Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Keith Olbermann Out at MSNBC; The Price of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Aired January 21, 2011 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening, everyone.

We have breaking news tonight. One of the most controversial voices on television, not to mention a fierce competitor and a pretty fair talent in both news and sports, is out of a job.

MSNBC's Keith Olbermann host of "Countdown," the highest rated program on MSNBC, out the door so suddenly, a few there apparently didn't get the memo in time.

The network was still running promotional spots with his face on it an hour after he signed off for the last time this evening.

He closed with a story about being fired.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN")

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN": In the mundane world of television goodbyes, reality is laughably uncooperative.

When I resigned from ESPN 13.5 years ago, I was literally given 30 seconds to say goodbye at the very end of my last edition of "SportsCenter."

As God as my witness, in the commercial break just before the emotional moment, the producer got into my earpiece and he said, "Can you cut it down to 15 seconds, so we can get in this tennis result from Stuttgart?"

So, I'm grateful that I have a little more time to sign off here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And he did take his time, thanking crew and staffers and reading one of the James Thurber short stories he reads every Friday night.

Then he said, good night and goodbye.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Chris Hayes filling in for Rachel Maddow on "The Rachel Maddow Show" is next. Again, all of my greatest thanks.

Widen the shot out just a little bit, so we can do one of these a last time.

Thank you, Brian (ph).

Good night, and good luck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Keith Olbermann signing off tonight.

His former network releasing a statement reading -- and I quote -- "MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success, and we wish him well in his future endeavors."

Network president Phil Griffin also sending out an e-mail to staffers, which we have obtained, outlying -- outlining the new prime- time schedule, without even mentioning a mention of Olbermann.

According to "The New York Times," he still had at least two years left on a four-year contract worth an estimated $30 million. Sources telling us the parting came as fallout from Comcast's purchase of NBC Universal and, with it, the departure of company head Jeff Zucker.

With us now on the phone is Bill Carter, who has got the byline up right now the "New York Times"' home page. Also on the phone, former MSNBC reporter and anchor David Shuster, and, in Philadelphia, CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi.

Bill, the latest. What are you hearing was behind the -- the departure?

BILL CARTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, NBC is being assertive in saying it wasn't related to the Comcast takeover.

I do think there's been a longstanding issue with Keith. Obviously, he -- you know, he was suspended in November over the donations he gave to Democratic candidates. And, at the time, it was, I think, very close at that moment to him being fired over that.

And this has been a longstanding issue. Obviously, he was an incredibly important talent for them. And, really, I think he's responsible for their entire brand now, you -- you could argue.

But, you know, Keith has had long-running problems with management in his -- in his career. And I think this came to a head, and -- and -- and they both agreed it was time for him to move on.

COOPER: Bill, what at least one source has told me from in -- in MSNBC, that Jeff Zucker was somehow sort of a protector within the corporation. His departure -- that it's not a coincidence that Jeff Zucker has departed, Comcast takes over.

And even before Comcast took over, there had been some talk within MSNBC about the corporate culture at Comcast being different and not tolerating someone like Keith Olbermann.

Have you heard that...

CARTER: Well...

COOPER: ... from people within MSNBC?

CARTER: ... I had certainly heard that Jeff Zucker was a protector of his, for sure. There's no doubt about that.

And -- and I think they -- they realized for a long time that he was very critical to -- to MSNBC, was their highest rated star. And, clearly, there's going to be a change in some way in the management.

But I don't think Comcast is going to come in with some sort of heavy hand and say, we're going to change MSNBC, after they have established the brand that has made them much more successful, where they're -- they're the left-wing alternative to FOX News. And it's been their brand.

I think they're -- they're going to cautious about that. And let's face it, Rachel Maddow has become basically now the star of the network, and she -- her opinions are no different from Keith. I just think Keith is a different personality.

And would he have run afoul of Comcast? I think everybody at MSNBC and NBC believe that would have been inevitable.

COOPER: David Shuster is also joining us on the phone.

David, you used to work at MSNBC. You had your own clash with management. What do you make of this?

DAVID SHUSTER, FORMER MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, Anderson, first of all, thanks for having me.

I'm shocked. And let me say from the outset that I -- I'm a huge fan of Keith's work. He was always very kind to me. And I -- and I consider him a friend. And -- and I think Bill has got it exactly right.

I mean, you look at all of MSNBC's prime time, Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, I mean, they exist because of Keith. And Keith was essentially the fundamental building block. I just hope, he's leaving on his terms, which it sounds like -- it sounds like it was, in the sense that he was given time to say goodbye.

And -- and Keith is his -- is his own man. I mean, if -- you know, when Keith does things, he does things his way. I haven't always agreed with everything that he's done. He hasn't always agreed with everything that I have done, but I have always respected his work immensely. He is a brilliant man. He is a brilliant writer. And I found him to -- I found him to be a great guy to work for. And it's going to be a certain -- I think it's going to be a certain loss for everybody who is -- who is involved in prime time at MSNBC.

COOPER: David, I don't want to put you on the spot too much, but I guess that's part -- sort of my job in this case.

SHUSTER: Sure.

COOPER: I mean, was he well-liked within NBC? I mean, I have heard plenty of -- what -- what was your impression?

SHUSTER: Well, yes, I -- it's a fair question.

