Anderson Cooper CNN Segments on Cleveland Abductor Ariel Castro Focus on & Educate About Psychopathy
Many throughout the world consider Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who abducted three girls and held them captive for approximately ten years, a monster. On August 1, 2013, Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus 1000 years. At the sentencing hearing that day, Castro spoke. He took this opportunity to tell the world that he is “not a monster.” In the process of doing so, he claimed that this decade long ordeal was due to his addiction to porn and also seemed to, stunningly, come very close to blaming his victims for their own abduction.
That evening, on his CNN program, Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper discussed with a number of guests the events of the hearing and Castro’s behavior during it, including his persistent shirking of responsibility. Throughout the show, the topic of psychopathy was front and center. In fact, the words “psychopath” or “psychopathy” were used 19 times during the episode. And, unlike in many cases, they were used appropriately and accurately.
What was most heartening was that Cooper, as well as several of his guests, exhibited a genuine understanding of how important it is to expose the public to and educate them about the true nature of psychopaths. A number of important lessons about them were conveyed during the episode.
The focus on psychopathy was evident right from the get-go. At the beginning of the show, before playing the first footage from the hearing, Cooper prefaced it by saying:
“Now it’s very rare to see someone who may be a true psychopath justify their crimes. Today in court on live television, we saw just that.”
After the footage played, Cooper first spoke with reporter Pamela Brown and started the interview by asking her:
“What struck you the most in the court today? Because watching this, I just found it — don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, hearing this man who — we’re going to hear more from experts ahead, but I mean, his — I mean, he seems to be a psychopath that he actually believes these things that he was saying.”
After the segment with Brown ended, Cooper played a clip from the hearing where Castro appears to blame his victims even while denying doing so.
He then asked former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole about the clip. She responded (watch :38-1:11 in above video):
“He’s absolutely blaming the three survivors. He’s taking no responsibility for his behavior. And that’s very classic psychopathy. We were – all of us – witnessing, in my opinion, a classic psychopath today…He’s not out of touch with reality, he knows right from wrong, the rules don’t apply for him and the hallmark again is this inability to empathize or feel guilt. It was all about him today. All about him.”
Cooper then asked O’Toole to explain why the prosecution’s forensic psychiatrist stated that Castro has no mental illness. O’Toole explained that this is accurate since Castro is not delusional or psychotic and knew right from wrong. (watch 1:11-2:15 in above video)
“Psychopath is not a mental illness. Psychopath is a personality disorder, it’s not a mental illness. We sometimes confuse those two, but someone who’s mentally ill may not understand the nature or the consequences of their actions. Not the case with Ariel Castro.”
Cooper then turned to Dr. Drew Pinsky, who agreed fully with O’Toole, stating that Castro is a “full-fledged psychopath.” Dr. Drew said (watch 3:47-4:03 in above video ):
“When you listen to this guy your brain just goes out of kilt, like how could he possibly be this way. I see the astonishment on your face, Anderson. And it is astonishing when you hear how a psychopath thinks and then you see what they have done to other people and don’t seem to be able to understand that.”
“Well, that — I mean, that’s why I do think it’s important to — you know, as hard as it was, important to actually listen and see this guy’s face because it’s rare to actually see a psychopath — you know, you see them in movies and stuff and they’re kind of — you know, an actor kind of make — this is apparently, it seems like a true psychopath and just the coldness of it, it was — just stunning to watch. And you found it hard to watch.”
Later in the episode, attorney Mark Geragos called into question the value of Castro’s sentencing hearing for the public, referring to it, from a legal perspective, as “a parade of lunacy.” But Cooper stood his ground:
“I found — I mean, maybe just because I work in television I’m interested in people’s stories and try to understand people, and Mary Ellen, I want to talk to you about this, but I do find it valuable to look into the face of a psychopath…And to actually identify and say you know what? There are psychopaths among them — among us, this is what it looks like.”
At this point, while very glad to see some public education on the issue, I worried that perhaps Cooper was misleading people a bit into thinking that psychopaths generally are violent abductors like Castro. But he soon assuaged that concern.
O’Toole spoke further about how stunning the psychopath’s bald-faced lying and manipulation is.
