CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Should Kobe Bryant's Accuser Be Named?; Has BBC Suffered Serious Credibility Blow?
Aired July 27, 2003 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Superstar justice, are the media trying to turn Kobe into another O.J.? Should reporters be interviewing the accuser's friends while she remains behind the curtain of anonymity, or should they follow the lead of radio host Tom Leykis and name the alleged victim?
Also, a source's suicide. Has the BBC suffered a serious blow now that the British scientist who provided information on a controversial Iraqi weapons story is dead? Was the report by BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan sexed up, or is Tony Blair just looking for a scapegoat?
And Rush Limbaugh, Bob Guccione, Stephen Glass rocking and rolling again, all in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz.
The Kobe Bryant trial may be months away, but the media circus is already in full swing. Friends of the accuser and the basketball superstar are popping up all over the tube.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All this, she didn't want this to happen. It just happened. And she's not doing it for the attention. She is just doing it -- well, for justice.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he was just a gentleman. He was a very nice guy. Very calm demeanor, quiet, nice guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The case has sparked a fierce debate about how to cover charges of sexual assault. Most news organizations withhold the names of alleged victims, but many are asking why not name this 19-year-old accuser, especially when every other detail of her life, other than her name, is reported in excruciating detail. Tom Leykis has been using the woman's name on his syndicated radio show and makes no apologies for doing so.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM LEYKIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Feminists have told us for years that rape is a crime of violence, not a crime of sex. And I happen to agree with that. And we report the names of victims of all kinds of violent crime -- murders, armed robberies, the names of people who have been carjacked, for example. The fact is that we should not make an exception for allegations of rape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, joining us now to discuss the Kobe controversy, in New York, Catherine Crier, who hosts a daily afternoon talk show on Court TV, and in Allentown, Pennsylvania, "Sports Illustrated" senior writer Jack McCallum, who wrote this week's cover story about the allegations. Catherine Crier, is it fundamentally unfair for reporters to keep interviewing the accuser's friends who come out and say things like, oh, there's so much evidence that your jaw is going to drop, while protecting her identity?
CATHERINE CRIER, ANCHOR, COURT TV: I think the rape shield law, although we talk about rape being a crime of violence, it is still a very personal attack on a woman. Some are still extraordinarily embarrassed and humiliated, and I think we're adding to that to put the name in there.
If reporters talk to friends or find out information, it is a bit -- I hate to use the term fair game in a criminal prosecution -- but it is, and I still think, though, it is a little better to leave the name out to the extent we can, and give a bit of protection to the alleged victim.
KURTZ: Jack McCallum, Kobe Bryant certainly being dragged through the journalistic mud. Do you believe that news organizations should at this point identify the 19-year-old woman?
JACK MCCALLUM, SENIOR WRITER, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Well, Howie, I'm really crawling out into a shaky tree limb here, since I'm not a lawyer, but even before this I used to wonder a little bit about the idea of protecting simply for rape cases, and it has nothing to do with the fact that, gee, the woman's life deserves to be torn -- ripped asunder, which is happening to this woman. It just has to do with the fact that as the radio host said, it is more a crime of assault, and I think we may have reached a point in the 21st century when it would be OK to identify her, particularly since the battle to go after her name and find every salacious detail is going to be out there, and it seems almost more unhinged or bizarre to be doing all this when we haven't named her in the mainstream press.
KURTZ: Catherine Crier, what do you make of Tom Leykis using his radio show as a platform, getting some attention for himself by naming or you could say outing this woman?
CRIER: That's exactly what he did. But it is all over the Internet. It's pretty inescapable that in today's world, particularly with the Internet, you're going to find this information. However, what we're worried about in rape cases is trying to assure that a legitimate victim will report the case. And to any extent that we can tone down the announcement of that particular trauma, we ought to try and keep that in mind. The names are going to get out there...
KURTZ: In other words, you're concerned that if the media routinely, particularly in these high publicity cases, were to publish the names of those making the accusations, that some women might say, you know what, I'm not going to go to the police because I don't want to put myself through that meat grinder?
CRIER: Oh, absolutely. That's been a problem for decades, and we are progressing on that sort of thing. But at least the prosecutor has the chance if a woman is going to report such an event to sit down with her, prepare her, say, look, if you're coming forward, you are liable to be an object of a lot of media coverage in coming months and you have got to be prepared for that, rather than as soon as somebody walks into a police station, this is headline news.
