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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 20

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Craig Crawford

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

Karl Rove exits stage right, just an acknowledgment of the importance of the midterms, just freshening up the White House staff.  Or was it to shift him out of the spotlight because the Plamegate grand jury is again looking to indict him?  David Shuster with the breaking news.

Nobody learned nothing from Jeff Gannon, huh?  The danger of the day pass from the White House press office.  That woman screaming at not one but two presidents was a fully accredited member of today‘s White House press corps.

Who‘s checking credentials on Madison Avenue?  First, the Super Bowl Pepsi ad that makes you remember a can of Coke.  Now the latest Volkswagen ad featuring a crashing Volkswagen.

And ding-dong, door-to-door free breast exam man.  You laugh.  But when this 76-year-old man went to the homes of at least two women outside Miami and told them he was a traveling doctor, they fell for it.  He‘s under arrest.  They are now getting exams not of their chests but of their good judgment.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Got to give Scott McClellan credit for timing.  April 19, he becomes a lame duck at the White House press office.  April 20, on the South Lawn, a Chinese physician starts screaming at President Bush and President Hu of China.  Turns out she was there courtesy a day pass from the White House press office.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN today is the first day of the rest of this administration‘s life.  Full coverage of what was literally an international incident at the White House coming up.

First, the pressing domestic news.  If, as Jim VandeHei put it in today‘s “Washington Post,” the White House anticipates no major shifts in policy resultant from Karl Rove‘s lateral reassignment, then why the reassignment?  Has the prospect of a Rove indictment in Plamegate again reared its chubby head?

Jim VandeHei joins us presently about Mr. Rove.

First, this possibility, that the next person heard screaming in protest at President Bush o the South Lawn could be Mr. Rove.

And news out of Washington about the CIA leak grand jury, courtesy our correspondent on the scandal beat, David Shuster.

David, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  First off, the baseline here.  Has the status of the Fitzgerald grand jury changed?  Has the status of Mr. Rove in the investigation process itself changed?

SHUSTER:  Well, first, on the investigation, defense lawyers say that the grand jury investigation is active again, and that the panel has been meeting in recent weeks, although prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was not seen at the grand jury this week and hasn‘t been seen there at some—for some time.

Now, regarding Karl Rove, the—according to the latest documents, for the first time, Rove is now described as a subject in the overall case, a subject being a technical term meaning that somebody is under investigation.  And the latest prosecution documents also go out of their way to suggest that Rove is not going to be a prosecution witness at the Libby trial, even though Rove is part of the narrative against Scooter Libby.

And the reason that‘s significant is because prosecutors usually don‘t put subjects on the witness stand for tactical reasons if they want to leave open the possibility of later charging that particular subject in a separate case.

The other thing that has long been intriguing about Karl Rove, and that is, we‘ve known for months that in the Scooter Libby indictment, when they referred to official A, official A is Karl Rove.  And the indictment against Libby says that official A disclosed to Scooter Libby that he had had a conversation with columnist Robert Novak.

The reason prosecutors describe an official as an official A is when there‘s pejorative information about that person, and the person has not yet been indicted and had a chance to defend themselves.  But we‘ve looked at prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald‘s record as far as designating people as official A or official B, and in every single case we have found, Keith, that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, when he designates somebody as official A in an indictment, that person eventually does get indicted themselves.

And that‘s why, I think, with everything coming together, there‘s so much intrigue tonight about Karl Rove.

OLBERMANN:  And the juxtaposition of the timing, reassigned yesterday, these developments today, is there anything to connect those dots, or is it just coincidental?

SHUSTER:  Well, the only thing that‘s there, and there‘s no indication, at least from the White House, but Karl Rove‘s attorney, Bob Luskin, has been pretty open, and so has Karl Rove, at least with some of his colleagues, as far as his status in the investigation still being open, Karl Rove still being a subject.

So I think it‘s fair to assume that perhaps the new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, saw the prospects that Rove could still be in some trouble and decided, You know what?  We want him focusing on the elections anyway instead of policy.  Let‘s change things around a little bit and lower his profile, given that this is an investigation that a lot of Karl Rove‘s colleagues thought was over, as far as Rove is concerned, once Scooter Libby was indicted.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned Robert Novak, the man who actually outed Valerie Plame Wilson in a column three years ago now.  Did he, there was some development regarding him, was this another legal of intrigue to this case today?

SHUSTER:  Yes.  Well, Robert Novak said today, there was—or said yesterday, and there‘s an article about it today, that Patrick Fitzgerald knows who his primary source is, and that the reason this source was not indicted is because this person did not do anything wrong.

