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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Aug. 15

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guest: Jim Burnett, Cyril Wecht, John Massey, Mike Ramsey

AMY ROBACH, GUEST HOST:  A day of dramatic developments in Greece as investigators get to the bottom of the bizarre airplane crash.  A raid at the airline‘s office, someone claiming to be a victim‘s relative arrested for lying.  And after unbelievable headlines that all the passengers were frozen, now the coroner says at least six people were alive at the point of impact.

What could have triggered the disaster?  And what should you look out for when you fly foreign airlines?

And here in the States, a moment of crisis for a military plane tonight.  No landing gear, forced to dump fuel and make a tense belly landing tonight.  We‘ll show you how it all ends.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The tragedy of flight 522.  Victims‘ families arrive in Athens, and black boxes are recovered from the wreckage.  Why did the cabin lose pressure?  And what were those last moments like on the doomed flight?

And eviction day.  Clashes on the Gaza Strip as the Israeli government gives settlers 48 hours to pack up and leave.  Some of the settlers aren‘t leaving quietly.

A fraternity pledge dies after a hazing ritual gone wrong.  Now the college students facing hazing charges could face torture charges because of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

And breaking monkey news tonight.  Ever wonder why Donkey Kong great ape and this smoking chimp are all right-handed?  Rest easy, America, we‘ll fill you in.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.

To think about dying in a plane crash is horrible enough.  But to think about dying in a plane crash in the manner being speculated about for the victims of yesterday‘s crash in Greece is almost unimaginable.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the final moments on board that doomed jetliner.  All 121 on board the Helios Airways Boeing 737 were killed.  Some reports theorize that most of the passengers were frozen at the time of the crash.  But the chief coroner in Greece is now saying that at least some of them were still alive.

As NBC‘s Lester Holt reports, investigators on the ground in Greece are now trying to figure out what really happened, and who‘s to blame.


LESTER HOLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On Cyprus tonight, police raided the offices of Helios Airlines, not saying what they were looking for, while a devastated community gathered, their grief and that of family members compounded by the mystery of the disaster.

Helios Airways flight 522 lifted off from Larnica at 9:00 a.m. local time, bound for Prague, with a stop in Athens, reaching its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet in 20 minutes.  Air traffic control lost contact with the plane at 10:07 a.m.  And at 11:20, Greek F-16 fighter jets intercepted the plane, still at about 35,000 feet, reporting the co-pilot slumped over the controls and the captain nowhere in sight.

The F-16s could do little but watch as the plane crashed into a hillside 35 minutes later.

Early indications are that emergency oxygen mask had been deployed, making cabin depressurization the leading theory.

JAMES HARRIS, DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL EDUCATION, FAA:  The pilot has approximately 30 seconds at 34,000 feet to react, put his mask on, get control of the aircraft...

HOLT:  The chief coroner says autopsies reveal at least some of the passengers were alive when the plane hit the ground, but most were frozen.  Early reports of a passenger sending a text message from the plane, however, are now believed to have been a hoax.

Meanwhile, both black boxes are being examined, but officials say the voice recorder was badly damaged.

(on camera):  Minutes before radio contact was lost, the crew had reported a problem with the plane‘s air conditioning, suggesting that whatever happened might have begun gradually.

HARRIS:  More likely, it was a bids more of a subtle decompression, as opposed to the explosive decompressions that seen so often on television and movies.

HOLT (voice-over):  It was depressurization that is believed to have killed golfer Payne Stewart when his Lear jet crashed in 1999.  In both cases, the pilots made no apparent attempt to descend.

HARRIS:  But they need to get the airplane started down.  And this is what the pilots are trained to do.

HOLT:  The fact that they didn‘t start down leads some experts to wonder whether it was not one but a series of failures that caused this tragedy. Lester Holt, NBC News, New York.


ROBACH:  For more now on the investigation, we‘re joined by Jim Burnett, former chairman at the National Transportation Safety Board.

Mr. Burnett, thanks for joining us tonight.


ROBACH:  If you were on the ground in Greece, what would you be looking for as an investigator?

BURNETT:  The investigators are going to be examining the oxygen system that served the cockpit to see if the emergency backup oxygen to the crew failed.  They‘re going to be looking to see at the pressure bulkheads, to see if there was a structural failure of the airplane that caused depressurization.  They also going to be looking at the maintenance records.  Hopefully the police will not have those impounded, and they will have access to the maintenance records to see if the maintenance on the airline and the air conditioning system may have impacted the pressurization of the aircraft.

ROBACH:  Mr. Burnett, we‘re not talking about a small prop plane here.  We‘re talking about a Boeing 737.  Is it possible there could be a problem with the entire fleet?

