Guest: Av Westin, Joe Angotti, Tom Jarriel, John Higgins, Stephen
Battaglio, J. Douglas Crowder, Rusty Yates, Carol Kent
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Stepping down. After 24 years as anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” Dan Rather is calling it quits. Tonight, the story that may have ended his career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: I made a mistake. I didn‘t dig hard enough, long enough, didn‘t ask enough of the right questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: And a look at the future of network news.
A mother‘s chilling 911 call.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cut her arms off.
911 OPERATOR: You cut her arms off?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An 11-month-old baby in a back bedroom. Both arms were severed.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Tonight, the father whose five children killed by their mother on the truth about postpartum depression, as another mother now sits in jail charged with murder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve got, you know, really, two tragedies. You know, I mean, one is my children, and the other is my wife.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Plus, the inspiring story of a man you‘d never think had millions to give away. And wait‘ll you hear what he did with his fortune.
ANNOUNCER: From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening. Dan Rather‘s incredible ride as anchor of “The CBS Evening News” is coming to an end. He announced today that he is stepping down as anchor next March, on the 24th anniversary of his taking over the job from Walter Cronkite. But Rather will stay with CBS News as a correspondent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, “CBS EVENING NEWS”: After nearly a quarter of a century as the anchor of this broadcast, I‘ve decided it‘s time to move on. I‘ll be leaving “The Evening News” next March. I will not be leaving CBS News, however. I will continue to report to you, working full time on both editions of “60 Minutes” and other assignments for CBS News. It has been and remains an honor to be welcomed into your home each evening, and I thank you for the trust you‘ve given me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Let me state straight out I am a big Dan Rather fan. He is one of the most decent men in television. When I joined CBS News years ago as a correspondent, before the ink was dry on my contract, Dan Rather had sent me a personal, handwritten welcome note and some CBS News T-shirts and stuff for the family. He is a class act.
But he has also come under fire in recent months for his role in a “60 Minutes II” story which questioned President Bush‘s service in the National Guard, a report based on supposedly forged documents. Joining me now to talk about Rather‘s retirement from “The Evening News” desk is Joe Angotti. He is the chair of the broadcast program at Northwestern University‘s Medill School of Journalism. He is a former senior vice president and executive producer at NBC News. Also with me, Av Westin, the executive director of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, a former vice president and executive producer for ABC News. And former ABC News correspondent Tom Jarriel is with us, as well.
Gentlemen, I‘m going to throw the question right out there. Was it Dan Rather‘s choice to leave, or was he being pushed? Av, you‘re here next to me. You first.
AV WESTIN, NATIONAL ACADEMY OF TV ARTS AND SCIENCE: Well, the report isn‘t out yet, but everybody anticipates it will be devastating, and I suspect that Dan is slipping out before the hammer falls.
NORVILLE: “The report” being the...
WESTIN: The investigation...
NORVILLE: ... report...
WESTIN: ... of that “60 Minutes II” piece, which—CBS launched a major outside investigation to find out who did what, who told whom what. And of course, we know that Dan was out front on that story. And clearly, the journalism was bad.
NORVILLE: And you think this is an effort for Dan to gracefully exit the anchor desk before any smoke or dust from the report starts.
WESTIN: I think it‘s reasonable to speculate on that. I have no way of knowing, but I—he—it‘s likely he was going to leave anyway, but I suspect that he would not have gone as soon. I think that with Brokaw leaving from NBC, I believe that CBS and ABC both anticipated a chance to have their anchors become the stars.
NORVILLE: I want to get into that in just a moment, but I want to continue on the timing. Joe Angotti, you‘ve been privy to these kinds of things at the highest levels of network news. Was this Dan‘s choice?
JOE ANGOTTI, MEDILL SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM, NORTHWESTERN: I doubt it, but I don‘t know, and all of this really is speculation. But I think the timing of the announcement was interesting, that they chose to make the announcement about Dan before the results of the investigation came out. So if the investigation is critical of Dan in any way, CBS can say, Well, Dan had agreed to leave before this came out and it wasn‘t as a result of the report.
NORVILLE: Tom Jarriel, you as a reporter for so many years on camera, know the kind of dedication it takes to do the job that Dan Rather has done. What do you think he‘s going through right now, as he contemplates the next years not in front of the anchor desk?
TOM JARRIEL, FORMER ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think anguish, disappointment. I think that he is deeply saddened, as many are, including myself, that he will have a lower profile and perhaps a less significant position in CBS News. I think his Alamo, if you will, was the Texas National Guard story. His critics had harped and harped that he was unfair, and here was a story where his credibility was severely challenged. And I suspect that pressure from the affiliates and pressure from the public and pressure from the investigation that‘s under way all mounted enough to give him a face-saving exit.
NORVILLE: I want to talk about that pressure. There seems to be a change going on in news, where once upon a time, your politics were absolutely not to be brought into the process whatsoever. Now we‘ve seen over at the Fox network, where putting your politics out on table has really increased the ratings, and yet Dan was criticized for that. Tom, do you see a disconnect between those two?
JARRIEL: I‘ve known Dan Rather for so many years, worked stories alongside him. I‘ve followed his news intensely. The claim that he was politically biased is absolutely untrue. The man was a hard-driving and is a hard-driving journalist. He was an attack dog of journalism. He would attack a Democrat, as well as a Republican. But this wave of conservative criticism against him was easy to articulate when he would attack the president, as he was doing in a number of stories. And I think it‘s grossly unfair to try to make him a partisan reporter because I absolutely don‘t think that‘s true.
NORVILLE: Do you think that‘s been leveled at him, though, Av Westin?
WESTIN: I think the worst thing that‘s happened recently is the politicization of news. And I think we accuse Fox, I must say, this network, MSNBC, itself have essentially encouraged hard-right political spokespersons on the air, not only in the opinion areas but even in the news areas. And I think that that is a trend that is destroying broadcast journalism in this country.
NORVILLE: Which brings up the next question. A lot of people say the departure of Dan Rather, the departure of Tom Brokaw, really is the end of an era. Joe Angotti, talk to me about the change that you see happening from the seat you now have in academia, looking on the outside in.
ANGOTTI: Well, I think—you know, I think this is the end of the Dan Rather era, and I wouldn‘t take it too far beyond that. I can remember reading my first obituary about the end of network evening newscasts at least 20 years ago, but they have survived.
And I think what people forget or don‘t know is that there‘s a very delicate economic balance that takes place in network news organizations, and costs of news coverage...
ANGOTTI: ... are amortized over several different shows, each of which produces their own revenue stream. And if you take away one of those revenue streams, then the amortization of those costs is set off balance. So I don‘t think this is an indication or a prelude to the end of network news. I think network news is going to go on for quite a while.
NORVILLE: I‘m not sure that you totally agree with that, do you, Av?
WESTIN: Well, I...
NORVILLE: You see it certainly as a watershed.
WESTIN: It is a watershed, but let me be quite specific. Network news will continue. The flagship program of network news is no longer the evening news. It is either the morning programs, which make a lot of money, or the magazine shows, which have the “big get,” which get them more publicity. And therefore, I think that the focus, with Rather leaving, with Brokaw leaving, and not likely to be replaced by men or women of equal pre-anchor status, I think the public is going to drift away from the evening news on the networks, and they‘re going to go to the 24/7s or elsewhere and...
NORVILLE: And there are still millions and millions of people, and the cable outfits, all of them, would love to have even a fraction of the audience that the broadcast networks get.
WESTIN: I‘m not suggesting that they‘re going to go off the air. I‘m just suggesting that their impact or their importance in the universe of news on television is going to be diminished.
NORVILLE: Doesn‘t this put Peter Jennings in the absolute catbird seat? If Brian Williams is coming on at NBC, known but not as well known, obviously, as Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather‘s leaving in a few months, isn‘t Peter Jennings just there to sweep up all the crumbs as the known entity at 6:30 or 7:00?
WESTIN: Well, just look at the publicity—the PR campaign that ABC has already launched. They‘ve got a lot of promos on the air. The bus kiosks around Manhattan have his picture on it with, You can trust him, and all of that. Of course they‘re going to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
And I think it goes to the point of why this departure of Dan Rather was something that CBS would have preferred not to have happen because television viewing of news is habit viewing, and if something breaks that habit, then you start shopping around. Losing your anchor breaks that habit, and I think they would have hoped that with Brokaw leaving, people would rediscover Dan Rather—I mean the folks at CBS. And now that‘s not likely to happen.
NORVILLE: Joe Angotti, who do you think is the best successor likely to be named at CBS News? CBS doesn‘t say anything about who will be taking the desk once Dan walks out.
ANGOTTI: I would guess it would be John Roberts. I think he‘s been placed strategically in a enough important coverage situations that CBS has obviously wanted to give him exposure that would build up his acceptance once he became anchor. So I think it will be John Roberts.
NORVILLE: What do you think, Tom Jarriel?
JARRIEL (voice-over): Well, oddly enough, Dan has been so active covering stories, traveling the world, being on location, anchoring, doing “60 Minutes” and the magazine shows, they‘ve had very little time to really groom a successor. Certainly, the substitute has always been John Roberts. He does a good job. He is of the right age. They‘ve got to get some youth somewhere in their line-up because they do have a lot of gray beards. But I don‘t think there is necessarily a clean successor.
