KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Heck of a new job, Brownie. What else would the fumbling former FEMA boss do but start a disaster-consulting firm? Responding to them, or causing them?
Just another headache for his old boss, as Mr. Bush plans to launch a PR offensive about Iraq.
The shopping event. That‘s already started.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is ridiculous. I do not want my life in danger for this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Black Friday of the shopping season, and its black-and-blue marks.
The distressing investigation into online predators, the sting capturing men from all walks of life setting up encounters with underaged kids.
One family‘s gift to the world for Christmas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These trees all mean something to people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A true story, a tree story.
And Daddy! But you know what? If you‘re going to spend the dough for this rig, at least hide the wires from the spotlight.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Its origins are murky, maybe a song lyric, maybe just a sarcastic wit whose name has been lost to history. But whether spoken or sung, President Bush may have intoned it at the news, and his former FEMA director is going to go into the disaster-consulting business.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, how can we miss you if you won‘t go away? Not what Mr. Bush needs as he prepares to begin another effort to regain his popularity and influence, Michael Brown telling the Denver newspaper “The Rocky Mountain News” that he is now setting up his own consulting firm in Colorado to teach people how to avoid creating the kind of disaster that he did.
Apparently he does not see the irony in his new career choice, telling the paper, quote, “If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses, because that goes straight to their bottom line. And I hope I can help the country in some way.”
On the subject of his old job at FEMA, he almost boasts about his lack of credentials. “How many people come into a company in the mail room and work their way up to become president of the company?”
And why is he still so confident in his abilities in this area? His family, quote, “My wife, children, my grandchild still love me. My parents are still proud of me.”
Take away his belt and his shoelaces.
The president doesn‘t need Brownie‘s name back in the news, not if he‘s going to begin, as reported by “The Washington Post,” an effort to restore his reputation, starting with a speech to be given next Wednesday at Annapolis on progress in training Iraqi security forces.
There was another unwelcome blast from the past for Mr. Bush, as he continued his holiday weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan, who renewed her vigil outside the western White House, today dedicating a garden at the Crawford Peace House in memory of her son and resuming her call on the president to bring the troops home.
That might be the subtext of the president‘s new campaign. According to the Pentagon, 36 Iraqi battalions now have responsibility for their areas. The administration has clearly linked Iraqi responsibility to American withdrawal, or pullback, though it‘s unclear how many of those battalions still require U.S. support.
Also unclear how much of an impact those new troops are having on the insurgency. The latest atrocity, a suicide car bomber killing at least 31 people, mostly women and children, outside a hospital where U.S. troops were handing out free candy and toys on Thanksgiving.
Talk about the politics of this, let bring in MSNBC analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” contributing editor Craig Crawford.
Good evening, Craig.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC ANALYST: Hi, happy day after Thanksgiving.
OLBERMANN: And to you, and to Mr. Bush.
If Mike Brown disappears next week, should we look for him in the White House basement somewhere? I mean, if there was one sentence that marked the moment that George Bush could be pinpointed as having lost control of the car, it was that second where he said, “You‘re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.”
CRAWFORD: Doing a heck of a job, Brownie, yes. You know, I have to bring up a saying I actually hate, because my mom was a teacher, but remember that horrible line, Those who can‘t, teach. If he‘s going to consult, maybe he‘s going to consult on how not to do things in disaster preparedness.
But President Bush didn‘t need any reminders of Hurricane Katrina these days. They‘d almost put it behind them.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t understand the political logistics here. There‘s a news vacuum around the holiday. Nothing‘s happening, basically, most of Wednesday, all of Thursday, all of Friday, all of Saturday, all of Sunday, into which an administration that‘s desperate to restore itself injects nothing, and the stage gets taken instead by timing, dint of timing, this Mike Brown interview, and Cindy Sheehan. How did they let that happen?
CRAWFORD: Well, some of the decisions they‘ve made when they‘ve decided to do something lately have tended to backlash, calling critics cowards, almost, that tend to backlash on the supporters of the president. And the White House, I actually think, Keith, over the course of this year, the president talks too much. I think presidential words should be more sparing and precious, you know, the president doesn‘t have to say something in every single new cycle. It becomes discounted after a while.
And—but they have conditioned us to expect a response from the White House in every news cycle no matter what happens.
OLBERMANN: To that issue of discounting, and about the new PR offensive, if the polls are showing that he‘s not being believed about Iraq, why is a speech in which he insists the Iraqis are now coming up to speed quickly going to help him?
CRAWFORD: I think it‘s going to be a tough case to make, because there—particularly if they stretch the facts. They need to be very careful about how they support this case, because if they open themselves up to any kind of criticism that they‘re playing with the numbers—and we have seen that for some time on this issue—then it is going to play into the overall view, the growing view, it seems, among Americans, that this White House is not credible or not trustworthy.
