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Much has already been said about the incredible interview that NBC’s Bob Costas did with Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of multiple sexual crimes against young boys. Certainly it will go down as one of the most stunning miscalculations an attorney has ever made – and that point makes you wonder if the recent, egregiously bad cable news environment played a part.
Costas told the New York Times on Tuesday that he had prepared to interview Sandusky’s lawyer, Joseph Amendola, on the new Rock Center newsmagazine hosted by Brian Williams. Normally that kind of situation has the undercurrent of spin on the part of the accused and ratings titillation on the part of the media.
There’s no point in droning on about what is being served in those situations or to slap down a layer of media criticism and take the practice to task. The fact is, those tight-lipped lawyer interviews with the media are commonplace. They’re not going to end because both sides believe they get something worthwhile from the charade.
But a Costas interview with Sandusky himself – a person who had yet to break his silence since the shocking allegations?
That was going to be gold. As Costas told the Times: “About 10 or 15 minutes prior to the interview, Amendola says to us, on his own, ‘What if I could get Sandusky on the phone?’”
That is such a major and unexpected decision that it ultimately trumps in importance what Sandusky said or didn’t, and even Costas’ universally-praised handling of the situation. That was clearly an all-in move for the lawyer Amendola. And based on Costas’ professional dismantling of his client and the head-shaking from legal types in the aftermath on why Amendola would even take that risk, you have to look at the circus that is cable news for even the faintest bit of logic and reasoning.
On the one hand, people like Nancy Grace have the reputation of judge and jury, hanging suspects left and right over the course of countless ratings-hungry programs, night after night. On the other, what does absolute media saturation do but dilute? If you let doubt creep in, chance lives.
As viewers, we’ve seen this going back to O.J. Simpson. Every tawdry disappearance, kidnapping or suspected murder gets churned through the cable news channels and their insatiable 24-hour cycle and endless desire for ratings. What we’re talking about here is the court of public opinion, of course. Normally a jury in high-profile, Casey Anthony-type situations is sequestered away from media spin. But any trial for Sandusky is still some time away. Was this a ploy by his attorney to trot out his client – who Costas rightly noted that many people already think of, based on the charges, as “some kind of monster” – to begin the calming of the angry hordes? To start the spin, the doubt?
Certainly any modern lawyer has seen what kind of mental manipulations can occur when their client’s guilt or innocence is debated ceaselessly on cable. Appear on enough shows and start portraying your client not as a monster but, for argument’s sake, let’s say a damaged person who is now filled with regret. You’re probably not going to jostle the opinion polls much in the early going, but give it time.
And on cable, they’ve got nothing but time.
The problem for Amendola and Sandusky, of course, is that Costas is not Nancy Grace or any other cable blowhard nor, for that matter, a TV journalist likely to swing and miss at such an opportunity. On cable, your percentages rise in that arena.
Costas took the limited time he had with Sandusky on the phone and eviscerated any attempt there may have been for spin or sympathy. Sandusky said he shouldn’t have showered with young boys and called the behavior that might have taken place in those situations, “horsing around.”
Costas quickly moved past such vague and evasive statements and meticulously recounted some of the eye-witness accounts of his alleged pedophilic behavior. The evidence, Costas noted, is significant, particularly when you factor in reports that were filed and those damnin eye-witness accounts. In a question-statement that cut short any wiggle room Sandusky might have hoped for in that phone interview, Costas said: “If all of these accusations are false, you are the unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has heard about.”
Oh for a cut-away shot right then of Amendola.
Costas then asked Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to young boys – a question Sandusky had to repeat and think about. His first response was the cringe-quote, “I enjoy young people” and he then added, “But no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”
Anyone who witnessed that interview – and only 3.9 million did, partly because there wasn’t much time to promote Amendola’s late, surprising proposition and partly because the new Rock Center isn’t exactly 60 Minutes in popularity. But millions more people will undoubtedly watch the interview online and what should be readily apparent to them is that this was a massive miscalculation on Amendola’s part.
His client may not recover from that all-too-brief phone interview, but don’t be surprised at all if, sooner rather than later, Amendola and Sandusky begin their Hail Mary redemption tour of cable news channels.
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