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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 27

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: John Dean, James Moore, Maria Milito, Dana Milbank

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Going, going, Gone-zales. 


ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Yesterday, I met with President Bush and informed him of my decision to conclude my government service as attorney general of the United States. 

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  His good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons. 

OLBERMANN:  The layers of mud applied to his own name, enough layers to constitute their own geological era—They had nothing to do with it and nobody sincerely believed he was a bad attorney general. 

MATTHEWS (?):  This morning as we speak, the attorney general has resigned.  (Applause)


OLBERMANN:  Next, out of the frying pan and into the fire? 


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  Louisiana is a city that is largely under water. 


OLBERMANN:  Six days shy of two years since he said that, Homeland Security Chief Chertoff gets the first mention as a possible new attorney general.  Would the Senate ever approve a man who wrote most of the PATRIOT Act? 

Dana Milbank on the Gonzales politics.  John Dean on the Gonzales investigation, now lacking a Gonzales.  And James Moore on the breaking up of that old gang of George Bush‘s. 

The unexpected mea culpa from Michael Vick in the dog fighting scandal. 


MICHAEL VICK, ATLANTA FALCONS FOOTBALL PLAYER:  I want to apologize for all the things that I have done and that I have allowed to happen. 


OLBERMANN:  Why those who hate Vick for what he did should hope is he free to return to football as soon as possible. 

The last to suddenly drop out of the Britney Spears case as lawyers for both parents appear in dependency court, a process of investigating possible danger to the kids, even possible child abuse by a parent. 

But one punch line never ends, “American Idol” year 953, beginning with auditions. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So many times in Jesus. 


OLBERMANN:  Our “American Idol” Princess, Maria Milito, actually attends the auditions in Philadelphia.  Now, she reports—presuming she has not gone deaf. 

All that and more now on the “Countdown.” 

(on camera):  Good evening, it was Alberto Gonzales who enabled the firing of nine U.S. attorneys with no cause beyond naked political retribution.  It was Alberto Gonzales who misled Congress about the administration‘s domestic spying activity.  It was Alberto Gonzales who drafted the infamous torture memo that helped lead to the physical abuses at Abu Ghraib and the constitutional ones at Guantanamo Bay.  Yet, somehow, in our fifth story in the “Countdown,” the reasons cited by President Bush today for the attorney general‘s downfall—Congress had been unfairly attacking Mr. Gonzales for political reasons. 

Mr. Gonzales this morning giving no reason as to why he will be

leaving the Justice Department, but the son of a migrant worker did seem to

reference the controversies of his term. 


GONZALES:  I often remind our fellow citizens that we live in the greatest country in the world.  And that I have lived the American dream.  Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father‘s best days.  Public service is honorable and noble.  And I am profoundly grateful to President Bush for his friendship and for the many opportunities he has given me to serve the American people. 


OLBERMANN:  Freedom.  He broke the president‘s heart.  His attorney general long under fire for putting partisanship before prosecution, Mr.  Bush today blaming politics for his friend‘s departure. 


BUSH:  After months of unfair treatment, that has created a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position and I accept his decision.  It‘s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons. 


OLBERMANN:  Did you like that pause, dragged through the—what did you think he was going to say?  Mr. Bush announcing that Solicitor General Paul Clement will serve as acting attorney general until a replacement is found and confirmed by the Senate.  He leaves in three weeks, on September 17. 

Democratic and public reaction, even much Republican reaction along the lines of good riddance.  At this morning‘s MSNBC Live Strong Presidential Cancer Forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, check out the response when Chris Matthews announced the news to the audience and to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. 


MATTHEWS:  This morning as we speak, attorney general has resigned. 

(Cheers) (Applause)

Will you set a standard for anyone who becomes confirmed and voted for by you for the new attorney generalship? 

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Yes, I think we should set a standard that the next attorney general cares about the rule of law more than he cares about protecting the president.  (Applause)

That the next attorney general when he takes an oath to uphold the Constitution actually means it, understands it, and will protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. 


OLBERMANN:  Time now to turn to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.” 

Dana, good evening. 


OLBERMANN:  Why would Alberto Gonzales choose to leave now as opposed to last month or the month before or the month before that, any which time the conversation about him was much louder and the chatter was much angrier?  Why did Fredo go into the lake now? 

