Guests: Marvin Kitman, Paul F. Tompkinsm Arianna Huffington, Richard Wolffe
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
John McCain says we have wasted American lives in Iraq. Unlike when Barack Obama used similar language, no outrage from the right and no apology from McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® AZ: We have wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives over there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The senator says he merely misspoke, should have used the word “sacrificed” as he has in the past. Will he be able to get away without apologizing considering Obama was forced to after he used the same language.
Will the administration be able to get away with incompetence instead of intelligence. Not just about nukes in Iran, but also about nukes in North Korea. Let‘s just call it incompetel.
They appear to have that in spades at the outpatient program at Walter Reed. The general in charge an outpatient himself, fired. The complaints of fetid conditions which you heard last week, though, which the military newspapers first heard last year, military officials first heard in 2003.
Why haven‘t you heard about a new book called “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up.” A surprisingly fair and balanced biography of Bill O. for which he sat for 29 separate interviews with the author. Then the book came out and O‘Reilly has tried to bury it and him. Maybe because there‘s a blurb on the back from me?
Author Marvin Kitman joins us.
A massive tornado destroys a high school in Enterprise, Alabama. At least 15 people in the area are killed. The very latest on deadly weather from the Midwest to the Southeast.
And bad taste in inexhaustible. A late legal bid to stop the burial of Anna Nicole Smith tomorrow. Somebody throw himself on the casket like in those cliched movies, only this guy will be clutching a court order?
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY SEIDLIN, FLORIDA JUDGE: I am not rushing.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. Have American lives, 3,159 of them by the latest official count, been wasted in Iraq or have they been sacrificed or are both words appropriate? That‘s a question that may well end up defining the 2008 presidential campaign.
And in our fifth story on THE COUNTDOWN tonight, Senator John McCain botched what was supposed to be his big pre-official entry into that campaign on the “Late Show with David Letterman” last night by turning today‘s story from his campaign launch into how he characterized American fatalities in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Americans are very frustrated and they have every right to be. We have wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: When Senator Barack Obama of Illinois used almost the same wording last month, Fox Noise and right wing bloggers jumped on it, using it to support the vile falsehood that Democrats do not support America‘s troops.
As of tonight, McCain has yet to engender the same level of outrage from those rightwing outlets but today the Democratic National Committee called on McCain to apologize as Senator Obama apologized.
In a statement, Senator McCain did not apologize, saying instead merely that quote, “I should have used the word ‘sacrificed‘ as I have in the past.”
There are at least two questions to consider here. One of course being whether Republicans will be held to the same standards the right wing applies to Democrats, the other whether the right wing has already won a critical victory in the 2008 campaign by getting even Democrats to say that American deaths had not been wasted but sacrificed, a sacrifice being, the dictionary tells us, “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.”
The idea that Mr. Bush‘s war constitutes a more pressing claim then the lives of 3,000 Americans sounding remarkably unlike what one might expect from antiwar Democrats. So tonight COUNTDOWN asks the group Gold Star Families Speak Out whose members have lost kin in the war about this issue, a spokeswoman told us, quote, “To avoid speaking about these precious and wasted lives only helps to prolong the war. It is a sad and bitter truth to face but it seems to be a tactic of the administration to paint the casualties in red, white and blue and ignore the terrible mistakes that have led to these deaths.”
Joining us now on how these questions play into the upcoming campaign, Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffingtonpost.com. Arianna, thanks as always for your time tonight.
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, let‘s start with the media analysis part of this. Two different candidates virtually, exactly the same language change in discussing dead Americans. Have the media reactions been the same?
HUFFINGTON: Dramatically different. And the “New York Times,” the “Washington Post,” the “L.A. Times”, the “Wall Street Journal” had all reported what Obama said and often in critical ways and there was none of that reporting about McCain‘s remarks. In fact only the A.P. picked up the comments on the Letterman show.
It doesn‘t fit the narrative in which Democrats versus Republicans are placed when it comes to the war. Also, the reaction from Barack Obama, I think was really the right kind of reaction. He said that not for a second did he think McCain did not support the troops because he used the word “wasted.”
And that is really the right thing to do as opposed to the DNC which in a very opportunistic way called on McCain to apologize, immediately buying into the right wing talking points.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, and the Gold Star Families Speak out spokeswoman that we talked to told us she had met with Senator Obama last month and told him he should say that American lives including that of her own son, Sergeant Sherwood Baker in this case, who was killed looking for WMD, were wasted. That we need to confront the fact that that‘s the case.
