Guest: Craig Crawford, Jack Curry
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The fail safes all failed. Nine dead on the Indian reservation at Red Lake, Minnesota, as a 17-year-old who admired Hitler opens fire on his school and on his own grandfather.
The latest court ruling on Terri Schiavo and the politicians who forced it. Would their goals be best met if she lives or if she dies?
They are falling down in hysterics at the Michael Jackson trial. Literally.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know she’s screaming.
OLBERMANN: We will explain in puppet theater.
And we will explain this. If possible. You have the right to remain silent.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’ve got a great lawyer and a lot of money, so I don’t really care a whole lot.
OLBERMANN: All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
Teachers who supposedly heard him speak of racial purity could not stop him. The disciplinary program that kept him physically out of the school could not stop him. A metal detector could not stop him. And this country’s experience at Columbine could not stop him.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the Red Lake Minnesota shootings. Nine dead, including a teacher and five students, and their murderer, a 17-year-old self-described native Nazi named Jeff Weise. And if nothing could stop him, what do we have to do to stop the next one?
Authorities in Minnesota now providing a clear picture of just what happened yesterday afternoon there. The FBI saying it began at the home of Weise’s grandfather, a police officer, the 16-year-old killing that man and his female companion, donning the man’s police issue gun belt and bullet-proof vest before heading to Red Lake High School in his grandfather’s police cruiser.
Once at the school, shooting through a metal detector and killing an unarmed security guard. Making his way down the hall and into a classroom, shooting a group of students and a teacher inside that classroom, killing five of them and the teacher.
Eventually, after having exchanged fire with several officers who had arrived on the scene, Weise then turned the gun on himself.
Initial reports said that as many as 15 people had been injured. Authorities today lowered that number to seven. Those who did survive and their families shocked, amazed that more people were not hurt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Boom, boom, boom. A couple more shots went off and they told us to get down.
ALICIA NEADEAU, STUDENT: I was in the hallway and I heard a gunshot. And the security guard jumped and she was like, “Get in the classroom!” And so everybody got in the classroom. And then she said, “Lock the doors.” And my teacher grabbed her desk, and she pushed it over to the door. We had to barricade the door.
ANDREW AUGINASH, VICTIM’S BROTHER: It sounded like banging on the lockers or something. They opened the door and they realized there were gunshots. And he looked down the hallway, that gunman happened to be walking around the corner. And he tried to get in the classroom. But he heard the gunshot, but he didn’t know he was shot until he look down and saw blood.
It’s just a tragedy. It just hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No immediate confirmed indication of Weise’s motives. Relatives saying that he was often teased for being a misfit and a loner, the school having placed him in what it calls its home bound program after an unspecified violation of school policy. The teacher literally went to him.
Other students pointing out that he may have posted messages on a neo-Nazi Web site, expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler. A writer identifying himself as Jeff Weise of the Red Lake Reservation having posted 34 messages last year on a Web site called Nazi.org, using the nickname Todesengel. That is German for “angel of death.”
In a posting from April of last year, the writer talked about being accused of a threat on his school. Quote, “By the way, I’m being blamed for a threat on the school I attend because someone said they were going to shoot up the school on April 20, Hitler’s birthday, and just because I claim being a National Socialist, guess whom they’ve pinned!”
One month later, he followed up on that posting: “The school threat passed and I was cleared as a suspect. I’m glad for that. I don’t much care for jail. I’ve never been there, and I don’t plan on it.”
The FBI saying this afternoon it had not been determined if Jeff Weise actually was the writer who signed on under the name Jeff Weise.
So six years after Columbine, nothing we had learned from that experience was enough to stop Jeff Weise. Nothing, from forcing Weise physically out of school to placing metal detectors at the door of the school. Nothing stopped him.
What could we do now? Are we not detecting kids at risk early enough? Can we do that? I’m joined now by MSNBC analyst and former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt.
Clint, good evening.
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Hi, Keith, and welcome back.
OLBERMANN: Thank you.
It sounds like Red Lake High School did everything they knew to do, everything they were told to do, everything they were capable of doing. Is there more that needs to be done?
VAN ZANDT: I think so. I think that, you know, we have kids at risk. You know, I’ve raised three teenagers myself. And I know that teenagers, they’re either part of a group to—to find their own identity or they step as far outside of the group as they can to gain their own identity.
