Beauty Shop: Davis' Execution, DSK's 'Moral Failing'

Georgia executed Troy Davis Wednesday night for the shooting death of a police officer, despite widespread opposition to the execution and Davis' innocence plea. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist's new book says the Obama White House was a hostile workplace for women. And Dominique Strauss-Kahn confesses to "moral failing." The Beauty Shop women weigh in.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. It's time to head to the Beauty Shop, where we ask the ladies to give their perspective on what's happening in the news.

This week, we're talking about the execution of Troy Davis, a new book that talks about the role that women had at the Obama White House, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF, confesses to a moral failing, but nothing criminal. And as if one weren't enough, we now have a spinoff of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta."

So joining us to talk about all this are Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter for The Washington Post, Anne Emanuel, professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law. Viviana Hurtado - she's blogger-in-chief of the website, The Wise Latina Club. And Danielle Belton - she's behind the pop culture and politics blog, The Black Snob.

Ladies, thank you all so much for joining us.

NIA: Thank you.

VIVIANA HURTADO: It's great to be here.

DANIELLE BELTON: Thank you.

ANNE EMANUEL: Hey, there.

MARTIN: We're going to start on a bit of a down note, which is - no matter what your opinion is about it, whether you're in favor of the death penalty or not, Troy Davis was executed late last night in connection with the 1989 shooting death of off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail. This was a case that attracted international attention.

A broad coalition of legal professionals and prominent individuals from the political left and the right said that they felt that there was just too much doubt about Davis' guilt because of a lack of physical evidence, because seven of the nine trial witnesses had recanted their testimony over the course of time.

And I just want to play a short clip from Raphael - Reverend Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. He was speaking at one of the vigils that was held last night as activists were hoping for a last-minute reprieve from the Supreme Court, which, of course, did not occur.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

RAPHAEL WARNOCK: We did not want to lose Troy Davis as a casualty of this war. But I do think that his execution, in a real sense, will only add momentum to the movement of those of us who understand that the state really cannot be trusted with the ultimate punishment.

MARTIN: I also wanted to say that Mr. Davis maintained his innocence consistently, but Officer MacPhail's family also had a very strong view that he was guilty. And we heard from Officer MacPhail's mother, Anneliese MacPhail, last night. And she told the Associated Press that all these feelings of relief and peace that I've been waiting for all these years, they will come later. I certainly do want some peace.

So Danielle, I just have to ask you, what is your sense of this? It seems like we haven't had one of these in a long time, where people have really galvanized around a particular case.

BELTON: It's particularly depressing to me, because as strongly as I feel for people who are victims, who have loved ones taken from them and of some of the more heinous crimes involved, people being killed, their lives being taken away, the state should not be in the business of vengeance.

The state is not - I mean, our legal system is a wonderful legal system, but it's not completely perfect. It's not 100 percent fail-proof, and you can't take back a death. If you kill the wrong guy, there's no restitution you can do to bring a person back. And that's what really is troubling to me, especially considering - I believe the United States is the only Western culture - country that still has the death penalty and uses it in this manner. It's just - I don't know. It's still disturbing to me that we're still having this discussion.

MARTIN: Professor Emanuel, what is it about this case that, as I mentioned, a lot of high-profile individuals from across the political spectrum - I'm thinking of former FBI Director William Sessions, former congressman - Republican congressman Bob Barr, in addition to those who oppose the death penalty in all cases - like, for example, former President Jimmy Carter - united to bring attention to this case. What is about this case that was so disturbing that it got so much attention?

EMANUEL: It's the weakness of the evidence. And I think it bears emphasizing that the case is a very, very weak case, even before any of the witnesses recant. I think, in fact, the focus on the recantation - which is what gets attention for the case - also confuses some people, because the legal system - I think quite rightly and necessarily - is not wide-open to recantations. We take testimony once, and it takes a lot to let somebody say, would you redo this so I can tell you a different story.

BELTON: Hearsay. Hearsay, we all know, is inherently less credible, less trustworthy than direct testimony. In this case, it was admissible because it was characterized as admissions of interest. People testified that Troy Davis told them he had confessed. They later recanted.

MARTIN: 00 in the morning in a dark parking lot. There were approximately five men in one vicinity. There were five men in the area of the crime, leaving Officer MacPhail out, and all of them were strangers to this man. And yet, after Troy Davis's picture was in the news and on television and all around the world, two years later he was allowed to come into the courtroom and say he could identify Troy Davis as the shooter.

And then the third piece was the ballistics. The state at trial said they could connect Troy Davis to a bullet fired earlier at a party in a neighborhood - a different neighborhood. The bullet they retrieved from that victim, who was not killed - it was an aggravated assault, they said might have matched the bullet that was removed from - retrieved from Officer MacPhail's body after his tragic death.

MARTIN: So there was, so you're saying that just even before the recantation this case was so weak.

EMANUEL: Even before. Because the ballistics only...

MARTIN: So...

EMANUEL: But if I could just finish this.

MARTIN: Yeah.

EMANUEL: Ballistics said might have. The new 2007 ballistics report says there are not sufficient similarities to allow us to make a connection.

MARTIN: I understand. If I could just ask you briefly, before we move on...

EMANUEL: Sure.

MARTIN: ...is there anything - do you think this could happen again today?

EMANUEL: Oh, absolutely. And I think that's why people are aligned against it. And I think you were right in your introduction. Many, many people who oppose the death penalty oppose it not on absolute moral or legal or ethical grounds, but on the grounds that we have seen over and over that we cannot and do not implement it accurately and fairly. And that's the showstopper.

MARTIN: Hmm. If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Beauty Shop, that's where we get the woman's take on issues in the news and pop culture. With us this week are Anne Emanuel; she's professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law - that's who was speaking just now; Danielle Belton of TheBlackSnob.com; Viviana Hurtado of WiseLatinaClub.com; and Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post.

MARTIN: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President." And in it he says some rather - I don't know if I'd want to describe it as unflattering things about the president, but certainly some unflattering and rather surprising things about the White House that - over which he presides. He says that early in the administration women in senior positions in the White House had a hard time getting in front of the president, they felt isolated from him; in fact, some called it a hostile work environment. This is a clip of Ron Suskind on "The Today Show." He's being interviewed by host Ann Curry.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE TODAY SHOW")

ANN CURRY, Host:

You quote Christina Romer, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, as saying, I felt like a piece of meat when she was excluded from the meeting. And also, you quote former White House communications director Anita Dunn, quoting her, calling the White House, quote, "a genuinely hostile workplace to women." Now, both of these women have subsequently denied making these comments. How do you respond to this?

RON SUSKIND: Everyone is under a great deal of pressure. It's a political season. The fact of the matter is all of them said everything. We have extensive notes and tapes for this book. And the fact is, with Anita Dunn, as with most of the other subjects, they were told what would be said next to them what they said in the book.

MARTIN: Nia, needless to say, this is not a depiction that you would think, you know, President Obama, he of, you know, the wise, beautiful and talented Michelle Obama, you know, who, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...would like to - the father of two daughters. I'm sure this is not a picture that he is appreciating. Now, you spent a lot of time at the White House. What do you make of it?

HENDERSON: Well, it rings true, mostly. And I think one of the things that Suskind also says is that the White House in some ways pushed him to write about this issue, this women's issue and the problems that they were having on the White House because there was a feeling that President Obama moved to correct it. Early on in this White House, if you think back even when he would have these golf outings and basketball games and there were no women that were invited, there was a move to invite women to a golf outing.

Melody Barnes, in fact, was one of the first women to go out and hit the links with the president. And, you know, I think obviously there have been some denials. I spoke with Anita Dunn on Friday about this and she pushed back against some of this. But even in talking to White House folks privately, there is a sense that a lot of this was true, and felt even among the reporting class in reporting on this White House, that there was this sort of impenetrable boys club, that women reporters couldn't always get access to the players in the way that male reporters would.

You know, there would always be this sports lingo that some women might not always get, so much so that Valerie Jarrett moved to have these private meetings with female reporters where we could get access to Valerie because, of course, she's a player in that White House. So it's certainly something the White House is pushing back very much against this book, but I think there is also a sense that a lot of this is true, and that also that a lot of it has been shifted. There's almost like the post (technical difficulties) ...

EMANUEL: There's the pre-Rahm Emanuel era and then the post-Rahm Emanuel era.

MARTIN: Viviana, what do you make of it? Now, you've spent a lot of time in Washington. A lot of the women here have worked in these kind of very male environments. What do you make of it?

HURTADO: I think that one of the things that stands out is that there's just something that's going to be natural in most work environments about relationship building. And if the campaign was very masculine and if a lot of his most inner circle people, the president's most inner-circle people, were men and that was developed at the campaign, that makes sense. But there's something really interesting about the title, "The Education of the President," and also what Ron Suskind himself said on the "Today" clip that you played...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

HURTADO: ...which was it's a political season. And I ask myself, why now? And it's interesting that the president is very vulnerable as this campaign season is ramping up. It's something that the way it plays out in the media, the soundbites, the headlines you hear, makes the president seem like he's just this anti-woman big jock about to say, huh. And I think that's something that it's a strategy, it's a machine that I feel is relentless and peeling away at voters that this president at a very vulnerable stages is going to need.