BURNETT:  Well, that‘s one of the things that the investigators have to establish.  And that‘s the reason that it‘s critical that this investigation be conducted, and conducted with rapidity, because one of the things that you‘re looking for is the possibility that there might be either something that‘s a failure that would be common to the whole fleet of 737s.

ROBACH:  Police have raided the offices of the airline, Helios Airways, looking for possible evidence of criminal neglect.  What should your level of trust and/or comfort be when flying a foreign carrier?

BURNETT:  Well, I would not be concerned about flying the 737 right now, that, as far as the airplane is concerned.  The carrier, the choice of foreign carriers is a dicey thing, because there are many foreign carriers that are just as safe in their practices as the airlines we choose in the United States.

There are many that are not.  And although the—our Federal Aviation Administration has some oversight of foreign carriers flying in the United States, it‘s probably inadequate.

ROBACH:  I‘m sure you know the speculation regarding bodies that may have been frozen solid before they were burned in that crash.  In all your years as an investigator, have you ever encountered a scenario quite like this one?

BURNETT:  Well, I‘m skeptical of the reports that some bodies were frozen solid and others—and other people were still living.  The environment in the aircraft should have been somewhat comparable throughout it.  And we—I think we need to have further investigation before we pin too much on that.

ROBACH:  All right.  Former NTSB chairman Jim Burnett, many thanks.

BURNETT:  Thank you.

ROBACH:  And when it comes to some of the more outlandish theories about what may have happened to the people on board that jet, specially the idea they may have been frozen, we thought it might be useful to get some help separating the speculation from the science.

And for that, we‘re joined by the Dr. Cyril Wecht, the nationally known forensic pathologist, coroner of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Wecht, welcome back to the COUNTDOWN.


ROBACH:  You may know by now, the chief coroner in Greece is saying that at least some of the passengers were alive when the plane hit the ground.  Some may have been frozen.  In your professional opinion, is that possible to have both?

WECHT:  I find it very difficult to believe that that would be the case, because there was, what, about 35, 40 minutes in which the plane was on autopilot.  If the crash had occurred within a matter of some minutes, then you could have that kind of disparity in terms of mortality, some people having bad lungs and bad heart, and other people being in great health.

But with that passage of time, I would think that the environment would have come to be pretty much the same for everybody.  That would have been an extremely cold situation, temperatures maybe minus 40 degrees, if there was a gaping hole or a significant hole in the cabin.  The depressurization, I think, would have been even more significant.  The fact the co-pilot was slumped over and the pilot wasn‘t to be seen, perhaps on the floor, leads one to believe that there was a problem obviously with oxygen supply.

With regard to the coroner‘s statement that six people were alive, I‘m puzzled by that.  The only way in which you can ascertain life in that kind of a situation would be to find evidence of a vital reaction, that is, the body‘s defense mechanisms.  And they don‘t kick in for some minutes.  The other way to find out whether someone was alive is to detect carbon monoxide.  If there was a fire after the plane landed, and if the people were alive, and they kept breathing, even if unconscious, then there would have been CO.

So—but for six people to have been alive, and 115 people to have died, that seems a bit incredulous.

ROBACH:  Unusual.

WECHT:  So I think we‘re going to have to learn a lot more, and see some scientific results of the toxic analyses on the blood specimens of the victims.  And, of course, the aeronautical engineers‘ reconstruction of the accident.  And I think within a matter of a couple of days or so, while you may not have the official final report, I‘ll bet you you‘ll have a lot more information.

ROBACH:  Dr. Wecht, let me ask you this, though.  How quickly would a body freeze at that altitude?  I believe they were at 35,000 feet.

WECHT:  Well, remember, they‘re still encased within the shell of the plane.  It‘s not as like you‘ve just been suddenly placed on the top of Mount Everest, which is almost as high, but not as high.

So I think in a matter of just minutes, you could suffer severe hypothermia, and you would have frostbite on your fingertips and your nose and the exposed parts of the body.  Their clothing, presumably they had some blankets, maybe.  So I don‘t think that they would have frozen within a matter of—it would have taken a few to several minutes.

ROBACH:  Renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, thanks so much for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

WECHT:  Thank you.  Thanks.

ROBACH:  And in case you‘re confusing our number-five story with a gruesome episode of “CSI: Plane Crash,” we leave with a bit of good news from the world of aviation, no less dramatic, however, for its happy ending.  A military transport plane having problems with its landing gear, forced to make an emergency belly landing at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.  But first the plane, a Grumman C-2A with 25 people on board, had to dump all of its fuel and drop a tailhook in hopes of snagging a cable on the runway on its way down.

Let‘s listen to it all, how it all unfolded, as reported by chopper pilot John Massey of our Norfolk affiliate WAVY-TV.


