Guests: Pamela Hess, P.J. Crowley, Mark T. Knapp, William Hung
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Who is this cleric al-Sadr and why is he doing all of these terrible things this Iraq? And here, Ted Kennedy now brands Iraq “George Bush‘s Vietnam.”
The sad anniversary one full year now, since we lost David Bloom.
Ask not what your department of homeland security can do for you; ask what you can do for your department of homeland security. The czar says the government does not have enough money to protect our ports.
Will it make gold, platinum, mega-platinum? Will it outsell the cover of “Jingle Bells” by the Singing Dogs? The William Hung album is here, and so is he.
WILLIAM HUNG, SUPERSTAR: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: And the difference between the American high-speed motorcycle chase of the day and the Spanish high-speed motorcycle chase of the day. Theirs ends with a bang, ours with a whimper.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. It is becoming clear that 25 days from now President Bush will not celebrate the anniversary of his visit to the USS Lincoln by announcing that major combat operations in Iraq have still ended.
The fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Our troops are facing chaos on a series of fronts in Iraq, tonight as many as 12 are dead in Ramadi and our commander in chief is facing opposition that has now cut out whatever few niceties were left and put it all in no uncertain terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: ...not the solution. Iraq is George Bush‘s Vietnam and this country needs a new president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The rhetoric came in a speech at the Brookings Institution. An answer came on the senate floor from majority Mitch McConnell, “We need to focus on weeding out global terrorism,” he said, “by fighting the terrorists and not each other.”
But, louder than all the words put together, today‘s events outside Fallujah, in the town of Ramadi, an ambush of some of the U.S. Marines who had plugged up Fallujah itself. As many as 12 dead, sources tell NBC News, 13 U.S. fatalities, reports the “Associated Press.” All this in the aftermath of sealing off Fallujah, itself designed to permit Marines to find and punish those who were behind the murder and mutilation of four ex-military U.S. civilians, last week. Media access there has been restricted to a pool of reporters. Our correspondent, following the events in Fallujah and Ramadi, is Tom Aspell.
TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, one of the deadliest days for troops since the end of the war. Tonight, U.S. military officials are saying 12 marines have been killed and another 20 wounded trying to defend an Iraqi government compound in Ramadi in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. And, just 25 miles way, in Fallujah, 1,200 Marines and two battalions of Iraqis troops are taking on scores of insurgents.
(voice-over): After 24 hours of meticulous reconnaissance, Marines and Iraqi security forces have moved into Fallujah from three directions. Embedded reporters say today‘s fighting has been intense.
PAMELA CONSTABLE, EMBEDDED REPORTER: The Marines have various patrols, foot patrols, Humvee patrols, going out across the city and all day and all night they have come under fire above the rifle fire, rocket fire, and mortar fire from snipers and from moving vans of gunmen.
LOURDES NAVARRO, EMBEDDED REPORTER: There was pretty heavy fire that took place for about 15 to 20 minutes, mortars coming in and RPG‘s coming in and they were returning fire from tanks, from their machine guns, and also from helicopter gunships that were circling the area.
ASPELL: Lightly armed insurgents had no way out of the city they pledged to defend with their lives.
“We are going to destroy the Americans. We will crush them,” say these fighters.
The marines say at least 20 insurgents have been killed and many others captured.
LT. GREGG OLSEN, 1ST MARINE REGIMEN: We want to make sure this fight stays on our terms and that we don‘t become embroiled in something based on a terrorist timetable, as opposed to out timetable.
ASPELL: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said in Norfolk today, the Marines were doing a superb job.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: They have been conducting raids in the city against high value targets. They‘ve captured a number of people over the past 36 hours. The city is isolated. A number of people have resisted and been killed.
ASPELL: Pentagon sources tell NBC News, in one incident a Marine helicopter, after taking small arms fire from a truckload of insurgents, killed them all with single missile.
(on camera): The Marines say “Operation Vigilant Resolve” will be precise and unrelenting, it could last several more days—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Tom Aspell reporting from Baghdad. Many thanks.
The logical fallacy, of course, is the thing that says if event B followed event A, event A must have caused event B. The appeal of the logic fallacy is that it is almost always looking just right. The Sunni insurgency in Fallujah, including that ambush in Ramadi, had each followed the rise to prominence of a 30-year-old radical Shiite cleric son of the man for whom Baghdad Sunni slum is named, Muqtada al-Sadr.
Reporting not far from Sadr City and our correspondent, Richard Engel
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, Muqtada al-Sadr said he‘d rather die a martyr than surrender to U.S. forces. He‘s been moving from mosque to mosque surround by his armed supporters who are continuing their campaign of violence.