MILBANK:  It‘s perfectly understandable after all these years of surveillance and wiretapping.  He wanted to spend more time spying on his own family.  But, of course, he could have gone earlier.  We haven‘t yet found out what sort of the proximate cause was.  People are going to be looking into that.  The hunch going around is that the Justice Department‘s inspector general, who has been investigating Gonzales as part of a wide-ranging probe over there, may have come to him and said, well, we have some problems here.  So, Gonzales would want to get out in front of that.  We know it wasn‘t the Congress forcing him out.  They are, of course, on vacation and they haven‘t been able to make a lot of headway with their probes anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  He will spend a lot of time wiretapping passers by.  The Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, saying today of Alberto Gonzales quote, “lacked independence, he lacked judgment and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove.” 

The timing can‘t be coincidental of Mr. Rove‘s departure.  Is there a time line between that and the attorney general‘s departure? 

MILBANK:  I think that may be a case of giving Karl Rove credit for everything that moves in the world.  It‘s more likely they were motivated by the same sort of inspiration—that is it‘s August, get this out of the way during a slow news time when a lot of people aren‘t paying attention.  I suspect the timing may have had as much to do with Michael Vick today as Karl Rove wanting to bury it as much as possible. 

OLBERMANN:  When it comes to who might replace him—and that would be Gonzales and not Vick—the White House said tonight the list is more than two people and less than five.  Which I think we can then conclude is either three or four.  Speculation centered early on the Homeland Security Secretary Mr. Chertoff, he of the gut instinct, also the White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, although weather that would be for attorney general itself or to replace Chertoff if he went from Homeland Security to justice.  That‘s not clear.  Either way, Dana, given the president has named an interim successor, might the White House be bracing for, if not outright picking a confirmation fight with the Senate as an effort to rally what‘s left of that base? 

MILBANK:  Well, I suspect they are going to have a difficult time doing that the names we are hearing, even Chertoff, but also Larry Thompson, Ted Olsen, Asa Hutchison, these aren‘t really the flame throwers.  They are not the Democrats‘ favorites. 

What‘s going to happen is the Democrats are having such a sense of joy and relief that this has occurred and the possible prospects, whereas they may not be ideologically preferable to the Democrats, are not the president‘s cronies.  These are professionals in their own rights.  Where there may be issues reports that Clay Johnson, the president‘s buddy of many years, could be headed to Homeland Security if Chertoff comes over to the Justice Department.  That would be more in the Gonzales tradition.

OLBERMANN:  Something we will be examining with Jim Moore of “Bush‘s Brain” fame.  The last question about this Chertoff thing, was that bad reporting it?  Was it a trial balloon?  Was it an attempt to scare to scare Democrats into acquiescing to any other the name the president would suggest?  Because if you disliked Fredo, Chertoff is a smart Fredo. 

MILBANK:  He is a smarter Fredo.  He is well regarded.  Just think, we have been speaking recently about how fondly everybody remembers Attorney General Ashcroft.  It‘s not necessarily the conservatism that‘s going to cause trouble among the Democrats.  It was the loyalty factor. 

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post.”  And John Ashcroft will appreciate the shout-out.  Thanks, Dana. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  On Capitol Hill, Mr. Gonzales with no shortage of critics, many Republicans welcoming his departure today.  Ironically, Senator Pete Domenici, the New Mexico Republican, you recall, having urged the attorney general to replace U.S. Attorney David Iglesias after Mr. Iglesias had failed to indict the New Mexico Democrats just before the 2006 midterms.

Quoting Mr. Domenici today, “The resignation of Alberto Gonzales had become inevitable.  His situation was a distraction to the Department of Justice and its attempt to carry out its important duties.” 

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy commenting that the Justice Department under Gonzales suffered a severe crisis of leadership that allowed our justice system to be corrupted by political influence. 

Mr. Leahy‘s counterpart in the House John Conyers adding, quote, “More than accountability, we need answers.  The responsibility to uncover these facts is still on the Congress and the Judiciary Committee in particular.”

For more on the state of the investigations we turn to Nixon White House Counsel John Dean whose new book, “Broken Government,” is due out next month. 

John, good evening. 


OLBERMANN:  We could do a marathon on his tenure—the treatment of detainees, the memos he had written, the warrantless wiretap program, the nine politically purged of U.S. Attorneys.  Do the investigations continue?  Do they continue without any spotlight? 

DEAN:  I think they absolutely continue.  I think Leahy and Conyers have both made it clear they are going to go forward.  Keith, this is really in the tradition of retiring attorneys general where investigations do not stop once the attorney general will leave.  In fact, attorney generals have been investigated themselves.  I have in mind, for example, Richard Kleindienst, who was Richard Nixon‘s attorney general, who was prosecuted for false statements after Richard Nixon left and resigned.  This will go on. 

