updated 10/14/2005 10:36:24 AM ET 2005-10-14T14:36:24

Guest: Dana Milbank, Katrina Szish, Michael Morrisey

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

The White House, by the script.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLISON BARBER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT FOR INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS TO THE

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  OK.  So let's just walk through this.  Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question.  And you hand the mike to whom?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the White House, totally off the script.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don't we ask the questions, and you provide the answers?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Yes, and I was providing the answer.  Can I not say what I want to say?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You've heard about the president's choreographed satellite back-slapping session with the troops.  You may have heard about the press secretary's knee-capping session with the White House press corps.  We'll show you each, raw and at length.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like you.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, well, I appreciate that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You're out.  No, actually, you're not out.  The controversial third strike that was not, and why the umpire was right.

And there's been a Michael Jackson sighting.  Anybody want to talk to him?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The late great political cartoonist Herb Block, or simply Herblock, was born on this day in 1909.  His imagination poured out all kinds of different crazy White Houses, from Herbert Hoover selling fish on a street corner during the Depression, to Richard Nixon, wrapping himself in the flag and executive privilege, from an Iran-contra-era Ronald Reagan made out of cardboard, to Bill Clinton on a tightrope trying to balance the budget with one hand and trying to balance Monica Lewinsky with the other.

But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, not even Herblock could dream up a day like today at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  It went from worse to hide under a table.  Perhaps the most contentious White House press briefing in 31 years.  It was only the second act on a dark day for President Bush.

It had began this morning when Mr. Bush engaged in a question-and-answer session via satellite with 10 American service personnel and one Iraqi soldier.  The Associated Press noted simply, “The exchange was carefully choreographed.”  Yes, like your fifth-grade class play was carefully choreographed.  You can rehearse them forever, but that does not make them Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep.

Let's give it the You Are There treatment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Captain Kennedy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, Mr. President?

BUSH:  Well, it's good to see you.  Thanks.  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to allow me to visit with you a little bit.

One of the—you know, questions I have is about the preelection operations, about what you've been doing, and what are the—what's your strategy?  And how do you think it's going for—to make sure that people have a chance to vote?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, Mr. President, from Tikrit.  I'm Captain Brent Kennedy.  To my right is Sergeant Major Aquille (ph) from the fifth Iraqi army division.  We're working together with the Iraqis at Task Force Liberty to—for the upcoming referendum.  We're surging in an operation called Operation Saratoga that includes the securing of over 1,250 polling sites.  We're working right alongside with the Iraqis as they lead the way in securing these sites.

BUSH:  That's good.  So how do you, how, (INAUDIBLE), how would, are you confident?  How you, how do you feel like operations are going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, I'm going to field that question to Captain Smith.

BUSH:  Yes.  I didn't want to give you, I didn't want to throw you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) Captain Dave...

BUSH:  ... a hardball there, Captain, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... Smith, from Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I'm representing the 3rd Brigade combat team.

BUSH:  Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit toward coalition forces, as well as the Iraqi units that they, that they encounter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, I'm going to field this question to Captain Williams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, in north central Iraq, voter registration is up 17 percent.  That's 400,000 new voters in north central Iraq, and 100,000 new voters in the Al Saladin (ph) province.  Sir, I was with my Iraqi counterpart in Tikrit, the city of Tikrit, last week, and he was going around talking to the locals.  And from what he told me, that the locals told him, the Iraqi people are ready and eager to vote in this referendum.

BUSH:  That's good.  It's pretty interesting --  Whoops.  That's a pretty interesting concept.  And is it possible to give us a sense, a kind of a calibration, of what—where—what life was like when you first got there, and what it's like today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, Master Sergeant Lombardo will answer this question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good morning, Mr. President.  I'm Master Sergeant Corinne Lombardo with the Headquarters 42nd Infantry Division in Task Force Liberty from Scotia, New York.  First, I'd like to say that this is a pleasure to speak with you again.  We had the honor of your visit in New York City on November 11 in 2001, when you recognized our Rainbow Soldiers...

BUSH:   Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... for their recovery and rescue efforts at ground zero.

BUSH:  Were you there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We began our fight against terror—we began our fight against terrorism in the wake of 9/11, and we're proud to continue it here in north central New York—north central Iraq.

BUSH:  Let me ask you something.  Were you there when I came to New York?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I was, Mr. President.

BUSH:  I thought you looked familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, thank you.

BUSH:  I probably look familiar to you, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, you do, Mr. President.

BUSH:  Yes, Sergeant Aquille, thanks for joining us.  I appreciate your service.  You got something to say, Aquille?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, Mr. President.  Thank you for anything, sir.  Thank you very much for anything.