NORVILLE: Well, Scott Pelley is another name that‘s been floated about. He also has filled in from time to time on “The Evening News.”
NORVILLE: Go ahead, Tom.
JARRIEL: One thing that Dan‘s departure to me means, that—he began in an era of reporters looking after the trends set by Edward R. Murrow and the famous news team of that era so many years ago. He is like the last of a vanishing breed. He came from the—all of these guys came from news. They were in the wars. They were on the front lines. They were involved in the stories. The latest breed of anchor people simply do not have that history or that culture or that background, with the exception of Peter Jennings, which is I think why we all think Peter may soar after this change is made.
NORVILLE: Av Westin, final thought from you. Who do you think will be the successor? You think it could be a dark horse out there.
WESTIN: I think that although John Roberts has been showing up, unlike the last time, when Roger Mudd, of serious credentials, competed with Dan Rather and there was a—almost an internal political choice in that regard, they may go outside. It is quite possible that they may find somebody who has the credential and brings to it the gravitas that John Roberts and Scott Pelley don‘t have.
NORVILLE: Who will that be? Come on! Name names!
WESTIN: I‘ll name a chap on this network, on MSNBC, Lester Holt, could do it. And I think Lou Dobbs, who at CNN is really producing a nightly program of some quality.
NORVILLE: And there‘s also...
JARRIEL: Jim Lehrer.
NORVILLE: Jim Lehrer from PBS...
JARRIEL: Jim Lehrer did a splendid job, a CBS-type journalistic job with the debates.
NORVILLE: All right, we‘ll let that be the last word. Joe Angotti, thank you very much for being with us. Good to see you again.
ANGOTTI: Thank you.
NORVILLE: Av Westin, Tom Jarriel, thanks to you, as well.
We‘ll take a short break. When we come back, more on Dan Rather stepping down as anchor over at CBS. What will it mean to the TV news business? Our discussion continues. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: And that‘s part of our world tonight. For “The CBS Evening News,” Dan Rather reporting. See you tomorrow. Good night.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: And if you say it with a Texas twang, you really can hear it coming out of Dan Rather‘s mouth. Those were just a few of the Dan Ratherisms from election night 2004, some of those folksy metaphors for which Dan Rather was well known.
But now that Rather is stepping down as anchor for “CBS Evening News,” what does it mean altogether for the news business? Joining me now to talk about that is Stephen Battaglio—he‘s the senior correspondent for “TV Guide” magazine—and John Higgins, who‘s the business editor for “Broadcasting and Cable” magazine, both of them industry bibles, as folks out there like to say.
You spoke, John, with Dan Rather this afternoon. What does he say about this?
JOHN HIGGINS, BUSINESS EDITOR, “BROADCASTING AND CABLE”: Our magazine interviewed Rather this afternoon. Don‘t want to give away too much because it‘s—we got a—we don‘t come out until Monday.
HIGGINS: But you know, I mean, he‘s—he‘s standing tall. He‘s—he‘s not trying to—he‘s not going out as if he‘s nervous or under fire. You know, he‘s trying to control this to—so that he looks like, you know, he‘s going out completely under his own steam, on his own agenda.
NORVILLE: Do you believe that to be the case? Have you heard...
HIGGINS: Absolutely—absolutely not.
NORVILLE: Absolutely not.
HIGGINS: No. Absolutely not. He—I believe that he was going to - - due out about March of 2006. And now this report—he‘s getting out ahead of this report. It‘s like George Tenet quitting the CIA right before the 9/11 report comes out, so that when the report comes out, nobody can say, Fire Tenet.
NORVILLE: Stephen, is it then reasonable to assume that when the CBS report about the documents used on the National Guard story does come out, that not only is the producer going to look derelict in her duties, but that Rather personally will be shown to be too detached from a report of that magnitude?
STEPHEN BATTAGLIO, SR. CORRESPONDENT, “TV GUIDE”: Well, I don‘t think anyone knows. No one knows what‘s in the report. It‘s done by an independent commission. And I think Dan and his agent probably thought, Well, why take a chance? Why take a chance of having to leave the anchor chair in disgrace? If you notice, he is going to “60 Minutes,” which is where he got into this trouble to begin with. So it‘s...
NORVILLE: And where he has also had some incredible reports in the course of his career, too.
BATTAGLIO: So you know, I think, look, they‘re taking—they‘re saying, you know, Well, what are we waiting for? It‘s 2005, rather than 2006. I mean, he‘s 73 years old. He‘s been in third place and falling even further behind. I mean, there are other reasons for them to make this change...
NORVILLE: Yes, and you mentioned...
BATTAGLIO: ... besides whatever‘s going to happen in a week or two, when the report comes out.
