Guests: Joseph Cirincione, Jonathan Alter, Connie Chung
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
“Wrong as to the facts, and exaggerated beyond all reason as to the interpretation of the facts.” The president‘s former weapons inspector in Iraq blasts the claim that WMD have been found there. What is Senator Rick Santorum trying to shovel past the American people, and why is the secretary of defense agreeing with him?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They are weapons of mass destruction. They‘re, they‘re harmful to human beings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Correct. You might get a burn if you rub these weapons directly onto your skin. They are WMD, weapons of minor discomfort.
The political war over the war, two more skirmishes. The Senate turns down two proposals for a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq.
What the valet might be withdrawing from your car. All they need to let themselves into your house, hide in your bedroom, and set up cameras to videotape you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All within seconds, he is through my stuff, going through my pockets, looking in the glove compartment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Speaking of gloves and gowns, COUNTDOWN‘s exclusive breaking-news blockbuster world exclusive. You heard her sing, now hear Connie Chung explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONNIE CHUNG (singing): We thank you...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Did we mention this was an exclusive interview?
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening from New York.
We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, 15-year-old weapons of mass destruction that could give you the equivalent of a serious rug burn.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, independent experts and the levelheaded, staggering in amazement tonight that deteriorated mustard gas canisters at least 15 years old and as much as 18 years old could be palmed off by desperate politicians as some kind of rationale for the deaths of 2,500 American service men and women in Iraq.
Republican Senator Rick Santorum, down 18 percent in the polls in his own reelection bid in Pennsylvania, joined by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, in pimping part of a two-month-old military intelligence report describing the existence of old munitions shells with chemical weapons that are degraded, unusable, and nonthreatening.
“We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons,” Santorum told a news conference. Gullible news organizations treated the story with slightly less fervor than they might the second coming.
“Since 2003,” Santorum said, reading from the report, “coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal,” Santorum adding, “This is an incredibly—in my mind—significant finding.”
Congressman Hoekstra was not quite as restrained. “This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist, and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone,” he foamed, “that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq.”
But a Pentagon officials contradicted the Republican leaders, telling NBC News this does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991. The weapons are the same kind of ordnance the U.S. military has been gathering up in Iraq for the past several years, and these munitions, quoting again, “are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not he WMDs for which this country went to war.”
That is a distinction that clearly eluded the official‘s boss at the Pentagon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: What‘s been announced is accurate, that the—there have been hundreds of canisters or weapons of various types found that either have—currently have sarin in them, or had sarin in them. And sarin‘s dangerous. And they are weapons of mass destruction, they‘re harmful to human beings. And they had been found, and they had not been reported by Saddam Hussein, as he inaccurately alleged that he had reported all of his weapons. And they are still being found and discovered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And they‘re dangerous, as was any exposure to the sun endured by whoever went searching for them.
Moreover, “The Washington Post” reports that the munition shells, which Santorum and Hoekstra have clutched to their bosoms, were found buried near the Iranian border, forgotten by Iraqi troops in their war with Iran, which ended in 1988.
And the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, and President Bush‘s former Iraq Survey Group chief, Dr. David Kay, telling COUNTDOWN that Senator Santorum‘s comments are, quote, “wrong to the facts and exaggerated beyond all reason as to the interpretation of the facts.”
He continued, “There is no surprise that very small numbers of chemical canisters from the Iran-Iraq war have been found. The ISG found them. And in my testimony in 2004, I said that I expected that we would continue to find them for a very long time. These are in very small numbers and are scattered. The nerve agents have long since degraded to the point that they no longer pose any substantial threat. In most cases, the mustard agent has substantially degraded but will burn your skin—burn you,” rather, “if skin comes in contact with it.”
I‘m joined now by the senior vice president for national security at the Center for American Progress in Washington, Joseph Cirincione. He is also co-author of “Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction.”
Thank you for your time, sir.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To make the statement “We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” in the context of the last five years, does the person making that statement have to either be exaggerating to the point of dishonesty, or simply not capable of understanding what weapons of mass destruction really are?
CIRINCIONE: Those are my two choices?
CIRINCIONE: I think the first time Senator Santorum claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it was a tragedy. But this truly is a farce. No one should be under the illusion that these weapons were in any way militarily useful or represent some kind of hidden catch that Saddam had in secret.
