Guest: James VandeHei, Larry Peirce, Kermit the Frog
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
It says Libby, Libby, Libby on the arraignment, 'raignment, 'raignment. Will it soon also say Karl Rove? Who in the White House wants him out? Or, at least, wants him to issue a formal apology?
Why not send it in an e-mail? That's what the former head of FEMA did. As waters rose in New Orleans, he was asking colleagues back home to find him a dog sitter, and trading compliments about his new outfit from Nordstrom's. Heck of a job keeping this story alive, Brownie.
Heck of a job keeping everybody alive after an ultralight plane crashes next to a Nebraska high school football game.
The world's Rubic's Cube championships. Kid, I don't think you're doing that right.
And Kermit the Frog turns 50. He'll join us to celebrate and, of course, to comment on the arraignment of Scooter.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
His personal hero is Winston Churchill. There was a portrait of the British leader directly behind his desk at the White House. Thus, when Lewis “Scooter” Libby hopped into court this morning, atop crutches and under indictment, he was doubtless thinking of one of Churchill's many memorable quotes, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, for the first time in 47,446 days, a defendant, indicted while a sitting White House officer, was arraigned, amid reports that at least one of his colleagues might yet join him.
First, to what we know we know. MSNBC's David Shuster back from the Prettyman (ph) Courthouse in Washington.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.
From the moment Scooter Libby showed up at the courthouse today, he indicated that he was not interested in any sort of negotiations or cooperating with the overall investigation in any fashion. Libby arrived with new lawyers, who are veteran trial attorneys. They are not known for cutting deals.
And they stated that Scooter Libby is eager for the courtroom battle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED WELLS, LIBBY'S ATTORNEY: He intends to fight the charges in the indictment. And he has declared that he wants to clear his good name. And he wants a jury trial. We do not intend to try this case in the press. Mr. Libby intends to clear his good name by using the judicial process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But the press, of course, will play a central role. Libby is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters, and also alleged to have lied about how he learned information that was classified about administration critic Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson.
Everything at the arraignment today was by the book. Libby waived the reading of the indictment, and then he was asked for his plea, and he said, “With respect, your honor, I plead not guilty.” After 10 minutes, in which the judge set a status hearing for February, Libby was taken out of the courtroom and processed by the federal marshals. The federal marshals said he was treated just like everybody else, which means that Scooter Libby had to give his fingerprints and have his mug shot taken, although under federal rules, the mug shot is not available to the public.
The prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, revealed to the court today that much of the evidence collected in this case against Libby is classified, and therefore, defense attorneys will need to get security clearance before they can get some of the information that they are entitled to. That is a process that could take months. And that is why the judge in this case did not set a trial date but simply said that they will all meet again in February.
In the course of all this—and there you see Judge Reggie Walton. He was told by the prosecutor that the court should expect that this trial, when it goes to trial, will take two weeks. But, of course, Keith, that could be at a very heavy cost for the White House, because any trial, of course, might put a new focus again on Vice President Cheney. He's mentioned in the indictment. There are still some unanswered questions about his role with Scooter Libby.
And there would also, of course, be a focus on administration efforts, including those by the vice president and Scooter Libby to discredit critics of the war, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thanks, David. No mug shot for the public. David Shuster, covering the Libby arraignment for us tonight. Great thanks.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
OLBERMANN: Next, new indications, according to “The Washington Post,” that Karl Rove remains in legal jeopardy in Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of that CIA leak case.
Rather than rehash those indications, let's turn to one of the reporters who broke the story for “The Post,” the impeccable White House correspondent Jim VandeHei.
Good evening, Jim.
JAMES VANDEHEI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: What are those indications?
VANDEHEI: Well, basically, we've known now for a couple of weeks that Karl Rove still remains under investigation. And we learned that this week, for instance, Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, talked to the lawyer of Matthew Cooper, who's a “TIME” magazine correspondent who's been a central figure in this entire leak probe from the beginning, because he's one of the reporters who White House officials had talked to about Valerie Plame.
That is the first concrete indication we have that this week, this thing is really live and going, and that Rove remains a focus.
OLBERMANN: Is there any time frame relative to this for Rove, any all-clear day? And on the other end of it, is there any time frame regarding Mr. Fitzgerald and a second grand jury?
VANDEHEI: I think we're talking weeks, not months. Most of the people I've talked to, both that are close to Rove and are close to the investigation, say that it's just a couple of things that Fitzgerald is trying to wrap up, and that he will let Karl Rove know one way or the other whether he is going to be charged or whether he will not be charged.
I think we should know that by the end of this month.
SHUSTER: Is there any indication, Jim, if Fitzgerald's—let's call it refreshed interest in Rove this week, is the result of the information and the processes that he was already into and following last week? Or could this be new information? And if it might be new information, could that be raising the prospect that somebody has in some way come forward in the past three or four days?
