Guest: Dana Milbank, Fay Vincent
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Dubai, or don’t I? A West Wing showdown between the president and GOP leaders, followed by a statement on the Senate floor from John Warner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O Ports North America to a United States entity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Were they pushed, or did they jump? Is it a compromise, or an end run?
Deal or no deal? Baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s reported 2004 offer to Barry Bonds, ‘Fess up now, or face consequences later. He chose the latter. Selig is reportedly now considering a suspension. Former commissioner Faye Vincent is our guest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was kind of like a whirlwind of passion, and then all the fun, and he just seemed as though he wasn’t very interested...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Might as well face it, he’s addicted to porn. X-rated Internet sites may affect more than your private life. Eighteen million customers just had their private info revealed.
Up Mars, up Saturn, up go the chances of water on one of the moons of Saturn. Thus, up go the chances of life elsewhere in our solar system, maybe even at Fox News Channel.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on phone): (INAUDIBLE) from Fox News security. I was wondering if you could give me a phone call, please...
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Fox security, caught on tape. We’ll talk to the evildoer who named he who must not be named, me, on Bill O’Reilly’s show.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RADIO FACTOR”)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (on phone): ... Keith Olbermann’s show...
BILL O’REILLY, HOST: There you go, Mike. He’s, he’s a gone guy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from Tampa, Florida.
The anxiety was almost palpable at the vast shipping port in this city, and the ones in Miami and in Texas, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, Rhode Island, New York, Maine.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, here come the puns. Dubai to all that. The United Arab Emirates-owned company, Dubai Ports World, announcing that it will voluntarily hand over operations in all U.S. ports to an American entity, the surprise decision staving off an 11th-hour showdown between the White House and Congress over the deal to shift control from a British-based company to the Dubai firm.
The House Appropriations Committee, controlled by the GOP, had already voted 62 to 2 to block the transfer. Then, just as Senate Republicans were preparing a vote to try and block a Democratic amendment to a lobbying reform bill that would have killed the ports deal, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee read out the extraordinary statement from the company.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARNER: “Because of the strong relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the United States, and to preserve that relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the U.S. operation of P&O Ports North America to a United States entity.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The announcement did not stop that Senate vote, which, in fact, failed to put an end to the debate over the port transfer, Democrats now saying they want specifics of the announcement by Dubai Ports World before they decide on whether to press ahead with deal-killing legislation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Obviously, we will look at every proposal that we can. But the devil is in the details.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Regardless, the company’s decision seemingly saving the good cargo ship White House. Representative Peter King told by the president, quote, “This is good news for all of us,” especially, one presumes, considering that Mr. Bush had already been told buy Republican leaders this morning that both houses of Congress were ready to block the deal if necessary.
Joining me now, the national political reporter of “The Washington Post,” Dana Milbank.
Good evening, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: On the face of this, Republicans don’t need to dis the president, the president won’t need to make his first veto ever, the company owned by the UAE won’t be in charge of American ports. Is the president right? Is this good news for all of us?
MILBANK: Well, politically it’s good news for pretty much everybody. The president has his face-saving way out, Congress got to flex its muscle; the Democrats think they look good.
The country doesn’t look terribly good in the eyes of the world. We look like a bunch of xenophobes. The real danger is if everybody declares victory now and says, Right, we’ve taken care, the ports are all safe, and we move on, when, in fact, all this pointed out that the ports are glaringly unsafe. This deal actually had nothing to do with the safety of the ports, but the dangers, we do nothing to actually fix them now.
OLBERMANN: Returning to the political end of it, the decision by Dubai Ports—Port World—Ports World, rather, we’re dealing in speculation about the details. But by all accounts, it appeared that Congress certainly was going to go against the president’s express wishes on it, block it, make it a law to block it. With all that happening, even the way this has turned out, did Mr. Bush still receive his unofficial T-shirt this week that reads, I was a lame-duck president, and all I got was this lousy ports deal?
MILBANK: Well, we don’t want to be too premature. I mean, he’s certainly starting to waddle, if he’s not quite quacking.
I think what this shows us is that on matters of domestic affairs, the Congress said, Right, thank you, Mr. President, for five or six good years, we’re going to take it from here. Now, where we don’t want to dismiss the president is (INAUDIBLE) real matters of international affairs. If there’s a crisis suddenly, a powerful executive is back.
