For all the big journalists associated with Brian Williams' "Rock Center," it was sportscaster Bob Costas who put this self-important, over-promoted newsmagazine on the map Monday with his exclusive interview of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
What a "get" for Costas, and what a superb job of getting to the heart of the matter by Costas with the man accused of sexually abusing boys as young as 10 years old in his capacity as coach and head of a foundation that purported to mentor adolescent boys.
I hope Williams, the bowing anchorman, paid attention to what a real interview looks and sounds like. And Costas did it over a phone no less - he didn't even have in-person access. A good reporter and interviewer can do wonders with a phoner -- and the kind of focus and intensity Costas brought to the table Monday night.
Here's how it went:
Mr. Sandusky, there's a 40-count indictment. The grand jury report contains specific detail. There are multiple accusers, multiple eyewitnesses to various aspects of the abuse. A reasonable person says where there's this much smoke, there must be plenty of fire. What do you say?
I say that I am innocent of those charges.
Innocent? Completely innocent and falsely accused in every aspect?
Well I could say that, you know, I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them and I have touched their leg. Without intent of sexual contact.
The follow-up of "innocent and falsely accused in every aspect" is textbook in how you push without going over the top. And Costas had just the right edge of incredulity in his voice -- without mocking or ridiculing Sandusky. And for all the former coach's claims of innocence, the admission Costas elicited here is revealing.
Costas pushed hard asking for a response to allegations that Sandusky told the mother of one of the boys he allegedly abused that, "I wish I could get forgiveness. I wish I were dead."
Sandusky said he didn't "recall" saying he wished he was dead. He didn't address the matter of allegedly asking for forgiveness.
And all praise to Costas for piling on the details of the alleged rape of a boy by Sandusky in the showers of the Penn State locker room. Those details needed to be there even if some viewers didn't want to hear them. (This is the rape described by a graduate assistant who is now an assistant coach on the football team.)
The straightforward, hard-edged recitation of details (which don't need to be repeated here) from Costas, made Sandusky's explanation of the boy turning on all the showers and sliding across the floor as they "snapped towels" sound fabricated, false and lame.
I have had nothing but contempt for "Rock Center" since the opening night segment in which Williams interviewed Jon Stewart. The problem wasn't that the two "were out of their element" or somehow "awkward" -- as many of my colleagues said.
No, the problem was the smug, inside-the-Manhattan-cocoon-of-media-power that Williams veritably oozed as he chatted up Stewart about whether his stockings were anchorman-high-enough on his calves or how his children went trick-or-treating in exclusive high-rise buildings.
I found Williams almost as detestable as CNN's Erin Burnett when he tried to get Stewart to share an inside laugh at the expense of the "drum circles" at Occupy Wall Street. Freeze frame Williams and his words in that moment and you have a portrait of why so many hate the media so much. He sucks up to the mighty (bowing to Obama), and mocks the dispossessed out on the streets at night trying to make their voices heard so far below his mighty perch at Rockefeller Center.
Costas redeemed all of that with his interview Monday night -- that's how good it was. I didn't even mind (too much) the patronizing tone with which Williams congratulated Costas.
Williams does have a lot of power by nature of his first-place ratings and dominance in evening news. He has the power to now give jobs to guys like Ted Koppel -- that's a lot of power.
But for all the big-name, broadcast news guys he and NBC News have been pounding the drums of promotion over the last few weeks, it was Costas, the sportscaster who already has all the work he can handle, who delivered the journalistic goods Monday.
Read my Nov. 5 interview with Costas here. It begins:
Bob Costas is one of television’s most thoughtful and engaging sports commentators. His essays, analyses and interviews for NBC Sports are in a league of their own.
He understands the sociology and poetry of sports like few others – and is one of the reasons NBC’s Sunday Night football package is headed for a second straight year as the highest rated show on prime-time television ...
Here is the rest of the Costas interview with Sandusky, courtesy of NBC News: