Guests: Howard Fineman, Paul Rieckhoff, Paul F. Tompkins
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The president, now holding the troops in Iraq hostage until the Democrats cave in and give him the blank-check funding he wants. It is Congress‘s fault, he claims, that thousands of troops will have to serve longer, not his fault.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress‘s failure to fund our troops will that that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And he invokes 9/11 again, and says if we leave Iraq, the terrorists will follow us here. Do you mean, sir, that you have not done enough to keep them out?
Gonzo-gate, give Congress what it needs from the Justice Department. the House Judiciary committee issues a subpoena for the full text, not just the redacted copies, of 3,000 pages of Justice Department e-mails, including the assessments of whether the fired U.S. attorneys were toeing the Bush political line.
Digging his way out, or only deeper? Rutgers basketball players agree to meet personally with Don Imus. But who around here still will, after this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON IMUS, RADIO HOST: I mean, I thought the report the NBC News last night did, and Brian Williams, was disgraceful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Late developments in his future, if any, on MSNBC.
And the drama in the Bahama comes to a climax. Who is the father? Who sired the offspring of the late Anna Nicole -- OK, it was that Birkhead guy. Happy now?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hate to be the one that told you this, but I told you so.
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OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never saw Howard naked.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening.
Late-breaking news tonight on why a suspension may not be the final punishment for Don Imus, coming up.
First, stunning words of far greater consequence, spoken amid far less accountability, that are literally life or death for thousands of Americans, not from a radio host, but from a president.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the last time President Bush addressed the American Legion, last August, his remarks kicked off a preelection propaganda campaign so destructive, it ultimately cost his party control of Congress.
When he addressed the American Legion again this morning, Mr. Bush tried to foist blame for his administration having extended tours of duty for thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq onto Democrats in Congress, because they have refused to rubber-stamp his failed plan for that conflict.
What it might cost him this time, perhaps any credibility he has left.
The president‘s remarks at once familiar, while finding new ways to mislead.
We begin tonight with the familiar, the 9/11 drumbeat about Iraq, the bread and butter of Bush administration rhetoric, despite report after report that continue to say that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If we retreat, we‘re to retreat from Iraq, what‘s interesting and different about this war is that the enemy would follow us here, and that‘s why it‘s important to succeed in Iraq.
I made a decision to remove a dictator, a tyrant, who was a threat to the United States, a threat to the free world, and a threat to the Iraqi people, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Does that imply Mr. Bush has done literally nothing else to secure the U.S.? What about the Homeland Security Department he created, or the many civil liberties Americans have sacrificed in the name of purportedly keeping this nation safe from something other than the Bush administration?
As for the alleged threats posed by Saddam‘s Iraq, no-fly zones and sanctions had been containing them, back before the American Legion today, Mr. Bush, trying to contain the PR damage of a military stretched the breaking point by blaming Democrats now using the power of the purse for the Pentagon‘s many woes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Some of our forces now deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq may need to be extended, because other units are not ready to take their places. In a letter to Congress, the Army chief of staff, Pete Schoomaker, recently warned, “Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures, which will impact Army readiness and impose hardships on our soldiers and their families.”
Bottom line is this. Congress‘s failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines. Others could see their loved ones headed back to war sooner than anticipated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So a lack of funding, which would happen, mind, you, only if the president vetoes that bill, what would be his own decision in doing, lest we forget, would mean troops would have to stay longer in Iraq, despite the purported unavailability of greenbacks to keep them there. By the same token, according to Bush logic, even more troops would have to go to the front even sooner than anticipated, presumably paying their own freight.
It is that kind of logic that got the Bush administration into this predicament in the first place, justifying the invasion, and now the escalation that keeps us there, always a house of cards that collapses upon close inspection. Case in the point, the administration‘s benchmarks for Iraq, that might exist in the abstract, but never seem to be enforced.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And now it‘s time for these Iraqis, the Iraqi government, to stand up and start making some, making some strong political moves. And they‘re beginning to. I speak to the prime minister quite often, and remind him that here at home, we expect them to do hard work. We want to help, but we expect them to do some hard work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For all of the president‘s bluster today, that is all Congress is really asking for from Iraq and the administration itself, accountability. Yet the White House is refusing even to negotiate with lawmakers, Mr. Bush inviting Democrats to meet with him, but only so he can tell them how wrong they are. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino asked today why Democrats should want to attend that meeting. Her answer, quote, “Maybe they need to hear again from the president about why he thinks it is foolish to set arbitrary timetables for withdrawal,” Majority Leader Harry Reid of the Senate saying today that most of America agrees with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: American troops are putting their lives at risk every single day, but Iraqi leaders are not willing to take the political risk of governing their own country. That must change. That‘s what Congress is demanding. That‘s what the American people, by a large majority, demand. And the president should be leading us in that direction, not threatening to veto funding for our troops unless we rubber-stamp his flawed plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This appears to be quite a gambit that the White House is taking here, blaming Democrats for extended tours of duty, for early callups to Iraq because the money might not be there. Is there not a risk for the White House in this, since, on the face of it, this does not appear to actually make any sense?