(voice-over): Al-Sadr Shiite uprising is spreading. In Nasiriyah 500 Italian soldiers locked in a five-hour gun battle, 11 Italians injured, 15 Iraqis killed. Soldiers say gunmen used civilians as human shields.
In Amara, British troops did the fighting, another 15 Iraqis dead. In Diwaniyah, Spanish troops , battled al-Sadr‘s militia, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) army with helicopters and tanks, for three hours, but failed it quiet the city.
In Kut a Ukrainian soldier was killed by a rocket propelled grenade. And, in Baghdad American tanks secured al-Sadr‘s stronghold while Shiites held funerals for the dozens killed in this week‘s fighting.
Today a spokesman for al-Sadr promised to spread the revolt to other cities. The renegade cleric‘s rebellion is forcing Iraq‘s majority Shiite population, U.S. allies since the war, to choose sides.
(ON CAMERA): At mainstream Shiite mosques like this one, most people don‘t support al-Sadr‘s use of violence and fear that his uprising could lead to fighting among Shiites. themselves.
(voice-over): But the Americans can‘t count on moderate Shiite leaders to rein in al-Sadr. This generally pro-western imam blames the Americans for provoking al-Sadr and killing civilians. Another acknowledges al-Sadr is a danger, but says the Shiites will not fight with the U.S. against a fellow Shiite cleric even if they disagree with him.
DAN BRUMBERG, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTL. PEACE: There‘s no guarantee we can top them. If we use force, it may only make the situation worse, it may provoke the supporters and we may get involved in a pitch battle that only undermines the American position.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You OK? You OK?
ENGEL: Today in Baghdad the newly arrived soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division were still trying to get their bearings stepping over the blood of three dead soldiers they came in to replace.
SPC. CHRISTOPHER WILFORD, U.S. ARMY: This place is very deceptive. You know, a lot of places and a lot of people that seem friendly, but you can‘t let your guard down.
ENGEL (on camera): Keith, there have been more bellicose threats from Muqtada al-Sadr. He said he‘ll soon start kidnapping American soldiers as his forces, to use his words, “liberate Iraq”—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Richard Engel at Baghdad, Iraq, many thanks.
So, who is this guy and how did he put the U.S. in what looks like a lose-lose-lose proposition? The story of Muqtada al-Sadr has been reported for about a year by the Pentagon correspondent for the new service “UPI,” Pamela Hess. She joins us now from Washington.
Pam, good evening.
PAMELA HESS, “UPI” PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To the outsider it would seem that there are three options, here. Leave this man alone, in which case he presumably continues to run this violent P.R. campaign which might alienate everybody in Iraq; arrest him, which could involve a raid on a religious shrine and might alienate everybody in Iraq; or kill him, which would make him a martyr and might alienate everybody in Iraq. What do you do here? I mean, are there other options?
HESS: There‘s actually just one more option and it‘s what the U.S. military is pursuing, which is to—trying to make this into an Iraqi issue, and I‘m interested in your report, it‘s interesting that this didn‘t come up, the reason that U.S. forces are after him is Muqtada al-Sadr is believed to be behind the April 10 assassination of another cleric that had returned to Najaf, that was Majid al-Khoei ,and he was hacked to death on the steps—or in the plaza outside of the mosque of Imam Ali. So, what the U.S. is trying to do is trying to get Iraqi civil defense forces and police to go after Sadr and they‘re trying to point out that this guy is an alleged criminal—an alleged murderer who was responsible for the death of a fellow cleric and not allow him to turn—not allow him to turn himself into a martyr for the case of Shiaism.
OLBERMANN: Clearly the events involving him and the ones in and around Fallujah are not directly connected, Sadr‘s followers are Shia, and the people in Fallujah are Sunnis, but is it all coincidence or some conjoining here? Is it a function of the June 30 transfer of power date that seems to loom larger everyday in Iraq?
HESS: I think that it has a great deal to do with June 30. I think Sadr sees a couple of things as compressing him: One, that is the time when the government will return to Iraqi sovereignty. Two, they‘re looking for him, they announced that on Monday that he‘s been under—there‘s been an arrest warrant for him for several months, but they have decided to pursue it now publicly to try and get him. So, his time is running out, if he wants to cause trouble now is the—his best opportunity because he certainly can‘t do it from jail except if he manages to turn himself into a political prisoner, which is what he‘s trying to do. So he‘s trying to take advantage of this time. The two situations aren‘t related, but I imagine that Sadr saw this as a great opportunity to throw a few more obstacles in the coalition military path to piggyback on what‘s going on in Fallujah and Ramadi.
