Guests: Dana Milbank, Richard Wolffe, Charlie Savage, Mo Rocca
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Four years to the day since Baghdad fell. Anti-American protests throughout Iraq today.
The man who used the sledgehammer on the statue of Saddam now says Iraq regrets that he‘s gone.
And the Democrats now seem to regret talking money and the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: We‘re not going to jeopardize the funding for the troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Did Senator Levin and the Democrats blink because the White House has given everybody so much else to stare at, like Newt Gingrich saying the attorney general should quit, or news that there have been 150 graduates of Pat Robertson‘s law school in the administration?
Or how it turns out some there tried to stop the nomination of Bernard Kerik at Homeland Security, but were overruled by the man vetting New York‘s ex-top cop, Alberto Gonzales, and overwhelmed by the man pushing Kerik, Rudy Giuliani.
And Mitt Romney shot himself in the foot over being a lifelong hunter, who never got a license in any of the four states in which he‘s lived.
And John McCain still shooting from the hip, no backtrack over the Baghdad neighborhoods where you and I could walk today market fiasco. Just an op-ed in “The Washington Post” pushing the same theme.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I‘m happy with, with, frankly, with the way I operate, otherwise it‘d be a lot less fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not happy, Don Imus, or Al Sharpton, or Jesse Jackson, or Rutgers University, or CBS Radio, or MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON IMUS, RADIO HOST: Do not get in my face about this. (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE), don‘t be on the (INAUDIBLE). Why don‘t you show up here in person? Don‘t get in my face about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And just a minute indeed. No matter what you read, the president did not almost set himself on fire in front of the White House.
Our special investigation and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I appreciate your hard work (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
Four years ago, it was the symbol of the successful Iraq war, hundreds of Iraqis spontaneously rushing towards a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, and, with the assistance of helpful U.S. troops, pulling it to the ground, a milestone moment, except, it quickly proved, the whole thing was a stunt deliberately devised by the U.S. military‘s psychological operations team.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, four years later, the fraudulence is even clearer. One of the Iraqis most prominent in that symbolism says things are worse now. He‘d rather have Saddam back.
Others, merely marching against the continuing U.S. presence, were met with something else that could have been dreamt up by psyops, a White House statement that such protests proves that democracy is taking hold there.
Chanting, Get out, get out, occupier, and burning American flags, the demonstrators responded today to a call from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to unite against the United States by marching through the streets of Kufa and Najaf.
The Iraqi government responded by instituting a 24-hour curfew. The Bush government responded by calling the protest a good thing. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe saying, quote, “Iraq four years on is now a place where people can freely gather and express their opinions. And while we have much more progress ahead of us, the United States, the coalition, and Iraqis have much more to do, this is a country that has come a long way from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.”
Tell that, though, to people like Kadim al-Jubori (ph). Four years ago today, he was in Ferdos Square, that‘s he, taking a sledgehammer to a statue of Saddam. Now, he tells “The Washington Post,” after losing seven friends and family members in the civil war, he feels like it achieved nothing. Quote, “We got rid of a tyrant and tyranny, but we were surprised that after one thief had left, another 40 replaced him. Now we regret that Saddam Hussein is gone, no matter how much we hated him.”
As far as when American troops might get out of Iraq, Senate Democrats are starting to blink in the showdown with President Bush about setting exit goals. While Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Senate and he would support using the congressional power of the purse to withhold funding if the president fulfills his promise to veto the current funding bill, complete with its troop withdrawal plans, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said that is not an option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEVIN: We‘re going to send the bill back to him after he vetoes it, which he will sign, one way or another, because we‘re not going to jeopardize the funding for the troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We‘re joined now by “Newsweek”‘s chief White House correspondent, our own Richard Wolffe.
Richard, good evening. Thanks for your time.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s work backwards. Did the president just win the fight over the funding bill?
WOLFFE: Yes, he did, and he always was going to win it, because, in the end, he has the votes to overturn the veto—or rather, he has the votes to protect his veto. And the Democrats are in a position where they want to talk tough, but they‘re essentially in a weak situation, where they prefer to stand up to their own antiwar base than they prefer to stand up to the president. So they‘re always going to blink.
OLBERMANN: Why did they blink, why did they cave right now? Why not wait at least till they were back in session or until the president actually did veto the funding?
WOLFFE: Well, this is the unilateral disarmament aspect of this, and it‘s a problem for them, because, again, they‘ve talked tough, but they‘ve behaved in a weaker way.
