Guests: Howard Fineman, Tyler Drumheller, Alan Sepinwall, Michael Musto
AMY ROBACH, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The crisis in confidence. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales dodges an official vote of no-confidence, but Democrats are quick to point out just how lukewarm Republican support really is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The minority leader and the minority whip have made my case better than I ever could. They were—they failed to utter the words, “We have faith in Attorney General Gonzales.”
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ROBACH: Colin Powell breaks his silence, expressing regret over the war justification and doubts about the current strategy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
GEN. COLIN POWELL (RET.), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: It‘s one thing to send over for 30,000 additional troops. But the other two legs, Iraqi political reconciliation and the buildup of the Iraqi forces, are not synchronized with that, then it‘s questionable as to how well it‘s going to be able to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: How safe is your runway? There have been five near-collisions in New York City‘s airports just last month alone.
And no, your cable didn‘t go out. That‘s really how it ended. After six seasons, “The Sopranos” goes out in silence. Who knew that onion rings and Journey would cause such an uproar? And what was up with that cat?
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BARBARA WALTERS, NBC NEWS: God, she said, has released me.
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ROBACH: God may have released Paris Hilton, but not the judge. The heiress not only finds religion her first weekend in jail, but dry skin. Nothing a collect call to Barbara Walters can‘t solve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: When she is not in her room, she can play little Ping-Pong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: There‘s no cream here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: Good evening. I‘m Amy Robach, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.
President Bush may be a rock star in Albania, but after the reception he received on Capitol Hill today, and the week that he still has ahead of him, he might start to regret coming home from Europe.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the bad news for Mr. Bush‘s attorney general. Fifty-three U.S. senators voted earlier tonight that they do not have confidence in him. The good news, the motion required 60 votes to pass. The GOP successfully blocked nine bonding effort by—the nonbinding effort by Democrats to possibly shame Alberto Gonzales into resigning. It may have been a hollow victory. In the end, seven Republicans voted with the Democrats against the attorney general, while during the debate that preceded the vote, not a single Republican defended him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-TX), MINORITY WHIP: Is this what the business of the Senate is really all about? A nonbinding, irrelevant resolution proving what? Nothing. We ought to summarily put this out into the backfield where it belongs. This is beneath the dignity of the Senate.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, MINORITY LEADER: I hope it is not the case that our friends in New York wrote this resolution and pushed the Senate to spend its valuable time on this particular resolution for partisan political purposes.
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS: Energy, the energy bill, which is before us, is a very legitimate major issue for our country. We all want to bring gasoline prices down. But all of a sudden, thrust in the middle of the energy debate is a meaningless resolution of no confidence in the attorney general.
SCHUMER: The minority leader and the minority whip have made my case better than I ever could. They were—they have failed to utter the words, “We have faith in Attorney General Gonzales.” They failed to state, “We have confidence in Attorney General Gonzales.” In fact, in the entire speech of both the minority leader and the minority whip, there was not a single word uttered in defense of the attorney general.
SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: There had been an almost unbelievable series of half-truths and obfuscations is coming out of the attorney general and his circle. They told us the White House was not involved. Not true. They told us that these EARS performance evaluations were not relevant. Not true. They told us that the attorney general didn‘t discuss the substance of his testimony with other witnesses during the investigation. Not true.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
ROBACH: But when it comes right down to it, Mr. Gonzales has never lost the confidence of the one politician who really matters, the president himself, White House press secretary Tony Snow having said yesterday that the outcome of tonight‘s vote would not change the president‘s resolve to keep Mr. Gonzalez in charge at Justice, no matter what, Mr. Bush saying as much himself this morning before heading home from Europe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find it interesting. I, I, it‘s, you know, it‘s, I guess it reflects the political atmosphere of Washington. And they can try to have their votes of no confidence, but it is not going to determine, make, make the determination of who serves in my government.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
ROBACH: Let‘s bring in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Amy.
ROBACH: Seven Republicans voting against Gonzales tonight. Was there any significance to that, and to who actually cast those votes?
FINEMAN: Well, I think it‘s significant if you look at who those people are. Most of the Republicans who voted to get to an actual vote on this matter—that‘s really what was at stake here—are senators who are up for reelection in 2008. I mean, that‘s significant because it shows that the people who are out there on the front lines, on the firing lines, if you will, facing election think that supporting Alberto Gonzales is an extremely bad idea.
If you‘re in any kind of a purple or blue state, you don‘t want to get anywhere near Gonzales. So that was significant. If I‘m Karl Rove, I‘m looking at, and then I‘m saying, Well, we know that Gonzales is a political liability, but the boss wants to stick with him, so we‘ll stick with him.