I think the people he worked with had a lot of respect for him. The people on his show, the director, the technical people, the sort of people that often get forgotten by, you know -- by major talent, Keith was very kind to them, the makeup artists, that sort of thing.

I think, as far as management, I mean, Keith, you know, had his conflicts with management, going back to when Dan Abrams was running MSNBC. And he had his conflicts with Phil Griffin.

And I -- and I think one thing to keep in mind is that not only is -- are things sort of changing with Jeff Zucker no longer running NBC, but the reporting structure, you now have Phil Griffin, from what I understand, is going to be reporting to Steve Capus, instead of directly reporting to the head of MSNBC.

So, Steve Capus, the head of NBC News, will certainly have much more influence over MSNBC. And this may be part of it. I mean, it was no secret that Steve was particularly upset, justifiably so, with how Keith handled the suspension earlier this year and the donations. And Phil Griffin took a little bit of a different tack than -- than Steve probably would have liked.

But, yes, I think you're probably seeing now that Keith recognizing -- or certainly Steve Capus influencing MSNBC a lot more than you would have had, say, a week ago.

COOPER: Bill Carter, do you know -- I mean, we mentioned this earlier, and I think it was you who was reporting it. But, in terms of his contract, does he get paid for essentially -- I mean, will they keep him off the air somewhere else if they just pay him out...

CARTER: Yes.

COOPER: ... for the next two years?

CARTER: The answer is that he will be kept off the air, probably not for two years, but for a sustained period of time. He can do radio. He can do radio. He can do Internet. He can't do television. He won't be able to go on -- go on another television show.

And this was a settlement of the contract. I think would should also point that, you know, Keith is one of the most outspoken guys you will ever find. And if he feels like he was being dealt with unjustly here, we will hear about it. And I think we would have heard about it on the air tonight.

I -- I think he probably agreed to whatever this settlement is, and -- and feels OK about it, knowing that this was probably time for him to move on.

COOPER: So, Bill, is -- is it accurate to say he was fired?

CARTER: I don't know.

I think I -- you know, I haven't talked to Keith yet. And I think it's a little dicey. I think it's certainly true that they made a move to settle his contract, in -- instead of keeping him on the air. Does that amount to being fired? It sounds like a firing.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And he had two -- two more years of his contract?

CARTER: Yes, I believe he -- he signed a four-year extension in 2008. So, he would have gone to 2012. So -- so, he had this whole year and -- and 2012.

COOPER: Also, Ali...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: ... to keep in mind about Keith with money, Keith has never really been about money. I mean, yes, he wanted a contract in terms of wanting to be paid what he felt like he was worth, but he's always said that he's gotten more money than he feels -- feels he needs.

He's not a guy who is about money. And if he felt like, you know, for whatever reason, that this was a time to leave, I guarantee that money is not an issue for him.

COOPER: I just feel bad -- I mean, I don't -- I don't -- you know, I have met him just a handful of times. I don't know him personally really.

But for someone who clearly, you know, has a strong opinion, it would be a very difficult thing, I would think, to be off the air, you know, at such an important time in this country's history, David.

CARTER: Well, yes and no, but, I mean, he's -- he's gone -- he's gone down this road before. I mean, he's worked -- you know, he left MSNBC following the Monica Lewinsky scandal back in '98, '99. He was off the air for a period of time. He worked at CNN. He worked at FOX. So, he's certainly gotten used to having his breaks in between his successes. And I -- and I guarantee, you know, Keith is not done in the broadcast world. He's a very smart guy. A lot of organizations would be very wise to talk to him and to at least see, OK, you know, what -- what could he possibly do next, whether it's a radio show, whether it's a radio TV show.

I mean, he's -- he's such a super talent, and he is good to work with. And that's a combination that I think will mean he has got a bright future, regardless. And it will be on his terms.

COOPER: Ali Velshi is with us as well.

Ali, as -- as -- as David mentioned, Olbermann was suspended latest years for donations he made...

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

COOPER: ... to some Democratic candidates.

I just want to play some of what he said when he came back from that suspension.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN")

OLBERMANN: I owe you three apologies, foremost for having subjected you to all this unnecessary drama.

"The White House is on the phone for you."

Seriously?

Another for not having known, by observation, since it is not in my contract, that NBC had rules about getting permission for making political donations, even though any rule like that in any company is probably not legal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, I mean, even as he apologized, he did kind of find a way to criticize his bosses.

That episode obviously put a strain on his relationship with MSNBC's management.

VELSHI: Yes, and -- and a relationship that -- that Richard and Bill have both pointed out has been strained for some time.

The reality is that Keith Olbermann has been shopping around for -- for his next job for some time. It's a fact that he's not happy. And while the FCC just approved that Comcast-NBC Universal merger on Tuesday, it doesn't seem that Comcast did use their heavy hand.

It does seem that NBC -- MSNBC and NBC and Steve Capus and Phil Griffin might have come to the conclusion that their new bosses weren't going to sort of be as tolerant of -- of Keith Olbermann's temperament, his -- his mercurial nature.

But the reality is, it's probably more than likely that Keith Olbermann himself, in some way or other, precipitated this arrangement. Keith Olbermann has -- has signaled for some time that he's been ready to move on. And the -- the closure of this deal may just have a precipitating event, but, from what we understand, Anderson, no direct connection between the approval of the merger between Comcast and NBC and the release of Keith Olbermann from his contract.

