Guests: Montgomery Meigs, Tom Oliphant, Fletcher Lamkin, Kate Meyer
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Twin fires light the midnight skies in Fallujah, Iraq. U.S. forces have had enough. The Marines versus the insurgents.
The John Kerry medal controversy: A “Boston Globe” columnist writes he was a witness within five feet and saw what and how John Kerry threw. The columnist joins us tonight. As will the president of Westminster college. He told his campus he was surprised and disappointed that Vice President Cheney turned his speech there into a campaign stop.
The death of Princess Diana, dismiss this as tabloid gossip mongering if you will, because Scotland Yard won‘t it may send its top cop to interview Prince Charles.
And Moammar Qaddafi, you may have won the Publisher‘s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes!
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. And it all comes rushing back. The grainy images of explosions lighting up a midnight sky rendered green by night vision cameras, videotaped firefights, recorded too close for comfort, but also too compellingly to be ignored.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Saturday may be the one-year anniversary of the president declaring an end to major combat operations, but today in Iraq, in Fallujah and in Nabil, it sure looked like any commemoration of Mr. Bush‘s words would be purely semantical. Our correspondent Richard Engel now, on the dramatic turn-back towards combat, particularly in the Sunni Triangle—Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, a major setback for the ceasefire in Fallujah. The day actually began with optimism, with both Iraqi police and U.S. Marines talking about starting joint patrols in Fallujah tomorrow. But just hours later, those same U.S. Marines were launching some of the heaviest airstrikes in weeks.
(voice-over): Tonight Marines pounded the al-Jolan neighborhood in northwest Fallujah with two AC-130 gunships and tanks.
KARL PENHAUL, POOL REPORTER: There‘ve been multiple cannon rounds, we‘re told—we‘re being told 105-millimeter Howitzer cannon rounds from that Specter gunship have slammed into that position. We‘re seeing some secondary explosions, some sparks coming from there.
ENGEL: The target, two buildings that insurgents have been shooting from in the last two days. Yesterday‘s fierce firefight confirmed what some in the military suspected.
SCOTT PETERSON, “CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”: What it really did was confirm fears that some of the Marine commanders had been having that the insurgents were using the ceasefire to basically rearm, regroup, and hone their—hone their defenses so that they could there—so that basically they would be ready for the Marines if the Marines decided that they were going to roll into Fallujah.
ENGEL: The al-Jolan neighborhood has seen the most intense fighting in the last month.
RAJIY CHANDRASEKARAN, THE “WASHINGTON POST”: It‘s a hot and volatile neighborhood. The Marine patrols really aren‘t able to pierce into the heart of the area. And often what happens is if they are receiving fire from positions in that neighborhood, they call in airstrikes.
ENGEL: As tonight‘s strikes were underway, the Marines using loudspeakers, warning people to surrender. At the same time, from the minarets of mosques, chants “Allah hu Akbar”: “god is great,” a call not to lose faith.
The images were transmitted live across the Arab world including on the Arab TV network, al-Jazeera, a prominent Sunni cleric called into the station describing the American strike as, quote, “a crusader crime.”
Today was the deadline for militants to hand over heavy weapons and Marines entered the al-Jolan neighborhood twice and were fired on each time.
(on camera): There are serious concerns that tonight‘s airstrikes may have completely jeopardized the ceasefire and that the offensive, both sides appear to have been planning may not be far away—Keith.
OLBERMANN: Richard Engel based in Baghdad, many thanks.
The Marines now, poised for attack inside Fallujah the Army parked outside Najaf, it seems that the urban warfare U.S. troops skipped on the march into Baghdad a year ago may have finally come back to greet them.
General Montgomery Meigs served as a commander of the ah Army and the U.S. Army in Europe, and also was NATO commander in Bosnia.
General, for your time, thanks again, and good evening.
GEN. MONTGOMERY MEIGS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Hi, Keith. Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: A lot of the thinking as this situation in Fallujah got worse and worse was that eventually this would have to be decided, not just with firepower, but with intense firepower, less police work, more war-like. Is that what we‘re seeing today? Is that what we‘re going to see in the coming days?
MEIGS: Yeah. If you could not break these people down with negotiations and have the fence-sitters in Iraq see them basically capitulating, then it was going to get to this kind of a situation where you got to go in and break their back.
OLBERMANN: My choice of analogy here, is not meant to demean nor to diminish that it‘s life and death there, but do you see Fallujah, particularly, as if it were a kind of recipe, where the U.S. could wind up using either too much firepower and mess the thing up or use too little firepower and mess the thing up?
