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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Comedy Stylings of Obama and Romney; Abortion Politics
Aired October 18, 2012 - 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: Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with breaking news.
Just a short time, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney spoke at the annual Al Smith Dinner, a benefit hosted by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. The event is part roast, part stand-up routine. Both candidates got off some good lines. Governor Romney went first.
Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We have blue jeans in the morning perhaps, suits for a lunch fund-raiser, sport coat for dinner, but it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.
ROMNEY: I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening, because he'll laugh at anything.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the third time that Governor Romney and I have met recently. Some of you may have noticed, I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate.
OBAMA: Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. After -- some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas.
And I have to say, I'm impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Just two nights ago, obviously, they were going head to head in a very combative town hall debate. Tonight was a much lighter tone, though they did as you see take some jabs at each other.
Joining me now is national political correspondent Jim Acosta and Jessica Yellin, and Mark Katz, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton and founder of the Soundbite institute.
Jim, let me start with you. You cover Governor Romney. I think a lot of us had heard President Obama's humor before, he uses it often. Governor Romney, you don't hear so much. He got some good lines in there. Do you think tonight could help him politically especially with his likability numbers? Do they look at it like this?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think so. I think the headline tomorrow might be, Governor Romney, what about your laughs? Because he was pretty funny tonight.
He some good zingers aimed at himself and at the president. I talked to a senior Romney adviser earlier today who said in addition to doing his debate prep, he was working on his material for tonight and he clearly brought his A-game.
But, Anderson, this is a window into Mitt Romney. He's a hyper- competitive individual. He had to know that the president because he was so well-received at this dinner four years ago because the president does pretty well at those White House correspondent dinners, as you will recall, that he needed to bring some good material tonight and he did just that.
COOPER: Jessica, President Obama seemed to approach the night a little differently. What stood out to you?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he uses his self-deprecating humor as one of his not secret weapons. He's good, as Jim says, at these dinners, the White House correspondent dinners, because he has an ability to poke fun at himself and it's one of the things that the campaign thinks is his strong suit.
The likability number remains high, whether or not the unemployment number frankly remains high and it's something he always goes to. It's a strong suit he can build on.
COOPER: I will say, just, as a viewer, it was nice to see, Mark, to these two candidates in a different way and kind of different sides of their personality. You have been helping candidates with humor for a long time. What did you make of how each of them did?
MARK KATZ, FOUNDER, SOUNDBITE INSTITUTE: I love watching these things. These are such great opportunities to kind of say the things that otherwise never get said in the political arena.
When I watch -- on my scorecard, I was keeping track of who was making self-directed and who was going on the offensive. According to my numbers, I had the president was kind of making self-directed humor at a 3-1 margin, and Governor Romney was going on the offense about a 2-1 margin. I think you really have to establish the fact that you're willing to make fun of yourself first and foremost before you kind of acquire the right to be self-deprecating on behalf of others.
COOPER: I have heard you call yourself a problem solver, not a joke telling. What does that mean?
KATZ: You can use humor to solve a problem.
The name of this game is to figure out the worst thing your opponent might conceivably say about you and find a way to say it yourself.
COOPER: To say it ideally before they say it.
KATZ: That's right. That's right. Because it is all about likability, and you like the person who does the self-directed joke better than -- even a great joke, if I got off a great line about you, that joke would be better coming out of your mouth than mine.
COOPER: Romney saying that he dresses around the house, he and his wife dress in white tie, he gets it off before President Obama might say something...
KATZ: That's right. You want to beat your opponent to the punch and say the things that kind of disarm your opponent. There's a whole strategy involved on who gets there first.
COOPER: Jessica, the president was trying to keep things light tonight when he taped an appearance on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show."
The conversation took a serious turn, as it often does on Stewart's show, regarding the attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. What did he say?
YELLIN: That's right.
He told Jon Stewart in Benghazi, the administration shared information with the public as it was coming in, and as that the picture is getting filled in for them, they are sharing it with the American people.
The president was asked by Jon Stewart at one point if the administration's response to the attack was not optimal. And the president said, if four Americans get killed, it's not optimal.
Well, obviously, that's not an ideal way to phrase that, and the president taking some heat from that already from critics tonight, especially because this is such a hot topic under a microscope on the campaign trail and expect the phrasing to come up again tomorrow from his critics.