You can’t completely cross him off the list right now, but in terms of getting big domestic policies through, already the Congress is defying him on—they’re defying him now on aviation security, they’re defying him on health savings account, defying him on Medicare. The domestic agenda’s really not going anywhere.
OLBERMANN: And you don’t want to be a lame duck any earlier than you have to when you’ve got a vice president who likes to go hunting.
Mr. Bush has two years left in the term. The list of things that need his attention keeps growing and growing, Iraq, the showdown now with Iran over the nuclear weapons, Hurricane Katrina cleanup. What happens over the next 21 months if he has really been politically neutered, or is approaching that point?
MILBANK: Well, the same thing that happened right around 1998 for Bill Clinton. The presidential candidates start taking things into their own hands, and it moves on from there.
It’s not entirely negative in this situation to have a weaker president. Think about the way this president’s been behaving in sort of exercising extraordinary executive power. So the fact that Congress is kind of waking up and asserting some of its prerogatives is not entirely a bad thing.
OLBERMANN: It turns out that the administration is not just getting criticism from the Democrats and from certain Republicans, but it’s now been slammed by, of all people, Faith Hill and her husband, Timothy McGraw. Both of them, the country singers, bashing the president for not doing enough to help the victims of the hurricane in the South. Now, is that it? Is that the final nail? Do you know you’re in trouble when country music stars go after you? Are they going to write a song about him now?
MILBANK: They’re already singing a new tune up on Capitol Hill.
It’s, How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?
But it’s a grim sign for our president, as if he needs any more.
OLBERMANN: A chastened Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post,” not singing that song for us, as he might have previously before the ombudsman came after him.
Thanks for joining us, Dana.
MILBANK: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The debate over the Dubai ports deals overshadowing the other main piece of legislation before the Senate, a bill to overhaul lobbying rules. The GOP declared the party’s third-ranking member in the Senate, Rick Santorum, its Mr. Clean on the subject. He promised abstinence, and they put him in charge of leading the Republican push for reform.
And it turns out Santorum is still regularly meeting with K Street’s finest. Facing heavy criticism from Democrats back in January, the senator pledged to end his regular meetings with lobbyists in the Capitol, but “The Washington Post” reporting today that the only thing that’s changed since then is the location of the meetings, Senator Santorum still visiting with lobbyists at the same hour, about 8:30 a.m., on the same day of the week, Tuesday.
But his aides say this is different from the old meetings, because these center on fundraising efforts for Senator Santorum’s reelection campaign in Pennsylvania, and not on getting the GOP message out to interested parties in Washington.
Well, just so long as there’s a clear and convincing ethical line in the sand.
To assess if there truly is one, I’m joined now by MSNBC’s David Shuster in Washington.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC NEWS: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Correction, in Memphis. How egregious is this, David? Santorum, in charge of lobbying reform, promises to end the meetings with lobbyists, and still meeting with dozens of lobbyists?
SHUSTER: Well, it’s not fatal, but again, for Rick Santorum, I mean, this is death by a thousand cuts, because he’s facing a huge Senate battle with Bob Casey, Jr. This is a race in which both sides expect to spend $25 million each. High-profile people are flying in to campaign for Rick Santorum and for his opponent.
And on one day, to be talking about lobbyists and whether he’s part of the K Street lobby, and whether he’s having these meetings or not having the meetings, on another day to be talking about possible favorable terms for his mortgage, on another day to be talking about his charity, and (INAUDIBLE) whether the Better Business Bureau thinks that it’s taking too much money for overhead—all of this has a huge cumulative effect, which is just awful news for Rick Santorum at a time when polls already show him behind his challenger by 12 to 15 points.
OLBERMANN: As you just indicated, he seems to be in serious danger of losing that Senate seat, the Democratic contender, Robert Casey, ahead in the polls. But is the lobbying thing resonating with voters there? Or something else? I mean, don’t they just by this point expect officials and lobbyists to be in bed together?
SHUSTER: Well, it’s part and parcel of the overall problem that Rick Santorum has. Remember, it’s a good thing when you’re the number three Republican leadership and things are going well in Washington. It’s very bad when a lot of people don’t like President Bush, when the overall ratings for the president and his supporters are very low, and when there’s now this perception that the Republican Party, the party in power, is tainted because of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist problems, because of issues like K Street.
And Rick Santorum gets sucked into all of that, and that’s where his problem is. He can no longer say, Hey, I’m the number three Republican in the Senate, look at me. Now he’s got to somehow get away from that, because it carries a lot of baggage that is essentially going to block him, perhaps, from having a huge chance in the Senate race.