The difficult thing, though, is for Democrats that they don‘t want to have to own this war. They‘re much happier talking about the president‘s failings, about leaving it as his policy, rather than saying, This is something we have an idea of what to do with. There are no good ideas about how to get out of Iraq, and leaving precipitously is going to cause all sorts of other problems. The Democrats don‘t want to own this problem, they want to leave it with the president.
OLBERMANN: All right. Turning to Iraq per se, and the spin from the White House today that tens of thousands of Iraqis protesting the presence of American troops on the fourth anniversary on the fall of Baghdad, is a good thing, that it shows that democracy is working. That—can it not be argued that it shows the opposite, that whatever democracy they have in Iraq is not satisfying the people of Iraq?
WOLFFE: Right. You know, the president has always said that Iraq would turn into an ally in the war on terror. Well, it does look like a different country than the one it used to four years ago. It actually looks like Iran, where people are on the streets shouting, Death to America, and hooray for radical clerics. This is obviously not what was intended, and it‘s a grotesque spin from the president‘s spokespeople.
This isn‘t, after all, a protest outside the president‘s speech on a university campus. This is a very dangerous situation where the whole new policy was designed to stabilize the politics. That‘s not working.
OLBERMANN: In the seven weeks since the president announced that troop increase in Baghdad, 51 American troops have died, that‘s twice as many troops that had died in the seven weeks preceding the surge announcement. General Petraeus now says he wants even more troops for a longer period of time. Are those realities on the ground ultimately going to surpass any spin, any handling of this story, or is the White House going to try the same logic it did today, and argue that the fact that more U.S. troops are dying, this somehow, you know, indicative of a successful surge?
WOLFFE: Well, there may be pockets where these troops -- It‘s not really a surge. They‘re deployed in forward positions where these troops in these exposed positions are pacifying certain neighborhoods for a certain period of time.
But as we‘ve seen again, the whole point about securing aspects of Baghdad life was to allow a political settlement to emerge. What you‘re seeing now is radical opinion, anti-American opinion, is on the rise, and it‘s becoming more vocal. That‘s not what leads to a stable Iraq and ultimately to troops withdrawing.
So I think we are going to see more casualties, but no quicker political solution.
OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent at “Newsweek” magazine. As always, Richard, great thanks for your time.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The administration not the only one selling their notion of what constitutes reality in Iraq. On the same day that Muqtada al-Sadr called on Iraqis to unite against American troops and to turn out in the tens of thousands to protest the occupation, Senator John McCain announced in an op-ed in “The Washington Post” that the “extremist Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr is in hiding, his followers are not contesting American forces, sectarian violence has dropped in Baghdad.”
As proof of that so-called drop, Senator McCain pointed to the visit he made to that Baghdad marketplace, saying that it is safer than it used to be. A hundred armed troops, 10 armored Humvees, and a couple of Apache helicopters will tend to do that for you. Senator McCain did acknowledge, in an interview with “60 Minutes” on CBS, that he misspoke when he said the city was so safe that General Petraeus regularly travels in an unarmored Humvee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Of course, I‘m going to misspeak, and I have done it on numerous occasions, and probably will in the future. I regret that, when I divert attention to something that I‘ve said from my message. But, you know, that‘s just life, and I‘m happy with, with, frankly, with the way I operate, otherwise it‘d be a lot less fun.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A lot less fun for political spectators as well.
I‘m joined by our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”
Thanks for your time tonight, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, if the Republicans are looking to find another George W. Bush to run next year, do they have him in the new John McCain?
MILBANK: Well, you know, that last campaign was all about straight talk, and it appears that poor John McCain is sort of in the early throes in the Cheney last throes disease right now, and it‘s really, it‘s really quite inexplicable. And whatever his position on Iraq, it is harming his main asset, and that is his credibility, his ability to do the straight talk thing.
And it‘s particularly painful, because he is turning on his base, he‘s turning on those of us in the media, and saying we‘re not covering all the happy events going on in Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: Well, and he isn‘t stepping back from his contention that al-Sadr is in hiding. The protests today show, whether you like it or not, he‘s not in hiding, and he keeps, as you point out, criticizing the media for not showing progress in Iraq. But he points to things like the fact that he was allowed to visit a marketplace at all, now, as signs of success in Iraq. Who is telling him, who is advising him, Stay that course no matter how many facts suggest to you and others that it‘s a delusion?
MILBANK: Well, I think the only person advising John McCain is John McCain, and that has generally worked for him, because his instincts have been very good here. He‘s now got himself into a particularly tricky position. I spent this afternoon watching an adviser to the prime minister of Iraq, Ali Allawi, talking at the National Press Club about what a disaster the situation is in Iraq. He says it‘s going to be—it‘s not going to get any better if we stay. It‘s going to be even worse if we leave. And the situation is worse than under Saddam Hussein. That‘s an adviser to the current Iraqi government now.
