'Shop Talk': Sen. Scott Brown Reveals Childhood Abuse

Mass. Sen. Scott Brown reveals he was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is criticized for five years of silence on the bench and the contentious Chicago mayoral race comes to a vote next week. Host Michel Martin discusses these issues in Tell Me More's weekly roundtable, "The Barbershop, with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Ruben Navarrette, and the National Journals Kevin Williamson.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And 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 shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Ruben Navarrette, and managing deputy editor of the National Review, Kevin Williamson. Take it away, Jimi.

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

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney, Editor): Feel great, man.

Mr. KEVIN WILLIAMSON (Managing Deputy Editor, National Review): Good, thanks.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, well, we're going to start things off with a bit of a shocker. You know, Republican Senator Scott Brown, he made it this week. He's kind of laid low since winning the Massachusetts seat held by the late Ted Kennedy last year, but this Sunday he'll be very candid during a "60 Minutes" interview detailing abuses he suffered as a child, Michel.

MARTIN: You know, his autobiography, "Against All Odds: My Life of Hardship, Fast Breaks, and Second Chances," comes out next week. But he has, you know, giving people a sense of what's in it now. And he talked to CBS's Lesley Stahl on "60 Minutes" about all this. And he says he never talked to anybody about it. Here's a clip of the interview to be aired on Sunday.

(Soundbite of TV show, "60 Minutes")

Senator SCOTT BROWN (Republican, Massachusetts): My mom will read about it for the first time. My wife has read about it.

Ms. LESLEY STAHL ("60 Minutes"): Didn't even know?

Sen. BROWN: No. No one - I haven't told anybody. That's what happens when you're a victim. You're embarrassed. You're hurt.

MARTIN: You know, and the thing that I was struck by, not just that this is a high-profile, you know, political figure who's talking about this at a stage of his career when he really doesn't have to. But also, this is the latest. I mean, Don Lemon of CNN went public talking about similar incidents in his childhood. And recently Oprah had on her program 200 men on her program, along with Tyler Perry, the famed, you know, filmmaker, talking about this, and I'm just - I don't know. It takes my breath away.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Michel, as you know, I even talked about it a little bit in my book. Not that anybody not anybody asked me about it. But, yeah, I mean, I've had experience with sexual abuse. And I think it's a good thing that a lot of men are bringing these painful revolutions of abuse to light. But I think the big up is that we're bringing a positive - a quiet conversation and we're making it louder.

But I think the big down is that not a lot of people take it seriously. It becomes more and more just like tabloid fodder. It becomes something that people chitter and chat about, but nobody really is talking about it in a substantive way.

K-Dub, what do you think?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, I think that you're right, to the extent that anything serious like this that becomes a big part of the political discourse ends up being cheapened by the political discourse because that's just the nature of it. So it will be tabloid fodder. That's just inevitable. But I think it is good and useful that a guy like Scott Brown would come out and have this conversation. And I think he ought to be congratulated for having the courage to do so.

Mr. IZRAEL: The R.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, ditto that. I think the thing that cheapens this revelation really isn't the fact that he's a Republican or a Democrat or it'll be used for political fodder or whatever, but it's the fact that he's trying to sell a book. You know, and that's the first thing that comes to mind. That's the first people will say. But I need to take that on straight on, and we should put that on the table. He's giving these revelations. He's making these revelations because he's selling a book.

But beyond that, everything that we've said up to now is true in terms of the value of these kinds of admissions - public admissions. And I see it all the time with people who say - that when people come out and say - people say that they're gay, it helps other people who are dealing with that. Some women I know who have had miscarriages, for instance, it's a very personal thing and a lot of women will come forward and say, you know, I never talked about this before. But there are people out there who have miscarriages and what that means.

There are all these various challenges that people deal with, and it really does help, I think, to have other people come forward and say, hey. You know what? It happened to me. So, you know, kudos to Scott Brown.

MARTIN: I don't get the book thing. I don't get the book deal.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: What's dishonorable about selling a book if it (unintelligible)?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. I don't get that, either. I mean...