BUSH:  Yes, you're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like you.

BUSH:  Yes, well, I appreciate that.

The...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, Mr. President.

BUSH:  Go ahead.

We're proud of you.  May God bless you all in your work.  And when you get back to the States, you know, if I'm hanging around, come by and say hello.  Thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, Mr. President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Like watching the Jesse Ventura Show.

It's too bad you couldn't get the White House press corps to work from a script like that.

Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” will be along presently to try to figure out who thought that was a good idea.

But first, wait, there's more, from the fog of war, a play in three acts, to White House press room, unscripted.  The first topic there was, guess what, whether or not the whole deal with the soldiers had been rehearsed.

Once again, you are there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the president talked to this morning in Iraq?

MCCLELLAN:  I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting.

QUESTION:  Well, they discussed questions ahead of time, they were told exactly what the president would ask, and they were coached in terms of who would answer what question and how they would pass the microphone (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  I'm sorry, sir, are you suggesting that our—what our troops were saying was not sincere, or that what they said was not their own thoughts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) at all.  I'm just asking why it was necessary to coach them.

MCCLELLAN:  Well, in term of the event earlier today, the event was set up to highlight an important milestone in Iraq's history.  There are always technological challenges involved when you're talking with troops on a satellite feed like this.  And I think that we worked very closely with the Department of Defense to coordinate this event.  And I think all they were doing was talking to the troops, and letting them know what to expect.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know, we all saw the event.  So without getting into what the president said and what the troops said, can you just talk specifically to the choreography?  Did the soldiers know what questions they would be asked, and did they (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  No, I really can't, because we coordinate this with the Department of Defense, and you might want to direct questions to the Department of Defense.  Because when we do these events, we appreciate all the help that they provide.  The Department of Defense takes the lead in terms of pulling some troops together so that we can do events like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you personally do not know if those soldiers rehearsed their answers before they were on the air live?

MCCLELLAN:  Well, my understanding is that someone from the Department of Defense was talking to them ahead of time.  But I don't know, I was with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Unfortunately for Mr. McClellan, the evidence that Mr.  Bush's chat with the soldiers was rehearsed, and rehearsed within an inch of its life, was all on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBER:  But if he gives us question that's not something that we've scripted, Captain Kennedy, you're going to have that mike.  And that's your chance to impress us all.

Master Sergeant Lombardo, when you're talking about the president coming to see you in New York, take a little breath before that, so you can actually be talking directly to him.  You've got a real message there, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  She used the word “scripted.”

The stage manager, or the equivalent of the warmup comedian at the “TONIGHT” show, was the deputy assistant for internal communications to the secretary of defense, Allison Barber (ph).

Meanwhile, back at the White House, the reporters evidently a little ticked off by the press secretary's refusal to acknowledge that the rehearsal constituted a rehearsal hit some sort of nerve with Mr.  McClellan.  In the middle of a question from John Roberts of CBS NEWS, McClellan went after the media like, well, like conservatives going after Harriet Miers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS:  Some conservatives have suggested this week, or speculated, that while President Bush would never withdraw Miers' nomination, that she might decide that she can't weather this storm and withdraw.  I mean, what—can you give us just some idea of her tenacity to be able to stand all this fire from the right and the left?

MCCLELLAN:  First of all, all this fire, I would disagree with that, because those who know Harriet Miers are strongly supportive of her nomination, and strongly supportive of her being confirmed to the United States Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

MCCLELLAN:  Well, you can't deny that some people are clearly setting a different standard for the confirmation, because the standard has always been, are you qualified to serve on our nation's highest court?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  Well, now, let's not, you know, now, let's talk about how the way you're approaching things.  This should be based on the person's record and qualifications and their judicial philosophy.  And she greatly exceeds all the standard that have been set for meeting what is needed to serve on our nation's highest court.  She is exceptionally well qualified.

And I would encourage you—I know you don't necessarily want to do this—but to look at her qualifications and record.  I haven't seen you out there reporting about some of her qualifications and her record.  And I see by the tone of your question that you want to get into some of these side issues.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  Let's look at the record.  Let look at the qualifications.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), but Scott, yesterday you yourself said (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  I'm not saying everybody.  I'm just saying, I haven't seen John report on her qualifications and record.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN:  You talked about some prospective nominees who decided that they didn't want to go through this laborious process.  The question was, is it possible that she would be overwhelmed enough by this laborious process that she might consider pulling out?

MCCLELLAN:  Bob, anyone that knows Harriet Miers knows that she's exceptionally well qualified to serve on our nation's highest court, and no one that knows her would make such a suggestion.

I welcome the opportunity to engage in this discussion, because this should be based on qualifications and experience and judicial philosophy.  Some people want to create a different standard.

