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Shop Talk: Gingrich's Moral Fiber, Men's Obesity


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and author Arsalan Iftikhar, the National Review's deputy managing editor Kevin Williamson, and The Nation's sports editor Dave Zirin.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?



DAVE ZIRIN: Hey, doing great.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, there's been a lot of dirty fighting this political season, but recently, the blows are coming from a candidate's ex-wife. D'oh. Let me tell you, I've got a few ex-wives. There's never a good answer to an ex-wife's accusations.

MARTIN: Yeah. This is like your worst nightmare, isn't it?

IZRAEL: I know. Right? Newt Gingrich's second wife...

MARTIN: A spouse with a microphone.

IZRAEL: Right. Marianne Gingrich had some not so nice things to say about the former speaker of the House, Michel. We got some tape. Yeah?

MARTIN: We do. This is Marianne Gingrich speaking to "Nightline's" Brian Ross. Of course, that's an ABC news program and here is a short clip from the conversation.


MARIANNE GINGRICH: I said to him, we've been married a long time. He said, yes. But you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do. He was asking to have an open marriage and I refused.

MARTIN: Now, he denies that he asked for an open marriage, but not in so many words. The CNN debate moderator last night, John King, asked him if he wanted to reply to the accusations. This was at the forum in South Carolina last night. This is what he said.


NEWT GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that.

IZRAEL: Wow. Thanks for that, Michel. You know what? As I read this, the Democrats' problems going forward isn't Newt's moral fiber. It's his ability to defend his morality or - well, basically, lack thereof. You know, he has this uncanny ability to deflect inquiry by attacking the questioner specifically and the media in general.

And, you know, when he does this, it fires up his base. Now, none of us want to believe that Americans will vote for a louse like Newt, but I guess - you know what? Post-Clinton, maybe we just want a strong leader and we'll kind of settle for a halfway moral guy, you know, in the presidential seat.

K-Dub, you know, Newt uses the term, decent. His ex-wife says he is not morally fit to be president - as if. Do we care about this at all or is this old news?

WILLIAMSON: Well, I mean, it's old news, but it's still creepy news. You know, I think that it's hard to come out and say that this sort of thing makes it hard to attract decent people to politics when the story is about how you've not been being a decent guy, when you've been sort of, you know, a big jerk to not only your second wife, but your first one before that.

So, I mean, there's no good way out of this for Newt and, of course, you know, Newt will forever be linked in the public mind with the Clinton impeachment, which had a sex scandal at the center of it, although I'd argue that wasn't really entirely what it was about.

But there's - yeah. It's just going to keep coming after him and coming after him and this isn't the sort of story that, you know, you can break early in the primary and it just sort of goes away. It's a permanent part of Newt's biography. It's a big part of how people understand him as a person and I think it's debilitating. It's really tough on him.

IZRAEL: OK. But, you know, Kevin Williamson, you're writing for the National Review, right? What I want to know is do you think people will forgive him? Do you think Americans will really vote for a guy like this?

WILLIAMSON: Well, you know, they were talking earlier about, you know, Haley Barbour and his pardons down in Mississippi and he did this out of, you know, sort of old fashioned Christian faith and people in Mississippi really dislike the fact that he did that. So I don't see a great appetite for redemption and forgiveness out there among the general yahoo public.

IZRAEL: A-train, Arsalan Iftikhar, your thoughts?

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I don't think that any of us, you know, who've ever followed politics can be surprised by the latest developments that have happened with Newt Gingrich. I mean, you know, here we have the umpteenth, you know, Republican presidential debate.

You know, for me, you know, some of the things that I'm interested in in terms of Newt's candidacy include him calling, you know, the Palestinians an invented people. The fact that, you know, Shariah Islamic law is coming to take over America when the constitution explicitly states in the supremacy clause that no law shall ever trump the U.S. Constitution.

So, in my opinion, he should not only not be president, but he should probably retroactively fail a ninth grade civics class.

MARTIN: OK. So, basically, you're saying that the personal stuff is, like, the least of the stuff that interests you about this candidate, really. Does the personal stuff interest you at all?

IFTIKHAR: No, it doesn't. I mean, I think it's obviously

MARTIN: So basically you're saying that the personal stuff is like the least of the stuff that interests about this candidate or really any other. Does the personal stuff interest you at all?

