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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 28

Read the complete transcript to Friday's show

Guests: Beatriz Da Costa, Mike Schwartz


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Holiday weekend here:  Airline passengers urged to report anything suspicious.  Perhaps 800,000 at the new World War II memorial, so why was the head of Homeland Security not even at the big Homeland Security news conference? 

World War II memorial, Memorial Day:  Do either of the presidential candidates really want to stir memories of their war service?  The politics of patriotism. 

Better get door, it‘s the pizza delivery guy.  He‘s got two extra toppings and he may tell the cops if there‘s drug use or underage drinking at your house.  Avoid the Noid. 

And, inexplicable celebrity ain‘t all it‘s cracked up to be.  Death threats against William Hung?  Our William Hung?  They‘ll have to come through us first. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  With the Memorial Day weekend now, weighing on our shoulders, elongating our airport lines with all the people who, apparently, have never left their homes before, clogging our highways with all the people who, apparently, only drive once a year, there is this Homeland Security question for you, as our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: 

Exactly who is minding the safety store?  In a moment, exclusive details on how those credible sources about the latest al-Qaeda threat cited by the attorney general and the head of the FBI may not be so credible after all. 

And a harrowing story from Buffalo.  An artist detained; the street on which he lives, sealed off when somebody mistakes his art exhibit for a possible bioterror lab. 

First, to remind you when and where we are on the subject, this is the first weekend of the first big counterterrorism test since the Christmas holidays, at least.  Travel will be up a lot on the ground, despite gas prices, more perhaps, in the air where the administrator of the FAA has some advice about security. 


MARION BLAKEY, FAA ADMINISTRATOR:  We particularly ask that travelers be vigilant.  If they see anything unusual, report it.  Unattended package, something that just doesn‘t look right, even odd behavior in the terminal or on the aircraft. 


OLBERMANN:  Do you want to give me some hints?  Is it bigger than a bread box?  Is it likely to be found around the home?  There is perhaps, a bigger security test this weekend, the kind that worries the pros more than any other kind does, security at a brand new vast public facility:  The World War II memorial in Washington.  Six decades late, it will be formally dedicated tomorrow to the members and memory of the greatest generation.  Now challenge is keeping the surviving members of that generation safe at tomorrow‘s ceremony.  To say nothing of the 200,000 or so expected to hit the Washington Mall each day of the long weekend to visit the memorial. 

Our challenge as citizens tonight, seems to try to be, to figure out whether or not the people running the security and holding the news conferences know what the hell they are talking about.  The supposed ideological opposite ends of the journalistic spectrum,  the “Wall Street Journal” and the “Washington Post,” each today, carried long pieces about a turf war involving Homeland Defense Chief Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft.  It was Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller who held a memorable news conference Wednesday at which seven terror suspects were identified by name and reports of al-Qaeda attack planning redeemed credible and placed domestically. 

The “Journal” report, Secretary Ridge didn‘t know that that was what Ashcroft and Mueller were going to say and that his department thought little of what they did say was new.  And the “Journal” sources ain‘t seen nothing yet.  Never mind what Ashcroft and Mueller said, not being new.  Our correspondent Lisa Myers reports exclusively tonight, that a lot of experts aren‘t sure any of it was true. 


LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In warning Americans to brace for a possible attack, the attorney general sited what he called “credible intelligence from multiple sources,” including this:

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Just after New Years, al-Qaeda announced openly that preparations for an attack on the United States were 70 percent complete.  After the March 11 attack in Madrid, Spain, an al-Qaeda spokesman announced that 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack in the United States were complete. 

MYERS:  But terrorism experts tell NBC News, there‘s no evidence a credible al-Qaeda spokesman ever said that.  That the claims actually were made by a largely discredited group, Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades, known for putting propaganda on the Internet. 

M.J.  GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  This particular group is not really taken very seriously by Western intelligence. 

MYERS:  The group has claimed responsibility for the power blackout in the northeast last year, a power outage in London, and the Madrid bombings.  None of the claims found to be credible. 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  The only thing they haven‘t claimed credit for recently is the cicada invasion of Washington. 

MYERS:  A senior U.S. intelligence official previously told NBC, this group has no known operational credibility and maybe no more than one man with a fax machine. 

Today Ashcroft‘s spokesman blamed the FBI and the FBI admitted claims that terrorists were 90 percent ready to attack, came not from al-Qaeda, but from the al-Masri Brigade‘s statements.  That the FBI apparently took the group seriously, also troubles experts. 

STEVEN EMERSON, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST:  To give this group any type of credibility is reckless. 

MYERS (on camera):  Senior intelligence and Homeland Security officials tell NBC, they were surprised by Ashcroft‘s claims and know of no credible intelligence that al-Qaeda is 90 percent ready to attack.  But all agree there is plenty of credible intelligence that al-Qaeda has plans in the works. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 


OLBERMANN:  You just saw Roger Cressey in Lisa‘s report.  He‘s been good enough to join us this evening.  He was director of the National Security Council staff, responsible for coordination and implementation of counterterrorism policy, both under President Clinton and the current President Bush. 