Her point, of course, it is not an insult to the dead, it is a description of the war that killed them. Where and how should the Democrats play this because obviously it is a tightrope for anybody as both Senators Obama and McCain have found, obviously, to differing degrees.
HUFFINGTON: Well, the appropriate reaction is really the old John Kerry reaction during the Vietnam War when he said, how can you be the man to ask another man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
Once something has been acknowledged to be a mistake, without a definable mission, let alone a winnable mission, then isn‘t the priority to stop more American lives from being sacrificed or wasted?
Instead of focusing on gaffes, as we presume them to be, verbal gaffes and misstatements. It‘s going to be amazing if this campaign becomes the survival of the least interesting, the most cautious, the most robotic among the candidates as opposed to the best leader.
OLBERMANN: There is another terminology used today, another bit of terminology that we perhaps should address while we have a chance here. The comments from Newt Gingrich about Senator Clinton. The last time we heard from Mr. Gingrich, he was basically calling on everybody to put the Constitution in the icebox for the time being.
But he is now quoted in the “New York Post” today as referring to the senator as a “nasty woman.” We remember when his mother called Senator Clinton, then the first lady, a “bitch.” Newt Gingrich had been more complimentary lately. What happened there? Do we know?
HUFFINGTON: Well, there is actually a lesson here. Both for Hillary Clinton and for John McCain. They both kind of sold their souls to try to appeal to the right wing, to their former enemies, Hillary Clinton posing for photo ops with Newt Gingrich, supporting a flag burning bill that I‘m sure she didn‘t really believe in. And John McCain appealing to the evangelicals.
And look at what is happening to them now. The evangelicals are choosing Giuliani over McCain and Newt Gingrich is calling Hillary Clinton “nasty.” There is a lesson here about the Faustian bargain. Better to go back to some straight talk.
OLBERMANN: The old term “dance with the devil” comes to mind. Arianna Huffington, founder and editor of the Huffington Post. As always, great thanks for your time.
HUFFINGTON: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: If Hurricane Katrina, meantime, is the literal watershed moment for Bush administration incompetence, 18 months later the figurative waters have yet to recede as well. Examples of incompetence and fresh scandal popping up daily. Today‘s contenders including but limited to the revelation that the Bush administration may have been overstating its case regarding North Korea‘s nuclear capability.
For five years now the administration having accused that nation of pursuing a secret path to enriched uranium, imposing sanctions as a result. The “New York Times” reporting today that American intelligence officials are now admitting doubts about that.
In a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, North Korea was able to launch a nuclear test this past October, a situation that might have been avoided had the administration not punished Pyongyang for something it might not have done.
The White House now three for three when it comes to members of its self-declared Axis of Evil. Turning to Iraq, a team of advisors to the new commanding general on the ground there, David Petraeus, warning that the U.S. has only six months to win that war or face a Vietnam style collapse that could force American troops into actual retreats. Have helicopters in the Green Zone standing by.
Last but certainly not least, President Bush back in New Orleans today. His plane actually landing. No mere flyover. Mr. Bush stating a preference for the view of recovery he gets from afar, measuring progress not in terms of homes or livelihoods that have been rebuilt or not rebuilt, but in terms of touchdowns that have been scored.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: Sometimes it‘s hard to see progress when you‘re living close to the scene but I guess the New Orleans Saints football team represents, to me, what‘s happening in this part of the state. There is a resurgence. There is a renewal. And even though there‘s a lot of work to do, the spirit of the people down here is strong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK” CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Putting aside the president‘s equating the New Orleans Saints getting to the NFC championship game this past season to actual progress in the recovery and that those who are not there have a better sense of the progress allegedly being made there than those who are there, the Gulf Coast visit today, could it have seemed less hollow had he even mentioned Hurricane Katrina in the State of the Union address in January?
WOLFFE: Well, I think a lot of people were surprised that Hurricane Katrina didn‘t feature in the State of the Union, especially when they made such a big performance about how he was going to rebuild New Orleans after the hurricane, remember, in that prime time speech in New Orleans.
What strikes me about this and I have been down to New Orleans with the president is how slow things have been moving and how much the administration is still caught in the same problem was in straight after the storm passed which was this debate about the relationship between federal government and the state and local folks. That was one reason they didn‘t send in the National Guard to begin with and didn‘t take control of the situation and even today there is still a reluctance to move things along because the administration keeps saying it is up to the local folks to do this.
