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Fighting Ebola; Ebola and the Law; What's the Problem With The Secret Service?; The "Grave Threat" of Drunk Females at Frats
Aired October 4, 2014 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Hey, welcome to the program. And thank you for joining me.
By now you've heard Ebola is here, news about Ebola consuming the country. But is there a risk of overreaction? I'll ask my expert guests in just a moment.
And the Secret Service, huge misfires and a new director. But also this. Is race or gender playing a role in how well our president is protected?
And the man who got fired for writing a column with this title. "Drunk Female Guests are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities." He's here to defend himself.
Plus c college whose name I refuse to utter.
Let's get started.
Right now Thomas Eric Duncan is fighting for his life at a Dallas hospital. He is of course the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in America. And since this news first broke on Wednesday fear has spread. Media coverage has gone round the clock, Twitter has been on fire. Look at this tweet from Donald Trump suggesting that the United States should simply bar flights from the hot zone West Africa.
The truth is, there are some real security concerns at airports as well as some degree of uncertainty about what we thought we knew about Ebola. But Friday afternoon the White House said a ban on travel from West Africa would impede the response to the Ebola outbreak.
So here are two questions that I want to ask. First, is some of the fear unwarranted? And second, how do we prevent the Ebola virus from coming into the country again?
Joining me now two experts, is the global projects manager for the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation, that's a nonprofit organization which teaches people how to handle dangerous diseases around the world. And a month ago he led a team in Nigeria that trained health care workers to deal with the Ebola outbreak.
Also with me, Elizabeth Cohen, senior medical correspondent, who came home a week ago today from Liberia where she was reporting on Ebola.
Gavin, let me begin with you. I'm concerned about creating panic among some American who frankly don't have exposure, especially as we're now headed into flu season and they might regard every sneeze as a potential Ebola outbreak and virus.
GAVIN MCGREGOR-SKINNER, GLOBAL PROJECTS MANAGER, ELIZABETH R. GRIFFIN FOUNDATION: That's a really good question. There's two issues here. The first is if a person has recently traveled to the U.S. from a West African country they are at home, they wake up one morning, they've got a fever, they don't feel well.
What do they do? Do they have to make their own way to the hospital or is there a 1-800-Ebola number they can call? At the moment there is no 1-800-Ebola number.
The second point is we saw this in Nigeria where they created an emergency 1-800 number for people to call in on a regular basis. The other point is, is that when a person goes to an urgent health care center, a health care or a clinic, or any other physician in the country, if that person -- if that physician or the health or the nurse takes a proper history and then learns that person just came back from West Africa, puts him in a room for isolation, they go through the public health alert system but how do they get to a hospital that's ready to admit Ebola patients? And we haven't addressed those gaps.
SMERCONISH: Liz, is one lesson that we've learned thus far that perhaps honesty is not the best policy or not a sufficient defense in protecting ourselves, and I'm referring to the Texas patient who allegedly reportedly mislead the Liberians and may have misled people at the hospital here in the United States in terms of his history.
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think in the hospital it appears that he was honest when he was asked, did you go to West Africa, you know, have you traveled recently. He said yes, apparently on more than one occasion so this is really on the hospital. He knew -- the nurse who took him in knew that he had traveled recently to West Africa and I heard the lieutenant governor on Jake Tapper's show blaming the electronic medical record that the right screen didn't pop up at the right time.
It's very disheartening to hear those kinds of excuses. The hospital should be saying look, we goofed, we're going to figure out how to make this right. They had a Liberian man with recent travel history to Liberia with a fever in their hospital. I can't imagine what excuse would explain that away.
SMERCONISH: Would you, Elizabeth, paint the picture for the interaction that you had leaving Liberia versus gaining entrance to the United States?
COHEN: Yes. Two very different experiences. So when I left Liberia last week they take your temperature three times, they were showing you the one in the car now. That's the first one. And then there's two inside the airport. And then there is a team of nurses that looks at you. Because they know that people lie and so they want to look at you and see if you're sick even if you say that you are not sick. And then they ask you a questionnaire about symptoms, and then they
ask you also about exposure. They want to know hey, were you near, were you taking care of a patient with Ebola. And that's apparently where it seems that Mr. Duncan lied and said that he wasn't when apparently he was and that's the honor system that you were talking about before.
