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Cain's Accuser Seize Spotlight; Perry's Forget-Me-Not Blitz; Penn State Scandal
Aired November 13, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: A murky story that began with anonymous accusers has now morphed into a major media extravaganza. No sooner did Sharon Bialek step in front of the cameras this week to graphically accuse Herman Cain of sexual advances, then the Republican candidate went on the offensive in denying the allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SHARON BIALEK, CAIN ACCUSER: I'm not a liar. And everyone that knows me knows I speak the truth.
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The voters have voted with their dollars, and they are saying they don't care about the character assassination.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Is the press now helping to put Sharon Bialek on trial? Should a Rupert Murdoch publication have outed a second victim against her will?
And we'll talk to a journalist who went public with her own tales of harassment and was deluged by women with similar complaints.
We'll also turn to this sickening child abuse tragedy at Penn State that forced out legendary coach Joe Paterno.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE PATERNO, FORMER PENN STATE FOOTBALL COACH: I'm out of it maybe now. A phone call put me out of it. But we'll go from here, OK? Good luck, everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why did many journalists put this 84-year-old man on a pedestal? Do the media apply different standards to college football?
We'll ask "Friday Night Lights" author Buzz Bissinger, sports writer Christine Brennan, and "Sports Illustrated's" Jack McCallum, who says he was fooled by the former coach accused of abusing young boys.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. (MUSIC)
KURTZ: For all the media coverage of the accusations swirling around Herman Cain, it was not clear just precisely what he was alleged to have done. That is until Sharon Bialek stepped forward this week. She went before the cameras to accuse the presidential candidate not just of harassment but of pushing his hand under her skirt and pushing her head toward his crotch. This, allegedly, in a parked car 14 years ago when she was looking for a job.
And Bialek, as much as Cain, quickly found herself under media scrutiny.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BIALEK: I was very, very surprised and very shocked. I said, "What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend. This isn't what I came here for." Mr. Cain said, "You want a job, right?"
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: He's saying flat out you're a liar.
BIALEK: I'm not a liar. And everyone that knows me knows I speak the truth. And that's why I came here, because I wouldn't do something I didn't feel so strongly about. I was not paid to come forward, nor was I promised any employment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have filed for bankruptcy twice. Is your coming forward a part of any financial motivation?
BIALEK: Absolutely not. There were no skeletons in my closet. I told her that this may come up, and I expected this. This is -- this is what happens. It's not about me. I'm not the one running for president.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Cain called her account bogus and false in a news conference, but he also made charges he couldn't back up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: You made several mentions to the machine, the Democratic machine. Who are these people? Who is involved in this? Is it a conspiracy?
CAIN: I cannot -- I cannot say that it is a conspiracy. We do not have definitive, factual proof.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And when CNBC's Maria Bartiromo raised the issue at a Republican debate this week, the crowd had an instant reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA BARTIROMO, DEBATE MODERATOR: In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here, we're focusing on character and on judgment.
BARTIROMO: You've been a CEO.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, have the media adequately challenged Cain's denials, and are they putting his accusers on trial?
Joining us now here in Washington: Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune"; Lauren Ashburn, former managing editor "USA Today" and a contributor to "The Huffington Post"; and Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller."
Clarence Page, you heard Cain say character assassination. Did the media now decide that they can't disprove Cain's denials and maybe just quote them and time to move on?
CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, that the media would like to move on, I suppose. But, you know, we didn't create this story. We're covering it.
The public has questions to -- that they want to have answered. But what's been interesting this week, though, is that these other stories have come along -- Joe Paterno's story, the story about Rick Perry's flubbed --
KURTZ: Which we'll get to.
PAGE: Which, and indeed. I think, Herman Cain got a break in that sense. But he's still out there campaigning.
KURTZ: And I thought he got a break from Bartiromo who didn't follow up when he said character assassination. Excuse me, Mr. Cain, character assassination? Didn't your former association settle two harassment complaints against these two women?
Lauren Ashburn, has the harsh media scrutiny, the harsh spotlight, now shifted toward the women who are saying that Herman Cain acted, to say the least, inappropriately?
LAUREN ASHBURN, THE HUFFINGTON POST: Most definitely, Howie. This is character assassination.
And this happens to women all the time who come forward and say, hey, look, this behavior is inappropriate. And as soon as that happens, the men go right for those women and say, OK, well, your job performance isn't great. You've got bankruptcy issues.
You've got -- you know, you were dressing provocatively. That's my favorite one. Oh, well, you deserve it because you were dressed provocatively. KURTZ: But I do get the sense, Matt Lewis, that journalists are backing off, not just because other stories have come to the fore, but because Cain blamed the media repeatedly and he stayed pretty high in the polls. You heard those boos at the debate.
What's your take?
MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: Well, I think ultimately the problem for the media is that there is no stained blue dress. We do know that a decade ago, that these two, you know, accusations were made and that settlements were made. But that's all we know. We don't have any proof or evidence.
KURTZ: Wait, wait --
ASHBURN: Are you kidding me? I'm sorry. I mean, no proof or evidence? I mean, these women are coming forward. It's their word.
In all of these issues, it always becomes a he said/she said.
ASHBURN: So, basically right now what you're saying is you're taking the advantage -- you're taking the he said point of view.
LEWIS: No, I'm saying that if someone is accused, that they're innocent until proven guilty. And you're assuming that Cain is guilty. I'm assuming that I don't know he's guilty. I don't --
ASHBURN: I'm not assuming he's guilty. I'm just saying we need to take these women seriously.
LEWIS: I agree. I would agree with you on that. I don't know that we're in disagreement.
KURTZ: Just briefly, you seem to be setting a pretty high standard since often there is only circumstantial evidence in this case. I mean, there are four women and two legal settlements. That if there's no semen, it can't be proven?
LEWIS: What I'm saying, and this isn't my opinion of what ought to be. This is based on what will the public believe, and the court of public opinion. And I'm of the opinion that if there were no stained blue dress, Bill Clinton would not have been impeached.
Likewise, I think Herman Cain was definitely damaged by these accusations. But I don't know that they're deadly to his political future unless there is some sort of proof, because anybody can accuse -- you could be accused, I could be accused.
ASHBURN: Oh, my gosh. I can't believe I'm hearing it.
PAGE: I strongly disagree. Let's not treat this like a criminal case. Herman Cain is not on trial, he hasn't been indicted. He is running for president. And when you're running for president, you're looking for public's approval. He right now is losing points with a lot of people. And, sure, you got folks out there who are ravenous Herman Cain fans saying, yes, I know, attack the media. But Herman Cain himself has not handled this well.
LEWIS: I agree.
PAGE: Exactly. You agree. You see, there's questions coming up about Herman Cain's --
LEWIS: He's flubbed the politics.
KURTZ: I want to get off how Cain is handling it, and I'm going to come back to the media question because we have another development this week in which Karen Kraushaar, who is one of these two women who had filed the complaint back in the '90s when she worked at the National Restaurant Association, which Cain headed, and wanted to remain anonymous, was outed by the Rupert Murdoch iPad magazine "The Daily," and some other news organizations followed suit.
Did that bother you?
ASHBURN: It's disgusting.
PAGE: It bothers me to out anybody against their will. You have to raise real questions about that. But perhaps there's a certain inevitability to it. Her identity is known now, and I think she's handling it well. That's the way these stories move.
ASHBURN: All the reporting I've done on this, women want to remain anonymous. They don't want their future careers to be on the line. Even -- I had even somebody who went on the record with me say, no, wait a minute, I can't do this because I don't want someone to think I'm a troublemaker.
You know, if you raise these allegations -- and so -- for the media to come out and say, OK, I'm going to name you when you've asked to be anonymous I think is reprehensible.
KURTZ: She did give a statement to "The New York Times" once her name was leaked. And this is a woman who works at -- is a spokeswoman at the Treasury Department. And I was troubled by the fact that "The Daily" decided that it didn't care what she thought. We're just going to put her name out there.
And then the wild charges that have really marked the story, let's take a look at this footage of Herman Cain's chief of staff, Mark Block, talking on FOX News about this very subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK BLOCK, HERMAN CAIN'S CHIEF OF STAFF: Karen Kraushaar had come out as one of the women, and we have come to find that her son works at "Politico," the organization that originally put the story up --
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Can you confirm that? I've been hearing that all day, rumors about that. You've confirmed that now, right?
BLOCK: We've confirmed it with -- he does indeed work at "Politico." And that's his mother. Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Absolutely false. I wouldn't say the last name. I used to work at "Politico," no relation to Karen Kraushaar. This is an environment in which lots of stuff gets thrown around.
LEWIS: Yes. And Mark Block is guilty of political malpractice. I think Herman -- I'm not alone, I think that Herman Cain very -- ought to give serious consideration as to whether or not he should stay on as his chief of staff. And by the way --
KURTZ: And how did he challenge him, how did he --
LEWIS: Yes, and to his credit. Not only did Mark Block go on national television and made this accusation which is probably false, I think they also accused Rick Perry, his campaign, of being the leak to "Politico." They later sort of walked it back. That was devastating to Herman Cain because up until that point, conservatives were rallying to his defense, and now he's attacking another Republican and muddied the waters.
ASHBURN: What's so upsetting here I think is that there are two sides and that we allow these two sides to say whatever they want on television without saying ahead of time, look, if you're going to name this person, you better back it up.
