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California Justice

Aired July 10, 2003 - 20:18   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The nation is focused on two high- profile trials tonight. Both have implications that go beyond the home state they share, California.
We start tonight with the Scott Peterson case. The next focus in the media circus surrounding the Peterson case could be the media. As you're probably aware, a judge ruled to allow prosecutors and reporters to listen to newly discovered wiretap telephone calls made to Peterson earlier this year. Defense attorney Mark Geragos characterizes the calls from reporters as embarrassing, joking that he listened to as many as he could stomach.

Will an inside view of the media scrambling to get the big interview damage the public view of the business?

Sue Bennett spent years at both CNN and "Good Morning America" scrambling for the get. She joins from us Washington tonight. She lived to tell it. Also in Washington, CNN media analyst Howard Kurtz.

Howard, right off the bat, we're right on up with the dog catcher, right, just to put this all into perspective?

HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES": This is going to make it worse. Any anchor, reporter, producer, or booker who assumed the position in order to get access to Scott Peterson, to a man who, after all, is an accused murderer, is going to be humiliated when some of this comes out.

Now, it's very competitive. And, look, I've been booked a lot in my career. Obviously, people who do this need to be nice to guests to get them to come on. But there's a line, a pretty clear line, in my view, between that and just prostrating yourself in order to get some pretty odious people to grant an interview to your program.

ZAHN: We'll come back to that line in a moment.

But, Sue, why don't you take us inside the process? You have been credited with booking big gets for many, many years now. Share with us some of what reporters have done over the years to get the big interview, and their producers.

SUE BENNETT, MEDIA CONSULTANT: Well, you pretty much drop everything. You get on a plane. You stop your whole life.

At one of my first bookings, I was told to go to a Detroit hospital to book the woman who was having quintuplets, which was a big deal at the time. And now that I have two children of my own, who I had one at a time, I think it was pretty obnoxious of a mission to go and try to book her moments before she was having quintuplets.

We also -- I remember, the preppie murder case in New York City was one of the first jobs I was assigned. I had to sit behind the Chambers family, which was the -- Robert Chambers accused of murdering Jennifer Levin. And there was another booker producer sitting behind the Levin family. And we were assigned to talk with them when they were at the water fountain and try to get them to do the interview. It was difficult. It was very difficult.

ZAHN: But you're talking about being forced to be obsequious, also, Howard, tenacious. But help us better understand what has gone back and forth to lure an interviewee to do an interview.

BENNETT: Well, when I first started out, television was a very different world. Basically, there were just a few shows. And the competition wasn't so incredibly fierce.

Now, there's fees. There's book deals and movie rights. When one of the networks booked the miners during that story, they also -- part of the deal was to have an ABC miniseries, as well as go on "Good Morning America." So there's all sorts of incentives now. It's what you can offer them, which didn't exist 15, 20 years ago, when I started out.


ZAHN: So, Howard, when is an incentive OK and when is a reporter crossing the line?

KURTZ: Well, for one thing, I suppose it's OK to fly a guest to New York and put them up in a fancy hotel in an effort to get them on your show.

But what a lot of news divisions now are doing is finding ways to get around the rule that says you don't pay for interviews. So you had CBS a few weeks ago trying to get an interview with Jessica Lynch, just like every news organization on the planet. And a CBS executive writes a letter and offers not only a straightforward news interview, but there will be a TV deal. There will be an MTV special. They will send musicians to her house. There will be a Simon & Schuster book deal. These all part of the Viacom empire, which owns CBS. I thought that was pretty odious.

My favorite, hands-down, slam-dunk, story of the booking wars has to do with the Unabomber. I jotted down some notes. There was a "60 Minutes" producer who wrote the Unabomber and said that, to some environmentalists -- quote -- "You are a hero and a pioneer." This was a man who sent bombs through the mail to kill people.