These were clearly weapons, and we knew about these, that Iraqis had disposed of, that had buried in the desert, forgotten about. We were—we find these periodically. They represent no significant military capability at all.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll speak to the politics of this in a moment with our next guest, but the document that was trotted out from the NIGC, it was two months old. If it had anywhere near the significance that these two lawmakers are assigning to it, why would this be the first we would be hearing about it?
CIRINCIONE: Well, actually, I spoke to an official familiar with this document. And when it was produced in April, they got a call from the National Security Council inquiring about it, and they got back from DOD the very response that you cited earlier in this broadcast, that these were not militarily significant weapons, these were old weapons. And there was nothing to contradict the official finding of the Iraq Survey Group that, in fact, Saddam Hussein had unilaterally disposed of his chemical weapons back in 1991.
There never were any chemical weapons there for us to find after that time, except for these old, forgotten remnants.
OLBERMANN: And the claim of the secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, that they are dangerous, he said they are WMD, they are harmful to human beings. Is that sophistry or dishonesty, or give you a third choice here, is that the equivalent of, It depends on what the meaning of “is” is?
CIRINCIONE: Well, that is really parsing your words very carefully, and I would say intentionally misleading. These are dangerous only the way that old chemical munitions that we occasionally find in the United States are dangerous. That is, this mustard gas in particular does hang around for a long time. It is an irritant. It can harm you, potentially lethal, but not in any sense a militarily deliverable weapon, not in any sense a justification for the war.
OLBERMANN: So the Defense Department official who said, “These are not the WMDs for which this country went to war,” that about sums this story up?
CIRINCIONE: That about sums it up. At the time, we were told there were hundreds of tons of these weapons, they were not—we were told that, in fact, a key threat was that Saddam may have a nuclear weapon. We didn‘t go to war over mustard gas, we went over nukes. There were no—there wasn‘t even any mustard gas, there wasn‘t any biological weapons, there weren‘t any nuclear weapons, nor, we now conclude, were there any programs under way to produce those. There was nothing at all.
OLBERMANN: There are merely programs to produce the impression that they existed.
Joseph Cirincione of the American—Center for American Progress in Washington, co-author of “Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction,” great thanks for your time and for your honesty.
CIRINCIONE: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: As promised, the political end of this mind-binding—mind-bending nonsense—can‘t even say it—I‘d like to call in “Newsweek” senior editor and NBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also the author of “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope.”
Jonathan, thanks for your time again.
JONATHAN ALTER, EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: Thanks very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘ve all seen political three-card monte tricks before by politicians at all levels, all parties. But is this mere spinning, or have Senator Santorum and Congressman Hoekstra moved directly into the league of Joe McCarthy waving the blank page that‘s supposed to contain the list of communists in the ‘50s?
ALTER: Well, I don‘t know if I‘d go that far, but it‘s, to use a hackneyed football metaphor, it‘s a sort of a pathetic Hail Mary pass. The guy is down 18 points in Pennsylvania. He‘s looking political oblivion in the face. And so he comes up with this cockamamie scheme to try to—I see it as sort of doubling down.
After Karl Rove first tried to call a couple of war heroes, John Murtha and John Kerry, pansies, now Santorum is going to take a leaf from Rove and try to call white black, black white, confuse everybody, play on the instinct in journalism to say, Hey, people disagree, some people say there are WMDs, some people don‘t, which, you know, manipulates us into making people think that this is an open question.
Fortunately, he failed, and this blew up in his face. But I think from his perspective, it was probably worth a try to see if he could manipulate everybody into believing that WMDs were actually an open question.
OLBERMANN: But was this his effort and Hoekstra‘s on their own? Santorum was asked, quite properly, after that if this was even remotely true, why didn‘t the president announce it? And his answer was, “The administration has been very clear that they want to look forward. They felt it was not their role to go back and fight previous discussions.” Could these guys possibly have gone out on this limb without White House approval or knowledge? Is the White House that ineffectual now?
ALTER: I don‘t know the answer to that question, but I would imagine, based on Secretary Rumsfeld‘s response, that the position of the White House and the political people—and you got to include Rumsfeld in that group—is, Hey, let Santorum try to win his race. If he wants to go out there and distort the truth, that‘s politics.
So I‘m sure they winked at this. The reason they didn‘t announce it themselves, it would have blown up in their face, with all the experts saying that it was untrue. So I think they figured they‘d chalk this up to, you know, a Santorum desperation move, and it put a little distance between themselves and Santorum.