MEIGS: Oh, yeah. I mean, look, in this part of the world, everyone is watching to see whether the Americans will go and defeat this crowd. However, you have to do it in a manner that they perceive as just. If you overcommit, if you create a lot of collateral damage, if you allow some sort of an information campaign to get going that makes you look like a crusader criminal, as we‘ve heard, and it can be substantiated, that‘s a problem. But, you got to go in there and take the guys down.
OLBERMANN: In Najaf, meanwhile, 64 killed outside the city, but still the restraint seems to be in play. Troops staying outside of the holy sites in the city itself, but obviously that cannot go on indefinitely. Are we in the position that Rick Francona had suggested last night of essentially hoping that the other clerics deal with Moqtada al-Sadr themselves, and is there a shelf-life to that hope?
MEIGS: Well, I suspect the strategy has to be, you go in the backdoor with Moqtada al-Sadr. You try to get the more senior Shiite clerics to close him off; you create safe ground for them to maneuver on him politically and culturally. You don‘t have the senior clerics to deal with the situation in Fallujah. Here you‘ve got fighters—foreign fighters, you‘ve got the Sunni hardliners, it‘s a different situation. So, you can do one with sort of a soft hand, the other with a hard hand.
OLBERMANN: Last point, just to update as we get closer to this deadline—we‘ve heard a lot of analysis about the June 30 turnover, but not a lot of alternatives at this stage to what seems to be in progress. What would your suggestion be to enable the military situation to proceed the way you feel it should there?
MEIGS: Well, first of all, you got to get somebody that you can invest sovereignty in that‘s relatively credible with the Iraqi people and can compare—prepare for the election. Remember, that is a huge task. Secondly, you‘ve got to make sure that the military commander on the ground is the sole and final determiner of what safe and secure environment is and when lethal force can be used. That‘s the formula from Bosnia and Kosovo, it‘s absolutely critical.
OLBERMANN: General Montgomery Meigs, as always sir, great thanks for your time.
MEIGS: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: Good. Thanks, sir.
The other stories of Iraq tonight, are about the people that were there, some who survived and some who did not, like the three U.S. servicewomen, the Witmer sisters of Madison, Wisconsin. Today news that all of them have come home for good. Twenty-year-old Specialist Michelle Witmer, of the 32nd Military Police Company, was killed on the 9th of this month in an ambush in Baghdad. Her twin sister, Sergeant Charity Witmer, has been a medic with the 118th Battalion. The third sister, 24-year-old Rachael Witmer, had been serving in the same police company with Michelle. A National Guard spokesman said the decision was, in essence, mutual, that the remaining sisters, already home on grief leave, wanted to stay there, and that commanders of each of the surviving sister‘s units thought would be best if they did not return to Iraq, both for their own safety and for that of their units on the chance that Iraqi insurgents might actually target them.
Another poignant homecoming, also in Wisconsin, Private Joseph Wagner is tonight back with his mother in the town of Altoona, in that state. You will recall that Mrs. Patrice Confer was diagnosed with terminal cancer less than a month ago. The Army initially refused to let her son come home from Iraq. She was on our program last Thursday. On Friday, the military reversed its decision. But, her son did not get home until today because of what were described as “troubles on the road that sidetracked him,” those would be an uprising near Tikrit.
Tonight however, mother and son are again together for two weeks—that is how much time the Army is giving him.
And a little more tonight about Pat Tillman. A sports memorabilia company says it will not taking easy advantage of the chance to exploit the former football player‘s death in battle in Afghanistan. Corporations like the Donruss Company stockpile uniforms worn by athletes in the major sports and usually cut them up to swatches which are then attached to trading cards, some of which later sell for hundreds of dollars a piece. A uniform worn by Pat Tillman was one of at least 20,000 purchased by Donruss, but it was never cut up for use in cards. Now with Tillman‘s death, Donruss says, it never will be cut up. The company‘s chief executive officer said that were it to be auctioned off, it might sell for at least $25,000 if it was sold in swatches on the cards, it might earn the company as much as $4 million in additional sales over the next three years. Instead, Donruss says it will give the uniform to Tillman‘s family. On the other hand, two companies in the replica uniform business say now they expect, at a later date, to contact the Tillman family about making tribute uniforms with his name and number on them.