That, I think, is a real danger for them if they go too far.
OLBERMANN: Say they don‘t go too far, but they don‘t present anything new. Is that a risk too? Is there a new idea out there? Is there something they can present that it would at least get past, say, media cynicism? Or even the—what will we call it? A kind of an overload factor on the part of the public, as you said, listening to the president say the same thing all the time.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I mean, the—if you can characterize these Iraq speeches from the president, for months now, it‘s emphatic repetition. And it‘s not working. I think just giving a scripted speech is not what he needs to do. The American people want to hear a little more directly from him, and maybe some humility. It might be a good idea for the president to sit down and acknowledge, and—without criticizing—you know, without trying to trash people who are just disagreeing with him on this policy.
So it‘s such a growing number of Americans, some sort of dramatic acknowledgment of that, and it might shuffle the decks and get people to listen to him again.
OLBERMANN: Yes. But truth and self-effacement has not been—the tone of anybody connected to politics since Grover Cleveland admitted that that little girl was his, the baby, in the 1884 campaign.
Last question, Craig. Are the president‘s poll numbers now inexorably linked to the troop levels? If the troop levels go down, will the poll numbers necessarily go up?
CRAWFORD: That‘s a possibility. I think any sense that Iraq is progressing, is moving to the finish line, will help. I just don‘t know how much they can do that successfully. I do know the stay-the-course approach of the White House is just not working.
I think one reason is, it‘s worth deconstructing that phrase, is, what is the course, first of all? It has changed many times. This, the failure to anticipate the insurgency is a central problem of the administration, and one reason it‘s difficult for them to get troops out, now that politically they would like to do that.
But just to say, Stay the course, I think that‘s empty rhetoric anymore.
OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” as always, sir, great thanks for your time, especially on this, as you said, day after Thanksgiving night.
CRAWFORD: Good to be here. I‘m going to have my turkey today, as a matter of fact.
OLBERMANN: Oh, good. Enjoy.
CRAWFORD: All right.
OLBERMANN: That‘s the public view on all this. What about the opinion of the people actually doing the fighting in Iraq? If you saw the retired colonel Jack Jacobs on this program last week, you may remember he pointed out that these are guys being shot at. They‘re not likely to burst into tears over politicians debating whether or not they should get to go home soon.
Our correspondent in Baghdad, Jim Maceda, asked some of the men themselves. Jim?
JIM MACEDA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello, there.
Well, we‘ve just spent some time embedded with U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division inside Baghdad. They say that they are very aware of the debate raging back home, but that they remain motivated and on mission.
(voice-over): Delta 464 is a tank company full of combat veterans, including dozens who fought their way into Baghdad, taking Saddam Hussein‘s seat of power, almost 32 months ago. They are near the end of a second tour of duty.
SGT. BRIAN BULLOCK, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: Just volunteering. Anyone raise their right hand, I raise mine.
MACEDA: And despite the rising death toll from suicide and roadside bombs, these soldiers think the politicians who want to pull out quickly are dead wrong.
SSGT. ARVAM RAV, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: The people that died over here, I would hate to see troops be pulled out too soon, and for their deaths to be in vain.
MACEDA: Increasingly, they say, their role is to step back and let Iraqi soldiers and police take the fight to the insurgents. They see great strides.
SGT. KENNETH LEVERETTE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: They‘ve come along good, they‘ve come along great, coming on faster than they expected.
MACEDA: And these soldiers are against any kind of timetable for withdrawal, except this one, that U.S. forces go home with a mission is accomplished.
SGT. RICHARD LAW, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: From the people‘s way of life, we‘re still continuing to try to help the people, help them eventually get back on their own.
MACEDA (on camera): And interestingly, many soldiers we spoke with and lived with for a number of days blame us, blame reporters for what they see as a one-sided picture in Iraq. They say that we tend to emphasize the negative, all the violence and the death, and tend to underreport what they see as positive steps taking place every day in this country.
I‘m Jim Maceda, NBC News, reporting from Baghdad. Now back to you.
OLBERMANN: Jim, thanks.
In Baghdad, where the trial of Saddam Hussein will finally be getting underway properly next week, just days after it technically began last month, two of the defense attorneys were assassinated. The other attorneys threatened to boycott unless security was beefed up. It has been. They will all be there Monday, along with the first witnesses.
And there is word today that some insurgent groups may be willing to join the political process in Iraq, a senior aide to that country‘s president telling “The New York Times” that insurgent groups have made contact over the last few days, inquiring about participating in the road to democracy. He provided no other details.
Possible news insight now into the why the U.S. government did not charge Jose Padilla with any of the terrorist plots of which he was originally accused, including plans to set off a dirty bomb, and to blow up New York apartment buildings. Turns out the information on his plans might have been gained through torture.