VANDEHEI: I'm not aware of anyone that has come forward. Basically, there was a sort of secretive meeting that took place last week between Fitzgerald and Rove's lawyer, where some information was exchanged that gave Fitzgerald, quote unquote, “pause” about indicting Rove. We believe that that's what the prosecutor has been looking at in tying up some other loose ends and trying to make that final decision whether he does something with Rove.
But as far as anyone else, you know, coming forward or turning, as far as being a witness, we've not heard any of that in the last couple of weeks.
OLBERMANN: There's something else obviously connected to Rove, but on a different branch of the same tree, that was in your piece this morning, about Rove staying on in the White House. And you cite senior Republican sources familiar with White House deliberations as saying that if Mr. Rove is to remain in the administration, he might have to issue a formal apology for having misled his colleagues and the public about his own role in the Plame case. That's a rather extraordinary option, is it not?
VANDEHEI: Well, you got to remember back to 2000, when President Bush was running for president, he had made several statements about how he was going to hold this administration to a higher ethical standard, not worrying what was just legal, but what was right. And if you remember in 2003, you know, Karl Rove and other folks in the White House said that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and others weren't involved in this leak at all.
I mean, regardless of the legalities of this, we now know that was not true. And a lot of people feel that for Bush to be able to move on, that Karl Rove is going to have to, in some shape or form, apologize for misleading, say, Scott McClellan, who then told reporters that he wasn't involved, and also the president himself.
And I think those are the deliberations that are taking place inside and outside of the White House, with those people that are connected around Bush.
OLBERMANN: Any indication of how strongly the push might be to get an apology out of Rove, and how perhaps unwilling he might be to give one?
VANDEHEI: It's not clear. I mean, basically the mood is now that they have to wait and see to figure out if he's going to be charged. If Karl Rove is charged in this case, everybody says he would have to go. And that sort of makes it a moot point.
The question is, if he's not charged, what is the political environment a couple of weeks from now? The White House can plausibly say right now that we can't comment about this because there's an ongoing investigation, which is true. When that investigation concludes, that's when they have to start commenting, that's when they have to figure out, does President Bush himself give a speech and explain what happened here and apologize? Same with Karl Rove.
OLBERMANN: Jim VandeHei, the White House correspondent of “The Washington Post.” As ever, Jim, great thanks.
VANDEHEI: Yes, good night.
OLBERMANN: More on the political environment, as Jim put it, in a moment, with Pat Buchanan.
The repercussions of the leak investigation, among other things, reverberating all the way to the Oval Office, where the once-unthinkable has happened, the president's approval rating hitting another new all-time low, 35 percent approving of the job President Bush has been doing in the latest CBS News poll, a majority, 57 percent disapproving. That means even members of the president's base are bailing out.
Having already bottomed out to where it was thought just his base was supporting him, Mr. Bush has now managed to bottom out below bottom.
And his boss's declining approval ratings to possible indictment, to thinking out loud by members of his own party about whether or not he is hurting his own party by staying on, and now this prospect of having to apologize. And if it's not the White House in crisis, it's definitely Karl Rove in crisis.
I'd like to call in MSNBC analyst, veteran White House staffer, former presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan.
Good evening, Pat.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I'm wondering if all this now constitutes a concerted effort by somebody or by people in the White House, and in the leadership of the Republican Party, to get Karl Rove to quit and quit now, and if it has any prospect of succeeding.
BUCHANAN: Well, it looks like somebody in the White House is, of course, talking to “The Washington Post,” and putting pressure on Rove. And they're certainly not helping the president. And the president or his chief of staff ought to get control of the White House.
I think for Rove to resign now would be a disastrous mistake for the administration, for this reason. These scandals, the only way you get them to slow down and stop is not to feed them with new stories or something like that. And to throw Karl Rove to the wolves now, I think, would, after Libby's been digested for a week, I think it would be a terrible mistake for the administration.
They've got to wait for the decision by the special prosecutor. If Rove's indicted, he's got to go then. You've got to take your hit. And if I were the president, I would not throw him off the sleigh now.
OLBERMANN: The other option that was mentioned in Jim VandeHei's piece, at minimum, Rove may, and I'm quoting, “have to issue a formal apology for misleading colleagues and the public about his role in conversations about Valerie Plame.” That sounds like something out of the George Steinbrenner humiliate-your-employees playbook. Would Rove ever consent to that, in your opinion? Would George Bush ever be the one who calls him into the office and says, You got to go out front and say you're sorry, so you can stay here?
BUCHANAN: I don't think that would -- I—again, I think you would have, the press would go into a feeding frenzy. He's now apologized for the fact that he lied to McClellan, and he had a role in talking about to this woman. And he did not tell us that. When are you going to get rid of him?
