Guests: Gerald Posner, David Maraniss, Dodi Lewis, Harvey Levin
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
MOHAMED ATTA, HIJACKER: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you‘ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.
OLBERMANN: The words of a mass murder: The 9/11 Commission presents tapes of hijacker Mohamed Atta deceiving the terrified victims aboard flight 11.
Also today, testimony presenting a picture of near chaos in government as that awful morning unfolded. Author Gerald Posner joins us to analyze the grim evidence.
Also, the revelations of Bill Clinton on impeachment, on internships -
· this where I came in. David Maraniss will come back in with me.
A foul ball foul: The televised Grinch meets his 4-year-old victim.
And speaking of televised: Never mind O.J., we will commemorate the birthday of the car chase.
All that and more now, on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening. It is in a visceral, awful, searing way, as if you were listening to the German concentration camp guards telling that prisoners that they are about to be given showers. Or as if there had been a tape of the play “Our American Cousin” the night that Lincoln was shot.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: The last day of hearings for the 9/11 Commission and as part of them, a nauseating souvenir. An audio recording of the lead murder, Mohamed Atta telling the doomed passengers aboard American Airlines fight 11 that everything will be OK.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ATTA: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you‘ll be OK. We are returning to the airport.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Within half an hour everyone who hear those words crackling through the public address system of flight 11 would be dead in side the pyre that the north tower of the World Trade Center had become.
Obviously the heart rending tapes will echo through this country for span of time not yet measurable. In a moment, Gerald Posner, the author of “Why America Slept” will help us to try to assess what they mean. But they were hardly the only startling words heard today.
As the commission concluded its hearings, Lisa Myers, reporting from Washington now, on the tapes and the testimony that have left us with the timeline of tragedy.
LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 8:24, the first ominous sign; American flight 11 from Boston. A hijacker believed to be Mohamed Atta thinks he‘s talking only to passengers, but keys the wrong microphone and speaks to FAA petrols.
ATTA: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you‘ll be OK. We are returning to the airport. Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you‘ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
MYERS: Minutes later:
ATTA: Nobody more please. We are going back to the airport. Don‘t try to make any stupid moves.
MYERS: 8:37, the FAA informs the military of the hijacking, but by the time jets scramble, it‘s too late. At 8:46 the plane hits the north tower of the World Trade Center. By nine, the magnitude of the problem is setting in. The FAA in New York contacts the National Command Center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have several situations going on here, it‘s escalating big-big time and we need to get the military involved with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re, we‘re involved with something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.
MYERS: Flight 175 is spotted heading for Manhattan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, heads up man, it looks like another one coming in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
MYERS: At 9:03 that plane hits the south tower, just as the military is finally told it‘s been hijacked. By then, FAA controllers are searching for another missing plane, flight 77, which has turned around and is heading undetected back toward Washington D.C. By the time it‘s noticed, and the military informed, again it‘s too late. The plane crashes into the Pentagon.
9:39, a transmission from United flight 93 from Newark, hijacker, Ziad Jarrah:
ZIAD JARRAH, HIJACKER: This is the captain, would like you to all remain seated. There is a bomb on board and we are going back to the airport, and have our demands. Please remain quite.
MYERS: Cleveland controllers urge FAA superiors to call the military to launch fighters, but no one makes a decision and the military is not alerted.
10:03, thanks to heroic passengers, a plane destine for the White House or the Capitol crashes into a field in Pennsylvania.
I think headquarters blew it. I mean, there was no information delivered to the military that a plane was coming into Washington, D.C.
MYERS (on camera): Thinking the plane is still headed for Washington, Vice President Cheney, authorizes the military to shoot it down, but the commission said that order is never passed on to the pilot patrolling Washington and New York City.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: That morning was so chaotic, the commission also concluded, that at some point, Mr. Cheney believed the two planes had been shot down. It is a mountain of evidence and the emotional impact is equally mountainous. To help sort it all out for us I‘m joined again by investigative author, Gerald Posner who wrote “Why America Slept.”
Thank you once more for your time, sir.
GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR: Thank you Keith, for having me.
OLBERMANN: Let me start with another audio clip. Just before 8:49 that morning, it‘s the FAA command center at Herndon, Virginia, talking to the FAA headquarters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAA COMMAND CENTER: Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?
FAA HEADQUARTERS: Oh, God, I don‘t know.
FAA COMMAND CENTER: That‘s a decision somebody‘s going to have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.
FAA HEADQUARTERS: You know everybody just left the room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Posner, in that snippet of audiotape, are we hearing all we really need to know about how 9/11 happened.