NORVILLE: You mentioned a good one, and one of them is the report that all the networks get every night. It‘s called the ratings sheet. And I want to put the numbers up that shows the disparity of the ratings between NBC, ABC and CBS. This is for last week, the averages. NBC is 11.5 million people, ABC not that far behind, with 10.3 million, and CBS is a distant third at 7.8.
BATTAGLIO: That‘s a pretty wide gulf between first and third.
NORVILLE: That‘s a really wide gulf between first and third, and even between third and second. And the bean counters notice that. And Dan Rather‘s been there for 24 years. Isn‘t that a factor here?
BATTAGLIO: I think so, and I think that they know that they‘re—that, you know, even though you‘re having a shift in the anchor chair, with Brian Williams taking over for Tom Brokaw next week—I disagree with the notion there is going to be all this news sampling going on. Dan Rather and Peter Jennings have been on the job for 20 years. Viewers have really made their minds up regarding them. So I think that either you‘ll stick with Brian Williams or maybe—or you‘ll go to cable news or you‘ll go somewhere else. I don‘t see the other two broadcasts picking up a lot of viewers from Brokaw‘s departure. And maybe CBS stands to gain new viewers by putting somebody new and possibly surprising in the anchor chair there.
NORVILLE: And perhaps more appealing than Dan may have been. Some people are turned off by...
BATTAGLIO: Dan‘s been a polarizing figure, absolutely. I mean, he...
NORVILLE: ... by the Ratherisms.
BATTAGLIO: He has—you know, he has—he has—because of his experience, he has a strong following. But there are a lot of people who just don‘t like him.
NORVILLE: John, there is a truism in television that people watch people they like. And if what Steve says is correct, that maybe they‘ll keep watching NBC because it‘s their habit of having watched NBC, is it possible that there won‘t be any real change, despite the fact that the figureheads of two of the major newscasts have disappeared in the next three or four months?
HIGGINS: Yes, I agree with Stephen with that. The shifting of the anchors alone isn‘t going to dramatically shatter the viewership patters. What will happen is if CBS takes this opportunity to substantially change the newscast and make it more...
NORVILLE: Do you think they should?
BATTAGLIO: They‘re three million viewers behind NBC.
HIGGINS: Why not?
NORVILLE: What have they got to lose?
BATTAGLIO: They should do it.
HIGGINS: You know, I mean, it‘s kind of -- - it‘s interesting. It‘s kind of like ABC. Why does ABC have the most interesting programming on television this year with “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost”? Because they...
NORVILLE: Because they were the desperate network.
HIGGINS: They had the least to lose by putting on risky programming. You know, CBS has the least to lose by putting on a risky newscast. Maybe this is the moment.
NORVILLE: Having said that, let‘s just think really outside the box, Steve. What would be a risky, daring thing for CBS News to do, as they decide what the future of the evening newscast, the flagship newscast, is going to be?
BATTAGLIO: It‘s possible maybe you go to the formula that worked very well for “Nightline,” doing, you know, one major story a night, or making it much more of a live interview format. There are a lot of things they can try, probably a lot of things that they can borrow from 24-hour cable news, elements of that. You know, it‘s just—but it—really, it all matters as to, you know, what the—how good the execution is and how good the person is that they have in the chair.
NORVILLE: Might there be, dare I say it, a woman anchoring the evening news?
BATTAGLIO: Well, which woman would really make a big difference? I mean, people talk about Diane Sawyer and how she would always be a—that she would have been a great evening news anchor. But Diane Sawyer has been on “Good Morning America” for, what, six years now, and she has never beaten the “Today” show one single week. So how much of a difference would she make there?
In terms of going outside, it‘s a matter of, you know, who‘s available at the price. Right now, we‘re not hearing a lot of names that would really make a difference.
NORVILLE: You heard just a moment ago, John, Av Westin mention perhaps Lou Dobbs from CNN. Jim Lehrer was mentioned by Tom Jarriel. What names would you see as wildcards in the replace-Dan-Rather race?
HIGGINS: Well, I like the Dobbs idea. There—Jim Lehrer is, like, you know, too senior, shall we say. You know, if you‘re going to invest and put somebody in this seat, you want them there for 10 years-plus. I mean, this isn‘t a two-year assignment. I—you know, I‘d love to see Dobbs. I—you know, frankly, I‘d put Aaron Brown in there, but I‘m the only—from CNN. I‘m the only guy who would probably do that.
BATTAGLIO: I wouldn‘t do that.
NORVILLE: I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.
BATTAGLIO: Neither do I.
HIGGINS: But I think he‘s great.
NORVILLE: Probably Aaron doesn‘t, either, but...
NORVILLE: But one can hope.
