Guests: Eugene Fidell, Jane Costa, James Burke, Margaret Carlson
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
June 30: Never mind handing over power, what about handing over Hussein? When the Iraqis are back in charge, says the Red Cross, the U.S. has to charge him, release him, or turn him over to them.
Terror abroad and domestic: The worsening situation in Saudi Arabia. And an arrest in Ohio, a man accused of training to attack a U.S. shopping mall.
Back in the White House again: Bill Clinton visits, his book tour is next. Apparently partly it will be a stump tour for John Kerry.
While Ralph Nader‘s campaign is reportedly stumped by the challenge of ethics.
And name that town! The long shot possibility that Los Angeles violates the separation of church and state. Guess that means we can‘t call it L.A. either.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. While we were all communally out at the Ronald Reagan funeral last week, somebody at the Red Cross apparently decided that the U.S. had two weeks to charge Saddam Hussein with a crime or let him go free. As the same stunned look spread across the collective face of Washington and Baghdad, the chief spokeswoman for the International Red Cross spoke up early this afternoon and denied the organization was calling for Saddam‘s release. And Iraq‘s new prime minister said the U.S. was planning to hand him over to him.
Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Six months and one day after he was captured, Saddam Hussein is still causing trouble. The original version of the Red Cross complaint from a spokeswoman in Baghdad was that when Iraq goes from full U.S. occupation to at least majority self-rule, 16 days from now, international law insists that all prisoners of war are to be released unless they have been formally accused of some other crime. Shortly after his capture, Saddam was declared a POW by the U.S. Later in the day, the chief spokeswoman of the International Red Cross said this does not mean the U.S. has to let Saddam Hussein go on the 30th. Provided he is charged by somebody, he can be detained indefinitely. Tonight the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told the Al Jazeera network quote, “Saddam and all the current detainees will be handed over to the Iraqi authority. The handover will take place within the next two weeks.”
Handing him over may turn out to be the easy part, there‘s also the unenviable task of building a case against Saddam Hussein, and the question of whether the newborn Iraqi government, with much on its proverbial plate already, is up to that task. For more on today‘s developments, and what will happen next, we‘re joined now by Eugene Fidell, the president of the International Institute of Military Justice in Washington.
Mr. Fidell, thanks for your time tonight.
EUGENE FIDELL, MILITARY LAW EXPERT: It‘s my pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Did somebody get caught off guard here? Are charges really going to have to be rushed and framed against Saddam Hussein in the next 16 days, or is this just two sides talking at each other?
FIDELL: I think they may be talking a little bit past one another. The key thing is that with the transfer of responsibility to Iraqi authority, something has to be done, not only with Saddam Hussein, but with the other people that the U.S. has been detaining as prisoner of war in Iraq. And what you‘re seeing is—is sort of groping towards what that means. The Iraqi authorities have indicated that they‘re going to take over. They have already got the legislation in place for a court. They‘re going to have to gear up and prepare for a trial or more than one trial, really.
OLBERMANN: To this point of that new Iraqi government being prepared for this, there have not been many trials of bigger, more notorious, more influential public figures. Could any new government anywhere conduct this, let alone a trial like this in the middle of what are, presumably going to be even more widespread disturbances.
FIDELL: This is a quite a case to sort of begin your judicial system with, or this phase of your judicial system. It‘s really a challenge, and the Iraqis have been gearing up with help to get their legislation in place, to get their prosecution in place, to get the judges in place. And I believe that Saddam Hussein already has a defense counsel, so it‘s not like we‘re starting from a cold start here, but that‘s not to say, that‘s not to minimize the challenge that‘s presented by a case like this. I mean, for our country, we‘re used to watching the latest legal developments over breakfast at 7:00 a.m. This is going to be breakfast at 7:00 a.m. for months and months and months, I‘m afraid.
OLBERMANN: From the start to the finish, the bottom line here, on June 30 or slightly before it, is the U.S. really going to turn Saddam Hussein and the prosecution of Saddam Hussein over to the Iraqis, or will this be more of a paper transaction that would fulfill the minimum requirements of international military law?
FIDELL: Well, that‘s going to be a real question, because security of the prisoner is—you know, obviously a serious matter and we wouldn‘t want to be in a position where he, by hook or by crook, might find himself released, literally released, so quite what the arrangements are going to be for his continued custody, during the legal process, remains unclear. But, what is clear in my own mind at least is that no chances are going to be taken in that regard. Whether it means turning Saddam Hussein over to the Iraqis for their own custodial purpose or whether we would continue to be the jailer, as a practical matter, on behalf of the Iraqis, that‘s all going to be revealed, I guess, in the next two weeks. But, I would stay tuned for that.