POSNER: You‘re absolutely right, Keith. You know, I listened to this tape today, I watched the hearings in detail, I‘ve been through the documents and every time I see this type of material, I think does to me what it does to most Americans, your blood pressure just starts to go up, you get angry. You not only get angry at the terrorists, the mass murders, but you get angry the incompetence that day of the officials who are paid to protect us. And as we talk this evening, not one person has lost a week‘s vacation pay, been suspended for an hour at the FAA or anywhere else for the incompetence, the absolute miscalculations that took place.
It‘s not only what Lisa Myers talked about and what you did just a moment ago, but do you know there are instances in which the FAA first tried to contact the military and the called the telephone number that had been disconnected, they didn‘t know where else to call? Then after flight 11 hit the World Trade Center, they told the military that flight 11 was still in the air sending some military jets out the sea in the wrong direction. That flight 77 that hits the Pentagon, for 36 minutes, not for one or two minutes, but for over half an hour, flies without any radar detecting it. That the only military plane that gets up to flight 77 is an unarmed military cargo plane, that literally accompanies it toward the Pentagon and watches the terror take place, but is unable to do anything about it.
The president of the United States, the commander in chief, sitting in a classroom in Florida, has eventually use a cell phone to talk to Washington. I mean, thank God his connection was good on the cell phone. He‘s unable to use a secure line. Cheney, in his bunker inside the White House, thinks that two planes have been shot down, and guess who they forget to tell? The secretary of defense. Donald Rumsfeld doesn‘t even know that an order‘s been given to shoot down commercial aircraft.
And finally, NORAD, the people paid to protect us in the military jets. Guess what? They did three exercises in the two years before 9/11 about commercial airliners being hijacked. Two of them, they had them plowing into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one coming over the Atlantic packed with chemical weapons. They knew this was a possibility, but on that morning, as we saw today, they were all caught flat-footed.
OLBERMANN: At one time, there was one exchange in which someone asked the question: “Is this a drill?” rather than real time.
POSNER: And couldn‘t believe it.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the president. It‘s barely been talked about today in the coverage of all this, the timeline of the president‘s movements that day, have been pretty much portrayed, in all the coverage, since the day itself, as a series of allusive maneuvers, the attempts to keep him safe, to hide him. The record today, seemed to suggest something else closer to like Mr. Bush was occupied doing other things that day.
POSNER: That‘s right. The effort to hide him didn‘t take place until quite late. I mean, the president‘s staff, in this case, reacted very poorly and, I know that they will take great offense to that and say, “No, we did the best that we could,” but they let him sit in that classroom, and you know, I hate to say “never” because then you‘re always proven wrong the next day, but it‘s really hard for me to imagine that we will ever see what you‘re just watching now, which is a head of state, a chief of state in this country, have the wispier passed to him or her about a disaster like that plane hitting the World Trade Center and stay in that room and carry on with that day‘s—you know, photo opportunities and political events, it‘s just not going to happen. That president would leave in the future and deal with the emergency at hand and not leave it to anybody else on the staff to take care of.
OLBERMANN: We mentioned the vice president and order that flight 93 be shot down. Did somebody—is it clear, from what you have investigated, from what you hear today, is it clear that that message did not get through to the people who could have done it? Or is there some suggestion that somebody along the line said, “No, this can‘t be correct, we have to disobey this.”
POSNER: There are two problems with this. First, it did not get to the people who had do carry out the order, the pilots. They did not know, those pilots, although they weren‘t even in a position to bring the plane down. If they had been, the two pilots in question, the closest to actually getting to flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, said, “We didn‘t know, by the way, that we could shoot the plane down, nobody had told us that.” And there is a tape that was played today, which a mid-level military officer, inside of NORAD actually says, “No” in contradiction to the order being granted, “we do not have permission to do that.” So again, Keith, it‘s no surprising.
You remember just few weeks ago, many of your viewers will recall, that the CIA said before the commission, “Oh, did you mean that President Clinton authorized us to kill bin Laden after 1998? We weren‘t it was quite sure it was really a ‘kill‘ order.” If the CIA couldn‘t‘ determine that they were supposed kill bin Laden in a four year period, I‘m not surprised that the pilots flying these planes didn‘t know the vice president issued the order. The vice president, himself, thought the two of the planes had been shot down, as we know from Lisa Myers‘ report and that turned out to be wrong.
OLBERMANN: Fortunately we all cleared this up with the planes, there has not been an incident involving a questions—a plane in airspace that didn‘t belong since last Wednesday, so we‘ve been safe since last Wednesday.