FINEMAN: Well, every time I think they can‘t pile more chips on one number, they keep finding more to put there. I talked to some White House people who claim that if they ask the question right—that is, in a way favorable to them—the American people support them on the narrow question of funding for the troops.
But that‘s like asking a question you already know the answer to, if you shape it in a way, saying, Do you support the troops? Everybody in America supports the troops.
I think that the president and his advisers really have no other idea, either substantively or politically, of how to proceed. They began this process not long after 9/11, with the speech George Bush gave at the State of the Union and elsewhere.
The speech he gave to the American Legion today was practically a carbon copy, except for a few updated assertions about what‘s happening in Iraq. The president said there‘s no civil war there, that, as you heard him say, that the government is making progress, the civil government is making progress there. Most of what we‘re told by people on the ground there, by journalists and others, is just the opposite.
OLBERMANN: Is there any implication, if we‘re now into reruns there, if this is in fact a duplicate of a speech from, say, last August or last September, before the campaign that went so poorly for the president and for his party, is there any indication that it‘s going to continue? Are we going to see another series of speeches from Vice President Cheney hitting this idea again, even though it failed so miserably for them last time politically?
FINEMAN: I think the answer is yes. I think the president indicated in his speech today, he‘s going to make a series of speeches of this kind on the bet that the American people will side with him on that question of funding.
But as you pointed out, it‘s the president who‘s stopping the funding, by refusing to accept any conditions. As I watch the Democrats in Congress and Bush posture on this, it‘s like they‘re both playing North Korea. I mean, they—everybody wants there to be no conditions, or all conditions. They won‘t sit down with each other. To me, this is the ultimate expression of the divisive kind of politics that we‘ve had here in the last decade.
They‘re alternative universes that barely touch. The president is deeply dug in on his, and the Democrats are becoming more emboldened, both by the polls and by the obvious, at best, mixed news out of Iraq.
OLBERMANN: What explains the 9/11 drumbeat, which was kind of stilled for a while after the election, when now we have report after report definitively, this latest one from the Pentagon, saying no such link existed? If the rhetoric only is meant to appeal to a segment of the population the administration has no chance of losing anyway, however small that might be, why go back to this one?
FINEMAN: You know, I think you‘re talking about the link between al Qaeda and Saddam.
FINEMAN: I think we‘re dealing with psychology as much as politics here, Keith. I know that sounds strange, but I think the president and his closest advisers are—they think they see the world for what it is. But most of the American people see it otherwise, and most, I must say, of the rest of the world sees it otherwise, that rather than make us safer—this is what the American people say in polls, that rather than make us safer, the half a trillion dollars we‘ve spend in Iraq has made us less safe by stirring a hornet‘s nest there and around the world.
And that‘s a fundamental disagreement. The president doesn‘t see it, won‘t see it, Karl Rove doesn‘t see it, won‘t see it, Dick Cheney doesn‘t see it, won‘t see it. And that‘s the sort of bunker mentality that they‘re in right now.
OLBERMANN: And lastly, Howard, these poll numbers, approval for Congress is never very high, but during the Democrats‘ first 100 days in office, it rose 15 percent. It was 25 percent approval, it‘s now 40 percent, it‘s the highest level for the lawmakers in a year. How would the White House respond to that? What kind of interpretation could they put on that?
FINEMAN: Well, they‘re not bothering. I mean, they think they can win this confrontation. I think they‘re wrong. I think the Democrats I spoke to today on the Hill, they‘re quite confident of their position politically, morally, substantively. And they‘re going to press ahead. And we‘ve got a big confrontation coming that‘s going to continue for weeks and weeks on end.
Ultimately, will there be a deal? I think there has to be. But both sides think they have the upper hand here. It‘s a very unusual situation, where they both think they‘re going to win a standoff. If I have to bet, I would say the Democrats win ultimately, and that‘s what the ‘08 election‘s going to be about.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek.” As always, sir, great thanks.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The president gets an earful about the troops from a governor and from veterans. Is Mr. Bush to blame for the hardships now faced by the military? The governor of Ohio thinks so.
