Guest: Andrea Mitchell, Chris Kofinis, Eugene Robinson, Nate Silver, Christian Finnegan
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
John Edwards admits an affair with a filmmaker, insists he is not the father of her child, a crisis for the family, an average scandal as far as politics goes, except—Edwards lied about it while running for president, except Edwards made his wife a principal in his campaign, except Edwards was a prospect for service in a Democratic cabinet.
The reaction: Chris Kofinis, communications director for the Edwards‘ campaign joins us.
Shocked as is his former boss, campaign manager, David Bonior. “Thousands of friends of the senator and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he‘s let them down,” he says. “They‘ve been betrayed by his action.”
Senator Obama starts a one-week vacation. Substituting for him on the campaign trail tonight, Senator Clinton?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: I hope those of you who supported me will work as hard and fight as hard for Senator Obama as you did for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, won‘t McCain soon put out an attack ad against her? The two-time celebrity guest host of “Saturday Night Live,” veteran of celebrity cameos in “Wedding Crashers,” and on “24,” goes back to the celebrity well against Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Life in the spotlight must be grand. But for the rest of us, times are tough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The forger, the fabricated letter linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 plotter Mohammed Atta, as reported in Ron Suskind‘s new book, confirmed by the unlikeliest of sources, “The American Conservative” magazine.
538.com. The hottest political analysis of the moment, he does his thing based on statistical insight he helped to pioneer at a Web site devoted to baseball. Nate Silver joins us.
And, it (ph) speaks. The vice president will address the
Republican convention. What on earth should he say? One suggestion, stick with what works.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES: Mo used to host a TV show called “Things I hate about you.” I‘m sure I‘ve seen that program. Only I believe it‘s now called COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like that man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening. This is Friday, August 8th, 88 days until the 2008 presidential election. An election campaign that had John Edwards succeeded in gaining the Democratic nomination might tonight have been turned into utter chaos by his greatest self-inflicted political wound as could be imagined.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The former senator who suspended his bid for the White House just five months and four days ago, admitting today he had conducted an extramarital relationship that he claims ended before he announced his candidacy, but insisting he didn‘t fathered the woman‘s child. What has, tonight, ended for John Edwards, according to an unrecorded telephone interview with CBS News, he says, he has no plans to attend the upcoming Democratic convention, what may yet end, his prospects of serving at a Democratic administration and his image and his credibility.
What appears not to have ended, his marriage. Edwards is insisting tonight to CBS that his wife had forgiven him. Elizabeth Edwards in the same conversation saying, “This is really, really tough,” and described by Bob Schieffer of CBS as being, quote, “in tears.”
It was in an interview with ABC News that Edwards confirmed a long-running story in the “National Enquirer,” that he had, in fact, had an affair in 2006 with a now 44-year-old woman, Rielle Hunter, who produced a series of four online documentaries for his political action committee prior to his presidential run.
Edwards told ABC, however, that he is not the father of the girl which Hunter had on February 27th of this year, despite the absence of a father‘s name on the child‘s birth certificate, transforming this from private pain to public scandal. Edwards‘ public denials and public lies first in October of 2007 after his campaign had begun, and the day after the first report of this. Most recently just two weeks ago, an untold more times, including through credulous staffers and allies throughout the campaign.
“It is inadequate,” he said in a statement released today, “to say to the people who believed in me that I am sorry, as it is inadequate to say to the people who love me that I am sorry. In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.
If you want it beat me up, feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare and will now work with everything I have to help my family and others who need my help.”
Let‘s turn now to Andrea Mitchell of NBC News and MSNBC, who has been reporting this story throughout the day.
Andrea, good evening.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Walk us back a few steps. What do we know about the chronology of this relationship itself?
MITCHELL: Well, what we do know is that it started, by his own admission, in 2006 and that he did take Rielle Hunter with him to document a trip to Uganda in October of 2006. We have videos from that trip.
It was an humanitarian mission but we have shots of them together on the plane in Africa where they didn‘t seem to be deeply terribly involved in the humanitarian work and, in fact, afterwards, Rielle Hunter was eagerly on camera saying that what she loved learning about on this is how adventurous he was and that he was willing to try new things. This, on the very day that Elizabeth Edwards was on the Charlie Rose show talking about her book—her book, her memoir and about her trials with breast cancer, about the death of their teenage son, Wade. So, the combination of these factors certainly makes this a compelling narrative.
But what makes it a public story, Keith, is that after October, in December, he decided to run for president. He says that he told his wife in 2006. But on December 28th, right before the end of that year, the Edwardses decided to make this run for office.
And then in March, of course, the dreadful news that her cancer had recurred, which would obviously had given them an opportunity to drop out of the race if they had any second thoughts. But they decided to make that race together as a family. They went on the road together with their young children, home schooled the children, and made their family life very much a part of their campaign story—Keith.
