Guest: Jonathan Alter, Eugene Robinson, Stephen Price, Gerald Posner, Jim Vandehei
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Obama on energy energized.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: After one president in the pocket of big oil, we can‘t afford another.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tax credits for hybrids, tapping into the strategic oil reserve, retooling the American auto industry, retuning your engine, and properly inflating your tires.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It‘s not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Actually, National Highway Transportation Safety data says, “By inflating our tires and tuning our engines, we‘d save about 800,000 barrels a day,” about four times what we could get for more offshore drilling. And the call to rotate your tires was made five weeks ago by Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who‘s on McCain‘s short list for vice president. Oops.
Obama‘s working class whites problem. Now, apparently, it is McCain‘s working class whites problem. The Kaiser Foundation/Harvard Poll: Obama leads 47-37, largely because of his healthcare stance.
The anthrax terror. Now, the startling claim that the White House pressured the head of the FBI to announce a link between the spores and al Qaeda or someone in the Middle East in October, 2001.
Our long national nightmare is over. Once again Brett Favre is a Green Bay Packer. A public relations ordeal so taxing the Packers had hired Harry Fleischer to help out.
And the throwdown continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOEL MCHALE, TV HOST: Now I count on you to do a special comment about my comment on the clip from your show commenting on the clip from my show. My brain hurts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: How much time can two television shows waste talking about one two-minute cameo? Rather a lot, really.
All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MCHALE: Take that, Olbermann.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening. This is Monday, August 4th, 92 days until the 2008 presidential election.
John McCain may have just had his “left them eat cake” moment. Marie Antoinette never said that. The story was already out when she was a little girl so that the comparison is unfair. It‘s to Marie Antoinette.
But on our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The Republican presidential candidate has devoted his nightly embittered mocking quota to ridiculing a gas-savings suggestion advocated by his Democratic rival, a gas-saving suggestion advocated five weeks ago by a governor John McCain is considering as his running mate, a gas-saving suggestion advocated two years ago by those liberal lunatics at NASCAR, the stock car racing circuit, a gas saving suggestion which President Bush‘s own highway department suggests could save more barrels of oil in one year than new offshore drilling could produce in four.
Keep your engine tuned and your tires properly inflated. This as Senator Obama is declaring in Michigan today that we must end the age of oil in our time. In a new ad, the Obama campaign stating that four more years of an administration tied to big oil would be the wrong choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Every time you fill your tank, the oil companies fill their pockets. Now big oil is filling John McCain‘s campaign with $2 million in contributions because instead of taxing their windfall profits to help drivers, McCain wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks. After one president in the pocket of big oil, we can‘t afford another.
Barack Obama—a windfall profits tax on big oil to give families $1,000 rebate. A president who‘ll stand up for you.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The McCain campaign responding, quote, “Barack Obama‘s latest negative attack ad shows his celebrity is matched only by his hypocrisy.”
Back in Michigan, the presumptive Democratic nominee is pointing out an end to the age of oil in our time will not be accomplished through offshore drilling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We can‘t simply pretend as Senator McCain does, that we can drill our way out of this problem. We need a much bolder and much bigger set of solutions. We have to make a serious, nationwide commitment to developing new sources of energy, and we have to do it right away—right now.
OBAMA: We cannot wait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The rebuttal move from the McCain campaign today, handing out tire gauges to the traveling media corps which read, “Obama‘s energy plan, a stunt meant to mock the Obama suggestion last week that Americans improve their gas mileage by keeping all tires properly fully-inflated,” as if that were the only part of Obama‘s energy plan.
Cue, Senator McCain in Pennsylvania today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Unfortunately, Senator Obama continues to oppose offshore drilling. He continues to oppose the use of nuclear power. These misguided policies would result in higher energy costs to American families and businesses and increased dependence on foreign oil. We‘re not going to achieve energy independence by inflating our tires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Please stop yelling at me, sir.
The McCain campaign is also e-mailing a fundraising pitch offering the tire gauges for a low, low $25 donation. They are available at amazon.com for 89 cents.
Problem number one, checking tire pressure is not the only aspect to Obama‘s energy plan which also includes in no particular order, dipping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, putting at least 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015, and a major commitment to helping the auto industry build new factories or renovate existing ones to retool for the production of those new generation vehicles.
Problem number two, Obama is not the only one to have advised Americans that properly maintained tires increase fuel efficiency. California Governor Schwarzenegger—and let‘s see McCain try to mock him about this—having said in June in a joint appearance with Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist who campaigned with McCain last Friday, that average citizens should keep engines tuned and tires properly inflated as well as driving slower, buying hybrids, and lowering overall consumption.
Governor Schwarzenegger having added that at the end of June, quote, “energy prices are not going back to the good old days.”
