Guest: Margaret Carlson, Willie Puz, Will Ferrell
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The president on the political attack against Senator Kerry?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He kind of reminds me of the weather here—just wait a day and it‘s going to change.
OLBERMANN: And the curious weather in the American political atmosphere: A poll saying we see Mr. Bush as decisive, but arrogant and about 20 percent less intelligent than John Kerry.
Border security: What border security? An investigation shows we apparently cannot afford to detain people who have tried to sneak in from Canada, even the 11 or more from places like Morocco and Pakistan.
Tarzan‘s tiger is dead: Bobo escaped from the home of his owner, the star of Italy‘s spaghetti Tarzan pictures. Bobo lunged at Florida police and they shot him. No, I‘m not making this up.
Nor this, the next to the last day of the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona. The results tonight from the World Series of Wienies.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening, so you‘re running for president. How would you prefer to be viewed by the American public, decisive and arrogant or more intelligent than the other guy?
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: The politics of protection, and we begin with an electorate that is really that divided. A poll released by the “Associated Press” asked respondents whether or not they would use seven words to describe President Bush and Senator Kerry:
Arrogant, compassionate, decisive, honest, intelligent, likable, and wealthy. The president won decisive hands down, two-thirds said that adjective would apply to him, fourth-four percent said it applied to Senator Kerry, obviously none of these numbers have to add up to 100 percent.
But, Mr. Bush also won the arrogance race, 52 percent against Senator Kerry at 44, and in something of a mindbender, 83 percent of all respondents, Democrats, Republicans, independents said Kerry was intelligent, only 63 percent believe President Bush is. Compassion, honesty, likability, all pushes, all just about even. Wealthy, ninety percent see the president as such, 85 percent see Senator Kerry, suggesting the Bush campaign attempt to portray Kerry as super rich has not necessarily worked too well.
Certainly the reelection campaign hits some kind watershed moment today, as the president campaigned in Michigan and Minnesota and Mr. Bush took off whatever gloves were still on. Main themes: hit Kerry on the raunchier parts of the Kerry fund raiser last week in New York. A seemingly risky tactic for a man whose vice resident just told the Democratic senator to uh—well, use the popular Angelo Saxon cuss word. But Mr. Bush focused on Senator Kerry‘s low decisive score.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: He voted for the Patriot Act, he voted for NAFTA, he voted for the No Child Left Behind Act, and the use of force in Iraq. Now he opposes the Patriot Act, he opposes NAFTA, he opposes the No Child Left Behind Act, and the liberation of Iraq. He kind of reminds me of the weather here.
BUSH: Just wait a day and it‘s going to change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Meantime, if the subject of possibly postponing the presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack was weather of some kind, tonight‘s report would be: it‘s not raining, moreover it didn‘t rain yesterday, and you should just ignore all the puddles and wet lawns. The Bush administration says it will not cancel nor suspend the election even in that worst case scenario, so U.S. Election Assistant Commission Chairman Deforest Soaries, Jr. told a news conference this afternoon, this less than three weeks after he had written to National Security Adviser Rice and Homeland Secretary Ridge and asked them just what they would do about the election in the event of a catastrophic attack since there were no legal processes in place for postponement. Another member of the committee did say that individual states had the power to reschedule elections or even appoint electors in the event of attacks, but Soaries said, “We should get the word out that if something happens in a state that is not yours, you should vote.”
To take the political temperature 112 days before the election, we think it‘s 112 day, I‘m joined once again by “Time” magazine‘s contributing editor, Margaret Carlson.
Good evening Margaret.
MARGARET CARLSON, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Back to the beginning here, that “A.P.” poll, which is it, either we have a really, really divided electorate or America likes its presidents, decisive, arrogant and not quite as smart as the other guy.
CARLSON: Well, you never get everything in one person. If only Bush were both decisive and intelligent or Kerry were both intelligent and decisive. Arrogant almost wipes out the positive of being decisive. The other part of it is that you want to look at decisive to what end? Decisive in a hasty way, going into Iraq without having planned for the aftermath? Which I think everyone agrees that the United States had not planned keeping the peace the way they planned waging the war.
So when pollsters ask people—you know, “is he decisive?” I think they remember 9/11 and right of after, and the president was emotionally decisive, saying “we‘re going to go get them” and standing on the rubble and saying “they can hear us now.” That was a very positive time. Being decisive when the issue is much more complicated is not always a good thing. I think, as we‘re finding out in Iraq. But I think people generally think it‘s a good thing.
OLBERMANN: The flipside of it, obviously Mr. Bush‘s people knew before that poll that Mr. Kerry was not seen as decisive, but he hit that point very hard today. Is there a risk in pointing it out about Senator Kerry, can‘t John Kerry come back and say, “yeah, my votes on Iraq changed largely because you misled everybody about why we were going into that war?”
