updated 8/23/2005 10:44:42 AM ET 2005-08-23T14:44:42

Guest: Karen Tumulty, Gary Qualls, Jay Young, Charles Ross

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  It was a stark recitation of the numbers, 1,864 dead, the man said today, 223 more in Afghanistan.  The number of injured was not mentioned, possibly because that man knew that the fact that he had mentioned the total of American service deaths in Iraq would be surprise enough.  He had never spoken of that number aloud before.

The man was President George W. Bush.  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The president‘s speech to the VFW Convention.  Stem cells again, from the surface of your own skin.  Is that OK?  The disappearance craze meets Tinseltown.  Olivia Newton-John‘s boyfriend is missing.

And you‘ve seen every “Star Wars”?  No, you haven‘t, not till you‘ve seen the original, performed by a cast of one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We seem to be made to suffer.  It‘s our lot in life.

Luke, I am your understudy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

There was a lot in President Bush‘s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Salt Lake City this afternoon that sounded awfully familiar.  And then there was the part he had never previously addressed so specifically.  It pretty much just sounded awful.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, while Cindy Sheehan followed Mr.  Bush to Salt Lake City, if only by the proxy of a television commercial, and that city‘s mayor called for a protest against the president, he recited the grim numbers from Iraq for the first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom.  Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home.  Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Most of the president‘s additional remarks were more evocative of his previous remarks about Iraq, and were designed to link Iraq and the prospect of terrorist attacks here.  He said a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety.  He said we‘re not yet safe.  Terrorists in foreign lands still hope to attack our country.  He said the only way to defend our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live.

This, as the criticism swelled not just from the Cindy Sheehans of this world, but also from a prominent Republican senator, who said that by any analysis of the war in Iraq, quote, “We‘re not winning,” unquote.

More on Senator Chuck Hagel‘s remarks in a moment.

First, to Iraq itself, where once again it is a good news-bad news kind of situation tonight.  The good news, there is a draft constitution.  The bad news, it does not have the support of the Sunnis.  The document, such as it is, submitted to parliament with just minutes remaining before the deadline of midnight local time tonight, adding to the ceremonial nature of that submission, the deadline had actually been for adopting a constitution.  That has not happened yet either.

The session adjourning without a vote, speaker saying there were a few points to be resolved in the next three days, resolution unlikely.  The document, still facing fierce resistance from the minority Sunnis over issues such as federalism, which they fear could cut them out of most of the country‘s vast oil wealth.

Quoting the speaker, “It is not possible to please everyone.”

The trip to Salt Lake City was the president‘s first public appearance in more than a week, his first trip away from his property in Crawford, Texas.

Cindy Sheehan isn‘t there either, but she was in Salt Lake City on television, at least on 75 percent of the stations there, the Gold Star Mother, remaining in California caring for her ailing mother, certainly not forgotten and not entirely gone, either, thanks to videotape, Ms. Sheehan appearing in a 60-second TV ad making a direct appeal to President Bush, the commercial airing in advance of the president‘s speech there today on the CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates in Salt Lake City, the ABC station, KTVX, refusing to run the commercial, the station, owned by Clear Channel Communications, the Texas-based broadcasting behemoth.

Like to bring in Karen Tumulty, White House correspondent for “TIME” magazine.

Karen, good evening.

KAREN TUMULTY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the president‘s speech today, and the terminology.  He has not mentioned the body count before.  He did today.  Was there a strategic reason for it?

TUMULTY:  Yes, and I think you put your finger right on it.  The reason is Cindy Sheehan.  The stories over the last few weeks have not been good for the president, as he has had to drive past this vigil outside his ranch.  And I think that the most damaging sense that was out there was that he was somehow callous, that he somehow didn‘t feel the sacrifices that these families are making.

And so I think that it was very important for him, in not only in this speech, but he will be talking about Iraq again later this week, to sort of get ahead of that storyline.  And also the number, 1,864, you know, tragically, it‘s very much seeming like we will very soon be hitting the big—a big milestone in 2,000 casualties.  And I think that‘s another storyline that the president wanted to be ahead of.

OLBERMANN:  President also mentioned the establishment of the constitution as a benchmark for success in Iraq, but that hasn‘t really happened yet either.  How big a problem is the Sunni resistance, not just for that constitution, but for the White House, as you say, in attempts to get ahead of this story?

TUMULTY:  Well, the—of course, the whole thrust of the president‘s message is that democracy has spread across the world.  And while the Iraqi elections earlier this year were considered a real triumph for the administration‘s policies, the Sunnis, by and large, boycotted those elections.

If, in fact, they boycott the October 15 ratification of this constitution, and the subsequent parliamentary elections, that is also going to put—you know, set back the president‘s argument that, in fact, the struggle in Iraq has been a triumph of democracy that will spread across the Middle East.