But when—when a child starts to either be ostracized by his friends or by his school mates or ostracizes himself, he grows further and further away from the school, from the students, from the teachers.
This was a young man at risk. And we should have found this guy years before and helped him.
OLBERMANN: And it was entirely a case of, unlike say, Columbine, there is no—there’s almost no grieving family left. He was essentially on his own, was he not?
VAN ZANDT: Well, that’s part of the challenge. We know that his father committed suicide four years ago. His mother was in a tragic automobile accident. And she’s in a nursing home now.
He was literally almost on his own raising himself. He still had his grandfather there. But again, the grandfather was the first one he killed. So we have to question what that relationship was, too.
OLBERMANN: Do we need to turn the system on its head here? I mean, instead of waiting for a kid to already be so much trouble that he need to be, as they that it, home bound? Basically, expelled? Should the system start looking, if there is a way to do that, for potentially—potentially murderous children?
VAN ZANDT: Yes. And see, I think the system should. Again, you know, I’m not an advocate for any particular program or within Congress or anything like that.
But I just know, my gut reaction says over the years that by the time a child is 16, 17, they’re coming out the bottom end of that funnel. And we’re trying to build more prisons and hire more police officers.
I would much rather see us establish, either on a state or national level, ability, the ability to take young men and women when they come out of college with an undergraduate degree. Help them get a master’s degree in counseling and put these 22, 23-year-old college graduates, master’s degree counselors, put them in a grade school. Third, fourth, fifth grade, where children are just trying to develop their conflict resolution skills. They’re trying to learn how to—how to manage their anger.
Let’s—you know, 50 percent of the kids in the United States grow up in a one-parent home anyway. They don’t have all the role models. If we have to put young, vibrant counselors in those grade schools and help those kids develop their social skills, so when they get to junior high school or high school, we don’t see them acting out like this.
OLBERMANN: Clint, practically speaking, what just happened around schools in this country when we heard the story that this kid shot an unarmed guard through the metal detector? Did the whole premise of the security that these metal protectors were supposed to do, did that just go out the window?
VAN ZANDT: Well, I think a lot of things may have. You know, No. 1, there’s still this presumption just like the federal judge’s husband and mother were killed in Chicago earlier this month. Was that there are certain things that are sacrosanct, that we don’t touch, that we don’t mess with. And one of those is a school.
I mean, here’s a school with a metal detector to stop knives and guns and other contraband from coming in. And yet the person enforcing that was an unarmed security guard. I mean, I can’t think of a worse job than standing there unarmed and what you’re supposed to do is stop somebody with a gun from coming through the door who wants to commit some horrific act.
OLBERMANN: When you see, lastly, and this is a question I’m asking you because, based on your experience and the frequency with which you have dealt with this, first professionally and now in an analyst role.
When you see Congress go into special session and the president break off his vacation to address the survival of one woman who, best case, may or may not ever recover, do you get angry about the comparative political disinterest in taking any steps—I’m not talking about necessarily gun regulation. But anything done to—more money on counseling. Anything necessary to prevent Columbine, Red Lake and whichever school is next.
VAN ZANDT: Yes. In the last seven years, we’ve had 40 shootings in schools internationally. We’ve had 110 people mowed down with guns. We’ve had dozens more injured and thousands are carrying the psychological wounds.
Every life is valuable, whether it’s someone on a respirator, someone with a tube removed, or an 8, 9-year-old. You know, Keith, we’ve had 6-year-old children coming to school with guns. I mean, we—we’re losing a nation because our children are not being cared for psychologically at that level.
So let’s make every life valuable. And let’s deal with those young men and women who are just starting to come through system who don’t quite fit. They may be a square peg in a round hole. But you know, let’s take care of that peg anyway.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask—I said that was finally, but I have one other detail that I must ask you about. Because we’re just beginning to get the picture from reporters on the ground in this remote location. It’s such a remote location that yesterday it took about three hours to get a still picture of the outside of the school.
People wondering why there was not more coverage. Why this was not treated like Columbine. It was so remote.
But what we’re hearing now is that even one of the brothers of one of the dead kids has already forgiven Jeff Weise. That this kind of quiet mournful response in this community, that it seems so atypical of these situations, which usually is shock and horror. This one is muted and consoling. That there seems to be an—almost an acceptance that this happened.