OLBERMANN: Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Great thanks you for your insight, tonight. And we will, indeed, stay tuned. Thank you, sir.
FIDELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Of more immediate concern for the people of Iraq, never mind Saddam‘s security—how about their own? Another violent day on the ground there. One American was among 13 killed this morning when a rush-hour car bomber ripped through a Western convoy of SUVs in Baghdad, at least 30 others were wound. After the attack, a crowd of Iraqis flooded the street chanting “down with the USA.” Three of the victims worked for a subsidiary of General Electric, one of the parent companies of this network, MSNBC.
And there is new cause for concern in a region and a country that was already meeting, if not exceeding, its worry quotient. A fresh wave of violence now in Saudi Arabia over the weekend. One American kidnapped, another killed at the hands of what appears to be al-Qaeda. American contractor, Paul Johnson, was kidnapped on Saturday. His captors now threatening to do to him what the U.S. military did to Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A statement claiming responsibility, along with a passport-sized photo of Johnson and his Lockheed Martin business card, was posted on this Islamic Web site.
Also Saturday, also in Saudi Arabia, American Kenneth Scroggs was gunned down as he parked his car in the garage of his home. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility there, as well. The exact same thing happened to Robert Jacobs in his Saudi garage just last Tuesday.
And a reminder as if one was needed, that it has only been two weeks since 22 hostages, most foreign workers who were killed in the oil city of Khobar. So what to do about it if you‘re one of the 35,000 Americans who are working in the Saudi kingdom? Because the recent attacks appear to have involved extensive planning and surveillance, here‘s just some of the advice now being offered by the U.S. embassy in Riyadh: Vary your times and routes to and from your destinations; be wary of detours; and never leave your vehicle to confront someone who is harassing you. These edicts would particularly be particularly hard to follow when you‘re in your own garage.
Terrorism expert Roger Cressey worked for the White House and the National Security Council; he‘s now an MSNBC and NBC news analyst.
Roger, thanks for joining me tonight.
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Three years ago, maybe more recently, most of us would have known without much prompting, gee, if you don‘t absolutely need to go to Iraq, don‘t go to Iraq. But the same probably couldn‘t have been said about Saudi Arabia. What has made the situation there so different and seemingly so quickly?
CRESSEY: There were attacks in the 1990s, but nothing approaching the tempo we‘ve seen in the past few months. It is a number of things going on. First this, the situation in Iraq, that has emboldened the jihadists. Secondly, after the bombings last year in Saudi Arabia, Saudi law enforcement finally declared war against al-Qaeda, so they‘re now in a fight against the al-Qaeda operatives that are in the country. The third thing, of course, we‘re not dealing with al-Qaeda as a group anymore, they‘re a global movement. So, you have this new cadre of recruits that are willing to fight and die for the philosophy espoused by bin Laden. We‘re seeing that playing out in Saudi, right now.
OLBERMANN: There, right now, is the bromide still true that the terrorists have been, or had been leaving alone those Westerners who were working for companies that were connected to the Saudi royal family? Is that providing any protection any longer?
CRESSEY: Well, not much. I mean, now—you‘ve seen in the past couple of days, the jihadists targeting contractors that work for military companies that provide direct support to the Saudi government. I think it is only a matter of time before they expand their reach to other parts of the Western expat community, and ultimately, they‘re go to want to go after the Saudi royal family, too.
OLBERMANN: Roger, the whole things seem upside down there. In the rest of the Middle East, when Arabs are attacked, killed, injured, it‘s sort of an advent of an attempt to hurt the U.S., but in Saudi Arabia, it seem as if Americans are being attacked as a way of hurting the Saudi regime. Is that the way it is, and is it going to work, ultimately?
CRESSEY: I think it‘s a large part of. You need to keep in mind, one
of al-Qaeda‘s strategic objectives, which is the removal of the U.S.
presence from Saudi and the overthrow of the House of Saud. They‘ve not
lost sight of that, despite the success, from their perspective, of the
attacks in 9/11. Will it work? It remains to be seen. I mean, the Saudi
· the Saudi problem is the al-Qaeda cancer that‘s in Saudi runs so far and so deep that now that the Saudis are finally dealing with it, it may be too little too late. That‘s a strategic calculation the U.S. administration and others are making, right now. How to better secure and stabilize Saudi Arabia with this new wave of violence now attacking it.
