Guests: Howard Fineman, Scott Zacky
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
New photos: A new secretary of defense? White House sources leak word of the president‘s scolding Mr. Rumsfeld, but in public, Mr. Bush says Mr. Rumsfeld will stay on.
Will this stay on the bases in baseball? A little cross promotion between grand old game and the “Spider-Man” sequel, erupts with the passion of a bean ball war. I‘ll talk about it with Bob Costas.
And no smoking no, drinking, no slow dancing: We‘ll take to you Club Free Breeze (ph), the Christian night spot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There‘s more to your Saturday night than going and getting plastered, you know?
OLBERMANN: And, what about wearing this t-shirt onto a flight? The crew asks to you cover it up. You do. Then you ask how you can complain about all this and they throw you off the plane?
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. It has been pointed out that whatever U.S. servicemen did to Iraqis inside the Abu Ghraib prison, it was not a fraction as bad as what Saddam Hussein‘s thugs did to Iraqis inside Abu Ghraib prison. That sounds nice, but ultimately, it provides only cold comfort. We are better than Saddam Hussein. Gee, thanks. Glad we cleared that up.
Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Today, more photos, more controversy, more apologies, and more than one message about how President Bush views Defense Secretary Rumsfeld role in all this.
First, as if more were needed, the photos. Found mixed in with more than 1,000 digital images obtained by the “Washington Post.” A young military police officer from West Virginia, pulling a naked Iraqi man by a leash. It was in there somewhere amidst the images of a soldier riding a camel and others pose in front of a mosque.
Now the apology, it came after his own national security advisor had issued one, after his deputy secretary of secretary of state, after the brigadier general on the ground in Iraq, but today it came. The “S” word, but not used directly to the people of Iraq, nor to the prisoners. In two rare sit-down interviews with the Arab networks al-Hurra and al-Arabiya yesterday, President Bush said only that American citizens were quote, “appalled by what they saw.” But, during a joint news conference today with the king of Jordan, the president said, I‘m sorry or said that he had said he was sorry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told his majesty, as plainly as I could, that wrongdoers will be brought to justice. I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families. I told him I was equally sorry that—that people um—have been seeing those pictures, didn‘t understand the true nature and heart of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, the president has now apologized to the king of the country next to Iraq. Now, about Secretary Rumsfeld, after appearing on several morning talk shows yesterday, the secretary abruptly canceled an appearance he had scheduled in Philadelphia today, sending instead his undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz. And as Mr. Rumsfeld kept a low profile, democrats in opposition to him raised theirs. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and the democratic leader of the house, Nancy Pelosi, eschewed the niceties and called openly for Rumsfeld to step down.
John Kerry also echoed that call, although he also pointed out that he had asked for Rumsfeld‘s resignation months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The entire—you know, way in which he rushed the nation to war with the assumptions that he was making which were incorrect; it is a huge historic miscalculation. I thought he should resign then, period.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But, exactly how the president feels about calls for Rumsfeld to step down is a little harder to glean. In public, Mr. Bush seemed to be all praise for the secretary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Secretary Rumsfeld is a really good secretary of defense. Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation well. Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars. And uh—he is uh—he‘s an important part of my cabinet and he‘ll stay in my cabinet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But, headlining major papers nationwide today, separate stories that the president had privately rebuked Rumsfeld for the way he has handled the prison abuse scandal. Those stories evidently based on high level leaks from the senior White House officials, who, as the “New York Times” put it, acted quote, “under authorization from Mr. Bush.” And, today during that same news conference with King Abdullah, Bush appeared to confirm that story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And I tell him I should have known about the pictures and the report.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Something of a mixed message, perhaps. Joining us to help translate, “Newsweek‘s” senior political correspondent Howard Fineman.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi Keith.
OLBERMANN: The word in the New York time was Mr. Bush “chastised” Mr. Rumsfeld. In the “Los Angeles Times,” it was “rebuked.” In the “Washington Post,” it was “admonished.” And we get an entirely different assessment in public. What gives?
FINEMAN: Well, what gives here is a change in George Bush‘s operating philosophy, as I see it. Having covered him in the presidential campaign, I know that the No. 1 thing for him was loyalty down to engendered loyalty up, and a closed mouth about all internal matters in his team. This was a departure, hear the word was deliberately leaked that Rumsfeld was being called on the carpet. And I thought the president‘s defense of him in the rose garden, while the words sounded OK, was not exactly enthusiastic in its delivery. And I think it‘s a sign that this president is very unhappy about the situation and willing to change the way he operates, which is, makes him more of a Washington creature, by the way, than he has ever wanted to be. Now, he is part of this city, if he hadn‘t been before.
