updated 9/14/2005 11:02:29 AM ET 2005-09-14T15:02:29

Guest: Norman McSwain, Dana Milbank, Larry Leinhauser

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

The blame game, a partial score.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To the extent that the federal government didn‘t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Will that make a difference in the Gulf?  Or in the gulf between the political parties?

The nightmare of at least 44 dead in a New Orleans hospital.  Two different explanations just from its executives, and perhaps a harrowing one, unconfirmed, from a British tabloid.  Could there have been mercy killings?

Will there yet be a FEMA center in the devastated eastern half of Biloxi, Mississippi?

And will the nominee for chief justice of the United States embrace a right to privacy and Roe v. Wade?

And if it were not bad enough along the Gulf Coast, we will meet a man who has to put down the wild rumors, like the one about giant sharks attacking passersby on the streets of New Orleans.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It was the president who had the lowest approval rating in the history of the poll who introduced the phrase to the White House.  It is the president who has had the most precipitous fall in the history of the poll whose comments today evoked it anew, The buck stops here.

Harry Truman received a desk sign bearing that phrase from a friend in October 1945.  George W. Bush does not have a sign, and, given the fact it‘s 15 days after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, the phrase might have to be adjusted to, The buck stops here, eventually.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government.  And to the extent that the federal government didn‘t fully do its job right, I take responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president made the unusual admission of responsibility, aides say, because he wanted to clear the air, and he plans to do so once again in a primetime address to the nation Thursday night.

Now, whether the admission of responsibility will help stem criticism of the government response remains to be seen, the latest “Washington post” poll finding that 54 percent of people disapprove of the way the president handled the crisis, which in turn dragged his job approval ratings to an all-time low in that poll, 42 percent, 62 percent thinking the federal government as a whole did not do a good enough job in the aftermath of Katrina.

The new face of the federal response making his first public appearance today as the acting head of FEMA, R. David Paulison promised to move quickly to get evacuees out of shelters and into housing.  He did not mention duct tape.

But there are still conflicting messages from local agencies about whether the federal response has improved with the departure of Michael Brown.  The mayor of New Orleans implied yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS:  The FEMA relationship is better.  We‘re getting resources.  As a matter of fact, they surprised me today.  They said, Mr. Mayor, just tell us what you want, and we‘ll make it happen on this particular issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the governor of Louisiana had nothing but continuing harsh words for FEMA today, saying the agency is responsible for the slow recovery of bodies in New Orleans because it failed to sign a contract with the private firm in charge of recovering them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA:  While the recovery of bodies is a FEMA responsibility, I cannot stand by while this vital operation is not being handled appropriately.  In death, as in life, our people deserve more respect than they have received.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the first criminal charges in connection with Katrina‘s dead announced late today, Louisiana‘s attorney general arresting the owners of St. Rita‘s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish—excuse me—and charging them with 34 counts of negligent homicide, one for each of their residents who were found dead at the home.

Authorities said Salvadore and Mable Mangano were offered the use of buses to evacuate those residents and declined.

The death toll in Louisiana currently stands at 423, bringing the total death toll from the hurricane to 659.  That includes 218 more in Mississippi and 14 in Florida.

In a moment, we will go live to David Shuster for the latest in New Orleans.  There, the president‘s remarks may or may not have been heard nor noticed.

They presumably were heard and noticed in Washington, and the Washington of the mind that is national politics.

Like to call in MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.

Good evening, Norah.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  And good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The reaction to the president‘s reference to responsibility?  Did he staunch the bleeding?  Or is that going to be judged as too little, too late?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it is stunning for the president, and for this president, to make the rare admission of a mistake.  As we know, he rarely does that.  He is loath to admit a mistake, he is loath to look backward.  He likes to look forward.

But clearly, his political advisers have decided that he had to do this in order to move forward.  The “Post,” “Washington Post” poll numbers today are devastating for this president.  Not only are they the lowest approval ratings in his entire presidency, but if you look inside the numbers you‘ll find that the president is actually losing support from his Republican base, that those ratings, positive ratings, dropped 10 points just among the Republicans.

That‘s why his advisers are concerned.  That‘s why they believe he has to do more.  That‘s why he made the admission today, and why he‘s going before the American people on Thursday night.

OLBERMANN:  Well, accepting responsibility two weeks into an event is not exactly a mea culpa, although I was stunned to see another network‘s coverage of this call it that, a mea culpa, and extraordinary, and an apology.

But this is, as you suggest, uncharted territory for him.  Does it get more uncharted on Thursday night?  Is he going to use even stronger language?  Is there the prospect of, in fact, an apology of some sort?

O‘DONNELL:  I have not heard that, that that is the president‘s plan, to offer an apology to the American people.  I think what the president plans to do is show compassion, and at the same time, show that he is moving forward.  We‘re told by White House advisers that the president‘s also going to lay out in some ways sort of a plan, a way forward.