OLBERMANN:  At the very least, will the administration be able to use confirmation hearings for Gonzales‘ successor to either run out time on the clock or to, in some way, cloak whatever is going on in the retroactive investigation of Gonzales? 

DEAN:  Well, I think in the Senate that could happen.  It‘s hard to run too many circuses simultaneously, so it could well deflect the Senate‘s attention, but not in the House.  I think the House is not involved in the confirmation proceeding so, they will be headed right forward.  Conyers, Waxman and others are not going to let up on their investigations. 

OLBERMANN:  There is a lot of disagreement over whether or not Michael Chertoff‘s name should be taken seriously as a potential attorney general here.  He was in the Justice Department.  He basically wrote the PATRIOT Act.  It may be that he is not a candidate at all.  Maybe it‘s with a trial balloon.  It may be that he really is.  Just taking him in this context, is he the kind of successor the White House should be seeking at this point? 

DEAN:  Well, he obviously is a man who has experience.  Is he a former high level assistant in the—assistant U.S. Attorney into the Department of Justice or assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice?  Is he a former federal judge?  He knows how the machinery works.  The question is does Bush really want to bring somebody with that kind of baggage into that post.  Because, as you mentioned, the PATRIOT Act and his role in Katrina are all going to be opened up and be very vital to his confirmation hearing.  And I‘m not even sure he can get confirmed if more negative information comes out about those.  I wouldn‘t think the White House would want to go there.  I think it may be a trial balloon. 

OLBERMANN:  The subtitle of your new book, “Broken Government” is “How Republican Rule destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”  What shape is the Justice Department in exactly as Alberto Gonzales leaves it? 

DEAN:  I do address the Department of Justice in the new book.  I‘m not going to scoop myself tonight.  I think my publisher would be unhappy about that.  There is no question Gonzales has done great damage to the morale, operations, the internal respect these very good attorneys hold.  In fact, I know a number of them who have left for that reason because they have so unhappy with what‘s going on in the department.  That‘s going to take a long time to rebuild.  It‘s not a simple process.  It‘s somebody where the leader at the top has to inspire the respect and loyalty of the department.  I‘m afraid that, as I say, will take a few years to do. 

OLBERMANN:  The morale problem that you mentioned, could this have a practical, pertinent impact on, say, the prosecution of crimes and particularly the fight against terrorism? 

DEAN:  Well, knowing the professionals I do in the department, some who are actually prosecuting terrorism offenses and investigating them, I know none of these people would lighten up on their work as a result of feeling bad about the way the department is going.  The problem is some of them are leaving.  And I know—I have one in mind, without naming names, who is on his way out of the department just because of Gonzales.  Now, whether he will turn around, I don‘t know. 

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, author of the soon to be released “Broken Government:  How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”  As always, sir, great thanks.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Gonzales gone.  Rove gone aroving.  What happens to the president after they have broken that old Texas gang of his?  Would you believe it would be the dawn of his old Yale gang? 

It was hard to believe anybody could be shocked by new developments in the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal.  That is exactly what has happened tonight. 

You are watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Whenever the pundits proclaim an end to the pool of Texas buddies upon which Mr. Bush can draw to fill positions of national importance, an old Doritos commercial comes to mind:   crunch all you want, we will make more.  In our fourth story tonight, that slogan is duly appropriate for reasons that will become clear.  You thought Gonzales‘ resignation today and the  departure Friday of Karl Rove spelled the end of the Austin gang, then you need to meet Clay Johnson, originally of Fort Worth, who now actually keeps a Bush doll on his desk in D.C. 

There are reports today, you heard Dana Milbank reference them, that if Mr. Bush were to move Michael Chertoff to Justice, Clay Johnson would take over as the man leading America‘s entire Homeland Security counterterrorism apparatus. 

Johnson‘s resume includes serving as deputy director of Mr. Bush‘s budget office, leading his hiring efforts during the 2000 transition, serving as chief of staff for him in Texas and as an executive at Frito-Lay, maker of both Spicy Nacho and Cool Ranch Doritos.  No counter terrorism, no intelligence experience, no law enforcement experience, no legal experience, no military experience, unless you count his discussions about Vietnam with Mr. Bush while at Yale.  Saying, quote, “I don‘t remember us talking much about the morality of the war.  I remember us talking a lot about the personal implications of the war to us.  You were going to be drafted unless you had some plan.”