JOHN MASSEY, WAVY-TV, NORFOLK, VIRGINIA:  He‘s approximately one-quarter mile from the end of the runway.  Starboard engine is shut down in preparation for the landing.  He‘s going to be making a belly landing only.  No gear, no gear down on this aircraft whatsoever.  He‘s over the threshold of the runway.  Coming in over—just about to touch down.  You‘ll see the arresting gear coming into the picture here in just one second.

He‘s very, very short (INAUDIBLE), approximately five feet off the ground.

He‘s down.  The aircraft is down.  He‘s caught the cable.  That should stop the aircraft very, very quickly.  They‘ll shut that port engine down immediately on touchdown and begin to exit that aircraft.

Again, there‘s 25 people on board that aircraft.


MASSEY:  ... emergency landing by the tower.  (INAUDIBLE), he‘s done a great job getting that aircraft down.

You‘ll see the rear of that door begin to open, and those passengers, as you might expect, will be exiting the aircraft immediately.  You can see them exiting right now.  It looks like this pilot and this crew did a fantastic job.


ROBACH:  Chopper pilot John Massey, not alone in congratulating the pilot of that military transport plane for a fantastic job, getting that plane down in one piece.  Everyone else on board thanking him themselves once they were safely off the runway.

WAVY chopper pilot John Massey has just landed himself there in Norfolk and joins us now by telephone.

Thanks for being with us today.

MASSEY:  Glad to be here, Amy.  Go ahead.

ROBACH:  I understand you were cooperating with the Navy during the event.  Can you take us through what happened, what you saw?

MASSEY:  Yes.  When we first arrived in the area of Norfolk Navy Base, we were asked by the tower, they informed us exactly what was going on with that aircraft.  And they asked us, using our camera systems, we have a very state-of-the-art camera systems on board Chopper 10, as you might imagine.  We can see a very long way.  And they asked us to just check on the aircraft as he circled above Norfolk Navy Base at about 2,000 feet, as he was going through his emergency procedures and attempting to get his main gear down, just to verify what he was doing to try to get that gear down.

And we used our camera systems just to verify that the main gear would not deploy or come down from the aircraft.  The only thing he could get down was the nose gear.  And at that point, the pilot had to make that decision to go ahead and make that emergency landing.

The video you‘re looking at now is of the approach.  What I want you to notice is that tailhook off the rear of the aircraft comes down, strikes the ground first, catches that cable, and stops it very quickly.

Now, these aircraft are used to transport persons and/or equipment back and forth to the carriers offshore.  They‘ll come back to the Norfolk Navy Base to routinely change out crew members or that kind of thing.  Now, this aircraft had 25 people on board as it made its emergency approach and landing.

But again, this crew did a fantastic job, and I was just glad that we were able just to help that pilot and the crew understand exactly the situation they were facing this afternoon.

ROBACH:  I mean, it is incredible to watch that happen.  Snatching the cable, obviously, made all the difference in the world with this landing.  And the pilot, I mean, it almost looks easy.  Just how difficult a landing was this to catch that cable right where it was and make such a smooth glide in?

MASSEY:  Well, this crew did a fantastic job, because if you notice about from this (INAUDIBLE) that you‘re looking at now, you can see that right engine, that starboard engine is shut down.  Now, he shut that down initially, or right before he touched down, just as a precaution.  You don‘t want to have any more blades turning on that aircraft that you absolutely have to, simply because in case the blade does strike the ground, there would be flying debris.

But as that aircraft came in, you can see the flaps are fully deployed on that aircraft, flying on one engine, fully loaded as he was, with 25 passengers on board.  That flight crew had their hands full just making that approach, because he wants to bring it down as slow as possible without actually stalling the aircraft, which is what exactly he did.  Right at the time he caught that tailhook and began to slow down, he was probably hearing the stall horn on the aircraft as it touched down, which is as slow and as soft as he could possibly make it.

ROBACH:  John, what would happen if he missed that cable?

MASSEY:  Well, the runway there at Norfolk Navy Base is over 5,000 feet long.  So he was lined up on the center line of the runway.  Had he not been able to catch that cable with his tailhook, he would have slid to a stop.  It just would have taken much longer before he would have done that.  That arresting gear is used at Norfolk Navy Base, as well as Oceana here in Virginia, for these aircraft to do practice carrier landings.  They actually catch that cable and are able to do their practice carrier landings.

And they also used those runways and those arresting gears here and at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach for such emergencies as this.  If the aircraft has a landing gear problem, or is unable to have his landing gear brakes or his brakes work properly, they can use that arresting gear in order to slow that aircraft down and stop it.

ROBACH:  John, you got a lot of happy people there on terra firma tonight.  You‘re a pilot.  What do these guys do tonight now that they‘re safely on the ground?