I mean, this sounds, in some ways, Keith, like we hear when the president makes big speeches on Iraq.  And forgive me for making that comparison, but when the president has to reassure the American people, you talk about what‘s going on, and you talk about the way forward.  And that‘s what the president‘s going to do on Thursday, and he will talk about how he‘s going to house these tens of thousands of people who are in shelters, where he‘s going to put them, what‘s the way forward, et cetera.

You know, privately, Republicans have expressed deep concern about the White House handling of this.  They said that there was no—his first speech, when he came back to Washington, was horrible.  They said it was full of numbers.  The president then also failed to have a bullhorn moment, in their words, go down there and sort of express concern.  Instead, he was slapping his FEMA director on the back.

So this is the recovery effort for the president, if you will, and his own image, that his political advisers have undertaken.

You know, Keith, I‘m sure you read both the “TIME” and “Newsweek” stories this week, both of them stunning, both of them pointing out that this president is increasingly isolated, that he does not get the type of information he needs from senior advisers.  Advisers are scared to tell him what‘s really going on, that he has to cut his vacation short, that something‘s gone wrong on the ground, that they had to prepare a DVD of the newscast, so that he knew what was going on.

That isolation, in part, because people like Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes have left the White House.  He‘s got to return to that.  And I think the president in some ways acknowledges that now.

OLBERMANN:  Last question on this, obviously there‘s a new wrinkle here in the acceptance of responsibility.  And we discussed this, that this is the president who said last year in the press conference he could not think of a mistake that he actually had committed while in office.

But is that it?  Is—the rest of it seems to be pretty much by the book, the photo-ops, speech from the scene Thursday night, compassion, is that all that is in the Karl Rove playbook on this one?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, remember that the president has admitted at least one mistake during his career, and he said that was trading Sammy Sosa.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s the only mistake.  And he has been asked multiple times, whether it was last year in April, in a primetime press conference, asked three or four times, Any mistakes about Iraq, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, et cetera.  He did not admit a mistake.

In the town hall meeting during the debates, he was asked by a woman whether he had made any bad misjudgments or mistakes.  He did not go that far.

So this is stunning for the president to move forward.  And I think there‘s—this is part of the reaching out that the president will do that you need after the greatest natural disaster in American history, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O‘Donnell.  And now, incidentally, the (INAUDIBLE) doesn‘t look that bad with what he did this year.  But it‘s another story.

Thanks, many thanks.

Back to the real responsibilities.  Its authorities now say New Orleans is under control, slowly drying out, but a host of other problems now confronting the authorities there as they try to begin to fix their decimated city.

We turn again to David Shuster, our correspondent in New Orleans.

Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening to you.

It is not entirely clear where the legal system would actually operate here, considering that so much of the city is still not here in New Orleans.

But in any case, the Louisiana attorney general announced an indictment tonight, 34 charges against the owners of a nursing home in St.  Bernard Parish.  The actual name of the nursing home is St. Rita‘s.  It is a nursing home in a fairly low-income area.  And when the news first came out about eight or nine days ago that 34 people were found dead there, that was bad enough, but now it seems it‘s even worse.

According to the attorney general‘s office, the owners of this nursing home, and there you see them, Salvadore and Mable Mangano, the attorney general alleges that they were warned that the storm was coming, that they knew the storm surge, where the nursing home was, it would be at least six or seven feet, they were offered transportation to get the elderly out of the nursing home, and the owners allegedly declined.

Again, these are the first criminal charges to be brought since the storm hit, charges of negligence.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a problem here in New Orleans as far as dealing with some of the water issues, in part because there‘s nobody to fix it.  City officials say that of 1,200 utility workers who work on the city‘s water, only 300 are on the job today.  The rest evacuated, along with everybody else.  As a result, you see some utility crews fixing the power lines, for example, others trying to work on some of the sewage pipes.

But New Orleans officials say they have a major problem with 900 people missing who were supposed to be today working on trying to figure out not only how to get the water out of the city, but also how to deal with getting the water back in that people could actually use.

And finally, Keith, it is now curfew time again in New Orleans.  Fifteen thousand National Guard troops in the city enforcing the curfew, but now you also see some private security firms.  For example, today we saw people outside one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in New Orleans.  They they had hired their own security guards to protect some of the houses,  yet another example of the division between those who have the money to defend their property, and those who‘ve lost everything and may never return, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A story we will be following in the next few days, certainly.  David Shuster, again reporting for us from New Orleans, continued thanks, sir.

And the first tapes of 911 emergency calls have been released by the authorities there.  It is sobering to consider that the Johnstown flood occurred in the year 1889, yet the most recent best-selling book on the subject was published in 1987.  If that precedent is followed, authors could still be producing new works about Hurricane Katrina in the year 2103.  If they do, those 911 calls will still be a primary source.

