Guest: Wayne Slater, Paul Rothstein, Jack Hanna
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Let‘s go to the audiotape. The president before he was president talking about reports of past drug use, about not kicking gays, about everything except the ethics of secretly taping the president of the United States and then making those tapes public.
Load the cannon. Here comes Jeff Gannon, threatening now to sue people for political assassination.
More new legal ground. You were sexually harassed by a gorilla, in sign language. Is that even possible? We will ask animal expert Jack Hanna.
And who to ask about this: when is it sky diving and when is it simply sky pushing and falling?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn‘t a real landing. It was a landing to save my bacon.
OLBERMANN: We all have to learn to fly sometime, and his time was at age 96.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
Only in the politics of this, our 21st Century America, is this possible. Audiotapes of a president in the making, appearing to confirm he once tried marijuana, surreptitiously recorded by a friend of his named Wead.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it gets better. Today Doug Wead insisted that in releasing the tapes in question, he was not trying to hurt President Bush. That if he had it to do over again, he would not have recorded them in the first place. And he was not doing it for the money but for history.
It‘s apparently just a historical coincidence that Mr. Wead has a new book coming out featuring Mr. Bush. The White House considers the friendship between the president and Wead history.
The spokesmen traveling with reporters and Mr. Bush in Europe telling the reporter that, quote, “These were casual conversations with someone the president considered a friend.” Considered, past tense.
He was also a one-time religious advisor and former Assembly of God minister, which was presumably why, between 1998 and 2000, he covertly recorded his conversations with then Governor Bush and discussed with him marijuana, cocaine, and homosexuality and gave copies of some of the tapes to ABC‘s “Good Morning America.”
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn‘t answer the marijuana question. You know why? Because I don‘t want some little kid doing what I tried.
DOUG WEAD, FORMER ADVISOR OF PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes, it never stops.
BUSH: But—but you‘ve got to understand, I want to be president. I want to lead. I want to set—do you want your little kid to say, “Hey, Daddy, President Bush tried marijuana. I think I will.”
That cocaine thing, let me tell you my strategy on that. Rather than just saying no...
BUSH: I think it‘s time for somebody to just draw the line and look people in the eye and say, you know, I am not going to participate in ugly rumors about me and blame my opponents and hold the line. And stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on.
WEAD: He‘s saying you promised you would not appoint any gays to office.
BUSH: No, what I said was I wouldn‘t fire gays. But I‘m not going to discriminate against people.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: “The New York Times” first published quotations from the tapes over the weekend and said audio experts had verified Mr. Bush‘s voice.
So did an expert consulted by CBS News, who had given some of the material in the case, made an odd comment that he had used a, quote, 12-step process to verify it.
Wead says he has additional tapes but he‘s keeping them private, because the material on them is too personal and could land him in legal trouble.
The marijuana, cocaine and attitudes toward homosexuality are not private, I wonder what is.
Joining me now for reaction to Wead and the weed is Wayne Slater, senior political writer of the “Dallas Morning News,” co-author of the book, Bush‘s brain.
Mr. Slater, good evening.
WAYNE SLATER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”: Hey, good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The White House has been relatively quiet about this. Is that because they don‘t really have to say anything? In most of the tapes, in the transcripts, the president comes off pretty good and, in any that he might not, he gets an automatic pass, because they were surreptitiously recorded?
SLATER: Yes, I think so. I mean, if you really look at overall what we know about these tapes, the president does look pretty good. You know, his revelations are mild by any definition.
And on the other hand, what we have is a story about a guy, a friend, who has surreptitiously taped the president before he was president, released those tapes at a time when he has a book that‘s out, and basically, doesn‘t really look good for that guy.
I think any time you have a defense and your defense is, “I taped in states where it was legal,” that‘s a pretty thin defense.
OLBERMANN: Now, the White House, as we said, described the Bush-Wead friendship in the past tense. What did the president and his advisors think of this man before this? What was the Rovian viewpoint of him?
SLATER: Yes. The truth is, and I know Doug, and I‘ve certainly covered the president for years. The truth is that Doug Wead had fallen out of favor with this White House some years ago.
Three years ago, when we were researching “Bush‘s Brain,” the book that we were writing, I got a call from the White House from Karl Rove who said, “Look, this guy is not a guy with good credibility. This is not a guy who knows very much.” And clearly, Rove was trying then to undercut Doug Wead.
It was clear to me that some years ago, that the relationship between the president and Doug Wead had gone sour. And so I don‘t really think that Doug Wead has lost a lot in intimate relationship with the president these days.
