Guest: John Harwood, Pepper Schwartz
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The president meets the press. The senator whose quote may have inspired the nomination of Harriet Miers turns out to have been a Democrat.
And then there‘s this photo of Ms. Miers handing the president a document, handing it to him on August 6, 2001, the day he got the PDB titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”
The Lake George disaster. The ultimate penalty to the operators of the ship could be a fine of as little as $25. And the 911 tapes are in.
Every network has them, former American military heroes as analysts.
Now there‘s one on Al Jazeera?
A hero of a different kind.
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EDWARD R. MURROW, CBS NEWS: We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The new movie about Edward R. Murrow.
And now, available at a CVS or a Wal-Mart near you, personal massage units. When did this happen? Aisle 14, next to power tools.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon. Welcome to Wal-Mart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening.
As Supreme Court watchers and president watchers strained for historical analogies, both for the nomination and the bipartisan backlash against it, the president of the United States today defended his selection of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court in an open-air news conference at which said the very fact that she has never before been a judge was one of her top qualifications, saying he had been advised by many to look outside the judicial monastery.
That quote, which stuck in the president‘s mind and came out of his mouth this morning, was from Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the etymology of that phrase seems to sum up the political confusion which Mr. Bush has seemingly instigated by nominating Ms. Miers. The Miers nomination only the first order of business at this morning‘s hastily called gathering in the Rose Garden, the president staunchly defending his actions on the wide number of apparent missteps and seeming nonstarters that have thus far defined his second term.
But first, there were questions about Miers and cronyism to contend with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because our closeness, I know the character of the person. It‘s one thing to say a person can read the law. And that‘s important in understand the law. But what also matters, Adam, is the intangibles. You know, that—to me, a person‘s strength of character counts a lot. And as a result of my friendship with Harriet, I know her strength of character.
Well, Social Security for me is never off. It‘s a long-term promise going to need be to be addressed when the appetite to address it is—you know, that‘s going to be up to the members of Congress. I, I, I, I just want to want to remind people, it‘s not going away.
We here in Washington have got a vital role to play in the recovery and reconstruction efforts on the Gulf Coast. I‘ve made that clear. I‘ve also made it clear we must do so in a fiscally responsible way. Congress needs to pay for as much of the hurricane relief as possible by cutting spending.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said at the time of the Hurricane Katrina that you were dissatisfied with the administration‘s response. You‘ve had some time to think about it now. Is there anything that you yourself, personally, could have done or would have done differently now?
BUSH: I‘ll take responsibility. I‘ll take all the responsibility for the failures at the federal level.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess I‘m asking, how much political capital have you got left in your own (INAUDIBLE)?
BUSH: Plenty. Plenty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The president‘s friendship with Harriet Miers firmly established, the Supreme Court nominee could be seen heading to the Capitol today to make some new friends. She‘ll need 60 of them, to be exact, a few weeks down the line, to move her nomination to an up-or-down vote in the Senate. What lawmakers will be able to learn about her in the interim is debatable, the president hinting today that many of Miers‘ White House documents will be withheld in the name of executive privilege.
But according to the folks at “TIME” magazine, the paper trail already indicating that Ms. Miers has supported full civil rights for gays and lesbians in the past. And there‘s another document being speculated about tonight, this one. Ms. Miers and President Bush in a photograph going over a briefing paper at his Crawford ranch in 2001. We don‘t know which briefing paper that is in the photo. We do know that on the very same day, August 6, a little over one month before the 9/11 attacks, Ms. Miers handed the president the now-famous, or infamous, memo warning him that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States.
Well, let‘s digest all this politically with Tucker Carlson, host of MSNBC‘s “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.”
Thanks for getting up early.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”: It is early for me.
OLBERMANN: The president was asked in there today, Did you pick Harriet Miers because you don‘t want a political fight at this point? And he didn‘t answer the question. But he seemed weary in front of everyone this morning.
OLBERMANN: On that topic and all topics.
CARLSON: The answer is yes. I mean, he picked Harriet Miers because he didn‘t want to fight with Democrats. He got a fight with Republicans. They‘re mad. I mean, Democrats—politically, this is a very foolish calculation, in my view. The Democrats will always oppose Bush, I mean, no matter what he does. He could come out for mandatory abortion and—or whatever, and they will always oppose him. That‘s what they do, at least right now, in 2005.
It‘s his base, it‘s the people who still believe in him, or who support him because he opposes abortion, who are flabbergasted by this decision. I mean, that is what this is about. Harriet Miers is unknown. She could turn out to be conservative or not. But the bottom line is, the Republicans control the executive branch and both houses of Congress. If the president at this point can‘t send up someone who is a known conservative, what can he do? That‘s what his supporters are saying.
OLBERMANN: In all the flak—and it is coming from every direction, it‘s not like the liberal end of things are—is being entirely silent—but clearly, you‘re right, most of the criticism is coming from supposedly the president‘s base, or what...