That may well be laudable but things still aren‘t moving and at some point you‘ve got to say enough is enough.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the guard. The hurricane of course put serious stresses on the National Guard and the reserves and they were already strained after nearly four years of war in Iraq and now we‘ve got the word from the “Guardian,” the British newspaper, that a team of advisors to the new general in charge, General Petraeus, is warning that time is running out in Iraq, the administration has long claimed it only needed six months more to turn things around there.
What are the implications of the White House if it really only has six months more.
WOLFFE: Well, I can‘t remember how many times I‘ve heard the phrase “just another six months.” It seems to come around time and time again. But one place I have never heard the six month timeline from is from White House. And I don‘t believe they‘ve bought into the six month timeline. General Petraeus has said this. It certainly is a measure of time which isn‘t so far as unlimited but isn‘t so short as to be unrealistic but I think the president has in mind a much longer timeframe than six months.
OLBERMANN: Longest six months in history. He‘s got his own calendar on that one.
But during the same period that the administration was building its case of very flawed intelligence against Iraq, it turns out it may have been getting the North Korean intelligence completely wrong. Is this particularly relevant not just for North Korea but regarding whatever is being built up about Iran at the moment?
WOLFFE: Yeah, absolutely. This is a really shocking story. I remember when this intelligence first came out in 2002, a lot of people inside the administration couldn‘t believe it. I spoke to Colin Powell at the time who sent the intelligence analyst back to double check and triple check. It is that that led to the hardening of the position in North Korea.
If they can‘t get this right, this analysis right on North Korea, based on what North Korea was trying to buy in the world market then it really does raise some very fundamental questions about what they know about Iran.
OLBERMANN: And speaking of that, Mr. Snow tried to claim yesterday that the decision to engage Iran now in these neighborhood talks on Iraq, that is not a policy change for the administration.
Don‘t - I don‘t even know how to phrase this question. How can that not be a policy change for this administration?
WOLFFE: They never change policy, they just evolve.
Look, Tony Snow, I never cease to be amazed by how Tony Snow can state the obvious with ease and yet never acknowledge the obvious. It‘s one of his great talents and great frustrations for us.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC. Frustrated but unbowed. Thanks, as always, for your time, sir.
WOLFFE: Any time, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Incompetence at Walter Reed hospital. The deplorable conditions we learned of last month, the army has know about them for more than three years. The general in charge fired today. His temporary replacement may also be fired.
And horrific weather barreling across the Midwest and the Southeast. Eyewitnesses in Alabama say a tornado 800 yards wide destroyed this high school. There are fatalities. Rescue workers continue to look for survivors. The latest from the scene ahead. You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: That top officials at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center had known for many years of the neglect and filth should not at this point be surprising. Nor should the one-day hazing of patients there suspected of having alerted the media, not in the context of our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the commanding general of Walter Reed relieved of duty today. Likely to be just the first firing there.
Major General George Weightman was not the only official to have been told that wounded soldiers were languishing at the facility as far back as 2003. The “Washington Post” having reported this morning that the new acting commanding general was among those who knew all along as well.
Our Pentagon correspondent is Jim Miklaszewski.
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Major General George Weightman, the commander at Walter Reed Medical Center is the first high ranking officer to be fired over deplorable conditions at the hospitals outpatient facilities.
The growing scandal centers around Building 18, where wounded soldiers were forced to live in roach and rat infested rooms with mold covered walls.
An army statement today said “Senior army leadership has lost trust and confidence in Major General Weightman‘s leadership ability.”
But the army‘s temporary replacement for Weightman has created still more controversy. It‘s Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the former commander at Walter Reed until just six months ago who only last week appeared to play down concerns over Building 18.
LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, U.S. ARMY: This is not a horrific, catastrophic failure at Walter Reed. These are not good, but you saw rooms that were perfectly acceptable.
MIKLASZEWSKI: Pentagon officials say Kiley temporary assignment upset defense secretary Robert Gates who hinted today Kiley could also get the axe.
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don‘t have very much patience with people who don‘t step up to the plate in terms of addressing problems that are under their responsibility.
MIKLASZEWSKI: And on the Senate floor today a call that Lieutenant General Kiley also be fired.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) MO: So the message can go out loud and clear, we will not tolerate treatment of our wounded in any way that does not reflect the respect that we have for them.
MIKLASZEWSKI: But veterans‘ advocates say that‘s not enough, that the entire military medical system is broken and needs to be fixed.
