Guest: Michelle Kazinsky, Catherine Birndorf, Juliette Kayyem, James Lipton
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Baby Johnny, a newborn, thrown from a moving automobile, saved by a good Samaritan. But it‘s all a hoax. The good Samaritan is the newborn‘s mother, trying to keep the birth a secret. The baby is fine. The mother is not.
Some of the president‘s approval ratings are missing. He‘s down five polling points in a month. And the older you get, the less you approve.
The secretary of defense goes to Iraq. The secretary of state tells North Korea to go back to the multilateral bargaining table. And death of an essential playwright. We have lost Arthur Miller. James Lipton, host of “Inside the Actors Studio,” joins me to discuss the man who created Willy Loman and married Marilyn Monroe.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening. The image was horrible. From where she was driving on Kimberly Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Patricia Pokriots could see the young couple in the car ahead of her arguing. Suddenly, one of them threw a small bundle from the moving vehicle. Ms. Pokriots thought it might have been a kitten. She pulled over to find instead a baby boy. She had saved him, but at least one fiend was still loose. The nightmare seemed beyond belief.
Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, it was beyond belief. Patricia Pokriots was not the good Samaritan. She was the mother of the newborn child. The dramatic, although anything but earthshaking story did a 180 in terms of facts and falsehoods, heroes and villains in a matter of a few hours this afternoon. The most important fact, baby Johnny as hospital workers have named him is eight pounds, two ounces, healthy and screaming his little head off.
The most confounding fact, Florida law permits pleads with mothers of unwanted newborns to take their children to fire stations or hospitals and give them up within the first three days of their lives. No questions asked.
Instead, we have this mess. In a moment, we‘ll try to understand the psychology of all of it. First, correspondent Michelle Kazinsky of our NBC station in Miami WTBJ has been following it since version 1.0 hit the news last night. She joins us now from Fort Lauderdale.
Good evening, Michelle.
MICHELLE KAZINSKY, WTBJ NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This is one of those stories people are happy when it turns out not to be true. And this has been the talker‘s story for two days. How could anybody throw a newborn baby from a moving car?
There was a good Samaritan who had found him and got him some care.
Police were searching for a couple that was seen arguing in the area.
Well today, police say that baby was not thrown from any car. Yes, there was a couple arguing, but they had nothing to do with it. Police say they were used by the mother of the baby, also the good Samaritan, as a cover-up for the fact that she was abandoning her baby.
KAZINSKY (voice-over): Only hours old, the nameless, parentless baby boy, thrown from a moving car on the side of the road, wrapped in a plastic bag after the nation‘s disbelief and love.
Immediately, people wanted to adopt him. Now though, how things have changed! It turns out that good Samaritan who found him and got him some care was not quite a stranger.
KEN JENNE, SHERIFF, BROWARD COUNTY SHERIFF‘S DEPT.: Well, the situation has become both happy and sad. But it‘s not as horrible as we first thought. The baby was never thrown out of a moving car. This is a case of a disturbed woman who gave birth, but did not want to keep her child.
KAZINSKY: Police say this baby, now called Baby Johnny after the attending physician, was born Thursday afternoon to Patricia Pokriots in her bathroom. The sheriff said she planned to take him to a nearby fire station and abandon him, which is legal under Florida save haven law.
JENNE: When she was driving, she came upon two people in a white car, arguing. She decided to build a story around them.
KAZINSKY: She took the baby to the sheriff substation, told her story. But by the next morning, police started to question the whole thing, brought that good Samaritan in again. And they say Patricia Pokriots broke down, admitted she was the mother, and said no, she did not want her baby.
JENNE: If Ms. Pokriots had just left the child there, and we could have taken it. None of this would have happen.
KAZINSKY: Well so, that safe haven law here in Florida came about in the year 2000. We‘re told that 23 babies have been abandoned legally this way since it came about. In this state, like 44 other states‘ laws, if your child is up to three days old, it‘s an unwanted child, you can take to it three different places. Fire station, police station, or an emergency room. You can leave the child there. No questions are to be asked. And you are not to be charged with a crime—Keith?
OLBERMANN: What happens now under those circumstances, Michelle, to Baby Johnny?
KAZINSKY: Well, he‘s doing fine in the hospital. There was a custody hearing today for him. The mother would not say who the father was. She also has a 10-year-old son. The father was not given custody because he has a record of alleged child abuse.
So these two children now, the baby and her 10-year-old son, are in state custody. She now has been committed involuntarily to some psychological care. Police say they don‘t know if they‘re going to charge her. If she were to be charged with anything, it would be something like filing a false police report.
OLBERMANN: Extraordinary. Michelle Kazinsky of WTBJ in Miami, covering this remarkable case for us tonight. Great, thanks.