OLBERMANN: ... the people who thought they were his base.
The question that does not seem to have been addressed yet—maybe it‘s in the post-shock of this, is, what are those confirmation hearings going to be like? Is that going to be a bizarro world through the mirror, looking glass kind of thing, where a Republican president‘s nominee for the Supreme Court is going to be criticized by Republicans?
CARLSON: I think you can see that. I mean, Harry Reid, who is actually not so liberal in some ways, but he is a Democratic leader, and he‘s pretty liberal in other ways, has already come out and essentially said, I like Harriet Miers. I‘m on Harriet Miers‘s side.
OLBERMANN: Yes, they looked like they were on a date...
CARLSON: That—it did.
OLBERMANN: ... (INAUDIBLE) yesterday.
CARLSON: Which is, you know, disturbing.
OLBERMANN: Yes, yes.
CARLSON: But there‘s a lot of pent-up frustration from conservatives, the few that still exist on Capitol Hill, about the president‘s behavior. I mean, at this press conference today, Bush was asked, How do you feel about Roe v. Wade? He couldn‘t even muster the strength to say he wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, OK? If you‘re a supposedly conservative Republican, and you can‘t say out loud that you‘re against Roe v. Wade, how conservative are you?
And there are a lot of Republicans on the Hill who are mad about this. They‘re really mad about the spending, they‘re mad about immigration, really mad about immigration.
And I think you might see, for the first time in his presidency, that resentment come out in the open at these hearings.
OLBERMANN: What was this news conference today about? It seems like whenever there is a problem, somebody is saying, Well, just trot out the old W magic here. The last six or eight months, there has not seemed to have been a lot of W magic at news conferences or speeches.
CARLSON: My sense is, the White House never calls a press conference (INAUDIBLE) to put the W magic on display. That‘s not his best venue, no question. Bush is really good at the meet-and-greets. He‘s really good on an individual basis, if you ever meet him at a Christmas party or at a—you know, at a grip-and-grin. He‘s excellent. He‘s bad at press conferences.
I think they felt like they had to, because the uproar has been so strong. One of the things the White House is doing through back channels is reassuring conservatives that Harriet Miers really is one of them. She‘s been telling—they‘ve been telling, Karl Rove has been telling evangelicals where she goes to a pro-life church. So she must be pro-life. Well, you know, I‘m an Episcopalian. I go to an Episcopal church. I don‘t agree with a single thing the Episcopalians believe politically.
That means nothing. But this is a way to sort of shore up the quickly eroding support on the right.
OLBERMANN: The last part of the highlights of the clips we showed just now, where he was asked, How much political capital have you got left? And the big smile came out, and he said, Plenty, twice. Does he really believe that? Do you believe that? Has he, in fact, become a lame duck president at this point?
CARLSON: Well, political capital is a relative term, I mean, yes, relative to how much capital he‘s going to have after the midterm elections in a little over a year? Yes. He‘s at the apogee of his power right now. I mean, after those midterm elections, November 2006, it is over. We‘re going to be talking about who replaces him or who tries to replace him at that point.
So, yes, he‘s got a lot more power now than he will then. But (INAUDIBLE), you know, relative to the normal second-term president, he‘s become lame a lot earlier than most.
OLBERMANN: Tucker Carlson, host of “THE SITUATION” here on MSNBC, 11:00 p.m. weeknights, 8:00 p.m. Pacific. Thanks for coming out.
CARLSON: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Appreciate it.
One thing about which the president would say nothing at this morning‘s news conference was the ongoing investigation into the leaking of the CIA status of the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. As jailed reporter Judith Miller of “The New York Times” emerged from a Virginia lockout—lockup, rather, a new theory has also emerged about what kind of charges the special prosecutor in the case might be seeking.
More on that in a moment.
First, what the president said or did not say in the Rose Garden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I am mindful of the investigation. I‘ll remind you of what I said last time I was asked about this. I‘m not going to talk about it till the investigation is complete. And it‘s important that the investigation run its course.
The special prosecutor made it very clear early in the process that those of us in the White House need not to—need—should not discuss the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Remember, Freud said there is no such thing as misspeaking. With only 24 days remaining until the grand jury investigating that CIA leak is (INAUDIBLE) -- scheduled to expire, the prevailing schools of thought seem to be on the verge of eclipse. The original thought, that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was seeking indictments concerning an actual violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. That‘s a complicated crime that is hard to prove.
Then there was the subsequent favorite, that he was looking into possible perjury resulting from the investigation itself.
But now a new theory, suggesting that White House insiders Karl Rove and Lewis “Scooter” Libby may have been more involved in the unmasking of Ms. Plame than originally thought, “The Washington Post” reporting that two lawyers involved in the case, each of whom represented witnesses and spoke at length with prosecutor Fitzgerald, believe he may be considering bringing charges of criminal conspiracy against a group of senior Bush administration officials.