OLBERMANN: Pam, even factoring that in Sadr and factoring in the nightmare from Fallujah and this ambush now, in Ramadi, and using your own on-the-ground knowledge of the situation, was Senator Kennedy‘s description of Iraq as George Bush‘s Vietnam not a little strong?
HESS: I think it depends on—your view on what Kennedy said depends probably on your view of Kennedy, your view of Bush, and also what you consider Vietnam to be shorthand for. I think Kennedy‘s shorthand for Vietnam, in this case, relates to his belief that this was an ideological war and not one driven by immediate U.S. national security interests and looking back on Vietnam I think you can see parallels if that indeed turns out to be the case, which many investigations and reports are looking into now. However, for Bush supporters, they see calling this a Vietnam as being sort of an ad-homonym attack on the morality of the war and the honor of the soldiers that are fighting it.
I‘d also point out that if you‘re a republican and you want to shore up your core base probably the best person for you to point out is Kennedy is attacking your guy that. I mean, that‘s really a way to galvanize the people who are your strongest supporters. And Bush, right now the poll is showing that some of his approval ratings are down, I think they‘re down to like 43 percent, according to PEW. So now would be a good time to really hammer away and point out that your enemies are circling and it‘s time to support your guy. So, I there‘s some politics here, too. I mean the—summoning up such righteous indignation that Kennedy is attacking Bush, that strains a little belief, I mean, of course he‘s attacking Bush.
OLBERMANN: Continuing bipartisanship in Washington. Pam Hess the Pentagon correspondent of “UPI,” always informative and always a pleasure, my friend.
HESS: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: One more story as we wrap up the news from Iraq. An audio tape surfacing on an Islamic Web site that is the first, if it is authentic, from al-Qaeda‘s senior representative in that nation. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi calls on Sunni Muslim militants to “sharpen your swords and burn the ground under the feet of both Americans and Shiite Muslims in Iraq.” And Zarqawi, if that really is who it is, also takes responsibility for much of the violence in Iraq the past year, from the bombing in U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, to rocket and mortar attacks on coalition forces in towns and cities around the country.
On a more positive note though, a Jordanian court has sentenced Zarqawi to death for ordering the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in October 2002.
COUNTDOWN underway tonight with the war for peace in Iraq. Our No. 4 story up next. Remembering the true reporter: A tribute to the life and the work of David Bloom, exactly one year after his death in Iraq.
Later a Wal-Mart power play: The world‘s largest company decides it will not take no for an answer and takes its case to the voters of California.
Also ahead, the powerhouse on the American music scene: “William Hung,” the album. “William Hung” the C.D., they have both just been released and William joins us live to tell us about this day of his dreams.
OLBERMANN: Up next here: David Bloom, gone now, one entire year. We will remember his impact on news and on the soldiers whose stories he made into the news, next here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: A year ago a bunch of us watched the feed from outside Baghdad and there was passing debate. “He doesn‘t look right,” somebody said, “he‘s been out in the desert six weeks, none of them look right,” somebody else answered. “No,” said the first, “he looks green.” In a hectic swirl of a newsroom on that day the conversation was forgotten until the next morning.
Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN: It is now one year to the date since David Bloom died. We didn‘t know but there had been conversations in Iraq. David‘s leg hurt around the knee, doctors had warned him that it might be much more than cramping or muscle pain and a day later he was dead, when a blood clot moved into his lungs.
He was our lead correspondent in Iraq, embedded with the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, atop his seemingly omnipresent Bloom Mobile. He had given up the simplicity of the anchor desk on “Weekend Today” to go to war.
And, nearly three weeks, in Virginia, the military did something unprecedented, it named the public affairs complex at Fort Lee, the home of the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division after a reporter, after David Bloom.
We thought tonight, the best way to remember our colleague, our friend, was to do so exactly as we did on this newscast at the time of his passing. David Bloom in memoriam:
OLBERMANN (voice-over): The true reporter is not the one who tells one story well once. The true reporter is the one who can tell the same story well 100 nights in row.
DAVID BLOOM, NBC REPORTER: That O.J. was bleeding after the murders.
OLBERMANN: The true reporter is not the one who requires the sensation of scandal to hype the truth. The true reporter is the one who will strip away the sensational to protect the truth.
BLOOM: Former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, reportedly to buy her silence...
OLBERMANN: The true reporter is not the one who uses technology in lieu of the facts. The true reporter is the one who can harness technology to display the facts.
