Guests: Ben Venzke, Dana Milbank, Patrick Murphy, Chris Cillizza
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
A suicide bomber attacks Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. Vice President Cheney was there at the time. The Taliban claims he was the target. We say he was not.
Undisputed, the Taliban is back to suicide bombing, and at least a dozen are dead.
Also undisputed, anybody in the administration will blame the media, anybody, including the first lady, who says the problem in Iraq is the one bombing a day shown on television. Uh-huh.
Meantime, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ report suggests our military is not ready if another crisis springs up anywhere else. Not ready in training, in munitions, in protection for the troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Do you send any forces into battle that are not fully ready? And the answer is no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Reality check. Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, Iraq vet, just back from there, and from Afghanistan, joins us.
Target, Al Gore. After the Oscar, after the administration said we had to fight global warming just like he said, the right-wing water carriers go after Al Gore’s utility bill.
Her 8-year-old weighs 218 pounds. So her solution, naturally, put him on TV.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they’re doing is, through the way they’re treating him and feeding him, they’re slowly killing him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Other growth problems, how does a man’s shoe size go from 10 ½ to 13 after he turns 29 years old? That man is Barry Bonds. His saga continues.
And did you watch this saga online? Ryan and Mindy, the North Carolina students who broke up on YouTube, have we got a surprise for you about them.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to air it all out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
The suicide bomb attack on a U.S. air base in Afghanistan during a vice presidential visit, just coincidence. The report characterizing the U.S. military readiness as significantly at risk, just jargon. The two-thirds of this country opposed to the president’s surge in Iraq, just the result of the media showing one bombing a day.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, given how well things are going in the many wars of George W. Bush, it’s amazing how many “justs” there are.
At least 12 people, maybe as many as 23, including a U.S. soldier, died when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an entrance to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan this morning. The Taliban says the bomber was trying to reach Vice President Cheney, who was inside, about a mile away from the actual blast site.
Mr. Cheney said afterwards, quote, “I heard a loud boom,” the U.S. military dismissing any suggestion that Cheney was the target, one official characterizing the possibility as, quote, “so remote that I would say it is implausible,” even though suicide attacks on U.S. bases in Afghanistan are, by the military’s own admission, a rarity, and attacks on Bagram Air Base are even rarer. This was the first since July of 2006.
The “Remain calm, all is well” mantra from the administration not limited to Afghanistan. According to the first lady, quote, “Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everybody.”
No comment from Mrs. Bush about the dozens of bombings in Iraq today, suicide bombers killing at least 10 people in Mosul. Another 10 died in a series of bombings in Baghdad. Three U.S. soldiers were killed by roadside bombs south of the capital. And 18 young boys died when a bomb blew up at a soccer field in Ramadi.
Hundreds more injured by explosions, including 31 Iraqis wounded by a controlled detonation by U.S. forces.
Joining us now, “Washington Post” national political reporter, MSNBC analyst Dana Milbank.
Thanks for your time tonight, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: There are hundreds of attacks in Iraq every week. Most of them are not shown on TV because it is to dangerous for journalists to go and get the footage of them. Did the first lady misspeak when she said that there is one discouraging bombing a day? Or does she really expect people to buy the idea that somehow the media is to blame for what’s happening in Iraq?
MILBANK: Yes, it’s amazing how a car bombing will ruin an otherwise perfectly good day. She—I think, in fairness, she may have been misspeaking. She presumes—there could be other car bombings that she did not find to be discouraging.
But more likely, what’s going on here is that the first lady’s press office, frequently the last one to get sort of the talking points, the administration, even President Bush recently, has been saying, you know, It’s really going to affect things here is the facts on the ground there. It’s not what he says about it, it’s not what anybody says about it.
So I think, if anything, the president himself has been lightening up a bit on that. But he’s got to get this memo over to the East Wing so the first lady can get with the program.
OLBERMANN: Do we know to what degree there might be spin involved in the story out of Bagram Air Base, whether or not the Taliban did know the vice president was unexpectedly still there? It does seem like an extraordinary coincidence that the first attack there in seven months happens to come when the vice president just happened to still be there.
MILBANK: Yes, it really does seem unusual, and I think it’s worth noting that those reports out of—the officials out in Afghanistan, there may be a bit of CYA going on there. And even Tony Snow was saying, We didn’t know one way or the other. But clearly, the Taliban knows he’s there.
And as you note, the larger question here is not whether they were targeting Cheney. Obviously, they were aware that they weren’t going to hit him from such a tremendous distance. But the fact is that you do have this extraordinarily resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan that’s becoming an increasing problem for the military and for everybody in Washington.