As for Rumsfeld, he doesn‘t really care, because, you know, he‘s in this, Hey, what does it matter? phase of his life, where he‘ll basically say anything. He‘s not running for reelection himself. He‘s apparently got eternal job security in this administration. So he was willing to carry a little water for Santorum today, even though he flirted very close to saying some untruths from that podium today.
OLBERMANN: Last question. Pure politics. Even if this is, you know, freelancing by the part of—on the part of Hoekstra and Santorum, is that all the Republican Party has left about Iraq, literally to dig into the ground for 18-year-old Iran-Iraq war mustard canisters that might give you an acid burn, and try to rationalize, retroactively rationalize a war on that? They couldn‘t make up something less embarrassing than this?
ALTER: Well, they actually have a strategy that seems to be fairly effective so far, if the Democrats are dumb enough to fall for it, which is to try to scare the Democrats into stopping talking about Iraq by accusing Democrats of wanting to cut and run. They use the word “cut and run” over and over again, because they‘re hoping to make this election about the Democrats and their lack of unity, rather than about the president‘s failed policy in Iraq.
So if the Democrats are smart—and I think some of them are—they‘ll come back and just repeat like the “cut and run” mantra, “the president‘s failed policy in Iraq,” try to hold the Republicans accountable.
But they‘re figuring they‘re going to go after the Democrats‘ strength, which in this case is the president‘s problems in Iraq. That‘s Rove‘s strategy. He‘s used it going all the way back to Texas, to, instead of changing the subject to something else, to go at what looks like their strength. That‘s what he did against John Kerry in 2004. They‘re going to try it again.
And Keith, what‘s really interesting is, it may even work. The Democrats might be so inept that they get pulled into that briar patch.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter of NBC and, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek.” And always, sir, our great thanks for your time.
ALTER: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Back among the real threats, late news of terror arrests in Liberty City, Florida, near Miami. This is potential home-grown terrorism.
Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, joins us now to tell us what it is, or at least what we know so far.
PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
The FBI is moving against members of what the investigators say is a potential terror cell in Miami, that the group had discussed staging at least two attacks. The FBI started making arrests tonight and searching homes connected to seven people, all of them said to be members of a radical black Muslim group.
And officials say members of the group scoped out two buildings for possible attacks, the Sears Tower in Chicago and a federal government office building in Miami. Group members were even trying to buy ammonium nitrate, which is the fertilizer that can be turned into an explosive.
But law enforcement officials say what the group didn‘t know is that an informant had joined the group, that the FBI knew every step the group was taking, and that no actual attack could ever have gone ahead.
And there‘s some question here tonight, Keith, about whether this group would ever have been able to do anything on its own. Nonetheless, the FBI says they had some bad thoughts, and they wanted to go ahead and arrest them.
OLBERMANN: Any indication how long they had been infiltrated?
WILLIAMS: No, we don‘t know that. It was certainly for quite some period of time. But in terms of whether it was weeks or months, I don‘t have that answer. But we‘ll be learning a lot more details when this indictment against them is unsealed tomorrow.
OLBERMANN: Pete Williams in the Washington bureau, with late details on the terror threat arrests in—near Miami. Great thanks, Pete.
WILLIAMS: You bet.
OLBERMANN: The answers were no, and no. Both Democratic measures to start getting troops out of Iraq shut down in the Senate, shut down by Democrats as well as by Republicans.
And first she sings, now she talks. The newscaster whose on-air song was the most downloaded video of this week joins us to give her side of the story.
Connie Chung, only on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Poll after poll after poll shows the same inescapable conclusion about Iraq. Americans do not like the war. Americans want the other Americans in harm‘s way there to be brought back here.
Yet, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, when Senate Democrats introduced not one but two resolutions calling for some kind of withdrawal timetable, not only did they lose, but several of their own party faithful, notably some who are up for reelection, sided with the Republicans instead.
MSNBC‘s David Shuster joins us now to explain exactly why that happened.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Keith, part of what‘s driving this, especially for the Democrats up for reelection, is their memories of what happened two years ago. In the 2004 election, when voters were asked by NBC whether removing Saddam was worth it, 43 percent said yes, but 48 percent said no.
And so even though the war was unpopular, President Bush was still able to make the election about John Kerry, portraying him as a flip-flopper, and the president won.
Now, even though the war is even more unpopular, Democrats again do not want to hand Republicans an opportunity, a vehicle, if you will, to label Democrats as defeatists and make the Democrats the issue.