CARLSON: Right. I thought it was pretty brave of Bush to say now he‘s against the liberation of Iraq, because—because most people now are not—do not have positive feelings about the situation in Iraq beings and they wouldn‘t call it a liberation. So, people might wish that the president had spent more time, and hemmed and hawed a little bit over Iraq, as opposed to jumping into it. And the flip-flop—you know, sometimes people change their opinions, it‘s a matter of getting more information and analyzing it and coming up with something else. I mean, decisiveness is a great positive quality in, say, who you‘re going—what movie you‘re going to see or what you‘re going to have for dinner, but not necessarily about whether you‘re going to strike another country.
OLBERMANN: On that question of decisiveness, lastly to this question of the procedure for postponing an election, which dominated the news to some degree yesterday and Sunday, did the White House get caught asleep at the switch on this one?
I mean, the note from the Elections Assistance Commission was made public three weeks ago, it could have knocked the whole thing down then. Instead, that concept, Bush may postpone election, must have stuck in a lot of people‘s minds.
CARLSON: I don‘t think you can quite fault them. Has anybody ever heard of the Election Assistance Commission?
OLBERMANN: They have now.
CARLSON: And I—they certainly have. But, I think it was somebody else going public. Listen, I think the administration doesn‘t mind reminding us that we‘re all in danger and that terrorism is still a terrible threat. They might not want to do it with regard to an election because it reminds people of Florida and an election where—you know, it didn‘t quite turn out legitimately enough for everybody to believe in it. The idea that you might have halt an election for some reason, I think is very frightening. So they don‘t want to put terrorism and the election not being held, and I think maybe this guy will get his letter answered soon.
OLBERMANN: That‘s right. Carried—sent to a forwarding address probably other than the commission.
OLBERMANN: In any event, Margaret Carlson of “Time” magazine, always a pleasure, Margaret. Many thanks.
CARLSON: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: There are more examples ahead of the politics of protection in this country, but the big story tomorrow will be from Great Britain. There, early in the morning our time, the British inquiry into the pre-Iraq war intelligence will be made public. Prime Minister Tony Blair, who may be scorched by it, but not likely to be torched by it, has already seen a copy of the “Butler Report.” Our affiliated British network, “ITV” reports that the report‘s findings about the lack of findings of weapons of mass destruction would focus its criticism, principally on Blair‘s version of George Tenet, the man named John Scarlet, the head of the British intelligence service, MI6.
On the ground in Iraq tonight, word of another brutal murder and what could be many more to come. A militant group holding two Bulgarian hostages says it has beheaded one of them today and is threatening to kill the other within 24 hours.
The life of an Egyptian hostage has also been threatened. The group holding him, demanding that the Saudi company he worked for pull out of Iraq giving them just 72 hours to do so.
And in the Philippines, a government official says his country will withdraw its tiny peacekeeping force from Iraq as soon as possible, an evident attempt to appease the insurgents holding a Filipino truck driver, but it‘s unclear if that promise of a pullout would happen before or after August 20 when the 51-man Philippine group was planning to leave Iraq, anyway. The deadline for that hostage‘s murder apparently passed early this morning.
Back in this country, political protest has largely moved from the streets to the banks and the courtrooms as anti-war group, one them anyway, is seeking relief from a judge claiming that it paid for its message to be plastered in New York Times Square, but the company owing the space has reneged. Not political enough for you? The company is a heavy donor to the Republican Party and banned Dixie Chicks songs from its radio station last year.
The judge is the same one who laughed “Fox News” channel out of court when it sued Al Franken last year. Project Billboard said it reached a contract with Clear Channel Communications to pay $368,000 to put up a picture of bomb and a fuse and the message, “Democracy is best taught by example, not by war.” The group says once the company learned of that message, it backed out of the deal. The billboard was to loom over Times Square from August 2 until November 2, Election Day. The group says it offered to change the bomb to a dove, but Clear Channel would not budge, so the group went to federal court, today. There will be a hearing on Thursday.
Less than half a mile to the south of Times Square, preparations continuing for next month‘s Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden, as if the onslaught weren‘t going to be hassle enough, 3,000 homeowners who live in a building near the area have this to ponder: A memo left on their doorstep from the company that manages that building advising residents to, among other things, quote, “Stay inside during the times—during the time the convention is in session, do not order deliveries of any major items, and be sure to shop for extra food and water.”
Danger or just hungry delegates? No duct tape, no plastic sheeting? The back note had more advice from New York‘ mayor, Michael Bloomberg, “If a delegate asks for directions, do as former Mayor Ed Koch does and make nice.” One addendum form the COUNTDOWN board of irresponsible people:
Doing as Vice President Cheney does does not qualify as giving directions.
The age-old struggle between the political parties and civic authorities on the one side and protesters of all shapes and sizes on the other is of course magnified for these first conventions, post 9/11. And as our correspondent, Rehema Ellis reports, it‘s not just the gathering of the incumbent party where they are worried about disruptions that would be non-terrorist, but not necessarily non-violent.