OLBERMANN: I‘m glad you pointed out the body language and the hesitation. I thought difference only one who‘d seen that.
FINEMAN: No, no, no. Yes, it was clear.
OLBERMANN: But, what are the politics of forcing the president to, perhaps force a heavyweight veteran out of his cabinet, like Mr. Rumsfeld? Does it wind up angering Mr. Bush? Does it wind up angering his support base? What are the mechanics involved?
FINEMAN: Well, I didn‘t think the president was trying to totally shut off any discussion of that and while he was talking slowly in the rose garden, up on the Hill, people were calling for Rumsfeld‘s ouster. I think it is true that if you push George Bush, he‘s going to push back. And I don‘t think in the end, that Rumsfeld is going to go any time soon. But, Rumsfeld is a lightning rod for criticism of the administration; this is the way it always works when politics heats up. People don‘t aim at the president of the United States, they aim at the people around him and the critics think they found a weak link in Rumsfeld, who after all, clearly didn‘t plan well enough or extensively enough for the post-invasion of the war that we‘re in Iraq, who clearly wasn‘t telling president all he need to know about the situation in the prisons. So, Rumsfeld‘s the weak link politically right now, not George Tenet, not Colin Powell, and everybody in town is going after him.
OLBERMANN: Bigger picture, is there a document that everybody in the administration signed that said: No matter what the problem is, we will wait for some news organization to break it first, then we will see if we can avoid overtly apologizing, then finally, if there is no other choice, we will apologize, but never directly?
FINEMAN: Well, I guess it is George Bush‘s nature. He only has a forward gear, Keith. That was always the case, he thinks it‘s a sign of weakness, in a way, both in domestic politics and apparently it is a matter of diplomacy. But I think, not being an expert in Middle Eastern psychology, I think the thing to have done on television, when I was speaking directly to what he calls “Joe Public,” and I guess that would be “Jamal Public,” you know—he should have said, “I and we are sorry” directly to the Arab people and the Muslim people, and not go king to king, as it were, with Abdullah. But, that‘s the way Bush operates. Most people are reporting it—the story, by the way, as a direct apology. And maybe we‘re splitting hairs, I don‘t think so.
OLBERMANN: Switching topics, you‘re writing there week about Osama bin Laden as the stealth candidate of the 2004 presidential race and today there is news of an audio tape attributed to him in which he is essentially offering bounties in gold on U.S. or U.N. officials in Iraq. He named Paul Bremer, he names Kofi Annan. Did bin Laden essentially step into the presidential re-election campaign on the president‘s side by doing that today? How does this one particularly play into it?
FINEMAN: Well—yeah, I think he‘s—he‘s in the background of everything that happens here, Keith. I think even though we‘ve had successes in the war on terrorism for sure, even though Afghanistan started out well and Iraq was a military victory. It‘s hard to disagree with criltics who say that since then, things have been going in a manner that even Osama bin Laden couldn‘t have scripted. We‘ve divided our friends and united our enemies. We‘ve made ourselves seemingly a pariah nation throughout the Arab and Muslim world. That‘s not what we wanted to do, that‘s not the way to win the hearts and minds in the world to our side in the war, and Osama bin Laden entered this to create a clash of civilizations, to create the kind of confrontation that we now find ourselves in. And that was my point, he may be on the run, but he has a lot of sympathizers out there and if he‘s capable of bringing off another terror attack, it will play in this election. It is interesting to see how. Will we be another Spain? Or will we be different from that?
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” always a pleasure to have your perspective, sir.
FINEMAN: OK, Keith.
The fifth story includes a programming note: Live coverage tomorrow morning of Secretary Rumsfeld‘s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, it begins at 11:45 a.m. Eastern time. The chairman of the joint chiefs, General Myers, also scheduled to testify.
Sure to top the list of questions to the secretary: When did he first learn of the abuse in Iraq? And while senators of the Arms Services Committee prepare their questions, others were raised today by the International Red Cross. A spokeswoman for that group says it had repeatedly complained to U.S. authorities about the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The only independent organization allowed into coalition-run prisons in Iraq, the Red Cross has been sending delegates to that jail since last October. While the group is being tight-lipped about exactly what mistreatment it may have seen, there is evidence that at least some of the abuse may have been hidden deliberately from Red Cross inspectors. In the now widely distributed Army report that was completed in March, General Antonio Taguba writes that at least one occasion saw military police holding a handful of ghost detainees who they, quote, “...moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross survey team.” As the report notes, that was done in violation of both military code and international law.