Again, the point for Democrats is, they are convinced that voters are going to punish Republicans for the war, punish Republicans for the mismanagement of the war. But they don‘t want to shift attention away from that, and put it on the Democrats.
As for the John Kerry amendment, which only got 13 votes, there are some other issues. John Kerry, of course, is the face of the past of the Democrats, their internal rivalries. And some Democrats simply didn‘t buy the idea that there should be a withdrawal, a full withdrawal, within a year.
The other amendment, which got more Democratic support, the Reed-Levin amendment got 39 Democrats, many Democrats felt that that was much more in line with where most Americans are. It simply said that there should be a beginning of a withdrawal this year, and then it should be up to the commander in chief.
Democrats, again, are trying to stay in line with the polling, but
they don‘t want to hand Republicans an opportunity to take attention away
from the war‘s mismanagement, and put it onto the Democrats‘ mismanagement
of their own politics, Keith,
OLBERMANN: MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Washington for us. Great thanks.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: Moving from elephants in Congress to elephants on the soccer field—I won‘t say pitch—look at them move. I am almost as tired of World Cup spinoffs as I am of the World Cup itself.
And ding-dong, Avon calling? No, alligator calling. This photo has not been doctored, not even by Senator Rick Santorum.
Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s Don Henley‘s birthday. He was born in 1947, and after his megastardom with the band The Eagles, he wrote and sang what is the underground national anthem of news, “Dirty Laundry.” “You don‘t really need to find out what‘s going on, you don‘t really want to know just how far it‘s gone, just leave well enough alone, eat your dirty laundry.”
Dedicated this hour to Don Henley, let‘s play Oddball.
And we begin once again with highlights from the greatest sporting event on earth, asterisk, the World Cup soccer. And because Oddball doesn‘t have the TV rights to show you the actual game footage, we will again recreate the action using Thai children and circus animals. Are you ready for some soccer?
Let‘s say the elephants represent the international juggernaut that is the United States team, and the kids are the plucky lads from Team Ghana. The U.S. needed this win to advance, but they let in a Ghanan goal early, and soon found themselves in more trouble than a three-ton pachyderm at a poachers‘ convention.
The late penalty shot from Stephen Appiah sealed the deal. Two to one is your final. Ghana wins, and the World Cup hopes of the United States are over. You are now free to resume not caring about soccer for another four years.
And then to Conway, Arkansas, where the battle between one tomato gardener and the worms just got personal. One of them, the worms, seems to have left her a little message. The word “Hi” has been wormed into the side of a tomato. Was it just a fluke, a playful hello, or was it meant as a taunt to intimidate gardener Phyllis Smith? Perhaps the worm was going to write something about Hillary Clinton but ran out of room. We don‘t know for sure. One thing is for sure, Phyllis Smith is not amused. I‘m sorry, there. That‘s a typo. She is amused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHYLLIS SMITH: We got (INAUDIBLE) and was pruning, and got down there, and just pulled open those tomato vines, and there was a message that that bold bug left on that tomato that said “Hi.” And it just really blowed our minds. I laughed so hard that that bug knows better that we can‘t do anything about him, you know, we can‘t get him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: From literate worms to creepy worms. A valet copies a customer‘s keys, then hides under her bed for days, videotaping his victim all the while.
A different kind of video, the rage of the Internets, Connie Chung‘s swan song. She will join us exclusively to explain just what this was all about.
Those stories ahead.
But now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Noel Edmonds, host of the British version of the TV game show “Deal or No Deal,” has been diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury. He says it was caused by having to answer the Big Deal or No Deal phone several times a show to talk to the imaginary deal man on the other end. In this country, of course, those phone call routines caused Howie Mandel‘s baldness.
Number two, Dietmar Hehenberger, owner of a luxury hotel and resort in Gugelwald (ph) in Austria—well, most of the hotel is in Austria. The edge of his roof extended 11 inches over the border into the Czech Republic. That violated a treaty between the countries, and it threatened to start World War III. This week, Hehenberger solved the international crisis by sawing off the end of his roof.
Number one, Jake Todaro, a 15-year-old from Ashland, Massachusetts. He‘s been commuting to his summer job by train. As with many first-time commuters, he got confused a bit by the teeny train schedules, the intercom announcements. When the conductor told him he was on an express that would not be stopping at his destination, Jake did what anybody would do. He leaped from the moving train, landing and rolling in the gravel alongside the tracks near his station.
