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Debate Begins Over Kobe Bryant's Possible Guilt

Aired July 21, 2003 - 19:10   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Want to focus on the Kobe Bryant story. Now the case has taken a disturbing shift.
New details -- or alleged details, we should say -- are coming out about the woman accusing the NBA star of sexual assault. Some details suggest her credibility may be at issue, or at least may be, according to Kobe Bryant's defenders.

Others suggest someone may be trying to tarnish her credibility.

As CNN's Brian Cabell reports, deciding which side is credible may very well decide the case itself.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For three weeks this has been a sad, shocking and salacious story about Kobe Bryant, NBA superstar.

KOBE BRYANT, LAKERS PLAYER: I didn't force her to do anything against her will.

CABELL: But now, here in the alleged victim's hometown of Eagle, Colorado, and across the nation, the focus will turn increasingly toward the woman herself. What kind of person is she? Would she lie? The scrutiny will be intense.

MARK HURLBERT, EAGLE COUNTY D.A.: She's doing OK. She's a strong girl. She is holding up pretty well, considering everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's hurt. She's been violated. I probably couldn't put words to what she's going through.

CABELL: Already the media are wondering why the Eagle police were dispatched to her home several weeks ago. A girlfriend, according to one report, says the young woman had attempted suicide.

Now a local newspaper is in court, trying to get the police dispatch records released.

(on camera) And it gets worse. Now a web site has appeared on the Internet disclosing the woman's name, phone number, address and some photographs of her. It's uncertain who set it up and why.

(voice-over) So this hometown girl, a former cheerleader, who had hoped to remain anonymous, is increasingly becoming a public figure. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She still seems willing to forge ahead with this, which speaks well of possibly her character and possibly her naivete. Who knows?


CABELL: No press conferences today here in Eagle. No court action either. But the rumors continue to swirl and reporters continue to chase down those rumors.

The next time we're likely to see Kobe Bryant here in Eagle would be August 6 in about three weeks. And the most likely time for a trial, we're told, will probably be sometime this winter -- Anderson.

COOPER: Brian Cabell, thanks very much for the report.

Unlike most cases of robbery or assault, for instance, sex crimes often lead to intensive scrutiny of the victim.

Naomi Wolf is an author and co-founder of the Woodhall Institute. She joins me now to discuss how this case is playing out.

Thanks for being with us.

Is this woman's credibility fair game?


You know, when we were starting out I was saying, whenever someone accuses someone of a serious crime, of course, their credibility is at issue. If you're accusing someone of fraud, your credibility would be at issue.

But what disturbs me is that the setup I just heard, you know, the intro, had an awful lot of unsourced, unattributed rumors about this woman.

And so what I would like to ask is why is it that when we look at an accuser of sexual assault, we're looking at her past more than we're looking at his past?

In other words, her -- because of rape shield laws, women who accuse someone of sexual assault no longer should have their sexual past examined. And that's true for the media, too. I don't think someone's sexual history is at issue.

I do think that it's fair to ask about someone's credibility. But I don't think it's fair to do what your intro just did, which is introduce a lot of unsourced secondhand...

COOPER: Well, actually, just to defend that, I mean, they were all basing it on -- I mean, actually, the media didn't really report any of this information about -- or at least the mainstream media didn't report the information about her, these alleged calls to 911 until her friends, or alleged friends, came out and started publicly talking about it. WOLF: Yes, I read those reports and I want to know who are these friends, who got to them, has any money changed hands? Because there is something fishy going on if friends are the ones telling the "The Post" or "The Daily News," "Oh, she tried to commit suicide."

COOPER: Right. Do you think, though, the media covers these kind of stories differently now than they did five years ago?

WOLF: Yes, I do. And in a way this is kind of a breakthrough, although obviously we have a long way to go. Because the media is being relatively, compared with past rape accusations, even-handed about the possibility that a crime really was committed.

Again, I would encourage your producers not to use a term like sex scandal unless we really know, you know, and we don't know yet who is telling the truth and who isn't. It's an allegation of a crime, it's not an allegation of a sexual scandal.

COOPER: Do you think the media sexualizes these kinds of crimes?