OLBERMANN:  And they can—the Sunnis can not only not boycott it, they could conceivably defeat it if they win or defeat the vote in three of the Iraqi states as well.

Let me turn to Senator Hagel.  This is a Republican from Nebraska with two Purple Hearts won in Vietnam.  And he said yesterday that the war in Iraq has destabilized the Middle East, also that the conflict is starting to look like Vietnam.  And let me quote this directly, “While I think the White House does not yet understand, and some of my colleagues, the dam has broke on this policy.  The longer we stay there, the more similarities,” meaning to Vietnam, “are going to come together.”

Hagel‘s never exactly been the president‘s twin on the subject of Iraq, Karen.  And he certainly is at least contemplating a run for the White House himself in three years.  But just based on those two facts, can Mr. Bush really dismiss him and that point of view?

TUMULTY:  Not at all.  And treatment‘s not only the fact he is a conservative Republican, but it‘s his personal, it‘s his personal history as a Vietnam veteran.  It‘s one thing for Russ Feingold, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, last week to get up and call for withdrawal of the troops.  But Chuck Hagel, when he says he sees Vietnam parallels here, this is a man who would certainly know of what he‘s speaking.

OLBERMANN:  Karen Tumulty, the White House correspondent of “TIME” magazine.  Thank you, Karen.  Good night.

TUMULTY:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There has been plenty of protesting against the protest of which we‘ve spoken, even a decidedly mixed message of a critic of Cindy Sheehan running down white crosses meant to represent those 1,864 members of our armed forces.

But what Crawford, Texas, had not seen was Ms. Sheehan‘s supportive equivalent, a parent who had lost a son or daughter in the Iraq conflict who still supports the war and the wartime president, had not seen until now, Gary Qualls of Temple, Texas, establishing Fort Qualls in Crawford over the weekend, named in memory of his son, Marine Lance Corporal Louis Wayne Qualls, killed in Iraq last fall.Gary Qualls is joining us now from Crawford.

Thank you for your time, sir, and first of all, our condolences on your loss.

GARY QUALLS, LOST SON IN IRAQ:  Well, thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Do you think that both you and Ms. Sheehan have a right to be there, and a right to be heard, or is the this about getting both sides of an issue out, or is it good about getting your side of an issue out?

QUALLS:  No, sir, we both have the right to be heard.  But it actually had started out to where, you know, it‘s just kind of like a protest, where I just come up to watch.  And I was checking things out, and I had actually made a phone call to ask her what her motives and what her—she was trying to accomplish by the protest.

And after I‘d asked that on the phone call, she actually hung up on me, and she showed disrespect towards me then by hanging up on the parent of another fallen hero.

And whenever I was watching their setups out there, and the way they displayed, and the groups are joined with them, I don‘t believe in them, and I also do not respect what they‘re doing, and they were showing disrespect towards my son, myself, and all other fallen heroes, and everybody else within the military services.

They say that they‘re trying to represent us.  But then, yet again, they‘re not, because if you stop and listen to them, it‘s just only a me-me-me campaign, and it‘s all about what Cindy Sheehan is wanting.  It‘s not what the rest of our fallen heroes are wanting.  And nobody has ever asked our families that have given their lives for this country if they could use our names and their family names and their fallen hero names for their for their little political agendas, and for what they support and what they believe in.

OLBERMANN:  Do you mean specifically...

QUALLS:  Because what they believe in and what they‘re trying...

OLBERMANN:  But do you mean—are you referring—are you...

QUALLS:  ... what they‘re trying to accomplish is different.

OLBERMANN:  Are you referring specifically to those crosses and the names on the crosses?

QUALLS:  That as well, yes, sir.  They had not even asked me permission to use my son‘s name or my family name.  And whenever they found out that I was a fallen-hero father, and they realized they didn‘t have my son‘s name up there, they come up there and put the cross in the ground right in front of me.  And I realized right then, Why are you doing this?  You never even asked permission to use my son‘s name or my name.  And yet I see all your groups around here, these types of groups that‘s affiliated with you, I don‘t believe in that type of stuff.

I didn‘t raise my sons to be that type of a person or to even associate with that type of people.  And yet they‘re trying to say that they represent us.  They did not represent anything that I believed in and I stood for.

OLBERMANN:  You have a second son, 16 years old.  I understand he wants to enlist.  Do you support him in doing that now?

QUALLS:  Yes, sir, I do.  I myself served 28 years with the federal government and the military, and I know, as a single parent, I raised two boys by myself, even though I lost my oldest one, I support my other son fully.  It‘s his decision.  He‘s wanted to serve our country on his own accord, and he‘s doing that of his own freedom, and will to be able to do that, to protect our country and our ways of life.

OLBERMANN:  How long do you plan too stay out there, sir?

QUALLS:  I‘m not out here all the time, sir.  I live just right up the road.  I could be here every day if I wanted to, but I have a responsibility to my family, and as a parent and a father and a dad, and I‘ve had to play the mother role as well, I take that responsibility in stride.  I stay with my family.  I haven‘t forsaken them.  I will not abandon them.  And I stay home and take care of my responsibilities.

