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Shop Talk: CNN Tangles With Controversy


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly 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 shapeup this week are freelance journalist Jimi Izrael joining us from Cleveland. From San Diego, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. From New York, columnist and blogger Jeff Yang. And here in Washington, D.C., we have R. Clarke Cooper with us. He's the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. That's a Republican group that advocates for LGBT issues and he's also an Army Reserve captain. You can't see me saluting, but I am.

Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Michel, thanks so much. Hey, fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?


JEFF YANG: All right. Good morning.

R. CLARKE COOPER: Hey, good, man.

IZRAEL: Coop, welcome back, man. All right. Well, let's get things started by talking about the latest person to get in trouble because of their Twitter account. Journalist Roland Martin has been suspended by CNN for tweets he sent on Super Bowl Sunday. One tweet said - now, remember, these are his words, not mine - quote, "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him," end quote.

Now, gay advocates have been taking him to task. Now, before I weigh in on this - because you know I got some things to say - I want to hear what you guys think. Ruben Navarrette.

NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible). Just throw me into the hot water. Thank you very much, brother.

IZRAEL: Now, you're a CNN contributor.

NAVARRETTE: You know, I got things to say, but first, Ruben, you go.

IZRAEL: You're a CNN contributor.


IZRAEL: You're a CNN regular.

NAVARRETTE: That's right.

IZRAEL: What's your take, brother? What's your take?

NAVARRETTE: Well, first of all, keeping with the tradition I've had before of, you know, defending Juan Williams, talking about Juan Williams despite the fact that I'm employed by NPR and talking about Rick Sanchez despite the fact that I'm employed by CNN, let me do it again, not knowing what's good for me.

This is important. I am a contributor at CNN and someone who has worked with Roland Martin before. I have a lot of respect for some of the stuff he does, but you have to understand, in the context of this, you've got to manage your tweets responsibly and realize that you reflect on the network that you work for, even when you're not on the job.

And if you take a certain tone that's sophomoric - and I actually listen and have read for months now a lot of Roland's tweets and they sometimes sound really kind of childish and like you're in a locker room. And I think that it isn't just a question of being offensive, but you've got to be professional. And he is one person, you know, on television and another person when he's tweeting and I think that the problem here is they come together because, as we have seen time and again, there is no First Amendment free speech right for people who are employed by these companies, this one included at NPR.

We all work at their pleasure and we reflect on them and they have a right to protect their brand. And let me also say this is not just a question of tweets. When somebody lets somebody go - in this case, CNN - there's always the story for public consumption. Right? So the public consumption rap from CNN is that he was let go because of the tweets.

You have to understand, there's a different management structure at CNN than there was when Roland Martin was first hired and it is probably - it's very likely that the new managers just didn't like his shtick and they were tired of him already and it just was not working for them and they were looking for an excuse and he gave them one.

So you got to be skeptical whenever the media tells you that, you know, we're doing this because of X, it's probably because of Y.

MARTIN: OK. That's an interesting point.

IZRAEL: Ruben, a little inside baseball. Captain Coop, R. Clarke Cooper, now your organization, Log Cabin Republicans, you advocate for gay and lesbian rights. Were you offended?

COOPER: Well, I'm going to go back to what Ruben said, is that I really think that - I mean, Roland rolled himself. This is - I don't think there's any malicious intent there. Did it come off as anti-gay? Of course it did. But it goes back to policing yourself and having that internal governor or regulator in what you do.

When I tweet, I'm not just tweeting for myself. I'm tweeting on behalf of Log Cabin Republicans and, in some cases, the Republican National Committee. I have to be very careful about what comes out of the Twittersphere.

I am actually surprised when that came out that Roland Martin didn't regulate himself. It's almost as if he forgot who he was professionally and that he detached himself. We see this with Facebook postings all the time.

MARTIN: Can I just clarify one thing? Just CNN suspended him, saying that Roland Martin's tweets were regrettable and offensive language that demeans, is inconsistent with the values and culture of our organization and is not tolerated. And we've been giving careful consideration to this matter and Roland will not be appearing on our air for the time being.