POSNER: Isn‘t‘ is amazing that the governed of Kentucky‘s flying too close to the Capitol and very body runs for cover. I‘m not sure things are much better.
OLBERMANN: Having been across the street from the Capitol at the time, it was amazing indeed. Gerald Posner, the author of “Why America Slept.”
Once again sir, thanks for talking us through this.
POSNER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Terrorism against thousands. Terrorism against one. The volume varies, the sadness and fear do not. And with the threat against the life of the abducted Lockheed Martin employee, Paul Johnson, now less than 24 hours away, a candle lit vigil and celebration of his life began at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight behind the firehouse in Eagleswood Township, New Jersey, the hometown of the Johnson family, a small rural community about 20 miles north of Atlantic City. No news today of a hunt for Johnson in Saudi Arabia. But there was also of vigil of sorts there.
A Saudi man identifying himself, probably a pseudonym, as Said al-Momed (ph), posted messages on several Islamic extremist Web sites and proclaimed that he was Johnson‘s friend. He quoted the Islamic profit, Mohamed, “If they were granted Muslim protection, the killing or taking their money or harming them is forbidden.”
In a moving, painful appearance on the “Today” show this morning, members of Paul Johnson‘s family echoed those sentiments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL JOHNSON‘S SISTER: It‘s been real hard, and you know, that‘s the only reason we‘re here. We didn‘t want to go public, but we plead for his safe return, the free him and that he‘ll be able to come home unharmed and be with our family. We all love him, Pauly, and this is his daughter, she is hasn‘t been in the media,but you know...
PAUL JOHNSON‘S DAUGHTER: I just want my dad to come home safe.
SISTER: And my brother also has two sons (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so there are three grandchildren, total.
MATT LAUER, “TODAY” CO-ANCHOR: Would you be in favor of the release of some of these militants?
PAUL JOHNSON, III, PAUL JOHNSON‘S SON: Yes I would. And I don‘t want to comment on it, I just want my father home and I really think it‘s up to the Saudi‘s and the White House to make this happen, and I don‘t want it—it‘s not their fault it‘s just—this is just part of how—he don‘t deserve this and nobody deserves this, I wouldn‘t wish this on my worse enemy.
LAUER: You have a son, I believe he‘s 4-years-old, is that right?
LAUER: Your father has never had the chance to see?
SON: Yeah, and his name‘s Paul Marshal Johnson, IV. You know, I—he carried on his father‘s name and you know, he looked on me as his kid to carry it on—you know, we talked—we talked about it, he says, “Kid, when you get old enough, you‘re going to name your son and the generation up.” And—you know, I always respected my father and—I—I just want him home safely.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the war on terror. Coming up next, the No. 4 story: The foul ball foul seen around the world. This guy is getting his summer off to a bad start. Now comes an apology?
And while some may still care what O.J. Simpson has to say about his crimes, we care about his other legacy. A moment that unified the nation, how history will actually remember him, as the man who brought the car chase to national television. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Ahead on COUNTDOWN, breaking news on how far Michael Jackson reportedly was willing to go to get youth in his family out of the reach of investigators.
And a surprise turn in the case of the former youth counselor who took a baseball away from a 4-year-old at a ballgame, stand by.
OLBERMANN: Until 1921, fans at baseball games did not have the right to keep baseballs that were hit into the stands. There are countless reports of a century ago of policemen, club officials, even player themselves, wrestling with spectators who had refused to return to the field, foul balls and home runs. Then, 83 seasons ago, during a game at the Polo grounds in New York, a Mr. Reuben Berman caught a ball and would not let, so he was ejected from the ballpark. He sued for the baseball, the humiliation, $20, 000 in damages. Two years later, the Philadelphia Phillies had one of their fans, Bob Cotter, locked up overnight for keeping a foul ball. The judge let him go in the morning. Bob Cotter was 11-years-old.
Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN: Somewhere, no doubt, Reuben Berman and Bob Cotter are smiling tonight. Four-year-old Nick O‘Brien has finally gotten his foul ball, too.
Our correspondent is Don Teague.
DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the better part of a week, the biggest hero and villain and baseball have been some unlikely fans. The hero, 4-year-old Nicholas O‘Brien.
ANNOUNCER: Yeah, you got the ball buddy. Nice going. You took it away from a little kid...
TEAGUE: The villain, 28-year-old Matt Starr who almost knocked Nicholas over diving for a foul ball during Sunday‘s Texas Ranger‘s game.
ANNOUNCER: And there‘s the biggest jerk in this park.