OLBERMANN: All right. Let‘s switch away from Senator McCain, who—you feel sorry for him at this point.
Let me ask you a question about Mitt Romney, who has been insisting again over the weekend, he‘s a lifelong hunter. First his campaign said he only went hunting twice. Now it turns out that he has never gotten a hunting license in any of the four states in which he has lived, including Utah, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Michigan. Not unfriendly territories for hunters. Why does he keep insisting that he‘s always hunted? Now it‘s just small animals. Doesn‘t this make him look, I don‘t know, foolish? Is that too strong a word?
MILBANK: Well, I suppose. He calls them small animals, he calls them varmints, so he sounds like Yosemite Sam here, saying, Say your prayers, varmint.
Now, this is—it may be a problem with the hunting issue, but does it recall, bring to mind something that happened about this time in the 2004 cycle with John Kerry and his hunting? It‘s curious that these two from Massachusetts seem to have this sort of—you know, I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it problem going on here, just as Mitt Romney is rising to prominence in the Republican field. He‘s getting a little bit of a Kerry problem.
OLBERMANN: Yes, what happens to Rudy Giuliani now, as it turns out that he was urging the White House to make Bernard Kerik secretary of Homeland Security? Alberto Gonzales in charge of vetting him, and they threw all the ordinary vetting procedures out the window. Is that—obviously, it puts another arrow into the attorney general. But what does it do at this point, what can it still do at this point, to Giuliani?
MILBANK: Well, this is Giuliani‘s weakest point, when the electorate
sees sort of a deeper record of his time as the mayor of New York, whether
that‘s being a liberal on social issues or whether that‘s what some may be
regard as his relationships with unsavory characters here.
So he‘s—this will be his most difficult challenge going ahead, just as Romney‘s will be the flip-flopping, and John McCain‘s will be the happy events in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Tommy Thompson suddenly looking like he‘s in good shape?
Is that (INAUDIBLE) boiling down to?
MILBANK: I hear he raised $400,000 in the first quarter.
OLBERMANN: Oh, my.
Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC, we‘re proud to say.
Many thanks, Dana.
MILBANK: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Inside Alberto Gonzales‘s practice sessions. Apparently his rehearsals of the truth aren‘t going so well.
Could be worse. Could be Imus. Still more late-breaking news. He‘s been suspended tonight, twice.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Attorney General Gonzales is due to answer questions on Capitol Hill a week from tomorrow. And by most indications, the top lawman in the country, the man charged with protecting us against domestic threats, is not ready to face off with members of Congress on the subject matter of his own actions over the past couple of years. That Democrats no longer have confidence in Gonzales is no longer news.
But in our fourth story tonight, the signs of the scandal over the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys is causing the Republican establishment to lose faith as well, former House speaker, possible presidential candidate Newt Gingrich saying that the merits of the original firings no longer matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: It would be helpful to have a new team at Justice that can focus on serving the country, because the current team is going to spend the next year and a half in investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But it gets worse for the attorney general, “Newsweek” reporting that Mr. Gonzales‘s prep sessions have gone so poorly that he has scrapped public appearances, that in one session, March 23, with friends doing the questioning, Gonzales both confused his timeline and contradicted his own statements. The report continues that now that Gonzales himself is so uncertain about his upcoming performance, he has wiped his schedule clean, holding up for hours in his office, calling his remaining friends in Congress, and trying to master the subject of his actions.
Complicating the issue, Monica Goodling, the former top aide, jumped ship, quitting Friday, after refusing to testify to the Senate. Goodling‘s role in the attorneys‘ firings, serving as the Justice liaison at the White House, drawing attention this week to the same issue fueling the U.S. attorney scandal, namely, whether the Justice Department has become so deeply politicized that basic (INAUDIBLE), competence, rather, of even the top officials is now in question.
Goodling, one of the top officials evaluating the nation‘s federal prosecutors, is herself only seven years out of law school, Regent Law School, an institution that only gained accreditation the year she enrolled, a law school ranked in the lowest tier by “U.S. News and world Report”‘s college survey, a law school founded by Pat Robertson, in part, at least, to remake the world in his image of Christianity, supported by his Christian Broadcasting Network and notable for just how many of its graduates, more than 150, have already found work in the Bush administration.
Turn to Charlie Savage, the Washington correspondent of “The Boston Globe,” who looked into Ms. Goodling‘s background as part of an excellent story in yesterday‘s paper.
Good evening, Charlie.