Unlike well known friendships, such as those with Rove and Gonzales, Mr. Bush‘s ties with Johnson predate and transcend politics.  They roomed together as frat brothers at Yale after having met as 15-year-old sophomores, two Texas boys struggling to succeed at Phillips Andover Academy. 

Let‘s bring in a long-time chronicler of that Austin gang, James Moore, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain.”

Jim, thanks for your time tonight. 

JAMES MOORE, CO-ARTHUR, “BUSH‘S BRAIN”:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  With Rove going, Gonzales going, is Mr. Bush getting antsy to have at least one long-time loyal friend in a position of big power nearby? 

MOORE:  That‘s always his natural compulsion is to have people around to approve of the things he does, and to have people whispering in his ear that you are great and we can make you even greater.  He doesn‘t suffer criticism very well at all.  Frankly, the idea that Clay Johnson is going to come in and be effective in any role of that nature as someone who criticizes him and brings him a sense of context and perspective to his administration, I think, it‘s a business nonsensical.  It just isn‘t going to happen.  He has been nothing but fawning over the president since he met him at Andover and they pledged the Deek fraternity together at Yale. 

OLBERMANN:  Given that Frito-Lay connection, you might be able to switch him away from pretzels and back to safer chips. 

MOORE:  Pretzels are bad, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Could he bring any relevant experience?  Is there anything in there we could grasp onto in case he ends up running Homeland Security or perhaps is this story part of a Byzantine nomination foreplay so that everybody says, oh, at least it wasn‘t Clay Johnson. 

MOORE:  Clay is probably a realistic option for him because he is kind of running out of these kinds of people that will toss over their lives and come help him.  I mean, let‘s face it he is presiding over what is essentially catastrophe in both politics and governance and who in the heck wants to come in, other than someone who is, you know, your blood brother, who you cut your thumbs with and exchange blood back when you are teenagers.  You know, somebody like that might come along and say, ok, I will do it for you, Mr. President.  What sane or rational person at this point wants to go to Washington and be a part of what is transpiring in the Bush administration? 

OLBERMANN:  But, on the other half of that, after the debacles with Michael Brown—might have been less his fault than it seemed at the time but still some of it was his fault.  Harriet Miers, now Gonzales, several versions—several different Gonzales episodes, why does Mr. Bush seem incapable of learning a simple lesson, never mind hurting the country when he values loyalty and familiarity over expertise, over experience, but just looking just inside that office, doing that hurts him, hurts his presidency? 

MOORE:  Well, I mean everybody knows, it‘s clearly been documented that this is his Achilles heel.  The more he does it, the more he harms his administration, as you have suggested, and the more that he harms the country.  The problem for the Bush administration is what they are doing right now, Keith, is something they should have done in 2004, which is to ditch Karl, and to ditch Fredo and Rumsfeld and everybody else.  They should have gone after ‘04 which is a tradition with a reelection and bring in fresh faces and new ideas and try to establish a new perspective and let the American public see some new things happening.  It‘s far too late for that. 

What Bush is doing right now is trying to grab at any kind of legacy and that‘s why he got rid of—and anybody who suggests it‘s otherwise—he got rid of Alberto Gonzales simply because he was dragging down any chance the president had remaining in the next 16 months to do something meaningful, to deal with the budget and the war, which seems impossible now at best anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  It was the right time, as Dana Milbank pointed out, the right time of the summer when people just aren‘t paying attention.  James Moore, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain” and “The Architect.”  As always, sir, thanks for your time. 

MOORE:  My pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Taking himself off any short list for any nomination tonight, the United States Senator Larry Craig.  We learned tonight from that Craig, an Idaho Republican, pleaded guilty on August 8th to misdemeanor disorderly conduct on June 11.  In an airport men‘s room—the conduct, not the plea—police say he entered a restroom, known for sexual activity and repeatedly peeked through the crack of a stall where an undercover cop was seated.  The officer says Craig then sat in the next stall, tapping his foot repeatedly and then sticking his foot under the divider between the stalls to touch the officer‘s foot, which is described as a signal used to request sex.  Craig told police later that he had, quote, “a wide stance,” unquote.  He reached his hand under the divider, according to the report.  He claimed he did that, according to the Senator, to pick up a piece of paper. 

In a statement issued today, Senator Craig denied inappropriate conduct.  Said he only pleaded guilty to handle the matter quickly and expeditiously.  He is married, has denied past allegations of homosexual and supports the Defense of Marriage Amendment.  He is up for reelection next year. 