So six weeks ago, a Kansas woman was willing to fake a pregnancy in order to get close to a real mother to be, to kill her and remove her fetus, so as to claim it for her own.
Now another woman is willing to accuse an imaginary couple of a horrible crime to keep her identity as a real mother a secret. Probing why people do things could fill an infinite number of lifetimes. Let‘s just try to scratch the surface tonight on this one person.
Joining me now is Dr. Catherine Birndorf, the director of the Payne Whitney Women‘s Health Program in the psychiatric department at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
Dr. Birndorf, good evening.
CATHERINE BIRNDORF, PSYCHIATRIST: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: As this case is laid out for us, the mother of the newborn, Ms. Pokriots, was on her way to give the child up at a fire station under the safe harbor law, when this scheme suddenly came upon her. Psychologically, does that ring true to you? Was she ever going to get to that fire station? Or is it more likely that she had been looking for some other way out of this for a long time?
BIRNDORF: Well, it‘s not clear. It‘s not clear that she even knew there was a safe haven law. You know, she—it sounds like she was confused and didn‘t know what to do, and was clearly unsure where to go.
But the story is very unusual, the story that she made up. So it does make me question what her mental state was.
OLBERMANN: I know I‘m asking to you to add fortunetelling again here...
OLBERMANN: ...to your professional skills, but could the baby‘s life had been in danger? I mean, if she had not happened onto this arguing couple in the car ahead of her, and the story that she was then able to concoct around them, would there be any indications how far she would have gone to conceal the fact that she was the mother?
BIRNDORF: Absolutely. And this is a woman, as I understand it, who denied she was pregnant. It seems that nobody knew she was pregnant and she delivered in her own home, or in her mother‘s home.
So I would say that the baby was a potential—you know, potentially great risk. And I‘m thrilled that it turned out well. But I think that, you know, someone whose—she may have been psychotic, lost touch with reality. It‘s unclear.
But often when people are embarrassed or humiliated, didn‘t expect this, they find themselves with a baby, they can do some very crazy things, like potentially kill the child and commit neo natocide.
OLBERMANN: Have you seen crazy, if you will, behavior or completely random or last minute or just stuff that will not hold together, illogical behavior...
OLBERMANN: ...a lot in women under these circumstances? But the women tend to be 15, 16, 17, 18-years old.
OLBERMANN: Maybe in the high and might be the early 20‘s.
OLBERMANN: This is a 38-year-old woman.
OLBERMANN: What does the age tell you?
BIRNDORF: Well, it struck me as very unusual. I—when I asked how old the woman was, I expected her to be a teenager, who you know for whatever reason, didn‘t want the child, hid it from her parents. Maybe, you know, for religious reasons, you know, couldn‘t have an abortion, whatever it was.
But when I heard she was 38, I thought to myself, she must be psychiatrically ill. Not that a teenager wouldn‘t be, but it seems very unusual to me. I wondered what the—what her mental state was like throughout her pregnancy and previously in her life.
OLBERMANN: And when we see conduct like this in any woman who‘s just given birth, is there a way to determine how much is ascribed to the chemical changes that any pregnant woman goes through and how much would be attributed to a more consistent emotional or psychological disturbance history?
BIRNDORF: Well, when one gives birth, there‘s a plummeting of the hormone. And that‘s a very difficult time for most women, for anyone.
But when someone has a psychiatric history, or they‘ve been depressed or psychotic or ill in some way through their pregnancy, it‘s even worse. It‘s even greater. They‘re at greater risk for having a post-partum depression or psychosis, where they may, you know, think about suicide or think about hurting the child, the newborn.
OLBERMANN: I guess we‘re lucky this one turned out the way it did.
BIRNDORF: Oh, yes.
OLBERMANN: Dr. Catherine Birndorf, a psychiatrist from New York Presbyterian Hospital. Great, thanks for your insight.
BIRNDORF: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: We mentioned earlier the pregnant woman murdered, so the accused murderer could pretend that baby was hers. As this Florida story played out today, echoes of the Kansas nightmare reverberated from outside Cincinnati, but with an entirely different outcome this time.
Officials in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky are investigating an attack on a 26-year-old woman named Sarah Brady. She was 9 months pregnant. She claimed she was defending herself from a woman intent on killing her and stealing her unborn child. Ms. Brady killed her attacker.
22-year-old Catherine Smith had evidently contacted Brady after finding her name on an online baby registry. And posing as someone with a similar name, she allegedly told Brady, gifts had been mistakenly delivered to her address. Police say Smith told neighbors was pregnant and a nursery was found in her apartment, but preliminary autopsy reports show she was not.
Authorities say they have thus far found no evidence to contradict Ms.
Brady‘s story. And no charges have been filed against her.
Turning from violence at home to that abroad, the U.S. says no to face to face talks with North Korea. And Iraqi insurgents attack so-called soft civilian targets.