MASSEY:  Well, for that squadron, I would imagine they would be giving this flight crew a very hearty handshake and a—what‘s known in Navy circles as Bravo Zulu.

And I do want to mention that the tower operators that were on duty this afternoon did a fantastic job.  They worked with the pilots and their crew confirming all of their procedures as well.  And the fire crews were standing by just needed.  But fortunately, according to the Navy, the only injuries that are—the only problems with anybody on board that aircraft, one of the passengers did hyperventilate.  And that was the only (INAUDIBLE)...

ROBACH:  I think that‘s understandable.

MASSEY:  Indeed, yes.

ROBACH:  Well, WAVY chopper pilot John Massey, thanks so much for joining us tonight.  We appreciate it.

MASSEY:  You‘re most welcome.

ROBACH:  Well, this young man lost his life after a hazing incident gone horribly wrong.  Now a judge says it was so bad, the fraternity members should face torture charges, comparing it to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

And COUNTDOWN‘s push to help you quit smoking.  Tonight, Hollywood‘s impact on American youth.  Is a night at the movies still teaching your kids to light up?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSBNC.


ROBACH:  It is a kind of initiation rite that never should have happened, fraternity brothers allegedly forced to pledge to drink huge amounts.  The young man became intoxicated, collapsed, and died.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the college student didn‘t die from alcohol poisoning but from water intoxication.  And the judge in the case now says that the four defendants could be tried for torture.

Twenty-one-year-old Matthew Carrington died on February 2 when his fraternity brothers allegedly forced him to drink large amounts of water while performing calisthenics in a freezing basement.  He died of heart failure following hyponatremia, a condition where water is absorbed into the blood and then builds up in the brain.

The incident at Chico State University in California has already brought charges of involuntary manslaughter and hazing against the four defendants, but now Judge Robert Glossman (ph) has ordered a hearing to consider charging them with torture, which could bring life imprisonment.

And the judge made a startling comparison.  He said, quote, “U.S.  soldiers were charged with torturing Iraqi prisoners for doing far less than what happened in that basement.”

The fraternity in this case, Chi Tau, lost its official status at Chico State University back in 2002 after a series of complaints involving excessive alcohol use.  Judge Glossman has set an August 26 hearing to consider adding the torture charge.

Joining me now, the district attorney on the case, Mike Ramsey. Mr. Ramsey, good evening.


ROBACH:  Before we get to the charges, tell us what makes this case so extraordinary.

RAMSEY:  Well, certainly the water intoxication is somewhat unusual, although it does happen.  And these particular fraternity members, we understand, some of them attended a previous semester‘s training not to do this.

ROBACH:  How unusual, though, is it for the judge to introduce potential new charges to your case?

RAMSEY:  It‘s highly unusual.  It shows the depth of feeling here about this particular hazing incident.

And the judge started this discussion, this dialogue with the defense attorneys, as they were trying to chip away at the hazing statute, where the defense attorneys were saying, Well, this has to be students.  Two of the fraternity members aren‘t students.  And it has to be a student organization.  And this particular fraternity has not been a recognized student organization for some time.

ROBACH:  Did your office ever consider a torture charge when figuring out what to do with this case?

RAMSEY:  Yes, we did, and we considered it.  And we decided, however, that the hazing statute was more designed for what we had in mind in this particular instance.  Basically, what the judge has warned the defense attorneys is, you know, somewhat, Don‘t ask for what you might not want in this particular instance.

ROBACH:  And there‘s a big difference in terms of punishment between hazing and torture.  And voluntary manslaughter has a maximum sentence of four years.  But torture could bring life in prison.  Are you prepared to prosecute a torture charge against these defendants?

RAMSEY:  We are certainly prepared to present the evidence and the law to the jury in this particular instance and see where it leads us.

ROBACH:  Do you think that these four young men deserve life in prison?

RAMSEY:  Well, that‘s a difficult question.  Whether they knew or didn‘t know sometimes pales, particularly in the hazing statute, as to the fact that what happened here was so beyond the pale that we had not only the forced consumption of water, to make them urinate and vomit on themselves, we also had this in a dank and very cold basement, with fans turned on these folks to make sure that they were even colder, and just inhuman, repeated calisthenics to add to the discomfort.

ROBACH:  What‘s the reaction been from the victim‘s family to this potential turn of events?

RAMSEY:  Well, of interest, in terms of talking to the victim‘s family, they at first were reluctant to do something in terms of life or extreme imprisonment for these young men, who at first came to the victim‘s mother and gave their heartfelt apologies.

However, now, as this drags on, and we‘ve seen this happen many times, the victim‘s family is looking at these young men trying to avoid responsibility for what they did, and their attitude is somewhat changing.