Joining us now, the national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal,” John Harwood.
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:
OLBERMANN: The theory that it would be criminal conspiracy charges in the Plame case, does that sound plausible to you?
HARWOOD: Well, it sounds plausible, Keith, but I have to say that I haven‘t talked to Patrick Fitzgerald or gotten any information from him, and I don‘t know anybody who has. I think a lot of us are going on sort of vapors that are trailing around Washington, things coming secondhand from lawyers involved in the case.
But certainly, that would be something that could tie together and help explain why Fitzgerald has been going at this for so long, when there‘s nothing on the public record so far that we know based on the testimony of any of those involved that points clearly to a violation that is a knowing outing of Valerie Plame by people who knew she was a covert agent.
OLBERMANN: Conspiracy cases are notoriously different—difficult to explain to the jury, to convince the jury about. If that—what—is really what Fitzgerald is contemplating here, or even if perhaps he has encouraged this vapor, as you described it, to waft around Washington, might he be hoping at this point, even, to shake somebody loose to testify against somebody else about something?
HARWOOD: Certainly possible. The more players you have involved, and the more people being squeezed, and we know that not just Karl Rove but also Scooter Libby, Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary, has also been questioned in the case. You‘ve got a lot of players. And if he‘s got one person in particular in mind, he may be trying to flip some of the others to provide the clinching kind of testimony.
OLBERMANN: The political end of this, John, regardless of the outcome of any trial, or even if there was an indictment like we‘re speculating about, and even if they were to get tossed out, we‘re now off in the tertiary level of speculation here. But to say something along this line happens, am I wrong, or would this not result in a megaton explosion inside the political arena in Washington?
HARWOOD: I think, Keith, that if any of the principal players that we‘re talking about right now, that is, either Scooter Libby or Karl Rove, who‘s more important, that would be a major political earthquake for this Bush White House at a time they don‘t need more problems. We saw a president today in that news conference look beleaguered by the litany of things that he‘s struggling with right now.
And if he were to see Karl Rove, his top strategist, indicted, that, whether or not Karl Rove left the White House, and the president wouldn‘t indicate today whether he would make that happen, that would be a tremendous blow to his attempt to hold the party together, to keep Republicans on the same page in Congress, try to put this thing back together. Because right now, there are a lot of pressures trying to split it apart.
OLBERMANN: And what happens politically if, after you jail one reporter, and you invoke the names of Mssrs. Libby and Rove in all this, the answer to all of our speculation and everyone‘s speculation is actually, none of the above, and there are no charges, what‘s the political fallout then?
HARWOOD: Well, I think that Fitzgerald then would have some ‘splaining to do, as Ricky Ricardo would—might put it. And presumably, he would put out some sort of report that would explain what he was looking at and what he found and why it fell short of information needed to charge somebody.
If he does so, it can‘t be good for the Bush White House, but it would certainly be a lot better than having somebody face charges.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal,” with, to some degree, the Desilu Studios version of the Plame investigation. As always, John, great thanks.
HARWOOD: You bet.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the investigation into the deadly tour boat accident intensifies. Authorities also releasing the 911 calls of some truly horrified onlookers.
And he used to be a Marine from Texas. Now he is on the payroll of the Al Jazeera television network. We‘ll meet him ahead.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The first hit in a legal prosecution in the nightmare at Lake George in upstate New York came late yesterday. Authorities said that because she carried up to 48 passengers, the sightseeing craft the “Ethan Allen” was required by law to have two crew members, and when it capsized Sunday, drowning 20 elderly tourists, only the 74-year-old captain was aboard.
Today came a just as shocking half to that story. The penalty for having insufficient crew is a fine of between $25 and $100.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, as our correspondent Ron Allen reports, the effort to figure out what happened and why aboard the doomed ship continues. Ron?
RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, investigators here today released 911 calls made to emergency services around the time the boat capsized and sank. One woman in particular was very emotional about what she saw actually watching the incident unfold. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, oh, my God, a boat, a boat, a boat went under just at the (INAUDIBLE), just outside of Green Harbor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It (INAUDIBLE) over. Oh, please...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... oh, a lot of people. (INAUDIBLE) bottom, (INAUDIBLE) to the water. Oh, please hurry!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Green Harbor?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, Green Harbor in Lake George, you know, Lake George.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma‘am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please send somebody really quick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, ma‘am. Will do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ALLEN (voice-over): All that quite emotional.
The NTSB here today also reinterviewed the boat‘s captain and began a bow-to-stern examination of the vessel itself. The boat‘s owners already have been cited for not having two crewmen aboard a ship with at least 47 passengers aboard. They tried to reassure the public today that they‘re cooperating with the investigation.