I have not left halfway across the country like Ms. Sheehan has, and she has forsaken her own family.  I cannot do that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to be...

QUALLS:  My priorities responsibilities as a parent are important.

OLBERMANN:  To be fair to her, sir, I mean, her surviving kids are adults, and she went home last week to take care of her mother, who had a stroke.  Is that fair of you to say that about her?

QUALLS:  From what I understand, everybody else in her family, they do not even support what she is doing.  They did not want her to come down here.  They don‘t believe in what she‘s doing.  And that right there is a reflection on itself.

And I believe that all of this, that what she‘s doing, she‘s brought upon herself.  She‘s losing a lot, and as a mother, and a family member, I don‘t believe she should be in the middle of this.  And I myself wouldn‘t be in this, but my son was dragged into this, and I didn‘t respect that myself.

And I know as a fact, the other fallen hero families, and I‘m personal friends with a lot of them, they did not respect this, and they don‘t want their sons‘ and daughters‘ names drug into this as well.

And now by listening to this on the radio, there‘s many, many other fallen-hero families, they feel the same way.  They do not want their family names and their sons‘ or daughters‘ names associated with what they‘re trying to express out at the Sheehan ranch.

OLBERMANN:  Gary Qualls, the founder of Fort Qualls at Crawford, Texas.  We thank you for your time tonight, sir.

QUALLS:  Thank you very much, sir.  God bless you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, another potential stem cell breakthrough, this time using nothing more than some cells on your skin.

But no breakthrough in the investigation into the death of a professional football player.  The autopsy does not reach a conclusion.  The conclusions we can draw from that ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Science keeps trying to lower the bar on stem cell research, and religion keeps trying to raise it.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, research now down to taking cells from your own skin and turning them back into your own personalized stem cells, without ever having to create a human embryo.

But as our correspondent Ron Allen, reports that does not mean somebody will not complain about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Scientists at Harvard may have a significant breakthrough, a way to reduce the need to destroy human embryos for stem cell research, which has been a contentious medical and political issue dividing the country.

PROF. DOUGLAS MELTON, HARVARD STEM CELL INSTITUTE:  The significance of the work is that it may make it possible, years ahead, to create stem cells without the use of human unfertilized eggs.

ALLEN:  The process begins with embryonic stem cells.  The researchers mix them with ordinary human skin cells in a lab.  The result, a new hybrid cell that acts like an embryonic cell, essentially, a reprogrammed skin cell.

DR. MICHAEL LONGAKER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE:  If it truly is an embryonic stem cell, then you get into the point where maybe you can become any of the cells in the body...

ALLEN:  Researchers believe those new and improved cells could replace defective ones, or those that don‘t grow back in the heart, brain, or spinal cord, and perhaps help treat crippling illnesses such as Parkinson‘s.

While critics applaud the Harvard team for moving in the right direction, they still want human embryos removed from the equation altogether.

CARRIE GORDON EARLL, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY:  Let‘s do the technology in a way that doesn‘t violate the value of life.

ALLEN (on camera):  The scientific debate will no doubt affect the political one.  The Senate has the divisive issue on its agenda as soon as summer recess ends.

(voice-over):  The House already passed the bill in May that would loosen the Bush administration‘s restrictions on embryonic research.  Last month, Senate majority leader Bill Frist said he‘ll break ranks with the president and support the bill.

The question is whether today‘s news from Harvard will derail the bill

by giving conservatives an excuse not to vote for it.

ARTHUR CAPLAN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA ETHICIST:  One side‘s going to say, We don‘t have to do embryonic stem cell research.  The other side‘s going to say, Hooray for this breakthrough.  But we still have to pursue all options.

ALLEN:  Harvard‘s research is not a quick fix.  It could take many years for stem cell research even to prove it can live up to its promise.

Ron Allen, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Thus we might someday be able to grow you a new pair of lungs after you destroy the originals by smoking.

In the interim, as we continue with our nightly stop-smoking series, I Quit, we have a motivational reminder that serves both for why you should stop, and also how.  It also might be a means for you to start saving up for those new lungs they‘ll be able to grow for you out of that skin that comes off when you scratch your arm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  If you smoke, you already think you know about the cost.  When viewer Pat Murphy of Ketchum, Idaho, quit, she put all the money she usually spent on cigarettes into a mayonnaise jar.  At year‘s end, she found she had $1,000.  The year was 1983.

Today, of course, even if you illegally buy those cheap packs by the caseload from some fly-by-night online place in Bulgaria, $1,000 would barely feed a pack-a-day habit, and you don‘t know if you‘re smoking your brand or, as the joke went in the original version of the movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” if you were smoking yak dung.