OLBERMANN: What happens in the fight against al-Qaeda, not merely in Saudi Arabia, but around the world, if the—if that Saudi house does indeed fall and some other form of government takes over, there?
CRESSEY: It‘s a huge victory for al-Qaeda and its followers, it undercuts the very essence of regional stability, it proposes a strategic threat for U.S. interests, not just in the region, but on a global basis, its economic aspects to this, as well as broad political aspects.
OLBERMANN: Terrorism expert, Roger Cressey. As always, sir, our thanks for your time, tonight.
CRESSEY: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As always, that too.
And to conclude the fifth story: The long arm of al-Qaeda allegedly reaching almost 7,000 mile tonight, from Riyadh all the way to Columbus, Ohio. That‘s where a Somali man living in that state has been charged with conspiring to blow up a shopping mall. The Attorney General John Ashcroft says 32-year-old Nuradin Abdi went to Ethiopia for military training and then came back to the U.S. and began to work on a plan to detonate a bomb at an unidentified mall. Abdi has been in custody since November on immigration violations.
COUNTDOWN opening tonight, with the war on terror from Iraq to Saudi Arabia to here on the home front. Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story: When foul balls go into the stands at baseball games, there are two kinds of incidents: The ones in which somebody gets hurt and the ones in which an adult tries to steal candy from a baby. We will have one of each.
And later, Ralph Nader crying foul over a “Washington Post” story suggesting campaign finance violations. Is he right? Is somebody out to try to get him?
OLBERMANN: Tonight‘s No. 4 story up next, your preview: The battle at the ball park over foul balls. One woman is out hundreds of thousands of dollars after getting hit in the head. Should the team have to pay her medical bills or did she assume the risk? Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Foul balls are such a part of baseball‘s legacy that it is documented fact that on August 17, 1957, Ritchie Ashburn of the Philadelphia Phillies hit a woman spectator with one of them, breaking her nose. She was the wife of the sports editor of the “Philadelphia Bulletin” newspaper, Alice Roth. And while she was being taken out of the stadium on a stretcher, Ashburn, still at bat, hit her with another foul ball.
Our forth story on the COUNTDOWN: Even in Mrs. Roth‘s injuries can be found the kernel of the essential foul ball at the ballgame story, how funny it is, but there are two such stories tonight that really weren‘t funny at all.
Yesterday was 4-year-old Nick O‘Brien‘s first game. In the bottom of the third inning, Gary Matthews, Jr. hit a foul ball towards him, but not only did a burly fan jump from the row behind, he also pinned Nick against the seats and grabbed the ball. Despite being scolded by Nick‘s mom, booed by the fans who chanted, “give him the ball,” and chastised on air by the game‘s announcers, the man would not give up his ill-gotten prize. Congratulations, homunculus, you stole a $7 baseball from a 4-year-old boy.
After the incident was replayed on the stadium scoreboard in Arlington, outfielder Reggie Sanders of the visiting St. Louis Cardinals personally handed Nick a ball and one of his bats and Rangers‘ outfielder Kevin Mench gave him a second bat. Young Nick‘s reaction to his first baseball game? One word, quote, “Cool!”
As loathsome as that guy made that incident, it pales in comparison what happened to Jane Costa at Fenway Park in Boston in September of 1998. Miss Costa was seated about 20 rows behind the Boston dugout when the Red Sox Darren Louis fouled a ball sharply right into the area in which she sat. She was struck squarely in the face, required reconstructive surgery, including the installation of eight metal plates. She sued the Red Sox but last week, the Massachusetts Appeals Court sided with the ball club saying, each customer is assuming the risk and that the warning about balls and bats going into the stands is printed on the back of every ticket and is sufficient.
I‘m joined now by Jane Costa and her attorney, James Burke, and my thanks to both of you.
And Ms. Costa, let me start with you. That had been your first baseball game since you were a kid? You didn‘t know what was coming, literally or figuratively?
JANE COSTA, HIT BY FOUL BALL: No. Not at all.
OLBERMANN: What were the results and what have your medical expenses been to this point?
COSTA: My medical expense, it‘s 400 and—Jim, the total.
JAMES BURKE, ATTORNEY: $488,000, the medical bills were approximately $48,000, Keith, and then including lost wages and pain and suffering.
OLBERMANN: Ms. Costa, the Red Sox have offered you nothing, even in a token fashion, to cover those expenses?