The U.S. has never publicly named the two al Qaeda operatives whose information led to Padilla‘s arrest, but unnamed officials confirmed to “The New York Times” that those two are 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the top terror recruiter, Abu Zubaydah. Their testimony would have been risky enough on its face. Lawyers also could have brought up the CIA acknowledgment last year that it gained information from Mohammed through an excessive use of water boarding, an interrogation technique in which the suspect is repeatedly nearly drowned.
There‘s another national political note, a little lighter than that. For over 20 years, throughout his congressional career, cabinet job, U.N. ambassadorship, governorship, Bill Richardson claimed, and others claimed on his behalf, that while in high school, he had been drafted as a baseball pitcher by the Kansas City Athletics.
Turns out that‘s not true. When a New Mexico paper tried to research Richardson‘s baseball career earlier this year, they could find no evidence of him ever having been drafted. Today, Richardson finally answered their request for a clarification. He acknowledged the error, saying the A‘s and other teams had scouted him, and he had mistakenly thought he had been drafted.
It is possible. Richardson was enough of a pitching prospect at Tufts University to have played in a summer league for professional prospects on Cape Cod.
But not wanting to rely on others, we did our own COUNTDOWN investigation, and we found Bill Richardson in “The Baseball Encyclopedia.” He finished the 1901 season as the first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals. He batted .212. Of course, if that‘s the same Bill Richardson, the governor is now 127 years old.
Also tonight, the shopping rush story is usually a cliche. But wait till you see the video of the woman getting hit so hard, her wig flies off.
And a “DATELINE” report as shocking as it is revolting, a hidden camera investigation exposing online predators, and what one does after he is caught defies belief.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: In the run-up to the start of holiday shopping madness today, we‘ve been suggesting three little words that could save your life, online gift certificates.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, well, to use them, you have to have a computer. And in Orlando, shoppers today reportedly wrestled a guy to the ground who had cut in line to buy a discount laptop.
And in video we will show you in a moment, a shopper in Michigan brought an all-too-literal new meaning to the sales pitch, You‘ll flip your wig over our great prices.
First, the economic impact of the buying-mood-setting day from chief financial correspondent Anne Thompson. Anne?
ANNE THOMPSON, MSNBC CHIEF FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
After disappointing bargain hunters last year with less than spectacular markdowns, retailers tried to outdo each other with discounts today, enticing shoppers in what one analyst described as the trickiest holiday in a decade.
(voice-over): The traditional stampede became a dangerous crush at a Wal-Mart in Seattle over a limited number of $400 laptop computers.
Elsewhere, the holiday rush was more peaceful, with early birds scooping up armfuls of bargains.
Bob Bouch (ph) and his son Jim waited all night outside a Best Buy in Denver, bundled up against temperature in the 20s.
BOB BOUCH, SHOPPER: I mean, I‘m looking to save, hopefully, today, as good as $500, $600.
THOMPSON: In some stores, it seemed like everything was on sale.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let‘s go. Showtime.
THOMPSON (on camera): But underneath all this frenzy, all this excitement—excuse me, please—there is a genuine concern among retailers about how much money consumers are really willing to spend.
(voice-over): Analysts expect an increase of anywhere from 3 to 6 percent over last year‘s sales but worry energy prices could be the Grinch for shoppers.
CANDACE CORLETT, WSL STRATEGIC RETAIL: They‘re in charge of how much they spend in the stores for holiday gifts, but they can‘t control what the heating bill‘s going to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s, like, 5:00 in the morning!
THOMPSON: Today‘s early crowd seemed bigger to many, including Federated Department Stores CEO Terry Lundgren.
(on camera): Does it look like it‘s off to a good start?
TERRY LUNDGREN, CEO, FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES: It looks like nirvana to me.
THOMPSON: But the man who heads Macy‘s and Bloomingdale‘s says this is going to be a very competitive holiday. So Macy‘s brought back toys to keep shoppers in its stores.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do know that people are going to be constrained somewhat. But they are going to go out and spend. They are going to go out and spend. And if they spend, I just want to spend more with us.
THOMPSON: Toys ‘R‘ Us president John Barbour thinks quality, not quantity, will drive this holiday.
(on camera): When money‘s tight, does quality play a bigger role?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. I mean, when money‘s tight, and the parents are cutting back on spending from themselves, they certainly don‘t want to waste money.
THOMPSON: Back in Denver, Bob and Jim Bouch filled up their cart and rang up a hefty bill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thousand, one hundred eight dollars and 51 cents.
THOMPSON: But saved, they say, more than $700.
BOUCH: Yes, it was worth it coming out for that.
