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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Nov. 26

Read the transcript to the 8 p.m. ET show

Guest: Amy Henry, Nick Warnock


ALISON STEWART, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

Ukraine‘s electoral crisis, President Bush weighs in.  The opposing candidates can‘t solve the face-off, and tensions in the streets grow. 

Deck the floors with trampled shoppers.  We‘ll recap all the Black Friday madness and show you why some retailers have reached the point of no return. 

Not King Arthur, not Indiana Jones, but NBC‘s Dawna Friesen explores a new theory can lead archaeologists to the Holy Grail. 

And Tom turkey not the only casualty on Thanksgiving Day. 


STEWART:  Andy‘s goose is cooked, and Nick and Amy help us pick through the leftovers. 

All of that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 


STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. 

President Bush waded into the election fraud crisis today.  A diplomatic drama with shades of the Cold War, pitting East against West and neighbor against neighbor on the streets of Ukraine.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, negotiations and international concern, and an emergency meeting in the Ukraine.  The major players spent the day trying to hammer out some kind of deal. 

The meeting ended with a claim that progress had been made, whatever that means.  The end result, though, no solution.  At the same time, protesters on both sides of the conflict squared off on the streets of Kiev.  Six thousand miles away in Crawford, Texas, President Bush issued a warning that the whole world is watches. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Now there‘s just a lot of allegation of fraud that placed their elections, the validity of their elections in doubt.  The international community is watching very carefully.  People are paying very close attention to this.  And hopefully it will be revolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government. 


STEWART:  Still in the Ukraine, thousands of miners from the eastern part of the country invaded the streets of Kiev today.  It was a show of support for the man who supposedly won the presidential election, Prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.  It was the first time that protesters from both sides faced-off. 

Correspondent Julian Manyon of Britain‘s ITV News has our report. 


JULIAN MANYON, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Into the lion‘s den of central Kiev came the supporters of the prime minister.  These people say their leader, Viktor Yanukovych, won the election fair and square.  They are ethnic Russians from the east of Ukraine.  And today they found themselves vastly outnumbered by the followers of opposition leader, Viktor Yushchenko.  He gave them a raucous welcome and called on them to change sides. 

(on camera):  Here at the main railway station, it‘s the orange of the supporters, against the blue ribbons against of the Prime Minister Yanukovych.  The two sides are taunting each other from just a few yards apart.  So far it‘s all good humored, but there‘s a sense that trouble is not far from beneath surface. 

(voice-over):  Joining the prime minister‘s ranks, thousands of coal miners from the Donbass pits; they could play a key role if violence starts.  These supporters of the prime minister told me that the trouble is all a Western plot and that what Ukraine needs is a return to the Soviet Union.  For the strength of this state is starting to crumble.  More policemen have joined the demonstrators in the central square. 

And the opposition is keeping up the pressure.  At the presidential headquarters, pro-Yushchenko demonstrators pushed their way through a police cordon, but stopped short of trying to occupy the building.  Instead, they want to bring government to a halt by blockading key ministries.  At the cabinet office, where the prime minister normally works, they parked vans nose-to-tail to seal off the entrance.  As an endless procession of protesters passed outside, we squeezed through barricade to find nervous guards virtually surrounded by determined demonstrators. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, we‘ll stay here until Yushchenko could be president. 

MANYON:  But that could be quite a long time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it will be in a week.  Or maybe it will cost months or two months that we will be here. 

MANYON (voice-over):  Much hope now rests on the efforts of mediators, like the European Union‘s Javier Solana.  He‘s managed to arrange talks with the two warring contenders for the presidency.  But the stakes are getting higher all the time.  Russia now says ominously, that west is trying to redraw the map of Europe.  Tonight what began as an obscure election rattle is now rapidly becoming an international crisis. 

Julian Manyon, ITV News in Kiev. 


STEWART:  Well, we turn from an election in dispute to an Election Day in dispute.  Technically, there are only 65 days to go until Iraq‘s first free election.  The concern there tonight is whether ongoing violence could delay that election. 

Today was an especially violent day.  In Fallujah, U.S. troops were ambushed as they entered a home during door-to-door searches of the city.  Two Marines were killed.  Three more were wounded.  A car bomb exploded in Baquba, as a U.S. military convoy was driving past.  That‘s according to witnesses.  Three Iraqis were taken to a local hospital for treatment.  A damaged U.S. Humvee was taken away from the scene. 

And insurgents have also managed to penetrate the heavily protected Green Zone in central Baghdad.  Authorities confirming today that four employees of a British security firm were killed in yesterday‘s mortar attack inside of the Green Zone.  And the violence has prompted 17 of Iraq‘s leading political parties to demand a delay in Iraq‘s national elections.  That was the conclusion reached in Baghdad today at a meeting attended by Sunni Muslims, Kurds, Christians and at least three Iraqi cabinet ministers. 

