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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Interview With Michael J. Fox; Interview With Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox
Aired September 29, 2010 - 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: And thanks for watching, everyone.
Tonight "Keeping Them Honest": the law enforcement official, an assistant attorney who is targeting a college student in his spare time, singling him out for a campaign of vitriol and online attacks -- new developments tonight and the same question people keep asking us: Why hasn't his boss fired him? We will put that question to his boss, the attorney general of Michigan.
Also tonight: A bombshell campaign ad reenacting a senator's alleged visit with a prostitute, is it fair? Is it true? We have the facts.
And later: a rare sit-down with Michael J. Fox, a revealing talk about his life today and his battle with Parkinson's, what his days look like and what the future looks like in the battle against this killer disease.
We begin, though, tonight "Keeping Them Honest" with new developments in one of the oddest stories we have reported on in a long, long time, new calls tonight for an assistant attorney general of Michigan to be fired.
Now, in a moment, we're going to talk with his boss, the attorney general of Michigan, to find out if he will be. Let's first get you up to speed, though. The man we're talking about is Andrew Shirvell -- that's him -- an assistant attorney general in Michigan. That's him on our program last night.
He's a public official. And for months now, in his private time, he's been fixated on a young gay college student named Chris Armstrong. That's Mr. Armstrong. He's the first openly gay student body president at the University of Michigan.
So, why does Andrew Shirvell, a public official, care about Chris Armstrong? Well, that's a very good question. And, to be honest, I'm not really sure. But he does care an awful lot about this student who he says has a radical homosexual agenda. Shirvell has created a blog attacking Mr. Armstrong.
Take a look. This is a screen shot of one blog posting. It has got a picture of Armstrong. We will show you a closer shot of that. The word "resign" is scrawled on his face, a rainbow flag there with a swastika right in the center of it. Now, there's months of postings like this by Mr. Shirvell, page after page, unproven allegations, smears. He calls the college student a Nazi-like recruiter for the cult that is homosexuality. He calls him a privileged pervert. He even calls him Satan's representative on the student assembly. That's a quote.
In addition, Shirvell has shouted down Armstrong in public and has appeared outside -- outside Armstrong's home, videotaping the home at night. Mr. Shirvell says he's got the right to speak his mind.
The question is, though, by targeting this student and his friends, has this public official gone too far? Now, you can judge for yourself. We had him on the program last night. Here's some of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I have got to ask you, you're a state official. This is a college student. What are you doing?
ANDREW SHIRVELL, MICHIGAN ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, Anderson, basically, if you have been involved in political campaigns before, you know all sorts of stuff happens, and this is just another tactic bringing awareness to what Chris really stands for.
COOPER: This is not some national figure. This is a guy who's running a student council.
SHIRVELL: Well -- well, Anderson, as a private citizen, and as a University of Michigan alum, I care, because this is my university. And I wasn't the only first person to criticize Chris.
In fact, long before I started the blog, a couple of weeks before that, the Alliance Defense Fund, a well-known legal Christian foundation, put out an alert about Chris. So, I'm not the only person that has criticized Chris, and I'm not the first person to criticize Chris.
COOPER: But you are the only person -- you are the only person running this blog, which is putting Nazi swastikas on this guy. You're -- you're a grown adult. Does that seem appropriate to you?
SHIRVELL: Well, like I said, this is a political campaign. This is nothing personal against Chris. I don't know Chris.
COOPER: What do you mean it's nothing personal? You're outside his house. You're videotaping his house. You're shouting him down at public events. You're calling him Satan's representative on the student council. You're attacking his -- his parents, his friends' parents. I mean, you can't say it's not personal.
SHIRVELL: Well, Chris -- in any political campaign, you have to raise awareness and issues, and that's one way of doing it, is by protesting. (END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, that was some of our conversation last night. I should have pointed out Mr. Shirvell is not involved in a political campaign. He's not running for anything, nor is Mr. Armstrong. He's already elected student body president.
Here -- here's some more from the interview last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It appears, though, that you're obsessed with this young gay man. I mean, I have read all your blog postings. You're -- you're like perusing his Facebook, his friends' Facebook pages. You're -- you're making completely unwarranted accusations, unproven accusations, based on what you're gleaning from his Facebook pages.
SHIRVELL: Excuse me, Anderson. Who said they were unwarranted and not true? Chris has never come out and denied anything.
There's a reason why he isn't giving interviews, and that's because he can't defend what's on the blog. He -- I mean, I stand by what's on the blog. I have gotten stuff from other third-party sources.
COOPER: You stand by that he's Satan -- you stand by that he's Satan representative -- he's Satan's representative on the student council? You stand by that?
SHIRVELL: Well, excuse me, Anderson. That isn't on the blog. That's taken from another posting somewhere on the Internet I may have put out. But that's my...
COOPER: So you don't stand by that?
SHIRVELL: That's my opinion. That's my...
COOPER: OK. I'm just -- I'm just asking you if you stand by it.