COOPER: We have got to take a quick break.

Bill Carter, though, before we go, is there anything else that you know that -- that we should know?

CARTER: Well, just that I think we probably will find out a little more in the future, because I can't believe Keith will be quiet about it. So, I think we will learn a little bit more about his -- his particular view.

He didn't really state it tonight, but I would be very surprised if he doesn't. He's a pretty outspoken guy.

COOPER: David Shuster, anything from you?

SHUSTER: No, I think Bill has got it exactly right.

Keith, on his own time, he will come out and he will make it perfectly clear what -- what happened in a venue that he feels is appropriate. But, again, I don't -- I think we should be careful. I don't think this is the end of Keith Olbermann by any means. He's an incredible talent, an incredible guy to work with.

And he's going to be valuable whoever -- wherever he goes next. And it may be a period of years or whatever it is that he's got to sit down, but Keith is outspoken enough, and he -- and a lot of people now would pay a lot I think to -- to want to hear what Keith has to say.

And so I think -- you know, I would be careful not -- to sort of write off his career at this point. Yes, it's (AUDIO GAP) at MSNBC, but he's resurfaced before, and he will resurface again.

COOPER: Talent finds a way.

Bill Carter, David Shuster, appreciate it.

Ali Velshi, stick around.

More on the breaking story right after the break. We are going to talk to Howard Kurtz from "The Washington Post" and others.

Join the live chat right now at AC360.com.

New and striking numbers also tonight about just how much it cost, big money, to enforce don't ask, don't tell, how much it cost you, everyone in this country. Later: She was kidnapped as an infant from a hospital 23 years ago. This story is just incredible. Tonight: She discovered she's been kidnapped -- her reunion with her biological mom and who is now getting in tracking down her alleged abductor, the woman who raised her.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: More now on our breaking news: the sudden and almost totally unexpected departure of Keith Olbermann from MSNBC, still with plenty of time on his contract, unknown right now whether he jumped or was pushed. He anchored the network's highest rated prime-time news program.

Back with us, Ali Velshi. Also, David Shuster is still with us on the phone. Also on the phone, Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," media writer for The Daily Beast and "Newsweek." Our political panel joins us as well, political analyst Roland Martin and Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com.

Howard Kurtz, we haven't heard from you. What do you make of this?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, while the news is stunning, Anderson, it really is not that surprising.

Keith Olbermann was in a virtual war with his bosses at NBC and MSNBC in recent months. During that controversy over the political donations that he made to Democrats, he threatened at one point, if they didn't truncate his suspension, to go public, to go on "Good Morning America, "LARRY KING," in fact. And, in response, Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said that if -- told Olbermann's agent that, if he did that, he would be fired.

So, relations had so badly deteriorated after years of internal struggles, even though Olbermann, very talented broadcaster who basically revived MSNBC as a network and led it in a leftward direction, which was good for its ratings, despite the key role that he played at that network, the relations were so frayed with people who had been his friends for years and who felt that he had become very angry on the air, that I became convinced that this was just a matter of time.

I didn't know it was going to happen this week, but I saw it as inevitable.

COOPER: Howard, it's interesting. I'm getting tweets from people who are saying, you know, I'm kind of confused by this, who don't really follow this in the minute detail that all of us the TV business do.

That's unusual, to have that level of drama behind the scenes. I mean, you work at CNN. I work at CNN. I have worked at other networks. I have -- I have never had that kind of drama behind the scenes with executives. That -- that's pretty rare. KURTZ: I have just about never seen anything like it. I mean, on the one hand, he was the star. He was -- had the $40 million contract. And people, you know, there wanted to keep him on the air, as a matter of television success.

On the other hand, he's a very volatile personality, difficult to work with. By his own admission, sometimes, he went too far, very personal attacks on Bill O'Reilly, for example. And, a couple of times, he had to pull it back. He had apologize for going too far in some of the language he used against Senator Scott Brown, for example.

And in this whole era where we're all talking about civility, in the wake of the Tucson tragedy, Olbermann went on the air, the night of the shooting, in fact, one of his special comments, and said that, yes, perhaps at times, he had gone too far, and he wasn't going to do that again.

And then he just proceeded to just denounce Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin in very vituperative terms. So, at a time when there -- when there was a lot of focus on incendiary language by television anchors, Olbermann, you know, was drawing a lot of criticism, even though, obviously, he had a lot of fans on the left who are going to be disappointed that he's out of there.

COOPER: David Shuster, though, I mean, he was incredibly important for MSNBC and really put MSNBC on -- on the map. I mean, they had gone through I don't know how many people on the air in prime time for years and years and years, and Keith Olbermann is the one who really made their prime time happen.

SHUSTER: That's absolutely true.

But one thing to keep in mind, Anderson, is, also, it's going to be fascinating to see what MSNBC does next, because, I mean, Keith essentially designed "Countdown" and the show, but they -- but he was also instrumental in training some incredible staff who are still there to this day.

Rachel Maddow and I used to joke that, when we would substitute for Keith Olbermann, it was like taking a Ferrari out. Our job was just simply not to wreck the car. Keith would drive that car better than anybody, but it's an incredibly well-oiled machine, well-produced show, "Countdown."