COOPER: I already saw that online and I was surprised by his use of the word optimal. And you're saying Jon Stewart actually used that word in the question?
YELLIN: Jon Stewart used that word in the question, and it was somewhere lower down in the president's answer, so it was a rephrase, it was a repeat of a word Jon Stewart asked, but maybe one of the downsides of talking about the more serious issues on a comedy show.
COOPER: Right. OK. Jessica, appreciate that. Jim, thank you very much, Mark as well. Really interesting stuff. It's always good to hear.
Ahead on the program, new polling suggests that the number one issue for women in this campaign is abortion. That surprised a lot of people, this new Gallup poll out. We're going to look at the numbers. Both candidates are keenly aware of course of the importance of the women's vote this time around. We will talk about it. "Keeping Them Honest" ahead.
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" on what a new Gallup poll says is now the most important issue to perhaps the most important voting group in the most important states on the electoral map.
We're talking about women in swing states and abortion. New polling from Gallup shows that abortion by more than 2-1 is their number one issue in this election, followed by jobs, health care and the economy. This is getting a lot of attention because it is counter to what earlier polls have shown, not binders full of women, but where each candidate stands on something involving real substance and real differences between the two candidates.
President Obama is hitting this issue hard in recent days, in one case taking his opponent's words out of context. Mitt Romney for his part seems to be trying to downplay his differences with the president in some cases. "Keeping Them Honest" some of what Governor Romney has been saying about abortion and contraception is contradicted by statements he has made in the very recent past which contradict statements and promises made before that.
Take a look at this exchange though at Tuesday's debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: A major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making.
ROMNEY: I would just note that I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" Governor Romney's record says otherwise. In fact, he strongly supported federal legislation specifically tailored to restrict access to birth control and restated that support when it briefly came into question.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim Heath, a reporter for a TV station in Ohio just tweeted a remarkable piece of news. Mitt Romney told him he does not support the Blunt amendment, which would empower employers and insurers to deny health coverage they find morally objectionable.
What happened there?
ROMNEY: I didn't understand his question. Of course I support the Blunt amendment.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: That was back in February when he was battling for the Republican nomination. The Blunt amendment failed. But as late as August, the governor was still pushing the idea behind it, that is allowing companies to restrict insurance coverage for birth control for certain reasons.
Then Tuesday night, he apparently did a 180. Yet, when asked yesterday whether in fact he did flip-flop, a campaign surrogate said -- quote -- "not in any way." She went on to call the issue -- quote -- "not really the point to most women out there."
As we showed you, though, the polling suggests that it is, again if you believe this poll, which may be why both campaigns now have attack ads running on abortion and contraception. Here is a portion of Obama campaign's commercial, which used a clip of a 2007 primary that I actually moderated, a primary debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: If Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Congress passed a federal ban on all abortions and it came to your desk, would you sign it, yes or no?
ROMNEY: Let me say it. I would be delighted to sign that bill.
NARRATOR: Banning all abortions?
ROMNEY: I would be delighted to sign that bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: "Keeping Them Honest" there is a big problem with the way the Obama campaign actually uses that clip. And we will show you that shortly.
First, though, I want to quickly show you a portion of the Romney campaign's reply.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It turns out Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: OK, both ads, "Keeping Them Honest." Here we go.
The Obama ad suggests that Mr. Romney would immediately sign a bill to end abortion and ignores the context in which he calls such a possibility unlikely.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Let me say it. I would be delighted to sign that bill. But that's not where we are. That's not where America is today. Where America is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in the country, terrific.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So the Obama ad clearly messes with the context.
The Romney ad on the other hand repeats the governor's reassurances on contraception from Tuesday night which contradict his past position. Also, the ad makes Mr. Romney sound maybe more tolerant on abortion rights than he actually is. It mentions all the instances in which Mr. Romney does support the right to an abortion. But it fails to mention that he outspokenly confirms overturning the Supreme Court decision that affirms the constitutional right to an abortion in the first place.
From his Web site -- quote -- "Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."
"Keeping Them Honest" though Governor Romney has taken different positions on Roe v. Wade and abortion rights over the years. He is running for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, 1994, in his losing race against Ted Kennedy. In 2002, while running for governor, he also ran as strongly pro-choice. And then years later, he talked about his pro-life record while in office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I have consistently been pro-life. Every piece of legislation that dealt with life...