And as Mark Mullen reports, they will still be terrifying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK MULLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tuesday, August 30, many New Orleans residents who phone 911 don‘t yet realize a levee has broken, and Lake Pontchartrain is severely flooding the city.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m stuck in (INAUDIBLE) and me and my little sister here and my mom, we got water in the whole house.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MULLEN:  All they know is that they must race upstairs for their lives.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is there any way that you an et to the roof, ma‘am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We don‘t have nothing to get out of our home, out the windows.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MULLEN:  Some residents stay remarkably calm.  This caller‘s home actually floated off the foundation.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The house is floating?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right, it‘s floating, and from the top of it, we can always just put a hole in the roof.  We can always break...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MULLEN:  The roof, the best place to be rescued, but not all families had that option.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, 911, I need help.  In here, I got a handicapped girl, and I got a baby that‘s on the pump machine, and we on the bed.  He‘s on a ventilator, but he‘s in the bed, and the water is coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, there‘s an infant?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, the baby‘s 8 months.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MULLEN:  In the days following Katrina, search teams and civilians rescued more than 34,000 people.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hello, you dialed 911.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MULLEN:  What is still unclear, how many of those people who phoned 911 that fateful day are still here to tell the rest of their story.

Mark Mullen, NBC News, New Orleans.

(END AUDIOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And 15 days after Katrina, another storm causing evacuations on the East Coast tonight.  As Ophelia slowly churned north-northwest today, local authorities evacuated islands on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and prepared for up to 15 inches of rain.

But forecasters have still not been able to pinpoint when or even if Ophelia, just restored to hurricane status a little before 6:00 Eastern this afternoon, will actually make landfall.  The latest forecasts have it grazing the coasts of South and North Carolina before heading back out to sea.

But even if it does not technically make land, the storm is moving so slowly it could cause severe flooding up and down the coastline.

Back to the storm we know of, and the hell inside Gulf Coast hospitals before, during, and after Katrina.  Awful questions after the recovery of at least 44 bodies from a New Orleans hospital.

And millions upon millions of dollars donated towards the relief effort.  We‘ll show you how to make sure yours is not going to waste, or to the wrong hands.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  State officials and hospital administrators don‘t even agree on how many died at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, let alone how they died.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, none of the explanations are happy ones, none may be better than scandalous.  There will be autopsies on the dead, whether they are 45, as claimed by the state, or 47, as a hospital official says, 44 in the building, three on the grounds.

Assistant administrator Dave Goodson said the patients died while awaiting evacuation.  The temperatures in the facility had risen to 106 degrees, and that probably contributed to the deaths.

But then a spokesman for Tenet Health Care, which owns the hospital, said some of the deaths actually occurred before Hurricane Katrina struck.  Now the company says all of them occurred after the hurricane hit, but before the hospital was evacuated.

There does seem to be agreement that no patient was left there to die.  The coroner of Orleans Parish, Dr. Frank Minyard, says today there is no question what must now be done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. FRANK MINYARD, CORONER, ORLEANS PARISH:  I can assure the public that we will do autopsies on all of those people to determine exactly how they died.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It is one of the nightmare scenarios of any full-scale disaster, being critically ill in a hospital compromised or even neutralized by that disaster.  It‘s the story of the dead at Memorial Medical suggests, it was one that was played out to varying degrees in virtually every hospital in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I‘m joined now by Dr. Norman McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, who had reached out to reporters as the situation worsened there two weeks ago.

Thanks for your time, sir, we really appreciate that tonight.

DR. NORMAN MCSWAIN, CHIEF OF TRAUMA SURGERY, CHARITY HOSPITAL, NEW

ORLEANS:  And I‘m happy to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Would you concur to some degree that it is a miracle that we‘re not hearing about something this unnerving at virtually every hospital in New Orleans?

MCSWAIN:  Well, I certainly think that every hospital had to take their own mechanisms of getting people out, because the evacuation process didn‘t seem to come from above, and (INAUDIBLE) and Charity had to get it on our own.

OLBERMANN:  From your own experience, take me inside that.  What kind of effort did it actually take to attend to the critically ill, the terminally ill, when every kind of support was suddenly unavailable to you?

MCSWAIN:  Well, you‘re dealing with sick folks that you have to deal with in the dark and the high temperatures, and maybe not have access easily to all the medications, because they may be a floor or two above you or below you, and you have to go get the medications and bring them up.

And then if the patients have to be evacuated from several floors up, they‘ve got to be moved out carefully down the stairs, and in the dark.

OLBERMANN:  And, of course, this goes on while all those supplies are running out, and food is running out, and the conditions of the patient, the average patient in the hospital necessarily worsens because of those things, correct?