The war, incidentally, has not come to a grinding halt while the Middle East erupts in anger and the U.S. shakes its collective head over those photos. Nightmares now touching the family of a Denver man. Aban Elias is 41 years old, born in Baghdad, living in this country 20 years, and a Muslim. He was back in Iraq working on a contracting job near Fallujah; he has been abducted by a group calling itself the “Islamic Anger brigade.” Today from his family‘s home in Denver, Elias‘ brother pleaded for his safe return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAZWAN MAHMOOD ELIAS, HOSTAGE‘S BROTHER: His wife is crying, his mom is crying, I mean, this is just—insane to just have him captured like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And lastly, as part of the fifth story, while our attention is focused on Iraq and events there, a surprising new development tonight on our own soil. An arrest that could connect a lawyer from Portland, Oregon, to the bombings that devastated Madrid in March. Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, with the latest—Pete.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, officials say tonight, that the lawyer whom they identify as Brandon Mayfield of Portland is now in custody on what‘s called a federal material witness warrant, that is a method used to hold people who investigators believe may have important information for a grand jury. No charges have been filed against him yet, it‘s important to note and we‘re being told that he is being questioned, but officials tonight, confirm that Spanish investigators claim they found his fingerprints on material associated with one of the unexploded bombs that was found on a Madrid train in March, something that was first reported tonight on the website of “Newsweek,” magazine.
Investigators believe that Mayfield, who‘s an immigration lawyer, may have done some legal work for a member of group in Portland called the “Portland Seven.” That‘s a group of men charged with plotting to travel to Afghanistan after 9/11 to help al-Qaeda and fight with the Taliban. Only one of them actually made it to the battlefield and authorities believe that he died there. Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI has any comment on this case tonight because technically, it is under seal, as is the case typically with these material witness warrants.
Now, a former colleague of Mayfield says it would not be surprising if Mayfield‘s fingerprints were found on a legal document, because he did so much immigration work, but they say they would be very surprised if he was in any way connected with the Madrid bombing.
Mayfield is the first American to be picked up in connection with the Madrid bombings, although officials tonight say he had been under surveillance for several days, although we don‘t know tonight how long—
OLBERMANN: Pete Williams in Washington, many thanks.
And in from Portland now, a statement from Mr. Mayfield‘s wife, Mona Mayfield. I‘m quoting directly, here: “My husband is innocent,” she says. “This must be some kind of mistake. My husband is not the man they think he is and we hope for his release soon.” A still breaking story, tonight.
Coming up here, on COUNTDOWN: If electronic voting machines are approved, paper recounts like this one will be a thing of the past. Unless electronic machines have already become a thing of the past by this November, so far, not so good.
And on deck and on the mound and on the bases, advertisements for “Spider-Man 2.” Perhaps the mild mannered Peter Parker should don his spidy gear try the save major league baseball from itself. Bob Costas joins me, stand by.
OLBERMANN: Still ahead, the No. 4 story: Come November, you may not have to get nostalgic for hanging chad, he may rejoin you. And tonight, you may blue, but not as blue as the makers of Pepsi Blue.
OLBERMANN: The 2000 presidential election: Hanging chad, dangling chad, pregnant chad, every chad except the one who used to sing with his partner Jeremy.
Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight: They may all be back this fall because the system designed to replace them may actually be worse. Chip Reid now with another quote “improvement,” unquote, that makes you hanker for the paper ballot and the big wooden ballot box with the paddle lock on it.
CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Electronic touch screen voting, proponents say it is the wave of the future—reliable and easy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Follow directions, it‘s simply enough.
REID: Just the ticket, they say, for avoiding a repeat of the hanging chad fiasco of the 2000 presidential campaign. This November, up to 50 million Americans could be voting like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ahh, I‘m being hacked.
REID: But, in a major setback for electronic voting, California recently banned the machines in four counties.
KEVIN SHELLEY, CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE: We have seen time and time again how insecure they are. We have seen that a bunch of high school students can hack in and change thousand of votes.
REID: A federal commission studying electronic voting heard another criticism, that recounts are impossible because there‘s no paper record.
AVI RUBIN, COMPUTER SECURITY SPECIALIST: There‘s no way for the votes to be counted in a way that‘s publicly observable.
REID: But, other computer experts and the machine‘s manufacturers say they are secure, and that they make hand recounts obsolete.
MARK RADKE, DIEBOLD ELECTION SYSTEMS: It‘s clear the electronic voting systems are a significant advancement over previous voting technologies.
REID (on camera): So, with only six months to go before the election, there is now a raging debate here in Washington and across the nation over whether electronic voting is up to the job.
(voice-over): That leaves state and local officials in a major bind. The battleground state of Ohio, for example, is now deciding whether to spend 10s of million of dollars on electronic machines.
THERESA FEDOR (D), OHIO STATE SENATOR: Based on what just happened in California, I think it would be unwise to move forward in 2004 and that we should wait until we have a reliable system.