QUESTION: Even though you were effectively pro-choice?
ROMNEY: As governor, on the decisions I have made as governor on all the bills that came to my desk were -- I came down on the side of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was during the Republican primary back in 2007.
This time around, during primaries, Mr. Romney boasted he was a severely conservative governor and continued to tout his anti-abortion credentials. But then once nominated, he began sounding a little more moderate. Here he is less than two weeks ago.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion?
ROMNEY: There is no legislation with regards to abortion that I am familiar with that would become part of my agenda.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: A spokesperson immediately contradicted that. A day later, here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I think I have said time and again I am a pro-life candidate. And I will be a pro-life president. The actions I will take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So was he just misspeaking the day before? You can decide for yourself. A lot of ground to cover.
Let's talk with senior Romney adviser Bay Buchanan and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, Democratic strategist, and a former Obama administration official.
Bay, first of all, do you buy this Gallup poll that says abortion is the number win issue for women right now? BAY BUCHANAN, SENIOR MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: No, not at all.
In fact, I saw polls again recently and have looked at them throughout the primary and the general election. The number one issue for women has always been jobs, the economy, and their concern for this future with respect to the economy. I have never seen anything that suggests anything else.
COOPER: So what do you make of this Gallup poll? It is just wrong?
BUCHANAN: I think it is very interesting, because just look at the facts out there right now. The gender gap has just collapsed.
Mitt Romney and all the polls, certainly Gallup, shows it is a dead heat with women out there. Mitt Romney has done a remarkable job bringing them over to his side just in the last two or three weeks. Why would that be, Anderson?
It is clear they were looking for another option, because in a 90-minute debate, they took a look and they have been watching the governor -- the president for four years. His policies have failed and have hurt women, have hurt children.
So they have said, look, is there another option? They tuned in and they saw the governor and they said, my gosh, here is not only a good and decent man, somebody that offers us a brighter future for our family and our children and they went with it.
COOPER: But on this poll, you are just saying it is flat-out wrong?
BUCHANAN: I just think it cannot be accurate.
Let them say what they want. But it's clear that we have moved women into the column under Mitt Romney. That's the important thing. I believe it is because he offers a good and positive future for Americans.
COOPER: Neera, do you buy this poll, do you believe this poll, this Gallup poll?
NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Look, I don't know exactly how much abortion is playing in this election.
I do think it has a higher importance to voters. I think it has a higher importance to women voters, specifically because the issue of contraception became such a flash point, became such a flash point to voters in the public dialogue in the Republican primary. I think a lot of women were shocked that issues like contraception were for public debate.
I think women are looking for these positions. That's why I think Mitt Romney is hiding his positions on abortion and on contraception. He is simply wrong on Tuesday night when he told the American people he is for contraception coverage by employers. That is false. That is not where he has been. That's not where he will be.
He is just saying that a few weeks before an election to try to do well by women voters. But I think they are going to see through that. Issues around choice are important. Both campaigns are spending money on it. I think it is a problem for Mitt Romney that he has adopted such an extreme position on it.
COOPER: So, Bay, what was Mitt Romney saying at that debate, if he is saying that he has no problem with contraception?
BUCHANAN: He has always taken the same position. All of what you have reported makes it look as if it is confusing.
But since he has been governor, and I am a very strong activist in the pro-life movement. And the pro-life movement is extremely happy with his position because it has been consistent since the day he converted when he was governor. His actions as governor were pro- life. Everything he has said since then has been strong pro-life...
COOPER: But on contraception...
BUCHANAN: On contraception, he has never been opposed. It has never even been an issue for anyone in politics for as long as I have been involved.
COOPER: What about the Blunt amendment?
BUCHANAN: Well, the key here is he is not against contraception. It should be out there. And women should have access to it, but should the government fund it? That's the question.
Should employers be forced to fund it for their employees? If it is against their religious beliefs, obviously, they shouldn't be, because that would be a violation of the First Amendment. Of course he is not for that. But should they have access to it? Absolutely. There is no effort by anyone I know to take that access away from them. It's the funding part that is a concern for us.
COOPER: Neera, what about that?
TANDEN: I think that this answer really demonstrates how all over the place they have been on this.