The fifth story travels back to the Middle East now, and two more elements, before and after pictures, if you will, from the war on terror. There‘s been an attack in Damascus, Syria, a city where Palestinian extremists have had their headquarters, and a country where at least 10,000 people were slaughtered by the secular Asad regime in 1982 in hopes of ending a terror campaign by the Muslim brotherhood. Witnesses and Syrian officials say the attackers opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, and did so near the Iranian and Canadian embassies and a building that once housed a U.N. headquarters. One official said, two attackers had been killed, two wounded, and that a policeman and a civilian had also been killed. A car bomb may have been detonated. Security forces have the area sealed off. No word as to who was behind the attack.
And to round out the fifth story on COUNTDOWN, rejoining the family of nations has its positives and its negatives. Ask Libyan leader, Moammar Qaddafi. Arriving in Brussels, his first visit to the West in 15 years, but Colonel‘s photo-op was interrupted by a protester brandishing an envelope. Qaddafi may have been off the A list all this time, but it has not dulled his political reflexes. He just kept smiling and shaking hands while security with, not so much, great alacrity tried remove the unidentified man who wound up finally flinging the envelope at the colonel and missing him. The man might have mistaken Qaddafi for the actor Ian McShane, who plays the lead on the new HBO series “Deadwood.” It‘s possible he was just asking for an autograph. Keep smiling.
COUNTDOWN opens with all the day‘s headlines on the war on terror:
The good, the bad, and the weird.
Still to come, The war of the medals controversy: The GOP questions Kerry; Kerry questioned Bush; we‘ll question somebody who was there.
But up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story: The death of Princess Diana. No matter how you feel this conspiracy theory might be a silly thing, Scotland Yard is taking it seriously. So seriously they may interrogate the prince. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Tonight‘s No. 4 story up next. Prince Charles could soon be answering questions from Scotland Yard‘s finest. The topic: The death of his ex-wife. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: It is one thing for the president and vice president of the United States to go before an investigatory commission and answer questions about the worst attack on this nation‘s soil in two centuries, as they will day after tomorrow, but it is something else, simultaneously nowhere near that important and yet in a way, more compelling still, for the police to raise the possibility of interviewing the heir to the British throne about the possibility that the death of his ex-wife was not an accident.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The ultimate tabloid story suddenly gets serious around the edges. Scotland Yard may question Prince Charles. Here‘s Tom Costello in London.
TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Britain‘s top policemen went to Paris to reconstruct Princess Diana‘s final hours, from the Ritz Hotel, where she died with boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, through the Paris streets her chauffeur took, trying to avail (ph) the pursuing paparazzi, and finally to the tunnel where their car crashed, killing all three.
Sir John Stevens is promising a thorough and conclusive investigation.
SIR JOHN STEVENS, COMMISSIONER, LONDON METROPOLITAN POLICE: Every single aspect of conspiracy theories, and the like, will be looked at by my team and then we‘ll reporting to the coroner.
COSTELLO: French detectives concluded five years ago that Henri Paul caused the accident by speeding and driving drunk, but Dodi al-Fayed‘s father has always alleged a conspiracy; charges that gained traction when a former butler released letters from Diana in which she expressed fear that Charles planned to kill her in a traffic accident.
(on camera): All the conspiracy theories led the royal coroner to open an investigation. The hope is he can put the theories to rest once and for all. But to do so, the police may have to take their investigation to the royal family.
STEVENS: If in fact there is a need to interview Price Charles, we will interview Price Charles. That‘s a fact.
EVE POLLARD, ROYAL WATCHER: I think the British want to do this to lay another ghost to rest and to stop the conspiracy theories.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Theories that, even today, have many convinced it could not have been a simple traffic accident that took the life of the people‘s princess.
Tom Costello, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: The royal controversy, our No. 4 story in the COUNTDOWN.
Coming up, those stories that could not earn a COUNTDOWN number, but are weird enough, shocking enough we have to tell you of them anyway. “Oddball” next.
What does Mars have to do with northern Virginia?
And later, a college kid, he‘s short on cash and financial aid, but he decides to overnight it in the library—for eight months.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you with COUNTDOWN and immediately pause it to bring you the pure unbaked cookie dough of news, the tantalizing, but ultimately meaningless headlines that always follow after I say “Let‘s play Oddball.”
Mars, from time and memorial, mankind‘s obsession in the heavens. Did life unfold there? When? Where did it go? Did it grow into cities? Who was in charge? Good news, the last question has just been answered. The planet Mars is officially under the jurisdiction of the northern Virginia district of Little League Baseball, Incorporated. The regional administrator there wanted to stimulate kids about science and technology, so he petitioned little league headquarters to annex Mars in his district. So, if there are little leaguers on Mars, who are watching right now, your regional playoffs, this spring, will be in McLean, Virginia. There will be gravity issues, the pull is about a third less on Mars than it is on Earth, which might affect Martian homerun hitters or perhaps explain Barry Bonds.