Plus, Howard Dean on the eve of victory, poised to lead the Democratic National Committee, but poised to lead it where? We‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Another day, another diplomatic enigma courtesy of North Korea. Another day, another sign of a return to the normalcy of death in Iraq.
Our number four story in the COUNTDOWN, the two wars. The cold verbal one first with Pyongyang demanding bilateral talks with the United States today and the White House rejecting the demand almost instantly. In announcing his country had “nukes” yesterday, North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il said his country would not restart the six-nation negotiations that have been going on—off and on since August 2003. He wanted face to face sessions with the U,S.
No thanks, says press secretary Scott McClellan today. There‘s plenty of opportunities, McClellan advises on behalf of the administration for North Korea to speak directly with us in the context of the six-party talks.
In Iraq meanwhile, two events that were not on the script page. The January 30th voting results have been delayed again. Three hundred ballot boxes are said to require recounting. Outcome‘s still a few days away.
But as insurgent violence blazed again in that country, the man charged ultimately with stopping it was not far away at all.
From Baghdad, our correspondent Richard Engel reports on the surprise visit there of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Rumsfeld‘s visit to Iraq was a surprise. But these U.S. trained Iraqi forces were ready to show him what they could do, carrying out mock raids on insurgents.
So far, 136,000 Iraqi forces have received some training. But the Rumsfeld‘s generals admit, only 40,000 are combat ready. Still, the defense secretary said there‘s no question. Progress is being made.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It is the Iraqis that are going to have to over time defeat the insurgents. It‘s their country. It is their responsibility.
ENGEL: But just yesterday, insurgents killed 14 Iraqi police and wounded 65 in an ambush in Salman Park. Today, the insurgents released this video of their well-planned attack. After stealing their cars and weapons, the militants left the dead police on the streets.
This morning, new insurgent attacks on new targets—Shi‘ite Muslim civilians. A truck bomb at a Shi‘ite mosque northeast of Baghdad killed at least 13, as worshipers were leaving prayers.
In Baghdad, witnesses say Sunni Muslim insurgents burst into a bakery, where posters of Shi‘ite clerics were hanging and shot dead 11 people.
The attacks on a day when Shi‘ites across Iraq began to observe Ashura, a time for repentance. The devout whipping their backs with chains to the beat of drums, cymbals, and incantations.
(on camera): For Shiites, this is a holy period. And over the next 10 days, many will be paying penance to honor and mourn one of their martyrs. But this year, some fear insurgents are trying to provoke religious violence.
(voice-over): During the Shiite holiday last year, militants killed more than 170 people in Baghdad and Karbala. This year, Iraq is taking no chances. The country‘s borders will be sealed during Ashura, to prevent insurgents from slipping in.
Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: Mercifully moving from the very serious news of the day to the very surreal, it‘s a church full of clowns. No jokes, please.
And the death of Arthur Miller, America‘s essential playwright, as he has been called. James Lipton will help us understand the man and his work and even his marriage to Marilyn Monroe. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back. And for the final time this week, we pause the COUNTDOWN to cover the stories that too often go ignored by the so-called mainstream media. But we‘re not afraid here. No, sir. Not anymore. Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin at the Holy Trinity Church in east London for a special mass to honor the latest Joseph Grimaldi, the father of modern clowning. Parishioners filed into the solemn affair as they always do every year at this time to honor Grimaldi‘s birth in 1778 with their ritual song, religious chants, and a little seltzer down your pants.
The service has been an annual affair since the second World War. And dozens of clowns show up all in one car.
To Nuremberg, where two young inventors have won the prestigious judgment there at the German International Toy Fair. They won the 2005 coolest toy ever award. Claus Doff and Daniel Gerdon called their invention the ex-UFO, a remote controlled flying thing that went straight from the contest into production. It will be available in Germany soon and in the U.S. by Christmas, which would be a few months too many for me to be able to fly it off my balcony and have it attack Christo‘s Gates in Central Park.
Back to the waiting news. National ID cards you say, with electronic chips of some kind in them, as a counterterrorism measure. A? And a counter Keith measure. Time for your quiz questions and my embarrassment. What have we learned? These stories ahead.
Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers. Eason Jordan, CNN executive, under fire for remarks he made last month about journalists being killed in Iraq by the U.S. military. It sounded like he was saying the military was trying to kill them. He clarified, he apologized. That was not enough for some. Tonight, he resigned, saying he did not want CNN unfairly tarnished by the controversy. And another victory for the Helots.
Number two, Marty Saint Pierre, owner of a club in Berlin, Connecticut, who said the naked karaoke sign on his door was a joke, but has now won a court case actually permitting naked karaoke in Berlin. The mayor says it‘s an embarrassment to Berlin.
Hey, I‘ve been to Berlin, Connecticut. That‘s not possible!