Now, if they have their way elections now scheduled for January 30 won‘t be held until June or maybe even July.  The meeting was held at the home of Adnan Pachachi, a member foreign minister and a member of the Iraqi Governing Counsel.  He is well liked and respected by U.S. officials in Iraq. 

For more on whether the election in Iraq should be postponed, we are joined by retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, who was in the First Gulf War, he‘s now an MSNBC military analyst. 

Colonel Francona, we heard the Sunni Muslim parties calling for a boycott of elections before.  But today they call for this postponement and they were joined by a whole lot of different parties.  The shift, significant?  

COL. LT. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE:  There‘s a real divide inside the Sunni community.  You know, the major Islamic cleric group has called for a boycott.  In other words, they don‘t want the elections to happen at all.  What we‘re seeing now is a more moderate element coming forward and saying we have to be part of this.  You know, there‘s going to be an election sooner or later, and if we don‘t at least stake out our position, the Shia are going to dominate everything. 

STEWART:  And is that what‘s uniting the Sunnis, this power play? 

FRANCONA:  I think so.  I don‘t know that there‘s that united.  But today it looked like it was the first time that everybody that is in favor of the elections got together.  And I think there‘s trying to postpone it so they can get a better security situation.  Right now, the concern is if they hold the election in January, the people that want it boycotted won‘t go.  And the security situation will not let other that is want to vote get to the polls. 

STEWART:  Well, let‘s talk about the president.  He was in Crawford today.  Said he wants the votes to go scheduled on January 30.  First question.  Is it realistic? 

FRANCONA:  Well, up until today I would have said it was realistic.  But when you‘ve got someone of the stature of Pachachi coming out in favor of the postponement.  And more importantly, the two major Kurdish parties which represent 20 percent of the population, saying they want a postponement.  We‘re going to have to give serious consideration to pushing this back another six months. 

STEWART:  When you say someone the stature of Adnan Pachachi, remind people who he is and so well thought of?  And why does he have so much sway? 

FRANCONA:  Well, Pachachi was a foreign minister in the Iraqi government prior to 1970.  He went into exile in 1971.  When he returned, he has such credibility with the people; he was part of the coalition authority, the interim government.  And he was in line to be president.  But he turned that down.  He was the favored U.S. candidate to be the president. 

STEWART:  Now, given what‘s happening in the Ukraine tonight, how can we ensure confidence in an Iraqi election, especially since so many factions there are sure to end up disappointed?  

FRANCONA:  You know, this is going to be a real problem.  When After the election is done, of course, there are going to be winners, there are going to be losers.  And all of the losers are going to complain that election was rigged, it right, there‘s no credibility.  So this has to be conducted very, very, you know, well and transparently, so it looks like it‘s a credible election.  Because when it‘s all over, it has to be perceived as legitimate.  The new government has to be accepted by the people, not only in Iraq, but in the region as well. 

STEWART:  To be continued.  Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, a Gulf War vet who also served at the American Embassy in Iraq.  We thank you so much.  Have a safe weekend. 

FRANCONA:  Thanks. 

STEWART:  To the election, all but over here in the states, and the votes that may soon be recounted in Ohio.  And an official explanation for why some Ohio votes were counted twice.  Any observer of and Ohio recount, should there actually be one, would be wise to focus on one Warren County.  That‘s where officials counted votes behind closed doors, locking reporters and everybody else out of the administrative building, in the name of an apparently nonexistent homeland security threat.  Imagine that. 

Various citizen action groups have told the “Columbus Dispatch” they are puzzled by some of the results.  For example, three thousand votes were cast there in the race for president than all those cast in the race for Senate and the constitutional amendment about same-sex marriage.  Hmm.  George W.  Bush who won the vote in Warren County, 72 percent to John Kerry‘s 27 percent. 

And in Sandusky County, an explanation for why some votes were counted twice.  Officials say election workers trying to back up all the vote totals on a computer storage disk managed to hit the save button on 2,600 of those votes.  Well, let‘s just say it was more than once. 

More top spies.  The CIA packed up their desks.  Is turnover at the spy agency hurting us in the war on terror? 

And all hyped up on stuffing and yam, shoppers hit the stores.  But behind the scenes, retailers fear empty aisles.  So they resort to extreme advertising, dude, on COUNTDOWN. 


STEWART:  CIA boss Porter Goss‘s mission to overhaul the agency is causing major drama.  More top spies quit and blamed it on abuse from the Goss team.  Is the reshuffle putting our national security at risk? 


STEWART:  The best buy drama of the holiday season does not feature Jennifer Garner in a platinum wig.  Instead, it may be the real live exodus from the CIA headquarters outside of Washington, D.C.  Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, more blood letting in the intelligence community.  Four more officers of the CIA saying, in effect, they‘d rather quit than work for the new chief, Porter Goss. 

Today we learned, the agency‘s chief financial officer and her deputy have told officials they‘ve decided to leave.  And “The New York Times” has reported that two more senior intelligence officials are resigning because they feel uncomfortable with the new management led by Goss, a former Republican congressman.  The officials have not been named because they‘re working undercover in charge of recruiting foreign spies and conducting covert operations over seas. 