OLBERMANN: The premise with this trip was, he was still there—he was there later than expected. Is that the gist of it?
MILBANK: Yes. Little snowstorm came in the night before. But nobody has—the Taliban has not taken any credit for the weather.
OLBERMANN: So in sum here, Dana, the administration’s telling us that most of Iraq is stable, is—the first lady said that, the vice president was not targeted, although they could have known he was there yesterday, there’s one bombing a day from Iraq seen on TV. The same administration told us a few months ago that the insurgency was in its last throes, it told us the Taliban was basically out of business.
Where is the credibility regarding the war on terror and what’s going on on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or is that no longer relevant to their equation?
MILBANK: Well, you know, there’s two competing narratives here. And it’s also interesting today that the secretary of state, perhaps responding to your words to her yesterday, tried a bit of honesty today before the Senate, was saying that, after all, we are going to now talk to Iran and Syria. Secretary Gates was today saying we’re facing five different wars in Iraq. Mike McConnell, new intelligence director, was talking about the deteriorating and difficult situation in Iraq.
So you do have some of these folks beginning to tether themselves a bit more closely to reality. And, of course, you also have the examples of what you’re talking about.
I think there’s a tension within the administration, and they’re aware that they don’t have a great deal of credibility at this point.
OLBERMANN: And let’s be clear, we both know Secretary Rice was not responding to anything done here.
MILBANK: Oh, I think she was, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, all right, thanks. Our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” who’s always right, except just there. Great thanks, Dana.
It’s not just the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan to which the administration appears to be oblivious, but the U.S. ability to fight future wars as well, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, telling Congress in a classified report that the military’s readiness declined last year.
As it stands, there is a significant risk that it would not be able to fully respond to a sudden crisis elsewhere, the chairman’s report submitted to the Pentagon at the start of the year, and so does not take the president’s latest troop increase into account. Despite his warning, the White House is characterizing the assessment as a wish list rather than harsh reality.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is simply an assessment of, you know, if you had what you think you’d really like, and what you consider absolutely necessary in the long run, do you want more? And the answer is, Yes, and we believe that’s necessary, and that is why that is part of the recommendation that the president has put together for this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: “The Washington Post” reported Friday that according to Army officials, virtually all of the U.S.-based Army combat brigades are rated right now as unready to deploy. So when you say you have improved end strength...
SNOW: Well, but, you, it’s, this gets you into part of the jargon. What happens is that if you also ask the commanders, When the time comes for deployment, will you have readiness? and the answer is yes. A lot of that has to do with whether the equipment is here, or in theater. The equipment’s in theater, for the most part. No reason to sort of take stuff out and then put it back in.
We’re also in the process of seeking funding to continue to improve and replenish equipment. So the really important question is, do you send any forces into battle that are not fully ready? And the answer is no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tell that, though, to the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, or the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Both of those combat units are having to forego the benefit of counterinsurgency training at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, which has been specially designed to prepare them for war in the desert of Iraq.
They have to forego these trainings because they are deploying early, as part of the president’s troop escalation in Iraq.
Joining us now, the only congressman who’s actually served there, Representative Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania.
OLBERMANN: Thank you for some of your time, sir.
REP. PATRICK MURPHY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks, Keith, thanks for having me on the show. I appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: You just got back from a tour of the region. You were in Iraq, you were in Afghanistan. Do you agree with General Pace’s assessment about lack of military readiness? Or do you agree with the administration’s contention that the U.S. troops are fully battle-ready?
MURPHY: I side with the military. General Pace is a good man, and I’ll—he’s a straight shooter, Keith. And the reality of it is, is our troops are spread very thin, and they need help, and we’re going to give it to them in Congress.
OLBERMANN: All right, specifically, what do you do about two Army brigades, the ones we just mentioned, going to Iraq this spring, no longer getting the specialized training to fight in the desert, because they’re part of this surge? What is Congress going to do to try to stop that from happening (INAUDIBLE)?
MURPHY: Well, the president has ordered them to go, and, you know, the reality of it is, I think all of us here at home need to pray for them. We’re looking at what we can do in Congress right now. We obviously have a supplemental coming up, and we look forward to -- You know, we were having these hearings. The reality of it is, is, you know, they didn’t even talk about it for the past six years. You know, they had a Congress that didn’t like to ask the tough questions.
