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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 26

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  The Democratic presidential debate is in one hour.  “Countdown” starts now. 

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

Another bill from the bottomless death and money pit that is Iraq and Afghanistan, $190 billion.  $42 billion over even the most recent budget. 


SEN. ROBERT BYRD, (D), VIRGINIA:  Billion, billion, billion dollars. 


OLBERMANN:  And a funny thing happened as the defense secretary presented that bill.  He was reportedly going to invoke, quote, “the honor, courage and great sense of duty we have witnessed in our troops since September 11th.” 

Instead, Mr. Gates actually cited. 


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  The honor, courage and great sense of duty we have witnessed from our troops under some of the most trying conditions. 


OLBERMANN:  The president leaves his prepared text too, leaving a whooper, even for him. 


GEORGE W.  BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As yesterday‘s positive report cards shows, childrens do learn. 


OLBERMANN:  Not all childrens evidently. 

Larry Craig tries to withdraw his guilty plea. 

The Democrats start the debate.  The growing sense that Senator Clinton‘s deluge with Chris Matthews in New Hampshire. 

The vote is already in.  10 million votes are already in on what to do with the Barry Bonds‘ ball. 

And part one of our series, “Out to Lunch”.   Will FOX finally fire Bill O.?  Or will his giant head just implode of its own accord. 


BILL O‘REILLY, FOX HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  I couldn‘t get over the fact that there wasn‘t no different between Silvia‘s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City.  It was exactly the same even it‘s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. 

CNN has joined NBC News in parroting far-left propaganda in an attempt to destroy me and the FOX News channel and to deceive their viewers. 


OLBERMANN:  As he said today in “The Boston Globe,” quote, “Why would I bother with these people?” 

All that and more, now, on “Countdown.” 


BUSH:  And certain childrens cannot learn. 


OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  The Bush administration‘s effort to scare or shame Congress into doing its bidding, in this case giving it $190 billion more dollars for the war Iraq, by inviting the 9/11 attacks took two hits, one symbolic, one judicial. 

A fifth story in the “Countdown,” tonight a federal judgment in Portland has ruled that two provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional.  Because they permit, quote, “The executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” 

This was in that suit by Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon attorney who was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings.  More on this in a moment. 

The symbolism today.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates evidently departing from the prepared text of his opening statements on Capitol Hill.  Dropping a planned reference to the 9/11 attacks.  This is not to say Mr. Gates is not still actively working for the administration.  He did he use the phrase complete global war on terror request this afternoon to describe the nearly $190 billion increase in spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Nothing loaded in that phrase. 

The increase itself increased approximately $42 billion more than the Defense Department had anticipated, as recently as two months ago.  You know, before General Petraeus testified to Congress. 

The Appropriations Committee chair, Robert Byrd, not amenable to the sudden 29 percent jump in the war budget. 


BYRD:  We do not create a democracy at the point of a gun.  Sending more guns does not change that reality.  And this committee will not, n-o-t, not rubber stamp every request that is submitted by the president.



OLBERMANN:  Would, were it was so.  Fear mongering, having proven to be an effective tactic for the administration at times like these, also drawing links between Iraq and 9/11, links that did not exist before the 2003 invasion. 

In an advance copy of Secretary Gates opening statement giving to the Senate Appropriations Committee and forwarded to “Countdown” late today, they were supposed to praise U.S. forces for, quote, “the honor, courage, and great sense of duty since September 11th.”  However, in delivery, Mr. Gates ended that phrase early. 


GATES:  I would like to close with a word about something I believe we can all agree on, the honor, courage, and great sense of duty we have witnesses in our troops. 


OLBERMANN:  And now we‘ll call in Craig Crawford, columnist for “Congressional Quarterly” magazine


OLBERMANN:  It didn‘t go as scripted, because what the secretary said in the afternoon did not match the advanced copy of his remarks, the one on the associated press.  Is the White House used to having a major player stray from the script? 

CRAWFORD:  Even General Petraeus, although he trotted the party line, carried water for the White House in many ways, backed off when asked if the war in Iraq actually made Americans safer.  He said he didn‘t know, didn‘t want to answer that question. 

A lot of the military folks, even though secretary Gates is a civil an official, there is a lot of fallout of military people after General Petraeus really somewhat disturbed at how he was drawn into being a political player, as opposed to a military leader.  And I think Secretary Gates was probably very conscious of how radioactive it is to bring up 9/11 in connection with any discussion of Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, Petraeus was turned into the equivalent of Kitchener from World War I with the British with the ads, the guy pointing the finger at the would-be volunteers. 