On Monday, the president ordered the agency to increase its number of spies and analysts by 50 percent.  Now, if you read the 9/11 Report, you know the CIA needs fixing.  The question is this the best way to go about it. 

Here to help us sort this out is MSNBC analyst Roger Cressey, a former National Security Council and White House counter terrorism official. 

So, Roger, the question is this the best way about going about fixing the CIA? 

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC ANALYST:  Oh, It could be done a lot better.  I think every president has the right to put in a director, and that director can put in the management team they want.  But when there‘s so much chaos and upheaval, as a result of the way Director Goss is doing this, it‘s going to affect performance.  Because people are more concerned about the comings and goings inside the agency, than they are doing their job. 

STEWART:  Now, wasn‘t the big concern about Porter Goss that he would be partisan and would behave so?  And what he‘s done so far, does this qualify as partisan behavior or just a certain management style?  

CRESSEY:  It‘s more of a certain management style.  At least I hope that‘s the case.  He clearly came in with a mandate to affect change.  And frankly, change is not a bad thing here, if you believe the system is broken.  But the way that he‘s done it has demonstrated a certain tone-deafness, if you will.  And that will resonate with the career bureaucracy.  And I think you see this wholesale regulation of the senior management inside the agency right now, that is not good for the long-term health of the agency.  And that is something we really have to keep a close eye on. 

STEWART:  Now, you‘ve worked in a lot of different cultures in Washington, at the White House, State Department, Pentagon.  What is it about the CIA culture that makes it so different? 

CRESSEY:  Well, the CIA is one of the few agencies where the mid and senior management comes up through the ranks.  You don‘t have political appointees parachuting in, as the deputy director for operations or the deputy director for intelligence.  And frankly, the culture there is very clear, in that if you haven‘t worked there, if you haven‘t gone up through the system, it‘s difficult for you to know how things actually work.  I think a lot of people feel that way inside the agency. 

So when they see Goss and his team coming in, and really in a very fractious way trying to change things, there‘s going to be a backlash.  And that backlash could be a real negative for how the agency doe its job. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the president‘s involvement here.  He‘s ordered an increase of hiring by, I believe it is, 50 percent.  Is it realistic to think that there are that many qualified experts out there?  And where do you think you need the most work in the CIA? 

CRESSEY:  Well, I think this is part of the strategic plan that Director Tenet set up in December of 2003.  So implementation of that is the right thing to do.  With that said, the type of people we need and the targets we want to penetrate is real tough.  We‘re talking North Korea.  We‘re talking Iran.  We‘re talking transnational threats, such as al Qaeda and criminal cartels.  It‘s not the type of people we can just pull out of the Ivy League and say hey, got to cocktail parties, collect intelligence and report back. 

So the type of people you need to do these non-official covered jobs, they could be very talented and in very short supply.  So it‘s safe to assume we want to train and recruit as much as we can.  But we need to be realistic about how many of these people are actually out there. 

STEWART:  So many great points.  Roger Cressey, terrorism analyst for NBC and MSNBC.  Thank you for your time this holiday weekend.  Be safe. 

CRESSEY:  It‘s good to see you, Alison. 

STEWART:  You know it‘s a sad time when a Santa can‘t jump out of a plane.  Details on “Oddball.” 

And some breaking Martha Stewart holiday news.  As well as the ladies of “The Apprentice 2.”  Hello, from boardroom to a photo and not too much is left to the imagination. 


STEWART:  Hi, I‘m Alison Stewart, holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann. 

And it‘s time for the nightly equivalent of a tryptophan, post-Thanksgiving turkey high.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin in Anaheim, California where this kind of thing used to be the norm after every Friday after thanksgiving.  Santa with four of his favorite elves jumps from his reindeer-powered plane, opens his magic parachute, and lands in a local mall.  That‘s the kinds of thing that used to happen back when I was a tyke. 

Then the F.A. declared the three-mile area around Disneyland a No-Fly Zone.  So this year, Santa has been grounded.  Instead of a sky dive, he got a hot air balloon, which is firmly tethered to the ground the whole time.  Don‘t jump, Kris Kringle.  Don‘t do it. 

To England, where the four-star Travel Lodge Hotel is offering certain couples a blessed break this Christmas, just so long as your names are Mary and Joseph.  If you produce correct identification, you get a free room for one night at the inn, if there‘s room.  No immaculate conception required.  Donkey is optional. 

Over to Germany, the self-proclaimed land of chocolate.  The land of chocolate.  At least the one room of chocolate.  Just in time for the holidays, the nation‘s oldest chocolate factory finished its masterpiece; a perfectly proportioned dining room made with nothing but 500 pounds of marzipan and 2,00 pounds of sweet chocolaty goodness. 