Now this is in contrast to what happens when you come back to the U.S. When I came back in the U.S. no one asked me if I had been exposed to a patient with Ebola even though I told them I was a journalist who was there to cover Ebola.
COHEN: They didn't ask my two colleagues any questions. They did say to me, this was actually -- it's kind of funny if it weren't so awful because the immigration official was about to hand my passport to me and say welcome home, and he goes oh, you were in Liberia. I think I got an e-mail about that.
COHEN: I'm supposed to tell you something. And then he and his colleagues conferred and he came back and he said, I'm supposed to tell you to watch your health for the next 21 days. To watch for symptoms. And I said what symptoms am I supposed to watch for? And he said I don't know. He couldn't tell me.
SMERCONISH: Gavin, shy of a travel ban which the White House said on Friday they are not inclined to institute at this point. Can we keep it out?
GRIFFIN-SKINNER: Yes, we can. And again, we've got to be more vigilant at our ports of entry, at our airports. Again Elizabeth's correct. On my way home I was -- had my temperature taken and questions and interviewed twice in Nigeria, once in Germany. But nothing when I came back to Washington, D.C.
The other thing that I'm really concerned about when I came back and again all of my team from the Elizabeth R. Griffin Foundation, we put ourselves under 21 days of observation, talking to each other, but I didn't want to have to go into the emergency department and sit next to the child with a broken arm if I had developed a fever and body aches and I had early signs of Ebola.
COHEN: I have the same questions. I'm still within my 21 days, I'm only seven days out. And so I do wonder, what if I develop symptoms? What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go? I certainly don't want to show up at my family doctor's practice and say, hey, I just went to Liberia and I've got a fever. It's really not clear what you're supposed to do.
SMERCONISH: I don't want to minimize the risks that are at stake for some here but as a lay person, lacking the expertise of either of you I said to myself, well, there's one known case, nobody has ever died in the United States as a result of Ebola. I'm aware of the fact that those two health care workers who returned to the United States have apparently made a recovery and this is not exactly the Sierra Leone.
So does it warrant that which we are placing on it in terms of attention?
COHEN: You know, I think people need to understand, and I know it's been said a million times, but you can't over communicate, that this disease is not spread through the air. This -- you get this disease when you come into direct contact with someone's bodily fluids who is infected and actively ill, who's actively symptomatic. People need to understand that.
SMERCONISH: Dr. McGregor Skinner, Elizabeth Cohen, thank you both so much for being here.
GRIFFIN-SKINNER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Joining me now to talk about the legal aspects of all of this is CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeffrey, great to see you. There are so many different facets of it that interest me. Let's talk for a moment about the hospital where apparently the patient presented and instead of admitting him they sent him home and it was two days that there was then a delay.
What kind of exposure might they face? What kind of exposure might he, the patient, face given what we know so far?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I -- you know, the first piece of advice I would give is ignore anything that imbeciles like Donald Trump say about this situation. The second thing is, you know, this is not a crisis at the moment. And there is no necessity for the hospital to be punished, for this man to be punished. I mean, obviously procedures have to evolve, this is a complicated new threat in the United States. Certainly the hospital could face some sort of loss or challenge or fine regarding its accreditation.
I can't imagine that the state of Texas really needs to prosecute an Ebola victim for making a false statement at a hospital which as far as I'm aware is not a crime under any circumstances to make a false statement to a hospital so I think this needs to be dealt with as a public health matter but not as a legal matter to the extent possible.
SMERCONISH: How about the airlines? Because, you know, some airlines continue to fly into parts of West Africa and some have scaled back their service. If you and I were running a carrier, what considerations might we have pertaining to the Ebola virus? In other words, might we be saying to ourselves we don't want to be held accountable if we're transporting individuals who do get sick and then we incur litigation from other passengers on that plane saying it was our fault.
TOOBIN: Well, that's certainly a risk. And the appropriate thing to do, I think, is for the airlines to be in close touch with our government, with the Liberian government, and to assess with them the risks and benefits of continuing to provide service. You know, as the White House and the administration has pointed out, there is a lot of public health benefit to keeping these planes going.
