'Shop Talk': 'Birthers' Target Obama's Academics

The White House released President Obama's birth certificate but it still did not silence his critics. Now some are questioning his academic records. Also, a judge's ruling may have ended the NFL lockout, though details of the collective bargaining agreement have yet to be finalized. Host Michel Martin speaks with Tell Me More's Barbershop guys: author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

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 shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. Jimi, I know you're still drying your eyes from the royal wedding this morning, but see if you can, you know, pull it together long enough to, you know.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Writer): Yeah. I got it together, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Actually, I'm more teary 'cause Lee Hill is leaving.

MARTIN: I know.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's so upsetting.

MARTIN: It is.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney): Indeed. Indeed.

Mr. IZRAEL: He's taking his shoe game to Denver.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Right. Right.

MARTIN: That's what's up.

Mr. IZRAEL: You've been warned, Denver. Watch out. Hey fellas, business as usual. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): It's been good, man. Great.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well

Mr. TORRE: Well

Mr. IZRAEL: President Obama decided to go hard this week, and shut down.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I just need to say - Jimi, this is Ruben.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes sir.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Is this the point in the show where we have to all whip out our college transcripts because we're called by the government

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, man

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Show me your freedom papers, because those records are permanently sealed. I just want to say that. Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's so funny you should mention that, man. Because, you know, because President Obama, he's having to whip out his papers, man. He shut down the whole birther question thing, we think, this week. He released a long form of his birth certificate which shows he was born in America. Surprise, surprise, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, you know what's interesting about it is that he even he seemed to acknowledge that - yeah, he just previously released the short form, which is what you get. The long form is something that the authorities hold on to. You know, the records - the state holds onto those records. So the officials hold on to that record.

And so he had to go send his lawyer to Hawaii, go get the book or whatever, have the guy bring it and all of this. And he even seemed to acknowledge that even with all of that, he says, you know what? That's not going to be enough for some people. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: I know that there's going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I'm speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah. No doubt. Thanks for that, Michel. No, so, the haters, they're still not satisfied. Now they're questioning the president's academic record. Donald Trump brought it up, of course, right? The tump(ph) brought it up. So then the Republican commentator Pat Buchanan cosigned. He brought it up on MSNBC with "Hardball" host Chris Matthews, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah. We're shocked by that too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Well, this is - what was interesting to me is that Chris Matthews actually articulated what a lot of African-Americans and other people have been saying on blogs and on forums like "The Root," which is that this is outrageous. And, well, I mean, on "The Root" they use the term, just racist. Because they're asking, you know, who else has been asked to prove their validity in this same way? But here's Chris Matthews cosigning that point of view.

(Soundbite of show, "Hardball")

Mr. CHRIS MATTHEWS (Host, "Hardball"): What you're thinking is what drives a lot of African-Americans absolutely crazy about this country. They get a guy they may not agree with. They may think he's too conservative on a lot of issues. He hasn't - he's let them down on some things. But they see him being questioned in a way nobody else gets questioned. Here's a guy that's busting his butt to become head of the Harvard Law Review. You got to have law boards (unintelligible) through the roof to get into that place. And then he does all that (unintelligible).

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: There you go.

Mr. IZRAEL: That is so deep. You know why? (Unintelligible) I guess I can announce this. You know, I'm thinking about getting a project started on Kickstart.com where I tour five American cities and just set up, like, a booth and start just randomly asking white people to show me their papers. I'll let you know how that works.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's right.

Mr. IZRAEL: But, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo?

Mr. IZRAEL: What do you think about all this, brother?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I will say that one of the most interesting commentaries I heard all week long was really out of left field, where some conservative, radical, right-wing Republicans were accusing Donald Trump of being a plant for the Democratic Party.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, seriously though, because, I mean, they know that he's from New York. They know that he's given money, before, to Charlie Rangel and Chuck Schumer and other Democrats. They know he's a moderate on some issues like gay rights and abortion. I think we're going to find out differently, whatever. But they really think that the harm that has been done to Republicans because of this man and this claim, calls him into question.