David Bloom was the true reporter. There‘s no doubt this was his greatest work yet. There is no doubt this is how he will be remembered, racing across the desert live, informed, unflappable, in a device largely of his own design, filing, since this war began, as many as 13 live reports a day, plus countless others on phone and on tape.
BLOOM: Traveling distances and traveling at speeds really unheard of in modern warfare. They covered hundreds and hundreds of miles and obviously, I can be more precise about the number, but they don‘t want to us say precisely where we are in south-central Iraq.
We got rockets coming in on us. We‘re under attack, right now. Tom, we are under attack, right now.
OLBERMANN: These words and images were new, invaluable to our understanding not merely of the facts of a war but of the truth of all war. Yet for David Bloom, only the sand was truly new.
The true reporter conveys us, transports us to wherever he is. And unlike many of the other true great reporters, David Bloom‘s ability to bring us there with him was not limited to the earth shattering or terrible this was not a one-dimensional man afraid to show the silly alongside the serious.
And most importantly this was not the cliched reporter of fiction bereft of roots or family or when the story stopped, of a life. That his death may be a metaphor for awful the reality of war, of this war, cannot be denied, that a friend and colleague, a catalyst for all of this organization does, has left us, cannot be forgotten that a true reporter has been lost, cannot be escaped. Would, that it were all only that. A starker more terrible truth is simpler, yet indescribably more profound—
David Bloom is gone.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and pause it immediately to reflect on the international nature or man and of the irrelevant news he makes. While you stop yourself from tripping over the corner of a rug here, at the same time, somewhere else in the world, thousands of miles away, a man you will never meet is unable to stop himself and instead he goes crashing head-first into the divan. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
The symmetry of which we speak: Two motorcycle chases. We‘re in Seattle, and once again checking the “Oddball” scoreboard this year, it‘s cops 38, guys who think they can escape the cops zero. But, that didn‘t stop this man from reaching speeds of up to 130 miles per hour in an attempt to break that streak. He was wanted for speeding, now he is wanted for felony evasion. But, his true genius was reflected by his exit strategy. He attempted to escape into this garage. Surprisingly, this actually had a chance of working except two minor details: It was his own garage and the cops had his license plate and, fellow, there‘s a helicopter watching you.
And thus ends another unsuccessful bid to beat the cops. Join us next time when we go all the way to Spain for “Oddball‘s” greatest car chases.
Oh my, it‘s next time already and we‘re in Spain! And it‘s another motorcycle, this time being driven by a bank robber. He just left the place after holding the manager and a customer hostage for 12 hours. That‘s the way they settle these things in Spain. No dramatic escape for you, pal. There is a police vehicle that pulls up and—hello! And that was a double forward flip from the robber and he suffered no serious injuries, and he also stuck the landing.
Speaking of flying—wow, airplanes. Actually there is a degree of wowness to these pictures. Four military jets cutting through restricted space above Washington, over the mall, under special warrant from the FAA. No it was not an emergency, it was not a training mission, it was a photo shoot. The jets were used to fill the commercial for the National Guard.
COUNTDOWN picking up with the No. 3 story in a moment. Your preview:
The price of securing the homeland. Director Tom Ridge says the government can‘t foot the entire bill for security at our seaports.
And later, Janet Jackson and nipplegate back in the news because of an unusual protest, courtesy of another singer, Alanis Morissette. If Janet‘s was a wardrobe malfunction this one is a wardrobe meltdown.
These stories ahead, first are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3: Jimmy Lebron charged with indecent exposure in Leominster, Massachusetts mast. He says his pants had fallen down of their own accord, quote, “so I just pulled them up and reset myself.” Sir, bowling pins are reset.
No. 2: Yana Rodionova, who has decided to marry Jade Hanson, after all. Quite a comeback for their relationship, Mr. Hanson is a knife thrower. Ms. Rodionova—or whatever her name is, is his assistant. A year ago on live TV Mr. Hanson missed and hit her in the head. Love is blind; fortunately Ms. Rodionova is not.
And No. 1: Joseph James Zimmerman, Jr. has passed away at the age of 92 years of age. He was the inventor of the telephone answering machine. In lieu of flowers please leave a message.
OLBERMANN: About a month ago, the Department of Homeland Security, seemingly the center of the post-9/11 world, celebrated its first anniversary and almost simultaneously announced a hiring freeze in three of its front-line units.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, to paraphrase a famed president, there they go again. From the ports to the borders, from the Statue of Liberty to the liberty to take an airplane, the homeland spirit is willing, but the finance seems to be weak. During ceremonies at the port in Portland, Oregon, at which he announced the allocation of $40 million in security funding for the state, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said—quote—“We need to talk to the private sector. We don‘t have enough public money to do everything that needs to be done.”