THOMPSON (on camera): Despite the crowds, retailers are not declaring victory. There are 29 days to go, and many decisions to be made about what other kinds of discounts to offer and when, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Anne Thompson in New York. Great thanks.
In Cascade Township, Michigan, Cascade indeed, another Wal-Mart, another stampede, “Shop till you drop” becoming far too literal. Several shoppers pushed to the ground when it opened, the Wal-Mart did, at 5:00 a.m., two of them in Grand Rapids were hospitalized with injuries that appear to be minor. But the hysteria went unchecked, and customers said that Wal-Mart should be as concerned about its customers dropping as its prices dropping.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is ridiculous. I do not want my life in danger for this. We had babies getting hurt, knocking people over. This is not worth it. This is been a tradition for years. I don‘t feel that I have to get beat up to try to get a sale.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
THOMPSON: And beat up but not bowed, also from Michigan, watch the woman in the light-blue parka. That‘s right, Her wig came off when she got knocked to the ground. But look at this recovery. Enjoy our hair-raising discounts!
Yes! Beautiful thing to watch.
Good news after the second balloon accident at the Macy‘s Thanksgiving Day parade in the last eight years. The two sisters who were injured yesterday now recuperating, and their father saying the family does not plan to sue. The tethers of a giant M&M balloon got caught in the top of a street lamp near Times Square, apparently because of a gust of wind. A 30-pound light fixture broke off. And 11-year-old Sarah Chamberlain was cut in the back of the head. It required nine stitches. Her 26-year-old sister, Mary, who uses a wheelchair, suffered a bruised forehead.
Macy‘s and the city both investigating, especially considering special guidelines had supposedly been put in place following the last balloon crash during the parade of 1997. That accident caused two much more serious injuries. The Chamberlain sisters, the ones injured yesterday, were both rushed to Bellevue Hospital, but were already back home in Albany, New York, later that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN CHAMBERLAIN, DAUGHTERS INJURED AT MACY‘S PARADE:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a freak accident. And I‘m—accidents happen. It could have been much worse, but it wasn‘t. And, you know, for that we‘re thankful.
SARAH CHAMBERLAIN, INJURED AT MACY‘S PARADE: I thought it was scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We can tell Mr. Chamberlain is not a native of New York City.
Then there is the weather, which wreaked its share of havoc in the days before Thanksgiving. For the latest on what is still ahead, we turn to NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins.
Good evening, Bill.
BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST: Well, good evening, Keith.
We still have some problem areas out there travelwise, right through the upcoming weekend. One of the areas that‘s getting nailed right now with heavy lake-effect snow is right in downtown Buffalo. This lake-effect band has moved right over the city. And we could pick up a quick six inches, and maybe if it sits over the top of the city long enough, a foot of snow, as we go throughout the night.
So a lot of people are going to wake up here, from Niagara Falls down to Buffalo, shoveling out early Saturday morning.
The rest of country, not too bad. Got some light snow going through the Great Lakes. We got to watch out for some severe thunderstorms Saturday afternoon in areas of Texas.
On the West Coast, this is the next storm we have to watch. Very heavy snow is likely throughout most of the intermountain West over the weekend. The rain is finally letting up in areas like San Francisco, Sacramento, Seattle, and Portland, so the weather patterns looking a little better there.
So here‘s how your Saturday looks around the country. Areas of concern, severe weather possible from Houston, San Antonio, all the way up to Dallas, and then heavy snow on Saturday in the intermountain West. Now, by the time we get to Sunday, which is a very busy travel day, the airports that could have some problems, Chicago with some rain, possibly a little bit of a mixture around Minneapolis. Most of the East Coast is going to be just fine along with the West Coast. This is the storm to watch, Sunday into Monday.
So overall, we survived another Thanksgiving weekend. Back to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Bill Karins and the magic maps. Great thanks.
A little Weather Plus magic might have been needed for Santa Claus. I mean, who did this—who did—who is this? Who thought—who‘s fooled by that, huh? Huh?
There‘s no fooling around any more for Nick and Jessica. From newlyweds to newly split, yes, that‘s what it sounded like.
All that and more now, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back, and once again we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘ real news and only-in-America holiday craziness for a brief segment of weird news and holiday craziness from other places.
Let‘s play Oddball.
And where better to begin than in Saarbruecken, Germany, where tonight the city kicks off its traditional Christmas season, the day after Thanksgiving there too, hundreds gathering to visit the Christmas Park. It‘s on grand opening night. And look in the sky, it‘s Santy, flying through the market 100 feet in the air on easily to see guidewires. Santy waves to the crowd. It‘s tough to make out what he is saying. But I‘m—from the translation I‘m getting, it‘s, Help me, somebody, please help me, I‘m stuck up here, me and the beard.
