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updated 1/13/2010 4:41:44 PM ET 2010-01-13T21:41:44

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Steve Clemons, Steven Battaglio

           

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

           

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Palin versus McCain versus Lauer—in the wake of the claim of haphazard vetting in the book “Game Change,” did anybody in his campaign really know who Sarah Palin was?  Did anybody care?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, TV HOST:  But your comment that you just said, “I wouldn‘t know,” is somewhat surprising to me.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Well, what I.

LAUER:  You were the presidential candidate.

MCCAIN:  Look, I wouldn‘t know what the sources are, nor care.  I know

I do know—I do know that I‘m proud of my campaign, I‘m proud of Sarah Palin.

           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And now, she becomes the Emily Litella of ex-governors as she joins the filter of the mainstream media making things up establishment.

The push to blame Obama.  New polling, 65 percent of Americans have confidence in his approach to terrorism, that is up from last summer.

And the number of Rudy Giuliani corrections of his original statement about attacks under President Bush, four, up from last Sunday.  A “Quick Comment.”

Jay Leno to 11:35?  “The Tonight Show” to 12:05?  The latest?  Hell, no, Conan won‘t go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONAN O‘BRIEN, TV HOST:  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Conan O‘Brien, the new host of “Last Call with Carson Daly.”

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the Mark McGwire hits—keep on going?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MCGWIRE, FMR. MLB SLUGGER:  The reason I took steroids was for my health purposes.  I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Doesn‘t that mean if he hadn‘t taken them he wouldn‘t have been able to hit any home runs, not just more home runs?

And tonight, the revelation: the infamous political figure who unbelievably turns out to be behind the McGwire contrition tour.

All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGWIRE:  It was the hardest day of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Choosing a running mate is called the most important decision that a presidential candidate will make for a reason, a decision that says as much about the top of the ticket as it does about the person that that person deems capable of being the real top of the ticket.

While we have long known that Senator John McCain fatally botched that selection with his choice of then-Governor Sarah Palin, Senator McCain claiming this morning that he wouldn‘t about whether or not a claim in a new book that she was basically never vetted was a fair assessment.  Having introduced to national prominence, a woman he had barely met, someone his campaign had barely vetted as capable of being president, the 2008 Republican nominee copping to ignorance, if not negligence, when asked about it this morning.

Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” addressing the allegations as spelled out in that new book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAUER:  You heard about this, this new book called “Game Change,” and you‘re front and center on a lot of the chapters that seem to be a little inflammatory.  So, let me get you on the record about some of it.  One is that your vetting process for Governor Palin before choosing her as your running mate was wholly inadequate.  From Page 363, it says—and I‘m combining two quotes here—“in judging Palin, it was relying on vetting so hasty and haphazard, it barely merited the name, no one had interviewed her husband, no one had spoken to her political enemies, no vetters had descended on Alaska.”

Is it a fair assessment?

MCCAIN:  I wouldn‘t know.  The fact is that I‘m proud of Sarah Palin, I‘m proud of the campaign we waged.  She energized our party.  She will be a major factor in American politics in the future.  And I‘m proud of our campaign.

I just spend my time, Matt, over where three young Americans were just killed in Afghanistan.  My job.

LAUER:  And I respect that.

MCCAIN:  And that was over a year ago.

LAUER:  I respect that, sir.

MCCAIN:  And I‘m not going to get into it.

LAUER:  But your comment that you just said, “I wouldn‘t know,” is somewhat surprising to me.

MCCAIN:  Well, what I.

LAUER:  You were the presidential candidate.

MCCAIN:  look, I wouldn‘t know what the sources are, nor care.  I‘m not going to spend time looking back over what happened over a year ago, when we‘ve got two wars to fight, 10 percent unemployment in my state and things to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The fundamentals of his campaign strategy are strong.

FOX News, meanwhile, all but leaking the playbook of how it plans to use Senator McCain‘s former running mate in her new role as a contributor to that network.  In an interview with “The Los Angeles Times,” the vice president of programming, Bill Shine, said he hopes Governor Palin will be a polarizing voice on the network.  “She is one of the most talked about and politically polarizing figures in the country.  fist off, we hope she brings that.”

And if polarizing were to mean Palin might not tell the truth on the air, the same way she floated the false assertion of death panels on her Facebook page, that‘s also apparently high on the FOX News Palin wish list.  Shine telling the paper that he was not concerned that Palin would make false assertions on the air, adding that the expectations that she will utter something controversial will likely drive viewership, quote, “In the end, that‘s probably going to help us in that that‘s what people want to watch.”

Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Senator McCain statement about he wouldn‘t know.  Did he—did he think he was answering the question about we wouldn‘t know whether or not the reports that the vetting of Palin was woefully inadequate in the book, or accurate, or that he wouldn‘t know about the actual vetting process?