And there's a lot there that I think would still resonate with audiences, even if Keith is not there. So, it's -- it's going to be fascinating what they do, both internally, in terms of the talent that help put the show on every day, and the segments that they have, which, clearly, are some successful franchises.

COOPER: Right. I mean, my understanding is they're moving Ed Schultz, I think, to 10:00, Lawrence O'Donnell down to 8:00 to replace Olbermann's time slot, and Rachel Maddow stays where -- where she is.

Let's go our political panel in here.

Erick Erickson, what do you make of this?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I don't know that I should say anything. I -- I'm kind of laughing at this and being torn up on Twitter about it.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Erick not saying anything?

ERICKSON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: You know, I'm going to miss being named worst person in the world.

But I -- you know, I'm reminded of a "Sports Illustrated" article from a year or two ago on the 10th anniversary of ESPN -- or on "SportsCenter." And Olbermann was the one anchor not invited back for "SportsCenter."

And the head of ESPN made the comment when asked why, and he said the amount of damage he would do in a day would take years to undo. And he -- he is a very volatile personality.

COOPER: Roland, what do you make of it?

MARTIN: I think, first of all, if you look at several different things, there's no doubt that Keith Olbermann had a dramatic impact on, of course, the branding of MSNBC, but also changing the financial fortunes of the network as well.

And, so, he was certainly the face of the network. But, also, look at what they were able to do over the past year. Remember, he was out for an extended period of time. His father had been ill, eventually passed away. Lawrence O'Donnell -- Lawrence O'Donnell filled in for him, and when you look at the ratings, held those numbers very strongly.

They put O'Donnell in at 10:00, and so, pretty much, they set themselves up perfectly to have, in essence, a bench. So, when you're -- when -- when you're ready to make this move, O'Donnell slots into the 8:00 slot. People are already familiar with him. Schultz, who is already on the network at 6:00, going to 10:00.

And, so, at the end of the day, look, we all have to understand, we -- we are shocked by this. But guess what? Networks go on. Shows go on. The news goes on. The players simply change.

COOPER: Ali, his show obviously was -- was a ratings powerhouse for MSNBC.

VELSHI: Yes.

COOPER: How -- how crucial was that show to MSNBC's bottom line?

VELSHI: Well, it -- it...

COOPER: Do we know?

VELSHI: It's done very well. It appears to have peaked.

The ratings of -- for the show appear to have peaked a little bit. And Roland brings out a good point, that while Keith Olbermann has been an issue in terms of his volatile and mercurial personality for some time, they now have quite a solid bench to be able to have made that move.

So, the -- the -- the reality is, would the new owners have tolerated mercurial and volatile and combative, or, to them, might that have been toxic? And I -- I -- I think that Howard makes the point that this is an environment where toxic may not have been all that helpful.

So, while this may not have been the new bosses, Comcast, who are going to be taking over this company, it may be the old bosses saying, the new bosses may not put up with this.

COOPER: Yes.

VELSHI: We have put up with him for a long time because he's such a good talent.

MARTIN: But I -- I think we have...

VELSHI: They may not be that...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Howard, what do you -- Howard, what do you make of that? Because, I mean, I have been hearing from -- I mean, I heard this last summer from folks who know Comcast well who said, look, it's a different kind of culture, and they're not going to -- they don't like this kind of stuff.

KURTZ: That's true. And -- and it's a very much more of a corporate, button-down culture.

Olbermann is a very shrewd guy. And he may have -- although I don't think NBC executives tried to talk him out of it, given the deteriorating relations that I alluded to earlier, he knew -- he saw the handwriting on the wall, and he may have decided that the -- that the kind of fierce independence that he values was not going to be possible under the new regime.

So, it may not be an accident that this happens now, a week before Comcast officially takes over. You know, this isn't the first time, Anderson, that -- that Olbermann has left MSNBC. He left it in 1998. He quit in a huff and criticized his bosses.

He has a history of doing that. At the same time, as some of your guests were noting earlier, he's a pretty talented broadcaster, when he doesn't let his emotions run away with him. So, I think he will find somebody who put him on the air somewhere.

COOPER: Yes.

Well, as I said, I mean, talent finds a way. And whether you agree with him or not, or like him or not, he is a -- he's clearly a very strong talent.

Howard Kurtz, I appreciate you calling in.

KURTZ: Thank you.

COOPER: Ali Velshi, Erick Erickson, Roland Martin, David Shuster as well, thanks, guys.

Still ahead...

MARTIN: Thank you.

COOPER: ... we're going to look at a new report that details the staggering amount of money the Pentagon spent to enforce don't ask, don't tell just in the last, like, five years. Guess how much money? Well, we will tell you in a moment.

Also, MTV has a controversial new program called "Skins." It's a racy look at teenage life. Some watchdog groups are up in arms, saying this thing is the worst thing that could happen to kids. Some advertisers are nervous, reportedly bailing out. We will take a look at it. You can decide for yourself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, a "Keeping Them Honest" report on don't ask, don't tell: new word tonight on just how much the don't ask, don't tell policy has cost the federal government, American taxpayers, just as there's a push by some lawmakers to try to reinstate it.

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter has introduced a bill to delay the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, requiring that the top military brass of each segment of the military sign off on it.