KURTZ: And here's one more -- and commentators, of course, happy to fuel the fire. Here's the analyst Toure speaking, I believe, on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOURE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We're going to see how open the GOP is to this black -- their new black friend when they find out that he's harassing blonde women as opposed to black women. That sort of thing of black sexuality, predatory black sexuality, very frightening in this country still. Very threatening. So, we'll see how that plays out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Did the media coverage change when we found out that two of the women are white?
PAGE: It didn't. And I think to everybody's credit -- I was rather disappointed with Toure who I have a lot of respect for. Just come out with an excellent book on the whole issue of post-blackness, post-racial America. And then he hops over to the racial thing like the barber shop. I mean, yes, in black barber shop, people will talk about that kind of thing, you know, Cain's in trouble now --
ASHBURN: A woman is a woman is a woman is a woman is a woman, I'm sorry.
KURTZ: But in the real world if a woman is blonde or not blonde, or attractive or not attractive, does it affect the way people talk and report on the story?
ASHBURN: Well, it shouldn't.
KURTZ: You're saying it shouldn't. But does it?
ASHBURN: Well, I think maybe yes. But in this instance I agree with Clarence. I don't believe it did.
But I think that the women who get it the most, who get attacked the most, are the ones who people say, oh, well, she's really good- looking or she dresses provocatively, or you can see part of her bosom, or she has blonde hair and it's hanging in her face. And it's because of the way that they look that people come after them.
KURTZ: We're going to talk more about sexual harassment later in this program. I want to turn to one other issue before we go to break, and that is John Dickerson of Slate now, the CBS news political director. He wrote an e-mail before last night's CBS presidential debate about Michele Bachmann, whether she was going to come on a web show.
And he wrote -- I think we've got that, we can put it up on the screen -- OK, let's keep it loose, though, since she's not going to get many questions and she's nearly off the charts, in the hopes that maybe we can get someone else.
Bachmann came out and said this was an example of media bias. Her campaign manager called Dickerson a piece of excrement who should be fired. I think he was just recognizing that Michele Bachmann is not exactly the top of the polls.
What's your take, Matt Lewis?
LEWIS: I agree, I mean it's unfortunate that that e-mail that was supposed to be internal email --
ASHBURN: Reply all -- oh, no.
LEWIS: But look, let's be honest. I mean, we -- it is a fact of life. I think that these debates, you can question the debate format, are these helpful? But all the networks know that if you're not polling well, if you're not seen as relevant, you're going to get less questions, and that's what this is. KURTZ: As it turns out, Congresswoman Bachmann got almost as many questions as the frontrunners.
All right. When we come back, Rick Perry suddenly doing lots of TV interviews as he tries to make people forget about -- forget about that thing he did in the debate.
KURTZ: On ABC's "This Week" this morning, columnist George Will made an announcement, a disclosure that already leaked out, that his wife, Mari Maseng, is going to work for the Rick Perry campaign.
Now, Will has been ripping the Romney campaign and calling Mitt Romney the pretzel candidate.
Christiane Amanpour didn't ask the obvious question which is, does this cast any doubt, create a perception problem, on Will as a commentator if his wife is working for one of the candidates in the campaign he's writing about?
ASHBURN: I think he's a commentator, and a lot of people would make a difference, Howie. Not everybody, but a lot of people would say he's a commentator. We know where he stands on this.
However, I think that it's very important in the media that there is transparency. We demand that of other people. We demand that of our government, the Freedom of Information Act and the Sunshine law.
KURTZ: He did talk about it on the air.
ASHBURN: Right. But would he have if "Politico" hadn't written the story that said, oh, hey, by the way, his wife is working there.
And, you know, Fred Hiatt now, to the credit, has said -- editor of "The Washington Post" -- has said, we're going to put this on every byline of his.
KURTZ: Fred Hiatt is the editor of "The Washington Post."
Rick Perry got lots of airtime this week. Let's take a brief look at his comedy stylings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The third agency of government, I would -- I would do away with: Education, the Commerce -- and let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Boy, no one wants pity from an opponent, but you did look like you were in pain during that answer last night. What were you thinking about?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all due respect, what were you thinking last night, Governor?
PERRY: I think I made an error last night. I stepped in it, is what my wife would have said. And she was correct.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: I'm not going to ask you, Matt Lewis, whether this was overplayed because this is the worst brain freeze I've ever seen in a presidential debate. But would this have been treated as big a story if Mitt Romney couldn't think of the third agency -- just play to the stereotype of Perry as not being the sharpest knife in the drawer?
LEWIS: That's exactly right. I mean, the worst scandals, the worst flubs, are when they reinforce a narrative people already suspect about you.
But I do think it was overplayed. And Twitter, all the journalists I follow were declaring it over for Rick Perry.
ASHBURN: The final nail in the coffin.
LEWIS: Yes, the reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. He's handled it well with a self-deprecating humor. It's not over for him.