So I think you just feed the frenzy that way. I think, again, they ought to just button down, wait for—take their hit, and hope that Fitzgerald does not indict. If he does not indict, my guess is, down the road, you'll—Karl Rove, some of his duties will be taken away, perhaps his, you know, his duties over policy.
But, again, I think the president would make a terrible mistake now if he reacted to the present pressure he's getting and threw Rove over the side.
OLBERMANN: But there have been a lot of mistakes in the White House recently. And clearly, the president is not 100 percent intractable. The end of the Harriet Miers nomination tells us that. But how far would he go to protect Rove and to protect his opinion about Rove, which we presume is positive still at this point? What's the maximum number of the rest of the White House and Republican brain trusts who could be demanding, Dump him, to whom the president could still say, No?
BUCHANAN: Well, let me say first, the Miers thing, the appointment, I thought, was just terrible for the president.
But I will say this. Last week, he pulled back beautifully just before the indictments came down. And he came with Alito on Monday, which is a tremendous coup. It's reunited his base. That is partly why Reid, on Tuesday, went in there with that stunt, pulling that emergency meeting of the Senate, because Alito was helping the president so much, and the Democrats want to get it back to focus on this.
Now, with Rove, look, president's got a long history with him going back. There's a tremendous bond of loyalty here. It ought to remain, in my judgment. Rove has given his life to this man, and I don't think you throw him over the side unless it is essential, basically, to the presidency.
And I don't believe we've reached that point yet. And if I were the president, and people called and said, We think he ought to go, you'd say, Appreciate your advice, I'm not going to take it. And again, I would not do it, anything, until Pat Fitzgerald wraps up and says either we're going to indict him, or we give him a clean bill of health.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, and I didn't want to ask Jim VandeHei his source, it's kind of unfair to put somebody on the spot that way. But there's all kind of speculation about who would float this stuff. And, in fact, “The National Review Online” was wondering today if this isn't Scott McClellan or Scott McClellan's friends firing a shot over Rove's bow, because Rove and Libby made McClellan look so bad.
And the article itself is unexpectedly kind to McClellan. Do you buy that? Is this coming from some sort of, some sort, some small clique inside the White House, or from that man himself?
BUCHANAN: I've got my own—I wouldn't—I don't want to say, but I've got my own idea who I think the source is.
But let me say this. McClellan is an injured party here. I believe he went out and told the truth as he was told it. I don't think this man lied. And do I believe he was done a terrible injustice if Rove and Libby said, We had nothing to do with this, McClellan, and you can go out and tell them that, because McClellan's the front man now. His credibility's on the line, and something's got to be done to correct this.
OLBERMANN: Somebody once said of White House press secretaries, they're like waiters in bad restaurants.
MSNBC's Pat Buchanan. As always, sir, great thanks.
BUCHANAN: Take it easy, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Scooter Libby, out as the vice president's man. This man, David Addington, is in. Once you hear his background, you may understand why some have been calling for fresh blood in the Bush White House.
And why is Mike Heck-of-a-Job Brownie Brown still getting his government salary? Perhaps to supply us with his log of entertaining, unbelievable, and infuriating e-mails. He is told the city is drowning. He replies, Anything specific I need to do or tweak?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: White House scandals often thrust behind-the-scenes figures into the spotlight, and their successors too. When H.R. “Bob” Haldeman had to quit as Richard Nixon's chief of staff, his replacement was a fairly obscure general named Alexander Haig, future secretary of state, future utterer of the infamous line, “I'm in charge here.”
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, with Scooter Libby out as the vice president's staff chief, there is a new name to learn, David Addington. Not that he is a new name in the White House. That should be underscored by the report that, upon returning from having told Judith Miller of “The New York Times” about Valerie Plame's identity, Mr. Libby went directly to confer with Mr. Addington.
The latter's biography filled in for us tonight by MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.
NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the most influential adviser to a vice president in history, powerful, but clearly, not irreplaceable.
After his indictment, Libby resigned, and Cheney named another trusted adviser to be his new chief of staff.
His name is David Addington. And next to Libby, he may be the most discreet staffer in all of the White House.
DAVID GRIBBEN, FORMER CHENEY AIDE: He is a person of great integrity. He's also very straightforward in his dealings with other people. There's not usually much of a mystery about where—what Dave Addington's talking about or where he's coming from.
O'DONNELL: If Libby is the ultimate backroom player, Addington is the silent bureaucratic master.
GRIBBEN: Very loyal to Dick Cheney, and has proven himself to be a person who, quite frankly, has Dick Cheney's best interests at heart.