The problem with that, of course, is that right now, Fitzgerald is not looking, or is not prosecuting anybody for leaking classified information.  The other problem, of course, is that Robert Novak hasn‘t explained who his sources are, or explained the context of the situation, and whether that particular person, in the case of Karl Rove being one of his sources, was acting on order from somebody else, perhaps somebody in the vice president‘s office.

So, and again, the focus of the investigation right now is on perjury and obstruction of justice, not whether the issue of whether anybody mishandled classified information or leaked information inappropriately, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster reporting in Washington.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Should Karl Rove‘s status in the CIA leak investigation heat up any further, then the political fortunes of the president he serves might just reach meltdown, down being the operative syllable in that compound word there, as in approval ratings plummeting even further, as in now closer to 30 percent than to 40 percent, as in, good thing we‘re not rounding it down.  Only 33 percent of those surveyed by Opinion Dynamics for Fox News now approving of how President Bush is doing his job.

A 3-point drop in just the last two weeks, a 6-point drop in this poll in the last month.  That is among all voters.  Among Republicans alone, approval falling below 70 percent for the first time in the Bush presidency, that is a third of Republicans not willing to give him a thumbs up.

Things not any better for the Republican-controlled Congress.  Approval there is just 25 percent overall.  If you are among those feeling the midterm elections might be a high time for a change in leadership on Capitol Hill.  though, former White House adviser Mary Matalin fully prepared to scare you out of it.


MARY MATALIN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  This is a very polarized country right now.  There are a number of seats that are unfortuitously competitive because of retirements.  There‘s—the Democrats have done a good job in recruiting.  They‘ve not a good job in preparing any sort of policies or an agenda.  They don‘t have any vision.

So what this comes down to in the fall, as in all elections, are a choice.  And we have to make our—the choice of voting for us very clear, and the catastrophic consequences of voting for Democrats.  That‘s what campaigns are about.


OLBERMANN:  The implication there that the Republicans will be running on the claim that their control of the federal government has been catastrophe-free.

Anyway, back to the surgery of politics and back to Mr. Rove.  Time now to call in, as promised, “Washington Post” White House correspondent Jim VanedeHei.

Good evening, Jim.


OLBERMANN:  With those latest poll numbers, nobody would dispute the White House is in need of some sort of fresh start.  But if, as you said in (INAUDIBLE) your piece today, no major shifts policy are envisioned, is what we have seen in the way of changes there window dressing?  Or how would you characterize it?

VANDEHEI:  Time will tell.  I mean, so far, you‘re looking at the same cast of characters just playing different roles.  I mean, everybody that‘s in a new position is somebody that is a Bush confidant, a Bush loyalist.  So you don‘t have any fresh blood, you don‘t have any faces from the outside with new opinions and new ideas that are coming in.

I do think it‘s significant that you‘re seeing people being moved around, you‘re seeing the spokesman out, you‘re seeing the chief of staff, Josh Bolten, trying to be very assertive in redefining Karl Rove‘s role.

But it‘s still, as long as you have Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rove there, this is still the same group of people that‘s been around for five years, same ideas and same agenda.

OLBERMANN:  But again, to quote that pivotal line from your piece, no major shifts in policy if Mr. Rove got shifted, certainly, instead of getting shift-canned.  Why that move in particular?  Did he fail to execute that policy?  Is he the guy getting blamed for bad things having happened, no matter what the intent was?

VANDEHEI:  Well, certainly, they want to streamline the policy-making process.  I don‘t think anybody internally would say that things have gone well.  Social Security was a disaster.  They haven‘t gotten where they want on get on immigration reform.  And basically they‘ve done nothing this year as far as domestic policy.

So what they want to do is push Karl Rove back to what he—what everyone feels he‘s best at, which is strategic thinking, in trying to map out politics and figure out how to keep the House and the Senate in Republican hands in November.

Because it would be disaster for Bush politically if Republicans lost the House or Senate.  You‘d have Democrats in control of one of those institutions, and they‘d have subpoena power, and we‘d be talking about weapons of mass destruction for two years, probably till January of 2009.

OLBERMANN:  First full day for reaction from all parties involved, the Republican response on the Hill, are they glad to have Mr. Rove back doing what he arguably does best on their behalf?  Or are they thinking, Oh, great, he‘s now our problem?

VANDEHEI:  No, I think they‘re happy to have change.  They wanted some kind of change.  They wanted an acknowledgement from this president that, We recognize things are bad, and that we have to change course, we have to listen to you more, and maybe work together on a unified agenda and concentrate on winning in November.

Listen, that‘s what it‘s all about for this president now.  It‘s trying to get things right in Iraq, and trying to keep hold of the House and Senate.  I can‘t overemphasize how important that is for Republicans.

