Guest: John Harwood, Andrew Goldberg
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Mr. Bush gets his wish. His rating climbs over 50 percent. His newest disapproval rating, 51. But he might not disapprove of this. Cindy Sheehan threatens Senator Dianne Feinstein if she doesn't filibuster the Alito nomination.
John Kerry drops the F-bomb from an economic summit in Switzerland, and the White House makes a funny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland.
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OLBERMANN: Where has the Jack Abramoff scandal gotten the hordes of D.C. lobbyists? Unemployed, and unaccompanied at lunch, that's where.
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NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Are you willing to say, No more, to the private jet?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Yes. And I stopped that before I introduced the bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Norah O'Donnell's special report on the new pariahs of politics, the lobbyists.
His family murdered outside Boston, he went home to England. Today, to the U.S. embassy in London for questioning, amid a swirl of rumors that Neil Entwistle will be returning to the U.S.
And you've written, you've e-mailed, you've asked why we didn't induct Oprah Winfrey into the COUNTDOWN Apology Hall of Fame. What's up with that?
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OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I am deeply sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Yes, me too. We will induct her tonight.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
The F-word. The prospects of a Supreme Court nomination filibuster today roared back into the center political stage from both wings.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, oddly enough, it's the Democrats under pressure here, John Kerry calling for the talking cure and creating a controversy within a controversy as he does so.
And, of all people, Cindy Sheehan so hopped up about it that this afternoon the antiwar protester threatened to challenge Dianne Feinstein for her California Senate seat if Feinstein does not filibuster the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Sheehan saying she was appalled Feinstein, quote, “wouldn't recognize how dangerous Alito's nomination is to upholding the values of our Constitution and restricting the usurpation of presidential powers.”
She was speaking at the World Social Forum in Venezuela, Senator Kerry speaking from an economic conference in Switzerland, although he was back on the Senate floor by the time the White House showed it was not above mischaracterizing the nature of his presence in the Alps.
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MCCLELLAN: It was a pretty historic day. This was the first time ever that a senator has called for a filibuster from the slopes of Davos, Switzerland. I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is a fight worth making, because it's a fight for the lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States with a series of decisions that suggest a view. The critical question here is, why are we so compelled to accept, in such a rush, a nominee who has so clearly been chosen for political and ideological reasons? That's the real question.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: The chances of a filibuster still look small, the Democrats to vote on their intentions Monday, majority leader Bill Frist hoping to give the president a pre-State of the Union gift on Tuesday, scheduling the final vote on the Alito Supreme Court nomination that morning at 11:00, 10 hours before the president speaks.
That address seen as the culmination of three months of nearly nonstop PR by President Bush, trying to sell a wary public on his policies for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, more recently on domestic spying, what appears to be a wash.
For the first time, Mr. Bush heading into a State of the Union address with a majority of Americans disapproving the job he is doing as president, 51 percent, according to the latest poll from “The New York Times.” The public also divided over Mr. Bush's domestic spying program, little more than half approving of his authorization of wiretaps without warrants, only one in the four of those Americans surveyed believing that the Bush administration has a clear plan for assisting those victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The president may have changed his tone, if not his tune, on some of these issues tonight, perhaps giving us, in fact, a preview of what might be a surprise if it carries into the State of the Union. He told CBS News this afternoon that on Tuesday night, he will discuss his hopes for calming the political strife of the nation, for, as he put it, “discourse without anger.”
Mr. Bush also seemed softer on the fury over the NSA spying, saying he understands the debate about wiretapping without warrants. Asked why he didn't just go to the FISA court and get those warrants himself, Mr. Bush replied, “I asked the very same question,” and “It wasn't an easy decision to make,” and that he was told the process would slow the hot pursuit of suspected terrorists.
“My dilemma and my problem is,” he continued, “I can't explain to you how it works without telling the enemy what we're doing.”
Time now to call in “Wall Street Journal” national political editor John Harwood for some analysis of this, and looking ahead to the State of the Union next week.
Good to see you again, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Let me start with this interview with Mr. Bush on CBS. “I understand the debate,” “It wasn't an easy decision to make,” “I asked that question.” Am I right here, is this not a significant change of tone? Had not the president pretty much dismissed his critics in the domestic spying controversy till now? What's happened here?
HARWOOD: Well, he's done a couple of things, Keith. He's been pretty aggressive in pushing back and casting the Democrats in a position that many of them would say they're not taking, that they don't want to listen to what al Qaeda is up to.