And, you know, Jen, you can sit there and shake your head.  But she is exceptionally well qualified.

(CROSSTALK)

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS:  Scott, yesterday...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But wait a minute, wait a minute...

CAMERON:  ... the president said that it was important (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  Well, anyone, anyone, anyone that knows her record and her experience wouldn't be making such a suggestion.

CAMERON:  Scott, yesterday, both—yesterday the president himself said...

MCCLELLAN:  Well, some of you all wanted to focus more on religion. 

We focused on her qualifications and record.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Could we ask the questions and you provide the answers?

MCCLELLAN:  Yes, and I was providing the answer.  Can I not say what I want to say?

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  Isn't it my right to talk and say what I want to?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I defend your right, Scott.

MCCLELLAN:  You all want to focus on side issues like religion.  We've said from the beginning...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  We've said from --  No.  We have always publicly talked about...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... a side issue.

MCCLELLAN:  ... come on, Jim.  We've always talked about her record and her qualifications...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, let's talk about truth and honesty.  Are you trying to say that the White House has not talked to conservatives, and pointed them to the church that she goes to, and to her religion?

MCCLELLAN:  I answered all those questions yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) --  But you're just saying right now that we're making an issue of it.  You're making an issue of it by having White House officials telling...

MCCLELLAN:  No.  I'm saying...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... conservatives that that's a reason that they should trust her.

MCCLELLAN:  I'm saying (INAUDIBLE)...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  No, I'm not saying that.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  You're putting words in my mouth.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  I'm saying the focus ought to be on records and qualification and philosophy.

Yes, you are.

FRANKEN:  You—Scott...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have a question about... ...

FRANKEN:  ... Scott...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... judicial philosophy.

FRANKEN:  ... Scott, you used the term dignified process.  Is it dignified to pejoratively characterize the motives or tactics of a reporter who is trying to cover a story?

MCCLELLAN:  I'm sorry?

FRANKEN:  Is it dignified, to use your word, dignified (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:  No, that's not what I was—I'm simply saying that the focus should be on the record and the qualifications.  And, you know, the media—I know sometimes you all don't like criticism.  But it—I think the American people want the focus to be on records and qualification and philosophy.  And that's all I'm pointing out.

This is about our nation's highest court.  And I think that we are doing a disservice for the American people when we focus on other issues and not her record and qualifications and experience.  Because that's what matters when you're on the nation's highest court.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We love you, Scott.  We still love you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  When you have to shout down Les Kinsolving and Carl Cameron --  Well, they say the experience of the British prisoners in the black hole of Calcutta in 1756 was a lot worse, but don't tell that to Scott McClellan.

To try to figure out why the wheels fell off, Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” will be here in a moment.

And from bungled plays in politics to seemingly bungled plays in baseball, it's the controversy of the decade.  But in blaming the umpire, are we in fact blaming the wrong guy?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Sergeant Aquille, thanks for joining us.  I appreciate your service.  You got something to say, Aquille?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, Mr. President.  Thank you for anything, sir.  Thank you very much for anything.

BUSH:  Yes, you're welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like you.

BUSH:  Yes, well, I appreciate that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN:  You all want to focus on side issues like religion.  We've said from the beginning...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN:  We've said from --  No.  We have always publicly talked about...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... a side issue.

MCCLELLAN:  Come on, Jim.  We've always talked about her record and her qualifications.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As the old Bob and Ray joke about the driving of the golden spike to connect the one track of the transcontinental railroad went, And here come the trains, one from the east, and one from the west.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the postmortems from the twin train wrecks, is the national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.

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

just want to say, Thank you, Mr. Olbermann, I like you.  I like anything.

OLBERMANN:  Well, good, we appreciate that.

We go from the president in the rain at ground zero with a bullhorn and his arm around a fire chief, just off the top of his head reassuring everyone, to that today.  I mean, I've done live interviews that were like that.  And little girls with monkey pox have fallen over backwards in the middle of the interview.

Watching this, I felt personally sorry that George W. Bush was put in that position today, and the fact that the rehearsal was made available to all the networks.  I mean, this great political machine there, what in God's name has happened to it?

MILBANK:  Wouldn't you love to see the closed-door meeting after that whole session, with the president and his top aides?

Look, Scott put on the best face on it possible.  And it really is inexplicable.  I'd like to explain it to you.  I think the best thing we could say is, it's the curse of Cindy Sheehan.  Remember beginning of August, he refuses to meet with her?  That just was the beginning of this huge cataclysmic series of miscalculations they made.

This was a White House that did everything right in terms of imagery.  And now they just seem to have completely lost their mojo on even fairly simple things.