OLBERMANN: In political terms, Andrea, Edwards still had a very loyal white working-class base in the south and a huge base among what could be described as those of a populous persuasion throughout the country. At one point, one would think this was like a week ago, he would have been in a shoo-in for a prominent spot at the convention, possibly in an Obama cabinet if it comes to that, the Attorney General‘s Office had been repeatedly mentioned with his name connected to it.
Can you do some seismology here on the upheavals politically that this admission today creates?
MITCHELL: Well, it‘s enormous, because he did lie about it while he was running for office. So, that becomes an issue of public hypocrisy of character, and once this became public through the “National Enquirer” many months ago, almost a year ago, he so strongly denied it, but that certainly raised some flags.
But remember, only last spring, how much sought after his endorsement was by the Obama and Clinton camps. They really did want his supporters to go, you know, to join them. And so, he was very much a sought-after endorsement. And remember, when he did endorse Barack Obama in Michigan, what a big deal it seemed to be at the time.
I think this does mean that, certainly, in the near term, his public career is over. He does need to do whatever healing he does with his family. That being said, not only can‘t he appear at the convention but his wife can‘t. And she has her own role as a public health advocate, an advocate for breast cancer victims. That is truly part of this tragedy.
OLBERMANN: And you bring up Elizabeth again. She has just released a statement via the Web site, the DailyKos. Let me read a little bit of it and get your reaction. It‘s a lengthy statement.
Some of the operative parts, “Although John believes he should stand alone and take the consequences of his action now, when the door closes behind him, he has his family waiting for him.
John made a terrible mistake in 2006. The fact that it is a mistake that many others had made before him did not make it any easier for me to hear when he told me what he had done. But he did tell me and we began a long and painful process in 2006, a process oddly made somewhat easier with my diagnosis in March of 2007. This was our private matter and I frankly wanted it to be private because as painful as it was, I did not want to have to play it out on a public stage, as well.”
Give on the political savvy of these two people, how did they think that was going to be possible?
MITCHELL: I don‘t know. And, frankly, Fred Baron, who is the former finance chairman for John Edwards, has now acknowledged to us that he did make private payments previously undisclosed that he says Edwards was not aware of. Baron says that these were payments made both to the self-proclaimed father of the child, Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide, and to this woman, Rielle Hunter.
The birth certificate, as you pointed out earlier, has no name on it, but this man has claimed paternity. Edwards has said that he will take any test needed, that he would like to take a test to prove he is not the father, as was alleged by the “National Enquirer.” But the fact is, that money was paid, Mr. Baron has told NBC News that this was not hush money—but money was paid to these two people and we don‘t know the amount. There was other money paid—he said it was private money—there was other money paid, of course, to her, at least $100,000 from Edwards‘ political action committee.
OLBERMANN: Andrea Mitchell in our Washington bureau, who‘s been following this story which continues to evolved, based on Elizabeth Edwards‘ statement tonight on the Web—thank you very much.
MITCHELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: One astounding piece of trivia to insert here. The straw that finally broke the back of secrecy here apparently came, when Senator Edwards went to meet with Ms. Hunter at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California on the night of Monday, July 21st.
That hotel may have been a poor venue to choose. It was at that time playing host to the Television Critics Association press tour staying there or spending great stretches of time there over the course of about two weeks. The executives, newscasters, sportscasters, actors, and producers from all the major TV networks, plus, literally dozens of writers from all the major newspapers, plus 20 or more camera crews from all of the entertainment and celebrity gossip TV shows.
As I mentioned earlier, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis served the John Edwards campaign as communications director. On the phone today, he told one of our producers that this issue did come up internally during the campaign and that the Edwards staff was told that the stories were untrue.
The story first broke 3 ½ months before John Edwards dropped out. During those 3 ½ months, Kofinis and fellow Edwards campaigners put their reputations on the line depending what turned out to be a lie.
Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the campaign joins us tonight. Chris, thanks for joining the show (ph). Good evening to you.
CHRIS KOFINIS, FMR. EDWARDS CAMPAIGN COMM. DIR.: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tell us of what you can of what happened internally. Was October 2007 the first hint that anything like this was going on or might have been going on?
KOFINIS: It was when the “National Enquirer” story first broke and it was made very close to us that this was false, the allegations were completely unsubstantiated and not true, and we did and I did and others in the campaign did what a good staff does. We went out there and defended Senator Edwards passionately and vigorously and to the last. I mean, that‘s what you do when you work for a candidate.
And, you know, clearly, when the news broke today, this afternoon, to say it was devastating, disappointing, I think if you put it lightly. You know, I can only imagine the heartbreak a lot of staff and supporters feel. It‘s a difficult thing, but, you know, campaigns are filled with really passionate people who fight for the candidate and fight for the cause. And this was no different.