MARTIN: I don't understand that, and I don't have a book. So I don't...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You're going to hear that.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, wait a second. I mean, isn't that why they call it a tell-all? I mean, it's, look, look...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Because this is why...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go I mean Ruben, look...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is what get's no, no, no, no. This is what gets in the interview in the prime section of a "Good Morning America" show or a "Today" show because of that revelation. The headline on the Scott Brown book...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...is this piece, so that...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm telling you, that is part of the criticism you will hear.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, it may be part of the criticism you will hear, but, you know, you and me both are authors and, you know...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...I mean, at a certain point, you know, your commitments to the page - and you've got to be truthful with the page, and they call it a tell-all for a reason.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: And, you know, you got to be honest with the book. You've got to be honest with the words on the page, and sometimes you got to tell all. And that's when it all comes out.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm with you. I'm with you.

Mr. IZRAEL: I promise you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think the slam on him, if there is one, is going to come from folks who say that this is just out there to sell the book and this is out there to tantalize people. This is why he gets the prime real estate on the interviews. Nobody's going to pick up a book to hear about a guy who was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts who's going to talk about health care reform or something. It's just not - this is what sells the book.

I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm saying that's part of the criticism. I don't think it discounts at all the value of what he has to say.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, there are two things that, you know, caught my interest in this whole saga. You know, the alleged abuse against Scott Brown happened when he was around 10 years old. He's 51 years old now. And it really hit home for me, because I had a close friend a few years ago who is now 40 years old, but recently came out that he was sexually abused by a priest in his local parish when he was around 10 years old. And he had repressed those memories so much to the point where he himself had forgotten about it until the age of 40. And so it's interesting that a lot of these middle-aged men, you know, have these repressed memories that are coming out in this age.

The second thing which I found interesting from the legal aspect, the CBS affiliate in Boston, you know, is now saying that the camp counselor who abused Scott Brown could technically still be charged, because under most state laws, victims of sexual abuse can file up until the age of 25. Apparently, Massachusetts has an exception, where if somebody does not file charges by the age of 25, if the abuser leaves the state, for every day that that person is out of the state, one day is added to the statute of limitations. And so, apparently, this counselor left when Scott Brown was 14.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm. Interesting.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: So we'll see the legal maneuvering there. But I think that that's going to be an interesting paradigm to watch, as well.

MARTIN: You know, I think there are a lot of things that are interesting about this book, also the fact that this kid had a really tough life. I mean, he's a grown man, and he talks about the fact that these are circumstances a lot of people associate with minorities - you know, his mother having multiple partners, some of whom were really abusive. And he also talks about having, you know, gotten in trouble with the law as a kid because he was acting out, and how a judge decided to give him a pass on a shoplifting charge. And there's something about that kind of open something up in him and adults taking an interest in him. And I think there's a lot there.

But the question I have is: Do other kids deserve that? Do other kids deserve that who aren't, you know, magazine portfolio handsome, which he is? So that's the question that I have that flows from this, and I wonder whether anybody else takes that...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, it's not like he's the only kid in history who's ever got a break from the judge was sympathetic to him.

MARTIN: Well, but that's - but there's less and less discretion in the system, which is one of the issues that we're talking about as a matter of policy, right? All these zero-tolerance policies.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The issue is - when you get - the issue is when you get the break, what do you do with it? And I think there are minorities out there who get breaks, but what they do with it before the judge I think is a different story. And obviously, you know, it's the hand you're dealt is something that's obviously way beyond your control. But we have great stories in the minority community, in the African-American community and the Latino community, who people have come up the hard way, raised by single moms and still been successful.

MARTIN: No, no. I think the question that I'm talking about is the fact that discretion was in his system when he was in front of it, and that discretion is less and less. So the question I have is: Is there another Scott Brown that could be there, but for the fact that an adult, an intelligence adult, who has access to all the facts is in a position to offer that discretion? To me, that is the question, because it's a very different era now.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Places where we tend to have not much discretion are in violent crimes, for one thing.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. Right. The hardcore offenders.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Which is probably important, but then also for drug-related crimes...