WOLFFE:  Well, let‘s try to put ourselves in John McCain‘s shoes just for a minute here, if we can.  Here‘s a guy who was shot down over North Vietnam and he finds himself running with someone who doesn‘t know where North Korea is.  You know, this is a guy who was a Vietnam War hero and he had to have his staff explain to his running mate what the Second World War was.

You can understand why he wouldn‘t want to revisit all of this or answer the question.  The sad truth is that John McCain knew less about Sarah Palin, vastly less about Sarah Palin than FOX News knew about her before they signed her up to be a contributor.

So, you know, this is a shambles.  And, luckily, I think, voters recognized it at the time.

OLBERMANN:  Is that luckily because of the sort of frightening prospect of an unqualified vice president on that ticket?  Or more evidently frightening because of the prospect of an unqualified or disinterested president in that ticket?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think, one thing we saw clearly in the polls, is that people were concerned that this was a gamble, an unknown candidate coming on to the national stage.  She may have been energizing in terms of her own supporters and in terms of the media.

And, by the way, one thing I haven‘t seen out of all of this recent media gasping over these revelations is, not much looking back and saying, why wasn‘t this stuff discussed at the time, why was Sarah Palin actually given a free pass in many ways at the time and treated more seriously than the McCain campaign recognized that she deserved to be.

So, I think the voters there saw the Palin pick as a question mark at the very least about McCain‘s judgment.

OLBERMANN:  Well, we—at least in this situation—we‘ve seen the YouTube videos of her brief sportscasting career.  So, clearly, she‘s overqualified to be an analyst at FOX News.  But about that job, there was one mention of Ed Schultz of MSNBC being contacted by the Democrats in North Carolina—North Dakota about the Byron Dorgan seat, and maybe from North Carolina, too, I don‘t know where that came from.

But the Republicans immediately demanded that Schultz quit his TV show on this network and stop any other broadcasting because that would be electioneering from a TV position and that would be against at least FEC rules if not FCC rules.

Given that Palin has all this collection of Web sites and PACs that are positioned basically as a skeletal structure of her 2012 campaign for the presidency or even a vice presidency again, how could the Federal Election Commission let her and FOX erase that “no candidates on TV” line?

WOLFFE:  Well, we know the FEC is a paper tiger and you can‘t expect ideological consistency from some of these conservative critics here.  But I do think there‘s a curious combination of politics and media going on at FOX News now that somehow sort of positions Roger Ailes as Silvio Berlusconi.

You know, Berlusconi used his TV business to promote political candidates, himself and others.  You know, Roger Ailes has started with the zoning laws, according to “The New York Times” in his own neighborhood.  You know, Sarah Palin‘s presidency is one step behind.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m just suddenly thinking of that fake video of the non-Berlusconi and meter maid.  All right.  Never mind.

The FOX vice president of programming who told the Los Angeles paper that he‘s not concerned if Palin were to make, as this euphemism goes, controversial statements that—because that would be going to help us.

It‘s as if they‘re not pretending any more.

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, I‘m sure some people are watching her right now, and they‘re enjoying it.  But, you know, Brit Hume last night, speaking to none other than Bill O‘Reilly, had to be incredibly tactful, saying that Sarah Palin would have a chance to polish her articulation of her policies, and maybe become more attune to world affairs and think about things in a broader context.

I‘m paraphrasing, but broadly, even Brit Hume has a low opinion of her.

So, God help the viewers of FOX News tonight.

OLBERMANN:  Why just tonight?

MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe, as always—great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Part two of the “Game Change” saga of the day involves a strategy change evidently by the Republicans after the original one went kablooie in their own face.  The GOP now backing away from its attempt to have Majority Leader Harry Reid removed from his Democratic leadership position because of the remarks he made about President Obama‘s race and dialect in that same book about the 2008 presidential campaign.

As you will, no doubt, recall in a conversation with the authors of the book “Game Change,” Senator Reid having said that he believed then-Senator Obama could win with white voters because he was light-skinned and did not speak with a Negro dialect.

Today, Senate Minority Leader McConnell declining to criticize Senator Reid for those comments as well as deflecting calls from other Republicans who have demanded that Reid step down as majority leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Some of your colleagues have called on Leader Reid to resign because of his controversial comments.  Do you agree?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  I think that‘s an issue for the Democratic conference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So, you‘re not—you‘re not agreeing with that?

MCCONNELL:  I think it‘s an issue for the Democratic conference.  Who‘s going to be the Democratic leader of the Senate is up to the Democratic conference.

Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d like to try this from another angle.

MCCONNELL:  Good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If a Republican had made comments similar to what the Leader Reid had said, would you personally want them to surrender a leadership position if it had been somebody in your caucus?

MCCONNELL:  Look, no matter how many (INAUDIBLE) to ask the question -

who is going to be the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate is up to the Democrats in the Senate.

           

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One Democratic senator, Feingold, rarely on the same page with party leadership, having questioned yesterday to a TV station in Wisconsin whether Reid should continue as leader.  Today, sources are telling NBC News that Senator Feingold is back on board, supporting Senator Reid as the leader.

