CNN TALKBACK LIVE
Pete Townshend Under Fire for Alleged Child Porn; Columbine Memorial Controversy
Aired January 14, 2003 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ARTHEL NEVILLE, HOST: Today on TALKBACK LIVE: A rock star with the legendary band The Who says he's no pedophile. So, find out why Pete Townshend says he was looking at child porn on the Internet.
The No. 1 high school basketball player in the country lives high off the future, but Ohio athletic officials want to know where LeBron James got a $50,000 Hummer. Did he break the rules?
Then: Their children with massacred at Columbine High School. Now some parents are angry at the school and the courts for censoring their grief. Find out what the school won't let them do. The talk begins right now.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Arthel Neville.
Well, the rock 'n' roll world has been shaken by the arrest of Who guitarist Pete Townshend on suspicion of possessing child pornography. Now, the rock musician was released on bail earlier today and he has not been charged. The arrest is part of a worldwide sweep involving a quarter-million people whose credit cards showed up on a Texas-based Web site that advertised child pornography. So far, 1,300 people in Britain have been arrested.
CNN's Diana Muriel is covering the story. And she joins us now from London with the latest -- Diana.
DIANA MURIEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Arthel.
Tonight, the rock star Pete Townshend is back in his home in Richmond in southwest London, 24 hours after he was arrested by British police. He was arrested in his home yesterday everything, then taken to Twickenham police station on suspicion of making and possessing images of child pornography and of incitement to distribute those images.
Now, it's important to stress he's not been charged with any offense, but he did admit on Saturday in a statement to press that he has visited child porn sites, he says as part of research he was doing for a book he's writing on himself and his early life. But it is a criminal offense in British law to even look at child porn on the Internet.
We understand also that the investigation that the police were leading into Townshend before his arrest is part of this much, much wider investigation, worldwide investigation, which began in the United States, code-named Operation Avalanche, looking at people who have used credit cards to access child porn sites.
Now, Pete Townshend himself has said that he did use his credit card in one instance to access a child pornography site, although he did not download anything from that site, he says. So far, in the U.K., there have been 1,300 arrest warrants issued and 1,200 arrests have been made, including 50 police officers, eight of whom have been charged.
Now, the police at the Twickenham police station have asked the rock star Pete Townshend to go back and see them again before the end of the mouth. He must repossess himself to the police station before the end of the month. They have some time before they need to bring charges against him. And they've released him on bail. So, he's able to travel freely and to return to his home in south London.
I was outside his house during the course of the day. The neighbors he are staying pretty quiet about it. No one was prepared to comment to the press waiting outside the door about what they thought of the situation. He has some very up-market neighbors. Jerry Hall lives just two doors along from him in a house that she once owned together with her former husband Mick Jagger. And she has come out in support of Pete Townshend and his situation.
But the neighbors in Richmond today were staying pretty quiet -- Arthel.
NEVILLE: And then also, actually, Elton John had a little bit to say about the story last night at the American Music Awards. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELTON JOHN, MUSICIAN: I don't know anything about it, to be honest with you. I just -- I'm a friend of Pete's. I love Pete. And my thoughts are with him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NEVILLE: Short and sweet.
Meanwhile, Diana, outside of the neighborhood, are people talking much about this story over there?
MURIEL: Yes, certainly. It's certainly been leading the tabloids since it broke in "The Sun" newspaper on Saturday. And it's been reported on all bulletins during the course of the last few days.
It has shocked a great many people. Pete Townshend was never associated with this sort of activity before in people's minds, although he, himself, has said in the past that he believes that he may, himself, have been sexually abused because, creatively, he does come out with some things which could lead to that conclusion being drawn.
For example, he's said that the film "Tommy," about a deaf, dumb and blind child who is abused by his uncle, may have stemmed from his own abuse as a child -- Arthel.
NEVILLE: Absolutely. And, Diana, you're touching on something we definitely want to talk about a little bit later as well. Listen, thank you very much, Diana Muriel, for that report from London.
In the meantime, our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, is digging into this investigation stateside. And Kelli joins us now in Washington.
And, Kelli, how does a Texas-based Internet porn ring tie into this story?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Arthel, this all began back in 1999, when federal agents raided the home of Thomas and Janice Reedy in Fort Worth, Texas.