MCSWAIN:  Well, you try to not let the situation worsen.  You try to do everything you can to keep them going.  And I‘m sure many of the medical workers deprived themselves of food or water or something to make sure that the patients had it.

OLBERMANN:  There was an extraordinary story in a tabloid newspaper from London, England, on Sunday, and to my knowledge, it‘s gotten no coverage here, because it‘s built largely on anonymous quotes.  We don‘t want to make too much out of it.

But the gist of this report from this newspaper, which is called “The Mail on Sunday,” it quotes a doctor, it does not name the doctor, at a New Orleans hospital, does not name the hospital, who supposedly said that in the wake of the hurricane, her hospital was basically under attack by looters, there was no help coming, and she euthanized some of her terminal patients.

Let me just read some of the quotes that were attributed to the unnamed doctor at the unnamed hospital.  “I injected morphine into those patients who were dying and in agony.  If the first dose was not enough, I gave a double dose.  And at night I prayed to God to have mercy on my soul.  This was not murder, this was compassion.  Under normal circumstances, some could have lasted several days.  But when the power went out, we had nothing.”

Again, this paper does not say what hospital, it didn‘t mention Memorial Medical, it didn‘t mention your hospital, no names at all.  For all we know, the quotes and the stories are fictitious.  But I have to ask you, under the circumstances, are you aware of even the possibility that this could be true, or even plausible?

MCSWAIN:  Well, certainly, I know that it didn‘t happen in Tulane Hospital, and to—and I don‘t think it happened in Charity Hospital either.  So I would say that they‘re untrue at least for those two hospitals, the ones I was actively involved in.

Is it plausible?  I guess it is.  But a physician has taken an oath,

the Hippocratic Oath, to preserve life and heal and not cause death.  There

if the physician is in such a situation that he knows a whole bunch of patients—or one even, one patient, may die a horrible death because of rising waters, and they may drown, it might be a compassionate decision on the physician‘s part to euthanize the patient.

I‘m a little bit skeptical of that story, however, because there are many drugs and medications available to physicians to euthanize patients if they chose to do that.  And—but morphine is not one of the—certainly not a drug that I would use if I was in that situation.

OLBERMANN:  And again, and again, this isn‘t to give credibility to it, but just the idea that you pointed out, that the—that what might be useful in any situation in a hospital under those circumstances, the proper, if that‘s the right word for it, the proper medication might have been two floors away.  Who knows?

In any event, Dr. Norman McSwain, chief of trauma surgery at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, great thanks for your time, and great thanks for what you did during the peak of the crisis.

MCSWAIN:  Thank you, sir.  Appreciate being here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.

And that will prove only to have only been a peak.  The crisis will be a long haul for so many.  We‘ll introduce you to one family in Biloxi, still waiting for any signs of help from the government.

And the confirmation hearings for the next chief justice of the United States.  Republicans wanted John Roberts to steer clear of specific issues.  Kind of did, then again, he kind of didn‘t.

COUNTDOWN continues.

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OLBERMANN:  The two big stories we‘re following for you, Katrina, and the Supreme Court hearings.  But to some degree, each is about learning of the truth.  Rumor and gossip, bad enough in Mississippi that they‘ve had to establish an antirumor hotline.

Donating to the relief effort.  Show you how to find out the truth or falsehood about whether or not your hard-earned money is getting to the people who need it most.

And the other part of learning the truth, the confirmation hearings for the man who would be chief justice.  Did the senators say anything, did the judge say anything?

All ahead, here on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  It has been 11 years since we have been through the kind of drill that unfolded today inside room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, the inquisition phase of the John Roberts confirmation hearings. 

But then, as now, what we heard followed a predictable pattern.  Senator asks a question.  Nominee does his level best to avoid answering it, at least in any specific way that might be specific, if not illuminating.  What we‘re left to deduce in this high-stakes game of cat and mouse is our third story on the COUNTDOWN. 

In a moment, we will be joined for assistance by a witness to these proceedings, Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.”

But, first, let‘s take you inside the hearing room.  Among the highlights, Judge Roberts suggesting that, if he‘s confirmed as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, he would not be on a mission to overturn the abortion rights established in Roe vs. Wade. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE:  I do think that it is a jolt to the legal system when you overrule a precedent.  Precedent plays an important role in promoting stability and evenhandedness.  It is not enough—and the court has emphasized this on several occasions—it is not enough that you may think the prior decision was wrongly decided.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  Thirty-eight cases where Roe has been taken up.  But would you think that Roe might be a super-duper precedent in light of...

(LAUGHTER)

SPECTER:  ... in light of 38 occasions to overrule it?

ROBERTS:  There‘s nothing in my personal views based on faith or other sources that would prevent me from applying the precedents of the court faithfully under principles of stare decisis.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  Do you believe that the president has a commander-in-chief override to authorize or excuse the use of torture in interrogation of enemy prisoners even though there may be domestic and international laws prohibiting the specific practice?