OLBERMANN: Bigger picture, the lobbying arm, the lobbying group has never been so powerful, the proverbial K Street, where these firms have most of their offices. It’s booming. Even with reform, is the whole lobbying culture too deeply entrenched in this administration, even on both sides of the political fence, to be ever be brought under control, or at least be brought under control in the near future?
SHUSTER: Well, it certainly seems that the only thing that’s changing now are the players, the people who are involved. For example, Jack Abramoff no longer part of the sort of lobbying efforts now that he’s agreed to criminal charges and whatnot. But what Jack Abramoff was pushing, and that is, exceptions for gambling reform, exceptions for online gambling, for sports wagering, that is still being pushed.
So, in other words, even though Jack Abramoff is not involved, the issues, the lobbying effort still continues and continues successfully. And so, again, the issues don’t change, it’s just the people who are pushing the buttons, who are collecting the money, that’s what’s changing right now.
OLBERMANN: And Senator Santorum not the only Republican candidate embroiled in potential ethical issues nearing this election. We have one here in this neighborhood. Since the revelation that she had unwittingly taken some illegal money from the same firm that bribed Congressman Cunningham, Katherine Harris in Florida, according to the media here, has been ducking the press, has been canceling events, although her people say that’s just rescheduling.
Is that campaign dead in the water? Is—how is that one going to turn out?
SHUSTER: Well, at a certain point, I mean, Katherine Harris is going to have to face the cameras. If she wants to continue to run for the Senate, she’s going to have to talk to somebody somewhere. And it’s more than a bit ironic to suppose that here we are in Memphis at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and Katherine Harris’ office, at least a couple days ago, said that she was she was going to be here. Maybe she thinks that somehow the national media isn’t paying as much attention to her being on the receiving end of possible bribes as the local media.
But I wouldn’t take that bet if I were Katherine Harris. And, in fact, there are a lot of national reporters that are sitting at this conference right now, eager for Katherine Harris to show up and to answer some of these questions. And again, for her, she’s also in a very tough Senate race. This is not the sort of thing that a candidate wants to be talking about eight months before an election.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. MSNBC’s David Shuster in Memphis, covering the GOP event there, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From endless scandals in politics to endless scandals in baseball. The sport appoints a committee to investigate Barry Bonds and steroids. The former commissioner of baseball, Faye Vincent, joins us.
And Bill O’Reilly’s secret police force. Exactly what happens to those people who utter the name that shall not be spoken, mine? We’ll talk to one survivor.
You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Our interview with Faye Vincent delayed for a short period of time for technical reasons. We will get to it later in this news hour.
In the interim, a little inside-COUNTDOWN tidbit. Our producer, Brendan O’Melia, who brings you COUNTDOWN’s Hall of Fame series and sound bites of the day, among other things, drew the annual Secret Santa thing this year and got correspondent Monica Novotny. His gift to her, a plot of land on the moon. That’s Brendan. Sport that she is, Monica happily tacked the priceless certificate of authenticity in her cubicle.
Our number two-four story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the property value would have gotten a big boost today had that been on Saturn’s moon.
As our correspondent George Lewis reports, scientists have found evidence of water geysers on one of the planet’s icy moons, raising the possibility that it could harbor extraterrestrial life, or at least a swimming hole.
GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Scientists are positively giddy about the new images from the Cassini mission. Huge geysers, spewing off the surface of Enceladus, one of the moons of Saturn, a tiny speck just 300 miles in diameter.
DR. CAROLYN PORCO, CASSINI IMAGING TEAM: We just stumbled upon it, and as far as I’m concerned, we’ve just hit the ball right out of the park.
Images taken at low phase...
LEWIS: The team studying the images compares these geysers to a familiar landmark on earth. They say they’re kind of kind Old Faithful at Yellowstone, only much bigger, throwing out jets of ice for hundreds of miles, dramatically highlighted in this artificially colored picture.
All in a place where the surface temperature runs minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
DR. TORRENCE JOHNSON, CASSINI CAMERA EXPERT: Since the—we think they’re venting out to the cold vacuum of space, basically at the freezing point of water, our geyser experts have sort of dubbed it Cold Faithful.
LEWIS: What has scientists really excited is that water, in a place where nobody expected to find it, means that life could exist in parts of space previously thought to be barren.
PORCO: Liquid water, organics, and excess heat, all of which we have, is the Holy Grail of planetary exploration.