Because once you have a divided (INAUDIBLE) divided Washington, where you have Congress in control by Democrats, whether it‘s one house or the other, that makes it almost impossible for the president to get anything.  This is such a polarized environment, as it already is, you‘d basically have paralysis.

OLBERMANN:  And the Democratic response in the first full day after the Rove move, is it, is the concern here that they‘ve lost some of the slower-moving targets that have been out front, like Mr. Rove in his previous role, or Mr. McClellan, and Mr. Card, or are they still seeing Rove as a target in this new capacity?

VANDEHEI:  I would imagine they‘re gleeful just looking at that poll today coming out from Fox News and showing the president at 33 percent.  It‘s unbelievable.  I mean, it‘s so low, it shows that there‘s even a depressed Republican base now.  That‘s all that matters.  I mean, you and I might get off on talking about who‘s up or who‘s down and who‘s the face of the administration, but none of that really matters.

I mean, the people look and judge the president, and they judge his policy, particularly in Iraq.  And those are the only things that matter.  And we can sit here and play palace intrigue all we want, but until the president gets Iraq right and gets some kind of domestic agenda out there that is appealing to voters, he‘s probably going to continue to have this rut.

OLBERMANN:  Is there anything that the Republican leadership is considering doing in light of that one particular number that suggested that a third of Republicans are not willing to come out and say, We support the president‘s job performance?

VANDEHEI:  Raise a lot of money.  I mean, (INAUDIBLE) their best (INAUDIBLE) a much bigger donor base.  They‘ll try to have a huge financial advantage, they‘ll distance themselves from the president as much as they can.  It‘s hard, because they spent the first four and a half years basically holding hands with the president.  They were carrying his water on the Hill, they were out there, they were glad to have him appear with him.

So it‘s kind of hard to distance themselves now, particularly from the Iraq policy.  And remember, when we had that vote on whether to go to war, almost every Republican backed the president, in—and every step forward, whether it‘s funding or whether it‘s a resolution supporting the war, they‘ve been there for the president.  So it‘s—you can‘t—you can only run so far without it looking silly.

OLBERMANN:  Well characterized.  Jim VandeHei of “The Washington Post.”  As ever, sir, thanks for joining us.

VANDEHEI:  Take care.  Have a good night.

OLBERMANN:  It is week one of the reign of the new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, at the White House, already a major embarrassment there, and an international incident.  Where‘d that protester come from?  Well, she‘s on the White House press list.  Uh-oh.

And driving while distracted plays a part in 80 percent of all road accidents.  Now it plays a part in a commercial for a car.  Try to figure that one out.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Oh, the jokes just flow like a springtime flood along the Potomac.  President who?  President Hu‘s on first?  You mean Doctor Hu?  Nobody‘s laughing in Washington tonight, or in Beijing, though, in our number four story on the COUNTDOWN, this country managed to look like the least security-conscious place in the world, and a nation where protesters are dragged away by ominous-looking guards, and the place where an antimedia White House will still give anybody a media pass, and all at the same time, mind you.

The morning started well enough.  President Bush‘s introduction of President Hu Jintao of China went off without a hitch.

Then, cue the hitch.

That‘s what we saw here.  But apparently the minute the heckling began, telling President Bush not to support killing in China, all three channels in China that were carrying the ceremony live went to black.  And after several minutes, while the protester was removed, and while President Bush whispered, You‘re OK, in President Hu‘s ear, the Chinese leader continued with his statement.

According to the White House, this was 47-year-old Dr. Wen Yee Wong (ph), and she was perfectly placed inside the media bullring because she‘d gotten, and not for the first time, a day pass from the White House press office identifying her as a senior journalist and photographer for the “Epic Times,” a paper which the White House knew had ties to the Falun Gong religion.

Regardless, the administration says it had no reason to exclude her nor a fellow reporter from the same paper.  The “Epic Times” says it‘s apologizing for her behavior.  The president also made an apology to President Hu for the incident, saying, quote, “It was unfortunate.  Sorry this happened.”

And no, that wasn‘t Jeff Gannon in a dress.

But just for good measure, the official announcer at the ceremony introduced the anthem of the Republic of China.  The Republic of China would be the official name of Taiwan.  The neighborhood President Hu is from is called the People‘s Republic of China.  But, of course, that‘s a recent name change, 1949.

Time to call in “Congressional Quarterly” columnist and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, if that‘s your real name.

Thank you for your time tonight, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Oh, there‘s just a billion people in China.  (INAUDIBLE) we can always irritate them, I guess.

OLBERMANN:  Well, that went well.


OLBERMANN:  How could that have happened?

