'Shop Talk': News Corps Scandal Spills Over To US
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 their chairs for a shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Take it away, Jimi.
JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.
Hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?
RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey, hey, hey.
ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Doing good, man. Great.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Feeling good.
IZRAEL: All right. Whoa. Sounds like Dave's calling from Mars. What's up, man? How are you doing?
MARTIN: Just back from England, man. He's on the scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NAVARRETTE: He's got that Barry White thing going on.
IZRAEL: Evidently. Well...
FOLKENFLIK: Pretty much. I just came back from London. So, you know, fit that into your account.
IZRAEL: All right.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: I will do. Well, check this out. We got - I know you know this already, Dave. But we got a situation that's making its way - that was over there just making its way to our side of the pond. Last week, News of the World, the longest running newspaper in Britain, shut down amid allegations of phone hacking. And the saga continues, Michel. Da, da, da, da, dun.
MARTIN: Da, da, da, da, dun. Well, I think the big news here, besides, of course, all the conversation about the media presence of Rupert Murdoch in this country, the FBI is apparently launching an investigation into whether 9/11 victims' phones were hacked. Attorney General Eric Holder says that there could be a broader investigation. The head of the company's British newspaper unit, Rebekah Brooks, resigned this morning.
And the scandal derailed News Corp's plan to take control of the British satellite TV company BSkyB. Here's British Prime Minister David Cameron in parliament this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
DAVID CAMERON: There needs to be root-and-branch change at this entire organization.
IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah.
MARTIN: Well, David's just back.
IZRAEL: They sound serious.
MARTIN: I know, right? So, David, you're just back. So we're dying to hear, you know.
FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. I mean, look, it's the scandal that...
IZRAEL: Yeah, you've been covering this.
FOLKENFLIK: It's a scandal that keeps on giving, for those who are covering it. I mean it's - when you hear David Cameron there saying root-and-branch change at News Corp and particularly its British holdings, consider that he was thought of as the politician closest to the Murdoch family, who control News Corp, and closest to Rebekah Brooks, the woman who was the tabloid editor at News of the World when some of these most egregious incidents are said to have occurred, and more recently have been over all the British newspapers there.
The fact that David Cameron is saying this has to be totally changed is an indication of the fact that the Murdochs have lost complete support in the U.K., at least in the political establishment. And I think it's also worth pointing out that as influential as Fox News is here, particularly on the conservative movement and elements - a lot of the Republican Party, Murdoch played both sides of the coin in England to get politicians from the two largest parties there to curry favor.
They feared him. They courted him. They wanted his four major national newspapers to support them. And, you know, he played back and forth. He was with the conservatives for years, then he went over to Tony Blair, a new waver from - call it '97 until 2009, when he abandoned Gordon Brown to go back to David Cameron.
And the links are both social and personal. David Cameron says they must go. He says Rebekah Brooks - Rebekah Brooks is one of his closer friends. This is an astonishing turnaround in the United Kingdom. And as you guys are saying, it's now coming over here where the scandal that talks about, you know, an abducted girl who turned out to have been killed, her voicemail was hacked at the time that police were desperately searching for her.
And that meant that cops, you know, it interfered with their investigation, but it also meant her parents thought that maybe she was still alive because the private investigator was so hungry for more information off these voicemails, that he deleted them, so that more could keep coming into that voicemail box. And that's what turned the corner from this being a scandal about, hey, some celebrities got eavesdropped on. The royals got eavesdropped on. People in England I talked to said, eh, they're there for our entertainment. They get rich off us. The royals get all kinds of subsidies and tax write-offs and whatever, you know. They're here for our pleasure.
People who are, like, the victims of 9/11, people like that abducted girl, not fair game.
MARTIN: Yeah, but is it fair game? I mean, Gordon Brown - the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is saying that somebody hacked into his private financial records. What is that about?
IFTIKHAR: His son's medical records.
MARTIN: His son's medical records. I mean, do people really think that that was OK? Just because he's famous?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, there are two things there. First off, on the financial records, that wasn't even the tabloids. That was the Times of London, which is - or excuse me, I think it was the Sunday Times.
IFTIKHAR: Sunday Times.
MARTIN: The Sunday Times.