Pay the national average with tax of about $3.50 a pack, and a pack-a-day habit costs you $1,277 a year.  With taxes and other disincentives in some big cities like New York, it‘s twice that.

If it‘s pipe tobacco, well, I probably put away three tins, that‘s one and three-quarters ounces each, every two weeks, average price, $7 a tin.  That‘s $550 a year, plus a new pipe or two a year at $70 to $100 each.

Cigars?  A decent cigar these days costs at least $7.  But of course, part of the cigar-smoking thing is to pay much more than that.  The smoker, and I speak from personal experience, gets an extra charge out of smoking a $20 cigar, whether or not it‘s any good at all, more if it‘s from Cuba, or he believes it‘s from Cuba.

Once upon a time, I used to smoke four big cigars a day.  Let‘s say they cost me $10 apiece.  That‘s probably conservative.  Still, that‘s $14,600 a year going up literally in smoke, and taking part of the roof of my mouth and some of my lungs with it.

If you‘re a cigarette smoker, you may find that figure astonishing, $40 a day.  But a study from the heart of Tobacco Road at Duke University suggests that if you estimate the lifetime bill, 60 years of smoking them, the cigarettes themselves, the taxes, the additional insurance, the medical care, the lost income from illness, the average price per pack that you are really paying is also $40 a day.

So what exactly could you buy with $14,600 a year?  Well, if you do not smoke for eight years at that price, you just bought the list price for your kid to go to Harvard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Now, try explaining to your child why he can‘t go to college because you were smoking.

This tip and many others at our I Quit Web site at countdown.msnbc.com.  We still want to hear about you quit.  E-mail us.  The site, being a well-behaved and fully trained site, will tell you how.

You can also try thinking of this image every time you want a cigarette.  The bulls in Mexico deciding it is time to exact revenge for their cousins in Spain.  The bulls were on a bull run, and the City of Angels turning into the city of alligator.  The gator-getter guy joins us tonight here on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  We‘ve reached that hallowed moment in the news hour in which it‘s become time to recognize all those special stories.  Imagination plus ambition plus intoxication equals...

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tlascala (ph) in Mexico, and the 51st running of the bulls.  There it is, the Ramantalaba (ph), and the Mexican toros are apparently a damn sight better prepared for it than their Spanish cousins.  Also, the total running time is a problem.  Pamplona usually goes about two minutes, Tlascala, about two hours.

Somebody pointed a bull towards the people.  It took no time knocking down the barrier.  Next time, no bamboo barriers.  Notice the woman who gets flipped in the air and then trapped before the bulls finally charge off down the street.  She was fine, but there‘s a good lesson in here.  If you‘re going to watch a bull run, don‘t wear a red sweater.

Other dummies got skewered on the horns of the rampaging beasts.  We mean actual dummies, that is, not a human being by any stretch of the imagination.

All in all, 40 injured this year.  Authorities actually consider the festival a success, considering that four people died doing it last year.

To England, where doing silly things gets you more than just a maiming.  You could win up to $45,000.  That was the golden lure at this year‘s International Bird Man Competition.  In Wagner Regis (ph), all you have to do is fly a homemade machine 100 meters off the pier.

Ever get the feeling some people just stopped trying?

Release rotation, splash.  The flying nuns and the fairies just plummeted, an emu, a puffin, not so hot.  Even Santa couldn‘t deliver.

And some of the serious flying machines—no, sorry about that, Orville.  Most of the DIY gliders fell apart, and the zoom-zoom pedal machine crashed on takeoff.

But eventually Ron freeman, alias the Bald Eagle, managed to fly his glider for 77.6 meters to claim top prize.

Finally to Saranac, New York, where Frank Ames has just achieved his lifelong dream, a Guinness record for the longest eyebrow hair in the world.  His left brow now officially recorded at a whopping 3.078 inches, nearly eight centimeters.  This is, of course, measured on frontal projection, not breadth.

My left eyebrow alone is two-and-three-quarters inches sort of wide.  “I don‘t know why it grows like that,” the 43-year-old Ames says.  “It just always has.”  Maybe because you‘ve never had it trimmed?  Could that possibly explain it?

Mystery also tonight in California.  Olivia Newton-John going public.  Her longtime boyfriend has been missing for nearly two months.And the resolution of another mystery.  We know who Piano Man is and where he is.  He‘s home.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Charlotte Jacobs.  She is the backup goalie for the Belgian women‘s pro soccer team S.K. Berlar (ph).  She got to play Saturday against the rival team, K.V. Mechelin (ph).  She and Berlar lost 50 to one, 5-0 to one.  Where was Berlar‘s regular goalie?  She took the day off to go see a rock concert.

There‘s no INP (ph).

Number two, Michael Duffe of Palm Bay, Florida.  He told police his hobby is growing stuff.  That, he said, was the only reason officers were able to confiscate from his back yard 42 pounds of marijuana.