The stucco was lovingly painted with melted white chocolate.  The wall panels are made entirely from sweet and bitter dark chocolate.  And that‘s actually good for you, dark chocolate.  There‘s even a rocking chocolate chair, offering a dual benefit of a comfy seat and a comfort suite.  My definition of heaven. 

As shoppers rushed the stores, some businesses have some new software tracking software tracking you, especially if you‘re one of those returnaholics. 

And a legend of the Holy Grail; hello, Da Vinci Code.  New news this week on efforts to solve the mystery.  Those stories ahead. 

But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day, a special Thanksgiving tribute. 

No. 3, Mr. Frank Palacias of Worcester, Massachusetts sitting down at Thanksgiving dinner with his family.  Frank started picking at the turkey with his fingers.  Two of his relatives took offense and told him to use a knife.  To which he responded by picking up the knife and stabbing them.  Neither was seriously hurt and Frank will be picking at his Christmas turkey behind bars. 

No. 2, Martha Stewart already spending the holidays behind bars, but that has not stopped her from trying to make a gourmet Thanksgiving meal.  “The New York Post” reports she was caught smuggling condiments and spare food, including Brown sugar, powdered sugar, cinnamon and butter out of the prison kitchen.  Ooh, that could make something good. 

Apparently she hid them in her bra and then stored the goods in her locker, prompting “The New York Post” headline, “Nice Spice Rack.” 

And No. 1, an unidentified female caller to the Butterball turkey hotline.  She was prepping a Thanksgiving bird on the kitchen counter, when her pet Chihuahua crawled inside and got stuck.  She tried to grab him, tried to shake him.  And then, the lady finally called the turkey hotline.  Their advice, a few precision snips around the cavities finally provided enough give and the little guy escaped unscathed.  But the dog was heard to example claim “yo quero turkey.” 


STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  Dawn broke across retail America today, and shopkeepers far and wide woke up with a gleam in their eye.  Our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, 28 shopping days until Christmas.  Or for those who are really sweating it, 675 hours.  Now, if you‘re feeling Grinchy, quit it.  And if there‘s a list in your pocket, whip it out. 

As our correspondent Anne Thompson reports the red and green of the Christmas season makes for a really good Black Friday. 


ANNE THOMPSON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s America‘s version of the running of the bulls.  Shoppers in a Birmingham mall squeeze through the door and over each other at one in the morning. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was chaos.  I mean total chaos. 

THOMPSON:  The crowd grew as the temperature fell at a Denver Best Buy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Those people got here at three.  We‘re late.  We got here at five. 

THOMPSON:  Long lines formed from coast to coast, as the curtains rose on a season that‘s expected to be solid but not spectacular. 

MARSHALL COHEN, RETAIL ANALYST:  This is going to be very similar to last year.  It‘s what I call the carbon copy Christmas. 

THOMPSON:  The projection, a 3 to 4 percent increase in sales.  Consumers are expected to spend $220 billion, encouraged by what appears to be an improving economy, but held back by high energy prices. 

Today, armed with a list, Rich and Ann Schultz (ph) went looking for bargains. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Forty percent off, Ann.  This is what he likes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I got more coupons.

THOMPSON:  With a second child, the Chicago couple plans to spend more this year. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do look at the price, but if I really like something, I‘m going to buy it. 

THOMPSON:  In fact, analysts think quality, not quantity, will be this year‘s hallmark. 

(on camera):  Yet, for all of today‘s initial insanity, so far, there appears to be no one must-have gift, no one must-have toy on consumers‘ radar.  And for retailers, that‘s a concern. 

(voice-over):  Terry Lundgren is CEO of Federated Department Stores, overseeing Macy‘s, Bloomingdale‘s and five regional chains. 

(on camera):  So, Terry, when you walk through the store today, what are you looking for.

TERRY LUNDGREN, CEO, FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES:  I‘m looking for numbers of customers.  I‘m looking to make sure that the customers are being serviced properly by all of our associates.  I‘m looking for bags.  The smaller, the better, by the way. 

THOMPSON (voice-over):  But consumers looking for deep discounts may be disappointed. 

LUNDGREN:  Last year, we marked down cashmere early, because it was a warmer holiday season.  We sold out.  We didn‘t have it for the prior two weeks before Christmas.  So we have learned our lesson.  We‘re going to have a little more courage this year. 

THOMPSON:  As retailers try to hold the line on cutting prices, hoping customers won‘t hold back. 

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York. 


STEWART:  Now, those shoppers weren‘t lucky enough to be awakened at the crack of dawn by the soft, sultry sounds of a celebrity voice.  Target offered presidential wakeup calls to remind shoppers of its post-Thanksgiving Day sale using the recorded voices of Ice T, Cheech Marin sans Chong, and Heidi Klum, who, if you can‘t see her, I‘m not really sure what the point is.

Anyway how, our own Monica Novotny reports, advertisers have a slew of tricks up their sleeves to get you to pay attention. 



MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There‘s not your mother‘s commercials.  The hottest ads these days are accessorizing with cross-promotions, mini-movies, even ads that have air own ads.  A credit card promotion airing earlier this month on the three major networks. 


ANNOUNCER:  Stay tuned to watch Ellen‘s rocking new rocking ad during an all new “Will & Grace.” 


NOVOTNY:  This one featuring talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that also has its own Web site, featuring more Ellen.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST:  Behind you, your boss is coming up behind you.  Your boss is coming up behind you. 

JERRY DELLA FEMINA, ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE:  A commercial has to work harder and do more.

NOVOTNY:  Advertisers supersizing the 30-second spot, hoping to catch your attention by any means necessary.  Advertising veteran Jerry Della Femina. 

FEMINA:  It all comes together as one, literally as one big package, and that‘s a package that advertisers never got before.  There‘s reaching people in so many different ways. 

NOVOTNY:  And thinking bigger than ever, turning commercials into movies.  Nicole Kidman‘s latest film is a two-minute perfume advertisement. 

NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTRESS:  I did that with my friend and director Baz Luhrmann.  He directed “Moulin Rouge.”  And that was sort of the thing.  We loved the idea and going and doing something with this particular brand, so he concocted this whole little mini-film, complete concept.

NOVOTNY:  There‘s also making movies at, featuring celebrities, but not Amazon, no mention of the site, the books, the sales, just this CEO cameo. 


NOVOTNY:  Over at Wendy‘s, a new spot featuring their old favorite, hoping the sight of Dave Thomas, who passed away two years ago, might catch your attention. 

One tactic that has not changed, controversy remains king. 

NICOLETTE SHERIDAN, ACTRESS:  I‘ve got a game we could play.

NOVOTNY:  That “Monday Night Football” featuring one of ABC‘s “Desperate Housewives.”  The towel dropped, then the jaws, cross-promotion at its most controversial.  But is the effective? 

FEMINA:  That same scene on “Desperate Housewives,‘ no one would pay any attention to.  But the fact is, they went in there.  And it‘s not cross-promotion.  It was an ambush.  There are parents who say, I don‘t want my child to see that, and you took that choice away from them.  And that‘s not fair. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Other than the occasional controversy, for a moment, it seemed as if viewers had more control than ever, paying for digital video recorders, avoiding commercials altogether.  But rest assured, even those ads will be back. 

(voice-over):  You won‘t get to do this on TiVo much longer.  In March, the service that let you skip commercials will feature pop-up billboards when you do.  So is this the beginning of the end? 

FEMINA:  People love it.  No one‘s going to hate it because they have to look at a billboard.  They won‘t look at the billboard. 

NOVOTNY:  So you can run, but you can‘t hide.  Advertising is coming outside of the box and the commercials keep coming. 

FEMINA:  There‘s a lot of things hitting the consumer at the same time.  We‘re in a very competitive business.  We‘re trying to reach these people.  We‘re doing everything in our power to get to them.  So it‘s sort of oneupmanship.  Can you do this?  I will do that. 

NOVOTNY:  For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny.


STEWART:  And from the dawn of the shopping experience to its sunset, the moment when that cross-promoted, feverishly hyped consumer good turned out to be not so good.  Returning a purchase is never a high point in the life of a consumer. 

But as our correspondent Tom Costello reports from West Nyack, New York, there‘s a crackdown in stores for customers known as problem returners. 


TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Peek inside 23-year-old Lauren Baumhauer‘s closet. 

LAUREN BAUMHAUER, SHOPPER:  These are from Express.  These are from Express.  These are from express.

COSTELLO:  And you‘ll see a loyal Express customer.  But Lauren says that loyalty was tested recently when she tried to return a newly-bought shirt for a different color. 

BAUMHAUER:  The shirt I had originally tried to return was this exact same shirt in just a darker pink. 

COSTELLO:  Express had turned her down, her fifth return in two months.  A new computer program had identified her as a potential problem customer who could be taking advantage of a generous exchange policy. 

BAUMHAUER:  I‘m indecisive, and to go into a store, if I want to return something, I think that should be OK. 

COSTELLO (on camera):  But what Lauren didn‘t realize is that Express, like all retailers, has the right to refuse a return.  And many of them are now collecting driver‘s license information to build a database on what customers return and how often. 

MARK HILINSKI, THE RETURN EXCHANGE:  We‘re trying to combat fraudulent and abusive returns.  Fraudulent and abusive returns in the retail industry are causing a $16 billion problem today. 

COSTELLO (voice-over):  Mark Hilinski‘s company, The Return Exchange, developed the software that tracks customers and their returns, software now used by Express, K.B. Toys, Sports Authority, and Staples, to name a few. 

Express tells NBC News, “The only individuals possibly affected by our process would be those who exhibit extremely abnormal return patterns.”  But privacy advocate Jordana Beebe says customers get virtually no warning that their returns are past the point of no return. 

JORDANA BEEBE, PRIVACY ADVOCATE:  We just kind of feel it‘s a pretty big dragnet to be capturing innocent consumers in. 