OLBERMANN:  You know, the angle once that—in front of Mount Rushmore shot in such a way so that the only way you could get a picture of the president was with the presidents of Mount Rushmore behind him.  And now we get this.

This is just a layman's speculation here, but is it possible that, you know, because of what Karl Rove is facing, that this has collapsed?  I mean, he's MIA because of the CIA leak investigation.  In terms of political staging, is the president now being advised by Howard Dean, maybe?

MILBANK:  It is tempting to say that none of this would have happened if Karl Rove were still alive.  But I think that's a little bit oversimplifying.  Certainly, something like the Harriet Miers controversy would seem to be in Karl's area.  But something like this is really the—in the area of Dan Bartlett, a little help, maybe, from the Karen Hughes now at the State Department.

But basically, the same communications team is in place that has always been in place.  I think what you're seeing here is a White House now sitting at 38 percent in the polls.  Has never been here before.  And there's a bit of a panic setting in.  They don't really know how to get out of this.  They've always operated being out in front before, and they don't know how to run it from behind.

OLBERMANN:  You wrote this week about the president's body language during the “TODAY” show interview with Matt Lauer on Tuesday morning from the building site.  Continue on that relative to today.  When the president left that event today and dropped that earphone, what could he have been thinking?

MILBANK:  You know, you can only imagine.  And when you watch the guy, if you run through one of his speeches, like the Matt Lauer interview on fast forward, it looks like he's dancing.  He's so much jiggling going on in the legs.  He's got his jaw moving like, he's blinking a lot.  I counseled 40-something blinks in answering a single question.

Obviously, he's under a great deal of stress.  Obviously, he was somewhat fidgety to begin with.  But we can't read his mind, but we can certainly read his body language.  This is a man who is not particularly enjoying himself.  He is used to everything going right.  And then when something goes this wrong this publicly, as it does today, you can be sure that his temper was quite short.

OLBERMANN:  And returning, particularly to the McClellan briefing, well, that went well.

MILBANK:  It did?  I mean, I—in—on the positive side, there weren't a lot of people there, so the piling on could have been worse.  I feel a little bit bad for Scott McClellan.  He took over.  Ari Fleischer led them through a rather benign time, you know, after 9/11, when everyone was rallying behind the president.  Now nobody is rallying behind the president.

Scott McClellan, who is a good and decent guy, has to get up there and say, This is not a rehearsed event, even when they've actually released the footage showing that it is a rehearsed event.  So when he has to say up is down, and he has to go taking on challenging the motives of the press corps, he's obviously got a problem.  I don't know how he could handle this any better, unfortunately.

OLBERMANN:  One question (INAUDIBLE) about substance rather than style as substance, just switching the gears back to that NBC “Wall Street Journal” poll from the other night, president's rating among African-Americans, 2 percent approving of the job that he's doing.  That's with a 3 percent margin of error.  Might actually be negative 1 percent.  Even for a president who claims not to govern by the polls, that has got to be an extraordinary thing to contemplate.

MILBANK:  Right.  The president says he likes not to watch the polls, but you've got to watch that negative 1 percent when your numbers hit that.

You know, it's—that's really an artifact of the overall polling that's showing him 38, 39 percent support, 56 something, whatever, in opposition to him.  So basically, what you have is, your core supporters.  These are largely white, largely male, largely Christian.  And you have certainly the minorities, at the best of times, only about 10 percent of blacks were supporting him.  So it's only natural it would be down to about negative 1.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post.”  Great thanks. 

We'll see what happens next.  I guess that's the only way to approach it.

Thank you, sir.

MILBANK:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, can this machine magically save you money on your gas bill?  An answer ahead in Oddball.  But here's a hint.  No, no, it can't.

And so long to the TV theme songs, especially the one with timeless lyrics like, “Shlemiel, shlemazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated.”  Why time and money are closing in and closing the door on something really bad that we all got used to so we used to think it was good.

COUNTDOWN continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We're back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN for our nightly fun and games segment, the one which I perform each evening totally unscripted.

Let's play Odd, ball.

We begin in Miami, where auto mechanic Bruce Reese says he's got a machine that can save you money on gas.  No, it is not a moped.  It is this thing, a pump that fills your car tire with nitrogen instead of air.  For just $5 a tire, Reese says it takes nitrogen six times longer to leak out of the tires, so the tires stay inflated longer.  Why not just try helium and bounce your way to work?  Maybe a whole car that runs on hydrogen.

Naah.

It's not known just how much could be saved with the nitro tires.  And if it would be more than the $20 it costs to fill them in the first place.  But they're already using them in NASCAR, and those guys get great mileage.