Does news of that reaction surprise you, having dealt with so many cases?
VAN ZANDT: Well, No. 1, having dealt with American Indians in the past, in fact, I’m part American Indian. I know that there’s part of that culture that just doesn’t react the same way that other elements of society react to event like this. They may not verbalize it in the same way.
But you know, what bothers me, Keith, is that we’re not shocked and appalled anymore. We accept this. We say, oh, yes, another shooting. Well, kids will do that.
No, they won’t. And they don’t have to. And we as a nation, and our government, you know, we can’t accept that. We can’t say this is just one more time. It can’t be. It’s got to be the last time. And we have to find a way to fix the system. And we’ve got to find a way to save our kids.
OLBERMANN: Amen. Former FBI Profiler, now an MSNBC analyst, Clint Van Zandt. Great thanks, as always, Clint.
VAN ZANDT: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One other tangent connected to the Minnesota nightmare only by dint of another failure of what should have been an early warning system in the abduction and murder of the Florida 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford.
We already knew that the suspect, John Couey, had not registered as a sex offender. Today we learn he was actually working in the little girl’s school.
Couey, formally indicted today on charges of murdering that girl, served as a mason’s helper at the Homosassa Elementary School from January to April 2004.
The school’s contractor insisted that Couey would have had no contact with any of the students. But another worker there says the contractor is wrong, that Couey did work in areas where children were present.
There is no requirement in Florida that the school system or the county, the state, even the contractor, check the background of an employee who was to do work at a school. On his job application, Couey said that he had been arrested in the past for writing bad checks.
Also tonight, Terri Schiavo’s parents say they, and more importantly, their daughter are running out of time. A federal judge has refused to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube. We wait for a ruling from the appeals court.
Political pressure flows back to the Florida legislature and could blow upwards to the Supreme Court again.
And two years after the start of the war, how Iraqis are now dealing, or not dealing, with the new normal there.
You’re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: We have understood it since the beginning of time. Humans respond to other human faces. It’s one of the first things we do as infants.
But only perhaps on the night of September 11, 2001, was the depth of that response made clear to us. The human face may be the most eloquent testimony to loss.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, after 9/11, it was missing posters of New York City. Now, in this week of the second anniversary of the war in Iraq, it may a more formalized presentation at the Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
Faces of the fallen, 1327 individual portraits, by 200 different artists, each bearing the name and home town of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, the images arranged chronologically based on day of death.
Annette Polan was the artist who created the memorial and many of the portraits, the rows mirroring the ones she saw in newspapers, one face after another, distinct, individual, connected, and incomplete. In just the time it has taken to assemble this memorial, that death toll has climbed to more than 1,600.
By this day, two years ago, the full scale attack on Baghdad had already begun. To say Iraq is a different place now is as oversimplifying as to say America is a different place now.
Our correspondent Peter Alexander tried to find a consensus among Iraqis about their new world and, inevitably perhaps, he found none.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may not be the Bolshoi, but in the humble studio of Baghdad’s school of ballet, these young students dream of becoming dancers.
Their instructor, Galda Altai (ph), graduated from this school 20 years ago. She’s happy for the new freedoms in Iraq, like being able to say whatever she wants.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beautiful things. We didn’t choose the freedom before. I have Internet. I can see everything that I like. Freedom. Freedom.
ALEXANDER: But freedom has cost her security.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can’t drive. I can’t visit my friends in the night.
ALEXANDER: Bomb blasts are routine. So is kidnapping, rape and murder. Security is on everyone’s mind.
A commute that once took 30 minutes can now take more than two hours. Baghdad streets are elaborate with concrete walls, road blocks, and checkpoints.
(on camera) Two years after the U.S.-led invasions, there is virtually no security in much of the country. Electricity is intermittent and telephones barely work. Most Iraqis find it very difficult to cope.
(on camera) Like 59-year-old pediatrician Hisham Nazat (ph). Two attacks struck near his office in the last 10 days. He doubts they were the last.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day I tell my family when I go, I say, probably you might not wait for me. You might not wait for me, because I might not come back because I’m killed because of an explosion on my way.
ALEXANDER: Dr. Nazat (ph) welcomed U.S. troops after they got rid of Saddam but not anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It’s changed. We didn’t expect that the Americans will stay this length of time.