And the Rutgers players agree to reserve judgment and meet with Don Imus, but others are not reserving judgment, and that may mean a suspension is not all he is facing tonight. There are late-breaking details coming together on this story. We‘ll bring them to you as they come together.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: In the category of jaw-dropping chutzpah, on the same day President Bush said Democrats would be to blame for U.S. troops staying in Iraq longer, the Associated Press reported that the Pentagon is considering keeping 15,000 U.S. troops in Iraq longer, up to four months longer. This just one day after we learned that thousands of National Guard troops will be going back earlier than they thought.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, new details on how the escalation, not to mention the poor planning, not to mention the war itself, are hurting the troops, and therefore military as a whole as well, specifically, the AP hearing that four ground unit brigades and one aviation combat brigade, representing 15,000 out of the 145,000 troops now in Iraq, could have their tours extended past the summer, extended up to 120 days, as part of a plan the Pentagon is looking at right now, this on top of yesterday‘s news that several thousand National Guard troops rotating into Iraq will be going earlier than they were supposed to, Ohio‘s governor, Ted Strickland, saying the 37th Infantry Unit from Columbus was originally not in line to be called up again until 2009.
In a letter to the White House today, Governor Strickland called the change a breach of faith, asking President Bush for his assurance that, quote, “Every Ohio soldier has the most up-to-date equipment, including individual body armor systems, M-4 rifles, and other weapons systems, night vision devices, and up-armored-type wheeled vehicles,” as well as appropriate training, the group Vote Vets today saying in a statement, “These brigades are not supposed to be sent back into battle without being home for five years. This is the first time since the start of the war that we have seen brigades that already deployed deploy again. The president and his Department of Defense are breaking our Guard in a way that could take a decade to fix.”
For reaction, let‘s turn to a Guardsman who has served in Iraq, Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and author of “Chasing Ghosts,” which will be out in paperback on the first of next month.
Paul, thanks again for your time tonight.
PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In the National Guard, mainstay of America‘s disaster response system, is it truly being broken now by this president and his war?
RIECKHOFF: Absolutely. Every sign of wear has started to reveal itself. Retention numbers are down, recruiting numbers are abysmal. Right now, you can be 42 years old and join the National Guard. And this is an important signal, because we‘re sending back four brigades that were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom One. I was a part of the initial invasion. My brigade is probably next on the list.
And this is a sign that we‘re driving our military into the ground. By every metric, equipment, readiness, training, we‘re just not ready. And the big thing that the president has always said is, We‘ve got to fight them over there so we don‘t have to fight them over here. What if we have to do both? We‘re using our National Guard to the point of exhaustion, and it‘s going to damper our ability to respond to things like the next 9/11, or another Hurricane Katrina. And our back door, in many ways, is wide open.
OLBERMANN: The other part of this AP report, saying the Pentagon wants to keep the 15,000 troops there longer, because things are going to well, they want to keep the momentum going. How does that thinking resonate with you?
RIECKHOFF: It sounds like spin. My unit got extended four times as the insurgency grew, and I don‘t think they were extending us because things were going well. Things continued to get worse, and we were extended. There‘s a Minnesota National Guard brigade that‘s already done 12 months and is going to be extended for another four months now. That‘s going to be an increase in the number of wounded, the number in killed, and it‘s also going to be an increased number of divorces.
And the impact on the families back home is going to be tremendous. The National Guard units like the one I served with are just starting to rebuild their lives again, and now you‘re asking them to send them back again for another tour. To use a baseball analogy, it‘s like asking your starting pitcher, who just completed a complete game, to go back out on one day‘s rest and pitch again. You can do it, but it‘s stupid, and his arm is eventually going to fall off. It‘s just really, really inexcusable and makes a terrible situation for our Guardsmen and their families.
OLBERMANN: If the response to things getting better is, keep the troops there, and the response to things getting worse is, keep the troops there, is it now appropriate to ask whether keeping the troops there in Iraq indefinitely has been the ulterior and ultimate motive here all along?
RIECKHOFF: Sure, absolutely. And I think the big issue is transparency. We‘ve still got troop presences in Germany right now, and in places like Korea, and many people expect that this is just a way to keep a foothold in the Middle East so we can project power if Iran or someone else acts up. And you know what? There may actually be some rationale behind that, if you want to keep an airfield there or something else for a military asset.
But let‘s have some transparency here. Let‘s tell the American people, let‘s tell the National Guardsmen, let‘s tell the Iraqi people. We shouldn‘t be playing a shell game with our troops and our ultimate rationale for what we‘re trying to do in Iraq and the Middle East. It really sends a bad message, and I think really erodes that bond that we have between our military and the civilian leadership.