But he's also trying to show that he's not cavalier about really pressing the envelope on presidential authority, and showed that he took seriously the need to consult lawyers and determine whether in fact it was legitimate.
OLBERMANN: Is that going to be seen again, that less of a pushback, is that going to be seen again in the State of the Union?
HARWOOD: Well, you know, the quote you gave from the interview the president had with Bob Schieffer was striking, and it was like a quote the president gave to my colleagues at “The Wall Street Journal” when we interviewed him earlier in the week. He said he was going to call upon the better natures of those in Washington to have a civil debate.
Now, that's interesting, and it's a good rhetorical line. The president's tried to show that he's not insensitive to criticism and he's hearing other voices. But at the same time, you've got Karl Rove and the White House political strategists out there pushing very hard against Democrats, and saying that they have a pre-9/11 view of the world.
So, you know, the question is, can he sell the idea that he's trying to calm the political waters of the country? I'm not sure that that's a very easy thing for him to do.
OLBERMANN: Yes, if he uses better natures again, he's got to bring Lincoln into the discussion.
HARWOOD: Yes, exactly.
OLBERMANN: He better not claim that one for his own.
On the prospect of the Alito filibuster, it opened the door for that cheap shot from Mr. McClellan, it turned Cindy Sheehan around and pointed her back at the left rather than at the president. Have the Democrats lost the battle over that nomination, whether they filibuster or not?
HARWOOD: Keith, they've completely lost the political battle over the nomination, and they're also losing the politics of this. This is a pretty striking display of disarray by the Democratic Party. You've got John Kerry, who wants to run for president in 2008, who's trying to show activists within the party that he's willing to go to the barricades against Alito.
You've got Ted Kennedy in the Senate, who's trying to persuade liberal interest groups that the party hasn't forgotten them and that they're going to stand up and fight.
But they've got no chance to sustain this filibuster. And for Cindy Sheehan to say that, you know, Dianne Feinstein's going to be in trouble if she doesn't filibuster Alito, that's just not realistic.
The bigger risk is that Democrats in some of the vulnerable Senate seats will be put in a bad spot by looking like they're obstructing the president's choice, when even though, you know, there's a lot of division and controversy over Alito, he does have majority support in the U.S. Senate.
OLBERMANN: The blog entry from Nora Ephron this week listed at number nine among her 25 things people have a shocking capacity to be surprised by over and over again, Democratic performance, that they're disappointing. In a week where the Bush administration got really Clintonesque by getting out a stack of dictionaries and insisting that spying done in this country is really international and not domestic, this internal struggle over Alito is the best idea the Democratic Party could come up with?
HARWOOD: Well, I tell you, it is simply not a realization on the Democratic Party's part of the difficult spot the president's in. You know, one of the advantages a minority party has is to say look at the guys in charge, and count on their problems to be their ticket, if you will, in the fall elections.
Look at this president's press conference this week. He was on the defensive over the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, which endangers his whole effort in the Middle East, on NSA spying, on the Jack Abramoff photos, on his response to Hurricane Katrina.
The president, as those poll numbers you showed earlier, has got a lot of problems to begin with, and Democrats would do well to get out of the way and watch the president struggle with those.
OLBERMANN: Yes, they seem to be way too sympathetic towards his problems this week.
John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal,” as always, sir, have a good weekend.
HARWOOD: You too.
OLBERMANN: To one biographer, the president is nothing more than deeply misunderstood. In a 2004 newspaper column, the conservative pundit Fred Barnes described Mr. Bush as an insurgent president, playing by his own rules of engagement.
That columnist expounding on that theme in a new book, theorizing that the character traits, which are making life difficult now for the so-called “Rebel in Chief,” might be remembered fondly hundreds of years from now.
Our current White House correspondent David Gregory taking a look at that long view tonight.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush began the year behind, still hobbled by the mistakes of 2005, the worst year of his presidency. Yet a leading conservative commentator and author of the new book “Rebel in Chief,” Fred Barnes, argues that Bush is no less the insurgent leader he's always been.
FRED BARNES, AUTHOR, “REBEL IN CHIEF”: He's still snubbing his nose at Washington, he's rebelling against the Washington community and against its conventional wisdom and all its practices.
GREGORY: Perhaps. But with the State of the Union next week, Barnes admits the president needs some new ideas.
BARNES: And he'll return to a greater emphasis on domestic policy, health care, energy, and taxes.