ALEXANDER: So instead, he’s leaving the country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Frankly speaking, I’m not going to stay.
ALEXANDER: These students have other concerns. The big recital is just weeks away. Their minds are focused on their feet, not on the future.
Peter Alexander, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: From serious security news to this. Expect strange behavior during spring break. But a guy in a sumo suit? “Oddball” looms.
And Barry Bonds, his retirement looms. On the cusp of the homerun record, in the middle of a steroid scandal, he has a surprise. You may never see him play pay baseball again, he says.
ANNOUNCER: You’re getting your news Olbermann style, COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN, part of the best prime time in cable news, MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Time now to set aside the formal suits and ties and ties of serious news and instead don the inflatable sumo wrestler outfits of anything but serious news.
Let’s play “Oddball.”
When you get in Daytona Beach, Florida, unlike Fort Lauderdale, they still allow spring break here. Big mistake. Yes, it’s a kid in a sumo outfit riding a snowboard, being towed by a pickup truck through the center of town.
And you do realize that stock car races began in Daytona Beach, don’t you?
A little bit of wobble here and there, but the guy has got some pretty good balance, some good form. He certainly is getting the attention of the passers by. Unfortunately, he also piqued the interest of the local police.
They cuffed sumo boy, charged him with disorderly conduct, and gave his buddy, the driver, several tickets for reckless driving, a move that did not quite have the desired effect.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I’m not going to jail right now. So I’m sure they’ll take me later. But I’ve got a great lawyer and a lot of money. So I don’t really care a whole lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Great lawyer and a lot of money. Sounds like this is a professional sport in the making.
But it is a different world on the streets of Bogata, Colombia. Another blow-up outfit. Only this time the guy did not get the memo that the inflatable rubber woman is for home use only.
At least he’s keeping it relatively clean.
This is Miguel Flores, and the lady with him with the inflated ego is called Lucretia. And they’d better be on a first name basis when you see the moves he puts on her in broad daylight on the streets of Bogata. People do give them money. Hence the name Lucretia, says Miguel, as in lucrative.
Figure it this way, as the pulsating Colombian night begins, at least Miguel knows which parts of his woman are plastic.
Finally, the unique solution to the prison problem in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. The local jail does not accommodate disabled or physically challenged prisoners. So when wheelchair bound Pamela Martin kept getting busted for drugs, the sheriff decided to put her under house arrest by wrapping her entire property in police tape.
Wrapping it in police tape. Well, yes, that will keep her in, because of course, having bought crystal meth, marijuana, and illegal firearm, Miss Martin would never stoop so low as to break police tape!
Also tonight, would Britain stoop so low to make Camilla queen? Well, the country may have no choice. Apparently, there’s some sort of law about this.
Speaking of the law, the appeals court considering the case of Terri Schiavo as state legislator are asked to consider more new laws to try to keep her life going on. We will cover this story legally and politically. That ahead. Now here are COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day.
No. 3, the find folks at MIT. You might think of them as the impractical and brainy sort. Not so. The newest invention of the institute’s media lab, Clocky the alarm clock. It goes off. You hit the snooze bar. It extends its wheels, rolls away to another part of room. Then it goes off again until you literally have to get out of bed to go turn it off.
No. 2, Ian Armstrong of London. He is a sleep walker. His wife knows this because at 2 a.m., she found him outside mowing the lawn naked. Sir, look out for the proverbial garden hose.
No. 1, Brandon Doucet of Abbeville, Louisiana. Charged with robbing a convenience store of some chewing tobacco and a bottle of whiskey while clenching a sword between his teeth. We all have a little of the captain in us, but Mr. Doucet apparently had a lot of the captain in him!
(MUSIC: “A Pirate’s Life for Me”)
OLBERMANN: For the many for whom the name Terri Schiavo was unknown last week, or at least last month, it will no doubt come as a shock that the protracted legal, ethical and medical dramas now playing out on the world stage have already been to the Supreme Court. Two months ago this Thursday, the justices refused to reinstate a Florida law that had been specially enacted to force her feeding tube to be kept in place.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, that Schiavo case may be headed back to Washington, or who knows where, after the ruling this morning from Tampa was as expected, a federal judge refusing to order that tube reinserted on an emergency basis. In a moment, the latest on the legalities from our correspondent Pete Williams, and on the politics with our analyst, Craig Crawford.