STEVE ROBINSON, VETERANS FOR AMERICA: We don‘t want to throw a Band-Aid on a sunken chest wound. The system is hemorrhaging.
MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera): Being relieved of command will almost certainly end Major General Weightman‘s military career and Pentagon officials predict he won‘t be the last. Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.
OLBERMANN: Inside the District, day seven of deliberations and still no verdict yet from the jury in the Scooter Libby trial but there has been another significant leak.
Our correspondent on the scene, David Shuster confirming that the bathrooms adjoining the cafeteria in the courthouse flooded this afternoon, creating large puddles on the cafeteria floor.
Well, what‘s the relevance of this, you ask? It affected the jurors. They could not receive delivery of their afternoon snack. They did not get their cookies. They did, however, receive more office supplies and another afternoon off. The jury asking for and getting more Post-It notes for use on their easel, presumed visual aids to help sort out the complicated case or perhaps a misguided attempt to deal with the flooded bathroom.
Judge Reggie Walton also granting jurors permission to leave early tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 Eastern as they had request. As a result, Judge Walton telling lawyers in the case that he assumes the jury will not have a verdict tomorrow.
Mr. Libby, you recall, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. He is accused of perjury, obstruction and lying to FBI agents investigating a different leak, the 2003 revelation of CIA operative Valerie Plame‘s identity.
The Bahamas bracing itself for the farewell to Anna Nicole Smith. Plans for tomorrow‘s funeral for the former centerfold being challenged in court as we speak and being billed as over the top, just because the deceased will be wearing a tiara?
Speaking of over the top, zoo officials going to extremes. This is all a drill, this is all a drill, just in case an orangutan escapes and threatens a Japanese city. Run for your safety!
That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Eighty-seven years ago today the late and legendary baseball announcer Harry Carey was born. Most famous for his work with the Cubs, he also broadcast the games of the Cardinals, Oakland As and White Sox.
It was while with the latter team that he made one of his most bewildering remarks after White Sox second baseman George Orta (ph) dropped a pop-up. An exasperated Harry asked, “Oh, how could he have lost the ball in the sun? He‘s from Mexico.”
On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin in Japan where, hey, there‘s an escaped Orangutan at the Tokyo Zoo. Or it could be another one of those public practice drills. Who can say for sure? Hold that line, boys, keep poking him with sticks until the reinforcements arrive.
Which they always do like clockwork, rolling onto the scene in the zoo minivan, the team shoots the big orange monkey the safe way, by holding a shotgun out the window of a moving vehicle. And down goes the orangutan. It‘s all over, folks. Sorry for the inconvenience. Please don‘t anybody sue us.
And then to the sky 37,000 feet above Athens, Greece, where the British pop band Jamiroquai is putting on a show for 200 lucky fans in the first ever concert on an airplane. The performance set a new world record for the highest concert ever performed, though I think Jimi Hendrix might have had a thing to say about that.
Frankly, I‘m also going to dispute the whole first concert on an airplane, too. Have we forgotten this?
OLBERMANN: Speaking of pulling the plug, a new mostly positive biography of Bill O‘Reilly called “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up.”
Why did the man who would not shut up try to shut down the author of “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up?” Author Martin Kitman joins me.
And the grim scene in Enterprise, Alabama tonight. The latest as a huge tornado hits the local high school. Fifteen reported dead in the area, perhaps more than that. The search for survivors continues. We‘ll get the very latest.
But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the Minutemen, the self-appointed guardians of our border with Mexico. Looks like a court is going to have to appoint a guardian to protect their finances. The Minutemen board of directors fired founder Jim Gilchrist as president, claiming that of the $730,000 in donations he solicited in fundraising last year, $400,000 is missing. Now Gilchrist is suing to get his job back.
You knew the country was going to hell when we let these people in.
Number two, Francis Courtney, 60 year old guitarist in OK shape after having inspired this remarkable lead sentence in a story out of the “Lodi News” in California. Quoting. “A jazz musician was injured Friday after jumping from a burning motor home driven by a roller skating stripper from Lodi.” Sounds like a song.
Number one, baseball pitcher Matt White. After exactly seven career games with three different teams, the Red Sox, the Mariners and the Nationals. This year he is in spring training with the L.A. Dodgers. He does not stand much of a chance of making the team but he could have the opportunity to buy the team.