And, you know, I, you know, General Pace—I served under him, obviously, you know, Keith, that I served in the military, just got off of active duty a few years ago. And, you know, I talked to him about the training of the Iraqis. I talked to him about the readiness issue.
And Congress, you know, has finally asked him, you know, Do you need more troops? Do you need more troops? Under Rumsfeld, they never needed more troops. And now they’re saying, We need 92,000 more. So we’re looking at how we could do that for them.
OLBERMANN: All right, how do you deal with the issue of equipment? The administration promised to fix that appalling lack of body armor and the armor-plated Humvees. Has anything changed on that?
MURPHY: Well, they got the body armor, and the Humvees are getting fitted. You know, there’s still more we can do. And the reality of it is, is that, you know, I think a lot of us who served over there are a little disappointed. We think they should be acting with a little bit more sense of urgency. And they’re not. And so we need to make sure that we do, as a Congress, act with a sense of urgency and ask the tough questions.
OLBERMANN: All right. The tough question about Congress at the moment was—pertains to nonbinding and binding House resolutions. You voted for the nonbinding against the troop increase in Iraq. What is Congress going to do, bindingly, to resolve this war? When is the electorate going to see some concrete action on getting U.S. troops out of Iraq?
MURPHY: Sure, Keith, and we always said that the—that resolution that we had two weeks ago was the first step. So let’s, you know, understand that. And I was very happy that it passed, I’m very happy that we had the debate, 393 members of Congress actually debated this on the floor, a debate that we haven’t had.
So that was the first step. I have offered a piece of legislation with Senator Barack Obama and Congressman Mike Thompson, who is a Vietnam veteran, another paratrooper like I was. And the reality of it is, is that we said, We need a binding piece of legislation. We need to give the Iraqis a timeline. We’ve called for a 12-month timeline, so they come off the sidelines and finally fight for their country, so we can refocus our efforts on Afghanistan.
Keith, you mentioned—you know, I just was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan. But I met with General McNeil (ph). He is the commander, the NATO commander, an American general that I served under when I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And I asked him, I said, Sir, what do you need? Do you need more troops? And he looked at me in the eye and he said, Murph, I need four more brigades, I need two more—I’m sorry, I need four more battalions, two battalions, about 1,500 troops of Brits, 1,500 troops of Americans.
The Brits just came through, and now he’s asking our military for more troops. And we need to give it to him, because the Taliban, who are going to resurge and have this spring offensive, are coming, and we need to make sure that we support our military and put our eye back on the ball in Afghanistan, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Politically speaking, as the last question, Congressman, your majority leader, Mr. Hoyer, told reporters today that the Democrats are, now, let me quote him, “in the process of choosing the least dangerous, least negative alternative to resolving the situation in Iraq.” Where do you stand on that? What’s the most promising alternative that you see right now, besides the one that you proposed?
MURPHY: Well, I think the one I’m proposing...
MURPHY: ... is the best, Keith. But I think the reality of it is, is that we need to make sure that we win in the Middle East. We all are in agreement that we need to win there. But how do you do that? How you do that is, refocus on Afghanistan, and really set a timeline. A lot of people aren’t willing to do a timeline. We need to give a timeline.
When I was there, I was a captain, Keith, as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division in 2003 and 2004. We had timelines for everything, timelines to pass their constitution, timelines to have their two elections. And every military operation has a military timeline. We need to make sure that we have that, so the Iraqis know that we’re not going to be there forever.
And I’m call for a moderate approach, and I think that’s what we need right now, is a bipartisan approach to this problem, and say, Listen, we can’t bring all our troops home tomorrow from Iraq, but we can have an open-ended commitment, like the president wants.
What I’ve called for is a 12-month timeline to start bringing our troops home, so we could bring them home and refocus on Afghanistan.
OLBERMANN: Well, that latest “Washington Post” poll says you’re now over 50 percent supporting timelines so maybe we will finally get this.
Representative Patrick Murphy...
MURPHY: Well, I tell you, the American people have a right, Keith, and I’m happy to stand with them.
OLBERMANN: Congressman, great thanks for your service to the country, and great thanks for your time tonight.
MURPHY: Thanks, Keith, I appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: And not to pile on, but from the “that’s the way the ball
bounces” file, there was one last problem for President Bush today,
greeting last year’s NBA champions, the Miami Heat. All going well until -
OK. Double or nothing. Chew some gum?
The president, of course, took his eye off the Taliban ball, moving resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, as Congressman Murphy mentioned. What does today’s suicide attack near the vice president say about the resurgence of that group and of al Qaeda?