OLBERMANN: And what about this statement by the president today that the Democrats are forcing the situation whereby loved ones will have to wait longer to see their troops come home in some sort of convoluted logic about the funding, and the fact that he will not get a blank check from this Democratic Congress at this point? I used this phrase that he‘s holding the troops hostage. Is there validity in that phrase?
RIECKHOFF: There is, absolutely. I mean, again, I go back to my situation. I was extended four times in 2003 and 2004. The Democrats didn‘t to that, President Bush did, and Donald Rumsfeld did. So it really comes down to a very poorly planned war where didn‘t allocate appropriate resources, they didn‘t increase the size of the active duty. And now, President Bush is really on an island. And this is a desperate move to prop up our troops as some kind of political shield or political hostage, as he continues to get more and more isolated in his rationale and his political debate.
It‘s really a desperate sign, and I think erodes the continuing separation that we try to establish between our people and our policy. The president keeps trying to link the two, and I think that‘s a dangerous path to go down.
OLBERMANN: And Paul, we do not, because of time, have chance to get into the other news of the day, that there are going to be congressional investigations onto the possibility of spin and deceit in the death of Pat Tillman and the rescue of Jessica Lynch. Unfortunately, I‘m sure we‘ll have time later to discuss that.
RIECKHOFF: Yes, it‘s a good move, good thing.
OLBERMANN: Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. As always, Paul, thanks for your time tonight.
RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Keith. Appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: The Bush administration‘s domestic war, Congress officially losing its patience, negotiations over document dumps are at an end, subpoenas issued in Gonzales-gate.
And the late developments in the Imus story that may change it utterly yet again.
That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The actor Harry Morgan turns 92 years old today. He has not performed in movies or TV since 1999, but the preceding 57 years were kind of busy, everything from an extraordinary performance in the dark 1943 Western “The Oxbow Incident,” to Jack Webb‘s sidekick on “Dragnet,” to perhaps his most enduring venue, the TV series “M*A*S*H,” on which he played two characters, the beloved Colorado Potter, of course, but before that, a bizarre guest shot as General Steele, a psychotic commander who asked an African-American soldier to testify in a disciplinary hearing, but first, he said with a straight face to the sergeant, “A number, a musical number, it‘s in your blood,” unquote.
The strange appropriateness of that story aside, happiest birthday, Harry Morgan.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Palm Springs, California, where breakout the paper Spongebob hats and the diet sodies (ph), because it‘s also Cheetah the Chimp‘s birthday, his 75th, and wow, does he smell bad. Famous from the Tarzan movies, where he played the role of Jane—no, I think there‘s an error there. Cheetah celebrated three-quarters of a century with sugary snacks, a big birthday cake, and a long, uncomfortable open-mouth soul kiss with his trainer. So that‘s how it is in Palm Springs, huh?
To Kalatowki (ph), Poland, for highlights of the traditional Easter Monday Easter egg hunt on skis, smoking a pipe. It‘s an annual event where dozens of boozed-up participants dress in historical costumes, strap on antique skis, and hunt for eggs at high speeds. Only those who can collect the eggs without crashing will experience the thrill of victory. For the rest, dah, dah, da-da, the agony of defeat.
Finally to Monroe, Louisiana, for the COUNTDOWN bear in a tree of the week. Two children spotted this 200-pound black bear in this neighborhood outside Shreveport. Wildlife officials acted quickly, employing the new Plan A of bear in a tree removal, shoot them with a tranquilizer dart and wait. Whee. The bear was uninjured, but talk about falling out of the ugly tree and hitting every branch on the way down. His hangover is going to be brutal.
Don Imus says he‘ll serve out his suspension with dignity. And then he takes a swipe at the coverage of the story by NBC News. And the late developments that may make the suspension just the start of his punishment.
And Zsa Zsa Gabor‘s husband find out that he‘s not the father of Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby. And a mighty roar goes up from the crowd.
But first, COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
A theme tonight, giving stuff away.
Number three, Rose and Dennis Wallace of Colebrook Township, Ohio. They‘re giving away the farm, literally. They own 43 ½ acres. All you have to do is win an essay contest and pay the entry fee to the essay contest, $100. Think about it.
Number two, Mike Bassett. You don‘t want a farm? How about his house in Bellevue, Ohio, 45 miles southeast of Toledo? This is not a mortgage issue, it is a logistical one. He owns the supermarket and the gas station next door. He needs the space where the house is for parking. So he‘ll give you his house, but you have to order it to go. You have to move it.
And number one, Gregory Daniels of Pomona, California. What‘s he giving away? Well, after allegedly pulling an ATM out of a minimarket in that city, Mr. Daniels had to try to run away on foot, which was when his artificial leg flew off. What is this, “Dancing with the Stars”?