TEAGUE: Starr kept the ball, despite calls by the other fans for him to give it to Nicholas and the story took on a life of its own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A man at the center of the foul ball controversy...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That guy‘s just another goofball...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... foul ball flap heard around the country...
TEAGUE: Baseball often supplies controversy, the was the sausage attack in Milwaukee last year, and Chicago Cubs fans will never forget Steve Bartman who many blame for keeping the Cubs out of the World Series.
(on camera): So, what exactly is it that causes some people to completely lose their minds when a baseball goes flying into the stands?
(voice-over): Starr, a landscaper and former youth minister in his church is described as a nice guy by neighbors. He disappeared from sight this week after finding himself surrounded by reporters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kind of feel sorry for him now because I‘m sure he‘s totally embarrassed with all of the attention that he‘s getting.
TEAGUE: And even days later, baseball fans across the country are still talking about the incident.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it was mean.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was horrible, totally not with the spirit of baseball.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope he feels bad about it now.
TEAGUE: Apparently he does.
ERIC NADEL, KRLD 1080 AM, ARLINGTON, TEXAS: Matt Starr, the man who got the foul ball, has apparently returned it to the O‘Brien family.”
ANNOUNCER: Now a bat from Reggie Sanders...
TEAGUE: Texas Rangers say Starr will now apologize to Nicholas and his family, giving the boy the ball plus tickets to another game. And fans, may forgive Matt Starr if they play by the golden rule of sports, no harm, no foul as long as you‘re sorry.
ANNOUNCER: Has a whole armful of balls and now...
TEAGUE: Don Teague, NBC News, Atlanta.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN past the No. 4 story. Up next, “Oddball.” What is Victoria Secret? It‘s, where have all the panties gone?
And later, breaking news in the Michael Jackson case tonight, courtesy our friends at “Celebrity Justice” new details about a planned mystery trip to Brazil. Brazil for the accuser‘s family. We‘ll tell you what was really in the works, stand by.
OLBERMANN: We rejoin you now with the COUNTDOWN and immediately put in on pause to give us a little break. A few off-the-wall stories that will not, as it were, get your panties in a bunch. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
Actual the first story is about panties in a bunch, so maybe I‘ve just misled you. I‘m sorry.
The Victoria Secret store in Bridgewater, New Jersey, reporting the theft of 1,000 pair of women‘s underwear. The 22,000 bucks worth panties are reported to all be “Body by Victoria” line material. The police report reads, “Low-rise, hipster, bikini, and thong merchandise reported to be subdued in color.” The store had no surveillance cameras, nor security personnel. Police are investigating. Well, they‘re investigating why in all the cases they have to slog though, this store couldn‘t have had a surveillance camera.
If any of the panties turn up in the zoo in Beijing in China, don‘t say we didn‘t warn you.
The 4-year-old giant panda born in San Diego, then returned to the land of her parent‘s birth, is now herself, pregnant. And how did she get that way? Through pornography. Beijing Zoo officials say Hua Mei had little concept of reproduction, so they showed her videos of other pandas mating. They will appear later on her homeroom—room bill when she checks out.
Porno for Pandas, that‘s on of the bands Perry Farrell was in, right?
And from Louisville, Kentucky tonight, the flooding was considered minor, do not tell that to the owner of these homes. Ever since I was a boy, rafting down the Ohio River has been my favorite pastime. I like to bring the family along, plus our own house. Officials say they have no idea where these came from, what freak of meteorology sent the adrift, nor why the owner or owners haven‘t mentioned that their houses have been washed away.
“Oddball” now on the record books, up next our No. 3 story, your preview: The book on Bill Clinton, he talks about his book. His best biography, David Maraniss joins us to talk about Mr. Clinton‘s unexpected frankness about Monica Lewinsky.
Later the sirens wale and the bad guy takes off and thus beginith the daily game of dodge the cops, on the American highways. We call it the car chase, thanks to O.J. Simpson. It is a staple of national television and it has turned 10 years old, today.
Those stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3: Viagra, it is selling like hotcakes in Baghdad. And they say we do not tell those good news stories from Iraq.
No. 2: A 30-year-old, two foot long lobster—a giant old lobster found by divers at the bottom of Blithe Harbor in Northeast England, he was guarding a wristwatch, still ticking, but incrusted with barnacles. They have taken him to an aquarium where officials say they will give him a new watch to guard, this one will be waterproof. None of that is made up.
No. 1: Ken Jennings, who has now won a record 11 straight nights on “Jeopardy,” total earnings $376,000. Nice, but then again, he didn‘t have to face Al Franken in a category about Al Franken—did he?!
OLBERMANN: Sir Edmund Hillary. They asked him, why climb Mount Everest? And he answered, because it‘s there.
Willy Sutton, they asked him why he robbed banks. And he answered, because that‘s where the money is.
And in our third story tonight, Bill Clinton, they asked him why he fooled around with Monica Lewinsky. And he has now answered, just because I could. Bits of the 42nd president‘s first interview for his book tour are now out. He tells CBS that the Lewinsky mess was done for “the most morally indefensible reason” that there was, that he could get away with it. Clinton has also asserted that he never considered resignation, and thinks of his fight against impeachment as a “badge of honor.”
And at a movie screening last night, said that when the Berlin Wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn‘t have an enemy anymore so I had to serve as the next best thing. Even if he‘s damned right, it was the Lewinsky disaster that handed his opponents barrel after barrel of high grade crude to throw on his fire. His Lewinsky explanation and other comments taking up the entire hour of the CBS news broadcast, “60 MINUTES” this Sunday. Our cliff notes sized excerpt can be measured in seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I did something for the worst possible reason, just because I could. I think that‘s the most, just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. When do you something just because could you. And I thought about it a lot of. And there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated, psychological explanations. But none of them are an excuse. Only a fool does not look to explain his mistakes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That interview phase one of a massive media blitz pushing a monster of a book that weighs about as much as a case of Snapple. If you‘re not thirsty, perhaps a brand new car battery at bargain prices is the simile for you. That‘s right. We‘re heading to Costco. The cleanup of history, aisle five. The former president will be shilling at a discount, signing copies of his memoir at the Warehouse Store in Washington state at the end of this month, giving Costco employees just enough time to move out their inventory of door stops.
From the end of January through the beginning of December, 1998, I hosted 228 consecutive news casts on this network at this hour devoted to the Clinton-Lewinsky saga. We occasionally did report other news. Frank Sinatra is dead. His last words were not Monica S. Lewinsky. But pretty much it was Bill, and Monica and Ken and one of the few people who made it bearable. David Maraniss of the “Washington Post,” to whom if he is lucky, Bill Clinton will finish second in the race to write the best Bill Clinton biography. David, of course, is called first in his class. David joins me again tonight from Madison, Wisconsin. How are you, sir?
DAVID MARANISS, “WASHINGTON POST”: I‘m surviving, Keith. Great to be with you again.
OLBERMANN: Same here. All right, let‘s start with her. We can make the comparisons to Edmund Hillary, no pun intended, and to Willy Sutton. Do you hear something new in answer to that question, why did you fool around with an intern?
MARANISS: I heard something refreshingly honest. I think that he answered, because I could, is the exact right answer. I don‘t think he meant that it was because he knew he could get away with it in the long run or he knew he could survive impeachment, but just because he wasn‘t thinking. People say, how could someone who was thinking do something to endanger his presidency? Well, he wasn‘t. He wasn‘t thinking about Hillary. He wasn‘t thinking about the Democratic Party. He wasn‘t thinking about his future. He just saw something in front of him that he could do and he did it.
OLBERMANN: David, what if he had said that then?
MARANISS: Well, he might have saved himself a whole lot of trouble.
But that‘s just one of those many what if‘s about Bill Clinton.
OLBERMANN: The badge of honor remarks regarding the impeachment. If he gets a badge of honor, do you and I get the cris de guerre or what?
MARANISS: Well, I found that one a little bit of a stretch. I mean, it‘s true that he survived. And that he is an incredible survivor. And as I predicted then, he would survive. That‘s what he does. So if he has to get himself in that much trouble to get a badge of honor, I feel sorry for him. But he did get through it, but he caused it as well.
OLBERMANN: Not in the interview but at the premier of that film, “The Hunting of the President” last night, he basically said what Hillary had said in January of 1998, the right wing conspiracy stuff, although he said it wasn‘t a conspiracy because its in the open. To your knowledge, has he ever been that blunt about agreeing with her controversial statement from that day as he was last night?
MARANISS: I don‘t think so. I think he‘s loosening up in every respect. And you will hear a lot more of that sort of blunt talk now, because what does he have to lose now? And I think, you know, it is going to be a very interesting month because of that. He is going to say a lot of things like that.
OLBERMANN: Big picture, you‘ve already written the biography of the man. What could possibly be in this book for you?