GREGORY (on camera): Let's do some quick takes.
GREGORY: For this year. U.S. troops in Iraq.
BARNES: Well, they'll be reduced, close to 100,000, leaving close to 100,000.
GREGORY: Social Security.
BARNES: That was a part of the disaster in 2005, and won't be much on the agenda in 2006.
GREGORY: Rebuilding New Orleans.
BARNES: The president believes in this, spending a lot of money on it, and will, and conservatives will complain.
GREGORY: Midterm elections.
BARNES: Democrats were supposed to do well in 2002 and didn't (INAUDIBLE) in the midterm. They'll do better in 2006.
GREGORY (voice-over): In “Rebel in Chief,” Barnes suggests the Bush presidency has been undermined by myths, for example, that the president's faith dictates policy.
BARNES: But when you go back, and people have gone back and looked to see, has he talked more about his faith than, say, Bill Clinton did, or other presidents? And the answer is no.
GREGORY: Bush, Barnes writes, has helped to create a slim Republican majority in America, with the key being inroads among Hispanic voters, the largest growing voting bloc in the country.
Does the president have a favorite in '08?
BARNES: There's one potential candidate that would be his candidate, or maybe two. Neither one is running. Those are Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is, you know, just like a sister to Bush.
GREGORY: For all Bush has done, Barnes argues his legacy boils down to whether democracy and stability can be achieved in Iraq. The president, Barnes writes, takes the long view, noting three recent biographies about George Washington.
BARNES: He said what's amazing about it is, here are these books, 200-plus years after the Washington presidency, people are still evaluating that presidency.
GREGORY: For Bush, a consequential and controversial presidency, still taking shape.
David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, David. We'll check back in the year 2206.
Also among next week's coming attractions, the start of the Scooter Libby trial a week from today. Write that one down in pencil, though. The lawyers for the vice president's former chief of staff still demanding more evidence tonight, Libby's legal team arguing yesterday in a filing to the judge that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should surrender much of the information he has gathered from news organizations and their reporters.
You know, stuff like the identity of all of the reporters who knew that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA, who they learned it from, anyone else they might have told afterwards, in a perjury and obstruction of justice case pretty much asking the prosecution to tip its entire hand.
Stay tuned for the outcome as details become available.
Also tonight, as reporters search for those elusive Abramoff photos, lobbyists search for anybody on Capitol Hill still willing to meet with them. Norah O'Donnell's special report on the chilling effect of the Abramoff scandal.
And new developments today in the murder of a Massachusetts mother and her infant, the husband facing questioning at the American embassy in London.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Forty-eight visits to golf clubs and resorts, 100 flights (INAUDIBLE) company airplanes, 200 hotel stays, $200 dinners for two, all of them over a six-year period, all of them attributed to Representative Tom DeLay or his associates in a report last December based on public documents.
And every bit of it may have been legal, but all of it, and all of its kind, is under far greater scrutiny now through the lens, or the looking-glass, of the Jack Abramoff scandal.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, though it may take some time to sort out what was illegal and what merely stank, there is a chill descending over Washington, and the lobbyists are locked outside without parkas.
Our special report tonight from MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.
NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
For a rare glimpse of how Washington really works, take a look inside Charlie Palmer's Steak House, just steps from Capitol Hill, where lobbyists regularly wine and dine lawmakers and their staff.
BRYAN VOLTAGGIO, CHARLIE PALMER'S STEAK HOUSE: A good amount of our business does come from the Hill.
O'DONNELL: But executive chef Bryan Voltaggio is worried that's about to change, because of what many now call the Jack Abramoff effect, and regulations that may now restrict lobbyists from picking up the check.
It can be devastating in a town where there are 50 lobbyists for every one member of Congress.
VOLTAGGIO: For the restaurant industry, I think that, you know, it would definitely have an effect.
O'DONNELL: Even as Congress debates new ethics rules, many in Washington say the Abramoff lobbying scandal has already created a chilling effect.
JON DOGGER, NATIONAL CORN GROWERS ASSOCIATION: Some folks that we've taken to lunch that said, Well, this may be the last time I'm going to have lunch with a lobbyist.
O'DONNELL: Jon Dogger is a lobbyist for the National Corn Growers Association.
DOGGER: I think it's interesting that there are some proposals, you know, in the Congress saying that we can't buy a staff person a $10 hamburger, but we certainly can go ahead and take that same member of Congress out for a meal, as long as we have a $2,500 PAC check.
