Guest: Robert Knight, Jerry Della Femina, Jeff Jarvis, Paul Pfingst, Mickey Sherman, Marshall Hennington, Ronda Hemminger Evan
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, the New England Patriots may be in the Super Bowl again this year, but apart from that, this year‘s game could look a lot different if you‘re watching it on TV.
ABRAMS (voice-over): Don‘t expect any more wardrobe malfunctions, not even in the commercials. The FCC has received record complaints and handed out massive fines since Janet Jackson took the stage. But has there been an overreaction?
And Michael Jackson is speaking out again in a TV interview airing as the jury is being picked for his trial. Why did this judge who seemed so obsessed with secrecy and gag orders let that happen?
Plus Florida authorities on a manhunt for a couple accused of torturing five children in their home.
The program about justice starts now.
ABRAMS: Hi everyone. First up on the docket tonight, it‘s Super Bowl weekend, but this year‘s game might look a little different. Not so much because of what is going on, on the field between the Patriots and Eagles, but what is happening in between the plays. Last year‘s Janet Jackson nipple gate seems to have had a lasting impact. The FCC received record complaints this year, over a million, more than five times as many as last year and more than 3,000 times as many as they got three years ago and ads companies had planned on airing during the Super Bowl like this one are being pulled.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know that it‘s five minutes until the show.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fine, I‘m on my way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That ends the first half. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an unforgettable halftime show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fresh, smooth, real. Bud Light.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: What‘s the big deal? “My Take”—the overreaction has gone too far from intimidating broadcaster to reluctance to show movies like “Saving Private Ryan” to concerns about airing Olympic events. The morality police has taken big government and arguably big brother to new heights. Sure the Super Bowl should be a family friendly event. I‘m not convinced that sexual innuendo is so much more harmful to children than watching violence on the field, but sure, the public should not have been forced to see the sneak peek.
But unfortunately this has opened the floodgates for those who are looking for some reason to get government more involved in programming. Joining me now is former TV critic for “TV Guide” and “People” and creator of “Entertainment Weekly” and the man behind BuzzMachine.com, Jeff Jarvis, and the director of Concerned Women for America‘s Culture and Family Institute, Robert Knight, who is the author of “The Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and Corruption of Popular Culture” and advertising executive Jerry Della Femina, who created classic ads like Meow Mix and the “scrubbing bubbles”.
All right, good to see all of you. All right, let me start with you, Mr. Knight. I mean look, we know that people sort of got this big sense of this is our chance to make a mark. This is our chance to change everything. But haven‘t—the pulling of all these ads, et cetera, hasn‘t this all gone a little bit too far?
ROBERT KNIGHT, CONCERNED WOMEN FOR AMERICA, CULTURE & FAMILY
INSTITUTE: No, I don‘t think so. In fact, this will be the first Super Bowl where I‘ll relax with my kids and I‘ll be able to watch a football game without worrying about them being scandalized either in the commercials or at the halftime show. You know, the Janet Jackson incident was just a catalyst. It really wasn‘t about her.
The whole halftime show was disgusting. It was beyond sexual innuendo. It was very suggestive. The NFL season kicked off with Britney Spears on the National Mall...
KNIGHT: ... doing a virtual strip show with people taking off clothes, simulating sex acts. And finally, during the halftime of the Super Bowl, Americans said that‘s it. We‘ve had enough. And why do we have to put up with this anymore? I think it‘s really good that the ad writers have to go back and be creative instead of just sleazy.
ABRAMS: Let me let Jerry respond to that. Jerry, is this forcing you to be creative as opposed to just sleazy?
JERRY DELLA FEMINA, ADVERTISING EXECUTIVE: I love sleazy. No, actually, the fact is that...
KNIGHT: ... hope not.
DELLA FEMINA: Advertising should always be in good taste without a question. But it‘s everybody‘s idea of what good taste is. First of all, there might have been...
DELLA FEMINA: ... a million people screaming, but there were 50 million people watching, 22 guys trying to tear each other‘s head off. Isn‘t there anything—I mean would you rather your children watch that?
KNIGHT: Yes, I would actually. I think football is a good, clean sport. It‘s tough. It‘s rough. But people like Reggie White played it, you know, an ordained minister. I mean you can‘t compare that with sleazy sex ads that sexualize kids who are watching.
ABRAMS: Well why can‘t you, Jeff?
JEFF JARVIS, CREATOR, “ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY”: It‘s about choice. It‘s about the remote control, Dan. I mean if—I don‘t like watching football.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh...
JARVIS: You want to watch football, go ahead and watch football. There is a bunch of choice. We have cable channels now. We have lots of choice. And I don‘t need a national nanny telling us what we can and cannot watch.
ABRAMS: This is another ad that was pulled from the Super Bowl.
Let‘s watch this one and then we‘ll get comment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See you next week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.
SONG: Easy to sin. Is it a crime loving you dear like I do...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, sorry, kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beyond belief, the new Lincoln MARK LT. Travel well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: What do you think Mr. Knight? You glad that one got pulled?
KNIGHT: Yes, I‘m glad it got pulled and I‘m glad a lot of the other ones got pulled. I‘ve been through the Internet looking at the ads that would have been and the ones that are up there...