REHEMA ELLIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In two weeks, the democrats descend on the Fleet Center in Boston. Some major roads going into the city and around the convention site will be shut down, closing too, a major subway station located just below the convention floor.
ED FLYNN, MA PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR: Those two facts have certainly driven a lot of our security efforts.
ELLIS: From the ground, the air, and from the water, where the Fleet Center is in clear view, security will be on high alert. Adding to convention security concerns, the outside possibility that an attack here, like the one in Spain, could affect the November election.
For New York‘s Republican convention coming in August, authorities have another worry. A newspaper report of so-called Internet anarchist plans to disrupt the convention. Protesters saying, quote, “With any luck, Madison Square Garden” will be evacuated.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG ®, NYC MAYOR: The things that were talked about in that article are things that we have been thinking about and planning to respond to, if they should occur for a very long time.
ELLIS: Now, a new force in the city‘s counterterrorism effort: A police sponsored program, training doormen, superintendents, and other apartment building workers.
ANGEL ECHEVARRIA, BUILDING HANDYMAN: Before I wasn‘t as aware of packages and book bags and things. And now—you know, I‘m more alert.
ELLIS (on camera): And the price of security is soaring. The cost in Boston is about $95 million, nearly double the original estimate.
I‘m Rehema Ellis, NBC News, New York.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN opening tonight with the politics of protection. Up next, the No. 4 story: Alarming news in the war on terror. The good news, we‘re catching illegal immigrants at our country‘s borders. The bad news—you will not believe what happens to them after we catch them.
And later, no stunt this time, near tragedy at Niagara Falls averted with just moments to spare.
OLBERMANN: Up next, an exclusive investigation. Lisa Myers, on an almost unbelievable issue along our boarder with Canada. A shocking report on who‘s getting through and why. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: From long before our revolution, the safety of the United States, the safety of the colonies before them, seem most easily threatened over the immense and eternally porous border with Canada.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: More evidence still that our post 9/11 security efforts are largely illusions. We start again at that Canadian border. When it comes to stopping those who might be terrorists from sneaking across it, today‘s U.S. Border Patrols may be having more success than their predecessors did from stopping British spies in the 1770s or confederate operative in 1860s, but as Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Myers reports, once they do the catching of the illegal immigrants, somebody else is saying, “throw them back.”
LISA MYERS, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Among many federal agents along the border with Canada, Washington‘s warnings about the need for vigilance against another terror attack ring hollow. Border agents tell NBC News that since April they‘ve been forced to release most illegal immigrants back on to American streets within hours of catching them, even some who are criminals or from countries known to produce terrorists.
PETER KUSH, RETIRED U.S. BORDER PATROL: Shortly after 9-11, we were locking up everybody, there was no exception. We seem to be going back to the same old—same old song and dance.
MYERS: This Vermont sheriff says Border Patrol detainees in his jail have dropped 75 percent since April.
SHERIFF ROBERT MORRIS, FRANKLIN COUNTY, VT: I was told kind of unofficially by telephone that the moneys had ran out.
MYERS: Indeed, documents obtained by NBC News show over the last month, illegal immigrants were released due to lack of detention funds, repeatedly. Along the New York and Vermont border alone, at least 11 released were from so-called countries of special interest, including Pakistan and Morocco.
T.J. BONNER, BORDER PETROL AGENTS SPOKESMAN: It‘s simply mind numbing to the agents.
MYERS: T.J. Bonner represents Border Patrol agents nationwide.
BONNER: We catch people who could possibly be terrorists and we‘re being told that “gee, we‘re out of money, we‘re going to have to let them go.”
MYERS: Other recent documents, obtained by NBC News, reveal due to worsening budget problems, this Pennsylvania detention facility no longer takes all criminal aliens, generally only violent ones. These Miami memos, one re-titled “Let ‘em all go,” by an unhappy agent, says “due to budgetary constraints, only criminals who completed sentences after October 1998, must be detained.”
VICTOR CERDA, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: We are not compromising national security.
MYERS: A Homeland Security official says the agency is asking congress for more money, but insists agents aren‘t releasing anyone who might be dangerous, whether a criminal or possible terrorist.
CERDA: They look at each case individually and they will make determinations, again, based on the intelligence that‘s out there—is this person a threat to our country?
MYERS (on camera): But, agents argue they now only have a few hours for basic checks, of terror watch lists, and criminal records. They warn, without detentions and longer investigations, terrorists using an alias or without a record could well be home free.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: And then there are the airports. Four months from next Monday, America‘s airports will be permitted to opt out of the Transportation Security Administration, they can continue to use TSA screeners and security personnel or go back to hiring their own. An investigative series by the newspaper, the “Seattle Times” would seem to suggest that in many airports the decision will be a no-brainer. The paper interviewed over 100 TSA screeners, it finds them too often working terribly long shifts, too frequently being mistreated by their bosses and too often being told to skip looking at luggage rather than potentially delay a flight.