COSTELLO:  Innocent or not, with shoplifters getting more sophisticated by the day, retailers say they have no choice but to fight back with technology. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, West Nyack, New York.


STEWART:  The ages-old search for the Holy Grail.  Some of the world‘s best code crackers think they‘re on the verge of a breakthrough.  And the crackdown in the boardroom.  Tempers flare and the Donald sends the debate boy packing, because he couldn‘t get ahead of the two women on his team.  That‘s ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The primary movers are Prime Minister Blair and Bertie Ahern of Ireland, who have been working very diligently on this.  I appreciate their efforts.  And anything I can do to help keep the process moving forward, I‘m more than willing to do. 

Listen, I‘ve got to go eat a burger.  Thank you all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob SquarePants, SpongeBob SquarePants. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He kind of looks like he‘s sleeping. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Like he‘s sleeping.  He does kind of look like he‘s sleeping.  You‘re right.  Maybe he ate too much turkey. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, he might have. 


JAY LENO, HOST:  There‘s no other country where you‘ll see their leader bowling with frozen turkeys.  OK?


LENO:  Oh.



STEWART:  A mystery from the ages and a great Monty Python movie. 

Where‘s the Holy Grail?  Experts think they may be a step closer.

And COUNTDOWN counts its blessings, our favorite stories for which we should all give thanks.


STEWART:  It eluded King Arthur, entertained Monty Python, and immortalized Indiana Jones.  Now its true location could soon be revealed, thanks to a cryptic message in the English countryside.

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, the quest for the Holy Grail.  Code-breakers from around the world are working to crack a set of clues etched on a 200-year-old stone monument to a British lord.  If they succeed, it could put an end to centuries of searching for the true cup of Christ. 

NBC‘s Dawna Friesen reports. 


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For centuries, it‘s inspired writers and moviemakers, the legends of a Holy Grail. 


ANNOUNCER:  This certainly is the cup of the king of kings. 

FRIESEN:  And nestled in a glade of a stately British home, Shugborough Hall, sits a stone monument which may hold a new clue, on it, an enigmatic image of shepherds and a series of letters.

RICHARD KEMP, GENERAL MANAGER, SHUGBOROUGH ESTATE:  Well, it was actually carved in 1748. 

FRIESEN:  Since then defying anyone to unlock its secrets. 

KEMP:  The juxtaposition of that combination of letters and the way they‘re arranged with the painting above, that has made us want to try and unravel whatever the messages are. 

FRIESEN:  Now World War II code-breakers who unraveled Hitler‘s U-boat Enigma code at Britain‘s Bletchley Park have been called in.  After poring over the evidence and 100 theories sent in from people around the world, this week they unveiled one, the most convincing, that it‘s a riddle related to a secret society and possibly a clue to the location of the Holy Grail. 

OLIVER LAWN, BLETCHLEY PARK CODE BREAKER:  I would assume that these letters have something to do with the secrecies, the secrets, of those sorts of societies with which the Anson family had links. 

FRIESEN:  The Ansons owned Shugborough Hall and built the monument.  George Anson, an admiral in the British Navy, was reputed to be a member of the Priory of Sion, spiritual successor to the Knights Templar.

Anson is said to have captured an ancient tablet from a French ship and buried it on an island off what is now Nova Scotia, Canada.  It has entranced treasure hunters for over 200 years.  The monument holds another clue.  The shepherds are a mirror image of a painting by the artist Poussin, also said to be a member of the Priory of Sion. 

KEMP:  It does make a real connection between the Ansons‘ deliberate work and the Templars and through them the Holy Grail again. 

FRIESEN:  A connection, but not a solution to what remains one of the world‘s most tantalizing mysteries. 

Dawna Friesen, Staffordshire, England. 


STEWART:  Moving from the stuff of legends to our nightly roundup of celebrity stories in a segment we like to call “Keeping Tabs.”

And not at all cheery news from ‘80s sitcom star Shelley Long.  She allegedly tried to commit suicide earlier this month.  The 55-year-old actress, best known for her role as Diane in “Cheers” was rushed to the hospital November 16 after apparently taking an overdose of painkillers.  Friends tell the British tabloid “The Sun” that Long is extremely depressed over the breakup of her marriage, barely eating and spending long periods of time in bed.  She was released from the hospital this Tuesday. 

Now, moving from real-life drama to reality drama on “The Apprentice,” which is kind of like real life, but it‘s not.  But, anyhow, in a moment, our regular Friday night quarterbacks, Nick and Amy, will give their insights on the show. 

First, last night‘s fiery final boardroom.  It erupted in a catfight that left the only man on the losing team at the end of the losing deal. 


DONALD TRUMP, DEVELOPER/BUSINESSMAN:  Why didn‘t you tell Sandy you made that decision? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  That‘s a little unfair. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because I didn‘t feel it was relevant.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you scared to come in here and stand on your own two feet? 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He said that you are stronger, OK?  That‘s pretty sad. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She had all day to think about how she was going to defend you. 