KURTZ: And that's what I was going to ask you, Clarence Page. By going on all five morning shows, by doing the top 10 list on Letterman --could he almost be turning this into a positive, showing that he can laugh at himself?
PAGE: Well, it could. But, you know, this is going to be interesting to see how this plays out in this case because Perry is still so new to the national public that it's unfortunate for him if they constantly associate him with moments of humor, you know? So, whereas some folks like a Bill Clinton or a Barack Obama may be able to spin things around by going on "Letterman," I don't know if it will play out the same way for Perry.
ASHBURN: But why aren't we talking about what he is saying? That he wants to eliminate three agencies?
KURTZ: You say the media should focus more on substance than on the fact that he couldn't get --
ASHBURN: Come on.
LEWIS: Get rid of five agencies.
ASHBURN: Come on, let's talk about that.
KURTZ: All right. Maybe next week.
KURTZ: Matt Lewis and Clarence Page, thanks for joining us.
Up next, Lauren Ashburn on what happened when she decided to speak out about sexual harassment.
KURTZ: The furor over Herman Cain has sparked a journalistic debate about sexual harassment, a very personal debate with many women speaking out about incidents they've never discussed in public. And one of them is Lauren Ashburn.
How much did you wrestle with whether to go public about being harassed in your own career?
ASHBURN: Oh, I wrestled with it back-and-forth. But when I saw the way that she was being handled, Herman Cain's accuser was being handled, I just blew my top because I thought how can you attack her character and her credibility? And I'm going to speak out and say that this happens to women all the time, but I'm not going to name who, I'm still going to be anonymous about what happened and when it happened.
KURTZ: Well, you wrote pretty explicitly about what happened. You wrote about being in a New York taxi with a business client. What happened there?
ASHBURN: He reached over and grabbed my knee and said, boy, if we were alone, we'd have a lot of fun.
KURTZ: And what did your boss once say to you about his boss?
ASHBURN: His boss said, hey, you have a nice rack, this boss of mine says --
KURTZ: He's telling you --
ASHBURN: He's telling me this, that his boss said to him, hey, that Lauren Ashburn has a nice rack -- my boss tells me as he's looking at my breasts.
KURTZ: How did that make you feel?
ASHBURN: Well, it makes you feel like a piece of meat. And it also makes you think, OK, why am I in this job? And what's going to happen to me if I say something? What happens if I go to -- who am I going to go to?
You know, if I go to H.R., for example, and say, hey, this guy looked at me funny and made this comment -- are they going to brush it under the rug as has happened to so many women? Do you want to be labeled as a troublemaker? You know, what are they going to give you? A couple thousand dollars? How are you going to find another job?
KURTZ: So you felt at the time and you even feel now because you didn't name the names, that blowing the whistle, filing a complaint, pointing a finger, would come back to haunt you?
ASHBURN: Howie, I don't say it's the right thing to do. I'm not proud that I kept my mouth shut. I'm a very vocal person. And I'm not saying that women shouldn't do it. And I applaud women who do it.
KURTZ: And lots of women do complain. And sometimes they get a fair settlement.
ASHBURN: And they get a fair settlement, that's right. But there are -- women came out of the woodwork, sending me emails about how they were asked to sleep with their bosses, and tried to manage it and didn't, and ultimately found another job. And one woman said that, you know, she came in to an editorial meeting, and somebody made a very lewd comment about where she could sit. And, you know, it goes on and on and on.
KURTZ: I was wondering how you were going to handle that.
ASHBURN: Yes, I didn't -- yes, read the article --
KURTZ: OK. But -- when you wrote about this for my Web site, "The Daily Beast," your inbox practically exploded. And did you have the impression that women wanted to tell someone?
KURTZ: I mean, some of these incidents must have happened 10, 20 years ago.
ASHBURN: Yes, 10, 20-- and some of them are very recent. Even my mother had a story. I don't think I'll get into it, because it involves underwear and my mother. And I really can't do that.
But anyway, I think that, you know, people want to tell their story as long as it's anonymous. I spoke to a woman who actually did say something.
KURTZ: Meaning that she spoke to you on the record?
ASHBURN: She spoke to me on the record. She did say something to her boss after she was sexually harassed several times --
KURTZ: And this is a woman who was at a university, I presume some years earlier. And you write about this. She said there was a guy there who was giving her a lot of unwanted attention. Patted her upper thigh, robbed his crotch on her shoulder, snapped her bra strap, and then she came forward.
ASHBURN: She came forward, she went to the dean. And the dean said, how would he know where your bra strap is?
At that point, she thought, who's going to believe me if this guy doesn't believe me? She even had a witness. So, she left. She quit, as many women do. She quit, and from that moment on in her life, always worked for female-oriented companies.