And number one, Professor Susan Davis in Mt. Ash University in Australia. She led the research that produced the first aerosol spray designed to increase sex drive in women. This is how it works. The man sprays the woman with the stuff. And then she sprays him with mace.
OLBERMANN: The legitimacy of public opinion polls was once so mocked in this country that in Paddy Chaefsky‘s apocalyptical view of television news gone crazy, the 1976 movie “Network”, one of the ridiculous non-journalistic segments on the network news hour was called “Vox Populi.”
And our third story in the COUNTDOWN—opinion polling is still not the coin of the realm, exactly, but nor is it dismissed with dark satire anymore. And as such, when a newly reinaugurated president coughs up five points in his approval ratings and seven in his is the country going in the right direction number, it‘s news and big news.
Last month, those surveyed by the Ipsos Company for the Associated Press were evenly divided on the president‘s job performance.
But now, only 45 percent approve; 54 percent disapprove. And the number spreads out the older you get. Only 43 percent of respondents aged 50 and over approve of Mr. Bush‘s work; 56 percent do not. An even bigger divide on the question of where the country is headed. A whopping 58 percent believing the nation is headed down the so-called wrong track. That was 51 percent a month ago.
Fifty-six percent disprove of his handling of the economy, 57 percent disapprove of his handling of Iraq, 58 percent disapprove of his domestic policies.
Though the poll did not ask about Social Security, apparently somebody ordered the discount poll. The presumption is the president‘s slide outside the 30 to 39-year-old group may owe wholly or mostly to his proposals to reform the retirement program.
But assumptions, of course, can be dangerous. There was this one on the other side of the political ball. Namely, that after the beating they took at the polls in November, the Democrats would slide gently towards the middle.
Yet tomorrow, they will almost certainly elect Howard Dean as the chairman of their national committee. This is day two of the Dems‘ three day confab in D.C. And the former Vermont governor until 13 months ago, the frontrunner for the presidential nomination has all but locked up the chairmanship, meaning either the assumptions about the party lurching right or wrong or the assumptions about Dean‘s liberality are.
Joining me to discuss Chairman-to-be Dean and those Bush poll numbers is Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of “Newsweek” and MSNBC analyst.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is Dean not as liberal as he was painted a year ago? Or are the Democrats refusing to submit? Or are there other factors?
FINEMAN: Well, on fiscal policy, on spending and taxing, as governor of Vermont, he was a pretty conservative guy. As a matter of fact, he was attacked from the right during the primaries for having considered some of the Social Security ideas that George Bush is proposing now.
But on social policy, he‘s very liberal. And he was very much against the war in Iraq, and has raised questions about whether he—whether and when he‘d be willing to use force. And as such, he was anathema in the red states.
OLBERMANN: Sort of lost in the idea that Dean is this, or the Democrats want to be that, the DNC and RNC chairs usually are not filled by people who are known further west than Arlington, Virginia. I mean, Bob Dole had the Republican chair for a while, but the rest of them have pretty much been anonymous. Is that the real story here that the Dean is trying to transform the role of a party chairman into a role of leading Democratic politicians until further notice?
FINEMAN: Yes. And he began organizing outside the party, his whole idea in running on the Internet and running as a grassroots guy was to reform the party. Now he‘s inside the castle and he is in the great hall. And he is going to use it as a platform. He says he is not going to be the leader on ideas for the party. Just the mechanic. Baloney. This is a guy who always makes big statements, who is always thinking big and talking big. That‘s why he was popular on the Internet and the grassroots. I dare say he‘s not going to be able to restrain himself and I don‘t think he really wants to.
OLBERMANN: To the president and those poll numbers, given that he got such a bounce out of Iraq and the election there and out of his inaugural address, is it fair to say those numbers are surprising and do you think they really owe to Social Security?
FINEMAN: I think other polls show a little bit less dramatic a slide. But even Republicans will tell you, the president hasn‘t had a good couple weeks trying to unveil and explain the Social Security proposal. It‘s been rough going. And there‘s more downsides to come as the Democrats attack. I think among older people, their concern is not just for themselves or even primarily for themselves. They believe in this system as it is. And they want it to survive for their children and grandchildren. That‘s how I would interpret his slide among older people.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of “NEWSWEEK” and MSNBC. Always a pleasure, sir, and have a good weekend.
FINEMAN: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Be well. The political landscape also has a potential fight dotting its horizon over the ballooning cost of Medicare‘s new prescription drug benefit now projected to price out at anywhere from $720 billion to $1.2 trillion. Democrats and Republicans both saying that Congress needs to go back and readdress that program. But President Bush is warning them to keep their hands off.