MARANISS: A whole lot. A great biographer once said that 95 percent of all lives are lived completely sealed off from the rest of humanity, because it is what is in your brain. I don‘t know what anyone else is thinking at any one time. And so any of that that reveals what he was thinking as he went through his life will be fascinating to me. The actual events, I think I know pretty well. I‘m sure there will be tons of stories. Some of them real, some of them fantasy. But they‘ll all be funny, or interesting or revealing in some sense. I‘ll enjoy it in that sense. It‘s what he was thinking as he was doing things that I think will interest me the most.
OLBERMANN: And later on, of course, we‘ll have the second volume of all the things I forgot. That will be great too. David Maraniss, author of “First in His Class,” the first and foremost, albeit not the heaviest Bill Clinton biographer.
MARANISS: Not at all.
OLBERMANN: David, thanks so much.
MARANISS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Entomologists have the Clinton years to thank for bringing to our attention what the definition of is is. At the Bush White House, meanwhile, it looks like some parsing of the words connection is in order, as in, is there a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda or not? On this delicate and divisive matter, we heard from the president, once again, today, once again, asserting that the 9/11 Commission doesn‘t know Iraq from its elbow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason I keep insisting there was a relationship between Iraq, and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. This administration never said that the 9/11 Attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and al Qaeda. We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Got that? Saddam and the 9/11 attacks, no, knew al Qaeda in a general, how the heck are you kind of way, yes. As if for emphasis, one could also see the vice president tonight on our sister network CNBC saying pretty much the same thing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: On the question of whether or not there was any kind of a relationship, there clearly was a relationship. It‘s been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming. It goes back to the early 1990‘s. It involves a whole series of contacts, high level contacts between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Contacts which the commission claimed resulted in Iraq not returning bin Laden‘s message. The vice president also had some choice words for “The New York Times” and the media in general for getting “all in a dither and distorting the story.” One thing we know for certain about the president and Iraq tonight, with the stream of prison abuse photos ending and the flags unfurling last week in memory of Ronald Reagan, public opinion polls about the war have rebounded to Mr. Bush‘s advantage.
Fifty-seven percent of those Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center saying in a survey released tonight that they believe the war is going well. That is a huge jump from last month, just 46 percent thought as much. The president‘s job approval overall rating also showing improvement, up from 44 percent to 48 percent now, gaining even more ground in the run for the White House. Bush now holding a 48-46 edge over Senator John Kerry in a two-person race last month. He had trailed Kerry 54-55. That‘s it for the third story tonight.
Coming up, does this sound familiar? A mother torn between looking after her children and returning to Iraq.
Later, some disturbing new details in the Michael Jackson case and just what was offered to the accuser‘s family, or perhaps forced on them. Harvey Levin of “Celebrity Justice” will join us live with the exclusive story coming up on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It is the kind of conundrum found only in the modern army. Our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, military policewoman Dodi Lewis could be court-martialed unless she returns to Iraq. But if she does return to Iraq, she could then face criminal charges for abandoning her children. Four-year-old Sadi and 2-year-old Cole were left in the care of their grandmother, Barbara Louie in February, Dodi Lewis, though, was called home on emergency leave when her mother was hospitalized with diabetic shock. Her husband is an infantry sergeant. He is in duty in South Korea, soon to be transferred to Iraq as well. All that Specialist Lewis wants is an honorable discharge. Joining us now, Army Specialist Dodi Lewis. Thanks for coming on the program. Is this going to turn out OK?
DODI LEWIS, ARMY SPECIALIST: I think so. We‘ve been—I‘m sorry, what?
OLBERMANN: Just go ahead.
LEWIS: We‘ve just been following the process this week and I‘ve been up at Fort Lewis Monday, and Wednesday and today and I‘ll be back up tomorrow to finish everything up.
OLBERMANN: So when this happened, when your mother got sick and the Red Cross sent you home. What happened after that? How did this turn into a problem where they Marked you down as AWOL?
LEWIS: Well, I got some—we were communing by e-mail. I e-mailed them about every two days. I was sent home to be able to take care of my children, because there was obviously nobody to watch them. And also, to fix the family care plan, which is somebody to watch my children. And after much work, we tried to find somebody and we weren‘t able to come up with anybody. So I e-mailed my chain of command. They e-mailed me back saying that everything would be OK. That we would, they would start the process to send me back to my reserve unit here in Vancouver, Washington. And after that, I didn‘t hear from them for about a month. And all of a sudden, I get an e-mail saying I‘m AWOL.
OLBERMANN: At this point, given the way they‘ve responded in the last couple days, as you said, it sounds pretty good that this will all get cleared up. Are you pretty clear in your mind that this was all typical Army red tape? Nobody meant this to happen to you, did they?