Roger, good evening. 

CRESSEY:  Good to see you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, this is something of a kick in the head, that report.  What do you make of what Lisa Myers just told us? 

CRESSEY:  Well, you‘ve got a couple problems, there‘s the—Does right hand know what the left hand is doing, No. 1.  No 2.  if it is the Abu Hafs Masri Brigade Web site they‘re getting this from—you know, who is minding the store in the FBI right now?  I mean actually, there‘s a third issue.  Why isn‘t the White House involved in coordinating this involved more effectively? 

OLBERMANN:  After the loathsome intelligence on the uranium from Niger, on other issues before the Iraq war, would they not have known that a dubious source would be easy to rail—to nail?  Is the question now not were these threats credible, or these sources credible, but when John Ashcroft talks about terror threats, is he credible? 

CRESSEY:  Well, he‘s not credible when he uses information like that.  But you know, this would have been caught if they had the opportunity at Homeland Security or at the White House to vet Ashcroft‘s statement first.  So when he does things like, this it undercuts his credibility, not just in the eyes of the American people, but in the eyes of state and local law enforcement who are saying to themselves, who are we supposed to trust and who are we supposed to listen to?  Not the smartest thing to do.

OLBERMANN:  I hearken back to that part of your job description at the NSC, coordination of counterterrorism policy.  Tonight there was a joint statement from Messers Ashcroft and Mueller, “We are working together,” they said, “and we will take all necessary actions to protect the American people.”  But with these reports that Ridge didn‘t know what Ashcroft and Mueller were going to announce, even the statement tonight, are these indications that we are having a huge problem now with that very subject that you used to address, coordination? 

CRESSEY:  Yeah, all we were missing with that statement was a course of “Kkumbaya.”  I mean, of course there are still serious problems when you have the type of episode we did the other day.  I mean, in the morning, Secretary Ridge was downplaying the press reports from the day before, saying, sure there‘s threats out there, but nothing specific.  And then Attorney General John Ashcroft gives a very alarmist press conference.  It sends conflicting signals and it confuses people. 

OLBERMANN:  All of this suggests, I think, and I said this last night, that we‘ve hit some sort of tipping point about the terrorism warnings.  Am I wrong about this?  Or is it really bad news for everybody living in this country?  If one part of the government or one part of population is not convinced that an announcement from the government about terrorism is not free of politics. 

CRESSEY:  You‘re absolutely right.  It is a huge deal.  Anything that they do that undercuts the credibility and the trust in what they‘re saying, that it is the truth, has serious implications for our ability to fight al-Qaeda.  And guess what?  Al-Qaeda‘s watching this as well and so if they see these disconnects and our government‘s response, that just gives them more confidence to try and conduct an attack. 

OLBERMANN:  Encouraging news. 

CRESSEY:  Sorry.

OLBERMANN:  Roger Cressey.  Well, I appreciate the truth.  Formerly of the NSC, now an NBC News analyst.  Many thanks for staying with us here, on Friday night. 

CRESSEY:  Good to see you, Keith.  Take care.

OLBERMANN:  And from the bizarre forth dimension of Homeland Security politics and what might be incredibly noncredible sources, to yet another parallel universe where an artist and college professor may have been mistaken for a possible bioterrorist.  Like many unfortunate drama, this story begin with a death.  Steve Kurtz called 911 early on the morning of May 11 after his wife suffered cardiac arrest and died in her sleep.  When police arrived on the scene, they saw not a 45-year-old woman claimed well before her time, but rather Petri dishes and sophisticated scientific equipment.  Through his grief, Steve Kurtz explained that it was all part of an art exhibit about genetically altered food.  Unconvinced, the police in Buffalo called the joint terrorism task force.  Soon it was not only police searching his home, but also FBI men in hazmat suits.  Mr. Kurtz was detained, his home, his entire block sealed off for 36 hours, and then along with his computers and art supplies, officials took away his wife‘s body.  Her body has since been released after a brief detention, so has Mr.  Kurtz.  But why did the investigation require the help of a terrorism task force?  According to the FBI, that is, quote, “protocol post 9/11” and—and it also ways that the threat was never to security but to “personal health.”

Whether the bureau was just being careful or went way over the protocol we want in this country is open to debate.  But Steve Kurtz will at least have lawyer‘s fees and a file in the FBI office, and goodness knows what else.  Joining to us now to discuss this strange and disturbing story, Beatriz Da Costa, she is a friend and colleague of Mr. Kurtz who is now heading a legal defense fund in his name and she‘s joining us now from the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art where Mr. Kurtz‘s exhibit was suppose to open tonight. 

Ms.  Da Costa, good evening.  Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN:  What did Mr. Kurtz have in his home that set all this off? 