And just very quickly, I was also going to mention that I believe that if indeed the White House pressed Suskind to write this book, it seems time and time again this president is having a big - this White House is having a big issue - around messaging and communication.

MARTIN: Hmm.

HURTADO: They that - they're thinking that it's going to be A, and it turns out to be Z.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to figure out how that works, where you press somebody to write a book. That doesn't work that way in my world.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I don't get people calling me and pressing me to write. I don't know.

HENDERSON: Yeah. No, I think this...

MARTIN: Nia?

HENDERSON: ...particular issue, at least this was Suskind's version of it, they did want him to talk about the women's issue because they felt like, even Anita Dunn felt like the president was doing something to change it. They had this dinner in November 2009 and that he was making steps to make this different and to make women feel more included in that White House. So that's what Suskind's version of it is.

MARTIN: You know, it's interesting that were talking about this the same week - and obviously we chose this, but that there's the whole issue of way women are treated in the workplace has surfaced once again, because I really don't think we have been talking about it that much in recent years. And one question, of course, I would have is, did anybody apply the same standards to George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, you know, and prior White Houses, certainly, you know, President Clinton's White House? Were people applying the same standard in terms of what the office environment was to them? But, you know, I don't know the answer to that.

HENDERSON: Yeah.

MARTIN: But I want to ask about, we will want to talk about this whole question of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We talked about that previously on this program, went on French television this week to concede moral failure regarding his sexual encounter with New York hotel maid Nafissatou Diallo. And let me just give you a piece of tape. Actually, this is Eleanor Beardsley reports in Paris. She's translating for him. But here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOMINIQUE STRAUSS: (French spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: What happened involved no aggression or violence, said Strauss-Kahn, but I admit it was more than inappropriate. It was a moral shortcoming on my part, towards my wife, my family and the French people who placed their faith in me.

MARTIN: Professor Emanuel, I understand - completely different legal system. Of course, this happened in New York. But I do want to ask you really the same question I was asking earlier, which is, is there anything to be learned from this?

EMANUEL: Well, yes. You know, I note in the Strauss-Kahn case, I think the district attorney's problem in going forward was he looked at the evidence and realized he had a swearing contest, and that makes it a hard case in which to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of what the district attorney thinks of the actual proof of the matter. I wish that the district attorney in the Troy Davis case had taken a hard look at the evidence he had before they decided to move so decisively against Troy Davis, because as I said, I don't think it supports the conviction, let alone the death sentence.

And I think it relates to the gender bias story too. I think one of the lessons there is that long-standing and deeply entrenched biases don't die easily, don't disappear easily. And I think part of the problem with the Troy Davis case is he was a black teenager in Savanna...

MARTIN: Danielle, what...

EMANUEL: ...in 1989.

MARTIN: In 1989. Danielle, what do you think of this? Is this, does this put a bow on this for you?

BELTON: No.

MARTIN: And he's sorry.

BELTON: This is just so typical.

MARTIN: He's sorry.

BELTON: I'm so sorry. It was a moral failing this time. You know, all the other times where I cheated on my wife or sexually harassed a woman or maybe even possibly pressured a woman into doing something sexual with me, those were fine, but this one time where it blew up in my face and it became like a national - international incident - I'm sorry for this one, honey. I'm really sorry to put you and France through it. I'm like, please.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, speaking of please...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Before we let you all go, evidently one was not enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: "The Real Housewives of Atlanta," which you don't have to tell me whether you watched it or not. I'm not asking for disclosure. So apparently now there is going to be a spinoff of Kim, who was the, I'll just say it, the only white cast member, okay, regular cast member. Now she's getting a spinoff. Danielle, you are rolling your eyes so hard, I fear for your - I fear for your head.

BELTON: Is she really ? like why, why Kim? Is she really the breakout star? I could argue that NeNe is technically the breakout star. But she gets the spinoff? Like I don't care because I don't watch it, but I just find that highly suspect.

MARTIN: Okay. Viviana, are you going to watch it?

HURTADO: Probably not. I'm just going to really work very hard though, on figuring out how I can get my own reality show.

And I think it's going to likely, I'm going to have to get some serious plastic surgery up top.

MARTIN: Oh, dear.

HURTADO: And I'm not talking about my brain.

MARTIN: Oh, dear. Oh, no. Okay.

Nia and Anne, we'll put you on the spot next time, where we can find out if you're watching or not. But we're going to be putting a tracking device on your VCR.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Nia-Malika Henderson is a national political reporter for the Washington Post. She joined us from the Post newsroom. And Anne Emanuel is a professor of law at Georgia University State College of Law. She joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting. And here in the Washington, D.C. studio with me, Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club and Danielle Belton at The Black Snob. Thank you all so much for joining us.

BELTON: Thank you.

HURTADO: Thanks for having us.

EMANUEL: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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