People are going in to try to help this situation. If you cut off the planes it becomes more difficult to bring people in who have a chance of ameliorating the situation. But it is certainly true that the airlines have to be aware that there is -- there is a risk but as Elizabeth Cohen and everyone else has said, you know, this is not an easily communicable disease so the risks should not be overstated either.
SMERCONISH: Jeffrey Toobin, it's great to see you. Thank you.
TOOBIN: Alrighty, my friend.
SMERCONISH: All right. We'll take a quick break.
And up next the Secret Service under fire for lapses in its handling of President Obama's protection.
Are race and gender playing a role in the screw-ups?
Also ahead, the young man who thought it was cool to violently kick a cat into the air. He may end up cooling his heels behind bars for a long time.
Does the punishment fit the crime? We'll get some answers.
SMERCONISH: So what role if any are race and gender playing in the level of protection that the president is receiving from the Secret Service?
This week on "The View" Whoopi Goldberg wondered if the problems are all about race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": I'm kind of shocked. I mean, the one thing -- you always see the Secret Service jumping in front of bullets. They would have -- but somehow with him, they're like oh, there's somebody running on the lawn.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
GOLDBERG: I'm like, say, you want to call somebody to get him?
GOLDBERG: It's like Stepin Fetchit kind of thing. It's like nobody gets it. Yes, we're just going to watch the whole thing.
GOLDBERG: I mean, what are you waiting for? This is the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Whoopi's not alone. A front page article in Friday's "New York Times" quotes several African-American members of Congress who say that their constituents are concerned that the Secret Service is not being aggressive in protecting the first black president.
So should Americans be concerned about Mr. Obama's safety?
I'm joined by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri who's quoted in that "Times" article. And Dell Quentin Wilber, national security reporter at Bloomberg and the author of a great book called "Raw Hide Down."
Congressman, on this issue, what are you hearing from your constituents?
REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: Well, I think the whole concept of -- or the suspicion that this president is not going to be cared for by the Secret Service or by the nation as a whole as much as previous presidents has been around since the campaign. And so it has just been accelerated as these stories about breaches have occurred.
But now it's important to remember that suspicions or feelings, not facts. And I do understand that there's a great deal of paranoia -- there has always been that factor with this president. But African- Americans in particular are concerned and we've got to arrest those fears because I don't think they are based in reality.
SMERCONISH: Dell, what is apparently based in reality is the fact that threats against this president have spiked as compared to other presidents, and he was afforded Secret Service protection, I think, prior to, sooner than, any candidate who has ever sought the office previously.
DELL QUENTIN WILBER, AUTHOR, RAWHIDE DOWN: You know, that's exactly true. No president going back since the Secret Service started protecting them back in the late 1800s has gotten nearly as much protection as President Obama has, or as many threats as he has. They have to respond to them. It's a very difficult balancing act the Secret Service has to weigh and you know, this president gets out there.
He's out in the public, he is, you know, going on walks, the bear is loose, you know, and they have to go with him. I'm sure there are a lot of conversations about that when he decides the bear's going to get loose to go get a Starbucks or something as he did a few weeks ago or a few months ago. And I think that, you know, they have stepped up the protection of him but they had these embarrassing episodes.
SMERCONISH: You know, Congressman, I worry about the tone. I worry about the rhetoric. I think that the debate in this country has gotten much too hot and frankly, a lot of forks who earn their living with microphones stir that pot in a way that could send someone off the rails who's -- not playing with a full deck.
CLEAVER: No question about it. Here's the problem. Paranoia seems remarkably more logical when it is based on something that was real. And the reality is not only are there many more threats against the president, but there are many more crazy statements.
CLEAVER: By individuals. I mean, people have likened the president to a monkey, somebody -- a subhuman something from some country in western singer. And every time you do this, you increase the possibility of putting information in the head of a sick person who then goes out and tries to act on what he has heard or said. And that's what is dangerous. And frankly, that's what has caused much of the paranoia in the black community. But I think people of goodwill all over the country are concerned.
SMERCONISH: No doubt. I think that's true.
Hey, Dell, I want to ask you about something else. I want to ask you whether there's a gender aspect to what's now playing itself out, meaning with regard to the level of protection that the president is receiving or not receiving in this case. And here's what brings it to my mind.