But, you know, at the end of the day, you know, he‘s a human being. He made a terrible mistake, and, you know, I have an incredible amount of sympathy for him and for Elizabeth and his family dealing with what, you know, is, to put it lightly, is a very difficult time.
OLBERMANN: The senator, his statement today was described basically how he denied this story and rationalized denying it to himself because the stories, as reported, he said were full, each time there were some major factual errors in there that he knew were not true. So, he could deny the story, even though the basic of the thing, at the heart of it, was true.
Were you and other staffers given any way to qualify your language or were you, you know, all out there giving these wholehearted unqualified denials?
KOFINIS: There is no qualification. We went out there and wholeheartedly defended him. And, you know, a lot of the folks that I worked with and, you know, that we spoke to reporters when the story first broke, and we made it very clear that this wasn‘t true and these were false, outrageous allegations.
Unfortunately, as we now know, it is true. And, you know, it‘s a difficult thing to deal with, you know—again, your campaigns are filled with really passionate people who spend a lot of time and sacrifice a lot to fight the cause and fight for the candidate—and it‘s unfortunate, you know, this is now true because it‘s difficult, to be honest, to deal with.
OLBERMANN: Well, Edwards says that he told Elizabeth in 2006 about this. She says this now in this statement to the DailyKos, one other line from this that I‘d like to read.
“I ask that the public,” she writes, “who express concern about the harm John‘s conduct has done to us, think also about the real harm that the present voyeurism does and give me and my family the privacy we need at this time.”
Did she—was there any kind of hint at any point during this that she had some idea or she was giving the indication that something was wrong? Was there any—in retrospect—any kind of sign of this?
KOFINIS: Not that I know of. And to be honest, you know, and to be frank, you know, with respect to what Elizabeth just said, I mean, I think she‘s got a good point. I mean, my thoughts and prayers go out to her. She‘s dealing with already an enormous challenge with cancer and that‘s difficult to say the least. And, you know, and her family and the senator are going through an incredibly difficult, public and private issue, that is now explode on the press, for right or wrong. I understand why.
But this is clearly something that they‘re going to have to deal with. And, I think, you know, the one thing that all of us can do is send them our thoughts and prayers, and that, hopefully, they‘ll get through this as best they can.
OLBERMANN: Well, on a personal level, I don‘t know if there is any other response to have to that. But I have to ask you something just professionally, just stepping back from this. Your affection for them, my affection for them aside, what made this obviously intelligent man can you say—what made he and his more intelligent wife think that they could hide this from a 24/7 news cycle at the most vituperative time in our political history since the Civil War?
What made them willing to risk the nightmare scenario I outlined earlier—if he had won the primaries and the events that have unfolded as they have—tonight, we would be engulfed in probably the greatest scandal ever to hit a presidential nominee 20 days before the actual nomination and 88 until the election?
KOFINIS: You know, I don‘t know. It‘s a question I‘ve asked myself a few times over these last few hours which have been a whirlwind, to say the least. I don‘t know what he was thinking. I don‘t know how they thought anyone could, in effect, hide this. It wasn‘t—and you can‘t.
But the end of the day, you know, the important thing, I think, here to keep in mind is, he‘s a human being, he made a terrible mistake, he‘s paying a price for it, and hopefully, you know, we can all kind of get past this and give them our thoughts and prayers and hopefully and, you know, they can recover from this and be as well as they can be.
OLBERMANN: Chris Kofinis, former communications director for the Edwards campaign—we appreciate your time and willingness to talk about this on this, obviously, difficult day.
KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
I‘m sorry, Senator Obama is on vacation right now, can‘t come to the campaign right now, but Senator Clinton can make that speech for you.
And as my old friend, Nick Bakay used to say on ESPN, “The numbers never lie.” Well, one of the men on the cutting edge of baseball statistical forecasting has now applied his science to the Electoral College and why he sees a 55-point margin of victory for -
OLBERMANN: The remarkable image. Senator Clinton is trying to convert Clinton supporters into Obama supporters.
Senator McCain makes a strange promise about getting elected president and then calling Congress back into session to vote now, in August on offshore drilling. Apparently, he‘s capable of time travel.
And in Bushed, the most unexpected confirmation imaginable for Ron Suskind‘s report that the White House ordered a document forged linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The confirmation is from a leading conservative magazine. That‘s next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Amid the wrangling over whether her name should be included on the Democratic nominee role call, amid threats of protest from her most ardent supporters at the convention, amid her husband‘s apparent reluctance to concede that her former opponent is ready to lead—our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Clinton took to the campaign trail in her first solo appearance on the stump for Senator Obama.