And I thought that was interesting, because I think that there are a couple things we can agree on here. And one is that this would not happen if you had a white president. If you had another white male in a string of white males, nobody would say boo about it. I think the other thing we can agree on is that this is good for the White House, good for Obama, bad for Republicans. And the other thing I think, last thing we can agree is that so many Americans just want to move on and go on to other issues and they hope that the president, you know, was able to do that with this.

But I'm going to zero in on the thing that really I think burns a lot of folks and that is the really disrespectful tone that this kind of stuff takes on that I cannot believe your average white male president would be subject to, and it goes back to what we've said before on this show. People like Arsalan and myself and I mean all of us to some degree, we're always having our allegiance, our love of country called into question. I'm a real American. You're not a real American. Show me your birth certificate.

Latinos, I'll tell you, have been down this road before. We know all about being asked for our birth certificates. So it's crazy but it's not too unfamiliar.

MARTIN: Have you ever been asked for your birth certificate?

Mr. IZRAEL: Donald...

MARTIN: No, seriously, Ruben, have you ever?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, I'm asked oftentimes either in person at - I will go down, like when I was in Arizona covering immigration rallies. And once people see me there with my notebook and recognize my byline and know who I am and see that I have a little darker skin, they'll asked me where was I born. You know, where were you born? And I guess they expect me to come back and say I was born in Mexico. But, you know, usually tell them I was born in a hospital in Fresno, California in 1967. And I don't have my birth certificate, I can't find it. But nor can I find my car keys from last night so, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But you do get that. You do get this sense, you know, from folks that they're trying to marginalize you in the same way that they're trying to marginalize Obama. This is a way of putting Barack Obama in his place, OK?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: So...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And I don't think there's a single person out there, and myself included, who has ever not been felt like somebody's trying to put you back in your place.

Mr. IZRAEL: So Donald Trump, the Manchurian hairpiece, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. I'll take it. A-Train, go ahead, man. Tell me what's on your mind.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, we've got to remember guys, there's no racism here. We just need the black, black, black, black, black president to show us his freedom papers. As Jonathan...

Mr. IZRAEL: He's not that black.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: As writer Jonathan Blank(ph) said, to pull this off one would've needed to plan, implement and maintain a flawless conspiracy over the course of four decades between multiple state agencies of Illinois and Hawaii, his posh private school in Hawaii, two Ivy League schools, the Illinois Bar Association, the government of Kenya and/or Indonesia, the Social Security Administration, the state Department and the IRS. You know, Elvis and Tupac are sitting on a beach somewhere saying they can't really believe this crap, can they?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean the Birthers will never be satisfied. You give them the long form certificate, they're going to want the longer form. They're going to want the longest form. Donald Trump, a feckless charlatan that he is, we all need to sing a very famous choral refrain from a Cee-Lo song and give him the one finger salute.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask you this...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, snap. No, no. But here's what I wanted to ask you though, Arsalan...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...though, from the strategy standpoint. It's not for nothing that Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff at the White House in the George W. Bush administration called the architect, you know, for his obviously...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...political strategist of many decades is outraged about this as well. He says it's bad for Republicans. So the question I have is why not keep it going then? Since it puts the party - from a political standpoint, was the president wrong to try to put this to rest...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I think...

MARTIN: ...to say, because he's saying look, this is stupid. This is distracting us from things that are more important. So really from a just solely from a political standpoint...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. No, this is a very good question.

MARTIN: ...should he have said it, let it, just say OK, do your thing?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I actually, I am kind of disappointed that he actually released a birth certificate. Because what that does...

Mr. IZRAEL: Me too.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: What does is that gets it into their framework. It gets it into the Donald Trump's framework. You know, when Donald Trump talks about, you know, asking for his college transcript and, you know, him not being, you know, worthy to get into Harvard Law School, Donald Trump went to Fordham University before he transferred to Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. So is he's saying that because he transferred and he's a white man he had to work harder than a quote, "affirmative action baby" like Barack Obama? I mean it's patently offensive on its face.