Now, who else believes that tire pressure affects the fuel efficiency of the car? NASCAR does. It has advice on its website for two years and counting, that tires be checked “at least once a month and before every road trip,” quoting further, “With escalating fuel prices the time is now for drivers to focus on simple things like proper tire pressure to maximize tire performance and increased fuel economy.
Perhaps Cindy McCain might have picked that up when she toured a garage at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania and got into a NASCAR racer with the president of NASCAR over the weekend.
The Bush administration is also promoting proper tire inflation as a way to save money and cut gasoline use. Quoting from Department of Energy guidelines, “Keep tires properly inflated and aligned to improve your gasoline mileage by around 3.3 percent.”
Time now to bring in our own Jonathan Alter, also, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine and, I think, by the end of the week, he‘ll be able to do the work at “Car and Driver.” Thanks for coming in.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Thanks, Keith. I‘m feeling inflated.
OLBERMANN: I‘m sure.
The gas tax holiday idea has been proven to be a political stunt. It will have no practical impact on anybody except the people who—somehow make money off of it. Checking tire pressure works and McCain‘s campaign is emphatically against this as if it were suggesting that eating more pizza would somehow reduce the price of energy. How exactly does this disconnect resolve itself?
ALTER: This is about stigmatizing Barack Obama, “Jimmy Carterizing” him. Remember when Jimmy Carter wore the cardigan sweater and the Republicans back in the ‘70s said, “Oh, that‘s how he wants to address the energy crisis, have everybody wear a sweater.” They were trivializing what was actually a comprehensive plan in the Carter administration. They would love nothing more than to turn Obama into a Jimmy Carter.
The Republicans are very, very good at this, at taking trivial issues and using them to cut. The Democrats don‘t do it nearly as well. There‘s kind of a smear gap between the parties where, you know, you see McCain and his surrogates—Romney was doing it this morning—they‘re all on message on this tire pressure deal and misrepresenting this as being the centerpiece of Obama‘s energy plan.
You don‘t see the Democrats all on message, say, going after McCain for confusing Shiites and Sunnis or whatever an attack message might be. The Democrats hit hard sometimes but they tend to do it, maybe to their detriment, in a more substantive way.
OLBERMANN: To that point, the Obama energy ad, it does hit McCain and tries to tie him directly to big oil. Is it the right idea or is it not being followed up? Is there no follow-up execution?
ALTER: The follow-up is the key. The problem is, in politics, you can‘t just kind of land a blow and then move on to the next thing. You have to drive your point home. And there‘s an old, you know, saw in politics that if you‘re not hitting, you‘re getting hit. This is a contact sport. And you must, in a general election in particular, where there are real differences between the parties, you‘ve got to be on the offensive every day or you‘re not going to stay competitive.
I think the Obama people recognize this but their messages aren‘t cutting. Somehow, they‘re not breaking through. They‘re using words like windfall profits tax. I think a lot of people think, “Is that about wind energy?”
ALTER: You know, you have to get your advertising message on a plane where the message actually penetrates.
OLBERMANN: What about when it backfires because it seems like the celebrity ad continues to echo and Bob Herbert of the “New York Times” was on this network pointing out something—I don‘t know that anybody noticed before, this morning—that not only in that McCain ad were there two underdressed blondes mixed with the black guy in the ad, but there are also images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Washington monument, and the Victory Column in Berlin, as Bob Herbert put it, “phallic symbols”—three phallic symbols, two blondes and Barack Obama.
So, this is not just a sexist ad anymore, this is what they used against misogynation, isn‘t it? This is what they used against Harold Ford.
ALTER: Well, to suggest that somehow, you know, Obama is going to -
OLBERMANN: He‘s going to wind updating those women. That‘s the idea.
ALTER: Yes. And that‘s the oldest and deepest, you know, racist canard in American history, really, is that, you know, the slave is going to come after the wife of the plantation owner.
I can‘t sort of dissect and decode these ads that way. I just, somehow maybe my media literacy is lacking. I didn‘t read that out of those ads. But I can see how some people would, and the larger issue, I think, is clear—which is they‘re trying to portray him as being uppity. Now, is that racist? I‘m not sure.
OLBERMANN: Well if we‘re playing pass word if you say uppity, the word that comes into my mind, that‘s racist guess (ph), yes.
OLBERMANN: Yes. That is clearly what the larger subtext is. As to the phallic stuff, I‘ll leave that to others.
OLBERMANN: Well, all right, we‘ll just drop it there.
Jon Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—thanks for coming in, Jon.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A disturbing talking point from the Democratic primary translated into a tip from the Republican campaign that might have been put to rest today. New poll results from Harvard University, the “Washington Post”, and the Kaiser Family Foundation, it turns out that Senator Obama‘s working class whites problem might actually be Senator McCain‘s working class whites problem.