This is not a segue.  Repeat, this is not a segue.  If you can have naked news, why shouldn‘t you have naked news for the hard of hearing?  Our top story tonight. 

And the laughs have suddenly been silenced in the Britney Spears custody dispute.  The phrase “child abuse” introduced into the issue.  That‘s next.  This is “Countdown.”


OLBERMANN:  Ninety-nine years ago today, Lyndon Baines Johnson was born.  History will recount that Johnson was a brilliant Senate majority leader and as a president pinioned pointedly between the dreams of the great society and the nightmare of Vietnam.  But “Oddball” will take this occasion of pre-centennial year to recount the timeless eternal beauty of the phone conversation he had with his tailor, recorded for both posterity and posterior. 

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES:  Don‘t say you can‘t do anything about it.  It is where zipper ends --(Burping) -- back to my bung hole. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Japan, the worldwide leader in television programming excellence, and this show is no exception.  “Naked Sign Language News” delivers headlines to Japan‘s hearing impaired while the newsreader leaves about an inch from where the zipper ends around under my back to the you-know-what.  The Japanese government had previously subsidized the show because of the service it provided for the deaf until it recently found out that the naked part of “Naked Sign Language News” was not a joke, and then it yanked the money, and that is a particular shame, because without funding the next great naked TV news anchor may never get his or her shot. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s what I think of TV news.

OLBERMANN:  To the Internets, where we find footage of the 3,000-meter steeple chase at the World Athletic Championships in Japan.  This steeple chase combines long distance running with the occasional hurdle.  The key to good steeple chasing?  Remembering to jump those hurdles when they come to you.  Let‘s go track side where the Swedish chef had the call. 

That guy forgot to jump.  Australian Gunter Heedlinger (ph) did not seriously hurt himself, just some stitches in his face and some serious questions about whoever is coaching him.  Up, up, Gunter.

Also in sports, Michael Vick needed a mea culpa.  And in a shock to many, he delivered one, big time.  And he‘s also auditioning for “American Idol.”  I made that up.  Full coverage of the Philadelphia auditions from our “Idol” princess, Maria Milito.  Details ahead.

But first, time for “Countdown‘s” top three newsmakers of this day. 

Theme warning!

Number three, an unnamed passenger on I-25 in Denver who leaped from the moving car being driven by a woman who was either his wife or his girlfriend.  They were arguing.  She would not pull over, so he jumped.  Quoting local news reports, “Authorities say the man suffered non-life-threatening road rash.” 

Number two, Damon Armagost of Smyrna, Tennessee, arrested for buying lap dances with counterfeit hundred-dollar bills.  Who identified the counterfeits?  The dancers, of course, experts. 

And number one, another nameless male, age 19, spotted in a shopping center in Darwin, Australia, having purloined a copy of “Fiesta,” a softcore girly magazine and then going to hide in the shopping center‘s men‘s room.  He emerged 10 minutes later and was arrested.  The owner of the newsstand says the shoplifter paid for the publication and was then given a, quote, “slap on the wrist.”  At least we all hope that‘s what that sound was!


OLBERMANN:  The crimes for which football star Michael Vick agreed to a plea bargain obviously constitute the overarching horror of the story.  But on Friday, Vick somehow managed to make it a little worse while accepting a prison sentence of up to 18 months and acknowledging he bankrolled the entirety of an illegal dogfighting operation.  The document he signed stated specifically that he personally did not gamble on dogfights, personally did not receive proceeds from dogfights, and personally, quote, “did not kill any dogs.”  Suddenly, on top of the crime, here was an admission of guilt that seemed to admit very little guilt. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, over the weekend, the sports world seemed to collectively demand something more contrite from Michael Vick.  And this morning, to the surprise of many, he evidently delivered.  The somber-looking Atlanta Falcons quarterback walking into federal court today in Richmond, Virginia, for the formal part of the conspiracy charges against him, Vick quietly responding to the judge‘s questions only with, “No, sir,” and “Yes, sir,” before pleading guilty, the judge reminding him that could mean five years in prison.  The prosecutors want a year to 18 months.  Vick again answering, “Yes, sir.” 

After a judge scheduled sentencing for December 10, Vick, without a prepared statement, stood alone before reporters and said he wanted to speak from his heart. 


MICHAEL VICK, NFL PRO QUARTERBACK:  I want to apologize to all of the young kids out there for my immature acts.  And what I did was very immature, so that means I need to grow up. 

Dogfighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.  I‘m upset with myself.  And through this situation, I found Jesus, and I asked him for forgiveness, and I turned my life over to God.  I accept the responsibility for my actions and what I did, and now I have to pay the consequences for it, but in a sense I think it will help, you know, me as a person.  I‘ve got a lot to think about in the next year or so.  And I offer my deepest apologies to anybody out there in the world who was affected by this whole situation.


OLBERMANN:  A brief thought on what Michael Vick has done and what Michael Vick has now said, an update of sorts, if you saw my commentary at halftime of NBC‘s coverage of the Sunday night football game.  Those who hate Vick have made no secret they expect the judge at sentencing on December 10th and the commissioner of the National Football League, as soon as possible thereafter, to punish him with the lengthiest prison term, the heaviest fine, the most definite of indefinite suspensions.  And here‘s why they are wrong. 

If you hate him, the equation should be pretty simple:  His $130-million-dollar contract is gone.  His freedom is gone.  His reputation is gone.  We already know what he is.  We are now just arguing about the price.  And that real price comes due after jail and after the suspension, when Michael Vick tries to return to football in 2010, maybe 2009, but the sooner the better.  No NFL miscreant has been so vilified while an active player, not gunplay and trouble at strip clubs veteran Pacman Jones, not serial batterer and general troublemaker Lawrence Phillips, not turned state‘s evidence against his friends in a murder trial Ray Lewis, not a drunk driver who killed a mother, Leonard Little, in 1998 and was then arrested anew for driving drunk, Leonard Little in 2004. 

Because even in a football world where just a week ago a scout could still compliment Corey Ivy of the Baltimore Ravens by calling him a, quote, “pit bull with a gold cap,” no other crime has been so viscerally felt and reviled and none gone so unforgiven, and a year in the big house or two under suspension will not change that, except to postpone the next enraged protest, for whenever he comes out, whenever he tries to come back, PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the public‘s memory of what he did for dogs for the sake of fun and games will come back, as well. 

Initially, in his convoluted, lawyered-up, and agent-approved guilty plea last week, his “I didn‘t actually kill any dogs myself; I only told others to” statement, Vick seemed to not understand that his only hope was to absorb and retain as much guilt as possible, that any chance of redemption for him depended entirely on his willingness to take responsibility and blame and punishment. 

Thus, his statement today, “I want to apologize for all the things that I‘ve done and that I have allowed to happen” was exactly the right start.  He did not repeat the nuance and the loophole-filled admission.  He did not Pete Rose it.

And now comes the tough part.  Don‘t get me wrong.  He is Michael Vick, not Michael Victim.  Bur if you think him evil, you should still be rooting for him to be returned to football as soon as possible, returned from the Hell of incarceration and the Hell of suspension to the Hell of life as Michael Vick, would-be quarterback, pleading for a pro job while the hounds of public approbation are nipping at his heels. 

To other celebrity crises tonight, the phrase “child abuse” is introduced into the heretofore almost comical battle over the custody of the offspring of Britney Spears. 

And the actor Owen Wilson hospitalized, not addressing in a statement reports that he tried to harm himself, ahead here on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  The latest custody battle between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline may have taken an ugly turn.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, “Keeping Tabs,” there‘s a possible element of child abuse.  Lawyers for both Spears and Federline were in a Los Angeles superior court this morning, specifically a dependency court, according to “Access Hollywood,” which determines if a parent poses a present danger to his or her children. 

The substance of the hearing was confidential, but a source told the Web site that Ms. Spears is the subject of an active investigation by the L.A. Department of Children and Family Services.  A lawyer representing Los Angeles County was also present at the hearing reportedly.  This now takes precedence over Mr. Federline‘s suit to gain primary custody of his two children with Ms. Spears.  The former couple currently share custody 50-50. 

Typically remedies from a dependency court include child parenting classes or a court-appointed monitor.  The parties are permitted a full hearing on the issues.  Evidently that did not take place today, and it is not known exactly what circumstances instigated the investigation. 

And the actor Owen Wilson has been hospitalized, saying in a statement

that he wishes, to quote, “heal in private.”  The statement does not even

reference several unconfirmed reports that he attempted suicide.  Fire and

police officials, though, have confirmed to the Reuters News Service that they responded to a medical aid call at Wilson‘s home in Santa Monica, California, yesterday at noon local time.  The 38-year-old actor was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and family members have been there, as well, according to “People” magazine.

