ABC Touts the 'Message' Tyler Clementi Case Sends, Even If It Goes 'Beyond the Facts'

On Friday's Good Morning America, Chris Cuomo interviewed the man convicted of "bias intimidation" against a gay college student who took his own life. Co-host Robin Roberts admitted, "...So many people believe this case went beyond the facts, that a clear message was trying to be sent here." Cuomo, then touted the "message" that was sent.

He began, "The agony, in this situation, for the families involved, for people like you who fight for victims' rights, is we need a message about bullying. It's pervasive." He added, "Then, this case comes. Finally, we get that message." 

The 20/20 anchor (on GMA to preview the story) seemed to go back and forth on whether the need for a message justified what he, at one time, called a "confusing" trial: "The question is, is this the right case? Is this the vehicle to let people know nothing like this could ever happen again? It's tricky."

Cuomo also spoke about the case on the March 16th edition of World News. The journalist talked about whether it was actually proven that Dharun Ravi, the roommate of Tyler Clementi, committed a hate crime by recording a private sex act.

He oddly suggested, "This bias law was confusing. There wasn't a lot of hate evidence presented in the so-called hate crime case. So, this verdict today is not an end in the fight against bullying. We are at the beginning of that fight."

So, the law is "confusing"? The case may have gone "beyond the facts"? Certainly, the issues of bullying and Clementi's suicide are important, but shouldn't these points be a big focus for journalists?

A transcript of the March 23 segment, which aired at 7:30am EDT, follows:


ROBIN ROBERTS: But we're going to start with the ABC News that we're hearing for the first time, from the former Rutgers student convicted in the bullying case that made nationwide headlines. Dharun Ravi was found guilty of a hate crime for spying on his gay roommate, who later took his life. 20/20 anchor Chris Cuomo, and, of course, a good friend of GMA, you went one-on-one with this young man.

CHRIS CUOMO: Good morning, Robin, Josh. This kid, Dharun Ravi, is at the middle of the case and a controversy that is so important in this country. And this is the first time we get to hear him speak. When Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge in September 2010, it made immediate headlines. His suicide came on the heels of his roommate Dharum Ravi using a web cam to spy on an intimate encounter between Clementi and another man. And later, inviting others to watch a second date. Authorities called Ravi's actions hateful.

VOICE: We have reached a verdict on all charges.

CUOMO: And last week, a jury agreed. Convicting the now 20-year-old Ravi of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and evidence tampering for deleting and altering incriminating messages. But Dharun Ravi told me he is not the monster he's been painted as. And he did not have a problem with his roommate being gay. Did you want to intimidate him, frighten him?

DHARUN RAVI: No.

CUOMO: Did you record him having sex?

RAVI: No.

CUOMO: Did you out Tyler Clementi?

RAVI: No. I know I didn't because he brought a guy over in front- and then he walked him in. He went into the room, closed it. The guy comes out in an hour. There's people in the lounge. Everyone sees it happening. So, I figure, you know what? I figure, he doesn't care. He's okay with it.

CUOMO: Ravi says he does have regrets and he did things that were wrong. People will watch this. This is the first time they see you, they hear you. What do you want them to know about you?                            

RAVI: I want them to know that I was 18. I was stupid. I was just, like, a dumb kid, not thinking about anything.

CUOMO: Ravi turned down a plea deal that offered no jail time because he refused to admit he was guilty of a hate crime. He maintains he never bullied Tyler. Do you think you misunderstood how fragile he was?

RAVI: I really don't think he was very fragile. I think he liked talking to people. That's the only thing I got from him. I don't think, just because he's gay, doesn't mean he's automatically fragile and can't deal with anything.

CUOMO: How could he not be fragile and jump off the George Washington bridge? Something had to be very wrong, right?

RAVI: Um, something had to be wrong.

CUOMO: : But Ravi insists, whatever Tyler was going through, started before they ever met. Still, one of his regrets is that he isn't sure whether Tyler Clementi ever read the apology he sent, before taking his life.

RAVI: To this day, I say, you know what? I'll just say- I'll just think he read it. And he got it. And he- I'm going to accept that that that's what happened. And it helps me deal with it.

CUOMO: The case is far from over. The controversy that surrounds bullying in this country, we're just beginning to understand how to stop it. We do expect that sentencing will be some time in May. Not sure what's going to happen. Most say they don't want too much jail time. Dharun Ravi is an Indian national. What does that mean? After he serves his time, he will go through a deportation hearing. And it's almost certain he would be deported.

ROBERTS: And he could serve up to ten years? Is that the maximum sentence?

CUOMO: At the most. Very little chance he gets that time.

ROBERTS: Chris, so many people believe this case went beyond the facts. That a clear message was trying to be sent here.

CUOMO: The agony, in this situation, for the families involved, for people like you who fight for victims' rights, is we need a message about bullying. It's pervasive. So many kids take their own lives, get hurt. Then, this case comes. Finally, we get that message. The question is, is this the right case? Is this the vehicle to let people know nothing like this could ever happen again? It's tricky. There are no winners here.

ROBERTS: Yeah. To let people know it does get better, which is the campaign that came out of it. What were your impressions of this young man?

CUOMO: He's young. He's struggling with, what did I do? Versus what was done to me? What does he really understand about who this kid, Tyler Clementi? I don't know. But he's in a horrible situation. And he's going to pay a price that nobody else has yet. This is a very big deal, this case.

ROBERTS: Well, thank you for letting us see it this morning. And it's always great. You always have a home here, too, Chris.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org