And the far right resumes its offensive against Al Gore. He presents “An Inconvenient Truth,” so they unleash a convenient lie. They bleat the former vice president’s utility bills are way higher than average. The explanation is, he’s paying more to use green power. That, they left out. We will not.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It was a red, waving flag at the tip of an iceberg.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, after a year that saw dramatic increase in attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and amid so many reports that the Taliban and al Qaeda were planning a spring offensive, a story that has gotten so much coverage that they might as well put up posters, today’s deadly suicide bombing at the Bagram Air Base evoked, literally and symbolically, the resurgence of the enemy we were supposed to have already defeated, whether or not it was actually targeting the vice president.
Today it was one suicide bomber outside the main entrance to the air base where the vice president was staying, but last year alone, there were 139 suicide bombings in Afghanistan, five times as many as in 2005.
And U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces are bracing for that spring offensive.
Meanwhile, the vice president’s stated, if latent, concern that President Musharraf of Pakistan is not doing enough to combat terrorist breeding grounds in his own country was echoed today by the director of national intelligence, the DNI, Mike McConnell. The intelligence chief testified that al Qaeda is rebuilding training camps in the northwest frontier of that country, and that al Qaeda’s diminished leadership has been replaced.
Let’s turn to Ben Venzke, founder and CEO of Intel Center.
Ben, thanks for your time tonight.
BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT: Hi, good to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let’s first assume that Vice President Cheney was not the target of the suicide bombing. Does it even matter? Does the attack still become still emblematic of a larger problem?
VENZKE: Well, it’s one small representative piece. I mean, I think if you’re looking at the larger picture here, it’s not the attack today, but it’s the dramatic increase in attacks that we’ve seen since the summer of 2005 that’s significant.
OLBERMANN: The vice president, as we discussed with Dana Milbank earlier, had stayed overnight in Bagram, later than expected, due to the bad weather. If the Taliban did, in fact, target him, would it suggest that they had pretty good intelligence regarding his whereabouts? Would it raise questions about where that intelligence would be coming from?
VENZKE: Well, I mean, it’s certainly something that you need to look at. We’re still in the early stages of this. Clearly, if there were people, say, support personnel or others that were working on the base that had knowledge, that passed that information on, that’s a counterintelligence threat that you need to take seriously.
It also could have been that there was an attack planned against the base, and it just so happened to coincide with his visit. So there’s a lot of unknowns now, but there are certainly things that need to be investigated.
OLBERMANN: Does what has been happening since the middle of ‘05 underscore the argument that is made in a lot of quarters that we really took our eye off the terrorist ball by shifting resources from Afghanistan to Iraq? Is that now clear in retrospect? Is that still arguable the other way?
VENZKE: Well, I think what it emphasizes is the fact that Afghanistan, regardless of what’s going on, say, in Iraq or in other places in the world, that Afghanistan is still a very important piece in this overall battle against al Qaeda and against other jihadist groups, if for no other reason that we still have the al Qaeda senior leadership there, and a significant presence.
OLBERMANN: We can’t talk about this in a vacuum. There are those tribal areas in Pakistan which President Musharraf essentially ceded to tribal leaders last fall. Basically it was a cease-fire, arguably gave al Qaeda free rein there. How constrained is Musharraf? How constrained is the Bush administration to do something about that now?
VENZKE: Well, whenever you’re talking about that region and the Pakistan side of the border, it’s unfortunately not as black and white as saying, Well, there’s these training camps here, we need to move against them. You have to take it in the context of the overall political picture that Musharraf has to deal with, and in terms of unstabilizing or causing additional stability problems with the government of Pakistan.
So, you know, on a certain level, you could just say, Yes, we know there’s this presence here, it needs to be addressed. But at the same time, you can’t sort of pull the carpet out from under Musharraf. He needs to still be able to function and be able to control the rest of his country. So unfortunately, there’s no clearcut answer to that. But it’s something that is a very pressing concern.
OLBERMANN: Ben Venzke, the terrorism analyst, CEO of Intel Center.
Ben, as always, great thanks for your time.
VENZKE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, boy, this was the big hit on the Internet, the North Carolina kids who broke up in public on Valentine’s Day on YouTube. Just one small problem with this.
And Prince Charles of England has a problem with McDonald’s. Ban McDonald’s? That’s what he says. The company’s response translates as, Bite my Big Mac.