He was treated and released from the hospital for multiple non-life-threatening injuries, and immediately offered a job in the office of Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
OLBERMANN: Move and you are at risk. Walk, especially across a city street and you must lie to yourself completely and insist there is no chance a car coming toward you won‘t stop at the light. Take a train and you must erase from your mind all possibility that you might fall or be pushed in front of it as it roars into your station. And never mind driving, just parking your car often entails suspending disbelief and actually handing over, to an utter stranger, your keys and everything your keys give you or somebody else access to. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN we‘ll talk about walking and riding the train some other time, right now it‘s the turn of correspondent, Jane Watrel of our Washington station, WRC, to explain how the valet who parked a woman‘s car wound up being discovered two days later under her bed.
JANE WATREL, WRC-TV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The disturbing black and white tape shows the convicted stalker carefully hiding his video camera on a desk in the victim‘s bedroom. Suddenly he hears the woman and her boyfriend come in the apartment and dives under her bed. There, Carlos Castellanos-Feria remained for two days until he was discovered by the victim‘s boyfriend.
KEN WAINSTEIN, U.S. ATTORNEY: In a lot of ways, I think this case is sort of the stuff of an urban nightmare, you know. You go through your day to day and you‘re nice to somebody and then you get repaid by having that person end up, you know, under your bed, trying to record your most private moments.
WATREL: The nightmare started at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, where the victim, an employee, met her stalker who was working as a parking valet. In court, the victim told the judge she rebuffed the valet‘s overtures and has had trouble sleeping since he was discovered under her bed.
KERI BARTA, PROSECUTOR: Her life has dramatically changed. She‘s fearful when she hears strange noises that she doesn‘t know where they‘re coming from. Her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time and who was there at the time of the incident, now has to be very careful and not approach her and catch her by surprise because it just startles her.
WATREL: Moments before he was sentenced, Castellanos-Feria apologized, saying, “I fell madly in love and that blinded my judgment. I beg your forgiveness.I need help, your honor.”
Court documents show the Maryland man was caught with a change of clothes, condoms, a power cord, and latex gloves under the victim‘s bed, a parking valet with an unnerving obsession.
WAINSTEIN: He got access to her keys because he was working in the parking garage and she would leave her keys there when she parked her car. He then took that opportunity to get those keys copied and then used them to get inside her apartment.
WATREL (on camera): Judge Herbert Dixon sentenced the stalker to three years in prison and told him to reflect on the extreme psychological harm he caused the victim. She and her husband have since moved out of the area.
Jane Watrel, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: And as you begin to re-examine whether you will ever hand another valet your keys ever, ever, ever, evidence, less dramatic, but no less disturbing, that you‘re not paranoid even if the valet does not wind up under your bed. We turn to no less an authority on this subject than COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For many, a car is one of their most valuable possession. At an average cost of $26,000, the most expensive thing they own, second only to their home. It‘s also a traveling safe where we leave C.D.‘s, sunglasses, even cash. But every day, thousands of people turn over their keys to a stranger.
BILL STANTON, SECURITY SPECIALIST: Valets, can you trust them with your car keys? We‘re going to find out today just what they do when you leave one of you most expensive possessions with them.
Gary Gross knows the risk all too well.
GARY GROSS, HAS MONEY STOLEN BY VALETS: I drive in and out of L.A. often and would valet my car. On almost every occasion I would have money taken out of my car.
NOVOTNY: Security specialist Bill Stanton traveled to Los Angeles where valets service almost street corner to see how a BMW loaded with cash and hidden cameras would fare going from valet to valet.
At first many noticed the money. But apparently were not tempted. One valet even put the money in a safe place. But over the course of a day, another raised suspicion. Our valet spots the money, but drives out of sight to look further. He began to rummage through the car.
STANTON: Why would he be checking? He‘s looking at the watch? Look at him. Right now, he‘s looking for something, cash and carry. He‘s thinking what can he take that I‘m not going to catch?
NOVOTNY: It appears as he was about to take what he wanted, his eye caught our hidden camera and panic set in. While our hidden camera was made, our valet was caught red-handed. After watching what happened from our surveillance van.
STANTON: All within seconds, he is through my stuff, going through my pockets, looking in the glove compartment. Let‘s see what this guy has to say for himself.
NOVOTNY: Bill took action.