KNIGHT: ... I think we‘re all better for it.
KNIGHT: ... these guys are going to have to get down to business, get creative...
ABRAMS: But that was creative...
KNIGHT: ... not be able to show everything...
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait. That—you got to agree, whatever you think of that ad, it was creative. I mean I‘m not going to say it‘s going to win...
KNIGHT: Well I could only hear the ad. I couldn‘t see it.
ABRAMS: All right. The bottom line is...
KNIGHT: I‘ll take your word...
ABRAMS: ... you know, it‘s a creative ad. And that—and my concern is more about just this sense—let me read you this—it‘s number two here. This is one of the indecency complaints with the FCC. This was over Olympic coverage and they have to respond and deal with every single complaint.
I want to air my grievance...
ABRAMS: ... about NBC‘s Olympic coverage of Amanda Beard. In one of their athlete profiles, they described her as the sex symbol of the Olympics and showed some incredibly inappropriate images of her to prove their point. This happened during prime time when children could be watching. Instead of celebrating the greatness of mankind as represented by the Olympic spirit, they showed pictures designed to incite lust and immorality, roots of many of the social ills facing our nation today.
Now, Mr. Knight, I understand that this individual wants to be a TV programmer and wants to decide what should and shouldn‘t go on. Completely legitimate note to write to the television networks and they should address it if people feel that way. But the business of getting the government involved all the time, big government, big government, big government, doesn‘t that concern you?
KNIGHT: Well, we‘ve had the FCC around for many, many years...
ABRAMS: They‘re much more involved now...
ABRAMS: ... than ever before.
KNIGHT: Right and they‘ve had to be. You know that the TV has gotten coarser and coarse with bad language with more and more explicit sex. I mean what has happened is Hollywood hasn‘t policed itself, so that‘s what happens. You invite the government...
KNIGHT: ... got to have minimal...
ABRAMS: When you say Hollywood, you‘re talking about...
KNIGHT: ... it doesn‘t have anything to do with crushing ideas.
ABRAMS: You‘re talking about the Olympic coverage, too, right, when you say Hollywood...
KNIGHT: I wish I had written that letter.
ABRAMS: ... showing of Amanda Beard, you wish—go ahead Jeff.
JARVIS: This is about—we have a First Amendment in this country.
Congress shall make...
JARVIS: ... no law abridging freedom of speech. That‘s what it‘s about. There isn‘t a cutout.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speech, yes.
JARVIS: There shouldn‘t be a cutout for some speech that he doesn‘t like or I don‘t like.
ABRAMS: But here‘s the problem, Jeff, people, the public doesn‘t respond well to constitutional arguments. I know this because I deal with...
JARVIS: OK, then deal with numbers. So 23 people caused the largest fight in FCC history (UNINTELLIGIBLE) America. Five million homes watched that show and you know what, that wasn‘t enough. The marketplace already killed that show. If you don‘t cross the marketplace, if you don‘t cross the people, then you don‘t believe in democracy, you don‘t believe in free markets...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, the marketplace...
JARVIS: You don‘t believe in all of this.
JARVIS: We don‘t need government doing this for us. I‘m the parent.
Colin Powell is not...
KNIGHT: Yes, well...
JARVIS: ... or Michael Powell.
KNIGHT: This would be like telling polluters like a big factory that hey, you parents out there, give your kids a gas mask. Make sure they don‘t go outdoors. We‘re not going clean up the factory...
JARVIS: Who‘s to say what is polluting language...
KNIGHT: We‘ll make you responsible...
JARVIS: Who‘s to say what is bad?
KNIGHT: ... for the air they breathe.
JARVIS: Who‘s to say what isn‘t right? That‘s not for government to do.
KNIGHT: The FCC is very clear...
ABRAMS: Yes, let‘s put up...
KNIGHT: ... and reasonable in its rules...
ABRAMS: ... yes, let‘s put up number five here.
KNIGHT: ... and parents want this.
ABRAMS: This—let‘s put up number five...
JARVIS: I‘m a parent and I don‘t.
ABRAMS: ... how the FCC determines...
KNIGHT: Well then turn on the sleaze if you want.
ABRAMS: ... how the FCC...
JARVIS: I‘ve got a remote control like you, sir, yes.
ABRAMS: ... determines what is obscene material must meet a three-prong test. The average person applying contemporary community standards must find the material as a whole appeals to the prurient interest. Material must depict or describe in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law. Material taken as a whole must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Mr. Knight, were you comfortable with the brouhaha over, for example, movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and concerns along those lines as well?
KNIGHT: You talking to me?
KNIGHT: Oh, OK. Well first of all, you read the definition of obscenity, which is different from indecency. The networks have a higher standard because they‘re broadcast medium and anybody can tune in, any child can tune in. And in fact, millions of children are watching at any given time. You know, people didn‘t dispute the right of the network to show “Saving Private Ryan” or even “Schindler‘s List”. It was the idea that it was on early. They used the “F” word. They could have tailored it to make it decent and still not lost the meaning of the movie because kids are watching...
KNIGHT: It was if because adults want this stuff...