BATTAGLIO: Yes, I—younger is going to be the way to go. I mean, you know, it‘s interesting. I mean, you keep—you know, Brian Williams takes over next week, and people are saying things like, Well, you know, it‘s a shame they‘re losing all that experience they‘ve had in the anchor chair. Well, Brian has as much experience as Tom had in the anchor chair, Tom Brokaw had in the anchor chair, when he took over 22 years ago.
A lot of these jobs—the jobs create the stature for these guys—if he—or woman, if they choose to put a woman in there. If they get the right person in there, the platform will help elevate them into a significant player.
NORVILLE: Now the question is, is the platform itself significant anymore, given the changing face of news and 24-hour delivery on the cables and elsewhere?
HIGGINS: I—these guys who are the icons of the TV news business, their successors will not be the same kind of icons because the evening news isn‘t the magnet it was when they came on in the early ‘80s.
NORVILLE: So when Brian Williams retires at whatever point in the future, it won‘t be nearly with the fanfare that we‘ve seen Tom Brokaw‘s...
HIGGINS: Oh, I‘m not sure I could stand another great six-month-long serenade farewell.
BATTAGLIO: You know, it‘s not—it‘s not just about the evening newscast, the half hour every night. You‘re the—when you‘re the evening news anchor, you‘re the face...
NORVILLE: Of that network.
BATTAGLIO: ... of your network news division. You‘re on during the 9/11s, the other breaking coverage. And that‘s where these people really make their names.
NORVILLE: All right. Well, with that, we‘re going to end the conversation. Steve Battaglio, John Higgins, thank you very much for being with us.
We‘ll take a break and be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up: a mother‘s shocking cry for help.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cut her arms off.
911 OPERATOR: You cut her arms off?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Is postpartum depression to blame for the brutal murder of her baby daughter? Tonight, a father whose five children were killed by their own mother weighs in on the truth about postpartum depression when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: It happened yesterday in Plano, Texas, a crime so unbelievably gruesome that you don‘t have to be a parent to cringe. 35-year-old Dena Schlosser, who has a history of postpartum depression, confessed to cutting her 11-month-old daughter‘s arms off. The child died, and Schlosser has been charged with capital murder. She had been investigated on child neglect allegations earlier this year, but Child Protective Services said she didn‘t pose a risk to her children. She has two older daughters, ages 6 and 9. Mr. Schlosser was at work yesterday when his wife killed their baby.
How many times do we have to be horrified by the death of a child before we recognize the seriousness of postpartum depression and the consequences it can bring?
Joining me now is a man who has lived through this. Rusty Yates‘ wife, Andrea, drowned their five children back in June of 2001 at their home in Texas. And also with us tonight is forensic psychiatrist Dr. J. Douglas Crowder. He‘s a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. That‘s in Dallas.
Thank you both for being with us.
Mr. Yates, I know that you more than anyone else can understand what this poor man and their family are going through. What is he experiencing right now?
RUSTY YATES, WIFE KILLED THEIR FIVE CHILDREN: Probably shock and disbelief right now. You know, it‘s overwhelming.
You lose a family member. I lost all my children. And his wife has done this horrible thing that was probably completely unimaginable to him. He has to be concerned with, you know, funeral arrangements for his daughter and he has to be concerned with getting legal counsel for his wife, and then, of course, all the media, and it‘s really overwhelming.
NORVILLE: And there‘s got to be I‘m sure this sense of, what didn‘t I see? Because a lot of people say how could a husband not notice that their wife was coming unhinged, as obviously this lady had?
YATES: Well, I think there‘s one misconception here. You referred to her illness as postpartum depression. It‘s probably more appropriate to refer to it as postpartum psychosis.
And, in that state, only part of her reality changes, not all of it. So, on the surface, she may look functional. She may able to carry on her normal business through the day. She may seem—quote—“a little off,” but certainly not dangerous. And it‘s a very insidious disease in that respect.
NORVILLE: And that‘s why we have Dr. Crowder here to help us understand a little bit more about this.
Sir, is it possible that the dangerous aspects of this hormonal imbalance or this psychosis that takes place in some women is simply impossible to discern by those closest to her?
DR. J. DOUGLAS CROWDER, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: Sometimes it is difficult to discern.
People who are suffering from depression or postpartum psychosis or postpartum depression may find it shameful. Certainly, sometimes, they have impulses to harm themselves or to harm the children and they consider those things shameful, too. So there is an impulse for them to hide the suffering that they‘re feeling and to try to maintain some semblance of functionality.
NORVILLE: This is not the first time this has happened and sadly it‘s not the first time it‘s happened in Texas. Dr. Crowder, I thought that there had been a real concerted effort in your state to try to get information about postpartum depression out to the masses where people who needed it would be able to access it.