Mr. White helped out a relative three years ago by taking 50 acres of worthless land off her hands for about $1,000 an acre. Turned out the worthless land includes 24 million tons of high quality paving stones which sells for more than a hundred dollars a ton. He could be worth $2 billion.
Note to Dodgers manager Grady Little. You‘d better keep White on the team or he can buy it, fire you and hire a new manager who will keep him on the team.
OLBERMANN: Getting a little tired of hearing me talk about Bill O‘Reilly? Yes, well, me too. But tonight, a story that far exceeds the ever rising Bill-O bar for conspicuous bufoonerey. Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the book on O‘Reilly, literally, the first attempt at an even-handed biography of Fox noise hope, not how he saw himself, not how I saw him, but the facts. O‘Reilly cooperated with the author, Marvin Kitman, the long-time media critic for the New York newspaper “News Day,” of whom he professed to be an admirer.
They had 29 separate interviews, and O‘Reilly promised Kitman a huge publicity send off once the book came. But then the book came out, and O‘Reilly has tried to bury it. Kitman‘s work is certainly sympathetic to O‘Reilly. He compares O‘Reilly‘s influence on American journalism, if no his style necessarily, to that of Edward R. Murrow. He refers prominently to O‘Reilly‘s graduate degree in public policy from Harvard. He praises O‘Reilly‘s idiosyncratic style and far-reaching impact. An avowed liberal, Kitman comes flat out and says, he liked the guy.
But praise along proved insufficient to spare Mr. Kitman from Mr. O‘Reilly‘s wrath. The book dares to look at O‘Reilly fairly, and perhaps even worse the dusk jacket includes a blasphemous blurb from he who must not be named, your humble interlocutor, who said about the book, and yes, I‘m quoting myself, “finally, somebody has attempted to explain and contextualize Bill-O‘s charlitanism. Plus, I really like the parts about me.”
We‘re joined now by Marvin Kitman, the author of “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up.” Marvin, good evening.
MARVIN KITMAN, AUTHOR, “THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT SHUT UP”: Hi Keith.
OLBERMANN: What did he not like about the book?
KITMAN: Well, first I should point out that this the only book that‘s ever said anything positive about Bill, except for the six he wrote about himself. Generally speaking, he liked the parts where I praised him, and what he didn‘t like is the chapter that I did about his phone sex problem. Now, you know, in all fairness, I should say that Bill said to me during one of my 29 interviews, Marv, I know you have to deal with this. Here‘s how you do it. Three sentences can do it.
And then he wrote three sentences for me. Sentence number one: O‘Reilly had a problem. Sentence number two: O‘Reilly dealt with the problem. Sentence number three: It‘s history.
Now, at the time I had written three chapters about it, so I felt that I should cut it down. But he was really incensed that I mentioned it all. You know, as a biographer, it would have been like if I had written a biography of Bill Clinton and left Monica, or a biography of Nixon and left out Watergate.
OLBERMANN: And the other twist here, I thought, was that you‘re somebody who obviously had regard for Bill O‘Reilly, though not worship, not blind adoration, and you would be one of the people who would be surprised to have found out that he can‘t take criticism that well.
KITMAN: I was shocked.
OLBERMANN: He can‘t take criticism that well, can he?
KITMAN: I was shocked, shocked I say, that he could not deal with this. You know, throughout all my interviews he was telling me that nobody could ever tell him what question to ask, or what to say. And I really believed him. I mean, I thought I would be a fearless journalist like Bill, and it turned out that he‘s not so much in favor of telling it like it is, but like it isn‘t. And it really threw me. And I must say, I‘m a little—I thought he was a marvelous guy, you know being so open with me.
But I now find that he‘s really kind of a hypocrite, because not only has he disinvited me from his program and his website, but he‘s gone around the Fox News prime time shows intimidating everybody, terrorizing them, not to invite me. And it‘s kind of weird, because usually you try to suppress a book that‘s negative about you, but here‘s a positive book about the man, and about Fox News. This is a first in publishing or journalism.
OLBERMANN: Well yes, I mean, you can see if a guy doesn‘t think the interview or the book is going to turn out the way he wants it to, that‘s one thing, and maybe he won‘t help you sell it. But to actually go out and try to bury the thing, there‘s a different dimension to that. But I have to get this is, in the limited time left to me Marvin, he had a prediction in there about me, and I would love it if you would share that prediction about me.
KITMAN: Well, he told me that Olbermann will not be on the show once this book comes out. Don‘t bother writing about him. You know, I think he might have been wrong about that. You know, Keith, I should tell you that because of this experience that I‘ve had now, I am the Worst Person in the World, next to Keith Olbermann.
