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Alleged Police Brutality incidents Recall Rodney King Coverage; Bush Image at Stake in Corporate Crisis

Aired July 13, 2002 - 18:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Caught on tape, television turned the videotape of a violent arrest in California into another Rodney King episode, but is the camera and the press giving us the full picture?

And first CEO bashing, now Bush bashing. Molly Ivins takes on Laura Ingraham over the hottest story from Wall Street to the White House.

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz.

You've probably seen the terrifying footage from California by now. The videotape of a 16-year-old boy slammed onto the trunk of a patrol car, then punched in the face by Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy Morse. But that wasn't all. Police then picked up Mitchell Crooks who shot the videotape on an earlier warrant for failing to serve a seven-month jail term. And CNN cameras caught the unmarked police car as it drove away while Crooks' screams of help could be heard from inside.




KURTZ: Joining us now from Los Angeles, David Goldstein, a reporter for KCAL in Los Angeles and Jonathan Elias, reporter and anchor for KCBS in L.A.

Jonathan Elias, so this terrible videotape surfaces and TV plays it a few million times, including CNN where Connie Chung got the first interview with 16-year old Donovan Jackson. Is television on some level trying to turn this into another Rodney King case?

JONATHAN ELIAS, KCBS REPORTER & ANCHOR: Well, it depends on where you are. I think in Los Angeles, in large part, most the folks have been extraordinarily respectful and mindful of what is at stake here in the city of Los Angeles, and plus they understand, you know, what has happened with this particular case. But I've seen what we've seen nationally is and I don't want to throw, you know, rocks at glass houses ... KURTZ: Oh, go right ahead.

ELIAS: ... with all the national press, but there have been, OK, there have been a couple that I've heard that have just sort of stood out. One, they said the LAPD has another black eye out on their hands. Well LAPD wasn't within miles of this particular case. It was at Inglewood Police Department and another one this morning said well, are we looking to see more riots? And I just think that's completely irresponsible.

I mean, what you have here is a case where you have a 16-year-old kid who's slammed against a car handcuffed, and then you have him punched in the face while he's in those handcuffs. You know there's -- if there are extenuating circumstances, so far they have not come out or been reported on, but I think it's fair to say, and I've been on the police beat long enough to say that once the handcuffs are put on and the person who's in those handcuffs not putting up a fight, the fight is over. You put him in a car. He's arrested ...

KURTZ: Right.

ELIAS: ... but what comes, what takes place before the handcuffs are put on and the officers are trying to restrain somebody, then all bets are off. I mean if this guy was putting up a fight, the officers have the right to go home that night, and they don't know if a deal is going to go south and the guy's going to pull a gun or a knife. So they have to use whatever means possible. Put the person down and put the handcuffs on.

KURTZ: Let me go now to David Goldstein. We don't -- you know police supporters say that we're seeing the point of a videotape that shows clearly this kid was handcuffed and unarmed being abused, but that we don't know what happened before, what the provocation might have been. So is it at least a possibility that television coverage and by playing of this tape is providing a somewhat distorted picture?

DAVID GOLDSTEIN, KCAL REPORTER: It's providing the only picture we have right now, which is the videotape. But as you mentioned, there is a portion we don't know and that's what happened before the videotape started and that's certainly what Jeremy Morse's defense attorney already talked about, what Jeremy Morse had talked about allegedly in a use of force report that he wrote on Saturday night.

What happened before is going to be a key issue, but the only thing that we and the media have right now to use is the videotape, and that shows what we have seen and the punch and the slamming down on the trunk., and I don't think it's out of bounds to use that.

We are using it, and I think it's responsible here, at least locally, I agree with Jonathan here, locally in town here we all know - a lot of us had been through the Rodney King case. I have been through both trials and the riots and I think we're acting responsibly in using that tape and trying to report what happened before, as we have.

KURTZ: It sounds like there's an extra sensitivity to anybody who lived through that period, and of course, the violence that followed the first Rodney King verdict. Now in Oklahoma this week, there was another bit of videotape that surfaced showing the police beating a suspect who was on the ground. I don't know if we have that. But my question about that and in the Inglewood case, here we're taking a look at the Oklahoma footage.

Jonathan Elias, without this kind of footage, isn't this a non- story? In other words, if there's no videotape and 16-year-old Donovan Jackson comes into your news room with a lawyer and the kid can't speak very well, he's developmentally disabled, and says, "I was beaten and abused by the police and the police deny it." Is that a story you would even go with?