REID: But, advocates of electronic voting say a go-slow approach would deny million of Americans the chance to escape the ghosts of elections past, and move into the electronic future, this November.
Chip Reid, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Ahead here on COUNTDOWN, with the Kentucky Derby behind us, we turn to the next best sporting event animal—or sporting involving animals with four legs. Although some of those legs may eventually wind up being served for dinner.
Serving the Lord is the bill of fare at this Christian nightclub where worshippers‘ concerns include: Just what would Jesus rock out to? Stand by.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you and immediately pause the COUNTDOWN now, for the news you can‘t use, the stuff that you could live without, sure, but why on earth would you want to? Let play “Oddball.”
And, we begin in Shropshire, England, for the 15th annual Grand National Sheep Racing, and they‘re off, it‘s Mutton taking the lead, followed closely by Wooly Bully, Lamb Chop in third, Mint Jelly on the outside, Mutton, Wooly Bully, Lamb Chop, Mint jelly. Through the first turn it‘s Mutton, Mutton, Mutton, but wait—Big Boy making a move, passing Haggis through the hurdles, now it‘s Big Boy—Big Boy taking the lead, it‘s Big Boy coming, and down the stretch they come!
Indeed, Big Boy did go on to win but really, all the contestants are winners at this event. Each will be shaved naked after the race and then served with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Back in this country, to sunny Los Angeles where they‘re finally going to do something about the smog, perhaps inspired by the toys for guns program, L.A. is offering cash for lawn mowers. Environmental expert say retiring 4,000 gas powered mowers could reduce the pollution in the air over SoCal by nearly 20 tons a year. That is the equivalent of three of governor Schwarzenegger‘s Hummer vehicles. Residents who turn in their mowers will receive a $300 credit toward the purchase of an electric mower, or they can spend it on a goat. A great deal either way, considering the price of gas in California, which today in Calabasas, where super officially hit, as you see at the bottom there: $2.99 and 9/10 cents a gallon.
And finally, it‘s the end of an era, a very short era: The time of the Pepsi Blue. They make a blue Pepsi? Not anymore. The Coca-Cola giant -- or the cola giant, Coca-Ccola would be the other one, is halting production of the berry flavored soft drink after just nine bottles sold in America in two years. OK, nine might be a typo, but the company does say extremely weak sales are the reason they‘re pulling the product. That, and you could never shake the idea that you was drinking Windex.
At the midpoint, still ahead of us tonight: Major league baseball players may be wondering if “Spider-Man 2” ads, to be stuck around the around the field, will keep them from stretching—stretching a single to a double, but there has been a late development in this story. Bob Costas will join me next.
And an airline passenger is wondering why a pilot could have him thrown off a plane because the pilot did not like this: His t-shirt.
These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 1: Jorge Luna, arrested in Brevard County Florida. He is charged with impersonating a lawyer named Scott Siverson. So? It turn out Mr. Luna actually is a lawyer, himself—a lawyer who impersonates other lawyers.
No. 2: The dumb criminal of the day. Unnamed man from Berlin, on his way back from getting his broken arm x-rayed, the 18-year-old broke into a woman‘s home, stole about $20,000 in cash, and left his x-rays in the house, with his name and address on them. That‘s right. They saw right through his alibi.
And No. 1: Two golfers on the 10th hole of the Frisbee Course in Columbus, Ohio, they saw a dog dragging a badly decomposed human hand out of the woods. They called the cops. The cops closed the place down, recovered the hand, took it to the lab and discovered it was a plant, a shrub of some sort in the shape of a hand. Said one of the men who called police, “If it was my hand, I would want someone to call.” It wasn‘t your hand, it wasn‘t anybody else‘s hand, sir.
OLBERMANN: More than a decade ago, the Disney Company bought a hockey franchise, stuck in it Anaheim, California, and named it the Mighty Ducks, the Mighty Ducks being the name of two Disney films about hockey.
Auto racing team would not be indistinguishable except for their corporate sponsors and those sponsors‘ advertisements encompassing the cars. In Japan, baseball teams are named for the corporations that own them. Bob Costas, who will join me in a moment, likes to tell the story of the team named the Nippon Ham Fighters. They do not play in a city called Nippon Ham. They are no opposed to ham. They do not fight each other with hams. They are owned by the Nippon Ham Company.
So, in our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, why is it such a big deal that, for three days next month, all the on-deck circle and pitchers mounds at Major League Baseball games in this are supposed to carry an advertisement for the movie “Spider-Man 2”? Well, it is enough of a big deal that Major League Baseball has already tonight changed its $3.6 million marketing deal with Columbia Pictures to slap the Spidey logo all around the ballparks for the games of June 11, 12, and 13.