COSTA: Nothing. Nothing, they never called to see how I was, to ask me if I had insurance, if they could do anything for me, absolutely nothing, which just really saddens me.
OLBERMANN: And they, on the other hand, have made statements to the press that does make it sound like they have been in touch with you. Is that not correct as well?
COSTA: Yes, they made statements that they were, and that‘s absolutely false. Like I said, they never spoke to me, they never so much as sent me a get well card.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Burke, I‘ve got family history on this topic. My mother was rather famously hit by a thrown ball at Yankee stadium in New York in 2000 while she was sitting in the seats and her injuries were minor, but she was injured, and even so, I‘ve to say, none of us in the family ever thought of suing over it. Why is the warning on the back of the ticket sufficient for the hundreds of people who get hit by foul balls, but not for your client?
BURKE: We contend, Keith, that the warning on the back of the ticket is not sufficient. If you look at the ticket on the screen, that was similar to the one Jane Costa had. It is mice print, you can‘t read it, you can‘t see it unless you have a magnifying glass.
In 1974, assumption of the risk was abolished by our state legislature, and with it being abolished, the only law that is available is comparative negligence, and an open and obvious danger. We contend that the open and obvious danger was only to the Red Sox. They had in excess of 234 injuries over a four-year period between 1993 and 1998. 1996, the Red Sox said they could not find the records. Out of the 234 injuries, some 75 odd were taken to the hospital by way of ambulance. The question that I raised to the court was, when is something going to be done? And all Jane and I want is a jury trial.
OLBERMANN: Are you going to get one, Mr. Burke? After the appeals court ruled the way it did last week?
BURKE: We‘re hoping we are, Keith. We will be seeking further appeal before the supreme judicial court. One ray of hope that the Judge Cynthia Cohen (ph) wrote in her report was that it is time now for Major League Baseball to look to internalize the costs of somebody like Jane who was injured through no fault of her own. We hope that Major League Baseball will take up that responsibility.
OLBERMANN: We wish you the best of luck with that. They have proved, in most cases, that they need to be told to do so by the court no matter the subject matter is.
Jane Costa and her attorney, James Burke, we thank you for your time tonight.
BURKE: Thank you, Keith.
COSTA: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: The COUNTDOWN now, past our No. 4 story. Up next, those tales that get not COUNTDOWN number, but make it into the big show anyway, “Oddball” is around the corner paying tribute to one of the world‘s richest oddballs, perhaps, Richard Branson.
And later, not-so stupid pet tricks: It turns out Rico not only understands 200 words, he understands them in two different languages.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back and we stop the COUNTDOWN for a moment to get you up to date on the strange and bizarre stories that make you feel like climb a wall or something. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
This man got down safely, but not before he held up traffic for more than five hours on the West Park toll way in Houston. Hello! He‘s barefoot, he‘s standing on top of a 180 foot tall utility tower, and he is exhibiting exceptional balance. Police say this man managed to shimmy up the first 12 feet of the tower to reach a ladder which took him the rest of the way past the two 340,000 volt power lines to the very top of the structure, and there he stood for hours, perfectly balanced, with helicopters swirling about until he finally decided he‘d climb down. Police took him into custody for psychiatric evaluation and to see if he might have qualified for the U.S. Olympics‘ gymnastics team on the high bar.
Kind of makes what the former President Bush did yesterday seem rather mundane. To celebrate his 80th birthday, the 41st president completed the fourth parachute jump of his life, third intentional one. He dropped 13,000 feet from over his presidential library at College Station, Texas. Winds were such that he could not dive solo. He had to do a tandem jump, harnessing himself to a member of the Army‘s Golden Knights Parachute Team. The makeup of that tandem might have been different if one of the spectators present had taken Bush up on the offer to jump with him. That would be former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. “Maybe on his 90th birthday,” said Gorby. What the hell, does Gorbachev live here now?
If so, he‘s going to have to get into the spirit of things. We‘ve got sky diving presidents and best of all, sky diving grannies whose false teeth jumped separately.
Richard Branson, meanwhile, prefers balloons to planes and amphibious vessel to testing out his theory that must be in the back of his somewhere, that maybe, just maybe, he can walk on water. The British entrepreneur has broken the French-held record for quickest amphibious crossing of the English Channel. One hour-forty minutes, something of an improvement on the old record of six hours. Mr. Branson‘s amphibious vessel, specially adapted for the crossing, was 90 feet long, with a protective steel hull, three funnels, 17 first class cabins and a radar scanner.