ELIAS: You know, I don't know if it is a story unless there were some facts to back it up or we had some evidence to use as far as the context of the story. It certainly would be something we would listen to. Obviously, it's a lot more damaging when you have the videotape to go along with it. The problem is -- and I think this is the reason a lot of the local media are doing such a great job as far as being fair -- there's a lot of emotions.

I mean don't get me wrong. The emotions are clearly flaring. There is outrage, and I think if you put -- superimposed your kid in that particular situation, you'd be outraged too. But I think a lot of people are trying to just bring it down a little bit, trying to get the emotions out of it and just leave it to the facts of the case.

KURTZ: Right.

ELIAS: Inglewood PD is putting an internal investigation together. They say they're going to get to the bottom of this.

KURTZ: Let me ...

ELIAS: Clearly, there's a lot of heat on them to come up with a decision. They're going to have to do that and they ...

KURTZ: Let me break in here and go to David Goldstein. Is it fair to say, though, that without these rare cases where somebody happens to have a video camera, that the media don't spend a lot of time looking at police brutality because there's no collaborating evidence. It's usually somebody's word against that of the cops.

GOLDSTEIN: That's it, and we get those calls all the time. As an investigative reporter, weekly we get calls about people who claim that they were abused. But if you go and some of the cases we do investigate, and if you go and look at the police report, obviously it contradicts what that person said, and without some kind of independent witness, there really isn't a story there because you have one side and the other side, and it's not a story that a lot of us cover.

But certainly with a videotape, you finally, you do have an eyewitness. You have that video camera and that's certainly something that - that's why this story has become so big -- certainly, the Oklahoma City story, and the Rodney King story as well as other videotaped police abuse out there.

ELIAS: But Howard, also in answer to your question, you know, part of the due diligence on the reporter, you know we go out there and we try and find out who this person is, and when we figure out that they may not be a model citizen, and here they are making these wild accusations, it kind of hurts their story a bit. But when you have a videotape, it's pretty tough, you know, not to believe what it is you're seeing and so that's a part of what's fueling this one right now.

KURTZ: And speaking of nothing, a model citizen, Jonathan Elias, the bizarre twist in which the police end up arresting the videotaper, or Mitchell Crooks, because he had skipped out on a jail warrant after being involved in a hit-and-run while driving under the influence, should the coverage of that, which also was captured on videotape, is it detracting (UNINTELLIGIBLE), should it detract from the original story, which is the beating of this 16-year-old boy?

ELIAS: Well, in Los Angeles I can tell you, you know the local paper, one of our papers had it like the third story in on the fourth page. You know so the Crooks issue, while it's kind of intriguing and it makes good theater, the kid obviously had an outstanding warrant and is this the person that wants to come down Front Street yelling that he's got a videotape. Maybe it's all a matter of timing or maybe he was hiding out and this was their opportunity to take him.

KURTZ: Right.

ELIAS: I think what started it is they asked him to go before a grand jury to authenticate that the videotape was for real.

KURTZ: He did sort of put himself ...

ELIAS: And I think he was refusing to do that.

KURTZ: ... he did sort of put himself in the public eye, and I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. Jonathan Elias, David Goldstein, both thank you very much for joining us from Los Angeles.

ELIAS: A pleasure.

GOLDSTEIN: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: And turning now to the White House and the burgeoning corporate scandals, the press continues to pound away at President Bush's controversial 1989 stock sale in Harken Energy, where he served as a director. In fact, while the president tried this week to talk about his proposals for corporate reform, reporters at a news conference wanted to talk about something else, something more personal.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Would you take on the charge that you were eight months late with an $850,000 stock sale report?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sir, on this question that the Form 4 was eight months late, why was that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Could you please explain your role when you were on the board of Harken Oil?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The accounting procedures at Harken in Aloha is compared to what went on at Enron. Would you agree with that?



KURTZ: And joining us now, Laura Ingraham, the host of the "Laura Ingraham Show" on Westwood One Radio, and in Austin, Texas, syndicated columnist Molly Ivins, author of a book on Bush called "Shrub."

Molly Ivins, why is the press resurrecting, like that seven- million-year-old human skull, this 13-year old incident, in which Bush sold some stock in his company Harken Energy.