The “Spider-Man” thing was supposed to also appear on the bases during the games. But this evening, Major League Baseball, facing a storm of protests, canceled that part of the promotion. It was ruled off-base, so to speak. The plan was revealed by a trade publication, “The Sports Business Journal,” in late January. It was announced yesterday.
And here comes the backlash. First, the New York Yankees had announced they would not put the logo on the bases during the games. The Chicago White Sox had not decided yet. The Oakland Athletics were still evaluating. The San Francisco Giants said they thought it was a great idea. Then again, they were only playing road games that weekend.
Other reactions, Fay Vincent, who was both once the head of the Columbia Pictures and the commissioner of baseball, called the promotion sad. “I‘m old-fashioned. I‘m a romanticist. I think the bases should be protected from this.” The venerable manager of the San Francisco Giants, Felipe Alou, in his 49th season in the sport, asked: “Is this really going to happen? Back in the Dominican, we had beer companies put their names on the backs of our jerseys, but I hadn‘t heard of that here.” What, you never saw “Bad News Bears,” Chico Bail Bonds?
In this most sentimental and historically oriented of our sports, there is outrage and more importantly, perhaps, there is fear, fear that the day of the Chico Bail Bonds Yankees has just drawn closer.
Joining me now for reaction, my friend and colleague at NBC Sports, host of HBO‘s “On the Record with Bob Costas,” Bob Costas.
Thanks for your time, Bob.
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Is this what this is really all about, incremental encroachment on the game of baseball?
COSTAS: Yes, I guess there‘s a slippery slope fear out there.
I don‘t think this is the end of the world, by any means. But I do think it detracts from the game a little bit. I understand the need to market and to market to a younger generation of fans that baseball is very interested in bringing back to the game, but I‘m not so sure that the tradeoff here is worth it.
There‘s advertising all over the ballpark. Some of it is put in digitally, that you see it from the center field camera while you‘re watching the game and they changed the ad from pitch to pitch or inning to inning, outfield walls festooned with advertising, scoreboard in the outfield. But I think the chalk lines, the field itself, the uniforms, the pitching rubber, the bases, that ought to be sacrosanct. So this cheapens it a little bit.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask you two devil‘s advocate questions.
OLBERMANN: About five years ago, they did put a little patch from the manufacturer on the side of the uniforms. And it is—and it made such a little impact on players or fans, I guess, that there were players today talking about this “Spider-Man” base issue who said, well, at least we don‘t have patches on our uniforms. Evidently, it has already been forgotten. Perhaps are we making too much of it?
COSTAS: Yes, I guess, in that case, because it is the manufacturer, they‘re entitled to a small indication they made the uniform.
But you don‘t want baseball players to wind up looking like NASCAR drivers, that sort of thing. It just seems crass. Is it the end of the world? No. Would it make me stop watching baseball? Absolutely not. But it is a direction that I wish they wouldn‘t go. I think they would do better, instead of putting spider webs on the bases, if they want to attract that crowd, they would be better off buying a baseball ad as a trailer preceding “Spider-Man” in the theaters.
That‘s the way to get kids to come to baseball. I can‘t imagine an 8- or 9-year-old kid who otherwise is not particularly interested in baseball saying, I think I‘ll watch this for the next 3 ½ hours because I might see a spider web when a guy slides into second base.
OLBERMANN: Yes, let me stare at the bases for a while and the pitchers rubber and the on-deck circle.
The other devil‘s advocate question here, the D.H., interleague play, the wild card, to varying degrees, you and I as baseball traditionalists have screamed into the raging storm about them.
OLBERMANN: And the game, as usual, ignored us and survived. Why might it be hurt by this? Or is that not a fair grouping?
COSTAS: Oh, as I said, I think this detracts a little bit. It seems a little cheap and crass to me. It is not going to destroy the game. The game‘s popularity is high. Attendance is up. There‘s lots of reasons to love baseball.
But it does bother me a little bit when people group things together. They have to have this cartoon framework. Are you a traditionalist or a progressive, as if it is always an either/or choice. And I guess I might fall into either camp depending upon what the issue is. There are good arguments against the D.H., especially now with offense off the charts. There was a good reason for it perhaps 30 years ago. Those reasons don‘t exist anymore.
I favored interleague play. I thought their initial format was imaginative and repetitive. They amended it. I like it now. I don‘t have any problem with which expanding the playoffs, as they‘ve done with the wild card. But I‘ve suggested ways where they might tinker with it to put more of a premium on finishing first. Those aren‘t traditionalist positions exactly. It‘s the idea of, hey, if you‘re going to change, let‘s change in the most enlightened way possible.