First, the developments on the ground. The justice department has gotten involved, urging the 11th court of appeals to either order Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube be reinserted or force the trial judge to do it. The three judge panel is still working at the court at this hour, considering the family’s appeal, and her parents are also reaching out again to the Florida legislature.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY SCHINDLER, TERRI SCHIAVO’S MOTHER: I understand that we only need one vote in the state Senate to save my daughter. Please, senators, for the love of God, I’m begging you, don’t let my daughter die of thirst.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But the lawyer for Terri Schiavo’s husband today urged that legislature to reject the bill. He also disputed any suggestion that the case is politically split between the left and the right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE FELOS, MICHAEL SCHIAVO’S ATTORNEY: What happened in the U.S. Congress has nothing to do with conservatism, and if there are conservative judges on the 11th circuit, well, all the more power to us. We think they’re going to respond very well to our argument.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A position not shared by some of the top Republicans in the land. After Judge Whitmore’s ruling against the reinsertion of the feeding tube earlier this morning, the White House said it would have preferred a different ruling. The president’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush, of Florida, pledged to continue to do what he legally can, within his powers, to protect Terri Schiavo.
House speaker Dennis Hastert, House majority leader Tom DeLay, who both returned to Congress to pass the Schiavo legislation this past weekend, describe themselves as “disappointed.” And Senate majority leader Bill Frist added, it’s “a sad day for all Americans who value the sanctity of life. I’m hopeful for a different result on appeal.”
Speaking of appeals, as is often the case with news phenomena, especially cable news phenomena, what fortunes of the public perceive as straight-forward, black and white, and they-are-wrong and we-are-right, is anything but, especially in term of the legalities.
We’re always honored to be joined by NBC’s justice correspondent Pete Williams, especially in times like these when we are in the deep woods of the court system.
Pete, good evening.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So, start at the end. Regardless of how the 11th circuit rules, is this going to again wind up at the door of the Supreme Court and would they hear it this time when they wouldn’t last time? And, if so, why?
WILLIAMS: Well, “at the door” is certainly the right expression because there’s no guarantee Court would take the case. You have a right to appeal to the lower federal appeals court, but you have no right to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It takes only those cases that it chooses to take and so we just don’t know what the Supreme Court would do.
As you mentioned, the Court has already said no to this case once. And in the case where the governor of Florida tried to appeal, what the Supreme Court there did, in the Supreme Court of Florida did in throwing out that state law.
But last week there were two other requests for the U.S. Supreme Court to take this case, and both of those were denied, one after the other, March 17th and March 18th. Now, all those were from the state courts, and now we have a federal law in the federal courts, and I suppose you could say that amps up the volume on the U.S. Supreme Court just a little. But there’s no guarantee that it would take the case. I just simply couldn’t predict it. I think many legal scholars, Keith, find it doubtful.
OLBERMANN: Death would result presumably in no less than a week, which would be perhaps as long as three days from now, or could be as long as a subsequent week. It could be another 10 days. But we are talking about a limited time span without that tube. Is that the sort of thing that is factored in at whatever level we’re talking about when judges appreciate this case? Are we likely to get a ruling or a series of rulings, even, in rapid succession?
WILLIAMS: Well, certainly they understand it in terms of the timing. On the merits, about whether they should issue the restraining order to put the tube back in or reconnect it, that is precisely the argument that her parents are making to the court tonight. In their written filings, they say—rather, the justice department is making—they say the Congress clearly intended for the judge to take a fresh look at this case, start all over, weigh all the factor.
Do so in a calm and deliberate and dignified way, and you can’t do that in essence with the clock ticking so loudly on her life, the government says. So, they claim that the federal law itself clearly indicates that, her life should be not a factor, that the tube should be reconnected. Of course, if Congress meant that, they could have said it more explicitly, perhaps, but that’s the government’s position.
OLBERMANN: And that brings us to the political end of it. NBC’s Pete Williams on the legalities of the Schiavo case. As always, great thanks, Pete.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: And now, to those continuing politics that are being played here at full speed and at full volume.
MSNBC analyst, “Congressional Quarterly” senior columnist Craig Crawford joins me.