CHARLIE SAVAGE, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: The placement of Monica Goodling, Regent Law School, class of ‘99, virtually no experience as a prosecutor, placement at the top level of America‘s Justice Department, is that precisely what Pat Robertson envisioned when he created this, this law school?
SAVAGE: Well, Pat Robertson‘s university as a whole has the motto, “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” And it‘s clear that part of the purpose of this university and its law school was to train the next generation of socially conservative Christians in all walks of life, and that includes government officials and judges and lawyers who‘ll be making arguments in courtrooms and so forth.
When I talked to the dean of Regent School of Law last week, when I went down to visit the campus, he made no bones about it. He said, We train our students to be agents of change in society. That doesn‘t necessarily mean going to Washington, it could be changing corporate boardrooms by bringing a Christian mindset to ethics, or it could mean trying to reduce rates of divorce in family law.
But for those students that are interested in the big issues, he said, like abortion, gay rights, stem cell research, issues of tomorrow, like cloning, we‘re here to train the next generation of Christians to make those arguments, to bring government policy in line with how the Bible says it should be.
OLBERMANN: All right. Regent University, a regent being a temporary steward until the true king, if you will, the Lord, returns. The undergraduate school is Messiah College, and we know what Messiah means. Are we now seeing the rise of a new breed of public officials who have not been exposed not merely not to public education, but to nonsectarian education?
SAVAGE: Well, you know, there‘s always been Bible colleges in this country. But it‘s also true that there is an interesting phenomenon going on in the last 20 years or so of the sort of televangelist-based colleges. There‘s Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University, and Jerry Falwell‘s Liberty University just started its own school of law, kind of mimicking Jerry—
Pat Robertson‘s, in this case. So there‘s going to be doubling the output of lawyers in this—trained in this manner.
What‘s interesting about what they‘re trying to do is that they‘re training people who already have a very Christian point of view, are strong people of faith, to make their argument in a secular way, because if you come into a courtroom or you come into Congress and you say, Gay marriage should not happen because the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, people who don‘t share that point of view won‘t agree with you.
So what they‘re doing is, they‘re coming up with, how do you express that in a secular way? How do you say, The Constitution was not envisioned to contain a right to gay marriage, and therefore, whatever the merits of the issue, no ruling should be made by a court.
And it‘s not that they‘ve thought through that issue and arrived at that principle in the abstract, it‘s that they have a preexisting ideological agenda that comes from their faith, and they‘re expressing it in a way that others can engage with.
OLBERMANN: The implication behind all this, of course, pointing to how new the school is, how new its authorization is, is that Ms. Goodling and the other alumni who got into the Bush administration may not be the top legal minds in the nation. Is that a fair insinuation?
SAVAGE: Well, it‘s—you have to be careful about things like that. I mean, we all know there are very mediocre students that get into very good law schools, and there‘s excellent students who get into poor law schools.
And I‘d also like to say that from what I saw at Regent, in the last few years, it‘s gotten a lot better. They‘ve really overhauled their curriculum, they‘ve raised their admission standards. About half of the people that were admitted in the ‘90s would not be admitted today, the dean told me.
But abstracting away from Regent, which, it is true, as you said earlier, is at the bottom of the “U.S. News” ranking, it is true that there has been an interesting shift in the overall ranking of the law schools that have—that were—educated the people who have been hired by the Bush administration into the Justice Department.
Last year, I obtained, through the Freedom of Information Act, the resumes to all the successful hires to three divisions of the Civil Rights Division, the three sections of the Civil Rights Division. And what I found was that in the two years before the Bush administration changed the rules for hiring, when career civil servants picked who their own replacements would be, essentially, the (INAUDIBLE), the, the number of higher-ranked law schools and people who had law strong civil rights experience was much higher than it was in the last four years, when there was greater political control 30 over (ph).
OLBERMANN: Charlie Savage, the Washington correspondent of “the Boston Globe.” Many thanks.
SAVAGE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Did President Bush really come close to blowing up a hydrogen car, the CEO of Ford, and himself? COUNTDOWN investigates.
And taking the race out of the racetrack and just cutting to the chase, competition that‘s all about the rollover.
That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1731, claimed British Captain Robert Jenkins, his ship, “Rebecca,” was boarded in the West Indies by Spanish sailors. Their commander, the captain said, cut off Jenkins‘ ear. Upon returning to England, Jenkins reported this to the king, and nothing happened until 1738, when Jenkins displayed his ear, it was preserved by having pickled it, to parliament.