I mean he said that China is raping this country when the Donald Trump clothing line is made in China. I mean this is pandering to the lowest common denominator of American politics. 2012 is going to be the most racist presidential election in American history.

MARTIN: I just have to step up for Rutgers. Excuse me, nothing wrong with Rutgers. I have cousins who went to Rutgers. It's a fine institution. Let me just step up for that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: So is Fordham.

MARTIN: All right. Fordham. Sorry.

Mr. TORRE: Well, I just want to jump in real quick and, you know it's absurd and...

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: ...and you know, I just don't think Donald Trump is even going to run for president. I just think this is, you know, what he's been very good at is drumming up attention for himself and he's catering to all the segments of the worst parts of this country to drum up attention.

And even if you were to take his remarks on face, and you guys have done a great job obviously dismantling all of that, I mean it's just this level of irony, of course, where Donald Trump who, as one of my favorite comedians once said, is what a homeless man imagines a rich white person to be, is literally, you know, the guy calling people out in terms of meritocracy.

I mean he's a guy inherited his wealth. A guy who has lied repeatedly on the record, has been proven to have done as much and, you know, to again, to question the president of the United States retroactively, having been the editor of the Harvard Law Review, having been the president of the United States about getting into Harvard Law or Columbia or Occidental, all the places he went, is just ridiculous and a waste of breath in my opinion.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. That's who you just heard.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. OK fellas. Now we've seen a lot of back-and-forth on this, the NFL lockout, which was lifted by a judge. So far the players have won the first two rounds of this but I don't know, Michel. Things are...

MARTIN: Well, I don't know. I'm interested in this, and I'm dying to hear what particularly Pablo has to say about this because I'm confused. So they're saying that the judge said that the players were suffering irreparable harm, then the NFL requested a stay and then the judge denied it so there's an appeal pending. So what happens now? I mean the draft was last night, right? So that was going to happen anyway. So, Pablo, what does that mean? Does that mean...

Mr. TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: ...that mean that they have to let the players back in now?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah. I mean it's basically what the judge said and this at point and is saying something more clarity in this issue than ever, what the NFL has been trying to do and that's literally lock out players from work facilities, keep them from coming to work as usual is plainly illegal, that's what her ruling was. And the NFL can appeal that to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

But the bottom line for fans and from anybody who marginally knows about football is that they're probably - not definitely - but very probably will be football as scheduled.

MARTIN: Well, who negotiates now on behalf of the players, because the contract has lapsed? So who decides how much they're paid, for example? And we know that the draft...

Mr. TORRE: Right.

MARTIN: ...I mean who decides how much they're paid and what their rights are to go from one team to another and all of that stuff?

Mr. TORRE: Right. No, that's a very good question. And what happens is at this point once the appeals process is done, and that should happen in the next few days, that's, that I mean the St. Louis court ruling on Judge Nelson's stay, whether it's official for good period or not, what happens is that there is this tremendous leverage for the players because they have decertified. You're right.

And so what this means is that the antitrust suit, which has been winding its way through the court, is now putting pressure on the NFL to negotiate with the players because they cannot operate in a way that is not illegal without having the union back in place. And so they have to convince the players now to sign this new collective bargaining agreement, negotiate one, and obviously at this point because the league relies on the players to recertify, the players have leverage to get some of the things that they wanted.

And that's in fact, what the whole lockout was in the first place is collective bargaining agreement, which shows the breakdown in the revenue of which money goes to where and how much and the draft rights and so forth.

But the league year, which is football as usual, meaning free agents can be signed, trades can happen, hasn't happened yet. The NFL is kind of dragging its feet on that still but that will be put to rest ostensibly when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis finally rules for good on the stay denial that Judge Nelson did. So, yeah, yeah. That's where we are now.