STANTON: I need you to admit to me what you did. We both know. Can you do me a favor? Can you take your hand out of your pocket? I‘m a retired cop and I‘m with the “Today” show. You know and I know you went through the car. You can‘t be doing that to people that part their car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would take it, I would look it, and I would put it back. I swear I didn‘t take anything.
STANTON: You thought about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.
STANTON: I want you to look at me. I want you to give me your word, you‘re not going to do that to anybody else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I swear, like, I never did this and.
STANTON: That doesn‘t give you a right to look through anybody else‘s stuff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, this is the, like, first time, I did something like that and I really, like, sorry for that.
STANTON: You seem like a bright young guy. You shouldn‘t have to do this. Just don‘t let me find you doing this to anybody else.
GROSS: It‘s a range of emotions. They might only take a few dollars, but still it leaves you with a sense of being violated and angry.
NOVOTNY: For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny.
OLBERMANN: Also here, we‘re used to hearing about gators showing up at swimming holes and local canals in Florida, but showing up at the front door and ringing the doorbell?
Speaking of large reptiles, here we go, putting his outrage in all the wrong places. That‘s ahead. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a COUNTDOWN, worldwide, only on MSNBC special event. Connie Chung will exclusively tell us exclusively why she exclusively broke into song. Stand exclusively by.
OLBERMANN: “Jaws 2,” it was one of the first and the best of the sketches on the original “Saturday Night Live.” The shark from “Jaws” reaching land, seeking victims from door to door. Loraine Newman answers a knock from outside. Chevy Chase asks, “Mrs. (mumble). Newman asks, “Who?” Chase replies, “Mrs. Johannesburg?” Newman becomes irritated, “Who is it?” Chase mumbles, “Plumber, ma‘am.” Newman‘s on to him. “I know who it is, you‘re that land shark.” Chase ducks to his left, “Candygram.” Newman gets angry, “I‘m going to call the police. I know you‘re that land shark.” Chase has one shot left, “I‘m just a dolphin, ma‘am.” Newman pauses, says “Oh, all right, then” and opens the door whereupon a giant foam rubber open-mouthed shark descends upon her head and drags her off stage.
In our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, we all laughed then, but they weren‘t laughing in Bluffton, South Carolina. Not when a man carrying a camera saw what logic told him could not actually be happening. An alligator was ringing his neighbor‘s doorbell. Kerry Sanders picks up the story from there.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On Penny Creek drive in Bluffton, South Carolina, there was a knock-knock, but it was no joke. In a matter of moments, amateur photographer Richard Holinski ripped off the pictures that tell the story. A wayward six-foot alligator seemingly trying to ring the doorbell at a neighbor‘s home.
RICHARD HOLINSKI, ARMATURE PHOTOGRAPHER: It looked as if he was going to ring that bell and that‘s the shot I got.
SANDERS: That single frame, the one that looks so unbelievable, was sent into the local newspaper by a friend and from there it hit the newswires and zoomed around the world.
HOLINSKI: They‘re calling from Germany, from the U.K., from Australia.
SANDERS: At first glance it looks like a crock, like a doctored photo you‘d see on the internet, but zoologist Ron McGill says alligators with powerful legs and sharp toenails can indeed go vertical.
(on camera): Who knew? Gators can climb walls?
RON MCGILL, MIAMI METRO ZOO: Well, you know, it is very common for gators to climb. I have watched them actually scale six, seven-foot fences better than some cats.
SANDERS: So, when we‘re looking at that picture, that‘s not a put on?
MCGILL: Absolutely not. No, alligators are very capable of climbing.
SANDERS: (voice-over): Why did the alligator about for the front door? Neighbors suspect the smell of chicken teriyaki grilling in the backyard.
(on camera): Could it just be the smell of food?
MCGILL: Highly doubtful. Highly doubtful it was the smell of food.
It might have been a female alligator‘s somewhere.
SANDERS: (voice-over): He never found his love, and he slipped back into the wild. And it was see you later, alligator.
Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Miami.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of cold-blooded reptiles posing as something they‘re not, we begin our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” with a newspaper article from today‘s “Chicago Tribune” by the vice president for News and Information at the University of Notre Dame. The title is “The Impenetrable Fog of Bill O‘Reilly.” And in a moment I‘ll be reading edited highlights of this masterpiece because, hey, kids, what time is it?
STEWIE GRIFFIN, “FAMILY GUY” BABY: COUNTDOWN presents “Factor Fiction” wherein we catch that bastard Bill O‘Reilly lying again. Oh wait, Bill, hold still and allow me to soil myself on you. Victory is mine!