It was in February when the Pentagon submitted KWT for $142 billion to fund Iraq and Afghanistan, by July, $147.  The number is now up by another third to nearly $190.  Is it coincidence that the Defense Department did not figure it was low in estimates until after General Petraeus testified? 

CRAWFORD:  You really get the feeling, Keith, that there is sort of like a retail seller, always trying to find that—that point of price resistance.  As much as you can charge without people actually—without actually losing sales.  $190 billion sounds like 1995 because people resist paying $20.  And I think they will receive the politically largest number they can get that can get through Congress and this sounds like they might be close to it. 

OLBERMANN:  Much better than saying $200 billion. 

CRAWFORD:  Yeah, yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  As Senator Byrd suggested today in this apoplectic fit that he had.  It‘s great—it was great theater, great verbiage, and you have to admire him saying it.  But when do we expect him or any other Democrats to follow through on their threats when it comes to passing the war funding supplemental?  They don‘t need 60 votes to set up a filibuster if they want to go to the last straw and literally the last sleeping mat. 

CRAWFORD:  Senator Byrd is one of the most frustrated lawmakers on Capitol Hill, going to the original debate before the invasion of Iraq.  I recall being there and watching him, and he turned to an aide when only a handful of Senators showed up, and he turned to an aide and says where is everybody?  He feels he has always been out front with the party and the rest of the party hadn‘t always listened to him. 

There is going to be a change.  And what we‘re seeing is a switch from the Iraq war debate, no longer a policy debate it is purely a political debate.  The only thing that will change the direction in Iraq is the next election.  And Democrats have to win the White House and have to get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate to do that.  The House looks like Democrats will hold.  At, my colleagues did survey work this week, showing House Democrats will get majority if things go as they seem they are. 

OLBERMANN:  One other thing.  Saber rattling with Iran and the whole template being played out again, at least symbolically.  What are we supposed to make politically out of the passage of the Kyle-Lieberman Amendment?  They took out the most egregious passages, about military action and such, but it calls for them to brand the Revolutionary Guards of Iran a terrorist revolution.  And it passed 76-22.  It sounds all too familiar, even if it was nonbinding. 

CRAWFORD:  Nonbinding, in the sense of a Senate resolution.  If it were anymore than that, I could see this administration turning it into a declaration of war.  That would be authorization, I mean, that was the scary thing about this kind of vote.  But it was purely nonbinding.  So I think that‘s critical and in the future, we‘ll see if the Democrats, you know, stay this line.  But there are—there‘s a lot of sentiment to get tough on Iran in both parties. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly”.  Thank you for your time. 

CRAWFORD:  Good to be here.       

OLBERMANN:  And, yes, this is our government today, dropping one exploitative reference to the greatest tragedy of modern history as part of a demand to fund a phenomenally unpopular war.  That is news.  Note again, just one dropped reference. 

Let‘s turn to Rachel Maddow, whose program airs every night on Air America radio. 


OLBERMANN:  DNI, McConnell saying for the third time, debating changes for the FISA act saying Americans will die.  Gates pulled his punch on the 9/11 remark, but still called the funding increase, the official brand name, complete global war on terror request.  We can safely assume that the effort to control White House by politicizing the 9/11 was not damaged by Gates, that this campaign is alive and well? 

MADDOW:  I think the campaign is alive and well.  I feel like the exploitation of 9/11 is worse now than it‘s ever been.  It‘s almost like six years was the magic amount of time that had to elapse before people became completely naked and shameless.  Now we‘re getting repeated, overt references from the president about fighting the perpetrators of 9/11 in Iraq.  We‘re seeing the leading Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani, backing very awkwardly away by a plan from his fundraiser raising money in $9.11 increments.  I feel like all bets are off in anybody having any shame about exploiting 9/11.  It feels worse to me than it‘s ever been. 

OLBERMANN:  I think you‘re right.  Anything to be done to make it stop?  Particularly the administration or candidate Giuliani or anybody else?  Anything we can do about it? 

MADDOW:  The reason that 9/11 is politically effective, it‘s defective as a distraction.  They are never talking about 9/11 when they are bringing it up in political terms.  There are never talking about catching Osama bin Laden.  They‘re never actually talk about taking care of the first responders who were injured during that time and during that recovery. 

So the more specific you get about 9/11, the more it makes it awkward to use it as a distraction for other things.  So I have seen—and I‘m encouraged by seeing among some of the Democrats in Congress, particularly by Russ Feingold, but by others as well, a move toward actually getting back to real references to 9/11, really catching Osama bin Laden, really going after the real al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  And I think those things, to say 9/11 is not a distraction, it‘s a real thing that requires a real response, can take the wind out of sails as a political tactic a little bit. 