OLBERMANN: Lastly here, give me your take on the ethics of the thing. Wead says he, as you said, recorded these thing legally in the so-called one-party states where you do not have to tell the other person you are recording.
And he also says, “If I was on the phone with Churchill or Gandhi, I would tape-record them, too.”
I understand that there are different standards for reporters versus historians. But if Mr. Wead were a reporter, and these tapes that he had made without this, whoever it was, his permission had wound up being broadcast on national television, would he have been fired by that?
SLATER: Under those conditions, obviously, it depends on the news outlet. But he might very well have been disciplined or fired if a reporter transparently and surreptitiously taped someone and then uses it publicly.
But clearly, the real problem here is not necessarily that it‘s illegal but that it just looks wrong. It looks bad. I could go to Nevada and do things that are legal, but my wife probably wouldn‘t like it very well and think that I was immoral. So that‘s the real problem here.
OLBERMANN: I think you have that exactly right. Wayne Slater, senior political writer of “The Dallas Morning News.” And seriously, you know when you become president, we have just recorded this conversation.
SLATER: Very good.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Wayne.
Speaking of secrets and tapes and things from the past, the swift boat guys are back. Not the Vietnam vets from the commercials themselves, but the advisory group that essentially fashioned their anti-John Kerry message.
“The New York Times” reporting that swift boat strategist Chris LaCivita has already been hired and book publishers Regnory (ph) and publicists Creative Response Concepts both engaged by USA Next, a conservative lobbying group that is launching a $10 million attack on AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. Why? Because of that group‘s opposition to the Social Security proposals.
And in a move that may separate the Gannon‘s from the Guckert‘s, the artist formerly known as Jeff Gannon has told the “Times” and “Newsweek” magazine that he is considering suing somebody. He gave each publication a different reason.
He told the “New York times” he had taken legal action over some personal information posted on the Internet. No, no. He means his Social Security number.
But to “Newsweek,” he complained of being a victim, quote, “of political assassination” and claimed to be planning lawsuits against liberal interest groups, particularly media Matters for America, also bloggers and unnamed others.
He was no more explicit than that.
And, quote, “political assassination,” unquote, is not recognized grounds for a civil suit on this planet, I think.
Guckert/Gannon‘s nominal employer has spoken out for the first time as well. Bobby Eberle, owner of the web sites GOP USA and Talon News, told “The New York Times” he knew Jeff Gannon was not the man‘s real name but doesn‘t remember if he actually asked about his background and training in journalism before hiring him on a, quote, “volunteer basis.”
Eberle also says nothing about how, knowing whether or not, and how, Guckert made ends meet while he was writing for him and did not know that, as the “Times” put it, Guckert had created pornographic web sites or offered himself as an escort.
The “Times” quotes Eberle as saying, if he had known, quote, “I don‘t think I would have brought it on.”
Lastly as to the nature of the questions Guckert asked of White House press secretary Scott McClellan and finally the president, Eberle told the paper, quoting again, “I‘ve gone on record against softball questions on my side. I thought he was doing a good job. He did a good job, until that question.”
That question being the one to the president on January 26.
Well, there are soft balls, evidently, and then there are softballs. We once again afford you the opportunity to decide what Mr. Gannon/Guckert pitched and at what speed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Go, Jeff.
JEFF “GANNON” GUCKERT, FORMER REPORTER FOR TALON.COM: The denunciations of the Abu Ghraib photos, you used words like “sickening,” “disgusting” and “reprehensible.” Will you have any adjectives left to adequately describe the picture from Saddam‘s rape rooms and torture chambers? And will Americans ever see those images?
MCCLELLAN: I‘m glad you brought up, Jeff, because...
Go ahead, Jeff.
GUCKERT: Doesn‘t Joe Wilson owe the president and America an apology for his deception and his own intelligence failure?
MCCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.
GUCKERT: Why hasn‘t the administration made more of the U.N. inspector‘s report that says Saddam Hussein was dismantling his missile and WMD sites before and during the war?
MCCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.
GUCKERT: I would like a comment on the angry mob that surrounded Karl Rove‘s house on Sunday.
MCCLELLAN: Jeff, go ahead.
GUCKERT: Thank you. With all the reaching out that‘s going on around here, the president said Thursday in his press conference that he was reaching out to the press corps. Why—what did he mean by that? And why would he feel need to reach out to a group of supposedly nonpartisan people?
Welfare reform act comes up this year for renewal. Is the president supporting efforts to insert meaningful work requirements into the bill where today there is none?
MCCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jeff.
GUCKERT: I think there have been so many questions about what the president was doing over 30 years ago. What is it that he did after his honorable discharge from the National Guard?