Mr. Branson is in our London studios, which is rather unfortunate, as we‘re all here in America. An old “Python” joke.
Meanwhile, a little further afield, a house in New Zealand has been hit by a three-pound rock. Doesn‘t sound like much of a story until you realize that to hit the home of Phil and Brenda Archer of Ellerslie, the rock had to have traveled 435 million miles and may have been propelled originally four and a half billion years ago. The rock, of course, is a meteorite. Astronomers speculate that the thing was probably as big as a basketball when it entered the earth‘s atmosphere, but fortunate for the Archers, it had worn down somewhat before it crashed through their roof, and into their couch at a speed of 33,554 miles per hour. “We called the insurance company,” says Mr. Archer, “and within a few hours, the house was crawling with scientists.”
“Oddball” is in the record books now. Up next, No. 3 on our COUNTDOWN, your preview: The Bushes and the Clintons under the same roof at the White House. And Mr. Clinton‘s new autobiography and John Kerry‘s campaign may be inside the same book jacket.
And later, separation of church and state gone mad: Los Angeles, City of Angels, offensive merely because of its name? Not Hollywood, Los Angeles. Now the P.C. police have a new target and it could change the face of your home atlas forever.
Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3: We‘ll call him “Otto,” the school bus driver from Carroll, Iowa has resigned after six of the 13 teenagers on his bus on May 26 told their parents that he had let them drive.
No. 2: Our bad taste winner of the week, another unnamed individual who walked in and stuck up the Econo Lodge Gibsonia in Pittsburgh on Friday while wearing a Ronald Reagan mask.
And No. 1: Rocker Lenny Kravitz. He told the magazine “Gloria” that he and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones once shared a marijuana joint, and he was such a fan of Jagger‘s that he saved what was left of it as a souvenir for over a year. Until there came the night when he ran out of grass, so he smoked the rest of it. Lenny, why do you think they call it dope?
OLBERMANN: You can almost hear the words already: Please change cassettes now. “My Life” by Bill Clinton continues on side 67.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the book tours and the White House tours of one ex-president, the ethical violation charges against one long-shot would-be president.
Mr. Clinton first and the extraordinary details revealed by “The Wall Street Journal” today that his new autobiography is not just nearly 1,000 pages long, but that the audio versions, abridged from the full text, though they may be, are still enough to give the thin to medium sized listener a hernia, 34 cassettes. That‘s 68 sides or 41 C.D.s, all of it read by President Clinton himself. Good God, the Beatles didn‘t release 41 C.D.s.
The book/audio/C.D./eight-track tour doesn‘t officially kick off until a week from tomorrow. But for Democrats who have been worried that it is going to overshadow or even eclipse the John Kerry campaign, whenever that resumes, encouraging words in this morning‘s “New York Times.”
Quoting aides to the former president, “The Times” reports that, “Whenever his book selling obligations allow, Mr. Clinton is eager to pitch in for the party by plugging Mr. Kerry and subtly putting down Republicans at book-selling events and by speaking at fund-raisers or campaign stops.”
Judging by the images from the White House today, the subtle putting down and the book-selling events are already under way. President Bush presiding over the unveiling of the official portraits of President Clinton and his wife, now Senator Clinton, and obviously he had already found out about that 41-C.D. audio version of Mr. Clinton‘s book.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He‘s also the first man in his party since Franklin Roosevelt to win a second term in the White House. I could tell you more of the story, but it‘s coming out in fine bookstores all over America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: During the unveiling ceremonies, Mr. Bush did say of his predecessor, as chief executive, he showed a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president.
But large portions of the event more resembled a Dean Martin roast.
In that context, one Bush killed, and Clinton responded appropriately.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Meeting those expectations took more than charm and intellect. It took hard work and drive and determination and optimism. I mean, after all, you‘ve got to be optimistic to give six months of your life running the McGovern campaign in Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Cassette No. 68 right there.
No laughing at Nader campaign headquarters, though. A spokesman for the independent presidential candidate says “The Washington Post” should be -- quote—“ashamed of a concocted story” which alleged that the campaign might have violated federal financing laws and at minimum gave the appearance of impropriety. It‘s about shared office space.
“The Post” reported that Nader has been running his campaign out of the same offices that, until two months ago, also housed a public charity he had created. Eyebrows raised at the overlap, “The Post” quoted veteran campaign finance lawyer Jan Baran as saying of one of his former clients, “Even Pat Robertson didn‘t have his campaign organization at the Christian Broadcasting Network.”