More evidence tonight that the future of the color coded terror alert system is not rosy. Color codes rarely work as hoped, consider the most common, traffic signal where yellow was intended to mean slow down, but in practical terms it has come to indicate drive faster. Or the oldest of them, blue or white for awake time, black for sleep time. The man who perfected fire defeated that one thousands of years ago.
More trouble about the colors of terror, too. A General Accounting Office survey of 84 agencies, states, and U.S. territories reports that the vagueness of the five color alert system had, quote, “hindered their ability to determine whether they were at risk.” The “GAO Report” was released by Congressman Chris Cox, the Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee who suggested that it sends an obvious message about the color band to the secretary, Tom Ridge. Quote, “Make it work better or get rid it of it.”
Also tonight, there are two developments pertaining to the security if the man who ultimately instigated all of this the security concern—Osama bin Laden. “CBS News” quoting U.S. Intelligence sources who believe the al Qaeda kingpin has traded contact with his terror network for freedom from fear of capture. They think bin Laden has found refuge with one family in the remote mountains of Pakistan, hard by the Afghanistan border, that he rarely relocates, avoids all modern communications that could reveal his hiding place, and in terms of influencing al Qaeda, has been thus reduced to, in essence, slipping notes out via human couriers. No more videos, like this one, the first, and perhaps, most infamous bin Laden tape, the one from November 2001, in which he claimed responsibility for 9/11.
The man who seemed to be his evil sidekick, has surrendered to the authorities in Saudi Arabia. Khalid bin Odeh bin Mohammed al-Harbi took advantage of the soon to expire Royal Amnesty, in the kingdom. It was under his alias, Abu Suleiman al-Makki, that he was identified in the 2001 tape. He was not on any list of most wanted terrorists, that appears to have been his most recent meeting with bin Laden, the one that was taped, suffering from what was described only as paralysis, al-Harbi al-Makki was flown to Saudi Arabia and taken immediately to a hospital. The amnesty expires next Friday. Only two other terrorists have thus far taken advantage of it.
COUNTDOWN now past the No. 4 story. Up next to Pamplona, where there will be no amnesty from raging, charging bulls. Comprehensive coverage continuing next in “Oddball.”
And 28 million box office dollars later, I will trade journalistic insight with Will Ferrell‘s “Anchorman” character, Ron Burgundy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That‘s a nice color on you.
RON BURGUNDY, “ANCHORMAN”: Likewise. Very nice.
OLBERMANN: What were the odds—what were the chances?
BURGUNDY: Probably—probably just a magnificent beautiful coincidence—is my hunch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time now to steer away from the day‘s real news and bring you instead the stories of steer. Once again the World Series of Wieners, all the images from Spain, how the bulls hit the fan. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
Back to Pamplona for day seven of MSNBC‘s exclusive primetime coverage of Running of the Bulls. And after Monday‘s carnage left eight runners with new, albeit, temporary orifices, today‘s participants seemed to be horn shy, staying at a semi-safe distance from the dozen thundering toros bulls. Look at the power in those thighs! Of course there was the occasional bull to biped contact, really more of a friendly nudge here and there. But most of today‘s injuries to man and bull alike were caused mostly by the slippery tiles of San Fermin streets. All of the bulls made it to their final destination, we mean that, they did not manage to take a single human being with them, so that leaves the current score: man seven, bulls zero. Bulls get one more chance in the final run tomorrow.
Running with the bulls is fine and dandy, but when it comes to watching grown men flirt with danger, nothing catches our attention like a good old fashioned car chase. But now, a California doctor is threatening to put a stop to America‘s favorite TV sport with a special “radio wave machine.” Here‘s apparently how it works. A police car fitted with one of Dr. David Giri‘s special antennas needs to get within 50 meters of the speeding car. The officer can then flip a switch on his dashboard, sending a surge of electricity into the antenna which then emits a narrow intense beam of radio waves at the fleeing car. Those waves fritz out the fuel injection and engine firing systems, causing the suspect‘s car to go from this, to this—just kind of sitting there. Fortunately for all you car chase fanatics, the special device is in the prototype phase and has yet to be approved by Flash Gordon or Ming.
And finally tonight, when animals attack TV journalists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yep.
CASSANDRA SPENCER, WBAL: (SCREAM)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That‘s intrepid local reporter Cassandra Spencer of our affiliate in Baltimore, WBAL, putting herself in the line of fire while investigating a sinister airborne fiend, and no we‘re not buying that it‘s only protecting its young crap. That bird works for Fox. OK, maybe not. Whatever, it‘s been dive bombing people for the last week, forcing some locals to adopt protective armor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I don‘t know, I always wear a hat, so I don‘t get pecked in my head. He hit the hat and I just hear him go “shoom” past my head, I haul tail up the street.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Quote, “shoom” unquote. “Oddball” in the COUNTDOWN time capsule.