Now, the Reedys been running a business which called Landslide Productions. It turns out that business sold subscriptions to Web sites offering child pornography. And officials say that this business took in more than $1.4 million a month, giving you some gauge of the demand here, and it served more than 250,000 subscribers.
Now, all of the customers had to provide a credit card number for access to those sites. And postal inspection agents cracked the code that was scrambling the credit card numbers and they tracked down the owners of the cards. At that point -- now, this is back in 2001 now -- 170 people in the you United States were arrested.
And the records that couldn't be traced to the U.S. were passed on to Interpol in France, which sorted out the information to 60 separate countries, including the United Kingdom. And that is what eventually led British investigators to Pete Townshend.
NEVILLE: Kelli, did you say $1.4 billion? Or what did you say?
ARENA: One-point-four million, a million dollars a month.
NEVILLE: A month?
ARENA: A month.
NEVILLE: Unbelievable. Unbelievable.
OK, Kelli Arena, thank you so much. And I'm sure you will keep investigating that story. And we'll check in with you at a later date, OK? -- Kelli Arena.
ARENA: You bet.
NEVILLE: Well, there you have it, Pete Townshend, the most prominent person so far questioned as a part of an Internet child porn sting.
Here to talk about it more are Parry Aftab, a lawyer specializing in Internet illegal issues. She's also an author and executive director of WiredPatrol.org, an Internet safety group. Also with us is Andy Pemberton, editor-in-chief of "Blender" magazine, a music magazine from the publishers of Maxim and stuff.
I want to welcome both of you to the show.
PARRY AFTAB, WIREDPATROL.ORG: Thank you very much.
ANDY PEMBERTON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "BLENDER": Thank you.
NEVILLE: Now, Parry, we were just talking to our reporter Diana Muriel over in London. And she says that, under British law, it's illegal to just go to the Web site, bringing it stateside. What is illegal? What do you have to do to grab the attention of police in something like this? First of all, you shouldn't be going to the sites. Let's go there.
AFTAB: I don't know that anybody really wants to go there unless you have a special interest.
I'm an adviser on the Home Office Task Force in the U.K. against cybercrime. And in the U.K., viewing it, going to the site to view it is enough. Making what we call distribution and manufacturing of child porn here is defined as even downloading it or printing it to your computer. It doesn't mean you necessarily have children that you're filming.
Now, in the United States, it's different. You can view it, but you can't save it, print it, send it, distribute it, manufacture it. And if you only have a few images, it's actually an affirmative defense that maybe you were collecting it to give it to law enforcement.
What is interesting is that, in the van Dam murder in San Diego, the murderer had actually used similar excuses. He had gone to child pornography Web sites saying he was cataloguing them. And although that was kept out of the trial itself, there is actually a videotape that you can get talking about how he was collecting child pornography as well.
NEVILLE: Well, of course, we can't tie that case into the Townshend case. Townshend has not been charged.
AFTAB: In no way.
NEVILLE: Andy, let's talk about this research. Pete Townshend says he's doing this for research purposes. As you know, an earlier who album, "Tommy," "Fiddle About," there were lyrics dealing with child abuse. Talk about that for me.
PEMBERTON: Yes. It's one of the key songs from the album "Tommy." And it's actually quite a jokey song on the face of it. I think it was sung by Keith Moon, the drummer. And, in the song, he hauls off "Tommy" to essentially sort of abuse him sexually.
NEVILLE: Andy, hang on. Hold your thought for me, because I actually a full screen of these lyrics from "Tommy." It says: "I'm your wicked Uncle Ernie Your mother left me here to mind you. Now I'm doing what I want to. Down with the bedclothes, up with the nightshirt. You won't shout as I fiddle about."
That's pretty strong.
I mean, the way it's sung is in a musical style that is kind of as lighthearted as it can be, I suppose, given the content.
NEVILLE: And then also, of course, as you know, Andy, that Pete Townshend says that he's not sure if he was abused when he was a younger boy, and, in fact, that's what he's doing research on.
And here are some words from Pete Townshend now. He says: "I cannot remember clearly what happened, but my creative work tends to throw up nasty shadows, particularly in 'Tommy.' Some of the things I have seen on the Internet have informed my book which I hope will be published later this year."
