Code of Silence?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, November 6, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIR MICHAEL PEAT, PRINCE OF WALES SPOKESMAN: We've got nothing to fear from this allegation. As I've said, it is derisible, it is totally untrue, although having said that, even allegations which are untrue can cause distress, great distress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Royal rumors concerning Prince Charles (search) churning up a media frenzy in Great Britain. Nobody's really allowed to say exactly what the rumors are, whatever it is. Prince Charles says he didn't do it. Joining us from London, Peter Graff correspondent for Reuters.

Big question, Peter, why would Prince Charles bother to deny a rumor?

PETER GRAFF, REUTERS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the problem he's had. As long as this was the sort of great unmentionable for the British chattering classes, the palace did what you would expect them to which is just ignore it and hope it would go away. But then this week, you start having lawsuits between newspapers or whether they can publish it and then newspapers writing stories about other newspapers trying to publish it. And the palace could no longer deny there was something out there. There was something out there and they had to just come forward and say, well, whatever it is, it isn't true.

GIBSON: So, there's some legal prohibition from actually discussing this in its particulars. And I caution you, we're not interested in discussing it in its particulars. But what happened? How did the courts get involved? No names, Peter. No names, remember.

GRAFF: If this were in the States, the story probably would never have seen the light of day. Even the newspaper that is suing for the right to publish it says it comes from a single uncorroborated source. But, of course, because they can't tell you what it is, it makes it very difficult for Charles to respond to the allegations. So, one newspaper on Sunday sues for the right to publish this story, whatever it is, and somebody sues back saying you shouldn't publish it, because it would damage my reputation.

By the middle of this week, we find out we're allowed to say but the person suing is Charles' male servant. So, by that evening, it is coming out that there is a story out there that would be damaging to Charles' male servant. What about Charles? And the palace has to come forward and say, well, yes, the story is about Charles, but it isn't true. Of course, the British people, all they have is Charles, Charles' male servant and a story. And, of course, there is a lot of pretty vivid imaginations out there.

GIBSON: Peter, this in a country where there is no evidence that they don't talk about anything. I mean, this seems to be very unusual that a blanket has been thrown over something when there's so much stuff about literally everything else that is discussed in public constantly. How did this get to be shut down in such a way as you never see in the United States?

GRAFF: Well, you know, they don't have the First Amendment over here. I mean, it is strange to say. I mean, it is a free country with a more or less free press, but there is also lots of ways in which you can get a judge to tell the press they can't print something in a way that would never happen in the states. So there is all sorts of laws that people can draw on, usually to protect their reputations. But, of course, once you start bringing judges and lawyers into something, things have a way of going haywire and here these laws that are meant to protect the reputation of someone like the Prince end up leaving him facing not an actual allegation that he could somehow counter, but this sort of virtual allegation that everyone says is so damaging. But nobody can really tell you what it is.

GIBSON: Peter, let's just be straight about this. You work for Reuters, big international news agency, operates in Great Britain.

GRAFF: That's right.

GIBSON: You were under a prohibition. You can't talk about this or report it.

GRAFF: That's right.

GIBSON: I mean, everything you've told me here you can say because you know the rules really well, correct?

GRAFF: Yes.

GIBSON: What happens if you were to violate the rules?

GRAFF: Well, there's a question. Who can really say? If I were to violate the rules and say something that was damaging to the reputation of one of the parties, I suppose they could sue me for damages and they could sue my company and they could sue you guys because you've got me on the air.

GIBSON: So, you are going to just stop right now, correct?

(LAUGHTER)

GIBSON: You're not going to say one more word, right, Peter? Peter Graff.

GRAFF: You can ask me questions.

GIBSON: I'm not going to ask you another question. I'm not getting in this trouble. We'll figure out later what really went on. But things are weird in Britain. Thanks a lot, Peter.

GRAFF: But, you know, you can also read about it in the Italian press if you read Italian.

GIBSON: Don't even do that. I don't want to hear about that! Peter, leave well enough alone. Peter Graff, thanks.

GRAFF: All right. Thanks.

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