JAMES QUIRK, OWNER OF SHORELINE CRUISES: We continue to support fully with the NTSB and all authorities investigating the situation so that we can determine the cause of this tragic mishap.
SHERIFF LARRY CLEVELAND, WARREN COUNTY, NEW YORK: Maybe one of the big cruise ships went by and contributed with the wake. Maybe there were other waves. Maybe the weight wasn‘t right. Maybe it wasn‘t distributed right. Maybe there should have been another crew member. All little factors that add up. When we get them all together, we‘ll give you an answer. It‘s not going to be really quickly.
ALLEN (on camera): A disaster that still has this community stunned.
Keith, back to you.
OLBERMANN: Ron Allen reporting from Lake George, 60 miles north of Albany, New York. Thanks.
The survivors of the “Ethan Allen” started heading home to Michigan today, started, but the bus carrying them broke down along the way.
From the serious to the silly, and it is much needed tonight, robot madness hits Japan yet again. That is not a robot. That is a toy. That is what that is, a toy.
And what type of madness is hitting America? Adult units soon coming to a major retailer near you.
OLBERMANN: I just spilled water all over myself.
We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN now for the arts and culture and water portion of the program, now featuring cool robots and amazing feats of strength.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Makohari (ph), Japan, where the masters of technology there have produced yet another mechanical miracle. It‘s a robot that can very slowly ride a bike. Look at him go. The 11-pound robot has no name. We‘ll just call him Ping Pong Ball Head. He‘s able to keep his balance on the bike thanks to that gyro thing in his belly. Scientists are hoping this could lead to a new breed of futuristic newspaper delivery boys.
Just one last test, fast. All he has to do is simply pedal the bike through the automatic opening doors. Psych (ph). (INAUDIBLE). Oh, down goes Ping Pong Ball Head. You OK, little buddy? You all right? They killed Ping Pong Ball Head!
To Woohan (ph) City, China. This is not some weird assault caught on tape, it‘s an amazing demonstration of the world‘s strongest ear. This is Shan Woo (ph), the Elishan Woo (ph), the owner of the really strong ear. His right ear that‘s so gifted, and the one with which he can pull a bus. The left one, it‘s a puny weak girly-man ear. Shan Woo already holds the Guinness World Record for pulling things with his ear. This was just an exhibition of at a strong-man festival.
As for this guy, he seems to have perfectly normal ears, and a canoe stuck on his head. I‘ve got a canoe on my head.
How strong, how able is the Iraqi army? How strong, how able is recruiting for the American Army? Tonight, realities and hopes, and some lowered standards in changing the reality of Arab opinion. Is a former U.S. Marine, soon to be a commentator on Al Jazeera, the answer?
These stories ahead.
But now first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, it‘s FEMA again. Now we have seen governmental bureaucracy as the disaster it is. The agency sent two checks to the owners of the Sand Castle Apartments in Madeira Beach, Florida, for $6,000 to compensate them for housing Katrina evacuees. The Sand Castle Apartments, of course, did not house any Katrina evacuees. It never applied to house any Katrina evacuees, and nobody at FEMA knows why it was sent money for housing Katrina evacuees. They have returned the money.
Number two, Ai-Ai, the 27-year-old female chimpanzee at the Safari (ph) Park in Shanshi (ph) Province in China has quit smoking after 16 years. Good for her. Zoo officials say they helped Ai-Ai through it by giving her mouth-watering food and loaning her a Walkman. Aye-aye, Ai-Ai.
Then number one, the Water Pollution Control Authority of Cheshire, Connecticut. It has a subcommittee to handle sewer issues while new sewers are being built in that city. And they do not appear to be very aware of the concept of the acronym, the word created with the initials with which you abbreviate things like committees. Its new panel is called the Subcommittee Handling Interim Treatment.
That would be S-H-I...
We‘ll be right back.
OLBERMANN: Iraq. Will the discouraging raw numbers about military strength and readiness improve? Not about the Iraqi army, about ours.
Our third story on the could, recruitment here at a 26-year low. And the standards for who gets in and who doesn‘t may shortly follow. The readiness of that Iraqi army continues to be questioned. But overarching all issues, the daily bad news on the ground.
Today, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at a checkpoint just outside the Green Zone in Baghdad. That killed two Iraqi soldiers. On its Web site, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi‘s group claimed responsibility for the blast.
In western Iraq, five U.S. troops have been killed after the military launched two new offensives aimed at routing out insurgents, Operation Iron Fist aimed at fighters neared at the Syrian border, and Operation River Gate, teaming up U.S. and Iraqi soldiers in Anbar. That‘s the same area that troops had already swept through last August.