DA COSTA:  What he had in his home was a set of Petri dishes containing bacteria and a small molecular biology lab that is used for DNA extraction and identification, so...

OLBERMANN:  Was—is this special equipment?  Is it special bacteria? 

Do you need a permit to have any of this? 

DA COSTA:  The equipment is very standard equipment that any university biology department would have.  I suspect even high end high schools would own this type of equipment.  All it was used for is to purify DNA samples out of plants, foods, we mostly use it for foods, to amplify the DNA and then get a readout of possible genetic contamination for the food.  Now bacteria that were being found and seized were three different types of bacteria that were actually used for a different project.  The first one was E.coli bacteria and it‘s the harmless kind that lives on human (UNINTELLIGIBLE) systems.  And there were two other strains called bacilos gobigi (ph) and seradia (ph).  That nowadays, are mostly used for bacterial soap testing, so—you know, the health officials the health officials who have to clean their hands.  In the 1950‘s, however, they were used by the U.S. government to find—to test bacterial dispersion in case of biowarfare attack...

OLBERMANN:  Essentially—they were used as the nonlethal version of

·         because it traveled the same way a lethal one would. 

DA COSTA:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Now let me ask you this, the FBI would not confirm nor deny that there‘s an investigation going on.  And on the advice of his attorneys, Mr. Kurtz isn‘t commenting on this.  But, what is your understanding of the status of his case and of him right now? 

DA COSTA:  Well according to his lawyer, we don‘t believe that charges will be placed.  But, the investigation, at this point, is definitely ongoing.  I know that because they are currently asking professionals and colleagues in his field, that includes people at the university itself, as well as curators that are involved in showing these type of projects. 

OLBERMANN:  A devil‘s advocate question.  If the guy living next to you, your home had a mobile DNA extraction laboratory in his house and Petri dishes full of bacteria, however benign they might have been, but the police stumbled into all this and they didn‘t know what it was, they weren‘t sophisticated to know or to be sure of what it was or what he was using it for, would you not want the police to at least check? 

DA COSTA:  No. I would not.  I do not believe that individual rights should be taken away in the name of security. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, Beatriz Da Costa, running the Steven Kurtz legal defense fund, we appreciate your time tonight.  Thank you much. 

DA COSTA:  You‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  Thus we conclude the No. 5 story on the COUNTDOWN what might, in the grimmest of humor, be called a comedy of terrors.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  It was proved that he was the hero during the catastrophe which befell unit to which Jessica Lynch belonged.  Tonight, disturbing news about how the life of Sergeant Donald Walters came to an end in Iraq.

And Later, oh, beloved pizza, how can thou forsake me?  Could your next pie be delivered with an arrest warrant on the side? 


OLBERMANN:  Coming up, new details about the hero in the Jessica Lynch unit capture.  And new praise for the heroes of World War II, a touching tribute from a youngster to a veteran of D-Day.  Stand by.


OLBERMANN:  If anything has been learned from the past two months in Iraq, it may be that agreements are never what they seem there.  For evidence he need look no further than Najaf.  A day after a truce was sealed, fighting has broken out again on the outskirts of the city and even when there is not violence, there can still be ambiguity. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  Mixed news from and about Iraq, including what was, apparently, a surprise announcement about the choice for the new prime minister.  By unanimous vote, members council nominated Iyad Allawi as their choice to lead the new interim government.  A Shia who has spent decades in exile.  Mr. Allawi heads up the Iraqi National Accord, a group long backed by the CIA and State Department.  While U.S. officials seemed to welcome the announcement, the response from the U.N. special envoy to Iraq was a bit more measured.  A spokesman for Lakhdar Brahimi said that although he welcomed the decision, it had caught him off guard.  As the spokesman put it, “it wasn‘t the way they had expected to it happen.” 

Certainly none of this was how listened Lynndie England expected to it happen.  The 21-year-old with the toothy grin, hamming it up for the camera, became the disturbing face of complicity over a pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees.  Now, over week after one of her fellow guards pleaded guilty to four counts of abuse, Private 1st Class England will face an article 32 hearing.  that is equivalent of a civilian grand jury.  It‘ll take place June 21 through the 25 at Ft.  Bragg, so says one of her attorneys.  In her only public interview, England said she had been instructed by her superiors to pose for these photographs. 

And there‘s just nothing good coming out of Abu Ghraib Prison, not even released Iraqi prisoners.  As U.S. soldiers today, escorted a dozen buses filled with more than 500 people just freed from the place, they were all fired upon from buildings near a freeway just outside Baghdad.  No casualties reported.  Some of the buses returned the ex-detainees to distant cities like Tikrit and Kirkuk.