While the presumptive Democratic nominee headed to Hawaii for a week-long vacation, Senator Clinton headed to Henderson, Nevada, a state she won in the primary to try and persuade her former supporters to switch allegiance fully, emphasizing the importance of not putting another Republican in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: Senator McCain and President Bush are like two sides of the same coin and it doesn‘t amount to a whole lot of change.
We simply cannot afford four more years of the same. Anyone who voted for me, or caucused for me, has so much more.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
CLINTON: . has so much more in common with Senator Obama than with Senator McCain. I hope those of you who supported me will work as hard and fight as hard for Senator Obama as you did for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator McCain is trying to rally support behind his offshore oil drilling distraction to the energy crisis with campaign stops in Iowa and Arkansas—once again, throwing his support behind the Republican stuntmen currently ensconced in an empty Congress, who are pushing for a vote on more offshore drilling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And when I‘m president, I will call the Congress back into session. They left town for a five-week vacation. They should return and return immediately. I‘ll be glad to go back to Washington to vote, to solve this energy crisis and Americans want action, they don‘t want Congress to take vacations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This from a man who has so far taken a four-month long vacation from Congress. His campaign today is releasing a new ad attacking Senator Obama‘s tax plan, aptly and without irony, it‘s entitled “Painful.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: Life in the spotlight must be grand. But for the rest of us, times are tough. Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000. He promises more taxes on small business, seniors, your life savings, your family. Painful taxes, hard choices for your budget, not ready to lead—that‘s the real Obama.
MCCAIN: I‘m John McCain and I approve this message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Obama campaign is calling that ad a, quote, “lie,” pointing out that “even though a host of independent, nonpartisan organizations have said this attack isn‘t true. Senator McCain continues to lie about Senator Obama‘s plan to give 95 percent of all families a tax cut of $1,000, and not raise taxes for those making under $250,000 a single dime.”
As to the accusation that Obama voted to tax people making $42,000 a year when, in fact, he only voted on non-binding resolutions to let the Bush tax cuts expire, Senator McCain is not only refusing to acknowledge the error but repeating it, too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: He did vote on this issue. And the clear intent of that vote and the clear, what it was about, whether we should tax people who are making $42,000 a year or not—and he voted to do it. I mean, again, records are records.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining us now, our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist with the “Washington Post.” Gene, thanks for your time tonight.
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Good to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton in Nevada in her first solo stumping for Obama. Did she advance the merits of his candidacy or did it sound more like she was asking her supporters to vote for the lesser of two evils or does that really matter?
ROBINSON: I don‘t think that matters. In fact, I think the line that she took, which is basically—you really don‘t want to vote for John McCain. You know, John McCain is trouble. John McCain is problematic. You know, that line attacking John McCain is what a lot of Democrats have been saying the Obama campaign needs to do more of.
And, you know, maybe, who knows, maybe she‘ll put out a response ad to that, you know, life must be easy for Obama. Maybe, she‘ll put out a response that points out that John and Cindy McCain are worth a gazillion dollars and life is a bit easier for them than it is for the Obamas.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of responses to McCain, is this the story of the day, did we miss the headline here? The response to that ad from the Obama campaign reads, “Senator McCain continues to lie about Senator Obama‘s plan.” I don‘t—is that the first time they used the word lie?
ROBINSON: First time they‘ve used it that prominently, certainly. And it‘d be interesting to see that word featured prominently, you know, in an ad that explains why they contend it‘s a lie. I mean, you know, the McCain folks are using very tough language and I think you have to be—the Obama folks probably want to use tough language back if they want to respond.
OLBERMANN: And speaking of tough language, Josh Green in the “The Atlantic Monthly” has apparently gotten hands on hundreds of campaign memos during Senator Clinton‘s primary effort. How is this going to be impacting? I mean, could there be previously unheard, possibly damaging material about Obama in there, is going to bounce back on the Clintons, or do we have no idea at this point?
ROBINSON: We have absolutely no idea. It could—you know, it will be a trip down memory lane, I guess, and maybe we‘ll be, you know, we‘ll look at this memo was written when this was happening in the campaign and we‘ll get some insight into what they were feeling at various junctures in the primary campaign.
You know, unless there is some sort of bombshell working in there, I can‘t imagine, you know, having thrown the “kitchen sink” at Obama during those late primaries, I can‘t imagine that there‘s anything left that didn‘t get tossed.
OLBERMANN: Last point here. This is to quote something that we heard McCain say earlier. “When I am president, I will call the Congress back into session.”
I‘m very confused about this. Does he think he takes office like in September or something or he can go back in time to call them back? I mean, they‘re on recess until January. He won‘t be president—by the time he‘s president, if he‘s president, they‘ll already be back. I‘m very confused here temporarily here. The back of my head hurts.