OLBERMANN:  Democrats were among those in the house that voted for the companion move here, condemning in the strongest possible terms the personal attacks made by the advocacy group, impugning the integrity and professionalism of David H. Petraeus.  Why would a Democrat vote for this? 

MADDOW:  I had Senator Byron Jorgen on my show tonight.  He‘s someone I agree with on a lot of things.  He voted for that in the Senate.  It passed the House today.  He voted for the Kyle-Lieberman amendment, which you just spoke with Craig Crawford about.  It‘s very, very frustrating to us that hoped that a Democratic-led Congress would result in change on protecting the Constitution and ending the war, to see the only things actually passing the Senate on the house on the big issues of national security and the Constitution, the only things that are passing are Republican and Joe Lieberman-inspired amendments like they.  To see the Republican filibuster stop the Jim Webb amendment and everything constructive on the war.  But to see the MoveOn condemnation thing sail through both houses, it‘s incredibly demoralizing. 

OLBERMANN:  Especially considering that phrase was coined by comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Are you cheered by this ruling from Portland from the federal district judge that two provisions of the PATRIOT Act are unconstitutional because they are allowing search warrants without probable cause? 

MADDOW:  I am.  This is distraction versus the real goal and we‘ve learned again and again, whether it‘s eves dropping, or the FISA law, or torture or offshore prisons, all of the things that have shredded the Constitution, it‘s a destruction, is a distraction.  They want to shred the Constitution.  It hasn‘t made us any safer.  And this is one of those rulings, one those cracks of light, where somebody says, actually, it hadn‘t made us safer, let‘s restore the Constitution.  It‘s nice to see the distraction wiped away and get us back to the real goal of making the country better off. 

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  Thank you for your time. 

MADDOW:  Thank you.   

OLBERMANN:  Nearly seven years into the Bush administration, anyone wondering why this president had not had a grammatical club truly worthy of his father‘s Dan Quayle need wonder no longer.  It came in a made for TV event with a group of New York City school children.  Bush urging Congress to reauthorize his No Child Left Behind Act. 


BUSH:  As yesterday‘s positive report cards shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured. 


OLBERMANN:  Childrens do learn.  That‘s the funny part. 

But here is where it turns no so funny.  The White House press office has cleaned up that portion of the official transcript.  It reads “children do learn.”  The “S” magically disappeared.  The White House, thus, putting itself in auspicious company just this week.

Guess who else cleaned up the official transcript of an event from a day ago?  The website of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad removing the entire portion of his speech Monday at Columbia University and the question and answer session where he was asked about and said there were no homosexuals in Iran. 

Awe, the Internet. 

One Republican finally files a brief, another unexpected fires another top campaign staffer amid mysterious circumstances.  Breaking news on that.

And are the storm clouds gathering around Bill O‘Reilly?  He screams he was taken out of context.  Turns out the context of his racist remarks were as bad as the remarks themselves.  The breaking news ahead. 

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Rudy Giuliani‘s chief campaign fundraiser has been fired tonight.  Ann Dunsmore no longer working on the campaign, says a Giuliani spokesperson.

The fourth story on the “Countdown,” this is part of a bad day for Giuliani, and for a second prominent Republican.  We‘ll get to Larry Craig‘s story in a moment. 

First, Giuliani who had a fundraiser tonight, said he had nothing to do with how much money his campaign had raised, even though it‘s just four days until the latest fundraising figures have to be publicly revealed.  One source telling the “Washington Post” this was about Ms. Dunsmore‘s style as it related to volunteers on the state level.  Another saying it‘s about money, quote, “If they had blown throw their target, the style wouldn‘t have mattered.” 

And another odd juxtaposition, this is the night of the 9/11 for Rudy fundraiser in Palo Alto, California, in which contributors were asked to pay $9.11 to get in.  That exploitation of 9/11 had already been roundly denounced.  Giuliani telling local reporters the campaign will not accept those donations, that it was a bad idea by a couple of volunteers, and they weren‘t going to be doing it tonight.  We don‘t know if it‘s the case yet. 

There has not been this much continuing discussion of restrooms, since the Nickel Lock Company moved to outlaw pay toilets.  The puns just keep on coming as Senator Larry Craig refuses to leave the public stage, and as he finally adjusts his legal stance in the retracting a guilty plea and continues to serve in the Senate as a right wing water carrier. 

The Senators legal team officially asking a Minneapolis judge to throughout an earlier plea of guilty, to reduce the charges of disorderly conduct after an airport sex sting last June.  Led by attorney Billy Martin, the team asking for a jury trial, arguing whatever foot tapping and finger waving the Senator Craig did with an undercover cop, that did not constitute a crime, that he did consult a lawyer and panicked under pressure. 