Dr. Drew agreed with Cooper’s response to Geragos, saying:
“I think they have done a public service by taking a good, hard look at this guy. These people tend to be manipulative, charming. They are in many of our lives. If you — you cannot believe what many people say and if you see any evidence that someone is behaving inappropriately you must act no matter what they say and really be suspicious.
A lot of people lie in our country, a lot of people have sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies and you’re looking quite squarely in the face of it tonight. There it is. That’s how they think. They don’t understand emotions. They only act as if they had emotions because they have none.”
And then Cooper made the point I was hoping he’d make and, in light of the book Snakes in Suits, made it very appropriately:
“And I — you know, I think that’s a good point, Dr. Drew, because you put that guy in a suit, and he could be — look, I mean, he could be a college professor. He could be anybody that you run across at any point of the day.”
The point was then made that, in her speech at the sentencing hearing, one of Castro’s victims, Michelle Knight, mentioned how Castro would go to church each week before coming home to his captives chained up in his house…
– an incredible example of the double life that people like Castro can pull off for years.
In a later segment, Cooper interviewed Rebecca Bailey, the personal therapist of Jaycee Dugard, another woman who was abducted as a child and whose rescue, after 18 years of captivity, made headlines in 2009. Bailey made some key points about the psychopath’s remorselessness, stating:
“I was saying earlier that’s a psychopath in there, they never have to say they’re sorry. They never feel it. They never have to experience it. That’s part of the seduction of being a psychopath in my mind.”
Cooper then reinforced the crucial lesson of how difficult psychopaths can be to detect, asking her:
“And Rebecca, you’ve written about what parents can tell their kids and how to keep kids safe. Do you think there’s value? Because, I mean, I found there value today in looking in this man’s eyes, seeing this man’s face, and seeing that you know what, this is what a psychopath looks like and it’s not necessarily on the face of it someone you would pick out of a lineup as being a monster.”
“I agree. Absolutely. That’s why we say the notion of stranger danger doesn’t really work because there is no absolute prototype of what they look like.”
Kudos to Anderson Cooper and his staff for using this high-profile event to shed some light on the realities of psychopathy. In under an hour, he and his guests managed to get across several of the most important lessons about psychopaths that the public should know, including that:
- Most psychopaths do not resemble the sensationalized psychopaths of the movies, such as Hannibal Lecter. There is no particular look that can allow us to easily detect them. They could truly look like anybody and, often, they are the people you’d least suspect from appearances. We need to be aware that they are simply around us in our everyday lives. They are also in positions where you might not expect to find them, including, frighteningly, powerful positions.
To quote Cooper speaking about Ariel Castro again, because I think the quote’s message is so crucial:
“…you put that guy in a suit, and he could be — look, I mean, he could be a college professor. He could be anybody that you run across at any point of the day.”
- They can lead double (or even more) lives, fooling people by presenting different personas in different social circles. In some of their “lives,” they may even pretend to be highly moral, engaging in religious or charitable (think Jerry Sandusky) endeavors.
- They are fully in touch with reality and aware of what is considered right and wrong – in other words, not “mentally ill” – but simply choose to ignore this distinction in pursuit of that which, due to their personality disorder, they value.
- They simply do not experience and cannot relate with the normal range of human emotions. They will, however, mimic the outward expressions of many emotions to trick others into believing that they experience and understand them.
- They feel no remorse for their actions or negligence no matter how much harm is consequently incurred by others.
- They often manage to evade being confronted regarding their actions at all.
- When they are confronted regarding their actions, they are skilled at employing “patho-semantics,” the clever, manipulative use of language, in order to avoid responsibility and sometimes to frame others, including their victims themselves.
- Even when lying, they can appear extremely convincing because of their ability to project strong belief in their own stories.
- The psychopath’s evasions and manipulations can have a powerful befuddling – or to use, once again, the word that Anderson Cooper used – stunning effect on the average person. As Dr. Drew put it, engaging what I believe are some highly technical terms, “your brain just goes out of kilt” watching and listening to them.
The entire transcript of this episode of AC360 is available here.
More clips from the episode are available here on the AC360 Blog.
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Tags: ac360, anderson cooper, ariel castro, cnn, deception detection, dr. drew pinsky, jaycee dugard, kevin dutton, mark geragos, mary ellen o’toole, michelle knight, mimicry, pamela brown, patho-semantics, psychopathy, rebecca bailey, snakes in suits, the wisdom of psychopaths
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