Swearing today at the swearing in of his new health secretary Mike Levitt, to veto any changes should they be made. No such fight over tort reform though. The Senate overwhelmingly passing a bill that would curb multimillion dollar class action lawsuits by a vote of 72-26. Those backing the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying lawyers make more money from such cases than the actual victims do. Those against arguing that the president has allies who are trying to help big business escape proper judgment for misdeeds.
The House will be taking up the measure next week. No comment from the OB-GYNs still hoping to practice their love with the women around the country.
Meanwhile, the political debate over the need for national electronic I.D. cards goes something like this. It would either an vital tool in the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration or it would be the key, letting Big Brother in through the back door. The U.S. moving one step closer to getting you carded. The House approving a package of immigration controls aimed at disrupting terrorist travel including a set of national standards for who gets a driver‘s license and who doesn‘t even though the states would still be doing the issuing work.
Called the Real I.D. Act, the bill has the backing of the White House and it is expected to be received favorably in the Senate, too. But don‘t expect it to come to a vote or to be debated on its own merits. It will probably be attached to the Iraq appropriations bill.
What about the intelligence community and the rest of us? What do we think of all this? I‘m joined now by Juliette Kayyem, the homeland security expert, professor at Harvard‘s Kennedy School of Government. Juliet, good evening.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, HOMELAND SECURITY EXPERT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s tackle the counterterrorism aspect first. Nearly all the 9/11 hijackers had all the IDs they needed. Wouldn‘t people be capable of faking these new ones so matter how sophisticated sooner or later?
KAYYEM: Yes, just ask any 16-year-old teenager how hard to forge paper documents. If you want a foolproof identification system, at some stage we‘re going to have to debate biometric information whether it‘s the use of retinal scans or fingerprinting to get into certain places. That‘s being used in some places across the country.
But the idea that the states, by issuing driver‘s license to immigrants, would somehow curb the potential that immigrants would get on to planes, I think, is sort of foolhardy.
First of all, whatever we say about the 9/11 hijackers, they had valid passports. So whether they used driver‘s license or passports, they were going to be able to get on planes. So in some ways, this is a measure that is using terrorism and national security I think to be a little bit more aggressive on how immigrants are getting driver‘s license and if you look at other provisions of the bill there‘s a lot of other stuff in there about asylum seekers and things like that. This bill is about -- 10 percent about national security and 90 percent about controls on immigration.
OLBERMANN: And if you have a readable electronic device in an I.D. card, what stops police or anybody else with access to it from using it as a tracing device? Who steps in and prevent the government from tracking you through these cards?
KAYYEM: I think that that‘s the growing fear about this sort of sharing of information. This bill, for example, would require sharing of information across motor vehicle departments, and including with Canada and Mexico. So as this information is shared, the privacy concerns are raised. So I think—though I don‘t think we‘re at Big Brother yet, you can‘t really dismiss the civil libertarian or privacy critics of this because of the information flow that‘s permitted through these attacks, and also the bill doesn‘t address the hard question here.
Which is when is it valid for the federal government to ask for identification of its citizens? We all agree that on airports, that may be true. What is happening here, I think, is just sort of missing the mark, right? We‘re just trying to make some minimum standards so that immigrant can‘t get driver‘s license but it sort of begs the bigger question about access to federal facilities, access to airports and things like that.
OLBERMANN: And you mentioned the other clauses in this bill. There‘s one in here, clause 102 that amends the immigration act of 1996. “Thusly the secretary of homeland security shall have the authority to waive and shall waive all laws in such secretary‘s sole discretion determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.”
Call me old fashioned but I get a little unsettled when I hear that there is legislation with national ID tags and in the bill there‘s also a provision that allows the secretary of homeland security to suspend laws. What is that about?
KAYYEM: It‘s not good news for environmentalists or any other who cares about our national parks. I mean, you think of where our national parks are, a lot of them are on the borders. This is giving an exemption. So it‘s not even that the department of homeland security has to apply, it‘s just giving a full across the board exemption to the department of homeland security, of environmental provisions, federal, state, and local and when it needs to build something in the guise of national security on the border. And they sneak it in here into this and here‘s the problem, right? It‘s going to go into the Iraqi authorization bill. Name me a senator that is going to deprive our soldiers out in the field of money and so this thing will pass without debate and we‘re going to be looking at, I think, some problems regarding environmental and immigrations actions ahead.
OLBERMANN: The first thing we need to do is come up with a homeland security equivalent of the term “pork barrel.”
OLBERMANN: Juliette Kayyem of Harvard‘s Kennedy School of Government.
As always, Juliette, great thanks. Have a good weekend.
Also tonight, the singular playwright, Arthur Miller is dead. I‘ll be joined by James Lipton from inside the Actor‘s Studio next here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It‘s not just that Arthur Miller was one of the titans among American playwrights, nor that he was one of the titans among American letters. He may also have been one of the lynchpins of the American conscience.
Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the man who wrote “The Death of a Salesman,” and just as importantly, “The Crucible,” is dead, having succumbed to heart failure last night. In a moment, the host of Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton, joins us to remember this man and his creations.
Once upon a time, Broadway was not largely a place to stage musicals about Disney characters or Swedish pop bands. Tonight, it paid homage in its traditional way: The dimming of the lights on all the theater marquees. As our correspondent Bob Faw reports, Arthur Miller‘s lights will still shine undimmed as long as his plays are produced and read.
BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He wrote of men and women alienated from themselves and others. Lost souls crushed by false values.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t have the education, Walter!
FAW: Characters like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” to whom, said Arthur Miller, attention must be paid.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There‘s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine.
FAW: The play was first performed 56 years ago, but its message, says one recent Willy Loman, resonates today.
BRIAN DENNEHY, ACTOR: There are some parts which never stop revealing themselves to you. They never stop giving you opportunities to explore whole new places that you haven‘t seen.
FAW: Born in 1915, his politics shaped by the Great Depression, he turned out 23 plays, at least a dozen books, and eight screenplays like “The Misfits.”
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And all you would feel is sorry for yourself.
JAMES BUNDY, DEAN, YALE DRAMA SCHOOL: His characters are all strivers. And many of them fail, but they are people who are trying to make their way forward in the world to a better place.
FAW: Miller also stood on principle. His refusal to give a congressional committee names of communist sympathizers got him cited for contempt and convicted. It was later reversed.
His personal life was dramatic, too. In 1956, marrying Hollywood sex goddess Marilyn Monroe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think of this whole raucous, Mr.
ARTHUR MILLER: It‘s good, you only get married once.
FAW: In fact, he married three different times. Writing, rewriting, up to the very end.
MILLER: I‘m very fatalistic. I did what I could do. And as well as I could do it. And now it‘s up to fate.
FAW: Arthur Miller will be remembered for his attacks on narrow-mindedness, on dreams abused, but mostly for creating unforgettable characters, overwhelmed by their times, who, like Willy Loman, only want to matter.
Bob Faw, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: As promised, an honor to once again be joined under sad circumstances by Mr. James Lipton, dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School University and host of “Inside the Actors Studio,” on our sister network, Bravo. Thank you again for your time, sir.
JAMES LIPTON, HOST, “INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO”: Thank you for inviting me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with “Death of a Salesman.” We think of this as quintessentially American. People here who have never seen the play could probably still recognize that name, Willy Loman. Yet it was made into a movie in Sweden, and it was made into a movie in Spanish, and in Finnish, and in German, and it‘s been staged in Beijing, and it was written in the America of 1946 and ‘47, and won a Tony award in the America of 1999.
What was the universal chord that he struck in this play and his other works?
LIPTON: I could say that I was in Beijing when it was staged. And it was a sensation there. They understood every single word of it.
I think it succeeded for several reasons. One, of course, because it dealt with the parent-child relationship. It dealt with something that we all face in our lives all the time.
The other was it was about losing and winning, succeeding or failing. You put those two things together and you have got a play. And then when you have Arthur Miller writing that extraordinary dialogue, creating that incredibly eternal world, then you have a universal theme.
OLBERMANN: He wrote of his own work that it was about where we belong and the absence of permanence in life. Obviously, eternal topics. And yet when I said earlier that perhaps he was a lynchpin of the American conscience, there is “The Crucible,” which is not an eternal piece in that same way. It‘s very time-specific. It‘s nominally about the Salem witch trials, but it‘s really about the black lists of the ‘50s, and in many ways it is the first exposure to the black list that high school kids get and got historically. Tell me about Arthur Miller‘s feelings from your conversations with him about “The Crucible.”
LIPTON: I think that he understood what “The Crucible” meant to the rest of us, to the world. It was, however, it should be remembered, it was Arthur tackling the 17th century. It was Arthur writing a play about the period when Shakespeare was writing plays. He was stretching himself. It is an amazing play. It‘s a wonderful work of art. That play deserves to be remembered for other reasons than its political significance. It is a very, very beautiful play. And he was writing it in a language that was a language of the 17th century.
OLBERMANN: And yet he managed the duality. How did he do that?
LIPTON: He did it because he understood so profoundly the human spirit, and because he was a man of conscience, and because he had himself been attacked. This was his response. This was Arthur fighting back. And he fought back very effectively. And it is a very, very good play. Wonderful characters. Beautiful dialogue. Extraordinary language. A great stretch for him. And he succeeded brilliantly.
OLBERMANN: What about this man? Writers are supposed to be, in fiction, anyway, they‘re supposed to be lost in thought and perhaps austere and bookish. He married Marilyn Monroe, and 15 years ago, he gave this bold, unforgettable performance, if anybody saw it on PBS, as the voice of General Sherman in that Civil War documentary. This man was not at all bookish. Was he?