O'DONNELL: Like Libby, Addington is a man very much in Cheney's image. And Addington is also a controversial figure. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment states Addington was one of the officials that Libby spoke with about Valerie Plame before her covert CIA status was revealed.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We all know the vice president's office was the nerve center of an operation designed to sell the war and discredit those who challenged it.
O'DONNELL: Today, Democrats on Capitol Hill demanded it's time that Cheney clean house.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: For a vice president's office that needs a fresh start, this team seems to be a stale move, to hunker down and get in the bunker.
O'DONNELL: But that's not likely to happen. In fact, Cheney's decision to name Addington was also one more signal this vice president has no plans to change his ways.
Addington has been at the center of some of the administration's fiercest fights. As the vice president's lawyer, he advocated enlarging presidential powers, keeping secret Cheney's meetings with corporations over energy policy. And he was the primary author of an August 2002 opinion from the Justice Department that said torture might be justified in some cases.
He's currently fighting to exempt the CIA from a proposal by Senator John McCain to ban cruel and inhumane treatment of enemy combatants.
(on camera): Critics charge Cheney's new chief of staff is an ideologue, fanatic and secretive, even worse than Scooter Libby. But a friend of Addington's describes him as a dedicated public servant, a man who every day for decades has carried a copy of the Constitution in his suit coat pocket.
For COUNTDOWN, I'm Norah O'Donnell.
OLBERMANN: Norah, thanks.
From politicians in crisis, to marvels in science. What would life be like if you were a deer? Wonder no more. It's Deercam.
And if the football game is not interesting enough, perhaps the ultralight plane crashing near the crowd can liven things up a bit. No one seriously hurt.
All that and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: We're back, and once again, we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day's real news and enjoy a brief segment of weird people, strange animals, and other gratuitous video.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin in the woods in Columbia, Missouri, where a team from the University of Missouri has joined up with the Conservation Department to bring you Deercam, the world as seen through the eyes of a deer. Researchers were able to mount this tiny little camera on the head of one deer. They didn't name him, but if we're near St. Louis, why don't we call him Jack Buck? Cardinals announcer.
Anyway, they—for years and years. They collected—and his is announcing for them now. They collected more than 200 hours of videotape, capturing Jack Buck bounding through the woods, eating plants, frolicking with the other deer, and finally being hit by a car.
No, I made that part up. Sorry. He's fine.
Until now, the only way to track deer was with radio transmitters or GPS collars, which are fine, but you miss the poignant moments, such as Jack quietly sobbing about how ridiculous he looks with that thing on his head. In the future, researchers hope to learn more about what the deer eats, and they're also pitching a reality show where they put a camera on a hunter's head as well.
From the file marked Strange Things People Do in Other Countries, we travel to Dahli (ph), India, where it's time for the annual Stone Festival. They don't call it the Stone Festival because of beautiful stone carvings or different varieties of granite. No, no. It's actually the chance for the residents of two villages to stone each other. It's Jamag (ph) versus Halag (ph) in a tradition dating back hundreds of years, celebrating the peaceful relations between two villages.
Yes, it's all fun and games, until 75 different people lose an eye.
Finally to Wakefield, Rhode Island, where one local boy is looking to make good in the upcoming world's Rubic Cube championships. Chris Slatney (ph) has been working this cube nonstop for years and can solve the puzzle in about 20 seconds. Impressive? Nah, I didn't think so either. In fact, the best in the world can do it in, like, 13 seconds.
But can they do it with their feet? Well, now, that's impressive. Relatively speaking, of course. Twinkle Toes Slatney is one of just 15 people who qualified for the foot category of the Rubic's championship. He says he can break the unofficial world record of 1 minute, 34 seconds, with one arm tied behind his back. And by the looks of it, I dare say he's a shoo-in for the world title. Ha, ha, ha, ha.
Back to you, Victoria.
Oh, that's right, there is no Victoria. It's just me out here by myself.
From Victoria to victor, winner of the award for the most self-absorbed e-mails during a national crisis. No contest. You're doing another heck of a job, Brownie.
And celebrating the Muppet milestone. Kermit is still green, but he's got 50, counting 50 years under his frog legs. We'll be joined live by the star of the big and little green screens.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Ricardo Salazar of Elmhurst, New York. Police have arrested him, accused him of shoplifting some stuff from an area Victoria's Secret store, 342 bras. He's accused of shoplifting 342 bras. I don't know, he's got a lot of friends. I don't know.
Number two, Bob Dougherty of Niederland, Colorado. He's suing Home Depot. He got punked last year, sat down in one of their bathrooms, got stuck to the seat, which had been covered with glue. He called for help, but the head clerk thought it was a hoax. Fifteen minutes later, EMS workers unscrewed the seat and escorted Mr. Dougherty out. He says, quote, “This is not Home Depot's fault, but I am blaming them for letting me hang in there and just ignoring me. (INAUDIBLE), so to speak.