O'DONNELL: It's true that ever since Jack Abramoff struck a deal to tell all, Washington has been in a kind of funk. Golf, especially in Scotland, is a big no-no. Luxury skyboxes around town are suddenly empty. And all those private jets supplied by corporations are grounded.
(on camera): So are you ready to say, No more, to the private jets?
MCCAIN: Yes. And I stopped that before I introduced the bill.
O'DONNELL: Yes, even the leading advocate for reform, John McCain, admits to some belt tightening as lawmakers promise to play by the rules while they debate how far to go to restrict how Washington has done business for decades.
For COUNTDOWN, I'm Norah O'Donnell in Washington.
OLBERMANN: Norah, great thanks.
His wife and baby were murdered in their home in Massachusetts. Instead of staying to grieve or to rage, he instead fled to his home town in Great Britain. Today, Neil Entwistle was questioned inside the American embassy in London.
And a bizarre scene caught on a dashcam. Nothing to see here, officer. These kids in the trunk? They're mine. They wanted to ride back there.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Back now, and we pause the COUNTDOWN. Look, I'm going to give this to you straight. I'm just not all here tonight. It's Friday, it's nearly Chinese New Year, and just bought a new car. I mean, I'm really psyched about this new car. It's a white 2006 Ford Taurus, and they're delivering to me right after the show tonight, right out here. So I'm pretty much mailing it in until I get my sweet new ride delivered to me here tonight.
So, let's play Oddball.
Taking a look at Oddball traffic, well, it looks like a major backup on the COUNTDOWN (INAUDIBLE). Hey, isn't that the Jersey Turnpike? Hey, it's Secaucus, that's right outside the building here. Wonder what could be caught -- My car!
Actually, six cars went up in smoke before the firemen could extinguish the blaze, it says here. Traffic was snarled for three hours because of the fire. And I guess I'm walking back through the Lincoln Tunnel tonight. Yeah, NOBODY saw that gag coming. I don't even drive.
Well, at least it is almost Chinese New Year, so fire up the dog circus. In Hong Kong, they commemorate the Year of the Dog by forcing dogs to entertain humans. Thanks. Ten dogs wowed scores of onlookers with some tightrope walking, neckerchief wearing, and some nifty trapeze work. Whee. Wow, dogs on trapezes, only seen that about a million times. Let's see you do it blindfolded, huh?
All right, now they're going to make them to it blindfolded. It's a trick they learned in the old country. All right. Big whoop. Let's see you now stop soiling the rug.
Finally, the stuff we found on the Internets. This is a giant robotic elephant. We're calling him Robostampy (ph). All we know about Robostampy is that he was part of a parade in France last year. He's pretty slow. There are a bunch of guys riding on him.
And Monica Novotny's father discovered this videotape. Seriously, the reporter gene is inherited. Every once in a while, Robostampy sprayed some (INAUDIBLE) water into the crowd, then lopes forward, perhaps on his way to destroy the rebel base on (INAUDIBLE).
Happily while this glorious piece of Internet bliss will immediately fade from your memory, we all know a robot elephant never forgets, unless you spill a Diet Pepsi on its motherboard.
Also tonight, Oprah Winfrey's little mess, James Frey's perfidy. We'll follow the trail of the investigation. We'll induct Oprah into our Hall of Fame, the one and only and original Apology Hall of Fame. And we'll tell you something, after all this, that you will not believe about James Frey's book that is still true tonight.
And car-chase school, for the police, but for the sake of the bystanders.
Those stories ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Sharon Dunlap, pulled over for DUI in Jacksonville, Florida. Sadly, nothing unusual in that kind of story, except that Ms. Dunlap was driving the local Bloodmobile.
Number two, Virginia state delegate Jack Reid. He was trying to unload his handgun at his office at the Capitol when the gun fired and sent a bullet across the room right into a gag gift he had hung on the back of his office door, a souvenir bulletproof vest. Nice aim.
Number one, a newsmaker update. Remember Hirohito Shibuya, the 57-year-old Tokyo man who said he'd had a dream in which he was told about an incantation he could say that would make young women attracted to him? Police went to his home, where 11 such young women lived with him. And they discovered something. The incantation was apparently, Sa iwoo-i yasu tostondon okau (ph). Loosely translated, that means, Buy a stun gun and tear gas.
He was holding the women hostage with a TASER.