ROBACH: Yes, and Senator Schumer pointed out not one Republican got up there and defended Alberto Gonzales. So why didn‘t we see more Republicans cast that vote of no confidence, if that indeed is the feeling shared by many Republicans?
FINEMAN: Well, I think Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and Trent Lott had a good argument to make behind the scenes. They said, Look, this is a meaningless thing anyway, which it really is. I mean, there—it has some symbolic meaning, but not all that much. Their argument was, Look, here‘s one you can give the president. The president really cares about this. If you‘re not up for reelection, if you are in a safe, very deep red state, you can give the president this, because there are going to be a lot of other things we‘re going to be at war with him on, including immigration, especially immigration.
So I think that was the argument of the McConnells of the world. And it was just enough to prevent this from (INAUDIBLE) coming to an actual vote. Also, there were some people absent, and so forth. But that‘s the main thing.
ROBACH: Howard, if this vote of no confidence was so important to Democrats, why did they only devote 45 minutes to debate of it on the floor?
FINEMAN: That‘s a very good question. I mean, it was a political exercise. I mean, Mitch McConnell was saying, Please don‘t tell me this was a political exercise. I mean, that was droll. Of course it was a political exercise. They knew that this had no ultimate functional significance. Gonzales is going to be there probably till January 20, 2009. They wanted to make their political statement, and also they could count the numbers. They knew they weren‘t going to win.
There were three Democrats who are out campaigning on the campaign trail today who weren‘t about to come back for this, including Barack Obama. You know, they made their judgment. And, you know, they got whatever ink out of it they were going to get.
ROBACH: Could this vote take on more significance down the road, say 17 months later, as we near this election? I mean, could the vote you cast tonight come back to haunt you if you‘re running for president?
FINEMAN: Maybe, but I think that the country isn‘t sitting there on pins and needles wanting to know about the fate of Alberto Gonzales. This is a largely inside-the-Beltway issue that does have a deep significance about the balance between law enforcement and politics, but it‘s too abstract for most people to be following. But it is significant enough for those senators who are up for reelection, those Republicans in those swing states, to be cautious. And that is important.
ROBACH: Did the president have to weigh in on this one? I mean, we heard him publicly do so. But was he making phone calls behind the scenes? Was the White House nervous at all about this vote?
FINEMAN: They were a little bit nervous. I think they left it to Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, who‘s a very shrewd backroom maneuverer. I think the problem—the president had—has bigger things to worry about.
And the last thing he wants to do is make it look like he put all of his prestige on line for this, because he‘s the one who said it‘s a meaningless exercise. If he got involved in a frontline way, which he didn‘t, he may have made a call or two, but that‘s it, he would be undercutting his own argument that it doesn‘t mean anything. It had to mean something if McConnell and the others spent all their time on this over the last several days.
ROBACH: Overall, does this impact the president?
FINEMAN: He‘s got bigger problems than this at this point, the war in Iraq, the Republican Party bitterly divided over what to do about immigration. That‘s enough to last him through 2008.
ROBACH: All right. Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek.” Thanks so much for your time tonight.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Amy.
ROBACH: Well, no word yet on whether President Bush will step in to pardon Scooter Libby, the judge in that case, Reggie Walton, delivering a smackdown to legal scholars who have already tried to intervene.
Last week, the dozen constitutional experts, that included former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz, submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Mr. Libby to argue that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald‘s constitutional authority in prosecuting the case is questionable, Judge Walton not waiting for Fitzgerald‘s response before weighing in with his own, pouring on the sarcasm, Judge Walton suggesting that the legal scholars‘ eagerness to work on behalf of a high-profile defendant now should indicate their willingness to pitch in pro bono later.
Quote, “The court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics‘ willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal position.”
Colin Powell speaks out now about the war, the surge, the prewar intelligence. We‘ll get reaction from someone who tried to keep Powell from misspeaking in his infamous speech before the U.N. Security Council.
And it‘s the end of a TV era. “The Sopranos” are done, but it‘s an end that‘s sparking both irritation and adulation. You‘ve heard the water cooler talk all day. We‘ll bring you reaction from the creator of the show to all the questions about his finale.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
ROBACH: If Colin Powell were president, the U.S. detainee camps at Guantanamo Bay would have shut down yesterday afternoon. That‘s according to Powell himself.
In our fourth story tonight, adding considerably to the list of issues on which he publicly disagrees with the president, since Mr. Powell- -- Mr. Bush pushed Powell out after the 2004 elections, the former secretary of state has popped up with the occasional quotation dissenting from some policy or another. But it‘s been a long time since he gave a full, wide-ranging television interview.
As NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell reports, it almost seemed like Powell had been stockpiling new complaints.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
In a rare, broad-ranging interview, Colin Powell spoke bluntly on “MEET THE PRESS” about all aspects of the war and the administration‘s latest strategy to win it.
POWELL: The military surge, our part of the surge under General Petraeus, the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew. And it‘s one thing to send over for 30,000 additional troops. But if the other two legs, Iraqi political reconciliation and the buildup of the Iraqi forces, are not synchronized with that, then it‘s questionable as to how well it‘s going to be able to do.
MITCHELL: Powell does not think last week‘s Pentagon shakeup, removing Joint Chiefs chairman Peter Pace, will fix what‘s wrong.
POWELL: You can move the deck chairs around, and you can bring in new people, and you can change organizational arrangements, but ultimately, the president has the responsibility.
MITCHELL: Powell was equally critical about prewar claims that Iraq would be a cakewalk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, March 14, 2003)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My belief is, we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: We were liberators for a moment. And then we simply did not handle the aftermath. We didn‘t realize we were in an insurgency, and we didn‘t have enough troops on the ground.
MITCHELL: But as secretary of state, Powell played a key role, selling the war with flawed evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, February 5, 2003)
POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: If we knew today, or knew then what we know today, that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I would have had nothing to take to the United Nations.
TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Did you ever think of resigning?
POWELL: No. The information was faulty, but it wasn‘t faulty because people in the intelligence community were lying or trying to deceive. It was faulty because intelligence sometimes can be faulty.
MITCHELL: Powell disagrees with the president‘s current refusal to deal with Iran and Syria.
POWELL: I think it is shortsighted not to talk to Syria and Iran and everybody else in the region.
MITCHELL: And as for Guantanamo...
POWELL: If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I‘d close it.
MITCHELL (on camera): Powell did not rule out serving in a future cabinet. And he acknowledged giving advice to a Democrat, Barack Obama. In fact, this lifelong Republican said he will support the best candidate, hinting it could well be a Democrat or even an independent.
ROBACH: And that was Andrea Mitchell reporting.
Let‘s bring in a veteran of the intelligence community to which Mr. Powell referred, Tyler Drumheller, the CIA‘s former chief of covert operations in Europe, and author of “On the Brink: An Insider‘s Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence.”
Thanks for joining us.
TYLER DRUMHELLER, AUTHOR, “ON THE BRINK”: Thank you for having me.
ROBACH: So you just heard your name came up in yesterday‘s interview. Tim Russert actually mentioned a claim in your book that you removed Powell‘s reference to mobile labs the day before his speech at the United Nations. But it stayed in anyway. And I‘d like to get your response to Powell‘s reply. Here it is. Let‘s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I would ask a question of Mr. Drumheller, Why didn‘t you take it out when it appeared months earlier in other intelligence documents? Suddenly, the night before I‘m giving the speech, we decide we have to take this out?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: Your response?
DRUMHELLER: Well, they didn‘t read my book very carefully, I think.
The speech was given to me a week before the speech. I took it out a week before, met with the deputy director of the agency, John McLaughlin, warned him about it, and gave them the speech with the redacted section for—that dealt with the bad source.
But that was just the end of a process that had been going on since September, since the director of operations in the CIA was brought into the case for the first time, when we realized there was a problem with the case, and there was a whole series of meetings that went on through September, culminating in some very serious meetings in December, chaired by the chiefs of staff of the director and deputy director of the agency.
I suspect what he‘s talking about is the phone call that I made with Tenet, which was the final part that I made the night before the speech, saying—it was one last attempt to say, Don‘t, you know, don‘t use these German reporting. But—and also probably to the National Intelligence Estimate that had come out earlier in the fall. But that was actually done before we were brought into it.
ROBACH: All right. And Powell, by the way, said he does not blame any one agency or any one person for the faulty intelligence. In fact, we just heard him say there to Tim Russert that it was faulty because intelligence can sometimes be faulty. Is that a fact? Is that how it happened?
DRUMHELLER: Intelligence can be faulty, but that‘s not the case here. The case here was the intelligence community did what it‘s supposed to do inside the service. The—those who had problems with it, questioned it. It was at the policy level of the agency, at the level of the deputy director, the director, and then in the White House, where they made the decision to go ahead and ignore the, the, the, the suspicions and the strong suspicions and concerns that we had about this, the one particular source, which was the only source they had, that made the point.