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I heard it loud and clear, and I think that everybody here did, too. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... pass that on to you, Sandy?  It‘s irrelevant. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s irrelevant? 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll tell you what I said.  I‘ll stand by what I said. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You let Jen know before you walked in here that you were choosing her. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Correct.  Correct. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So she had all day to back you up. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, no, no, Sandy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That makes a lot of sense.  She has all day to ponder it and back you up.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That is forming an alliance and coming in here...


TRUMP:  Andy.  You‘re just being pounded on.  You‘re being outdebated.  I just don‘t want somebody running one of my companies that‘s going to get beaten up so badly. 

You‘re fired. 


STEWART:  OK, my ears are bleeding.  I don‘t know about you. 

I‘m joined once again by the veterans of the first season of “The Apprentice,” Amy Henry and Nick Warnock. 

You guys look worn out by that as well. 


STEWART:  Nick, was that the right go?  Andy, did he deserved to be fired? 

NICK WARNOCK, FORMER “APPRENTICE” CONTESTANT:  Not one bit.  Trump made a mistake.  Sandy should have been gone. 

However, for a debate champion, this guy didn‘t perform too hot.  And I was a little disappointed.  I‘m a little depressed as well.  He was my guy. 

STEWART:  All right, Amy, tell me what you think about that display we just saw. 

HENRY:  Well, Andy said it best last week.  There‘s a time to speak up and a time to shut up and listen.  And there was no reason for him to speak up in that catfight.  It was totally unproductive.  And I thought that one of the two women should have been out. 

But I‘m looking forward to next week to see them work together. 

STEWART:  That‘s my question for you.  Do you think that one of them is going to implode or will they be able to work together? 

HENRY:  I think there‘s going to have to do some major apologizing, hugging, kissing, making up, because they really need a win to make sure that both of them make it to the final four next week.  I don‘t see it happening, but I think it‘s going to be one of the best episodes ever next week. 

STEWART:  Nick, do you think those two women are going to be able to make it through, Jen and Sandy? 

WARNOCK:  They have to get some—I don‘t think so, no.  I don‘t think any apologies can mend what happened in that boardroom. 

And I‘d like to defend women for a second.  Now, Amy calls that cattiness or catfighting or whatever, bickering.  But if that was men, they would be considered tough.  So I‘m going to stick up for them and say they were fighting for their lives in there. 

STEWART:  Look at you. 

WARNOCK:  And I am available to women. 

STEWART:  Nick turns out to be a feminist. 

Does that work for you in the bars there, Nick?  I hope so.

WARNOCK:  Well, I‘m hoping so. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk a little bit.  You guys have such great insight to what goes on behind the scenes.  That boardroom clearly was a turning points for Andy.  Does Mr. Trump, does he see the whole task or does it just come down to pieces and then the boardroom is really important? 

Amy, fill us in.

HENRY:  Well, the boardroom is clearly important, as Nick knows.  He survived the boardroom more than anybody last season. 

But that‘s why he‘s got his experts, George and Carolyn, who watch us throughout the entire tasks, and gives him basically the highs and lows and everybody‘s strongest performance and all of their weak spots as well, so that he has a pretty good I would say synopsis or Cliff Notes of the overall task. 

STEWART:  All right, Nick, give us your take on the boardroom. 


WARNOCK:  It doesn‘t come down to the boardroom in general. 

But it‘s accumulated over the whole course of the show.  It‘s not just one task.  But the boardroom is the most important.  That‘s where you build rapport.  That‘s where you sell yourself to the decision-maker who‘s ultimately going to either send you home or hire you.  So it‘s important.  But he takes into consideration other things as well. 

STEWART:  Now, Amy, watching those two women go at each other, you folks are living together.  You‘re all involved in each other‘s lives.  How difficult was that? 

HENRY:  Well, it‘s extremely difficult.  There‘s 18 this season, 16 last season.  We shared one kitchen.  We were responsible for cooking, cleaning.  We had one bathroom for all 16 people.

And I don‘t know about you, but even trying to deal with eight other women on one side of the bathroom was a complete nightmare.  But you know what?  At the end of the day, it really promotes the confrontation and heat of the tasks, so that you‘ve got good television, and that‘s what it‘s all about. 

STEWART:  And I‘ve got to get this in.  I‘m sure you know there‘s a new maxim that is out there with five of the girls from this season.  I believe it is a whole bunch of folks.  I know you took part in one of—well, hello.  Look at that picture.  It‘s quite racy.  You took part in one of those, Amy. 

WARNOCK:  Hello.

HENRY:  I can‘t see it, and I‘m probably glad. 

STEWART:  Why did you do that?  Was that promotion?  Was that something you wanted to do when you did that spread?

HENRY:  You know what? 

STEWART:  There you are.  Oh, you look great, by the way. 

HENRY:  Thank you. 