ABRAMS: Let me ask...
KNIGHT: ... kids have no—they don‘t care about...
ABRAMS: Jerry, how has all of this debate changed the way, you know, ad agencies do business?
DELLA FEMINA: Advertising agencies are nervous. People are always afraid—and any kind of comment frightens them. But the fact is that—
I urge Mr. Knight, why not turn the sound off during the commercials? Why, you know, no one is forcing him to watch anything.
KNIGHT: No one is forcing us, but the airwaves are owned by the people and there‘s a responsibility to keep at least...
KNIGHT: ... a minimal decent standard and that‘s what the American people have wanted. The courts...
JARVIS: I‘m sorry...
KNIGHT: ... FCC...
JARVIS: ... but you don‘t speak for the American people any more than I do. I go to church every Sunday. I watch Howard Stern. I‘m American people too. It‘s my airwaves, too.
JARVIS: What makes you the person who can judge what should and shouldn‘t be on there?
KNIGHT: Oh, I‘m not...
KNIGHT: ... actually, the rules are pretty simple...
ABRAMS: Right. You could miss it. There is an FCC...
KNIGHT: ... and Congress initiated...
ABRAMS: ... the FCC, bottom line, they can. I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
JARVIS: That‘s the challenge in the courts. It hasn‘t been challenged since ‘75...
JARVIS: It absolutely should go to court. The networks have been scared because the FCC bribes them...
JARVIS: ... by holding licenses...
ABRAMS: ... that‘s a separate issue...
KNIGHT: So you want...
KNIGHT: ... to be sleazy...
ABRAMS: All right...
ABRAMS: Everyone stick around because I want to come back to the issue of the Super Bowl. One of the ads that will air during the Super Bowl that is already raising eyebrows that is going to air...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... Godaddy.com...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: We‘ll talk about that one.
And Michael Jackson is not supposed to be talking to the press, just like everyone involved in the trial. And, yet, in addition to a public statement, we now learn Jackson sat down for an interview with a TV host who‘s convinced Jackson is innocent. How is he allowed to do that?
Plus a judge rules an ex-lover of Michael Jordan‘s can sue him. Get this—she says Jordan promised to pay her when he thought she was pregnant with his child. It turns out the baby isn‘t his. So why does he have to pay her anything?
You‘re e-mails, email@example.com. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. I respond at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: Coming up, one of the racy ads that will air during the Super Bowl, take a look and talk about it coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I‘d like to be on a commercial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What will you be advertising?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Godaddy.com.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s a Web site where can you register dot-com names for only $8.95 a year.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what exactly will you be doing on this commercial?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could do a routine where I went like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surely by now you must realize that you‘re upsetting the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean to upset the committee.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: May I suggest a turtleneck?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. So Jerry Della Femina, that‘s one of the ads that will air during the Super Bowl. What do you make of it?
DELLA FEMINA: It‘s silly. You know, I don‘t think that you see anything that you wouldn‘t see on a street. You know, again, if Mr. Knight or if anyone objects, don‘t look. Check—you know, watch the Disney channel or the Cartoon channel.
KNIGHT: So I can‘t just watch the Super Bowl without having had the clicker at hand and make sure my kids don‘t see garbage like that, right? And that‘s your idea of freedom. You know, the First Amendment was raised here, but it doesn‘t mean free speech is infinite. You can‘t yell fire falsely in a crowded theater. You can‘t have live sex acts on your front lawn or in the schoolyard, although come to think of it, that sounds like a Planned Parenthood sex education class...
KNIGHT: ...but there are limits to speech.
JARVIS: But Mr. Knight, who sets those limits? Things can offend me.
KNIGHT: The people...
JARVIS: I‘m offended by the 700 Club...
KNIGHT: ...people set the limits...
JARVIS: I‘m offended by the 700 Club talking anti-gay.
JARVIS: ...did I say they should take it off the air...
KNIGHT: ...turn the channel...
JARVIS: ...no, it shouldn‘t. We have free speech in this country...
KNIGHT: That‘s because...
JARVIS: Let all these flowers bloom. We have lots of choice now. More choice than ever and that‘s a good thing. That‘s what America is about...
ABRAMS: Let me...
KNIGHT: The 700 Club does not...
ABRAMS: All right...
KNIGHT: ... run afoul of the standards that the FCC has set...
ABRAMS: All right, let me...
KNIGHT: ... and that Congress...
DELLA FEMINA: What if it offends my standards?
DELLA FEMINA: What if I don‘t want to watch that?
KNIGHT: Then you can lobby Congress...
ABRAMS: But to defend...
KNIGHT: ...to change the standards...
ABRAMS: ...to defend...
KNIGHT: ...they are what they are...
ABRAMS: ...to defend Mr. Knight on this one, there are FCC rules which apply here which don‘t apply to the 700 Club. Period.
JARVIS: But the FCC rules...
ABRAMS: Period. Period.
JARVIS: ... make no sense. That‘s the problem.
ABRAMS: That‘s fine.
ABRAMS: You may not think they make sense, but they are still in place.
JARVIS: But they‘re not enforced...
JARVIS: The “F” word is bad in one case...
JARVIS: ... OK in another case...