Among white low wage workers targeted by both parties as a key to victory in November, Obama is leading in this group, 47 percent to 37 percent -- 10 points. The advantage is partly driven because he is seen as the better candidate on healthcare.
Let‘s turn now to our own Eugene Robinson, also, of course associate columnist and editor for the “Washington Post.”
Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Was the so-called “working class whites” problem ever really a problem for Obama in any place other than Appalachia?
ROBINSON: I don‘t think there is a lot of evidence to support the argument that it was. I mean, it might have been, but I don‘t think we have the evidence to prove that it was. Remember, he was running against Hillary Clinton in those primaries, not against John McCain. And so now that he‘s being measured against John McCain, it turns out that while some of these people—presumably some of the same people we talked to in the recent poll—might have preferred Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama.
They, by a very large margin, say they prefer Barack Obama to John McCain, largely because of his stand on the issues and because they feel—and this is something he was accused of not doing in the beginning, too—they feel he understands them and shares their values and is kind of one of them.
OLBERMANN: And Obama in other polling is doing well with Latino voters, we‘ve seen that with Jewish voters, where is he struggling to build support, any on the areas that were feared during the primaries?
ROBINSON: You know, I don‘t see the specific, huge weakness among one bloc of voters. What I think—now, I do think that Obama—given the fact that Democrats are so far generically ahead of Republicans at this point, despite the fact that Obama is fairly new to the scene and a lot of people don‘t know him and there‘s an introductory period and all of that—
I‘m sure he would want to be, you know, closer to that generic Democratic level and, thus, further ahead in general, overall, further ahead of John McCain.
But I don‘t think it‘s, you know, one group where there‘s a glaring weakness and a golden opportunity for John McCain.
OLBERMANN: Is there any indication—is it in fact just healthcare that‘s the issue that would put McCain 10 points behind what would seemingly be if not his base then his ancillary base?
ROBINSON: Well, healthcare is, as I look at the poll data, I mean, healthcare is one thing that really kind of jumps out at you, the extent to which this is a constant worry that people have—a real factor in their lives—and the extent to which they believe Obama and the Democrats are much, much more likely to reform the healthcare system and make healthcare affordable. So that‘s the one thing that really jumps out.
But, you know, overall, it‘s their concerns about the economy and their concerns about the slipping away of the American dream, which is just kind of pervades—almost every page of this poll, you see these people are just worried that, you know, for the first time in history, their kids won‘t be able to look forward to having a better life than they have.
OLBERMANN: There‘s also another thing and it‘s obviously trivial compared to what you were just talking about, but it takes us back to this lead story of today, the McCain campaign is making fun of having correct tire pressure in your car. If you selected other than NASCAR drivers and Formula One racers, if you selected a demographic group in this country that is fully aware of how much tire pressure matters to whether or not you‘re getting 23 miles a gallon or 25 miles a gallon, it would probably be working class whites with pickup trucks.
I mean, there‘s a certain disconnect between that “I‘m living life where $3 and $4 are two hugely different numbers” as opposed to where you have to get from $3 to $1,000 before somebody like John McCain notices it.
ROBINSON: I mean, you know, it‘s interesting. This is serious business.
ROBINSON: This poll was of people who make less than $27,000 a year. You know, saving 3 percent on your gas costs is a big deal. And so, one wonders if people will begin to kind of lose patience with the kind of burlesque atmosphere of the McCain campaign and making fun of what, you know, what, again, is serious matter for people.
OLBERMANN: To say nothing of the fact the guy is charging $25 for a pressure gauge you can get for 89 cents at the Amoco station. I mean, it‘s just -
ROBINSON: Ain‘t nobody going to pay that.
OLBERMANN: It‘s price gouging, Gene. Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC—as ever, thanks, Gene.
ROBINSON: Good to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: New evidence tonight that the old “straight talk express” is now the “no talk express.” A Florida reporter kicked out of a campaign event for dubious reasons.
The cackling about the link between the inflated tires and saving gas by people who couldn‘t care less if gas costs $4 a gallon or $14 not limited to Mr. McCain, Sean Hannity and comedian Rush Limbaugh do it in Worst Persons.
And, when a man needed to use a public restroom he saw no reason to leave his transportation outside. His transportation was a horse.
OLBERMANN: First, he turned his open town halls into invitation-only politically pure events then his staff tried to micromanage local TV coverage. Now, a Florida reporter has been kicked out of a McCain campaign event under strange circumstances. That journalist joins us next.
Later, the report that within two weeks of the first anthrax attack the Bush administration was beating up the director of the FBI, trying to force him to blame the terrorism on al Qaeda. And some disturbing holes appear in the case against the only dead suspect.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: In the 2000 presidential campaign, John McCain‘s openness to reporters and their access to him underscored the image McCain wanted to advance, a straight-talking, honest maverick—unscripted, unafraid, uninterested in having consultants micromanage his statements.