CROWDER: That‘s true.
In fact, the legislature passed a law which mandates that physicians who deliver children are supposed to tell the women that help is available for postpartum depression and educate them about it. That became law in September of 2003, so there was a concerted effort, as you say. Of course, the publicity has been rather incredible, so that a number of people understand this.
But when it‘s happening to you, I don‘t think you have the insight that you do when it‘s happening to someone else. And, in fact, most people think it can‘t happen to me or it can‘t happen to someone I love.
NORVILLE: Mr. Yates, I know one of the things that you feel very strongly is that this woman should be evaluated before she is medicated to deal with any of the psychoses or medical issues, psychiatric issues she is dealing with. Why is it so important that it happen before that?
YATES: That‘s a good question. And that‘s actually kind of a dilemma of the doctors, because the doctor can treat her and, you know, take her out of a psychotic state. And then, if the medical, you know, examiners for the state and for the defense come in and examine her, then they may not see the signs of psychosis. So it‘s really critical that both the defense and in my mind the state bring psychiatrists in very early to evaluate her mental state, because that will be her mental state that‘s closest to what it was at the time of the offense.
NORVILLE: Would that have made a difference in your wife‘s case?
YATES: A tremendous difference, yes. Really, the only person who saw her early was the jail psychiatrist, who did testify in her favor. The state didn‘t bring an expert in to examine her until many months after her treatment began in the jail. So he really didn‘t have any insight into her mental state at that time at all.
NORVILLE: How is your wife doing now?
YATES: She is doing better. She had a relapse a few months ago and actually was doing very poorly then. She became very psychotic. In fact, that was the first time I‘d ever seen her really overtly psychotic, where she said some things so off the wall I couldn‘t believe it. But they‘ve resumed her antipsychotic medication and she seems pretty stable right now.
NORVILLE: When you saw that psychotic episode, was that as close to the state she was likely in at the time your family was murdered?
YATES: I believe so. But at the time at that time in June of 2001 she didn‘t say anything. She was just quiet. So we all assumed that she was thinking the same thing she‘d always thought. When I saw her a few months ago, you know, she actually asked me unbelievable things.
One of them was reported that she asked me, she said, the children are really alive and you‘re just not letting on, right? And I said no. You know, do you remember what happened a few years ago? And she said yes. And what was so amazing about that was the fact she thought they were still alive in her psychotic state and yet at the same time she remembered taking their lives three years ago. And people try to, you know, make sense of what these women are thinking and you really can‘t.
NORVILLE: In the case of Dena Schlosser, Dr. Crowder, she had been investigated previously were her baby was just six days old. She ran out of the house, left the baby in the house and was spotted by a neighbor being chased by her older daughter on her bicycle. They came in and they investigated. They said everything would be fine.
Was there a critical error made at that point, because there was an opportunity for protective services to be aware that this lady had some problems.
CROWDER: I can‘t judge the professionalism of what they did at the time. However, you point out an important warning sign.
And that is question a new mothers are afraid to be alone with their children or when they show a reluctance or a disinterest to interact with the children. Then you have—you do have a warning sign that requires some firm action.
CROWDER: Whether or not they were acting appropriately, I...
NORVILLE: Sorry. Go ahead.
YATES: No, I think that was a good point.
CROWDER: I‘m not sure whether they were acting appropriately.
Rusty, did you see that with your wife prior to June of 2001?
YATES: She didn‘t try to stay away from them, but she wasn‘t the same toward them. In her case, she carried Mary on her hip around with her everywhere she went and was really kind of reluctant to feed her, which was interesting. She would be crying and I would say, well, has she had anything to eat? Yes. And I would say, well, how long ago? And three hours ago. So Mary was obviously hungry and Andrea just didn‘t—she would say, well, she had enough to eat. So...
NORVILLE: Looking back, do you see that as perhaps a sign that in your ignorance at the time you missed?
YATES: Well, yes. It‘s a sign of her illness. But certainly it‘s a far cry from, you know, what she did.
YATES: You know what I‘m saying? Unless you know that someone could be in a delusional state, you know, it‘s really hard to put those two together, you know, to see someone who is detached as being dangerous.
NORVILLE: Absolutely. Well, it‘s a tragedy when it happens. It was a tragedy for you, Russell Yates. We appreciate you being with us.
And Dr. J. Douglas Crowder, thank you very much for your time.
YATES: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Up next, imagine if your son was facing life behind bars or execution. This woman knows that pain.
CAROL KENT, MOTHER OF CONVICTED KILLER: I saw him sit there. I saw him receive that verdict like a man.