You will remember that, back when Congress was debating the repeal of DADT, there were lawmakers who said there was no problem with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, it -- it works because people who are gay and lesbian can serve, but they are not to tell. That's -- that's what don't ask, don't tell means. And you don't ask, you don't tell. And, so, I believe the system is working.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: We have got a program that's working within the military. It's been very effective, very accommodating for about 15, 16 years now. And it's worked well. And I think there's no reason to change it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, tonight, a new report is pointing out at least one problem with don't ask, don't tell: its cost.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, the Pentagon spent at least $193 million from 2004 to 2009 to replace more than 3,600 gay and lesbian -- lesbian service members who were discharged under the policy. That's almost $200 million in just five years.

The number comes just as House Republicans unveiled a plan to cut $2.5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years.

Richard Socarides was White House senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, in charge of equal rights issues for gay Americans. Currently, he's president of Equality Matters. He joins me live from Washington.

This -- this report only tracked the cost for six years, and yet $200 million, I mean, I was staggered at the cost of that. Were you surprised?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: I was surprised. And, actually, we think it's a little low, actually.

You know, it only covers about five years, and this policy has been in effect for 15 years. Plus, earlier on in the policy, there were more discharges. So, it probably -- we're probably looking at, at least $600 million over the course of the entire policy. And it's probably a low estimate at that, because it -- it can't really encompass all the opportunity costs.

And the -- the GAO had a lot of trouble gathering this information. So, I think pretty much everybody who knows about this thinks it's a low estimate. So, what we learned tonight, though, shockingly, is, you know, not only was this policy depriving the American military and American citizens of qualified service people, but it was a huge, huge waste of taxpayer money.

COOPER: Right. A number of -- I mean, this report also looked at -- at the -- the kind of the personnel who were discharged, and a number of them were in, you know, very important positions, and -- and had very important specific language skills that are obviously critically needed.

SOCARIDES: They were -- they were, in particular, a lot of Arab translators.

And Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, made a big point of this when she -- in -- when she was an early leader on this. She met with some of these people who had these special skills, skills that we really needed on the -- in the war on terror. And these were a lot of the people that were being kicked out.

I mean, it was -- that's why some of these costs are so high, because some of these costs include not only the administrative cost of kicking these people out, but the -- but the replacement costs.

COOPER: The critics of repealing don't ask, don't tell say that -- that, without don't ask, don't tell, there's going to be -- or if it is -- if it is repealed -- I mean, if it is instituted, there's going to be a mass -- a mass exodus from the military, and therefore the costs would be even higher.

Obviously, the -- the defense secretary says he doesn't -- doesn't agree with this. But do you think they have any kind -- any point?

SOCARIDES: Well, you know, I don't think that anything like that will happen.

And -- and -- and what we look at when we think about this is to look at what other military -- the experience they have had, especially in the European militaries, almost all of which allow open service by gays and lesbians. And they had -- they had no problems at all.

So, I think -- I really don't think people will leave. And -- and we saw this study that the Pentagon did showed that most -- the overwhelming majority think it's going to be no big deal.

I mean, the amazing -- the most amazing thing about the change, the -- this new policy, when it -- when it actually goes into effect, is that it probably will be very little different -- it probably will be little difference, except that people will be allowed to serve honestly and with integrity.

COOPER: And even if it is repealed, gay service members still won't have equal rights in the military. I mean, for example, spouses and families will not have same access to benefits that heterosexuals have.

SOCARIDES: That's correct. And that's why we're still very much in the crossroads. You know, in many ways, the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" that we saw before Christmas was the beginning of a battle for full equality for gay and lesbian Americans, because of other laws, other federal laws on the books like the defense -- the so- called Defense of Marriage Act -- we as gay people are some of the only Americans left who suffer from official discrimination.

So, you can be in the military and if you're in a state where you can be legally married, you can't get the same benefits that your other colleagues will get because of these other laws. That's why we're urging President Obama, like for instance, in the upcoming State of the Union, to just speak and address these issues and continue to show the leadership that he's been coming.

COOPER: We'll continue to follow. Richard, appreciate it. Richard Socarides, thanks.

Coming up: inside the business of selling women -- some of them underage. Special Investigations have a preview tonight. Also, an update -- just an incredible, amazing reunion story, 23 years in the making. A woman kidnapped from a hospital when she was just a baby. She's been reunited from her biological mom. She always kind of thought the woman who was raising her wasn't her real mom. Now, the search is on for the woman who allegedly kidnapped her and raised her as her own.

Also, Isha Sesay joins us -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: -- involved in that investigation. I'll have more details on that incredible story. Also, Anderson, you well know when it comes to cool, not all folks were created equal. You look out, you should be grateful. Do you know which country has been named the coolest?

COOPER: Yes, I'm so not cool. What country has been named the coolest?

SESAY: I have details.

COOPER: Wow. I'm intrigued.

SESAY: You should be.

COOPER: All right. We'll check with you in a moment. This is -- a lot of more ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: This Sunday night, CNN is going to broadcast a really eye-opening documentary called "Selling the Girl Next Door." It's a result of a year-long investigation into the sex trafficking of underage girl right here in America. It involves upwards of 250,000 children, experts say, and it looks at the growing role the Internet plays in this kind of criminal activity.

Now, as part of the investigation, CNN's Amber Lyon also paid a visit to one of the few legal brothels in America, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, which is in rural Nevada. The women who work there do so with their own free will, but many got started in the business as underage prostitutes, they say.

