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Is Erykah Badu's New Video Art Or Obscene?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Father's Day's right around the corner. You know, we just couldn't settle on a time, so we decided to make our own gift this year. We want to give you a series of essays from fathers to fathers.

Today, we're going to hear from a dad who's pledging to treat all kids as his own. That's later in the program.

But, first, it's time for the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh look at the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists and commentators.

Today, we want to talk about the alleged leaks of intelligence by the Obama administration. It's interesting since it's been nearly 40 years since the Watergate break-in, so we thought this might be a good time to ask, what role does the press play today when it comes to policing authority figures in America?

We also want to talk about singer Erykah Badu's explicit music video. It's a cover of Roberta Flack's famous song, "Killing Me Softly." It is definitely not safe for work, but is it artful or obscene? And what about Madonna's nip slip at a performance in Istanbul? What was that about? We'll talk about that.

Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. She's with us in Washington, D.C., along with Bridget Johnson, the Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And from Jackson, Mississippi today, new to the Beauty Shop, Kirsten West Savali. She's a contributing editor to NewsOne.com.

Welcome, ladies. Thanks for coming.




MARTIN: So let's talk first about the controversy over alleged top secret leaks by the Obama administration. Critics say intelligence information was leaked by Obama staffers to bolster the president's image on terrorism during his reelection campaign.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been the one fielding this backlash. Yesterday, on the Hill, senate Republicans expressed doubt about Holder's credibility and some people even asked for his resignation. This is how the attorney general responded.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: We have tried more leak cases during the course of this administration than any other administration. I was getting hammered by the left for that only two weeks ago. Now, I'm getting hammered by the right for potentially not going after leaks. It makes for an interesting dynamic.

MARTIN: Bridget Johnson, what about that?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, as a journalist, I think of it as three types of leaks. You have the freedom of information, where you clearly have a public's right to know. It's a public service to do it. You have a gray area, where there's a judgment call between the right to know and whether safety, privacy, other rights will be compromised in the process.

You know, a good example of this was when Senator Dianne Feinstein, who's been very tough on these leaks - when she was mayor of San Francisco, she said some stuff about the night stalker case in the 1980s and that compromised the case and he got away with it for a bit longer.

Then, you have those leaks that you know that the right thing to do as a journalist is probably to sit on it because someone might get killed, a murderer won't get caught. Privacy will be grossly compromised, et cetera.

And so these are very, very concerning leaks because, you know, for example, one of them was leaking Israeli military intelligence, defense capability information; taking another's country's information and putting it out there and...


MARTIN: OK. But...

JOHNSON: And putting...

MARTIN: But to that point, Eric Holder assigned two U.S. attorneys to investigate...


MARTIN: ...the alleged leaks, so the question then is why is the conservative media still on his case?

JOHNSON: Because they would prefer an independent investigator. Senators McCain and Graham have suggested, for example, former Utah Senator Bob Bennett as somebody who has bipartisan support and can conduct an independent investigation into this. They basically wanted to approach it in the same way as the Valerie Plame case, the Jack Abramoff case, where - and that is to get somebody who's...

MARTIN: A special counsel.

JOHNSON: Exactly. Somebody who's totally removed from the situation and able to investigate it from the outside.

MARTIN: Viviana, what's your take on this?

HURTADO: I want to talk about the politics of leaks, as well as the media culture. And for those of us who can't see us, which is all of you listeners, we're seeing an example of some new media and older guard media. I've got all of my notes, pen and paper, and Bridget is with her MacBook Air and that's important because the media culture that we have in comparison to Watergate, the context is the media is different, information is moving at the speed of light and there are so many sources, it's fragmented.

And so that's when you have to ask yourself, what's the agenda? What's the politics behind the leak? And I think, when you look at Attorney General Holder, he's had - you know, he's kind of been one of the - if not the biggest pinata of this administration.

It's not just this situation, but he's been under siege for Fast and Furious, as well as Fast and...

MARTIN: Which is what?

HURTADO: Fast and Furious is an operation conducted by the ATF that sent guns to Mexico, to Mexican drug cartels leading to the deaths of thousands of people.

