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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Jeffrey Shapiro

Aired August 26, 2003 - 20:41   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: News organizations all over the country are gearing up to cover the Kobe Bryant trial. Accusations that the NBA star sexually assaulted a Colorado resort worker has generated heavy media coverage partially fueled by non-stop stories in the supermarket tabloids.
Our next guest knows just how far the tabloids will go to dish the dirt on a sensational story. Jeffrey Shapiro helped cover the JonBenet Ramsey case for "The Globe." Now he wants to start a foundation to help people who have been victimized by the tabloid. Currently working for CBS News, he joins us from Gainesville, Florida.

Good of you to join us. Welcome.

JEFFREY SHAPIRO, FMR. TABLOID REPORTER: Thank you.

ZAHN: So Jeffrey, you started working for "The Globe" back in 1997. You certainly couldn't have been surprised by the tactics tabloids use. You're a smart guy. You've heard them -- the credibility question is always raised about what you read in these tabloids.

SHAPIRO: Certainly that is true. However, what I didn't expect was the wide range of criminal activity that would be going on. There was a wide range of attempted extortion and bribery against police officers and a wide range of legal information brokering, Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Let's go about this in little pieces at a time. Very early on in your job you began taping conversations with your boss. That led to legal action. Why were you motivated to tape your bosses?

SHAPIRO: While I was working for "The Globe" they were writing stories that I felt were simply false. After conducting a very lengthy investigation about the case, I came to the conclusion that based on my sources information in the law enforcement community, John Ramsey was most likely not the key suspect and possibly even innocent. This upset me because my editors were continuing to publish stories saying that he was a pedophile and murderer.

So to document my conversations with them, I started tape recording all of my phone calls with them, one, to document the potential liable actions the Ramseys would have in the future, and two, to document any possible criminal activity.

ZAHN: What do you say to folks out there who thought that might look like you were gearing up to try and get some money from your bosses yourself?

SHAPIRO: Oh, well, actually before I started tape recording my phone calls I contacted the FBI in Denver and I spoke to them about the possibility of doing this. I was told that it was legal to tape record conversation in Colorado in a one-party context, and I was informing the FBI of my actions throughout the process.

ZAHN: Let me read to you what "The Globe" is saying on the record tonight about some of your allegations. "'American Media's' magazine stands by their reporting on the Kobe Bryant matter. Mr. Shapiro is a disgruntled ex-employee of "Globe" magazine and his opinions must be seen in that context."

What's your response to that?

SHAPIRO: My response is that the tapes speak for themselves, Ms. Zahn. I turned over 75 hours of those tape recorded conversations to both the FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. I never asked people to believe me, but I think they can believe their own ears when they hear that those tape recordings clearly display conspiracy to commit criminal actions.

ZAHN: And Jeff, finally, you talked a little bit about the actions of others. In your almost two years at "The Globe," when you look back to try to have a clear conscious about it, what's the weirdest thing you were asked to do or something you did you're not terribly proud of?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think what I'm not happy about is that I contributed to the process. Although I never broke the law, certainly my reporting helped them inflict a lot of misery on innocent people. There are a lot of people since I've left who have experienced a lot of pain.

I feel that the reporting on the Condit investigation has been very unfair to the congressman. I feel that what was done to the Ramseys was very unfair. And certainly, I was unfortunately a part of that. But the strangest thing that I witnessed while working for them was the attempted extortion of a police officer that I was good friends with.

ZAHN: And that is part of this investigation you're talking about that was sparked by your taping conversations.

SHAPIRO: Right.

ZAHN: Just finally, and I can only give you ten seconds, why is it, then, that nearly five million people a week read these tabloids?

SHAPIRO: They're exciting. People like to see exciting news. And for some reason I've notice that people seem in our society to like it when other people fail.

It's a very unfortunate truth, but the tabloids are very good at publishing stories that make other people look bad. And if I had any message for America, it would be just to say no next time they're in the supermarket checkout lines.

ZAHN: Jeffrey Shapiro, thanks. Appreciate you joining us tonight.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

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