Last Monday I remember I got an alert on my phone, my iPhone, from "The New York Times." It was a story that reported as follows.
"A man who jumped the White House fence this month made it far deeper into the president's home than previously disclosed, overpowering a female service agent inside the North Portico entrance, and running through the East Room before he was tackled." That's according to a congressional official familiar with the details of the incident."
It wasn't in the print edition the following day. And I should be clear and tell you that I think there are plenty of women who are capable of providing security to the president, and I respect, you know, anybody who is going to put themselves in harm's way to take a bullet for the commander-in-chief.
But if the stature of someone who's placed in that position renders them incapable of providing the highest level of protection, then that ought to be an issue that we have public conversation about.
You're all over this story, Dell. What do you know of it and what thoughts might you have?
WILBER: Well, I can't speak to what "The New York Times" edited out or published or not. I know that an officer who tried -- an officer, not an agent, who tried to stop, you know, Mr. Omar Gonzalez as he went on his tour through the White House that day did get run over. But I can't say that it was run over because the person was small or tall or big or slow. I mean the guy barreled in, he could have run over anyone.
The problems with this incident, with the fence jumping extend far further than that. You know, they didn't track the guy's background when they had a chance to and knew that he was stalking the White House with a hatchet. You know, a couple of weeks before he did this. You know, they didn't send the alarm was muted so the officers and agents weren't even sure what was going on. The door wasn't locked. I mean, there are so many other problems here before we get to that issue.
This is an alpha male job. You know.
WILBER: Willing to take a bullet for the president. You know, and there are some issues with that. You know, and we just lost the first female Secret Service director who was brought in to help clean house after they had the prostitution scandal with all the male agents down in Cartagena in 2012. She just had to resign after these several incidents, these -- you know, these security breaches and lapses. And so, you know, I think that's all part of the conversation.
SMERCONISH: Congressman, what thoughts do you have on the gender aspect of this either as it relates to the former now head of the United States Secret Service or the issue that I have raised?
CLEAVER: Well, I think that there will be some, as in almost every situation, who will look at the story about the Secret Service agent being overpowered and saying, well, women should not become Secret Service agents. And I -- to that I say bunk. That there are women who are fully capable of working in that arena and have been doing so every single day. And a man could have been overrun.
It is important I think and I want to make sure that I say this, breaches don't -- don't equate to betrayal. And so we have had these breaches. We had a situation where a Secret Service agent was not able to stop someone.
CLEAVER: But ladies and gentlemen, look. With all of the agents -- I've been to the White House many, many times, there are agents everywhere. The system needs to be re-evaluated. And I guess that's what's going to happen now.
SMERCONISH: No doubt.
CLEAVER: Because there should have been backup.
WILBER: Don't forget that one of the heroes of the Reagan assassination attempt was one of the first female agents who joined the service. So there's been a long history of female agents doing solid jobs over the last 30 years.
SMERCONISH: A good point.
Congressman Cleaver, Dell Quentin Wilber, thank you, gentlemen.
CLEAVER: Good to be with you.
SMERCONISH: Lots more ahead on the program.
Are drunk female guests the gravest threat to fraternities? I'm going to talk to the man who wrote that in an online column for "Forbes." It got him fired. Is he blaming the women? Or could he be right?
And up next, I'll speak to the author of a new book on the scandal that ended Gary Hart's presidential ambitions. He dispenses a few myths and argues that it turned politics into fodder for tabloid journalism.
SMERCONISH: There's a fascinating new book out. It's called "All the Truth is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid" that's written by journalist Matt Bai.
Bai argues that the Gary Hart affair changed political reporting for good, that it's been tabloid ever since. He also dispels several myths about Hart's takedown. For example, he writes this. Even when insiders and historians recall the Hart episode now, they recall it the same way. Hart issued his infamous challenge to reporters telling them to follow him around if they didn't believe him. And then the Herald, the Miami Herald, took him up on it. Inexplicably people believe Hart set his own trap and then allowed himself to become ensnared in it.
Matt Bai joins me now.
Matt, why does that matter? Of what significance is it whether Hart was issuing a challenge and then "The Miami Herald" pursued him?