SHIRVELL: No, I do stand by that.
COOPER: OK. You stand by it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, today, the Democrat running to replace Michigan's departing attorney general, his boss, cited that interview and is now calling on his Republican opponent to join him in demanding that Shirvell be fired.
Now, earlier this evening, I spoke with the man who would do the firing, but, for now, he says he won't. I spoke to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.
COOPER: We have received, I mean, a ton of e-mail from people asking us...
MIKE COX, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right.
COOPER: ... why Andrew Shirvell still has a job as an assistant attorney general in your office. And, you know, free speech is critical, but he appears...
COOPER: ... to be targeting a college student. And I know you have said that -- that this guy's views don't reflect your views or those of your office, but...
COOPER: ... why is he still employed?
COX: Well, for a number of reasons.
Here in America, we have this thing called the First Amendment, which allows people to express what they think and -- and -- and engage in political and social speech.
And, more on point, the Supreme Court, both the United States Supreme Court in 1995 in a case called the U.S. vs. Treasury Employees said that civil service employees in the federal system, and, by extension, in the state system, have free First Amendment rights outside of the work, as long as it doesn't impact their performance of -- of -- at their job.
And Mr. Shirvell is sort of a front-line grunt assistant prosecutor in my office. He -- he does satisfactory work. And off- hours, he's free to engage, under both our civil service rules, Michigan Supreme Court rulings, and the United States Supreme Court rule -- interestingly enough, by -- Justice Stevens wrote the opinion -- to engage in free speech.
COOPER: But -- but aren't you empowered by the state civil service rules to discipline him for -- for conduct unbecoming a state employee? I mean, do you think his actions are unbecoming of a state employee?
COX: Well, his actions are offensive. But, you know, conduct unbecoming is one of those empty-vessel statements. What it means has never really been fleshed out.
COOPER: Do you think this is unbecoming?
COX: Certainly, it's unbecoming of civil discourse. It's unbecoming of common courtesy. And, you know, I -- quite frankly, I -- I -- I feel embarrassed for Mr. Armstrong, you know, that he has this unwanted attention.
But, again, Anderson, this is speech put on a blog. Now, if there's conduct that's verified, for instance, if a personal protection order was sought by Mr. Armstrong and granted in the Michigan civil service or a disciplinary code, we could start looking at things in terms of perhaps sending to an employee assistance program.
COOPER: So, if there was a restraining order or something filed or there was a lawsuit by Mr. Armstrong against Mr. Shirvell, you might look at this differently or that might change your ability to do something?
You know, it's -- there's a spectrum between pure speech and actual physical actions. Now, clearly, if he was stalking him and violating the criminal law, action could be taken against him.
COOPER: But I was reading this -- this -- the Supreme Court case, and the court said -- and I quote -- "Government agencies are charged by law with doing particular tasks. Agencies hire employees to help do those tasks as effectively and efficiently as possible."
COOPER: "When someone who is paid a salary so that she will contribute to an agency's effective operation begins to do or say things that detract from the agency's effective operation, the government employer must have power to restrain her."
COOPER: Isn't Mr. Shirvell detracting from your agency's effective operation? I mean, why would any gay person feel confident that he or she would -- would be represented by -- by this man as an attorney, or, frankly, you know, they would start to have perhaps doubt about your office's ability to do that?
COX: Well, I think that's quite a stretch.
First and foremost, Mr. Shirvell, his job is, he helps preserve state criminal convictions when they're challenged in federal court. He does that well from 8:30 to 5:00, very well. Him blogging, it's not impacting the mission of the office.
COOPER: You have made Internet safety one of the main initiatives of your department.
COOPER: And you've done public service announcements about it.
We found this pamphlet that the state of Michigan issues that they define a cyber-bully as someone who uses technology to harass, embarrass, intimidate, or stalk someone else.
COOPER: And they say the type of content a cyber-bullying include -- you know, may send includes the following: vulgar and argumentative message, cruel, offensive and insulting remarks.
Under that definition, is Andrew Shirvell a cyber-bully?
COX: Well, that's a pamphlet by a different agency.
And I'm glad you brought up -- we have -- we have educated a half-million kids on how to protect themselves from predators and also bullies on the Internet.
Now, that being said, there isn't a crime of cyber-bullying in -- in -- in Michigan law. And the reality is...
COOPER: But I'm not asking whether it's a crime or not.
COOPER: I know, in Michigan, there is no cyber-bullying law yet.
COX: Right. Right.
COOPER: But -- but do you think he is a cyber-bully?
COX: He's clearly a bully, absolutely. And is he using the Internet to be a bully? Yes. But is that protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? Yes.
COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin last night on this program, a CNN legal analyst, said that this is more about you than about -- that -- about Shirvell. And he...
COOPER: ... he said that Shirvell is a political ally of yours who worked on your campaign, and that the -- you know, you campaigned on family values and weren't very supportive of -- of, you know, gay rights, and to fire him would be politically difficult for you, and that that plays a part in this story.
I wanted you to be able to respond to that.
COX: Well, you know, Mr. Toobin reminds me of the old joke, "I'm not a lawyer, but I play one on TV," because he clearly didn't read any of the Supreme Court case that I cited for you.
COOPER: He's a former federal prosecutor, but you're saying politics has nothing to do with this? COX: But that -- you know, that doesn't mean anything, Anderson.
He's not in the ring every day practicing law. He's spending time on CNN. And it's a pretty good gig. I wish I had it.
But the reality is, I'm out of office in three months. I have a duty to defend the Michigan Constitution. I have a duty to defend the Michigan civil service rules, even at those times when I don't like it. I mean, part of my job as attorney general is to stand up and defend the First Amendment, even when that protects offensive people and people who are saying things I don't like.
COOPER: Attorney General Mike Cox, I appreciate you being on. Thank you.
COX: Thank you, Anderson.
COOPER: So, the question for us to consider is, is this a free speech issue or should a public official be held to a different standard?
Let's bring in senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.
Jeff, first, I want to give you an opportunity to respond to what the attorney general said, either the personal part or about his legal argument.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, I'm sorry he's not a fan, but the point here...
TOOBIN: ... is, the United States...
TOOBIN: ... Supreme Court has dealt with this issue in many different ways over many years.
The public employee -- the free speech rights of public employees is a longstanding subject before the Supreme Court. The most recent case, 2006, involves a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who was fired, and the Supreme Court upheld his firing.
It's not an identical case, but, if you look at the range of these cases, clearly, the direction the court is moving is towards less and less free speech protection for stuff that is a heck of a lot less offensive than the stuff that Shirvell...
COOPER: But let me challenge -- let me just challenge you on that a little bit, because I'm certainly not a lawyer, but what I have just read from the Supreme Court is, if the public official is talking about something of public concern, which I guess you could argue, you know, this guy's political beliefs are a public concern, he's sort of a public official, maybe, because he's on a student council, you know, he ran for student council president, is it therefore protected because it's sort of in the general public concern?
TOOBIN: That's right. That's -- it's -- it's -- it's what the Supreme Court folks would call a two-part test.
The first part of the test is, is it a matter of public concern? And I think you could definitely say that what Shirvell was talking about, gay rights, is a matter of public concern.
But there's a second part of the test, which is, does it interfere with his work? And, as you pointed out in your interview with Mike Cox, how would you feel sitting there, as a gay person or someone who respects gay rights, which includes a lot of people who aren't gay, and -- and see this guy representing the state of Michigan?
Because he's not a private lawyer. He is up there representing the entire state of Michigan. And I think many people in the employer position, in Mike Cox's position, would say, of course he can't represent the state of Michigan, because...
TOOBIN: ... people who express those kind of hateful sentiments are not representative of my office or of the state.
COOPER: Professor Turley, what do you make of this? I mean, you're a big defender of -- of the First Amendment.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, I think that Jeff is right about the trend, that there certainly is more and more upheld restrictions on the free speech of public employees.
On my blog, I have actually detailed a lot of these cases involving police officers, teachers, a great variety of public employees.
In fairness to Mr. Cox, there is a legitimate free speech issue here. That trend has been denounced by many people, including myself, that public employees should be allowed, in their private time, to espouse their views, to have -- there's many of these cases where the actual employee has an alternative lifestyle that is viewed as unpopular or unacceptable and are disciplined for that.
What makes this case, I think, a much closer issue, even for free speech advocates, is that have you an assistant attorney general saying: I'm actually doing a political campaign. But the campaign's not even an anti-homosexual campaign. It's -- it's more of a campaign against this individual. And where he crossed the line seems to be when he -- when he stands outside the person's house. That comes very, very close to stalking. There could be civil liability here. And I think that that moves this away from free speech into conduct. And that does -- that is a legitimate basis for discipline.
COOPER: I -- I do want to point out...
COOPER: ... we just put up a picture which as at another event. It was not from outside his house. But the -- on the guy's blog, on Shirvell's blog, there's videotape at night that he took outside Shirvell's home. So, that's not a picture outside Shirvell's home, as far as I know, but, apparently, on -- but, on the blog, I have seen there's video from -- from outside the home.
TURLEY: Well, you're right.
And, Anderson, I think the -- the issue here, particularly for free speech advocates, is that they don't particularly like this trend that Jeff has correctly, I think, articulated. It's a trend that is cracking down on free speech and denying public officials -- employees the opportunity to have the full range of free speech.
This case, I think, is a bit of an anomaly, because you have someone who's -- who is going out there and leading a campaign that's quite hateful and quite unhinged.
COOPER: It's also not just against this -- this college student. It's against his friends, tracking, you know, his...
COOPER: ... friends' Facebook comments, and even going after, you know, the -- the guy's father and -- and the mother of a friend of his. it -- I mean, it seems rather obsessive.
TURLEY: Well, I -- I think it is. I mean, this -- this -- this is what -- I think many of us have -- take -- had a sense of pause when we saw that interview.