This was all—again, it‘s not that they were trying to warn the American public about a threat from Saddam Hussein. This was all designed to sell the idea of the war to the people. The decision to go to war had already been made, the Army was already in the desert.
ROBACH: You say there was strong support to try and at least question this source. How strong are we talking, I mean, how many people?
DRUMHELLER: Oh, it was a—it was the most heated debate I‘d seen in my 30 years in the intelligence community. You‘re talking about all the major analysts involved on the one side who were in support of it, the entire group of operations people in Europe and some in the counterproliferation division on the other side, the case officers involved in it. You‘re talking about the chiefs of staff of both the director, the deputy director, you‘re talking about the special assistants for the (INAUDIBLE) director and deputy director, and eventually, in that week before the Powell speech, not the day before, the week before, the deputy director of the agency himself, and the night before, the director.
ROBACH: We know that Colin Powell did not advocate going to war, but he tells Tim Russert that once the president decided to do it, he, Powell, was with him all the way. Have we ever heard Colin Powell say that the president and that he ultimately made a mistake in that decision?
DRUMHELLER: No, and I think this must be very hard for him, because he—I—in a sense, he‘s right, I agree with him that there was Iran—
Iraq presented a long-term strategic threat, and we had the time to build up a force that could have carried this out with enough troops, enough support in the world, to actually occupy the country and do this properly. It was rushed into the—into war. But in the end, no, he‘s never come out and said that. And I think that‘s—you know, he—that‘s his—just as I have to deal with what I did, he has to deal with that.
ROBACH: All right. Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the CIA‘s covert operations in Europe. Thanks so much for joining us.
DRUMHELLER: Thank you for having me.
ROBACH: Huge delays and an unacceptable number of near-misses. Are the nation‘s air traffic controllers at a breaking point?
And turning to other forms of transport, and they‘re off. Oddball is next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
ROBACH: I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.
And it‘s that time in the show where we stop for a moment to take a look at the important news of the day. No, not Paris Hilton, we‘ll be getting back to late—little bit later.
For now, let‘s play Oddball.
And we begin in Algeria for the traditional camel race to mark the beginning of the spring growing season. And you can tell from these pictures, the soil looks ready to go. Dozens of participants from neighboring villages mounted their camels to compete in the race, held in the desert east of the capital city. It‘s a long-distance event, but there‘s no need for pit stops. The camels don‘t need water, and they just love to run in the desert heat. Just ask one. He‘ll tell you.
Question is, could one of those camels beat a man in a heads-up sprint? Probably not if it‘s pro bowl receiver Chad Johnston of the Cincinnati Bengals. Over the weekend, Johnson raced a horse at River Downs named Restore the War. One-sixteenth of a mile was the distance of the charity event. But Johnson had a 100-meter head start just to keep it fair. And it wasn‘t even close. Johnson left the horse in the dust and issued a challenge to the winners of the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes, and that camel race in Algiers.
Finally, to Sudamarch (ph) in Colombia for one small town‘s ripoff of the great La Tomatina (ph) Festival in Spain. It‘s La Tomatina Junior. Well, we‘re not sure what it‘s called. But the idea is the same, hundreds of people gathered together to hurl tomatoes at each other to celebrate something. Five hundred people in the village went through 10 tons of tomatoes before turning to rocks and baseballs painted red. But it was all in good fun, and no one was seriously injured, unless you count losing an eye as a serious injury. Just kidding. We made up most of what I just said.
Eighty-sixed, with the 86th episode, “The Sopranos” ends the way it began, with everybody talking about it. We will bring you reaction from the show‘s creator.
And it only took three days back in the pokey, or at least in the medical wing of the pokey. Paris Hilton has now found God.
Those stories ahead.
Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Matthew Frederick Tandy arrested in Des Moines after he allegedly held up a Walgreen‘s. He tried to flee, and as he vaulted a fence, he started to lunge at an officer with a knife. The officer drew his gun to shoot, but Tandy was suddenly pulled up short when he got caught on the chicken-wire fence. His pantyhose got caught. Mr. Tandy happened to be dressed as a woman at the time.
Number two, the new Creation Museum in the Cincinnati area. It created a series of 55 video clips to illustrate popular moments from the Bible, including among them Adam taking his first breath. But they‘ve now removed that video after learning that the actor they had playing Adam also runs a sexually explicit Web site called Bedroom Acrobat. That‘s more post-apple Adam.
And number one, the 38-year-old woman from Marshalltown, Iowa, arrested last week at the Marshall County Courthouse. Police say an employee witnessed the woman stealing three rolls of toilet paper from a courthouse storage closet. Not exactly the crime of the century. But she becomes our number-one newsmaker tonight because her name suggests she may have been born to commit this act. The name of the woman arrested for stealing toilet paper, Miss Suzanne Butt.