LEWIS (on camera): So you guys are really pumped up about this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You bet. We are very pumped up and very excited by the data.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And liftoff of the...
LEWIS (voice-over): The unmanned Cassini probe was launched in 1997 to study Saturn and its moons.
(on camera): The price tag for the Cassini mission is $3.25 billion. Scientists say with the discoveries they’re making now, it has paid off big-time.
(voice-over): And tonight, they’re talking about extending the mission to get more pictures of that lively little moon, Enceladus.
George Lewis, NBC News, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
OLBERMANN: Cold Faithful. The scientist made a funny.
Is this funny? A public celebration in India, using canes. Stop, quit it, it hurts, stop. Come on, cut it out. Stop. Cut it out. Stop.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN continuing tonight from Tampa. Just wanted to get a better picture of it here.
A hundred and seventy miles north of here is the city of Naples, named for the city in Italy, of course. And it was on this day in 1562, in that Naples, that kissing in public was not only banned, it was made punishable by death.
If that wasn’t the biggest stretch for a segue you’ve ever heard, I don’t know what could be.
Let’s play Oddball.
We begin in India, with another one from the file of strange things people do in other countries. And you can always tell spring is near in Uttar Pradesh, when the women of the village take to the streets to beat the living crap out of the menfolk with heavy wooden sticks.
It’s an annual festival, fertility, and blunt force trauma that is the Latfamar Holee. It’s all in good fun, they claim, provides a colorful change of pace from the other 364 days of the year when the canes are on the other foot, so to speak. The tradition dating back to olden times, when legend says the Hindu god Krishna would visit the town to flirt with the women, only to be chased out with sticks. It went that way for a while, until one day he showed up in a really cool car.
Not far away in Jaipur, India, the annual two-day festival of mimes. To celebrate the art, more than 36 of India’s greatest pantomime artists pranced and gesticulated around the stage in front of a crowd of mostly confused onlookers, who kept saying, What? Huh? Speak up!
First mimes believed to have arrived in India more than 2,000 years ago. We don’t know why no one chased those guys out with sticks.
Speaking of Oddball, Ted Baxter making good on his threat to sic Fox security on callers who dare utter the profanity that is the name Olbermann. One of the violators joins us next. His face will be obscured for his own protection.
And the current commissioner of baseball responds to the Barry Bonds scandal by appointing a committee. The previous commissioner joins us next to figure out what is next.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Donna Marie Maddock of London, making headlines in Britain. She was caught by traffic cameras applying makeup with both hands while driving. Fined about $350, now she has come forward to explain her actions. Quote, “I was having a blonde moment.”
Number two, Stephen Ladyman, the minister in charge of those traffic cameras in the U.K. He admitted yesterday he keeps a device in his car to avoid getting caught by them himself. He says the devices are perfectly legal, so why not?
Number one, Sou Meuangmai of Chico, California. The 17-year-old was arrested for the burglary of a home in which $100,000 was stolen, along with various items, specifically among them a pink Chanel purse. His case was not helped when his mother arrived in the courtroom carrying a pink Chanel purse. Yes, the one he’s accused of stealing. The apple did not fall far from the tree there, now, did it?
OLBERMANN: The Barry Bonds steroid scandal has become so serious that even baseball commissioner Bud Selig has sat up and taken notice.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, in the wake of the cornucopia of documented allegations that the slugger had significant pharmaceutical help, Selig today appointed a four-man committee to review the charges. All four members are executive vice presidents of major league baseball.
In a moment, Bud Selig’s predecessor as commissioner, Faye Vincent, author of the appropriately titled book, “The Last Commissioner,” joins us.
First, Bonds played baseball for the first time this year in an exhibition game. His Giants at the spring home of the Los Angeles Angels, Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. Bonds, the cleanup hitter and D.H. met with a mix of cheers and boos as he walked to the plate for his spring training debut. Then again, the fans booed all the other Giants too.
It was a poor augur for Bonds, swing and a miss, strike three; he would later get a single. But he may have struck out in a far more important way. The Chicago Tribune reporting today that Commissioner Selig met with Bonds two springs ago, damage control after word had broken of Bonds’ grand jury testimony and his alleged steroid use.
Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers reporting, according to highly placed Major League Baseball sources, Selig extended a vague offer of leniency to Bonds if he had anything he wished to admit, including possible acts of perjury in his testimony to the BALCO grand jury. He told Bonds the consequences would be much worse if he professed innocence and later was revealed as a steroid user. With the appointment of the new Bud Selig college of Bonds steroid knowledge, we might just be finding out what “much worse” could mean.