ROBACH:  Mike, let me ask, because you mentioned this was a fraternity no longer.  It—but it still continued to function one, even though the school cut them off in 2002.  Is this, speaking to a much larger problem of this continued type of hazing, and is there something that needs to be done to really crack down on these fraternities, or even wannabe fraternities?

RAMSEY:  Certainly.  What we have in term of hazing, it‘s power and control over others.  It‘s victimization.  And that‘s what we want to stop here.  That‘s what we need to stop, not only at Chico State University, but other universities where we‘ve seen this tragedy repeated.  What we need to make sure is that we don‘t have our youngest and brightest dying in just horribly stupid incidents such as this.

ROBACH:  Mike Ramsey, Butte County, California, district attorney, thanks for joining us tonight.

RAMSEY:  You‘re welcome.

ROBACH:  From the serious to the seriously messed up.  OK, they call marriage the big plunge.  But really, people, come on.

Oddball‘s ahead.

And breaking news of the monkey variety.  Scientists explain the big mystery between left-handed and right-handed monkeys.  Your ambidextrous newscast will pay tribute to all apekind.


ROBACH:  I‘m Amy Robach, holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann this evening, as we enter our nightly segment where love and the faint smell of pork is in the air.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin at the Vision Land Amusement Park in Birmingham, Alabama, where another couple has ensured their wedding will be more memorable than their marriage.  Meet the new Mr. and Mrs. Michael Salter (ph).  Michael and the former Jean Kirby did the “I do” thing on the log ride at Vision Land as family and friends looked on.

They were married by the bride‘s father, who sat backwards in the log to preside over the ceremony.

No one was killed.

And in Hong Kong, Takeru Kobayashi has added another couple of competitive eating trophies to his collection.  Kobayashi, the Michael Jordan of stuffing huge amounts of food into his pie hole, has been making a living on these contests.  On Saturday, he took first prize after eating 83 vegetarian dumplings in eight minutes.  Sunday he won another contest eating 100 roasted pork buns in 12 minutes.  And he was hungry again 15 minutes later.  Kobayashi took home about 2,500 bucks in prize money for the weekend.  I guess the guy has to eat.

The painful pullout in Gaza.  Israeli soldiers forced to give Israeli settlers eviction notices.  But some vow they won‘t go without a fight.

And the expectations game in Iraq: Is the Bush administration resetting the goal posts for success? Details on both those stories ahead.

But now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day. Number three, Ed Krakowiak, of Downers Grove, Illinois.  Last week he found someone‘s $1,000 paycheck in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. He tracked down the rightful owner, returned the check to the man‘s wife, then later called “The Chicago-Sun Times” newspaper to complain he wasn‘t given a reward.

Number two, Tyrone D. McMillian, of Troy, New York. He was arrested last week after leading police on a high-speed chase through several towns.  Later, he told police, he had been playing a lot of “Grand Theft Auto” lately and thought his video game skills would translate to real life.

And number one, the unnamed grown man wearing only a diaper who has been roaming the streets of London late at night lately. Police say they‘re keen to talk to the man whom they say has been approaching women and asking, “Are there any baby changing facilities around here?”


ROBACH:  Welcome back.  I‘m Amy Robach in for Keith Olbermann.

To quote Lyndon Johnson, “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.” Perhaps nowhere is the it more evident than in our third story, moving forward in the Middle East.

In a moment, the stalled path to democracy in Iraq.  First, the painful first step on the road map to peace in Israel. The forcible expulsion of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip. As Martin Fletcher reports, many of them are steadfastly refusing to go.


MARTIN FLETCHER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT, (voice over):  Painful.  Difficult. Historic. That‘s how Israel‘s defense minister described today as his troops arrived to hand eviction notices to Jewish settlers in Gaza.  And it was all on show, the gates of Gaza‘s largest Jewish settlement, Nevah Dekalim.

These settlers refused to accept the army orders. Elsewhere, some burned them. Others tore them up.

This settler cries. How can you explain to my children that you‘re throwing them out of their house? Here, a general comforts another upset settler. Thirty-eight years after Israel first conquered the Gaza Strip, it is ending the occupation and handing the land back to the Palestinians.

That mean 9,000 Jewish settlers, with financial help from the government, will have to begin new lives in Israel. While some Israelis fought and mourn, Palestinians celebrated. These policemen will prevent the looting of abandoned Jewish settlements.

This is a great victory for us, he said. 

(on camera):  Hard to imagine that in a few days or a week or so, these Israeli homes will be bull dozed to the ground and the land left for the Palestinians.

But for all the settlers‘ rage, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who once championed the settler movement, is now convinced the pull-out will prove to be a major step toward peace with the Palestinians.