And you wouldn't call him a barking lunatic, but he certainly comes across as somebody who is obsessive. And that's not healthy for the institution that he represents or for the individual that he is.
I -- but I do think that he may have crossed the line here. I think that the only reservation that I would put here is that what Mr. Cox articulated, whatever his motivations may be -- and I'm willing to accept his motivations are to defend free speech -- I -- there is a legitimate question here. There is a dangerous trend here.
And, unfortunately, this may be a case of bad -- a bad case making bad law, in that it could -- it could magnify that trend a bit.
COOPER: Yes. TURLEY: But he's going to -- he -- his conduct makes it more difficult for him to cloak himself entirely in the First Amendment.
COOPER: Jeff, this is now getting wrapped up in politics in Michigan. The Democratic candidate to be the next assistant attorney -- to be the next attorney general has called on his Republican opponent to call for this guy to be fired.
You -- do you think politics -- you still think politics are involved, though, in the -- in the attorney general's decision not to let this guy go?
TOOBIN: Right, because I think, at the end of the day, this is really a question about discretion. This is a question that's -- that -- that raises the issue of, what does the attorney general of Michigan think is relevant to the conduct of his employees?
Is he someone who thinks that someone who behaves like Shirvell is behaving can represent everyone? And, you know, I -- I think, if Shirvell got fired, he would lose a lawsuit. Now, that may be a good thing or a bad thing, but he would lose a lawsuit to get his job back.
So, I think this is really up to Mike Cox. Could he -- is he willing to -- to fire him or not? And he chooses not to fire him. And I think people can draw their own conclusions about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
The thing I don't -- object to that Mike Cox is saying is, somehow, that the law compels him not to fire him. I think this is a choice he's making, not a -- something he's compelled to do by the law.
COOPER: Interesting discussion.
Jeff Toobin, Jonathan Turley, appreciate your expertise. Thank you very much.
TURLEY: Thanks, Anderson.
COOPER: We will continue to follow this. Let us know what you think, the live chat up and running right now at AC360.com.
Up next tonight, we put a pretty racy attack ad to the test. Is the reenactment of a senator's alleged visit to a prostitute fact or fiction? Is it fair?
And later: another accuser speaking out, saying a -- that Bishop Eddie Long abused him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once God's time is ready for it to expose everything, it's going to happen. And -- and I just pray -- I just want people to know that -- to keep praying.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Well, we have been examining some of the political ads running this campaign season.
The other night, you might remember we pointed out what was incorrect and misleading in two ads, one by a Florida Democratic congressman, one by a Republican congressman from North Carolina.
Well, tonight, a whole new kind of attack ad. This one is by Louisiana Democrat Charlie Melancon. It's against Republican Senator David Vitter. And it actually includes a reenactment of an alleged visit with a prostitute.
Tom Foreman has been looking at it in a dark room perhaps somewhere, and joins us now, "Keeping Them Honest" -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, when a candidate says his latest commercial will air only during age-appropriate shows, you know you're in for something special. And Louisiana Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon not disappoint with his attack on Republican Senator David Vitter, whom he's trying to unseat.
Maybe you forgot that Vitter was caught up in a prostitution scandal or that he stood by his wife in this very uncomfortable news conference in 2007 and apologized for a very serious sin.
But Representative Melancon wants to make sure you remember.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CHARLIE MELANCON CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: This time on forgotten crimes: Caught up with prostitution scandals in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, a Louisiana politician has been let of the hook.
Today, we explore the case of the senator and the madam in lawmaker, lawbreaker.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: This is a rarity in political ads. Not only is it dressed up to look like one of these true crime shows out there, but it's also two minutes long, complete, Anderson, as you mentioned, with a reenactment. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CHARLIE MELANCON CAMPAIGN AD)
NARRATOR: David Vitter won election to the United States Senate as a proud family-values politician, but, under the surface, Vitter was battling his own demons.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Things turned public for Vitter when his number appeared on the D.C. madam's phone list. NARRATOR: But it didn't end there. The scene shifts to New Orleans, where a former French Quarter prostitute gave an interview exposing details about her sexual relationship with Vitter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He went in, took a shower, spoke very little to me at first. He did his thing. He wasn't there 15, 20 minutes at that. I was $300.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: This is a political ad. The interview and some of those images, by the way, at the end there appear to be from a production by "Hustler" magazine's Larry Flynt -- Anderson.
COOPER: Wow. I think that -- I wonder if that's the first time Larry Flynt's material has been used in a political ad.
FOREMAN: That may be.
COOPER: So, what's true and what is not true in this?
FOREMAN: Well, it's certainly true that these allegations have surrounded Senator Vitter, and he did confess to some things, but then it gets tricky, because he never said precisely what his sin was.