Craig, good evening.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY: Hi. Back at the intersection of law and politics.
OLBERMANN: Am I even right in using that word, “continuing,” to describe the politics? Have not the politicians who have used this woman really accomplished what they wanted from her?
CRAWFORD: Well, they certainly gave the constituency voters out there they’re trying to appeal to, what they wanted was something out of Congress to try to save her life. The trouble is, it didn’t work, as Pete Williams noted. This judge didn’t take the bait, so to speak, the way they wrote this. They thought they had made it virtually impossible to avoid reinserting that tube, while he looked at the case anew. And so it didn’t work the way they wrote it. But certainly, in their sentiment in what they were trying to do, appealed to these pro-life voters in the Republican party. They did that much.
OLBERMANN: But as this appeals to that constituency, this sort of evangelical-political nexus, even under the circumstances, as you described them, where they did not get what they were going to get from the judge and may or may not get it from the full appeals court—is this not still a win-win for men like Tom DeLay if she lives? Well, good, they saved her. If she dies, the non-religious, the obstructionist judges, and any other boogiemen you want to name, killed her.
CRAWFORD: In some ways, Keith, I think if she dies, it is an even better political issue for those pushing this. I say that because then it will become a true-cause celeb, a martyrdom, almost, that they will be able to provoke among those pro-life voters they’re seeking to hold in the fold of the Republican right.
OLBERMANN: You know, I’ve also only been doing this off and on eight years with politics, but just I’m wondering as we talk about this, does anyone else besides us see the grotesquery of this sort of sickening experience? We’ve seen these poll numbers: 70 percent of the public said Congress shouldn’t have gotten involve, 67 percent say Congress got involved for political gain. It is huge damage, and yet we have it continuing, and yet also, here’s Senator Frist coming out and saying what he did, saying he was disappointed with the outcome today. But Senator Warner, another Republican, comes out today and reiterates, he’s not happy Congress got involved.
CRAWFORD: And Senator Frist is an interesting case here, Keith, because this is someone who is making no secret of his presidential ambitions. There’s an opening in the Republican Party that this case goes to, and that is, the mantle for the conservative leadership. The heir apparent to George Bush. That’s a wide opening, especially among those considering a presidential bid. So, this is an early opportunity to appeal to voters who are very influential in Republican primaries. Now, that’s three years down the road. Just a year away is the control of Congress and that battle at the ballot box. And so this case goes to that, as well.
OLBERMANN: But there’s no one in politics who’s saying—certainly, not on the side that has introduced this. There is no one that is saying, putting this woman on this sort of stage is a grotesque and inhuman act by itself.
CRAWFORD: I think that on the hole, this is politics. This is Congress. No matter how dramatic and personal the story, you know, you can give a bad dog a good name, but it is still a bad dog. It’s still politics. And that’s what Congress is all about.
OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” and MSNBC. One of the few honest guys in the circuit. We appreciate that, sir. Always a pleasure.
CRAWFORD: Good to talk to you.
OLBERMANN: A question of law causing big waves across the Atlantic, meanwhile. They said she had would not be called this, but guess what we may be hearing? Hello, I am the queen of England!
And a big change at the Michael Jackson trial. Of course there’s a fiasco, but today Michael Jackson had nothing to do with it. Puppet theater is as always here to explain with the dignity that only COUNTDOWN could bring you.
OLBERMANN: If you are under the age of 30, maybe under age of 40, you will find this hard to believe, but it was true. The royal family of England was not created to provide continuous comic relief to a grateful world.
Our number two story COUNTDOWN, they’ve done it again.
As our correspondent Kelly O’Donnell reports from London, Queen Elizabeth’s brood is facing another surprise disaster about the wedding of Prince Charles, itself already mockingly known as the thrilla in Camilla.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Britain really ready for Queen Camilla.
KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEW CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bride to be is now getting the royal treatment in the press. Trinkets and tea towels bearing the faces of Charles and Camilla just hit the shops. But not everyone is ready to embrace the future king and queen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn’t buy anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You’re going to have your say about, get ready for this—Queen Camilla.
O’DONNELL: Morning radio chatted up the latest royal twist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel very sorry for the boys. I’m sure Prince William and Prince Harry would be absolutely disgusted to think of her being known as the queen.