Did he make speeches alongside Jane Fonda denouncing America‘s racist war in Vietnam? Did he testify before congress that American troops committed war crime in Vietnam? And did he throw somebody else‘s medals at the White House to protest the war America was still fighting? What was he doing?
MCCLELLAN: I‘m not even going to dignify that with a response.
Go ahead, Jeff.
GUCKERT: First of all, I hope the grand jury didn‘t force to you turn over the wedding card I sent to you and your wife. Do you see any hypocrisy in the controversy about the president‘s mention of 9/11 in his ads when Democratic icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s campaign issued this button that says, “Remember Pearl Harbor”? Now, I have a visual aid here. Folks watching at home.
MCCLELLAN: Pointing out some historical facts about it, obviously.
OLBERMANN: For the record here, while on Friday Mr. Guckert complain the magazine editor and publisher that no one in the media was trying to contact him to let him tell his side of the story, we have now made at least eight such offers and gotten at least three separate refusals: one by voicemail, with two by e-mail, the second of which arrived Saturday afternoon.
“Thank you for your kind inquiry, but I am going to decline your invitation at this time,” he wrote.
Paul Rothstein, Georgetown University law professor, did not.
Paul, good evening. Thanks for your time.
PAUL ROTHSTEIN, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: thanks.
OLBERMANN: The lawsuit threat. This new legal ground he mentioned to
“Newsweek,” political assassination. Is there a case here? Wouldn‘t you -
· first off, wouldn‘t you need to be a politician to be politically assassinated?
ROTHSTEIN: Yes. There really isn‘t such a lawsuit in the law. I think he‘s talking about libel, perhaps slander, defamation, maybe invasion of privacy.
But the people that he sues will all most likely be under the constitutional protection of the First Amendment, freedom of the press. So it‘s very hard to maintain a lawsuit against members of the press when you are a person who has injected yourself into the public debate so that the public has an interest in knowing facts about you.
In order for him to win against these members of the press, and I would include bloggers in there, too, although Supreme Court hasn‘t been very clear about that. But anybody who‘s informing the public.
In order to succeed, he has to show not only that they got their facts wrong, but that they had malice, reckless indifference to the truth, that they had absolutely no basis at all to believe.
In other words, the Constitution allows them to be wrong in their reporting as long as they are in reasonably good faith. And the idea of that is we don‘t want reporters, bloggers and things to feel that somebody is just waiting to sue them so that—so that the bloggers and reporters won‘t inform the public of important legitimate public interest stories.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned that the courts really have not established the applicability of libel and slander to web sites and the blogs yet.
What about this meaning of being a public figure? Does it—does it change because the scope of the Internet is more focused? Could you become a public figure earlier and stay one longer on the Internet than could you in the old world of newspapers, television and radio and magazines?
ROTHSTEIN: Well, perhaps. But it really has a lot to do with what the person himself does. This man injected himself into public affairs and into the public eye by asking all these questions that are now thought to be very softball. And I guess somebody is alleging that maybe he has been hired by or—by the Bush administration or somehow is favorable to them.
And the counter allegation is that‘s why the bloggers and the established press are trying to assassinate his character. Now, if they are doing it for that reason, if it really is an attempt to assassinate his character because they think he has a political motive, that might be the malice that would allow a lawsuit to succeed here.
OLBERMANN: So he‘s got a better chance, then, perhaps on the—on the political sense than on anything related to his personal life. I guess that‘s the summary.
ROTHSTEIN: Well, yes. And also, if some of the things that were said seem to go beyond any relevance to what he‘s doing there in those press conferences with the president.
There are some things, I suppose, that would be very personal and would have nothing to do, no legitimate public interest in knowing. They would not reflect at all on his legitimacy in asking these questions of the president. Those kinds of things, allegations that are irrelevant to the public interests, they, you could probably sue on those, too.
OLBERMANN: Unless he interjected them into the public domain via the Internet, which may or may not have been the case.
In any event, that‘s the time we have for this. Paul Rothstein, law professor, Georgetown University. Great thanks for your time tonight.
ROTHSTEIN: Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the rain in Southern California. Bad enough that residents in the tiny town devastated by a landslide last month, the ones who said he they‘d still never leave that place, some of them are leaving tonight.
And worth their weight in work. A casino‘s new “you‘re fat, you‘re fired” policy starts today.
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Weather is almost always bad in Southern California this time of year. Bad, though, means an inch or two of rain over four or five days.
In our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, bad has now taken on an
entirely new meaning this February. About an hour ago, from the Tony Bel
Air neighborhood outside L.A., in 1961, its labyrinth roads were devastated
by fire. Now it is mudslides.