Here's a preview of Amber's investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DENNIS HOF, MOONLITE BUNCH RANCH: Hi, honey. How are you?

There's a lot of sexual trafficking going on in Las Vegas.

AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dennis Hof, he's been called America's pimp master general, but he considers himself a businessman.

HOF: Hey, I love it.

LYON: And what he does is legal. Hof is the owner of the most famous legal brothel in America, the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.

It's the setting for HBO's long running reality series "Cat House."

HOF: People love the sex business, and I love being part of it.

LYON: What he doesn't love are pimps.

(on camera): You're saying pimps to stop.

HOF: Pimps are the worst leeches in the world. It's in Birmingham. It's in Charleston. It's everywhere. It's everywhere in America, there are pimps that are trying to grab the life of young girls and take them away from their families.

LYON: And what types of money are pimps pulling in?

HOF: Oh, tens of thousands of dollars a week.

LYON: A week?

HOF: Oh, yes, absolutely.

LYON: What is it with underage girls? Why do pimps make more money off them? Why are there so many underage girls?

HOF: They're easily manipulated. They're young. They're naive. But the price they pay is horrendous.

LYON (voice-over): Hof says he wants to set the record straight, let the public know that life in his legal brothel is a far cry from the lives of most American prostitutes.

HOF: Ladies, this is Amber. She's here to visit you, to spend some time with you girls. (INAUDIBLE), come in and make money, and go back home and live their life.

I want me to walk you around and show you everything?

LYON (on camera): Yes.

HOF: There are just rooms down here and the girls decorate them like they want. We want people to be comfortable. LED plasma TVs.

LYON: Yes, it looks like a regular bedroom. What is this?

HOF: This is a swing.

LYON: I don't know how this works.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really easy. It's great.

(LAUGHTER)

LYON: Let's move to the next hallway. There's boobs in the hallway. It's just boobs. (voice-over): The women are in the safest and most profit able environment possible for a sex worker.

HOF: This is used one day a week for a couple hours.

LYON: They're tested weekly for STDs. They have panic buttons in their room that they can hit if a client gets out of line, and they also keep half of their cash.

Some make six figure incomes.

(on camera): So, I know you guys are all of age now and you're in the business now legally. But how many of you were sex trafficked underage when you started in the business, can you raise your hand real high?

So, we have one two three.

(voice-over): We counted hands and asked the women who tell us their stories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm from Seattle, and I started hauling when I was 16.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got started in the sex industry when I was 15.

JAZZY, BUNNY RANCH GIRL: I've been in the gang since I was 13.

LYON: All were effectively sex slaves controlled by pimps and all were sold online.

JAZZY: Virginity wasn't an option where I came from. You know, it was taken from you. And so, when you -- when you get into the game or when you like have somebody tell you, you know, you can sleep with me for money and you've already lost your virginity, you're just like, why not? Like, you know, it's like, why not? You know, sex is not as sacred as it once was.

LYON: Amber Lyon, CNN, Carson City, Nevada.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Amber has done a lot of investigation on this report. You can see it this weekend, "Selling the Girl Next Door" premiers Sunday night at 8:00 right here on CNN.

We're following another important stories tonight. Isha Sesay has 360 bulletin -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in a Houston hospital tonight. She was flown in this morning from Tucson. Her office released this photo of the flight. Her mother is kneeling at her side. Her husband, Mark, is sitting behind her at left.

Well, doctors say Giffords is doing well and that her rehabilitation will take four to six months.

There may be a new message on audiotape from Osama bin Laden and claiming to be the al Qaeda warns France that if it doesn't pull out its troops out of Afghanistan, two French journalists being held by militants will be executed.

The FBI has joined the search for Ann Pettway who' accused of kidnapping an infant from a New York City hospital back in 1987 and raising the child as her own. The baby girl is now 23 years old. Carlina White was reunited with her real mother this week. It was actually Carlina who figured out that Pettway was not her biological mother.

And, Americans are number five on the list of America's coolest nationalities, Anderson, because of great inventions like rock 'n' roll. Mongolians are number four.

COOPER: Mongolians?

SESAY: Yes, because they have a quiet mystery.

COOPER: All right. I'll go for that.

SESAY: Number three, Jamaicans, because of their dreadlocks.

COOPER: All right.

SESAY: Singaporeans are number two.

COOPER: What?

SESAY: Yes, that's right.

COOPER: For coolest nationalities? Singaporeans? Really? I mean, I have nothing against Singaporeans, but --

SESAY: Because they're super computer literate. Would you like to take a run at number one?

COOPER: I will -- yes, I do. Yes, I will tell you, Brazilians.

SESAY: I think you cheated, but I'll go with that. It is indeed correct.

COOPER: Well, they are. It's the coolest -- yes, they're the coolest. That's true.

SESAY: You are indeed correct. Brazilians are the coolest nationality because they are hard workers and they are very sexy people.

COOPER: The language is so cool.

SESAY: It is very, very cool. But I could say at this point, in the interest of full disclosure, the list was compiled by some of our very own CNN colleagues who are clearly a bit biased. COOPER: That's who compiled the list?

SESAY: Yes.

COOPER: It's just a made-up list.

SESAY: It maybe, but I also like to say at this point, I'm aggrieved.