In our fourth story tonight: What then does that say about McCain today that as one Florida reporter learned firsthand his access and openness are gone? We already saw a menacing librarian banished from “McCainville” for daring to suggest McCain equals Bush. Apparently that‘s an insult.
With McCain now relying on former Bush aides, including some whose work McCain himself used to hold in disdain, Bush tactics have emerged in McCain‘s media handling.
Former Bush communications director, Nicole Wallace, captured on tape last month tried to dictate the camera angle St. Louis stations could use for their interviews with McCain. McCain has also at times closed off his once open town halls, making them Bush-style, invitation-only, confrontation-free.
Add (ph) now, McCain‘s rally in Panama City, Florida last Friday. At the media area outside a member of McCain‘s security detail approached Stephen Price, senior writer for the “Tallahassee Democrat,” that‘s the newspaper‘s name, not a political statement. Price showed his credentials to the event but was asked to leave anyway.
When another reporter asked why, she, too, got kicked out. McCain‘s advance man Jonathan Block later said, “Mr. Price was in the section for national reporters.” Other local reporters, however, were not removed.
“Your reporter was in the wrong place,” Block said to the paper. “I do not know why the other reporters were not moved. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that race had nothing to do with it.”
Let‘s bring in that reporter, Stephen Price, senior writer for the “Tallahassee Democrat” right now.
Mr. Price, thanks for your time tonight.
STEPHEN PRICE, TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT: Sure.
OLBERMANN: The advance man said that you might have been singled out due to the visibility of your I.D., for instance, your paper‘s executive editor said you were the only black reporter in the area. He was implying that race might have been a factor. Do you think that‘s a possibility and could you explain why or why not?
PRICE: Sure. I mean, it was pretty odd that I‘m the only black reporter. All of the other reporters were white. They were local. But I was told because I was not national that I had to be removed. So, I mean, it didn‘t make sense to me. The fact that I‘m black was the only obvious reason.
OLBERMANN: But we asked the McCain campaign staff to try to explain your removal. They didn‘t even bother to reply. Was there any buildup to this? Did somebody just walk up and tap you on the shoulder and say, “Get out”?
PRICE: Right. Well, just about. The only way I was allowed access to this area was by showing my press credentials.
And after that, I was standing in front of McCain‘s bus, and a few minutes later a gentleman in a brown suit came and asked me what I‘m doing here. I showed him my credentials. He says, “Well, this is only for national.” He asked me, “Are you national?” I said, “No, I‘m state.”
And by that time another reporter comes over to me, a Panama City police officer comes to me with his gun, with his hand on his holster, asking me what‘s going on. And this thing starts getting momentum pretty quick. And so I‘m trying to show him my credentials.
The other reporter says, “Well, we‘re all state reporters.” As a matter of fact, we couldn‘t find any other national reporters in the area at the time. And it didn‘t matter to this guy. And so, he said I had to go and the other reporter spoke up, she said, well, she has to go, too. And so we all had to leave.
And my friend, the writer from the “Palm Beach Post” said, “Well, Stephen, you‘re guilty of being a black while reporting.” And even after that, none of the other state reporters were asked to leave.
OLBERMANN: And in this area that was supposedly only for national reporters, there were only local reporters including yourself, there weren‘t any national reporters to begin with?
PRICE: Right, none that I saw. We were all local state, you know, we all cover Florida, we all cover Florida politics.
So, this guy had to know that we all weren‘t national, because the national reporters have their own bus. So he had to be familiar with them. So if he didn‘t recognize me, well, he surely couldn‘t recognize the other reporters there, also. And once that was pointed out to him, he still didn‘t make any charge against any other reporters.
OLBERMANN: Anybody have any grudge against you or complain against you or your work or your paper or anything from the McCain campaign?
PRICE: No, not that I know of. I mean, I did a story that ran on Saturday. I haven‘t heard any complaints from that.
OLBERMANN: It certainly is a different scene than it was eight years ago.
Stephen Price, senior writer from the “Tallahassee Democrat” newspaper. Good luck on the rest of your coverage and great thanks for your time tonight.
OLBERMANN: We are approaching the world record for most segments on two TV shows focused on one clip.
And he and his fellow Republicans were hardly enjoying booing until Stan (ph) suddenly realized that they were booing the veterans of foreign wars.
Worst Persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Best in a moment. So, this guy walks into a public restroom with a horse.
First, on this date 116 years ago, somebody went into the home of the eccentric investor Andrew Borden and with a hatchet killed first his wife and then 45 minutes later when he got home, him. Since there were basically no hallways of the house, the only other two people at home that day in Fall River, Massachusetts, Borden‘s daughter Lizzie and a maid either did it, or saw who did.