MCCALLUM: You know, the Internet and the -- and talk radio has put a whole new sort of obligation on the mainstream media, and I guess we would call ourselves mainstream media, and that is how much, you know, you have to kind of follow those leads that used to be out this. We used to just worry about, gee, what is "The New York Times" saying, and what is "ESPN the Magazine" is saying? But now what it's what Matt Drudge is saying and we really have to weigh, you know, whether that is relevant or not, because a heck of a lot of people are reading it.
KURTZ: But actually, it was back in '91 that "The New York Times" following the lead of NBC, which was following the lead of "The Globe" supermarket tabloid, named the accuser in the William Kennedy Smith rape case.
CRIER: It was Michael Gardner (ph).
KURTZ: ... of these charges he was later acquitted. So this dilemma has been around for awhile, and also, you know, as further evidence that nobody looks good in this thing, after Tom Leykis came out with those charges, the Smoking Gun Web site on Friday reported that he had been charged with assaulting his wife about a decade ago, and some of these Web sites that are putting the picture up, turns out it's the wrong woman. They've got a different suit (ph) with a similar name, and the family is not too happy about that.
It seems to me, Catherine Crier, that everybody in the town of Eagle, Colorado knows who this woman is. So, you know, as a practical matter, what are we protecting her from at this point?
CRIER: National exposure, where everyone who turns on a television set will have her picture and her name. As it is now, of course, the community is going to know, if a radio program goes out, you've got that information. But television is so powerful that putting her picture out coupled with her name, you know, is the last straw, if you will. And I like the notion that we can retain some decorum in all of this, even if the information is there if you want to search it out. KURTZ: Talk about decorum, Jack McCallum, you know, reporters have been crawling all over the town, camping out in front of her house. It does seem like although we haven't used the name, we've done just about everything else. Any of this media behavior, this -- the way the pack has behaved make you uncomfortable?
MCCALLUM: Oh, sure. I mean, it's been uncomfortable -- first time I was uncomfortable with it I remember I was covering the Len Bias (ph) case 17, 18 years ago when he overdosed two days after he was drafted by the Celtics, and the day I left there I was camped in front of his house and I saw a reporter from "The National Enquirer" fall off a tree limb, and I said, you know what, I'm getting out of here.
And it's only gotten worse because of, you know, of new shows and talk radio, and the Internet has really kept this alive. That does not mean, however, that you crawl into a shell. As Catherine said, you have to work the sources. The question is, how far -- how many degrees of separation is there from someone from either Kobe or the alleged victim that has something relevant to say? The fact that Kobe's girlfriend eight years ago says, hey, he didn't molest me, so he probably didn't molest her, that was a point during this whole discourse when I said, boy, we're really veering off into a pretty strange direction.
KURTZ: Well, we hope you don't fall off any tree limbs. But let me come back to this question of what is ...
(INTERRUPTED FOR CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We'll get to our discussion about the BBC under fire in just a moment. But first, the release of those graphic photos of Saddam Hussein's sons taken after they were killed in a firefight with U.S. soldiers. They've been shown relentlessly on cable and on the broadcast networks in the United States as well.
Well, joining us now in London, Tom Leonard, the media editor for "The Daily Telegraph," and here with me in Washington, "Financial Times" associate editor Gerry Baker. He's also a former BBC reporter.
Gerry Baker, why are CNN, Fox and MSNBC showing these pictures relentlessly? We'll briefly put them up here with the usual disclaimer, this is pretty grisly stuff. There was so much outrage about Iraqi television showing those pictures of the American POWs during the war.
GERRY BAKER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I think there is frankly a qualitative difference between these two guys, who were without -- no one even contest the proposition that they were criminals of the worst sort, the worst conceivable people. I think there is no possible comparison between them and American prisoners of war, who were captured and treated in appalling circumstances, and secondly there is a very good political reason in Iraqi terms why this should be done, which is it is very important to demonstrate to the Iraqi people particularly these people are dead. So...
KURTZ: But the Americans already believe that, so is it also just sort of exploitation on the part of television?
BAKER: Well, I think, no, I think that to some extent you're -- the world is showing the rest of the world that what the Iraqis are seeing, and we are actually -- this is sort of a mirror reflecting a mirror, as it were.