Obviously, he is not going to ban contraception in America, but what he will do is say that employers -- they will take away the right today that women have today to get coverage from their employers. That is a right that's been established. It is one that women believe they should have.
As Bay is saying, Mitt Romney thinks that is wrong. He will take that away. When he looked into the camera on Tuesday night, he didn't want to tell the American women that he would do that. So he said, I support contraception. But on this issue of policy, he supports the Blunt amendment. He supports taking away this protection that President Obama has provided and I think that's one of the distinctions in this election.
BUCHANAN: You know what's interesting is that the liberals would actually think that as women across this country are facing such incredibly challenging times, nearly a half a million women losing jobs in the last four years under this president, watching their children graduate from college and not be able to find jobs and to see loved ones suffering enormously under these economic policies of his, that they would suddenly think the key issue was whether they should get government to fund their contraception; that is more important than getting America back to work.
I think America -- women have shown that is not the most important thing to them. They are bigger and stronger and they're more worried about making certain America gets back to work and can start take caring of themselves and their families.
TANDEN: With all due respect, Bay, there is a poll out. It's the Gallup poll. Anderson started with it. It says 38 percent of women care about this issue. You may say that they don't have a right to care about that, but I think that I am not going to patronize women that way.
I'm going to say that what their issues and what their concerns are ones that we should respect. They are concerned about this because Republicans have made it an issue. Republicans have said in the primary...
TANDEN: With all due respect, Republicans said in the primary, Mitt Romney told people that he was going to overturn Roe v. Wade with his appointments to the Supreme Court. He made that pledge. He has made issues.
He has said he is a severely conservative president. He will be a severely conservative president. He has been a severely conservative governor. He has said on issue after issue that he will vote in line with the pro-life movement. You just said he's pro-life. You are pro-life.
BUCHANAN: He is pro-life, absolutely.
TANDEN: And he has an agenda that will take away women's rights on contraception, as well as reproductive health.
BUCHANAN: That has just never been an issue at all. And he has never said that. He will be pro-life. He has taken that position. (CROSSTALK)
COOPER: Bay, what you are saying is the funding...
BUCHANAN: It is the funding issue.
COOPER: Neera is saying that is taking away access for some women.
BUCHANAN: He wouldn't even think about doing that. It never has happened. It has been out there since the 1950s. And nobody is suggesting that anyone take a woman's right to access to contraception away. That is completely false.
What we are talking about, who funds it and should we require employers to do so or should they do it whether they would like to or not?
TANDEN: He would overturn Roe v. Wade.
BUCHANAN: He doesn't have authority to. The Supreme Court is the only one that can do that.
COOPER: Bay Buchanan, thank you. Neera Tanden, thank you very much.
Let us know what you think right now on Twitter @AndersonCooper. What do you think about this poll, this new Gallup poll? Is that the number one issue for women right now? Let us know what you think.
Up next, "Raw Politics," tough talk from President Obama on the coming showdown with Republicans over taxes and the budget, big deadlines coming up, the so-called fiscal cliff, and the president has now threatened to give the Republicans a shove. The question, though, will that drag the economy down as well? Details ahead.
COOPER: "Raw Politics" now.
In just a couple of months, a whole bunch of deadlines hit. The Bush tax cuts expire, all of them, and a host of automatic spending cuts kick in. People are referring to it as the fiscal cliff, and the country will go over it if Washington can't make a deal.
Today, administration officials said they are willing to play some cliff-side hardball, saying the president will veto a deal that doesn't contain tax hikes on high earners. House Speaker John Boehner is calling it the president's Thelma and Louise strategy. This is a scene from the movie. You remember the two went over the cliff.
Of course, they end up in a freeze frame hanging in mid-air as the credits rolled. The real economy might not do that.
Let's talk about the possibilities with CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, chief business correspondent Ali Velshi, and chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Dana, you say when it comes to the fiscal cliff, there is virtually nothing going on behind the scenes, not from the president, not from the speaker of the House, not from either of their staffs right now?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're not talking to each other at all. I am told from a GOP leadership that the House speaker hasn't talked to the president about the fiscal cliff issue since July, Anderson. That's three months ago.
You would think, OK, they are not communicating at the highest levels. They are both kind of busy, especially the president. Maybe they are talking at a staff level. No. That's not happening either. There have been some White House internal meetings, contingency plans by Democratic staff on the Senate Finance Committee, especially some discussions among Republicans, but not across the aisle.