ABRAMS: You can challenge...
ABRAMS: ... but the bottom line is there‘s no comparison. I think Mr. Knight is right. This is no comparison...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys think...
JARVIS: Well the 700 Club is on broadcast too...
KNIGHT: Let me ask you. Do you think the movie “Casablanca” would have been better if they‘d had sex scenes and the “F word? I mean...
ABRAMS: But again...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the other hand...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that is not our job...
ABRAMS: Mr. Knight, but that‘s you playing programmer again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ABRAMS: All right, let me play one more ad...
KNIGHT: No, I‘m a U.S. citizen asking Congress to do the right thing...
ABRAMS: All right...
KNIGHT: ...like you can.
ABRAMS: This ad I actually do have a problem with, all right? I mean
· and we hear it all—I think it‘s even sometimes on this show, but this is cable. This is cable. Go ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the rare case an erection lasts for more than four hours, seek immediate medical attention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: All right. So Jerry...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s another thing that should go.
ABRAMS: Jerry, what do you make of all these ads for sexual dysfunction and—I got to tell you, they do make me uncomfortable.
DELLA FEMINA: They make me uncomfortable, too. They‘re looking to reach a male audience and the Super Bowl happens to have a male audience and they‘re on there. Again, it‘s your choice. I feel uncomfortable. I just turn away. I don‘t pay attention to it. I certainly don‘t think that they should be stopped from being on the air.
KNIGHT: Why not...
ABRAMS: Why not...
KNIGHT: Why can‘t the NFL say, you know, we have a higher standard than that. We don‘t want little kids asking daddy...
JARVIS: Then the marketplace will do that.
KNIGHT: ...what‘s an erection?
KNIGHT: You know, I mean come on. Why do we have to put up with that?
ABRAMS: Let me play one more. This is number 10, the Viagra one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember that guy who used to be called wild thing? The guy who wanted to spend the entire honeymoon indoors? Remember the one who couldn‘t resist a little mischief? Yes, that guy. He‘s back...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Well I was saying there that we were going to play the whole thing because a lot of the concerns are about the warnings at the end...
JARVIS: But you know what happens?
JARVIS: I believe the marketplace will take care of this at some point.
ABRAMS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the market—I mean the bottom line...
JARVIS: ... enough people complain to this network, they won‘t run the ad.
KNIGHT: No, the NFL should take care of it, not the market.
ABRAMS: Isn‘t—I mean again, you‘re opposed to the FCC as a whole, but it would seem that if the FCC is going to do anything, it should be—
I‘m not saying this ad in particular, but it should be monitored .
JARVIS: But Dan, that‘s just the point. Where is the line? Who sets the line?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FCC does...
JARVIS: Now the word “erectile dysfunction” is bad.
ABRAMS: Well it‘s not that...
JARVIS: Tell me what the point of law is...
JARVIS: ...that makes it bad.
ABRAMS: ...as you know, everyday in the law we have to draw lines and lines are tough to draw sometimes. The FCC deals with that challenge every single day. All right. I got to wrap it up. I‘m being told I got to shut up. Jeff Jarvis, Robert Knight, Jerry Della Femina, great to see you. Thanks a lot for coming on.
KNIGHT: Thanks for having us on.
ABRAMS: Coming up, “I‘ve Just Got One Question”—that‘s our new segment. The woman who claims Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her, reportedly recorded certain conversations. If so, what would seemingly dubious prosecutors need to hear on the tape to make a case against Cosby?
And a tabloid actually apologizes for calling this police officer one of the top 10 ugliest people. Now he‘s got a lawyer. Can he sue?
And the judge in the Michael Jackson case lets Jackson speak out again, this time the interview will be aired as jurors are being selected. If the judge is going to insist on a gag order and massive secrecy, then why this?
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Every day we‘ve got so many stories we want to cover we just don‘t have the time. We got a new segment. We call it “Just One Question”. We lay out three legal stories and ask our guest theoretically one question about each case. Joining me now former San Diego County D.A. and MSNBC legal analyst Paul Pfingst.
All right, Paul, first story. A local CBS station in Pennsylvania is reporting that a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby recorded telephone conversations with him after the alleged assault occurred. Cosby‘s people told us they know nothing about any tape recordings. Prosecutors are still deciding whether to charge him. But if harmful audiotapes exist, it makes you wonder why prosecutors were so dubious about the case. “Just One Question”—is it possible prosecutors didn‘t know about the tapes and is it possible Cosby‘s lawyers didn‘t know about them?
PAUL PFINGST, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Yes because they laid a trap. They could be laying a trap for Bill Cosby. If he doesn‘t know about it and he makes false statements, then they can come back and slam him with the tapes. So it is possible. It is a clever way of thinking about going it—going that way. Most people wouldn‘t do it that way, but it is still possible.
ABRAMS: Story number two. Michael Jordan‘s former lover is suing him for allegedly breaking a promise to pay her $5 million. The woman claims she got pregnant in early ‘91, told Jordan the baby was his, and says he promised to pay her when he retired if she kept their affair secret. It turns out the baby isn‘t Jordan‘s. She is still suing for the money and a court has decided the case can move forward. “Just One Question”—why?