MARTIN: Drugs.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Which is silly, of course, because, you know, our drug laws are just indefensible and they end up putting a lot of people in prison who don't belong there under any circumstances, much less for not having caught a break from a sympathetic judge.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Kevin Williamson.

Thanks. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Okay. Well, while Scott Brown's become quite candid, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, kind of quiet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Now, when the court returns from midweek - midwinter break next week, it will be a five-year anniversary - five years since Justice Thomas has spoken a word during court arguments, Michel.

MARTIN: Do we care? Does anybody care?

Mr. IZRAEL: Nah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: As a lawyer, I care.

MARTIN: I mean, I don't understand. Why do we care?

Mr. IZRAEL: I look at it like this...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Where did he go? I miss him.

Mr. IZRAEL: I look at it this. I'm going to get in big trouble for saying this, but, you know, Clarence Thomas is an accommodationist, you know, and this is what accommodationists do: They don't have a lot to say. They go along. They get along, you know, and I don't know what else you want from him. I mean, he's there, and he feels like - he looks like he's doing his job, just by being there and being awake. So, you know...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: How can you call somebody call him an accommodationist? He is one of the most polarizing, largely thought to be one of the most ideological figures on the court. He's certainly one of the ones with the strongest kind of governing philosophy.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Or the strongest jurisprudential philosophy, rather.

MARTIN: I don't know that he's seen as a leader, though. I think he seen as a follower.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's a follower. He follows Scalia. He follows Scalia.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's what I'm getting to. That's what I'm getting to.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: (unintelligible) canard. I think that's by people who just don't believe that Clarence Thomas is intellectually serious. The whole idea that he follows Scalia - I mean, when you look at the cases in which he's dissented from Scalia on, you know, some free speech cases, on the California, on the marijuana stuff, you know, he's definitely an independent thinker. He's...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't think he's a canard, at all. I don't think he's...

Mr. IZRAEL: Intellectually serious people argue.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: I think he's taking a there's a good old Texas proverb, never miss a good chance to shut up.

MARTIN: Okay. Arsalan is our Kevin, you're not a lawyer, are you?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: No.

MARTIN: I'm not, either. Arsalan's our only lawyer.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. I apologize for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know...

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. House JD. Go ahead, brother.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I don't know if he stayed quiet for five years because, you know, he's worried about blurting out Long Dong Silver, but, you know, for lawyers...

MARTIN: Aw, no, come on, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: See, that's the great legal mind, folks. Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Yeah, really. Thanks. Your parent spent a lot of money for that. But, go ahead.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This is the Barbershop. But, you know, once...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ladies and gentlemen, Arsalan Iftikhar.

MARTIN: But does it matter? Tell us why it matters or doesn't matter.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It matters because of the concept of oral arguments. In the Supreme Court, it is - it's a phenomenon where attorneys arguing for one side and against one side get to present their arguments, have the judges ask questions, have the lawyers push back, you know, have sort of that Socratic, you know, back and forth. And what a lot of lawyers, especially those who have argued in front of the Supreme Court, one of their criticisms they have, you know, aside from, you know, their view that Clarence Thomas is sort of the Colmes to Scalia's Hannity, is the fact that, you know, he'll sit there quietly, but then he'll offer the sweeping changes in precedent, you know, in his opinions, which can be and should be, actually, pushed back upon during oral arguments. And so a lot of people say...

MARTIN: Why? So that they have a chance to test his argument?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Well, yeah. You can test, you know, the merits and the mettle of the argument and, you know, hopefully then he'll offer some more nuance in his written opinions.

MARTIN: Okay. Okay. Kevin, what about that?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: No. I don't see any particular reason for it. Well, I think I have sort of a different view of the rule of law when it comes to the Supreme Court, which is that it doesn't exist. I mean, the Supreme Court is just a nine-person legislature that makes it up as it goes along. I think that's largely true of the conservatives, as well as the liberals on the court. So, I'm not sure that Clarence Thomas' mind would much be changed or that what would come out in the final opinions would much be changed by having him discuss that.