That is an in ground pool there in the middle of your screen that has actually moved intact several feet. The pool remained. The ground moved.
The mudslides and flooding are so bad there that even half a dozen residents of La Conchita evacuated. That‘s the coastal town where a landslide killed 10 last month but wear houses have been literally been sold for three figures.
Our correspondent in Los Angeles tonight is George Lewis.
GEORGE LEWIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Normally, California doesn‘t get tornadoes, but a funnel cloud near Sacramento this afternoon is one sign this is no normal winter. A season filled with deadly storms.
As heavy rain fell in Southern California, a 16-year-old girl was killed when a huge boulder dislodged from a hillside and smashed into her home. A Los Angeles civil engineer died last night when he fell into this 40-foot deep sinkhole in the San Fernando Valley.
TONY CARDENAS, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCILMAN: As we were watching him do his work, we noticed that the water was getting higher and higher. And all of a sudden, he just slipped and disappeared.
LEWIS: A few miles to the west, a 63-year-old man died when a four-foot wall of mud flooded his bedroom.
(on camera) Geologists warn that the mudslide hazards around Southern California will remain extreme as long as this storm lingers because the ground is so saturated, it can‘t take any more moisture.
(voice-over) In Hacienda Heights, southeast of Los Angeles, three people narrowly escape dying in yet another mudslide that demolished parts of their home. Firefighters dug two victims out of the mud, then airlifted one of them, a woman, to the emergency room at a local hospital.
CAPT. DON ROY, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: If the mud had had a little more movement on it, it probably would have crushed her to death. So we got her just in the nick of time.
LEWIS: Seventy miles north of Los Angeles in La Conchita, where 10 people died last month in a huge mudslide, officials are urging the remaining residents to leave. But 39 families have decided to stay.
JANELL BECK, LA CONCHITA RESIDENT: If you stay here, stay here, stand your ground, then that way you—you‘ll have a better way of fighting it that way, I think.
LEWIS: But the authorities warn that with more rain in the forecast, the people who stay in hazardous slide-prone areas are gambling with their lives.
George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: People scrambling for their lives, and this guy does this by choice. There‘s always room for people who operate without a net on “Oddball.” Like the host.
And one of those cute senior citizen record setting attempt stories, it didn‘t go horribly wrong but he didn‘t do it again. Not if there was going to be more bouncing.
OLBERMANN: We back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for our nightly segment devoted to science, technology and weird stuff. Once again, no, we‘re out of science and technology, so all we have is the weird stuff. Let‘s try “Oddball.”
We begin in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates and home to the latest conquest of Alain Robert, the French Spider-Man. The man who has climbed the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the world‘s tallest building in Koala Lumpur, all with just his bare hands.
Now he‘s just showing off. It took him 20 minutes to scale the 500-foot Etisalat telecommunications building in front of the crowd of 80,000 onlookers, all of them cheering wildly and rooting for him to fall—I mean to make it to the top successfully.
By now, those of you who only see this show as you channel surf past on your way to the poker channel know that I‘ve got a bit of a problem with The Gates. No, not those Gates, you imbeciles! These Gates, the orange monstrosities snaking their way through Central Park in New York like dozens of giant croquet wickets.
We‘re entering the final week of Christo‘s art/vandalism project. Now it‘s starting to get interesting. The homages have begun.
Behold, The Crackers, set up alongside The Gates before much of last night‘s snow hit, photographed and posted for your enjoyment on the web site, SmilingGoat.com. The creator of The Crackers says the project was completed in nearly 26 minutes, using three dozen peanut butter and cheddar flavored crackers at a total cost of $2.50.
After nearly half an hour on display, the project was dismantled and fed to ducks.
Now this is art! Right here, a giant chocolate Volkswagen. Mm. Far-fig-nougat.
The choco-Polo was the centerpiece at the China Spring Festival in Shanghai. Billed as a Volkswagen Polo made entirely of chocolate. But the chefs says it took just 77 pounds of chocolate and only five hours of work.
Well, how does that work? Did they just dip the real V.W. in chocolate?
The creator said the biggest problem was keeping the Polo from melting, a problem the manufacturer used to have with the original V. W. bug.
Today in Brussels, the president and French President Chirac symbolically melting into each other‘s arms. Mr. Bush uses the term “alliance” 12 times today in Europe.
And what about the phrase, Koko used? Did a female gorilla ask two human women to flash? We‘ll ask wildlife expert Jack Hanna if that‘s even possible.
These stories ahead. Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘S top three newsmakers of the day.