PFINGST: Boy, tough call because if she said the baby was his and she entered into what would be a verbal contract for support, based upon false statements, you would think that would nullify the contract. But maybe at this point the choice is for Michael Jordan to put the proof on the table that the baby is not his and say, therefore, there could have been no valid contract because...
ABRAMS: It‘s clear...
PFINGST: ... it was based upon a fraud.
ABRAMS: It‘s clear though Paul. I mean it‘s clear—what if she believed it was his?
PFINGST: Doesn‘t matter. It‘s still fraud. She was wrong. The contract was based upon a fraud and the fraud was that it‘s not his baby. She should have been aware...
PFINGST: ... theoretically, that she had sex with another person and it could have been that person‘s child.
ABRAMS: Issue three, the “Weekly World News”, a tabloid magazine that often chronicles the bizarre published photos in this week‘s issue featuring the top 10 ugliest people. Among the images was one of an Arizona police officer who suffered major burns to his hands and face in an on-duty accident. After several complaints, the paper sent a letter of apology to the man and offered to donate $5,000 to his favorite charity. The officer turned the letter over to his attorney. The one question—can he win a lawsuit?
PFINGST: No, it‘s a despicable act but the people who did the despicable act probably get away with it, because the fact of the matter is when you talk about ugly that‘s opinion testimony. That‘s an opinion article and nobody can get you for libel for slander or for telling something that‘s untrue. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
ABRAMS: Paul Pfingst, stick around. Coming up, Santa Barbara D.A. Tom Sneddon is gagged. So is Michael Jackson or at least he is supposed to be. But the judge in the trial is letting him speak out on national TV again. Until now the judge has been obsessed with secrecy, so why he is letting Jackson talk?
And Florida authorities launch a manhunt for a couple accused of torturing five children in their home. The details are gruesome, but this is important. We get the latest from police who are looking for them.
ABRAMS: An exclusive interview with Michael Jackson just days before jury selection resumes in his trial. Why is the judge allowing him to talk now? But first, the headlines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL JACKSON, ACCUSED OF CHILD MOLESTATION: A large amount of ugly malicious information has been released into the media about me. Apparently this information was leaked through transports in a grand jury proceeding where neither my lawyers nor I ever appeared. The information is disgusting and false.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Michael Jackson un-gagged, his silence broken not once but twice. Jackson released that statement on the eve of jury selection. Less than a week later, the public hears from him again in a nationally televised interview on FOX News where he tells my friend Geraldo Rivera about everything from about why he invites children to Neverland to his view on why he‘s been charged in this case and how he thinks it will end.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: The bigger the star, the bigger the target. I‘m not trying to say I‘m the super duper star of—I‘m not saying that. I‘m saying, you know, the fact that people come at celebrities. We‘re targets and—but truth always prevails.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Jackson‘s statements were permitted in response to the release of secret and seemingly damming grand jury testimony leaked last movement. The judge allowing him to play defense, essentially. But the question is it too much. Jackson—first Jackson‘s attorney released a written statement. Then Jackson put out a video statement on his Web site and now a nationally televised interview.
“My Take”—I think this judge has imposed far too many restrictions on the coverage of this case. His desire for secrecy I think borders on the obsessive. So I‘m not sure why he let Jackson do this in addition to the other statements from Jackson and his team.
Joining me now, criminal defense attorney Mickey Sherman, MSNBC legal analyst, former D.A. in San Diego Paul Pfingst, and jury consultant Marshall Hennington. All right, Mickey, why?
MICKEY SHERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it‘s a good move on the judge‘s part. All he‘s trying to do is make it a little bit more even. He‘s leveling the playing field. There is no reason that those grand jury transcripts should be out there, but Jackson‘s been the butt of the problem there. As he says in his statement, a grand jury procedure is not an even draw. It‘s a one sided affair where all you‘re going to hear is really bad stuff against him.
And that‘s what the public and the prospective jury pool has heard. So why not give him one shot, maybe a couple of shots to do what he can to kind of let the jurors, let the world, let the press know that this is my side of the story.
ABRAMS: But Paul...
SHERMAN: It‘s only fair.
ABRAMS: But Paul, we‘ve released and reported on so much about this family and so many of the holes and the potential problems with their testimony. So it‘s not like the grand jury testimony was out there in a vacuum.
PFINGST: It offended this judge that there was a leak of this magnitude right before a trial and it should have offended him. It was an outrage. Whoever leaked this was doing it maliciously knowing a trial was coming up. So to punish the side that benefited from the leak makes sense to me.
This judge had to be furious that these types of information and pieces of testimony were released right before a trial. And I think he‘s doing the right thing. A defendant should not have to before he walks into a trial be the subject of a massive leak like this that could prejudice the jury against him, so I think the judge is right.
ABRAMS: Marshall, I got to tell you, I have always believed that this fear about poisoning the jury pool is overstated in these high profile trials. They get a lot of prospective jurors. Not all of them are following all of the details. In fact, most of them who end up on the jury didn‘t know that much about the case to start with and I think these fears about poisoning the jury pool—sure, it means you sometimes have to go a little bit longer in the jury selection process. But it doesn‘t mean you don‘t find anyone who doesn‘t know every detail about the case.