So, he admitted that his number was in the D.C. madam's phone book. He never admitted the New Orleans connection. He was never charged with any crime. And so no crime was ever proven. So, we don't really know if he broke the law. And, yet, that message is hammered home by folks like this voter in this ad, whose identity is hidden, supposedly to protect him, although I'm not sure from what.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CHARLIE MELANCON CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, it's not about hookers or cheating on his wife. The man broke the law. And there ought to be consequences for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Well, there are consequences for things like that.
You have to face nasty ads like this one, which, for all of its melodrama, still comes down on our big scale as somewhere between it's a stretch and right on -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Tom, fascinating days.
Coming up: another young man who claims he was sexually coerced by Bishop Eddie Long, and speaking out publicly.
First, though, some of tonight's other stories we're following. Randi Kaye has a 360 bulletin -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we're learning more about the man behind the plot to bomb Times Square.
Prosecutors say Faisal Shahzad studied Webcams of the area, hoped to kill up to 40 people, and planned additional attacks. But his attempt to blow up a car bomb on May 1, as you know, failed. He pleaded guilty in June and will be sentenced next week.
Now, we have also learned that, over the summer, the FBI recreated the car bomb Shahzad hoped would explode. They say a controlled detonation showed the bomb would have devastated Times Square.
The House has passed a bill. It provides free medical coverage to 9/11 first-responders, many who were exposed to dangerous toxins at the World Trade Center site. The Senate has not yet taken up that bill.
Just moments ago, Delaware Congressman Mike Castle announced he has decided not to run as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate. Earlier this month, he lost the GOP primary to Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell. He hasn't endorsed her. She will face Democratic Chris Coons in the campaign for Vice President Joe Biden's old Senate seat.
And former President Jimmy Carter is spending a second night at a Cleveland, Ohio, hospital. Doctors say he's likely battling a viral infection. Mr. Carter turns 86, Anderson, on Friday.
COOPER: Wow. All right. Randi, appreciate that.
Coming up next, though, a -- well, we're going to have a story that breaks your heart, but I want to give you a little bit of taste of a story that we are going to do for tomorrow night.
A young man on death row in Arkansas is going to ask the state Supreme Court for a new trial. His name is Damien Echols. He's one of the so-called West Memphis Three. Those are one of three teens convicted 16 years ago, you may remember, for the murders of three Cub Scouts. They were best friends who were beaten and tortured, prosecutors say, in a satanic ritual.
Echols says he did not do it, and he's getting some unexpected support from the parents of two of the victims.
Deborah Feyerick gives us a -- an advanced look.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If I met you in May of 1993, how convinced would you have been of the guilt of the three teenagers?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One hundred percent. FEYERICK: So, now, do you believe the three men in prison are guilty?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, ma'am. They're 100 percent innocent. We needed someone to hate to survive, because our child was dead.
FEYERICK (voice-over): We meet Damien Echols at the supermax prison an hour's drive south of Little Rock.
(on camera): You were asked at the trial, did you kill Christopher Byers? Your answer then was?
DAMIEN ECHOLS, CONVICTED MURDERER: No, absolutely not.
FEYERICK: Your answer now is?
ECHOLS: No, absolutely not.
FEYERICK: Michael Moore.
ECHOLS: No, absolutely not. And you never -- even though it's been 20 years, you don't get used to being asked that. That's the kind of thing that screws with your head for the rest of your life.
COOPER: Well, we will have Deborah Feyerick's full report tomorrow on 360.
Up next, though, the story that -- well, it really just breaks your heart, a mom, and a stepfather and the little boy they lost to bullying, they say, they say bullying that they warned the school about, and got no action.
And, later: How is Michael J. Fox doing nearly 20 years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's? We will talk to him. 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta sat down with him. He will join us shortly.
COOPER: You know, we focused a lot on this program over the years on the problem of bullying and how a lot of us today don't take it seriously enough. Some adults think it's, you know, just a rite of passage, something that all kids go through. But while many kids do go through it, not all of them survive.
I want to you meet a little boy named Asher Brown. He lived in Texas. He was 13 years old. When I say "was" in the past, it's because he shot himself in the head last Thursday. His stepfather found his little body crumpled up at the bottom of a closet.
Asher's mom and stepfather say that he was bullied to death, that he killed himself after being constantly harassed by classmates, picked on, they say, because he was small, because he didn't wear the kind of popular clothes that other kids wore, and because he was gay. They say school officials ignored their repeated complaints. The school district, I should tell you, denies getting any complaints about bullying from anyone: from Asher's family, from students or staff members. But we've talked to other parents who say their kids are also being bullied at the school, and they say their complaints are ignored.
I talked earlier to Asher's mom and stepfather, David and Amy Truong, and their advocate, Lewis Skygart.
COOPER: Amy, how are you holding up?
AMY TRUONG, ASHER'S MOTHER: I guess as well as can be expected for the situation. I just -- I have to do it minute by minute.
COOPER: That's all you can do.
A. TRUONG: I can't think past -- I can't think past that.
DAVID TRUONG, ASHER'S STEPFATHER: She's very strong, but we've got a lot of support. But it's -- it's the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother.