OLBERMANN: Late developments tonight suggesting the Don Imus controversy may not end with his suspension, not from protesters, nor commentators, nor insulted and woefully mischaracterized college student athletes, not even from television or radio employers. Staples, the big office supply chain telling our sister network CNBC, quote, “recent comments on the show have caused it to discontinue its advertising on “Imus In the Morning.” And an hour later, the co-president of Bigelow Tea announced that her company, whose advertising contract with Imus‘ show had just expired, had, quote, suspended our current advertising, and may not resume it.
Within the last hour, the nation‘s biggest marketer, Proctor and Gamble, has suspended its advertising commitments for the television simulcast. And the media buying agency Carrot USA says some of its clients have asked for their commercials to be pulled from the Imus program, though it would not identify those clients.
Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, that is at least three commercial sponsors out, at least one permanently, and two prominent figures from NBC News have now called for this networks affiliation with that program to be discontinued, while the man at the center of the controversy has himself criticized coverage of it by NBC News.
More on that in a moment. First Don Imus made another attempt to explain himself on “The Today Show” this morning, agreeing to appear, but not to debate the Reverend Al Sharpton, with Matt Lauer the man in the middle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”: This is not the first time that racially insensitive comments have been made by you or members of your staff. There was an incident with Gwen Ifill, a highly regarded African American journalist, who was referred to as a cleaning lady. We heard about—
DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, you‘re not going to do that to me. You are not going to site that and not give me an opportunity to respond to that.
LAUER: I will give you an opportunity in a second, but there have been other apologies in the past and there have been pledges taken by you in the past to curb your behavior, and yet here we are, different year, same problem.
IMUS: Try to hang the Gwen Ifill thing on me, which I discussed Reverend Sharpton yesterday. That happened back during the Reagan administration and it was a—this is a comedy show. I am not a news man. This is not “Meet the Press.” Anything we say—it‘s not an excuse. But context is important.
LAUER: Reverend Sharpton, good morning to you. What do you think of the punishment?
REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I think it is not nearly enough. I think it‘s a little too—too little, too late. I think the fact of the matter is that the gravity of this kind of use of airwaves must be stopped. You‘re talking about a show that leading political figures, presidential candidates, news anchors go on. These young women have excelled academically.
They are at Rutgers University, being called “nappy headed hoes.” What precedent are we setting now? That you can apologize every ten years when you go over the line, and maybe you‘ll get a two week suspension. It think that this is something that is unhealthy for everyone in America. And he should be fired.
LAUER: Let me bring Don Imus back in on this. Don, first of all, you said you would like to meet with the Rutgers University players. What exactly would you say to them?
IMUS: I am going to apologize to them and ask them for their forgiveness. I don‘t expect that and I don‘t think they have an obligation to either forgive me or accept my apology. And I would these young women to know that I didn‘t say this out of anger, and that I didn‘t say this out of meanness and I didn‘t turn my microphone on and say, this is what I think of the young women at Rutgers. And believe me, I know that that phrase did not originate in the white community.
That phrase originated in the black community. And I‘m not stupid. I may be a white man, but I know that these young women, and young black women all through that society are demeaned and disparaged and disrespected by their own black men and they are called that name. And I know that that doesn‘t give me obviously any right to say it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Also in that interview, in perhaps the first humorous aside in the entire morass, Imus apparently inadvertently referred to Reverend Sharpton as Reverend Hargas, the name of one of his comedic characters from his radio show in the 1970‘s. Stuck in the middle of this, of course, are the athletes at Rutgers University. Women‘s college basketball still has student athletes. It is still typical for them to have mid-term exams on the same day as playoff games.
So as a remarkable team from Rutgers reacted for the first time today, consider that they lost their four of their first six games this season, yet reached the national championship game against the powerhouse team, the University of Tennessee. It was the first time any Rutgers team had played for a Division I championship since the men‘s fencing team in 1949.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
C. VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN‘S BASKETBALL COACH: I want you to see 10 young women who accomplished so much that we as a coaching staff, as a the state university, men women and people across this nation are so very proud of. These young ladies that you have seated before you—before you are valedictorians of their class, future doctors, musical prodigies, and yes, even Girl Scouts.
HEATHER ZURICH, TEAM MEMBER: We reached what many would only dream up, the NCAA title game. But all of our accomplishments were lost. We were stripped of this moment by degrading comments made by Mr. Imus last Wednesday.
ESSENCE CARSON, TEAM CAPTAIN: I would like to express our team‘s great hurt, anger and disgust towards the words of Mr. Don Imus.