And it has been nearly a year since the true story of Private Jessica Lynch was sorted out.  An American sergeant named Donald Walters was identified as the true hero in the ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company outside Nasiriyah.  No much sadder news about the late Sergeant Walters.  On Monday of this week, U.S. military officials told his widow that several hours after that ambush, Iraqi witnesses saw Walters taken alive into a building alive by half a dozen suspected members of the Fedayeen and murdered.  Several suspects are reported now to be in custody, they may be accused of war crimes.  And thus the status of Sergeant Walters goes from killed in combat to POW Murdered, entitling his family to the cold comfort of additional benefits. 

Happier news here.  The four member of our NBC crew in Fallujah have been released three days after they had been detained, there.  Correspondent Ned Colt, Cameraman Maurice Roper, Audio Engineer Robert Coleville, and their Iraqi freelancer, Atrab al-Tye (ph), were all released unharmed and in good spirits with the help of local leaders and after their identities, as working journalists, became clear. 

COUNTDOWN now past our No. 4 story.  Up next, those stories that know no COUNTDOWN number but still get a place of honor in our show.  “Oddball” around the corner.  An alarming update to the great puppy caper in Miami. 

And later, Michael Jackson:  Flight risk?  Well, it‘s not like he can hide anywhere undetected.  That was just one of the issues before the judge in the Jackson case, today.  Stand by for news.


OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for that segment voted more than twice as exciting as watching paint dry.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

Soon we‘ll be able to literally test that statement for accuracy.  The British satellite channel “U.K. TV” today launched an Internet Webcast called “Watching Paint Dry.”  Designed as a spoof on reality TV each day it will show a different type of paint being applied to a wall and then drying.  Viewers will be able to then vote online for their favorite finish:  mat, silk, gloss, satin, or smooth.  Co-host Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper provide commentary, Doc.  Severinson conducts the orchestra.

You‘ll remember the infamous “Copper Clapper Caper” from the “Tonight Show‘s” spoof of “Dragnet.”  Well, here‘s the purloin puppy up date.  We showed you this surveillance video earlier this week.  Dad, apparently with the missus and the kids in tow, shoplifting a Doberman Pincer puppy from a Miami pet store called “Cute Puppies.”  Here comes the copycats—or copydogs. 

Thieves decided to take the store named “Puppies to Go” literally.  They broke through roof Wednesday and stole several expensive breeds.  The managers at “Puppies to Go” said she recognized that couple in the “Cute Puppies” surveillance video.  She thinks there is a puppy nappy—puppy napping ring.  Got it.  Puppy nappy ring.  You know officer, resaling things.  Just the facts, ma‘am. 

And finally, tonight from “Oddball,” we can all rest easy.  The aging dancing bears if Bulgaria now have a place to live out their golden years.  A special refuge has open in Duknitsa (ph), especially for dancing bears, once popular attractions of the street corners of Bulgaria.  Built with some help from French actress Brigitte Bardot, that‘s not her, the park has 13 retired residents who are gradually adapting to life in the wild.  And happiest among them is Charlie the dancing bear still knocking them dead after all these years. 





OLBERMANN:  Dancing, dancing, he‘s a dancing machine. 

“Oddball” now in the record books.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 3 story, your preview:  The heroes of World War II gather in D.C.  for the new memorial dedication.  A moving look at just how important this is for so many. 

And lived through Alex Trebek, the “Jeopardy” power players, but wonder what the outcome of my collision with the news quiz be? 

These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3:  Smoky the Bear.  The mountain range in which he was found, singed but still kicking after a fire in 1950 is tonight on fire.  The Peppin fire has already consumed 25,000 acres in New Mexico and shows no sign of slowing. 

No. 2:  James Leavitt of Benson, Arizona.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison because he was a felon caught with a firearm, and they caught him because he had accidentally shot a groin, his own, we hope.  Actually, we know.  He shot himself in the groin. 

And No. 1:  An unnamed wife in Sichuan, China.  She said she is entitled to divorce—divorce her husband after 18 years of marriage because he has failed to live up to his promise to have sex with her once every two weeks.  Woman, I‘m not a machine!


OLBERMANN:  As of tonight, 800 Americans in uniform have died so far in Iraq.  Now, imagine if that number were 400,000.  Picture that and you can just about begin to comprehend the scale of sacrifice and loss in this country during the Second World War. 

If it has escaped you in any way, perhaps that‘s because you never were able to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington as a kid.  Inexplicably, indefensibly, there has not been a World War II memorial in Washington until now. 

The third story on the COUNTDOWN, this Memorial Day weekend, the correction of that oversight and the dedication we told you of earlier, which will finally take place formally tomorrow.  The physical structure of the monument is impressive. 

But, as Bob Faw reports for us tonight, it is what you cannot see that makes the place special. 


BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It is more of course than bronze and concrete or panels gracefully carved and waters that dance.  At its heart, it is also memories. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll be thinking of the guys, my buddies who I lost. 

FAW (on camera):  This will not going to be altogether happy for you, is it?  Closure, but it‘s a painful kind of closure. 