COOPER: David, tell me about Asher. What kind of boy was he?
D. TRUONG: He was the prototypical rambunctious, spirited, happy-go-lucky guy. He was my shadow. Everywhere I went he was behind me. I tell people that if I burped, he'll say, "Excuse me" for me.
And it's hard for me to think about him without -- without losing it, but I'm going to do it. He's -- he's only been with me 3 1/2 years, and he's my stepson, but in spirit he's my -- he's my son. And I love him very much, because he loved everybody else. What I got out of him, unconditional love. He gave everybody unconditional love. He taught me that.
COOPER: When did you start to notice that things were going bad for him at school?
D. TRUONG: We noticed the first day he started at Hamilton, and there were some serious problems, where he'd come home, tell us he's been picked on. And I said, "Well, that's not cool. You've got to tell your teacher that." And it just kept going on and on, where -- just from the very beginning.
A. TRUONG: He started there in the sixth grade, and this was supposed to be his eighth-grade year. So there was an ongoing problem for what would amount to 18 months to two years.
COOPER: And what would kids say? I mean, they taunted him because they felt he was gay, and they taunted him because they felt he was different?
D. TRUONG: They taunted him because he didn't wear Abercrombie and Fitch. He didn't wear fancy shoes. He didn't have fancy watches or iPods.
A. TRUONG: He wasn't interested in those things.
D. TRUONG: We could have bought it for him. We asked him if he wanted it. He said no. There's more important things.
A. TRUONG: The boys and girls, you know, they thought he was nerdy because he read lots of books. They picked on him and called him, you know, nasty names for -- the disparaging comments they used towards homosexuals. They were...
D. TRUONG: He was smaller than everybody.
A. TRUONG: He was smaller than a lot of kids and, you know, so just stature-wise.
COOPER: And his religion, he was Buddhist. I understood they made fun of that.
A. TRUONG: Yes.
COOPER: And David, I understand he actually -- he actually told you he was gay the morning he died.
D. TRUONG: Right. He did.
A. TRUONG: Yes.
D. TRUONG: And we had our suspicions. We kind of talked about it amongst us, but he came out and he was -- he was OK with it.
COOPER: And how were you...
D. TRUONG: He knew we...
A. TRUONG: We -- we loved him and gave him unconditional support. And we told him that months before when -- when he started to express the fact that he thought he might be gay. We said, "We love you no matter what, and we will always be here for you."
COOPER: Did you think -- did you call the school? Did you talk to teachers or anything? How did you try to deal with the bullying or did you think you could?
D. TRUONG: Well, first, I tried to raise him to be a good, responsible young man. I told him, OK, you deal with it. Talk to the bullies, get them to stop. If they don't stop, tell the teachers. Tell whoever's in charge.
And when that didn't help, then I got involved and Amy got involved. We went to the schools.
A. TRUONG: We made phone calls, e-mails. We made every attempt.
D. TRUONG: I mad numerous trips to the school. COOPER: The school district is now saying that they weren't aware that Asher was having these problems in the school. And as you know, they put out this statement. I just want to read part of it.
It says, "In their quest for an answer, a few will assign blame to try to make sense of the tragedy. Prior to his death there was no report from students, staff members or the parents to administrators that this student was bullied while at Hamilton Middle School. Such a report would have been investigated, and consequences would have followed the student code of conduct."
You say that's just not true.
A. TRUONG: Absolutely not true.
D. TRUONG: Not true.
LEWIS SKYGART (ph), ATTORNEY: Anderson.
COOPER: Go ahead.
SKYGART: I'll speak to that. I mean, when in doubt -- the rule is with the school district, when in doubt, deny, deny, deny.
COOPER: We've heard from other parents who say there is bullying at this school. So I mean, it's not just you two saying this.
A. TRUONG: Yes, sir, that's true.
COOPER: Why do you think, Amy, that the school district is now saying, "Well, look, we didn't know about it"?
A. TRUONG: Because my son killed himself, and he's gone and we can't bring him back. And they realize what they did was wrong. They didn't take this seriously. And nothing's going to bring him back. And we have no reason to lie about the fact that we went to them for help to make it stop.
COOPER: Amy, I mean, I can't imagine what it takes for you and David to be on here tonight. I mean, this is so recent, and I can't imagine the strength. And I want to thank you for it, because I mean it's important that we talk about this, because we've got to stop this from happening to other kids. And we've reported on this too many times.
What do you want parents out there to know? What do you want educators out there to know, Amy? Especially parents, what do you want them to know if they think maybe their child is being bullied or they don't know what to do?
A. TRUONG: Please, if you -- if you have children that you think may be bullied, if they seem sad or withdrawn, and you ask questions and they say, "I'm fine," push past that. Push past the "I'm fine." It's extremely important.
These kids are worried about retribution for speaking up. Not only speaking up for themselves, but speaking up for their friends that are getting picked on. And we've got to make this stop.