We, as a group, have decided—we all agreed that this meeting with Mr. Imus would help. We have thought about it. The thought of him cleansing his image with this apology has crossed our mind, but we understand that this isn‘t the first time that this has happened. This isn‘t the second time it has happened, and it sure isn‘t the third.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Essence, several of your teammate have declined to comment on the suspension. Another no comment here. Mr. Imus this morning said that he feels the suspension is appropriate. Would you care to characterize it?
CARSON: I believe that they have taken action with his suspension. They have begun to take action. I don‘t know what else will happen and I really haven‘t—we haven‘t come to the conclusion of what we would like to happen. So that‘s still up in the air.
OLBERMANN: Today Coach Vivian Stringer and her players agreed to meet with Don Imus. Much reporting tonight that the meeting will take place next Tuesday. But our sources tonight say it could come much earlier than that. Exact time and location up in the ear. As is Don Imus‘ career at MSNBC and CBS Radio.
What follows would qualify as comment, not principally my own. NBC News correspondent Ron Allen blogged yesterday, writing, “clearly an apology has not made all of this go away. Something more has to happen and is happening. I think some of the media companies trying to keep their distance now realize they remain tainted. I believe many here where I work will do the right thing.”
This morning Al Roker of the “Today Show” was more specific. He wrote, “Don Imus needs to be fired for what he said. And while we are at it, his producer, Bernard McGuirk, needs to be canned as well. McGuirk is just as guilty, often egging Imus on. The I‘m a good person who said a bad thing apology doesn‘t cut it. At least he didn‘t try to weasel out of this by hiding behind alcohol or drug abuse. Still, he said it and a two week suspension doesn‘t cut it. It is, at best, a slap on the wrist, a vacation, nothing.
The general manager of Cartoon Network,” Roker continued, “resigned after a publicity stunt went wrong and caused a panic in Boston. He did the right thing. Don Imus should do the right thing and resign, not talk about taking a two week suspension with dignity. I don‘t think Don Imus gets it.”
And yet there is, amid all of this dismay and pain and anger, still some evident sense in the man at the center of the controversy that he is somehow a victim here. From his broadcast this morning after that appearance on the “Today Show.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IMUS: The reason I‘m not going to go on there and debate Al Sharpton and Matt Lauer is because Matt is, for whatever reason, is going to be on Reverend Sharpton‘s side, whether he is or not. So, I mean, I thought the report that NBC News last night did, and Brian Williams, was disgraceful. So I have said I was sorry. I am going to apologize to these young women and their families and coaches, if they‘ll see me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Management here and the NBC/MSNBC News operation have, in fact, tried to handle these unfolding events fairly, calmly and deliberately, and I think they have. My friend in that management have suggested I withhold any formal comment until Mr. Imus meets with those Rutgers players to gauge their reaction. Out of those respect to those friend, and more importantly out of respect to those students athletes, that‘s what I‘ll to.
Though it somehow seems disheartening that after having a remarkable accomplishment overshadowed by the unwanted burdens of this particular public spot light, those players should be handed more unwanted burdens, still.
Also tonight, the Bush administration says it is cooperating with the request for information into Gonzales-Gate, but the House Judiciary Committee says it is getting stone walled, and so it is going to hand out subpoenas.
And the man behind the Girls Gone Wild franchise finds himself in trouble with the law and under arrest. All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The threat was hovering for weeks; if Congress didn‘t get what it said it needed to determine what really happened in the firing of at least eight U.S. attorneys, it would legally force the administration to release that necessary information. And tonight, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the House of Representatives pulled the trigger today, sending a subpoena to the Justice Department, not for people, but for documents. Our correspondent is David Shuster.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, Democratic lawmakers and Bush administration officials have been negotiating for weeks over Justice Department e-mails and document related to the seemingly political firings of the federal prosecutors. The subpoena today underscores that those negotiations are not going anywhere and that Democrats believe the Bush administration is engaged in a stone wall.
In a letter sent to Alberto Gonzales today, which accompanied the subpoena, Democrat John Conyers wrote, quote, “We have been patient in allowing the Department to work through its concerns regarding the sensitive nature of some of these materials. Unfortunately, the Department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs.”
Lawmakers and administration officials say Congress is requesting the full text of all of the 3,000 document released a few weeks ago. Many of the documents had crucial sections blacked out or redacted. Other documents were entirely blank. Congress is specifically requesting not just paper documents, but electronic data, including electronic meta-data, such as headers, directional information, and other useful tracking data. In other words, all electric data within the department.
Bush administration says the information was blacked out because of privacy issues. Justice Department officials say the information contained, for example, the names of some of the prosecutors who were considered for termination, but who were ultimately kept on.