Back on this planet, it‘s COUNTDOWN car chase of the week. And we have a developing situation on the major freeways of Oklahoma City, which means it‘s time to check the “Oddball Scorecard,” and we see it is cops—
39, guys who think they can escape the cops—zip. Although, must admit a powerful Ford Mustang, some fancy driving will improve your odds just a bit. Not sure, but I think this man may have been a stunt driver on “T.J. Hooker.” Check out how he maneuvers through two police attempts to spin him out of control. Weee! Quality driving, but he can‘t avoid the wall on spin No. 3, but he will not give up there. This out of control fugitive will do anything to escape. He mocks the fabric of our traffic laws by driving backwards on the freeway! But, it comes to an end the way all chases come to an end with the perp in handcuffs. He‘ll have plenty of time to drive backwards where he‘s going—the big house.
And lastly, to the one constant un-ebbing source of “Oddball” news—eBay. We‘ve seen a lot of ugliness there, but never quite like this. Seller, “horseplaypublishing” is auctioning off a wedding dress, and you may have noticed there, he‘s also wearing it. “I found my ex-wife‘s wedding dress in the attic when I moved,” he writes, “I was actually going to have a dress burning party when the divorce became final, but my sister talked me out of it. ‘That‘s such a gorgeous, some lucky girl would be glad to have it.‘” True enough. One fashion hint though, to that luck girl who‘d be glad to have it: No tattoos!
And one more note from his sales pitch: “Thank the Lord we didn‘t have kids. If they would have turned out like her or her family I would have slit my wrists.” That‘s salesmanship.
COUNTDOWN picking back up in a moment with the No. 3 story. Your preview: John Kerry‘s Vietnam protest, now a tempest in the race for the White House. A witness to the ribbon or medal tossing joins us to recall what really happened that day.
And later, as they said in the movie, “What do you suppose happened to the car that runs on water with a pinch of something or the razor blade that never gets dull?” What do you mean you‘ve invented an inscrutable tire?
These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3: Livia Ungureanu of Romania, the 4-year-old girl fell out of a balcony, three stories up. Terror gripped her family until she landed right on top of a stay dog. Both of them sustained only minor injuries. Livia has now adopted the dog. They just kind of fell into the relationship. Sorry.
No. 2: Two boys in Fort Myers, Florida, now facing felony charges for making a keilbasa bomb. They stuffed homemade napalm and two aerosol cans into a—into the sausage and they thought it was funny. Funny? Desecrating a sausage is funny?
And No. 1: The late Tony Mullan, who was Ireland‘s champion clay pigeon shooter. Before his death, he asked that he be cremated and his remains dispersed into 50 shotgun shells, with which his friends can go out and shoot clay pigeons. In loving memory of Tony—pull!
OLBERMANN: Once upon a time in this country, presidential politics was simultaneously vicious and gentile. Accuse your opponent of fathering an illegitimate child during one campaign, cooperate in the next opponent in the next campaign it keep secret the fact that he was in a wheelchair.
Our No. 3 in the COUNTDOWN, tonight: If we are not quite that vicious anymore, we certainly are nowhere near that gentile. Two more pieces of evidence of that in play, tonight. A college that was expecting a foreign policy speech and instead got a campaign stop, and an eyewitness account of the John Kerry thrown medal controversy.
The Kerry story first. The presumptive presidential nominee had long claimed that at a 1971 protest by Vietnam veterans against the war, he symbolically threw away not his Vietnam medals, but only some of his decoration ribbons. Over the weekend, a 1971 interview with Kerry from a Washington television station turned up in which Kerry seems to use the terms medals and ribbons interchangeably. Republicans declared that a flip-flop and suggested maybe Kerry really did throw away his medals, including three Purple Hearts.
Tonight, on MSNBC‘s “HARDBALL,” Kerry explained why those terms were indeed interchangeable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The medals and ribbons are the same thing, fundamentally. The ribbons are medals. They‘re the ribbon that‘s attached to the medal. You wear them every day and it‘s a symbol of your medals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And, more importantly, an eyewitness reported what he saw Kerry throw or not throw that day.
Tom Oliphant was “The Boston Globe” correspondent at the protest. He is now one of the paper‘s leading columnist. Mr. Oliphant joins us from Washington.
Good evening, sir.
THOMAS OLIPHANT, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”: Good evening, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: Not bad.
Your column today was clear and emphatic. And, forgive this, but what did the presidential candidate throw and why did he throw it?