ARIEL SHARON, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL (through translator):  The world awaits the Palestinian response. A hand offered in peace or continued terrorist fire?

FLETCHER:  That‘s all lost on these children who tried to embarrass the police.

“You‘re doing a good job,” she says. “I know, but we would love you more if you don‘t.”  The words of the song, “This is the only land I have.  I won‘t give it up. Even if my land is burning.

But the army‘s order is clear. Any Jew who is in Gaza on Wednesday morning will be expelled, if necessary, by force. Martin Fletcher, NBC News, Nevah Dekalim, Gaza.


ROBACH:  In Iraq, deadlock on democracy.  Despite intense pressure from the United States, the interim government was unable to meet today‘s deadline to determine the country‘s new constitution. Just 20 minutes before midnight, the politicians called it quits, asking for a week‘s extension to hammer out the details of a new charter.

As for which issues caused the impasse, the parliamentarians can‘t even agree on that. Several Shiite politicians said it was women‘s rights and the Kurdish right to eventually succeed from Iraq.  But the prime minister said it was oil wealth and federalism.  The extension put the new deadline on august 22.

Even before the Iraqi government missed its deadline, the U.S. State Department played down the significance of the extension. Noting that democracy is a process and takes time. But as Andrea Mitchell reports tonight, the pace of democratic reform isn‘t the only thing the administration is privately, if not publicly, playing down. It is also scaling back expectations of Iraq as a democracy at all.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  Two years after the cheering ended, the president denies it, but other top officials are quietly lowering their expectations for Iraq. You might not know that from listening to Secretary of State Rice tonight.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S.  SECRETARY OF STATE:  We‘re confident that they will complete this process and continue on the path toward elections for a permanent government at the end of the year.

MITCHELL:  There are three big problems. First, creating a real democracy. When the U.S. first occupied Iraq, the White House said there would be a constitution by last October.

WAYNE WHITE, FMR. STATE DEPARTMENT INTEL. ANALYST:  They felt that taking down Saddam Hussein could set in motion a chain reaction in which democracy would spread across the region.

MITCHELL:  Wayne White left the State Department in March. Before the war, he told top officials that Iraq could never become a model democracy.

WHITE:  Now we‘re willing to accept something much lower.

MITCHELL:  Problem two, the surprisingly strong insurgency.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DE) FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.:  I would settle for an Iraq that was secured in its borders, that was a representative government; everybody had a piece of the action; it was not a haven for terror and not a threat to its neighbors. That‘s as good as it gets as far as I‘m concerned.

MITCHELL:  Third, another failed hope making Iraq‘s economy self-sufficient by restoring the oil industry. But attacks on pipelines have plagued oil production.  And officials had planned to triple Iraq‘s electricity supply by building two new generators. They soon discovered that the country‘s aging grid couldn‘t handle that kind of power surge so millions of Baghdad residents still go without electricity for days.

All of this means an overstretched military whose commanders, insiders say, are now pressing their civilian bosses for an exit strategy; a way to get the troops home, even if the U.S. has not achieved the lofty goals.  Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


ROBACH:  A tough couple of days for Cindy Sheehan whose son died in Iraq last year and who has been camping outside the western White House, demanding to speak to the president for over a week.

First one of the Crawford neighbors, Larry Mattlage, fired a shotgun in the air Sunday as 60 protestors gathered for a prayer service. He said he was preparing for the dove hunting season.  When asked if he had another motive, he reportedly said, “Figure it out for yourself.”

Then today, came news of her impending divorce from her husband of 28 years. Regardless, Sheehan says she is planning to send another message and an invitation to President Bush this Friday.


CINDY SHEEHAN, WAR PROTESTER:  We‘re calling for a moment of silent prayer all around the world. At 12:0:00 noon Crawford time.  And we‘re going to ask people to pray for the soldiers who are still in harm‘s way and for their families, so they do not become gold star families.  And also a moment of silent prayer for the ones who have already been killed, Iraqi and American, and for their families, too. And we have invited George Bush to come down here and be with us in that moment of prayer. Since it is at noon, we can offer him some food and water.

ROBACH:  Two invitations of a very different variety. Are the movies still driving some teenagers to smoke? Or has Hollywood cleaned up its act?  COUNTDOWN‘s “I quit” campaign continues.

And Paris Hilton turns on one of the so-called loves of her life. The hotel heiress cut some fat out of her life and maybe a slice out of her dignity, too—what was left of it.

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


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   This character that you‘re talking about, Andy, and a 40-year-old, obviously, virgin. And you are—uh, uh—

STEVE CARELL:  I am not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   You are a married man.

CARELL:  The inspiration?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   Yes, how you came up with this guy?