I don't want my son to have died in vain, and I can't bring my baby back. But if I can help some other family to not have to go through this, then it's worth it.
COOPER: I'm so sorry that we're here under these circumstances, and I really -- I don't know what else to say, except I thank you for your strength and thank you for talking with us.
D. TRUONG: Thank you, Anderson.
A. TRUONG: Thank you for having us.
COOPER: It's our pleasure. I hope you stay -- I hope you stay strong in the days and weeks and months ahead.
A. TRUONG: Just pray for us.
D. TRUONG: God's with us. Keep praying, though. For everybody involved.
COOPER: Thank you.
COOPER: A programming note: every night next week we're devoting time to the problem of bullying. I know a lot of adults don't think it's so bad, but it's no longer just in schools. It's online, and the taunts and the terror accompany kids 24 hours a day.
At the end of next week, we're also going to have a special hour of programming devoted to it. We're going to hear from parents and educators. We'll talk to kids who have been bullied. "American Idol's" Crystal Bowersox used to get bullied. She'll be on. Dr. Phil. We'll also talk with former bullies and a lot of other folks. "Bullying: No Escape." It's our special all next week on 360.
Still ahead tonight, up next, up close with actor Michael J. Fox. Three-sixty M.D. Sanjay Gupta's in-depth interview. Fox has been living with Parkinson's for nearly two decades now. We'll talk about what his life is like today, plus his hopes for the future.
And later, another of Bishop Eddie Long's accusers is speaking out publicly, even as Long vows to fight the allegations of sexual abuse in court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EDDIE LONG, PASTOR: I am not a perfect man, but this thing I'm going to fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Michael J. Fox doesn't give a lot of interviews, but he just spoke with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
He's been living with Parkinson's Disease for nearly two decades now. You might remember he was just 29 when he first noticed the symptoms and was diagnosed the following year.
Well, today, Michael is -- well, he still acts, but he devotes a lot of his time to the charity that he created to find a cure. You can see the entire interview that Sanjay did tomorrow on CNN at 8 p.m. Eastern, but here's some of it tonight in our "Up Close" segment.
MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: There was a real clear period around 1993, '94, about two years after the diagnosis, where I just got it. I just accepted it. And I realized that there's an old saying that my happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance and in an inverse proportion to my expectation. You know, it's just about this is what it is, and so now what?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So once you -- once you were not in denial, you think you were happier?
FOX: Yes, absolutely. Because when you -- when you can look at the truth of something, then -- then I mean, that's what it is. It is what it is. Now you have options.
The only thing I don't have a choice about is whether or not I have Parkinson's. Everything else is my choice. And that's incredibly liberating. That's much more liberating than the physical constraints of this disease are limiting.
GUPTA: Is there -- are the things that you particularly miss that you can't do? I mean, things that you say, God, I really just wish I could do this, still.
FOX: Actually, no. I do everything I ever did before. I play hockey. I play golf. I play guitar. I hang out with my kids.
If it seriously limited or restricted or aversely affected my ability to interact with my kids, I think that would be something that would be hard to deal with.
I go back to my reasons for starting this foundation. If you -- I use this analogy a lot, but I think it's really apt. If you step off a curb and get hit by a bus, the impact on your life is immediate and catastrophic, and you have no options. You just -- whatever happens then.
If -- with Parkinson's, it's like you're crossing the road and get stuck in the middle. And you know the bus is coming, and you can't get out of the way. So you can kind of freak out. And you kind of go, "The bus is going to hit me at some point," even though you don't know how fast or how big or whatever. But you can be stuck in that result. This bus is going to hit you.
Or you can use the time you have before the bus gets there to try to change the route. And that's what we try to do. You know, methodically but with a degree of urgency, try to connect the dots and get this done.
COOPER: Such a great guy. He's had this for 20 years. Now he's had brain surgery, actually, to try to treat it. What other options are there?
GUPTA: Well, you know, so he had brain surgery on the right side of the brain, which controls the left side of his body. And he said he got a really good result at the time. But pretty quickly after that, the right side of his body started to get affected.
So one option would be to do the operation on the other side, and I asked him about that. He said he's just not quite ready to have that done yet. He wants the surgery to guarantee a little bit more than what it does right now, just taking care of symptoms.
He gets good results with the meds. He has what's called dyskinesias, that movement that you saw him sitting there doing, but that's actually as a result of being medicated, as a result -- as opposed to the medication not working. So the medications are working for him. They don't -- he doesn't get really slow of movement. He doesn't get the terrible tremor or the expressionless face. All of that is...
COOPER: You're saying when he sleeps and does something like play the guitar or skates, he doesn't have the symptoms.
GUPTA: Yes. So, you know, really rote activities, things that he's done for a long time -- playing the guitar, ice-skating, at sleep -- most people with Parkinson's Disease do not have the tremor because you're not activating any movement, and the brakes are sort of turned on in terms of the tremor. So -- but when he wakes up, it immediately comes back. He has to put on the special shoes, you know, the whole thing.