And, number one, Siegfried Hauppl.  He‘s the mayor of an Austrian town just north of Salzburg.  We actually can‘t say the name of the town on the air, but everybody steals the town‘s signs, so he‘s now had them embedded in concrete to make them theft-proof.  See, the town‘s names rhymes with coo-king.  But it‘s spelled a little differently.  It‘s spelled—no, you‘ll have to use your imagination on how it‘s spelled. 

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OLBERMANN:  And, again, we delve into those stories that sit somewhere between true definition of news and the accurate description of “True Detective” magazine. 

The third item on the COUNTDOWN, stories my producers are forcing me to cover.  The constitute quite a range tonight, from the missing boyfriend of Olivia Newton-John to the so-called piano man of England who isn‘t missing anymore. 

And they begin with something that is unfortunately not nearly as shocking as it is being portrayed, the death of an athlete on or near his field of play.  The preliminary autopsy is back on Thomas Herrion, would-be offensive lineman of the San Francisco 49ers, who collapsed and died after Saturday‘s exhibition game in Denver. 

The autopsy shows no immediately perceptible cause of death, meaning it is not likely to have been the kind of congenital heart defect that has claimed other athletes when they have placed their hearts under that kind of stress, although electrical problems in the heart would not have been ruled out, meaning also that they are waiting the toxicology report.  That might be October, this something Dan Patrick and I will likely be talking about tomorrow when I make my weekly pilgrimage to my tag-team partner‘s radio show at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific, “The Dan Patrick Show” on ESPN Radio. 

Then there are the vanishings.  Thus, I noted last week when reports came in that they might finally have a solid lead on the disappeared New York Judge Joseph Force Crater.  He has been missing 75 years and nobody was doing a nightly cable news show about him? 

The latest “What do you mean he‘s been missing for two months?” is about a California photographer named Patrick McDermott.  His girlfriend has now turned to private security guru Gavin de Becker. 

His girlfriend, as Peter Alexander reports, is the singer Olivia Newton-John.

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PETER ALEXANDER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On stage, Olivia Newton-John has always been all smiles, but a close friend says the Australian singer is now experiencing a lot of grief.  Her longtime boyfriend, 48-year-old Patrick McDermott, seen here at her side at a 2001 red carpet event, has been missing for seven weeks. 

McDermott left for an overnight fishing trip off the California coast July 1, but never returned.  His family reported him missing to the U.S.  Coast Guard almost a week later, when he didn‘t show up for a gathering, his backpack and fishing gear found still on the boat. 

SCOTT EPPERSON, U.S. COAST GUARD:  Honestly, at this point, we‘re still investigating.  We‘re still conducting interviews, trying to figure out exactly what was going on. 

ALEXANDER:  For 56-year-old Newton-John who starred as Sandy opposite John Travolta in the 1978 smash hit “Greece,” it‘s the latest in a long line of personal struggles. 

First, Newton-John was declared bankrupt in 1992.  Later that year, her father died from liver cancer on the same day she was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

(voice-over):  She beat the disease and spoke with Katie Couric about overcoming the tough times. 

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, ENTERTAINER:  It‘s amazing how you always think that, when those things happen, you won‘t be able to cope, but you do.  And I had a wonderful support system, and I had to dig deep within myself and believe that I would get well, which is a really important part of it.  You have to have a very positive attitude about getting well. 

ALEXANDER:  Newton-John hasn‘t spoken publicly about the disappearance of her longtime love, for now trying to cope with what appears to be another heartbreak. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  But, wait, there‘s more of the stories my producers forced me to do.

The phenomenon of women disappearing or being injured just before they were to give birth did not start with Mrs. Laci Peterson. 

Jennifer London has the latest on two cases, those of Amanda Jones and Latoyia Figueroa.  One has turned out about as badly as could have been expected.  The other seemingly has just begun. 

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JENNIFER LONDON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nine months pregnant and days away from her due date, 26-year-old Amanda Jones vanished. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are lost without her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Somebody took her.  She would not have left on her own. 

LONDON:  Relatives say, on August 14, she was going to meet the father of her unborn child in Jefferson County, Missouri.  Police have interviewed Bryan Westfall, but say he‘s not considered a suspect.  At a vigil Sunday afternoon, tears and prayers, a community hoping Amanda‘s story doesn‘t end like it has for a startling number of other missing mothers-to-be. 

DR. HEATHER KRELL, UCLA:  Pregnancy is a dangerous time.  Death by injury is about 30 percent of pregnancies.  About A third of those are by homicide. 

LONDON:  That statistic punctuated by the story of Latoyia Figueroa.  She vanished when she was five months pregnant, her body discovered on Saturday near Philadelphia.  Police say Latoyia‘s ex-boyfriend is to blame. 

LYNNE ABRAHAM, PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  Today, we are announcing the arrest of Stephen Poaches, charging him with murder. 