To the campus of the University of North Texas at Denton, where the school's actual mascot is a mean green eagle.  The students have adopted this guy, the creepy albino squirrel.  The animal is extremely rare.  In fact, we know of just one other.  It's living in the backyard of COUNTDOWN's senior producer, Dennis Horgan.  Some students think seeing the shocking white, red-eyed rodent before an exam is good luck.  And I'm referring to the squirrel here, not Dennis.  Being bitten by this thing, not so lucky.

Finally, back to Florida for the heroic story of Marty the Roofer, M.D.  Marty Davis says he was fixing a leaky roof in Weston, Florida, when he heard screaming coming from the house below.  He rushed down to find the owner of the house going into labor on the kitchen floor.  Davis says it was too late to get to the hospital.  So with a 911 operator on the phone helping him along, he washed the tar off his hands and delivered the baby, a healthy little girl.

When he was finished, Davis went back up on the roof and got back to the shingles.  Of course, you know, with the time out to deliver the baby, jeez, I don't know, I'm afraid this job won't be finished on time.  How's December 18 for you?

The baseball blunder that's one for the ages.  But the fickle finger of fate may be pointing toward the wrong villain here.

And still no ruling in the Demi-Ashton wedding.  Sure, we have pictures now, but we're not sure the world still wasn't all punked.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Michelle Duggar of Little Rock, who's 39.  She just gave birth yesterday to child number 16.  She and her husband have two sets of twins.  Their kids are named Joshua, John David, Janet, Jill, Jessa, Jinjer (ph) with a J, Joseph, Josiah, Joyana (ph), Jeremiah, Jedadia (ph), Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, and Johanna.  Dad's name?  Jim Bob.

Number two, speaking of names, Hitler Rousseau Chaverra.  That's his name.  He is the director of the Young Colombia Foundation in Colombia.  He says he likes his name, that his father told him he gave it to him so he'd have a famous name, one that would present him the challenge of balancing wickedness and liberalism.

Mr. Chaverra, I hate to break this to you.  Your dad is a sadist.

And number one, Houyuan Lu, archeologist in the Lagia (ph) dig in northwestern China, part of the team that has uncovered a 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles.  They say it's the oldest bowl of noodles ever found.  Guess Houyuan has never been to the all-night convenience store at the Woodrow Wilson rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike, hah?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was, like all great controversial moments in sports, really a collision of a series of moments past and present.  There was the umpire signaling strike three, apparently for the last out of the inning.  There was the batter who obviously didn't believe him and took off for first base anyway.  There was the catcher who obliviously tossed the baseball back towards the pitcher's mound, at once invoking a man named Fred Merkel (ph) in a special winner-take-all playoff in 1908, another named Mickey Owen in the 1941 World Series, and another named Chuck Knobloch (ph) in the 1998 American League championship series.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, as Peter O'Toole said in the movie “My Favorite Year,” there's out, and then there's out.

Bottom of the ninth at Chicago last night, game two of the American League championship series.  White Sox won, L.A. Angels won, nobody on, two out, and Chicago's A.J. Pierzynski at bat with a count of three balls and two strikes.

Pierzynski swung and missed at a low breaking pitch from Kelvim Escobar (ph).  But he says he thought he heard the ball hit the dirt.  It did hit the dirt.  If that was true, it would require the Angels catcher, Josh Paul, to tag him out or throw him out at first base.  Most importantly, Pierzynski says that while umpire Doug Eddings signaled a third strike, he never heard Eddings call him out.  So Pierzynski took off for first base.

The Angels catcher rolled the ball back to the mound for the start of the next inning.  The other L.A. players pretty much casually strolled off the field.  And then the umpires ruled Pierzynski was safe.  Moments later, a pinch-runner stole second, and then White Sox third baseman Joe Creedy (ph) sent a screamer to the left field corner to score the game-winning run.  They're not going to get him.

Instead of Sox and Angels still being tied, headed to the top of the 10th, the White Sox had won the game 2 to 1 and tied up the series a game apiece, heading into the third game Friday night in Anaheim.

Umpire Eddings insists the replay shows the ball changing direction as it hit the glove.  He said he was pretty shocked at what took place, meaning the catcher, Mr. Paul, rolling the ball back to the mound and exiting stage right.

The Angels were furious, wondering why he signaled strike three and then just stood there.

Of course, that is actually what umpires are supposed to do, instructed to do, in cases where play truly is not yet over, like when a runner tries to slide into home, and the catcher fails to tag him, and the runner misses the plate.  Just stand there and wait until something else happens.

Which is exactly what Doug Eddings did.  The players are supposed to take the cue from his inaction.  Pierzynski of Chicago did.  Paul of Los Angeles did not.