Nader himself told the paper—quote—“There‘s nothing, no wrongdoing here. And you can search until kingdom come. You‘ll find no cross-subsidies here.” A campaign spokesman told COUNTDOWN today—quote -- “A precise, bright line separated the campaign from the half-dozen other tenets occupying the overall larger suite. The campaign paid above fair market prices for the office space, had our own receptionist, officer manager, phone lines, copy machine, fax machine, high-speed Internet lines and even our own coffee pot.”
So the political news tonight is dominated by a guy who will never be elected president and another who will never be elected president again, but are both doing their damndest to influence who will be.
To discuss the lot of them, I‘m joined by Margaret Carlson, contributing editor at “TIME” magazine.
Margaret, good evening.
MARGARET CARLSON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “TIME”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with Ralph Nader. Is there something to either “The Washington Post” report or the Nader complaint? I mean, “The Post” devoted 51 paragraphs to this question of office space, which is probably more coverage than Ralph Nader‘s actual candidacy has gotten nationwide in the last month.
CARLSON: I know, Nader and Dennis Kucinich.
Nader has one lawyer looking at issues related to campaign finance, whereas the others candidates have phalanxes of lawyers getting up every morning, looking for ways to get around campaign finance laws. And I‘m no fan of the Nader candidacy, but his explanation seemed to be a good one. The only thing that‘s being shared is the toilet down the hall. Everything else is kept exactly divided.
And the charity is running a deficit. So it‘s not as if the charity could be supporting Nader. And all the information about office space that he gave, which is—very hard to find office space. And if you can sublet some, well, you do it.
OLBERMANN: As you know, a lot of us outside-the-beltway civilians were wandering around Washington last week. And we all heard a lot of stuff that you probably heard last Thanksgiving or five years ago.
But one of the more intriguing things that came my way was about Ralph Nader and it was about the possibility that several of the people who are leading his campaign right now spend a part of every day trying to get him to withdraw and that they think that they may now be getting somewhere. Does any of that ring true to you?
CARLSON: Well, some of his closest allies in Connecticut have been trying to do that and, in fact, arranged a meeting with John Kerry several weeks ago, which was cordial, if not definitive on the issue.
And the groundwork has been laid. And I think it‘s—in the end, Nader will come to his senses. Given all that he‘s done for the country, he doesn‘t want to go out this way. And I think that‘s becoming apparent. And, unlike Gore, Kerry has made the diplomatic overtures. And I think it could work out.
OLBERMANN: This dovetails of course perfectly, speaking of diplomatic overtures, the Kerry-Clinton thing, as we‘ve discussed before, Democrats...
CARLSON: That is going to take more diplomacy, I think.
OLBERMANN: But Democrats clearly were that John Kerry would be overshadowed by this Clinton book tour. And now we hear, as “The New York Times” puts it, which I love this, “Mr. Clinton is eager to pitch in for the party by plugging Mr. Kerry and subtly putting down Republicans at book-selling events.”
Is that good enough for the Kerry people in this deal?
CARLSON: The only way Clinton could help Kerry is by publishing that book on November 4.
This is going to take away from Kerry, in much the same way I think that the Reagan funeral took away from George Bush. It took away from both campaigns. What Clinton needs to do is campaign for Kerry where he‘ll help Kerry and do no harm. And that‘s where the Democratic base is solid and just needs to be energized.
The book tour goes many different places. And a book tour is not like campaigning in the wards of Detroit. It is a book tour. And he‘s got more C.D.s than the Beatles. It is going to eat up all the attention in the world. And it‘s going to help Kerry very little. It‘s a nice intention, though, to say he‘s going to do what he can.
OLBERMANN: Slip a C.D. in there that just says, vote for John Kerry.
Maybe that‘s the best thing he could do.
But on the subject of Mr. John Kerry and the campaign, he froze the campaign last week in respect to Ronald Reagan. A, did anybody notice any difference? I mean, hasn‘t it been frozen for weeks? And, B, when they do they thaw him out?
CARLSON: Well, aides all last week were trying to say that Bush is the heir of Reagan. So, to that extent, there was a lot of churning of that idea going on. But both were frozen. And I think it helps both of them to stay out of the limelight, actually. And Kerry went up a bit. That may argue for him staying out of the limelight even more.
OLBERMANN: Well, he‘s notably successful at doing that. We‘ll see. At some point, though, he‘ll probably have to identify himself, raise his hands, so the voters know who it is out there.