And, Andy, once again, I'm certainly no psychologist or psychiatrist at this point. But you have heard stories of people who have been abused. They suppress those memories, because they don't want to deal with it. So maybe -- I don't know -- what do you think about the idea that Pete Townshend is doing this for research purposes?
PEMBERTON: Well, first of all, I certainly hope that's true. I certainly hope that's the case. But, obviously, the news that we heard that he's been arrested in the music industry, particularly, we were totally shocked. Somebody like Mick Jagger said, I think, this is the last sort of person you'd assume to be arrested for this.
The thing about Pete Townshend is, he's a very, very clever man. He's a very intelligent man. He's enormously gifted. And this sort of shadow of incest has sort of raised its head in this song, particularly, on "Tommy." And also, in on his own Web site, I think, a year ago, he wrote sort of briefly and a little obliquely about the issue of child abuse. So, it has cropped up in his work. It's very possible that he was abused as a child. But, obviously, I couldn't say for sure.
NEVILLE: OK, listen, I have to take a break. I have more questions for Parry and Andy when we come back.
And later this hour: High school senior and basketball phenom LeBron James is riding around in a sweet $50,000 Hummer. Where did he get it? Ohio sports officials want to know. Should amateur athletes be allowed to accept gifts as reward for their athletic performance? That's our "Question of the Day."
Tell me what you think. Give me a call at 1-800-310-4CNN or you can e-mail me at TALKBACK@CNN.com.
Stay right where you are. The talk continues after this break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
NEVILLE: Today on TALKBACK LIVE: Columbine High School officials are telling parents and officials to take God out of a new victims memorial. We'll talk with a father who lost his son in that rampage who says that this is nothing but censorship.
Don't go anywhere. TALKBACK LIVE continues after this break.
NEVILLE: And we are talking about The Who's Peter Townshend being arrested after his name came up during a child pornography investigation,
And, Andy, continuing with you now, Jerry Hall, one of Pete's neighbors over there in London, pointed out that, listen, Pete is very active with children charities and particularly those that concentrate on protecting children. Tell us a little bit more about that side of the story.
PEMBERTON: Well, he's a very sort of -- he's a conscientious rock star, if you like. He's not the typical kind of trash a hotel room, go completely insane rock star that you might think. He's actually a very quite serious man.
Throughout his career, he's done things to support the Conservative Party in Britain when they were tackling a heroin problem. He took part in that. He's said that he's linked to a number of children's charities and has done work for them. So, he's very much a conscientious man and that's what makes this news so seemingly out of character.
NEVILLE: Yes, but then there's a man in my audience here who is saying, you know what? So what? I don't care about his reputation as a musician, his reputation in terms of his contributions to charity. He visited a child pornography site.
PEMBERTON: Yes. And I think that it does raise the question: What was he doing there? He says it's for research. But I guess one could say, is it really necessary to look at pictures for research? Can you -- without wishing to sound facetious -- but couldn't you just get a book out of the library?
NEVILLE: Go to a psychiatrist and have him drum up some of those old, unfortunate memories and see if, in fact, what he comes up with perhaps does point to child abuse.
Parry Aftab, let me talk to you for a bit here. Is it illegal to do research?
AFTAB: Well, it's not a matter of why you're doing it. It's like, why are you buying drugs on the street, because you're doing research or not?
Child pornography is serious contraband. Now, assuming he was just visiting the site and not downloading or printing, saving, and didn't do any of his own production, he would not have been charged in the United States under our laws. He would have had to have saved it or done something more than just look at the site. But in the U.K., looking at it is enough.
Now, many survivors of child sexual abuse are drawn to child pornography. And I want all of us to be a little slow to judgment, because we really don't know very much...
AFTAB: ... about this yet. And because the laws are so strict in the U.K. that merely viewing is enough, it could very well be that he was innocent. But, if he wasn't, he's a very high-profile person and it's just another sad chapter of some celebrities who are being charged with serious child sexual problems.
NEVILLE: And he has not been charged. He has not been charged.
AFTAB: Absolutely not.
NEVILLE: Another question, Parry. What if you accidentally end up on one of these Web sites? I know you said, here in the states, that it's not illegal. You can't be arrested for merely going to the Web site, because sometimes these things pop up on your computer and you're not even trying to go there.