When it comes to figuring out how ready the Iraqi army is right now to take over such operations, we have three seemingly different answers, one from the president after he was briefed by one of his top generals, one from that same general the next day, and a new number from the president this morning, some pretty fuzzy math when it comes to the amount of Iraqi fighting units that can actually, well, fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: More than 20 battalions are operating in Baghdad. And some have taken the lead in operations in major sectors of the city. In total, more than 100 battalions are operating throughout Iraq. Our commanders report that the Iraqi forces are operating with increasing effectiveness.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: General Abizaid, there was a report sent over, I think, last June that three of the 100 Iraqi battalions were fully trained and equipped, capable of operating independently. What is that number now?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The number now is, if you‘re talking about level-one trained...
ABIZAID: It is one.
MCCAIN: One battalion?
BUSH: Right now, there are over 80 army battalions fighting alongside coalition troops. When I say army battalions, Iraqi army battalions. There are over 30 Iraqi battalions in the lead. And that is substantial progress from the way the world was a year ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, there are either 80 or 100 battalions of Iraqi troops, according to which day you heard the president, and only one of them is ready to fight on its own. And a battalion can range anywhere from 800 men to just 300. More on that in a moment.
First, what about the status of the American military? After missing its recruitment goal this year by nearly 7,000 troops, the widest margin since 1979, the Army has announced a revision of recruitment tactics. It is now accepting a greater number of less qualified applicants, doubling the amount of so-called Category 4 troops, those men and women who score low in the aptitude tests. And they go from 2 percent of the class to 4 percent. That‘s actually the official Pentagon guideline number for category four recruits.
But, before today, the Army had used its own guidelines to select a higher caliber of soldiers.
Joining us now to discuss the state of the U.S. and the Iraqi armies, our analyst, the retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey.
Thanks, as always, for your time tonight, sir.
RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Hi, Keith.
Let‘s start with the U.S. Army. Your opinion on the new category four ruling?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, we‘re having some very significant recruiting difficulties. There‘s no question.
We‘re short 7,000 troops this year. Those are 7,000 privates that won‘t show up in our brigades next year, not 7,000 colonels. So, this is a tremendous shortfall. And it is even more significant and severe in the National Guard, which I think is starting to melt down.
Keith, the problem is the U.S. armed forces are at war. And so is the CIA, but the country is not at war. The recruiting challenge is principles, congressman, mayors and parents, not Marine and Army recruiting sergeants.
OLBERMANN: How do you overcome that? What does the military do to fix the recruiting shortage without bringing up that word draft again or resorting to a significantly lowered standard for the average soldier?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think one thing that is going to happen is, we are going to run out of military muscle to continue operating at this rate by next summer. We are going to have to draw down. We have got 17 combat brigades there now. I would be astonished if we can sustain probably more than 10. So, we‘d better be doing pretty well next summer, because I think we are going to start encountering significant challenges in the Army and the Marine Corps within 12 months.
We also need some help out of Congress. Clearly, we need the tools to compete in the economy. Right now, there‘s a request in for signing bonuses of $40,000 for home loans for young people who stay in beyond three years. All this is very helpful, as are 3,000 new Army recruiting sergeants. But the challenge is, where is the political leadership, the school principals, the high school coaches, who will say to these young men and women, hey, we don‘t need you for a career in the armed forces; we need you to come in and fight; we‘re in trouble?
OLBERMANN: Let‘s look at the Iraqi army now. I don‘t remember the first time we talked about this issue of how ready they can be and how quickly, but it was a while ago. But, with all these conflicting numbers out there, where—can you assess it correctly? Where is the Iraqi army now in terms of readiness?
MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, we got a—we had this Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus in charge of putting this force together. He‘s been replaced by a superb officer, Lieutenant General Marty Dempsey.
I think, mechanically, the process under way, I think the answer is probably 100 battalions exist, army, customs, border patrol, police. Probably, the number I‘m using—and I got a pretty good source -- 36 battalions are in reasonably competent shape to get out there and fight. Probably none of them can operate without U.S. logistical support, air support, that sort of thing. By next summer, there ought to be a lot more.
But, Keith, the key question isn‘t whether we can round up Iraqi soldiers. It is whether there‘s a government that will exist that they‘ll be willing to fight and die for. And that‘s really the question at hand between now and December.
OLBERMANN: So, looking at those two marks on the graph, obviously, the personnel one, you would think is relatively satisfactory. What about the political one?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think we‘re about to find out.
I think, when I left there in July, I was pretty optimistic that the Sunnis had decided they had made a gross error in judgment in just fighting, that they would now try political means to move ahead. I still am hopeful that‘s the way it will come out. We may end up with a Shia-Kurd alliance, with much of the Sunni region in continuing rebellion.
That may not be an unacceptable outcome. If we can get a security force that will fight for 80 percent of Iraq, then we may be able to start a withdrawal, which we have got to do by next summer.