OLBERMANN: Do we perhaps need a rollback? I don‘t want to sound like we‘re the FCC here. But in the ‘40s, the entirety of the famed left field wall in Boston, the Green Monster, was covered by a giant ad for Life Boys Soap sign that said, “Fight B.O.” And in the ensuing decades, baseball seemed to get less crassly commercial. There were fewer ads out on the walls. Do we need some sort of pullback now? Or is it even possible to have a pullback from whatever point we‘re at now?
COSTAS: I would be satisfied with holding the line. I don‘t know if a pullback is possible.
Some of those old ads—I don‘t know about fighting B.O., but some of those had a certain local charm to them, Ebbets Field, Abe Stark clothier‘s hit sign, win suit, that kind thing. And I don‘t mind “Big Mac Land” in honor of Mark McGwire out in left field at Busch Stadium. Or it is kind of clever in left center or right center if the gap just has a Gap sign. I don‘t mind that.
But there is something about a ball field, especially before the game starts, with the batter‘s box and the chalk lines and that whole idea., I don‘t like to see that messed with. As I said, my position is not, hey, everybody come to the game on a trolley car wearing a straw hat and that‘s the only thing that will make me happy. I‘m happy to see baseball progress. I‘m happy to see them market aggressively. But sometimes I wonder whether each choice is the right choice.
OLBERMANN: I always go to the game on a trolley car and wearing a straw hat, as you know.
COSTAS: And ladies should get in for a quarter on ladies day and then they can call both of us a Luddite and then they will be happy.
OLBERMANN: That‘s for sure.
Take 30 seconds and tell me on the record who is “On the Record” Friday.
COSTAS: “On the Record” Friday, Hugh Jackman, Liz Phair, feisty little singer Liz Phair. And Spike Lee and Chuck D look back after 15 years at “Do the Right Thing.”
OLBERMANN: The one and only Bob Costas, who is not sponsored by Spidey, thank you, my friend.
COSTAS: Correct, no patches anywhere. Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN now past the No. 3 story, America‘s pastime meets good old American advertising, and the pastime wins.
Up next, two, No. 2 story, Sunday morning, they‘re in the pews. Saturday night, they‘re praising Jesus in a whole different way. Holy hip shake, Batman. And major television news. Forget “Friends.” Water Cronkite is coming back. Details ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
LISA KUDROW, ACTRESS: Sorry. But we‘re done.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someone told me that if I keep this speech short, I just might be handed a fine looking helmet.
CHENEY: I accept.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, she‘d love to sing for you day.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That‘d be great.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because she has a beautiful voice.
OLBERMANN: Three down and two to go in our trek towards cynics‘ No. 1 story here on the COUNTDOWN. Your preview of it, clubbing for Christ. And no, it‘s not what you‘re thinking, not even what you see on this show, no booze, no cigs, no drugs, just the holy spirit and all the hits and a little (INAUDIBLE)
OLBERMANN: It was National Prayer Day, in case you missed it, an entirely fitting time to take you inside an unlikely scene, where all the hepcats gather to listen to the groovy tunes without violating any of the commandments, nor any of those conduct suggestions that didn‘t quite earn the status of commandments.
Our second story in the COUNTDOWN, quite the balancing act, that, a nightclub, actually—actually just a club, a place for those under 30 -- actually, a Christian club.
COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is just back from one and does not have a hangover—Monica, good evening.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
It is a ministry that is all dressed up for a night on the town, a place where you can listen to music, shoot some pool, belly up to the juice bar, and seek salvation. The idea is to get down and get God.
NANCY ALEKSUK, PASTOR: Religion can be very stuffy.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Not if you‘re kneeling at a nightclub and the guy you came to meet is God. Welcome to Club 3 Degrees, where the question every night is, what would Jesus groove to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let‘s see some head-banging out there, huh?
ALEKSUK: Our vision and mission is to reach people with the Gospel that wouldn‘t necessarily step foot inside of a church. The whole intent of the atmosphere was to be competitive with the other clubs out there.
NOVOTNY: Thirty-eight-year-old director and pastor Nancy Aleksuk preaching to the choir of the clean at a club where no alcohol or smoking is allowed ever, not exactly Studio 54. The drug of choice here is deliverance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There‘s more to your Saturday night than going and getting plastered.
NOVOTNY: This club, actually a nonprofit organization funded in part by a local church, is believed to be the largest and the oldest among a handful of Christian nightclubs around the country.
SPENCER MILLER, CLUB PATRON: And I don‘t really (INAUDIBLE) go to church, so I kind of come around and what they (INAUDIBLE) all over you.
BENJAMIN ROEHRICK, CLUB PATRON: The bands are way better. They‘re not swearing all the time.