KURTZ: Tom Leonard, many or most American newspapers running these pictures inside, rather small. Your newspaper, "The Telegraph," had it on the front page on Friday. Any hesitation about sort of thrusting into people's faces these very gruesome photos?
TOM LEONARD, MEDIA EDITOR, "THE DAILY TELEGRAPH": Well, obviously we took the decision to, you know, show them more prominently than other papers, and admittedly there have been -- some of our readers have been upset by it, but I gather not many, and I certainly gather that the number of people who have -- only three people have complained about all of these pictures being used in the papers to the Press Complaints Commission, which is a pretty tiny figure compared to the times when other controversial photos have been used.
KURTZ: That would seem to suggest that people in Britain at least are taking it in stride.
Well, turning now to the BBC controversy. President Bush and Britain's Tony Blair have both come under fire for hyping arguments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war. Now the BBC is under tremendous attack for a story about a sexed up British dossier by correspondent Andrew Gilligan. His source, former U.N. weapons inspector, David Kelly, took issue with the BBC story.
Kelly's role as a source was leaked, and he was then hauled before the House of Commons to testify.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you feel like a fall guy? I mean, you've been set up, haven't you?
DAVID KELLY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: That's not a question I can answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But did you feel that?
KELLY: No, I accept the process that's going on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: This week the British scientist was found dead near his home in Oxfordshire. His death ruled a suicide. The BBC issued its regrets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD SAMBROOK, BBC NEWS DIRECTOR: The BBC will fully cooperate with the government's inquiry. The BBC is profoundly sorry that his involvement as our source has had such a tragic end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Tom Leonard, what if anything did the BBC do wrong here in terms of its handling of this controversial source?
LEONARD: I think there's a general view, increasingly, that the BBC didn't do an awful lot wrong. I think possibly there's been an admission by the BBC privately that possibly they should have given Downing Street more warning about the original story and given them time to put out a rejection of it on the program when it was actually made. Apart from that, I think possibly the BBC has Andrew Gilligan, the journalist who did the story, possibly had given away a little too much about the source of the story.
KURTZ: Is the BBC making a mistake, Gerry Baker, by this we stand by our story approach? They basically haven't admitted to doing anything wrong and are taking an awful lot of criticism over this affair.
BAKER: Well, they are taking quite a risk, actually. I mean, I think the issue comes down to whether or not the original story was actually justified.
In other words, whether it was an accurate reporting of what David Kelly told this British reporter, BBC reporter. We don't actually yet know and perhaps we'll never know actually the real truth of it, whether or not the BBC report was precise.
There are some question, though, about the way the BBC then vigorously defended itself when it came under fire from the government. One of the questions is, for example, to what extent did the senior editors of the BBC and the BBC's board of governors, even, which is the kind of body that oversees the BBC in a supervisory way, to what extent did they actually -- how much did they know about the story? There's been some stories in the British press that actually they didn't even know who the source was themselves. They never asked the reporter who the source was.
KURTZ: So they took him at his word.
BAKER: So they were vigorously defending this, and they took him at his word without actually checking out whether or not the story might actually be true.
KURTZ: And once David Kelly was found dead, his death ruled a suicide, should the BBC have confirmed that he was the confidential source? Wasn't that a sort of a betrayal, even though the man was now dead?
BAKER: Well, that was a difficult call. I mean, I think they made the decision that the man was dead. They consulted his family. They did actually check with his family to see whether his family would object to them now saying that he was the source and then went ahead with it. They came in for a lot of fire over that, because the general impression in the reporting in a lot of the British media was that now the BBC was in effect owning up to the identification of this source and that he was -- that -- and it was -- the fact that they had kept it under wraps for so long that had put the pressure on him and that actually indirectly led to his suicide. We just don't know yet whether that was the case.
KURTZ: Tom Leonard, is it pretty clear that Tony Blair's government, particularly the Defense Ministry, leaked the identity of Kelly as the source before he died?
LEONARD: Yes, I think it could have either been the government who did it, or the BBC, and it certainly wasn't in the BBC's interest to leak his name, so it had to have been the government.
Whether or not it was Geoff Hoon, the defense secretary, of his own (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I think is very unlikely. I think he would have definitely have wanted to get authorization for this before doing so from Downing Street, but there's nobody else. The BBC wouldn't have leaked it.