CRAWFORD:  I am stunned, really, you know, although in one way, it kind of makes sense.  These day passes, we‘ve talked about them before.  You mentioned the reporter who got in before, Jeff Gannon, without a lot of credentials.

There‘s this weird division, Keith, in how they do the press passes at the White House.  To get a permanent one with a full deep background check, they‘ve restricted those.  Those are very difficult to get.  You have to commit to go over there every day to get those.  And those are the ones with the real background checks.

But then on the flip side, these day passes, they just hand out willy-nilly and apparently don‘t do that much of a check on them.  This woman‘s association with this newspaper would have suggested that something like this might have happened, I suppose.

OLBERMANN:  Well, yes, I mean, (INAUDIBLE), nothing was learned after

the Gannon incident in terms of back-checking here?  I mean, literally,

each week, I guess, about 50 copies of the “Epic Times” are left in the

mailroom of my apartment building in New York.  I‘ve never even picked up a

copy.      You can tell from the headlines that it‘s some kind of Chinese-

                oriented publication that clearly is opposed to the government there.

Shouldn‘t a bell have been rung somewhere?  Doesn‘t have anybody, anybody have any time just to check that name against a list of—Oh, this could be a problem.  Not that you‘re going to throw somebody out, but why doesn‘t it ring a bell?

CRAWFORD:  Unless...


CRAWFORD:  ... they actually wanted this to happen.  Who knows?  I remember years ago, I was at the White House in the Carter years, when the shah of Iran came, about when Carter was going to pull the plug on the shah.  And the protesters there, the—our security forces released tear gas that wafted across the South Lawn and choked up the shah and everybody else.

And some thought this was a message from the White House.  So I, at least this was just somebody yelling at the premier.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but, of course, the Carter White House, they couldn‘t have pulled that off.  That was the problem with the Carter White House, even if they‘d thought of doing that.

Now, I would also—I‘d be the last guy to advocate political correctness tests for people who get White House press passes.  But how does the—a White House that‘s so suspicious of the press and so self-congratulatory about counterterrorism and security checks, from those two aspects alone, how does—how did they let this happen?

CRAWFORD:  This is a longstanding tradition, Keith.  I‘ve long thought that the White House, going back to earlier presidents, needs to take a look, along with the media.  There is a White House press association that can work with them on this, is to establish some better standards and clearer understanding of what it takes to get these passes.

Right now, it‘s pretty much like priests turning water to wine. 

(INAUDIBLE), they just turn their backs, and you don‘t know how they do it.

OLBERMANN:  And so ultimately out of this, the Chinese think we‘re what, slovenly, passive-aggressive, culpable for an international incident?  How did (INAUDIBLE), what happened to the international relations here?

CRAWFORD:  My guess is, they‘re probably going to assume it was done on purpose, rightly or wrongly.  And there were other incidents.  You mentioned the misnaming of the anthem with—using the name of Taiwan, their great enemy, instead, and even to the extent of the White House not wanting to call this a state visit, as China wanted to, only a visit.

So there are a lot of little subtle hints and messages going across.  You know, this takes me back to the pre-9/11 days, when all the saber-rattling about China, the American empire crowd that is, that helped stir things up to get the White House into, into Iraq, used to talk about stirring things up with China.  And I, we may get back to that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you know, on your first point, if you don‘t know which state it is, you cannot call it a state visit.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” thanks for your time.  Have good night.

CRAWFORD:  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  I mean, this is like giving PETA a press pass for this guy‘s 9:00 p.m. show.  Look, it‘s the Nadia Comaneci of hamsters.

And the car to end all cars, so cool, so expensive, it needs not one but two keys, at a price tag so steep that if you have to ask how much, it is.  Don‘t even bother applying for either of the loans.



OLBERMANN:  On this date in 121 A.D., the future Roman emperor, and, more importantly, future philosopher Marcus Aurelius was born.  To brutally paraphrase one of his greatest insights, every day of your life, people have lied to you, let you down, failed, backtracked, been self-serving.  Yet you are surprised.  So that means you are supplying the surprise, doesn‘t it?

Marcus didn‘t mention that every day of your life, you‘ve also seen back-flipping hamsters.  Yet you‘re always surprised by them too.  But he could have.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin once again with weird stuff we found on the Internets.  And it‘s a hamster doing back flips.  A flippin‘ back-flippin‘ hamster.  Look at him go.  That‘s all you got, fella?  Just backwards?  OK.

Something slightly more impressive, let‘s go to Bogota, Colombia, where Colonel Xavier Sepuentes (ph) is showing off little Lola and Despejo (ph). They‘re land mine-sniffing rats.  One can clearly see, from how well they handle this complicated maze, how invaluable these rats will be in the field of land mine detection.  The two red-eared rodents have been trained to sniff out explosives.  Soon they‘ll be released into dangerous areas.  So if you hear a big boom, then you know they found one.