It‘s one of those 15 minutes of fame, bad judgment calls.  It was the first publicity stunt that we did.  And, you know, it was before “The Apprentice” was successful, and I just thought it would be something nice to have in my scrapbook and never really thought that it would still be gracing the covers of national television and national magazines.  But you know what?  It‘s all in good fun. 


WARNOCK:  Well, Amy, I can assure you that it‘s made my scrapbook. 


STEWART:  Oh, you just lost all your feminist points there, Nick.  You had it so close now.


STEWART:  Nick Warnock and Amy Henry, thanks a lot. 

HENRY:  Thanks.  Have a great weekend. 

WARNOCK:  Take care.


STEWART:  Take care.  You guys, be safe.  And we will see you next week. 

Finally, tonight, there‘s one person who heard the magic words you‘re fired this year.  Donald Trump‘s fiance is the new supermodel for Levi‘s Jeans.  She was not fired.  The company hired Melania Knauss after she made a cameo appearance on last week‘s show wearing a tight-fitting pair of famous jeans.  See, business really is all about the bottom line. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the crew here on COUNTDOWN is counting its blessings and thanking the news gods.  You won‘t want to miss this. 


STEWART:  Thanksgiving is a memory, the turkey only history, that day, a day gone by.  But we feel the need to give more thanks, and let us tell you why.  We‘re grateful, yes, grateful are we, for the stories we once knew, the big ones, the odd ones, and the ones we‘ve all lived through.

The COUNTDOWN staff gives thanks with a trip down memory lane, the days that brought joy, the days that seemed inane.  Now, Keith may not be here, but from him, we take a cue.  I slipped into rhyme, because, when in Rome, do as others do. 


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I don‘t know when the countdown started, but I‘ve been watching.   

TRUMP:  Hurricane Ivan, you‘re fired. 

Is that OK? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The death tax will eventually come back to life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Perry (ph), can you tell us how old you are today? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m 82 years old. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Eighty-two years young might be a better way to put it. 


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Particularly were we blessed.  In this election year, the well never ran dry as the big day grew near.  On one side, the senator, flip-floppy, aloof, on the other, the president, the cowboy, maybe goof. 


DR. PHIL, HOST:  Were you all spankers.  Did you spank them? 

G. BUSH:  Not really.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Not very often.


OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Mr. Kerry.  You took dorkitude to new heights. 

Thank you, Mr. President, for those first-rate sound bites. 

BUSH:  You need some wood? 

OLBERMANN:  And let us give thanks for the primary circus and the 10 little Democrats in each of their quirkus.  Yes, I said quirkus.  Thanks, John, John.  Thanks, Dennis.  Thanks, Joe, Bob and Carol, Mr. Gephardt, the good reverend and the Democrat general.  You all gave so much to the political machine, but one man gave more still. 

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All right.  Which has more bacteria in it, dog pee or water from the river? 

OLBERMANN:  Ladies and gentlemen, Howard Dean!

We give thanks for our lifeblood, a steady diet of absurd, the strange news, celebrities, a Barbie leg on a bird, the oddballs, the goofballs, the weirdos, the strange, the guy with the stomach full up with loose change.



OLBERMANN:  Break-dancing with the pope, a horse drinking beer, and oh, yes, Ralph Nader.  Was he in it this year?

RALPH NADER (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Neither George W. Bush, nor John Kerry have an exit strategy. 

OLBERMANN:  To the masters of science and brand-new technologies, strange animals of all kinds and freaks of biology, the toilet of the future. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The wash lid provides gentle aerated warm water cleansing.  

OLBERMANN:  A machine that kicks butts, monks and in the state Capitol kicking heaven knows what.  Pinky (ph) the cat and the poor schmoe in flannel and the guy who sells swords on the Home Shopping Channel. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the nice thing about these practice katanas—

Ow!  Oh!  That hurt. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Michael and Courtney and Britney and Martha and all our dumb criminals, who just ain‘t that smart-ha. 

DONNELL WINSTON, CHARGED IN BANK ROBBERY:  I‘m a drug dealer, not a bank robber.  I‘m the one with the drugs.  I‘m the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED) drug dealer.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks for that wonderful song that Robert Blake sung and the man, the myth, the legend that is William Hung. 

WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks to our good friends at Fark and the folks SmokingGun.commed, without whom there would be no photos when Macaulay Culkin got bombed.  Worse yet, we might have missed this year‘s creepiest story of that guy over on Fox in of all his glory.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS:  Obviously, they have major problems over there.

OLBERMANN:  One day, we may lose that awful image and subsequent waffle of Bill O‘Reilly in the shower holding his falafel. 

And to my wonderful staff, who share in the successes and the blame.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We just love him.

OLBERMANN:  I would thank you each personally, if I could remember your names. 

But on this Thanksgiving in this time of plenty, we‘re thankful most to you, our viewers, all 20. 


STEWART:  And one last thanks to you for keeping us in your sights. 

I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith.  He‘ll be back Monday night.



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