FOLKENFLIK: But it was one of their prestige broadsheets.
FOLKENFLIK: Now, in England, there's a tolerance that you just wouldn't see in this country. In the U.K. they say, you know what? So much is secret there. Their Freedom of Information Act there is very new and very weak. Their libel laws favor people who sue rather than the news organizations themselves. There are all kinds of secrecy. There's no written constitution. So people kind of gives things a pass if the press gets to say it was in the public interest.
The Sunday Times said this was a story where we thought that he had gotten an apartment that was expensive at below cost rates from a financial backer of the party. We wanted to see. So I mean they did something that in this country would probably be prosecuted, but there they kind of them a shrug.
On the son's medical condition, you know, their young son - the Browns - was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and they were still, as a family kind of processing that when Rebekah Brooks, then the editor of the Sun tabloid, a sister publication to the one that triggered all this pain, called the Browns to say hey, we know that this is the case. Now, Mr. Brown said that somehow he believed his medical - the boy's medical records had been accessed for that story, which they published on their front page.
In fact, the Sun has produced a person who says no, my child also has cystic fibrosis. I was aware of it through mutual associates and I told the Sun...
MARTIN: I see.
FOLKENFLIK: ...as I wanted to give this disease more prominence. And the Guardian has backed off. It originally reported this as having placed - the Guardian has backed off the claim that the medical records were hacked into, which would also be a violation of British law.
MARTIN: Oh. Well, you know...
MARTIN: But remember, Arsalan, you were saying that we were talking about the fact that this has moved across the pond. And Arsalan, you wanted to talk about that. Apparently, Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, is calling for U.S. investigations. And I think that's surprising to some people because Peter King generally receives kind of favored treatment from News Corp. But why does this matter over here, Arsalan? I guess that's the question a lot of people have is why do we care?
IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, we always hears about News Corp, you know, this giant, you know, global hegemonic corporation. But we have to understand that, you know, Murdoch, in addition to Fox News and all those UK papers, he owns the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones, the Australian, 20th Century Fox, Fox News, the FX Channel and National Geographic Channels here in the United States themselves.
You know, for those of us who've you know, observed the media for a long time, you know, Murdoch is somebody that, you know, Michele Bachmann would say has a lot of chutzpah, you know, because he has sort of used his influence to help shift media and meta narratives throughout the world. And, you know, here, you know, not only is the FBI investigating him for his newspapers leaking - hacking into the voicemails, they did this about 4,000 times.
So, you know, you had the 13-year-old Milly Dowler, British soldiers who died in Iraq, 9/11 victims, victims of the 7/7 bombings. And this was the first time in a long time you saw British Conservative and Labour leaders condemn the same person for the...
I understand. But what does that have to do with this? I mean that they have a, as David was telling us, they have a whole different set of libel laws. They have a whole different sort of media political sort of context there.
Right. Well, what's...
MARTIN: So what's the relevance here, except that a lot of people feel that, you know, Fox News is so closely identified with the partisan political views of the Republican Party.
MARTIN: You know, witness this, you know, these how, you know, how ironic that, you know, these Republican presidential candidates just manage to get these paid...
MARTIN: ...gigs on Fox. But what does that have to do with us. I mean that's not criminal. They're allowed to hire people.
IFTIKHAR: Right. And so here in America, you know, we have the New York Post, which is basically the News of the World version here in the United States. You know, last, a few weeks ago the peddled the fact, you know, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's, you know, alleged victim, you know, had worked as a prostitute; they're being sued for libel. I mean so, you know, we're seeing, we've seen similar cases of yellow journalism here done by Murdoch's, you know, affiliates and subsidiaries. And, you know, if the dominoes keep falling the way they are this actually might bring him down.
MARTIN: Hmm. Jimi...
IZRAEL: You know...
MARTIN: Go ahead, Jimi .
IZRAEL: What I was going to say is Michel, you know, I've worked in alternative media and I worked for alt-weekly here. It's the New York Post, but what it is is, there's a lot of pressure when you work at a tabloid to kind of bring something to the story that the mainstream is not going to do. And I'm not going to say that we were ever, you know, told to go hack anybody's phone, but I will that it was an idea like if you made some good sausage nobody, no one's going to ask you were you got your facts from.