Greta Van Susteren, then with CNN, said: "Your case is particularly fascinating. No one can dispute that you're an extremely smart man." And a "Good Morning America" reporter wrote: "Explain yourself to the nation, the world, by using me. Use me, please." So, I think what we may see, if this is any indication, in the Peterson case is journalists doing some things that they wouldn't want the rest of the world to know about in order to convince Scott Peterson to grant that all-important interview.

ZAHN: All right, Howard, you're a man who does his homework. Name some names tonight. Do we know who's going to be humiliated?

KURTZ: I don't have any inside information on that. And I'm sure there will be a lot of very well-recognized names on those tapes. But I think that some of them will probably just have conducted themselves professionally. After all, it is a business. It is a fiercely competitive business.

And some of them are going to be trying to explain themselves as to why they were, to coin -- to use an indelicate phrase, sucking up to Scott Peterson. But I can't tell you right now who those people will be.

ZAHN: Well, we'd love to have you back when you can share some of our fellow colleagues' names with us.

Thank you so much, Howard Kurtz.

Sue Bennett, appreciate you joining us tonight.

BENNETT: Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

A big day in another big trial here today in California. We all, of course, remember the video. It was a year ago when pictures of Donovan Jackson's arrest drew national attention. Charges were brought against two Inglewood, California, police officers. Jeremy Morse, who was let go after the incident, he is charged with assault. Officer Bijan Darvish, who was suspended, is accused of filing a false report.

Well, today, the now 17-year-old Donovan Jackson took the stand. The unspoken question on some minds today, could the outcome of this case spark serious protests?

With me here on our set is civil rights activist and head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Los Angeles, Reverend Norman Johnson.

Thank you.


ZAHN: Were you able to watch any of the trial today?

JOHNSON: No. I've been very busy and have kept up with it basically by staff giving me reports.

ZAHN: And have any of them suggested what some legal analysts are saying, that Donovan Jackson's testimony so far might actually be helping the defense?

JOHNSON: Well, I have not really heard that. I think that what people are most concerned about is the question of whether the videotape, which clearly shows a then 16-year-old young man being slammed on to the hood of a police cruiser and being hit by a police officer, whether we can believe what we see? Or do we believe what is explained to us by experts who talk about angles and techniques and so forth?

ZAHN: How concerned are you about any civil unrest attached to this case, depending on what the outcome of the trial is?

JOHNSON: There has to be some concern.

ZAHN: And what is it that you fear?

JOHNSON: Well, what I fear is that there's still lingering and festering feelings within particularly minority communities about police relations.

ZAHN: Basically, the trust of...

JOHNSON: Yes, but...

ZAHN: ... legal authorities.

JOHNSON: It's police relations in a very focused way. When you consider 1992, Rodney King. We've had Rampart here in Los Angeles. We've also had recently the exoneration of the police officer who, by a civilian review board, was characterized as out of policy in the killing of a mentally deranged woman, Margaret Mitchell.

You have all of those cases that are still very fresh and very real in the minds of people. So I think it's a problem.

ZAHN: I don't know whether it's fair for me to ask this, but if I'm reading between the lines, are you telling me that the relationships are so volatile between the African-American community and the police department, if there is an acquittal of this police officer, it could end in riots?

JOHNSON: No, I do not think that the relationships are so volatile. I think the issue is that African-Americans have continually said that we need to find a way to affirm good police officers. We need police officers and we affirm good officers.

But there are officers who cross the line. How do we find ways to weed those officers out when they in fact violate the very laws that they are to protect? How do we execute justice for them, not just for those that are nonpolice officers that we require so much justice for?

ZAHN: Reverend, we wish you luck as your community will react to this trial. It's expected to last, we're told, maybe a week or two. Thank you for spending some time on our roof.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

ZAHN: It's a really lousy view from up here, isn't it? JOHNSON: It really is. I was not expecting this.


ZAHN: Yes, it's pretty staggering.

Again, thanks for your time tonight.


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