MARTIN: Well, but doesn't that make him an...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: The lawyer should get a chance to make their case (unintelligible).

MARTIN: If argument doesn't make you doesn't affect you, then doesn't that make you an ideologue? I mean, isn't that what arguments are for?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Well, of course it does. But does anyone really think Ruth Bader Ginsburg was going to rule differently on any case - any controversial case, any case touching an important cultural issue than the way she did because someone said something in court? No. She went in there...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. That's a good point.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: She went in there knowing what she was going to rule before the case was even argued.

MARTIN: Why do you think that?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: But at lease she participated.

MARTIN: No, but seriously, why do you think that?

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Oh, I think that just from watching the court for a long time and reading their opinions, half of which have, you know, nothing to do with really with the law at hand. You know, and go back and read something like -read Roe v. Wade and read all the stuff that goes in there that has nothing to do with the law, nothing to do with the Constitution. You know, looking...

MARTIN: But that's not the present court.

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Looking in the penumbras for stuff that you already believe, which is where it comes from.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know what? Clarence Thomas can't catch a break because if he does speak up and writes his opinions, people will criticize him for what he says and the way he believes. They'll call him an ideologue. If he stays quiet, they'll say he's an ideologue. You know, if he breaks with Scalia or follows Scalia, he can't catch a break. He is that polarizing a figure.

But it may just be that people get into these positions, you know, and we have this idea that if you get on the Supreme Court, you're honored to be there and serve there with equal amounts of enthusiasm for a 30-year tenure. And I think in many cases, people get bored with these jobs. They don't feel like these are jobs they can necessarily leave. If you had to do the same thing for 30 years...

MARTIN: Of course they can leave. Why can't they leave?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, they can, but very rarely. I mean, you have people like, was it Burger who stepped down, you know...

MARTIN: Yeah. There's no fence around the court.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You've got others who view it...

MARTIN: I think they're free to go at any time.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a rare thing.

MARTIN: It's not East Germany.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I know, but it's a rare thing. It's a rare no, it's a rare thing. I think people don't like the idea of giving away this lifetime appointment to the court and...

MARTIN: Yeah, well, that's their issue. That's called personal responsibility, you know?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Sandra Day O'Connor did it.

MARTIN: All right. But...

Mr. WILLIAMSON: Too rare a thing in the...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It may just be that Clarence Thomas is bored. But the point I'm making here is that, you know, he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. The people that don't like him aren't going to like him whether he's talkative or silent.

MARTIN: All right. Final question on the Chicago mayor's race next week.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Arsalan, you're the Chicago hometown man.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It is. You know, for 43 of the last 56 years, somebody by the name of Daley has been the mayor of Chicago. You know, you have former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun, former Daley Chief of Staff Gery Chico and Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle. What's going to be - the two most key things that are going to be there for voters, $655 million deficit for the city of Chicago. There's been a 15 percent drop in the police force, as gun violence rises. It's interesting because we're going to have -somebody's going to have to get a clear majority of 51 percent in order for there not to be a runoff. Most polls early on had Rahm at 70 percent. I think he walks away with it.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Well, we'll have to check next week and see what happens.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I don't know. We don't know yet.

MARTIN: Go ahead. We'll have to see.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: We don't know yet. I'm in Chicago...

MARTIN: Oh, you're in Chicago.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...watching it up close. I'm telling you what, it could be close. The big question is whether or not Rahm wins it outright, but Gery Chico is gaining on him. We'll see what happens.

MARTIN: All right. Well, we'll see what happens. Stay warm. Stay warm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You bet.

MARTIN: All right.

Jimi Izrael is author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. He writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. And, as he told us, he's in Chicago this week.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Kevin Williamson is the managing deputy editor at the National Review. He was in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. 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.

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