I’m honored, as always, to be joined by the eighth commissioner of baseball, Fay Vincent.
Thank you for letting us mess up your house tonight, sir.
FAY VINCENT, FMR. COMMISSIONER, MLB: Good evening, Keith. It’s nice to be with you as always.
OLBERMANN: Setting aside The Chicago Tribune report for a moment, having had this job, does the commissioner have the authority right now to suspend or banish Barry Bonds whether it is under the drug policy that was adopted during your tenure or in the best interest of baseball clause or by any other means?
VINCENT: I doubt it. I think he would be having serious problems with the union were he to do that, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Then what do you make of this committee, this investigation group of four executive vice presidents from Major League Baseball insiders?
VINCENT: Well, I think part of it is correct. I think the first thing to do is to set up some organization, some authority, to investigate. I think he made a mistake by appointing people who work for him. I don’t think that’s credible. I think he should have done what Bart did with John Dowd when Pete Rose got in trouble, what Gary Bettman did in hockey over this gambling investigation, and I think he’ll regret it.
I think it’s a very bad mistake to have people who work for you doing this investigation. In part, Keith, because one of the issues is going to be what was going on in the center of baseball during the ‘90s when these steroid problems started to become very serious.
OLBERMANN: Focusing again on Bonds, will things—you mentioned the Pete Rose investigation and how long that took and how it was predicated on having an outside investigator in John Dowd. Will this move quickly or slowly? And if this moves slowly, what does baseball do about the sort of beat-the-clock element, because Bonds is at least nearing that career home run record?
VINCENT: Well, I think you point out the defect. I think it would have been better to have some really significant outside figure to whom Bud could go for advice on how to deal with these allegations, how to deal with a record-breaking event, should it occur.
I mean, Bud really needs help here. He needs some credibility. I don’t think Congress is going to sit still for this, among others. I think they’re going to want a very thorough investigation and I think baseball’s only hope of controlling the investigation itself would be to have it in the hands of somebody who’s credible and independent and very able.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned Congress. It probably does not help, as you suggest, if there is a baseball hall-of-famer in the Senate, as there is in Jim Bunning from Kentucky. But The Chicago Tribune report, supposedly a meeting two years ago, Bonds essentially warned, if that happened, does that lower the bar for what baseball has to prove before it acts against him? Could he be suspended or treated in some way in essence for fibbing?
VINCENT: You have to remember, Keith, that Bonds is protected by a collective bargaining agreement, the federal law governs what Bud can do, not the best interest clause. And so I’m sympathetic to Bud. I think—in this instance, I think he’s got an enormous mess on his hands. I think it is going to be very hard to control it.
I think he went to Bonds; hoping to get some help to have Bonds come clean and talk to him, tell him what happened. That was a mistake that Pete Rose made. He didn’t level with us, with Bart Giamatti and with me.
I think Bonds is making the same mistake. It will end up very badly. But this is a very serious big time mess, and Bud Selig has got an enormous set of problems.
OLBERMANN: The inevitable question, other than finding a John Dowd to lead your investigation, were you still commissioner now, what else would you do about Barry Bonds and how quickly would you attempt to do it?
VINCENT: Well, you can’t do much until you get facts. I think this report from the reporters is credible, but that’s why the appointment of somebody to really investigate this thing quickly is important. My guess is baseball didn’t want an outside investigation, because it’s hard to control, it’s very expensive, and it takes some time. But Bud Selig really needs two things. He needs credibility and he needs time. And the investigation I think that should have been done would have given him some of that.
OLBERMANN: And, of course, it could have begun two years ago. To change subjects, lastly, on this matter of the special hall of fame election two weeks ago, which I have been so critical here, you were the non-voting chairman of that committee, the one that did not choose Buck O’Neil or Minnie Minoso, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to rebut anything I’ve said about the vote. Here’s the platform, say what you will.
VINCENT: Well, I respect your views. I don’t think anybody has a higher view of Buck than I do. I think Minoso’s case is different. He was considered by the hall of fame, by the veterans committee on which Buck served. He spent most of his career in the big leagues. I think our jurisdiction over him was limited. I do not view his as a case like Buck’s.