In the statement issued today, Mr. Wilson said, quote, “I respectfully ask that the media allow me to receive care and heal in private during this difficult time.”  The hospital publicist reportedly said Wilson was in good condition.  It was the “National Enquirer” and “Star” magazine which had reported Wilson‘s medical condition as a suicide attempt, each citing unnamed sources.

And back to the original point of celebrity news, letting them make fun of themselves for our amusement.  The new Miss Teen USA is Hillary Carol Cruz of Colorado, but a place in infamy will go to Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton, with further proof that the question-and-answer portion of these competitions must never be eliminated. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can‘t locate the U.S. on a world map.  Why do you think this is? 

LAUREN CAITLIN UPTON, MISS TEEN SOUTH CAROLINA:  I personally believe that, U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don‘t have maps.  And I belief that our education, like such as in South Africa and as Iraq, everywhere like, such as, and I believe that they should—our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S.—or should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children.


OLBERMANN:  Yes, she did try to get in “for our children” there at the end and help South Africa.  Miss Teen South Carolina was the third runner-up or, in layman‘s terms, finished fourth in the process, of course, putting herself on the proverbial map. 

Auditions beginning for “American Idol,” maybe with her.  I thought “American Idol” was nothing but auditions.  That‘s ahead.

But first, time for “COUNTDOWN‘s” latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze, while acknowledging good intent here, our U.S. military civilian relations department in Afghanistan thought it would be nice to drop toys, including soccer balls, into the Khost region there.  The soccer balls were imprinted with the flags of many different nations, including Saudi Arabia.  The flag of Saudi Arabia includes a quotation from the Koran.  “Here, kids, kick your religious text around for a while.” 

The runner-up, good old Brit Hume of Fixed News.  “New Scientist” magazine reporting University of Washington mathematics and atmospheric science Professor Ka-Kit Tung‘s very complex findings about solar activity and the heating atmosphere.  It writes, “Climate change skeptics may seize on the findings as evidence that the sun‘s variability can explain global warming, but Professor Tung says quite the contrary is true.”  So, of course, Brit Hume seizes on the findings as evidence that the sun‘s variability can explain global warming.

“Skeptics,” Hume mumbled, “are increasingly certain that the scare is vastly overblown.  New research by a University of Washington mathematician showed a correlation between high solar activity and periods of global warming.”  Come on, Brit, don‘t make these so easy for me. 

But our winner, Sean Hannity of Fixed News.  After noted owner and user of machine guns, former rock star Ted Nugent, said, quote, “Hey, Obama, you might want to suck on one of these, you punk,” and made similar discussions to Senator Clinton, Mr. Hannity described Nugent as “a friend and frequent guest” and refused to repudiate even those remarks.  He then asked a guest, quoting, “I see you liberals more upset about that, but I don‘t hear anybody criticizing Barack Obama for accusing our troops of killing civilians, air raiding villages, et cetera, et cetera.  What‘s more shocking to you?  What‘s more offensive to you?  Is it Barack Obama‘s statement about our troops or Ted Nugent?”

Let‘s see, Sean.  Senator Obama says we need a different strategy in Afghanistan so we‘re “not just air raiding villages and killing civilians,” which the Bush administration is doing, and Ted Nugent suggests he‘d like to see Senator Obama suck a machine gun and Senator Clinton “ride one off into the sunset.”  In those remarks, Sean, swap in George Bush for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, what do you think that is then if not threat of bodily harm?  It isn‘t liberals who are upset at Nugent, Sean:  It‘s humans.  Sean Hannity, today‘s “Worst Person in the World!”


OLBERMANN:  You might have thought, with considerable evidence on your side if you did, that “American Idol” had already peaked.  Last season‘s ratings were down from the year before, and that Sanjaya kid nearly hijacked the entire show.  But this morning in Philadelphia, it was another “Idol” audition.  And in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the wannabes numbered 17,000 -- 17,000! -- which might make it the largest audition in “Idol” history.  And, happily, COUNTDOWN‘s very own “American Idol” princess was there.

She‘s also, of course, the midday host of New York‘s classic rock station, Q104.3, and tonight she graduates from princess to “American Idol” princess and correspondent. 

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3:  Woo-hoo!

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito, good evening, my friend.

MILITO:  Good evening.  I love that.  So, Keith, we were at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.  Now, Ryan Seacrest came in through an underground tunnel.  OK, he comes in, he speaks to the crowd.  He leaves through an underground tunnel.  Of course, nobody told us, so we didn‘t know about it, but we did see this guy was the next best thing to Ryan Seacrest, and he was actually a local reporter.  And he was covering the auditions.  And then he told us that he was also auditioning, so he was the next best thing to Ryan Seacrest that we had.  