Lizzie Borden was arrested for a crime thought inconceivable in a woman of the 19th century, the hands-on gory murder of her father and stepmother. But the jury took just 45 minutes to acquit her and if you like to hurt your brain, read up on this most studied nonpolitical murder in American history and see if you can come up with a solution that fits all the facts.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Porterville, California and a heavenly update. It seems the angel in the carpet store window, who only appears at night when the gas station opposite switches its lights on, has found a new celestial companion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not more than 50 feet from the angel in the window is this. Is this Jesus on the palm tree?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: John, the Baptist in the tarmac and Doubting Thomas of the Wal-Mart are expected any day now.
Also in California, the ongoing clip challenge between myself and Joel McHale, host of E‘s “The Soup.” Last week on COUNTDOWN, we showed a clip of me appearing on his show and threw down the gauntlet. Mr. McHale has picked it up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCHALE: Every now and then, the world of politics and pop culture find themselves intertwined and I‘m not referring to Bill Clinton and Gina Gershon. I‘m referring to a legitimate news man challenging a clip show host‘s ability in what has truly become the basic cable equivalent of the Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel.
OLBERMANN: This show‘s as rigged as the 2000 presidential election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The soup is, of course, made up of clips of other TV shows. So now it‘s up to Mr. McHale and his executive producer, KP Anderson, to figure out how to run a clip of our show running a clip of their show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCHALE: Take that, Olbermann. Now I challenge you to do a special comment about my comment on the clip show from your show commenting on the clip from my show. My brain hurts. I think it‘s an aneurysm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And now tonight‘s special comment. Your turn, bub. The source story in a major newspaper today; the president beat up the FBI director to blame the 2001 anthrax attacks on al Qaeda or somebody in the Middle East. And Brett Favre is here. Brett Favre isn‘t here. Brett Favre is here? These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.
Number three, best timing, Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post,” who notified us today that after four years of appearing with us, he had accepted another television offer, to save your crack COUNTDOWN staff an increasingly difficult decision. For nearly a week, we had been waiting for him to offer a correction or an explanation for his column from last week in which he apparently reported an Obama quote without the full context that turned the meaning of the quote inside out. Then he called criticisms of column whines, even though the dispute was over whether Obama had said the self-deprecating, it has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It‘s about America. I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions,” or if he said only the part about I have just become a symbol.
We had decided not to have Dana on this news hour again until this was cleared up. And sadly, after some very happy years, he has apparently chosen to make the cloud permanent. Good luck, Dana.
Number two, best dumb criminal, Kimberly Jo Kirby of Baraya (ph), Kentucky. Police say she tried to steal a purse from a J.C. Penney. When confronted she fled. One small problem, inside the shoplifted purse, she had already placed her own wallet, and later called up the store to ask if it had turned up.
And number one, best guy walks into a public restroom with a horse story. In Caufgun (ph), in Bavaria in Germany on Saturday night, a guy walks into a public restroom with a horse. The horse was not crazy about going into the restroom. The horse promptly kicked down the entryway, causing two grand in damages. The guy wanted to go in with his horse but the horse had other ideas, said the police officer, Oliver Clink. I know nothing, said Clink‘s assistant, officer Schultz.
OK, I got two on this one. Blank you and the horse you rode into the bathroom on, or I‘ve heard about the gag about I gotta go see a man about a horse but this is ridiculous.
OLBERMANN: The government may be able this week to close its investigation of the 2001 anthrax terror, how wonderfully convenient. A fleshed out case characterized as circumstantial by a thorough journalistic assessment and the lone mad scientist cannot answer any of it because he‘s dead. Case closed. However, in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, it may not remove that word circumstantial, and won‘t even address the troubling collateral issue, how the Bush administration reportedly pushed FBI director Robert Mueller to prove this narrative, that the 2001 attacks were in fact a second wave terror effort by al Qaeda or by somebody from the Middle East.
In the direct aftermath of those attacks in October, 2001, during President Bush‘s morning intelligence briefings, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller was, quote unquote, beaten up for not producing proof that the anthrax spores were the work of Osama bin Laden. This according to an unnamed former aide to Mueller, a now retired senior FBI official speaking to the “New York Daily News;” “they really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” the official said.
But even then, the FBI already knew that the anthrax sent to media outlets, including NBC News and the offices of two U.S. senators, was a military strain, according to this source; “very quickly, Fort Detrick, Maryland experts told us this was not something some guy in a cave could have come up with. They couldn‘t go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.”
As for the evidence now compiled nearly seven years later against the late Dr. Bruce Ivins, it is largely circumstantial. And a Grand Jury in Washington was planning to hear several more weeks of it before issuing any indictments, according go the “New York Times,” citing an unnamed source briefed on the investigation. Sophisticated DNA testing reportedly linked the victims to particular cultures or strains of anthrax for which Dr. Ivins was personally responsible.