Buck’s is a very difficult case. I think the committee deliberated. I have no idea why there were negative votes, but I assure you it was properly done, his curator was in the room, Ray Doswell, and I regret very much that the committee doesn’t have credibility with people like you. But believe me, the committee established very high standards and some members adhere to those standards.
It required a 75 percent vote, Keith. And I remind you that Marvin Miller is not in the hall of fame. And if anybody deserves hall of fame credibility, it’s Marvin.
OLBERMANN: I agree with you, and I thank you for what you said. Francis T. Fay Vincent, the eighth commissioner of baseball, and I might add, one of the best things that committee did was have Mr. Vincent as its chairman. Thanks as ever for your hospitality and for your time, Fay.
VINCENT: Thank you, Keith, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Moving from sports to—well, if you think Barry Bonds is facing too much punishment, how about the folks who called into Bill O’Reilly’s radio show, only to hear him threaten to have security call them, and security called them. We’ll get the traumatized account of one of the evildoers.
Speaking of which, Tom Cruise considered “unsexy,” so unsexy that they took a poll asking who would you like to spend the night with? You will never believe who he finished behind. We’ll tell you next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Erich Maria Remarque will forgive me, I hope, but it is all quiet on the Bill O’Reilly front. Quiet, too quiet. Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, haven’t heard a word for Ted Baxter since last Thursday, when chillingly he revealed that he really believed he could summon local police to pay a visit to callers to his radio program who disagreed with him or said bad words like my name.
Of course, if he has been quiet, others like Howard Stern and Al Franken have not been, that and one of the callers who actually got an O’Reilly-ordered phone call from FOX security in a moment.
First, a refresher. And we can’t be certain how much of the call actually got on the air. This was what was posted on Bill O’Reilly’s Web site.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL O’REILLY, TALK SHOW HOST: Orlando, Florida, Mike, go.
CALLER: Hey, Bill, I appreciate you taking my call.
CALLER: I like to listen to your show during the day, I think Keith Olbermann.
O’REILLY: There you go. Mike is—he’s a gone guy. You know, we have this—we have your phone numbers, by the way. So if you’re listening, Mike, we have your phone number. And we’re going to turn it over to FOX security, and you’ll be getting a little visit.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe Mike is from the mothership.
O’REILLY: No, Maybe Mike is going to get in big trouble because we are not going to play around. When you call us, ladies and gentlemen, just so you know, we do have your phone number. And if you say anything untoward, obscene or anything like that, FOX security then will contact your local authorities, and you will be held accountable. Fair?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That’s fair.
O’REILLY: So just all you guys who do this kind of a thing—you know, I know some shock jocks, whatever, you will be held accountable. Believe it. We’ll be right back.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And they’ll hit you real hard. The caller insists he used no foul language, but the host used the dump button to cut him off. By the way, their entire exchange was later scrubbed from the Web site. Last Friday we addressed Mr. O’Reilly’s notion that the caller was doing something illegal or something constituting harassment. He was not.
We explored the possibility that when FOX security calls callers, that that itself could amount to harassment. And it might. As mentioned, there has been some talk about this elsewhere. From the Denver newspaper, The Rocky Mountain News, TV writer Dusty Saunders expressed amazement that talk radio is being used to threaten talk radio callers.
“My first thought,” he wrote, “was that the former Denver broadcaster, O’Reilly, had his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek, particularly in regard to FOX security and calling local authorities. But a self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of O’Reilly’s strong points,” end quote.
Then there was the one-two radio punch. First Howard Stern on Tuesday, from his broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio, besides getting a good laugh from the references to FOX security, Mr. Stern had this to say.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HOWARD STERN, TALK SHOW HOST: I think O’Reilly’s getting crazy. The fact of the matter is you are allowed to call into a radio show and say whatever you want. The radio show is soliciting for phone calls. That’s the idea of the show. Just because the host doesn’t like what the caller is saying, you can’t alert the authorities. You can’t contact authorities when you have a call-in show.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And my friend, Al Franken, on Air America, who got wind of O’Reilly’s threat, and has experienced them of his own, during yesterday’s broadcast, he aired his FOX security recruitment promo.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
AL FRANKEN, TALK SHOW HOST: Join the proud, the few, join FOX security.
Boys, we just got a phone number from O’Reilly. Let’s roll.
(DOOR BELL RINGS)
O’Reilly and FOX say hello.