WOLF: Yes. When I say it is better than it has been in the past, I think that the military accusations of rape, the military academy...

COOPER: The Air Force Academy.

WOLF: Yes, has been a turning point. Now the media is more willing to consider that someone really was attacked.

But I want to qualify that by saying it often has to do with the race and the class of the victim. Even before I had read all the reports, I told your researcher that I was guessing this victim is going to turn out to be white, or this alleged victim.

COOPER: Why did you say that?

WOLF: Because there's a hierarchy. If you're elite and Caucasian, like the Central Park jogger, then no one is going to say anything bad in the press about your past.

If you're middle class and white, as I believe this alleged victim is going to turn out to be, then you've got a huge amount of cultural protection. We're not hearing the sordid details of her first kiss or her, you know, if there is a shoplifting affair in the past. And I think there's going to be a limit as to how sexualized it's going to be.

If you're working class, like Paula Jones, you're fair game, even for the mainstream media. If you're African-American, like Anita Hill, if this alleged victim were African-American, it would have been sexualized a long time before now.

COOPER: Does this kind of coverage, in your opinion, make it harder or easier for alleged victims of rape to come forward?

WOLF: What do you think? Yes, I mean, obviously it makes it much harder. If you were to -- if someone were to beat you up, you know. I mean this thing about, oh, he's such a nice guy, we don't know what happened and I don't know if this woman is telling the truth or not. I worked on a rape crisis line and I know that false accusations of rape are the same as false accusations of any other crime, about 2 percent.

Having said that, you know, "he's such a nice guy." Anyone who works with rape survivors knows you can't pick a rapist out of a lineup. They're all nice guys, you know, except for the extreme monster psychos on the margins. There are guys who work around you, there are guys who, you know, go to church. There are guys who, you know, are perfectly nice guys except when it comes to brutalizing or beating up women.

COOPER: We will be obviously following this very closely. We'd love to talk you to again as our coverage continues. Naomi Wolf, thanks for being with us.

WOLF: Thank you.

COOPER: Well, not anyone has taken the same approach to this case. For instance, there's David Feingold. He started a web site called He joins us tonight from Boston to tell us why he did this.

Why this web site?

DAVID FEINGOLD, FOUNDED FREEKOBE.COM: It started out kind of tongue in cheek and then it just got much bigger. So we kind of decided to focus on the right of every American to have a free trial and a free shake at this -- not having the media bombard them and...

COOPER: Do you believe that Kobe Bryant is not getting a free shake in the media?

FEINGOLD: No, I think the media is kind of trying him right now. And that's what we're all about.

COOPER: But you're also selling products. I mean, I think there was a thong for sale on your web site at one point. There are T- shirts for sale.


COOPER: There are those who say, "Look, you're making money off of this, you're making money off a tragedy." Whatever happened here, it's a tragedy.

FEINGOLD: Yes. This definitely is a tragedy. And we are selling products. And that's -- we are trying to cover our costs and we are taking some of the money and we are donating a portion of it to charity.

COOPER: You're just trying to cover your costs? Or, I mean...

FEINGOLD: No, no, no, we're not just trying to cover our costs. You know, there is money involved and there is money going to charity.

COOPER: Have any of -- I mean, what kind of response are you getting? I know there's...

FEINGOLD: We're getting a huge, huge, huge response.

COOPER: Positive or negative?

FEINGOLD: Both. We're having about 400,000 hits a day right now since the charges were filed. We were having 200,000 hits a day.

COOPER: And if he is convicted, I mean, will you feel like a jerk?

FEINGOLD: No. You know, I don't think so. This isn't about freeing Kobe Bryant, the web site. I mean, you have to look more into it.

COOPER: Well, it's called, so what is it about? I'm a little confused.

FEINGOLD: Like I said, if you look at the web site, it's basically about the right of every American to have their day in court. And to...

COOPER: But essentially, you know, you're not Free Unnamed Victim or Free Unnamed You're

FEINGOLD: Yes, we are. I mean, it actually is a great domain name and that's what draws people there.

And you know, we have the forum and people don have the right to voice their opinion about everything. You know, we thought about maybe doing something for the alleged victim but, you know, we don't want to release her name and we don't want to do anything that would be, you know, considered that way. So...