Let‘s turn now to our own Howard Fineman, Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday, members of Mr. McConnell‘s conference, Senator Cornyn, particularly, were calling for Senator Reid to step down as majority leader.  And repeatedly given the chance to throw gasoline on that fire today, as we just heard, the minority leader instead tamped down the embers, just backed away from the scene.

Is that—does he think that the Democrats will implode on this?  Or is he actually declaring the attempt to remove Senator Reid on the part of the GOP over?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think there are a couple things going on here, Keith.  First, let me say, that Feingold‘s staff called Harry Reid‘s office today and said, “Hey, we‘re on board.  Don‘t worry about it.”  So, all the Democrat are behind Harry Reid right now.

I think the Republican‘s calculations are twofold.  Number one, Harry Reid is in trouble politically in Nevada.  From their point of view, they see him as a weakened majority leader.  They‘d just assume keep him there.

But I think—that‘s what they‘re saying publicly.  But I think the real reason is that the Republicans don‘t want to engage in a long, drawn-out discussion of who‘s more committed to equality in this society and who has done more politically for the African-American community in the last—oh, say, 40 years or so.  Because that‘s an argument and a discussion that the Republicans are really going to look bad in, and they don‘t want to continue it.

Yes, Harry Reid made a—made a very unfortunate remark.  And, yes, it‘s troublesome.  But if you attempt to put the Republican Party next to the Democratic Party, it‘s not only African-Americans who are going to look with the Democratic Party would favor on questions of race relations, but everyone else in society pretty much, too.

OLBERMANN:  Something of a glass house thing applying here, too?

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Because I imagine that chances of this sticking were not helped when Michael Steele of the RNC entered a complaint about something else just last week, just before this all broke, and concluded his remarks by adding the phrase “honest Injun.”  It really is—it‘s dicey territory, isn‘t it?

FINEMAN:  Well, yes, there are loose lips all over the place.  But the bigger point is, if you really want to get into a discussion of race relations and racial sensitivity, the Republicans are going to lose.  They don‘t want to fight the battles politically here in Washington over the next few weeks or whenever, on that basis because they‘re going to lose.  They have a terrible record.

Barack Obama got 96 percent of the African-American vote in 2008.  I was at the Republican convention in St. Paul.  There were precious few African-Americans there, certainly not very visible.  It‘s not a big part of the Republican agenda, and fair-minded people are going to look at it and say, “Well, if you really want to have this discussion, then the Republicans are going to lose whatever Harry Reid might have said to the guys who wrote that book.”

OLBERMANN:  And it wasn‘t going to go very far as long as Mr. Reid had the backing of the White House, and particularly the “apology accepted” statement from the man that this statement—original statement was made of?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think that‘s right.  I think Barack Obama came out immediately and did that.  I think Rahm Emanuel did yesterday on MSNBC.  The senators are in line.

Look, Harry Reid‘s in a tough spot, any way, trying to lead the fractious majority, trying to get health care, trying to guard his flank back in Nevada for reelection.  I mean, he‘s a wounded political animal, there‘s no doubt about that.

But I don‘t think the Democrats see any need or percentage in trying to remove him at this point.  I think they just assume let him do what he can do in the next few weeks, as difficult as that‘s going to be.

OLBERMANN:  Far less reverberation in the media echo chamber today, this week.  Well, certainly today, it didn‘t happen before today, but Mr.  McCain‘s remark about that book and how accurate or inaccurate it was on the vetting process for his vice presidential candidate relative to the amount of talk there has been and continues to be about the Reid comments about Obama.  Somebody pointed out that at one point Politico.com had 14 stories posted about Reid at the same time.

Why was that story not expected to not fizzle out and which of these statements is actually more important politically?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think, looking at the history of it—I mean, there‘s no doubt that John McCain‘s lack of vetting of Sarah Palin is a far more serious story because—let‘s just say John McCain had won the election, then you have somebody in there as vice president who‘s truly—at least based on the evidence that we know of her knowledge and preparation at the time she was nominated—was pretty much incapable of having the minimum base of knowledge to handle the job.

I think Richard Wolffe made an excellent point.  I think the media was a little starstruck—and I admit to being one of them because I looked at her political salability as an exciting figure early on.  The McCain campaign didn‘t look, the media didn‘t look, the voters did, and that‘s one of the reasons why John McCain lost.

OLBERMANN:  I looked.

FINEMAN:  And you looked.

OLBERMANN:  I looked.

Howard Fineman.

FINEMAN:  Good for you.

OLBERMANN:  . of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, who‘s himself sparkling tonight

great thanks, Howard.

           

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The fundamental premise of the GOP, of course, has, in the last 357 days, become: whatever it is, if you can possibly distort it just to make it look vaguely, possibly, look remotely like Obama‘s fault, do it, do it quickly, do it loudly.  That‘s it.  Harry Reid, the Republican planned bailouts, and the latest terrorism.