Next door, to Belgium, as all of us Germans know, for Oddball‘s first ice sculpture story of the season. But believe me, it‘s only the first of about 60 of them, and they run through June. This one, though, is setting the bar pretty high. More than 40 international artists taking part using more than 700 tons of ice, snow, and skeletons to kick off western Belgium‘s biggest winter festival.
And when attending the festival, please remember, never lick the sculptures. And watch your skeleton.
Also tonight, a tree so famous that millions around the world will see images over the holidays of the tree, the history of the tree.
But up next, predators on the Internet. A “DATELINE” investigation that needs no hyperbole. Grown men going to a house, and, in many cases, expecting to meet an underaged teenager there for sex.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Paul Hellyer, a former deputy prime minister, former defense minister of Canada, announcing that “UFOs are as real as the airplanes that fly over your head.” And he has asked Canada‘s parliament to hold public hearings on the weapons program he says the U.S. has started to build a military base on the moon, from which to attack people from other planets.
“I‘m so concerned about what the consequences might be,” he added, “of starting an intergalactic war that I just think I had to say something.” Thanks.
Meanwhile, back on this planet, number two, Robert McCormick, now the ex-chairman of the Savitz (ph) Company. He‘s the guy who ran up a slightly higher-than-usual tab one night at a New York strip club, 241,000 smackers. He has resigned.
And number one, the financial statistics department of the government of Cyprus. It has adjusted the items on which it bases the Cypriot monthly consumer price index to include several newer, very popular consumer items there, hair gel, body wax, condoms, and erectile dysfunction drugs.
And no, Mr. McCormick of the $241,000 strip-club bill is not moving to Cyprus.
OLBERMANN: As families come together all across this country for the long holiday weekend, we‘ve decided to examine again a difficult but important topic for parents. Pedophilia is an extraordinary and heart breaking problem in this country, can‘t be denied. Even if it were not truly so, you would still get that impression anyway from the way TV news usually treats the subject.
But in our third story on the “Countdown,” sometimes what we can allow you to witness needs no exaggeration, no hype, no scare headlines. It is all too straightforward and all too real. NBC‘s “Dateline” program enlisted the help of a group called “Perverted Justice” that posed as teens in online chatrooms and then set up encounters at this house in suburban Washington.
“Dateline” wired the home with hidden cameras. Our correspondent is Chris Hansen.
CHRIS HANSEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet vamale_692005. He‘s 28 and thinks he‘s talking to a 14-year-old. He chatted online for more than a week with our decoy and slowly introduced more and more depraved sexual requests. He even says he wants to involve a dog.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As soon as the guy said, hey, maybe I‘d want to do this, and he wasn‘t immediately slapped down, it‘s testing the waters.
HANSEN: Was this all talk? Or would this man actually walk into our kitchen? That‘s him coming in the door.
How are you doing?
JOE WONDERLER: How are you doing?
HANSEN: Why don‘t you have a seat right around that stool,
please? What‘s happening?
WONDERLER: Not much.
HANSEN: What are you here for?
WONDERLER: Just coming to talk to him.
HANSEN: Coming to talk to who? Why are you so nervous?
WONDERLER: I just get nervous. I was going to talk to Erin.
HANSEN: How old is Erin?
WONDERLER: She didn‘t tell me.
HANSEN: Try again?
WONDERLER: I saw 14.
HANSEN: So you thought it was OK to come here to see a 14-year-
WONDERLER: No, I didn‘t.
HANSEN: And you say, would you ever try anal? Ouch, that‘s - like it could hurt, but if done right, you have to be very gentle with that. Quite a Romeo.
WONDERLER: I‘m a lonely guy. What can I say?
HANSEN: He‘s more than just a lonely guy. We did a background check on vamale and it turn out his real name is Joe Wonderler, an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Belvoir at the Intelligence and Security Command.
WONDERLER: I never did anything. I‘m trying to get help with it.
HANSEN: What are you doing to get help?
WONDERLER: I‘m seeing a psychiatrist right now.
HANSEN: Well, it doesn‘t look like it‘s working too well based upon all this.
WONDERLER: I just started talking to him.
HANSEN: I mean, this gets pretty freaky here. You talk about sex acts with a dog.
WONDERLER: It‘s one of the reasons why I‘m trying to get help because I get into fetishes that I - that I know aren‘t right.
HANSEN: I guess you‘re going to tell me next that this is the very first time you‘ve done something like this?
WONDERLER: Actually, it is. I‘m serious.
HANSEN: Here comes specialguy29. Earlier online, he told our decoy, who was posing as a 14-year-old boy, that he‘s an 11th grade English teacher. Then he told the boy that he hates condoms, but he‘s safe.
Our decoy asks specialguy29 to bring beer and then throws in a request, a technique often used by law enforcement to illustrate intent. He types, “side garage is open, strip to ur underware and come in I be in mine.”