ROBACH: On one very basic level, “The Soprano‘s” series finale was brilliant, maybe even perfect, because everyone who saw it wants to talk about it. But whether you found the final episode satisfying or infuriating, that‘s another story, and our third on the COUNTDOWN. Cut to black. Did Tony Soprano get whacked in the moments after that final shot, or did he continue in the most mundane American setting imaginable, eating dinner with his family?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: One thing is for sure, you‘ll never hear Journey‘s “Don‘t Stop Believing” this many times in one day ever again. Amid reports that the HBO website crashed with complaints from angry viewers, here is our correspondent, Dawn Fratangelo.
DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We woke up this morning to the end of a television sensation, and scratching our heads a bit. Many suspected Tony Soprano would be whacked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should have been done first.
FRATANGELO: Instead, it was a Norman Rockwell scene, Jersey style, the family at a diner eating onion rings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn‘t that what you said one time, try to remember the times that were good?
JAMES GANDOLFINI, “THE SOPRANOS”: I did?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
GANDOLFINI: Well, it‘s true, I guess.
FRATANGELO: Tension builds, unknown man passes by, door swings open, daughter Meadow rushes in, Tony looks up. That‘s it; cut to black. American audiences had never seen the likes of a character like Tony Soprano. He could snuff out a close friend in one scene, reveal vulnerabilities to his psychiatrist in the next.
GANDOLFINI: All those memories are for what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were hurt.
FRATANGELO: This made him a kind of every man. He grabbed the morning paper in his skivvies, struggled with his marriage, and dysfunctional children.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am depressed.
ROBERT KUBEY, RUTGERS CENTER FOR MEDIA STUDY: What is fascinating is that he is a very powerful man. He is the chief of the Mafia in New Jersey, and yet he can‘t control his own kids at home. What man in America can‘t identify with that?
FRATANGELO: Every Sunday, we were invited into Carmella‘s kitchen and into the Bada Bing with the boys.
(on camera): Tony Soprano and his extended family touched a nerve with the audience. The show increased ratings, and also expectations of what Americans want from television.
(voice-over): With a cinematic quality and layered story lines, loyal fans tuned in for eight seasons, even if the hero was a sociopath.
STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, TV GUIDE: What made Tony Soprano such a great television character is that he was layered. He was greedy, selfish, violent. But at the same time, he loved his family. He had this other side.
FRATANGELO: And he left with an ending few expected, and some did not understand. And so Tony Soprano, the mob boss with a soft spot, goes off without a bang. Cut to black.
ROBACH: All right, let‘s call in the TV critic of Tony Soprano‘s hometown newspaper, “The Star-Ledger,” Alan Sepinwall. Thanks for your time tonight.
ALAN SEPINWALL, “THE STAR-LEDGER”: Pleasure to be here.
ROBACH: First, congratulations, because apparently on Friday you actually predicted two things that did happen, or did not happen: Tony Soprano did not get whacked officially in front of our eyes, and we saw that David Chase did not play by the finale rules. Were you surprised at all?
SEPINWALL: No, because I have been watching the show for seven seasons and I have known David Chase for almost that long. And he does not like to do what you would expect him to do.
ROBACH: So what were your impressions when you watched last night?
SEPINWALL: Well, my first reaction when the finale happened and they cut to black was I started laughing my head off, because I knew half the country would be going nuts, thinking that their cable had gone out, cursing out Chase.
ROBACH: You did not think for one second that maybe you had like a lighting strike?
SEPINWALL: No, again, I have been watching this show long enough to know, as soon as I saw it, that that is exactly the sort of thing David would do.
ROBACH: Of course, everyone is talking this morning and a lot is being made over some previous episode and what it could mean for this final episode. Tony‘s conversation with Bobby at the beginning of the season; I have a quote here it. It says—he was talking about what it would be like to get hit; “you probably don‘t even here it when it happens.” So people say, when it cut to black that was him not hearing anything or seeing anything.
SEPINWALL: Well, certainly there‘s two theories here—I guess three. One is Tony got whacked in the end and the sound and the picture cut out when he died. Two is we as the viewers got whacked and this is sort of our end of our life with the show. And the third is—and the one that I‘m going with—is that I don‘t think he died at all.
I think the last scene is the show putting us in Tony‘s eyes, and you get to see the world the way he sees it, where everything is a threat. Every time the door opens, every time someone walks past you, you‘re afraid that he is going to come kill you. And even though it almost never amounts to anything, that‘s how he has to live and that‘s his curse.