Secretary Ridge pointed out the government will spend nearly $3 billion on security programs, but, again quoting him, “We can‘t go around using public money for every private sector need.”
When did the primary excuse for any government anywhere at any time in history, the protection and safety of its citizens, suddenly become a private asserting need?
I‘m joined by P.J. Crowley, formerly the special assistant for national security affairs for President Clinton and currently director of national defense and homeland security at the Center For American Progress.
Mr. Crowley, good evening.
P.J. CROWLEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Hello, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Are Secretary Ridge‘s comments in Portland as alarming as they might sound at first blush?
CROWLEY: Oh, there‘s no question that the administration is trying to do homeland security on the cheap.
And there‘s also no question that the private sector, state governments, local governments, do have an important role to play in homeland security. But ultimately homeland security cannot be outsourced.
OLBERMANN: Another part of his speech suggested that homeland security is not one size fits all, that places that are not obvious strategic targets, the Portland, Oregon, as an example, may have to make do with minimums and anything above that may have to be paid for by user fees at a port or whatever.
But haven‘t the cities and states that have the obvious strategic targets been screaming that just the opposite is true, that homeland security has been and currently is one size fits all?
CROWLEY: Well, there‘s no question that the homeland security process has become politicized.
Just one example. In New York City, which had two attacks in the last 11 years, there are 5,000 fewer police on the streets than there were in 1999. In Douglas, Wyoming, which has barely 5,000 residents, they now have a new R.V. mobile command center. Maybe that is an undisclosed location for the vice president. But we are getting away from the idea that the federal government needs to put its money where the key threat is.
And certainly Wyoming, while an important state, is not necessarily high on al Qaeda‘s target list.
OLBERMANN: Three hundred and sixty ports, thousands upon thousands of miles of borders, a hiring freeze at Homeland Security, $87 billion appropriated to spend in Iraq. The part of my brain that prefers logic and big-picture planning is offended. How much of a priority really is homeland security in this government, not how much they say it is, but how much is it?
CROWLEY: Well, if you judge by resources committed, it is not a high priority. In fact, Ridge‘s budget is only one-tenth that of the Pentagon. We are in fact spending more money to secure Iraq today than we are to secure the United States.
It would take roughly $5.4 billion to provide the port security necessary under the terms of the Maritime Security Transportation Act. And yet if you think about a terrorist attack against the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, that would cost the economy $1 billion a day. So, there‘s an odd priority here and I think that there is no question the government has to commit more resources to homeland security.
OLBERMANN: P.J. Crowley, formerly of the Clinton administration, now the Center For American Progress, many thanks, sir.
CROWLEY: OK, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Good night.
The government does have the money to go to court to protect the-no fly list and try to fend off a lawsuit by an Amish couple who say their rights were violated when the government would not let the husband back into this country because he refused to be photographed. This husband and wife, identified as John and Jane Doe in order to protect their privacy, are the old order Amish who take literally the Bible‘s prohibition of graven images.
The wife is a U.S. citizen. The husband is from Ontario, Canada. Returning home to Pennsylvania from Canada in January, he was stopped at the U.S. border and told he could not come back into this country. The couple has now sued the government. John and Jane Doe are represented by attorney Mark T. Knapp of Pittsburgh. And he joins us now.
Mr. Knapp, good evening.
MARK T. KNAPP, ATTORNEY: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The man is Canadian. We wouldn‘t let him back in the U.S. after he went to Canada for an emergency. What was the emergency?
KNAPP: Yes, his father had a heart attack, a very serious heart attack, was near death.
OLBERMANN: Where is Mr. Doe right now after we wouldn‘t let him back in?
KNAPP: Mr. Doe is actually now back in the country. He‘s back living in the community in Pennsylvania. On April Fool‘s day, ironically, I flew to the border and had a 4 ½ hour ordeal in which I eventually was successful in having him allowed to be entered for a limited period of time until his April 20 removal hearing. The government is still seeking to have him removed from the country.
OLBERMANN: So, the world after 9/11 seems to require I.D. of everybody, but his religious beliefs won‘t allow for a photograph. Has he offered anything in the way of a compromise, something besides a photograph and an I.D. form?
As you know, he has been fingerprinted already. He offered to be fingerprinted, retinal scan, palm print, voice recognition. All these technologies are far superior to photographs given the new digital image manipulation that occurs with those.