But new polling indicates the American public‘s approval of the president‘s handling of terrorism has now increased.  Maybe that‘s because Rudy Giuliani has issued a fourth different version of his calculation of how many attacks there have been under Presidents Obama and Bush.  And as the first of tonight‘s “Quick Comments” indicates, he‘ll have to issue a fifth—next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Now, the first of tonight‘s “Quick Comments.”

Rudy Giuliani desperate to relive his glory days politicizing terror has now broken the international record for the most corrections of the same false statement.

First, he said there have been no domestic terror attacks under Mr.

Bush but one under Mr. Obama.

Then he said no domestic terror attacks since 9/11 under Mr. Bush, but one under Mr. Obama.

Then he said the anthrax attacks were never declared terrorism when they were so by Attorney General Ashcroft.

Then he said he meant no domestic terror attacks by Muslim extremists since 9/11 under Mr. Bush, but one under Mr. Obama.

Then he was reminded of the Muslin who shot up the El Al ticket counter at LAX in 2002 and the D.C. sniper terrorist John Allen Muhammad and the Carolina SUV attacker of 2006.

We have not heard Mr. Giuliani‘s fifth version of what he really meant to say, but I suspect it will end being something like this: there have been no domestic attacks by Muslim extremists since 9/11 under Mr. Bush but one under Mr. Obama that he, Giuliani, could exploit for partisan political purposes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After a Republican presidential campaign shouting that Barack Obama could not protect us, a year of shouting that President Obama endangers us all, and almost two weeks of cry baby whining that an untrained loser who could not blow up his own junk—proves how unsafe we are.

The people have rendered their verdict on Commander-in-Chief Obama, the polls in a moment.

First, the latest salvo.  Senate Republican Leader McConnell back from Afghanistan claiming U.S. troops there are confused about what to do with enemy combatants and that a U.S. general questioned about detainee policy, quote, “didn‘t want to answer the question without turning to his lawyer.”  Part of the same mentality, Mr. McConnell said, that led the Obama administration to charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in criminal court rather than in a military proceeding.

How much worse are things in Afghanistan with this dangerous confusion?  What McConnell calls a preoccupation with detainee rights?  The number of Afghans who consider attacks against U.S. troops justified has dropped by 2/3 in one year.  Eight percent are now calling attacks justified—that is a new low, down from 25 percent a year ago.

And a senior defense official tells NBC tonight, quote, “The tactical approach to handling detainees is clear.  Troops know what they are supposed to do.”

Despite attempts by McConnell and both Cheneys, including Liz‘s fearmongering Web ad, domestic polls show Americans refuse to be terrorized by them.  Oh, nice “24”-like graphics.  Sixty-five percent saying they have confidence in the current administration to protect the U.S. from terrorism.  That‘s up from 59 percent in 2006.  Fifty-seven percent giving Mr. Obama thumbs up on his specific handling of the Christmas Day non-bombing.

We‘re joined now by Steve Clemons, director of the American strategy program at the New America Foundation, and author of the blog, “The Washington Note.”

Steve, thanks for your time tonight.

STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION:  Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Cheneys obviously want to push back at any criticism of him, the former vice president, Republicans are trying to whip up their base.  But with most independents in that poll approving the Obama response to the underpants non-bomber, what is the GOP game plan here?

CLEMONS:  Well, I think the GOP game plan is sort of on automatic pilot.  I think my colleague Steve Coll in “The New Yorker” magazine said it best.  He said that, you know, Dick Cheney and some of these fearmongers are sort of like the penultimate seen in a slasher movie, totally predictable, trying to push the buttons, make Americans feel scared.

And what the president has done is outflank them with a very sober, careful, self-critical position, showing that while there were problems, we‘re going to fix them, without hyperventilating about every small problem and every threat that might come to this country.

So, I think Obama is building—rebuilding trust with American citizens, and not making them run, you know, under the covers and, you know, reaching for their duct tape every time something happens.

OLBERMANN:  Why do you think Republicans don‘t seem to be expressing any confidence in the U.S. troops who are fighting in Afghanistan, and insulting them as, you know, confused, not sure about their orders?  Why don‘t they—do they think the generals are dumb?

CLEMONS:  Well, I mean, I think it‘s a very dangerous move for them to do this.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

CLEMONS:  . because you got, to some degree, Dick Cheney and the Republicans have been trying to sort of be the national security state, Pentagon huggers.  And to some degree, Barack Obama has been developing a relationship with key generals and players, and showing he‘s listening to them, trying to arm and equip them with the military resources they need and armed Humvees.

And—I mean, You may recall back during the Bush administration, the very severe criticism that the Bush administration got for not helping to equip the soldiers with what they needed.  And I think Obama‘s turned that around, and I think that the way the GOP is doing—it could really turn around for them and backfire when you‘re out sort of sliming people who are out on the front line and risking their lives.