In 1739, the British declared war on Spain. It was called the War of Jenkins‘ Ear. It dragged on until 1748. Some British cynics of the time suggested that not only wasn‘t that Jenkins‘ ear in the pickle jar, but that he‘d actually lost it not a Spaniard‘s knife, but while in a British jail. They also doubted Jenkins‘ claim that the Spanish had weapons of mass destruction.
Let‘s play Oddball.
And we begin in England, with the greatest event in all of motor sports, the London Rollover Competition. Yay, crash—hey, that one says Keith on it. Yay, Keith car. Keith boy. The rules are extremely simple. Haul A, hit ramp, skid on roof for distance.
Fortunately, a record number of participants were disqualified this year, as was that one, Nips there (ph), for landing back upright. Sure, it takes a lot of skill, and it‘s much cooler to watch, but rules are rules, and without rules, this sport will be nothing more than a bunch of idiots crashing their cars on purpose.
To San Francisco, for something slightly less crazy. The big seventh annual Big Wheel Race down the city‘s famous Lombard Street, the steepest, twistiest hill in all of the West Coast, the kind of hill you just love to cruise down on a green machine. It‘s unregulated, uninsured, and, of course, unsanctioned by the city, which makes it so interesting. There were no serious injuries in the dozens of crashes, but many guys left battered, bruised, or bleeding. Why do they do it? Because nothing impresses the ladies like a Big Wheel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), fat racing wheels. Spin-out breaking lever. Orange racing pylons. He made it!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Didn‘t work then, doesn‘t work now.
Two big announcements tonight about Don Imus. First from NBC News, now from CBS Radio. We‘ve yet to hear from ABC and FOX. This was not that decision.
Is the crew to blame for the chaos in the Aegean Sea? Details ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, a white cat nicknamed Macavity, nicknamed Macavity by the riders of the 331 bus from Walsol (ph) to Wolderhampton (ph) in England. They know the cat because several mornings a week he jumps on board at the Churchill Road stop, then jumps off at the next one, which is right in front of a fish market. And he never pays.
Number two, Stevie Wonder. He won the 1974 Grammy Award for his album “Inner Visions.” It was later stolen, although he never reported it officially to the police. Just last week the Grammy wound up on eBay, so he bought it for $29,250.
And number one, Jean Belony—Belony of North Miami Beach, Florida, another rocket scientist amid our criminal community. Leaps through the drive through window at Wendy‘s late last month, forces the cashier at gunpoint to open the safe, runs off with 400 bucks, with the bandana covering his face continually slipping off to reveal the big tattoo on his cheek.
Four days later he gets hungry, decides to grab a bite at—Wendy‘s. That‘s right, the same one he just robbed. Wait, there‘s more. He also argued with the cashier about the change she gave him, the same cashier he had robbed. Surprisingly enough, she recognized his tattoo.
OLBERMANN: A brief preface to our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the suspension of Don Imus by this network and by CBS radio for his remarks last week about the Rutgers University women‘s basketball team. I may be mistaken about the exact date, but I don‘t believe I have appeared on his radio or television show program 1998. This has been a conscious decision, stemming from what I thought were inappropriate things he has said about various people.
It has also been a conscious decision not to try to publicize this stance. And to borrow the phrase of an ex-colleague, it‘s not my day to run the network. First, NBC announced tonight that the simulcast of Imus in the Morning would not appear here on MSNBC for two weeks, starting next Monday. Then CBS radio announced it would suspend the show outright for the same time span. That time drag, by the way, will permit maximum exposure for his charity radio-thon later this week. Here are the details from our correspondent Rehema Ellis.
DON IMUS, MSNBC AND CBS ANCHOR: So I watched the basketball game last night—
REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The remarks came the morning after the Rutgers women‘s basketball team, with eight African American players, lost the NCAA title game.
IMUS: Some rough girl from Rutgers. Man, they‘ve got tattoos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some hardcore hoes.
IMUS: That‘s some nappy-headed hoes there. I‘m going to tell you that now.
ELLIS: Two days later, the popular radio/TV host apologized.
IMUS: I want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning.
ELLIS: But for some, it was not enough. Over the weekend, civil rights leaders called for Don Imus to be fired.
IMUS: He has black friends.
ELLIS: This morning, he apologized repeatedly to the players.
IMUS: But they need to know that I‘m a good person, who said a bad thing. And there‘s a big difference.
ELLIS: Later, he appeared on the Reverend Al Sharpton‘s radio show.
Sharpton has called for Imus‘s removal.
AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think his statements were sexist, racist and even implied homophobic.
IMUS: I wish I hadn‘t had said it. I‘m sorry I said it.