According to prosecutors, however, Craig was anything but panicked.  He called them several times to talk calmly about his arrest and his legal options and had eight weeks after his arrest to finally decide whether or not he was guilty. 

After the hearing, the Senator who stayed in Washington amid nervous colleagues issued this statement, quote, “Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name.  The court has not issued a filing on my motion to withdraw my guilty pleas.  For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

No more stalling, let‘s call upon our own Dana Milbank at the “Washington Post”. 

Dana, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  To Giuliani in a moment.  Frist, this judge says he‘s probably not going to decide about this guilty plea overturn until late next week and the Senator‘s self-imposed deadline, the 30th, Sunday.  Where does this leave the resignation? 

MILBANK:  It leaves it hanging, so to speak.  The deadlines are being extended.  Timetables being fudged.  Sounds a little like the Iraq war.  But I suspect it won‘t be that way for long.  The judge was very skeptical of Larry Craig‘s lawyer‘s case today.  Much lighter on the prosecution so this may just be a temporary delay until his resignation. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re a bystander to history.  You witnessed Craig and some of his Senate colleagues greeting each other recently. 

MILBANK:  I did.  It was in full public view. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  We‘re getting details besides that?  Were they sympathetic to him? 

MILBANK:  They are not terribly happy to see him.  McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, would barely make eye contact, certainly wouldn‘t shake his hand.  They were not happy to see him behind closed doors either.  There was Arlen Specter, who is championing the cause by saying there is favorable talk about Larry Craig in the cloak room.  Not sure how that helps the case. 

OLBERMANN:  Has there been in this occasion we all anticipated that if he stayed around, notice how I use the word stayed around this would be a constant scandal.  But has there been a silver lining here for Republicans, only that the David Vitter call girl problem didn‘t bubble to the surface and the Ted Stevens FBI saga didn‘t really hit full flush? 

MILBANK:  Well, maybe, but I think that nobody is tapping their toes more anxiously than the Republicans in the Senate as they worry and hope that he will, in fact, resign.  It may, in the short run, push out other negative stories.  That‘s true, but the last thing they want is to have him there during the election time.  So as long as the Democrats can holler about the wide stance, I would expect the Republicans to be in a defensive crouch. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Giuliani fires the top fundraiser four days before the fourth quarter of fund-raising and it‘s not about the money.  Is it about that 9/11 fundraiser? 

MILBANK:  I‘ll bet you $91.10 it has something to do with fund-raising.  Probably the event in California was low enough that wouldn‘t matter.  The numbers are very pour for Giuliani and the other candidates.  Giuliani is under a lot of pressure because his front-runner status has been challenged quite a bit lately. 

OLBERMANN:  Our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post”.  Thank you. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And what about the mascots?  Won‘t somebody think about the mascots?             

And he has blasphemied American victims of Nazi war crimes, he has lied about himself and others, often faster than anybody can count, but has Bill O‘Reilly met his own Waterloo at a restaurant in Harlem in New York City?  The latest on Bill O.‘s naked lunch, ahead on “Countdown.”


OLBERMANN:  We forget the meaningingfulness of an anniversary like this.  47 years ago, Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy participated in the first of four broadcasted presidential debates.  Today, they are common place.  I hosted one last month.  Tim Russert does his tonight.  I believe the Discovery channel has an underwater debate planned for next month.  But the one on September 26, 1960e, was the first two presidential debates in the country‘s history.  Democrats Adela Stevenson and Estes Cabarber (ph) had debated in 1956, Republicans Thomas Dewey and Harold Stassen in 1948 on radio.  But the famous Abraham Lincoln-Steven A. Douglas debates of 1858 -- they were running for the Senate. 

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin on the gridiron on what is an ugly trend on modern sideline entertainment.  Mascot on mascot violence.  A trend first revealed during the Oregon Ducks and Houston Cougars basketball game.  The cougar lay there helpless and the duck thrust his pelvis at him in a demeaning manner. 

The violence is spreading.  In the James Madison Coastal Carolina game.  Watch as the chicken thing takes down JMU‘s Duke the dog, not once but twice.  Down goes Duke the dog.  And thanks for the help, cheerleaders.  Stadium security stepped in, stopping what was clearly an act of senseless violence, or perhaps an act to get the mascots on the old YouTube. 

To Maiden, North Carolina, we find Mark Whiznet (ph) and the second-hand smoker he bought at auction.  It‘s a slow-motion barbecue.  He did not look under the hood before he bought his smoker.  After he got it home, he found inside a human foot and leg.  Ew! We will not show you that.  He said it looked like a shriveled piece of fruit.  Whoever is how he broke the news to his family? 