And that's one of the reasons why, in the United States, it's not illegal to go there. It's also a matter of our laws being very different here, because of our First Amendment and our Constitution. If you accidentally stumble on a child pornography site -- which is not very easy. The child pornographers know how illegal their content is and try to hide it.
NEVILLE: Why can't they just get rid of these things, Parry? These are horrible Web sites. Why can't they just get rid of them?
AFTAB: There are so many. The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children here in the United States just had 100,000 mark on the child pornography Web sites that have been reported to them. We deal with hundreds every week at Wired Patrol.
There are far more child pornography sites. And they're growing faster than law enforcement and the groups like ours can deal with. And, actually, this case, the Avalanche case, was started by a volunteer group called EHAP, Ethical Hackers Against Pedophilia, a few years ago.
NEVILLE: Parry, I'm sorry. I do have to interrupt you.
Andy Pemberton and Parry Aftab, thank you both for joining us here today on TALKBACK LIVE.
AFTAB: Thank you. PEMBERTON: Thank you.
And coming up next, the father of one of the Columbine massacre victims tells us the school is censoring his grief. Find how why he sued over God and some 4-inch tiles when TALKBACK LIVE continues.
NEVILLE: And welcome back, everybody.
Can Columbine High School keep God out of its corridors? We all remember the Columbine high school massacre; 12 students and a teacher were killed in the attack on April 20, 1999. Two teen gunmen also died. In an effort to heal the pain, families were invited to decorate 4-inch tiles to be hung along hallways in the school.
But there are rules. The school banned any reference to the attacks, the names of the victims, and what it calls potentially offensive religious symbols or words. Now, those rules offended some parents, who sued. But an appeals court sided with the school district and the Supreme Court decided it would not hear the case.
So, we have with us a very disappointed parent, Brian Rohrbough. He is the father of Danny Rohrbough, who died in the massacre. Brian's attorney, Jim Rouse, joins us as well. And also joining us is the Reverend Barry Lynn, an attorney and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
I want to welcome all of you to the show.
Mr. Rohrbough, do you mind if I call you Brian?
BRIAN ROHRBOUGH, FATHER OF COLUMBINE VICTIM: No.
NEVILLE: OK, Brian, I'll begin with you. What did you want to put on the tiles?
ROHRBOUGH: Well, the school invited me in to create a memory of my son. And when your kids have been murdered in -- well, murdered at all, the only place you can turn is to God. So, that memory, of course, had to include some reference to God. And on one of the tiles, I painted 13 crosses as a religious symbol and one cross for each of the innocent victims. On the other tile, I put a Bible verse.
NEVILLE: And Reverend Lynn, what's wrong with that?
REV. BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: Well, what the court said was that they were convinced that the purpose of this tile project was not to serve as a memorial for that terrible day in 1999, but as a way to reconstruct the school, based on what mental health experts were telling them, to create a new kind of environment at the school.
So, they specifically did not want these tiles to make reference, religious or otherwise, to that day, that date, any of the slain victims, or anything that could in any way prove offensive or controversial. So, they even asked to remove some of the tiles that had bride red colors, because that could symbolize blood and be offensive or disturbing to other students. So, I think the court made the right decision. It was not anti-religious in doing so.
NEVILLE: How so? I mean, it was.
LYNN: No, because they had a broad range of things that might create controversy within the halls of that public school. They felt that one of the things that causes a great amount of controversy in America, like it or not, is the topic of religion. The court said, you know, if you put up "a God is love" tile, somebody is going to come in and say: God is hate. We want that on a tile.
They didn't want the school to become the subject of continued controversy in all of the halls as these tiles were put up over the years.
NEVILLE: Then, if that's the case -- Brian and Jim, go ahead and jump in here -- if, in fact, it's not a memorial for these students and the teachers, if, in fact, it's just to restart, build a -- put a fresh paint job or new construction, then why not call an architect? Why even bother to invite the parents, because, of course, the parents are going to want to remember their children.
ROHRBOUGH: That's exactly right. Parents, of course, wanted to remember their kids. The school made a special invitation to us.
And Barry didn't mention to you that, in the office of the school, they have a picture that reads requested, "God wept over Columbine, April 20, 1999." Religious symbols, in fact, are in the school. It's just the religious symbols, for me, they wanted to discriminate against.