OLBERMANN:  Is there a second possible backfire in there as Americans, more of them, begin to realize that, you know, dividing us and whipping up fear happens to coincide with what al Qaeda wants?

CLEMONS:  Well, I mean, yet another great line in this “New Yorker” piece called “Threats” today was that to some degree Dick Cheney, like al Qaeda, are committing acts that result in their self-isolation.  And I think that that is a very interesting comment that I think both in Afghanistan and the numbers that you showed, but also among American citizens.

I think people are realizing that the values and institutions, the norms that we have here, are strengthening.  They‘re a sign of strength.  And to give them up into some sort of kind of Kafkaesque purgatory, with no law and, you know, the kinds of things we saw in Gitmo, the Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side,” that showed, you know, how victims of torture, and the absence of law doesn‘t help this country at all.

And I think Barack Obama has replaced at least the vision of rule of law in place of torture chambers, and it‘s very frustrating to the Cheney crowd.

OLBERMANN:  Apropos of that, a U.S. general suddenly wants to know what the law says before he answers a policy question and fewer Afghans than ever before want to kill us.  What part of this is the average American supposed to find objectionable?

CLEMONS:  Well, I think the average American should be thrilled that U.S. generals are worried about the law and that we are trying to replace these detainee facilities with something that more resembles what we have here: respect for human rights, respect for international law, respect for American laws and life in general.  This is very, very important for the Afghan citizens that we‘re trying to protect.

Even in Stanley McChrystal‘s report, which I was not thrilled with his prescriptions, he nonetheless said we need to be seen as people helping to protect and save and build Afghan civil society, not to ruin it, into sort of some pugnacious, you know, anti-Obama militarism.

OLBERMANN:  The kind of at home with the Dick Cheneys translated into a Middle Eastern government.

CLEMONS:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Steve Clemons of the New American Foundation and author of “The Washington Note”—as always, great thanks.

CLEMONS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Conan O‘Brien only took steroids to regain his health, and Mark McGwire will not accept relegation to a lesser time slot, and it‘s possible I‘ve conflated these stories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Detroit Auto Show Tea Party and why even Fox Noise isn‘t saying anything about it coming up.

First, on this date in 1729 was born the British politician and philosopher Edmond Burke, invariably credited with the ringing and inspirational words, “the only necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” which, like Abraham Lincoln‘s line about fooling all the people all the time, does not appear in any of Burke‘s written works or speeches. 

On the other hand, it has been conclusively proved that on October 17th, 1767, Burke told parliament, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Abu Ghosh, Israel, where 50 chefs have been recruited to

dip into a world record, the world‘s largest dish of hummus.  The winning

repice (sic) -- let‘s try it in English for a change.  The winning recipe

weighed nearly 9,000 pounds and involved a ton and a half of sesame paste -

that would be past—and hundreds of freshly squeezed lemons.  It was served in a 20 foot wide satellite dish. 

I get CNN in my humus.  The Israeli humus beat the previous world record set in Lebanon just a few months ago.  The Israelis hope this will be a healthy rivalry.  All they‘re saying is give chic peas a chance. 

Tokyo, Japan, Konichiwa.  These folks are taking the plunge to begin anew.  It‘s a sole purifying ritual, where dozens seek enlightenment, splashing ice cold water on themselves.  Participants believe the tradition promotes sound mind and body, allows them to take stock in life choices while freezing their asses off. 

Finally, to this year‘s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas; one of the notable gadgets the Sony XP-1.  The company is so confident this cell phone is unbreakable, its website shows videos of users putting their phones in cement mixers.  Here is a BBC reporter testing out the company‘s unbreakable pledge, with the company‘s CEO standing right next to him.  You can see where this is going. 

First the reporter dunks the phone under water, then he smashes the phone on the side of the fish tank.  come on, smashy smashy.  And on the third try, the phone breaks.  You were this close to selling a dozen of them to Naomi Campbell. 

Deconstructing the Mark McGwire interview, and how he turned a seeming confession into a bigger lie.  And the bizarre revelation that a political spin meister was behind the interview, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Conan O‘Brien today said no to what is, in TV land anyway, the most high stakes game of musical chairs in a long time.  He says he will not be doing his “Tonight Show” starting at 12:05 am.  And he‘s bluntly observed that his seven month old show was not given, in his opinion, the chance to succeed. 

But he‘s also not definitively closed the door on NBC.  In a lengthy statement, including a closing joke, Mr. O‘Brien confirmed that last Thursday, quote, “NBC executives told me they intended to move “The Tonight Show” to 12:05 to accommodate “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35.” 

Explaining the quote, “my bosses are demanding a decision. O‘Brien said that, quote, “it was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime time schedule.  Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.  But sadly, we were never given that chance.  NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime time by making a change in their long established late night schedule.” 

O‘Brien expressed his belief that, quote, “delaying ‘The Tonight Show‘ into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.  I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction.” 

But also, he said this, “my hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly, so that my staff, crew and I can do a show we can be proud of for a company that values our work.” 