MARK WHIZNET (ph), SMOKER OWNER:  I said there it is.  Look at it.  I layed it down, they looked at it.  And they looked at me puzzled, what you going to do?  And I said I‘m taking it back where I bought it. 


OLBERMANN:  Sorry, pal, no refunds.  Refunds, refunds?  He did track down the leg‘s owner, who had his knee amputated and kept it in the smoker, perhaps waiting for the foot fairy to come and swap it out for a dollar or something. 

Bill O., he might have bitten off more than he could chew at Silvia‘s restaurant in Harlem in New York City.  The ground may be opening up beneath him on this one.

And the fate of the Barry Bond‘s ball just Barry Bonds ball decided.  These stories ahead, but first time for our goof balls and good guys.  Here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best hyperbole, Secretary of State Rice; he was diabolically brilliant, she says.  I think he was an outstanding organizer.  When you here people say, well, if you kill one of them, they‘ll replace him with another leader; remember, that‘s just like saying, you know, if you take out Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant, they‘ll just replace them with another leader.  To whom is she comparing Grant and Lee?  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  OK, I need to physically see these degrees you say you have, doctor. 

Number two, best save, coach Doug Sauter of the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League.  He saved countless injuries by personally stopping a stampede of frightened horses at the Oklahoma State Fair.  How did he do it?  He bit the ear of one of the frightened horses.  It immediately froze in place.  That, said Coach Sauter, is how you stymie a horse.  You bite as hard as you can and it won‘t move.  Good work, coach.  And thanks for the tip. 

Number one, best new rule.  The head of the Nepal Mountaineering Association says the epidemic at Mount Everest can only be stopped by strict regulation.  It is time to formally prohibit nude mountain climbing.  When a Nepali climber disrobed last year while at the 29,035 foot summit in temperatures of 14 degrees Fahrenheit, that was bad enough.  But now, says Ang Chering (ph), a Dutch man has become the first ever to climb Mount Everest wearing only shorts.


OLBERMANN:  For some of us, it‘s something akin to looking out over the street where you live for years watching a pothole get bigger and bigger, seeing cars first bottoming out on it, then losing hub cabs before it, and then crashing and finally being swallowed hole inside it.  And then one morning out of nowhere, 497 different repair crews show up at the same time, along with the mayor and governor and Richard Branson. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN fact or fiction, and Bill O‘Reilly is in big trouble, and seems to be desperately trying to tamp down what might be seismic gurglings beneath him, not unlike the ones that erupted into the Don Imus crisis of last Spring.  Mr. O‘Reilly accused of racial insensitivity, quote, quite reprehensible remarks, according to a member of the National Black Chamber of Commerce in a saga that has now transcended the normal avenues of Bill-O criticism to merit coverage by “The Associated Press, “USA Today,” a food critic blog from the “New York Times,” even CNN. 

The money quote, of course, you know.  The full context in a moment; “couldn‘t get over the fact,” O‘Reilly told his audience, “that there was no difference between Sylvia‘s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City.  I mean it was exactly the same, even though it‘s run by black, primarily black patronship.” 

The story was the centerpiece of CNN programming the last few days and got a few mentions on this network.  With the perfect convenience of timing, in today‘s “Boston Globe,” Mr. O‘Reilly explained that he has long since given up responding to criticism.  Quoting him again, “I learned my lesson with Al Franken a few years ago.  Gutter snipes are inconsequential.  The level of dishonesty in that realm is so dramatic now.  These people are doing it for money and I‘m not going to play the game.  Nobody is close to me at 8:00 p.m.  And the rerun at 11:00 p.m. beats everybody.  That‘s the rerun.  Nobody‘s even in the ball game.  Why would I bother with these people?” 

Which would explain Bill‘s calm, rational, and dispassionate devoting of the first two segments of his comedy hour last night and the first two tonight to bothering with these people, in particular the ones at CNN. 


BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Stunningly, CNN echoed the defamation on at least three of its programs.  The reason CNN did this is because its rating are abysmal.  It is getting hammered by Fox News.  So they‘re desperate for attention. 


OLBERMANN:  Exactly, why would you bother with these people by giving them attention.  The daily NBC references, of course, are complaints about Ali Larder (ph) from “Heroes” no doubt.  O‘Reilly also tried to construct an I was taken out of context defense today, never addressing what he said on his broadcast tonight, nor getting the defense he expected from guest Al Sharpton, who instead said what he had read disturbed him, but he had yet to hear the actual tape. 

O‘Reilly merely again just attacking those organizations which criticized him.  Add ABC and CBS to the list tonight.  And citing an unscientific online poll which his website has been directing users to all day, as if it were a jury vote, though even it shows support from only six in 10 respondents. 