LONDON:  For police charged with finding Amanda, they say they‘ve expanded the search. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Make sure that there‘s no stone unturned. 

LONDON:  But, so far, police say there‘s no physical evidence to suggest a crime has occurred. 

Jennifer London, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And lastly from this file tonight, the theory that suggests the simplest explanation is the best and the most likely to be true is called Occam‘s Razor. 

And if you looked at that story of the man in the British mental hospital not speaking, not remembering, capable, apparently, only of playing the piano, and instead of wondering if he was a victim of the white slave trade or was related to the guy in the movie “Shine,” you thought maybe he‘s not talking because he‘s hiding something, you and the ah century Franciscan Friar William of Occam have both won. 

We know this for sure.  His parents have confirmed his identity.  He‘s German.  He was released from the hospital in Dartford, England, and was sent home on Saturday.  The backstory and his name await.  London‘s “Daily Mirror” reporting that, on Friday, a nurse went to the man‘s room in that hospital and said, as she said daily, “Are you going to speak to us today?” to which he unexpectedly answered, “Yes, I think I will.”

The leaks out of the hospital suggest he has identified himself as a 20-year-old Bavarian who had lost his job in Paris, come to England, was trying to kill himself when locals found him in April.  He had some experience in a psychiatric hospital or with patients and was pretending to be one.  He‘s also supposedly not quite as good on the piano as originally reported. 

The old version was, he was a concert pianist.  The new version is, he just sat there tapping the same key repeatedly.  Close. 

From international mystery to a transcontinental one.  We will meet the man assigned to get a gator, a loose gator, in Los Angeles.  He‘ll demonstrate, in fact, as will this man, the author and sole performer in an off-Broadway adaptation of the “Star Wars” trilogy.  Who needs Ewan McGregor when you‘ve got somebody who can play R2-D2, Luke, Obi-Wan and then hum the theme music? 

Stand by.

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OLBERMANN:  Shh.  Be very, very quiet.  We‘re hunting alligators.  The man who has that job hunting an L.A. alligator will join us, as will the one-man star of the “Star Wars” one-man review, here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The city of New York still fields a half-dozen or so calls about it a year, the story that sewers there teem with alligators.  Everybody knows it‘s not true.  The only alligator found in New York in the last two years was living in an apartment at 142nd Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, along with a Bengal tiger, a tarantula, two rottweilers and a human named Antwan (ph).

But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Los Angeles?  Los Angeles has got a roaming alligator.  In a moment, the man who remains on standby to catch it.  The gator is in Lake Machado in the Harbor City section of South L.A.  It is 7 feet long and it is now known as Harbor Park Harry.  They saw him 10 days ago, they swear, but he‘s been eluding capture ever since.

Having dragged the lake with a net and found nothing, authorities now say they plan to wait Harry out, tracking his habits and movements, hoping to gain a better understanding of why he does not want to be scooped from the lake and wrestled to the ground by somebody like that, somebody like the man who has been officially appointed to go look for him, a man sporting an alligator tooth necklace. 

Our next guest, Jay Young, the man hired by the city of Los Angeles...

JAY YOUNG, COLORADO GATOR FARM & REPTILE PARK:  Hello.

OLBERMANN:  ... to help in deconstructing Harry, also the manager of the Colorado Gator Farm and Reptile Park in Mosca, Colorado. 

Mr. Young, good evening. 

YOUNG:  Hello. 

OLBERMANN:  You look a little—a little...

YOUNG:  You hear?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You look a little damp. 

YOUNG:  Can‘t hear him.  Got the equipment wet.  Sorry, guys. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Well, see, that‘s one of the problems.  Just tell him—motion to him to give us the demonstration.  We won‘t do the interview if he can‘t hear us.  Just tell the cameraman to tell him to dive back into the water. 

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG:  I can hear you now. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Good.  Then I can ask you the question.

Are you—now, obviously, you‘re not going to L.A. right now, because we‘ve just seen you before the interview started in the water behind you.  Under what circumstances would you go back to try to find this 7-foot gator? 

YOUNG:  In L.A.? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

YOUNG:  Oh.  If they had a hard time catching it, we‘ll go back. 

OLBERMANN:  What‘s the problem been so far?  Does he have his own car?  Is he getting around the city or what‘s it—why is it so difficult to find him? 

YOUNG:  Actually, the problem is, it‘s a pretty good-sized lake, 53 acres, and about 20 acres of it are swamp reeds.  So he can hide in and under and around that pretty easily. 

OLBERMANN:  So, you have said that, as we‘re seeing the illustrations here of some of your previous work with gators, that, if necessary, you‘d be willing to wrestle one.  What makes it—in this case, what would make it necessary to actually wrestle and can you demonstrate it for us? 

YOUNG:  What makes it necessary is, you have to transport the alligator away from the site.  And to transport it, you have to have its mouth taped shut.  To get his mouth taped shut, you have to wrestle him. 