ANNOUNCER: Some advice for Scott Peterson‘s mother from another grieving mom when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
NORVILLE: Scott Peterson‘s mother is standing by her son, even as he faces a possible death penalty. A mother in that same position tells me what that‘s like next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEE PETERSON, FATHER OF SCOTT PETERSON: We‘re a good family. We don‘t have any record, anything.
JACKIE PETERSON, MOTHER OF SCOTT PETERSON: He doesn‘t either.
L. PETERSON: He doesn‘t. There was no domestic violence.
J. PETERSON: No drugs.
L. PETERSON: There was just—no, nothing in his past.
J. PETERSON: No financial problems.
L. PETERSON: And...
J. PETERSON: He worked three jobs to put himself through college.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NORVILLE: Those were the parents of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, Lee and Jackie Peterson, talking about their son.
The penalty phase of Scott Peterson‘s trial begins next week. And one has to wonder what are his parents going through not knowing if their son might be sentenced to death.
Well, there aren‘t many people who know what that‘s like, but my next guest does. Carol Kent‘s only son, Jason, is spending life in prison without parole for first-degree murder. Described as an energetic, kind and loving child who grew up in the suburbs of Port Huron, Michigan, he became the president of the National Honor Society. Jason then went on to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He pursued a successful career in the Navy and got married to a woman with two girls from a previous marriage.
But in a moment of rage in 199 nine, he fired four shots and killed his wife‘s ex-husband in a dispute over custody of the two girls. The trial was televised around the country, putting Jason‘s family on an emotional roller coaster and exposing them to attention they never asked for.
Joining me now is Jason‘s mother, Carol Kent. She wrote a book entitled “When I Lay My Isaac Down” in which she shares her story as a mother of a convicted murderer and she gives advice to other parents facing the same situation.
Ms. Kent, nice to see you. Thank you for being here.
KENT: Thank you so much, Deborah. It‘s good to be on with you.
NORVILLE: When you hear of yet another case in which someone has been accused of a terrible crime, do your thoughts automatically go to the parents of the accused?
KENT: Automatically. And my mind instantly goes back to coming home and going to bed and in the middle of the night hearing that phone ring, and my husband picked up the receiver and we knew instantly—I knew as I looked at him it was terrible news. And he pulled the phone away from his ear. He said, Carol, Jason has just been arrested for the murder of Douglas Miller Jr.
And I had never been in shock before and I tried to get out of bed and my legs would not hold my weight and nausea swept over me. And I thought this has to be the worst nightmare I could ever experience.
NORVILLE: The thing about this nightmare, though, is it doesn‘t end.
It has the trial process, the jury selection, the evidence.
NORVILLE: The penalty phase, which will now be beginning for Scott Peterson. And yet you, as we have seen Jackie Peterson, were in court every time you were allowed to sit in the proceedings. What is it like having everyone look at you?
KENT: It‘s a horrible feeling. The cameras never stop. There are microphones in your face. Everybody wants their piece of the news and you happen to be it.
And the cameras love to focus on the mourning parents. And I was in such distress because I knew my son‘s life was in the balance, that it was overwhelming to me. And so when I saw Jackie Peterson come out of that courthouse last Friday, my heart wept for her because I know what that‘s like to be in the glare of the public eye.
NORVILLE: There were people as she exited the courthouse—and we‘re looking at the footage—who yelled at her, how does it feel to have a murderer? Your son is a killer.
Did you endure those kinds of taunts as well?
KENT: I didn‘t have that exact comment said to me, but I did have a woman I thought was a friend come to me and she said, well, it‘s too bad Jason didn‘t just shoot himself after he shot Douglas Miller, because then you‘d have a funeral and everything would be over and you could get on with life, but this way there is no end to the sorrow.
And I found myself cringing, saying, is she saying it would be better that my son were dead than alive? Is she saying that even if a man lives his life in prison without the possibility of parole that life is worthless? And she obviously didn‘t understand the power of redemption or the power of purposeful living even if it‘s behind bars.
NORVILLE: What advice do you give Jackie Peterson, who will from last week on always be known as the mother of a killer?
KENT: I just want to tell her to enjoy the moment she has with friends and family who love her, because when you are in a safe cocoon with people who care for you and weep with you, instead of always talking nonstop, there is something of tremendous comfort in that moment. And for a while don‘t expect too much of yourself. And know that when the holidays come and when your son‘s favorite song comes on the radio, you‘re going to cry buckets and that‘s normal and that‘s natural.
And your heart aches and hurts. And then find out what you can do to use what‘s happened to you as a platform upon which you can do something good for society.
NORVILLE: But what about that sense of guilt which comes so easily to moms in good situations, the idea that I screwed up, somehow I didn‘t teach this young man correctly?
KENT: Well, we all do that. As parents, we play the blame game constantly.