MARTIN: The intention was what? To trace them? To try to...

HURTADO: Exactly. To try to trace them.

MARTIN: ...trace the trajectory...

HURTADO: It was a botched operation. In addition to that, you also have criticism - severe criticism - that Eric Holder has been about deciding to end the prosecution of the new Black Panther party, where there was allegations of voter intimidation in the 2008 election.

MARTIN: Well, he did prosecute them. They prosecuted them on one charge and dropped another charge. I guess...

HURTADO: Exactly. I guess my point is that this admin - Eric Holder has taken a lot of the hits for the administration and if you look at it in the political context, we are going into that six month mark right before November.

My question is, is he going to be Teflon as he has been up to now? And what does that mean for the election going forward and for any kind of a re-election? Will Eric Holder stick it out?

MARTIN: You know, Bridget it's - and Kirsten, I haven't forgotten about you, but I mentioned that this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in that, you know, infamously led to President Nixon's, you know, resignation and, you know, people forget now that - you know, because there's been a movie made about it and books and stuff - that these reporters were ridiculed. The newspaper was hammered by, you know, critics of the investigation then. The New York Times, I mean, just hammered by people who said, you know, how dare you? This is an affront. You know, you're completely wrong. And it turned out that they weren't.

And I don't know if you see - do you see a parallel here or do you see - you know, and some people say, well, gee, you know - that every era has its own kind of press confrontation, but you can't do this kind of reporting without - the cliche is you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

I don't know. What's your take on that?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, I have to say, I love the old Watergate era of meeting sources in dark parking garages and we don't have as much of that now when, you know, a lot of our sources are actually tweeting stuff before we even talk to them.

But, as exemplified in the Fast and Furious case, though, a lot of what reporters are going after nowadays is the issue of transparency and that is a big issue in the Fast and Furious case, is that senators started asking for this in January 2011 and there are still many, many, many documents that haven't been produced.

So, you know, it overlaps with doing a deep investigation and unveiling things that haven't been seen before and getting sunshine on these items and getting them out, you know, to the committees, to the public, et cetera.

MARTIN: You think you bias on the side of - I don't mean that - I mean, small b-bias, on the side of more transparency, even at the cost of revealing some secrets? You feel, at the end of the day, that's where you come out?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, there's definitely a balance between, you know, what anonymous does, you know, as far as revealing secrets. And those that are - that do qualify under Freedom of Information, Right to Know - what happened in Fast and Furious? Why was this gun walking operation approved? How high up did it go? And - because there was a previous failed gun walking operation before this one, so...

MARTIN: Well, obviously, we'll keep an eye on all these things because neither of these, you know, stories is going.

But, you know, Kirsten, one of the reasons we're glad that you're here is that I want to tie in another story because I also wonder if it's something that would have even been reported on or even discussed publicly 20 years ago...

SAVALI: Right.

MARTIN: Pastor Creflo Dollar is a very prominent megachurch leader in Atlanta. He has about 30,000 members, satellite churches around the country. Arrested late last week after his 15-year-old daughter called 911 and said that - alleged that he choked and punched her during an argument. He was charged with simple battery and cruelty to children.

In Sunday's sermons, he said this was a family matter, that - you know, all is well and a lot of prominent ministers have expressed support for him. And you're saying, you know - and I just have to ask you. You know, what do you make of that? And do you think we would have even talked about this publicly 20 years ago?

SAVALI: Well, 20 years ago, I definitely don't think we would have talked about it publicly, just when you think of the power that is given to the black church and, more specifically, the black pastor. I don't believe we would have talked about it in as much detail and I definitely don't believe he would have been forced to make some sort of public statement in front of his congregation.

Creflo Dollar has a lot of people under his - I want to say dominion, but that's kind of what it is when you look at it. And he's forced to kind of take a position of - a defensive position on the issue of abuse versus discipline, and I definitely don't think that's something that we would have delved into 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago, parenting was something that was a little bit more private. Now, we're getting into the realization that women and children often don't have voices within their homes and some people need to come in and step in and let their voices be heard, as well.