That and more, ahead here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It’s the 46th birthday of the gifted actor Grant Shaw (ph). He’s had a variety of great roles, but he shines eternally as Miles Silverberg, the long-suffering boy manager at the fictional magazine show “FYI” on “Murphy Brown.”
On that note, let’s play Oddball.
We begin on the Italian island of Stromboli, where the local volcano has erupted and piping-hot red sauce is oozing out of the crevices and—mmm, hot Stromboli. Ah. All right, sorry about that.
Deerfield Beach, Florida, hello. You may remember this story from a couple of weeks ago. An 80-year-old woman on her way to take the driving test crashes through the front window of the DMV. No one seriously injured. Irony? Ah, maybe.
What if we told you the real irony was that Superman himself was there that day, and did nothing to help? This the securitycam video just released from inside the DMV. And though it’s tough to see in all the commotion, there is clearly a guy in a Superman costume who enters the office in the upper right portion of the screen.
Does he use his superpowers to begin saving people, maybe lift up the car and toss it back out into the parking lot? No. He stands there and watches as others jump into action. Busty (ph). This was your big chance, buster. On the day you chose to dress up as Superman, you’re on the scene for a real-life emergency, and you choke. You, sir, are not fit to wear this uniform.
Finally to Clearfield, Pennsylvania, where, if you order the Big Burger at Denny’s Beer Barrel Pub, it comes with a free ride in an ambulance. Denny Lahey (ph) is pretty sure his restaurant is serving the world’s largest cheeseburger. It’s 80 pounds of ground beef, 30 pounds of bun, a pound each of mayo, ketchup, and mustard, five whole onions. Price, $379, but you can save a bit with the Value Meal. A bargain at any price for a big—a meal big enough to give the entire town heart disease.
Also tonight, and here’s the kid who ate it. His mother puts him on TV instead of on a diet, while Prince Charles proposes banning McDonald’s.
And for the right-wing water carriers, global warming is simply too hard to believe. So now it’s pre-9/11 political thinking, attack Al Gore again.
Details ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day. Number three, Susan Tepper of Villanova, Pennsylvania, the Naomi Campbell of main line society. She has been placed on probation for a year, sent to community service and anger management, and fined 2,800 bucks for getting angry at her nanny because the refrigerator was dirty. Well, not just for getting angry, she also pulled the nanny’s hair, hit the woman with a phone and threw a bag of carrots at her. I wanted these Julienne.
Number two, Harold James of Lagrange, New York. He’s a janitor at the Dutchess County courthouse, and Friday he was staying a little late, mopping up a floor in a secure room inside the courthouse when the door suddenly slammed shut. It next opened 60 hours later. In the interim, over the weekend, for Mr. Jones, no food, no water, no bathroom and the biggest concern, since he is OK, nobody went looking for him, thanks.
And number one, the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 416 points today, precipitated by sell-offs in Asian markets. The New York Stock Market now admitting it had computer glitches in the afternoon that created a backlog that made the Dow drop a couple hundred points in one minute. Some Wall Streeters saying panicky stockholders saw that and thought something had really gone wrong, so that only made their panic panickier (sic).
Fox noise insisted though that the drop off was because of the assassination attempt on Vice President Cheney. You guys are really opening a business channel?
OLBERMANN: He may never run for office again, and the man chosen president over him has now come around to his way of thinking about global warming. But face it, to the far right, Al Gore is still an inconvenient truth teller. Hard on the heels of his documentary’s Oscar came the headlines a non-partisan think tank had revealed that Mr. Gore’s own personal energy bill is 20 times the national average.
So is our third story tonight outrageous hypocrisy, a minor embarrassment or a demonstration of a different kind of wind power? First, that allegedly non-partisan think tank, which just happens to have gotten its story picked up by the notorious Drudge Report today, is called the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. Twenty seven-year-old President Jason Drew Johnson, hailing from the same American Enterprise Institute that takes money from big oil, cheer-leads the war in Iraq and consistently, and now to pretty consistent laughter, downplays global warming.
That said, even a partisan think tank can get the facts straight. So the facts, last year, Gore’s Tennessee property consumed almost 221,000 kilowatt hours, 20 times the national average. It cost him more than 16,300 dollars. But Johnson’s press release, calling on Gore to walk the walk when it comes to home energy use, omits several other key facts. The former vice president’s home has 20 rooms, including home offices for himself and his wife, as well as a guest house and special security measures.
Furthermore the Gores buy energy produced from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. Tonight, COUNTDOWN confirmed with the local utility officials that their program, called the Green Power Switch, actually costs more for the Gores, four dollars for every 150 kilowatt hours. Meaning, by our calculations, our math here, that the Gores actually chose to increase their electric bill by more 5,893 dollars, more than 50 percent, in order to minimize carbon pollution.