OLBERMANN: Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, a trio of very different crimes with very different conclusions. In a moment, how a stranger's intuition rescued two kids. How a mother's stupidity put three of her children in a trunk and in danger. But we begin now with new developments in a murder mystery in Massachusetts. Rachel Entwistle and her nine-month-old daughter Lillian found shot to death in their, the husband, Neil Entwistle surfacing thousands of miles away in England.
As Paul Davies of our British affiliate, ITN, reports, even though he is now talking with detectives, he's still not considered a suspect in the murder.
PAUL DAVIES, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The team of detectives who traveled from Massachusetts to London to talk to Neil Entwistle about the murder of his wife and child leave the American embassy tonight with the first part of their mission accomplished. Thousands of miles from the scene of the murder they met the 27-year-old Briton and spent the afternoon questioning him.
Mr. Entwistle is seen here leaving his parents home in Werksop (ph) heading for that meeting, accompanied by police officers, though Nottinghamshire police say he is not under arrest. They've already said he could be a potential witness to the murder of his wife Rachel and baby daughter Lillian.
Their bodies had been found at the family's luxury home in Boston last weekend. They had both been shot. It's not known when or why Neil Entwistle left the United States, but American detectives said he made contact with them after his return to Britain.
(on camera): A police spokesman in Massachusetts tonight said Neil Entwistle may now return to America to help them but it would be his own decision. He remained what the spokesman described as a person of interest to their investigation but he hadn't been charged. There is in cause to arrest anyone at this stage.
Paul Davies, ITV News, at the American embassy.
OLBERMANN: As that story unfolds on and puzzles the instincts of two continents, the gut of one eagle-eyed woman in Alabama saved two allegedly abused children. Our correspondent there is Ron Mott.
RON MOTT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As general manager of an automobile leadership in Atlanta, Tracie Dean is used to closing deals.
TRACIE DEAN, HELPED IN SEX ABUSE CASE: I just knew something wasn't right. I just felt it.
MOTT: That's why she pushed hard to find the story behind a troubling look this little girl gave her at this convenience store in rural Alabama.
DEAN: It was a look to me that I consider lacking love. Know what I mean? There's no connection there.
MOTT: She felt uneasy enough about the older man who left with the girl to jot down his license plate.
DEAN: The suspicion was that she didn't belong with that man.
MOTT: And for a week she obsessed. Checked missing kids Web sites and called several law enforcement agencies, contacted “America's Most Wanted” but nothing happened until she drove back to the store to look at surveillance video. At 1:00 in the morning while watching that tape, someone finally bought her story. A sheriff's deputy walked into the store. Now 58-year-old John Wiley and his 40-year-old wife Glenna Fay Cavender are charged with multiple sex crimes against a three-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy in their trailer.
TOMMY CHAPMAN, D.A., CONECUH COUNTY: A three-year-old girl to have this done to her is unthinkable. And I know we're not going to tolerate it.
MOTT: But why did it take anyone so long to get anyone to believe Tracie's story? Child welfare advocates say it's a good thing this whistleblower kept trying.
GEORGIA HILGEMAN-HAMMOND, VANISHED CHILDREN'S ALLIANCE: Sometimes they have to be persistent until something happens. Because that squeaky wheel could save a child's life.
MOTT: Or in Tracie Dean's case, two children. Ron Mott, NBC News, Atlanta.
OLBERMANN: And more apparent criminals and more video cameras. This time in Thurmont, Maryland, looking like a routine traffic stop until police pull up behind Lenora Lucas, she pops the trunk, and out of her trunk climbs three children. Her nine-year-old and her three-year-old daughter and her son's eight-year-old friend. Ms. Lucas said the kids asked her if they could ride in the trunk so she let them.
She's now been sentenced to probation and community service but unfortunately, no parenting classes.
Dash cams also bringing us inside the ever present car chase. A new wrinkle in that tonight. Police going back to school in hopes of making innocent bystanders remain bystanders during the manhunts. And a close call on the road for an Oscar favorite. Details ahead, but first, this special edition of COUNTDOWN's top three soundbites of this day. First it was “Saturday Night Live” for Janet Reno, now she's singing it up at the a Florida fundraiser. So to the former attorney general and all politicians with a penchant for performing, we salute you.
COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The president came to me and said, Colin, I'm sure you'll agree .
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I've been watching you do that on television and would like the demonstrate for you the Al Gore version of the Macarena. Would you like to see it again?