No. 3, Brent Saik. He‘s the organizer of the world‘s longest hockey game. He and his pals playing since February 11, 240 hours in a row. It ended at noon today in Strathcona County in Alberta, Canada, when the owners locked the players out and canceled ice for the rest of winter.
No. 2, Ricky Lee Claycomb of Henderson, Colorado. After he was acquitted of a charge in Ohio, prison officials were supposed to return him to Colorado so he could begin serving two years in that state on another charge. Instead, they just let him go.
So he called his mother. She sent him a bus ticket. He stopped off at her house and then reported to the Colorado prison on his own. Said the state corrections office, “He was nice enough to phone ahead, too.”
And No. 1, the American Humane Association with the Valentine‘s month message about neutering your male cat. Left unattended for 10 years, a fertile female cat and an unneutered male and their descendants will produce a total of 80,399,780 more cats.
So you‘re talking about one of my neighbor‘s apartments and your point is?
(MUSIC: “What‘s New Pussycat?”)
OLBERMANN: From the start of the war in Iraq until the present day, his critics have said the same thing, that sooner or later, President Bush will have to ask for help in that region from the same European nations he bypassed two years ago. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, today he has. And as if to make the shifting of the political magnetic pole complete, Senator Hillary Clinton today declared that the insurgency in Iraq is losing. First, the president‘s day on Presidents‘ Day, from our White House correspondent David Gregory in Belgium—David.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, in a major speech today, the president dismissed the bitter fight over Iraq as a passing disagreement, and urged the U.S. and Europe now to stand together against new threats in the Middle East.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. President, thank you very much.
GREGORY (voice-over): In Brussels tonight, four smiles followed by dinner for two. The president reaching out to French President Chirac, America‘s biggest critic in Europe over the war.
BUSH: I want to say how important this relationship is for me personally and how important this relationship is for my country.
GREGORY: Important enough for a visit to his Crawford ranch, the president was asked?
BUSH: I‘m looking for a new cowboy.
GREGORY: The president‘s five-day trip here is about mending fences but not changing minds. During a speech at an ornate Brussels concert call, Mr. Bush hailed Iraq as the world‘s newest democracy, calling on even the war‘s opponents to support U.S. efforts there.
BUSH: Some Europeans joined the fight to liberate Iraq, while others did not. Yet all of us recognize courage when we see it. And we saw it in the Iraqi people.
GREGORY: European leaders, however, remain skeptical. The European Union‘s foreign affairs chief, Javier Solana, told NBC News today, he worries that stability is still far off in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the war worth it? Was it the right thing?
JAVIER SOLANA, E.U.‘S FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHIEF: Well, it‘s a very difficult question to ask. It probably is better not to look back.
GREGORY: Today, the president looked ahead, calling peace between Israelis and Palestinians a, quote, “immediate goal,” urging Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon, another European priority. Attempting to calm anxious Europeans about the U.S. hard line toward Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
BUSH: Iran is, however, different from Iraq. We‘re in the early stages of diplomacy.
GREGORY: With progress for democracy a major theme today, Mr. Bush singled out Russia, ahead of this week‘s meeting with President Putin, for his crack-down on political dissent.
BUSH: The United States and all European countries should place Democratic reform at the heart of their dialogue with Russia.
GREGORY: Europeans are looking for any sign of rapprochement between the U.S. and Europe. And Belgians think they found it in this rather friendly personal exchange between the president and a Belgian TV interviewer.
BUSH: You‘re very nice.
GREGORY: There are many pleasantries being exchanged during the course of this trip, built not around any new agreements, but what the president said today is a new spirit of unity—Keith.
OLBERMANN: David Gregory in Brussels. Great thanks.
And the other reversal, Senator Clinton, part of the congressional delegation in Iraq, noting that the insurgents failed to disrupt the elections there last month and declaring the insurgency is, quote, “failing.” She cited the suicide bombings there on Saturday as a sign supporting her conclusion. Because the 55 victims were killed at prayer on the holiest day of the Shiite Muslim calendar, the senator says that indicates the insurgents‘ desperation.
Today, three U.S. soldiers were killed and eight wounded by a roadside bomb that went off during a medical evaluation in Baghdad. Also, Australia has just announced it will be sending 450 more of its troops to Iraq.
The insurgents might actually be agreeing with Senator Clinton. Iraqi and U.S. officials are seeing a new pattern in their behavior now. It is aimed at disrupting daily life, cutting off Baghdad‘s oil, water and power supply. It‘s what used to be called simply sabotage.