The utility is also telling us that some smaller homes consume energy in the same range of usage as does the one on the Gores’ property. Surprise, surprise, there seems to be political subtext here. I’m joined now by WashingtonPost.com political reporter, Chris Cillizza. Chris, thanks as always, for your time tonight.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: It’s a political hit, obviously, but is it one directed at Mr. Gore or at global warming?
CILLIZZA: A little of both, I think. I think the reality is that Al Gore has built up a nice streak of momentum here, the most recent being, obviously, his win of an Academy Award for “An Inconvenient Truth,” but he has been a public figure and has sort of been an admired public figure, strangely, more admired out of public life than in public life. And the rumor mill continues to churn and Al Gore, while he says he has no plans to run for president in 2008, refuses to say, I will not run.
So I think what Republicans are doing are saying, well, if we think we can take a hit at him, let’s do it. It’s possible he might run. He’s moving up in the polls. Our most recent poll, the Post poll that came out tonight, has Gore at 14 percent. He’s moved up four percent in the last month. So, you know, he has a target on his back as a result.
OLBERMANN: But why is the right afraid of him, when he seemed to be such a good target in 2000? Is it not to the advantage of anybody who wants the Democrats to lose in 2008 to have him run, and have him run right now, and then have three Democratic heavyweights in there bloodying each other a year before the first primary?
CILLIZZA: I think this gets to the transformation I was talking about. If you had said to almost anyone in politics, I think that Al Gore would be the potential heavyweight in the Democratic field in 2008, they would have laughed at you, even a year or two ago. This is somebody who I think Republicans were wishing and praying that he would run in 2004, because they thought he would be the weakest possible candidate.
I think it speaks to the fact that Al Gore has, in many ways, transformed himself. People see him as this wonkish guy who really believes in climate change, and oh, by the way, he happened to be against the war in Iraq from the beginning, has been an outspoken opponent of President Bush’s domestic wire tapping policies, and has made this global warming issue something that went from the back of voters’ minds to the front of voters’ minds. So I think he’s a more daunting figure than anyone would have thought six months or a year or two years ago.
OLBERMANN: I suggested a couple of weeks ago, from personal
experience with him, and some of these really public jokes about campaigns
he made the whole thing on Saturday Night Live out of one of them a year ago, Sunday at the Oscars when the band came in just as supposedly he was going to make an announcement—that they might be indications that he might actually run, if enough people asked him. I guess he would run if he was guaranteed to win. But what are the latest soundings in Washington about Gore and a potential candidacy?
CILLIZZA: Well, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to sort of former Gore advisors, trying to get a sense of where he stands. I do think his current public pronouncement that he has no plans to run is in keeping with his private belief, that he is not presently planning to run for president. Again, though, that does not mean that this isn’t a possibility.
I do think that Al Gore, if he saw Hillary Rodham Clinton likely to win the nomination in March, April, May, June, even July of this year, I think he believes that Senator Clinton might take the party in a direction he does not agree with, and if Barack Obama does not wind up being the anti-Clinton in this field—or John Edwards, for that matter—I think Al Gore would think very seriously about it, and he would come under considerable pressure, especially from the liberal left, the anti-war—the strongest anti-war partisans on the left, to do so. And so, while I don’t think it’s likely, and a betting man would not bet on him running, I also don’t think you can count him out just yet.
OLBERMANN: Briefly, the politics of global warming, whatever the deniers do to Gore, how do they get around the idea that the evangelicals and the Bush administration have recognized this and said, we have to act and act fast?
CILLIZZA: I don’t think they do. I think the reality—and this is from empirical evidence. I’ve talked to a lot of the candidates running for president, and many of them, unbidden, I don’t ask this question, they bring up global warming as an issue. I think it’s moved from a back of the mind issue in voters’ minds to a front of the mind issue. And I don’t think that’s going to change, whether Mr. Gore is in the race or not.
OLBERMANN: Chris Cillizza of “Washington Post,” WashingtonPost.com.
As always, Chris, great thanks, good night.
CILLIZZA: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, he tips the scales at 218 pounds and eight years old, and today his parents find out whether the government is going to take him away for his own good.