Coming up next, the “Tarzan” Tiger Tragedy. An actor‘s 600-pound pet runs loose outside for nearly 24 hours outside West Palm Beach Florida and officers were forced to shoot it. He calls it murder.
And later, the Michael Jackson case takes yet another strange spin off kilter. Jackson‘s accuser‘s mother now sharing something with Jackson‘s sister.
These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:
No. 3: Merlin. Yes, he claims he‘s that Merlin. Though police in Portsmouth, England, say his real name is Merlin Michael Williams. They accuse him of caring his ceremonial Druid sword into a supermarket. He proclaimed himself innocent, told the court that his defense attorney there with him was named, King Arthur Pen Dragon.
And No. 2: the unnamed would-be airline passenger arrested at the airport in Bogota in Columbia, X-rayed because he looked a little nervous. Police found he had swallowed dozens of latex packets containing $47,000 in cash. That wasn‘t nervous he looked, it was nauseous.
And, No. 1, Erik Hobbie of Saint Paul thought it would be perfect to propose to his girlfriend while they were out fishing. She would pull up the line to find his grandmother‘s heirloom diamond ring. And how well it all worked. The gal pulls up the line up out of the water and finds nothing. The ring had fallen off in the water. Oops.
OLBERMANN: The number of dramas which use as their centerpiece man‘s intersection with nature is countless. And among the topic subheadings, dramas involving elephants or tigers or Niagara Falls would all be at the top of the list.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one of each, starting with the sad but perhaps inevitable news, Tarzan‘s pet tiger Bobo is dead.
Loxahatchee, Florida, just west of West Palm Beach, where Bobo lived with owner Steve Sipek, an actor who 30 years ago under the name Steve Hawks portrayed Tarzan in a series of joint Italian-Portuguese-Mexican films. The 6-year-old 600-pound tiger lived on a cage on Sipek‘s property, until yesterday that is, when he got out.
Searches with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spotted Bobo late this afternoon. The tiger reportedly lunged. They responded by shooting and killing it, a reaction that a clearly distraught Mr. Sipek characterized as murder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE SIPEK, OWNER: I said to them, please do not go out there without me. And they promised they would not. No, but they needed the glory. Hey, we shot the tiger. Listen, look at us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Willie Puz is a spokesman for Florida Fish and Wildlife.
He‘s been good enough to join us from the scene.
Thank you for your time, sir.
WILLIE PUZ, FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE: Thanks for having me tonight.
Mr. Sipek essentially called that murder. What‘s your version of what happened there?
PUZ: We‘ve been working on this case from 4:00 yesterday. We had law enforcement here. We‘ve been scouring the area looking for the animal.
We tried on numerous occasions to have Steve go out, meet the animal, talk it down, hopefully take it home. We were unsuccessful in those attempts. We also had a number of law enforcement officers there that had tranquilizer guns, but we also had officers there with rifles for protection. Unfortunately, today, whenever we were flushing through the area, we had a law enforcement officer come up on the scene, see the cat, called for backup.
As the dart team was coming into line, the cat took an aggressive stance, ears back and teeth shown, lunged at the officer. He feared for his life and we unfortunately we‘re left with a dead animal tonight.
OLBERMANN: People will hear declawed tiger and wonder if the shooting was necessary. But this is still 600 pounds of animal that could have easily threatened the lives of the officers. Is that your point of view?
It‘s a 600-pound animal. No matter how tame, no matter how much you may call it a pet, a wild animal is still a wild animal. We‘ve all seen the stories, we‘ve heard the stories of a pet that took the turn for the worse on its natural behavior instincts. And, lo and behold, what we‘re seeing here, it could have been a pet, but what we saw is, this officer feared for his life and took action to save himself.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Sipek took the Tarzan stuff seriously. He had two tigers. He had two leopards and a cougar on his compound. Is that commonplace? Is it a good idea?
PUZ: It‘s not really commonplace in Florida. Here in Palm Beach County, there are only five permits to have what they call class one wildlife of this type, which could range from orangutans to big cats, elephants, rhinoceroses.
There‘s only two other individuals that have permits of this type.
They‘re not able to keep them as pets, but maybe as exhibit or for sale. And the other two are the Loxahatchee—or the wildlife center, the lion country safari and also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Park Zoo.
OLBERMANN: Willie Puz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, many thanks for your time tonight, sir.
PUZ: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: If that story struck you as strange, wait until you gather this one in from an international AIDS conference in Bangkok.
A local construction worker was found lying murdered outside the conference center. Thai police immediately sent in a team of forensic experts. They found two suspects who each weighed about 12,000 pounds. One has been cleared. Police initially charged Sud Lor, one of the elephants brought into entertain the 17,000 delegates by performing four shows a day, giving free rides. His trainer insisted that Sud Lor—the name means absolutely handsome—was innocent.
But the victim‘s brother said he saw him trample the man. But Mahouts handling Sud Lor and the performing elephant said a roving rogue elephant and his handler wandered into the convention area and that elephant named Plai Fondi (ph) actually crushed the man who was evidently drunk and pestering the elephant.