CARELL:  The last time I was on the “TODAY” show, I met and talked with a lot of your crew here, especially the camera people. And I thought, that would be a great idea for a movie. Write a movie about a 40-year-old male virgin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It came through several layers of the roof, all the tile on the roof?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m lucky to be alive right now. And I just got out one minute before the impact hit. And it sounded like something from Hiroshima. It was loud.

JAY LENO, COMEDIAN:  As you know, President Bush in Crawford, Texas. Today President Bush released a video of some of the things he‘s doing.



ROBACH:   Just because Keith is not here tonight, you‘re not excused from COUNTDOWN‘s ongoing effort to get you to quite smoking.  If you are a smoker, you probably said more than once, I wish I had never started. It‘s far easier never to start, to resist from the beginning, than to go through process of giving it up later.

Thus, our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight. Keeping teens from trying smoking in the first place. Five thousand teenagers under 18 try a cigarette for the first time every day; 2,000 of them become regular smokers.

And now there‘s word that smoking on the big screen may make that first cigarette more likely. According to a recent Dartmouth Medical School study, watching people smoke in movies is almost as big an influence on young people as having friends who smoke.  Our correspondent Jamie Gangel now on the Hollywood connection.


JAMIE GANGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  In Hollywood, where image is everything. There is increasing pressure to change this image.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:   It won‘t kill me for years.

GANGEL:  Glamorizing smoking in Hollywood is nothing new, but increasing pressure to stop it is. And that pressure is coming from some surprising places.

JOE ESTHERHOUSE, SCREENWRITER:  My name is Joe Estherhouse. I‘m a screenwriter. I‘ve always glamorized smoking in my movies. I used to think smoking was so cool. Then I got throat cancer. Maybe that‘s my punishment.

GANGEL:  This man responsible to one of the most famous smoking scene ever filmed is now writing his own public service announcements, begging teens.

ESTHERHOUSE:  Please, don‘t smoke.

GANGEL:  He‘s not alone. Celebrities are speaking out, too.

GWENYTH PALTROW:  It is a lot about that there‘s an image that people think it is, it looks cool. Everybody knows the dangers of it. Obviously, a very unwise choice to make.

GANGEL:  In a Dartmouth Medical School study, researchers found smoking is far more prevalent in movies than in real life. And 85 percent of the top 25 U.S. box office films in recent years included tobacco use.

JAMES GOODEN, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOC.:  If I were to give Hollywood a grade for their portrayal of cigarettes and smoking in the movies today, I would have to give it a C. That‘s being very generous.

GANGEL:  But Hollywood is only willing to go so far.

DAN GLICKMAN, MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION:  We are recognizing that there is a serious public health problem with smoking, but also recognizing that the creator, the story teller, the writer, deserves free expression in depicting that the way he thinks it needs to be depicted.

GANGEL:  Some teens are taking matters into their own hands. David Woo helps run a Web site called where movies are given a thumbs up, or a thumb down based on whether smoking is glamorized.

DAVID WOO, SCENESMOKING.ORG:  We‘re out there to try to promote more responsibility in Hollywood. In order to let them just basically know that kids do look at what they do.

GANGEL:  Experts hope teen will get the message not to start smoking.  But as long as these images are coming out of Hollywood, it is an uphill battle—Jamie Gangel NBC News, Washington.


ROBACH:  Keith‘s “I Quit” series of hints on how to stop smoking continues when he returns tomorrow night. Until then, we invite to you visit our Web site for a comprehensive list of suggestions. We still want your stories about quitting. Any mental tricks, tips, substitutes that have worked for you. So email us at

Turning now to our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs”.

And for the Paris Hilton, the relationship is over. Her little friend‘s usefulness has expired. Yes, she has given the old heave hoe to her pet Chihuahua Tinker Bell. Hilton has dumped the pedigree pooch because of the doggie‘s weight gain. A friend said Hilton only likes them when they‘re small.  So Hilton replaced Tinker Bell with a trimmer version of the teacup Chihuahua. She calls this one Bambi. Even worse, Tinker Bell has been banished to the care of Hilton‘s mother, Cathy, which means the little doggie will never be part of a ratings winner.

Of course, Paris Hilton, famously lost poor Tinker Bell last summer, but it turned out she had left it with her grandmother. A fact she somehow forgot. Maybe this is all for the best. As for Hilton‘s fiance, Paris Latsis, well he better rush his beloved to the nearest hospital. It seems she is in need of a heart.

To someone who likes to wear his heart on his sleeve, Ryan Seacrest and the announcement that he will co-host “New Year‘s Rockin‘ Eve with Dick Clark”, the twosome will ring in the New Year, starting this year, December 31.  It will be the 34th broadcast of Clark‘ Times Square coverage.  It was Regis Philbin who fill in last year, after Clark suffered a minor stroke.  And though Clark hasn‘t been on TV since, his spokesman says he will be more than ready.