Now to Langierbien (ph), Norway, and the Land of the Midnight Sun.  The small island community inside the Arctic Circle its first day of around-the-clock sunlight that will last for the next four months.  From April to August, the sun never sets below the horizon.  Town is also famous for its four months of darkness in the winter, but, of course, it‘s the endless sunlight that attracts the tourists and lowers the suicides.

People travel from all over the world just for the chance to burn ants with a magnifying glass at 3:00 in the morning.

Or you can just go to Florida, where they have hot and cold running weird 24/7.  A new addition to the Florida wing of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, the door-to-door breast inspector.  Mammogram.

And it‘s official, the ad world has run out of ideas.  Try to sell a car by showing the car crash.  OK.  Where‘d you get that stuff you‘ve been smoking?

Details on those stories ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Mrs. David Ganci of Wayne, New Jersey.  She was driving home, when one of those inattentive teenage drivers rushing to school rammed into her.  It was her own daughter.  Their injuries are not life-threatening.  The odds against this are not as big as you would think.

Number two, middle-school math students, speaking of odds, at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, Colorado.  Now, what the heck are middle-school students doing at a high school, anyway?  By careful calculation, they‘ve concluded that when the state of Colorado says your odds of winning its lottery are 5,245,786 to 1, the state is exaggerating.  Actually the odds are just 5,245,785 to 1.  And another generation of students is lost to trivia.

Number one, Delta Airlines.  Its the latest cost-saving measure, no more cleaning crews.  It‘s asking 50,000 of its employees to volunteer for a four-hour shift cleaning the planes for free, including cleaning the bathrooms.  Next up, a company-wide e-mail asking for any staffers who want to learn how to fly to Pittsburgh.


OLBERMANN:  It is bad enough that there are car accidents.  It‘s bad enough that they kill 40,000 of us every year in this country.  But the infuriating part of it is so many of these disasters are caused by drivers who think they can multitask while behind the wheel and the insulting part of it is that one automobile manufacturer has now taken to including crashes in its advertising.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, crashes filmed to scare the crap out of you in hopes of getting you to pay attention to your driving and crashes filmed to scare the crap out of you in hopes of getting you to buy a particular make of car.  First part of the story from our correspondent Tom Costello.


TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s a front-seat look at the seconds leading up to a crash or near crash.  The most common factors, distracted drivers, like the woman who looks down for just a second and swerves into a telephone pole or the driver checking his blind spot who looks up just as he slams into a spinning car.

And drowsy drivers like this man who nearly drifts off the road.  Researchers at Virginia Tech loaded 100 cars with video cameras and digital recorders for one year, capturing 92 crashes, 761 near-crashes and 8,300 other incidents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This study is a wake-up call to America to make sure you pay attention while you are driving.

COSTELLO:  The findings?  Driver drowsiness was a factor in 20 percent of all crashes and nearly 80 percent of crashes or near-crashes involved distracted drivers, with 18 to 20-year-olds four times as likely to be distracted.  Drivers juggling CDs or this woman, dialing a cell phone just as a child rides into the street.

(on camera):  Wireless devices are the most common distraction.  And dialing on a cell phone can raise the threat of an accident by three times.  Reaching for something in a car like food raises that risk by nine times.

SGT. TERRY LICKLIDER, VA STATE POLICE:  They‘re eating like a full meal as they‘re driving down the road talking to someone in the car.

COSTELLO (voice-over):  Virginia state trooper Terry Licklider took us along to show us how common distracted driving is.  But within an hour he was sideswiped by a driver in a red Mustang who police say was impaired, making him distracted.  He had to be chased down.  The dangers of distracted driving, driven home.  Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN:  If we‘re not paying attention to driving anymore, we‘re certainly not paying attention to automobile ads on TV anymore.  Volkswagen tried to buck that trend by launching commercials in which lettering of their slogan, “On the road of life, there are passengers and there are drivers, drivers wanted,” was crashed into and only the words “passengers” and “drivers” remained intact.  Apparently that was too subtle.

George Lewis tonight from Los Angeles on the non-subtle version.


GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The commercial starts out with two buddies riding along in a Volkswagen Jetta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look, stuff either happens or doesn‘t happen. 

Stuff doesn‘t sort of happen.

LEWIS:  And then .


LEWIS:  It‘s all part of a shocking new ad campaign from Volkswagen promoting safety with shots of passenger‘s heads hitting air bags, they are definitely not your typical car commercial.

ANTHONY DIBIASE, YOUNG & RUBICAM BRANDS:  My impression is that they are very courageous, they are heading into a risky area and it‘s very courageous of them.