MARSHALL HENNINGTON, JURY CONSULTANT: Dan, let‘s face it, everyone has covered this case from the get go. I mean these potential jurors are individuals that fall into three categories. They‘re going to be individuals that either perhaps make things happen, watch things happen, or don‘t know what the hell happened.
And so the reality is that most of the jurors are going to be looking at this interview with Michael Jackson have already formed some opinion about his guilt or innocence from the very beginning. And what we find out from the research that we‘ve conducted is that actually after the opening statements about 70 percent of the jurors tend to support whatever types of opinions that they have with the evidence and the facts of the case to fit right into that 70 percent area in their mind...
HENNINGTON: ... in terms of his guilt or innocence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So...
HENNINGTON: And so...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So...
HENNINGTON: And so what that means is that this information that Michael Jackson is sharing can be powerful...
ABRAMS: Wait. Wait. Wait. There‘s a very big difference between saying opening statements...
ABRAMS: ... it‘s a big difference in saying opening statements have a big impact versus saying statements and stuff that comes out before the trial necessarily poisons the people who come on to the jury and say either I didn‘t see it, I didn‘t hear it or I can be fair.
HENNINGTON: Correct. I agree with you. You and I are not in agreement.
SHERMAN: Hey but Dan...
ABRAMS: All right, let me...
ABRAMS: ... let me play another piece of sound from Geraldo‘s exclusive here. Let‘s play number two here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: I do it because it‘s from my heart. And there are so many children in the cities who have never seen mountains, who haven‘t been on a carousel, who haven‘t petted a horse or a llama, who‘ve never seen them. So when I—if I can open my gates and those gates open and that bliss, explosion of screaming and laughter from the children and they run past the breeze, they run on the rides. I say thank you God. I feel I won God‘s smile of approval, you know, because I‘m doing something that bring joy and happiness to other people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: It‘s Michael Jackson, of course, explaining why he still feels—why he still invites children to Neverland. Mickey, I don‘t know if that answer really helps him though.
SHERMAN: Well, but you got to give Geraldo a lot of credit for not cracking up during that answer with the llamas. You know, basically, you‘re—you know it‘s not only the right thing for the judge to do as Paul says. It‘s the smart thing. He is going to protect the integrity of this verdict so as not to give the defense grounds for a mistrial or a new trial later on something later on, saying they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) bad publicity because of the leaks. And the other thing is that you know, all this is really is a long version of I‘m 100 percent not guilty from O.J.
ABRAMS: Right, but—I don‘t know. Does this help, Paul? Do you think? Does it help Jackson?
PFINGST: No. No, I don‘t think it helps. I don‘t think it hurts. I think, Dan, you‘re entirely right. A jury and jurors are capable of separating what‘s out there in the media from what they see, hear, feel, touch, and smell inside a courtroom. And what happens inside the courtroom in front of their face is what‘s going to govern their verdict.
And so I agree. I mean some of this may cause people to be leaning one way or another when they get into a jury. But that goes away real fast when you actually have witnesses on the stand, you see them cross-examined, and you hear what the evidence is.
ABRAMS: All right. Let me play one more piece of sound. This is Geraldo asking Jackson about the rumors surrounding his—just about how he feels about the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: Does it affect me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
JACKSON: Yes, but I‘ve become immune in a way, too. I‘m very strong. I have rhinoceros skin and—but at the same time I‘m human, you know, so anything can hurt like that, you know. But I‘m very strong and I just don‘t like people hearing about such false information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: You know, Marshall, when you watch this and again we‘re just getting little clips here, but does this convince you that Michael Jackson will not testify in this case?
HENNINGTON: No, it does not convince me of that. You know, the whole trial process is an up and down process. One minute you think you‘re winning then all of a sudden, you know, someone throws some damaging information that persuades the jurors to perhaps go against your case and all sorts of things happen. You know, you may be you may be actually losing in terms of the eyes of the jurors. This information that Michael Jackson is sharing with the public is not going to influence this case tremendously.
HENNINGTON: ... it‘s not going to make or break the case.
ABRAMS: But apart from that, though, let me ask you this, Paul. I mean you listen to Michael Jackson. You listen to that first answer in particular and look, he‘s not saying anything so horrible. It‘s just the way he says it. You know, look...
ABRAMS: ... he‘s allowed to be however he wants to be. But as a lawyer, you have to evaluate the way your client answers questions and you have to say is it going to hurt my case to put him on the stand.
PFINGST: Yes, I don‘t see his reaction as being those appropriate to someone of his age and his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) life. His biggest problem is that he‘s on television saying he likes to sleep with boys and he invites boys into his bed. I mean he‘s just going to have to explain that to a jury and I don‘t know that he can put together a reasonable explanation as to why he is sleeping with little boys in his bed.
ABRAMS: Mickey, I mean apart from the substance, though, just listening to the way he talks and the way he answers questions, as a lawyer, that is something that you have to evaluate when deciding whether to put him on the stand.