Number one, the two fossil fungus cells discovered by scientists in India. The fossil in which they are contained is 65 million years old. The scientists say the two microorganisms became fossilized while having sex. They have been in that sexual position for 65 million years.
Scientists add, one of the cells looked suspiciously like the actor Tom Sizemore.
OLBERMANN: Here's a pop quiz specially designed by the COUNTDOWN psychological laboratories which will help you determine if you are government management material. It is a simple true-false. True or false:
If you are the head of FEMA and your deputy e-mails you America's 35th-largest city is drowning, your response should be: Thanks for update, anything specific I need to do or tweak? The correct answer, of course, is true.
If you want to be in a management position in our government, that's exactly how you should respond to such a dire message. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, oh, and do something else that Mike Brown did. Leave the e-mail trail available where a disgruntled Louisiana congressman can get it and distribute all the e-mails to the world. Tweak this.
Twenty-five pages of e-mails covering topics from disaster to dog-sitting, and intriguing hints that he might have been planning to quit his job even before Katrina hit, before he headed up the appalling federal response to the worst natural disaster in recent American history. A nice irony, considering that he is currently, right at this moment, still on FEMA's payroll. But back to his thoughts then. His priorities seemed pretty obvious even before Hurricane Katrina hit.
Friday, August 26th, Brown to FEMA press secretary Sharon Worthy: “Tie or not for tonight? Button-down blue shirt?” The following Monday, as Mississippi woke up to total devastation and New Orleans started to flood, Mr. Brown was once again obsessing about his fashion sense, sharing with FEMA deputy public affairs director Cindy Taylor that he got his outfit at Nordstrom's and asking: “Are you proud of me? Can I quit now? Can I go home?”
Later that day he shared more of his news with Ms. Taylor: “If you look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit. I am a fashion god.” That Wednesday, as hundreds of people, many of whom had stayed behind to look after their pets, were being rescued from rooftops, Mr. Brown was e-mailing either a James Tilly or Tilly James, we're not sure which, asking if he or she knew of a good dog-sitter.
Later that same day, he got the e-mail that inspired the tweak quote. Regional FEMA director Marty Bahamonde wrote from the Superdome in New Orleans: “The situation is part critical. Thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome.” So Michael Brown wrote in reply: “Thanks for the update, anything specific I need to do or tweak?”
On Friday, as survivors were desperately trying to get help throughout New Orleans, Brown wrote to former chief of staff of border security for the Department of Homeland Security: “Last hurrah was supposed to have been Labor Day, I'm trapped now, please rescue me.”
By the end of the week, he was no longer complaining about his job nor dispensing valuable fashion advice, he was receiving it. Press secretary Worthy asking him: “Please roll up the sleeves of your shirt, all shirts, even the president rolled his sleeves to just below the elbow. In this crisis and on TV, you just need to look more hard-working. Roll up the sleeves.” Yes, what great advice for a federal official. Don't actually work any harder, just make it look like you are. Your tax dollars in action.
Well, at least Brown is, if not out of the agency, out of power so FEMA can start fixing the problems and finding out what went wrong. Or maybe not. In response to various government investigations, FEMA has reveal the following. It cannot account for all the items it bought on a $12.1 million spending spree in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. It cannot answer questions about why clean-up contracts have been farmed up instead of given to local businesses. Nor why FEMA overpaid contractors for certain work, like the roofer who got $2,500-plus for a two-hour tarping job. Nor can it answer why thousands of Mississippi survivors are still living in tents with winter on the way.
And as to why the initial federal response was so shabby and disorganized, you may recall the president promising a month-and-a-half ago that his government would cooperate fully with the investigation, and yet his administration still has not provided the information requested weeks ago by the House Subcommittee on Government Reform, which is heading up the congressional investigation.
In fact, the White House has been so slow to respond, that the Republican chairman of the committee, Congressman Thomas Davis of Virginia, is now threatening to subpoena officials. The New York Times quotes Davis as saying: “We are not going to stonewalled here. I will continue to press the administration for full compliance with our requests as soon as possible.
But fortunately, everything was fixed in FEMA by the time Hurricane Wilma strafed Florida, other than the thousands still living in tents there or elsewhere without power. Apparently, as our correspondent Mark Potter reports, power in either of the electrical or the political sense of the word.
MARK POTTER, CNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At an apartment complex near Fort Lauderdale, all the residents are moving out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back for more, huh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back for more. I'll tell you, it never ends.
POTTER: They've been told that if they stay, they will be arrested. Fifty apartments here condemned because of storm damage. In Wilma's wake, roofs and ceilings collapsed throughout South Florida, leaving several thousand homes and apartments a soggy mess.