LEWIS:  Anthony DiBiase, executive vice-president of the Young & Rubicam ad agency says consumers are sophisticated enough these days to get the point of the V.W. Advertising.

DIBIASE:  Here‘s an opportunity, I think, where we are treating consumers as adults and expecting them to get the right message from these commercials.

LEWIS (on camera):  Advertisers are always trying to get people‘s attention.  On television that is accomplished by doing something unexpected or shocking.

(voice-over):  But some in the advertising business wonder whether shock value really helps make the sale in the V.W. ads.

KATHY DELANY, PRESIDENT, DEUTCH:  I fell like what they really get you to do is consider possibly buying a safer car, not necessarily buying a Jetta.  And that‘s where I think they fall short.

LEWIS:  The ultimate test of the “Safety Happens” ad campaign is whether it makes increased sales happen for Volkswagen.  Or whether it will lead to a crushing defeat for the German automaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We just dropped it like it‘s hot.

LEWIS:  George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN:  And to dial this back a bit, and just in case you really are immune to inattention or commercials or other drivers, there‘s the new high end of the automobile market, the car whose price tag would also buy you 440,000 Big Macs, 4,400 iPods, or four Rolls Royce Phantoms.

The Bugatti Veyron, priced at $1.3 million.  The world‘s most expensive car.  Jane Wells of our sister network, CNBC, did not tell the dealer she was just window shopping.


JANE WELLS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It is the most expensive street legal car.  The Bugatti Veyron, $1.3 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Driving the car down the road is like riding with Charlize Theron next to you topless.  It‘s just unbelievable.  People stop on the middle of the highway and scream, oh my God?

WELLS:  A car so special it takes one key to turn it on and go up to 200 miles an hour and then a second key to max out at 252.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I take the second key here and I place it right in this aperture here and I turn it and it prepares the car for the high-speed motor.

WELLS:  Zero to 60 in 2.1 seconds, 1,001 horse power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why have a thousands if you can have 1,001?

WELLS:  Gas mileage, 12 miles a gallon, better than some SUVs, but even in Los Angeles, this car is most valuable than most homes.  And elsewhere?  Well, for $1.3 million you could have this golf course house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and still have enough left over to by a Ferrari.  You could buy this mall in New Hampshire, put 10 kids through four years of school at a private university or buy an expensive work of art—which is what some people think the car is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The cars, many of them probably will not be driven.  Because they‘ll be locked in a private display somewhere.

WELLS:  Volkswagen, Bugatti‘s parent company, only plans to make 300 Veyron‘s and doesn‘t expect to make money on them.  But they give the company bragging rights.  Same for the owners.  But $1.3 million is just the beginning.  Insurance will cost you at least $16,000 a year with no tickets and for a car this valuable, the key is not losing the keys.  Bugatti will sell you a safe to hold them in for $180,000.  A safe worth more than most cars.  And to fill it up you need special 98 octane racing fuel which can only be found in a few places at nearly $8 a gallon.  How much does it cost to fill a tank?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you have to ask that question, you can‘t afford the car.

WELLS:  He‘s right.  On the money, Jane Wells, CNBC, Los Angeles.


OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the complaint in Beverly Hills, that the new neighbors are ruining architectural history.  That by itself is a little bit of history repeating itself.

And the real life Hollywood thriller that is the birth of Suri Cruise.  The lengths mom and dad had to do to get out of the hospital and back home undetected.  Yes, we‘ll do this bloody story again but I promise we will do less than a minute on it.  First here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three soundbites of the day.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  And when you get that all of the sudden you will see ethanol all over the country.  It makes sense to drive our cars - you‘ll be able to drive your car for the first 40 miles on electricity.  That seems to make sense.  It makes a lot of sense to showcase new technologies.  In Alaska you‘ve built a grated wall that creates access to a local creek.  Make sense, you know.  All of us need to pitch in to conserve the land.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST:  You know, they got that tramway that runs from New York, Manhattan to Roosevelt Island and it‘s like 250 feet in the air.  Yesterday 69 people were stuck on the tramway above the East River.  It was unbelievable.  Fortunately, everybody is OK.  And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, we owe a huge vote of gratitude to Superman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban getting the crowd excited when the American Airlines free plane ticket giveaway is made official.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you, American Airlines.  We love American.



OLBERMANN:  Of Los Angeles someone once said it‘s a place where nothing is new but everybody has gotten there so recently that nobody knows that nothing is really new.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, it was 1978 when Muhammad al Fasi (ph), a Moroccan born millionaire related by marriage to the Saudi royal family bought a 38-room mansion in Beverly Hills for the then astonishing figure of $2.4 million.  He painted the place lime green and had the statues outside painted in flesh tones, red for the genitals and filled up the urns with glow in the dark plastic flowers.  Even Angelinos sat up and took notice.