How to solve such a dilemma? They checked the mud on the bottom of the feet of each elephant. The rogue elephant‘s mud matched. His owner has been charged. Sud Lor and his handlers are free, kind of an elephantine version of that Bruno Magli shoes thing.
The third part of our No. 3 story tonight is much farther away from the bizarre or the half-tragic/half-comic, a dramatic rescue at Niagara Falls. And it was recorded on videotape. A clearly distraught 51-year-old woman climbed over the ledge to reach the precipice of the Horseshoe Falls. She negotiated with rescue workers for about an hour before, as you saw, suddenly lunging forward.
Firefighter Gary Corella seized that opportunity and her. The unidentified woman taken to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center for evaluation.
COUNTDOWN now past the No. 3 story. Up next, tonight‘s No. 2. And this guy is second to none in the history books at “Jeopardy.” Yes, yes, yes, let him take on Al Franken.
Then later on COUNTDOWN, the movie earned $28 million in its first weekend predicated on a character too dumb to spell $28 million. My conversation with Will Ferrell ahead.
But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She‘s being proposed to now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And apparently Peachy thinks that‘s just peachy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it get any better? You make the Olympic team and you get one of those.
QUESTION: How close did you come to resigning earlier this summer? How long do you aim to remain serving as prime minister, a full third term or a fourth term?
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Any more? You‘d like to go on and on?
QUESTION: Well, would you like to go on and on?
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I called Senator Edwards to welcome him to the competition. And we had a very nice conversation.
Somebody said to me the other day that Senator Edwards got picked for his good looks and charm. I said, how do you think I got this job?
CHENEY: Why is that funny?
OLBERMANN: Still ahead on COUNTDOWN, the game show geek who keeps beating the buzzer on “Jeopardy,” without getting a category on being a game show geek who beat the buzzer.
OLBERMANN: If, like me, you have been a contestant on the game show “Jeopardy”—and don‘t laugh—in 31 years on the air, around 13,000 people have been—you are probably a little honked off at a Mr. Ken Jennings. He has not only sparkled on the program. He started the night having won 29 shows in a row.
Well, he never had to play against Al Franken in a game featuring a category that might as well have been called comedy sketches written by Al Franken.
Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, Ken Jennings, who might do for nerds what William Hung did for, well, nerds.
Our correspondent is Michael Okwu.
ALEX TREBEK, HOST, “JEOPARDY”: Ken.
KEN JENNINGS, CONTESTANT: What is “Cold Mountain”?
TREBEK: That‘s right.
JENNINGS: What is “Oh My Darling Clementine”?
JENNINGS: What is Stanford?
JENNINGS: “Ravel‘s Bolero.”
JENNINGS: What is the second floor?
JENNINGS: What is a resume?
TREBEK: You are right.
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Answer, this boyish champion launched a record 29-day winning streak on “Jeopardy.”
OKWU: What‘s Vienna?
OKWU: What is Dr. Shoals (ph)?
TREBEK: And you now have $52,000.
OKWU: If you said, who is Ken Jennings, you‘d be right.
STEVE BEVERLY, GAME SHOW HISTORIAN: You‘re looking at a guy that right now is on the verge of becoming the Joe DiMaggio of television, with a streak that potentially may not be broken.
OKWU: Jennings, a software engineer from suburban Salt Lake City, is creating more than a buzz.
JENNINGS: What is Scarlet?
OKWU: He‘s entering game show godhood. Until last fall, winners on “Jeopardy” were retired after just five straight wins. Now in four weeks, Jennings racked up $970,000, and he‘s still going.
BEVERLY: He knows history and politics politics.
OKWU: Who are the Knights Templar?
BEVERLY: But he also knows contemporary pop culture.
JENNINGS: What‘s “Far From Heaven.”
OKWU: A self-proclaimed game show geek, Jennings now writes questions for the quiz bowl competitions he used to play in high school and college.
BEVERLY: Here‘s what happens. You get a lot of practice with the buzzer and also calling up facts with quick recall.
JENNINGS: What is U?
JENNINGS: Who is Malcolm?
Three Kings, $800.
OKWU: Ken Jennings on a buzz-beating, mind-boggling run.
TREBEK: Will he make it to $1 million?
OKWU: By the time it‘s over, the question we may all be asking, who is Alex Trebek?
For COUNTDOWN, Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: Tonight, the bid for 30 straight, the quest to exceed $1 million. If you want to stay surprise, look away from the screen for a moment. I‘m going to give the thumbs up if he won, the thumbs down if he didn‘t. OK, all clear.
Whether or not it‘s over, Jennings is making the most of his 15 minutes. He‘s guested on “Good Morning America,” presented a top 10 list for David Letterman, the top 10 ways to irritate Alex Trebek.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: No. 2.
JENNINGS: Your only response, who gives a rat‘s ass?
LETTERMAN: That‘s right.