ROBERTS:  Senator, I believe that no one is above the law under our system, and that includes the president.  The president is fully bound by the law, the Constitution and statutes. 

LEAHY:  Do you feel that you would be able to interpret the Bill of Rights the same whether we‘re at wartime or not? 

ROBERTS:  I do, Senator. 

The obligation of the court to protect those basic liberties in times of peace and in times of war, in times of stress and in times of calm, that doesn‘t change. 

SEN. HERBERT KOHL (D), WISCONSIN:  Judge Roberts, in an October 3, 1983, memo you wrote that while you served as associate White House counsel for the Reagan administration, you expressed support for judicial term limits.  You did specifically support the idea of limiting judicial terms to 15 years and you said, I quote, “to ensure that federal judges would not lose all touch with reality through decades of ivory tower existence,” unquote. 

And do you still support in theory the idea of judicial term limits? 

ROBERTS:  You know, that would be one of those memos that I no longer agree with, Senator. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERTS:  I feel the need to stay away from a discussion of particular cases. 

Senator, I do not want to answer a particular hypothetical. 

Well, that is an area where I think I should not respond. 

Justice O‘Connor took the same position.  She was asked about a particular case.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Oh, Judge...

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS:  She said, “It‘s not correct for me to comment.”

Now, there‘s a reason for that.

BIDEN:  But you‘re going from the...

SPECTER:  Wait a minute, Senator Biden.  He‘s not finished his answer.

BIDEN:  He‘s filibustering, Senator. 

But OK, go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

SPECTER:  No, he‘s not.  No, he‘s not.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS:  That‘s a bad word, Senator.

BIDEN:  That‘s if we do it to you.  Go ahead.  Go ahead and continue not to answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As promised, “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank, who, as mentioned, was in the hearing room for today‘s super-duper session. 

Good evening, Dana. 

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  In that best-of sound bite collection there, we heard Judge Roberts refer to stare decisis.  The term came up repeatedly.  I made the mistake of taking French, not Latin or Spanish.

What does it mean?  What does it tell us about the judge‘s view of the laws that we are talking about? 

MILBANK:  Well, it means letting precedents stand.  But, for all intents and purposes, that was—stare decisis is Latin for abortion. 

The lawmakers on both sides know that you can‘t bring up—you can‘t have a litmus test on Roe v. Wade.  So, they get around it with this euphemism and saying, do you believe in this concept of stare decisis?  In other words, are you going to let Roe v. Wade stand?  And Roberts was very careful.  He says, yes, I have a lot of respect for precedent, but he would not be pinned down on this specific case.  So, he gave nobody any guarantees. 

OLBERMANN:  Would he be described as having been pinned down in giving any indication perhaps that he might turn out to be the sort of wild card on the court that Justice O‘Connor had been, the proverbial swing vote that would let his—the Democrats at least sleep well, were they to vote in favor of him, or not try to obstruct him at this point? 

MILBANK:  Or, worse, as far as the conservatives see, he could turn out to be a David Souter, based on some of the things he said today. 

Now, we obviously have to be careful about that, but he said very clearly he believes in the Constitution and the 14th Amendment.  There‘s a right to privacy.  He spoke about how he can see contraception being acceptable.  He was very, very delicate on a lot of these issues.  He talked a lot about how his favorite judges in the past have done—been those people who could not be pinned down as either right or left. 

And, mischievously, a couple of times, he talked about how you never know when a guy gets on the Supreme Court.  Suddenly, they have a way of changing. 

OLBERMANN:  So, to that point, how well did he do at this age-old judicial nominee golden rule, certainly the post-Robert Bork rule, say as little as possible that is specific about a given subject?  Because just raising the right to privacy, as you just did, to me, he seemed as if he did not want to be straitjacketed by the golden rule and was fairly forthright, especially against the backdrop of the current political climate. 

MILBANK:  Yes, it‘s really quite a skill.  You have to be able to talk a lot, say a lot of things, but give away absolutely nothing.  So, it could be sort of a Rorschach test, that, whatever you wanted to hear in Roberts, you could hear him saying things that sounded abortion rights.  You could hear him saying quite the opposite.

And some of the Republican lawmakers were coming back and trying to pull him back the other way and make clear that he wasn‘t coming out for abortion rights.  So, I thought he was quite deft with that.  He was very good at using his humor to get the people who were really challenging, put them back on their heels, very quick on his feet.  He had the gallery laughing a few times, as much as people can laugh during confirmation hearings. 

OLBERMANN:  So, big picture, scorecard time.  Did you see anything during the first day of questioning that might make the confirmation any less of a slam-dunk or anything other than the party vote that has been widely anticipated? 