Sources in both parties have been saying there is no point. No one thinks it is worth it before the election, because the dynamic of the discussions will be determined by who wins, who has the most leverage. So that's the big reason why nobody is talking right now.
COOPER: Ali, what does this mean, fiscal cliff? What does it mean for average Americans?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is very serious.
It means two things for most people. Number one, the payroll tax credit gets eliminated and the Bush tax credits get eliminated. Everybody agrees that the Bush tax credits and the payroll tax credit should be extended for middle class Americans, for working Americans.
The issue is whether or not it should be extended for the top earners in America. President Obama is drawing a line in the sand here saying we all agree that it should be there for 98 percent of Americans, but Republicans are holding 98 percent of Americans hostage for the 2 percent that they want tax credits for.
He is drawing a very philosophical land in the sand. This is very, very serious, though, because The tax burden on average Americans will increase by a few thousand dollars a year. We know what a few hundred dollars a year makes, the difference it makes. This is very serious.
COOPER: Could that lead back to reception?
VELSHI: Absolutely, absolutely could. That's the danger. We are growing at a rate of 1.3 percent in this economy. This is exactly the type of thing that will tell American families, hold on, guys, I'm going to pull back, we're not going to spend, we're not going to buy a washing machine, we're not going to go on a trip.
That could actually send us back into a recession at a time when Europe is in recession and that China is pulling back. So, very, very dangerous political game to be in right now.
COOPER: Gloria, there is a lot of finger-pointing going on over this crisis. You say there is plenty of blame to go around.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There is.
I mean, don't forget, we were sitting here last July when a majority of Congress tried to figure out how to raise that debt ceiling. And what they did was they -- a majority signed on to this scenario which created this super committee, which was supposed to be able to solve all the problems Congress had not been able to solve. And at that time, people said it wasn't going to work, but they signed onto it anyway.
And what was contained in that was, OK, if the super committee cannot come up with a deal, then you head over this fiscal cliff or fiscal Armageddon, as they were calling it. So nobody is really surprised we're in this situation right now.
I mean, my guess would be that, at some point, that they might end up with some kind of a patch. You know, never underestimate Congress' to do a patch when a real long-term solution is required.
BORGER: And right now, it doesn't look like it.
COOPER: And Dana, is this just bluster from both sides? What's the chance that, you know, some kind of grand bargain would be reached by the end of the year?
BASH: I don't think the chances are very high. John Boehner has said in several ways that he doesn't want that. Instead, people think that at least the Republicans are going to push for replacing that $110 billion that Gloria was talking about for spending cuts with other cuts that may be more palatable.
The Republicans want to extend the Bush era tax cuts. As Ali was saying, the president is saying, this time he means it. He definitely won't do that.
Privately, what Republicans are saying is that, if Mitt Romney loses the White House, they will probably have to give on their no tax increases stance and negotiations.
On the Democratic side, sources say they think if Romney wins, there's a chance that they actually could go off the cliff. Why? Because Republicans will want to wait until Romney is in office in January to fix things his way.
You know, I've got to tell you, Anderson. It used to be that I would stand outside rooms where there were big negotiations going on and you knew at the end of the day, there would really be a deal. It's just a question of how it gets done. Now, there isn't that certainty. It's so scary.
COOPER: Well, it's interesting, Ali. We've heard from business leaders today. I think it was 15 business leaders from the country's biggest banks and insurance companies sent a letter to the White House calling -- and Congress calling for a bipartisan deal.
COOPER: They're not hiring right now because of this uncertainty.
VELSHI: Look, the banks don't carry a lot of sway with a lot of people in this country, because of everything they've gone through. But there is a reality that business leaders understand that, if you take a few thousand dollars out of everybody's pocket next year and you send us into the recession, that pulls demand back. Everything depends on demand.
Why would I hire new staff or buy -- or build a new factory if I think Americans are going to pull back again in 2013? That's the issue.
So things that could be happening, decisions that could be happening now to hire people to expand in 2013 with all these companies that have all this cash may not be happening. So, while there's probably a likelihood some deal will be made at some point at the last minute, it's really affecting spending decisions right now on the part of individuals and businesses. This is very dangerous.