MATT BAI, NATIONAL POLITICAL COLUMNIST, YAHOO NEWS: You know, it's one of the things of many that are misremembered about this moment in time. Almost everything we remember it turns out is wrong and in this sense it matters a lot because if Gary Hart was the one who changed the boundaries and the rules around private lives and political careers, then it's him who invited us into the bedroom of politicians and he set the standard, and the media had no choice but to follow.
SMERCONISH: In other words, the idea at the time was hey, you know, the hell with the guy, he brought it on himself, not with infidelity but also he issued that challenge. He deserved what he got.
BAI: Right. The reality turns out to be that he did make that statement. It wasn't really a challenge, it was more of a throwaway line. But in any event he made it and it remained off limits. In other words it was in a story that was coming out and had not yet gone public when "The Miami Herald" decided to undertake surveillance of his town house and stake him out.
So they did not know about that challenge when they undertook to rewrite those rules. And I mean, you come to this moment, Michael, as you know, where the Hillary Clinton of his day, the presumed nominee of the Democratic Party, is literally backed up against a brick wall in the oil stained alley behind his house, penned in by four reporters from "The Miami Herald," who are peppering him with questions, did you -- who is the woman in the house, did you have sex with her, have you cheated on your wife?
And on that ground, in that alley, the boundaries between political and personal lives are rewritten forever. That ground really shift. And it did not happen because of Gary Hart's challenge, it happened because the reporters decided that the public needed to know.
SMERCONISH: OK. One of those reporters, Tom Fiedler, was my guest here last week. I want you to watch just a snippet of what he had to say to me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Have four reporters staked out literally in an alley, yourself included, trying to catch someone for infidelity, who was a presidential candidate, that was unprecedented. That's the point that I've tried to make.
You get the quick final word.
TOM FIEDLER, JOURNALIST: What we were doing there was actually verifying -- what we were doing there, Michael, was verifying the tip that he in fact was going to spend the weekend with Donna Rice which we verified.
SMERCONISH: A tip about fidelity.
FIEDLER: And you can only do that by actually being there, so you know, you somehow make it sound like what we were doing was out of the bounds of journalism. It was very much inbounds of what journalists do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Mr. Fiedler's point to me, Matt, was to say, hey, it was all about the lie, not infidelity, per se, it was the fact this man wanted to be commander in chief and was lying to the American people.
MATT BAI, NATIONAL POLITICAL COLUMNIST, YAHOO NEWS: The lie had to do with his comment that he had -- he would hold himself to a higher moral standard. And he was talking about Iran Contra, he was talking about the Reagan administration when he said it.
The lie is not about him saying he never cheated on his wife. He never said that. So, the question is: can moral people do immoral things? Is every lie the same as every other lie?
And Thomas basically said, you know, he believes it is and I respect him a lot. I'm not looking for a fight with Tom or anybody else. What I'm trying to do really is to tell the story, this amazing story. And, of course that, that particular issue, that lie is what leads
Paul Taylor from "The Washington Post" to stand in a bar room of crowded reporters in New Hampshire, a couple days after that incident in the alley, and he says in front of a national audience, "Senator Hart, have you ever committed adultery?" That's what they are trying to get at.
SMERCONISH: Matt --
BAI: And it's shocking to people because it's never been asked.
SMERCONISH: Matt, we have just a minute left together. What I worry about are those who are on the sidelines who could be competent public servants who maybe have a skeleton in their closet and look at the circumspection that now goes and they say, I'm not getting involved in that. I'm not putting my family through that.
Could this pendulum swing back?
BAI: I don't know. I worry about it, too, Michael. And maybe it could.
But, you know, when Gary Hart got out of the race in 1987, he tore up the speech that had been given to him that was more contrite because he was angry. And he gave a very angry speech. He says in that speech, we'll become a spectator sport in politics with the hunters and hunted. And mark my words, and he said, I fear -- I fear for the country, I tremble when I think we may get the leaders we deserved. And everybody laughed at him then and mocked him, because they said he wasn't taking responsibility for what he had done.
I think 27 years later, there are not a lot of Americans who would laugh at the sentiment that we may in fact get the leaders we deserve because of the process we created.
SMERCONISH: And for the record, he is still with his wife of more than 50 years.
Matt Bai, the book is terrific. Thank you for being here.