KURTZ: What is Andrew Gilligan's journalistic reputation, the correspondent on this story?
LEONARD: Well, that's a difficult thing to say. I mean, I think his reputation is as a story breaker, and obviously the problem sometimes with story breakers, people who bring in exclusives, is occasionally they get things wrong, but I think -- going into his reputation is possibly -- he's got a reputation as exactly what I said. I think it's dangerous to start looking at someone's reputation.
KURTZ: Well, in any other situation we would.
BAKER: I think his reputation is to some extent partly what's at issue here, because he has got the reputation for -- from some of his other reporting and from articles that he's written in the press of being very, very critical of the government, and in fact one of the more sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reports that he did from Baghdad, actually said -- he was reporting from Baghdad, just after the liberation of Baghdad, and he actually reported at one point that the people of Iraq were actually worse off under the American occupation than they had been under Saddam.
KURTZ: He deduced this within 12 minutes, apparently?
KURTZ: But that goes to the broader point, which is one of the reasons this story has resonated, there is a widespread belief among critics, the BBC was sort of against the war, its reporting has been biased, and that they seized on this weapons of mass destruction story to kind of vindicate their point of view. BAKER: That's exactly right. That is exactly what underlies this, whether or not the BBC, whether this was an extreme example of BBC reporting, perhaps, and as I say, we still don't know exactly whether or not it was precisely correct. There's been no evidence that it wasn't, but there was no question that a lot of people felt the government in particular felt very, very, very angry at the tone of the reporting. It was described I know privately by people on Downing Street as anti-government propaganda, that's how they regarded the BBC's coverage of the war.
KURTZ: Is that a fair charge, Tom Leonard?
LEONARD: No, I don't think it is, and it certainly is questionable whether Andrew Gilligan was an opponent of the war. People who met him out in Baghdad, other journalists say he quite definitely wasn't anti-war. It is easy to pick out certain reports that he's made and just say that he's an opponent of the war.
The problem with doing that is just then saying the logic of saying, oh, well, then he must have leapt on this story because he was against the war, because the BBC was against the war. I think that is an easy kind of government spin line to go down.
The facts of the matter are very plain in this, that the BBC have actually have a tape-recording of this man, of Dr. Kelly talking to another BBC journalist in which he almost completely confirms the same story.
KURTZ: Well, we'll have to see if we have access to that. Very briefly, if the government commission finds out that the original BBC story was flawed, what will that do to the network's reputation?
BAKER: Oh, it will be tremendously devastating. There will be -- I think the BBC will be subject to quite a significant managerial overhaul and probably, you know, quite significant changes in the way that it's run. It will be a very big story if it comes out that way.
KURTZ: All right. Gerry Baker, Tom Leonard in London, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, two serial fabricators back to work writing for glossy magazines. We'll tell you about that and more in our "Media Minute" next.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Time now for the latest from inside the news business in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice-over): Rush Limbaugh comes off the bench to do football commentary for ESPN. Will the end zone remain a no spin zone? El Rushbo says he won't be talking politics.
"Penthouse" could be air-brushed into history. Bob Guccione's raunchy magazine hasn't come out for months, and is now paying staffers only a quarter of their salaries. Will Hugh Hefner do a victory dance?
Did a newspaper cartoonist shoot himself in the foot? Michael Ramirez (ph) of "The L.A. Times" drew a loaded gun pointed at the president, to make the point that Bush was politically under fire, prompting a visit from a Secret Service agent. The newspaper turned the agent away.
Rick Bragg is moving on. "The New York Times" writer who quit after questions were raised about his reporting in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, reported to be working on $1 million book deal with none other than Jessica Lynch. When the former POW got a homecoming parade in West Virginia, Bragg was there.
Stephen Glass is about to rock 'n' roll. "Rolling Stone" owner Jann Wenner has given the serial fabricator an assignment, even though "Rolling Stone" is one of the magazines where Glass published bogus stories five years ago. Wenner says everyone deserves a second chance.
And Jayson Blair, who wrote bogus stories for "The New York Times" is getting a second chance as well. He will review the forthcoming movie about Glass' misadventures for "Esquire."
KURTZ: That's our "Media Minute," or as close to 60 seconds as we can get it. We'll be right back.
KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right after this check of the hour's top stories.
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