NBC has declined comment on O‘Brien‘s statement.  TMZ reports Leno will be offered “The Tonight Show.”  Let‘s bring in the business editor for “TV Guide,” Steven Battaglio.  Good evening, sir.

STEVEN BATTAGLIO, “TV GUIDE”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, what happens next? 

BATTAGLIO:  It‘s in the hands of the lawyers.  NBC thinks they‘re within their right to have Conan‘s “Tonight Show” start at 12:05.  Conan believes his contract stipulated that he was the host of a show that would start at 11:35 or 11:30, as it has for the last 55 years.  So it‘s a matter of whether they owe him money or not. 

OLBERMANN:  I have to be ecumenical in this for obvious reasons.  But once you refer to NBC and their prime time—terrible prime time problems, is that not check please time for Conan O‘Brien?  Is there no way for him to be permanently attached to NBC after a comment like that? 

BATTAGLIO:  If NBC says, we‘ve thought this over and we‘ll give you 11:35 and say good-bye to Jay, yes, I think he‘ll stay.  I think NBC has made their decision.

They‘ve been trying to put this off for years.  That‘s why they made the deal in 2004.  Conan could have gone to Fox then.  They said, sign on for another five years; we‘ll give you “The Tonight Show.”  What they did was essentially prevent Conan from going to another network and competing with “The Tonight Show.” 

They were faced with the same situation again; Jay could have gone to ABC, would have gone to ABC, would have hurt Conan and “The Tonight Show.”  They‘ve tried to hold on to these two guys, who they‘ve nurtured, for as long as they can.  It seems like it‘s not going to happen.  One of them‘s going to go.  And it‘s going to be Conan. 

OLBERMANN:  Not to tell any tales out of school, and I do realize that most of the pointed sticks in use are in buildings you‘re in and the other ones close to it, rather than the one I‘m in.  But I visited with a top NBC executive this afternoon in his office, literally nothing to do with this, 52 floor.  It was not a big deal.  But nobody was running around.  There was nobody with hair on fire.  I saw a lot of people there.  Nobody was talking about it.  And I have seen most of these people panic before.  There‘s no panic in these buildings here.  Do you know why not? 

BATTAGLIO:  There‘s nothing to panic about.  They have made their decision.  I think when they knew—when they came up with this proposal of trying to keep the three of them, moving Tonight to 12:05, late night to 1:05, to move Jay out of prime time, back into late night, I think they knew that Conan may not like it and might not do it.  And if that was going to be the case, then Jay is going to go back to “The Tonight Show.”

So they‘ve obviously—they‘re ready to live with that decision. 

OLBERMANN:  One notable side effect of this, the open discussion of it by David Letterman.  He‘s doing it again tonight.  This is a joke they‘ve released in advance about replacement shows on NBC at 10:00.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Look what they‘ve come up with so far.  I think you‘re going to like this one. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In the television industry, there are two types of talk show hosts, Jay Leno and those who have been victimized by Jay Leno.  These are their stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What is the state of the landscape here, if it is Letterman versus Leno versus Conan on Fox or ABC? 

BATTAGLIO:  I would guess that Conan will go to Fox.  Fox executives said yesterday that they would very much like to have him, and make another play in late night.  And Conan would attract the 18 to 34 audience, which he did do very well with on “The Tonight Show.”  And I think the older viewers would be split between Jay and David Letterman.  And I think, therefore, you would have another slice taken out of the late night pie, which has really gotten smaller for everybody. 

OLBERMANN:  Steven Battaglio with “TV Guide,” many thanks. 

BATTAGLIO:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Then there was last night‘s big TV event, Mark McGwire‘s interview and his literally unbelievable reason that he gave for taking steroids. 

And old friend scores highly in tonight‘s worst person derby.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guests, David Boies and Ted Olsen, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and in the 2000 election, but joining forces now in federal court to argue the case of same sex marriage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The second of tonight‘s quick comments.  There was a big Tea Bag party event yesterday, another mass protest against the man.  Only you didn‘t see this one hyped in the conservative media, the big Tea Party at the Detroit Auto Show against the Obama administration‘s fascist, socialist, communist, anarchist takeover of the auto industry.  In its first 45 minutes, it drew two people.  Two, one guy named Charlie, and another one named Jeffrey. 

Even a Republican politician who was there to try to exploit the tea bag kids ran away in horror at the lack of a crowd.  Jeffrey explained that the low turnout was part of what, quote, “makes the Tea Party movement so beautiful, because we‘re not an organized group.” 

You betcha.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Mark McGwire‘s crisis management adviser is who?  Well, that explains that crap about only taking steroids to protect his health and how he could have hit all those home runs anyway.  That‘s next, but first tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to hate radio host Bill Cunningham on the pilot of a new TV show with Jerry Springer.  He observed that there are “no dirt poor Americans anymore in this country.”  And added, “let me help you with the facts.  To be poor in American means you‘re probably morbidly obese.  You have a cell phone.  You have big screen TVs.  You own your own home.  You might own your own car.  And you have charge accounts.  There are poor people, but they‘re fat.  America has fat poor people.  Most nations have skinny poor people.  We have fat ones.  Why?  Because we give them too much freebies because of people like you.” 