MILBANK:  Nothing constitutional, I must say.  But I was only two rows behind him.  And I think it is important to note that I think he has got a comb-over, Keith.

And I have it on some vicious rumors out tonight that he may be wearing colored contact lenses.  But, other than that, no, a pretty good day for Roberts. 

OLBERMANN:  That a sense of humor, and I don‘t know.  How could the—how could the court handle all three of those things?  We will have to find out. 

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post,” great thanks for your analysis on this. 

MILBANK:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Back to the devastation along the Gulf Coast.  Last night, we told you about the lack of a FEMA relief center in East Biloxi, Mississippi.  Tonight, we will introduce you to one of the families waiting for it. 

And the millions of dollars donated for hurricane relief, how do we know that all the money is going to those in need? 

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN. 

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OLBERMANN:  Hurricane relief from both sides of the dollar bill.  For the people giving, how do you know you‘re donating to the right place?  And the people who should be receiving, one family‘s seemingly endless wait in Biloxi. 

COUNTDOWN continues. 

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OLBERMANN:  The president may have assumed the responsibility, and the man who brought you duct tape as a primary tool in the war of terror may now be in charge of relief in our Gulf Coast, but, still, they‘re waiting for FEMA in the East End of Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, no help and your help, where your generous donations are going—that story in a moment.

First, again, we go to our correspondent Ron Blome, who spent part of today literally looking for a family that was looking for FEMA.

Ron, good evening.

I gather your search was a lot easier and quicker than theirs was.

RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It was very easy.

In fact, relief is elusive in the East End of Biloxi.  It‘s a neighborhood of modest homes and working-class families.  Many hundreds there were destroyed by the storm, but some survived.  And the residents there prefer to stay there and clean up, rather than go to a shelter.  But they‘re waiting for government aid that isn‘t coming, depending now on the goodness of fellow Americans to help them out. 

Let me share with you the story of Norman Bleuler and his family. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORMAN BLEULER, HURRICANE SURVIVOR:  If we leave, no one is going to be cleaning up.  So, we‘re spending most of our time every day cleaning up and sorting things out.  But, at the end of the day, it doesn‘t feel like we have made any progress.  When I go to bed, I‘m—I feel like I‘m going to bed too early, because I don‘t feel like I‘m getting anything done. 

BLOME:  But you‘re still staying? 

BLEULER:  Yes, yes.  We have to stay and keep chipping away at it until, you know, help arrives. 

BLOME:  Who is helping you?  Who‘s keeping you alive? 

BLEULER:  Individuals, it‘s the individuals who are coming by, either from this community or as far away as Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida.  People are just driving here with trailers of supplies and giving them to us. 

BLOME:  And what do you think, then, of the government‘s response, of

FEMA? 

BLEULER:  It‘s slow, very slow.  We thought that, by now, that they would have at least have someone here to look at us, to look at the house, and maybe just to tell us, hey, it will be another week.  It will be another 10 days.

But the only thing that we got was, we will get to you when we get to you. 

It was raining inside this house for—from early on in the storm and all day long. 

BLOME:  When you see that, do you feel like giving up? 

BLEULER:  No.  I mean, this is our home.  We‘re not renting here.  We are buying this home and we have got to repair it.  We have got too much invested in this home just to—to give up.  And I believe it‘s repairable.  It‘s just—it‘s going to take a lot of work, a lot of work. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLOME:  A lot of work ahead. 

FEMA says they have a lot of work; 182,000 people have registered for

aid in Mississippi, and they have just 300 field inspectors on the ground -

Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Ron, the other thing that FEMA has been working on, these

the trailers that have been described as trailer cities almost for people who have lost their homes in their entirety, or nearly so, are we going to see them in the Biloxi area, and, if so, when? 

BLOME:  That‘s a tough question, too.  The governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, has asked for 10,000 trailers.  FEMA says they have about 1,200 available.  The others are on order with the factory.

But the only ones positioned and ready to go so far are 130.  Now, the Bleulers would like to have one of those small travel trailers.  Put it in their driveway next to the house.  FEMA is trying to discourage that.  They don‘t think it‘s safe.  But we saw that very thing being done in Punta Gorda last year, even during hurricane season.  And right now, the family is sleeping in a donated tent from the rotary, so anything would be better. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  It is going to rain again at some point.  That tent is going to get awfully crowded, at the beset. 

Ron Blome with the microcosm of what is still going on 15 days later from Biloxi.  Good reporting and great thanks, sir.

In so many ways, the U.S. government may or may not immediately get the need in times of crisis, case in point, the original pledge for tsunami relief of just $15 million.  But our people always get it.  Still, the rush to help in the aftermath of Katrina, $788 million in private relief donations so far, needs to be tempered by something of a look-before-you-leap mentality. 