OLBERMANN: Those high speed police car chases keep coming as well as warnings by experts that most of the time that chase is not worth the risk to innocent life. So in our number two story on THE COUNTDOWN tonight, when the L.A. Police Department comes up with a car chase school it should be met with wariness, especially if recruits are talking about how exciting it is to go fast and catch a bad guy at the same time. Our correspondent is Peter Alexander.
PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are high speeding, sideswiping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at this. He's hitting all sorts of cars.
ALEXANDER: Wrong way running.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he's going now the wrong way. He's going westbound now in the eastbound lanes.
ALEXANDER: Car chases that turns roads into race tracks and mesmerize audiences watching the old game of cop and robbers play out from home. But these spectacles are not without real risk. Police in Texas released this dashboard video of a chase that reached more than 100 miles an hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) the fire department he just hit a van.
ALEXANDER: The suspect slammed head first into a minivan. Amazingly no one was seriously hurt. A police pursuit in Houston ended in another head-on collision involving a car with an infant inside. Again no one was hurt. In Los Angeles, the so-called car chase capital of the country, these rookie recruits are learning to drive fast safely.
KELLIE OUISPEL, LAPD RECRUIT: It's exciting. It's exhilarating. You get to go fast and catch a bad guy at the same time.
ALEXANDER: Forty hours of training and a series of behind the wheel challenges like surviving a skid on extremely slick pavement. In the last year LAPD officers have added a new maneuver to their arsenal, aimed at putting an early end to potentially long and dangerous chases. It's called PIT, Pursuit Intervention Technique.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They PITed him! They PITed him.
ALEXANDER: Where a patrol car bumps the runaway vehicle from behind spinning it off track.
(on camera): On this course, recruits train for short chases, because even though on TV high speed pursuits seem to go on for hours. In L.A. last year nearly 2/3 ended within the first three minutes.
(voice-over): But it's the epic police pursuits that grab our attention and raise safety concerns. The vast majority of people the cops chase are not wanted for serious crimes. LAPD recruits are taught the balance test.
OFFICER BOB ORGAN, LAPD INSTRUCTOR: When the pursuit is going on it's a constant assessment. And when the danger becomes to great to the public or to the officer, you have to call it off.
ALEXANDER: The final exam? Circle the test track, casing an instructor in a simulated pursuit. Recruit Gary Parker just passed.
(on camera): The dos and don'ts. The dos of driving her are what?
GARY PARKER, LAPD RECRUIT: Drive fast. Drive safe, catch the bad guy.
PARKER: Don't crash, don't injure yourself or others or property.
ALEXANDER (voice-over): Still, instructors remind students all of their training occurs on a controlled course.
PARKER: Out in the field, the unexpected happens unfortunately much too often.
ALEXANDER: These recruits are confident the next time it happens to them, they'll be ready. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: It's an unfortunately easy segue tonight into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” The actor Joaquin Phoenix both unlucky and lucky. He crashed his car but walked away uninjured. He was driving on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, or near it in any event in L.A. in mid-afternoon when he realized his brakes were not working and lost control of the car on a canyon road, it overturned, it hit another vehicle moving in the same direction but Phoenix was wearing a seat belt and a passerby helped him out of his car. He exchanged information with the other driver in the accident. But no police report was filed. No reports of injuries.
Phoenix won a Golden Globe award for portraying Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line.” If he goes to the Oscars, though, he may want to consider a limo.
And another former “Friends” star going back to TV. Matthew Perry on NBC but it's not a comedy, Perry will join a one hour drama written by “West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin. The story is set behind of a long-running sketch comedy series. Like a “Saturday Night Live.” A drama about a comedy show. The as yet untitled program will cast Perry as a genius comic writer who is forced out of his job as executive producer after a fight with his fictional network called UBS, an homage, perhaps, to the movie “Network.”
Sorkin wrote the part with Perry in mind. As for Sorkin, this is his first non political series since “Sports Night.” A behind the scenes look at an all sports cable network and its two lovable but complex star anchorman based on Dan Patrick and—what was that guy's name that worked with Dan Patrick?
After the James Frey experience, Oprah Winfrey may have wishing that she had forgot how to read. Let around should have forgotten to form a book club.
We'll try to make up to her by inducting her into the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” and we'll piece together how the “Smoking Gun” took “A Million Little Pieces” out of the fire and into the James Freying pan.