MARTIN: Well, Arsalan, what's your take on this?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, my take has been the same, you know, since the beginning. I thought that this was sort of just jujitsu from both sides trying to get an upper hand. I thought that, you know, ultimately we were going to have NFL season and it looks that way unless, you know, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, you know, overturns it, and I think we're going to have a football season.

MARTIN: Hmm. Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, I'm trying to figure out where this irreparable harm is. You know what, so they can't make it rain as often or...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, that...

MARTIN: Well, no. But...

Mr. IZRAEL: They can't wait. They can't pour Gatorade over their own head?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, on principle, they can't have a membership at Bally's anyway. So I'm trying to figure out why they can't keep it tight just on principle.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: They can't get 24 - 24 is for their Ferrari's.

MARTIN: Because their careers are so short.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: True.

MARTIN: I mean the professional season is short.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Their careers are short. I mean it's not like, you know, a noted scribe such as yourself Jimi, who can do this, you know, into your 70s.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Or whatever, right? But that's why you have a savings account, you know. That's why you don't throw your paycheck into the air, you know, every second Saturday of the month.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And bomb toys. Nob bomb toys.

Mr. TORRE: That's true too. But Michel has...

MARTIN: Well go ahead.

Mr. TORRE: I think Michel has a very good point and that's something that I think has emerged from all of this and I hope that's what the public is taking away is that the NFL is a lot more than Tom Brady. The average NFL career is about 3.5 years. That's the shortest in all of pro sports.

And what I've been saying on this show and otherwise is that the NFL, football is not like basketball. It not like baseball. It's more like boxing and that's troubling. I mean these permanent injuries, what we've talked about for so long...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: ...concussions, brain trauma and all of that...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TORRE: ...that's something that comes from a very, very brutal sport that is not present in basketball or baseball to the same degree.

Mr. IZRAEL: So...

MARTIN: Ruben, before we let you go, does Ruben, Ruben, does this change how you feel about the season? Are you still into it? Or what do you think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm still into, no, I'm still it. I'm still hopeful there's going to be a season. I think there's too much money involved for everybody to - just to kiss it off. I think they will eventually, you know, win the day.

But I've learned a lot from watching this debate over the last few weeks or so about, you know, arguing it both ways. I've seen the arguments on both sides. I'm torn. I understand that the people put themselves through this physical grueling punishment. They're going to have health problems and medical problems for a long time. We should be taking care of them. They should have a way of being taking care of. On the other hand, I'm sympathetic to the idea that you choose this career. It's, yeah, it's a short career. But you chose this career as something you opted into and you have a very, you're breathing rarified air for short period of time and you're having opportunities nobody else has.

It's really a tough one. But I'll you what, I'll tell you what, I have a lot more sympathy for the players than I do the owners.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. OK.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And that's where I come down.

MARTIN: Before we go, guys, I got to ask: Peyton Hillis?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, I keep up with my sports but video games not so much. But he's now going to be the cover he's now the cover for the Madden NFL 12 version of the video game. Jimi, you give it up for your homeboy here?

Mr. TORRE: Jimi, where's Peyton Hillis jersey, man?

MARTIN: Yeah. Where? Yeah, where is it?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean see the thing is, see it's a kind of a double whammy because I'm not really a Browns fan and I'm not really a Madden fan either. So, you know, they say being on the cover of the box of a Madden Xbox is like, you know...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: A curse.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's bad luck, it's a curse. But, you know, the Browns could use any kind of luck they could get, so I don't know. I say we just give it to God and hope for the best.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean that's all you can really do when you're a Cleveland Browns. You know go ahead.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, this is Arsalan. For anybody who watches football this year, I mean Michael Vick had an absolutely magical season and to, you know, have the Madden 2012 cover go to, you know, Peyton what-you-talking-about Hillis, is just kind of mind-boggling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: This is China voting Yao Ming into the All-Star game. All of Cleveland literally voted for this guy so...

MARTIN: You hear that, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm sure that's what it was. Both of them.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." I think he voted twice. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our NPR studios in New York. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and managing editor of the Crescent Post. Arsalan was with us in Washington, D.C.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks.

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.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.