It's a beautiful controversy, unless you're an Angels fan.  To help analyze it, let me call in Michael Morrissey, the sports writer of “The New York Post,” who was at that game and the contentious news conferences that followed it.

Michael, thanks for your time tonight.

MICHAEL MORRISSEY, SPORTS WRITER, “THE NEW YORK POST”:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That really is the gist of it, isn't it?  I mean, you can talk about whether or not the umpire saw the ball wrong.  That's clearly one thing.  But Pierzynski recognized that Eddings he was giving a kind of, This play is still in progress, noncall.  But he didn't give a cry of, You're out.  Didn't Josh Paul really—wasn't Josh Paul really the villain in this, that he just assumed?

MORRISSEY:  Well, I think that is one of the dangers.  Josh Paul assumed, and he assumed wrong.  Had he just tagged Pierzynski out, we wouldn't be here today.  But, you know, I think Pierzynski made a shrewd move.  And there was a moment, and you can kind of almost see the gears going through his head, where he said, What the heck, you know, I might as well take off for first.  Paul did catch the ball cleanly, I think, in every replay that I saw.

And it was a situation where, you know, I think Pierzynski stole first.  You know, the adage is that you can't steal first base.  But I think he might have faked out Eddings, who, you know, obviously did put his fist up for strike three.

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned the precedents, the Fred Merkel play, he assumed the rules would be enforced one way rather than the other, and he was wrong.  And Mickey Owen not catching the third strike in the game of the '41 World Series.

But maybe the best parallel with that Josh Paul situation might be Chuck Knobloch of the New York Yankees arguing with the umpires in 1998 while the ball was still in play, and the winning—or, at that point, the lead one scored in a playoff game for the Cleveland Indians.

The Pierzynski move here is, I assume, he was waiting to hear, as all catchers would, You're out, in addition to that third-strike gesture, and never heard it, and figured either, Well, yes, that agrees with what I thought, or, What the hell, I'm going to run to first base anyway, right?

MORRISSEY:  Well, here's the thing.  With plate umpires, there's no one way of doing it.  You know, Josh Paul said that some, you know, that some umpires say, No catch, no catch.  Now, other people have said, they'll say, Strike three, you're out, if, in fact, the ball is caught cleanly and the umpire is signaling the end of at-bat.

So it, you know, I really believe that there's part of the problem is, there's no uniformity among major league umpires when it come to the situation.  But, you know, for Eddings to put the fist up, anybody who plays whiffleball knows that's the universal symbol of a strikeout.

OLBERMANN:  About the lack of uniformity, this raises this issue, or at least people have brought up in retrospect about this, the idea that perhaps baseball should make an option for umpires to be able to consult videotaped replays, as I think it was Frank Pully (ph), just sort of ad hoc arrangement with a play in Florida a couple of years ago.  But it's never been used officially.

On the other hand, Eddings said that the umpire said he had seen this play eight or nine times and was more firmly convinced that ever and—than ever that the ball hit the ground before it hit the catcher's glove.

So, I mean, is the prospect of videotaped replay a reasonable one to be considered in baseball?

MORRISSEY:  I think it's going to be considered down the road, Keith.  But, you know, I'd like to see it more for home run calls, like the one you just mentioned, Pully in Florida, because that's a situation where a, you know, a ball flying 300, 400, 330 feet down the line away from home plate, away from the umpires, into a crowd, I mean, this was a call that should have been made immediately and should have been made unmistakably.

Yes, it was a tough call.  But, you know, for Eddings to just say that he's convinced that the ball bounced, I don't see how he gets that.  You know, a lot of baseball fans believe the ball was caught cleanly.  And Paul obviously thought it was caught cleanly enough that he kind of tossed the ball underhanded back to the mound as he headed off the dugout.

OLBERMANN:  But ultimately...

MORRISSEY:  But I think...

OLBERMANN:  Yes, ultimately, I...

MORRISSEY:  I was just...

OLBERMANN:  Go ahead.

MORRISSEY:  I was just going to say, but I think it's good to raise debate about instant replay, because other sports have it.  But it's—it will be looked at, I believe, even if, you know, major league baseball officials, perhaps, think that a lot of people are going to overreact because of this incident.

OLBERMANN:  Ultimately, whether they overreact or they don't, and as I said, unless you're an L.A. Angels fan, isn't this truly a great thing to have witnessed?  Is this not actually a wonderful aspect of baseball, to have that controversy over such a microscopic decision?

MORRISSEY:  There was a 95-year-old man who was a White Sox fan at U.S. Cellular Field last night.  And I'm willing to bet that he's never seen a play like that, you know.  And Darin Erstad (ph) of the Angels actually said, you know, Those people who say they've seen it all in baseball, they really haven't.