LYNN: Sir, with all respect, the fact that there are other memorials or that there are other references that happen to be religious in places that students are not seeing, literally, every time they go to class does not demonstrate to me and didn't demonstrate to the court that someone's got it in for you or that they're trying to make you an example because they are anti-religious.
I just don't think there's anything in the evidence presented in this case to suggest that they're anti-religious.
NEVILLE: But, Brian, you are not taking it that way, are you?
ROHRBOUGH: Well, first, he hasn't looked at the evidence, if he's saying that. Jim can give you countless example, literally hundreds of examples of tiles painted with religious symbols, but they're not Christian symbols in all cases. So, clearly, there's evidence to show they discriminated against my viewpoint.
NEVILLE: OK, Brian, listen, hang on for me.
Jim Rouse, I know you're there. I want to get you in on the conversation. I have lots of e-mails coming in on this story I want to share with you after this break.
We're going to continue with this and then, later, talk to former NBA star Lenny Elmore about high school basketball player LeBron James and where he got that Hummer he's driving around.
Don't go anywhere. The talk continues after this break.
NEVILLE: We're talking about Columbine High School's victims' memorial and why the school district is banning all religious references. Going to Oregon now, where George (ph) is standing by on the phone. What do you think about this, sir?
GEORGE: Hello, and thank you for taking my call. I really appreciate it. I think that once the rules of the tiles were established and they were made very clear, at least according to what I'm hearing, I personally think I find it offensive that anyone would not only try to be outside of the rules that were established, but also trying to use the dominant religion in a way that I may not agree with personally. And there may be a lot of people who would feel intimidated to speak up against having a particular Christian kind of symbol in the school. I understand the gentleman's pain.
NEVILLE: You're saying you understand the pain, but you're saying, listen, the rules are the rules and follow them? Yes or now?
GEORGE: I agree, exactly.
NEVILLE: OK. George (ph), thank you so much for calling in. And we have some e-mails coming in I told you I was going to share with you. Carl in Florida, "We need to be sensitive to the majority and the minority of every religion. The fairest solution is to be consistent and bar all forms of religion from publicly funded institutions."
Another e-mail coming in now from Ed in Illinois. "In today's enforcement of tolerance it seems that religion, especially Christianity, is one of the few culture groups that can openly be not tolerated."
And Jim, I'm going to go to you now, Jim Rouse.
NEVILLE: Talking about Brian's legal rights, does he have any at this point in this situation?
ROUSE: Well, you know, for the first time, the tenth circuit has said that there can be viewpoint discrimination in a speech that's sponsored by the school. Hundreds of people were invited. There's thousands of tiles on the wall. There's just no problem with putting crosses up. I mean, the court used this idea that we don't want to have memorials about the shooting and remembrances of the shooting, yet they allowed 13 stars or 13 butterflies or 13 birds or 13 flowers. I think my favorite tile that they allowed to be put up was lightning bolts with 13 red stars and two green stars. Obviously, a memorial to victims of the shootings. It's not true that the religious symbols put up by the school were simply where students didn't go. In the art hall wing or the art wing they hung a memorial.
NEVILLE: Right. So Jim, I'm sorry, I'm confused. Did you tell me what Mr. Rohorbough's legal rights are at this point?
ROUSE: His legal rights at this time are being trampled by the school district. He cannot express his viewpoint from a religious viewpoint in the public schools in the tenth circuit anymore.
LYNN: You know, Jim, the problem with this argument is when people go into Columbine five years from now, they're really not going to know who painted what tile. They are going to know, though, that if there are a large number, and it is as the caller suggested from Oregon the majority religion in Colorado, if they see a growing number of Christian symbols on the wall of what is essentially the -- a decoration in that school, they're going to say, look, this school must be a religious school. Because it's going to send out the message very clearly and without any question that this is a religious message.
And the court said, as you know, because you read the decision too, they said they don't want to have religion become the controversy or one of any controversies within those hallways at Columbine High School. So I think they made the right decision. It's the right first amendment decision.
They say they don't want the courts to control on a day-to-day basis what goes on in the schools. Schools have to have some discretion. They set up the rules and, frankly, now everybody has to abide by those rules. No dates, no names, no images of gangs, no images of religion. There are a wide variety of things that they felt might be too controversial and the court has ruled, I think, in the right and proper way, without in anyway insulting the memory of the students or the fact that there are memorials in other places, including outside the school.