COOPER: Ali, appreciate you explaining it. Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, thanks, as well.
Coming up, a 360 exclusive, the man who for years hid behind the screen name Violentacrez while moderating the online forum Jailbait goes on camera for the first time since the identity was revealed. Is he sorry for all the creepy and vile things he did on Reddit? Drew Griffin's exclusive interview ahead.
COOPER: Welcome back. I'm just finishing up some writing. A 360 exclusive now.
If you spent time online and read comment sections and Web sites, you've no doubt seen some pretty vile, offensive comments written by anonymous people, saying things they would never actually say if their names were posted. That's free speech, of course, and people have a right to say whatever they want. Often these people are referred to as trolls. We're editorializing when we use the term trolls. It's Internet slang for troublemaker.
Well, tonight, you're about to meet one of the biggest trolls on the Internet, reviled for his pornographic posts. He's speaking out tonight in his first television interview. If there are kids in the room right now, you might want to have them leave. What you're going to hear a conversation geared towards adults.
This particular troll created several controversial -- many would say creepy and twisted -- forums on the Web site Reddit. One was called Jailbait, and it featured sexually suggestive photographs of teenagers, images that bordered on child pornography. We reported on it last year.
A couple of weeks later Reddit shut down the Jailbait forum. Well, there were others that rivaled its creepiness. One featured pictures of dead children. Another was called Rape Jokes. You get the idea. Pretty vile stuff.
For years, the guy who created and moderated these forums hid behind the online screen name Violentacrez. But last week, the Web site Gawker revealed who he actually is.
His name is Michael Brutsch. This is what he looks like. That is who he is. He's a 49-year-old software programmer who lives in Texas, is married with kids and now, he's out of a job.
Brutsch agreed to talk to CNN's Drew Griffin at a hotel room in Ft. Worth. He told Drew that his employer of seven years fired him after the Gawker article.
But he also had another life that was unknown to his employer. After a long day at work, he would unwind online, trolling under his alias, Violentacrez. He was in the big league of trolls.
Now, keep in mind that Reddit is a powerful online player. It reported more than 3 billion page views in August alone. A really good troll helps drive traffic on a Web site. Violentacrez, a.k.a. Michael Brutsch, was so good at what he did he says that Reddit awarded him prizes, including one for the Jailbait forum. That's how popular that was.
How many teens were exploited by it, that is anyone's guess. Here's Drew's exclusive interview.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The problem is the kids, the teenagers, the pictures, weren't yours.
MICHAEL BRUTSCH, EXPOSED AS INTERNET TROLL: That is correct.
GRIFFIN: You didn't know who those kids were. BRUTSCH: No. And neither did anyone else. We did our best to maintain the anonymity of these people, without thinking, you know, about the wider repercussions. If people were to tell us, "I know that person" or "This was me," we would remove them. Well, I said we would remove them. This is one of the big problems I mentioned, that you can't delete anything from Reddit.
GRIFFIN: If a teenage girl is out there and, for some reason or another, a picture of her in her underwear gets posted on a site called Jailbait, you would expect her to contact some guy named Violentacrez and ask for that picture to be removed from this Web site, because it's very embarrassing to me?
This whole thing sounds -- I've got to tell you, it sounds crazy. I'm a father of a daughter. I would be very mad at you.
BRUTSCH: I understand that. And all I can say is that, you know, I'm sorry. I have made mistakes. I understand that, you know, Reddit encouraged and enabled this sort of behavior, and I shouldn't have been a part of it. Nobody -- nobody on Reddit really -- really had anything to say about it at all.
And since then, you know, I have come to understand that there are, you know, there are situations where, you know, things are inappropriate.
I started off posting lots of porn, mostly soft-core porn, you know, pictures of naked girls, that sort of thing. And as I'd -- as I'd find porn of different types, like if it was a picture of an African-American woman, I created a Reddit called Women of Color. If it was, you know, a woman with large breasts, I created a Reddit called Boobies. I saw it as creating folders to file things in. I created probably 600 Reddits or sub forums in the time I was on Reddit. And I just put things -- you know, as I came across images, I put them in these categories.
There are hot-button topics that you can make a comment about and just enrage people. And sadly for me, I enjoyed doing that. I liked going in and making people really mad over what amounted to meaningless things.