LEWIS: Oh, no. I‘m sure they didn‘t. Who would want—the Army is made of people. I don‘t think people in their hearts really want to do anything to hurt anybody. So I think it‘s just a matter of going through the right channels and trying to find the right people to help take care of everything.
OLBERMANN: So you served the country in Iraq. Your husband is in Korea. He‘s going to Iraq. Your father was in Iraq, too? Your father was there, too? What was he doing?
LEWIS: He works for the Corps of Engineers. He‘s a retired chief warrant officer. He was over there doing work as a civilian.
LEWIS: Goodness! We hope given the amount of sacrifice and time that all of you have done on our behalf, we hope this gets cleared up, as you say, in the next couple days. Best of luck with it.
LEWIS: Thank you very much.
Army Specialist Dodi Lewis with us tonight.
The number two story in our celebrity news segment, keeping tabs, has something in common tonight. They‘re both tales of families and travel, quite different tales. It‘s your entertainment dollars in action. Day 213 of the Michael Jackson investigations. To what lengths were Jackson‘s people willing to go to keep the family of the boy who would accuse him of molestation away from investigators? How about, in effect, forcing them to move, to Brazil? This breaking story being reported tonight by our friends at the syndicated television show, “Celebrity Justice.” Joining me now, the creator and executive producer, Harvey Levin. Good evening, Harvey.
HARVEY LEVIN, CREATOR/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, CELEBRITY JUSTICE: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So Brazil? How were they going to, in essence, force them to move to Brazil?
LEVIN: Well, eight plane tickets, Keith, are the key to this. We now know exactly what this is about. We have told you before that there‘s a guy named Frank Heizman works for Michael Jackson who told me a couple of months ago on the phone, yes, we were going to take the boy and his family down to Brazil but it would be a vacation for three weeks and then we were going to come back. Here‘s what we now know. That this trip was scheduled for March 1 of last year. It was going to go from LAX to Sao Paolo.
The return date was not three weeks later. It was March 4. And there were eight people on board this flight—Frank Tyson, Vinny Amen, who was the other kid responsible for handling the family, Marc Schaffel and Christian Robinson who was Marc Schaffel‘s videographer for Michael Jackson. And then the boy, his mother, his brother and his sister. They were going to go down to Brazil, prosecutors believe, and we now know what they‘ll try to prove.
They were all going to go down to Brazil and then they were going to show this family a house and say, look, we will put you in this house and we will give you money. If you don‘t take that, when you come back to L.A., you won‘t have any money. We‘ve already made sure you don‘t have an apartment. We put all of your belongings in storage so you‘re either out on the street or you‘re going to take this place in Brazil. And prosecutors believe that‘s what the plan was and that‘s what the conspiracy was.
OLBERMANN: A proverbial squeeze play but with an international connection. Obviously, it does not prove molestation in a case like this. Where does it fit into—in other words, how is the prosecution intending to use this?
LEVIN: Keith, what they‘re really trying to show is a consciousness of guilt. They‘re trying to show that Michael Jackson and his people were basically dealing with a family the way Michael Jackson dealt with them and whatever did he to the boy. Then they wanted him out. They wanted the boy and his family out of sight so they couldn‘t talk to prosecutors. And they‘ll try to show that Michael Jackson and these people consciously devised a scheme to make these people dependent on Michael Jackson financially, then take them down to Brazil.
I have to tell you, the mother believed this was a vacation. She was buying bathing suits and sun tan lotion. But when you look at the fact that the return dates on these tickets were three days later, this seemed to not be a vacation. And I know that Marc Schaffel, because he told me this two months earlier, was down in Brazil scouting locations. So this could be something really big for the prosecution. Remember, though, the trip never happened because the mother got mad and the whole thing got canceled.
OLBERMANN: Otherwise they might be still living in Brazil. Harvey Levin, the executive creator and creator of “Celebrity Justice” with this latest bizarre turn to this endlessly bizarre story. As always, my friend, many thanks.
LEVIN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Up next, a special COUNTDOWN presentation. Happy birthday to—the televised car chase. Guess who the father was—maybe we should call him the mother? That‘s next. COUNTDOWN snapped two photos of this day.
OLBERMANN: Finally, tonight the top of the COUNTDOWN: And lots of things happened on this day in history. That upstart new political party, the Republicans, opened their first ever convention on June 17, 1856.
James Brown was born.
The Army-McCarthy hearings came to their sad end in 1954.