MOLLY IVINS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST, AUSTIN, TEXAS: Actually, there is a new story out of Harken Energy. It's true that it was covered back in the '90s when he first ran for governor. I wrote about it then. But there is a new story. The Aloha insider trading deal is all new stuff, new on -- in the public record, and it's relevant. It's both new and relevant ...

KURTZ: Because ...

IVINS: ... it seems to me that's the definition of news.

KURTZ: OK, new and relevant, but Laura Ingraham, is this the liberal press, in your view, trying to prove that Bush is soft on corporate crime because he once cut corners himself?

LAURA INGRAHAM, WESTWOOD ONE RADIO: Well, I think we've known for a long time that the press has grown increasingly weary of having to report President Bush's 76-percent approval rating. And when they got the smell of blood in the water over Harken, even though, as the "Washington Post" editorial page said on Friday, that is old stuff. It's been investigated by the SEC. Molly's written about it. But that stuff is old, but the press wants to cover something new.

That drives this -- some media bias drives it. The Democrats have desperately tried to seek an issue. So far the White House says, look, you know, we're going to get in front of this issue, get out in front, but we are not going to act defensive, try to act overheated and -- but the Democrats are hoping against hope that this is going to be their issue and I think the White House does have to take it seriously.

IVINS: Again, there is a new story here. This is -- you can't just dismiss this by saying oh, this is all old stuff, and people have written about it. In fact, I think it's pretty easy to say just from a journalistic point of view that Bush's business background was seriously under-covered in 2000 and ...

KURTZ: But it certainly wasn't ignored. I mean, I happen to have a couple of stories here -- "Washington Post" July '99 talked about ...

IVINS: Right.

KURTZ: ... his days as a Texas oil man, how his family connections helped. There's "Dallas Morning News" December of 2000, records show Bush knew before stocks scale -- excuse me, stocks sale. Regulators concluded he did nothing improper. Now, there may be some new details, granted, but this is -- is this important enough to suggest, imply or otherwise infer, as the press might be doing, Molly Ivins, that this is somehow in a league with Tyco or WorldCom or Enron?

IVINS: Well again, there -- you could put the Harken mess in that focus and say, well, compared to Tyco or Enron, that's no big hill of beans. On the other hand, we spent eight years on Whitewater, $70 million dollars investigating this failed real estate deal, and the very people who are now trying to dismiss Bush's background as small potatoes and old news were the people who spent eight years raising cane about that real estate deal.

KURTZ: I was waiting for the first mention of Whitewater. It often seems to come up when we talk about Harken Energy and I don't recall you complaining about all the coverage Whitewater was getting...

IVINS: Well ...

KURTZ: Didn't the Republicans make this sort of pre-presidential business dealing stuff fair game under Clinton?

INGRAHAM: I think so, but the big difference, of course, is that Whitewater hadn't been investigated, and after the Whitewater investigation, we know that there were several convictions, guilty pleas. People went to jail for that. Now obviously you know to go back to Whitewater isn't helpful here. The Bush administration does have to take this seriously, but that's a separate ...

KURTZ: You think ...

INGRAHAM: ... issue.

KURTZ: ... the press is taking it seriously ...


KURTZ: ... because the press is treating it as Whitewater too.

INGRAHAM: The reason they -- no, first the Democrats, if they bet the store on trying to convince the American public that George Bush is a crooked guy, they're going to lose all the way. If, however, Americans a year from now or two years from now conclude that businessmen and corporations are not trustworthy, in fact, that government and government bureaucracy is more trustworthy, then the pillars of the Republican philosophy are in jeopardy. That's the big issue here, because if people are convinced that corporate America is corrupt, all of it, forget the Republican agenda. That's the key thing here.

KURTZ: But Molly Ivins, if the press went overboard on Whitewater, as many people believe, as you seem to suggest, then does that somehow make it right, evens the score ...

IVINS: No ...

KURTZ: ... for the press to certainly do this with the Harken story.

IVINS: No, and I'm sure Laura and I agree on that just because you went -- over-covered Whitewater is no reason to justify suddenly making a massive deal out of Harken. This is new and it is relevant and it's particularly relevant because of Bush's approach to the problems in the financial markets. What he did in his speech last week was take the bad apple approach and say OK, what we're going to do is we're going to stiffen the penalties on the bad apples. Well ...


IVINS: ... the trouble is what's going on, it's not what people are doing that's illegal, it's what is going on that's legal that needs to be addressed. And because Bush's own business background is frankly questionable, he was not in a position to preach ethics to anybody else.