KURTZ: And you're not saying that every single complaint is valid. And obviously we don't know about Herman Cain--
ASHBURN: No, I'm not.
KURTZ: But you are saying that women who come forward, and you've wrestled with this yourself, pay a very high price. And I wonder if the coverage really reflects that.
ASHBURN: What do you mean if the coverage reflects that?
KURTZ: Well, I mean -- for example, you know, some of the people who are minimizing, talking about --
ASHBURN: I see --
KURTZ: -- they're talking -- Mary Matalin was on the air talking about there's a grievance industry now for feminists who are easily offended. And here, let me just play for you --
ASHBURN: No --
KURTZ: Let me play for you. Let me just play for you, Dick Morris and Sean Hannity talking on FOX the other day about Sharon Bialek, the woman who has now accused Herman Cain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK MORRIS: I look forward to her spread in "Playboy."
HANNITY: That said, do you think that this is really about money?
MORRIS: Yes, sure, it is. She's been unemployed for 13 years. She's been sued a million times. Of course, it's about money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ASHBURN: You know, that's what women fear the most, is the character assassination, is that, all of a sudden, you say something, and the camera and the lens turns on to you -- you as a person. You -- how you've lived your life and what kind of money you want. And why are you doing this, and is it a political gain, is it notoriety?
And -- and is it worth it? In many women's instances, in cases, it's just not worth it. You don't want to be defined. You don't want to live your life based on the fact that you confronted a harasser.
KURTZ: Are you glad you spoke out about these very personal instances? You have mixed feelings?
ASHBURN: I have mixed feelings about it, right, because who knows what could happen? These men know who they are. You know, who knows?
KURTZ: So -- even years later or in some cases more recently, there could be repercussions.
ASHBURN: Of course, and many women say that. Many women, the woman who went on the record with me who asked not to be named is worried that she'll be seen as a troublemaker. And I think most women feel that way.
But we need to drive the national conversation on this. It's a very gray area. And things need to be changed.
KURTZ: Well, you've done your part here this morning. Lauren Ashburn, thanks very much for stopping by.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the child abuse tragedy that has tainted Penn State and its legendary football coach. Why did so many journalists revere Joe Paterno?
Plus, "Sports Illustrated's" Jack McCollum on his mea culpa for what he wrote about the assistant former coach now accused of rape.
And later, just how did NBC get that interview with the doctor convicted of giving a fatal drug to Michael Jackson?
KURTZ: The story is a difficult one for me, to be perfectly honest, because the details are so sickening. News outlets are describing what happened at Penn State as a scandal, yes, but it goes so much deeper than that.
Former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, charged with child rape. A graduate student, an eyewitness who saw a 10-year-old boy being violated, never went to police.
He did tell coach, Joe Paterno, who also did not tell police. Sandusky had little to say when a local reporter went to his home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us if you had any inappropriate relations with young boys, sir?
JERRY SANDUSKY, FORMER ASSISTANT FOOTBALL COACH: You didn't hear what I said. I said I've been advised by my attorney. I am following orders. And I am not privy to making any statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The uproar has led to the firing of university president Graham Spanier. But most of the media attention is falling on the man who coached the Penn State team for 45 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. It's not the way you'd expect a football legend to leave.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: College football's most legendary active coach, Penn State's Joe Paterno, may be on his way out tonight in the wake of these revelations about a child sex abuse scandal involving one of his assistant coaches at Penn State.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC ANCHOR: What a hairy night at Penn State. A little after 10:00 p.m., the trustees come out with a dramatic announcement. Coach Joe Paterno, fired, the university president fired, all for their role in the child abuse scandal there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: As we see there, word of Paterno's dismissal sparked a riot at the Pennsylvania campus, with much of the angry directed at the media. Angry students overturned a satellite truck and threw bottles and rocks at reporters and photographers.
Joining us now to examine the coverage of the Penn State tragedy and what I would call the coddling of college sports, here in Washington, Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today," and a sports commentator for ABC News. And in Philadelphia, Buzz Bissinger, contributing editor for "Vanity Fair."
Buzz Bissinger, you wrote about this for "The Daily Beast." You wrote about a 10-year-old boy in the shower and you used very graphic language. Why?
BUZZ BISSINGER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "VANITY FAIR": Well, because, you know, the grand jury report, where a lot of this information comes from, is very clinical. I understand that.
But I just feel the terms that they use, you know, "oral sex," "anal intercourse," just don't get across the alleged brutality of what Mr. Sandusky did.
And I felt that -- let's call it for what it is, because this was nothing less than child rape. Molestation doesn't cut it in terms of what he was alleged to have done and apparently was seen to have done in a shower by a graduate assistant coach, who was not a kid. He was 28 years old. And I just felt -- and I thought about it hard. It was not gratuitous. The public needed to know what we're talking about.