O’DONNELL: Sentiments that are no surprise to the groom. Who upon their engagement declared that his long time love would be known as the princess consort, not Diana’s title, Princess of Wales, and not the queen when some day Charles takes the throne.
JOSHUA ROZENBERG, LEGAL EXPERT: Prince Charles thought it wasn’t quite appropriate for his wife to be queen. At least, that was how he assessed public opinion.
O’DONNELL: But the title business is not apparently up to Charles.
ANDREW MCKINLEY, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: The only way Camilla Parker-Bowles will not become queen is if there is an act Of Parliament passed here in Westminster, but also in Canada, Australia, New Zealand.
O’DONNELL: Officials say, it is a simple matter of British law. The same law that famously caused Edward to give up the crown when he married divorcee Wallace Simpson and knew she would not be accepted as queen.
(on camera): The rules do not apply equally to men and women. Queen Elizabeth’s husband is known as Prince Philip. But when a man becomes king in this country, his wife takes title queen consort. Today a spokesperson for Prince Charles says, that he believes the law is open to interpretation. And it is the intention of Charles and Camilla that she not be known as queen.
I’m Kelly O’Donnell reporting from London.
OLBERMANN: That’s tonight. An easy segment through our round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, from baseball’s Barry Bonds threatening to retire to your tax and entertainment dollars in action.
Day 491 of the Michael Jackson investigation. Jackson arriving to court today in the same ginger manner that preceded yesterday’s theatrics. Today, however, the focus was, for the most part, on the testimony by comedian Louise Palanker. In what she described as “An extremely disturbing phone call,” Mrs. Palanker said she got a call from the accuser’s mother who told her that she and her family were being held at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch against their will.
Palanker said, she had willingly given $20,000 to assist that family after having met the accuser at a comedy camp in 1999. Under cross-examination, she did admit to telling authorities that she thought the family would “Latch on to anyone who could help them.”
But of course, the trial was overwhelmed by the circus. For a change, it was not the doing of Mr. Jackson himself, but rather of an overexcited female fan inside the Santa Maria Courthouse. An event captured in audio form by the cameras crews present and, of course, embellished to a video version by the nightly alchemy of Jackson trial recreation that is “Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.”
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OLBERMANN: What’s happening? What’s all this noise out here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There’s a fan who has fainted and collapsed on the floor in the back. And they’ve called the EMT for her. That’s the noise you’re hearing.
OLBERMANN: Oh, man, some people just don’t know how to behave in court. Woohoohoo!
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OLBERMANN: The man chasing baseball history, may have today declared himself, history. All the question marks surrounding Barry Bonds, he just added a big one today. Could he actually retire, right now. Standby.
OLBERMANN: To understand the implications you do not have to be a sports fan. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the man who was just 12 home runs from being able to say, I hit more home runs than Babe Ruth did. Just 53 home runs away from being able to say, I hit more home runs than anybody else did, today threatened to retire from baseball without hitting any more home runs.
Barry Bonds this morning, doing a Michael Jackson, showing up to the San Francisco Giants’ training camp in Arizona on crutches. This week, after his third knee operation since the end of last season. The team had suggested he could be back by opening day, but Bonds today told reporters it could be months, not weeks, before he plays again, maybe not until next season, maybe not again ever, all because of the continuing accusations he used illegal performance-enhancing steroids. “I might not be back at all,” he told a reporter from the Web site MLB.com. “I’m just going to go home and try to enjoy my family. I’m sick and tired of seeing them so upset. I’m done, finished with it. Certainly I’ll be gone after 2006.” He continued on camera.
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BARRY BONDS, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: They wanted me to jump off the bridge. I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down. You finally have brought me and my family down. You’ve finally done it. From everybody, all of it. You know? So, now, go pick a different person. I’m done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Just this past weekend, the “San Francisco Chronicle” reported that an ex-girlfriend of Bonds had testified to a grand jury that he had told her in the year 2000 that he had begun using steroids. The prospect that Bonds might never play baseball again, thus conveniently erasing for all time any chance of finding out whether or not he indeed did use steroids.
If that seems at all familiar to you, congratulations, you have a good memory. Exactly six weeks ago on this program, I was talking about the steroids scandal with correspondent Jack Curry of the “New York Times.” He mentioned wanting to be attendance when Bonds finally passed Babe Ruth on the home run list, and I retorted...