Then Springer says, “there are a lot of wealthy people that are fat.  What is that about?”  Then Cunningham says, “yeah, but they pay for their own food.” 

Right, he‘s not a hate radio host.  He‘s a moron radio host.  For the last year that complete statistics were available, 2006, 2,377 people died in this country due to malnutrition, a lack of nutrition, or even a lack of food. 

The runner up is Tucker Carlson, who has opened up a new website.  It‘s not really his.  He‘s not paying for it.  It‘s funded, according to the “Washington Post,” to the tune of three million dollars, by a man name Foster Friest (ph), who turns out to be a climate change denier.  And the lead columnist is—it‘s not Tucker.  It‘s a guy named Matt Labash, whose first piece compared traffic video cameras to rape, and had a joke about Rachel that sounds like it came right out of the year 1957.  Climate change denial, rape jokes, gay bashing, anything else you‘d like to slap your name on for money, Tuck?  Gonorrhea is still available? 

But our winner, Gresham Barrett, congressman from South Carolina, running for governor of that state, and introducing, for the second time since 2003, a bill he calls STEP, Stop Terrorists Entry Program Act.  “Twice in the past two months, radical Islamic terrorists have attacked our nation and the administration has failed to adapt its national security and immigration policies to counter the renewed resolve of those who seek to harm our citizens.  In light of these unfortunate facts, the Step Act of 2010 bars the admission of aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism and Yemen.” 

That would mean a lot if the Ft. Hood shooter, Major Malik Hasan, or the alleged Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had come here from a country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.  The latter was from Nigeria and had a US visa.  And the former, Major Hasan, was born in Arlington, Virginia, and he went to high school in Roanoke.  I guess, congressman, you need to expand your Step program to stop aliens from infiltrating our homeland from such nests of terror as Interstate 81 in Virginia. 

Congressman Gresham “I‘m Not Too Bright, Am I” Barrett, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just when you thought the last illusion had already been punctured about baseball slugger Mark McGwire comes today‘s revelation.  The 1998 scene at home plate, when McGwire hit his record breaking 62nd home run, when his rival for that mark, Sammy Sosa of the Cubs, raced him from the outfield to congratulate McGwire and hug him at home plate—

McGwire, quote, “really didn‘t like Sosa very much, and wasn‘t crazy about the fact that Sammy was there.”  So says Steve Trachsel (ph), Sosa‘s teammate at the time, who just happened to have thrown the pitch McGwire hit for that homer.  Et too, Sammy. 

The reverberations, of course, continue from McGwire‘s interview last night with my friend and colleague Bob Costas live on the MLB Network.  Principal of them, McGwire‘s bat crap crazy contention that, yes, he took steroids from the off-season of ‘93/‘94 through at least ‘98, but he did not do so so he could hit more home runs. 

As we deconstruct the Costas/McGwire interview, we find the McGwire says he did the drugs only to overcome a series of injuries that plagued him beginning in the 1993 season.  And he would have hit the home runs anyway. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB COSTAS, MLB NETWORK:  Didn‘t you say to yourself at some point in the mid to late ‘90s, hey, on top of all of this, whatever I can do really well, I can do better because of steroids? 

MARK MCGWIRE, FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER:  No, it never crossed my mind. 

COSTAS:  Did not? 

MCGWIRE:  I just believed in my ability and my hand-eye coordination.  And I believed in the strength of my mind.  My mind was so strong.  I developed that on my own.  And no pill or no injection is going to do that. 

COSTAS:  Do you think that you would have hit nearly 600 home runs, that you would have hit 70 homers one year, and 65 homers another year, and topped 50 four times if you had never touched anything stronger than a protein shake? 

MCGWIRE:  I truly believe so. 

COSTAS:  What you‘re sitting here telling me is you could have done essentially what you did without ever touching performance enhancing drugs? 

MCGWIRE:  That‘s why it‘s the most regrettable thing I‘ve ever done in my life. 

COSTAS:  Could you have done those things, could you have hit 70 home runs, could you have had a home run ratio greater than anything Babe Ruth did in his time, without using steroids? 

MCGWIRE:  Absolutely.  I absolutely believe so.  I was given this gift by the man upstairs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What gift was that, Mark?  The syringes?  The problem with this explanation is that even if it somehow correct, even if McGwire‘s home run frequency and distance would have happened anyway, he is claiming he used the steroids for rehabilitation purposes.  In fact, that might be worse.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGWIRE:  As far as using it on a consistent basis, the winter of ‘93 and ‘94, I did it on health purposes.  I mean, if you look at my career in ‘93, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, I was a walking Mash unit.  The only reason I took steroids was for my health purposes.  I did not take steroids to get any gain for any strength purposes. 