OLBERMANN: So he is married to an American. He has lived here. He is part of a religion that has two centuries of history in this country. He would let them do a face scan, a palm print. They can scan his retina. They can take his fingerprints, as you point out, all of them far more precise forms of I.D. than photographs.
Besides what we want to photo anyway, has anybody in the government offered an explanation as to why they do not want him here? Is somebody worried about a precedent of letting somebody not have a photo I.D.?
KNAPP: No, no one has indicated that, other than when they denied the original petitions which his wife filed. They said that the reason that they were not granting a waiver, which they had granted in the past to the Amish—that they had granted waivers in the past to the Amish, they said they would not do it anymore because of national security.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the threat with the clapboard buggies.
Mark T. Knapp, the attorney for the Canadian-American Amish couple that just wants to practice their religion and travel between these two countries, thanks for your time and please apologize to your client on behalf of at least one American, namely me. Thanks.
KNAPP: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, for months, we have been following Homeland Security‘s tenacious grip on the dangers posed by all of the Dave Nelsons, Peter Williams and Michelle Greens to our nation‘s air travel system, the no-fly list. At least we think it‘s the no-fly list. It could be the selectee list.
The Transportation Security Administration gives out no details on either list, won‘t even tell you if your name is on one of them. But nearly every time a Peter Williams or a Dave Nelson flies, he gets pulled aside for at least a couple of questions. Today, the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of what we hope is the majority of Nelson and Williams and Greens who are not terrorists decided they had had enough and filed a class-action suit against the TSA.
The ACLU lawyer doing the filing, David Fathi, is himself on the no-fly list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FATHI, ACLU ATTORNEY: Now, this might be less of a problem if there were a way to get off the no-fly list. But there is not. And what is most disturbing to me about this is that the government has put my name on a watch list, has designated me as a kind of permanent suspect. But it won‘t tell me why and it won‘t tell me what I can do to clear my name.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Threats to the homeland, some of them apparently coming from the Department of Homeland Security, our No. 3 story tonight. No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, superstore sovereignty. Welcome to Wal-Mart city, California. And later, the singing sensation in the heavy weather gear, dancing in the rain surrounded by scantily clad ladies, he will just us live to talk about his debut album out today.
But, first, a special edition of the top three sound bites of this day. Some of the president‘s jokes are missing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join me in giving a great South Arkansas to the president of the United States, George W. Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Skinny.
Bobby Beard. Where are you, Bobby?
Where are you, Joe? What‘s the guy‘s name? Oh, there‘s Joe right here, yes, same guy I met at the airport.
OK, I‘m coming to you in a minute. Bobby, you would think you would get better seat.
I‘m winding up. Tell us about your company—whatever you want to talk about.
See, that‘s the problem with trade wars and bad trade policy. Sorry for interrupting you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can do that any time.
BUSH: My kind of guy.
BUSH: First, I want to congratulate her on being her valedictorian of her high school class. I‘m not going to ask her how long ago it was.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wasn‘t that...
BUSH: No, it wasn‘t that long ago. I know. But it wasn‘t yesterday either.
Superintendent of schools, big Bob Watson is here.
Do they ever call you big Bob?
BOB WATSON: Yes, sir. And, Governor—excuse me, President.
BUSH: How quickly they forget.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here in Arkansas, as Emeril says, bam, bam, we have kicked it up a notch.
BUSH: Yes, you are doing good, Sammie.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I told you, you would have to cut me off.
BUSH: I haven‘t cut you off yet. You and my mother go to the same hair dye person.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, President Bush, I‘m a natural blonde.
BUSH: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m just a natural blonde.
BUSH: I just couldn‘t help myself. Sorry.
Turns out it is not easy to welcome the president. You‘ve got to have a stage, you‘ve got to have this, you‘ve got to have that. The entourages are huge. We‘re really glad to be here, because this is going to be an economics lesson...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Coming up on the COUNTDOWN, call them french fries or freedom critters. Will they soon be coming with warning labels? Our No. 2 story straight ahead.
OLBERMANN: Flash news to report, an Amtrak official confirming that one of its passenger trains, train 58, has derailed in Yazoo County, Mississippi, this Amtrak train originating in Chicago on its way to New Orleans, nine cars plus the engine.
The Amtrak spokesman, Dan Stessel, says there are about 70 passengers on board. There are reports of injuries, but notice the low number of people on the train for a nine-car Amtrak vehicle. Most of the serious injuries are believed to have occurred among people who were in the dining car at the time this train left the tracks. And it did so in ominous fashion. Amtrak says, at this point, there do not appear to be any signs of sabotage. Stay tuned to MSNBC for the latest on the Amtrak derailment in Mississippi.