That's ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”
The Ford Motor Company, as of next Wednesday only employees that will be able to park in the lot next to its truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, will be the ones driving Fords. Can't imagine how that company got screwed up.
Silver tonight, another, quote, “joke,” unquote, from Ann Coulter, told an audience in Philander Smith College in Arkansas last night that, quote, “We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee.” Then added, quote, “That's just a joke for you in the media.”
OK. Here's another one. I'm not sure Ann Coulter doesn't work for Osama bin Laden. That's just a joke for you in the media.
Speaking of jokes, tonight's winner. Him again. He walked right into another propeller. He's ripped us here on MSNBC on the air for not supposedly covering the case of Judge Edward Cashman of Vermont, the guy who sentenced a serial child rapist there to 60 days in jail initially. Here's the thing, Bill, the Judge Cashman story, we covered it here on COUNTDOWN on January 6 of this year. You didn't start covering it until January 9. By the way, in the when does he have his actual nervous breakdown pool, I bought the month of November. Bill O'Reilly, once again, today's “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: As you know, we never waste your time with references to other newscasts or networks, not more than once every 15 minutes or so any way. But we need to note that last night former colleagues of mine in another cable news outfit actually assembled a report called “The Art Of The Apology” placing Oprah Winfrey's mea culpa in the great sorries of all time.
Yes, it was the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” without the COUNTDOWN part.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the real thing proceeded by the equivalent of the induction speech for Ms. Winfrey and for the still not too apologetic James Frey. How on earth did this book ever get published as nonfiction in the first place? Especially insomuch as it was first submitted as fiction, rejected 17 different times. Doubleday's publisher Nan Talese said on Winfrey's program she read the book and never questioned any of it because she believed the author. Even though as is now quite apparent there were so many unbelievable exploits in there. She said it was legally vetted it was never fact checked which is par for the course in publishing these days.
You can be all righteous and moral in all of that, turns out, simplest thick not to make stuff up is that as smart as you think you are, somebody else out there is probably smarter and may catch you. Somebody like Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of thesmokinggun.com, the online publication that found and detailed the proof of James Frey's fabrications. Thanks for your time.
ANDREW GOLDBERG, MANAGING EDITOR, THESMOKINGGUN.COM: Thanks for inviting me.
OLBERMANN: Well, congratulations on this expose. Obviously, if they ever did, nobody fact checks memoirs anymore. I'm assuming you don't do this for every book in comes down the pike. How did you happen to find out that there were problems with this one?
GOLDBERG: We don't want to become the book police at all. Basically
it started very simply. We were just looking for a mug shot, when that
didn't come up, look that started the ball rolling. And we spoke to a
prosecutor. We showed him a few pages from the book where they should have
been. He said, look some of these charges weren't even on the books at the
times you say these probably happened if this book is true. So just for us
· then we decided to read the book closely.
OLBERMANN: Did Frey himself have a lot of evidence that would have helped your investigation along or anyone from a publisher who might have wanted to bother to vet this thing?
GOLDBERG: Well he told—he had said a number of times including to Oprah Winfrey on her show he had 400 pages of documents that he had written this off, including legal records. We asked him to see those records. They didn't exist. All he was willing to offer up to us were people who were going to come forward and vouch for him. But that doesn't really serve much of a purpose to us because if we don't trust you, why should we trust those vouching for you?
OLBERMANN: When you started your investigation, you were threatened with legal repercussions from Mr. Frey and now he has to go on national TV and say, by the way, you guys did a good job. What was the emotion watching that show yesterday for you and the people you work with?
FREY: He threatened a legal action actually after we'd laid out our story to him, just a day or so before we published. We said this is what we've gotten and he came after us with this lawyer's letter threatening millions of dollars. For us, look, we had absolute faith in the story and seeing him say it was a true story, he was the only one questioning us. There was no legitimate outlet out there that said “The Smoking Gun” got it wrong. There was a debate of how relevant that he was that he was the wrong.
So we felt good.
OLBERMANN: He has this other book that's on the best seller list here. “My Friend Leonard.” Is anybody checking that?
GOLDBERG: I would say there are probably people out there, maybe some people you're talking to right now who are still looking at the book. You continue looking because you want to end the story and you want to end by solving all your own personal question. Look, I'll tell you, in that book there are dates that don't make sense. He calls himself younger than his girlfriend Lily in that book and then you see her tombstones and - he calls himself younger and suddenly he's older if you look at the dates that he puts in the book and so it doesn't work basic factually.