(PUNCHING & BODY HITTING FLOOR SOUND EFFECTS)
FRANKEN: Join FOX security and be part of the number one security team in cable news. You’ll learn how to pat down Madeleine Albright. You’ll learn how to stretch Greta Van Susteren’s face to the breaking point. And most importantly, you’ll learn how to trace a phone number to its source.
(DOOR BELL RINGS)
FRANKEN: Oh, hi.
FOX security, fair.
(PUNCHING & BODY HITTING FLOOR SOUND EFFECTS)
FRANKEN: Oh, my God! Stop! Oh, please!
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And then there is the real FOX News security, which, as the big giant head himself promised, would be calling Mike from Orlando. Last Friday it happened, FOX News security left this message on his answering machine.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Tony (NAME & PHONE NUMBER DELETED), from FOX News security. I was wondering if you could give me a phone call? I’d appreciate it. So long, see you.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: He did not swear there, by the way. We bleeped his last name and his phone number for his own protection. And speaking of his own protection, joining me now is so-called Mike from Orlando whose name is actually Mick, we’re withholding his last name to protect his identity. And obviously that’s not bad lighting, we’re obscuring that picture deliberately.
Good evening to you, sir.
“MICK”: Hi, Keith, how are you doing?
OLBERMANN: Tell us what you said on that call to Mr. O’Reilly that we never got a chance to hear.
“MICK”: Well, what I said was, hey, Bill, thanks to taking my call. I like to listen to you in the afternoons because Keith Olbermann has the best show at 8:00. Why are you always smearing him?
OLBERMANN: That was it. There was no swearing? There was no.
OLBERMANN: And why did you call?
“MICK”: Well, there’s a—you may or may not be aware of it, there’s actually a petition up on Bill O’Reilly’s Web site trying to get you fired.
OLBERMANN: Yes, we heard a little something about that.
“MICK”: There’s a Web site, it’s www.callingallwingnuts.com, that has basically said that both sides should be heard. And if Bill O’Reilly wants to try and get you kicked off the air, well, then I think we have the right to call Bill O’Reilly and say that that’s not a very good idea, because we like you.
OLBERMANN: Well, thank you for that. What do you do for a living, by the way? Can you tell us that without giving away too much of your identity?
“MICK”: Well, I can say hi to my students at Fairview (ph) and leave it at that.
OLBERMANN: So you’re a teacher at some school somewhere in America.
“MICK”: Something like that.
OLBERMANN: The FOX News security guy who left you a message, did you call him back?
“MICK”: No, I didn’t, actually. He called on Friday evening and I was actually out. And I missed your segment Friday evening as well, and I actually did not even hear about this until Sunday, when my wife alerted me that there was actually a voicemail message for me.
OLBERMANN: But you know of others who have been called by someone identifying themselves as FOX News security?
“MICK”: Correct. The www.callingallwingnuts.com, there were several people, we decided that we were going to call Bill O’Reilly’s show, and we all agreed we were going to be polite, nice, but just voice our opinion, that we disagreed with what he was saying, what he was trying to do.
And another caller did manage to get through. She did say your name on the air and she said 15 minutes later, her cell phone rang, she was actually in the car with her daughter, and it was the gentleman who identified himself on my answering machine. And he was with FOX security, and she actually was reduced to tears, she was so concerned. Her daughter was in the car.
OLBERMANN: I’ve had a lot of perverse fun with this, but honestly, even if that were, I don’t know, Rachel Maddow, or another liberal on the air threatening callers, it makes me shiver for the democracy. Mick, alias Mike from Orlando, thanks for putting yourself at such great personal risk from the—also now from the FOX security video squad by joining us here tonight.
“MICK”: All right. Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir. Stay safe.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of weird guys, there is breaking Tom Cruise information. That, the segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” A recent poll in Stuff magazine suggesting that readers would rather spend a night in a tent with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein than the current thespian Tom Cruise. A full 41 percent of those polled saying Cruise was the person they would least like as a pup tent playmate, with Saddam garnering only 39 percent of the votes.
Cruise is a desirable figure elsewhere, however, or somebody who looks a lot like him anyway. Authorities in Bothell, Washington, seeking a robbery suspect victims say bears a striking resemblance to the actor. The man was described as being a handsome, friendly man. Friendly? So how in the hell does he resemble Tom Cruise? And so we turn to Hollywood for ugly people.
Politics, former contestant on NBC reality series, “The Apprentice” is gunning for Washington. Season two “Apprentice” hopeful Raj Bhakta has announced—yes, him with the tie, announced his intention to run for Congress, hoping to represent Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District.