SHARPTON: This is not about whether you are a good man. This is about setting a precedent that allows racist language to be used in mainstream, federally regulated television and radio.
ELLIS: Imus has been praised for his work with several charitable organizations, including his ranch for kids with cancer, but his show has come under fire before. That led to Imus publicly pledging to columnist Clarence Page in 2000 to stop using racially insensitive language.
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE COLUMNIST: What do you say to somebody who you don‘t think is a racist and yet, keeps saying racist things?
That‘s what we‘re seeing with Don Imus right now
ELLIS (on camera): But he is just not a shock jock. Over the years, Don Imus‘ program has become a major stop for politicians and journalists, leading some to wonder if that will change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a journalist to be part of that schtick is irresponsible and unethical.
ELLIS: Tonight, in a statement, NBC News says that MSNBC will suspend the simulcast beginning next Monday. “In addition, his dedication, in his words, to change the discourse on his program moving forward has confirmed for us that this action is appropriate. Our future relationship with Imus is contingent on his ability to live up to his word.”
Don Imus has requested a meeting with the players and their families. Tonight, Rutgers says the comments were reprehensible and disgusting. And the University is, quote, in the process of considering our options.”
Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: Home video capturing chaos as the good ship Sea Diamond sinks. Will the captain and his crew now be punished for the accident?
And tomorrow, we‘ll know who the father of Anna Nicole Smith‘s daughter is. A surprising promise now from Howard K. Stern about what he‘ll do if Larry Birkhead really is declared the -- Details ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O‘BRIEN, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: When I first saw Sanjaya on “American Idol,” I thought: Ruben Studdard wrote, he‘s all about physical appearance. Kellie Clarkson wrote, this guy should be voted off. William Hung wrote, hey, maybe I am talented.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a call from the Charlestown area. Somebody had started their car and heard this racket. It sounded like an animal in some sort of distress. So he shut his engine off and he opened up the hood and found Coco in there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Coco apparently climbed into the car, seeking shelter from the cold. She had no time to react when the owner turned the ignition. It‘s clear Coco is one tough cat just looking for a good home.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can‘t think of a better place to come than to talk about the good work that‘s being done. I know people in Congress are working hard on this issue, and I appreciate your hard work in doing that.
Doing the tough work necessary.
The efforts are working.
I been working.
I appreciate your work.
I appreciate the hard work.
People are coming to work.
They worked hard.
Nothing more discouraging than having somebody risk their life or work hard.
And thanks for your hard work.
It‘s hard work, but necessary work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not every shipwreck is like Titanic, which left Ireland for New York 95 years ago today, nor even the Pequod, you know, from “Moby Dick,” call me Ishmael, the boat sank, the end; Cliff Notes version.
But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, we did not have video of Titanic, nor a real life version of the Pequod. As to what happened in the Aegean see last Friday, there is plenty of video. And as our correspondent Ned Colt reports, also plenty of blame.
NED COLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Pandemonium in the Aegean, with more than 1,000 passengers on the Greek liner racing to get into life boats. This video, shot by one of the panicked passengers as her life boat was dropping over the side. Many on those on board, American tourists on Easter break, when a reef just a few hundred yards off the rugged coast ripped open the Sea Diamond.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of our glasses were sliding everywhere and our warning that the ship was sinking was the staff running down the corridor screaming out, “life jackets,” and banging on doors.
COLT: Within minutes, the ship was listing precariously. Tom Gatch was down below in his cabin.
TOM GATCH, PASSENGER: The water was coming down the hallway and I thought I would have to go back inside to get my life jacket, but I had to open the door and I didn‘t have time because now the water was up over my ankles.
COLT: The unthinkable was happening on this supposedly unsinkable ship.
JENNIFER STEARNES, PASSENGER: And then they were like, “women and children on the life boats.” They actually do that.
COLT: Some of the life boats went over the side with just a handful of passengers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There‘s not really any words to explain how you feel when you see the last life boat going down and you‘re not on it.
COLT: And it was a mad scramble for life jackets too.
SIMON WALTER, PASSENGER: Some people were really losing it on the boat. I mean, you know, they were fighting over life jackets and screaming and shouting.
COLT: But help was on the way. With passengers gathering on the stern, the Greek Navy and a flotilla of private yachts appeared, off-loading the passengers and crew in just three hours. Many then huddled on the coast, stunned at the scene playing out below them. They didn‘t know at the time that two passengers, a French father and his 16-year-old daughter may have still been aboard, possibly trapped and drowned in their cabin below decks.
Over the weekend, Greek police arrested the captain on charges of negligence. Hours before, his ship, with some of the lights still flickering, slipped beneath the surface.