NORVILLE: Yes, but even—this is someone who is a murderer. Your son is in jail for the rest of his life.
KENT: Yes. And in my case I go back to the fact that my son was trained as a military officer, and he was trained to protect innocent people. And he believed that his two daughters were in jeopardy in terms of being with a man who had allegations of abuse against him. And I believe he snapped.
NORVILLE: Has he said he‘s sorry? Has he expressed regret for the killing?
KENT: We‘re not allowed to ask him about what went on in his mind right before or after.
KENT: Because if there is ever a possibility of a new trial, then we are the people who will give testimony regarding his mental state. And so we‘ve been told legally that we should not ask those questions.
NORVILLE: But he hasn‘t expressed regret that it happened? That‘s not expressing...
KENT: Oh, he...
NORVILLE: He definitely had the gun in his hand. It was right there on the car seat when they caught him.
KENT: He is very sad this happened. There are no winners in cases like this. And when you look at the Rochas and the Petersons, you know when there is enough grief to get around on all sides. Nobody is a winner.
NORVILLE: Well, we‘ll let that be the last word.
Carol Kent, thank you very much for sharing some insights that very few people are able to share. We appreciate that.
KENT: Thank you.
NORVILLE: When we come back, a surprising story of generosity. And then later on, the Pistons-Pacers basket-brawl, why some say it‘s not just the players who should be punished.
Stay with us.
NORVILLE: The true spirit of Thanksgiving is this week‘s “American Moment.”
Genesio Morlacci was always known as a sort of frugal around Great Falls, Montana. He ran a dry cleaning shop, and later worked as a part-time janitor at the University of Great Falls. Morlacci died at the age of 102. But when the university announced that he had left an astonishing $2.3 million to the school, well, folks were shocked, first, at how he had so much money and secondly by his incredibly generous gift.
But to those who knew Morlacci well, it really wasn‘t a surprise. His former attorney said—quote—“He was the fellow who felt that if you didn‘t need to, you shouldn‘t buy it.” Morlacci was known to remove worn collars from his shirts and then sew them back on with the fray side down. He never made it past third grade, but his gift will generate about $100,000 a year for scholarships.
The university president said that Morlacci was doing something good for students that he will never meet. The generosity of Genesio Morlacci is this week‘s “American Moment.”
And when we come back, the fallout from the basket-brawl. A lot of you think the players aren‘t all to blame for the chaos. Plus, what do you think about this, the new video game that lets a player assassinate a president? You have your say coming up.
NORVILLE: We heard from a lot of you about the Pistons-Pacers basket-brawl.
Charles Rothbaum from Fresno, California, writes in: “Lost in the story of the baseball brawl is that the ballplayers are men, not animals to be taunted and abused. Throwing food and beverages down on Pacers players is a sad and degrading spectacle.”
Stackman writes in on the action that he thinks the NBA commissioner should take. He says:” “If he,” meaning David Stern, “has any guts and wants to step up for the league, he will lifetime suspend each player that swung at a fan. That is the only acceptable answer to me. If not, I am through with the NBA.”
On my interview with the creator of a video game in which the players get to reenact the assassination of President Kennedy, Amy Tucker, who is a senior at the University of North Alabama writes: “Mr. Ewing is terribly wrong for even attempting to put such a tragedy into a video game. How would he feel if the wreck causing Princess Diana‘s death was put into video game format? This is a slap in the face to the Kennedy family and to those Americans who felt that heartache of losing their president.”
Joe Hye writes in and says: “I thought your performance attacking his campaign for making money the very same way your company does, taking tragic events and packaging them as entertainment, was silly. Surely, if you were as outraged as you pretended to be, you could have chosen to not grant his company millions of dollars in free publicity.”
And on those nearly naked ads which encourage men to get prostate exams that have been plastered on billboards all over New York City, Barbara Gillman wrote and said: “Where‘s the outrage over advertisements that women have had to endure for years discussing their bodily functions? How about demanding respect for both sexes across the board?”
And Nancy Padberg from Zigzag, Oregon, writes and says: “You know what you tell your children about those prostate ads. You tell them, when we get home, we‘ll talk to daddy about him getting that test because we love him and we need him. Maybe if we get over our fear about talking about parts of the body to our children, their children won‘t have to talk to them about getting their tests done.”
We love to hear from you, so send us e-mails to us at
NORVILLE@MSNBC.com. We have posted some of them not only here on the program, but also on the Web page. That‘s NORVILLE.MSNBC.com, which is also where you can sign up for our newsletter.
And that is our program for tonight. Thank you so much for watching.
I‘m Deborah Norville.
Coming up next, Joe Scarborough and “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY,” more on the Dan Rather resignation, that he will be stepping down.
Have a good night.
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