OLBERMANN:  And dare we ask you to wrestle one while we have the camera and the equipment working? 

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG:  Sure.  You ready? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we‘re ready.  Go ahead. 

YOUNG:  See that big one over there? 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Give him a big kiss for us.  And there goes Jay Young.  And I would not like to be an alligator under these circumstances, but then again maybe not Jay either. 

The alligator is down.  He‘s down in one round.  That‘s Jay Young on top.  And now in the water, they go.  And it‘s surfing.  They‘re surfing now in the water.  It‘s a man vs. gator.  You don‘t have—don‘t worry about the equipment.  Worry about the gator. 

Can you hear us, Jay? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve got to come up with soundproof audio equipment. 

All right.  Well, that‘s done. 

So, we are...

YOUNG:  Can you hear me now? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we can hear you fine, Jay.  Can you hear us? 

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG:  And the crowd goes wild. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

(CHEERING)

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG:  I can‘t hear a thing. 

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

Well, Jay Young, we have—you have our great thanks for having demonstrated this for us live.  We‘ve lost contact.  Just bring me on camera here for a second and let me explain what happened. 

See, you have this earpiece in here and it‘s attached to a piece of equipment here.  And when you go diving in the water, it will short out every last time.  That‘s the manager of the Colorado Gator Farm and Reptile Park in Mosca, Colorado, Jay Young, who showed us how he would hunt for Harry, Harbor Park Harry, in Los Angeles. 

It gets wet. 

Hunter S. Thompson, of course, would have simply thrown firecrackers at Harry or tried to run him over.  That‘s our segue tonight from the world of Angelino alligators into the nearby news of Tinseltown and other celebrity stuff, “Keeping Tabs.” 

And they blowed him up good.  They blowed him up real good.  The gonzo journalist‘s last wish, to have his ashes blasted out of a cannon, was fulfilled late Saturday night outside his Colorado home.  Geez, I hope he was already dead.  Of course he was.  He committed suicide in February.  His son Juan says that, among the 300 attendees to the invitation-only event, were Bill Murray, Lyle Lovett, George McGovern, John Kerry, and Johnny Depp, who picked up the price tag of $2.5 million for this. 

The cannon was 153 feet off the ground, almost as high as Thompson himself used to get. 

And other than maybe Cuba, where would the last place be that you‘d expect to find a clone of “The Apprentice” on local television?  How about China?  “The South China Morning Post” reporting Donald Trump will be the executive producer of the program to be shown in the communist country that is now seemingly marbled with streaks of capitalism.  The host will be Beijing businessman  Pan Shiyi.  And you don‘t want to know what he is going to say to the losing contestants.  But it ain‘t going to be just, you‘re fired.

What our next guest will say can come in the voice of any one of 40 characters, all of which he portrays as he single-handedly presents “Star Wars.”  And we‘re not going to let him go underwater so he can‘t hear us. 

But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world.  Nominated at the bronze level, Wal-Mart, well, the Wal-Mart in Brownsville, Oregon.  The home office guys have overruled the ones in Brownsville, Oregon.  When a retired couple accidentally walked out of the score with 10 bags of manure priced $1 each, the city accepted their explanation.  They simply forgot to pay. 

Wal-Mart did not.  It demanded $175 in penalties or the store would sue, something about 10 pounds of it in a five-pound bag. 

Also tonight, there‘s Matthew Flynn (ph) of West Hartford, Connecticut.  That is an area in which tempers frequently run high over the music played by passing ice cream trucks.  They‘ve actually tried to legislate this.  They need to.  Police say Mr. Flynn was trimming his hedges last night when one of the trucks drove past, its jingles blaring out into the late summer Connecticut evening.  And that‘s when he allegedly threatened to emasculate the ice cream man with his trimmer. 

But the winner, Darrell Johnson (ph) of Ottumwa, Iowa.  Police there say that, after a night out, his buddy, Jerry Miller (ph), thought Darrell was too drunk to drive, so Jerry tried to pull Darrell out of his car.  Friends don‘t let friends drive drunk.  That‘s when Darrell shot him. 

Darrell Johnson of Ottumwa, tonight‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One-man stage shows are a dime a dozen.  Hell, James Whitmore alone has portrayed Teddy Roosevelt, Will Rogers, Harry Truman and just everyone else except Charo.  But those one-man snows in which one man portrays just one character, they‘re nothing special. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, meet Charles Ross, one man portraying 40 characters.  At the Lamb‘s Theater, off-Broadway in New York, it‘s “One-Man Star Wars Trilogy,” the three original Lucas classics collapses into one frantic hour-long show.  Playing the role of Luke Skywalker is Charles Ross.  Tonight, as Darth Vader, Charles Ross.  Portraying R2-D2, Charles Ross.  Cast as the lightsaber, Charles Ross.  And portraying John Williams and his orchestra, Charles Ross.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES ROSS, “ONE-MAN STAR WARS TRILOGY”: “Star Wars.” 