NEVILLE: Mr. Rouse, do you have a...
ROUSE: Sure. I mean, the evidence was that there had never been any religious controversy in the school whatsoever. And the only controversy is being caused by the school district discriminating against a religious person's speech. The Supreme Court has been very clear in recent rulings that, once you open a forum and allow people to speak, if religious people choose to speak that that doesn't invalidate the forum or violate the first amendment and doesn't mean that you can censor their speech.
LYNN: Jim, this is not an open forum open to everybody. With all due respect, it is not about an open forum where everybody gets to say whatever they want. That's a public park or the sidewalks might be that way. But a public school is not, and this court is certainly not a liberal court. But they just said what I've said earlier, which is the schools have to be able to draw some lines.
They drew this one. There's no now impression that religion's being promoted in the school. And there are other alternative places for the memorialization aspect of that terrible day to never be forgotten. But it's just not in the hallways of the school.
NEVILLE: Brian what would you like to see happen?
ROHRBOUGH: Well, I would like to correct something Barry said. And that is he said it wasn't an open forum. In fact, the community was invited in and they created an open forum. At this point, I'd like the school to respect the rights of the people they invited in and allow them to paint whatever they think is appropriate within this project.
And the rules he refers to being clear were never established. Even in the court, in which we won, they couldn't establish the rules.
NEVILLE: OK. Quickly, I'm going to go to Anna (ph), who is standing by the phone in Virginia. Your final thoughts on this, Anna (ph). And you get the last word in this segment.
ANNA: Thank you for taking my call. I would just like to say that I think one point that's being forgotten is the fact that two of those students died because they were Christian. Rachel (ph) and Kathy (ph) were killed because they were asked point blank, "Do you believe in god?" And they were killed because they said "Yes." And the fact that god is being removed from this is disgracing their memory, because it's taking away the very reason that they were killed.
NEVILLE: Anna (ph), thank you so much for calling in. Unfortunately, I am out of town for this segment. Reverend Lynn, Brian Rohrbough and Jim Rouse, thank you all for joining us here today on TALKBACK LIVE.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're welcome.
NEVILLE: OK. And we're going to lighten things up right now and move on to a different story. Up next: a high school basketball player with real, real star power is driving around in a brand new shiny Hummer with rims. Is it a gift from his mother, or did someone break the rules? We're back in a moment. Stick around. TALKBACK LIVE continues after this break.
NEVILLE: And welcome back, everybody. I'm Arthel Neville. An 18-year-old high school senior in Ohio it set to become the next sports superstar. LeBron James' basketball talent is a national sports obsession. His team's games are covered on ESPN and he's expected to be the number one NBA draft choice this year.
Well, now the Ohio High School Athletic Association has some questions about where the young man got enough money to buy a $50,000 Hummer. Let's get the details now from Joe Mazan at affiliate station WOIO in Akron, Ohio.
JOE MAZAN, WOIO (voice-over): LeBron James isn't living a life of luxury yet, but his luxury SUV may turn his life upside down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well no one ever gave me a car, but then I'm not 6'8" with the great moves of the hoop.
MAZAN: The Ohio High School Athletic Association is now investigating how James received this $55,000 Hummer. Gloria James claims she gave the vehicle to her son for his 18th birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just a nice birthday present. You know, that's the way I see it.
MAZAN (on camera): A present you'd like to get too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, I'd really like to get one of those.
MAZAN (voice-over): According to an association bylaw, an athlete forfeits his or her amateur status by capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, of course, they need to investigate about it. They need to, because he ain't supposed to be having no, no Hummer, no, no, no.
MAZAN: If James violated any of the rules, he would have to give up his amateur eligibility. Officials at James high school, St. Vincent St. Mary (ph), wouldn't comment about the investigation but are cooperating with the state's investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I had a vehicle like that and I was 17 years old, I'd expect them to investigate me too.
MAZAN (on camera): A gift or something more? It's the $50,000 question here and many are waiting for an answer. In Akron, Joe Mazan, Action News.
NEVILLE: All right. Well here to talk about it is Lenny Elmore, contributor to ESPN. Hello. He's a former college and NBA player and attorney. Also, Steve Malzberg, a radio talk show host on WABC and a columnist at newsmax.com. Welcome both of you.