So there are problems there that should be looked at as well.
OLBERMANN: Oh here we go again. Is anybody else suddenly scrambling to cover their own memoirs do you suppose? Suddenly “fact” is going to be back in in nonfiction?
GOLDBERG: I think the publishing industry may want to look at itself and figure that out. We're not going to become the memoir police. I think we're done reading memoirs after this one.
OLBERMANN: But the impact I'm sure that it's had on your Web site must make it palatable to do this occasionally. Will you have like a book of the month club?
GOLDBERG: We're going to get a stamp which says “Approved by the Smoking Gun” at the end of all of this.
OLBERMANN: Like the “Good Housekeeping” thing or the Oprah thing. In fact, you could get one, couldn't you that would go over the Oprah seal? How about that?
GOLDBERG: Right across like a ribbon or a sash maybe.
OLBERMANN: Is it simply in your opinion that everybody else had gotten away with this before that led him to try to get away with this time?
GOLDBERG: I just get the feeling with him that the ball started rolling. You get publishers involved, you start promoting it. And people are patting you on the back and talking about your story. Then Oprah steps in. And suddenly the dollar signs are there. What are you going do? Back away? That doesn't seem reasonable for most people to do.
OLBERMANN: Maybe now it will. Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of thesmokinggun.com. Congratulations again. Great thanks for the effort and thanks for joining us.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Only one other person smelling merely soiled here, never mind clean. Oprah Winfrey herself, the “New York Times” editorial page today saying, quote, “Winfrey gave the audience including us what it was hoping for, a demand to hear the truth.”
And her shows hometown paper, “The Chicago Tribune” saying, “You have to hand it to Oprah after digging in her heels to defend a liar. She got up in front of the whole world and said, “I was wrong.”
That's right. We're so not used to straightforward apologies in this country that we're gushing over somebody just doing the right thing for a change while getting herself covered in big, fat TV ratings. Then again look at the COUNTDOWN hall of fame into which we're inducting Ms. Winfrey tonight and the contrast is extraordinary.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I feel about “A Million Little Pieces” although some of the facts have been questioned, that the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me. And I know that it resonates with millions of other people.
I regret that phone call. I made a mistake. And I left the impression that the truth does not matter. And I am deeply sorry about that.
JAMES FREY: I—I—I—I wrote it from memory. I .
WINFREY: Let him speak. Please let him speak.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry I did it. I'm sorry it offended people.
And I apologize to people that this has offended.
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it also, I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Personally, I didn't think it would have offended anyone.
If it did, we apologize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. So, so sorry that the mistakes .
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces I offer my deepest apology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I apologize to anybody that's been brought into this unnecessarily.
ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER: I feel so bad, my band started playing the wrong song. I had no excuse. I thought I'd do a hoedown. I'm sorry.
JANET JACKSON, SINGER: And unfortunately the whole thing went wrong in the end. I am really sorry.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife.
KOBE BRYANT, BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm so sorry. I love my wife so much.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, ® MS: In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior. I don't feel superior to you at all. I don't believe any man or any woman is superior to any other .
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you always hold that view?
LOTT: I think I did.
TONYA HARDING, FIGURE SKATER: I feel really bad for Nancy. And I feel really lucky it wasn't me.
JAY LENO, TALK SHOW HOST: What the hell were you thinking?
HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I think you know in life pretty much what is good thing to do and what is a bad thing to do, and I did a bad thing. And there you have it.
STEVE IRWIN, CROCODILE HUNTER: Sweetheart, who do you want to be when you grow up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just like my daddy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steve, Steve. Let me .
IRWIN: Poor little thing. I'm sorry, Max.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGAR, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: Yes, I have been behaved badly sometimes. To those people that I have offended, I want to say that I'm deeply sorry about that and I apologize.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: Some of my judgments were wrong and some were wrong. They were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation.
JIMMY BAKKER, FORMER TELEVANGELIST: Please forgive me. I have sinned against you, my Lord. And I will ask that your precious blood .
OLBERMANN: By the way, despite all of this, tonight, the “New York Times” bestseller list paperback division nonfiction category is still topped by “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey. That's COUNTDOWN. Keep your knees loose. A reminder to join us again at midnight Eastern, 11:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 Pacific for the late edition of COUNTDOWN. Until then, a special presentation of MSNBC INVESTIGATES, “Lockup, Inside San Quentin” is next. Do enjoy that.
I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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