However, dozens of other researchers would have had access to those same strains. The primary evidence of Dr. Ivins‘ mental instability from a therapist who successfully sought a restraining order against him raises a number of questions as well. Let‘s turn now to investigative journalist and author of “Why America Slept, The Failure to Prevent 9/11,” Gerald Posner, who has long been following the anthrax story. He joined us last Friday and joins us again tonight with our great thanks to you, sir.
GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, “WHY AMERICA SLEPT”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This is our conspiracy nightmare come to full fruit. The FBI source says the White House pressured them to blame it on al Qaeda or somebody in the Middle East. Would there also have been other FBI sources who would have folded under that pressure? How much did the FBI actually drag its collective feet, revealing what they had to have already known about where that anthrax came from?
POSNER: Oh, no question that there were sources and officials inside the FBI that would have caved to pressure from the White House. Look, I‘ve been a critic of the FBI for years, from the time they did the Muir investigation and the Oklahoma bombings and other investigations that they‘ve bungled. They are very, very sensitive to pressure coming in from the White House.
Remember, put yourself back in the time. Keith, this is October, two weeks after the biggest attack on American soil ever. Largest loss of death from a terror attacks. They are under tremendous pressure. Everybody is worried about the next shoe dropping. Is there going to be another terror strike coming up? Anthrax is out there. And you‘ve got the president of the United States saying, I want this tied to al Qaeda. There is little doubt that this pushed some people either down the wrong investigative path—it slowed up the real path from being found, who was responsible for it, and they did know, as you said a moment ago, that this was weapons-grade anthrax. They had not gone, the hijackers, from box cutters to weapons-grade anthrax that fast.
But nobody, including Mueller, had the guts to stand up to the president and say, this is just wrong.
OLBERMANN: From the “New York Daily News” story to the “New York Times” story that the evidence against this late Dr. Ivins is circumstantial at best. There is nobody easier to convict than a dead man. Are you sold on the idea that he was involved? Are you sold on the idea of the lone mad scientist theory?
POSNER: I‘m certainly not sold on the theory of the lone mad scientist. I‘m not even sold right now on the fact he was involved. I‘ll tell you why. All we are hearing is one side of the evidence. We‘re getting it leaked out, as it always is by the government, bit by bit about what happened. And as you said, it‘s absolutely at best a circumstantial case.
The big thing they‘re hanging their hat on right now is the fact that they have a new DNA type of evidence for bacteria that can isolate this form of anthrax back to a flask that was in the laboratory that he handled, as did at least ten other people and possibly dozens. They have them in New Jersey, supposedly, a time when mail was sent out with anthrax spores from places in Princeton. And they have him holding a P.O. Box at a postal office inside of Frederick, Maryland, where some of the envelopes were bought they think they can trace back to this.
It‘s a case where any good defense attorney, a Mark Geragos, an F. Lee Bailey in his heyday a Roy Black, they would relish this type of case. They could knock it out of the ballpark. I have to say one thing, we cannot allow—I really believe this, on a case this important on the anthrax investigation, for a rush to judgment in a matter in which the prime suspect is dead of an apparent suicide.
OLBERMANN: And the key witness against that prime suspect now seems to be the therapist who filed the restraining order against him, Dr. Ivins, Miss Dooley (ph). To put it kindly, her story doesn‘t seem to be particularly air tight. Among other things, she misspelled her own job title, therapist, in the paperwork. And this timeline is all screwy.
Let‘s look at this graphically. She says Ivins was committed July 10th, signed himself out of the hospital on July 16th. Her restraining order was filed on July 24th. How does a biological weapons expert with fantasies supposedly of mass murder get to sign himself out of a psychiatric facility, and what‘s the deal with this woman?
POSNER: Well, I tell you, the more I look into this, the more questions I have about her. You‘re right, she did spell therapist wrong on the application for a restraining order. She represented herself. But she did spell subpoena right, although she got the tense wrong. I must tell you something, go on—I suggest to any people watching tonight, go on, Maryland has a great public records file on the Internet. You can go on there and put in her name. You can find out that she has a somewhat unusual past. In ‘92, she was charged with her husband for battery on her husband. It was a civil complaint. She was picked up with drug paraphernalia at one point. She had a bankruptcy in ‘99.
She is a counselor. She is not a psychiatrist. She is not a psychologist. She‘s a social worker, but really she is a counselor in a group setting for drug problems. But had DUIs herself in 2006 and 2007. You have a bio-weapons expert who was seeking help because evidently he has homicidal rage, going to a group setting for drug counseling at the same time, and you have her saying that on July 9th he‘s making threats that are homicidal against her. On the 10th, he‘s committed. On the 16th, he checks himself out. We don‘t know how.