COOPER: All right. Well, David Feingold, appreciate you coming in and talking about your web site. Thanks very much.

FEINGOLD: Thanks very much. Bye-bye.

COOPER: Well, of course, it won't be fans or web masters who decide this case, it's going to be a jury, thank goodness. Since we're starting to get a sense of what the trial might involve, we've asked Court-TV host Lisa Bloom to join us, along with attorney and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who joins us from Fort Meyers, Florida.

Appreciate both of you coming in.

Lisa, as you watched this case develop over the weekend, what's jumped out at you?

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV: Well, there's a big difference between the court of public opinion and the court of law. And all of this stuff that we're hearing now about the alleged victim, that she had a history of depression, perhaps, a suicide attempt, perhaps, may not even come in in court. And I think that's the most important thing.

COOPER: How can that be possible?

BLOOM: Because in court, the standard is relevance. And relevance to what? Relevance to some issue in the trial.

Is it relevant to her credibility, for example, if she suffers from depression? Millions of Americans suffer from depression. It doesn't mean that they are liars, that they're cheaters, that they make up stories. Doesn't mean she is either.

COOPER: Well, Michael Smerconish, let's bring you in. As you know, Colorado does have a rape shield law. We have a graphic on the screen that kind of just shows what is not -- what a rape shield law basically means: prevent inquiry into the alleged victim's past sexual experience. The witness' sexual experience with the defendant is fair game, as is any history of false reporting of sexual assaults.

What do you think is going to get admitted to court? I mean, do you agree with Lisa?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, ATTORNEY: No. Clearly her sexual background is not going to come into play, nor should it, Anderson, in this particular trial.

But if there is a question here as to her stability, and a 911 call because of a suicide attempt, I think, goes to her stability at the time and these other stressors that were going on in her life, arguably, I think it will come in, because her credibility is everything in this case. The entire case is going to rise and fall based on her credibility.

BLOOM: Well, I think this, Michael.

I think that there will clearly be a battle over relevance on this issue. The prosecution will try to keep it out by a pretrial motion. The defense will say that it should come in.

But not everything about everyone's background automatically comes in, even if there isn't specific law to protect it because the umbrella rule is relevance. Is it strictly relevant to some issue in the trial?

And I don't think a two-month-old issue, if it's even true -- and at this point we're only hearing this from her friends.

COOPER: Or alleged friends.

BLOOM: If it's even true or her alleged friends of the alleged victim -- you're right -- in some of the non-mainstream media. If it even is true, I'm not convinced that it will come in.

COOPER: Michael, in your opinion, what does this case really boil down to? I mean, is it going to be he said/she said, or does it boil down to corroborative evidence and the existence of, you know, DNA underneath her fingernails or a torn bed sheet or some sort of physical evidence? Is that what it's going to boil down to?

SMERCORNISH: You would expect -- you would expect to have DNA underneath her fingernails at this point. A torn bed sheet? I don't know that the case is going to be outcome determinative based on a torn bed sheet, because it could be rough sex.

I think that Kobe, by standing up and saying, "I did have sex with this woman and I regret it," has now made it completely a he said/she said. And the corroborative evidence that may exist may not be as significant as people have made it out to be.

BLOOM: Let's be clear that rape victims do not have requirements to fight back. They do not have a requirement to have DNA under their fingernails, especially when it is a 6'6' professional athlete who is claimed to have done this assault. I'm sure that he could have easily overpowered her without her even having a chance to struggle. That is not a legal requirement.

SMERCONISH: Lisa, we don't know who the victim is yet. Someone has told a whopper. Now that whopper may be on the part of Kobe Bryant by saying, "I did not rape the woman. I didn't assault the woman."

Or it may be on her part by making the whole thing up. We just don't know. But I hear you portraying her as the victim. He, too, might be a victim.

BLOOM: Well, he might be, that's true. But his story has gone from nothing happened to something happened in a space of about two short weeks.

The other big story today is her friends saying she's not selling her story. And we're not hearing a lot of reporting about that.

COOPER: Lisa Bloom, we're going to have to leave it there. Michael Smerconish, also, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.


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