Another case in point, lost in the wall-to-wall Katrina coverage, news last week that as much as 89 percent of the $5 billion in low-interest loans authorized by the Small Business Administration to restore small businesses hurt on 9/11 went to businesses not in New York City or Washington, most of whom had no idea they were even getting loans that had been earmarked for so-called victims of 9/11. 

Just picking a city at random, at least nine businesses serving the 42,000 residents of Grand Junction, Colorado, got 9/11 loans, including an AAMCO transmission center, a dentist‘s office, an ice cream parlor and a liquor store. 

In that context, our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, tonight on just where your Katrina donations are going. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Today, money is still flooding into the Red Cross, as overall private giving for Katrina survivors soared to record levels. 

But how can Americans be sure all that money actually gets to the victims?  The Red Cross promises almost all its donations will go to feed and house victims and fuel emergency relief vehicles. 

LAURI RHINEHART, RED CROSS DISASTER FUND-RAISING DIRECTOR:  Out of every dollar that is donated to Hurricane Katrina, we guarantee that 91 cents of that dollar goes for delivery of disaster relief. 

MYERS:  In New Jersey, independent analysts at the company charity navigator check financial statements of 4,600 charities.  How much goes for fund-raising and administrative costs?  How much actually helps victims?  Its Web site then rates charities for efficiency and overall performance. 

TRENT STAMP, CHARITY NAVIGATOR:  If you can find a charity that will spend 75 to 80 cents of your dollar on their charitable purposes, you can probably trust them. 

MYERS:  But what about the list of charities recommended by FEMA?  The Red Cross and a few others get high marks, but B‘nai B‘rith, a Jewish charity, gets a low rating, because analysts found only 56 cents of every dollar goes to relief services, the rest to fund-raising.  B‘nai B‘rith disputes the methodology.

Many of the religious organizations listed by FEMA disclose so little, they can‘t even be rated. 

RICHARD WALDEN, OPERATION USA:  This is just another area where they screwed up. 

MYERS:  The head of a top-rated charity not on the FEMA list questions why a controversial charity, Feed the children, was recently added to that list. 

WALDEN:  They have problems in the past with money and the handling of money and how they spend money. 

MYERS:  Feed the Children says their spending practices are sound. 

(on camera):  So, how can you be sure your money is well spent?  Experts say beware of e-mail and door-to-door solicitations and of Web sites with addresses that end “.com.”  Most legitimate charities, they say, are “.org.”

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s also confusion about the facts on the ground.  There‘s a rumor mill and an anti-rumor hot line in Mississippi.  That‘s ahead. 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s latest three Katrina-related nominees for today‘s title of worst person in the world.

Nominated at the bronze level, John Stossel.  The broadcaster writes an online column entitled “In Praise of Price-Gouging.”  He defends the guy who charges you $20 for water during a hurricane for your dehydrated child, because if the man had kept the price down, he says, he‘d have already sold out and your child would die. 

But, by that logic, John, the price-gouger has also already killed the other 177 children who came first and whose parents didn‘t have the $20, right? 

Also, there‘s Louis Farrakhan.  In North Carolina, he has repeated the rumor going around that one of the levee breaches in New Orleans was no accident—quoting him—“It may have been blown up to destroy the black part of town and keep the white part dry,” and adding, “I heard from a very reliable source who saw a 25-foot deep crater under the levee breach.”

So, the source saw the crater while the water was flowing into the city through the levee and over the crater?  Who is he, Ray Milland, the man with the X-ray eyes? 

But the winner is James Taranto of “The Wall Street Journal”‘s Web page.  You heard of the incident where a New Orleans evacuee swore twice live on FOX and he compared the evacuation buses to slave ships?  Well, during the interview, the guy was standing there with a woman, maybe his wife.  We don‘t know.  He was black.  She wasn‘t. 

So, on “The Wall Street Journal” Web site, this Taranto guy runs a picture from the interview and writes below it—quote—“Looks just like a slave ship, doesn‘t it?  Well, except that, on a slave ship, he probably wouldn‘t have his arm around a white woman”—unquote. 

James Taranto, surprisingly enough, still employed by “The Wall Street Journal” and also today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you‘ve ever had a job that includes dealing with the public, you probably will not be surprised by tonight‘s number one story. 

Years ago, I was one of the people who had to answer the phones at the ABC television station in Boston.  During the Olympic broadcasts, people called asking when the Olympic bowling would be on.  People called asking to talk to Howard Cosell personally.  People called asking where the soccer was being played.  And when told the Los Angeles Coliseum, they then asked, what part of Boston is Los Angeles in? 

Harrison County, Mississippi—that‘s Gulfport—has established a rumor control hot line.  It‘s where people can call to get the latest gossip debunked.  Examples about Hurricane Katrina, obviously, that a shipment of chicken washed up on the beaches of Biloxi and evacuees were eating, that because of the fatalities, mosquitoes were now spreading incurable diseases, that every resident was going to get a check for $2,000, that there were sharks swimming in the streets of New Orleans. 