CARLSON: Yes, I‘m running.
OLBERMANN: Margaret Carlson of “TIME” magazine, as always, Margaret, thanks for joining us tonight.
CARLSON: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That wraps up the third story on the COUNTDOWN, past, present and wanna-be presidents.
Up next, do you remember Rico, the dog who understands 200 human words? It turns out he is also bilingual. Then, later, moving from a collie‘s resume to Courtney Love‘s rap sheet. Chalk up another courtroom visit. Well, you can‘t spell courtroom without court—ney.
Those stories ahead. But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
BUSH: Today, we have got a Hall of Famer with us, Mr. Robin Roberts.
Thank you for coming, Robin. I‘m honored you‘re here. Where are you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”: I‘m pretty sure this is the first time I‘ve ever asked a guest this question. But what did it feel like to be strapped to the back of the former president?
SSGT. BRYAN SCHNELL, PARACHUTED WITH FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH: It was an honor for the U.S. Army on its 229th birthday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We‘re a little familiar with each other because she was in the limousine from the airport to here.
WANDA BLACKMORE: I got him lined out.
BUSH: That‘s right.
BUSH: You‘re not the only person on the stage here.
BLACKMORE: I will be if you keep talking like that.
BUSH: That‘s right.
BLACKMORE: I‘ll throw him out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It may have happened to you at some point. You meet a dog. You meet the human attached to the dog. You‘re not initially sure which one is the owner and which one the owned.
You may have had more reason to doubt than first you realized. Our second story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, we told you last week of Rico, the collie from Germany whom scientists insist understands more than 200 human words.
As our London correspondent Charles Sabine reports, we have significantly underreported Rico. He understands German and some English and he helps with the housework. In short, meet Rico savvies.
CHARLES SABINE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Rico, like most border collies, playful, loyal, and very energetic. but there‘s something different about this 9-year-old dog.
WITFOLD KRZESLOWSKI, CO-OWNER OF RICO: Where‘s the ring? Where the ring?
SABINE: Rico shot to fame on a German TV talent show. His owners claimed he could remember the name of 200 objects and retrieve them on command.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the box.
SABINE: He had learned them helping one of his owners, Susanne Baus, do housework in Dortmund.
KRZESLOWSKI: She came to me and told me, look, our dog can distinguish the names. I told her, no, it‘s impossible.
SABINE: But scientists from the Max-Planck Institute in Berlin found it wasn‘t and discovered something even more extraordinary. Rico had an ability that only humans were thought to have, called fast-mapping. They added a toy he had never seen before to a pile and told him to fetch it.
DR. JULIA FISCHER, MAX-PLANCK INSTITUTE: Now, he figured out by simple logic, these toys already have names. There‘s one I haven‘t seen before. Probably, she means this one. And then he brought it.
SABINE: That was enough to make the prestigious “Science” magazine take notice. Border collies are renowned for their intelligence. Like other working dogs, they have a relationship with humans which has evolved over generations.
(on camera): The evidence of Rico‘s abilities may be conclusive, but is he just exceptional? Or can any dog understand what we humans say?
FISCHER: I‘ve been flooded with e-mail from people who now begin to tell us about their dogs and also about their cats, what their cat can do.
SABINE (voice-over): In a remarkably unscientific survey, NBC News discovered that most owners do want to show how good their dogs are at tricks and say that of course they‘re smart.
(on camera): What does she understand?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Anything to do with food.
SABINE (voice-over): Hmm, perhaps not conclusive. But now the world knows that, while some dogs are just companions, and others may be more looks than brains, Rico has proved many understand a lot more than we thought they did.
Charles Sabine, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: From dogs that can almost talk to people who have been known to bark and growl like a dog in public. It‘s our nightly roundup of the celebrity and gossip news and starts in a place all too familiar for the woman in question and no doubt to you yourself, dear viewer, Courtney Love in court.
OK, what is it this time? By now, she must be able to identify which judge it is going to be based on which car is parked out front. The latest accusation, that she hit a woman with a liquor bottle at the home of her former manager. She just needs to stay out of the home of anybody who is her former anything, manager, boyfriend, whatever. She surrendered. She‘s been charged with felony assault. She‘s been released on bond of $55,000. And, yes, by this point, she does get a volume discount on the bail.
That he eluded the system to get his controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” released in American theaters does not mean it is clear sailing for Michael Moore. The movie has now been given a rating of R. Those 17 and under cannot see it without being accompanied by an adult. The director and the patchwork of industry executives he‘s cobbled together to distribute the film starting a week from Friday say they will protest that rating.