MARTIN: Well, why do you consider that alternate media? That's what I don't get, alternate media, I don't get that. I mean if you own 40 percent of the media outlets in the country are you alternate media? If you own a major broadcast channel, you own two, you know, a major national newspaper, you own a major cable channel, which Fox News is, you own the Wall Street Journal, one of the major financial institutions in the country.
NAVARRETTE: But you are still outnumbered.
MARTIN: You're at - go ahead, Ruben. Go ahead, Ruben.
NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben, This is Ruben.
IZRAEL: Well, OK.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I would say that the reason he's seen as an outsider and the reason that Fox News will always be seen as, you know, Brand X is because even though this is a very impressive empire that News Corp has amassed it's, you know, for every Fox News there is the CNN, BBC, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS. And so I think in that regard, you know, Rupert Murdoch is nothing if not a brilliant businessman and he saw a void early on.
He saw so much on the left side of the fence he decided to create and fill this vacuum. Had he seen a vacuum on the left side in the sense that there was so much right-wing media out there, he'd of gone that direction. Murdoch is mostly about making money and he does it very well. He does it effectively. And there are some parts of his politics that are not hardcore right-wing conservative.
He's taken a position on immigration for instance, along with Michael Bloomberg, the two of them chiming in in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that runs counter to a lot of what Fox News viewers think.
FOLKENFLIK: He's an immigrant himself.
NAVARRETTE: I think he's mainly about the bottom line. But I think it would be a mistake to draw from this that this is close to his downfall. From what I've been able to pick up and over the years, he has gradually moved his focus and operations to the U.S. He is so much about New York than he is about London. That may be why this was unattended to across the pond and maybe happened. What this is going to do now, he may just eventually sell all his holdings over there and focus much more on the U.S., which will mean for liberals and Democrats, he'll be much more of a problem in the future that he is now.
IZRAEL: Lucky us.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: If you're just joining us...
NAVARRETTE: Now you get his complete and undivided attention.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. We're joined by author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR Media Correspondent David Folkenflik. Back to you, Jimi.
IZRAEL: Ah, Rupert Murdoch's coming. Hide your kids. Hide your wives. OK. So moving on.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: Moving on to the 20th anniversary of the iconic movie "Boyz N The Hood." Now John Singleton was in his early 20s when he wrote and directed the film about life in South Central, LA. Michel, we got some tape, yeah?
MARTIN: Well, I aim to please, Jimi. So here is actor Laurence Fishburne playing the character Furious Styles. He's giving his son Tre, guidance on how to survive the streets.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BOYZ N THE HOOD" )
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LAURENCE FISHBURNE: (as Furious Styles) You know, Tre, you may think I'm being hard on you right now but I'm not. What I'm doing is I'm trying to teach you how to be responsible. Like your old friends across the street, they don't have anybody to show them how to do that, they don't. You're going to see how they end up too.
IZRAEL: Wow. Laurence Fishburne, that dude.
NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Furious. Furious.
IZRAEL: That dude. That dude. Listen, man. Let me just say. Let me jump in here.
NAVARRETTE: You got a role model right there, baby. There's your role model essentially raising your kids.
IZRAEL: Well, my dad's my role model. So, but...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: But to your point, "Boyz N The Hood," it endures not just as an important coming-of-age story, which is that, but for me it's also a commentary on Reaganomics and the failure of the war on drugs, kind of a Nixonian pursuit that Ronald Reagan embraced later. Drug dealing and...
MARTIN: Is that your next book? I'm sorry, are you - what?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Bubonic rap?
NAVARRETTE: You left out man's inhumanity to man.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
IZRAEL: Yeah. But I mean it kind of highlights and underscores drug dealing and military service by default as desirable vocations, as opposed to pursuit of higher education, you know, in some parts of inner-city America. And I think what people, the mistake people make with this film is that they think it's a hood film and, or they think it's like a story about black people and it's not. It's certainly regional and it's region specific but it's a coming-age-story about poor people who happen to be black.
Singleton could have replaced the homes with trailers and have told the same story with the same truth. That's my take on it.
IFTIKHAR: But, you know, I...
IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.