OLBERMANN: General Barry McCaffrey, as always, sir, thank you for your insight. A pleasure to talk to you.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A long time ago, as events in Iraq began, there was much talk about winning the hearts and minds of the Arab world. We haven‘t heard that a lot lately, until today. The idea of an ex-soldier serving as a commentator and an analyst for a television network is not exactly news. We heard just one 20 seconds ago.
But which network? Well, that is news.
Correspondent Jamie Gangel now on the Marine from Texas who has just signed one Al-Jazeera and why some think this is the hearts-an-mind thing come to fruition, while others are just assuming the former serviceman is being exploited.
JAMIE GANGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this country, Al-Jazeera is best known for exclusives like this, messages from Osama bin Laden, graphic footage of hostages and prisoners of war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are—do you come from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Texas.
GANGEL: And while top Bush administration officials have done interviews with the network, they have also called it biased, inflammatory and dangerous.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Lie is what they do. They just simply put things on television that are not true.
GANGEL: So, why is this former U.S. Marine captain, Josh Rushing, going to work for an Arab news network accused of being anti-American?
JOSH RUSHING, FORMER U.S. MARINE CAPTAIN: My personal goal is, I want to represent to the world the best of what I think America stands for. When I travel the world, they have such harsh opinions about us right now. And I hope, when they see me, maybe it‘s someone that they can relate to, because I‘m willing to listen.
GANGEL (on camera): You think you‘re going to promote a pro-American message?
RUSHING: Absolutely. I have made no attempt to separate myself from my past, so no attempt to separate myself from being a Marine of 14 years, a guy from Texas, a blue-eyed American son.
GANGEL (voice-over): But while Rushing, a former public affairs officer, was considered talented and smart by his Marine Corps superiors,, conservative critics are saying the 33-year-old ex-Marine is now being used.
CLIFF KINCAID, ACCURACY IN MEDIA: He is being naive in thinking that he is going to have any real impact over at Al-Jazeera. He is going to be an American face, perhaps a punching bag that they can use in their news reports to say, hey, we‘re balanced. Look, we have got an American on the air.
GANGEL: Rushing insists, he knows what he‘s getting into.
RUSHING: They‘re not hiring me for my journalistic skills. They‘re hiring me to represent my viewpoint on the air as an on-air personality. So, do I think I‘m being naive? No.
GANGEL: So why did Al-Jazeera pick him? Rushing admits, it was because of his appearance in this movie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CONTROL ROOM”)
RUSHING: I mean, it is about the 23 million people of Iraq and bringing them freedom.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GANGEL: Last year, Rushing became a minor celebrity as the accidental star of the documentary “Control Room,” a sympathetic behind-the-scenes look at Al-Jazeera‘s coverage of the Iraq war. In the movie, Rushing is seen in his job as a liaison to the Arab-language network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “CONTROL ROOM”)
RUSHING: We don‘t want to occupy Baghdad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you are.
RUSHING: We don‘t want to keep troops here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you are occupying..
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANGEL: At times, he is critical of coverage. But he also develops a respect for the news organization. And he remains quick to defend Al-Jazeera today.
RUSHING: If I wrote off Al-Jazeera because they‘re biased, I am afraid I would have to write off not just American media, but maybe the world‘s media. Show me a news station that doesn‘t have some kind of biasness in it. I think it‘s impossible.
GANGEL (on camera): And to the naysayers, the people who think you‘re a fool, you‘re getting used?
RUSHING: Who cares? I mean, the Marines taught me, do the right thing for the right reason. Damn the consequences. Everyone is going to have their opinions. And if you‘re doing anything worthwhile, you‘re going to have critics.
OLBERMANN: Jamie Gangel reporting.
And from new broadcasting careers to the man who created the profession. Edward R. Murrow helped topple Senator McCarthy in the ‘50s. Now Hollywood is putting its imprint on his history.
But, up next, bad news for adult stores across the country. Some—some massage units are coming to major national retailers near you.
OLBERMANN: When a trip to the store can include picking up the milk, getting some bread and checking out the new personal massage tools. Could be a reality quicker than you think.
COUNTDOWN continues, with great pride and dignity, next.
OLBERMANN: Even in these conservative times, what‘s left of the sexual revolution seems still to have a bit of a pulse, or, perhaps more actively, a bit of a vibration.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, look, we‘re going to talk here about what are politely called personal massage units. So, if you don‘t want to have to explain that to anybody who might be watching with you, hit the mute or go to the kitchen for some Mallomars or something. The story here is not the unit, but where one can purportedly purchase the unit, Wal-Mart, CVS, Kmart, Walgreens.
I will have a giant bag of Halloween-colored peanut M&Ms and one of those Alexa rings, please? That part of a line of what are described as—quote—“intimacy care products,” from the people who bring you Trojan products. These, unlike their better-known offerings, are geared toward women. Actually, the Trojan products are geared toward women in a certain sense of the term.