ROBACH: And Chase indicated in interviews that the story is primarily about family and only secondarily about being a gangster. And he has also said that the ending makes sense when you think about the show in those terms. Does that lend any light to what the ending may have really been intended to do?
SEPINWALL: Well, I talked to him this morning while he was in France and he did not want to in any way explain or defend or analyze the ending, but he did say—I believe the quote was, “it‘s all there. If you want to watch it, it is all there.” So that is just going to mess with people‘s heads a little more.
ROBACH: Right, because there‘s a lot of speculation that a movie‘s going to be made, that there is going to be the real ending on a DVD.
SEPINWALL: No, there‘s not going to be a movie. He made it very clear that he has no current plans for a movie. He may do one down the road if an idea comes to him. But this was not written with an eye towards doing a movie.
ROBACH: So if it‘s all there, have you re-watched it?
ROBACH: Did you see something you did not see the first time?
SEPINWALL: Well, I did start to see the theory more that he might be dead, which I didn‘t necessarily buy the first time. But I like my idea that this is Tony‘s life and we do not know what he sees because he does not know what is coming next.
ROBACH: We are still left with a lot of viewer anger. I mean, people are upset first of all that they were tricked—I have to admit, you are smarter than me. I thought something was wrong with my TV set. I thought, who touched the remote. And I think a lot of people thought that.
And then when they realized they were had, they were a little angry.
Like, you felt like you were left there stupid.
SEPINWALL: Chase insists he was not doing it to mess with people. He was not trying to be audacious. He was just trying to tell a story.
ROBACH: Can a viewer who hated the finale on Sunday learn to embrace it and appreciate its so-called genius that obviously a lot of the critics are calling it?
SEPINWALL: I have been surprised. My mail so far has been about 50/50. And a good chunk of the people who liked it have said, I was really mad last night and I slept on it and I thought about it over breakfast and now I kind of like it. So I think this is one that‘s going to grow on people.
ROBACH: Your favorite part of the show last night?
ROBACH: The cat, I mean the cat did get a lot of people. At least there was the cat.
SEPINWALL: There was the cat. There was the SUV rolling over Phil‘s head.
ROBACH: I loved the little kids in the car seat taking that extra bump.
SEPINWALL: Yes. No, my favorite part I think was just the shot of A.J. walking out to his stupid Beamer with his dual exhaust pipes after all this talk about the greenhouse gases. He has like the most pollution ready vehicle possible, because he is a sellout like all of them.
ROBACH: All right, well it was fun and we will still be talking about it tomorrow probably as well. Allen Sepinwall, TV critic for the “Star-Ledger,” the paper of Tony Soprano.
SEPINWALL: Not any more maybe.
ROBACH: You said your 15 minutes were up.
ROBACH: You‘ll find something else to write about I‘m sure.
SEPINWALL: I‘m sure.
ROBACH: Thanks so much.
SEPINWALL: Thank you.
ROBACH: Well, close calls on the nation‘s runways. Are we just courting disaster because air traffic controllers don‘t have the equipment they need to keep you and your family safe when you fly?
And Idol is over, but the controversies aren‘t. It‘s summer folks. Can Ryan and Simon give it a rest for a few months, please? That‘s ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine year-old Victor Deleon (ph) has just learned to ride a two wheeler, but he has played video games professionally since the age of four. Known as Lil‘ Poison, this Long Island half pint may be the youngest professional gamer in the world.
What makes you such a good player?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Practice.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your question, Toby?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday, you called for a deadline for UN action on Kosovo. When would you like that deadline set? And are you at all concerned that taking that type of a stance is going to further inflame U.S. relations with Russia?
BUSH: Thanks, a couple of points on that—first of all, I don‘t think, I think I called for a time—what exactly did I say? I said, deadline? OK. Yes, then I meant what I said.
CONAN O‘BRIEN, TALK SHOW HOST: You turn on every station and it‘s showing this insane media madness and, of course, it‘s Los Angeles, so there was the classic helicopter camera shot of Paris‘s entire ride. If you missed it, I thought I would show it to you right now. It is stunning. Take a look at this footage.
Of course, there is Paris leaving her mom. She lives on a street made of linoleum, I think. She‘s distracted by the Oscar Meyer Wiener truck for reasons we don‘t quite understand. Then she is distracted by something else. I don‘t know what it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: Back in 1981, thousands of air controllers went on strike, claiming they were overworked, that the nation‘s air traffic control system was understaffed and potentially dangerous. President Reagan eventually fired them. Number two in our COUNTDOWN, once again fasten your seat belt and put your doubts about airline safety in an upright position.