BAI: Anytime. Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Drunk girls at college frat parties, risky business, don't you think? Well, one columnist says it's a huge threat to the fraternity. And that got him fired. He's here to defend himself, next.
SMERCONISH: Here's a headline that caused an uproar. It was on Forbes.com, and it read, "Drunk female guests are the gravest threat to fraternities." Now, I'm going to redefine that in a couple minutes and draft it as I think it should have appeared. But here's one provocative quote from the article. "As recriminations
against fraternities mount and panicked college administrators search for an easy out, one factor doesn't seem to get sufficient analysis, drunk female guests."
The columnist who wrote that piece is with me now, Bill Frezza.
Bill, that column got you fired. Why?
BILL FREZZA, HOST OF THE REALCLEAR RADIO HOUR & INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST: Well, I had intended to write and I did write about the two things that concerned me, which is binge drinking and pre-gaming, extremely dangerous practices. I wrote the column with a male-centric perspective, some pretty harsh words, very paternalistic, directed at young men on how they should behave.
Unfortunately, it was misunderstood, mischaracterized and the ensuing frenzy was dragged off and pushed the conversation onto a different subject.
SMERCONISH: Let me give a taste of the criticism, if I may. This is from an MIT female student named Taylor Roche (ph), who wrote, "At the core of his argument meaning yours, appears to lie a disdain and disrespect for women. It is apparently women's fault that MIT's paternities are currently under a Boston and subsequently MIT required party ban that pre-gaming is a problem and that rapes are reported and prosecuted on college campuses. He seems to shout, 'how dare they?', while pointing fingers at women across college campuses."
Respond to that and tell me why were you singling out females in your analysis of this issue?
FREZZA: So, the title was designed to shock and attract attention. And get people to really understand what the real issue is, which is kids on college campuses are going to hospitals and they are dying from improper drinking. Much of this has to do with our ill-advised laws regarding the drinking age.
That's what I wrote about. I didn't write about broader issues. This tone I'm sure upset a lot of people. And that's what set off the frenzy.
SMERCONISH: Here's how I interpret it, as a guy who lived in a fraternity for three of my four undergraduate years. If there were men who were visibly intoxicated at our pub nights on Thursday night, or at our grain parties on a Saturday night, men, they got shown the door. They got thrown out. Women who were intoxicated, they were permitted to stay.
And we didn't take it upon ourselves to try and escort them home and I read your piece and interpreted as admonishment of that kind of behavior on the guys' part.
FREZZA: If you look at my piece and actually read, it says, if a female guest becomes too intoxicated, put her in a cab, send her back to a dorm and send me the bill. I also said very clearly, don't let drunk guests in the house whether they are male or female.
The reason I singled out women is because as an adviser to my fraternity, I have a great deal of influence over the men in the house, I have no influence over the women and I have witnessed hundred pound young ladies standing on line out front of the house, who know they are not going to be served once they get inside because they are under 21, chug half a bottle of vodka there on the steps, they appear sober when they arrive and within a half hour, they are passed out.
SMERCONISH: Let me throw you a life line. I'm going to redefine the headline, because I think this is what got you in trouble. "Drunk female guests are the gravest threat to fraternities." If you had to rewrite it, I'm catching you cold here, but how would you rewrite it today?
FREZZA: I would probably say, you know, colleges need a better look at how to manage binge drinking and pre-gaming, because that's the advice I give when I have written about it before, in other articles it didn't raise such a furor.
SMERCONISH: You regret the headline. I take it you don't regret the content.
FREZZA: I was shocked by the reaction to the headline. It was not reaction I was looking for.
SMERCONISH: All right. Here is my headline. Ready? There's nothing fraternal in taking advantage of guests.
Does that sum it up better?
FREZZA: That's a very good headline and it's a very good subject. But that's not what I was admonishing them against because the boys in the house don't take advantage. I was looking for them to protect the people there and protect themselves.
SMERCONISH: Well, but if their co-ed guests they are taking advantage. That's what I was trying to say as I played your editor. You get final word on this. Go ahead.