OLBERMANN: In the Bill O‘Reilly book?
KITMAN: In Bill O‘Reilly‘s next book.
OLBERMANN: Welcome and pull up a chair. It‘s really a rather nice play, Marv. Marvin Kitman, the author of “The Man Who Would Not Shut Up: The Rise of Bill O‘Reilly.” Thank you for joining us. And good luck with this. It‘s a book that every right thinking, flag waving, red blooded American must read.
KITMAN: Hey Bill—Keith rather, excuse me. I hope I said something that Bill will sue me about. I know in Al Franken‘s book.
OLBERMANN: Yes, he made Franken. He made me and now maybe he can make your book. All right Marv, take care.
KITMAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the warring sides in the Anna Nicole Smith saga. It looked like they had buried the hatchet, before they buried the body. It turns out that was not really the case. There is last minute legal work to try to stop the funeral tomorrow.
And there is fatal weather in the Midwest and Southeast. In Alabama, a massive tornado hit a high school, students and teachers still inside. The latest on rescue efforts. That‘s ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
OLBERMANN: Our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, at least 13 students and teachers at a high school in the town of Enterprise, Alabama dead tonight after a tornado tore through the building. School officials saying this evening that such a devastating storm might be unprecedented in their area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. BOB PHARES, SUPERINTENDENT: We ask that you continue to pray for our students and for their parents and for our community. To my knowledge, we have not had a storm this severe in several decades, if ever before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Our correspondent, Kerry Sanders, on his way to Enterprise tonight, joins us en route, in Mulberry Grove, Georgia. Kerry, good evening.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well Keith, as you said, the Alabama officials say this is unprecedented, 18 dead in Alabama, according to federal officials tonight. Fifteen of those in Enterprise. And, as you mentioned, 13 of them at the high school.
SANDERS (voice-over): In Enterprise, Alabama, the tornado struck the high school at about 1:10 central time. In came as no surprise. Teachers had ushered students in to hallways more than an our before the disaster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of a sudden it started to get darker and our ears started popping. We saw debris coming from the front office.
SANDERS: Still, taking shelter did not protect all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People crying. I went inside the third hall, where they said the hall collapsed. I pulled out two dead little girls, and it‘s very disturbing. I don‘t feel right right now.
SANDERS: Army teams from nearby Fort Rucker are at the scene. It‘s believed victims, possibly still alive, could be trapped in the rubble. Parents who rushed to the school and were told their children are alive are still desperate to connect with them tonight.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that the good lord is going to take care of it.
SANDERS: The powerful twister ripped off portions of the school‘s roof, overturned cars and toppled trees.
SHERIFF RUSSELL THOMAS, ENTERPRISE, ALABAMA: Just asking people to keep people here in Enterprise in their prayers.
SANDERS: Overnight, one twister touched down in Missouri, killing a seven-year-old girl as she slept. All day today, from Kansas, east to Georgia, warnings of tornado threats. Late today in Richland, Georgia, what residents described as another tornado. The powerful winds crushed a semi-truck and ripped apart downtown businesses. National Weather Service forecasters say the weather system will result in tornado warnings through the night, as far north as Washington, D.C.
Meantime, tonight in Enterprise, which is a small town, everyone is now pitching in to help.
SANDERS: There is now a state of emergency in Enterprise. And they have a curfew. They‘re asking people to stay away from the high school area, so they can continue with the cleanup, without people getting in the way. Meantime, here in Georgia, and, as we mentioned, along much of the south here, there is a tornado watch. There are tornado shelters that have unlocked their doors, in the event that sirens and radios alert people to take shelter quickly. Those tornado shelters are open so people can get in quickly. Keith?
OLBERMANN: Kerry Sanders, at Mulberry Grove, Georgia. Kerry, thank you. No transition possible into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. So simply, Britney Spears is out of rehab, or was at least for a while. Sporting a wig and a brown hat, she was seen leaving the Promises Treatment Clinic last night with her assistant, reportedly went to an A.A. meeting in Santa Monica, then promptly returned to the rehab center. One thousand dollars a day facility and they‘re outsourcing AA.
At least she came back. And for those of you watching to see if Miss Spear‘s bizarre behavior led her to reconcile with her husband, she is not, as has been reported, wearing her wedding ring again. K-Fed is still Fed-Ex.