OLIPHANT: I think this is one of those cases where perhaps the facts get in the way of a good shouting match.
OLBERMANN: So what was it? What did you see? You were five feet
away from it
OLIPHANT: Well, yes, right up until the moment. He reached into his pocket and he took out maybe six or seven—I called them decorations just to avoid this food fight for a second—ribbons, I guess it would be called. It was all he had with him from Massachusetts. He had been wearing them on his fatigue shirt all week.
He took them out and he had them in the palm of his hand and it was a small enough collection that he could make a fist over it while he waited his turn. And then I watched him from—you‘re right—from a distance of about five feet go to the front of the fence, say something very briefly, quietly, and sort of lob more than throw. It was like he was just beginning to warm up in the bullpen. That wasn‘t a fastball he threw.
OLBERMANN: So what you saw that day was not only that John Kerry didn‘t throw any of his own medals, and using that word very particularly, into that pile, but he didn‘t have the medals with him either?
The thing to remember is, this is the anti-war movement, Keith. In today‘s politics and theater, everything is scripted, right, even when you go to the can. But, in those days, nothing was scripted. And when they all assembled here from all over the country, there was no plan even to turn in medals. It was an idea that developed in the week, mostly because the police built had a fence in front of the Capitol. And so when Kerry left Massachusetts, the only stuff he took with him was stuff he was going to wear on his fatigue shirt, much as someone in uniform would wear on his blouse or her blouse. And that‘s all he had with him. So there were no medals to throw even if he had wanted to, which he didn‘t.
OLBERMANN: But that, of course, then brings the whole thing back with the Republicans of today, back to the semantics of this, the idea that he may have said, I gave back my medals or I threw away my medals. You note that in the military, all decorations, ribbons, bars, medallions were referred to collectively as medals.
John Kerry said that. We just heard him say it from “HARDBALL.” Does anybody else say that? It rings a distant chord for me.
OLIPHANT: In my life, my dad, rest his soul, had a Bronze Star from his service in the Pacific during World War II. And I remember asking him about his—it came in a box, the medal part of it, and there was a lapel ornament and a ribbon.
And one time, I said, what do you call the smaller things and he just said, they‘re all the Bronze Star. And that‘s the most important fact, I guess I can tell you, is on that day and on every day since, whether he‘s correct or not, John Kerry has never acknowledged any distinction between those words. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to this controversy if he had just used the word decorations.
OLBERMANN: Well, lastly, since our point in this segment is that everything has turned into politics now...
OLIPHANT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Do you want to do a disclaimer? Is there a point-of-view acknowledgement or something we should put in and attach to your reporting here?
OLIPHANT: Oh, absolutely.
My wonderful, genius daughter in her fourth job in politics joined the Kerry campaign two weeks ago and exerts a magical, mystical hold on my writing and ideas. It accounts for everything I say.
OLBERMANN: Well, at least you admit it, sir.
OLIPHANT: There you go. I do.
OLBERMANN: Tom Oliphant of “The Boston Globe,” many thanks for your time. A pleasure to have you on the show, sir.
OLBERMANN: And a Vietnam-era dispute over words and intentions finding a 21st century analogy in Fulton, Missouri. That‘s where Vice president Dick Cheney launched a new campaign offensive yesterday, delivering a stinging indictment of Senator Kerry‘s record on defense.
But while the speech drew rounds of applause at the college that served also as the stage for Winston Churchill‘s Iron Curtain speech, not everyone was pleased with it. The president of the college, who, like the media, was told this was to be a major speech on foreign relations, sent this e-mail to the entirety of his campus: “Frankly, I must admit that I was surprised and disappointed that Mr. Cheney chose to step off the high ground and resort to Kerry-bashing.” He goes on to write, “We had only been told the speech would be about foreign policy.”
The man who wrote that, the president of Westminster College, Fletcher Lamkin, joins us now from Missouri.
President Lamkin, thank you kindly for your time tonight.
FLETCHER LAMKIN, PRESIDENT, WESTMINSTER COLLEGE: Thank you for inviting me on the show, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A spokeswoman for the vice president says it‘s her understanding that the college was made aware that—quote—“Senator Kerry‘s different views on foreign policy would be mentioned throughout the vice president‘s speech.” Is that correct or was your institution kind of blindsided?
LAMKIN: I don‘t think it‘s blindsided.
I think it was a miscommunication. I‘m sure both the people we talked to meant to say the right thing, but it was certainly our interpretation of what was said that it was going to be a speech on foreign policy. And certainly I‘d like to clarify a few things that I said in that e-mail, Keith.