Bhakta made the announcement Monday, shortly after securing an endorsement from Montgomery County’s GOP. The seat currently held by freshman Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz. “We offer voters legitimate change,” said the reality sort of star. He may have an uphill battle. Congresswoman Schwartz has already raised over a million dollars towards her campaign, another million in a war chest. Raj Bhakta, $350,000 total. Thank you for playing and here’s the home version of the political game.
And then there’s Internet porn. That will keep you watching. At least you have to find out if you’re one of the 17 million people that have accessed smut online and have now had their personal information listed on the Web.
That’s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN’s list of today’s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” At the bronze level, Professor Luis Garcia (ph) of Suffolk University in Boston. According to a student, the professor was looking at porn on his computer—ah, a theme! During a class, this was. He didn’t realize his PC was hooked up to an overhead projector in the classroom, displaying everything he was doing on the wall behind him. University is investigating.
Tonight’s runners up, Caran Properties, a New York real estate firm kicking out the residents of the 125 apartments in a Midtown building the company bought. By way of disclaimer, I’m one of them. I’ll be fine. I don’t know about the older folks who have been in there since the ‘50s and ‘60s and haven’t even gotten as much as an explanation, though one of them was offered an extension on her lease of $500 a day.
But tonight’s winners, the Kentucky State Police. Terrible car accident there, a driver killed, the other driver and his daughter trapped, their car on fire. A passerby, Daniel Landrum, showing incredible bravery, pulled those two people out of the burning car, saved their lives. When the police arrived, Landrum was arrested for driving with a suspended license. The Kentucky State Police Department, today’s “Worst Persons in the World.”
OLBERMANN: 1200 miles away, halfway enjoying the sunny relaxing climes of spring training in Florida, still they have managed to pull me back in. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, more stories my producers are forcing me to cover, Internet porn edition. Part of its appeal, of course, has always been its anonymity. Well, that’s what they tell me. I mean, how would I know?
Michael Okwu now with the mind-bending story of a husband consumed with an Internet pornography addiction and how he gets through it by making a documentary?
MICHAEL OKWU, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five years ago, Amy Tracey (ph) and her husband, Lance, a filmmaker, began what looked like a blissful adoring marriage, until Lance’s secret addiction almost split them apart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think in the worst of the worst, I was looking at porn three or four times a day, maybe an hour to two per session per time. So that could be a six- to eight-hour day sometimes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had no idea.
OKWU (on camera): When did it start feeling to you like something might have been off?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say it was about three weeks into our marriage. It was kind of like a whirlwind of passion and then all of a sudden he just seemed as though he wasn’t very interested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look at the stuff and you don’t have any emotions left over for your wife.
OKWU (voice-over): Amy felt lonely, even blamed herself. And just as her marriage was reaching a boiling point, she found a journal Lance kept in a computer file detailing his obsessions with online pornography.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt totally betrayed, I felt very unattractive, just not cherished. I felt really hurt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when I still couldn’t stop, then I realized, you know, I have an issue here.
ROBERT WEISS, CLINICAL DIR., SEXUAL RECOVERY INSTITUTE: Internet pornography is the crack cocaine of sex addiction.
OKWU: Robert Weiss runs a Los Angeles treatment center for sex addicts, 90 percent of who are men. Weiss says since the Internet is cheap, easy, and anonymous, it’s like pouring gas on a fire, already burning in potential addicts.
WEISS: All those images are so immediate online, there are so many of them. And you can go from to another to another to another. You can get really, really lost, really quickly.
OKWU (on camera): The number of pornographic pages on the Web has multiplied from 14 million in 1998 to roughly 260 million in 2003. The options appear endless.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: he had opportunities to, you know, have a call girl-type situation.
OKWU (voice-over): Experts say sex addiction is becoming more recognized as a legitimate condition with radio shows like this one.
WEISS: I think you speak to issues a lot of spouses experience.
OKWU: There is even a documentary due out soon, exploring the addiction. The filmmaker, Amy’s husband, Lance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a way for me, killing the demons that I was dealing with.
OKWU: Amy says they got back on the right track, welcoming a new son into the family after Lance took the first step, admitting that he had a problem, and after Amy insisted Lance attend intensive interventive therapy with other addicts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh, it’s like night and day. And I respect him so much more. There’s a level of honesty and just intimacy in our relationship because we have been through this.
OKWU: Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: That’s it. Good night and good luck.
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