There are signs the system that handles thousands of planes and millions of lives is under increasing strain, such as last Friday‘s cascading computer failures along the East Coast. Flights were canceled and schedules thrown into chaos. But delays are not the worst that can happen. As Tom Costello reports, the government is looking into more ominous signs.
TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the crowded airspace over New York City, five reported near misses. Among them, May 17th; American Eagle Flight 392 came within two hundred feet of a helicopter that was taking off. May 21st, Continental Flight 466 reported taking evasive action after an unidentified plane also got within 200 feet.
And now add May 26th, the MTSB said today it is investigating a near miss on a runway, a runway incursion in San Francisco. After an air traffic controller ordered a passenger plane to depart on the same runway that another plane was using to land. Today, the Controllers Union blamed the problem on understaffed towers and antiquated equipment.
PAT FORREY, PRES, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER‘S UNION: It has never been a tougher time to be an air-traffic controller. With the short staffing, the overworked positions, the fatigue that we‘ve been encountering, it is very difficult.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The FAA has been a penny wise and pound foolish on modernization, on controllers, on technology. And we are paying the price.
COSTELLO: But the FAA says controller staffing was not a factor in any of the recent incidents. And the number of runway incursions has actually dropped 40 percent since 2001 to 31 serious runway close calls last year.
MARION BLAKEY, FAA ADMINISTRATOR: Sometimes it can be the air traffic controller. Frequently, it is the pilot, what we call a pilot deviation, a pilot error.
COSTELLO: And the FAA is pushing new satellite based technology to help pilots and controllers better manage traffic both in the air and on the runway, pinpointing a plane‘s exact location.
(on camera): But rolling out all that technology nationwide could take 15 years and cost taxpayers 20 billion dollars. And Congress has yet to approve the money.
Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.
ROBACH: Time now for the Tabs, our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, beginning with the criminal who is no longer behind bars. And, no, it is not Paris Hilton on the lose again. It is this guy, Kelly A. Frank (ph), an escapee from a Montana State Prison, who disappeared from a work detail while serving time for felony theft and possessing illegally killed wildlife.
So you know he‘s really nasty, but where is the celebrity in all of this? Well, Frank was David Letterman‘s handyman at his Montana hideaway back in 2005 when he was charged with conspiring to kidnap Letterman‘s young son, Harry. Franken eventually pleaded guilty to over-charging Letterman.
In addition to that wildlife thing, the website TMZ.com says the NYPD has offered to assist in the manhunt for Kelly frank, who may be armed and dangerous to humans, not to mention wild life.
Well next, the fickle finger of blame in “American Idol.” Who could possibly be responsible for causing one of the most popular TV shows to take a dive in ratings at the end of last season? Sanjaya Malakar? Antonella Barba? Sanjaya Malakar?
Well, none of the above according to Idol‘s Ryan Seacrest. The “Toronto Globe and Mail” asked Seacrest why he thought six million viewers disappeared down old Mr. Nielson‘s commode toward the end of the season. Seacrest said his knee-jerk reaction would be, Simon Cowell, everyone‘s favorite blunt speaking, truth telling tar talking activists judge.
Seacrest thinks the show become over-saturated with Cowell‘s character, which makes some sense if you include Sanjaya.
Finally, the news of the world; just look at these exclusive pictures of Britain‘s Prince Harry spared from duty in Iraq, now in training with his Army unit in Canada, really basic training. Yes, the tabloid says Harry was hugging, smooching and posing with this and other apparently scantily clad barmaids at a rowdy place called Cowboys in Calgary.
Downing beers, Sambuca, Rum and Coke, the married prince engaging the enemy—maidens, asking one if she was wearing any undies and longing to see her tattoos. Quote the maid, he was really interested.
An unnamed source close to the prince says, quote, he is not a bad lad, but his antics show an unforgivable lack of common sense. Right, I mean, beer, Sambuca, rum and Coke? Yuch.
Prince Harry perhaps can learn a little something from Paris Hilton now that she‘s back behind bars. She says she is a whole new woman. Not only has she found God, she says, there‘s no more dumb blonde routine either. That‘s next. This is COUNTDOWN.
ROBACH: To the top of the COUNTDOWN, our number one story tonight, hello, god, it‘s me, Paris. Upon returning to jail and deciding to drop her appeal, Ms. Hilton has apparently found religion, a conversion so powerful Paris felt compelled to call up Barbara Walters, collect, so Ms. Walters could share what she said on “The View” this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, “THE VIEW”: I used to act dumb. It was an act. And
that act is no longer cute. It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that
person for the young girls who looked up to me. She said, I am 26 years
old now and it is a different time. She said, I have become much more
spiritual. God has given me this new chance. I asked what kind of things
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that‘s great.
JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”: Of course they all find God in prison. That‘s where God is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBACH: And according to Ms. Hilton, she didn‘t just find God in jail, but God put her there in the first place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: She has what she described to me as a spiritual advisor who told her, quote, my spirit or soul did not like the way I was being seen and that is why I was sent to jail. God, she said, has released me.
BEHAR: But the judge hasn‘t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Who better to analyze Ms. Hilton‘s sudden spiritual conversion than the “Village Voice‘s” Michael Musto, author of “La Dolce Musto.” Michael, thanks for joining us.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”: Hi, Amy.
ROBACH: So are you buying this makeover of Paris‘s soul?
MUSTO: Absolutely. But I‘m also buying the Brooklyn Bridge and I‘m buying stock in Kevin Costner‘s career. No, Amy, this is total baloney. Add some mayonnaise, you‘ve got a very dangerous sandwich.
ROBACH: I‘m not entirely sure what that quote meant, my spirit or soul did not like the way I was being seen, and that is why I was sent to jail. God released me. Not that she did anything wrong, but just the way her soul was being seen? I mean, is this the ultimate cop-out? She‘s putting it on God and letting her soul do the searching? I‘m confused.
MUSTO: Yes, I liked it better when she blamed her publicist for saying she could drive without a license. Take responsibility, Paris. You do not have a soul, OK. You have a stylist. You have a pilatties instructor. You have 80 ex-boyfriends and that‘s it.
ROBACH: But she doesn‘t have facial cream either. And that is an important distinction.
MUSTO: That‘s the real tragedy here. But God is not your co-pilot, Paris. You can‘t have God without wearing underwear.
ROBACH: Yes, and Paris told Barbara also—this is interesting—that she felt caged in. Isn‘t that what jail is all about?
MUSTO: No, I thought jail was a big spa/salon with a gift bag an open bar. Yes, of course. There‘s even a movie called “Caged” about prison because it is a cage. OK?
ROBACH: OK, and this remains to be seen. I‘ll try to remain an optimist here. Ms. Hilton also tells Barbara Walters that she wants to become a philanthropist of sorts, that she‘s a different person. She wants to get involved in some sort of charitable work. I thought you might have some suggestions for her as to what she may want to get into with all this money and time she may have on her hands.
MUSTO: To her charitable work involves going to benefits for free, getting a gift bag and basically providing free services on the highway, because she‘s really a giver.
ROBACH: Wow. All right, Paris told Barbara Walters she did not eat.
She did not sleep at first when she went to jail because she was depressed. But she said she was not on any anti-depressants. Yet to hear the L.A. sheriff on Friday, it seemed that she was unhinged, perhaps suicidal. She wasn‘t taking pills, apparently, that she was supposed to be taking.
And now TMZ is reporting she has extreme ADD and panic attacks. What do you know about her condition.
MUSTO: Well, I know that she can‘t ADD, but she can DUI. And also, she didn‘t eat or sleep before jail. So what‘s the problem. But look, whatever the problem is, Paris should just take some medication, some legal medication. One Neurontin (ph) and jail will become Studio 54. Trust me, Amy, I‘m on it. It‘s fabulous. I‘m flying right now.
ROBACH: What do we know about the mirror? Apparently she hasn‘t looked in one since she went to jail, but are there even mirrors in jail cells? I mean, is this really just this big feat for her?
MUSTO: Well, her cell has a disco glitter ball. She‘s trying to make it Studio 54. She‘s looked in it, but it‘s caused problems because her lipstick is awry. The blush is the wrong color. We have to reform the whole prison system to rectify this.
ROBACH: OK, so this is interesting, the “New York Daily News” reporting that she didn‘t actually eat or sleep or even use the bathroom because she was afraid that a guard or inmate would take a cell phone picture of her on the toilet. Is that really the least of her worries, given that infamous sex tape that really kind of made her famous in the first place?
MUSTO: Yes, now I know exactly where she draws the line, photo wise. But this is absurd because I‘ve seen the woman up close. She has no bodily functions, Amy. She sweats glitter. And besides, who would run a picture like that. Even my grotesque, vulgar column would not run a picture like that. Paris, go to the bathroom, honey.
ROBACH: Good advice from the one and only Michael Musto. Thanks so much for joining us.
MUSTO: Thank you.
ROBACH: And that is it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for watching. And our MSNBC coverage continues with now with “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” although it looks like it‘s more like Abrams Country tonight.
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