Resuming the COUNTDOWN and No. 2 story tonight, a pair of events. And having lived their 10 years and thus qualified as an honorary native, I can say this: only in California.
First up, beware the fries of starch. These harmless looking strips of potatoes contain acrylamide, a chemical that can cause cancer in lab rats. What does that have to do with your happy meal? Under California voter approved Prop 65, substances that are known to cause cancer must have public warnings on them. And in the 1990s, the Golden State put acrylamide on the list. Back then, it was only known as a chemical used to treat sewage water.
Two years ago, though, scientists found out that frying, baking and roasting your spud can release that very same chemical organically. So now private lawyers are filing suit to get companies like McDonald‘s, Wendy‘s and KFC to put acrylamide warnings on the side of their french fries. Want cancer with that?
And the second part of our No. 2 story, look, kids, it is Wal-Mart world. The superstore giant has been trying to build a supercenter in Inglewood, California, for 15 months. But the city council blocked the store. So Wal-Mart instead just got 10,000 people to sign a petition to put the issue on a ballot initiative. It is not just applying to build some store. A yes vote would exempt the megamarket from the usual zoning meetings and traffic hearings and environmental reviews, all that annoying paperwork you usually have to do before building something the size of 17 football fields.
The vote is today. There are supporters and opponents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. ALTAGRACIA PEREZ, ANTI-WAL-MART ACTIVIST: Wal-Mart is a horrible employer. And it is going to have a seriously negative impact on small businesses in Inglewood.
ROOSEVELT DORN, MAYOR OF INGLEWOOD: Seventy-eight percent of the money that is spent shopping is spent outside of the city of Inglewood. We want that money to be spent in the city of Inglewood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No results of the voting for a few hours at least. Even then, opponents say, if Wal-Mart were to win, they will go to court to block construction.
Once, of course, Southern California was not just an entertainment industry factory town. It was the entertainment industry factory town, the only one, not anymore. And, thus, the headlines of our celebrity news segment “Keeping Tabs” can come not just from Hollywood, but also from Toronto and London, even when they are nude headlines.
Protesting moves toward censorship in the U.S. The Canadian rocker Alanis Morissette, hosting the telecast of her nation‘s music awards, let a dressing gown fall to the stage, revealing this body suit with fake oversized naughty bits. And she was the host. “We live in a land,” she says, “where we still think the human body is beautiful and we are not afraid of the female breast.” No, she didn‘t do this because you ought to know.
Meanwhile, TV‘s naked chef took his title way too seriously and has wound up burning more than just an omelet. A British tabloid reporting that as a special treat for his wife on Valentine‘s Day, Jamie Oliver was cooking a roast in the buff. He got too close to the oven. He burned his naughty bits.
Look, Jamie, just because you are the naked chef doesn‘t mean you can‘t use a regular meat thermometer, just like everybody else.
From nude singers and chefs back to the decorum that is Jennifer Lopez. Well, her mother, her mother, the millionaire. New York‘s “Daily News” reports that Guadalupe Lopez threw $3 into the Wheel of Fortune slots at an Atlantic City casino on Saturday night and up came the winning symbols. Her payout, won $2,400,000. That would be some booty.
And, lastly, it has been weeks since we heard from her, the Ohio woman who captured our imagination, if not our hearts, with her desperate attempt to claim a lottery prize that wasn‘t really hers. Elecia Battle,is back. She today changed her plea back to guilty on a charge of filing a false police report. That filing was done when she reported she had lost the winning $162 million Mega Millions lottery ticket.
First, she had admitted it on this program. Then she had denied it on this program, saying there was no crime, just a mistake. She really thought she had lost the ticket. Now the case is over. In exchange for pleading guilty to filing the false report, Ms. Battle will not face any jail time, just $6,700 in fines, plus 50 hours of community service.
For that community service, how about letting her read off the winning lottery numbers every night on TV?
Next up, our top story tonight, the top of the pops, William Hung himself live and in color in concert in COUNTDOWN.
But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: Legendary is the story of New York morning disc jockeys Dee Finch and Gene Rayburn, the madmen of WNEW Radio in the ‘50s who one day decided on a dare to find the worst song they could get, get somebody to sing it, and make it into a hit record simply by playing it day after day. The song they found had the implausible refrain, put another nickel in the nickelodeon.