OLBERMANN: Thank you Stewie. Don Wycliff wrote, “If intellectual dishonesty could be said to have a face, I saw it Tuesday evening as I watched Bill O‘Reilly‘s program on FOX News.”
Mr. Wycliff noted, as we did here, O‘Reilly‘s amazing proposal that the ACLU, Air America and the “New York Times” had “handcuffed” the U.S. military in Iraq and that they need to be “exposed while we adopt Saddam Hussein‘s tactics of maintaining martial law and shooting civilians in order to stabilize Iraq.” Wycliff‘s article continues, “Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, you ignorant sl.How do you face yourself in the mirror each morning? Less than two years ago, George W. Bush won a second term in office with the biggest popular vote in American history. His party controls both houses of Congress. The ACLU is preoccupied with controlling the speech of its board of directors. The ‘New York Times,‘ which also came in for some of Bill‘s dishonorable mention, has not endorsed the winner in the last two presidential elections. And yet you, Bill, are peddling the notion that Bush is hamstrung in fighting the Iraq war because of domestic doubt and oppositions of the left. Bill,” Vice President Wycliff concluded, “I understand your dilemma. You want to blame somebody for outrages like the murders of (Privates) Menchaca and Tucker, but if you put the blame where it really belongs, you have to say some bad things about some people for whom you have been a cheerleader. It‘s OK,” he concludes, “Bill, nobody who cares about the truth take you seriously anyway.”
All right, Notre Dame! Talk about your Fightin‘ Irish! Back on this planet, in a Truman defeats Dewey level surprise, I‘m forced to report a pertinent item from the generally insipid world of “American Idol.” This season‘s runner-up, Katharine McPhee, tells “People” magazine that she is recovering from a five-year battle with bulimia. Ms. McPhee disclosed to “People” that her disorder was out of control as recently as recent as last summer when she auditioned for the TV show. A three-month recovery program in Los Angeles helped her manage the problem during “American Idol.” “American Idol,” of course, is perhaps the favorite program of millions of young women in bulimia‘s prime demographic.
And Angelina Jolie and Britney Spears have more in common than was previously known. No, Miss Jolie has not gone barefoot into filling station bathrooms, not that we know of, but just as the first pregnancy of La Spears was immortalized sculpture, on all fours on a bearskin rug, Ms. Jolie has now commissioned portrait artist, Don Bachardy to capture each of her pregnancy‘s trimesters as nudes on canvas. That, according to “Life and Style” magazine, which reports that Jolie flew Bachardy to France and to Africa to meet him, and presumably to pose for him. No comment from Miss Jolie who at last check who was still talking to Anderson Cooper. Vanity is fair.
There has been no talking from Connie Chung, not since her singing signoff became an overnight internet sensation. But now she will tell us exactly why she did exclusively!
That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”
The bronze goes to Greg Allen Woodard of Pensacola, Florida. Needed to come up with a way to make a little bit of money to support his crack habit. It was digging up the graves of nearly 25 people at historic cemeteries and pilfering jewelry from the corporations in order to make the money to buy the drugs.
And our runner-up, republican congressman, Steve King of Iowa. After Zarqawi was killed, representative King told his state party convention, “What occurred to me that morning is something I imagine a lot of you had thought about and he‘s probably figured it out by now, there are probably not 72 virgins in the hell he‘s at, and if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas.” His spokeswoman says Congressman King has now apologized to Helen Thomas, the 85-year-old White House correspondent. No word yet if anybody has suggested the congressman is really skating on thin ice when he starts commenting on other people‘s looks.
But the winner, 63-year-old grandfather Harold Wellstead of Greeley, Colorado, arrested after he tried to get a photo of his 6-year-old granddaughter with a herd of elk at a state park, there. He began shoving the girl closer and closer to the animals. One of the elk then reared up, the little girl started to cry. When an older man and his daughter tried to rescue the girl from the elk, Wellstead allegedly physically attacked them. Well, there goes your world‘s best grandpa statuette.
Harold Wellstead, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: As of dinnertime Thursday it was 571,000 viewers—
571,000 viewings just at YouTube -- 571,000 viewings on the internet. That constitutes a mega hit. What were they of? “American Idol” clips? Peanutbutta Jelly Time? Seth McFarland‘s speech at Harvard? Oh, no. Of our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, of our last guest in this hour, in her first interview since she achieved a kind of fame not known to most of us who have read the news on television—Connie does cabaret.