DORA CARTER, APARTMENT RESIDENT: You still walk in this, the top of your head is like gushing, like you're out there in a puddle.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know who to talk to, but we need some help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hurricane hotline, how may I help you?
POTTER: At the Broward County Emergency Operations Center, the biggest concern now is finding replacement housing for storm victims.
CARL FOWLER, BROWARD EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Affordable housing has been an issue in South Florida anyway, even before the storms hit.
POTTER: Ironically, many of the damaged roofs actually held up during Hurricane Wilma itself. But when heavy rains hit a week later, they then collapsed.
(on camera): One official says it was South Florida's version when the levees finally broke in New Orleans. Although more than 80 percent of the power is restored, stoplights are still out, causing massive traffic jams. The outages have been particularly hard on the elderly. Many have joined the 600 people still in shelters.
MARY KROPNICK, SHELTER RESIDENT: Being away from home, I don't like being like this.
POTTER: But some are at least trying to adapt. This man, whose roof flew off his barber shop, now gives haircuts outdoors. His sheer is powered by a school bus battery.
Mark Potter, NBC News, Miami.
OLBERMANN: From a natural disaster to a manmade one. A pilot loses control, crashing into crowds at a high school football game. Everybody is OK. We'll talk to a witness next.
And a new ranking of Hollywood's starlets not on acting parts, but on somehow—how some of their parts act, if you will. The story is ahead.
First, a list of a different kind, COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of the day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
50 CENT, RAPPER: That's a lot of pressure on Bush as the president of our country. There's a lot of things going on. This doesn't happen as often, all of the things that happen under his presidency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You guys were on the same day?
50 CENT: Yes, we were. And we're both gangsters.
CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN”: It is interesting, if Judge Alito is confirmed—this is an interesting fact, if he's confirmed, there will be two sitting Supreme Court justices from New Jersey. Now experts say this could cause a reversal in the famous New Jersey case Mullet versus Backhair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introducing the revolutionary new Taser X26c, Citizens Defense System.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to register the device to you, and if you misuse it, you're going to be leaving serialized confetti behind printed with your serial number.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do it!
(SCREAMING AS MAN IS TASERED)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh! It hurt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It was December 19, 1976. The Pittsburgh Steelers had just beaten the Baltimore Colts 40-14 in an NFL playoff game, 60,020 disappointed fans filed solemnly and quickly out of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and the NBC post-game show had already begun. Moments later, the network switched back to Baltimore and the incredible sight of a single engine plane that had crashed directly into the upper deck of the stadium. Five minutes earlier and it would have been carnage. As it was, only the pilot was hurt and even his injuries were minor.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, perhaps for some of the older folks at a high school football playoff game in Nebraska yesterday, there might have been a sense of deja vu about that 1976 near disaster, but mostly, there was just the terror.
(VIDEO OF PLANE CRASHING INTO FOOTBALL GAME)
OLBERMANN: About 10 minutes into the Blue Hill Bobcats game against the East Butler Tigers, an ultra light single-seat airplane veered out of control and crashed into a parking lot just 20 yards west of the field. A small group fans had gathered to watch the game. The pilot and a woman on the ground suffered injuries but only minor ones. Witnesses report hearing the plane's engine stalling just before it turned east and spun while plummeting to the ground, clipping one truck and rolling over another along the way.
Once paramedics determined that nobody was seriously hurt, the game resumed. Most of the fans stayed to cheer on the home team. Final score, Blue Hill 12, East Butler 6. Joining me now on the phone from David City, Nebraska, is Larry Peirce, the editor of The David City Banner Press who was at that game covering the visitors yesterday and witnessed all this.
Mr. Pierce, good evening. Thanks for your time.
LARRY PEIRCE, EDITOR, DAVID CITY BANNER PRESS: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Where were you when this happened and what did you see?
PEIRCE: Well, I was on the sideline of the Blue Hill team. And we kind of watched this plane come in from the north. And it was just about completely dark. And so you could barely see it coming in. And he was flying against the wind so you couldn't hear him very well. But as he got closer, we could hear that his engine slowed down and then he really had a hard time making it against the wind. And he seemed to veer off to the area near the bleachers.
OLBERMANN: What—do you know what the pilot was up there doing? And any idea with a day to have found this out what he was trying to do as he came down? Was he looking for a safe emergency landing?
PEIRCE: Yes. We talked to the sheriff today of the county where this happened. And it appears this was a farmer who has been flying in an ultra light for about five years. And he was using the plane to be out checking some cattle, which is probably not what every farmer does. But he was probably flying on his way back home when this happened.
And from what I'm told, he did not intend to fly over the field, but that's where he ended up. And it was a balmy day for November 2nd. And also a Wednesday night, when they usually don't have football games in Nebraska. So he just ended up in the wrong place.