IFTIKHAR: No, it doesn't. I mean I think it's obviously going to be a part of the conversation, but obviously I think that when you're looking at, you know, a lineup of candidates like that, you have to look at their policy initiatives. I think for the people like us who are kind of tired of the debates, you know, for me personally, you know, I like my presidents like I like my coffee, black.

MARTIN: OK. All of them, right? OK. All right. Arsalan?

ZIRIN: Yeah. Dave Z here. How you doing? I mean I was watching the ABC interview last night and I swear, I thought I tuned into "Celebrity Wife Swap," and that might be what Newt's doing in a year. The problem with this is that you are, if you're the Republican Party, you are running the risk right now of putting forward a candidate who is going to speak out on issues of quote/unquote "traditional marriage and family values," taking strong lines against LGBT marriage, for example, while you yourself as an individual are deeply, deeply compromised. And the response to that can't just - I agree with Kevin, you can't just say, hey, redemption. You know, it makes it sort of - you sound like the mobster who gets confession in the, you know, in the church and then it's like, hey, everything's OK now, everything's OK. And I think people are going to want a higher standard when it comes time to go to the election booth.

MARTIN: Well, you know, the fact is that nobody can tell people how to vote. But one of the things that fascinates me about this is - and I do think it's worth mentioning that his daughters from his first marriage, knowing that this story was coming out, spoke out and issued a statement saying that the failure of a marriage is a terrible and emotional experience for everybody involved. And also pointing out that they say he's changed and so forth. But it does - the only thing I would say about this is that I don't think that any of us really knows what goes on in a marriage and that - you know what I mean? How do we know that there haven't been other presidents who had these arrangements, it just never became public? It just...

ZIRIN: Sure.

MARTIN: It's just the kind of thing where - I mean obviously I think the concern that people have is: Are you, do you have the personal discipline to do an important job for the American people without letting your personal life be a distraction? Which is ultimately the issue of Bill Clinton...


MARTIN: ...which is that even though he did have a lot of support, and a lot of people said listen, if you don't like his personal life, don't go out on a date with him. But that at the end of the day it did become a distraction, and I think that really is the question before us.

ZIRIN: And Kevin is absolutely correct when he talks about like Clinton(ph), it wasn't just about affairs. And Newt has also been very consistent about saying the impeachment of Bill Clinton was about lying under oath. He's been very consistent about that. An entire apparatus of the Republican Party, from Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Fox News, it was always about Bill Clinton being an adulterer - that was so central to it. And to flip on that now and say, well, it's only bad for those guys, I mean that's something that independent voters don't have much of an appetite for.

WILLIAMSON: Well, that's not fair because Newt's not saying it's only bad for those guys. Newt has been very forthright about...

MARTIN: That he was wrong.

WILLIAMSON: ...the things that he's done. And, you know, I mean the question...

MARTIN: Well, he wasn't last night, though.

WILLIAMSON: The question of redemption, forgiveness and all that...

ZIRIN: Not in '98 either.

WILLIAMSON: ...is separate from the question of the fact that there is a price you have to pay in the real world, and particularly in the political world, for the things you do, even if you are legitimately reformed. Even if you are legitimately regretful and penitent about the things you've done, there still a price to pay because it still says something about who you are.

MARTIN: Hmm. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with editor Kevin Williamson, that's who you heard just now. Also with us, author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, and sports editor and author Dave Zirin. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. OK, moving on - or just kind of moving. Apparently men need to do more of that because new figures show that men are catching up to women when it comes to obesity rates. Not the usual conversation for the Barbershop, I know - at least not this one, maybe mine at home. But I wanted to run this past you, guys because, you know, personally I've taken to watching what I eat more so than watching my weight because this time last year I tipped the scale - I don't mind to tell you. I was - tipped the scale to 246. This morning I weighed in at 227, so obviously...

MARTIN: Bravo.


IZRAEL: So obviously changing my eating habits has - and a few days at the gym - hasn't hurt. But for me it's a health concern as I get older. I need to stay healthy for my family. Dave Zirin?

ZIRIN: Yeah?

IZRAEL: My man. You're the sports editor, so you are aware of fitness. You got any thoughts on this?

ZIRIN: Oh man, just that I need to get to the gym more and do some running around. I'll tell you this - ever since I had kids, I've been perceiving it in my own mind in a different way. Because I'll be very honest with you - when I was single, it was all about going to the gym because it was all about how do I look to other people, and that's how I thought about things. When I got married it was great, I can eat now and wear elastic pants.