LIPTON: He was—you know, the thing I remember most about him, he was big. He was an enormous man. He was very tall. He was very big-boned. He was Lincoln-esque. He was a powerful man.
I remember specifically when he was on my stage, looking at his hands
· he had these big, big hands. Big feet. He wore corduroy. He was altogether a man of the people. He wore workman‘s shirts. He was a carpenter, you know. That was how he spent his days sometimes.
And everything about him was big. It was—he was a very impressive human being in that regard. I remember him specifically that way, as being big.
And then of course, when you come to his talent, to his work, big again. Everything about him, it was big.
OLBERMANN: And there‘s an irresistible quote from him about his second wife, Marilyn Monroe. Let me read this. “She was a poet on a street corner trying to recite to a crowd pulling at her clothes.” How much of their life did he describe in those few words?
LIPTON: How much did he describe in the play “After the Fall?” When he was on my stage, I asked him point blank, is “After the Fall” about Marilyn Monroe and you? And he had always denied it. That night, he didn‘t deny it. He finally said yes, of course it was.
Remember, that they were the Bennifer of their time. Isn‘t it amazing that there was a time in America when the sex goddess married America‘s intellectual? What a combination! What an amazing confluence of human beings. And America was fascinated by it. Of course, it was Marilyn that drew them to it, but they were fascinated by this combination of great intellect and enormous beauty, also great talent. But it was—they were really, when you think back on it, they were an amazing couple. They were a golden couple briefly. It was bound to burn out. It did burn out. He wrote about it in “After the Fall,” but for a time, here we had this combination of great, perfect sexual beauty and enormous intellect. It was a different time. Wouldn‘t happen now.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of that, James, Arthur Miller was born in 1915 and he came into prominence in the ‘40s. Given the way the American stage has changed, if he had been born in 1975 and was ready to come to prominence in this decade, in this year, would we have ever heard of him? Has our society killed off its future Arthur Millers?
LIPTON: No, but he wouldn‘t have been Arthur Miller. He would have been a different person. Of course, that person wouldn‘t have come to prominence today. We have a different kind of theater today.
I think that the theater world in which he lived was a great theater world. I think we were in a golden age then. Look at the plays that were being written, not only by him but by Tennessee Williams and other great playwrights. I think it is safe to say that that Arthur Miller would not exist today.
On the other hand, that Arthur Miller would not have been born in 1975.
What he did that I thought was remarkable—look, we always think of him as a product of the 1930s. He was a product of the great struggle between Marxism and everything else, between the communist world and philosophy and American democracy and capitalism.
But there was something else about Arthur Miller that astonishes me. Look, I see him as a kind of existential person. The last page of “The Stranger” by Camus is one of the most important works of the last century, in which Mersault, waiting to be executed by the guillotine the next morning, looks out the window and realizes that the universe is entirely indifferent. And they—the existentialists, the word that they invented for that was engagement. They said, we must engage, we must confront that indifferent universe with engagement, and that man was engaged every minute of his life. He was engaged with every word that he wrote. His was a life of engagement. To me, he was an existential hero.
OLBERMANN: James Lipton, the host of “Inside the Actors Studio” on the Bravo network. Great, thanks for joining us.
LIPTON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll be back.
OLBERMANN: Hey, kids, guess what time is it? Time it is.
Our No. 1 story on Fridays, frankly, gives our staff some small measure of hope, to say nothing of the joy they get by poking me with sticks provided by you, the viewer.
Time to see if my short-term memory is still accepting input. Our weekly news week, the one we call...
ANNOUNCER: What have we learned?
OLBERMANN: And there she is, fresh back from her tour of the nation‘s landfills and garbage dumps, the genial hostess of “What Have We Learned?,” is Monica Novotny. It‘s all yours, Scooter.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it‘s always a pleasure.
NOVOTNY: Let‘s get the fine print out of the way. If you would like to join in on our fun, why not try the official MSNBC news quiz. You‘ll find it on our Web site, that‘s countdown.MSNBC.com.
Now a quick reminder of the rules. We‘ll put two minutes on the clock. Ask Mr. Gates Hater your viewer questions based on the news of the week as reported here on COUNTDOWN. If he answers at least half correctly, he wins a prize. For every incorrect answer, there‘ll be a lot of whining. But we put up with it, because each one is worth $50 for charity.
Two minutes on the clock, please.
OLBERMANN: You know, off camera, Monica Novotny is really one of the nicest people you‘ll ever want to work with. For some reason, we come out here, and it‘s, you know, a pirate captain.
NOVOTNY: I‘m just (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Aye aye.
All right, let‘s go. Two minutes on the clock, please.