Well, there was one shark, a three-footer who was seen shortly after the flooding started.  But that‘s been it, we think. 

Let me bring in Larry Leinhauser.  He‘s working with the rumor control hot line on loan, so to speak, from the public affairs office at the Florida Emergency Management Task Force. 

Mr. Leinhauser, thank you for your time tonight. 

LARRY LEINHAUSER, RUMOR CONTROL HOT LINE:  You‘re welcome.  How are you doing? 

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned the chicken carcasses and the sharks and the mosquitoes.  Are those the strangest rumors that you have been asked about or, lord help us, are there worse?

LEINHAUSER:  Those are some of the more stranger ones. 

You tend to get rather extreme rumors when incidents like this occur. 

And those were some of the more bizarre ones we had. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure you must ask this question 400 times a day.  So, I will make it 401.  Where do people get this stuff? 

LEINHAUSER:  It generally generates from a small portion of truth, which, in the chickens, were true.  There was a considerable amount of chickens, frozen chickens, if you will, on—in the port area that got washed up on the beach and down the road and everything. 

And I‘m sure the critters and fowl were eating it fowl were eating them, but no humans were consuming.  There was no humans there. 

OLBERMANN:  I understand that the mornings are the time that you get the heaviest volume and maybe the weirdest volume.  Why the mornings? 

LEINHAUSER:  Because they‘ve had all night to think about it, I assume.  They—rumors tend to start to spread.  They get more exaggerated.  It‘s our job to basically squelch those rumors, which is why the EOC set up the rumor control phone.  They can call in and find out what the realities are. 

OLBERMANN:  I gathered also from what I read on this subject that the wonderful world of talk radio has contributed to this as well.  Is that correct?  Do you have to knock down a lot of things that people say they‘ve heard on the radio somewhere? 

LEINHAUSER:  Yes, sir. 

One of the jobs of our—the public affairs division is to sort of monitor the rumor mill and the local media to see what they‘re putting out.  And I think a lot of people had some sleep deprivation working and tended to sort of begin to fall into and go along with some of the stuff that was being propagated.  However, ninety-nine and nine-tenths of it were untrue. 

OLBERMANN:  Are the majority of the calls you get from Gulfport and the rest of Mississippi?  Or are they national?  Are they from people who are nowhere near the damaged areas? 

LEINHAUSER:  Mostly, it is local. 

There is some national media calling to confirm, much like what we‘re doing now, but not quite as exaggerated.  But just, basically, it‘s mostly local people that are calling to find out what the status is of a variety of rumors. 

OLBERMANN:  Do they divide into which group is crazier?  Are the local callers more reasonable?  Are they asking practical questions and those of us from outside the area are the ones asking about whether or not there‘s, you know, sharks driving up Main Street? 

LEINHAUSER:  I think it‘s about 50/50, actually, depending on which media and which locals calling in.  But it tends to be an interesting mix. 

OLBERMANN:  The idea for doing this, first off, how do you get the word out to people who are still fighting to get their electricity back that this phone number is available? 

LEINHAUSER:  That‘s one of the logistical challenges. 

What we did initially is, with the help of the National Guard, local law enforcement and every other entity here, was to pass out fliers with primary information numbers and primary information in general.  And from there, we keep updating it daily until lines and power are back up.  And then they can call in and use the rumor line.

They actually got the phones back up fairly quick.  They did.  However, it took awhile to get it out logistically throughout the area and Harrison County by handheld delivered fliers. 

OLBERMANN:  Did you bring the idea with you from Florida?  Is this something you have worked with before? 

LEINHAUSER:  Actually, I was asked that earlier.  And, actually, there‘s—there‘s a component of rumor control in every emergency operation center, or there should be.  It‘s part of the functions of the ESF, or emergency services functions, that they do, is to squelch that. 

And you also have a citizens information center, which answers factual information.  Rumor control is set up designed specifically for eliminating and basically dissipating rumors that are simply fabricated or based in partial truth. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a great idea. 

Larry Leinhauser, helping to dispel the vast rumor mill along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina, thanks for your time.  And I hope they don‘t get any weirder than they already have. 

LEINHAUSER:  Thank you.  Take care. 

OLBERMANN:  And it was just the one shark in New Orleans. 

Recapping the headlines briefly, the president says that whatever—to whatever degree the federal government failed in Hurricane Katrina, he will accept the—quote—“responsibility.”  He‘ll speak to the nation at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. 

And 34 counts of negligent homicide have been filed against the owners of a nursing home in New Orleans, one for each resident who was found dead there after the flooding. 

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

Our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT” from New Orleans. 

Good evening, Rita. 

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

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