FAW (voice-over):  Memories overwhelming 82-year-old Frank Hayden (ph), a callow 22-year-old merchant seaman D-Day, later nearly killed when a 100-pound Nazi bomb ripped through his supply ship. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were just a bunch of young kids.  We didn‘t know what was going to happen.  We just knew we wanted to do something and try to win. 

FAW:  So it was a humble veteran who guided his family around the seven-acre memorial site. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look at that view there. 


FAW:  Making it clear to them that this memorial does not glorify veterans like Frank, but instead honor those he calls the true heroes of World War II. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Best thing about the memorial would be remembering the fellows who lost their lives.  Hard to believe. 

FAW:  Some thoughtful critics have labeled this memorial unimaginative, even hollow. 

PAUL GOLDBERGER, ARCHITECTURE CRITIC:  In a strange way, there‘s too much and not enough at the same time.  There‘s too much little stuff, but there‘s nothing that rises to majestic and powerful levels. 

FAW:  But when two 10-year-olds ask for Frank‘s autograph, because, without him, says one, we would all be very different. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you are, OK?


FAW:  At moments like this or at that star-spangled wall of gold, the memorial many veterans consider long overdue does bring generations together and any criticism seems trifling. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For the ones who couldn‘t come back.  And we‘re here representing them now. 

FAW:  At this place of commemoration, stone, bronze, memories, and so much more. 

Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington. 


OLBERMANN:  The formal dedication ceremony tomorrow afternoon, you can watch it right here on MSNBC, special coverage beginning at 2:00 p.m.  Eastern, coverage throughout the day on MSNBC.

In the last 32 months, our times have come to resemble so much, so much more than we could have imagined, those years that those brave men fought for freedom.  And, inevitably, in American politics, that truth has pretty much dwarfed all others.  Patriotism as campaign issue, it is a razor‘s edge, especially since this campaign could be, fairly or otherwise, capsulized as a wartime president with a dubious military record vs. a Vietnam vet who protested against that war and threw away some of his decorations. 

Kelly O‘Donnell has our report from Washington.


KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A campaign tug-of-war, each side laying claim to that closely held value. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Liberty and justice for all. 

O‘DONNELL:  Patriotism, in form both pure...

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is about country and history and values. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Our strength is in the hearts and souls of our citizens. 

O‘DONNELL:  And pugnacious. 

KERRY:  This isn‘t about party.  It‘s about country.

O‘DONNELL:  Both campaigns acknowledge love of country as a tool to reach and rally voters. 

BUSH:  We‘re lucky to live in the greatest country on the face of the Earth. 

O‘DONNELL:  But each side insists, the other misuses national pride. 

KERRY:  We have to be wary of false patriotism. 

O‘DONNELL:  Today, in Wisconsin, surrounded by veterans, John Kerry argued, Republicans too often claim patriotism as their own. 

KERRY:  I‘m not going to listen to Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and these other people talk about patriotism in America, when the first definition of patriotism is keeping faith with the people who wore the uniform of our country. 

O‘DONNELL (on camera):  Kerry aides say the Republicans leverage the flag to mute and stifle public dissent, while the Bush campaign counters, Kerry invokes patriotism to divide and blame.  Political observers say both should proceed with caution. 

LARRY SABATO, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA:  It is easy to go over the line.  And when you do, people pick it up and voters tend to punish you for it. 

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  For the president, patriotism comes with the office. 

BUSH:  One of the things you see when you‘re the president, you see the character of America. 

O‘DONNELL:  His campaign says the symbolism and pageantry is there and they do try to convey it.  For its part, the Kerry team added ritual to start its rallies. 

CROWD:  One nation, under God.

O‘DONNELL:  Unusual because the solemn tone is unconventional for a rousing political fest.  Both sides say patriotism should not be questioned, but both hold a tight grip on the red, white and blue. 

Kelly O‘Donnell, NBC News, Washington. 


OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN now past the No. 3 story.  Up next, a new COUNTDOWN feature, a look back at the week of news and news figures like that guy.  Were you paying attention?  Was I paying attention?  The ultimate COUNTDOWN quiz.  There will be prizes. 

And later, shocking “American Idol” flash news.  William Hung is getting death threats.  He may not be the best singer, but, come on, folks.

All that ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 


JONATHAN SCHEMPP, TRIED TO SHIP HIMSELF:  Over three days, it was kind of hot in the box.  I was going to break out the box once I got on the boat and just hope that the people had hearts and just let me go the rest of the way. 


CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST:  You might be a vice presidential candidate with John Kerry, form kind of a bipartisan juggernaut.  Any truth to that at all? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Look, I spent several years in a North Vietnamese prison camp in the dark, fed with straps.  Do you think I want to do that all over again as vice president of the United States? 




ANDY SLATER, WON $250,000:  When he got in there with all the pads, that net looked like a regulation net to me. 


OLAF KOLZIG, NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYER:  You know what?  I looked at the size of that net.  And I was like, how can he miss?



OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s No. 1 story still to come.  But if you sign up for the COUNTDOWN newsletter every day, you would have a leg up on your competition on figuring out what it might be.  Go to  to sign up.  You‘ll be so glad you did.


OLBERMANN:  We calculated recently that, in the average week here, I write about 40,000 words of news.  So we figured it was about time to see if it any of it is actually sinking in.  So we‘re going to put you and, more publicly, me in the hot seat in our No. 2 story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN, a new segment called:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?” 

Here to assist is our COUNTDOWN senior producer, Denis Horgan. 

OLBERMANN:  Good evening. 

DENIS HORGAN, COUNTDOWN SENIOR PRODUCER:  Thank you, Keith.  And good evening. 

Now, we always told you, pay close attention to the show, because, sooner or later, we‘re going to quiz you on all this stuff.  And tonight, that time has come.  We have a new feature on the Web site.  It is the COUNTDOWN news quiz, 10 questions based on the news of the week.  And we thought, who better to put to the test than guy who actually delivers the news of the week, Keith Olbermann?

So, Keith, are you ready? 

OLBERMANN:  Not a chance. 


OLBERMANN:  All right. 

HORGAN:  We‘ve got 10 basic questions. 


HORGAN:  Followed by a one-minute lightning round.  Are you ready? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Yes. 

HORGAN:  Here we go. 

Question one.  Who said this—quote—“The global security agenda promoted by the U.S. administration is  bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle”? 

OLBERMANN:  The president of France. 

HORGAN:  No, I‘m sorry. 

OLBERMANN:  Who is it?

HORGAN:  Is that your final answer? 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s my...

HORGAN:  Irene Khan, head of Amnesty International. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course.  She was a guest Wednesday, wasn‘t she?

HORGAN:  Question two.


HORGAN:  How old is Fantasia Barrino, the winner of the popular TV show?

OLBERMANN:  Nineteen years old? 

HORGAN:  “American Idol.”  Yes, that is correct.


OLBERMANN:  OK, go ahead.

HORGAN:  No. 3, multiple choice.  What regulation is the Italian government considering for one of the most popular forms of Italian food, the length of a spaghetti strand, the ingredients for Neapolitan pizza, the percentage of potato in gnocchi, the water content of buffalo mozzarella?

OLBERMANN:  It has got to be the one about gnocchi.

HORGAN:  Oh, I‘m terribly sorry. 


HORGAN:  It is the ingredients of Neapolitan pizza. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, no gnocchi for me today.

HORGAN:  Question four. 


HORGAN:  Which of the following counties did not make the list of the top 20 places to live in the United States, according to a survey by “American City Business Journals”? 

OLBERMANN:  Just one of these? 

HORGAN:  One of these four did not make the list. 


HORGAN:  Juneau County, Alaska.  Hennepin County, Minnesota.  Los Alamos County, New Mexico.  

OLBERMANN:  Yes, could be. 

HORGAN:  And King County, Washington. 

OLBERMANN:  King County, Washington. 

HORGAN:  That is correct, sir, yes.



HORGAN:  OK, question five, according to a new medical study, what product appears to help reduce women‘s chances of developing the most common form of breast cancer? 

OLBERMANN:  What product?  Did we do this story this week? 

HORGAN:  I don‘t believe we did. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, then how the hell would I know the answer to it? 

HORGAN:  Maybe you picked up a paper every now and then. 


OLBERMANN:  And hit you over the head with it.  Oleomargarine. 

HORGAN:  I‘m sorry.  Aspirin would be the correct answer. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  I do remember seeing that somewhere. 

HORGAN:  No. 6. 


HORGAN:  A British-based Muslim cleric...

OLBERMANN:  Oregon. 

HORGAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  I saw it on the graphic. 

HORGAN:  Very good.  You did?


HORGAN:  According to tapes released by the National Archive, President Nixon was too drunk to speak...

OLBERMANN:  Edward Heath.  Edward Heath, the British prime minister. 

HORGAN:  We have a winner. 


HORGAN:  No. 8 which music group announced it would break up after this summer‘s tour?

OLBERMANN:  Oh, it‘s Phish. 

HORGAN:  Phish is correct.  Spell it for a bonus. 


HORGAN:  That is correct. 

No. 9, after a raucous debate, which city gave approval to Wal-Mart to open its chain store in the metropolitan area?

OLBERMANN:  Chicago, Illinois?

HORGAN:  That‘s correct, sir, yes.

OLBERMANN:  Absolutely. 

HORGAN:  And No. 10, multiple choice, which new post did the Vatican give to former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law?  Archbishop of Port au Prince, Haiti, archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, head of the Congregation of Sacred Brothers in Westport, Ireland?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, could be.

HORGAN:  Or a special adviser on American affairs to the pope. 

OLBERMANN:  I would say the latter, special adviser, because as far as he could away and not send him to Mars. 