Over the course of three months, insurgents hit all three crude oil pipelines feeding the largest refinery in that city. Last month, a bomb hit a water main. Most of the city‘s residents without running water, for more than a week.
A study of the last 30 attacks on Iraq‘s oil infrastructure shows a shift. The insurgents were going after the facilities with the greatest economic impact; now they are going after the ones that feed Baghdad its fuel.
Not all the insurgents have switched message. There is a purported new tape from al Qaeda‘s top man in Iraq, Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He forecasts the deaths of tens of thousand of Westerners and the destruction of their collective economy. Al Jazeera Television broadcast that tape, in which he claims the West‘s new crusade would end as all the previous ones did—in medieval times mostly—the speaker said the tape was made to commemorate the third anniversary of the interment of Islamists at Guantanamo Bay. But that anniversary was January 11th. So the CIA not only doesn‘t know who is on the tape, they can‘t confirm yet when it was recorded.
Meanwhile, in North Korea, it‘s not the date but the direction that can‘t be confirmed. All of a sudden, President Kim Jong Il says his nation will return to the six-nation nuclear talks under certain conditions. Just 11 days ago, he said North Korea would never return to the multilateral disarmament negotiations, and oh, by the way, added that his country had nuclear weapons already.
But tonight, the state news agency there quoted him as telling the envoy from China that North Korea would reenter those talks, if the United States shows, quote, “sincerity.” “We will go the negotiating table any time if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks, thanks to the concerted efforts of the parties concerned in the future expressing the hope that the United States would show trustworthy sincerity and move.”
Lastly, amid the terrorists and the undulating statesmen, there is the destruction that only nature can wreak. Former Presidents Bush and Clinton have now left the Indian Ocean region after having gotten a firsthand look at the devastation of the tsunami. The presidents toured four nations and spent their last day in Sri Lanka, meeting child survivors in a temporary shelter there. The recovery for the devastation is now estimated at another five years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You see the physical devastation and we see the adults struggling to rebuild their homes and start their businesses. That there was a lot of emotional damage here, not visible to the eye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Speaking of the first President Bush, he did it for his 75th and 80th birthdays. Now a 96-year-old man takes the plunge. Not completely voluntarily and not completely successfully.
And he analyzed Hemingway‘s suicide and joked about his own.
Yesterday, the jokes stopped for Hunter S. Thompson. These stories ahead.
Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Soundbites” of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is so real it‘s unreal. This is the chimpanzee facetronics from Wowee (ph). Watch this. This guy is Hollywood animatronics. He looks real, he does real movements. You can program him to remember different words. This is the prototype. The only one in the world right now.
TIM RUSSERT, HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”: Senator McCain, a serious question. Do you think the lady to your right would make a good president?
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Oh, we can‘t hear you, Tim. We can‘t hear you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ride to school takes about a half-hour.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It gets kind of cold. Your face gets kind of cold. You get kind of rosy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she says the view along the way is worth a couple of rosy cheeks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah, I‘ve seen birds on the way to school. One time I saw a skunk, and I tried to get away from that as fast as I could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: 202 years ago today, Edward Despard became the last person to be punished in what the great cannon of British law used to think was just fine under the circumstances—he had hatched a plot to take over the Bank of England and kill King George III. Mr. Despard was drawn and quartered.
Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, his unpleasant end is recalled today because of what happened to Mr. Milburn Hart of Seattle, Washington. He was not drawn and quartered, but for a time, it must have felt like that.
He is not only living, he is also a living reminder that sometimes those attempts to set world records like trying to become the oldest man ever to sky dive solo, they can have a down side. Such as—as our correspondent Jim Foreman reports, not so much leaping from the plane, as falling from it.
JIM FOREMAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hart did not go readily, but had to be coaxed out of the aircraft. And once off, the jump didn‘t go quite as planned.
MILBURN HART: I sort of slipped and hit my shoulder on the plane.
And that‘s what caused the problem.
FOREMAN: Hart dislocated his shoulder as he left the plane, and could not control his left arm. He had no way to steer his way to the landing zone.
For five minutes, all Hart could do was make right turns and hope for the best.
As the ground came rushing up at him, so did deadly obstacles, like trees, buildings and power lines. Somehow, he missed them all, and landed in a patch of shrubs.
HART: I was trying to get me as soft a place as I could to land. So there‘s no use sitting up there scaring—or end up in the power lines. See, I was going 80 miles an hour when I went in there. And that‘s pretty fast. It wasn‘t a real landing. It was a landing to save my bacon.
FOREMAN: Despite hitting face first, medics say Hart‘s only injury was from hitting the plane at the start of the jump. Hart is still waiting to hear from the folks at the Guinness Book to see if his jump in fact gives him the record. At the very least, he has a great story to tell around the retirement home.
