quote on his Web site for his paying subscribers, until it was mysteriously scrubbed off.

And having now added about Sheehan‘s dead son, quote, “I‘m weary of even having to express sympathy.  We all lose things.”  Like your career, Rush.  You‘re finished.  Credibility spent.  Get lost.

Rush Limbaugh, once again today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Unless you‘ve been in a coma for a few decades, or you have been subsisting on stuff you bought from the Sears Roebuck catalog in November 1969, you already know about the decline of what is somewhat vaguely called the service industry.  This is underscored by the story of Elliot Stein (ph) and Jennifer Cassen (ph).  Finishing their meal at a New Jersey restaurant, they were shocked by the check.  Not the price, mind you, but in the space provided for the server to make some effort at identifying or describing the customers, the waitress had written, quote, “Jew couple.”

That particular waitress doesn‘t work at that restaurant any more.

Or there‘s our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, in which a Chicago-area cable customer got her bill and found that on it, her name had been changed to, quote, “(expletive deleted),” unquote.  Last month, LaChania Govan of Elgin, Illinois, had problems with the digital recording service provided as part of her Comcast cable.  So she called and called and called and tried to get it resolved.

When her August bill arrived in the mail, there it was.  Where it said “Customer Name” on the bill, it was no longer Govan, comma, LaChania, it was that other thing.

Ms. Govan joins us now from Chicago.

Thanks for your time tonight.

LACHANIA GOVAN:  No problem.

OLBERMANN:  So tell me your reaction when this bill arrived.

GOVAN:  As any other day, I came home, checked the mail, put my daughter in her walker, sat down, going through the mail.  I see my cable bill.  As I‘m getting ready to lay my bill down, it‘s—I look.  Ah, no, this is not my bill.  This—no, you‘ve got to be kidding me.

And sure enough, it was my address.  So I opened the bill.  I‘m literally looking at the envelope, like, no.  Opened the bill.  Saw the credit that was issued.  Knew then it was mine.  I was literally speechless and just beyond furious.  It was unbelievable.

OLBERMANN:  When you had called for the—this was a problem with the video recording service, had there been any evident problems?  Was there anything to suggest that they were going to put this epithet in place of your name on the bill?  Did anybody call you a name or anything?

GOVAN:  No, and, I mean, if there hasn‘t, out of the numerous representatives I‘ve spoken with, no one, no one.  So, you know, to get the issue resolved, and to come a couple of weeks later and get a bill like that, utterly amazed.  Just stunned.  I couldn‘t believe it.  I still can‘t believe it.

OLBERMANN:  I have this quote from the vice president of communications of Comcast, Patricia Andrews Keenan, which reads, “If this is not that customer‘s name, it shouldn‘t be on that bill.”  Which is—that‘s genius right there.  But it suggests that the company might not have grasped the nature of the problem.  Did they try to make amends?  Did they fire whoever did this?  Did they do anything?

GOVAN:  You know, I called the company that day.  I spoke with the supervisor.  He assured me it would be investigated.  I gave him work numbers, cell phone, you know.  And he offered me two months of free service.  You know, and he told me he would get back to me.  And I didn‘t hear anything from the company at all, until the story printed, and someone called.  You know, he identified his name, said he was from Comcast, and he was calling to apologize and let me know, you know, he didn‘t condone that, and they didn‘t want to live up to that expectation.

But he never stated who he was, what his position was within the company.  So to me, it could have been a concerned employee.  And, no, I wasn‘t aware that anyone was fired.  I read that in the paper just as everybody else.

OLBERMANN:  Two people, supposedly.  There‘s a little bit of an irony to this last story too.  What do you do for a living?

GOVAN:  I work in customer service.  I‘ve been in customer service for seven years now.

OLBERMANN:  So when it comes to dealing with customers, obviously, you know what you‘re talking about, at a credit card company.  Is there a lesson in here for everybody in this, to customers and customer service people?  Do they need to amp up the respect a little bit?  Can‘t we all just get along?

GOVAN:  I mean, my theory, my motivation has been, I‘m here to do my job.  This is why I get up every day.  There‘s no way a customer could set the tone, or, you know, you work in customer service.  We‘re front line of any business.  So you should be able to, you know, set the example.  You‘re representing this company, whatever company it is.  And to work in customer service and treat a customer in that manner, there‘s no way possible that that should be allowed or it should happen.

OLBERMANN:  And then there‘s...

GOVAN:  And I have...

OLBERMANN:  Yes, go ahead.

GOVAN:  No, I‘m just—was really speechless.

OLBERMANN:  Still amazed, still amazed, and it‘s going on a week since it happened.  Plus, when you think about it, somebody had to go to a lot of trouble to change a name on a bill.

GOVAN:  Exactly.  Exactly.  You know, they informed me, they have a “bill to” option as well.  Everything was changed.  Somebody literally, you know, went out of their way...

OLBERMANN:  Amazing.

GOVAN:  It‘s—I don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s amazing.  LaChania Govan, thanks for sharing your story with us.  And I‘m glad we got it—at least the name fixed on the bill.  Let‘s hope that‘s (INAUDIBLE).

GOVAN:  Thanks.

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

Time now for Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT.”  Good evening, Rita.

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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