The COUNTDOWN investigative unit contacted the mainstream retailers, some of whom won‘t even put the “Sports Illustrated” swimsuit issue on their magazine rack, but, this, they‘ll sell. When asked if they carry the units, Wal-Mart said, rather emphatically, only in Canada. CVS admitted to carrying the Alexa line, but not in its entirety, a company spokesperson whispering into a voice-mail—quote—“not the vibrating ring.”
Still, some folks seem to have loosened up around our fair land of late. Maybe it‘s all those rerun of “Sex and the City” on the decidedly mainstream cable channel TBS. Maybe it‘s just a bunch of mega-store executives who really think the units are designed to work those knots out of your neck, just about here.
For comment on this cultural phenomenon, let‘s call in Dr. Pepper Schwartz, author of “Everything You Know About Love and Sex is Wrong,” and professor of sociology at the University of Washington.
Dr. Schwartz, good evening.
PEPPER SCHWARTZ, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON:
Good evening. I‘m delighted to be here on this topic.
OLBERMANN: Well, you can tell I am, obviously.
Well, well, well, well, what is this all about?
SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, it‘s another case of business finally catching up with the culture.
You know, ever since the woman‘s liberation, women have been using vibrators—there‘s the word—I have said it—as part of their sexual enhancement.
OLBERMANN: Units, units. We‘re calling them units here.
SCHWARTZ: Units. Oh, God.
SCHWARTZ: Oh, God. We‘re so puritanical, but OK.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Yes. Yes. It‘s basic cable.
Women have been using units for their sexual pleasure and also for sexual dysfunction. Sexual therapists have been using them a great deal. Now you can go on I don‘t know how many feminist toy stores and get them online. There‘s an extraordinary business going on here. And a lot of the mainline businesses thought to themselves, finally, hey, there‘s a customer for the product. There‘s a product that is easy to—to verify, works for the customer.
We are in a sort similar businesses. Duh. Why don‘t we manufacture it and distribute it?
There you go.
OLBERMANN: Yes. And I‘m thinking of a second career in the verification end of this work.
But the basketball player Dennis Rodman used to say, with some insight, I think, of his teammate Michael Jordan and Jordan‘s willingness to endorse products, that, if they made an athletic supporter that you wore on your head, Jordan would do a commercial for it.
OLBERMANN: Is that in fact—is that the kind of philosophy we‘re seeing here at the corporate level, I mean, guys who are saying, if we can sell guns in these places, why can‘t we sell units?
SCHWARTZ: Well, you know, OK, I‘m just going to be a bad word and I am going to say that word again, vibrators, because, in fact, what is going on here is a really good product that has helped a lot of women in a lot of ways.
And I think what they‘re saying is, why shouldn‘t we be able to do this? That, in fact, this isn‘t advertising something that is dishonorable or dangerous or doesn‘t work—this is a terrific product that lots and lots of people, millions of Americans, use and like and don‘t feel really bad about using. Why don‘t we just make it easier for them to get them with the other kind of health products that they get?
So, no, this is not wearing anything on your head. This is just doing something good for women, good for couples, and that is already out there. Make it a little bit easier for people. You may not know that this product is literally illegal in at least four or five states, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, etcetera. So, maybe this will help those states realize that this is just a great product that—that is very useful, that‘s a lot of pleasure, that helps people overcome a lot of problems, for example, that sex therapists use it under—for orgasmic dysfunction, and that people are buying it now under the label of head massager. Why don‘t you sell it for what it is?
OLBERMANN: And now available without a prescription.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz of the University of Washington, thanks for your time.
SCHWARTZ: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: We‘re doing a segment on Edward R. Murrow in a couple minutes. I just wanted to throw that in there.
With some relief, we thus segue into tonight‘s roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tab.
And while some stars are digging deep into the closet for items to auction off for hurricane relief, fortunately, Britney Spears isn‘t quite digging that deep. What‘s that buzzing sound? America‘s favorite pop tart is holing a veritable yard sale of items both used and really used to raise money for the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund. She was born about 90 miles north of New Orleans in Kentwood, Louisiana.
Among the items being auctioned off on the online clearinghouse eBay, Holy Zohar books for students of cabala, a rhinestone-encrusted bra, front clasp broken. Oh, sorry. A Beanie Baby teddy bear in bridal attire, and these, a pair of blue J.Crew flip-flops retailing—retailing now for $12.50 new. With that special Spears foot residue, at $157. Maybe you can use it to clone her.
And just when you thought it couldn‘t get worse, there‘s news about Robert Blake taking the stand for the first time in a wrongful death civil suit filed by the children of his murdered wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Mr. Blake admitted that he had once lied about having prostate and colon cancer, that he had offered to pay Bakley $250,000, all in an effort to convince her to get an abortion. Ms. Bakley refused, gave birth to a daughter and later married Blake.
This past March, Blake was acquitted of her May 2001 shooting. Asked if he really had cancer, Blake replied—quote—“not entirely.”