SHERMAN: But you know something, it‘s a different deal. This is not Ward Cleaver‘s son. This is Michael Jackson. We all know he‘s strange. We all know he‘s weird. He dances to a different drum. But the jury is going to be asked to be focus on whether or not, not whether he‘s weird and whether or not he‘s strange, but whether or not he committed a particular crime. And you know, one thing that proves the point is—and the wisdom of what he did with Geraldo is when we went into this segment, what was the role—was the video you showed. It was him dancing on the SUV. All that‘s out there is negative. This can only be positive.
ABRAMS: This is finally, Jackson—full screen—this is another quote from the interview.
I created Neverland as a home for myself and my children. It gave me a chance to do what I couldn‘t do when I was little. I couldn‘t go to movie theaters. We couldn‘t go to Disneyland. We couldn‘t do all those fun things. We were on tour. We were working hard. This allowed me to have a place behind the gates where the entire world I love is there. Other men have their Ferraris and their airplanes or helicopter or wherever they find their bliss. My bliss is in giving and sharing and having simple, innocent fun.
That‘s an all right explanation I think for Neverland. All right, thanks to FOX for letting us use that. Mickey Sherman, Paul Pfingst, Marshall Hennington, thanks a lot.
Coming up, police are on a manhunt in Florida searching for this couple accused of torturing children, doing things like pulling their toenails with pliers. We‘ve got the latest on the search.
Don‘t forget e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com. Read your comments at the end of the show.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. Let me warn you, the story we‘re about to report is gruesome and disturbing. A massive manhunt is underway in Florida right now. Authorities are looking for a Florida couple accused of torturing five of the seven children at their home. They‘re facing one count of aggravated child abuse involving torture for all five children.
Among the findings, malnourishment to the point of stunting growth, electric shock, toenails pulled out with pliers, bondage by chains or plastic strips, and feet struck by hammers.
The case came to authorities‘ attention when a 16-year-old boy living with the couple was brought to the hospital with suspicious head wounds. The boy weighed just 59 pounds, twin 14-year-old boys so malnourished they weighed just 36 and 38 pounds, the weight of an average 4-year-old. All seven children were removed from the couple‘s home last week and placed in the custody of the State Department of Children and Families. The couple was supposed to be in court Monday for a hearing. They failed to show up prompting the manhunt.
“My Take”—this story is so sick that I almost didn‘t want to do it in our show tonight, but after thinking about it decided that because of the nature of these crimes, we had to do something to help publicize the search for these people. Joining me now on the phone is Ronda Hemminger Evan with the Citrus County Sheriff‘s Office. Thanks very much for coming on the program. All right, so give us the latest.
RONDA HEMMINGER EVAN, CITRUS COUNTY FL SHERIFF‘S DEPT (via phone):
Well, John and Linda Dollar are still the subjects of outstanding warrants for the Citrus County Sheriff‘s Office, as you mentioned, for all of the heinous crimes that you listed there. They‘re wanted for one count each of aggravated child abuse.
ABRAMS: Give us the sense of how this came to light. So you discovered that there‘s this one boy who has these suspicious wounds and then what happens?
HEMMINGER EVAN: Well, from there it was determined that he was severely malnourished, which really opened up the case to go and really look at all of the children and detectives sat down and after interviewing all of the children, these crimes came to light.
ABRAMS: And the other kids then said, you know, they were hitting us on the feet with hammers and pulling our toenails out, et cetera?
HEMMINGER EVAN: Yes, I think it‘s probably important to let everyone know, you know, at this point it—we‘re still trying to figure out, you know, what abuse took place to which children. All of the things that you listed didn‘t necessarily happen to all five of the children, but it happened at some point to some of the children.
ABRAMS: There was a quote from someone in the Sheriff‘s Department talking about what these children looked like. Can you give us—there it is—can you give us a sense of your take on how they appeared?
HEMMINGER EVAN: I have not viewed the photographs, so I couldn‘t tell you my personal opinion on that.
ABRAMS: OK, let me give some information here that may be of use. Let‘s put up number one. The Dollars are believed to be driving a motor home that was towing a Lexus. Is that correct?
HEMMINGER EVAN: Actually, that‘s—the most news that we‘ve been able to update today. We did locate the motor home at an R.V. park in Polk County, which is in Florida and right now our focus has shifted to that 2000 gold color four-door Lexus, which we believe to be an SUV.
ABRAMS: All right. So let‘s—is license plate still DH41D?
HEMMINGER EVAN: Yes, that would be it.
ABRAMS: All right, let‘s put that up again. Just forget the top part, ladies and gentlemen. Please just focus on the bottom. It appears to be an SUV Lexus 2000, gold with that Florida license plate you see right there, DH41D. Let‘s put up the number here. If anyone has got any information, you can call 352-726-1121. And they were supposed to show up, right, in court and that‘s what prompted the manhunt?
HEMMINGER EVAN: That‘s correct. And we believe that they have fled the county. They are on the run and I would encourage your viewers out there, anyone who maybe if they‘ve seen them or seen this vehicle they can also call 911 directly and their jurisdiction will forward that information on to the Citrus County Sheriff‘s Office.
ABRAMS: All right, Ms. Hemminger Evan, thanks very much for taking time to come on the program.
HEMMINGER EVAN: Thank you.