Here‘s another extraordinary segue. One of the most respected historians in the country, the unabashedly liberal Arthur M Schlesinger Jr. died in Manhattan last night. Confidant of the Kennedy administration, President Kennedy called him the professor. Arthur Schlesinger wrote award winning books on both Robert Kennedy and JFK, even winning a Pulitzer for his memoir of that administration.
But it was his other Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Age Of Andrew Jackson,” for which he is still perhaps best known. He wrote it in 1946, when he was just 27 years old. Arthur Schlesinger was a proponent of the middle course in politics, seeing American history as a perpetual cycle between liberal and conservative power. He blamed the Vietnam war on moral extremism. And in his final interview, just eight days ago with C-SPAN, he said the Bush White House is duplicating the stupidity of that war.
Arthur Schlesinger, survived by his six children. He was 89 years old.
Now this is a segue. From the passing of that man to the funeral for Anna Nicole Smith. Tomorrow‘s funeral reportedly to be over the top. Shocking, huh? The analysis of Paul F. Tompkins next.
First time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. The bronze, John Assara (ph), principal at Nichmond Middle School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He‘s been arrested for selling crystal meth out of the principal‘s office. When police arrested him there, they reportedly found him naked, watching gay porn.
Our silver tonight to Congressman Louis Gomert of Texas, who actually said on the House floor that Tuesday‘s Dow Jones plummet was caused by the Democrats and Congressman Jack Murtha. Quoting, in two months of talking about raising taxes and more regulation, and one committee chairman—the would be Murtha—talking about how he‘s going to undermine the president‘s national security policy, two months, we have this terrible damage to the stock market, to the economy. And, you know, congressman, Mr. Murtha also caused the crops to fail and the milk to curdle. He‘s a witch. Burn him. Burn him.
But our winner, Glen Beck of CNN Headline News. Talking about the latest naked photo scandal at “American Idol,” he asked a female guest to let him take nude photos of her. No wait a minute, not even he would do that. Ask a woman on television to pose nude for him, even hypothetically? I‘m sorry, I would have to see that to believe it. I‘m sorry Glen, I don‘t know how this got on the list.
I mean, we have it on tape? Seriously? Dina Sansing (ph), from “US Weekly?” All right, play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLEN BECK, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: I don‘t think you have to be famous. I think you just work in the average environment in America now. Somebody would get a picture of you, and then it would be posted all around. It will happen in your office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Possibly.
BECK: You don‘t think so?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it depends.
BECK: You know, I‘ve got some time and a camera, why don‘t you stop by? No? OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Bravo sir. I mean, not even Bill-O would do his sexual harassing on camera. Glen Beck of CNN Headline News, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: It reads like the planning for a state funeral. At 5:25 a.m., a motorcade will escort the casket to a private plane. At 9:00 a.m. the plane will land. At 10:10 a.m. a statement will be read to the media. At 10:30 a.m. a public funeral service will held at the church. At 11:30 a.m. the family leaves for a private graveside service. At 11:45 a.m. the service for the media begins.
Wait, they are burying all the reporters covering the Anna Nicole Smith story with her? Tremendous. In the number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, those are the details courtesy of the Broward County Sherrif‘s Department in Florida, of the plan to finally bury the late model tomorrow morning, three weeks after she died.
Officers will accompany her remains as they travel from the medical examiner‘s office to the plane, waiting to take her to the Bahamas. And Nicole Smith will be buried next to her son at the Lakeview Memorial Gardens there, but only after a lavish funeral, attended by all the parties who recently fought over her body, her estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, her ex-boyfriend and potential baby daddy, Larry Birkhead, and her lawyer and named baby daddy, Howard K. Stern.
Patrick Simpson, who helped organize the funeral, telling the Associated Press that the service will be attended by about 300 guests, will feature vast amounts of pink flowers and will be, quote, something very beautiful, very private, very over-the-top, and very pink. Adding that only did his partner, Paul Atu (ph), design the dress that Anna Nicole Smith will be buried in, but that they will be placing photos of themselves and their daughter into the casket with her Miss Smith well.
And “Entertainment Tonight” reporting that country singer Joe Nichols will perform a Dolly Parton song at the funeral, that Anna Nicole Smith will be wearing a tiara, that she will be buried with her late husband J. Howard Marshall, or at least with urn containing some of his ashes. I smell a last chance lawsuit from the old man‘s family.