NOVOTNY: No foul language, no slow dancing, no wardrobe malfunctions here. In fact, the inspiration for the only music allowed comes straight from the scriptures.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just want to be real with kids and let them know that it‘s OK to believe in things and to believe in God.
ALEKSUK: We use music like bait to go fishing for men. And so the club is a tool for the ministry.
ALEKSUK: One they used the help reel in 26-year-old Jeff Beale after a bad run on the secular club scene.
JEFF BEALE, 3 DEGREES: And I distinctly remember a night in
particular. I was on the floor of a friend‘s house. And I realized that -
· I felt like I finally understood what it meant to be a crack addict. And I decided I didn‘t want my life to be like that.
NOVOTNY: For Beale, this is the promised land.
BEALE: My life now is radically different. I‘m excited to come down here, meet with people, share with people my testimony and how Jesus has changed me.
ALEKSUK: We‘ve had a lot of people accept Christ as their savior for the first time through their experience at the club. And to us, that‘s the whole point.
NOVOTNY: Salvation from a pulsating pulpit.
ALEKSUK: We‘re not looking just to entertain you for the evening. We‘re actually looking to impact your heart in some way. We‘re here to be light in a dark area.
NOVOTNY: The club is run almost entirely by about 250 volunteers and they‘re very strict about the music that‘s played. All the bands that perform must submit their lyrics, along with a statement of faith. The idea is to ensure that the vision of the band is in sync with the mission of the club.
OLBERMANN: No mosh pit.
NOVOTNY: No. No moshing allowed.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, many thanks.
And we segue from the lyrics of in God we trust to the most trusted man in America leading off our celebrity news packet, “Keeping Tabs,” tonight. Walter Cronkite is back on the air. He was forced into retirement as the anchor of “The CBS Evening News” in 1981 so they could promote Dan Rather. That worked out well.
But now, at age 87, Mr. Cronkite will hold a special for MTV, now co-owned with CBS, which went on the air itself in 1981. The program will air May 25. It will be called “Choose or Lose, Work It” and follow five young adults as they compete for the one entry-level position, for a job, that is, kind of the reverse of the network newscasts in the post-Cronkite era, where three anchors compete for a total of five young adult viewers.
And then the political battle that could split the conservative movement in half, unless it splits the liberals in half first. Who do you root for in this one, filmmaker Michael Moore vs. PETA? The group People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals taking a huge slap at Moore‘s huge profile today, selecting him as one of its “Flab Five” and offering a “Veg Eye for the Fat Guy” makeover. PETA says it is sending Moore a care package with diet tips and his very own vegetarian starter kit, which might go really well with a nice steak or maybe some of those sheep from before.
Rounding out the rest of the “Flab Five,” actor John Goodman. PETA says also Luciano Pavarotti, and “Monday Night Football” announcer John Madden and “American Idol” Ruben Studdard. Mmm, Ruben, ahhh.
COUNTDOWN almost to the top. Your preview of our No. 1 story, do you think should you get kicked off a flight for wearing that T-shirt? That story ahead.
First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: Rather than tease out one of our typical long-winded introductions to tonight‘s No. 1 story, we‘ll going to give you a warning. The topic matter, even in the careful way we intend to present it, might be offensive to you or confusing to any kids who might be watching with it. It might just be weird.
It pertains to a T-shirt that somewhat graphically portrays a play on words you could make using the president‘s last name and what an airline did to a passenger who wore the T-shirt on one of their flights. We‘re even going to give you a related story first to give you time to decide whether or not you want to see this.
First to the airport in Birmingham, England, where a teddy bear, some fruit and some clothes have gotten a Portuguese man sentenced to 10 days in jail. They were in the carry-on bag of Jose De Silva, a bag which he left in the departure area of his flight back in Portugal while he went outside to have a smoke. Somebody noticed the unattended bag and before you knew it, 1,000 passengers and staff had been evacuated, three incoming flights diverted, 15 departures grounded and the airport closed for three hours.
British police charged Mr. De Silva with creating a public nuisance. The judge has sentenced him to 10 days in jail for leaving his bag unattended.
That did not happen to Mr. Scott Zacky. He only got thrown off his flight. Going from Oakland to L.A. with his wife, Mr. Zacky went casual, wearing a T-shirt under a button-=down shirt, only the top three buttons of which were undone. As he board the Southwest Airlines jet, a flight attendant told him he would have to cover up that T-shirt completely, that it was—quote—“offensive.”
He did so without making a scene. The airline doesn‘t even dispute that. But then he asked them how he could file a complaint. That‘s when they threw him and his wife off the plane. Stand by for the T-shirt.
Now, you‘ll notice we altered this just slightly. You‘ll probably get the idea anyway. If you don‘t, whatever you do, don‘t ask mom or dad to explain it to you.