ROBINSON: Well, my head hurts, too. I think it means that wherever they are, when he‘s president, he‘s going to call them back. They might be out of session. They might be—he‘s still going to call them back. That‘s the only way it makes sense.
OLBERMANN: You mean if they‘re in the House and the Senate, he‘ll call them back and tell them to go back into the House and Senate.
ROBINSON: Exactly. Maybe he‘ll send them out and then call them back.
OLBERMANN: That‘s very nice. It would be (ph) game of musical chairs and when they get back, it would be one less seat for all of them.
Gene Robinson of MSNBC and the “Washington Post”—thank you, sir.
Have a good weekend.
ROBINSON: You, too, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Look, I know, we like you, we like your coconuts here.
But, really, we have to find a new way to open them. I mean seriously.
And, Newt Gingrich throws conservative icon Ronald Reagan under the bus? The nightly pageant of the Worst Persons in the World.
But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.
Number three: More torture-gate. The guards and gulag-meisters (ph) at Gitmo used to use a technique called “frequent flier” in which detainees where repeatedly moved from cell to cell to cell to punish them with disorientation and sleep deprivation. In one case, one detainee was moved six times a day for 12 days. Saying it was abusive, the Pentagon ordered an end to the “frequent flier” program in March 2004.
Now, a Pentagon investigation, complete with incriminating documents, proves that the Gitmo guards were still doing it several months after they have been told to stop.
Number two: Gitmo at the White House-gate. A story buried deep in the Suskind‘s new book, “The Way of the World,” a Connecticut college graduate born in Pakistan, working at the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, was walking past the gates of the White House when he stopped to scroll through his iPod. Suskind writes that Usman Khosa was suddenly besieged by White House security officers, one of whom screamed, “The backpack.”
They ripped Khosa‘s knapsack from his back and dumped its contents on the sidewalk, then they threw him into an SUV, drove him into the White House, took him into the basement and into a never heard before (ph), unreported interrogation room in the White House. Cement walls, hanging light bulb, mounted video camera, the works. When they finally figured out he was just some guy, they let him go—in the White House.
And number one: forgery-gate. Suskind again, only this time, confirmed by the magazine, “The American Conservative,” his story that the Bush administration ordering the CIA to fabricate a letter tying Saddam Hussein to 9/11 plotter Mohammad Atta. Writing in “The American Conservative,” Philip Giraldi said that an extremely reliable and well-placed source in the intelligence community said it is true, and that moreover, Vice President Cheney was personally behind the forgery.
Giraldi‘s source says that Suskind is incorrect in one detail only that Cheney and the White House did not go to the CIA to create the fake letter. “Cheney,” Giraldi writes, “hated and mistrusted the agency and would not have used it for such an insensitive assignment. Instead, he went to Doug Feith‘s Office of Special Plans and asked them to do the job. It was Feith‘s office that produced the letter and then surfaced it to the media in Iraq.
Well, Giraldi‘s source just made a liar out of White House press secretary, deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto and everybody at “fixed news” and the other talking points conspirators (ph), and he just made Suskind‘s book into another document, if not actual evidence.
But there‘s a slightly larger issue, Giraldi‘s source would seem to be of and by himself, reason to follow John McCain‘s advice. Speaker Pelosi needs to call Congress back into session immediately and the House Judiciary Committee needs to open hearings into the impeachment of at least the vice president of the United States.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. Do you know how you can protect against somebody hot wiring your car? Remove the engine. First, if you think today was a bad political August date, on this date in 1973, at the height of the Watergate scandal, there suddenly burst fourth reports that Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon‘s vice president, and the run away front runner for the 1976 Republican nomination, had taken cash kickbacks from contractors while he was governor of Maryland. Agnew called the stories damned lies.
He resigned in a plea deal that spared him prison time two months and two days later. Of course, on August 8th, 1974, Nixon spoke to the nation and announced he would resign the next day. Let‘s play Oddball.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: We begin in Chen Du (ph), India with the city‘s annual festival of coconuts, which coincides with its annual festival of fractured skulls. Hundreds of willing participants line-up outside a temple to have a Hindu priest crack open a coconut on their head. Believers say it‘s an expression of gratitude towards their protective god, and that while their contusions caused by blunt trauma were painful, the process did leave their skin smooth and well moisturized.
To Beijing, where former President George Herbert Walker Bush used his all access Olympic pass to take a shot against the U.S. table tennis team. Don‘t let the casual one hand in the pocket stuff fool you. This man was out for blood.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘ll give her one of my best serves. Give me your best serve. Bet you can‘t handle this.
OLBERMANN: The president scored a few points and avoided the mercy rule, but was no match for the Olympians. His dreams of gold, though, will have to wait until London 2012.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: While one of the geniuses behind a website devoted to baseball geeks like me is producing some of the most intriguing analysis of the presidential campaign, including a current forecast that the electoral college will be won by 55 votes. Nate Silver joins us.