HART: I think it wasn‘t a bad deal. It could have been worse.
Jim Foreman, NBC News, Seattle.
OLBERMANN: It‘s a tough transition to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” “He was an old, sick and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him,” the writer began. “So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun.”
That was Hunter S. Thompson, writing 40 years ago about the suicide of Earnest Hemingway. Hemingway took his own life with a gun in Ketchum, Idaho; Thompson did it yesterday at Woody Creek, Colorado.
The creator of gonzo journalism and author of the timeless “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was 67 years old. Hemingway did not even make it to 62.
In the introduction to “Collected Works” published in 1978, Thompson joked about leaping from an office window. He once told George Plimpton that he imagined meeting death in a flaming car crash. A longtime friend said Thompson had been in pain after back surgery and the installation of an artificial hip, and had just broken a leg as well.
Sadness too on Broadway and in the world of music. John Raitt, star in both and a father of another, also died yesterday. It was complications from pneumonia. He helped change the Broadway musical with his interpretation of Billy Bugelow in the original 1945 production of “Carousel,” and helped introduce the big-voiced song to network TV in the ‘50s. As recently as five or six years ago, he was still performing duets with his daughter, Bonnie Raitt. John Raitt was 88 years old.
And another piece of the collective baby boomer memory has gone as well. Gidget is dead. The actress Sandra Dee. Of course, did a lot more than just play the Southern California teenager of the same name in the 1959 film, but that is how she will always be remembered. It was a trademark and a trap. She was 17 when she made the “Gidget” movie. She was still trying to reprise similar characters at age 25. Her last starring role came in 1970. Sandra Dee, formerly Mrs. Bobby Darin, died from kidney disease at the age of 62.
And just to remind you that the celebrity world spins on, and to liven these obituaries with the ridiculous, Jose Canseco is back in the news tonight. Just a week after he was portraying himself as a somewhat flawed truth teller of the pervasive influence of steroids in baseball, Canseco is representing another truth now—on his personal Web site, he is offering for sale his 2000 World Series championship ring, won during his brief sojourn with the New York Yankees. Twenty-two major diamonds, 34.5 grams of gold. Your cost? $40,000. Or you can get an autographed copy of that book of his for $58. No autograph -- $59.
And it is hard to imagine you can consider your privacy violated after your sex tape has made it across the Internet and onto newsstands everywhere, but it‘s actually gotten worse for Paris Hilton. Her phone list was hacked, and the numbers of her famous friends posted on the Internet Saturday, just four days after a computer hacker had pleaded guilty to breaking into a protected T-Mobile computer that included a lot of number, including hers. Among the private numbers being changed in a hurry today—Ashlee Simpson, Ashley Olsen, Anna Kournikova, Usher, Vin Diesel, Victoria Gotti, Mark Philippoussis, and worst of all, the Rite-Aid drug store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
And proof that harassment comes in all shapes and sizes—from a waitress weighing station to a gorilla peep show proposal. Stand by.
OLBERMANN: Nevermind not forgetting to tip your waitress, you also have to remember at how much she tips the scales.
Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, two extraordinary sagas of harassment of women employees, one courtesy their employers, perhaps, the other courtesy their employers trained gorilla.
First, this is weigh inform in day at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where management has said it‘ll first suspend and then fire any cocktail waitress gaining more than 7 percentage of her body weight. Thus a 130 pound waitress, would for example, be giving an unpaid leave of absence were she to gain more than 9 pounds. She would then have up to 90 days to lose the extra weight through a company-paid weight-lost program, or hear some low-grade Don Trump say, you‘re fired.
The policy applies to 200 employees, 160 of whom are better known as the Borgata Babes. That reputation, the underpinning of the company‘s claim of fair treatment saying, the job is really a performance art function and that both male and female waiters have been hired for their figures. But Local 54, though, tell employee‘s union has filed a grievance. Critics contend the policy will encourage eating disorders. Borgata does make an exception for medical conditions like pregnancy, where a woman back from maternity leave may work in a transitional costume, with 90 days to drop those extra pounds.
Borgata management might seem to you to be behaving like gorillas, except for the fact that a real gorilla has actually been named in a harassment lawsuit, a female gorilla. We first reported this to you on Friday. And in a moment, we‘ll ask animal expert Jack Hanna, if a female gorilla is even capable of harassing a female human.
First a refresher course on this case, from our correspondent, Michael Okwu.