Arsonists burned the place to the ground two years later.  Well, again proving the theory in Los Angeles nothing is really new but everybody has gotten their so recently that nobody knows nothing is really new.  Middle Easterners and houses and controversy Beverly Hills.  Here‘s Josh Mankiewicz.


JOSH MANKIEWICZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Something is missing in Beverly Hills.  The city famous for its lux homes is suddenly notorious for something else.  Tearing down history in the name of progress.  The famous Beverly Theater is today a hole in the ground.  The house where George Gershwin once crooned now a pile of dirt.  Lucille Ball‘s home is unrecognizable.

KEN BERNSTEIN, L.A. CONSERVANCY:  Beverly Hills is unique in lacking any process for the public to review demolitions before they occur.

MANKIEWICZ:  Ken Bernstein of the L.A. Conservancy.

BERNSTEIN:  Some of the great residences of the city are being demolished left and right.

MANKIEWICZ:  Around here, new money has moved in right next door to old money.  The result?  A collision of cultures.  Most of the new residents in Beverly Hills have come here from Iran and over the last 30 years they brought with them their own money, their own taste and their own concept of what constitutes a valuable home.

HAMID OMRANI, DEVELOPER:  In this city 25 years building is historical.  In my country 25 century building we call that historical.

MANKIEWICZ:  Developer Hamid Omrani is known as the king of the Persian palace.  He‘s built dozens.  Big, expensive, above all, lavish.  And says in today‘s real estate market, size matters.

OMRANI:  It doesn‘t make sense to pay a lot of money and build small houses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And putting them in the middle of the neighborhoods that have been the same for 50 or 60 years is unfortunate.

MANKIEWICZ:  Pat Parish is typical of many long-time residents of Beverly Hills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Maybe if a bunch of Californians moved to Tehran they would build little Spanish houses.  I don‘t know.

OMRANI:  We have respect for the history of the United States.  That‘s the reason we are here.

MANKIEWICZ:  Today Omrani is looking forward to developing the former Gershwin property.  His idea of progress in a town where no matter who you are, money trumps taste every time.  John Mankiewicz, NBC News, Beverly Hills.


OLBERMANN:  And how did Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and young Suri get home to their mansion after the birth of the child?  The mystery solved and leading our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news tonight, “Keeping Tabs.”  About 3:00 p.m. local time Tuesday, three black Ford SUVs screeched out of St. John‘s Hospital in Santa Monica.  One went to the Scientology Center headquarters in L.A., one to an unknown decoy location and the third, with the Cruises inside went to their home.  Now supposedly comes the wedding.

The celebrity Web site reporting that Holmes has met with personal trainers who specialize in getting new mothers back in shape so she will fit into her wedding dress which she reports will be a modest, strapless A-line dress with not very much cleavage and absolutely no sign on it reading “Stepford Wife.”

Apparently Julia Roberts might as well have worn such a sign or another reading, “I won this role in a poker game.”  That‘s how bad the reviews were for her Broadway debut.  “Ugly reading for the pretty woman.”  “No chemistry,” says the “New York Daily News.”

“The old college try” says the “Washington Post.”  It was Clive Barnes (ph) of the “New York Post” who got the meanest, reviewing Roberts much anticipated bow in “Three Days of Rain.  To Barnes, she looked quote, “long-faced, long-nosed, and almost ordinary?  Why does she look like this?” he asks, “In her movies, do they use magic cameras on her or something.”

By the way, ever seen a picture of Clive Barnes?  Nothing has even stuck to the film since about 1990.

It was not Julia Roberts but rather Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson in “House Calls.”  Then there is this guy‘s version of it.  Hi, ma‘am.  I‘m a doctor and I‘m here to give you your free breast exam at home.

That‘s ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the three “Worst Person in the World.”  The bronze tonight goes to Jo Ann Emerson, congresswoman from southeastern Missouri.  She responded to a letter from a constituent with a closing paragraph in her letter that read, “Please feel free to contact me with other matters that are of importance to you, I‘m honored to serve as your representative in the U.S. Congress.  I think you are a bleep.”

Congresswoman Emerson seems to be blaming that last line on the member of her staff.  Problem is, she not only personally signed the letter, she also handwrote the P.S. that said please forgive the delay in responding.

Our runner up tonight, Barry Bonds, fined 5,000 bucks by Major League Baseball, no, not for steroids, no, not for fake crying on TV documentaries but for using improperly designed wrist bands.  Bonds, of course, does not wear head bands because they don‘t make them big enough to fit around his giant balloonish noggin.