CONNIE CHUNG (SINGING): Thanks for the memories. We came to do a show, for very little dough. By little I mean I could make more working on skid row. That‘s cable TV.
Thanks for the memories. This half a year flew by. My Maurie, what a guy, instead of asking who is the daddy, he could talk Dubai how stunned were we all?
Thanks for the memories. Now that the show is through I have bigger things to do, but Maurie is (inaudible). We thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: Joining me now exclusively on the COUNTDOWN hotline from a secure undisclosed location, just finishing up her North American tour, it‘s the woman of the hour, Connie Chung.
CHUNG: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Oh, I‘m fine. What‘s new?
CHUNG: Oh, nothing. I‘m just on vacation, resting on my laurels.
OLBERMANN: You want to explain your laurels here? You want to just take the floor and run with that? What was that all about?
CHUNG: Well, Keith, it was just a joke. I mean I thought—if we can‘t have a little fun, I mean never taken myself seriously. I take my work seriously, I mean, journalism and television news, but, not myself, so if we can‘t have a little fun, you know, you really got to get a life.
OLBERMANN: How long had you wanted to do something like this? Does this date back to work working at our mutual alma mater, Channel 2 in Los Angeles? Or how far does this go back, the idea that you‘d go on TV and sing dressed up like that?
CHUNG: No, I‘ve never gone on TV and dressed like that, but I‘ve done these songs for many, many years. I‘ve given speeches and I have a wonderful guy who‘s a Broadway musical writer and satirist and political satirist, his name is Doug Bernstein. And he‘s been writing these ditties for me for years and I do them when I give speeches and I can guarantee you that I will sing off key. So, No. 1, automatically, you know, it gets a marvelous shutter up and down everyone‘s, you know, back and then they start laughing. It‘s a great way to start a speech. I‘ve been doing this for years.
OLBERMANN: I got a technical question about this particular episode, here, though, that a lot of people have asked this. There‘s a piano, there‘s piano player, he‘s moving his hands, but there‘s no musical accompaniment. What—was that like some sort of performance art on his part? Or what‘s he doing there?
CHUNG: Well, you can‘t really have a piano without having a piano player. And Ricardo works at MSNBC, you know him, right? Or no, you‘ve never seen him before. All right, but he‘s—he works on the weekend program and if I actually have a piano playing, it really throws me off because it‘s in tune. You know what I‘m saying? So, I have to sing a cappella because I‘m so off key, that if I don‘t, you know, it ruins it.
OLBERMANN: Five-hundred and seventy-one thousand internet viewings on just one site, by the way. How does that make you feel?
CHUNG: It‘s really scary, Keith. I can‘t imagine. It‘s summertime, people should be out doing sports. They should be doing something outdoors instead of sitting at the computer watching this ridiculous performance. Don‘t you think?
OLBERMANN: Yeah, but my real question on this, if you‘ve got 571,000 internet viewings for anything, why did you wait until the last episode of “Weekends with Connie and Maurie,” why didn‘t you do it the first night?
CHUNG: Well, I just didn‘t have a good sense.
OLBERMANN: All right. Explain why. You haven‘t done real interviews since the finale of the weekend show. Tell us why you have chosen now and this program to emerge from the shadows to receive these accolades that you so richly deserve.
CHUNG: Because the executive producer of your show, Izzy Povich is our niece. And she‘s married to Andrew Povich who is our nephew, and that‘s the only reason. She‘s family. We don‘t care about you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I know that.
OLBERMANN: Last thing here, what‘s next? What are you going to be doing—your husband‘s going to be doing his talk show are going to go on the circuit signing, or what are you going to do now?
CHUNG: Well, Keith, I was going to—I was hoping that you‘d put me on something like once a week for a little ditty. You know?
OLBERMANN: You write ‘em, we‘ll—we put everything else on. You‘re on, you‘re on, guaranteed.
CHUNG: Yes, you do. Don‘t you.
OLBERMANN: The news anchor, the chanteuse, the Streisand of Secaucus, Connie Chung, great thanks for joining us. All the best, my friend.
CHUNG: Keith, can I just tell you something. You know this. I‘m a huge fan of yours. I do love everything you do.
OLBERMANN: Well, thank you, but we‘re out of time so you‘ll have to stop saying nice things.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,148th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “Scarborough Country.”
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.