COOPER: Yes. He's incredibly strong.
The full -- the full report is on with Sanjay tomorrow. You can see it tomorrow night, "Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: A Conversation with Michael J. Fox," 8 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.
Coming up, another accuser speaking out against Bishop Eddie Long. The fourth man to come forward.
See what happens when the Republican -- also tonight what happens when the Republican candidate for governor of New York took exception to one of the reporters covering him. Here's kind of a taste of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARL PALADINO (R), NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Of course you'll get it at the appropriate time. At appropriate time you'll get it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the attorney general of New York.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Another accuser of Bishop Eddie Long speaking out tonight. He is one of four young men who's accused the pastor of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church of sexual coercion. All four are suing.
Bishop Long has denied the allegations. Through a spokesman, he has told his congregation he plans to, quote, "vigorously fight the charges."
Last night we played you excerpts of an interview that a Georgia news station did with a man named Jamal Parris, who's one of the men suing the bishop.
Now 22-year-old Spencer Legrande has gone on camera. We got the video from our affiliate, WUSB-TV in Atlanta. Legrande doesn't talk about the specific charges in the lawsuit. He told the reporters a lawyer had told him not to, but he did say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPENCER LEGRANDE, SUING EDDIE LONG: Once God's time is ready for to expose everything, it's going to happen. And -- and I just pray -- I just want people to know, keep praying. Keep praying for our strength and for us getting through this.
I pray for everyone, you know. Especially Bishop. Especially Bishop. Because he knows the truth. He knows the truth.
I pray for him, too. I really do. I wasn't free until I came out with it. That's when my life has been much better. This last week has been free.
This is a hard time for the world and, you know, I have no hate for anyone because that's not -- God doesn't produce hate. There's only one way to God, you know, and that's the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, Bishop Long's lawyer fired back today, saying that Long's accusers are attempting to try their lawsuits in the media in violation of court rules.
Following a number of other stories, Randi Kaye again has the "360 News and Business Bulletin."
What's up, Randi?
KAYE: Anderson, a heated exchange today between Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor in New York, and a reporter for the "New York Post" was caught on tape. Take a look at this video we just got from our affiliate YNN Albany.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, guys, easy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take it easy. Don't touch me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Here's what happened there. Fred Dicker of the "Post" asked Paladino to back up his claims that his Democratic opponent, Andrew Cuomo, had extramarital affairs when he was still married, but Paladino turned on Dicker, slamming the "Post" coverage of a young daughter he had out of wedlock.
After an almost five-month absence from stores, Johnson & Johnson will start shipping some of its recalled over-the-counter children's drugs to retailers next week. That's when the company's president is expected to say in testimony on Capitol Hill tomorrow.
The drugs were recalled because of possible contamination from bacteria and small metal parts.
BP says it will create a new safety division in the aftermath of this summer's Gulf oil spill disaster. The company says the unit will have sweeping powers to oversee and audit operations around the world.
And some serious monkey business. When the Commonwealth Games begin next month in New Delhi, India, officials will use -- get this -- 38 trained and large Langur monkeys to chase smaller stray monkeys away from the games. Stray monkeys apparently are common all over New Delhi.
KAYE: I guess, Anderson, they just don't want them to get in the way.
COOPER: Employment for large monkeys there. That's good news for them, I guess.
KAYE: There you go.
COOPER: Tonight's "Shot," Randi, is a major case of, I guess, awkwardness on live television.
Here's the scene. It was a live reality TV show, "Australia's Next Top Model." We got this from Australia's FOX 8 Grenada productions.
The winner had just been crowned, a young woman named Kelsey, who you'll see is in a black dress standing next to the host. The runner up, Amanda, is in the red dress. Remember, this happened live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH MURDOCH, HOST, "AUSTRALIA'S NEXT TOP MODEL": It's you, Kelsey.
MURDOCH: I'm so sorry. Oh, my God. Oh, I'm -- I don't know what to say. This is not -- this was a complete accident. I'm so sorry. It's Amanda. I'm so sorry. It was read to me wrong.
KELSEY HEIGHT, RUNNER-UP: That's all right. It's OK. It's all right.
MURDOCH: Oh, god.
HEIGHT: It's OK.
MURDOCH: This is what happens when you have live TV, folks. I'm so sorry.
HEIGHT: It's OK.
MURDOCH: This is insane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: The studio audience was stunned.
Kelsey now, the runner up, was gracious enough to, you know, try to make the host not feel so embarrassed, telling her it was an honest mistake. Live TV, it's tough.
KAYE: I know. They say that's what's happened on live TV. I've never seen it happen before on live TV. That's awful.
COOPER: I know.
KAYE: She did handle it well, though.
COOPER: Yes, I feel bad for her. I feel bad for her, though.
All right. A lot more at the top of the hour. I'm going to ask Michigan's attorney general why one of his assistant attorney generals, who's singling out this college student for attacks on his sexuality, why he still has a job. "Keeping Them Honest," ahead.