IFTIKHAR: Thanks, Jimi. You know, for me I mean obviously if somebody asked me if I remembered, you know, Doughboy from "Boyz N The Hood" I'd be like do remember Radio Raheem from "Do the Right Thing?" You know, I sort of see those two as seminal movies of their time. One East Coast, one West Coast. I think Singleton was the genius behind "Boyz N The Hood."
IZRAEL: You know, obviously, you had Ice Cube, you had Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, you know, all-star cast. But I do agree. I think it was a coming-of-age movie. I think it was sort of an urban "Stand By Me," if you will in the sense that, you know, it gave, it spoke to a lot of issues that a lot of urban kids, you know, were dealing with at the time. And, you know, it was the launch of, you know, Cube's career, you know, just like, you know, "Do the Right Thing" was the launch of Spike Lee's career. I just think that it was one of those seminal films of the early '90s that many in, you know, my millennial generation will remember.
Well, for Spike there was that little movie "Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop" and also "School Daze" so props on those before "Do the Right Thing." But David, you're a media correspondent, not a movie critic, but what are your thoughts?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I remember it. I mean I think I was just out of college when that came out and I'm from Southern California, although not from right there and, you know, it was, you know, it was a piercing movie. I mean as you say, great cast. I mean very compelling. It works on a number of levels. And it did illustrate, you know, the, you know, kind of the limited choices available or perceived to be available to a lot of folks.
I think that to me it helped for folks who weren't from California, I guess, illustrate to some people the backdrop of or the context of what happened with the Rodney King riots. I think it made, you know, give some understanding of how some people felt kind of, you know, just sort of the hopelessness in some ways and anger even if not justified to react in that way. But...
MARTIN: I could co-sign that just because coming from the opposite coast it was a revelation to me that you could feel like you were in the hood and live in a house with a lawn.
MARTIN: I mean just to be honest about that, I was like is my concept of the hood was like my hood with, you know, high-rise, density, hot, sweaty, tired, you know, no room to move. And the idea that you could be in the hood and have a house with a yard was something new to me.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, you know it's just that...
MARTIN: Rueben, go ahead.
FOLKENFLIK: I'm sorry.
NAVARRETTE: Well, and plus that house was an island if you think about it. I mean Laurence Fishburne, I half jokingly talked about a role model. This is a great betrayal of a hands-on dad who understood very clearly that there were things to instill in his son to keep him alive in dealing with police, in dealing with gangs and just living on that block. It was a great movie.
It's a powerful movie because it humanized for a lot of people the lives of people who end up in those kinds of circumstances and the choices that people make. And it was a great start. It was a great hello world, here I am moment for John Singleton. And I remember at the time hosting a radio show in Los Angeles with our friend Tavis Smiley for KABC when this came out and it was not lost on us as two young guys that one of the trappings of fame and fortune is that John Singleton got to date Tyra Banks. I just got to say that up front. I mean...
MARTIN: Oh, see, you ain't right. Goodbye.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NAVARRETTE: I just got to say that. I just got to...
MARTIN: So over you. So over you. OK...
NAVARRETTE: So stay in school. Work hard, OK. Make movies because Tyra Banks.
IZRAEL: Date Tyra Banks.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: But before we let everybody go, I just have to ask Arsalan this because he's our attorney in the shop. You know, big news, sports news, major league shortstop Derek - I'm sorry. Former Yankee pitcher Roger the "Rocket" Clemens, the judge in his perjury case declared a mistrial after just two days. Is he off the hook now, Arsalan?
IFTIKHAR: No, he's not off the hook. Basically it was a dumb oversight that the judge said that even a first year law student knows you cannot alter the credibility of one witness with clearly inadmissible evidence. The prosecution screwed up, but he will be prosecuted in the end.
MARTIN: You think? You think?
MARTIN: OK. Sorry we couldn't talk about Derek Jeter and his 3,000 hits. Represent. But that's all the time we have for now. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, founder of themuslimguy.com and managing editor of the Crescent Post. He was here in D.C. with me. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group, Latino magazine and Pajama's Media, from San Diego. And David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR, after a long flight from London, he was in New York.
Thanks all so much.
FOLKENFLIK: Thank you.
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.
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.