MARTIN: Now, you wrote about this, though. What do you think? I mean, you decided to write about this, too. Why did you decide to write about it?

SAVALI: I decided to write about it because I think that, especially in the black community, abuse and discipline are often flip sides of the same coin. I think that, for him to actually tackle, choke and allegedly hit his daughter with a shoe, we're going into the area of abuse. There's no way about it. We're not talking about corporal punishment, and if it was an adult woman who had faced the very same situation, we would be talking about domestic violence.

Yet, based on the context of religion and Christianity and the bible, what we're looking at is people saying, spare the rod, spoil the child. What he's done is biblical. The man is the head of the household. Instead of looking at maybe - just maybe he abused this child.

And I have not seen a lot of voices come out in support of this 15-year-old girl who said this is not the first time this has happened and I'm scared and I don't know what to do. And she's being blamed for it in the media, so I just felt the need to put a voice out there that says don't judge her. She's telling you she's afraid and she's a child. Someone should listen to her.

MARTIN: We are having a visit to the Beauty Shop with Kirsten West Savali. She's a contributing editor to NewsOne.com. Viviana Hurtado is with us. She's blogger-in-chief at the Wise Latina Club. And Bridget Johnson, editor at P.J. Media.

Well, sticking with taboo topics, you might have thought you've seen it all when it comes to Madonna, but the queen of pop stirred up new controversy in Turkey last week by purposely pulling a - shall I call it wardrobe malfunction? And uncovered, you know, her breast. One, at least.

And, Bridget Johnson, you know, this was interesting because this is also at a time we're talking about Erykah Badu's - this provocative video. And I misspoke earlier. It's singing a cover of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The video shows a lot of nudity of Badu and her sister, bodies covered in glitter and some gooey substances. I'll just leave it there. Look it up later when you're home.

But, Bridget, you actually wanted to talk about this. Tell us why you want to talk about this.

JOHNSON: Well, you know, when I was young, 2 Live Crew was the worst thing on MTV. I watched that last night and I'm just like, OK. So some guy got to, you know, play out his Penthouse letter fantasy or whatever.

But, you know, nudity doesn't disqualify something from being art and nudity doesn't automatically make it art. You know, I thought it was interesting in looking up responses of Madonna's performance in Turkish media. You know, I didn't know if there might be something about the nip slip because, you know - yes - it's a secular country, but - you know, it's still Islamist.

And they weren't even focusing on that. They were just like, oh, you know, she was old and she was up there trying to pretend like she's younger. She was trying to be Lady Gaga. She was angry at everything and, you know, so...

MARTIN: And, like, you're too old to be doing that, lady.

HURTADO: And that's something...

MARTIN: A little sensitive since, kind of, Madonna and I are kind of in the same cohort. Little said - not that I plan to flash anyone, but a little sensitive. Viviana, what did you think?

HURTADO: I was going to just agree with Bridget. I remember the Super Bowl performance and how a lot of the reaction was, gosh, she just seemed tired. And I have friends who went to her concert and they thought, what a waste of money.

And so I think the real interesting thing - and the same thing, you know, with Erykah Badu's song - I couldn't find the video, truthfully. I looked throughout the Internet and I just couldn't find it. It was pulled from a lot of sites. Video pulled for being not safe for work or just inappropriate, but...

MARTIN: Well, she's actually also said that she doesn't agree with - she says she...

HURTADO: Right. There's...

MARTIN: She has disavowed it because she says she didn't see the final cut.

HURTADO: Exactly.

MARTIN: And she doesn't like it.

HURTADO: There's a controversy that, apparently, she was not given final review. The song is actually really great. The cover sounds fantastic, but - so my question is did she even have to get into a situation where cuts that she did not approve get there? And I think, you know, whenever you see a woman trying to start off her career or if her career is sagging - all pun intended - all of a sudden, they get naked. I don't understand why women have to get naked.

MARTIN: You know, Kirsten, I don't know how you feel, but I feel different about the Badu video than I do about the Madonna concert because the Badu video - you have to go looking for it.

