Mike Wallace wanted to interview Ray Buckey for "60 Minutes."
Danny Davis, Buckey's attorney, had instructed his client to refuse all interview requests since he'd been arrested almost three years earlier. But Davis said yes to Wallace. The prestige and exposure of the "60 Minutes" forum was too great to resist, especially at a time when Davis had concluded that the public might finally be ready to take a more "rational" look at the McMartin Pre-School molestation case than it had previously.
"We had passed what I considered to be the hysteria of classic witch hunts," Davis says.
Wallace's interview with Buckey (and five of the six other original McMartin defendants) was broadcast on Nov. 2, 1986. Although Wallace and his producer, Lowell Bergman, have insisted that their story was balanced and fair, it actually provided "the defense's most compassionate argument to date," as Ray Richmond wrote in the Herald Examiner at the time.
Richmond called the "60 Minutes" story "card-stacking at its most shameless."
Even Davis said, happily, that the program was "one-sided . . . wholly sympathetic to the defense point of view."
"I thought they were very gentle on him (Buckey). . . . . Mike Wallace didn't go after him," Davis says.
Wallace and "60 Minutes" enjoy being controversial and iconoclastic, but by late1986, they weren't alone in their skepticism about the McMartin case The district attorney had dismissed all charges against five of the seven original defendants 10 months earlier, and several other events had combined to arouse skepticism among many reporters covering the case--even those initially convinced that all the defendants were guilty.
It is not uncommon, of course, for some in the media to develop a contrarian view on any major story after a time, if only out of boredom or annoyance with the conventional wisdom--or a desire to break from the pack. But a three-month Times investigation of McMartin coverage, completed before the verdicts were announced Thursday, shows that there was more involved in the growing McMartin skepticism than just the predictable next step in normal big-event coverage.
For one thing, this story had dragged on so long that reporters were eager for a new angle; others may have felt guilty about their early lack of skepticism and may have been eager to redeem themselves.
More important, several reporters say they began to seriously question the legitimacy of the prosecution's case once they had actually interviewed one or more of the original defendants face-to-face.
Ross Becker of KCBS-TV and Norma Meyer, then with the Daily Breeze and now with Copley News Service, both said they thought defendants Betty Raidor and Mary Ann Jackson were innocent after interviewing them. Jess Marlow, then with KCBS and now with KNBC, says he felt the same way after interviewing Peggy Ann Buckey.
That raised questions in reporters' minds about the guilt of other defendants as well.
Widespread journalistic skepticism developed more gradually, though, as events unfolded.
Several of these events came during the preliminary hearing, which ran from mid-1984 until early 1986. The testimony of the children on several bizarre allegations--Satanic rituals, animal sacrifices, visits to a cemetery, molestations in a car wash and a market--raised many journalistic eyebrows.
Suggestion of Guilt
At the beginning of the case, reports of such charges--the more bizarre the better--seemed to suggest that the defendants must be guilty; after all, who could (or would) invent such wild fantasies? By the end of the preliminary hearing, reports of these charges--which had become even more bizarre--seemed to suggest that the defendants must be innocent; after all, who could believe such wild fantasies?
Reportorial doubts were also aroused by the courtroom playing of taped interviews during which the children's original accusations often seemed to be made in response to leading and suggestive questions asked by social workers at Children's Institute International. (As it turned out, those interviews played perhaps the major role in influencing the jurors to acquit the final two defendants.)
Disclosures about the hurried, inadequate early investigation of the case under then-Dist. Atty. Robert H. Philibosian, combined with the failure of the prosecution to produce a "smoking gun," elicited even more doubt.
"I'd always assumed the smoking gun would be a photo," Marlow says. "Porno gets passed around."
But the preliminary hearing produced no photos, none of the secret tunnels or doors or rooms the children had mentioned, no adult witnesses who saw a child being molested, no defendant willing to condemn the others in exchange for leniency or immunity--no irrefutable evidence of any kind.
"You could see the coverage take a definite turn . . . toward the end" of the preliminary hearing, says Faye Fiore, who covered the hearing for the Daily Breeze and now works for The Times.