INGRAHAM: In fact, taking loans from corporations, in which you're -- for which you're a director was a common practice ...

KURTZ: Common ...

INGRAHAM: ... common, accepted ...

KURTZ: ... legal ...

INGRAHAM: ... no one objected ...

KURTZ: ... and now the president says it shouldn't be allowed anymore.

INGRAHAM: Well, but after we see the excesses and a lot more than $90,000 ...


INGRAHAM: ... and $80,000 ...

KURTZ: ... he did it. INGRAHAM: ... I think they should bring it up, but the point is this was investigated by the SEC. A lot of manpower went into that investigation. The president did cooperate. He made himself personally available for interviews, which is much more than Bill Clinton did at the beginning of Whitewater.

KURTZ: OK, got to call it -- blow the whistle -- call a brief time out. And up next, are Bush and Cheney in the pocket of big business, or is that just the way they're portrayed in the press?




KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Molly Ivins, you've described the president's recent strategy on corporate reform as "W does Nader." It seems like he can't catch a break with liberal punds even when he proposes some of what you might want.

IVINS: Well I don't think there was anything in that speech that was serious in addressing the structural problems in the financial markets.

I mean these markets are cratering in front of our eyes. We know what the source of much of the rot is. You've got auditing firms who have both consulting and accounting functions at the same companies. He didn't propose doing anything about that. Mr. Levitt, Arthur Levitt, the last SEC chairman under Clinton, has -- was going around preaching that 10 years ago and now everybody and his hamster is saying if we had just listened to Arthur Levitt we wouldn't be in this trouble.

KURTZ: Yes. Well, meanwhile the press didn't make a big deal of Arthur Levitt's proposed reforms during the Clinton administration either. So I think the media was also ...


KURTZ: ... going ...

INGRAHAM: ... I don't recall the - I don't recall the town hall meetings that President Clinton led around the country about the need for you know grand corporate reform. I must have missed that.

KURTZ: OK, but let me bring you back to the press. Is there a media stereotype Bush and Cheney, ex-oilmen, ex-CEOs in bed with big business that they can't shake?

INGRAHAM: Yes I -- no, I think there is a media stereotype, and I think the Bush administration so far has managed to keep that at bay ...

KURTZ: How? INGRAHAM: ... keep it fairly positive public approval rating. However, I think the perils wait on the horizon for the Bush administration, if they are not able to convince the American public that the markets can be trusted and businessmen, the vast majority are honest, hardworking people who want their shareholders to get maximum profit ...

KURTZ: Right.

INGRAHAM: ... then the Republicans will be in trouble. But ...

KURTZ: How are they keeping it at bay? I mean they're ...


KURTZ: ... getting tons of negative coverage. Harken ...

INGRAHAM: Howard just because ...

KURTZ: ... Halliburton.

INGRAHAM: ... just because the media says the Bush administration ...


INGRAHAM: ... is big oil and big business doesn't mean American public is going to think that Bush and Cheney are crooks. That's the whole point.

KURTZ: Your point is that the press is going for these media stereotypes but the public is not?

INGRAHAM: Yes, the media stereotypes about cold hearted Republicans have existed for the last 25 years and Ronald Reagan managed ...


INGRAHAM: ... to get elected twice and George Bush ...

IVINS: Excuse me ...

INGRAHAM: ... and this guy once.

IVINS: ... excuse me, when it comes to George W. Bush and business, it has nothing to do with liberal media or stereotypes. George W. Bush is part of big business. He does work with them. He comes out of Texas government. The whole function of government in this state has long been considered to be maintaining a healthy business climate. That's what we think government is about down here. That's the kind of guy George Bush he is.

Nobody bought him. Nobody gave him such big contributions that he thinks that way. That's who he is. That's the way he thinks. This isn't ... (CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM: No more ...

IVINS: ... made up by the media.

INGRAHAM: ... no more though -- no more, though, Molly and Howie, than the Democrats are captive of big labor and big teachers unions and the trial lawyers, and I don't remember the last time I heard that stereotype bandied about CNN, MSNBC or Fox. Doesn't happen.

KURTZ: I hear it pretty regularly. But Molly Ivins, did the press, before the recent meltdowns involving Enron, WorldCom and all the other corporate actors where we're now well familiar with, do a decent job of writing and reporting about the president's deregulatory philosophy, about the kinds of people he was appointing to oversee business, or is that only now becoming the sort of hot media issue?