FREZZA: It's very difficult to discuss these complex subjects in the environment that we create on campus now such having political correctness. We need to look at our drinking laws in this country, we need to consider changing them so that college students can get access to less dangerous forms of alcohol, particularly beer, the way they do it in Germany with the younger drinking age for beer than distilled spirits, and we need to encourage people to drink responsibly because if we tell them not to drink at all, they're not going to listen to us.
SMERCONISH: Bill Frezza, thank you. We appreciate you being here.
FREZZA: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: I want you to look at this young man, because this young man could be in big trouble for what he's about to do in this video that went viral. But will the punishment fit the crime? I'll have that story, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: This guy kicked a cat and could face a year behind bars. That's the story of Andre Robinson, a New York City man. The incident was caught on video and it's gone viral.
I want to issue a warning. We're going to show the video, so turn away if you don't want to see it or you don't want your kids to see it.
The video shows Robinson reaching down to the cat before violently kicking it, hurling the defenseless animal through the air while Robinson's friends, they all howl with laughter.
He is charged with animal cruelty. That's a misdemeanor. Robinson has stirred up the ire not only of the Brooklyn district attorney who says he takes the case seriously, but also animal rights activists who want the book thrown at him.
Gary Francione is a law professor at Rutgers, a nationally renowned animal rights activist and once upon a time my torts professor at the Penn Law School.
Gary, as I think about this, would Andre Robinson be in so much trouble if he kicked a person?
GARY FRANCIONE, LAW PROFESSOR, RUTGERS SCHOOL OF LAW: Probably not, Michael. I mean, if he kicked somebody and didn't seriously injure the person, the police probably wouldn't even have responded to a call. I mean, it wouldn't -- nothing would have happened.
SMERCONISH: He probably would have been offer add plea deal and certainly wouldn't look at jail time. So, make the argument that in this case --
FRANCIONE: Actually I would -- I would say the police probably wouldn't have even charged him, let alone looking at a plea deal.
FRANCIONE: I mean, I don't think anybody would have taken this seriously at all.
I mean, look, Michael. Let me be clear: I think what this guy did is wrong. And you know, no doubt about it it's wrong. But there's a certain amount of lynch mob and hatemongering about this guy that actually frankly makes me uncomfortable, because a lot is reflecting some racism.
I mean, it's much the same as Michael Vick's situation, where people are really outraged at what they did, and there's a lot of really vehement criticism that gets close to, if not, you know, becomes racism.
But the problem, Michael, is that you know, we are morally schizophrenic when it comes to animals. We kill 58 billion land animals a year, probably a trillion sea animals. These are animals that are sanctioned. They are subjectively aware.
They are capable of feeling pain. They value their lives and we eat them and the best justification we have is that they taste good.
SMERCONISH: Let me ask you, Professor, about another aspect of our schizophrenia. What occurs to me about this case is that a cat, you correct me where I'm wrong, is regarded as chattel, personal property, God forbid if the cat were taken to the vet and there were an incident of malpractice, the person's redress would be limited to whatever they paid for the cat and that would be it, much like if it were a table lamp.
So, in that regard the law says this is just personal property, yet with regard to Mr. Robinson, he now perhaps faces significant punishment for having kicked the personal property. It doesn't seem as if the law squares on both those levels.
Do you follow my question?
FRANCIONE: Animals have no value except the value that we accord to them. So, Yes, I mean I think there's something very, very strange going on. Look, if they put this guy in jail, it makes us feel better. It makes us feel that we're humane and he's inhumane.
But the reality is, we're all Andre Robinson, those of us who are consuming animal products, and you know, eating them and wearing them and using them or whatever, we're participating in the same sort of direct harm to these animals --
SMERCONISH: I get it. The argument is they locked him up, we can go back and enjoy our steak now.
FRANCIONE: Yes, exactly. Look, Michael, there are going to be people watching this who are eating their animal food while they are watching --
FRANCIONE: -- the segment shaking their heads saying -- yes, exactly, outraged. Saying you know, and Michael, you remember from law school, that it doesn't really matter whether you shoot the person or you pay somebody else to shoot the person.
So, the fact that Andre Robinson did it directly or Michael Vick did it directly and we go to the supermarket and buy our steak or eggs or dairy or whatever, it doesn't make it morally different. It's morally problematic. We've got a problem. We've got a serious problem in terms of how we think about animal ethics.