No. 1., from Deborah in New Jersey. How much was the fine for indecent undergarments exposure in the proposed Virginia law banning low-rider pants?
NOVOTNY: That‘s right. No. 2 from Sheryl. What does the number .216 represent to Alice Resnick of Ohio?
OLBERMANN: .216, that was her blood alcohol amount.
OLBERMANN: She‘s the Ohio judge, Supreme Court judge who was pulled over for...
NOVOTNY: Driving erratically.
NOVOTNY: A little bit of alcohol will do that to you.
OLBERMANN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) erratically.
NOVOTNY: What time of day was she arrested? This is a bonus question.
OLBERMANN: What time of day was she arrested?
NOVOTNY: That‘s the one.
No. 4, from Monica in...
OLBERMANN: By the way, it‘s pretty a broad answer. Thank you for the latitude there. Thursday, OK.
NOVOTNY: From Monica in Seacaucus. How many artists have completed the artist in residence program at a San Francisco dump?
OLBERMANN: Monica in Seacaucus? That would be you. And the answer is one. Monica in Seacaucus. I do not remember.
NOVOTNY: Forty-nine. OK, fine. Whatever I say goes in one ear, out the other.
OLBERMANN: Yes, indeed.
NOVOTNY: Adrian Cole of Sand Lake, Michigan, did what that was of note this week?
OLBERMANN: Adrian Cole of where?
NOVOTNY: Sand Lake, Michigan.
OLBERMANN: Oh, Sand Lake. I remember the town Sand Lake.
NOVOTNY: Yes. Do you remember what he did, more importantly?
OLBERMANN: He named himself Adrian? No, I do not remember what he did.
NOVOTNY: 4-year-old, drove his mom‘s car to the video store, almost made it home.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Yes.
NOVOTNY: From Jen in California. In what city can you make Valentine‘s Day reservations at White Castle?
OLBERMANN: Cincinnati, Ohio.
OLBERMANN: Where it will be 39 degrees on Valentine‘s Day.
NOVOTNY: How many calories are in the world‘s largest gummy bear?
OLBERMANN: Oh, goodness, it‘s 12,000?
NOVOTNY: That‘s right. From Cheryl...
OLBERMANN: That‘s because I had one last night.
NOVOTNY: Chefs in Bangalore and a British helicopter pilot have what food item in common?
OLBERMANN: Chefs in Bangalore and a British what?
NOVOTNY: Helicopter pilot.
OLBERMANN: They have what—oh, man.
NOVOTNY: What food item?
OLBERMANN: Giant gummy bears.
NOVOTNY: No. Pizza.
OLBERMANN: All right.
NOVOTNY: All right. From Michael, Katalin (ph) and Valentin Tatou (ph) are newborn twins in Romania. How much older is Valentin (ph) than Katalin (ph)?
OLBERMANN: Fifty-nine days?
NOVOTNY: Yes. Wow. What is the wedding date set by Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles?
OLBERMANN: April 7th?
NOVOTNY: Wrong, April 8th. Glad we got that one in.
All right, that was six out of nine, is that the correct count, judges?
OLBERMANN: That‘s six out of 10, looks like four mistaken ones, because you had that ringer one from Monica in Seacaucus.
NOVOTNY: Hey, that counts. Hey. I‘m a viewer, too. All right, you win a prize.
OLBERMANN: I do get a prize?
NOVOTNY: You do get a prize.
OLBERMANN: What do I get this time so I can destroy it?
NOVOTNY: In honor of Valentine‘s Day...
OLBERMANN: What was stolen out of my office this week?
NOVOTNY: No, you‘ve been complaining about that.
OLBERMANN: You bought something?
NOVOTNY: We‘ve made a purchase. The very limited edition...
OLBERMANN: Oh gosh!
NOVOTNY: Teddy bear in a straitjacket, because we‘re crazy about you.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and I know, I just want to say that as my former career as a model for this bear, I‘m very proud to see it was such a success. And I‘m sorry there‘s such great controversy over it, but thank you very much and happy Valentine‘s Day to you and your delightful husband.
NOVOTNY: Actually, it might mean that you‘re making us crazy. I‘m not sure. But we‘re crazy about you, I‘m sure that‘s it. I‘m sure that‘s it.
OLBERMANN: The important part was I got four wrong, the 2005 charity bowl already had 550 bucks in it.
NOVOTNY: It did.
OLBERMANN: So now it‘s $750.
OLBERMANN: If we‘ve added correctly. We tend to forget from week to week. We‘ll clear this all up in the weeks to come, probably.
NOVOTNY: Your math is getting so good. So pleased.
OLBERMANN: The math has been good on the answers, the questions too, smarty pants.
We‘ll see how much more I can empty into it next time, if there is a next time, when again we play...
ANNOUNCER: What have we learned?
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being part of it. Not you. You.
I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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