But for news, for television and for Ford Broncos, June 17 means one thing and one thing only, the live, nationally televised car chase. Our number on story, tonight, for good or ill we have it now for exactly a decade—more confirmation that television may be the most destructive weapon yet created by man.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): When O.J. Simpson was just another ex-jock athlete with an undeservedly good reputation, it was already a staple of every day life in L.A. A driver tries to elude the police and choppers—two, four, five, seven, nine, eleven, thirteen—swarm overhead to carry it live, live, live. By March of 1994, three months before Simpson, it was already such a cliche that it had inspired a Charlie Sheen movie called “The Chase.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, “Terror on the Freeway.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have just joined us, tonight there is terror on the freeway.
OLBERMANN: But that was car chasing when car chasing wasn‘t cool.
Ten years ago today the moon landing of the genre.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The white Bronco that you see on the freeway going right your screen contains O.J. Simpson, a fugitive at large.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is A.C.. I have O.J. in the car.
OLBERMANN: O.J. and A.C., the white Ford Bronco and the black and white behind them. And America watching it instead of basketball playoff games, the beginning of the decline of the NBA, the beginning of the decade of the car chase. Soon you needed not the accusation that you had beheaded your wife, a broken taillight and a led foot on the gas pedal was enough for us to interrupt the program. Let‘s go up to the choppers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go. He is up on the sidewalk. Here he goes.
OLBERMANN: Local stations anywhere broke in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is just not giving up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you are listening to a briefing on Capitol Hill.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are also bringing you some breaking news out of Los Angeles right now. Take this shot up on satellite right now, a car chase in Los Angeles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I saw the driver of the black car put on his blinker.
OLBERMANN: It didn‘t matter what else was on. We once cut away from Clinton and Lewinsky to show a car “chasinsky.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man had a total disregard for the safety of anybody else on the road.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: America just loved to watch them run. They ran in cars, they ran in trucks, they ran in buses, they ran on motorcycles or on that most jaw-dropping of days in a 50-ton army tank on the streets of San Diego. They ran on the highway, the ran on the side streets, they ran in the medium. They ran through red lights. They ran forward. They ran backwards, sometimes ... oh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There goes a bumper there.
OLBERMANN: We all learned the lingo. The pit maneuver, the box-in, the spite script and the last sad chapter terror of any pursuit, the foot chase. Real life action movies playing out nearly every day not just live but so incredibly inexpensive for television stations and networks to produce, the coverage reached the saturation point. The Fox Network dedicated a weekly prime time show to nothing but car chases. Others (COUGH, COUGH) treated it all more like a goofy sporting event.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check the odd ball score board for the year, we see its cops 44 and guys who think they can escape the cops, goose egg. Never mind that scoreboard because this guy is in a hurry. Charlotte, North Carolina, the man fleeing a domestic disturbance, crashing in a busy intersection, he just walks away from his still rolling vehicle, just park that anywhere, pal. The other driver was injured but not seriously. Then the foot chase starts. And our suspect turns on the speed. What can I run? An amazing display of Olympian footwork. The suspect outruns the cups in a straight away and then into the hurdles, into the apartment complex. He should have gotten at least a trophy of some sort. But there will be no blue ribbon for this fleet-footed fellow. Maybe he can join the track and field team in the big house.
OLBERMANN: As novelty waned, variety waxed. If it moved, if it was on the ground, if we had a camera we were looking live.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sure beats the O.J. Bronco ride, I can tell you that.
OLBERMANN: So after 10 years, the car chase maybe running on fume. We have seen so many that even the cable networks rarely break format just for a chase. Local stations facing pressure from police officials have chosen to scale back coverage, notably after some chases ended violently on live TV. But you can‘t blame the decline in coverage on the lack of contestants. They are still out there, every day somewhere a guy decides to run, maybe it‘s drunken recklessness, maybe it‘s desperation, maybe it‘s that naive dream that I can be the one who, the one who ran from the law and got away. Doesn‘t work for them, just as 10 years ago tonight didn‘t work for him. Hell, he‘s still running.
OLBERMANN: None of the people you saw on that, believe it or not, were killed.
Let‘s recap the COUNTDOWN stories. The five numbers that we think you will be talking about. The awful tape of the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta heard reassuring his victims that everything would be OK if they just keep their seats.
Four, the Grinch says he is sorry. Twenty-eight-year-old former youth counselor, Matt Starr (ph), now offering an apology to the 4-year-old he knocked down last weekend to get a souvenir foul ball at a baseball game. The kid gets the ball, too.
Three, because I could. Bill Clinton‘s real life explanation for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Two, motherhood versus the military, an Army mom about to avoid an AWOL charge for having stayed home from Iraq to look after her two young kids.
And number one, our salute to the car chase 10 years after O.J. That is COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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