The man says, “I don‘t wear underwear.” So the decoy says, “Then come in naked.”
We never thought he‘d really do it, but we were wrong. After casing our house, walking up and down the street, here he comes with the beer. And you can guess what he does in the garage.
HANSEN: Could you explain yourself?
JOHN KINELLI: I‘m sorry.
HANSEN: Why don‘t you cover up.
KINELLI: Certainly. I‘m sorry.
HANSEN: The man‘s name is John Kinelli. He tells me he‘s 29 and a bus driver. Then he changes it to a teacher.
What kind of conduct is this for a high school teacher?
KINELLI: I‘m sorry, I‘ve never done this before.
HANSEN: So you just woke up this morning and said I‘m going to get involved in an Internet conversation with a 14-year-old boy. I‘m going to go to his house, strip naked, and walk in with a 12 pack of beer?
KINELLI: No, sir.
HANSEN: What would have happened, John, if I wasn‘t here?
KINELLI: I probably would have chickened out, sir.
HANSEN: After doing a deeper background check on him, we find out he‘s neither a teacher nor a bus driver. His father says he‘s unemployed. And he‘s not 29. He‘s actually 43.
Do you know that it is illegal to have a conversation on the Internet with the intent to have sex with a minor?
KINELLI: Yes, sir, I do.
HANSEN: You might think that this 43-year-old man, who walked into our house naked, ready to meet a 14-year-old boy for sex would be so humiliated after being caught literally with his pants down, that he‘d never try it again. Yet we find him right back online in a chatroom the very next day.
How can we be certain that this guy in this chatroom is the same guy who walked into this house last night naked?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s the same screen name.
HANSEN: The same identical screen name. He got busted on specialguy29.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He‘s changed nothing.
HANSEN: He‘s spotted by a Perverted Justice volunteer, who‘s posing as a 13-year-old boy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just checked the kids pick.
HANSEN: Even these Perverted Justice veterans find what‘s happening hard to believe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He if he keeps talking, then that‘s just going to be beyond comprehension.
HANSEN: Yet he does keep talking. And again, the chat quickly turns sexual. And believe it or not, again, he agrees to yet another date for sex. Our decoy asks if he wants to meet at McDonald‘s.
What do you suppose the odds are that a guy like that would agree to another meeting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would have said zero last night after watching what happened.
HANSEN: Well, specialguy29 defies the odds and agrees to meet.
But first, he confirms the meeting is not about food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really wanted to make sure it was about sex.
HANSEN: Sure enough, here he comes headed towards the McDonald‘s.
I have been in television for 24 years.
KINELLI: I just came to get something to eat.
HANSEN: And I have very seldom been at a loss for words.
KINELLI: Sir, I just came to get something to eat.
HANSEN: But I don‘t even know what to ask you first.
KINELLI: I just came to get something to eat.
HANSEN: He later changes his story.
Last night, you walked into a house in suburban Washington naked with a 12 pack of beer. Yes or no?
HANSEN: Yes. Today, you‘re on the Internet again. You have an inappropriate conversation with a boy you think is 13. And you set up a meeting here at this fast food restaurant. What was your intention?
KINELLI: I don‘t know.
HANSEN: The man admits he knows what he‘s doing is illegal.
Then why do you do it?
KINELLI: I need help and that‘s what I‘m seeing a psychiatrist for.
HANSEN: There are different reasons men choose to meet children for sex.
DAVID MARCUS, DR., CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Some of this may be a minority, have a primary attraction to that age group. Others are more looking for a situation where they can feel powerful. They can again explore part of themselves, try to do things in a situation where there is a power differential.
HANSEN: Whatever power they thought they had, it‘s lost as soon as they see me. And now they‘re about to learn I‘m not a parent or the police.
First, the rabbi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you please show me, tell me who you are?
HANSEN: I‘m more than happy to tell you who I am. I‘m Chris Hansen with “Dateline NBC”. And we‘re doing a story on computer predators.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on! You‘ve got to stop this.
HANSEN: Sit down. Sit down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don‘t have any right.
HANSEN: You‘re free to leave at any time.
Now they knew this was all being taped for the record and for broadcast on “Dateline.”
If there‘s anything else you want to say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.
HANSEN: The teacher.
And if there‘s anything else you‘d like to say, we‘d like to hear it.
And the man who stood naked in our kitchen.
KINELLI: Thank you.
I don‘t have anything else to say.
OLBERMANN: You see men from all walks of life caught in that “Dateline” sting. Up next, what parents need to know to help keep their kids safe from the online predators.
And the happier news, the signs of the season. The parade made its way yesterday past my house. (INAUDIBLE) knocking down a lamppost and injuring two bystanders. But one of the untold stories of one of the other big traditions of Christmas. Those stories ahead.