STEVE MALZBERG, WABC RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Hi, Arthel.
LENNY ELMORE, ESPN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks.
NEVILLE: Oh, good. I'm glad you're here. Steve, OK, rich kids drive expensive cars. Why can't LeBron?
MALZBERG: Well, if it's against the rules, then obviously he can't. And there's only one way to find out, and that's through the investigation, which they're doing now. You know, look, they say that the mother got the loan from the bank, even though they live in public housing, because the bank and many banks reportedly have been calling the mother and the family offering loans, because they expect a big payoff. They expect that the money will be able to be paid back later, once he hits the jackpot in the NBA.
So if they got the loan legally, I don't see any problem with him having a car. If it was against the rules, then he should be thrown out and he'll still be drafted number one by the NBA. So either way, really, this kid doesn't lose, and I don't have a problem with the car.
NEVILLE: OK. So, Lenny, let's talk about the rules. What gifts are allowed?
ELMORE: Well no gifts are allowed based upon your performance as an athlete, unless they come from immediate family. And you know, obviously, if that's the case, fine. But this is a bigger issue.
You know, it points out the absurdity of a high school kid getting this kind of national attention because he's so much better than every high school kid and has a talent that the professionals want to trade on. I mean, I don't blame LeBron James himself one bit if he's going to capitalize on these skills. He's in the position of making double-digit million dollars before he even plays a professional game.
But the fact is, on a larger sense, there are so man wannabes out there who think they're as good as LeBron James. And when it comes down to developing skills that might be marketable otherwise, instead of chasing the windmill of a professional basketball career, they're going to fall short . And many of these kids are going to wind up backing up the bus, picking them up, passing go, and going directly to jail and other places.
That's the problem. That we're so obsessed with that, that again, we're painting a picture that is unreachable for most kids. And most kids who don't have that skill are going to try and, as I said, they're going to give up on the opportunity to develop skills that might be marketable in other ways.
MALZBERG: But Len, with all due respect, it doesn't matter if they try to emulate this one-in-a-million talent and think they can go straight from high school to the pros without doing their studies, or if they emulate a college superstar basketball player and they think that the thing to do is forget the studies in high school and go to the basketball court so they can get the scholarship to college. Either way, it's wrong to do, and it's much bigger than this one man. The parents of these kids and the teachers have to drum home the message that you can't just rely on your athletic ability for 99 percent of the time. There are the exceptions. But to say because he's so talented and he drives the car he's a bad example, it wouldn't matter if they emulated somebody in college growing up and they say, I'm going to be like him, forget the books anyway. So it doesn't matter.
NEVILLE: Hang on for me, Lenny. Let me get...
ELMORE: At least they're in college.
NEVILLE: Lenny, hang on. I want to hear that thought. But let me get Bill (ph) in here quickly. Do you think it's OK for LeBron to be driving this car or not? You can have the mike. Go ahead, sir.
BILL: I think -- the first thought came to me is that mother used very poor judgment in doing that. I think...
NEVILLE: In taking a loan that was offered to her?
BILL: Even -- not a matter of offering it to her. They don't offer them unless you go in and apply for them.
NEVILLE: No, that's not true. Now you know they solicit people. They know this guy's going to be a multimillionaire. But I have to take a break. May I have the mike back now, please?
BILL: All I want to say is that I think that she used poor judgment.
NEVILLE: OK. We have to take a break. Don't forget, tomorrow's Wednesday, and that's Charles Barkley day here on TALKBACK LIVE. We're back after this break, OK?
NEVILLE: Interesting comment from Leon (ph) in Alabama. Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about whether young amateur athletes should be allowed to accept cash and other gifts. Going to the phone now. Ohio, Mike (ph). I understand you've played with LeBron? Is that true?
NEVILLE: Or against him? Which one is it?
MIKE: Against him.
NEVILLE: Yes? So what do you think about this story? You think LeBron should be driving around in that car? It's a loan that his mother took out at the bank.
MIKE: I don't see why there's a problem with it at all. I don't think he should be getting that for playing high school basketball, but for being on ESPN and the number one draft pick and all that, I don't see a problem at all. He's a great athlete and even if he doesn't do it in the NBA, he's going to make it to the NFL.