ZIRIN: And, you know, because hey, I'm married.

MARTIN: Dad pants.

ZIRIN: It's not like she's going anywhere. And...


WILLIAMSON: I bet your wife really appreciates that.

ZIRIN: Terrible, I know, I'm sure she's loving to hear that. But that's, I'm just being honest. You were honest. I'm going to be honest. And - but now since we had the kids, now it's like, wow, I'd love to see them graduate high school. And so it's, the concerns are much more about mortality and much less about the lookist(ph) issues that seem to so dominate our culture.


IZRAEL: Kevin Williams of The National Review - more than one-third of adults are obese. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your take on the obesity problem?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. When you're talking about clinical obesity, you're talking about something very different from, you know, a guy who has put on a couple of pounds and needs to hit the gym and cut back on the Twinkies. You know, you're talking about something that's - it's a big public health problem about which we can apparently do nothing. All the research we have, on all the behavioral modification, the nutrition, the exercise and all the rest of it seems to have very, very little impact on 97, 98 percent of the people who are going to become clinically obese, which seems to be a very strong biological propensity in people that is going to come out in a society when you have a great abundance of food. And it looks to be almost certainly an insoluble problem - or at least a problem that's insoluble with the current medical practices and technology and anything that's on the near horizon. It's something that's here to stay that we probably really can't do anything about. And all the lectures and hectoring and, you know, eat your veggies speeches from the first lady are not going to make a dent in it.

IZRAEL: Mm. OK. Well, Arsalan, The Muslim Guy, we know you like to eat. Anybody that's been around you has to keep their appendages close to their body, man. I've just teasing.


IZRAEL: But seriously, as a guy, do you watch your weight?

IFTIKHAR: I do. You know, growing up, you know, one of the luxuries that I had being six foot four was I was able to sort of, you know, spread out the mushiness on my body. But now it seems as if my metabolism's dropping. It's, you know, something that, you know, I think all men need to be aware of, obviously with the rise of diabetes around the country as well. But, you know, for me Girl Scout cookies are out again this season and...

ZIRIN: Oh-oh.

IFTIKHAR: ...cinnamon cookies are about the closest thing...

IZRAEL: Oh, man.

IFTIKHAR: ...that I have to heroin, so you know, I'm going to have to watch how many boxes I order.

MARTIN: We're going have to watch this weekend, though, if anybody's going to the movies that, you know, the popcorn is like a special problem for some of us.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: You know what I'm saying?

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

MARTIN: Which a segue to, if anybody has weekend plans, I'm curious to know whether any of you guys are going to make a special effort to go to see "Red Tails" this weekend. It's George Lucas - the same guy who brought us "Star Wars - the legend, you know, spent $93 million of his own money to get this movie to the big screen. He had to front the cash since he said executives told him that movies with all-black casts are not profitable. Did you guys, does anybody want to hear clip?


MARTIN: Would you like to hear it?

IZRAEL: Yeah. Absolutely.

IFTIKHAR: Drop it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) To this point I don't believe your boys have scored a single aerial kill.

TERRENCE HOWARD: (as Colonel A.J. Bullard) Because you have not assigned us a single forward mission.

IZRAEL: Mm. Wow. Terrence Howard, making it work.

MARTIN: That's it. Terrence Howard, making it work. He's one of the stars, along with Cuba Gooding, Jr., who we will be speaking with on Monday, I believe.


MARTIN: So I'm – here's what I'm interested in, that there's been a big discussion about how, what it took to get this movie made. And I'm just wondering, you know, Dave, I know you're a movie buff as well. Do you think that that's productive or do you think in a way it detracts from the movie itself?

ZIRIN: I think the proof of it is going to be in the pudding. I mean you're going to see what the reviews are. We're going to see if that in and of itself generates the buzz necessary. But it does raise a very important discussion. I was thinking about this just the other day, about the remarkable books that have never made it to the screen, books like "Song of Solomon" by Toni Morrison, some of the great books by James Baldwin. Hell, "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, books that are part of the American canon that have never been made into movies. And...

IZRAEL: Well...