Democrats believe that the information is actually not related to privacy issues, but was rather held back because the Democrats believe it would prove to be damaging to the White House and would back up allegations that the firings were done for purely political reasons.
Furthermore, there are also some standing issues related to the actions of White House officials, including Karl Rove. The subpoena itself, signed by John Conyers, orders the Justice Department to turn over the unredacted documents by April 16th, next Monday, at 2:00 p.m., the day before Gonzales is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Bush administration now has a choice. It can either honor the Congressional request, or try to fight it in the courts. But pursuing litigation may raise even more questions about the document and about the potential damage the Bush administration is now trying to contain. Keith?
OLBERMANN: David Shuster in Washington, thanks David. And onto our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, the great relief that is Keeping Tabs, with the Girls Gone Wild cretin in jail. Joe Francis surrendered to federal marshals, was booked into a Bay County, Florida jail for contempt of court. Francis had been in settlement negotiations late last week in a civil lawsuit brought by seven women who were under age when his company filmed them in Panama City four years ago. His shirts on.
But when negotiations broke down after Francis became enraged, U.S. district Judge Richard Smoke ordered him to settle the case or go to jail for his behavior. Mr. Francis refused to surrender, calling Smoke a, quote, judge gone wild. Now Francis, who in January was sentenced to a fine an community service for filming the underage girls—that‘s enough of that video please—remains in jail pending an appeal of the contempt order.
And whether or not there is contempt, there is certainly no love lost between Paris Hilton and her now former best friend forever, the so-called socialite Kim Kardashian. The apparent clash of egos is so bad, in fact, that Hilton did not show up to Kardashian‘s Las Vegas birthday party, according MSNBC.com‘s Jeanette Walls. Miss Kardashian was reportedly tired of clubbing in the shadow of Miss Hilton, who was herself threatened reportedly by Miss Kardashian being calling the new Paris.
Even more insulting to Miss Hilton, the supposed diss from none other than Britney Spears. Miss Kardashian‘s ex-rep claiming that Spears had her people tell Hilton that they couldn‘t hang out anymore.
The former home of Johnny Cash was engulfed in flames today. Virtually the entire Nashville fire department turned out to battle the blaze at the 14,000 square foot home, where Cash and his wife Jude Carter Cash lived until 2003, when each of them passed away. The home was sold just last year to Barry Gibb, the lead singer of the Bee Gees. There is some good new however. No injuries were reported, but a witness did report that it fell into a burning ring of fire. It went down, down, down, and the flames went higher.
The international drama over who is the daddy of Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby is finally over. It was that photographer, what‘s his name, guy fellow. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to Glen Beck, dismissing global warming and former Vice President Al Gore, claiming it has not gotten any warmer since 1998, even though data from NASA proves, well, it has. Quoting Mr. Beck, “Al, the world is on to you, your self promotional, politically motivated science fiction. I say forget, you know, the diet, grow the beard back, invite your old friends Ben and Jerry over for a little reunion. The jig seems to be up. OK, not a news man, not a broadcaster, not a scientist. What are you going to pretend you are next week, buddy?
Joint winners of the silver, Sean Hannity with Senator John McCain. You‘ve heard this, McCain was heckled in Baghdad by the drunk CNN guy story, and all the people who attended the news conference at which it supposedly happened, denying it, and the videotape showing it never happened. So Hannity says to McCain, and you got heckled by the CNN reporter Michael Ware. What happened there.
And McCain says, well, according to Lindsey Graham and Rick Renzi and Mike Pence, who all saw it, I was talking at the time. There was laughter and chuckling going on while I was talking. I mean, it‘s not believable. It‘s not believable, unquote. No, senator, it‘s not believable.
But our winner, Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada. The “Wall Street Journal” has reported that the FBI is investigating him for having allegedly accepted unreported gifts or payments from a military contractor while the governor was a U.S. Congressman. But he has an explanation. I have heard, he says, that the Democrats have paid to have these “Wall Street Journal” articles written. Governor, don‘t you think if the Democrats could get good coverage out of the “Wall Street Journal” by paying for it, they might spend the money on a little higher value target than the governor of Nevada? The “Wall Street Journal,” for crying out loud.
Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Had Anna Nicole Smith lived to see it, she might have been tempted to mount a comeback for her reality TV show, because today‘s brief televised spectacle, and the pinnacle of the baby daddy mystery, could have been its centerpiece. It had all the necessary ingredients, sheers, tears, and no doubt, among many in the TV audience, jeers. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, yes, Larry Birkhead, you are the father.