I don‘t know what you‘re talking about.  I‘m on a diplomatic mission. 

You‘re part of the rebel alliance and a traitor.   No. No!I am your father.  No.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSS:  That‘s not true.  That‘s impossible! Search your feelings.  You know it‘s true. 

Noooo!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Darth Vader is Luke‘s father?  I didn‘t see that coming. The whole thing is like Robin Williams, but with a point.  Charles Ross joins us now.  He‘s not under water at the moment. 

Did you plan to do this or has it become something of an affliction, like when you can‘t get a certain song out of your head? 

ROSS:  It‘s kind of like that.  I think I watched the film far too many times.  It‘s kind of like trying to exorcise demons, but through theater. 

OLBERMANN:  You actually performed at—speaking of the film and recently—you performed in a “Star Wars” convention before the premiere of “Revenge of the Sith”?  What was that like? 

ROSS:  Well, “Celebration 3.”  It was amazing.  Each show was like 3,500 screaming geeks at a time.  It was amazing, like with movie screens on the other side of the stage and out over the audience.  It was nuts, man.  It was crazy. 

OLBERMANN:  And did you find people as, you know, as we say with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or such, are they reciting the lines along with you now? 

ROSS:  Absolutely.  And there‘s definitely people that are maybe in need of some medication.  But at least they‘re getting out into the public and they‘re living their dreams at these big, giant conventions. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there—in your show, is there, as they say, added value here?  Am I mean, i getting something from you that I wouldn‘t get from actually watching the three films? 

ROSS:  Well, you‘re definitely going to get sweat on your face. 

You‘re going to have some sort of sweat coming out over the audience.

I do spit on the audience a bit, too.  But, more than anything, I think it‘s the fact that I‘ve taken these films off the big screen and put it on the stage in a way that I have an opportunity to comment on the things that we love and that we hate about the films and all have a good laugh, sort of at the expense of the films. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve actually included updates on the careers of some of the performers. 

ROSS:  Yes.  I don‘t want to get into the overall sort of careers of some of the people that have worked on the films, but we do know that some people‘s film careers sort of began and ended with the “Star Wars” trilogy. 

OLBERMANN:  Mark Hamill, perhaps, but you don‘t have to say that, because I just did. 

ROSS:  Yes.  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  We just had a guy demonstrate how to wrestle an alligator on TV, with, I might add, the added degree of difficulty of his earpiece having broken off or shorted out in the water.  Can we get to you do some small demonstration of this for us live, as opposed to the videotaped segment we just saw? 

ROSS:  Sure.  Sure. 

OK.  Well, we all remember (INAUDIBLE) as Chewbacca or (INAUDIBLE) as R2-D2.  But, more specifically, I can give you something a bit more animated, which would be like (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Wookiee—very, very useful. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

Do you ever get the—when do you the different voices for the different characters, I always wondered about somebody who goes back-and-forth, having watched the great comedians Bob and Ray when I was a kid do a soap opera which they each portrayed four different. 

ROSS:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And had to talk to each other and always got their own characters‘ voices right. 

If you‘re doing 40 different voices in an hour-long show, have you ever done the right line with the wrong voice? 

ROSS:  On occasion.  On occasion.  It‘s really, really hard, though.  See, I do another show, which is the “One-Man Lord of the Rings.”  And there‘s another 40 characters.

(LAUGHTER)

ROSS:  So, I have 80 characters potential rolling around in my brain.  It feels a little schizophrenic.  But things, so far, things have been all right. 

OLBERMANN:  And you‘re the one—you‘re saying that those people at the convention in Indianapolis might have needed a little additional therapy? 

ROSS:  Maybe a little bit. 

But I—I think, in a way, my show is therapy for me.  And maybe my therapy is their therapy as well.  So, we all have a chance to sort of celebrate the love, because “Star Wars” is such a lovable story. 

OLBERMANN:  And it—and after you‘re done with this, you mentioned you have another project, another distillation.  It‘s not—you‘re not going to go for the seven “Police Academy” films? 

ROSS:  Well, I was thinking maybe “Terms of Endearment.”  But they have to make another film first.  So, for now, it will be “Lord of the Rings,” yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you have five seconds of previewing that? 

ROSS:  We wants it.  We needs it.  Must have the precious. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Charles Ross now appearing as—well, as “Star Wars,” “The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy,” running until October 31 at Lamb‘s Theater in New York.  And then it‘s “Lord of the Rings.”

Great thanks.  And may the force be—never mind. 

ROSS:  No.  Right.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Somewhere, somebody is cutting Alec Guinness a royalties check. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  And a memorable edition of it, it has been. 

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Please keep your knees loose, as I said to the crocodile guy, or the gator guy.  Good night and good luck. 

Time to turn it over to “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT.” Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”:  Good evening, Keith. 

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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