So just to clarify, I don't know that he's been fired. I know that he has been suspended. But one more thing. He says that his reference to David Beckham was about soccer, not about sexuality. He says that he regularly rags on soccer and that the issue is that he says soccer is not a real sport. It's lame. And that he's tweeted to that effect before. I just think that...

YANG: Oh, as a soccer player, I'm highly offended.

MARTIN: And you are. I thought you were a rugby man.

YANG: I am.

NAVARRETTE: Stop digging.

MARTIN: You are a rugby man.

NAVARRETTE: Stop digging.

MARTIN: So I just think you just need to - Jeff Yang.

YANG: You know - OK. I got to chime in and agree totally that, you know, I think people think that social media is somehow private and the Internet somehow isn't listening, and it always is.


YANG: I mean especially Twitter, right? I mean, that's what you do. You're out there broadcasting to the world, and it never forgets, either. So this is something that's not going to erase itself, even if, you know, we with our human wet-wear brains, forget it. I think, though, that - you know, one inconsistency I thought, you know, was out there is the degree to which I think some voices - I mean, I would say GLAAD did this - tried to kind of fashion this as about Roland Martin specifically kind of advocating violence, you know. And I'm not sure that he thought he was doing that. I think the bigger question and the bigger issue is that he was reinforcing this narrative that somehow being gay, being attracted to men, you know, if you're a male, is abnormal. And that's the bigger issue.


MARTIN: Well, can I just ask Clarke this before, Jimi? Because I know you have something to say about this. The other question I have - well, two issues here. One is that the other thing that was cited was that he defended Tracy Morgan...

COOPER: Right. Right.

MARTIN: ...the comic, and he's also star of "30 Rock," when he, you know, said something in his standup routine. I find that troubling, because are you saying now that you're not allowed to have an opinion?

NAVARRETTE: Oh, what he said - yeah.

MARTIN: Are you not allowed to have an opinion that other people might disagree with? And that's thing one. And then the second question I have is that, you know, Tuesday was National Black HIV AIDS Awareness Day. And there are some people who say: Is this really the most important issue in the world that gay and lesbian activists could be focusing their attention on? So do you mind if I...

NAVARRETTE: To clarify though, Tracy Morgan...


NAVARRETTE: To clarify, let's say the Tracy Morgan said. He said that he if he had a child who was gay, he would take out a knife and stab him. And so...

MARTIN: I understand. But he said it in a context of a...

IZRAEL: On a stage.

MARTIN: I get it.

IZRAEL: He said on a stage in a comedy routine.

MARTIN: But he said this in the context of a comedy routine.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: He did not say this in a speech at the Press Club, Ruben.


NAVARRETTE: If you substitute black or Latino for gay in that statement about stabbing them...


NAVARRETTE: ...OK, that - the point here is that there is a file, everybody has a file, and Roland had a file - the GLAAD organization had a file on Roland. They just were ready to drop the hammer...

IZRAEL: Clearly.


MARTIN: I get it.

NAVARRETTE: He gave them an excuse.

MARTIN: No, I get it but...

NAVARRETTE: It's not just one thing.

MARTIN: But, I totally understand...


MARTIN: ...but I'm asking about that particular issue as being part of the narrative. Because by that standard, why is Bill Maher on anybody's air? Because he defended Don Imus, who made comments - I think we all agree - were racist and offensive about these young women at Rutgers.

IZRAEL: Not all of us in this. Yeah.

MARTIN: But not - well, OK. But again...

NAVARRETTE: And they dropped the hammer on Imus. They dropped the hammer on Imus.

MARTIN: But again, like Jimi's point - but my point is that people like Bill Maher defended him. So does that mean he gets drummed out of the commentary? So can I just let Clarke respond to my question? And then we'll...