DNA results presented in closed hearing in Nassau today. Birkhead had claimed to be the father of Miss Smith‘s daughter, Dannielynn, since before her death. Now the Los Angeles based photographer was finally able to claim vindication with a bit of a show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY BIRKHEAD, FATHER OF ANNA NICOLE‘S BABY: Everybody, hello. I hate to be the one that told you this, but I told you so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: With the paternity question settled, there was even a happy family moment later on. Howard K. Stern said he would not fight Mr. Birkhead‘s legal custody of Dannielynn, even though he said he was disappointed by the DNA results. A follow up hearing scheduled for Friday.
As for the Prince Frederick Von Anhalt, he is not the father, obviously, but his wife, Gza Gza Gabor, can‘t seem to keep him off TV.
Joining me now for the precise kind of analysis this story deserves, comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s Best Week Ever. Paul, good evening.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Good evening Keith.
OLBERMANN: Larry Birkhead looked pretty darn happy there. What is next for him? Is he going Disney Land, going to the bank? Where‘s he going?
TOMPKINS: Well, anyone with children knows Disney Land is as inevitable as death and taxes. But yet, the guy seemed so genuinely happy, I think I doubled back on my own cynicism, where I started to think, well, maybe there‘s a chance he‘s actually kind of decent. Well wait, I forgot what kind of world we‘re talking about here. And I‘m back where I belong, just kind of giving an evil eye to the whole thing.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Birkhead, of course, had had this (INAUDIBLE) with the lawyer, dumped this lawyer who used to go everywhere with him, Debra Opri, but now he apparently has himself this really cool lawyer in the Bahamas. The paternity thing is settled. Does that make Mr. Birkhead something of a dream client for attorney number two?
TOMPKINS: Absolutely. First of all, you are an attorney in the Bahamas, so probably your life is pretty good to begin with. Then this falls into your lap. It must be like the movie studios after Tom Cruise got dumped by Paramount that everybody was delighted; Tom, can we get you anything? Would you like a water? We‘ll take a personality test?
OLBERMANN: Mr. Birkhead showed some versatility this afternoon. He was exuberant. He thanked the media, got a little teary at one point. What does he look as a TV prospect? Is he a natural? Should he now, for instance, go on the next “Survivor,” or “Amazing Race,” or maybe he could be the next “Bachelor?”
TOMPKINS: I think maybe he gets his own show called, “Who Wants To Become Step Mother to a Millionaire.” At least there is a little girl who has ironclad reasons to hate a step mother. It‘s literally just like a fairy tale.
OLBERMANN: I‘m sorry I stepped on the punch line. As to Mr. Stern—
TOMPKINS: It wasn‘t worth it.
OLBERMANN: He said he hoped for the transition for Dannielynn would occur gradually, but he also said he wants Mr. Birkhead to get sole custody, which is obviously a reference to Dannielynn‘s grandmother, Virgie Arthur. But is that correct? Should not Mrs. Arthur get to share in the cash—I‘m sorry, the care related to the little girl?
TOMPKINS: I think this little girl needs to know about her entire family. When she gets of a certain age, she is going to find herself asking questions like, why am I attracted to that rich old mummy, and why am I attracted to that guy who run the rides at the carnival.
OLBERMANN: And everyone—speaking of—I am not sure which one you were just referring to there, but everyone‘s favorite not the daddy, the prince, Frederick Von Anhalt. Has there ever been more inappropriate use of that title prince, at least since Michael Jackson gave one of his own kids that name?
TOMPKINS: Who is this guy waiting to die so he can move up ranks in this royal family? I think once you hit the age 65, you are not called prince anymore. I think you‘re just Freddy at that point.
OLBERMANN: That is right. Apparently King Von Anhalt has got some longevity to beat Queen Elizabeth. And looking forward her, can we rev up the resumption of the fight over the fortune of the dead husband in this equation, J. Howard Marshall? Are we going to see this settled in our lifetimes?
TOMPKINS: Boy, I don‘t think so. I mean, you have to almost admire the stick-to-it-iveness of people who are ruled against by the Supreme Court, but then still say, I want to speak to your supervisor.
OLBERMANN: Oh hell, it worked for the president. Last question, what do all the Anna Nicole Smith story junkies do now? I mean, do they now wait to see if Larry Birkhead goes out and gets himself a grown up haircut? Is that the next story?
TOMPKINS: I tell you what, it is going be a longer wait than that, because all they can do now is just sit tight and wait for that little girl to write that book. But I‘ll tell you what, it is going be worth the wait.
OLBERMANN: Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, contributor to VH1‘s Best Week Ever, and survivor of my twice stepping on the punch lines. Great thanks, Paul.
TOMPKINS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,458th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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