COOPER: I thought this was some real nation, worldwide survey. It's just compiled like some folks sitting around in Atlanta?

SESAY: Don't rain on my parade. I would like to repeat for the audience at home, I am aggrieved because Brits are not on this list.

COOPER: OK.

SESAY: And I think we have done many great things for the world.

COOPER: That's true. I would also I got to say, I think Haiti is one of the cooler countries, too.

SESAY: But it s -- but they don't use cool words like "dapper."

COOPER: Are these the CNNers who compiled the list, by the way, do we have the pictures of them?

SESAY: Do we have that? Because I haven't seen a picture of them.

COOPER: See, it's these guys. Yes.

SESAY: Yes, like I'm going to take anything they say seriously.

COOPER: Right. Exactly. Oh, yes, Kevin right there.

SESAY: Yes. This is some cool stuff.

COOPER: That's cool. That's right. That's why Singapore is on the list.

SESAY: And Britain isn't.

COOPER: All right. Tonight, we have the greatest shot. This shot is just -- we all stopped in the office and watched it. Take a look. We found it on YouTube.

This is Mishga (ph), 8 1/2 years old. She has a Facebook page.

(VIDEO CLIPS PLAYS)

COOPER: She's a talking dog.

SESAY: Is she talking or howling?

COOPER: She says "I love you." (VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

COOPER: How great is that?

SESAY: That is actually totally awesome. I did some digging, no pun intended. And when Mishga not on Facebook or on Twitter and, you know, obviously, communicating with her fans, she is sunbathing and chasing squirrels.

COOPER: Really? I can watch her all night. That's how I say I love you by the way.

SESAY: You're going to need to work on that. Work hard, Mr. Cooper.

COOPER: Yes. Well, yes, it's not working for me.

SESAY: But do it one more time, it's Friday.

COOPER: I love you.

All right, a lot more ahead. Controversy over the racy new teen's drama "Skins." Has MTV finally gone too far or is all this just publicity? They have "Jersey Shore" after all. How much more worse could it be? The controversy of the new show much ado about nothing? We'll talk about that ahead.

And we introduced fountain lady to you, too, as the latest addition to our "Ridiculist" last night. Now, for the first time ever, we have a two-time "Ridiculister." Why did she fall on to our list again? Details on that ahead.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight, there's controversy over a new teen drama called "Skins" with the new show MTV is doing. Well, it's what MTV tends to do. The network has always tried to be young and edgy, and that's always made some people very nervous.

With sex and drugs and teenage actors, "Skins" has attracted the usual uproar from the usual places, the Parents Television Council. But this time they're calling it, quote, "the most dangerous program has ever been foisted on your children."

Here's a quick look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, you're not serious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's got to pop his cherry and I nominate you to, you know, help out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I have to? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what's standing up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, busy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you ever busy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Busy busy. Remember?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Wow. At least two major advertisers have reportedly pulled commercials -- those are teenagers -- pulled commercials from the show. Advertisers are getting nervous, even MTV may be pulling back a little. "The New York Times" reports the network told producers to tone down some of the most explicit stuff.

Earlier I spoke with Rachel Campos-Duffy. She was on MTV's "The Real World" and is married to Congressman Sean Duffy. I spoke with Rachel via Skype from Wisconsin and our own Isha Sesay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So, Rachel, what do you think about this? I mean, there's obviously this big debate about the show being too graphic, or too true to life. What do you think?

RACHEL CAMPOS-DUFFY, FMR. MTV PERSONALITY: Well, it's hard to say. You know, is it the chicken or the egg? Is it the show emulating teens or teens emulating the show?

I think it's entirely too racy, inappropriate for children. And frankly the grownups in this decision are not the kids, the grownups are those producers of those shows, the writers and the executives who decided to put that on the air. And I think they bear responsibility for what's going on.

COOPER: Isha, this was originally a British program that they've adapted now to the United States. Do you think it's much ado about nothing or is there a real problem here?

SESAY: No, I think it's much ado about nothing. Let's be clear, this show launched in the U.K. in 2007 to really good reviews. It's an award-winning drama there. And it's hugely popular.

The bottom line is the way I see it, at least, is that sex is an undercurrent of society, no matter where you live in the world. And I kind of feel like --

COOPER: But do kids really need to see even more of it?

SESAY: This show isn't --

COOPER: You already have "Jersey Show" with every possible level of depravity exhibited, you know, on a weekly basis.

SESAY: But let's be clear, MTV is not targeting the show at kids. It is rated as TV-MA, indicating that some of the content maybe unsuitable for kids under the age of 17.

COOPER: But it's totally going for kids.

CAMPOS-DUFFY: I'm sorry, I have to interrupt right there. I am a former reality TV on MTV cast member. I can tell you that the dirty little secret at MTV is that their demo is not 22-year-old college students. Their demo is 12, 13-year-old kids, 14-year-old boys and girls who are off at home alone and unsupervised.

SESAY: Rachel, with all due respect, it comes down to parenting. I mean, I feel as if you're putting the onus on MTV here. If they rate their programs and they follow the laws and they're not breaking the laws, then ultimately, it comes down the parents to parent their kids. Whether people like or not --

CAMPOS-DUFFY: Absolutely.