COSTAS:  Did you feel as if you were cheating?  Did you feel as if you were doing something dishonorable? 

MCGWIRE:  As I look back now, as far as my health and my injuries, I tried to help my injuries, to make me feel normal—I can see how people can say that.  As far as the God-given talent, the hand-eye coordination, the ability, the genetics I was given, I don‘t see it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s recap: the home runs all him, but getting back on the field from injuries, that was why he took the steroids.  And that‘s why that‘s worse.  You cannot hit home runs from the doctor‘s office.  If the steroids enabled him to get to play again in the first place, they didn‘t increase his home run totals from, say, 40 to 70 a season.  They increased his totals from zero to 70.  And the steroids he started taking to get better physically and not enable him to work out X times as frequently, hit Y times as many home runs, the ones he started taking in the off-season ‘93 ‘94 to keep him healthy, they didn‘t keep him healthy in 1994 or 1995. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGWIRE:  If you look at when I started taking it in the Winter ‘93/‘94, I broke down in ‘94, three quarters of the year, maybe the whole year.  Going into ‘95, I broke down again.  I don‘t know.  It could have been, yeah.  But, you know, for some reason, I kept doing it.  I mentally thought that maybe I‘ll keep doing this and maybe I‘ll feel better and better, and I‘ll get out of this rut of being in a Mash unit. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The drugs he only took so he could be injured less led him to be injured more, yet he kept taking them anyway for more than two years.  Why?  So he wouldn‘t waste his abilities that the steroids wouldn‘t augment in the slightest.  Plus, there were those bullies in the clubhouse. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCGWIRE:  It doesn‘t feel good when you have teammates and people walking by saying, he‘s injured again.  You know, I knew I was talented.  I knew the man upstairs gave me the ability to hit this baseball, gave me the hand-eye coordination, gave me—my parents gave me the great genetics.  But I was running these roadblocks.  And it‘s something I very muchly (sic) regret. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So an athlete, depending on his body for his multi-million dollar income, takes improper and unregulated drugs, and he doesn‘t remember what they were.  But he remembers he liked the oral ones, as opposed to the injectable, for his health, for at least six years. 

There‘s still an ethical problem at the bottom of that.  The idea that long-term steroid use was OK, as long as it does merely to preserve God-given talent.  Baseball, sports, life, filled with those whose careers faded because of physical weakness or injury.  Tony Oliva won batting championships in each of his first two years.  His knees couldn‘t handle the strain of the game.  He‘s not even in the hall of fame. 

Harry Krause (ph) began his rookie season of 1909 by winning his first ten games, throwing six shutouts.  Then he felt something pop in his arm.  He would only win 25 more games in his career.

Roger Maris, whose home run record McGwire may or may not have broken, set the record, then played seven more years, but only two more seasons were complete due to injury. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS:  Does today feel better in some sense, because at least you‘re unburdening yourself? 

MCGWIRE:  I don‘t know.  I mean, I just—I mean, all I want to do is come clean.  I‘ve been wanting to come clean ever since 2005.  And, you know, I didn‘t know where, when or how.  I‘ve just been holding this in. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  2005?  That‘s when he was called to testify to Congress, and failing to get immunity from prosecution for something that was not against the law, he simply said, “I‘m not here to talk about the past.” 

By McGwire‘s own admission, he first dabbled in steroids in the Winter of 1989 and became a regular user no later than early 1994.  He retired physically broken—they sure are good for your health—in 2001. 

Why did it take until 2005 and a Congressional hearing for this sudden urge to tell all, and another five years after that before his limited hang out yesterday? 

We already knew two of the reasons.  One, voting announced last week for the fourth year in a row, McGwire had gotten pitifully low support for election to the Hall of Fame.  Two, after eight years away from the game, he had just rejoined the St. Louis Cardinals as the team‘s batting instructor.

The third reason was revealed in an article by Rich Sandemere (ph) in the “New York Times.”  The third reason is this guy.  Sandemere reports that McGwire‘s interviews yesterday with the MLB Network and six other reporters were coordinated by the Cardinals and by McGwire‘s crisis management consultant, Ari Fleischer, that Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush. 

And here, all this time, all 2,448 days worth, we thought Mr.

Fleischer‘s biggest swing and a miss had been mission accomplished. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and—there goes my arm.  Wait a minute, let me take something for that.  I hadn‘t thrown the ball yet.  Now you have to learn to wait for it.  Here we go, try it again?  Are you ready?  Nothing. 

Conan O‘Brien stole my smash.  Now to discuss the fight for gay marriage in federal court with her special guests, the former Bush v. Gore rivals Ted Olsen and David Boies, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.  Good evening, Rachel.  Thank you very much.  I thought the urgent sound on the computer was your effort—

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  The computer volume in this room is turned up to stun.  I will see if I can do something about that. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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