Let's say she did approve of it. She says she didn't. She says she's disavowed. She doesn't even think it's artistically - she said she doesn't even think it's artistically valid. But you still have to go looking for it. It's not like back in the day when they'd actually be playing this on a major - or even on a cable channel. You have to seek it out. So to me, there's more latitude there than if you go to a concert expecting one thing and then people are flashing folks.

And, I mean, but Madonna has a history of being provocative, so I don't know. I mean, Kirsten, what do you think? Disrespectful? What? What do you think?

SAVALI: The Madonna move - I agree with you - is a little different. I think the Madonna move was out of desperation. You know, people have kind of taken her throne as being the most sensationalistic, the one to show the most skin, and she had a point to prove.

When we talk about the Erykah Badu situation - is several facts there. One being that Erykah Badu was actually on Twitter saying how artistic it was. She was asking for her fans' feedback. She told - I believe his name is Cone - who - from the Flaming Lips - that he was a genius and her sister looked amazing. You know, how do you feel about this? Are you disgusted? Are you compelled?

And then, once the fan backlash came, all of a sudden, she went into this long - just Twitter rant about how she had never approved it. Well, then why were you putting it out there, asking for people's feedback on it? And then her sister also said you will not get any apologies from me. And I find it very, very interesting that, one, it's hard to find now, but when you look at hip-hop and you look at misogyny in other forms of music that is male dominated and the men get to decide how the woman's image is portrayed, then you can find it everywhere. You can find it everywhere.

I don't think art needs to be something where you necessarily like - I saw the video. I still don't know if I hate it. I may hate it. I know I feel compelled by it. I know I was looking at it like, what in the world is she doing? But I didn't like it. But are we supposed to like it? Is that necessarily the point of what she's trying to say? And I really, in this situation, would appreciate it if she had come out and said, you know, I don't care about the backlash. This was kind of an artistic experiment for me and I want to see what people think about it.

MARTIN: Interesting. Well, we're talking about it. Not that we're...

HURTADO: I was going to say, we're talking about it.

MARTIN: We are talking about it. OK. Before we let you go, you know, we talked to the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, earlier in the program. Not that we're biased here, but we do need you ladies to call it. I mean, call it. Call the - where are we going with this? The Heat or the Thunder?

HURTADO: Miami Heat, says Viviana.

MARTIN: Heat, says Viviana.

HURTADO: Or I should say, Miami Heat.

MARTIN: Bridget, where are you on this?

JOHNSON: I'm sorry. I'm still sitting here going, Magic, Bird. I long for those days.

MARTIN: Kirsten?

SAVALI: You know, I think I'm going to...

MARTIN: Heat or Thunder?

SAVALI: I think I'm going to go with the Thunder this time. I think Durant is a sweetie. I think we're going to go with him.

MARTIN: Just late to the party. Just late to the party. It's a tough one since Durant is from Washington, D.C., much loved here. I'm still with the Heat. I'm on record. It's the Heat. It's their turn. But then that's what everybody said about Hillary, and we see how that turned out.

JOHNSON: You see how that turned out.

MARTIN: Viviana Hurtado is blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club here in Washington, D.C., along with Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media, conservative libertarian commentary and news website. With us from Jackson, Mississippi, Kirsten West Savali. She was with us from Mississippi Public Broadcasting. She's contributing editor to NewsOne.com.

Ladies, thank you.

HURTADO: Thanks, Michel.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

SAVALI: Thank you.


MARTIN: Just ahead, Father's Day is right around the corner and TELL ME MORE is celebrating with the latest essay in our series, Father to Father. Today, we'll hear from a dad who has two kids at home and even more in his classroom.

ERIC STUART: Many of my students were from single family homes. I wasn't just a teacher to these kids. I was a positive male influence they were missing in their lives.

MARTIN: Some fatherly wisdom. That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.


MARTIN: The nation's mayors are meeting in Orlando this week to share their wisdom and woes as they deal with tough economic times, budget cuts, allegations of police brutality and more in Miami. Mayor Tomas Regalado has all of that on his to-do list. We'll talk with him about his plans for the city next time on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.