SESAY: -- their children are talking about sex if they're not already having sex. So, there's no point in burying your head in the sand.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Is it that simple, though? I mean, again, I come back to "Jersey Shore" which, you know, any episode you turn into, you're going to see some, you know, people having sex and vomiting and getting drunk and then vomiting again and having sex in some order of, you know, or all at the same time. Do we need another show like this?

SESAY: I saw a focus group that was done in the U.K. involving young people talking about "Skins." And one of the things that was said by the young people that were involved is that they liked the fact that it was targeting, it was tackling issues, true to life issues. It may, you could argue, be a little highly dramatized, but the bottom line, it's talking about things, it's showing things that kids, if they're not doing, they're talking about.

And so, this issue we should narrow the debate or cut out the debate or conversation all together.

COOPER: I want to read -- Rachel, I want to read you a statement from MTV. They say "'Skins' is a show that addresses real world issues confronting teens in a frank way. We review all our shows to ensure our shows comply with laws and community standards. We are confident that the episodes of 'Skins" will not only comply with all applicable legal requirements, but also with our responsibilities to our viewers."

What are those responsibilities to viewers on MTV? I'm curious. CAMPOS-DUFFY: Exactly. I think that this show, again, speaks to the lowest common denominator. I think it makes the job -- you're right, it is the parent's job to turn it off, but let's -- again, you want to speak about the reality. The reality is that a lot of parents aren't doing their job, and these shows have real consequences for these children and for the society at large.

What kind of support system do we want to have for our children? If you look at this show, I mean, I'm not really certain that -- I mean, it's an exaggeration of the sexual activity going on. But kids do emulate and look up to these shows.

SESAY: What I say to that, Rachel, is that the bottom line is, the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of any western industrialized nation. That is just the fact. The horse has already bolted. This is going on.

Let's have programming that is responsible, that is putting those issues out there. So parents can talk about these issues with their children. Ultimately, the responsibility is theirs.

COOPER: We got to leave it there. Rachel Campos-Duffy, good to have you from Wisconsin.

CAMPOS-DUFFY: Thank you.

COOPER: Thanks.

And Isha as well, thanks.

SESAY: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Well, we'll see.

Time now for the "Ridiculist."

And tonight, she's back. Fountain lady again. That's right, fountain lady, Cathy Cruz Marrero, is making Ridiculist history. She's the first person to be named the "Ridiculist" twice in a row. Cathy, congratulations.

No small feat. It's almost like getting struck by lightning twice or walking into the same fountain twice, as the case maybe.

Again, fountain lady, you're not on the "Ridiculist" because of the splash you made on YouTube or the video showing you texting and falling into the mall fountain. H20 no.

Last night, you made it on the list because you got a lawyer and you were thinking about suing the mall. You weren't injured, you weren't hurt. But this being America, you had a lawyer.

Guess what? It turns out this guy sitting next to you, the lawyer, he ain't the only lawyer in fountain lady's rolodex. As it turns out, fountain lady has kind of drenched in legal problems. Are you ready for this? It turns out she has reportedly been charged with using a co-worker's credit cards to rack up $5,000 worth of stuff at Target and Zales. Fountain lady's local newspaper, "The Reading Eagle," reports that she's going to plead guilty and will probably get six months of house arrest and electronic monitoring. And that's only the beginning.

That report also says that she has at least four retail theft convictions on her record and was on probation for a year for a hit and run that damaged some parked cars. Oh, fountain lady. None of this would have happened if you hadn't gone on TV and made yourself known.

How I long for the days when you were a nameless blob on a grainy surveillance video. You were so mysterious, such an enigma. We watched, we wondered, who is that woman? What is she texting? How could she not see that fountain?

And then we burst out laughing. And then we felt bad, but we still sort of laughed. Only, we laugh more quietly.

But now, everything is different, fountain lady. You could have just been anonymous viral vide de jure, something forwarded around and then pretty much forgotten. You could have been just another keyboard playing cat pawing your way to minor fame. That's catchy tune.

You could have been just another baby panda sneezing your way into our hearts.

I watched that several times today.

But then came the crucial misstep, and I don't mean when you stepped into the fountain. See, the baby panda didn't get a lawyer and go on "Good Morning America," threatening some ludicrous lawsuit. Once you did that, there's other stuff, there's criminal stuff, it was just inevitably going to come out because the whole instant fame thing, it is a slippery slope. Maybe not quite a slippery as the mall floor after you climb out of that mountain, but slippery nonetheless.

And your reason for suing -- I call it the "could have" case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CATHY CRUZ MARRERO, FOUNTAIN LADY: The fountain could have been empty. I could have been in the hospital. I could have walked into a bus. You know, got hit by a car.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As I said last night, could have, could have, could have, could have.

See, the fountain wasn't empty, but the threat of a lawsuit, totally empty. She didn't get by a car, but she did hit some cars. She didn't walk into a bus, she got busted for someone else's credit card. (INAUDIBLE) And she wasn't in hospital. She was on probation and will be probably be on house arrest and is definitely on the "Ridiculist" again tonight.

More now at the top of the hour, starting with breaking news. The sudden departure of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Good evening, everyone.

We have breaking news tonight. One of the most controversial voices on television, not to mention a fierce competitor and a pretty fair talent on both news and sports, is out of a job. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, host of "Countdown," the highest rated program on MSNBC, out the door so suddenly, a few there apparently didn't get the memo in time.