HORGAN:  That‘s incorrect, sir.


HORGAN:  It is the St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. 

So a very nice showing in the early rounds here.  I believe you got one, two, three, four, five, six correct.

OLBERMANN:  Six.  Six out of 10.  I‘m hitting 60 percent. 

HORGAN:  All right, but we head now...

OLBERMANN:  All right, seven with a bonus, seven out of 11. 

HORGAN:  All right, so...

OLBERMANN:  Now we have a bonus round here?

HORGAN:  This is the lightning round. 

OLBERMANN:  The lightning round.

HORGAN:  As many questions as you can answer in 60 seconds.  Ready?



HORGAN:  Start the clock. 

How many car chases were featured in “Oddball” this week?

OLBERMANN:  A total of three. 

HORGAN:  That is correct.

Name of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s new baby girl. 


HORGAN:  Name of Peter Farrelly‘s new baby girl. 


HORGAN:  Main ingredient of a banana cream pie. 


HORGAN:  Yes.  I would have also accepted cream.

The name of Jermaine Jackson‘s son. 

OLBERMANN:  Travis. 

HORGAN:  No.  It is Your Majesty. 

OLBERMANN:  Your Majesty, yes.

HORGAN:  How many meters of cloth were used the make the world‘s largest turban? 


HORGAN:  Four hundred meters.

Peshawar, Pakistan, is near what strategic pass? 

OLBERMANN:  The Khyber Pass. 

HORGAN:  That‘s correct, sir.

Name of the award won this week by filmmaker Michael Moore. 

OLBERMANN:  The Palme d‘Or.  The Golden Palm.

HORGAN:  Yes, indeed.

The head of the Cannes Film Festival jury. 

OLBERMANN:  Was Quentin Tarantino. 

HORGAN:  Yes. 

The Japanese have found what substance works as an all-natural sunscreen. 

OLBERMANN:  Hippo sweat. 

HORGAN:  That is correct. 

True or false, President Bush met this week with the president of a region in the Congo and that man‘s name was Bongo?


HORGAN:  No, it‘s true. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, it‘s true?

HORGAN:  Omar Bongo. 

OLBERMANN:  Omar Bongo.

HORGAN:  President of Gabon.

OLBERMANN:  It is a final, huh?

HORGAN:  It is a final. 

OLBERMANN:  So, how many did I get right?  Fifteen.

HORGAN:  Fifteen, all told. 


OLBERMANN:  All told.  So I win something? 

HORGAN:  You do win. 

OLBERMANN:  What I do win? 

HORGAN:  This lovely framed photo of MSNBC‘s own Lester Holt. 


OLBERMANN:  Oh, that‘s wonderful. 

HORGAN:  A sparkling edition to any home collection. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

I mean, it would be great except of course I already have seven of them. 

Denis, thanks very much. 

HORGAN:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll call you if you won the audition as the hosting job. 

HORGAN:  I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  And, remember, everyone win the home version of the game.  You can take that very same quiz, not the lightning round, but the rest of it on our Web site.  Sign up for our newsletter at  And tune in next time, if there is another next time, for another edition of:

ANNOUNCER:  “What Have We Learned?” 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve learned to make it a little shorter next time. 

That‘s what we‘ve learned. 

From that question-filled nightmare to the one facing Michael Jackson, it is the smooth segue to our news of celebrity and gossip, the segment we call “Keeping Tabs.”

And we begin with your entertainment dollars in action, day 193 of the Michael Jackson investigation.  We have a tentative trial date, Monday, September 13.  Jackson himself was not in court for the setting up of that today, nor is he necessarily canceling his plan for that day either.  Defense counsel Thomas Mesereau objecting to setting the date, claiming not to have received all the evidence in the case from the prosecution. 

Mr. Mesereau also argues for a reduction of his client‘s $3 million bail.  The prosecution contends, Jackson is a flight risk, that the bail amount is—quote—“roughly comparable to what he would spend in a weekend in Las Vegas.”  No decision yet from Judge Rodney Melville on that request.  Of the trial date, he says—quote—“It‘s a bullseye that we‘re shooting at here.”

The other M.J. in another kind of trouble in Taiwan of all places.  And it has led to the president of the Nike Company‘s Taiwanese division to issue a formal apology to his country.  Michael Jordan went to Taipei last week to present over the culmination of a months-long contest and publicity stunt, and he spent exactly 90 seconds on stage, 9-0, a minute and a half.  Fans had bought Nike products just to get into a drawing just to get the chance to get tickets to see Jordan.  And they had him leave after 90 seconds. 

Facing a boycott, the company president today apologized to everyone and promised all those who attended posters and free Jordan sneakers.  It wasn‘t Jordan‘s idea.  It was just part of the price of fame.  People making the decisions for you may be idiots. 