LETTERMAN: And the No. 1 way to irritate Alex Trebek.
JENNINGS: Insist on buying a vowel.
LETTERMAN: Yes, that will do it right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Sounds like something Courtney Love would say. And, gosh, what a shock, the subject of last night‘s No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight kicks off our celebrity segment, “Keeping Tabs.”
Though, as we reported to you, she was released from Bellevue Hospital in New York City just before dinnertime last night, she is not back on the streets. “The New York Post” reports she‘s been transferred to an unnamed facility. Last Friday, not long after a judge in L.A. marked her as a no-show for a court appearance and issued a warrant for her arrest, the singer-actress was rushed from her Manhattan digs to a hospital handcuffed to the gurney, alternating claiming she had an abortion or a miscarriage, and it was it was her 40th birthday.
Now, the latest edition of the last time I saw Paris. MSNBC.com‘s Jeannette Walls reports that Paris Hilton, the act—the porn—heir—the whatever she is, was verbally accosted during a recent trip to Sweden. Shopping for sandwiches at midnight at a 7/Eleven in Stockholm—wow, that‘s a glamorous life—Ms. Hilton and her boyfriend were approached by a local who allegedly called Ms. Hilton a—quote—“whore” and said he did not like Americans.
And it‘s your entertainment dollars in action, day 239 of the Michael Jackson investigation, and just what we needed, another Janet Jackson. “The New York Daily News” reporting that the mother of Michael Jackson‘s accuser has married her boyfriend, a major in the U.S. Army Reserves. His name is Jay Jackson. Since the mother‘s first name is Janet, her new married name is Janet Jackson.
Up next, one of these stupid looking guys really went on TV doing the news looking like that. The other one only pretended.
OLBERMANN: The new movie comedy about television newscasters, “Anchorman,” opened to the second highest box office of the last weekend, about $28 million. And nearly as many actual newscasters are claiming to know or even be the real-life inspiration for the star Will Ferrell‘s broad characterization of an anchorman, the breadth and depth of whose stupidity is almost beyond belief. Almost.
Last week, Ferrell told me of a West Coast newscaster who insisted to him that he was the model for Ron Burgundy. Ferrell said, I told him to his face, you‘re not Ron Burgundy. And the guy looked at me and winked and said, I understand. I know when no means yes.
Our top story on the COUNTDOWN, if you saw this earlier, we apologize for the redundancy, but, flatly, it was a slow news day. And when we thought slow and news, we thought Will Ferrell in character as Ron Burgundy.
OLBERMANN: That‘s a nice color on you.
WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: Likewise. Very nice.
OLBERMANN: What were the chances?
FERRELL: It‘s probably just a magnificent, beautiful coincidence, is my hutch.
OLBERMANN: That‘s it. My homage.
FERRELL: Yes. I appreciate it.
OLBERMANN: So I thought we could spend our time talking about the three principal elements of television journalism, the first one being...
FERRELL: Great. Which are?
OLBERMANN: The first one is reading the teleprompter.
FERRELL: Reading the teleprompter, absolutely. It‘s probably the pillar on the journalism pyramid, the base block of the cinder block.
OLBERMANN: Yes, without which the rest of it collapses.
FERRELL: Collapses into something with flames.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ANCHORMAN”)
FERRELL: Good evening. I‘m Ron Burgundy.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Damn it, who typed a question mark on the teleprompter?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But reading it, people don‘t understand that it‘s an art to read correctly.
FERRELL: It‘s an art and it‘s a bitch.
FERRELL: It‘s a real bitch.
OLBERMANN: You speak as a man who might have had problems.
FERRELL: I‘ve had a few snafus in my career.
OLBERMANN: Snafus, yes.
FERRELL: One of which actually cost me a job.
OLBERMANN: Well, we‘ve all been through that.
FERRELL: But, yes, so it‘s something you literally and figuratively have to keep an eye on.
OLBERMANN: Very good. But the snafu that you refer to, big snafu?
FERRELL: A big snafu. I basically told an entire city to F off, and I didn‘t realize I said it, because you‘re locked in there. You know how it is, Keith. You‘re locked in.
OLBERMANN: But did they deserve it? Was it a bad city?
FERRELL: No, no, a wonderful city, San Diego, great town, wonderful...
OLBERMANN: Canada, right?
FERRELL: Quaint village.
OLBERMANN: In Canada?
FERRELL: No, San Diego is a Mexican protectorate. It‘s actually part of Mexico.
OLBERMANN: San Diego.
FERRELL: Or San Diego.
OLBERMANN: San Diego. San Diego?
FERRELL: Pronunciation differs.
OLBERMANN: So the second pillar of television journalism?
FERRELL: Right. It‘s...
OLBERMANN: That there must be someone in every newsroom who believes that they would be a singer, dancer, or musician, right?
FERRELL: I would think so.
OLBERMANN: And if you...