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This may be the most bizarre sexual discrimination case you will ever hear. Two fired caretakers of Koko, the famous sign-language speaking gorilla are suing their former bosses.
STEPHEN SOMMERS, PLAINTIFFS‘ ATTORNEY: Essentially their boss was asking them to expose their naked bodies on the request for the enjoyment of Koko.
OKWU (on camera): The suit names the Gorilla Foundation and its president Francine Patterson. And it says Patterson pressured the women on several occasions, sometimes in situations where co-workers could have seen their bodies.
(voice-over): In the end, the women never undressed. Before filing the lawsuit, they had lodged a separate complaint with the state about what they claim were unsanitary working conditions. They were fired the day after inspectors visited facility. A foundation lawyer told the Association Press, “We unequivocally deny these allegations and are confident that this case lacks merit.” Now, parted from the extraordinary gorilla, the women are seeking more than a million dollars in damages.
Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: Well, it certainly would have been a novel explanation for that whole Janet Jackson business a year ago. But seriously, is this even possible?
We turn now to wildlife expert, director of the emeritus of the Columbus, Ohio Zoo, and 30-year veteran of gorilla study, Jack Hanna.
Jack, good evening. Thanks for your time.
JACK HANNA, WILD LIFE EXPERT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Is there some explanation here that does not involve somebody at this gorilla foundation having gone nuts?
HANNA: I can‘t understand—I don‘t know what happened out there, but gorillas are very social animals. Back in 1982, Columbus, Ohio, by the way, had the first gorilla ever born in the world in 1956. We have four generations of gorillas, the only twin gorillas, so, we know gorillas. And after I visited Rwanda and Uganda, I‘ve studied these animals in the wild as well. They‘re very, very intelligent. In 1982, in the early years, zoos took the babies away from the mothers right away, because they were so valuable. But now we know how to breed, and they must—they must learn from the mothers.
So, in ‘82, La Leche League, which are women that breast feed. We had about 15 women that volunteered breast feed in front of the gorillas. We shut our doors. It was a serious thing, because any gorillas that were pregnant or becoming pregnant could watch women breast feed, and that‘s how our gorillas started learning about how to take care of their young.
Now we leave every gorilla with the mother, unless, it‘s absolutely necessary to take a gorilla, because they have to stay there to learn. Now what—Penny, has done a great job out there with her gorillas in California. I don‘t know what these women were asked to do or anything else. The gorillas are very, very rare, very endangered. And it‘s a serious thing when we breed a gorilla, and a very world renowned thing when Columbus or any zoological park breeds the gorillas.
OLBERMANN: Not to ask you to make a judgment on case here, but according to the lawsuit, the president of the gorilla foundation, supposedly told one of the women who‘s suing, her quote was or the quote attributed to her was, exposing one‘s breasts to Koko was a normal component to developing a personal bond with the gorilla. Could that be correct? Is that some sort of social interaction with a gorilla?
HANNA: Well, you know, I don‘t know if it‘s a social interaction what they were doing out there. Koko‘s a female gorilla, I guess, right?
HANNA: Yes. So, I don‘t know what was being learned by who out there, but if she had a baby, I can see maybe some of this stuff happening. But really, I don‘t know if they were required to do this, if it would have done any good myself. But I‘m—it‘s hard to answer that question.
OLBERMANN: Returning to...
HANNA: I‘m usually not—I‘m usually not at a loss for words, but I am tonight.
OLBERMANN: Well, we all are about this story. But let me bring you back to those teaching moments that you discussed showing the gorillas human nursing, so that they can learn how to do it with their own young. You mentioned some of the human etiquette there. Could you ever actually ask your staff or your handlers to do that, or would it entirely have to be on a volunteer basis from outside of the zoo?
HANNA: No, it‘d be a volunteer basis strictly. I remember one time I was asking my—we were breast-feeding—we—my wife was breast feeding our daughter. You know, I had the chimpanzees back in 1971. And one chimpanzee of mine wasn‘t eating, and my wife was nursing our daughter. And all I did was just look up, because I just thought of it really quickly, and that was my wife. And she said, “No way, Jack. You might tell everybody.”
So, to make a long story short, she didn‘t do it. But this is a serious thing when it comes to chimps and gorillas. And we try to do we can to try raise these animals in a social environment.
OLBERMANN: Now, plus this particular gorilla is over 30-years-old, so it may not have really been a relevant issue by this time. In any event, Jack Hanna, wild life expert, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, our great thanks for joining tonight and trying to help—help figure this one out for us.
HANNA: It‘s a tough one.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.
That‘s COUNTDOWN, thank you for being part of it too. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night. And while you contemplate all that, good luck.
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