And there‘s an even darker side to celebrity.  Ask William Hung.  “The National Enquirer” is reporting—all right, don‘t sneeze at this—that he is getting death threats, that his home phone number got out on the Internet and ever since, he has had to turn down offers to sing in anything except a big stadium or an arena. 

William says he‘s frightened to death of playing small venues like nightclubs, “The Enquirer” quotes as music insider as divulging.  Not to say that that‘s not necessarily true, but based solely on his appearances on this show, William and me and our sound engineers and our stage managers, all of us now qualify as music industry insiders. 

Tonight‘s No. 1 story on COUNTDOWN is next.  Your preview, how your next pizza could end up sending you straight to the big house.  No joke. 


OLBERMANN:  Never mind worrying about Big Brother watching you.  It might be Papa John doing it for him, or Domino‘s or Pizza Hut. 

Our No. 1 story tonight on the COUNTDOWN, the police in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, have announced a crime watch initiative code-named Booze Bounty.  They will dole out cold, hard cash to any pizza delivery person or hotel clerk who anonymously reports underage drinkers or illegal drug use.  If the 411 on the suspicious results in an arrest, your pizza delivery witness would receive 50 bucks, another reminder to always tip the pizza guy generously.

The Booze Bounty is the brainchild of Sergeant Mike Schwartz of the Portsmouth P.D.  He joins us now.

Sergeant Schwartz, good evening.  Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN:  Reassure me first.  We‘ve had a lot of news tonight about the credible terror sources that may not be credible.  We‘ve got artists being mistaken for bioterrorists.

Reassure me that having the pizza boy drop a dime on the customer is not crossing that fine line between what‘s reasonable, good police work and what is an invasion of privacy. 

SCHWARTZ:  It is absolutely not. 

And just for clarification, it‘s not just people delivering pizza or the hotel clerks.  Anybody is encouraged to report their concerns concerning underage drinking.  So that‘s what the intention of the initiative is. 

OLBERMANN:  But these guys are particularly useful for you for what reason?  And what prompted you to get the message out to them now?

SCHWARTZ:  Well, I work in the juvenile section of the police department.  And I‘m a detective.  I have a couple of detectives that work for me.

And I can tell you, in the last six months, we‘ve investigated at least three sexual assaults that have occurred where, as we get our information, we learn that there was underage drinking going on the evening before.  On one of those times, I noticed, it‘s not uncommon that there‘s pizza boxes spread around, you know, the crime scene. 

There‘s a new law that actually came into effect on Tuesday in New Hampshire which makes it illegal for somebody to host a party where there‘s underage drinking or illegal drug use going on.  So timing that new law coming out or coming into effect, the Booze Bounty initiative was started.  We‘re trying to make people aware of the new law, but also looking for the enforcement, just letting people know just how dangerous it is to, you know, encourage underage drinking, especially during the prom and graduation season. 

OLBERMANN:  And do you also get—are you also finding that you might get a deterrent effect with the parents who might be looking the other way when there‘s a pizza party with alcohol with teenagers? 

SCHWARTZ:  Absolutely.  That‘s probably the—that‘s certainly the intention of the new legislation, the new law that went into effect, those parents that think it‘s a good idea or they think that their children are safe if they, you know, host the party and there is underage drinking going on in the house.  And they think they have some control over it there, rather than their sons and daughters going out driving around or being somewhere where they don‘t know where they are. 

OLBERMANN:  What has been the response among the pizza delivery places in Portsmouth? 

SCHWARTZ:  Absolutely positive. 

Everybody is in support.  The managers and the owners, they don‘t necessarily want to go on record or in front of a camera and say, I support this.  And I certainly respect that.  But they are completely in support of it.  One manager was listening to my spiel and he said, oh, my gosh, I have got two teenage sons and this is absolutely critical; this is a wonderful thing. 

OLBERMANN:  Sergeant Mike Schwartz of the Police Department of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, congratulations on the idea.  It is innovative, to say the least.  Many thanks.

SCHWARTZ:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And, of course, the joke comes in.  Hold the pepperoni. 

OK.  Have a good night.

Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, the terror threat and credible or incredible intelligence, Lisa Myers reporting tonight that some of the information deemed credible by the attorney general may be originating from an organization that is actually one guy with a fax machine.  Wish we were making that up.  Four, to the surprise of many, the Iraqi Governing Council picks its choice to lead Iraq, Iyad Allawi.  He heads up the Iraqi National Accord. 

Three, the tribute to World War II veterans.  The new memorial in Washington will be officially dedicated tomorrow, live coverage 2:00 p.m.  Eastern, 11:00 a.m. Pacific here on MSNBC.  Two, the whole point of watching COUNTDOWN.  We hope you learned something.  You, too, can take the weekly news quiz on our Web site.  I got 15 correct answers.  And there are only 10 questions. 

And, No. 1, the pizza delivery boy as the local narc?  Turn in local criminals, earn 50 bucks from the cops.  If your criminal is not delivered in half-an-hour, your pizza is free? 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

Good night and good luck. 


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