IVINS: Well, it's now become very relevant simply because the financial markets are collapsing.


IVINS: I think there were some of us out there have been out there writing about this for a long time. Generally with the media it's always the sins of omission, not the sins of commission, that are the more grave. And as you listen now to the discussion about, OK, mess in the financial markets, what do we do to fix it?

The one voice you don't hear is Ralph Nader, the corporate critic who's been around for 40 years. He's responsible. He's reliable. He knows this stuff cold. He's been preaching it since God was young. Nobody -- he's -- it's like he's not in the golden rolodex.

KURTZ: Well, you do make a point, though, that the press didn't care all that much either about regulation or about corporate ...


KURTZ: ... accounting abuses during the ...

INGRAHAM: Nobody was ...


INGRAHAM: ... talking about this.


INGRAHAM: Ralph Nader was talking about it. Molly's been going after Bush for years and she...


INGRAHAM: ... his business practices, but the point is when we were in the "rah rah" days of the '90s, everybody was happy. Our 401(k)s were going up. Corporate directors were making a lot of money. They were consulting -- the accounting firms were doing well. We didn't care, but now questions ...

KURTZ: And ...

INGRAHAM: ... have to be asked and answered.

KURTZ: A little late on the media's part. Let me turn briefly to Harvey Pitt, the SEC chairman. Do you believe that journalists obviously getting help from Democrats and John McCain, by the way, are leading some sort of campaign to get him fired because he represented the accounting industry and has talked about a kinder and gentler SEC.

INGRAHAM: Yes. I think it's a red herring. Pitt's not the problem ...

KURTZ: He's a symbol.

INGRAHAM: These are systemic problems and the press and John McCain and the Democrats want to have the boogey man to be able to point to and they can't get George Bush quite yet, they don't think. So Harvey Pitt is the next best thing. Harvey Pitt is a talented guy, one of the top lawyers in the United States ...

IVINS: Laura ...

INGRAHAM: ... no sense right now that he can't do his job.

IVINS: Laura, the "Wall Street Journal's" editorial page has criticized Harvey Pitt for being too close to business. Now if that's not close to the end of the world, I don't know what is. He had the private meetings with Xerox. There are a lot of real problems with his performance, not just the fact that he used to be an accounting industry lawyer. It goes well beyond that. It goes specifically to his performance as SEC chairman.

KURTZ: Well, we will keep talking about these issues, but we will have to hold it here. Molly Ivins, Laura Ingraham, thanks very much for joining us.


And when we come back, over due honors at the White House for two journalists, not always the most popular folks at 1600 Pennsylvania.


KURTZ: Time now for "The Back Page". Here's Bernard Kalb.


BERNARD KALB, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Killed in the line of duty. You hear that phrase and right away you think war, but this is not about soldiers and sailors and marines. (voice over): This is about journalists killed in the line of duty as the committee that protects journalists so accurately puts it - killed, murdered, kidnapped, and threatened in the line of duty. Dozens of them in the last decade alone suffering that fate for doing their job in various countries around the world.

But now a different set of verbs like honored and celebrated and applauded in the line of duty and suddenly you have a front-row seat at the White House.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civil honor our nation can bestow and we award it today to 12 outstanding individuals.

KALB: Among the lucky dozen, two journalists. The award given to the "Washington Post" late publisher and accepted by her daughter Lollie Wayleth (ph).

BUSH: Katherine Graham will always be remembered for her determined pursuit of journalistic excellence.

KALB: The other award, the Pulitzer Prize winning former executive editor of "The New York Times", A.M. Rosenthal.

BUSH: A.M. Rosenthal's calling is journalism. His passion is human rights.

KALB: Now it's no secret that politicians aren't always rhapsodic about journalistic exposes, yet here were honors bestowed on the publisher of one newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal and on the top editor of another newspaper that broke the Pentagon papers. Both these stories among others producing political aftershocks in the White House over the years.

In fact, journalists have won their share of these medals since they were first introduced during World War II. Among the winners, Edward Murrow, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Harold Blake (ph).

(on camera): Now coming at a time when press people around the world are facing constant dangers, these awards couldn't be more timely, so it's a particular pleasure to see these medals going to journalists being celebrated in the line of duty.

Now back to work and more exposes.


KURTZ: Bernard Kalb. Well that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again tomorrow morning at 9:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media.

"CAPITAL GANG" is up next.


Coverage; Bush Image at Stake in Corporate Crisis>



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