COOPER: Well, this goes back to several things.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

COOPER: I mean, there is freedom of speech, and you are free to be disgusting. You are free to have thoughts that people don't disagree. You are free to make offensive speech. The issue here is that this is a commercial enterprise with CNN, and they don't have to take Roland Martin's opinion. They don't have to pay for it, and they've chosen not to. And then let's look at the GLAAD organization. They are single-issue focused. They're focused on media, media engagements and discourse and dialogue in the media. So, yeah, if you look at the grander scheme of things on bigger issues, this is really small potatoes, when we're talking about actual issues that are being debated on Capitol Hill, actual issues that are being addressed in policy and in state Houses. So, you know, there is bigger news items. But, you know, this is GLAAD's meat and potatoes. So...

MARTIN: I hear you. Good point. Jimi had something to say on this.

IZRAEL: It's just ironic for me that the vanguard of the pundits who was trying to get Don Imus' head back in the day, he finds himself suspended for exercising his free speech, now off the clock for the win. But anyway, moving forward, if Roland made a mistake here, his belief - it was his belief that his Twitter followers were all familiar with his peculiar signifying rituals - you know, and signifying rituals you'll find in any barbershop among black men. And also, its intention - clearly his intention was not to be homophobic. Clearly, this didn't have - his comment didn't have anything to do with gays or lesbians. CNN acted too fast. GLAAD ought to be ashamed of itself. It's really a bad -it's a bad look on everybody.

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: It's awful coming and going.

MARTIN: Can I ask...


MARTIN: But, wait a minute. Can I ask...

NAVARRETTE: How can they have acted too fast? They dropped the hammer on Imus. We dropped the hammer on Sanchez. We dropped the hammer all the time. The problem here...

IZRAEL: Wait. Hold on. Hold on.



IZRAEL: But wait a second. You pointed out Imus. Imus took some deliberation. Imus didn't get fired immediately, and he didn't even get fired. They paid out his contract and then he came back a year later.

COOPER: But gentlemen, hold on. Ruben said...

YANG: Roland has not been fired. I mean again, he's suspended for now...

COOPER: But Rick Sanchez was.

NAVARRETTE: Suspended indefinitely. Indefinitely.

YANG: Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts, you know.

COOPER: You want to talk about immediate reaction, I'm glad Ruben mentioned Rick Sanchez, because he was fired and there was very little - there was no leave time. There was no taking a breath. I mean, he was shown the door. I mean he was...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. It was like three hours.

COOPER: Right. He was shown the door immediately.



MARTIN: So OK. Well...

NAVARRETTE: Got to be one standard for every - got to be one standard...

IZRAEL: Well, I mean but those comments, those comments were clear-cut.

NAVARRETTE: There has - oh, come on. Don't go there. No they are not clear-cut.

IZRAEL: No. No. I am going to go there, because Roland's constituents knew exactly what he was talking about. It didn't have anything to do with gays or lesbians.


IZRAEL: Not one thing.

NAVARRETTE: You can't even say - you can't...

IZRAEL: Not one thing.

NAVARRETTE: Jimi, you can't even say definitively what Rick Sanchez said, let alone say it's clear-cut. You couldn't recount it. You couldn't say it, exactly what he said. I've looked at the transcript many, many times. The point is - and here's where African-Americans and Latinos have to be very careful: We cannot set up one standard of rules when we're offended, but then go off and offend somebody else. And then now, all of a sudden, we sound like the white folks who are criticizing us when we're oversensitive. It doesn't play that way.

IZRAEL: Well, see me personally, I'm...

MARTIN: Well, you know what?

NAVARRETTE: There's got to be one rule for everybody.

IZRAEL: I'm one of the people - I'm one of the people that tried to get people to get off of Don Imus' back, because I knew that if you went for his free speech, they would come for yours. And it came to pass.

NAVARRETTE: Well, OK. There you go.

MARTIN: Well, that's all right. Well, there you go. And I'm overly sensitive about the clock, so I'm going to move on right here.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly Barbershop mud-wrestling match. I'm sorry. I thought it was a roundtable. Sorry.