In the meantime, Moore says he is second-guessing himself for having not released some of the footage or at least talked about it earlier. He tells “The San Francisco Chronicle” that he caught on film some of the abuse of prisoners in Iraq. But he said he did not mention it at the time for fear of being further accused of self-aggrandizement.
One of the Broadway‘s newest and least likely stars is illing. Sean “P. Diddy” Combs had to make way for an understudy in “Raisin in the Sun,” unspecified stomach distress for the rapper-turned-actor who once sang, can‘t stop, won‘t stop. He had to bow out at intermission of Saturday‘s matinee, missed the Saturday and Sunday night performances. No show scheduled tonight. So Sean will have to be considered day to day. We, of course, are all day to day.
Tonight‘s top story, taking the angels out of Los Angeles and the providence out of Rhode Island, believe it or not.
Stand by. That‘s next here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Mom told me long ago never discuss religion or politics in public. They just make people angry. Well, that went out the window a long, long time ago, too.
But the wisdom of those words is reflected in the two components that make up tonight‘s No. 1 story, religion and politics and courts. In a moment, a separation-of-church-and-state issue that may lead you to have to refer to the city formerly known as L.A.
First, the Supreme Court ruling today on the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, a ruling that appears to support the argument that law is words substituted for truth, and then they go and argue about the words. The court ruled in de facto fashion in favor of retaining the phrase “one nation under God” in the pledge, at least for the time being, not on its merits, not even on the cleverness of the lawyers on either side of the case, but rather based on its doubts that the father of the little girl has the right to sue on her behalf.
Michael Newdow is in a protracted custody battle with the girl‘s mother. And the court ruled that he doesn‘t have sufficient custody to qualify as her legal representative. So, lower court rulings in favor of Newdow are reversed by 8-0, with Antonin Scalia abstaining. Newdow, in disbelief, points out that his daughter spends 10 months a year with him. And it‘s just a coincidence that all this happens 50 years to the day that Congress inserted the words “under God” into the pledge in the first place.
And then there is the potential court case that could make the California recall from last year look like an informal show of hands at a PTA meeting. How about a name-that-city contest for communities currently known as Los Angeles and San Francisco and San Diego? The issue was raised in a newspaper, “The Daily News,” which serves part of the city that is officially still known by its original Mexican mission name, the Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion.
By the way, that phrase little portion does explain the meager servings at most trendy L.A. restaurants. Anyway, constitutional law experts say that a strong legal argument can be made that just the name, Los Angeles, “The Angels,” violates by itself the separation of church and state. Fortunately, one of them quoted by the newspaper, Joerg Knipprath, from Southwestern University Law School, says an actual lawsuit to change the city‘s name is—quote—“farfetched at this point. I don‘t think it is going to happen in the next 10 years.”
Unfortunately, he points out that, 20 years ago, nobody thought the county of Los Angeles would have to go along with the ACLU‘s request to remove the tiny Christian cross from its official county seal. Of course, it ain‘t just Los Angeles. All the Santas could be in trouble, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, and the Sans, Francisco, Diego, Antonio, to say nothing of the saints, Paul, Augustine, Louis.
And why stop there? What about Nazareth and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania;
Providence, Rhode Island; Heavenly Branch, Texas; Heaven Heights, Massachusetts; Hell‘s Gate and Hell‘s Half Acre in Texas; and, of course, Hell, Michigan? You would have thought that they would have changed the name of Hell, Michigan, already.
Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories tonight.
No. 5, the incarceration in Iraq. After a day of mixed messages, the new prime minister of that nation says the U.S. will indeed hand over Saddam Hussein, along with sovereignty in that country two weeks from Wednesday. Four, striking out on the foul ball, a court ruling that a woman hit by a stray baseball while watching a Boston Red Sox game in 1998 has no right to compensation for her injuries. Their appeals, she and her lawyer‘s, will continue.
No. 3, campaigning for Kerry while trying to sell a book, Bill Clinton planning to sell the Democratic candidate while he‘s on tour selling his own four-million-page-long book. Two, Rico, the wonder dog, the German border collie who can fetch in two different languages and apparently learned his skills while doing housework for his owner. And, No. 1, name that city. Do the angels in Los Angeles and the saint in San Francisco violate the constitutional separation of church and state and city?
That‘s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann.
Good night and good luck.
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