First, here are “Countdown‘s” top three sound bites.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you want to cook a turkey your kids will love. Do you know how to cook a turkey?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-huh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The kids gave us the secret recipe.
What do you want to put in the turkey? Whatever you want?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brownies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cheese.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cheese?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cheese.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cupcakes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely cupcakes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yuck!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it is. There‘s your stuffing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s gross!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t want none.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can‘t look either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) hungry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O‘BRIEN, COMEDIAN: That was something today, during the Macy‘s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is true. Part of the giant Barney balloon deflated and went limp. This is true. Yes, afterwards, Barney said, “I swear this has never happened before.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As we showed you earlier, “Dateline NBC‘s” hidden camera investigation uncovered a virtual parade of men showing up at a suburban Washington home, expecting to find underaged children there alone. Encounters arranged by Internet chatrooms.
Our number two story in the “Countdown”, protecting your kids from these online predators. While the men we‘ve shown you deny they were meeting—setting up meetings for sex, the conversations that led them to the child‘s supposed front door were all sexually oriented.
Once again, here‘s “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen on what every parent needs to know to increase the chance of keeping their kids safe.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day, online predators make their way into homes uninvited and unnoticed.
HANSEN: This public service announcement alerts parents that online predators are a very real danger and advises them to get educated.
MICHELLE COLLINS, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED
CHILDREN: If the technology is in your house, it‘s the parents‘ responsibility to protect their child.
HANSEN: Michelle Collins from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says the problem is so widespread, your child could be a victim and you may not even know it.
COLLINS: If there are phone calls arriving at your house that you don‘t know the person on the other end of the line, is your child or teenager receiving gifts? Do they have a webcam in their room that you didn‘t buy?
HANSEN: These are all warning signs.
COLLINS: These are all things that quite happen frequently in the many cases that we deal view and that we work with law enforcement on.
HANSEN: Collins says it‘s important for all of us parents to make certain computers are an open areas of our homes, not in kids‘ bedrooms. We should know who our children are talking to online and closely monitor their use of webcams.
COLLINS: The problem we‘ve been seeing recently, webcams. Many kids are finding themselves in problematic situations after having used a webcam. A combination of too much privacy, too much technology at a sexually curious age can really spell a disaster.
HANSEN: Child safety experts agree it‘s important for parents to take advantage of parental controls offered by Internet providers and use one of the many protective software programs currently available. And Collins has one other piece of advice.
COLLINS: One single most important, most basic piece of advice to give parents is to keep the communication lines open with your kids. If something happens online, it‘s more important that an adult find out about it than the child try to handle on it their own, because those cases don‘t always end well.
OLBERMANN: For more of Chris Hansen‘s reporting, and to learn more about the work of the group Perverted Justice, there is our Web site msnbc.com. And for even more advice for parents, stay tuned. At the top of the hour, Rita Cosby hosts a special hour of “Protecting Our Children Online” at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.
Let‘s make the hard turn into our round-up of celebrity and entertainment news. Keeping tabs. And we wish it were happier news unless you get some glee from the separation of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. Oh, yes, I forgot about that silver lining, didn‘t I?
The couple jointly have announced their separation the day before Thanksgiving, quoting “this is the mutual decision of two people with enormous amount of respect and admiration from each other. We hope that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.” People who were on a reality TV show.
In a current issue of a fanzine, Simpson denied there were marital problems. “Hopefully mine and Nick‘s story will continue for the rest of our lives like what we vowed through sickness and in health.”
And until 1984, he was best known as a stand-up comedian, a regular on “Happy Days” and almost constant guest on shows like “Sanford and Son”, “MASH” and “Love, American Style” and even briefly in his own sitcom, “Mr. T and Tina”.
And then came the movie, “The Karate Kid”. As Mr. Miyagi, Pat Morita got an Oscar nomination, repeated the role in the three sequels. A native Californian, who in his youth survived both spinal tuberculosis and an World War II interment camp. Pat Morita died yesterday at his home in Las Vegas. Natural causes, says his wife. He was 73-years old.
And an international tragedy finally reached its merciful end. George Best has also died. He was one of the greatest soccer players ever to appear on the planet. Unfortunately, he was an even greater alcoholic. A Belfast native, star goal scorer of the Manchester United team by the age of 17, he was so popular in the United Kingdom in the ‘60‘s that he was nicknamed the Fifth Beatle.
He later played in this country in Fort Lauderdale, L.A., and San Jose. But by then, he was already hopelessly addicted to alcohol. Nothing stopped him. Not the insertion of anti-alcohol pellets in 2001, nor a liver transplant a year later. He was caught on camera drinking this past summer.
Police are already estimating half a million people will line the streets of Belfast for his funeral. George Best was 59-years old.