GRIFFIN: Sadly, you say?
BRUTSCH: Well, yes. Obviously, it has -- it has affected me. It's affected my family. You know, it has...
GRIFFIN: Some would say it caught up with you?
BRUTSCH: Well, it did. It actually did catch up with me. I treated Reddit like a game. I just -- you know, apparently, I have a gift for pushing buttons.
GRIFFIN: Did you ever think -- I mean, Jailbait, Rape Bait, Incest, Pics of Dead Kids, Choke a Bitch -- I mean, did you ever think, "These aren't normal buttons I'm pushing here?" BRUTSCH: Well, because let's go back to how the Violentacrez character first started. My first thought was, Violentacrez' first thought was, you know, I see those pictures on my -- on my incoming image stream all the time. I could easily create a Reddit for that and fill it up with some pictures. So I did. To outrage people. No idea of where the pictures came from.
I created -- back in the day I created a Reddit called "R" Rape for rape jokes. I created one called...
GRIFFIN: Rape jokes?
BRUTSCH: I created -- rape jokes. One called "R" Pregnant for pictures of pregnant women.
GRIFFIN: Are you apologizing for what you did or are you trying to make an excuse for what you did?
BRUTSCH: Well, I am to some degree apologizing for what I did. I was playing to an audience of college kids and, you know, when two years ago, when I was -- when all of this was at its height, the audience was appreciative and supportive of the sort of gallows humor that I put out there.
GRIFFIN: Did you get a thrill out of that?
BRUTSCH: Honestly, the biggest thrill I got was those meaningless Internet points.
COOPER: It's pretty amazing to hear. Because I mean, you see trolls on the Internet all the time who hide behind an anonymity. To actually see one unmasked and see what kind of a little person he is.
Reddit actually gave him an award for creating this Jailbait site?
GRIFFIN: This surprised us. But he was so proud of that award, a bobblehead, he brought it to the interview with him to show us. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUTSCH: This is the Reddit, the little Reddit alien. This is actually a gold-plated. They only gave these out to people who had made significant contributions to the site. Plated in gold.
GRIFFIN: You're kidding. Wait a minute, wait a minute. This is an award you got from Reddit for creating Jailbait?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRIFFIN: Anderson, as you can imagine, Reddit told us in a statement it now regrets sending that trophy. It said the award was based on what it called a community vote. COOPER: It's interesting to me, because I mean, in that interview, he seems to be blaming Reddit as if, you know, they were encouraging him. I mean, he has a mind. He has free will. He can do what he wants. He clearly enjoys the attention that he got on it.
I mean, he said at one point in your interview, he said he has a gift for pushing buttons. It's not too hard to push buttons anonymously on the Internet. I mean, that's a pretty easy thing to do. What about all those posts he made on that Jailbait site? What did Reddit say?
GRIFFIN: We asked Reddit about that. They sent us a statement. Reddit follows all the legal requirements regarding illegal content, including reporting to the proper authorities. By its nature, the company says, the moderators of Reddit have complete control over the subsections they start unless they violate site rules or the law.
So he was in charge of it, according to Reddit, is how I interpret that, Anderson.
COOPER: I'm fascinated, though, by this high opinion he seems to have for himself, saying like he has a gift for pushing buttons. I mean, he's a guy sitting in his lonely little room, you know, typing on a keyboard and, you know, interacting with people he doesn't even know who they are.
You've got more, specifically whether Brutsch really regrets what he's done or really regrets that he got caught. Because I've got to say, it sounds to me like he regrets getting caught. Because when he talked about the impact this has had, he wasn't talking about the impact of, you know, some young girl's pictures and what impact that might have had on their family. He's talking about the impact on his family, on his job. He got fired.
Anyway, we're going to talk to Drew coming up. We're going to have part two of the interview in just a second. The man once known as Violentacrez will answer more questions from Drew ahead.
COOPER: 360 exclusive tonight, Michael Brutsch, whose identity was revealed last week by the Web site Gawker, agreed to sit down with CNN's Drew Griffin in his first television interview.
For years, Brutsch hit behind his online screen name, Violentacrez, while creating and moderating a series of controversial -- many call them twisted and sick -- forums on the Web site Reddit. They've all been shut down. Now, we know who is behind them.
Here's part two of Drew's exclusive interview.
