A Chilling Tv Interview Lays Bare Mark Fuhrman, Racist And Liar

Posted: October 14, 1996

If you missed Diane Sawyer's Prime Time Live interview with former Los Angeles police detective Mark Fuhrman last week, you missed one of the best TV interviews in years.

No softball pitches of the Barbara Walters variety here. Sawyer fired her questions right down the middle and was brilliant with her follow-ups. She was unrelenting, causing Fuhrman to squirm, to search for the right answer, to reveal what was going on inside of him.

It was the kind of riveting questioning that so many television reporters promise, but seldom deliver.

What the audience saw was the real Mark Fuhrman. No careful courtroom demeanor, no varnished version of the man, just a realistic picture of the individual many credit or blame, depending on one's point of view, with blowing the murder conviction of O.J. Simpson.

Sawyer walked Fuhrman through the questions Simpson's ``dream team'' lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, put to him in the courtroom about his prior use of a racial slur against blacks. It was Fuhrman's repeated denial that he used ``the N word'' that eventually led to his no-contest plea to a perjury charge and a probationary sentence.

``Was that a lie?'' asked Sawyer about his courtroom denials.

Fuhrman: ``I guess it was. I don't think it was a willful lie.''

Sawyer: ``Willful? What do you mean willful?''

Fuhrman: ``I don't think I intended to lie.''

Sawyer: ``But you knew at the time it wasn't true.''

Fuhrman: ``I couldn't put my finger on a time when I could have said, `Yes, I said it then.' I knew that I had said and - of course, I had used the word some way. Doesn't matter. There's no justification I can give you, whether it was a joke, whether it was anger, whether it was whatever. It doesn't make any difference.''

Sawyer: ``You just didn't know anyone else would know it.''

Fuhrman: ``I don't think it - I don't think it was not anyone else would know it. Maybe it was a combination of being embarrassed, not knowing when I had and the next follow-up question would be, `Well, when? Where? How?' ''

Sawyer: ``Yeah, but you're a police officer testifying in an important criminal trial, in which a man's life is at stake. There is another answer you can give, which is . . .

Fuhrman interrupts: ``This had nothing to do with this trial and this had nothing to do with that man's life.''

Sawyer: ``No, but you could not forget having 41 times said a word that is so charged, it is designed to wound and exert superiority over and do harm to people that you couldn't forget about having said it.''

Fuhrman: ``Well, I did. And when I heard my words on those tapes, I probably felt worse than anybody could feel, not because I forgot about them, because I did them.''

Sawyer cites a police group called Men Against Women. Fuhrman tells her it wasn't an organization, it was a joke, a bunch of guys who got together to drink beer. ``That's it,'' he said.

Sawyer probed a little more, then asked about a report that Fuhrman collected swastikas.

Fuhrman: ``Not swastikas, German decorations for heroism, daggers, swords, along with British, American, World War II and World War I.''

Sawyer pointed out that on one of the tapes, ``You call Shapiro - Robert Shapiro, one of the defense lawyers, a Jew.''

Fuhrman: ``Yes, I did.''

Sawyer: ``Wasn't meant to be a compliment the way you . . . ''

Fuhrman interrupts: ``No. I was - I was angry with Bob and - and I've always been sorry I said that. He always treated me with respect.''

Sawyer: ``And to all of the listeners tonight in this country who are black, a final word about what you think that word [the N word] does mean and when it should be used.''

Fuhrman: ``It shouldn't be used. And I'm sorry to be the one to bring it to the forefront in such a grossly insensitive way. I'm doing the one thing that I can - I can do. You know, I'm apologizing from the bottom of my heart for creating pain where pain wasn't necessary. I don't know what else to do. If it's not believed, I can't make somebody believe me. That's all I can do.''

I was personally surprised to hear Fuhrman say he apologized ``from the bottom of my heart.''

It was the first time since the former Los Angeles detective took the oath in the Simpson trial that it ever occurred to me that he had one.

Claude Lewis' column appears on Mondays and Wednesdays.

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