NEVILLE: Now, Mike (ph) -- NFL, he's good at football as well?
MIKE: Yeah, I played him against.
NEVILLE: Wow. OK, Mike. So when you hear stories like this and see this kind of stuff happening to people like LeBron, does this say to you, forgot college, I'm going straight to the pros? Or do you still have aspirations to go to college?
MIKE: Me, myself, I still have aspirations to go to college. I know that he's an exceptional athlete and he's like a once in a lifetime hero, you know?
NEVILLE: OK. Mike (ph), thank you very much, and good luck in high school and college, OK?
MIKE: All right. Thank you.
NEVILLE: And Lenny, going to you now, what if this turns out to be a gift from an outsider. What happens to LeBron?
ELMORE: Well, I'm sure that they'll strip him of his status as a high school basketball player. And I think St. Vincent St. Mary (ph) will probably wind up forfeiting the games that they won. Interestingly enough, all the money they're making on this scholastic, fantastic LeBron James tour -- the money that the school made -- I'd be interested to find out whether or not they have to give that back because they had an ineligible player playing.
But the point that the caller made essentially is he wants to go to college. He's got the support mechanism, probably, that puts all this in perspective. My worry is all of the other kids who don't have that support mechanism, who can't put it in perspective, all the kids who live in the projects with LeBron James and others. That's where the problem is.
MALZBERG: But Len, what are you suggesting? Certainly, you're not suggesting that James give up this opportunity to go right to the pros and become an instant millionaire coming from a family of poverty?
ELMORE: No, Steve. I said that from the beginning. I said that from the beginning. I don't blame LeBron James himself. But for most kids, 99.9 percent, this is chasing windmills.
NEVILLE: Then who do you blame, Lenny? Who do you blame in this situation?
ELMORE: I blame us. This is a systemic breakdown. I blame us, I blame the media, which is us. I blame parents.
NEVILLE: How is the media at fault for this, Lenny? ELMORE: We're covering a story. And ESPN has covered the story once, and that's legitimate.
NEVILLE: Yes. He's an extraordinary player.
ELMORE: That's legitimate. We're covering the story. But what happens is...
NEVILLE: Of course he's making news, right?
ELMORE: But what happens is other parts of the media and the sports media, particularly, we carry the hyperbole so far that reasonable inference and facts kind of get distorted.
MALZBERG: Len, we have to start with...
NEVILLE: Oh. Listen, guys, I'm sorry, we're out of time. Lenny Elmore and Steve Malzberg, thank you so much for joining us here today. We do appreciate it.
OK. I wish we had more time. Now it's your turn to tell me what you think. Does it matter if amateur athletes accept gifts for their talent? That's our question of the day. And I want you to give me a call right now at 1-800-310-4CNN. Or, of course, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll take your comments next. So stay right there.
NEVILLE: OK, everybody, it is time for our question of the day. Should amateur athletes be allowed to accept gifts as reward for their athletic performance? We have e-mails coming in on this story I want to share with you now.
Regina in Nevada says "LeBron and any other gifted athlete should be allowed to capitalize on his or her talent. They can always go back to college if they feel it's absolutely necessary."
Coming in now another e-mail. Cal in New York says "LeBron James has done nothing wrong. This is coming from the same state that approved that he, a high school kid, have his games on pay per view."
And Tina (ph) in Georgia, your thoughts are?
TINA: I agree with the last e-mail that just came in. LeBron has done nothing wrong. LeBron did not go to the bank and take out the loan to buy this Hummer. His mother did.
NEVILLE: Thank you. Got your point. I want to get a phone call in here. Who is on the phone now? Travis (ph) in South Carolina. Go ahead. You have 10 seconds.
TRAVIS: I want to say that I agree with LeBron James having a Hummer. It just proves to kids around the country with talent that if they push their talent to the limit, this is what they'll get.
NEVILLE: And that is the end of the show. We are out of time. Thanks so much for watching.
I'm Arthel Neville. I'll be back again tomorrow at 3:00 Eastern, 12:00 Pacific with more TALKBACK LIVE.
Coretta Scott King will be a guest on Wolf Blitzer's show tonight at 5:00 Eastern. You definitely want to catch that. "INSIDE POLITICS" and Judy Woodruff up nest. Thanks so much for joining us.
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