About context, O‘Reilly insists this was about a positive change in perceptions of African Americans, compared to say, the perception of his own maternal grand mother who feared and hated them.  O‘Reilly did invoke his grandmother, but only after he talked about how he couldn‘t get over the fact that Sylvia‘s restaurant was like any non-black owned restaurant.  The context preceding the fateful anecdote was, in fact, a story that meandered from O.J. Simpson to something nearly as disturbing as that Sylvia‘s story. 


O‘REILLY:  I think black Americans are starting to think more and more for themselves, and they‘re getting away from the Sharptons and the Jacksons and the people trying to lead them into a race-based culture. 


OLBERMANN:  Sharpton, who is on his show tonight, and Jackson will be on the show tomorrow.  Then came the story of Reverend Al and Sylvia‘s and MF-ers and iced tea and Bill O‘Reilly out to lunch. 


O‘REILLY: I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy.  You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.  And I couldn‘t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia‘s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. 

I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it‘s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.  It was the same.  This is what white America doesn‘t know, particularly people who don‘t have a lot of interaction with black Americans.  They think that the culture is dominated by Twista (ph), Ludacris and Snoop Dogg. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And it‘s just so awful, because it‘s literally the sewer come to the surface and now people take it that the sewer is the whole story. 

O‘REILLY:  That‘s right.  That‘s right.  There wasn‘t one person in Sylvia‘s who was screaming MF-er, I want more iced tea. 


OLBERMANN:  So much for the exculpatory context.  Let‘s turn to Eugene Robinson, associate editor, columnist at the “Washington Post,” also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.  Gene, good evening. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Hi, Keith.  Let me warn you up front.  Even though I‘m black, I‘m going to speak standard English tonight.  So I don‘t want you to be surprised or shocked, and I‘m going to think for myself too, which I know you‘ll be stunned. 


ROBINSON:  But this is—this is incredible, but this is O‘Reilly.  This is the guy.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s text book prejudice.  He expected something because of the color of people‘s skin.  It doesn‘t matter if he was pleasantly surprised or had his prejudice reinforced.  Is this the most insidious part of this?  He doesn‘t know that is racism by definition? 

ROBINSON:  Well, you know, I‘m not going to go inside Bill O‘Reilly‘s head.  Is he racist, what does he know?  All I know is that it was, at best, a casually racist remark.  But you know what really ticks me off is that when you say that, when you point that out, you know, immediately you get charged by O‘Reilly and cohorts with, you know, you‘re the thought police; you‘re the thought Gestapo; you‘re the word Nazis; you are interfering with free speech and somehow cutting off an honest debate about race. 

Well, you know, tell me what in the year 2007 is debatable about whether or not black people can use a knife and fork?  I don‘t think that‘s debatable at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  As to the attack part, he also defended NBC and the “Today Show” in the broadcast this evening and attacked CBS and ABC.  This is a very fluid situation from his point of view.  Let me play devil‘s advocate on one part of this.  I keep thinking of Al Campanis, the baseball general manager who 20 years ago on Jackie Robinson Day, said black baseball figures did not have, in his terms, the necessities to be team managers or executives, and he helpfully pointed out just as they could not swim.  Campanis grew up in this xenophobic immigrant community in New York, and he grew way past it. 

He was Jackie Robinson‘s first double play partner in the minor leagues, his first friend.  He went into management.  He hired the first black talent scouts and minor league coaches in the ‘50s.  He was an advocate, but he hit a wall that he didn‘t realize was there.  Are there similarities between him and the kind of O‘Reilly prejudice, where you may not mean something racist, but you‘re doing it anyway? 

ROBINSON:  I think one key thing you just said was 20 years ago.  This was 1987.  Look, Al Campanis you could have sympathy for.  He was in many ways a very sympathetic figure.  He hit a wall, but he genuinely didn‘t know it was there.  He had grown up in a time when that sort of casual racism was accepted in polite society, and he was a baseball guy.  Bill O‘Reilly is a professional communicator who speaks to a couple million people every night.  You would think, you know, he‘s aware of what‘s coming out of his mouth and how it sounds. 

And, again, it‘s the year 2007.  You know, we should have been—we should have gotten beyond this point.  But apparently, you know, in that thicket that is Bill O‘Reilly‘s mind, we‘re still there, somehow, trying to—trying to figure out, you know, black people, boy, they are starting to think for themselves now. 

OLBERMANN:  Would this have been tamped down with even one of those phony—if anyone took offense, I apologize.  Or was this a tipping point waiting to happen, like the career of Don Imus? 

ROBINSON:  This isn‘t the first time that O‘Reilly has walked this line, but he‘s not really an apologetic guy.  That‘s not my impression and I think that would—that would not be true to who he is.  So what would you expect him to do, other than to kind of, you know, with his characteristic bluster, tough it out and say everybody else is wrong.  I‘m right and I‘m the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy, which I guess you and I are participants at the moment.  There you have it. 

OLBERMANN:  Maybe not, because I‘m with NBC and we‘re on the good list today.  I have to ask you this last thing.  If you‘re trying to kill the messenger, is it tone deaf, is it Freudian or is it just unintentional comic relief, when O‘Reilly says of the critics, particularly the one at CNN who accused him of racism, that they have now entered the dark side?  What the hell is that? 

ROBINSON:  That‘s really tone deaf and that was the headline on the website item as well.  You know, again, at the very least really, really clueless.  And if you are going to have an honest debate about race, maybe you ought to educate yourself a little bit, and think about it before you start mouthing off. 

OLBERMANN:  Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate editor with “The Washington Post.”  Even under these circumstances, always a pressure. 

ROBINSON:  You too Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Shoot it into space, mark it with an asterisk or leave it be?  After 10 million votes, the verdict is in on the Barry Bonds home run baseball.  And not a vote cast, but we seem to be on the verge of declaring one Democrat the club house leader.  Our COUNTDOWN to tonight‘s Democratic debate.  Chris Matthews will join me from Dartmouth.  Stand by. 


OLBERMANN:  The great debate is over, not the Hillary, Barack, John, Joe and company debate.  That starts at the top of this hour.  We‘re talking about, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the debate over what to do with the baseball that Barry Bonds hit for his dubious 756th career home run.  Fashion designer, entrepreneur Mark Ecko (ph), who visited us on this show on Friday, democratizing the selection of the 756‘s ultimate resting place, after having purchased the ball for ¾ of a million dollars from the fan who caught it last month.

Eck‘s plan, the fans would decide whether the ball would be sent to the baseball Hall of Fame as is, or branded with an asterisk and sent to the Hall, or launched into outer space.  Over ten million votes cast.  Here now the results as they were announced this morning on the “Today Show.”


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re going to have to find a different artifact to send up to space.  The banish it vote was at 19 percent.  And 80 percent of America total want this ball on this Earth, and it will go to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame with a brand at 47 percent of the vote.


OLBERMANN:  There you have it.  The Hall of Fame says it will accept the ball even with the asterisk. 

Hillary Clinton up by 23 points in New Hampshire in the moments before the Democrats debate in New Hampshire.  Are we at the end of the beginning?  Chris Matthews joins me next.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Alexis Glick (ph), who flamed out over here at NBC and now apparently works for Fixed Noise, and has volunteered for heavy lifting for the water carriers.  On Fixed News this morning she complained and explained about Bill-O rather, Al Sharpton was supportive of him, which he wasn‘t.  She added, this is all about context.  This is a very important issue.  You know, people now take clips and then put them in the context of another situation and then all of a sudden, you‘re guilty. 

Yes, except nobody took a clip and put in a context of a situation, and you don‘t really know what you‘re saying, do you?

Our silver tonight to Rudy Giuliani, now claiming his reversal on gun control owes to—want to take a guess—yes, 9/11; “I think after September 11th—I mean, I probably would have had the same impression before, I‘m not sure.  But after September 11th, all that seemed much more powerful to me.”

Great, the gun you can‘t take on a plane is going to stop a terrorist?  Your gun is going to stop a bomb.  Also, sir, if your views on gun control changed on 9/11, why did you speak out for gun control in 2004?

But our winner, Coulter-Geist, telling the British version of “Esquire” that she wants her own Fatwah, the Islamic death sentence; “I want a Fatwah,” she says.  “I used to see Salmon Rushdie in the Sky Bar in LA.  He wasn‘t in hiding.  He became world renowned for his Fatwah.  So why can‘t I have a Fatwah?  Don‘t they read my stuff?”

Anne, obviously do read your stuff, and they know you hate the freedoms and principles of America even more than they do.  Coulter-Geist, today‘s worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN:  We‘re about 5 ½ minutes away from the Democratic presidential debate in Dartmouth, New Hampshire.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the sixth presidential debate, seventh if you count the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago.  And all of us who sweated it out there seven weeks ago yesterday sure do.  Tonight‘s debate here on MSNBC transpires as the newest poll in New Hampshire gives Senator Clinton a double digit lead over her closest rival, Senator Barack Obama.  With Senator Clinton widening her margin in national polls as well, there has been the assumption and the prediction that in tonight‘s debate, Senator Obama will take on Clinton more sharply. 