MILITO:  Want to sing something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Living for you, my dear, is like living in a world...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  My arms never...

MILITO:  How long did you get here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What time was it, yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  I‘m loving angels instead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  He smiled.  He smiled.

MILITO:  Wow, it‘s very stiff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Too sexy for my hair.  To sexy for my hair. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  You quickly change your ways.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  There‘s no way I can ever go on...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  The summer wind came blowing in...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The said that the music was good, but...


MILITO:  That‘s it?  That‘s it.  Do they at least give you a little extra time since you have crutches?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, they didn‘t give me any time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to be back next year.  Remember my face. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Where are you, Christmas?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  People are talking...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Life is a...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We all had voices, and we all could sing.  And I don‘t know what they were looking for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  My daughter just has a pencil in her bathroom, and that‘s the way she sings. 

MILITO:  Hi, D.J.  Congratulations.  You‘re a winner, right? 


MILITO:  And how old are you? 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I just kept thinking about my mom in the stands, and just how she came down here with me, and (INAUDIBLE) in 10 years.  And she took this right with me, and I just was thinking, like, how proud she is of me, and I couldn‘t let her down, and so I just had to keep it together.  And I‘m losing it right now, but I kept it together when it mattered. 


MILITO:  So now all of these people are going to come back, and they get to audition again for the judges.  And then, after that, they come back for a third time, and that‘s when they will be—and I have to do a cheat sheet, because I am a correspondent—Miami, Atlanta, Charleston, Dallas, Omaha, San Diego, and again with Philadelphia, that they‘ll be in front of Ryan—not Ryan, Paula and Simon and Randy.  And then that‘s what we‘ll see on TV in January.

OLBERMANN:  So did you meet the winner today?  Did you meet the eventual winner?  You can go out on a limb and say, “I know the winner right now just based on those 17,000 people I interviewed in Philadelphia”? 

MILITO:  I don‘t think so.

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t think you saw it, or you just don‘t remember?

MILITO:  Well, there were, you know, 17,000 people, all-time.  We might have seen the winner, but I don‘t think so.  You know, it was kind of weird. People were good singers, but a lot of the females did that Whitney Houston thing, OK, and a lot of the guys, they were sounding OK, and then they did that “Ooh-ooh,” that Michael Jackson does?  So that totally is like—I wish it was “The Gong Show,” that I had a gong with me.

OLBERMANN:  All right, so they kept Ryan Seacrest away from you, which is a really—like a first good decision on FOX‘s part in like 32 years.  Did you see anybody else worthy of mention, any other name, any boldface name? 

MILITO:  Sure, I saw Steve Shirippa, you know, Bobby Bacala from “The Sopranos.”

OLBERMANN:  Of course.  And your show, too.

MILITO:  My buddy.  And then we were fighting over somebody who was actually a loser, a person on crutches.  We are fighting—you see the guy with the cell phone is in the way, but we were fighting over this person. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, what was he doing there?  Is that microphone connected to anything or he just doesn‘t have anything to do now that “Sopranos” is over? 

MILITO:  Well, we were fighting, because I wanted her, and I‘m like—

“she‘s with me,” and he‘s like, “No, I want her.”  And he‘s bigger than I am, so I was afraid, you know, he might beat me up, so I was like, “Fine.  You take her.”  But look at this.  We were fighting over a girl on crutches.  I mean, the auditions make you go crazy.

OLBERMANN:  And 17,000 people, is that one at a time?  Or how...

MILITO:  No, they go—actually, they‘re in the center, rather, not the stadium, in the center, there are 14 booths.  And they go four at a time.  And people tell me, they get like 30 seconds at most.  If they get more, like a second song, then it usually means that they get to go to the next level.  But it‘s four people, and it‘s like, one, two, three, four, and you‘re out.  And there are two judges, so they see 56 people at a time.  Crazy.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  And you got to keep the Navy guy‘s hat, did you?

MILITO:  No, I didn‘t get to keep it.  It looked pretty goofy, right?

OLBERMANN:  It sure did.

MILITO:  Hee-hee!

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s “American Idol” princess and correspondent, Maria Milito, braving the crazies for us and another season begins.  Many thanks.

MILITO:  I love it.  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,580th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night, and good luck.

Our coverage continues now with “MSNBC LIVE” with Dan Abrams, who‘s right over here.  Good evening, Dan.



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