And Dick Cheney is going to speak at the Republican convention. Well, this is good news for one of the parties. These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world, a special all-dumb criminals edition.
Number three, best poor choice by drunk driver, unnamed 37 year old woman at Sturgis, South Dakota. Gets lost while driving drunk at 4:00 a.m., pulls over to a house to ask for directions. The woman she wakes up in the middle of the night, a county sheriff‘s deputy.
Number two, best poor choice by car thieves, two bandits in Blenim (ph), in England. They found a choice-looking station wagon parked on the street. They decided to break in, hot wire the engine and drive it away. They broke in and discovered, to their surprise, that the vehicle had no engine. It was parked outside a garage and it was being repaired, something they might have noticed if they looked in the back of the wagon, since that‘s where half the engine was.
Number one, best evidence left, the 17, 18 and 19-year-old defendants in St. Paul, Minnesota, charged with burglarizing a snack machine. They were apprehended in the home of one of the defendants, largely because after they broke the vending machine‘s glass front and stole candy and chips, police were able to go from the machine to the home by following the trail of Cheetos!
OLBERMANN: He managed to enrage half of Chicago last year by correctly predicting the White Sox, World Series winners of 2005, would finish with 72 wins and 90 losses. They finished with 72 wins and 90 losses. He has moved up in the world now, and now John McCain strategists and supporters are going to be mad at him, or they will be after they see this. Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, why a man who has elevated statistical prediction in sports to an art form now says it‘s statistically more probable that Barack Obama will win the 2008 election.
Nate Silver‘s website is called FiveThirtyEight.com, after the total number of electors in the electoral college. Using a highly sophisticated mathematical formula, not dissimilar to some of the baseball forecasting, herein based on multiple sources of polling data and 10,000 simulations. With 270 votes needed for election, Mr. Silver‘s number crunching suggests that Obama takes 296.3 electoral votes, McCain 241.7. Here in the traditional pie chart format; here in the state by-state map.
We‘re joined by Nate Silver of “Baseball Prospectus” and FiveThirtyEight.com. Thanks for your time tonight.
NATE SILVER, FOUNDER FIVETHIRTYEIGHT.COM: Any time, Keith.
OLBERMANN: First of all, let‘s take another look at those two graphics showing Obama with 296.3 votes. You can, if you will, gently walk those of us who hit our math wall in high school and understood nothing new since. Walk us through how you arrive at these numbers.
SILVER: All we‘re really doing is taking different polls and we assign different weights to the polls based on how reliable they have been in the past. Some polling firms really are throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks. Others really are very scientific about it. We treat different polls differently and we combine them with demographic variables as well.
If you have a poll showing Barack Obama way ahead in North Carolina, but way behind in South Dakota, we kind of balance those numbers out. But it should give you a common sense projection, kind of a computerized version of a Chuck Todd kind of map, we hope.
OLBERMANN: He‘ll be happy to hear that description. My favorite fictional politician, Prime Minister Francis Urkitz (ph), said that the events of life are the politician‘s enemy, that they mess everything you have planned up. How reliable do you think your forecasts are and how do they change as we get closer to the election?
SILVER: I mean at this point, there‘s a pretty big margin of error. A poll might report a three-point margin of error, but really it‘s more like seven or eight points, if you look historically going back to 1952 at how much these polls move. Once we have the convention, especially the first debate I think, is a time when Obama will be vetted by a lot of voters, I think that will be a very time when the polls really mean something.
But right now, you had candidates ahead at this point in the cycle that lost badly, like a Dukakis, for example, in ‘88. The movement comes after Labor Day and after the conventions, really.
OLBERMANN: Nate, one upcoming event, selection of the running mates, vital decisions, say the traditional political analysts and the pollsters, are they, in fact, vital decisions?
SILVER: They‘re not vital. But we think a VP might make a difference of two or three points, but it depends on the state as well. In a small state like—if Montana were to have a VP pick like Brian Schweitzer, that could make a seven or eight-point difference. In a large state like Pennsylvania or California, it‘s almost a demotion to be VP, if you‘re the governor of Pennsylvania, the governor of Florida.
So, it depends on where you‘re looking. In a mid-sized state like Indiana, Virginia, Minnesota, where most of the VPs seem to be coming from, we‘re talking about maybe two or three points.
OLBERMANN: What stock do you put, having analyzed these numbers—what do you put in some of the other non-traditional forecasting methods, like the online and offshore political betting websites. Are they of any use?