SMERCONISH: Professor, good to see you.
FRANCIONE: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: You look good. By the way, we called Mr. Robinson's attorney for comment and he did
not return our call. The good news is that the cat is healthy and was adopted.
Up next, the widow of an officer shot and killed in the line of duty is outraged after a little known college chooses her husband's convicted murderer for a college graduation speaker. I refuse to name the school. And up next, I'll tell you why.
SMERCONISH: On Sunday, a college in New England that you have never heard of is going to celebrate commencement exercises for 20 students, and they have chosen a convicted cop killer as their speaker. He is not going to be there physically. He's serving a life sentence without parole in Pennsylvania. Instead, he's used his telephone access to record a message.
Mumia Abu Jamal is a murderer. For years, people have taken up this killer's cause and turned him into a hero. These people appear to be completely ignorant of what actually happened in his case.
Look, in 2008, I wrote a memoir about the window of this murdered officer, a book called "Murdered by Mumia", which was a "New York Times" bestseller. I accepted no proceeds from the sale of the book.
But let me tell you the real story. On December 9, 1981, at about 4:00 a.m., 25-year-old Daniel Faulkner was executed while making what seemed like a routine traffic stop. Faulkner pulled over the brother of Abu Jamal, William Cook, who was driving his car the wrong way on a one way street. Abu Jamal saw the police stop from across the street.
Four eyewitnesses testified at trial as to what happened next. Their testimony portrayed a horrific sequence. Abu Jamal ran across the street, shot the officer in the back and then finally between the eyes. Before the final fatal shot, officer Faulkner himself discharged his gun hitting Abu Jamal in the stomach and with that bullet, you could say he confirmed the identity of his executioner.
When police arrived, Abu Jamal was still wearing his shoulder holster. The murder weapon was registered to Abu Jamal. He purchased it has a local sporting goods store.
Ballistics tests verified that the bullets found in Abu Jamal's gun were the same caliber, brand and type as the fatal bullet removed from the police officer's brain. Both men were taken to a local ER. Faulkner was pronounced dead. Abu Jamal was heard my multiple witnesses to say, "I shot the MF-er and I hope the MF-er he dies."
So, the case had eyewitnesses, a ballistics match and a confession.
Danny Faulkner left behind a young widow, Maureen, who for three decades has had to stand up to a torrent of lies and information -- misinformation about the case. And for reasons that have never made sense, Abu Jamal has been championed the world over by death penalty opponents. Whenever I'm educating someone about the case, in addition to what
I've already told you, I always like to point one fact. Abu Jamal's brother, William Cook, he saw it all. His words to police upon their arrival were "I ain't got nothing do with it." And he's never testified on his brother's behalf.
Let me say that again -- the brother of the man convicted of killing the cop has himself never taken to the stand to tell a different story and he was there.
In 1982, a multiracial jury heard the case. They convicted Abu Jamal and then they sentenced him to death. For a quarter century, an endless cycle of Abu Jamal appeals made a mockery of the judicial system. His defense team attracted a long list of the celebrity supporters, Ed Asner, Whoopi Goldberg, Mike Farrell (ph), are among them.
A street was renamed for him in France. NPR gave him a radio show and he wrote several books. This all after he was convicted of murdering a cop.
Now, back at home in Philadelphia, Abu Jamal was never able to cultivate community support except from some fringe types. People at home, they know what happened. They don't buy into the Hollywood lure.
In 2011, Abu Jamal's death sentence was ultimately overturned on a technicality. He is currently serving life without parole. Abu Jamal will die in jail. That's a fate for civilized than that which he offered to Danny Faulkner.
Sadly, the idea that he would be a college commencement speaker is not unprecedented. It happened in 1999 in the state of Washington, and again in the year 2000 at a school in Ohio. I attended the second of those events with Maureen Faulkner, in protests of what was taking place.
And what I recall most from that experience 14 years ago was concluding that the students desperately wanted attention. They loved the media spectacle their invitation generated, which is why now I will not identify the Vermont college that on Sunday will disrespect the police officer murdered in a line of duty. It's bad enough that for 32 years, Abu Jamal has succeed in making it all about him.
Thank you so much for joining me. Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter as long as you can spell Smerconish.
I'll see you next week.