But tonight‘s winner, Lydia Alvarado (ph), a 44-year-old woman accused of trying to smuggle marijuana and a grenade in into a prison in El Salvador, accused of hiding them in her - in her where babies come from.  No idea if she was caught by bomb-sniffing dogs or because she was walking funny.  A Salvadoran official says they are heightening security at all prisons because the discovery showed, quote, “the inmates are planning something.”  You bet they are?  Like a talent show.  Lydia Alvarado, today‘s worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN:  She began to doubt it, says one of his victims, not when he sidled up to her when she was taking out the garbage, not when he explained it was a free service of the community, not when he pulled a stethoscope out of an old black nurse‘s bag, not even when he told her that for the full benefits of what he was offering, she needed to take of her clothes and lie on a bed and her boyfriend had to leave the room.  Her doubts that the city of Lauderdale Lakes had hired 76-year old Philip Winicof (ph) as a door-to-door breast examiner occurred only when he failed to put on surgical gloves as he began to examine her as she lay there naked in her apartment.  The number one story on the COUNTDOWN, not one, but two women actually falling for this guy‘s routine, say police, in and it can only be in COUNTDOWN‘s official state, Florida.

The alleged perpetrator, Mr. Winikof, allegedly told a 35-year-old woman in an apartment complex there that he was a doctor from North Miami Hospital offering free door-to-door breast examinations.  He carried a medical bag, his soon to be victim had her boyfriend translate and then she allowed him to perform the exam on her on the couch in her home while her boyfriend watched.

It was later in the bedroom naked when he didn‘t go for the surgical gloves that the victim determined he was not a doctor and then he fled as she yelled.  Police said they found her conning a second woman, a 33-year-old, a block away.  He was arrested on charges of sexual battery and simple assault.  Authorities believe there may be additional victims.  And by the way, the old medical bag he carried was his wife‘s.  She is a registered nurse.

No indication, however, that Mr. Winikof‘s wife was knowingly involved in the charade and not to condone Mr. Winikof‘s actions by any means, but to ask a rhetorical question, why do you think they call them boobs?

Once again it would seem it can‘t be just Florida, yet time and again it is the only state inducted en masse into our COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame.



OLBERMANN (voice-over):  America, U.S. and A.  Here in COUNTDOWN we love each and every state in the union for all the wonderful stories they bring us from the runaway brides of Georgia to the celebrity trials of California and from the prison camps of West Virginia to the sexually unfocused mayors of the great northwest.

Each state has something to offer COUNTDOWN, but one state in particular seems to bring more to the table time after loveable time.  It‘s the state brought us count, recount, the pregnant, dimpled, hanging, and regular chads, Katherine Harris, Bush v. Gore itself.  The state that brought the midnight raid of Elian Gonzales.  The state that brought us Schiavo saga and it‘s the state the brings us more crazy new that is we can shake a run down at.

It‘s Florida!  Nine hundred-miles of gator taping, doctor shopping, tiger groping, mullet wearing, kitty snatching, Virgin Mary sandwich selling COUNTDOWN contributors.  When network news anchors want to get whipped around in a storm, they head to Florida.  When Vanilla Ice loses his wallaroo, which state does he lose it in?  Florida.  When the president courts those NASCAR dads.

BUSH:  Start your engines.

OLBERMANN:  And when he and wants to listen to his iPod during a debate, where does he go?  Florida.  When dumb criminals with dumb hairdos get drunk and ride scooters, where does it happen?  Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You try driving a go-ped drunk.  It‘s impossible.

OLBERMANN:  When you need a robotic Rasta refrigerator to bring you cool beers, where can you find it?  Florida.  When Donald trump gets married again, where does he get married?  Florida.

When Fifi and Toto the dogs get married, where do they get married?  Florida.  When an Orange County sheriff‘s deputy uses an elevator as a port-a-john, Florida.

When amateur dentists decide to open a practice in a garage, Florida.  When sumo wrestlers go street surfing, get caught and aren‘t worried about the charges?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have a great lawyer and a lot of money so I don‘t really care a whole lot.

OLBERMANN:  Florida.

When are Fidel Castro gets crank called, whose on the line?

Florida.  Car chases, blowed up bridges, alligators, sharks, manatees and even Tarzan‘s tiger, Florida.  Our most favoritest peninsula in the whole wide world including Rangaparoa (ph) Peninsula in New Zealand.  When it comes to the new that is we hear at COUNTDOWN use, Florida is numero uno.


OLBERMANN:  And they provide free mammograms door-to-door apparently.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,085th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose.  Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with RITA COSBY, LIVE & DIRECT.  Good evening, Rita.



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