SILVER: I think they are of some use. There‘s been some serious academic work saying that they give you some information. But if you really know how to look in the polls in an educated way, realize that the margins of error are much larger than they advertise, then you probably will do a little bit better with our kind of method. We probably drive the markets. I know we get a lot of traffic in Ireland and the UK, where this stuff is legal to bet on. I think we‘re kind of informing them, instead of the other way around.
OLBERMANN: You offer some non-stat based insight, as well. I imagine it goes hand in glove with the statistics. Recently, you made an observation about Obama on the drilling compromise, the ten senators drilling compromise, and how if he positions that correctly, it could seriously influence these numbers in this campaign.
SILVER: I think so. I think Obama is getting hammered right now on not having an answer to gas prices. I think he needs a 30-second sound bite. The compromise that has five Democrats, five Republicans, that is going to work its way into the Senate after the recess, it is a pretty good bill. It does close the tax loophole for the oil companies. It does spend 20 billion dollars on energy R&D. It‘s a good proposal. McCain doesn‘t want to endorse it because he thinks—he doesn‘t want to raise taxes on oil companies. That‘s a great talking point for Obama.
Obama has to embrace this proposal fully, sign on as a co-sponsor. I think that could be a checkmate kind of event in the election.
OLBERMANN: Then here‘s, finally, the most important question of the night—the director wants to know this—if Jeff Carstons (ph) of the Pirates for real? The directors from Pittsburgh and I‘m from New York and neither us can believe this is the real story.
SILVER: I would give a thumbs down to that one, I think, Keith. You never know. There was a poll out the other day saying the Cubs are going to win the World Series. You have to take none of this stuff terribly seriously.
OLBERMANN: Look, we‘re here. Are the Cubs going to win the World Series?
SILVER: I think they‘re a fantastic team, but I don‘t want to go against 100 years of history here. So I‘ll say no.
OLBERMANN: All right, Nate Silver, the man behind FiveThirtyEight.com and also still involved in “Baseball Prospectus,” two of your better website locations. Thanks for your time, Nate.
SILVER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Here‘s a forecast for you: the least reality-driven vice president in American history is going to speak to the Republican Convention after all. Maybe he‘ll swear.
Here we‘ll go again, Bill-O the clown gets criticized by a newspaper, so he sends one of his producer minions to stalk the guy at his house. Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Ending weeks of controversy and speculation, the White House quietly confirms the vice president will speak at the Republican Convention next month. What on Earth should he say? I‘m thinking let it all hang out, go blue. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to John McCain. It will soon be news not if he gets something terribly wrong, but if he goes a week without getting anything terrifyingly wrong. The candidate issued a statement about the conviction of Salim Hamdan by a military commission, which McCain helped to design, and he exaggerated reality, again. “The jury found that the prosecution lawyers had proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Hamdan had aided terrorists by supplying weapons to al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.”
But that‘s not what the jury ruled. It convicted him of supplying resources to al Qaeda, namely himself as bin Laden‘s driver. But this is getting clearer, John McCain either lies or can‘t tell the difference between reality and stuff he dreamed or imagined. Those are not two good options.
The silver to Bill-O the Clown. The newspaper “The Palm Beach Post” criticized his neurotic attention to where Congressman Robert Wexler‘s legal residence is. Editor Randy Schultz aptly dismissing him in an op-ed by writing “Mr. O‘Reilly is content to be an entertainer.” Naturally, since Billy is the Joe McCarthy wannabe of our time and thinks his coverage of Wexler‘s perfect legally residency is a, quote, expose, he sent one of his stalker producers to editor Schultz‘s home.
In the tape, Little Jesse shouted phrases like “in the tank,” and “corrupt reporting,” and “you should be ashamed of yourself” at Schultz. Then Bill-O came back on and intoned, “now, few people care about the ‘Palm Beach Post‘ or that guy”—oh, then why did you send a reporter to Florida? Why did you do a story on him?
But our winner, Newt Gingrich. Now he has joined the chorus from the radical right trying to hit Obama on his speech in Berlin: “I think saying that you are a citizen of the world talking to 200,000 Germans, it‘s very dangerous because the average American does not want to elect a president of the world, to use up America in order to make the rest of the world feel good.”
Obviously, Gingrich is misquoting Obama, who said he was a proud citizen of the United States and fellow citizen of the world. But more importantly, like the others who decided about Obama‘s world citizenship that it was a dangerous thing; 26 years ago, this clown was on his feet when another US politician stood before the UN General Assembly and said, I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world. That citizen was Ronald Reagan.
Newt, let me tell you, if you‘re going to throw Ronald Reagan under the bus, I‘m afraid I‘m going to have to ask you to step outside. Newt Gingrich—et tu, Newt—today‘s worst persons in the world!