KURTZ: Does -- are the media kind of glossing over the sexual details, Christine? Because it makes everybody uncomfortable.
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": It does make everybody uncomfortable, but Buzz is absolutely right. I used the word "rape" as soon as I was able to read the grand jury report which was Saturday, early afternoon -- early evening.
And I am surprised that more people haven't used that term. That is what it is, plain and simple. And I think if we're not using those terms, Howie, then I think it allows people to back off a little and kind of go into that nice cocoon of loving Joe Pa and loving sports. Clearly, that was blown out of the water, you know, by Monday or Tuesday, most places. But still, you wonder about how we look at this through this prism of sports.
KURTZ: And speaking of loving Joe Paterno, Buzz, you wrote a column two months ago saying that Paterno was too old and weak and selfish and needed to resign.
BISSINGER: He was.
KURTZ: But the media just loved this guy.
BISSINGER: Well, a lot of the media love this guy. Certainly, the older reporters love this guy. I think some of the younger reporters began to see him get crankier and crankier.
You know, when asked any real question about football, which really doesn't matter at this point, was generally non-responsive. He was an endangerment to himself. He kept getting hurt by opposing players or his own players colliding into him.
He was up in the press box. He's getting increasingly frail. It was hubris and arrogance, just like any person in power. It's like Rupert Murdoch. It's like J. Edgar Hoover.
They don't know when to quit, and Joe really felt, "I will dictate the terms of when I quit, when I retire. I am Joe Paterno. I am Penn State." And he wasn't a very good football coach anymore.
And by the way, that's all he was at the end -- was a football coach. The most significant firing, which nobody talks about, is Graham Spanier, the president.
KURTZ: I was about to ask you about that, Christine Brennan. This is a guy who ran the university. And you know, he's almost an afterthought. Much -- some of the coverage has certainly focused on Jerry Sandusky. But if you look at the headlines and the leads and the network newscasts, it's all Paterno.
BRENNAN: Well, if it's a sports story, Paterno is the lead, because whoever would have thought we'd hear the words "Penn State fires Joe Paterno." Of course, he absolutely should have been fired. I wrote before he was fired that he should be fired.
KURTZ: And he was talking about, "Oh, maybe I'll just serve out the rest of the season."
BRENNAN: Right. I want to let the trustees worry about other things. That was so self-serving and disgusting, and I can't believe that there wasn't PR help, not that we worry about that side of it, but I just -- you know, the appalling nature of how Penn State handled this.
But going back to Graham Spanier, of course, the boss of Joe Paterno, who also was informed, of course, of something -- he's saying that he didn't hear about the word "rape" in the grand jury testimony. But the fact that he -- Howie, he read those 23 pages of the grand jury report, and then he goes out and calls the allegations, the charges groundless, and unconditionally stands by the athletic director Curley and the vice president Schultz.
That's just unbelievable to me that -- and it shows the groupthink, and it shows how pervasive college football is, that Spanier could also think that this is just fine and call it groundless.
KURTZ: The media, of course, protect child victims in these kinds of cases, as well we should. But one thing that made it very real was when the mother of one of these victims spoke on ABC to George Stephanopoulos with her voice disguised and you don't see her. I want to play for you a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: How would you and your son like to see this end? What would you like to see happen?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want justice. I want him -- I want him to be locked up. There's no help for somebody that does this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And this just reminds us, Buzz, that families are devastated by what went on, and of course, the university turning a blind eye for so many years.
BISSINGER: Well, I mean, families are devastated. It is why I used the graphic language, to get across what was done to these victims. I mean, you're exactly right. Christine is right.
I mean, Sandusky -- first of all, I don't know how he got out on $100,000 bail. I have no idea how that happened. I think that was part of a good old boys network of Penn State.
He has been sort of shunted aside. If you read the grand jury report -- yes, we will use the word "alleged" -- this man was raping. He raped one child, forced oral sex to another child.
What is so horrific is the cover-up goes back to 1998. It goes back to '98, when a woman spoke to him, and he admitted to fondling her son in the shower with a police officer present.
The worst thing is Vice President Schultz read the report for the Penn State police and did nothing. Did nothing. This guy was allowed -- he was a professor emeritus, basically.
What the hell is an assistant coach doing as a professor emeritus? Free reign to everything. So back to '98, they're basically saying, "Oh, it's Jerry Sandusky, 29 years defensive coach, linebacker, you," and look what happened.
KURTZ: Obviously, journalists didn't know about this for all these years. But back in March, the "Harrisburg Patriot-News" reported that Jerry Sandusky was under investigation for a sexual assault, that Paterno had testified before the grand jury.
The national media just didn't pick it up, totally asleep at the switch in my view. What is it about the coverage of college football that basically turns some of these people into demigods?