But late tonight, another lawsuit filed, in an attempt to derail this funeral. The reason Anna Nicole Smith is being buried in the Bahamas is so she can be laid to rest next to her son Daniel, who was buried there in September. Now Daniel‘s father is asking to exhume his body. In an official request to the Bohemian chief magistrate, Billy Smith wants his son‘s corpse to be moved back to Texas, where he lives.
After Daniel died, Billy Smith acknowledged to reporters that he had not seen his son since he was two years old. He learned of the boy‘s death when his brother read it on the computer.
To better help us try to understand some of this, I‘m joined now by comedian and regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” Paul F. Tompkins. Paul, thanks again for your time tonight.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: The funeral in a moment, but first this latest legal maneuver. Are we going to see those bodies argued over and potentially shuttled back and forth from the Texas to the Bahamas, until somebody realizes how grotesque this all is?
TOMPKINS: Probably. I mean, the first thing I think of when I hear about this, and Daniel‘s father, is that it is a shame Harry Chapin didn‘t live long enough to add this scenario to “Cats in the Cradle.”
OLBERMANN: Very good. All right, about the funeral itself. We‘re going to be over-the-top, according to this one planner. Not a big surprise. Pink flowers, not a big surprise. Tiara, pink dress, country music; I‘m giving you that. But what about the plan to bury her with some of J. Howard Marshall‘s ashes? Who‘s idea was that, and where did they get them?
TOMPKINS: Yes, it is a shame when communication breaks down. Clearly someone in the camp has not been told the Supreme Court gave us the money. We don‘t have to go on with the charade anymore that they were deeply in love. You know, it‘s almost like you can hear somebody dropping the ashes in and saying, what, we are not doing that any more?
OLBERMANN: I guess we will be hauling his ashes to eternity. It is not just some of those ashes and some photos of her dress designer and the funeral organizer that will apparently be buried with her. Each of the 300 guests is going to be asked to write a personal note to Anna Nicole Smith on a heart shaped piece of paper, and it will all be dropped in the grave, this from “Entertainment Tonight,” so that her casket will be engulfed in messages of love, is the phrase. So, at this point, do we have to wonder if there‘s going to be enough room for the actual body?
TOMPKINS: Well, thankfully there will be, thanks to the Methadone SlimFast speed ball that she favored late in life. But, you know, when you hear about this tremendous amount of paper, I think the person who is going to be made saddest by this funeral is clearly Al Gore.
OLBERMANN: This is not a green friendly act. Reconcile this for me Paul: There is a schedule that tells the media when to arrive to set up at the church, when to be at the graveyard. The funeral organizer also says this will be very private. Exactly how does inviting the media make it private?
TOMPKINS: Well, if you think about it, for the last decade the only people really paying attention to Anna Nicole were the media. So, it is sort of like yes, she had a very private personal relationship with a bunch of cameras and no one else.
OLBERMANN: There is obviously police presence here. Broward County Sheriff‘s Department and Miami Dade Sheriffs are going escort the body to the plane tomorrow. More of your taxpayer dollars in action in Florida. They must be thrilled about that.
TOMPKINS: Well, one Florida taxpayer who is thrilled is Karl Hiasin (ph), because he finally has a new idea for a novel. So that‘s good news for anybody who‘s flying in the next few months.
OLBERMANN: I am glad you can see the bright side of this.
TOMPKINS: Half full, Keith. Half full.
OLBERMANN: Having Zsa Zsa‘s husband claiming that he was the father of the baby was not enough. Now we have John Travolta, who was in the movie “Be Cool” with Anna Nicole Smith, saying that the Narco-non (ph), the Scientology anti-drug program could have saved her life. Was there just like a poll? Did they go door to door and ask everybody in Hollywood to say something about this woman after her death, or did he volunteer this in some way?
TOMPKINS: Well, I think what happened is that in death Anna Nicole has finally found her purpose, which is to allow celebrities to call attention to themselves, which is sort of fitting, in a way. She has become this kind of Jesus of publicity.
OLBERMANN: The patron saint of the publicity release.
TOMPKINS: She died that others may get attention.
OLBERMANN: Do you know what happened to the dog, to Sugar Pie? We heard that rumor yesterday that she had been run over? It turned out not to be true.
TOMPKINS: If there is any sort of a god, that dog will be awarded to Zsa Zsa Gabor, because who should be toting around a tiny little yappy dog, but a daffy old rich lady with an accent.
OLBERMANN: Agreed. Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.” As always Paul, great thanks.
TOMPKINS: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,418th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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