MARTIN: We're joined by freelance journalist...

NAVARRETTE: It's a real barbershop.


MARTIN: Freelance journalist...

IZRAEL: Yeah, right. Right.


IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette - those are the ones who are scraping the mud off right now - columnist and blog - I'm not saying you were mudslinging, gentlemen. I'm sorry. I meant you were mud wrestling. Your comments were perfectly within the bounds of appropriate discourse.

COOPER: With good haircuts.

IZRAEL: It's all good. It's all good in brotherhood.

MARTIN: Even though you were yelling.

IZRAEL: It's all good.


MARTIN: Columnist and blogger...

NAVARRETTE: I'm looking for scissors.


MARTIN: ...Jeff Yang. And from the Log Cabin Republicans, R. Clarke Cooper. Back to you, Jimi. Take a breath.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. All right. Well, you know, gays and lesbian advocates weren't the only people offended by some so-called Super Bowl stupidity. A campaign ad that only ran in Michigan has people upset. Michel, let's let the ad do some talking. We got some tape, yeah?

MARTIN: We do. And the reason you're talking about the Super Bowl is that Roland Martin's tweets came during the Super Bowl while he was watching the Super Bowl. That's why we're talking about that.



MARTIN: And this is an ad - a campaign ad for a U.S. Senate candidate, Republican Pete Hoekstra. And in the ad, viewers see this young Asian-American - well, I don't know who - she's Asian. I don't know what her nationality is. She's on a bicycle. She seems to be in a rice field. And she's very pretty, if that's relevant, and some people think it is. And I'll just play a short clip. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you, Michigan Senator Debbie Spend It Now. Debbie spends so much American money, you borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend It Now.

IZRAEL: Ay-yi-yi.

MARTIN: And the reason...

NAVARRETTE: Ay-yi-yi, indeed. Ay. Honestly.

MARTIN: Can I just say, the reason - she's referring to the Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow. And her opponent Pete Hoekstra has been calling her Debbie Spend It Now. So that's what that means.


MARTIN: Jimi, go.

IZRAEL: Wow. All right. Jeff Yang, you're the first...


IZRAEL: You get the first...

YANG: So now you switch hats on the chair. Yeah.

IZRAEL: Is the Asian-American blogosphere, are they blowing up about this?

YANG: Yeah. Well, it's not just the blogosphere. I mean, this is, obviously, not something you should take in context, either. We have seen, I think, in this political cycle, more of a demonization of China than we've seen in decades. And I think it started with 2010. I think people realized that, you know, there was an easy target in China. It was something that people could kind of, you know, treat this mysterious manipulator from the Far East. And both Democrats and Republicans have been guilty of that. But this particular exercise in absurdity and horror that is this ad - I mean, number one, pretty or not, this woman cannot act. And I can't do...


YANG: ...Asian accents for my life, but I could do a better one than her. She's clearly U.S.-born.

NAVARRETTE: A PhD from Stanford.


COOPER: Exactly.

YANG: Probably. You know, and I mean she's clearly a U.S.-born, you know, native.

NAVARRETTE: English. Yeah.

YANG: English-speaking Asian-American. So the blurry, scary line here is that we're seeing, you know, individuals who are clearly American and should be treated and seen as American being proxies for these sort of scary puppet masters from the East. And it's only gone wrong when stuff like that has happened in the past. It's only going to go wrong at this keeps on happening in the future.

MARTIN: Well, the only reason I mentioned that she's pretty is that some people think it's like this exotic, you know, trying to sort of play on her prettiness as an example. That's the only reason I mentioned it, because there are people who feel like - because everything about an ad is a constructed reality, right? I mean ads aren't random.


MARTIN: Do you mind if we go to Clarke on this, because you advised Republican candidates yourself...


MARTIN: ...and I'm just curious your take.