They got a woman named Teresa Brewer to record it. They played it every day on their show. And “Music, Music, Music” sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of records. And now, a half century later, in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, well, for at least today, the debut album by William Hung, featuring such hits as Elton John‘s “Rocket Man,” Ricky Martin‘s “Shake Your Bon-Bon,” and lest we forget, the classic of classics, “She bangs.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICKY MARTIN, SINGER (singing): She bangs, she bangs. Oh, baby. When she moves, she moves, I go crazy, because she looks like a flower, but she but stings like a bee, like every girl in history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Who the hell was that singing William‘s song? Oh, that must have been that Martin guy.
Here now for your viewing pleasure is the video Hung style.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody get me a cocktail.
WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER (singing): She bangs, she bangs. Oh, baby. When she moves, she moves, I go crazy, because she looks like a flower, but she but stings like a bee, like every girl in history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And that, friends, is what we deejays call a tease. The video will premiere in its entirety at the end of the William Hung special tonight, “Idol Worship” on the Fuse Music Network, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. For now, you‘ll have to satiate your hunger for Hung with the man himself, our friend William Hung.
Good evening, William. Welcome back.
HUNG: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: An album, a video, a special. Do you ever get the feeling that this is just a really great dream?
HUNG: Yes. And hopefully it doesn‘t end here.
OLBERMANN: But at this point what‘s left? I mean, the Grammys? Is that the only thing left now?
HUNG: Well, there are suddenly more albums possible in the future, if this album does well.
OLBERMANN: So, all right, about the one that has been released today, are you happy with it? Have you read any of the reviews? Will you not read the reviews? How are you going to handle this?
HUNG: Well, I haven‘t had a chance to look at the reviews and everything yet.
OLBERMANN: All right. Let‘s talk about this video. How was the experience of making a video?
HUNG: Oh, it was the greatest experience ever.
HUNG: Because I get to work with so many different people, with so many different looks, different styles, clothing.
OLBERMANN: But, now, your mother was on set for the video. Did that cramp your style at all? Did she sort of box you in there, as it were?
HUNG: No, no, no, because I thought that my mom, by being there, she actually gave advice to the director that was making the video. And, overall, it really made it more professional.
OLBERMANN: By the way, directors always appreciate advice. I found that out in my years in television.
In this, in the video, you‘ve got groups of dancers, real pros. They are obviously moving so fast that if you‘re not in step with them, they could run you over. Were the dancers intimidating?
HUNG: Oh, yes, they were great. They must have rehearsed a long time.
OLBERMANN: Evidently. And you can see the work right there.
So, all right, you‘ve been kind enough every time that you‘ve come on the show, William, to give us a performance. But the one song that we have not heard that is on the new album, the classic hit from the Village People, “YMCA.” Can you favor us with a rendition of “YMCA” now?
HUNG: All right, here we go.
(singing): Young men, there‘s no need to feel down. I say, young man, pick yourself off the ground. I say, young man, because you‘re in a new town, there‘s no need to be unhappy.
Young man, there‘s a place you can go. I said, young man, when you‘re short on your dough, you can stay there and I‘m sure you will find many ways to have a good time. It‘s fun to stay at the YMCA. It‘s fun to stay at the YMCA. They have everything for young men to enjoy. You can hang out with all the boys. It‘s fun to stay at the YMCA. It‘s fun to stay at the YMCA. You can get yourself clean.
OLBERMANN: And, apparently, you heard the director right there say cut, because we‘re out of time.
The one and only William Hung, thanks again for your time. The album is called “Inspiration.” And good luck, like you need any more of it. Good night, William. Thank .
HUNG: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: Before we leave kicking and screaming from our No. 1 story, the No. 1 thing you also need to know, the most downloaded celebrity screensaver, according to the site screensavers.com, is the one of William Hung, more so than Britney Spears or “The Passion” star Jim Caviezel dressed up as Jesus. You heard it.
All right, before we go, let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.
No. 5, Iraq. In the Sunni Triangle, as many as 12 Marines killed in Ramadi and other Marines hunting down the insurgents in Fallujah. The man who incited the recent violence among the Shiites is on the move from mosque to mosque. Four, remembering David Bloom. The NBC News correspondent, our colleague, our friend, died a year ago today in Iraq. Three, the price of protection. Tom Ridge says the federal government can‘t afford to pay for all the increased security measures at the nation‘s ports. The private sector will have to help.
Two, double tales from the Golden State, a warning label on french fries, and voters getting to decide on whether or not a Wal-Mart should be built that‘s the size of 17 football fields. And, No. 1, the Internet “Idol” legend, now immortalized with his debut album, “Inspiration” by William Hung.
As William sings, that‘s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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