And, over Anna Nicole Smith’s dead body, more arguments, this time though, without Judge Larry. Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Great Britain is tonight in the throes of another Prince Charles event. Discussing the local childhood obesity and diabetes problem with a nutritionist in the United Arab Emirates today, the heir to the British thrown was overheard by journalists asking that nutritionist, quote, “Have you got anywhere with McDonalds? Have you tried getting it banned? That’s the key.”
From its end of the battle of the Prince of Wales versus the Hamburglar, McDonald’s has pointed out that Prince Charles’ son Harry and his mother, the queen, have both eaten at its restaurants. In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, another Brit has a different idea about overweight children, in this case her own. Nicola Mckeown son Connor weighs 218 pounds. He’s eight. Her solution? Put him on television.
Our correspondent is Paul Brennan from our affiliated British network
PAUL BRENNAN, ITV (voice-over): Four times the size of an average eight-year-old, refusing to eat fruit and vegetables, and missing school because of poor health. Just who is to blame for Connor McReady’s (ph) weight problem? Not me, says his mom. She has she has done all she can, and has pleaded with professionals for help.
NICOLA MCKEOWN, CONNOR’S MOM: (INAUDIBLE) something can be done and be turning pint, and help Connor lose the weight I think he needs to lose.
BRENNAN: North Times Council and Primary Care Trust refused to take the blame. They say they have been working with Connor’s family for a long time and will continue to do so. Connor’s interests, they say, are paramount, but so does his family.
MCKEOWN: We’re extremely worried, because if he ever gets taken into care, I think that will be the finish of me, seriously.
BRENNAN: Since Christmas, Connor’s been on an intensive exercise and healthy food regime, and has shed 1.5 stone, but doctors say at 14 stone, he still faces an early death and his family must take greater responsibility.
DR. MICHAEL MARKIEWICZ, CONSULTANT PEDIATRICIAN: They love him. They actually love him to death, literally. In fact, not saying they can’t care for him, but what they’re doing is, through the way they’re treating him, and feeding him, they’re slowly killing him.
BRENNAN: At just eight years old, many experts say Connor’s not old enough to take responsibility for his eating habits, but until someone does, this young boy’s life hangs in the balance.
Paul Brennan, ITV news.
OLBERMANN: And British social workers decided today to allow Connor McReady to remain at home with his mother. They said they’ve reached an agreement with her on safeguarding his welfare. No details of that agreement have been provided though.
A perversely appropriate segue then into our nightly roundup of celebrity news, keeping tabs. And due to popular demand, the court battle over Anna Nicole Smith’s body will get a sequel tomorrow. Smith’s mother, Virgie Arthur, will have her appeal heard by the court of appeal, surprisingly enough, each side getting 20 minutes to present its case.
Miss Arthur is appealing last week’s epic ruling that Smith’s body be given to the custody of the guardian of her next of kin, her infant daughter. Miss Smith and Miss Arthur were estranged. At stake is whether Smith is buried in Texas, where her mother wants, or in the Bahamas, where Judge Larry Seidlin was really, really hoping she would be buried.
It’s been tough to explain even to a serious baseball fan how something like steroids or human growth hormone can make it possible for a player to hit 10 more home runs a season, or 20 or 30, but the impact of illegal performance enhancers just got a little clearer, thanks to news about the shoe size of Barry Bonds. When Bonds first joined the Giants in 1993, he wore size 10.5 cleats. He now wears size 13.
His 1993 Giants hat was a size 7 1/8th. He now wears a 7 ½, even after having shaved his head. Ordinarily the head and feet of adult humans do not grow any further past the age of 21 or 22. Bonds is now 42. A possible alternate explanation to drug use, that Bonds has been exposed to atomic radiation and will soon grow to the size of the Empire State Building. The information is included in the new revised paperback version of the book “Game of Shadows,” by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada (ph).
Not the only bad baseball headline of the day. The attorney for hall of famer, former Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda says his client will sue if a book by former Hollywood madam Jody “Baby Doll” Gibson, supposed to be released the day after tomorrow, indeed lists Lasorda as one of her former celebrity clients. He says it’s not true. So does actor Bruce Willis, who is also on that list, supposedly. Nobody apparently thought to ask Lasorda what he thought of her performance. That’s an inside baseball joke.
One non-negative baseball note, the famed 1909 Honus Wagner cigarette card, once owned by Hockey great Wayne Gretzky, has been sold again for 2,300,000 dollars. Gretzky bought it in 1991 for less than half a million. Nobody even cares that card experts believe the card used to be a little larger and in a little less perfect shape, and was trimmed down at some point in the 1980’s to make it look mint by somebody who had the guts of a cat burglar.