OLBERMANN: For those who fancy President Bush as something akin to Batman, as in the movie, and for all of us, including Lynne Cheney, who can‘t help but see Vice President Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, it will be a Labor Day to remember. Finally, it is settled. In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the vice president will, indeed, be speaking at the Republican National Convention on the same night as the president. If there‘s a sudden power outage in St. Paul that evening, total coincidence. Has nothing to do with John McCain.
The simple announcement came from the White House today. The McCain campaign confirming it with no fan fare. Vice president Cheney received the invitation this morning, this despite a recent report in a conservative magazine that the McCain camp had not reached out to Cheney and that the vice president had not lobbied for a speaking role. Thus, Cheney will take the stage on the same night as President Bush with some ardent fans no doubt rapt, but with many Americans wondering what more is there to say.
Let‘s turn now to comedian Christian Finnegan, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.” Christian, good evening.
CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, VH-1: Hey, Keith. I‘m glad we‘re not in the same studio right now, because I am staving off a vicious case of Olympic fever.
OLBERMANN: It‘s all around you. Use some of that disinfectant on the hands.
OLBERMANN: Any helpful hints here to get Vice President Cheney out there on that stage, what he should say on his big night?
FINNEGAN: I am kind of hoping that maybe he will finally explain why we‘ve been paying Halliburton so much money over the past six years. You know, maybe something like, and now witness the power of this fully operational Death Star. And then the press corps writhes in agony.
OLBERMANN: The vice president, as you may have heard, has fancied himself at times as a bit of a jokester.
FINNEGAN: That is true.
OLBERMANN: My favorite was from the White House correspondents dinner. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: Mo used to host a TV show called “Things I Hate About You.” I‘m sure I‘ve seen that program, only I believe it‘s now called COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Cheney tonight. Should he go down the humorous path.
FINNEGAN: God, I really hope not. As a comedian, you see so many has beans try to get into stand-up to try to milk their 15 minutes. It‘s already bad enough I have to deal with Steve-O and Screech. I don‘t want to get bumped from the late show because the VP wants to work on his my wife is like living at Gitmo material.
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) All out of the one side of the mouth. Is there an expectation that he is going to smile, perhaps?
FINNEGAN: Yes, like you said, the left side will smile. The right side will remain completely motionless, as a constant, unyielding reminder that, all fun aside, the VP may, in fact, try to eat your face.
OLBERMANN: We now have Bush and Cheney speaking on the same night, that Monday night of the Republican convention in St. Paul. Do you have any idea where Senator McCain will be during all of this?
FINNEGAN: I figure he‘ll be in a small room with an assortment of clergymen, voodoo priestesses, maybe a representative of Rah the sun god, just chanting over and over, please don‘t make this worse, please don‘t make this worse. In all fairness, I figure Obama in the same scenario when Bill Clinton makes his speech.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps he could come on after the president and vice president speak and just go, well now that that‘s over with. The last time that McCain and Bush got anywhere close to each other in public was in May. There was a brief appearance and embrace on the tarmac at the airport in Phoenix. Should—should Senator McCain go out there and be seen with Bush and Cheney?
FINNEGAN: Good god, no. It will look like a scene from the movie “Cocoon,” with the president playing the Steve Gutenberg role. It‘s also a matter of just Jurassic history. You don‘t want them in the same room just in case the next giant meteor hits.
OLBERMANN: Who is the Wilfred Brimly (ph) role in that?
FINNEGAN: Maybe—I don‘t know, Wolfowitz.
OLBERMANN: Or Condi Rice. I don‘t know. The president‘s speech that night, too, we‘re expecting what, rationalizations about what he‘s done to or for us.
FINNEGAN: Any speech that doesn‘t include the phrase, see you suckers, is going to feel incomplete. But I expect the president will present a version of the last eight years that will be as historically accurate as el Churpa Kabra‘s (ph) Wikipedia page. And then he will ceremoniously pass the torch to John McCain, who will swat at it in fear, and stagger back to Master‘s laboratory.
OLBERMANN: If this right wing meme is correct and, in the “Dark Knight” movie, it‘s really complimenting Bush, and he‘s Batman and Vice President Cheney is, as has been described even by people who like him, Darth Vader; who is the super hero, super villain equivalent for John McCain.
FINNEGAN: Say what you want about Bush and Cheney, but Vader and Batman are legitimate film icons. That‘s setting the bar really high. McCain seems more like a franchised character that Hollywood tried to force on us but we never really bought, like Howard the Duck maybe.
OLBERMANN: Howard the Duck. You realize there‘s like 17 people howling in laughter, 17 more heading to IMDB to try to figure that out. And the rest of the people are going, Howard the Duck. It‘s worth looking it up on the IMDB.
FINNEGAN: Thank you, America.
OLBERMANN: Comedian Christian Finnegan, contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” and our resident Howard the Duck expert. Thank you, sir.
That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,927nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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