Also tonight, you do not ordinarily see TV profiles of trees.
Then again, this is not an ordinary tree. That story ahead.
First, time for “Countdown‘s” list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world.
The bronze winner, William Swanberg (ph) of Reno, Nevada. Better known online to you Lego lovers as the proprietor of the Web site ricklink.com. For three years, he‘s been offering incredible discounts on the plastic building toys. How did he do it? Police say he stole them. $200,000 worth of Legos from dozens of Target stores in five western states.
But he‘s a piker compared to the runners up. Two custodians at the Casino Corona in the Kaniskagora (ph) ski resort in Slovenia. A woman cleaned up the place each night. They‘re the ones with the giant industrial vacuum cleaners. They have been fired after it turned out they were using said vacuum cleaners to suck the coins out of the slot machines, as much as $566,000 worth.
But the winner, Ann Coulter, speaking of sucking the coins out of the slot machine. Explaining to her readers, well, reader, that Saddam Hussein was working with al Qaeda and trying to buy uranium from Niger because she says so. She‘s also now accused all Democrats of longing “to see U.S. troops shot.”
So if you had November 25th as your pick in the pool for the exact day Ann Coulter could no longer be successfully defended at a sanity hearing, you‘re the winner. Ann Coulter, today‘s worst person in the world!
OLBERMANN: Its traditions date back to the early 1930s. It served as a sign of hope during the Great Depression, a symbol of patriotism and sacrifice during World War II. And at happier times, simply a beacon of holiday cheer.
Our number one story on the “Countdown,” the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The tree and its lighting have become as much an American tradition as fireworks on the 4th of July, or the ball drop on New Year‘s Eve. In 1931, the first Christmas tree was placed in the muddy construction site of what would become Rockefeller Center. And on Christmas Eve, workers gathered around that tree to collect the rare paycheck.
Our correspondent Mike Leonard reports now that now, the family that donates this tree may not get a paycheck, but it does get a reward nearly as rare.
MIKE LEONARD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It came from a small yard on a quiet street, this famous tree with humble roots.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s the best part of this here work with Rockefeller Center. They do take trees from people. They don‘t just go into a forest and pull a tree that means - has no meaning. These trees all mean something to people.
LEONARD: People we would never get to meet, were it not for their tree. Arnold Raquet of Wayne, New Jersey works in a sewage treatment facility. When he and his wife Gloria moved into this house back in 1963, their giant Norway spruce was only eight feet tall .
Why do you think the tree grew to be such a perfect tree? Did it have space? Did it have light?
ARNOLD RAQUET, NEW JERSEY: Yes, a little of everything. And you know, and care.
LEONARD: His wife‘s care.
RAQUET: She loved it. She loved this tree. She kept fertilizing it. Holes in the ground, put the fertilizer each year. And it got bigger and bigger and bigger.
LEONARD: Too big, in fact.
RAQUET: It got to the point where it‘s overlapping everything.
It‘s overlapping the house, overlapping people that live next door.
My neighbors tell me why don‘t I call up Rockefeller Center and see if they want it. And it‘s no, no, no. So they said, “Yes, yes.”
LEONARD: Well, why not? Why do think they.
RAQUET: I felt there‘s so many people requesting it, the chance is like one in 1000, like a lottery. So the neighbor says to me, would you mind if I write a letter for you? I said, no, go right ahead. And she did. And they acknowledged it.
LEONARD: And now Arnold and his tree are known to millions.
You know, some people say, well, I‘m just an average guy and these things don‘t happen to average guys.
RAQUET: You‘re right. I felt that way, too, but I see it does.
LEONARD: As for his wife.
RAQUET: She never dreamed that it would go. Never dreamed. I mean, if she was alive today, she‘d be so thrilled.
LEONARD: Arnold‘s wife died a few years ago. His only child, a married daughter with a new baby, lives in Delaware.
RAQUET: It‘s lonely. It‘s lonely. You can be in a crowd of a lot of people, but it ain‘t the same. We got along good.
LEONARD: How long married?
RAQUET: We were married 47 years when she died. It would have been 50 years next year.
LEONARD: So then why give away this reminder of his wife, the tree that she nurtured?
RAQUET: It‘s going to a go to a good cause. It‘s going to make people happy. I mean, what greater thing can you do with a tree? See that thing, look the way it is, it‘s beautiful.
LEONARD: Mike Leonard, NBC News, Wayne, New Jersey.
OLBERMANN: The Christmas season gets its unofficial kick-off in New York City with the lighting of that tree this Wednesday. And Arnold Raquet will be front and center as one of the guests of honor.
Up next, Rita Cosby with an MSNBC special report Protecting Our Children Online”.
That‘s “COUNTDOWN.” I‘m Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose.
Good night and good luck.
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