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OLBERMANN: That’s if he ever comes back from that operation that he just had. What happens if that’s a career-ending surgery and they butchered something? That would be a hell of a story, too.
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OLBERMANN: That was not an idle guess on my part. More on that in a moment.
First is Bonds’ talk of retirement an idle threat? Jack Curry, sports writer for the “New York Times” joins me again.
Good evening, again, Jack.
JACK CURRY, BASEBALL WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES: Hey, Keith, how you doing?
OLBERMANN: Barry Bonds is not a kidder, notoriously. It’s not a joke, clearly. The thought of retirement must be in his mind to some degree, but do you think it’s seriously, or as his teammate Moises Alou said today, maybe he’s just having a bad day.
CURRY: Well, Keith, because it’s Barry Bonds, because all of that’s surrounding around him, and because of how dreary he looked doing that interview, I think we have to take it seriously.
But then, as soon as I say that, I also say because it’s Barry Bonds, and because he’s chasing these milestones, and I know how important that is to him, I really don’t expect him to retire. I really think we’ll see him on the field again this season.
OLBERMANN: As I said, when we spoke in February, and the comment came out about Bonds never coming back from that last operation, I was thinking of 1988 and the late Florence Griffith Joyner who had won three gold medals in the track & field at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, but was widely believed—it was widely believed by other athletes that she was using steroids.
She came back to this country, she threatened to sue anyone who mentioned the word steroids in connection with her name. She threatened Carl Lewis, she threatened me, and then she talked about how she wanted to defend her medals in the 1992 and the 1996 Olympics, and a few weeks later, she retired abruptly. No hints. She just quit, and she never raced again and she never took another drug test, and she died 10 years later during an epileptic seizure.
Which is not to suggest that that’s the kind of future that lays out for Barry Bonds, but in that world—that other world where we say, well, maybe he really has used steroids, would not a sudden retirement due to a knee injury, be the most convenient way out of the inquiries made, not just by today, but by history?
CURRY: I think it would be, Keith, except for the fact that—look what we witnessed last week. Mark McGwire, who thought he’d never have to answer a steroid question, sat before a panel and tarnished his legacy forever when a Congressional panel asked him, did he ever use steroids, and he wouldn’t answer the question.
Who’s to say even if you—as you point out—Barry does retire from these injuries, what if there’s another Congressional hearing a year from now and Barry Bonds is subpoenaed? Just like McGwire, he would have to show up, so—though I think that your theory is plausible, and the Flo-Jo comparison is very interesting, I think that Barry Bonds would never be able to get away from this, even if he did retire.
OLBERMANN: Here’s another one that may be more of a conspiracy theory, but perhaps is even more plausible.
Regardless of whether he quits or he stays, it is an interesting fact to note that under the new steroid testing system in baseball, if you are injured and not playing, you do not get tested. Are there implications to be drawn from that? I mean, if you were a player using steroids and you wanted to clean up, would the safest place be the disabled list?
CURRY: Well, it’s a great point again, Keith, to bring up, and I’m sure the committee members who, as you watched and I was there in attendance, hated the use of that word “or,” hated that “or” was in there for a possibility of a suspension or fine. That’s another loophole that’s out there, and I’m sure that as baseball and the Player’s Association continued to talk about how their drug testing may become improved or may get strengthened, that’s another issue that might be brought up.
OLBERMANN: Jack, I think it was the first question I asked you the first time of the three times we talked about this, and in about 30 seconds, give me another answer to it: how much baseball’s perception of how much trouble baseball is in changed in the last two months?
CURRY: Well, it’s changed a lot, Keith, because when you look at when they made this agreement in January, I think Bud Selig was very happy. He had the Player’s Association, the most powerful union in sports, agree to go back into a collective bargaining agreement, and they had the strongest testing policy baseball’s ever had.
Now, you have everyone telling baseball, it’s not enough. This is a story. As I think I said that last time, that is not going away.
OLBERMANN: Story of Bud Selig’s life in its own way.
Jack Curry of the “New York Times” on the steroids story that never goes away.
As always, Jack, thank you for your time tonight.
CURRY: You’re welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That’s COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being a part of it. I’m Keith Olbermann, good night—yes, you can tell I’ve never used steroids—good luck.
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