And what‘s remarkable about it is she doesn‘t go for a restraining order for another eight days, even though supposedly a bioweapons expert with homicidal threats is out there. She doesn‘t go to the police, the FBI, or even for a restraining order for eight days. It raises more questions than it gives me answers.
OLBERMANN: Here we go down another series of rabbit holes, I think. Investigator journalist Gerald Posner, thanks once again on this. I have a feeling we‘re going to be talking about it again. Thank you, sir.
POSNER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A story nearly as long and drawn out and convoluted as the last one, different kind of topic. Brett Favre is now eligible to retire all over again. Here‘s a shock, a comedian who makes 38 million dollars a year and couldn‘t care, couldn‘t tell you how much gas cost if it wasn‘t in the news, does not know the elemental truth. Check your tires and you will save four times as much oil as new offshore drilling could bring in. Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s like the dead king‘s ghost coming back to life in the middle of “Hamlet” and saying, I‘ll take it from here, son. The most popular player in football unretires, and why the team welcoming back him back today tried to get him to un-unretire. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world, our number two story.
The bronze to an Israeli couple turning their family vacation to Paris into a remake of “Home Alone.” They boarded a charter yesterday with their duty free purchases and their 18 pieces of luggage and all four of their children in tow—five—five children. They forgot the girl. Brought the four boys, forgot the three-year-old daughter. Officials found her wandering around Ben Gurion airport and a nice lady escorted her to Paris on the next flight and reunited them her with the Mcallister (ph).
The silver to House Republicans grandstanding for more offshore drilling, trying to tag an amendment about it to another bill. The chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs promptly said, quote, we believe attaching non-germane amendments to this critical veterans bill could jeopardize its passage by unnecessarily delaying it or even grinding debate completely to a halt. That is unacceptable.
The Republicans promptly, proudly booed. That‘s when Representative Edwards added, those aren‘t my words. Those are the words of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The GOP booed the VFW.
But our winners, Sean Hannity and comedian Rush Limbaugh, reading off the same set of Republican talking points, each derided Obama‘s mention of engine retuning and proper tire inflation as ways to cut down gas consumption; “you know what we need,” said Hannity, “we need a Department of Tire Inflation. If we could just have a government program designed so that every American could have their tires checked on a regular basis, I‘ll tell you, I think we probably would be doing a lot better.”
Good idea. We can just repurpose the current Department of Sean Hannity‘s Ego Inflation. Meanwhile, comedian said “this is ridiculous. This is a presidential candidate, and he‘s talking about keeping your tires inflated and getting regular tune ups and that would save as much oil as drilling would produce. This guy‘s the Democrat presidential nominee? Who has filled his head with this stuff?”
Well, probably Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist and California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Bush administration‘s Highway Department and Nascar. They all filled his head with that stuff, the fact that if every American car was tuned up and the tires properly inflated we would save 292 million barrels of gas a year.
Also of note, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have about as much personal concern about the price of a gallon of gas as I do, except I don‘t drive. Now Rush, answer us this question: who has filled your head with that stuff?
Sean Hannity and comedian Rush Limbaugh, today‘s worst persons in the world!
OLBERMANN: In the good business boardroom, somebody finally stands up and says, this is crazy or the emperor has no clothes. In the bad business boardroom, nobody says either and you get the Ford Edsel, New Coke and the war in Iraq. The Green Bay Packers, on the verge of paying an additional 20 million dollars for the privilege of not being talked out of the football equivalent of a war in which the troops were driving Edsels and armed with only New Coke, have just spun out of the skid.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Brett Favre as a Green Bay Packer quarterback again. The most popular player in the NFL coming off his second or third best season in the NFL, having been maybe one bad pass away from reaching the Super Bowl last February, tearfully called it quits in March, retired, and then slowly, painfully changed his mind.
The Packers responded to this by sticking their fingers in their ears and stamping their feet and talking about Iraq, hiring no less than a public relations expert and consultant Ari Fleischer. They said his backup, Aaron Rogers, was their starting quarterback now and they‘ve moved on. That was it. They threatened to allow Favre to return to the team, but not use him in training camp, then release him as the season began, destroying his value to any other team. They threatened to trade him to another team for which he did not want to play. Finally, they offered him 20 million dollars to go away, to join the club in a non-playing capacity and stay retired.
That‘s when, apparently, somebody in management stood up and said, this is nuts. This afternoon, Favre was officially restored to the Packers roster. So this memorable, blueberry retirement speech is hereby kicked out of the news conference hall of fame.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET FAVRE, NFL QUARTERBACK: I hope that every—I hope that every penny that they‘ve spent on me they know was money well spent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: By day, Jim Vandehei is the executive editor of Politico.com. The rest of the time he is a Cheese-Head and the newest blogger on PackerGeeks.com. Jim, good evening. May the Vince Lombardi be with you.
JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: A pleasure to be here. I can finally be opinionated.
OLBERMANN: Before what led up to this, what‘s next? He has to win his starting job back now against Aaron Rogers, the Aaron Rogers?
VANDEHEI: It‘s a done deal. It looks like they‘ll announce tonight that he‘s going to get a chance to have open competition to get the starting job. He‘ll mop up the floor with Aaron Rogers and probably by week two of preseason, he will be the starting quarterback, which he should be. This is football not church. We don‘t want the most moral or the most consistent person. We want the person who can win football games.
He obviously can do it. He had an amazing season which you outlined a little while ago last year and we can anticipate that he would probably do the same thing this year. So I think he‘ll win the competition easily.
OLBERMANN: So review this, probably the most popular player in football at the moment coming off one of his greatest seasons, certainly the one in which he finally got what not to do, don‘t throw dangerous passes when they‘re not necessary; why were the Packers so hell bent to force him to stay retired?
VANDEHEI: Because Favre is a self-indulgent drama queen. He‘s done this every season. He couldn‘t make up his mind on whether to retire or not to retire. He put them through all of this sort of pain internally. They moved on, went to a new system, got some different quarterbacks in. With all that said, who cares? He gives you a better chance to win football games, so I think smarter heads have prevailed. Certainly the coaches and I think the veteran players are thinking Brett Favre, Aaron Rogers, this is nuts. Give us Brett Favre. I think they‘ll get Brett Favre. And hopefully two or three weeks from now, we‘re not talking about any of this, and all Packer fans will be happy and smiling and talking about winning football games and eating brats.
OLBERMANN: Do we know which cooler heads prevailed? I‘ve known Mark Murphy, their new president for 30 years. I knew him in college. I knew him when he played for the Redskins. He is a very smart guy. Do you think he‘s the guy who woke up and said what are we doing.
VANDEHEI: He probably had to be the guy who brokered it. Ted Thompson is the GM of the Packers, and clearly has a personal issue with Favre. The two of them seem to hate each other. I think it‘s really complicated their relationship and Favre‘s relationship with the Packers. So Murphy and probably McCarthy, the coach of the Packers, said listen, we got to look at who can give us the best chance to win. Favre has got a gun against our head. He is coming back. He only wants to play with us or the Vikings. That‘s the reason Packer fans are so upset right now, is that is Favre has publicly talked about going to the Vikings. That‘s like you talking going to Fox News and being O‘Reilly‘s side kick. You can‘t do that in Green Bay.
OLBERMANN: I need a shower. How many other teams would have welcomed him? You mentioned the Vikings, how many other teams do you think would have welcomed him? And did anybody in the NFL ever dream of saying, hey, you know, if the Packers don‘t want him, let‘s do this, the thing they did with Red Grange 80 years ago. We‘ll give him his own expansion team in L.A. or something.
VANDEHEI: I don‘t get it. The only teams that talked about wanting him or at least had any indication that anyone had were Tampa Bay and a couple other teams. And the truth is every year I make a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field with my brother, my buddy Denny and Dale. And it‘s going to be a heck of a lot more gratifying with Brett Favre as quarterback. I would think that virtually every fan in every city would say the same thing.
OLBERMANN: What was the—there were attempts to rally support for him among Packers fans, which constituted—a Packer fan is like 9/10 of the citizenship of Green Bay, Wisconsin and the environs. Why were those public events so poorly attended? Do you have any guess on that?
VANDEHEI: I think Packer fans were totally divided on this. People were really sick and tired of Favre‘s drama. It wasn‘t just this season. It‘s been the last three or four seasons, where he can‘t make up his mind. There‘s no doubt that, yes, Favre loves football and he is one of the most fantastic players to watch in our lifetime, but it really is about Brett Favre. And people sort of get fed up with it. They‘re intrigued by the idea of we‘re going to move on; we have this Aaron Rogers we‘ve invested money and time in, and let‘s see him play.
There are certainly divisions. There are divisions inside my own family about whether Favre should come back and be the starting quarterback. There‘s no doubt, if they‘re winning football games in the season, this will be long forgotten and we‘ll all be happy.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the MVP trophies have his name on them. I believe, and you can correct me, maybe you know more about this than I do, I‘m only on the football show, the Super Bowl Trophy says Green Bay Packers, right?
VANDEHEI: Absolutely. Lombardi Trophy, and it‘s Brett Favre. I mean, the guy, in my lifetime, a little younger than you—in my lifetime, you‘ve got Favre and you‘ve got Jordan. They are two must sees in sports. And there is no doubt we‘d like to have him for a couple more years.
OLBERMANN: Jim Vandehei, executive editor of Politico.com, guest blogger at PackerGeeks.com, and as you can see, a very happy guy tonight. Thanks, Jim.
VANDEHEI: Have a good night.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,923rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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