BRENNAN: Certainly, there's a lot of small-town coverage. And the football coaches can -- you can make the case that Joe Paterno is bigger than the police, bigger than the president of the university, maybe bigger than the governor and that --
KURTZ: And Harrisburg -- the editor of the "Harrisburg" --
BISSINGER: Definitely bigger than the governor.
KURTZ: Said that a lot of readers were angry when they reported the grand jury investigation, because why are you tearing down somebody who's bigger than the governor?
BRENNAN: What I hope here, Howie, is that this is the wake-up call that everyone needs. Enough with the sycophantic coverage of these guys. This is, I think, the worst scandal I've ever seen in 30 years of covering sports, and disgusting, sickening -- everything.
And if there's something good out of this, it's that sports journalism starts to emphasize the journalism again.
KURTZ: In our final minute, Buzz, what do you think about that?
BISSINGER: I really hope Christine is right. I think it's good that she feels that way. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening. I said the Penn State season should continue. However, the media coverage that I've seen, and I was worried about this, was finally catharsis for Penn State.
Look at how well they handled themselves. That was the gist of the Bob Ford column in "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Imagine, there are hundreds of easy columns like this.
They had a wonderful day yesterday, and it will detract -- it will detract from the horror of what happened. You know, I hope this is a turning point, but too many papers, reporters, revere these coaches and just want them to like them.
They don't really believe in distance, and this is the horror of what happened. Joe Pa got away with murder in a sense -- Nick Sabin, all these guys -- Urban Meyer, all these guys. All these guys.
KURTZ: All right. Buzz Bissinger, Christine Brennan -- a very difficult subject, a very emotional subject. Thanks for joining us this morning.
After the break, he once wrote a glowing article about Jerry Sandusky. "Sports Illustrated's" Jack McCallum on how he was fooled by the former Penn State coach.
KURTZ: "Sports Illustrated" ran quite a positive piece 12 years ago on Jerry Sandusky, who was then stepping down as assistant football coach at Penn State. Sandusky was drawing praise at the time for starting a foundation to work with at-risk kids.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDUSKY: We thought that if we could help a handful of kids, we would do that. And then the staff and people have looked at the resources we had, at the needs that existed and grown and reached out and touched so many kids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Those words sound very different today now that Sandusky has been accused of sexually abusing -- of actually -- of raping a number of young boys.
And the author of the "Sports Illustrated" story, Jack McCallum, is taking himself to task for the earlier profile. I spoke to him from Allentown, Pennsylvania.
KURTZ: Jack McCallum, welcome.
JACK MCCALLUM, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": Hey, Howie.
KURTZ: You have the dubious distinction, I guess I would say, of having written a favorable story about Jerry Sandusky back in 1999. Looking back, how does that make you feel?
MCCALLUM: It makes me feel terrible. And I -- you know, it caused me to write kind of a mea culpa column for "SI.com," kind of getting in front of the story, and trying to make two points.
Number one, how hard it is for someone who, coming in from the outside, to really know somebody, and number two, to sort of express the opinion that I felt terrible about this.
And at the point when I wrote it all I was hearing from Penn State was a kind of, you know, cover-up about how we didn't have any legal culpability. And so that was kind of my two-fold reason for writing the piece that I did.
KURTZ: You certainly got out in front of it. I guess a friend E-mailed you that you must feel like a jerk. I guess he's a friend of yours. He can say that. But what do you remember about interviewing Sandusky back in '99?
MCCALLUM: You know, I've racked my brain, and I said in retrospect this doesn't do much good. But you know, I didn't particularly like the man. The piece is strangely kind of -- I think it was just sort of abbreviated.
You know, maybe there wasn't much space. I mean, you've done these kind of things that -- you know, you have this idea and there's not much space. The quotes aren't really that great. And --
KURTZ: You said he struck you as a little strange?
MCCALLUM: Yes. Just kind of the -- the word I came up with then was joyless. It just didn't seem like this whole endeavor was producing the kind of, you know, emphatic reaction you would think from people.
But, you know, look, that's -- that's cheap hindsight. And had my suspicions grown into anything palpable, obviously I would have written less than a glowing story. And I would feel, you know, maybe a lot of trouble could have been avoided.
But like a lot of journalists, I fell into that, you know, kind of cursory trap of writing something when you don't really know the whole story.
KURTZ: I wonder how much any of us know our interview subjects unless we get to spend weeks or months with them. But you say now, looking back, that you were haunted by what was going on at the time that you were doing this piece after reading the grand jury report on this tragedy.
MCCALLUM: Well, the problem was, Howie, was that the exact timing of this, if we are to believe -- first of all, we hope that there's nothing before 1998.
But the timing of this was -- you know, the peg of the story was Sandusky retiring, which should have put my antenna up that why is a 55-year-old guy, you know, hanging it up? That's maybe not, you know, prime for a coach, but it's not over the hill.
