Monday, September 24, 2018

More fighting words fly between CNN's Anderson Cooper, Florida AG Pam Bondi

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has spent the past two days defending herself and criticizing CNN host Anderson Cooper after he scrutinized her over her record on LGBT rights in a live national interview Tuesday.

Availing herself of favorable conservative media, Bondi called in to a New York talk radio show Wednesday morning that was hosted by a self-proclaimed "long-time friend" and also appeared on Thursday's edition of Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" morning show to lambast Cooper for how he handled the interview.

Cooper had countered back on Wednesday night — after Bondi's radio appearance — saying she is "either mistaken or she's not telling the truth" about the pretenses of her now-viral interview with him Tuesday afternoon.

In that original interview, Cooper grilled Bondi about the 'sick irony' of her vocally supporting the LGBT community after the Orlando shooting massacre, when she had for years fought efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Florida and even signed off on court briefs that said gay people would do "harm" to the state.

SUE CARLTON: Pam Bondi deserved Anderson Cooper's sharp questions after Orlando shooting

The following morning, Bondi called in to WOR radio — one of the hosts referred to Bondi as his "long-time friend" — and she complained that Cooper ambushed her and "completely flipped" by talking about a "constitutional issue" instead of discussing how the public can be on guard for donation scams.

She said "the interview was supposed to be about helping victims' families" by educating the public and that Tuesday wasn't "the time nor the place" to discuss a "constitutional issue."

"All it did was encourage anger and hate," Bondi said, noting that she'd gotten "horrible hatred emails and texts now based on Anderson's story so that was just sad, because he had a real opportunity to bring our country together yesterday to talk about what's right, and what's good, instead of a story filled with anger."

On "AC 360" Wednesday night, Cooper fired back. He said there was no "anger" in the interview and that Bondi wasn't brought on air under false pretenses.

He said the attorney general was "factually incorrect," because Bondi's preferred topic of discussion actually wasn't the purpose of the interview at all.

He explained that, before they went on air, he asked Bondi — as he does all his guests — what she'd like to talk about. He chose to lead the interview with her warning about donation scams, but then he said he wanted to hold her accountable for the contradiction between her past and present comments about LGBT people.

"It's not true for her to say that she was booked to talk about scams in the first place," Cooper said, holding up his producers' pre-interview notes.

"Let's be real here," Cooper said later, "Ms. Bondi's big complaint seems to be that I asked in the first place, in the wake of a massacre that targeted gay and lesbian citizens, about her new statements about the gay community and about her old ones."

He added: "It's my job to hold people accountable. And if on Sunday, a politician's talking about love and embracing 'our LGBT community,' I don't think it's unfair to look at their record and see if they have actually ever spoken that way publicly before — which I've never heard her say."

Cooper himself is gay. He came out publicly in 2012.

Seeking to have the last word, though, Bondi also appeared on "Fox & Friends" early Thursday to continue her attack on Cooper, repeating her claims of Wednesday that Cooper had said were false.

"Fox & Friends" Host Steve Doocy remarked that Bondi was "clearly blindsided" by Cooper's "political attack," and the network referred to it as both an "interview ambush" and a "bait and switch."

"He just flipped on me," Bondi said on "Fox & Friends" — again accusing Cooper of inciting "anger and hatred," although she also called him a "champion of the LGBT community."

Bondi's office on Thursday did not respond to a request from the Herald/Times for comment about Cooper's response to her claims, but she told Fox News: "The interview is what it is."

She added that she felt Cooper "cut me off" and "basically mocked me" for saying repeatedly that she wanted to "focus on unity and love" after the Orlando shooting.

After some back-and-forth during the Tuesday interview, Cooper pointedly said to Bondi: "I have never really seen you talk about gays and lesbians and transgender people in a positive way until now."

As evidence he mentioned that Bondi's Twitter history shows posts about "National Dog Month and National Shelter Dog Appreciation Day or Adopt A Shelter Dog Month" but nothing about Gay Pride Month, which is June.

Bondi responded that, "after this horrible tragedy," she did post an image on "my website" of "hands clasped together, all different colored, rainbow-hands people."

The image actually wasn't on her official attorney general website or her campaign website — but on her semi-private, personal Facebook page. Only "friends" of hers can see the image; the general public cannot.

Bondi had also complained on the radio show that CNN "edited" video of the interview that was posted online in order to cut out the first portion where she discussed the potential donation scams.

In his response, Cooper noted that the full interview aired live, unedited, for all CNN viewers to see.

While a shortened version of the interview was originally posted online, the full version of the 6-1/2-minute interview replaced it later Tuesday afternoon, Cooper said.

"I don't control what's posted online; I'm here on the ground," Cooper said. "I'm told we routinely shorten interviews online for time. Frankly, I wish they had posted the whole thing immediately, which they did later in the day."

In the interview, Cooper said to Bondi that he'd talked to "a lot of gay people" in Orlando who "thought you were being a hypocrite."

Bondi said in relation to the same-sex marriage fight, she was doing her job, which requires her "to uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida."

"That's what I was defending, it had nothing to do with — I never said I don't like gay people," she said. "That's ridiculous."

In a letter to Bondi that was sent to the Times/Herald on Thursday morning, one of the plaintiffs in Florida's same-sex marriage case said he was "dismayed by the response you offered to Mr. Cooper regarding your efforts in your relentless fight against the LGBT community."

"Instead of following the lead of other attorneys general, you decided to fight the case," wrote Christian Ulvert, who is also a Democratic political consultant. "You had the opportunity, as Governor Lawton Chiles once did, in saying the state is on the wrong side of history and unable to defend the discriminatory measure in our constitution. Worse, as the Attorney General of Florida, you declared that gay Floridians like my husband and me posed great harm. Those aren't my words, those are yours because it was done under your control and supervision. You cannot deflect responsibility to one of your lawyers as you said in the interview."

"I can only believe that your heart is guided by love, but your acts and words show a different voice," Ulvert added, calling on Bondi to now use her position to fight against discrimination of LGBT people going forward.

Bondi said in a statement to the Times/Herald Thursday afternoon: "I know Christian, and I am happy to sit down with him and my legislative team prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session."

Contact Kristen M. Clark at [email protected] Follow @ByKristenMClark.

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