First of all, it was an internal e-mail. It was meant for students, staff and faculty, as it‘s addressed. I think it‘s been taken out of context quite a bit. It was meant to express that my interest is in balance. I would like a balanced view of the issues expressed on this historic campus and it was my intention that that happen and that‘s why we issued the invitation to Senator Kerry.
OLBERMANN: So do you expect Senator Kerry at some point to speak at Westminster?
LAMKIN: Yes. He will be here on Friday. And I think it will be his chance to state his view of important issues that face this nation.
And I want it to be made clear, Keith, that I in no way, shape or form intended to in any way criticize our vice president. He certainly was free to say the things that he said and it was appropriate in a political speech. But because it was a political speech, I wanted to also in the interest of balance issue an invitation to Senator Kerry to state his views.
OLBERMANN: So the gist of this is, regarding the vice president‘s speech, if you had been told explicitly Mr. Cheney wants to go to where Churchill invoked Stettin and Trieste and talk foreign policy, and by the way, he is going to wrap it up with about 10 minutes of a kind of standard campaign speech, would the speech have gone on as planned? In other words, you didn‘t have a problem with what he said, just that it was somewhat surprising to you?
LAMKIN: That‘s absolutely correct, Keith. I had no problem with what he said. I just felt that we had built a different context here on the campus. And I needed to explain that to our students, staff and faculty. And I‘m interested in balance, a balanced view of the issues being presented on this historic campus. And that‘s really the long and short of it.
OLBERMANN: Well, we commend you on the search for balance and we hope that you have better luck finding it than we in the news media have in the last three months. It‘s quite a campaign.
LAMKIN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Fletcher Lamkin, president of Westminster College, thank you for joining us, sir.
OLBERMANN: And we round out tonight‘s No. 3 story, the theory that everything is political, with evidence that the loathing between the parties now reaches down so deeply into the soul, if any, that it can be expressed only in song.
First, as you may have seen on COUNTDOWN last week, the operatic tribute to Donald Rumsfeld, not content to let his opacity speak for itself, soprano Eleanor Wall (ph) has set his news conference musings to music, lending a whole new dramatic range to the secretary‘s most metaphysical of moments.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know. There will be some things that people will see, will see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But not to be outdone by Rumsfeld aficionados, a group called Punk Voters has put out an album called “Rock Against Bush.” Highlights includes original tracks like “Moron.” Then there‘s the wishful “Sink, Florida, Sink,” and finally, the track, that is sure to get you going when the Patriot Act has you down, the upbeat “Paranoia Cha-Cha-Cha.”
And that, they say, is just volume one. The fat lady or somebody has sung, signaling the end of our third story on COUNTDOWN. Everything is political.
Still ahead of us tonight, story No. 2, the new invention that could permanently deflate terms like flat and blowout. And later, the hits just keep on coming. Air America has not even been on the air a month and already there‘s a shakeup at the top.
But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HARDBALL”)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Are they going to drop this nonsensical stuff? Don Evans, the secretary of commerce and the president‘s good friend, said you look French the other day. Are they going to try to build the idea that you‘re like Mike Dukakis?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the American people can see through it. Maybe they ought to get really nervous in the White House, because I understand Karen Hughes was born in Paris.
KERRY: They better worry about it.
MATTHEWS: Hah! Tit for tat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told him, when he starts talking about standards, make sure it‘s the kind of language we all understand. See, that‘s part of the problem. The medical terminology is like really different from English.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s pretty inspirational. The dog is exceeding what I thought he would be able to do. And I think it‘s working great. Hey, if this dog can do it, so can I.
OLBERMANN: It could eliminate the rattling of the jack in the trunk of your car, could put an end to the countless stubbed toes from angrily kicking yours or others‘ hubcaps, which, of course, means it could get scuttled by skeptics or vested interests.
Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is all about it and it‘s next.
OLBERMANN: One of the most underrated films of all time a 1951 Alec Guinness picture called “The Man in the White Suit.” Ostensibly, it‘s about a scientist who invents a fabric that never gets dirty and can never wear out. In reality, it‘s about how everybody, clothing manufacturers, the media, the workers, even other scientists, has a vested interest in making sure the indestructible cloth never sees the light of day or they will all be out of work.
Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, not the man in the white suit, but the man with the indestructible tire. And if you watch this report from our correspondent Mike Taibbi long enough, you may smell just a whiff of that backlash felt by the Alec Guinness character.
MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a warehouse on the edge of Boulder City, Nevada, a couple of 60-something dreamers secretly nurture a dream it turns out they‘ve independently shared for nearly three decades, to find the holy grail of the tire industry, a synthetic replacement for rubber that would make cheaper, safer, simpler and wholly recyclable tires.
It was Richard Steinke an inventor who grew up in a Cincinnati orphanage, who came up a new urethane compound he says performs better than rubber, though he won‘t say what‘s in it.
(on camera): This is the secret sauce?
RICHARD STEINKE, INVENTOR: That‘s right.
TAIBBI: The Coke formula that‘s kept under lock and key?
STEINKE: That‘s right.
TAIBBI (voice-over): Still, Steinke didn‘t know how to turn his secret into a real tire until he met Rick Vannan, the retired research and development chief at Goodyear.
RICK VANNAN, INVENTOR: We would change the industry forever.
STEINKE: When Rick and I got together, it was like the Wright brothers.
TAIBBI: Does their invention fly?
VANNAN: It‘s just like having my first child.
TAIBBI: We watched those parts of the process we were allowed to watch and wondered whether these revolutionary automobile tires, which take only seconds to make and can be made in any color, would work as well as the low-duty solid tires that Steinke had been making for years for tractors, golf carts and wheelbarrows.
Then we went out to the Las Vegas Speedway to try the tires ourselves. As (INAUDIBLE) single-compound tires, there‘s no possibility of tread separation. And these tires are also designed to run flat for hundreds of miles of normal use.
(on camera): They say there are only two kinds of drivers, those who have had a tire emergency and those who will.
(voice-over): So we let all the air out of one tire and, for good measure, filled the side wall and tread full of holes, and a series of hard, hairpin turns, no problem.
(on camera): In fact, at cruising speed, I can‘t tell the difference.
(voice-over): There are already skeptics, like tire expert Asa Sharp (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn‘t grow up in Missouri, but I would have to answer it as a Missouri person.
TAIBBI (on camera): Show me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
TAIBBI (voice-over): And even if the new tire is what its inventors say it is, Sharp says it would be years before they could be fitted to existing tire and vehicle technology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Decades.
TAIBBI (on camera): Decades?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would think so.
TAIBBI: That‘s not what Steinke and Vannan say. They say, in a year, two years at most, the rubber tire industry as it functioned for a century will come to a stop, its replacement ready to roll.
Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Boulder City, Nevada.
OLBERMANN: Mark Mason of Massachusetts could have used the Steinke-Vannan tires. The second part of our No. 2 story tonight will evoke images from a dozen movies, a driver going across a drawbridge that suddenly begins to open.
Mason, with his two kids in the backseat of their minivan, was crossing a nearly century-old bridge in Gloucester, Mass., when without warning the thing started to rise and open up. He knew he could not turn around and go back. He had no choice, instant scene from “The Blues Brothers.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK MASON, MOTORIST: And that, you know, could take a shot that it did. A smaller car or a motorcycle, we‘d be talking a whole different story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Outcome, nobody hurt. The bridge with its mind of its own possibly thrown a‘kilter when it was crossed by a truck too heavy for it. And the tires on Mason‘s car, all four of them, flat.
With the second story in the books, time to turn the glossy pages with the pictures of the aftermaths of Botox and late nights on Sunset Boulevard, say hello to Hollywood. It‘s time for “Keeping Tabs”; 2002 Academy Award-winning best actress Halle Berry has filed for divorce from her husband, the singer Eric Benet, six months after they separated. They‘d been married for a little over three years.
It‘s her second marriage. The previous one to the former baseball player David Justice ended in divorce in 1996 owing to some degree to her complaint that rather than paying attention to her, Justice preferred to watch Dan Patrick and me on “SportsCenter.” Sorry.
All start-up enterprises have their shaky periods, especially in broadcasting. Still, when your radio network has been on the air for 28 days and the co-founder just vice president for programming are both adios, it‘s a little bit more than shaky. Such is the news from the liberal talk network Air America. Co-foudner Mark Walsh, who made the announcement of the network‘s launch, has now stepped down as CEO. Vice President for operations Dave Logan has—quote—“been replaced.”
Some veteran programmers suggest the problem with the network is less the on-air product and more the initial business strategy, especially the selection of some weak-signaled stations. That‘s “Tabs.”
Our top story is next, valiant college student overcoming homelessness to chase a dream or just a really promising creative writing major. That‘s ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: It is a complaint as old as school itself. I‘m literally living in the library. If have ever said it, you might want to rethink it after you hear the story of Steve Stanzak. Then again, as our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight suggests, you may also want to rethink the story of Steve Stanzak.
