From the Archives: Trial By Media: Transcript
Thursday, July 07, 2011
BOB GARFIELD: There's another media circus under way, but you may not be following it - unless you watch cable news. [CLIP OF CRIMINOLOGIST SPEAKING ON FOX NEWS]
CRIMINOLOGIST: There are just people who are good liars. I mean how does someone kill a pregnant wife, for example? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
CRIMINOLOGIST: And then try to cover up? How does someone--explain to a girlfriend that he is not married and in fact he's single? So-- in, in--Peterson's case, he's had some experience with twisting the truth; with lying--; perhaps he's just good at it. Now I don't want to convict him here--
BOB GARFIELD: That was a criminologist Fox News enlisted to speculate on the innocence -- or, more accurately, guilt -- of Scott Peterson whose pregnant wife disappeared only Christmas Eve. The cable channels are following this story like the proverbial car chase. You also may have caught it on one of a dozen occasions on the network morning news shows, but these days the most dependable source for Peterson high drama and dirt is probably The Abrams Report on MSNBC. [SOUND CLIP FROM THE ABRAMS REPORT PLAYS] [HIGH CRIME DRAMA MUSIC UNDER]
DAN ABRAMS: ...some saying he isn't acting like an innocent man. His pregnant wife, Laci, is still missing-- so why is Scott dodging so many questions? Would you be willing to take a lie detector test? He won't answer that question. I, I don't - I just - I don't know that I believe it! I want to give Scott the benefit of the doubt - I do! - but I just-- I just-- I can't stand it when his wife is missing -- him saying I don't want to talk about this - I don't want to talk about that-- It feels to me like he doesn't want to get caught up in conflicting details. Coming up next, your rebuttal to the Scott Peterson interview. Let me just say this --there are not many of you who are siding with Scott.
BOB GARFIELD: After Thursday's MSNBC broadcast, we caught up with Dan Abrams on his cell phone and asked him how such relentless coverage serves the public interest.
DAN ABRAMS: A lot of what the news media does isn't always based on the test of: what is in the public interest? The question is often: what is the public interested in? Is this story as important as what's happening in Iraq? Of course not. It just has a lot of very interesting elements to it.
BOB GARFIELD: And as the newspaper tabloid used to advertise: Inquiring minds want to know. On the other hand, as you are only too well aware, the media are often accused of being jackals feeding at the carrion of human tragedy. Guilty or not guilty, Dan?
DAN ABRAMS: You know, look - I, I certainly wouldn't phrase it that way, and I'm-- I don't think that that's the motivation. I-- Look -- there are a lot of cases of human suffering f--where people - far more people have suffered far more - that the media isn't covering nearly as much as this case.
BOB GARFIELD: Have the police even determined that a crime has been committed?
DAN ABRAMS: Officially, no. Officially, they are unwilling to call this a crime. As a practical matter -- when you speak with people in the department, it is clear they are pursuing this as a crime.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you about another figure who was in a similar position some years ago and that is Richard Jewel who was the security guard who identified a suspicious package at the Olympics and actually heroically probably saved a number of lives by getting people away from the bomb before it exploded. The FBI briefly apparently believed that Mr. Jewel was-- responsible for the bomb; he fit a certain profile. And-- unofficially let reporters know just that, and-- Mr. Jewel was put under the intense scrutiny and speculation that Mr. Peterson is undergoing now. As you go on the air, speculating about the words and actions and non-actions of Scott Peterson, do you ever think about Richard Jewel and what he endured?
DAN ABRAMS: I, I think, I think for anyone in the media not to think about the Richard Jewel case is to put oneself at great peril. But-- in this particular case, it is not just what the authorities are saying. It is the fact that you have-- Lacey's family who will-- were presuming Scott innocent from the very beginning -- now demanding more answers from him. That's a factor that, that comes into play. You know I think that-- when it comes down to the, to the essential question of: is Scott Peterson the only person they're looking at -which was the characterization, in essence, of Richard Jewel. That's not the case here. And we don't give that impression off on my program.
BOB GARFIELD: What if, in the ensuing days and weeks, Lacey Peterson's body is discovered-- and it's ruled that she died of suicide? Or if she's found dead under clearly accidental circumstances? Or what if Lacey Peterson walks into Modesto City Hall tomorrow and says she was just trying to run away from her problems-- what will you have to say to Scott Peterson?
DAN ABRAMS: I wouldn't have - I wouldn't have to say anything to Scott Peterson. I wouldn't feel obliged because Scott Peterson has at this point brought upon himself-- because Scott Peterson is guilty of having an affair. It is so unfair to tar him with his wife's disappearance-- because he had an affair. But-- I think some people will, will criticize him regardless for that in and of itself.
BOB GARFIELD: All right. Now with apologies in advance, I'm going to ask you a completely impertinent question. You went to law school. You're a lawyer. You now have a-- your own show on a national cable network, and-- you're doing wall to wall coverage of the Lacey Peterson case. Dan, is this really how you want to make a living?
DAN ABRAMS: Yeah. Well-- [LAUGHS] -- [LAUGHS]! -- yeah, I'm laughing because, you know, it's - on the one hand-- a-- stupid question; and on the other hand toned down a little bit and asked in a slightly sort of-- more mature way - it's actually a very good question. I don't just do Lacey Peterson. But-- it is certainly a fair question to ask do I do too much Lacey Peterson, and, and you know look - the answer is that we weren't planning on doing this much Lacey Peterson when it started, but-- with each day there was a new development, and as a result we ended up covering it more and more. So I am very comfortable with what we're doing. I'll stand by it with anyone in terms of being one of the smartest programs on television.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Dan, you've been more than gracious. I really appreciate your spending the time with us.
DAN ABRAMS: My [LAUGHS] pleasure.
BOB GARFIELD: Dan Abrams is the host of The Abrams Report on MSNBC. [MUSIC]