Ned Colt, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, much less serious, but still qualifying as a shipwreck, of sorts, the latest chapter in the Anna Nicole Smith saga, kicking off our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Tomorrow, DNA results are due in the case of who really is the father of her daughter, Dannielynn. So many possibilities. The lucky guy could be Anna Nicole attorney Howard K. Stern. The smart money is thought to be on celebrity photographer Larry Birkhead.
In fact, sources tell TMZ.com that if Birkhead is the father, Stern says he will not put up a custody fight. He will work with Birkhead to make sure Smith‘s mother does not get custody of the child. In the meantime, Birkhead is getting Hollywood style advice from Candy Spelling, the mother of Tory Spelling, advice that‘s far form Dr. Spock, maybe even Mr. Spock.
As posted on the TMZ website, it includes, pay attention to your hair or pictures in the media will haunt you forever; don‘t let your autograph go unsold on eBay, for fear of becoming a has been celebrity; and you can never prepare enough for celebrity, nothing will ever be the same. Dannielynn, listen up.
From the other side of the pond, the actress Kirsten Dunst lighting up her personality and a little more, telling a British newspaper that she is a moderate drinker, has tried some drugs, while she is not a, quote, major smoker, she really likes marijuana. Quoting, “I have never been a major smoker, but I think America‘s view on weed is ridiculous. I mean, are you kidding me? If everyone smoked wee, the world would be a better place.”
She also said her best friend‘s father, the late astronomer Carl Sagan, was the biggest pot smoker in the world, and he was a genius. Miss Dunst, I knew Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan he taught at my school. You‘re no Carl Sagan. All of this would explain the billions and billions of stars that he saw with or without a telescope.
The CEO of a car company claims he saved President Bush from blowing himself up at a hybrid car demonstration at the White House. No, I‘m not kidding and he may not be right about any of it. That‘s next. First time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze going to the legal system of Wichita, Kansas, which wound up putting a 74-year-old man in jail for shoplifting two hot dogs, for 71 days he was in jail. Apparently it was an accident. More than that, they spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on a jury trial for Thomas Windberly (ph), an ex-con who walked out of a convenience store with the two franks, intended as dinner for his dog.
At one point it had Mr. Windberly in jail in lieu of $100,000 bond for $2.11 worth of hot dogs. The jury has acquitted him.
The silver to Robert F. Turner. He‘s a former acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Reagan administration. He wrote an op-ed for the “Wall Street Journal” editorial page, which has been more hysterical than usual lately, which suggested Speaker Nancy Pelosi might have violated a federal criminal law by going to Syria to meet with President Assad, even though the law he mentioned, the Logan Act, was specifically ruled by the State Department to have nothing to do with members of Congress, quote, “engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties.”
Former acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in the Reagan affairs. You mean you were a temp.
But our winner, former House majority leader Tom DeLay, digging that pit a little deeper. You may recall that in a new book he compared his indictment for violating campaign finance laws in Texas to Hitler‘s big lie, and said liberals had now reached the levels of the Nazis.
Now, in an interview with the Emory University Radio Station in Boston, he goes just a little further.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM DELAY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: It‘s the same process. It‘s the same criminalization of politics. It‘s the same oppression of people. It‘s the same destroy people in order to gain power. It may be six million Jews. It may be indicting somebody on laws that don‘t exist. But it‘s the same philosophy and it‘s the same world view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tom DeLay indicted, eradication of six million Jews plus starting the Second World War. Yes, just about the same thing, if you‘re crazy. Tom DeLay, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Sometimes comics lampoon politicians. More often than not politicians lampoon themselves. But when automobile CEOs get in on the act, you had check their facts. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, contrary to rampant blogging across the Internets, all of it traceable to the business insider column of the “Detroit News,” President Bush did not, repeat, did not almost blow himself up, self immolate, or even shot off any sparks while checking out alternative cars on the south lawn of the White House.
The event, now two weeks ago, was brought back to life by the CEO of Ford Motor Company, Alan Mulally. He told the “Detroit News” that he pretty much saved the president from plugging a live electrical plug into the wrong outlet of the ford Hybrid car, the outlet for the Hydrogen fuel tank. Quoting, I just though ‘oh my goodness.‘ So I just started walking faster, and the president walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all protocols. I touched the president, grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front. I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen.”
That‘s right, according to Mr. Mulally, he kept the president from blowing himself up real good at a photo op about cars that got more bang for the buck than expected. As you see from this video almost nothing about that account seems correct. The president did not come anywhere close to initiating contact with the power cord, nor was the cord left in the wrong place.