And that's what makes the game so great.  I know you've seen your share of ballgames over the years, as have I.  And just when you think you're not going to see anything out of the ordinary, you see something completely bizarre like what we witnessed.

OLBERMANN:  A 95-year-old fan.  That means he could have conceivably remembered from his youth seeing Shoeless Joe Jackson play for the White Sox.

Michael Morrissey of “The New York Post,” who joined that 95-year-old man witnessing one of baseball's most controversial moments ever last night, great thanks for your assessment.

MORRISSEY:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  From out to not out to out.  Where have all the TV theme songs gone?  A three-minute tour up next.

And where has Michael Jackson gone?  The self-imposed exile is over. 

He's out and about in London.  Oh, great.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed.  It's like you're always stuck in a second gear.  You want to go where everybody knows your name for a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, like it or not, you can probably name and sing the lyrics to all four of those TV theme songs and correctly calculate, to the year, how long you have known them.  But you and the songs are a dying breed.

Our report is from correspondent Maria Menunos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA MENUNOS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Like Laverne and Shirley in “Happy Days” gone by, TV theme songs are a thing of the past.  Back then, everyone knew.  Memorable songs told you that your favorite TV show was about to begin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You would the song and sort of get in the mood and go, Wow, here it is.

MENUNOS:  Meant you were going where no man has gone before.

And 40 years after this catchy tune was first played on TV, people still remember the words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The lyrics sort of often summed up the show, or sort of set up what was going to happen, introduce you to the characters, introduce you to the situation.  But in a way, that was fun enough that you didn't mind hearing it every week.

MENUNOS:  Some of these theme song were so popular, they became hits apart from the show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The first prime-time theme to go number one was the theme from “S.W.A.T.”

MENUNOS:  Other number-one hits, the theme from “Miami Vice,” and “Welcome Back, Kotter” in 1975.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There's a whole generation that is not going to remember any TV themes, because there aren't any anymore.  Now, opening titles have gone to, like, five or 10 seconds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Earle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MENUNOS:  The reason is mostly economic.

BILL LAWRENCE, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, “SCRUBS”:  There's no theme songs anymore because TV shows are barely 21 minutes long, and you need that time that you used to do for a song for context, especially if it's an ensemble show.

MENUNOS:  Back in 1972, “M*A*S*H,” with a big ensemble cast and theme music, ran as long as 26 minutes, with only four minutes of commercial time.  Today, a new sitcom is given about 20 minutes and 30 seconds to tell a story, with more than nine minutes devoted to commercials.

LAWRENCE:  Ultimately, the more commercial time, the more profit, the more money.

MENUNOS:  So, sadly, TV theme songs are sent packing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the days of the theme song are gone, the gladness of...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So what you're telling me is, there will never be lyrics for a song called “My Name Is Earle”?

An easy segue tonight into our news of celebrity and entertainment.  Keeping tabs on the wedding of Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (ph) has been confirmed as the two have released photos of the event.

(snoring)  Oh, sorry.

This wedding is confirmed because they sold pictures of it to the magazine “OK.”  It's Moore's third wedding.  The first, to musician Freddie Moore (ph), took place when Ashton Kutcher was 2 years old.

Good news and bad news for quality entertainment tonight.  The Paris Hilton-Nicole Richey (ph) TV show has been canceled.  Unfortunately, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richey have not been canceled themselves.  “The Simple Life” evidently proving too simple even for the Fox audience.  The network had picked up the option on a fourth season.  It says now it has no time slot for the program.  Its producers claim it may move to another network, the Hollywood buzz is that Hilton and Richey are feuding.  And that's the real...

(snoring)  (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).

And we're back.

So's Michael Jackson.  He's out of his lair.  He saw his shadow.  He danced on a car again.  He also saw his fans in London.  That's ahead.

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

Why, there's Sylvester Stallone.  A British tabloid reports he's agreed to star in “Rocky VI.”  That's where the now-60-year-old Rocky Balboa comes out of retirement to fight bladder control issues.

Nominated at the silver level, Ian Pearson, a futurologist with B.T.  Laboratories in Great Britain.  He sees a merger of two current technologies, MP3 players and breast augmentation.  The MP3 chip, he says, could sit inside the implant, and the audio signal could be relayed to the woman's headphones.

Hey!  Like you can't see this one coming.  Hey, those are not click wheels!

And the winners, our friends at NASA.  The results of the Deep Impact experiment, when they crashed the spacecraft into the comet Tempel 1?  Comets are actually icy dirtballs.  They're not, as previously believed, dirty snowballs.