ABRAMS: You‘ve heard the saying no good deed goes unpunished. Never more true in Colorado. Two girls baked cookies for their neighbor. The neighbor sued saying their good deed caused her anxiety and she won. I guess that is the way the cookie crumbles. It is tonight‘s “OH PLEAs!”.
ABRAMS: Coming up, why it‘s time to take some power and money away from certain trial lawyers. It‘s my “Closing Argument”.
ABRAMS: My “Closing Argument”—why we all should care about the so-called Class Action Fairness Act. It sounds obscure. It‘s really pretty simple. Right now a lawyer is suing in one of these cases always gets the home-field advantage. Meaning, a plaintiff‘s lawyer can look at an automobile or a drug liability case and ask where can I get the biggest payout?
Say the lawyer picks a town in Missouri. Then he or she simply needs to show that the corporation is doing some kind of business there. Just about anything will do. The lawyer can then file the case in Missouri and ask that it be certified as a class action even if every single one of the hundreds or thousands of plaintiffs live in California. New bill in Congress would require large class action suits to be filed in federal court, not state court.
That would mean trial lawyers couldn‘t shop their cases around to the most generous of jurisdictions. Instead, they‘d have to deal with tougher federal standards. And here‘s the part that really gets the trial lawyers. The bill would ensure they can‘t pocket absorbent attorneys‘ fees either. In particular, it would prevent them from taking home multimillion-dollar payouts, while the people who were supposedly injured get coupons.
Remember there was a case in Georgia, a bowling alley accused of harassing customers with unsolicited faxes. The attorneys took home a quarter million. The plaintiffs got coupons for a few free games. Not surprisingly, the opposition is big. It‘s powerful. State Attorneys General, some consumer groups, civil rights groups, and of course the trial attorneys, they all hate it. They say it‘ll force individuals to file cases on their own rather than together as a class where they‘re more powerful and that legitimate claims will never make it through the courthouse door.
Well that might happen in certain cases. And I have some concerns with certain parts of the legislation. When you compare that to the abuses that exist in the current system, it‘s a no-brainer.
Coming up in 60 seconds, why one of my viewers is convinced that I have a drug habit. Stay with us.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. I‘ve had my say, now it‘s time for “Your Rebuttal”. Last night we introduced you to a couple in Norwood Ohio who lived in their house for over 30 years and now have to move because the government has forced them do it, paid them for it so that the developer can expand his nearby mall and build chain stores. It‘s called eminent domain.
From Ohio Tracey Johnson writes, “You failed to focus on the fact that the other 60-plus residents were affected by the eminent domain agreed to sell their homes. The couple that you featured on the show are the lone holdouts. Other homeowners are very angry with the couple.”
Also from Ohio, Vic and Becky Dupre. “We lived in Norwood, Ohio a few years ago. The houses in the renewal project are, as the mayor said, run down and depressed. Sold on their own, they‘d get about $85,000 in good condition. Where was my 280,000 -- that‘s what the family got—when we moved to the burbs?”
Scott Jenny writes, “If the Norwood City Council has the nerve to
appear on your show, ask them if they would give up their homes to the
developers or if they would force their parents to hand over their homes to
the shopping mall developers?‘
Carla Kirby, “Why couldn‘t the city pay to have the home moved to another site and give the family a lesser amount for the lot? It sounds like the house is what they want, now where it is.”
Finally, Marisol Perdomo in California has a question. “I really like you and your show, but there‘s one thing that bothers me, you always have to clear your throat on the air. It reminds me of a young man I used to know. He was very attractive and successful like yourself. He always had to clear his throat. Later I found out that this was caused by a coke habit. I‘m not saying you have the same habit. I‘m just saying it reminds me of him every time you clear your throat.
I‘m not saying you have a coke habit, but—come on, Marisol. I‘ve had a cold. I know. It‘s bothering me too. I promise.
Your e-mails, one word—firstname.lastname@example.org. We go through them at the end of the show.
“OH PLEAs!”—sugar and spice is not always nice. Two teenage Colorado girls, Taylor Ostergaard and Lindsey Jo Zellitti missed a summer dance at their high school and decided to act effectively as Easter bunnies delivering their neighbors baskets full of cookies and well wishes. Heeding warnings from their parents to be safe, the girls only visited neighbors who had their lights on. The girls knocked on the neighbors‘ doors, dropped the goodies and ran off.
Apparently one neighbor‘s cookie drop didn‘t have enough sugar to sweeten her snicker doodle. Forty-nine-year-old Wanita Renea Young, terrified by the knocks on her door at 10:30 p.m. called the police, fearing the little bakers were burglars. The police found no crime, but the damage was done.
The arrival of chocolate chip and sugar cookies adorned with heart-shaped notes put her over the edge. She said she suffered an anxiety attack and ended up in the hospital the next day. The T & L Club, as the two girls signed their notes, wrote personal letters of apology to Young, claiming—but Young claimed the apologies rang false.
She sued the cookie cutters. The girls were ordered to pay $900 to cover Young‘s medical bills, giving new meaning to the term “cookie monster”.
That does it for us tonight. Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews. Thanks for watching. See you.
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