The owner of the shirt, Scott Zacky, joins us now from Los Angeles.
Good evening, sir.
SCOTT ZACKY, THROWN OFF FLIGHT FOR T-SHIRT: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: So did you get thrown off that plane because you were wearing that T-shirt or because you asked the flight attendant how to file a complaint?
ZACKY: I think that‘s still unclear to us. The shirt was completely covered, so I believe it had to been I was going to complain.
OLBERMANN: We called Southwest obviously to get their side of the story. And their spokesman said: “One of our pilots took offense to his T-shirt and asked that he be removed from the flight. He,” meaning you, “was accommodated on the very next flight.”
Did the pilot—do we know, did the pilot dislike the politics or did the pilot dislike the woman in the illustration?
ZACKY: You know, it‘s unclear. I wish the pilot was more concerned with piloting the aircraft and the safety of the crew.
It‘s remarkable to me that this is—that he‘s capable of this and removing us from the plane. Obviously, he had made up his mind. And I like the choice of words, accommodated on the next flight. I don‘t know how—I made a reservation, not an accommodation.
OLBERMANN: They put you on next flight and nobody said anything about it; everybody was fine with you wearing that shirt under this other shirt on this next flight?
ZACKY: Didn‘t have to change an outfit, went right on the next flight. It was incredible. It seemed confusing even to the ground crew in Oakland. I have to say, they were even perplexed.
OLBERMANN: I keep thinking as we‘re looking at this T-shirt—and let me say what it says without—we show it—now drop it, so I can just say what it says. Just drop the illustration for a second, guys. It says, “Good Bush, Bad Bush.”
I keep thinking of the TV ad that used to run with the woman who opens a beer with her belt buckle and the bottle foams over. And the announcer says, “Get yourself a Busch.” I guess the pun is OK in advertising that can be seen by millions of people, but not in public on a flight that contained, what, 100, 200 people?
ZACKY: Or under another shirt. I mean, thank God they didn‘t go through my luggage. I had bought T-shirts on this trip, this being the least of the provocative ones.
OLBERMANN: I guess I‘ll just leave that alone. Maybe the guy had—maybe they have better X-rays at the airports than we know about.
Are you going to sue?
ZACKY: Well, going back to that word, I‘m going to accommodate them, with counsel if possible.
ZACKY: I think it was way too extreme, and they‘re getting carried away. And for one pilot to be able to remove somebody for something that offended him or her is going way too far. And I think that I will probably pursue at least what my options are.
OLBERMANN: On the premise of what? Do you feel you were damaged or are you just trying to protect the Constitution or what?
ZACKY: Well, we were embarrassed and humiliated. It was uncalled for. I completely cooperated and complied. You know, when you think of somebody being thrown off an airplane, for people to hear you were thrown off an airplane or asked to get off an airplane, it sends the wrong signal.
And this was something that my wife and I were both thrown off. And it was embarrassing and humiliating. I think I want maybe Southwest and other airlines to draw a more defined line as to what they can remove somebody from a plane for or not.
OLBERMANN: Last question, political vetting, we have to ask. Everything that concerns with politics, you‘ve got to ask political vetting. Can you tell us what your politics are?
ZACKY: Republican, surprisingly enough.
ZACKY: I bought this...
OLBERMANN: Why did you have the T-shirt?
ZACKY: I bought the shirt because I thought it was funny. You know, I don‘t draw political lines when it comes to humor. I think it was a funny shirt. The place that I got it had a lot of funny shirts. And I don‘t think it‘s—I think, especially up in San Francisco—I bought it in Haight Ashbury. I think that‘s one of the free speech capitals. And it was an incredible experience.
OLBERMANN: Yes, indeed. Scott Zacky, thanks for sharing that experience with us and good luck as you pursue this further.
ZACKY: Thank you. Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Before we wrap up the show, let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.
No. 5, the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandals continues, new photos and from the president an apology to King Abdullah of Jordan and a public show of support for Donald Rumsfeld, who testifies tomorrow before the Senate. Four, the electronic ballot battle, manufacturers saying they‘re safe and secure, opponents saying they can be hacked into easily and won‘t provide a paper trail if a recount is needed. Three, Spider-Man meets Major League Baseball. Baseball wins. Outrage over the plan to advertise the movie on bases causes baseball tonight to back off. The ads will appear on only the on-deck circles, not on the bases.
Two, nightclubs for Christ, older teens, 20-somethings, etcetera, whooping it up in the name of Jesus, occasionally even moving. And, No. 1, T-shirt gate, one man thrown off a plane when he wanted to voice displeasure that Southwest Airlines employees had found that Bush T-shirt offensive.
That‘s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann.
Good night and good luck.
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