OLBERMANN: Did you have a sense from the beginning that it was a small plane or do distinctions like that really not occur under these circumstances?
PEIRCE: Well, it took me a while to figure out if it was—that it was not a larger plane. We have some ultra lights around the area. And so they're not unheard of. But it became pretty clear that it was an ultra light after a while.
OLBERMANN: Larry Peirce, the editor of The David City Banner Press.
Congratulations on it being a close call and thanks for your time tonight.
PEIRCE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Well, the only segue I can think of into our round up of entertainment and celebrity news “Keeping Tabs” is that it could have been worse. Kevin Federline could have sung the national anthem at the game and then the plane crash could have occurred. But mockery of Mr. Britney Spears has reached fever pitch this week after a track from his first ever hip-hop album was leaked on to the Internets. It is called “Y'All Ain't Ready.” And it is not just bad. It is painfully bad. We've all been calling him Cletus. Apparently he prefers K-Fed.
OLBERMANN: Somewhere, Vanilla Ice is filing a lawsuit. It sounds exactly like Eminem if he had just suffered a terrible head injury. Speaking of which, how is this for the headline that almost happen from the royal visit to Washington? “Surgeon General Leads Duchess of Cornwall Into Plate Glass Window, Blood Everywhere.” It nearly happened this morning. The guy with the curlicues on his sleeve is Surgeon General Richard Carmona. And first he escorts Camilla, the wife of Prince Charles, towards the door after she gave a speech on osteoporosis.
There seems to be a little confusion as to just where the door is. I'm a doctor, dammit, not a bellhop. Finally, he winds up where he thinks the door is and Camilla comes to within about five feet of walking straight into a window. She gestures to that part of the body with which she would have penetrated said window. Right about there. And then winningly laughs about it. Meanwhile, the husband, Charles, collapses into laughter. Oh, that would have been droll, Camilla, you through a plate glass window. Tee-hee and all that.
And now something that brings a new meaning to the title of the magazine In Touch Weekly. It has produced a list of the best cleavage in Hollywood. Is that what it says? I know you've been waiting with baited breath to find out who they consider “top shelf.” Wait no longer. The number five spot goes to the Oscar winner, Halle Berry. You see we've selected very demure photographs here. Number four is Angelina Jolie. And number three, Carmen Electra. Apparently there is no subdivision for artificial ingredients or additives. Number two, Salma Hayek. And running away with first, “Keeping Tabs” regular Jessica Simpson, who the magazine says sets the standard for busty bombshells. Everybody must be proud.
It's not polite in Hollywood to talk about age. Apparently that does not apply to muppets. Kermit the Frog is 50 years old. He is our guest next.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN's the list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.” The bronze winner, Rolfe Evans (ph), the casualty affairs officer of Fort Lewis in Washington State. He is the civilian in charge of deciding which funeral homes handle the bodies of dead servicemen back from Iraq. He has been arrested. Police say he was demanding kickbacks from the funeral homes.
Runner up, Tom Benson, the owner of football's New Orleans Saints. Apart from his near constant threat to now move the franchise permanently out of the crippled city, now he says there's no security in the stadium in Baton Rouge which is the Saints' temporary home. He claim he could have been killed during the game last weekend so he won't go back there. The nonstop booing Benson has been getting there has of course nothing to do with his decision.
But the winner is Eric Fleming (ph) of Smithsburg, Maryland. Now this is awarded with some reluctance tonight because he is the victim of a big scale crime. He's out $75,000. Somebody stole his 70-pound tank full of bull semen. That's right, another report of bull semen-rustling. So why are we blaming the victim? Because of the message Mr. Fleming posted on his Web site after the theft, quote: “I will give a nice fat reward for any information on Semen that was stolen from my tank today, it was a mother lode of semen,” unquote. Thanks for sharing that, Eric Fleming, today's “Worst Person in the World”!
OLBERMANN: Much from 1955 is being celebrated this year. The 50th anniversary of the fateful bus ride of the late Rosa Parks. The 50th anniversary of the Brooklyn Dodgers only world championship. The 50th birthday of everybody from Yo-Yo Ma to Bill Gates to Whoopi Goldberg to the most famous foot-and-a-half tall entertainer in the world, it's the big 5-0 for the little green frog, Kermit, that is. He's celebrating 50 years since his debut on Jim Henson's local TV show in Washington “Sam & Friends.” He rose to prominence on “Sesame Street,” then international TV and motion picture stardom on “The Muppet Show” and in the Muppet Movies, later, of course, came the muppet political party, the muppet news channel, and the ill-fated 1985 new muppet flavor change. And live from New York, it's Kermit the Frog.
KERMIT THE FROG: Hello there.
OLBERMANN: Happy birthday.