GRIFFIN: Michael, I still don't understand, really...
BRUTSCH: Yes. GRIFFIN: ... why you did this at all? Why you kept pushing the envelope?
BRUTSCH: It had a reward. I'm like the monkey in the -- the monkey that pushes the button and gets the food pellet. It's addictive. You know?
Why -- why do people spend money playing WOW? Why do people play -- play games like that to build up their meaningless stats? What does 300 million mite (ph) mean in Kingdoms of Camelot? Exactly the same as 800,000 karma means on Reddit. It's just -- I don't know.
GRIFFIN: You were outed.
GRIFFIN: So far, it's not been good.
BRUTSCH: And I anticipate it will get much worse. I can't see it getting any better.
GRIFFIN: Was this a huge mistake?
BRUTSCH: If I look back on it, yes, it probably was.
GRIFFIN: What happens now? You've lost your job.
BRUTSCH: I've lost my job. I am going to lose my home. My health insurance is gone. My wife is disabled. I really don't know at this point. I suspect I am going to, you know, probably move back up to Arkansas with her family, and you know, I really don't see myself being able to get a job.
GRIFFIN: Anderson outed you without saying your name a year ago, right?
GRIFFIN: You could have stopped then.
GRIFFIN: Is the only reason you're stopping is because we now know who you are?
BRUTSCH: Yes. There's really no point anymore. No one is going to, you know -- no one's going to buy into the Violentacrez mystique anymore, because it's gone.
That and the fact that I have, as with the rape and pregnant Reddits, I have come around over the last few months to understand that some of these things can be harmful to other people.
COOPER: Wow. He's come around over the last few months to understand that some things can be harmful to other people.
I've got to ask you, why do you think he agreed to talk to you?
GRIFFIN: You know, his life is ruined, Anderson. And I think personally his life is ruined more than we even know. I know he's lost his job. He's lost his little Violentacrez identity. But his personal life is really falling apart.
I think he wanted to come on the air and truly apologize and try to explain, maybe to his extended family and even his followers, why he did this, why he created this character, and somehow wiggle out of this, to blame it on Violentacrez, this character, who he says made up all this stuff, trying to distance himself personally from this character.
He was very nervous. We thought, David Fitzpatrick, the producer and I, thought up until the last minute, he's not going to come. Not only did he come to that interview, he came an hour early. He was eager to get on the TV.
COOPER: You know, there are others who say, look, free speech is free speech. And we have it in this country for a reason. People are allowed to say what they want. He has supporters out there, as well, in the online community.
GRIFFIN: Yes. That's exactly right. But I think, you know, free speech is free speech as long as you're saying it out loud with your name under it.
I mean, this guy was basically hidden away from anybody to see. Anonymously posting stuff that he was just trying to tick people off. He sure did it. He got exposed.
He has the right to free speech. He can say whatever he wants. We gave him that opportunity. He now realizes that what he said was probably a big mistake.
COOPER: Interesting stuff. Drew, appreciate it. Thanks very much.
"The RidicuList" is next.
COOPER: Ah, yes, time for "The RidicuList." And tonight we have a warning. If you should ever find yourself hanging around someone's pool when it's really, really cold outside and your friends just happen to be filming as you're about to do a cannonball into the frigid water to break through the ice, I want you to think back to what we are about to show you and reconsider.
A German man found out the hard way that the cold cannonball may not be the greatest idea anyone has ever had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa! Oh! (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Let's take another look at the precise moment when cannonball became coccyx slam. Shall we?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Oh! Oh! Oy! My God. Got an himmel (ph). All right. Enough.
Let's see if we can try to figure out exactly what went wrong here. Because his form looks OK. He got a running start. The arm position was good. The knees were tucked into the chest. He had plenty of altitude. What possibly could have been the problem? I'm stumped. It looks like that was shaping up to be one humdinger of a cannon ball.
Maybe it will help to look at it in slow motion. Oh, goodness, that still hurts every time I see it.
Now, I'm no scientist, but I'm starting to think something may have been wrong with that pool. Why don't we watch it in slow motion and in reverse and see if we can pick up any clues that way.
Still don't quite get it. Now, I don't know. It's a mystery why he didn't splash perfectly into the water and amaze his friends with his top-notch cannonball skills. I guess it's just one of those things we may never know what went wrong.
That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.