So we know now that that was after the first incident and it was before the kind of string of incidents that precipitated the grand jury report.
So it's sort of like -- all is I can think myself, I'm not a police investigator, but had I done -- you know, had I known what was going on, you know, some of the stuff that happened could have been -- I could have avoided it. But you know, that's just the way it went with the story.
KURTZ: There was no public hint of it, and at the same time, you know, Sandusky said he wanted to spend time working on his foundation to help troubled kids, which, of course, all that looks very different in retrospect.
He might have seemed noble even in your writing about it at the time. Now, we wonder, you know, what was he doing with those kids and was that the reason he had this foundation. MCCALLUM: Absolutely. And you know, one of the funny things is that I always tell -- whenever an athlete tells me -- I covered mostly pro basketball over the years -- whenever he tells me he's retiring to spend more time with his family or do anything else, my suspicions go right up and I rarely write that about regular athletes.
MCCALLUM: Yes, you're going to spend more time with your family. And in this case, probably, I should have been a little bit more alert to the signs that Sandusky was probably not retiring for all the reasons that he told us that he was.
KURTZ: Right. And finally, in this piece that you write this week, you were just kind of shaking your head about Joe Paterno, who you described as "a man I always respected." It looks to me like your respect -- perhaps some of it, at least, was misplaced.
MCCALLUM: Well, I live in Pennsylvania, Howie, and, you know, Joe Paterno is a god-like figure. And, you know, we're going to let this all play out. We should do that as journalists.
But from the grand jury testimony, at the very least, we know that Penn State knew enough about this guy to bar him from campus.
KURTZ: Right. But just to jump in --
Just to jump in because we have a half minute left. Wasn't Joe Paterno a god-like figure in Pennsylvania and elsewhere because the media played a very big role in building him up to that celestial stature?
MCCALLUM: Well, no question. I mean, I think the only atmosphere that that kind of thing can happen in is college sports.
I mean, the guys that retired like that, John Wooden, Dean Smith, you know, Knute Rockne, a century ago -- they were all sort of encased in this closed college community. And it's very hard to get at the essence of the man when you're in there.
And I'm not saying everything Joe Paterno did is out the window, but I'm saying this certainly casts a lot of doubt on his legacy.
KURTZ: To put it mildly. Jack McCallum, thanks very much for joining us.
MCCALLUM: Thank you.
And still to come, NBC opens its checkbook and winds up with an interview with Michael Jackson's doctor. CBS tries yet another lineup in the morning. And the words David Gregory wishes he could take back. "The Media Monitor" is next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. The "Today" show aired an exclusive interview this week with Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's doctor.
Why would he agree to an interview to be broadcast after the trial that convicted him of involuntary manslaughter for providing the drugs that killed Jackson? Well, he got a chance to spin the charges against him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were the last person to see him or talk to him before he died. What was he like in those final hours?
DR. CONRAD MURRAY, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FORMER PERSONAL PHYSICIAN: A desperate man -- desperate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you the cause of Michael Jackson's death?
MURRAY: No, I am not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But there was another factor, as well. NBC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy a British documentary sympathetic to Conrad Murray. ABC passed, by the way.
None of the money for the documentary, which aired on MSNBC Friday night, went to Murray. But even NBC doesn't deny the two are related.
Here's the network statement, "In connection with the documentary, NBC Universal had the opportunity to conduct a promotional interview with Dr. Murray. Neither Dr. Murray nor his legal defense were compensated in any way."
My diagnosis? It's a pretty shoddy way of landing an interview, not quite paying the news subject but getting a bit too close to a man who's just been found guilty in a sensational case.
CBS' "Early Show," which has been in third place roughly forever, has picked a new team. Charlie Rose, the late night PBS talker, and Gayle King, who has a show on her pal Oprah Winfrey's network.
But here's what's fascinating. CBS is planning a newsier, more conversational program rather than trying to outdo the "Today" show and "Good Morning America" with their heavy emphasis on celebrities and crime and entertainment. Now, can that kind of approach work in the morning? We'll keep an eye on it.
David Gregory really stepped in it the other day when talking about Herman Cain, the sexual harassment allegations, and the Republican Party on the "Today" show.
ANN CURRY, CO-HOST, THE "TODAY" SHOW: Does the party now wish he would just go away?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC ANCHOR: Well, there is no, you know, grand wizard in the party right now who can really force the issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Oops. Grand wizard? I don't think the "Meet the Press" moderator meant to make any kind of racial reference to high officials in the Ku Klux Klan.
Gregory took to Twitter to say, "Wizard remark this morning was a very poor choice of words. Did not mean to make that connection at all. Was not thinking. I apologize."
Now, most of us say dumb things on the air now and then. The key is to quickly fess up as David Gregory did.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.