As for Seacrest, the co-host role will merely be a warm-up. He will eventually take over as host and for once, Seacrest‘s his long-time nemesis Simon Cowell is speechless.

To the top of the count down, and our favorite, primates. Big anticipation of a new study of monkeys in the wild and in captivity.  What does it tell us about evolution? In true human fashion, we‘ll rank our favorite monkeys of all time.


ROBACH:  To the top of the COUNTDOWN and a subject that fascinated humanity since the dawn of time, monkeys. In a moment, the greatest monkeys ever. First their latest contribution to the wonderful world of science.

See, human beings are freakishly right handed. Sure there are a few lefties out there, but the overwhelming majority of people, everywhere, are righties.  Are we alone in this anomaly? Probably not. Cue the monkey.

All right. A, because captive chimpanzees apparently favored their right hands.  Scientists wondered if they shared the right-hand thing or whether they just picked up the habit from their handlers, who are—like the rest of the human race—mostly right handed.

So, two intrepid researchers from Yerkes (ph) National Primate Research Center went to Tanzania to study chimps in the wild discovered they use their left-hand side to dig for termites, and their right hands to crack nuts. Number of lefties who dig out termites in the wild is about the same as the number of lefties who dig out similar food in captivity, which basically means the chimps can be left handed or right handed and are nowhere near as likely as us to be right handed.

So, what have we learned tonight from our primate pals? Frankly, not a thing. But there are plenty of other monkeys who have made invaluable contributions to our education and entertainment, which puts them in the running for the greatest American monkey ever, as voted by you. OK, not by you, but by the crack COUNTDOWN staff. And by monkey, that means any apes, chimps or other primate that has look like monkeys, including cartoon monkeys and people dressed up as monkeys. Keith Olbermann counts down the contenders. 


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Countdown presents, “The Greatest American—


Number 10, Bonzo. As a Hollywood leading man, Bonzo wasn‘t exactly Brando. In fact, he wasn‘t even a man. A girl chimp named Peggy played Bonzo in the Reagan film and also the far less famous sequel “Bonzo Goes To College.”

Number 9, J. Fredd Muggs. The first co-host of NBC‘s “TODAY” show.  As Garaway‘s lovable sidekick in the 1950s, Muggs was a TV revolutionary.  He spawned 50 years of copycats. That‘s the copycat on the left incidentally.

Number 8:

CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR:  Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!

OLBERMANN:  Many of us have dressed up as monkeys, but no one ever given a more chilling vision of where that could all lead than Rodney McDowell and Morris Evans as Cornelius and Doctor Zais in “Planet of the Apes”. 

Honorable mention goes to the producers of “Trading Places” who put a man in a monkey suit in a cage with another man in a monkey suit, the latter one is supposed to be a real monkey.  That‘s filmmaking.

Number 7, Albert VI :  A monkey that actually did something for his country as the first American of any species to fly to space and return to earth alive, in 1951. Of course, he died two hours after his round trip, but he returned alive.

Number 6, among animated monkeys in the field is diverse. As much as we loved Magilla Gorilla, Mr. Bananas and the great Curious George, in the end we could choose any one of them. We went with Grape Ape. Why? Because he had a funny name.

Number 5, the smoking chimp from that South African zoo. Yes, smoking is bad for you. He‘s a poor role model. He‘s not even an American. But you have to admit, he has a whole James Dean thing going on. You‘re tearing me apart.

Number 4, the best damn fighting Orangutan of the great 1970s movies monkeys, Clyde from “Every Which Way But Loose”.  He did all of his own stunts.

Number 3, Mickey Dolenz from the TV series “The Monkees”, with two Es.  Look, he may not have had Davy Jones cute, nor the rugged good looks of Michael Nesmeth in that cap, but he had what the rest of the film didn‘t—a car to get back-and-forth from the gigs.

Number 2, Donkey Kong. He‘s big, he‘s bad. He stole Mario‘s girlfriend. Now, he‘s chucking barrels like it is going out of style.  No, Pauline!  Born in 1981, still living on in some pizza shops that were too cheap to upgrade. Donkey Kong, a great American monkey.

Number one, there‘s a reason they called him “King”.  Because he was one big monkey. He burst on the scene in 1938. Superstar from the word go.  He dated the hottest actresses, got invited to the coolest parties, he lived hard, he died young and he and left a good looking corpse, more or less. 

In the pantheon of great American monkeys, only one is befit to wear the crown of “King!” it‘s King Kong. The greatest American monkey.


ROBACH:  And that‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Amy Robach, in tonight for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks so much for watching.  Time now to hand the reins over to Rita Cosby, from “LIVE AND DIRECT”—Rita.



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