This would be Steve. He is a 20-year-old sophomore at New York University. This would be New York University. It is located in Greenwich Village in the heart of downtown Manhattan, not quite Ivy League, not quite beatnik, more like the best of both words. So there is Mr. Stanzak on a $15,000 scholarship and unable to find another penny with which to pay for housing, thus choosing to live for eight months in the sub-basement of the university‘s Bobst Library, showering at the apartments of friends, getting all his nourishment from bagels and original juice, and then getting profiled in today‘s “New York Times,” oh, and chronically the entire experience on his Web site.
Did we mention Mr. Stanzak‘s major? Creative writing.
Kate Meyer is an NYU sophomore, news editor at “The Washington Square News,” the student-run paper that broke this story.
Ms. Meyer, good evening. Thanks for your time.
KATE MEYER, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY STUDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So, NYU responded to all this by getting Steve Stanzak a free room immediately, so immediately you wouldn‘t believe it. But about believing the story of him living in the library, separate the truth from the urban legend for us. Was he really living in the library?
MEYER: Yes, he definitely was really living in the library.
Since September, he has been sleeping for six hours a night on three chairs in the basement level of the library and has been using the library bathrooms to clean himself. And he has definitely been living there. He has been chronicling it, as you said, on his Web site. And students all over campus have known about it for months, regardless of whether the university knew about it until last week, apparently. But it was known on campus that he definitely was living in the library.
OLBERMANN: How much of it was necessary homelessness, if you will, and how much of it was a guy who was perhaps putting too much creative into his creative writing major?
MEYER: Well, I think that Steve definitely thought that he had to live in the library. For him, this was a necessary thing.
For any one of us, I don‘t know. I personally don‘t think I would live in the library, but he thought that he needed to do that. He was using it as kind of an experiment for his writing, but it definitely wasn‘t something that he chose to do over another viable option, to live in housing or to live in an apartment in the city. This was what he thought he had to do to stay at NYU.
OLBERMANN: I lived on campus at Cornell for three years. And clearly parts of our libraries there were much nicer than my dorm room. Did you get a sense of how bad this really was a setting for him? I mean, it‘s described as the sub-basement of the place.
MEYER: Well, the sub basement is our study lounge.
OLBERMANN: Oh, OK.
MEYER: So it‘s not really as dark and decrepit as it may sound.
But NYU housing, on the other hand, is the best in the country. So there is a pretty fair discrepancy between NYU housing and an apartment on Fifth Avenue and the basement in Bobst Library. So...
OLBERMANN: All right, end result of this for him, do you have a sense yet what—is this going to be a book? Is it going to be a TV movie? What‘s going to happen at the end of all this?
MEYER: He originally was planning on writing a book all along. So I think he is still planning on doing that. He wants to take a break I think from all of the attention he‘s been getting and just get back to living a normal student life.
And he is very—from what I gather, he is very devoted to his studies and he takes academics very seriously, obviously. Otherwise, he wouldn‘t have gone to all this trouble to stay at NYU. So I think he really wants to focus on that and in the future write a book.
OLBERMANN: And if he were not dedicated to his studies, he wouldn‘t be living in a library. Obviously, that would be the joke that would have to be made at the end of it.
OLBERMANN: Kate Meyer, news editor of the New York University student paper, “The Washington Square News,” thanks for your time tonight and for setting up straight on this story. Appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: And in the spirit of education, we leave tonight‘s story with some math. How much money does it take to attend for one year as an undergrad at NYU? According to New York University‘s office of undergraduate admissions, average $41,100, tuition, room, board, expenses and, of course, library privileges.
Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.
No. 5, fighting back on in Fallujah, U.S. forces pounding insurgency positions, exchanging gunfire with rebels in the daytime and sending in rockets and AC-130 gunship to light up the night sky. Four, investigating royalty, the British police opening up the possibility—and it is just that at this point—of interviewing Prince Charles as part of a new inquiry into how his ex-wife actually died.
Three, political perspective. Eyewitness Thomas Oliphant of “The Boston Globe” backs up John Kerry‘s assertion that he threw away his military ribbons, not his military medallions, at a war protest 33 years ago and that the terms medals and ribbons were interchangeable. Two, an end to tire trouble. An inventor and a retired tire researcher—retired tire researcher—say they have perfected a new compound that performs better than rubber when it comes to meeting the road.
And, No. 1, Steve Stanzak, the NYU student hard up for cash, possibly hard up for ideas for his creative writing class, lived in the university library for the last eight months and now has gotten a free room.
That‘s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann.
Good night and good luck.
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