ZIRIN: ...there's a deficit in that regard, and you wish that there was some - a more adventurous spirit and more faith on behalf of film executives to say, if we make good movies - they're not black movies, they're American films and films that could have a broader audience.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: Well, wait a second. There's that take. But there's also, you know, black people in Hollywood and black movies specifically, they're difficult for Hollywood and I'm going to tell you why, because people go to the movies, you know, they go to the movies to get a universal experience. They go to come out with a warm cathartic feeling. And you know, stories that have to do with African-Americans don't always have a universal theme. And sometimes, you know, white folks come out of black movies feeling guilty. So, I get it. I mean I totally understand.

MARTIN: But (unintelligible) "The Cosby Show"? I mean Cosby was a top 10 show for every year that it was on, so how is that possible...

IZRAEL: But it had a universal theme. Middle-class, being middle-class in America is a universal theme. So yeah, I mean...

WILLIAMSON: All these nice liberal 88 percent Democratic Hollywood executives are putting their self-interest ahead of making black movies?

IZRAEL: Oh my - I know, clutch the pearls, right?

MARTIN: Clutch the pearls.



WILLIAMSON: George Lucas complaining about this is the worst thing because he's got more money than God and Bruce Springsteen put together. But other people have been putting their own money into movies for years and years and years. Rob Rodriguez was doing this 15, 16 years ago and he wasn't a guy with $1 million and George Lucas's connections; he was a college student with $8,500. You know, you can make movies and if there's a market out there for it, people find it. The studio system is old and dinosaur and corrupt and it's falling apart. It's a dying business. I think that these guys ought to celebrate being able to do things on their own.

MARTIN: Well, he says that's his next move. All right. Well, we'll see. You guys, if you go, let me know how you feel about the movie. So before we let you go, you know what's up. This Sunday's games will determine who will be in the Super Bowl. And I just have to point out that - I'm sorry, most of you have been very shaky on your picks this year. A few weeks ago almost every guy in the shop went for one team. Remember this, Jimi?


IZRAEL: Yeah, I'm rocking with the underdogs too. Lions all the way.

MARTIN: Lions all the way. OK.


IZRAEL: Cringe.

MARTIN: OK, Jimi, we might need to skip past you.


MARTIN: Arsalan, you did well – three out of your four picks.

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

MARTIN: OK. So Dave, Dave, you're the man. Tell us what's up.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: We don't have you on record so you're safe.


ZIRIN: ...area of expert. I've gotten every single game right up to now. No, not true. But I'm not on record so I can say that. I hope people are ready for the Harbaugh Bowl. We're going to see the Baltimore Ravens...


ZIRIN: ...play in the Super Bowl against the New York football Giants. And get ready for a lot of stories about Jim and John Harbaugh and how they were raised by their father Jack Harbaugh, who seems to have never met a microphone he didn't like.


ZIRIN: So get ready for a lot of Jack Harbaugh.

MARTIN: OK. Well, speaking of which, Kevin, you're up in the hood in New York. If the Giants win, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says the parade should be in New Jersey. How does that suit with you?

WILLIAMSON: Well, first of all, never disagree with Chris Christie about anything. But secondly, I live down where they call the Canyon of Heroes, where this parade actually would happen. So I really hope they have it in New Jersey because I don't want all this riffraff down on my front doorstep, honestly.


WILLIAMSON: And really, you have to feel sorry for Jersey, you know - it's got Philly on one side and New York on the other and Snooki in the middle. It hasn't much going for it. Let them have the parade, I say.


ZIRIN: Yeah. Occupy the Canyon of Heroes, I think...

MARTIN: Occupy the Heroes. OK. Arsalan, you get the last word since, again, like I say, of all the guys in the shop - three out of the four...

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

MARTIN: What do you have to say?

IFTIKHAR: I'm saying look out for the rematch of Tom Brady and Eli Manning in the Super Bowl. After, you know, Tim Tebow mania, you know, Tom Brady was like, ya'll forgot about Dre and he ran all roughshod over the Broncos and I think he's going go roll all the way to the Super Bowl.

MARTIN: I hate to point out that Jimi picked Tebow as well. I know it's mean, but...

IFTIKHAR: I don't mind picking...

MARTIN: Pointing out that...


MARTIN: ...Jimi picked...


MARTIN: OK. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He should stay out of sports picking as his – and stick to his day job. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Kevin Williamson is the deputy managing editor of The National Review. He's author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism." He was with us from our bureau in New York. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation magazine and host of Sirius XM radio's Edge of Sports Radio; and Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com, and author of "Islamic Pacifism: Global Muslims In The Post-Osama Era." And Arsalan and Dave were kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.



ZIRIN: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.