We‘ll see if that plays out.  Joining me now, my colleague, the host of “HARDBALL” and now author of “Life‘s A Campaign, What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation and Success,” Chris Matthews.  Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Keith, you‘re the first person to mention the book.  Thank you.  What do you want me to talk about?  You know, baseball standings, and you know when it‘s like June and one team is 20 games ahead, you wonder what the season is going to look like, you know.  Here we are. 

OLBERMANN:  Where is it?  Are we at Churchill‘s phrase here regarding the Democratic nomination?  Are we not at the beginning of the end, but perhaps at the end of the beginning? 

MATTHEWS:  I think the end of the beginning might be very smart, because this Sunday when the “New York Times” crowned her the inevitable, I think that‘s one of the things—like remember Steve Swartzman‘s (ph) birthday party a couple months ago, it was like the height of the equity boom.  And I think maybe that was the height of Hillaryism this Sunday.  It‘s downhill from here. 

OLBERMANN:  It is also become kind of a mantra among the prognosticators that Obama has got to go after Senator Clinton more forcefully, maybe draw blood.  Three and half months left until there are votes cast in the primaries.  You can argue that the time—certainly this is the end of the beginning for him on that.  Or maybe he has plenty of time.  Does he need to do this tonight? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, of course, if all conditions break in his favor, if Bill gets involved in a problem with some woman or Hillary gets involved with something with campaign financing, and everything goes to hell for the Clintons, of course, somebody can creep by them or him or her.  But you can‘t count on all of the forces of nature working against Hillary between now and Christmas.  He‘s going to have to do some of the heavy lifting. 

The American people want to see a choice here, and he‘s going to have to force that choice.  And I said this earlier tonight, Keith, that it‘s like Scott Turow (ph) in that wonderful book “Presumed Innocent,” as well as in the film, where he said, if you are going to prosecute a case—and that‘s what he has to do against Hillary—you must point the finger at the accused in front of the jury and say, and confront that person, and say you voted to authorize that war.  You‘re part of the worst foreign policy decision in modern history.  Have you no judgment, madam. 

If he‘s capable of doing that then the jury of the country, the Democratic people, will say wow, this guy is a leader!  But if he won‘t do that, if he won‘t accuse her of blowing it, of chickening out, of hedging her bets, whatever, of making the worst decision in the world, then why should the American people reject Hillary, if he won‘t say to do it?  I think that‘s the choice.  He has to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there—we have seen almost no serious Democrat on Democrat violence.  Is that probable in some other context between Obama and Clinton.  Anyone else that we might see the peace broken tonight? 

MATTHEWS: Well, I mean, Obama is very inspiring.  I loved his book.  He‘s an actual writer; 99 percent of these guys have ghost writers, as you know.  He actually wrote the book, the first one.  The second one I think was a collaboration.  But the first one—I think he has no political experience.  He lost to Bobby Rush in a primary in south Chicago, on the south side.  He beat Alan Keyes, OK.  That‘s his track record.  He beat Alan Keyes, from out of state, for the Illinois Senate race. 

He doesn‘t seem to understand that you must engage, you must take on the opponent.  You must relish the fight.  And you must say I‘m the man to win this race.  I want you to vote for me, not her.  I don‘t know any other way to campaign.  I don‘t know what we‘re talking about here.  This isn‘t “Hollywood Squares,” where you just put yourself up in a window and she puts herself in another window, and you choose which one you like.  It‘s called a campaign. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing that Chuck Todd pointed out this morning, as to watch tonight, how often Senator Clinton—has developed this apparently defensive technique of laughing in response to a very critical question.  There‘s some inside baseball to this, but is that a good strategy?  Is that working for her?  Do you expect that a lot tonight?

MATTHEWS:  Chris Wallace asked a question and he‘s talking about partisanship and he‘s from Fox television, I think that might be laughable.  When he‘s the one that took down her husband a few months ago and he‘s talking about excessive partisanship.  Excuse me, am I talking to Keith Olbermann?  he‘s there representing Fox television, putting down partisanship.  What?  Of course she had to laugh.  What else could she say, you‘re an ignoramus?  She had to say something politely.  Right?  It seemed to me. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if it works it‘s great.

MATTHEWS:  The problem was nobody laughed, because Chris wasn‘t going to help her by giving her a Mondale style laugh to a Reagan joke.  He wasn‘t going to do it.  But if you need a laugh track for a comment, for a joke, you‘ve got a problem.  I thought Hillary was pretty funny there.  I thought she was great.  I‘m warming up to Hillary these days.  Aren‘t you warming up to Hillary?  I think she‘s doing well. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t have anything to warm up from.  Chris will be anchoring our debate coverage—post-debate coverage tonight.  We‘ll talk to him then.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,610th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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