KERMIT: Thank you, it's very nice of you to wish me a happy birthday.
I appreciate that.
OLBERMANN: You started so young in a very tough business, yet here it is 50 years and you're still going strong. Did you ever expect it to last this long?
KERMIT: Well, you know, it's a funny thing. I don't think you ever think that far ahead, you know? But I am certainly glad it did. The best thing about being 50 is I got past 49, you know?
OLBERMANN: I'm looking forward to that myself.
KERMIT: Oh, yes, sure, of course.
OLBERMANN: Now you're on a 15-month, 50-stop world stop tour so celebrate a half of being green. I have the press release about this. And something caught my eye. It reads that your schedule includes a run with the bulls in Pamplona. Sounds a little risky.
KERMIT: Yes. It is. It is. Miss Piggy made me sign this big health insurance policy. I don't quite understand that. But it's an odd thing. I'm hoping to do that against blue screen.
OLBERMANN: Well, you certainly—I mean, you couldn't be in favor of the bull run. I mean, that's man's inhumanity to animal right there.
KERMIT: Well, that's a good point. And also when they told me about it I thought they said bull frog.
OLBERMANN: Ah, of course,
KERMIT: So I don't get it.
OLBERMANN: You just thought you're visiting relatives.
KERMIT: That's right.
OLBERMANN: Obviously 50 years cannot be all fun and happiness. There have to be tears and controversy and you've had to deal with Gonzo and Animal and then there's this recent news, you know, Scooter was just arraigned this morning in Washington. And then we covered this story last week here, the arrest of Elmo in Hollywood for aggressive panhandling.
KERMIT: What's that? I don't know about that one.
OLBERMANN: Yes, yes, they got him for asking tourists for a little spare change.
KERMIT: Well, you know what, thought? It turns out, I'm very glad to find out that's not the real Elmo. Muppet identity theft is a big problem. It seems like every whacko with a couple of ping-pong balls and a shag rug wants to be a muppet.
OLBERMANN: Is there anything you can do to protect that? Anything you can do to your computer so you don't lose your identity that way?
KERMIT: No, no, no. In fact, I don't even have a computer. People just want to be 18 inches tall, green and round. I don't understand it.
OLBERMANN: And what about the arraignment of Scooter? That must have thrown a bit of a shock to you until they explained who that was.
KERMIT: Well, you know, it's interesting, the White House is pretty upset about that. I think they actually asked us to take the letters CIA off of Sesame Street. It's very strange. But you know, I think it's a sad thing when they make fun of people just because they're leaking. You know? It's tough. I mean, leaking is a serious problem.
OLBERMANN: It is. Especially, you know, we're talking about your 50th birthday. That's something you have to face in the near future.
KERMIT: That's right. These things happen. And you shouldn't indict someone just for leaking, you know?
OLBERMANN: Certainly I can't miss the opportunity in this crazy Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes celebrity-conscious world, what's with and you Miss Piggy? Marriage plans? Prenups? Pregnancies? I mean, I saw there was this dust-up on “The Tony Danza Show.” What's going on?
KERMIT: Yes, well, you know, we—it's something we don't really talk about much these days, Keith. I'm sorry. But Piggy and I have a very professional relationship. You know, I'm a professional and she wants a relationship. It's very strange. Right now somewhere out in this backdrop of New York City she's using my line of credit. So who knows?
OLBERMANN: First the—all the personal information and now the line of credit. And it's just getting stolen from you.
KERMIT: Yes, yes. Very strange.
OLBERMANN: That's a strange thing. I guess finally a little philosophy from a 50-year-old frog, is it—to hearken back to your great hit record, is easier being green now than it used to be?
KERMIT: Well, you know, it used to be tough being green. It is easier but I went to a being green support group. And our motto was, just because you've gone green doesn't mean you've gone bad. But I should say to your listeners and your viewers, if any of you out there find yourselves turning green, please see a doctor immediately.
OLBERMANN: It could result in things other than very successful and entertaining careers.
KERMIT: Loss of limb. Yes. You shouldn't be green.
OLBERMANN: If you're supposed to be green, then you're all right.
KERMIT: Of course. Of course. Yes.
OLBERMANN: It's worth—obviously it has worked out well for you.
Kermit the Frog, our most sincere 50th birthday wishes.
KERMIT: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Our thanks for your time. And give our regards to your human liaison Steve Whitmire, please.
KERMIT: I'm sorry, I have no idea who you're talking about—oh, that stalker, that stalker who has been following me around everywhere.
OLBERMANN: Exactly, just.
KERMIT: Yes, I understand.
OLBERMANN: . keep watching the skies.
OLBERMANN: Thanks, Kermit.
KERMIT: Thank you very much, good to talk to you.
OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN, I'm Keith Olbermann.
OLBERMANN: Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby.
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