FERRELL: Well, I fancy myself a musician, sure. I dabble.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ANCHORMAN”)
FERRELL (singing): Afternoon delight.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I don‘t know, Ron. That sounds kind of crazy.
FERRELL (singing): Afternoon delight.
Going to make phone call here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FERRELL: I play a little—I play jazz flute.
OLBERMANN: Oh? Do you find it helps with the news in any way?
FERRELL: Not really. It just—it‘s just an extension of my artistic side. And I find it to be a wonderful tool in terms of interaction with the female species.
OLBERMANN: It‘s an extended tool, is what you‘re saying.
FERRELL: Yes, extended tool. That‘s great. I might steal that from you.
OLBERMANN: You‘re welcome to it.
OLBERMANN: So a musician. It‘s a rhythm and a performance.
FERRELL: It‘s a rhythm and performance. And you like to move and do this.
OLBERMANN: Well, you have to do that on the air, don‘t you?
FERRELL: Yes, a lot of times.
OLBERMANN: It‘s the format that many stations employ is the moving anchor.
FERRELL: Is the moving...
OLBERMANN: The shoulder.
FERRELL: The shoulder.
OLBERMANN: Possibly the tie adjustment at the neck.
FERRELL: The torso turn.
OLBERMANN: So the consultants have let you do all that on the air?
FERRELL: Pretty much. And they‘ve let me be for the most part, because I won‘t have it any other way.
OLBERMANN: But you wound up telling a whole city to F themselves?
FERRELL: Yes, I wasn‘t paying any attention at that moment. I‘d say 80 percent of the time, I pay attention.
OLBERMANN: Excellent. Excellent.
FERRELL: I‘m really focused.
OLBERMANN: And a viewer can‘t ask for any more than 80 percent.
FERRELL: Hey, that‘s a B.
OLBERMANN: There you go. But then the third...
FERRELL: And I never got a B in school, mostly C‘s and C-minuses.
OLBERMANN: So this is the pinnacle. This is what you were meant to do. God ordained you to do this.
FERRELL: The excellent moment in my life, yes.
OLBERMANN: Well, then that leads naturally to the third pillar of television journalism.
FERRELL: Which is...
OLBERMANN: Hair maintenance.
FERRELL: Hair maintenance.
OLBERMANN: How important is the hair?
FERRELL: I almost would put that at No. 1.
OLBERMANN: Well, I was going in a descending order. It‘s a show called COUNTDOWN, so we have three.
FERRELL: That‘s—if you don‘t take care of what‘s up here, it‘s not going to work here or here. And the people aren‘t going to get it here. So I probably spend three hours...
FERRELL: ... on my hair before I leave the house and then another three hours in the newsroom.
OLBERMANN: Well, because, all of a sudden, it can be very windy.
FERRELL: Very windy. You don‘t know what sort of atmospheric conditions might be out there.
OLBERMANN: But do you do it all yourself? Especially some of the
women in the business
FERRELL: I do it all myself at home.
FERRELL: And then I have a team of about 11 people.
FERRELL: Eleven people in the newsroom.
OLBERMANN: They work all at once or in shifts?
FERRELL: Well, in shifts, because I get angry at them on occasion, fire them momentarily. Then I rehire them.
FERRELL: ... in rotation.
OLBERMANN: I saw that in the documentary life that they sent in this film.
FERRELL: Yes. Pretty fascinating, wouldn‘t you say?
OLBERMANN: I thought—yes.
FERRELL: It‘s amazing they caught all that on film. I wasn‘t even aware there was a camera there half the time.
OLBERMANN: Well, that would have been during the 20 percent period when you weren‘t really too focused in to be...
FERRELL: I appreciate this, Keith, because a lot of these other dolts I talk to don‘t follow. So...
OLBERMANN: Well, they don‘t own a suit. They don‘t
OLBERMANN: ... clothing. That‘s what it‘s all about.
OLBERMANN: When in Rome.
FERRELL: When in Rome. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: No, thank you. It‘s been spectacular.
FERRELL: It really has.
OLBERMANN: It has.
FERRELL: It really has. And if you ever want to go grab a steak or a chop, lamb chop.
OLBERMANN: Yes? Well, that would be good. Only if you play the jazz flute.
FERRELL: I will.
OLBERMANN: All right.
FERRELL: You pick up the check.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a good color on you. It really is.
FERRELL: Yes, I like it.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a little lighter than...
FERRELL: It‘s a little bit lighter, reflects the light a little more.
OLBERMANN: That‘s true. Yes, it does.
FERRELL: And these coral buttons, you see that?
OLBERMANN: I know. I got the cheap ones that match.
FERRELL: These are imported from Malaysia.
OLBERMANN: Is that near San Diego?
FERRELL: God, I hope. I have no idea.
OLBERMANN: All the best to you.
FERRELL: Thank you, sir.
OLBERMANN: Congratulations on the documentary.
FERRELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And that‘s COUNTDOWN. Thanks for being part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
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