And then there are Mindy and Ryan. They got trimmed down too. They broke up on Valentine’s Day. It was on YouTube, so it had to be real. Didn’t it? That’s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The Bronze to Coulter-geist, snapping out of her winter-long slump to say something vaguely entertaining. She is one of the global warming deniers, claims it is a plot by environmentalists to create a world, quote, where they, the beautiful rich people, live in their homes and there are few maids, well tempered maids will come in and take care of them. Maids, huh? Hey, Anne, you found your calling.
The silver to Michael Turner of Lapatcong (ph) Township, New Jersey. He e-mailed bomb threats to the president of the school he attends, North Hampton Community College. He said he would, quote, redden the hallways and darken your souls. He apologized today, saying he was out of it, due to fatigue and cold medicine. Mr. Turner also says he hopes to become an athletic trainer after graduation and maybe after prison.
But our winners tonight, the Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans. Given a choice of such overlooked immortals as Gil Hodges and Ron Santo, Jim Kaat and Maury Wills, such movers and shakers as Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley, who moved the baseball to Los Angeles, Players Union founder Marvin Miller, they today elected nobody, nobody. Santo came closest, five votes short of the spot in the Hall of Fame that he has so long deserved.
There will not be another vote until 2009; 2011 for the non-players. The electors, including 61 current Hall of Famers, should voluntarily resign their positions or be compelled to. They have made fools of themselves, again. The Baseball Hall of Fame Committee on Veterans, today’s Worst Persons in the World.
OLBERMANN: It was a very public breakup on a very public website, shocking YouTubers and mainstream media alike, kind of Jerry Springer show, organically popping up in the University of North Carolina’s campus. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, hundreds of thousands watched transfixed, perhaps against their wills, on YouTube and elsewhere, like you might watch the show “Cops” or “Bridezilla.”
On Valentine’s Day a UNC student named Ryan Burke invited his girlfriend to his campus for what she thought would be a romantic Valentine’s Day serenade. Instead, she got a profanity laced kick to the curb, and some a cappella accompaniment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You seriously got these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) people to do this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There’s something wrong with you, that you need this many people to feel better about breaking up with me on Valentine’s Day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off and die. I hope you remember this and everyone. And I hope you remember me (EXPLETIVE DELETED) smiling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tremendous. But now we find out what COUNTDOWN’s inter-web experts knew all along, the whole thing was staged. The only problem, some news organizations, though mildly skeptical, bought into the hoax. More than 700,000 hits on the YouTube later, Ryan Burke has now confessed that the breakup was a hoax.
He admitted he was never dating the girl, who’s name is Mindy Morman, and that the elaborate stunt was meant to show the power of Internet communities. Mr. Burke also remarked, the fact that actual news agencies are interested is a surprise. Well, not this news agency buddy. We have a rigorous screening process when it comes to the Internets. We’ve never been fooled by it, other than that story where university research had proved that you lose IQ points after becoming a parent. I would like to pint out, each and every one of the parents involved in producing this news cast believed that, 100 percent, those that could still count that high.
But anyway, when it comes to the web video of dubious origins, there are three main groups. The first, clips we would never air on this news cast, the ones we know with 100 percent certainty are fake. Take this crazed Bridezilla, for example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you please just like go away. Just go away? Why did you let me cut my hair? Why did you let me cut my hair. I hate my hair. I hate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Lonely Girl 15 is another one who fit into that category, as does the fake infrared airport security camera footage, supposedly showing someone passing wind. It’s fake. So we’re only showing it for purposes of this expose, and never again.
Category two, stuff we know is faux, but it’s too good not to use. Your studio light falling on anchor woman during a news report, for instance. I’ve seen something like that sort of happening. The other woman who took a header as she attempted to pump some gas into the car and the fake phenomenon of dynamite surfing, where a guy tosses a stick of dynamite into a lake and another guy hangs ten on the resultant wave.
Finally, the third and largest group, the stuff our web experts can’t make a call on, but it’s so good we have to get it in. Take, for instance, this clip of a fake Silvio Berlusconi, former premiere of Italy, getting it on. Or this one of a smoker getting busted in the bathroom by his co-worker, and the co-worker striking back.
And the all-time classic, the kid who made it big on the local news, only to blow his big shot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were two core individuals, myself and Ryan Reilly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I know Ryan was involved with was the (INAUDIBLE) that got a lot of publicity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And—I’m sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We’re going to take a commercial break.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Was it real? Well, it was real funny. That’s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,416th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I’m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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