From the ridiculous to the sublime, Hollywood tries to translate the impact and the integrity of the greatest of newscasters, Edward R. Murrow. That‘s ahead.
But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in the world.
There‘s Dr. Randall Smith of Gresham, Oregon. He‘s already gone to jail and lost his license for the cure he proposed for a woman patient complaining of lower back pain. Now she is suing him for $4 million. He said the pain would go away if she had sex with him. And he probably planned to send her a bill afterwards, too.
Nominated at the silver level, Dave Worrell, spokesman for the Alaska Travel Industry Association, whose new billboards in L.A., Minneapolis and Seattle promoting tourism to the 49 states showing a big license plate, as you see, with the tag that spells out B4UDIE.
Thanks. Thanks for the reminder. How about you guys visit New York before your next Alaskan earthquake?
But the winner, Andrew Jacobs (ph), a Vienna, Virginia, martial arts instructor. Among his pupils, a pair of 12 -- 10-year-old twin girls. Saturday, police say, he went to their home, broke in, tried to rob the house and abduct the girls. The bad news for Mr. Jacob, he is a moron. Even though he was wearing a mask, the girls, of course, recognized his voice.
The good news for Mr. Jacobs, he is a good martial arts instructor, so good that the girls apparently beat the crap out of him, blackening his eye and giving their parents the chance to hit him over the head with a lamp.
Andrew Jacobs, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: In any profession, there are immortals, people whose names resonate from the beginning of time in that particular field, whose ability to inspire admiration and awe doesn‘t diminish with the years.
Sometimes, these immortals are well known outside of their own world. Sometimes they are not. And sometimes the passing of the decades moves them from the famous to the obscure, to the inevitable shock to those who still worship them.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s a genuine marvel for those of us in television news there are any people in this country who don‘t know who Edward R. Murrow was, nor how he contributed to our freedom. Yet, there it is in the review of a new movie about Murrow, a thunderously positive review from “Rolling Stone” magazine, that nonetheless suggests that director George Clooney is—quote—“blowing the dust off ancient TV history.”
On each of the newscasts for the last two-and-a-half years, I have signed off with the same five-word phrase. It was the way Mr. Murrow used to end most of his broadcasts and it has been and will continue to be a simple tribute to Murrow‘s continuing and still unfolding impact on journalism, on television, on America. Those words of sign-off are, good night and good luck.
And that, as our correspondent Bob Faw reports, is the title of the new film starring the impeccable David Strathairn as the immortal Murrow.
BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Now it all seems like a fairy-tale. On his “See It Now” broadcast, Edward R. Murrow, the country‘s most celebrated newsman...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK”)
DAVID STRATHAIRN, ACTOR: Because I would like to say rather precisely what I mean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FAW: Among the first to challenge, then expose the lies and bullying tactics of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose reckless, unsubstantiated charges in the early 1950s that the government was riddled with communists destroyed careers and lives and left America in the grip of hysteria.
JOE WERSHBA, FORMER CBS NEWS PRODUCER: Governments by fear.
Everybody was scared to death.
FAW: Joe Wershba was a producer then for Murrow‘s CBS News team.
WERSHBA: After he spoke up against McCarthy, boy, all the power was used against him to destroy him.
FAW: George Clooney, who plays co-producer Fred Friendly, wrote the script and directed the film to honor Murrow.
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: McCarthy would have imploded at some point any way. But it would have taken longer. He made a big difference on that.
FAW (on camera): Murrow and McCarthy‘s world, so black and white, is gone. Now major corporation own the networks. News has to compete with entertainment.
LARRY GROSSMAN, FORMER NBC NEWS PRESIDENT: The landscape has changed and the environment has changed. In the game of show and tell, show has become much more important than the tell.
FAW (voice-over): Truth be told, Murrow also did fluff, all those celebrity interviews on “Person to Person,” which his biographer says he detested.
JOE PERSICO, MURROW BIOGRAPHER: As Murrow put it, he did the program he hated, so that he could keep doing the programs that he loved.
FAW: Programs which so vexed CBS management, Murrow was eventually forced out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK”)
STRATHAIRN: Bill, you said corporate wouldn‘t interfere with editorial and that the news was to be left our own...
FRANK LANGELLA, ACTOR: We don‘t make the news. We report the news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FAW: but, on several glorious evenings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK”)
STRATHAIRN: Good evening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FAW: His truth did speak to power and prevailed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK”)
STRATHAIRN: We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WERSHBA: I have always said he was my last hero. I just felt ennobled.
FAW: No, it wasn‘t a fairy tale. It just seems like one.
Bob Faw, NBC News, New Hyde Park, New York.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN.
Would that Murrows populated our landscape now or that the original one might still be with us to say this, instead of me. Good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT.”
Good evening, Rita.
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: Good evening. Thanks so much, Keith.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.