Any drama in the moment appears to have been squarely in Mr. Mulally‘s mind.
Let‘s turn to the presidential historian and television personality Mo Rocca, appearing in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway, beginning April 17th. Thanks for your time tonight Mo.
MO ROCCA, TV PERSONALITY: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To what do we attribute this gross misstatement regarding the president‘s behavior? Does the Ford CEO have a Superman complex or is he just worried about the president based on what he saw of him on TV.
ROCCA: Well, the Superman complex is very, very interesting, the idea of the Ford CEO‘s rescue fantasy, saving the White House, saving Bush and the whole presidency in America with it. There are conspiracy theorists who believe that the White House actually planted this story in a bid to align the president with his political role model, Wyle E. Coyote, who, of course, is prone to self-immolation with surprising regularity. This would be a way to curry favor with Wyle E. Coyote‘s fan base.
I think that‘s nonsense. I just think that Ford CEO has no idea how the hell his car works.
OLBERMANN: He doesn‘t know where to plug it in. By the way, Wyle E. Coyote, with surprising regularity, also came back from self-immolation, which is the real story, perhaps, there. But on the subject of presidential injuries, does history not tell us that when they injure themselves they tend to start with small accidents first, as opposed to blowing up the White House?
ROCCA: Yes, that‘s right. I mean, Bush scratching his face after choking on the pretzel and passing out; Bush falling of a Segway; Clinton hurting his knee after his late-night shenanigans with golfer Greg Norman; and, of course, James Buchanan with the infamous Dupont Circle zipper snag.
OLBERMANN: I was going to mention Gerald Ford, but I can‘t do that in the same breath.
ROCCA: Not enough time has passed.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s move to the people who night next get the chance to blow up the White House, the presidential candidates. One who has figuratively shot himself in the foot, the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, last week, determined to impress the NRA. When it came out he had only hunted two times in his life, when he was 15 and last year, and he said this: “I have always been a rodent and rabbit hunter, small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so, and have hunted those kinds of varmints since then, more than two times.”
And so now the third reference to Bugs Bunny and that crowd of the night. Why does the name Elmer Fudd suddenly pop into my head?
ROCCA: I can‘t imagine why. He‘s certainly not shooting himself in the foot right. No, the shocking thing about this story is he told this exact same story five years ago, but in that rendering of the story his hunting buddy was NARAL‘s Kate Michelman. Now when he tells the same story, his hunting buddy is Focus on the Family‘s James Dobson. So, it just keeps switching. I can‘t keep a track.
OLBERMANN: And what, the next version is Ted Nugent is out there with him with a machete?
ROCCA: Sure, absolutely.
OLBERMANN: So what does Mr. Romney do next? I mean, does he go hunting while wearing his flip flops? Does he call on Dick Cheney? What does he do to pull out of this?
ROCCA: Well, the flip-flops would be dangerous, of course, because then he literally would shoot himself in the foot, probably. I‘m not sure what he should do. But I don‘t know that America is ready to elect a man whose role is to take on al Qaeda when the best he can do is varmints.
OLBERMANN: Varmints. The former New York mayor, Mr. Giuliani, the “New York Post” reported that his wife, Judy Nathan, used to participate in these surgical tools sales demonstrations, and wound up needlessly killing puppies. Now is this a clear example of when dead animals don‘t help a Republican candidate.
ROCCA: Cruela de Nathan. Yes, we know and we love her. To be fair to them, and this is the Giuliani spin right now, these dogs were errant mutts. They were turn style jumpers. They were bad, bad dogs. She had to put them to death.
OLBERMANN: And about McCain, quickly, when he was explaining the misstatements about the progress in Baghdad on “60 Minutes” last week, he ended with this quote: “I‘m happy, frankly, with the way I operate. Otherwise it would be a lot less fun.”
Getting skewered over claims about Iraq is fun for a senator?
ROCCA: Well, if he can make Iraqis convinced they are actually having fun, then that‘s quite a feat. Yes, fun is maybe not the best word to use. But look, if he‘s having fun on the campaign trail, great.
OLBERMANN: It‘s quite exciting for him. Do we have—is there a Road Runner candidate? If we have gotten all these other characters from the Wyle E. Coyotes and the Bugs Bunnies of this world?
ROCCA: Right, Bush is more of a Daffy Duck or a Yosemite Sam. We need a Marvin Martian. Kucinich would be a good Marvin Martian I think.
OLBERMANN: With his space modulator. Television personality, presidential historian Mo Rocca, soon to be a star on Broadway. Congratulations in advance on that.
ROCCA: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for the 1,457th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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