For this, we paid $330 million?  NASA, today's Worst Persons in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just when you thought it was safe to switch on the TV again, our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Jacko is backo, swapping out his sun-drenched in a private trip to Bahrain for a fan-drenched and very public visit to Great Britain, and getting mobbed in the parking lot of a recording studio in London.  You'd think he'd know by now that climbing on top of a car to salute his fans, not the best idea.

Well, then again, there aren't any judges around, are there?

A more subdued Jackson swamped by autograph seekers at the Dorchester Hotel, but he was soon back on traditional form, bringing his kids with him to the theater to see “Billy Elliott,” a musical about a ballet-dancing boy, though we're not sure how much blanket Prince Michael or Paris actually saw, given that the faces were still wrapped in scarves when they left the theater.  His daughter, son—we're not sure which, with the veil on, considering that, but evidently, whoever that was did not see much either on the visit to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.

And both of his older children were similarly swathed at Harrod's Department Store today, probably only glimpsing a flash of the paparazzi cameras.

The massive publicity blitz, an obvious attempt to garner attention for Jackson's next venture, a charity song raising money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which he will recur—record, rather, upon his return to Bahrain last week.

But regardless of the blatant cry for attention, we can't let a momentous event like the reemergence of Mr. Jackson and offspring pass without calling on the style editor for “Us Weekly” magazine, Katrina Szish.

Good evening.  Thanks for your time.

KATRINA SZISH, STYLE EDITOR, “US WEEKLY” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN:  So we now know that Michael Jackson thinks the correct time to lay low after being acquitted on child molestations is four months, because the averted (INAUDIBLE)...

SZISH:  Yes, lay low, lay low and head to Dubai.

OLBERMANN:  ... four months ago tomorrow was when we got that.  Is this trip that scripted, that planned, that a cynic like me might say four months to the day, almost?

SZISH:  You know, you could say that.  And I'm sure Michael was planning very carefully about how he was going reemerge in the public eye.  So in that sense, it's scripted.  But I do think that the fans' reactions to him are not scripted, and I think it really proves that, despite everything that has happened with Michael, his fans are still a very loyal bunch.

OLBERMANN:  So they found him in the garage of that recording studio on their own?  There wasn't some e-mail alert or there wasn't some tipoff to a publicity—from a publicity source to a fan club somewhere?

SZISH:  That's the kind of thing, you never know, but at the same time, you think, You know what?  We kind of found Brad and Angelina in Kenya.  So if there's a will, there's a way.  And whether there's a tipoff or not, either if there's a celebrity around who people want be to see, either the paparazzi or the fans themselves will find them.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let's—we know if perhaps that response was genuine from the public, obviously the thing that started it was planned, I mean, we can understand why Michael Jackson would be back out in the public eye...

SZISH:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  ... but given the crime he was accused of, and the continuing criticism of his child-rearing techniques, and the dispute with the mother of some of them about rights, why bring those kids along?

SZISH:  I think Michael was really trying to show, Hey, I'm actually normal, as much as Michael Jackson can be normal.  I think he was trying to show he was a father, and he was really spending time with his children in as normal a way as possible.

Now, the veils over the heads, you know, that's kind of wacky, but we can't expect him to be back to normal all in one fell swoop.

I do think that the fact he chose to go see “Billy Elliot,” of all things, in the West End, was a little bit suspect, considering it is about a 12-year-old ballet-dancing boy who is—whose career is thwarted by his macho father and brother.  That's a little weird.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  He's got something of an uphill climb on the old back-to- normality front.  But...

SZISH:  Oh, yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... the charity album for the hurricane victims, that will be out too late by how many months?

SZISH:  I'm not exactly sure, but it's coming up.  I know he's going back to Bahrain to finish up recording, so it should be soon.

OLBERMANN:  So will, we're hoping it's—well, we're expecting it's going to be out before the next hurricane season?  Is, is, was that...

SZISH:  I would think so.  It might make a good stocking-stuffer, so to speak.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but so—is there going to be an accusation that it's really not about raising money for Katrina victims by that point, but simply an excuse to get him back into the good graces when he releases another album?

SZISH:  Absolutely.  That's always something that people, critics and cynics will suggest.  Except at the same time, if the proceeds are going to the right place, then he is doing something right.

OLBERMANN:  Well, the only thing he hasn't been accused of is having rehearsed all of this with somebody from the Pentagon.  So I suppose that's the last touch left.

“Us Weekly”'s Katrina Szish...

SZISH:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  ... thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

SZISH:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  And that's COUNTDOWN.  Ah, good, Michael Jackson's back. 

Can we try—is there time to do a puppet theater, or we're just out of—

OK, we're out of time, I'm sorry.  Maybe next week.

I'm Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT.”

Good evening, Rita.

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

END   

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