COOPER: Well, I'll start with the, you know, the ad is off of Pete Hoekstra's website, by the way. It's gone. He took it down. That was in response to what was happening even with inside the conservative movement. Chairman Cornyn, who heads up the National Republican Senatorial Movement, remained what I would say resoundingly mum on this issue. There was no defense by the NRSC on this ad. So many folks within the Republican ranks thought the ad was foolish. Hey...

MARTIN: Foolish is different than offensive.

COOPER: Well, foolish and offend - well, OK, and offensive.

MARTIN: You could argue it's bad strategy but, so tell me what...

COOPER: Foolish and offensive.


COOPER: Both. And so, you know, take on Debbie Stabenow as a spender. You know, there's nothing wrong with that. Go after her record, you know, Citizens Against Government Waste has some great stuff that Pete Hoekstra could use and should use, but...

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, but this is messed up, too. I'm sorry.


COOPER: It was - but hold up. But, I mean, let's talk about this. There's a difference between going after Debbie Spend It Now's record, and then using that ad. And so that ad was a bad ad. It was offensive.


COOPER: It was also bad tactically, and a lot of Republicans agree. In fact, at CPAC, I was asking Michigan folks who were there who were in town this weekend, and they said...

MARTIN: The Conservative Political Action Conference, meeting in Washington.

COOPER: Right. Right. And so even the Michigan - even Michigan attendees said that, like, God, there could have been a much better way of taking on Debbie Stabenow's record, and it should have been focused on spending and on her voting record, not this ad.

MARTIN: Ruben, what you think?

NAVARRETTE: I think that one thing that people have to understand is that when you're talking about a group like Latinos or Asians that are in immigrant group, who oftentimes have - people have to learn English. English is not their first language as they come here as immigrants. The use of sort of this tricky English, this pidgin English, is the equivalent of, in the African-American media, blackface. You just never do it. You ought not do it. It sends that racist message to begin with, and the whole context of the rice field and everything is certainly about racism.

And one of the things that I struggle with is that you have to recognize this long thread of anti-Asian sentiment that really goes back all the way back to the Clinton administration and some of the concerns about foreign donors then. We have been on the strip for a long time. You remember, famously, during the Clinton thing, Senator Brownback, who is now - Sam Brownback - who is now governor of Kansas, when then senator, famously said no tikee, no laundry, you know, making a joke about that...

COOPER: Mm-hmm. Vice President Biden a few weeks ago with his accent.


YANG: Well, that was India, wasn't it? Or...

MARTIN: India. Yeah. So you're saying...

COOPER: Yeah, but it's the same genre, folks.


NAVARRETTE: Vice President Biden has said that about Indian immigrants on a couple of different occasions, as you recall, joking about them owning 7-Elevens and the like. Don't go there. Do not do that one. OK? It's not a good idea, and it's really bad politics. But it's also bad for the country and bad for our dialogue.

YANG: You know, it's even worse, I mean, given the context of him being from Michigan because, you know, Michigan is a place where, if you want to talk about at ground zero for, you know, a lot of the most flagrant and painful episodes of, you know, kind of translation of anti-Asian-ness into violence have occurred. I mean, 30 years ago a guy named Vincent Chin - who was, of course, Chinese-American - was murdered by autoworkers...


YANG: ...for being quote-unquote "Japanese."

MARTIN: Yeah. We remember that, which he was not.

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: So Jimi, you only have five seconds. Bad ad, good ad? Your two cents in.

IZRAEL: This was politics at its worst. It's sad that that's where we are.

MARTIN: All right, final thought from everybody. Thank you all.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Jeff Yang is a columnist with The Wall Street Journal online. He's a blogger from member station WNYC. He joined us from our studios in New York.

Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group, Latino magazine, PJ Media. He was with us from San Diego. R. Clarke Cooper is a captain in the Army Reserve. He's also the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican group that advocates for gay and lesbian issues within the Republican Party. He was here with me in Washington, D.C.

Gentlemen, thank you.

COOPER: Thank you.

YANG: Thank you.

NAVARRETTE: 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.