Listeners Weigh In On 'Occupy,' Online Speech

Tell Me More editor Ammad Omar and host Michel Martin comb through listener feedback on Martin's commentary about courage, and the program's recent coverage of a teen's critical tweet about the Kansas governor. Listeners took issue with a contributor's remark on the 'Occupy' movement. There are also updates on Haiti's Wyclef Jean.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk, where we lift the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere and get to hear from you, our listeners. Ammad Omar is here once again. He's an editor here at TELL ME MORE.

What do you have for us, Ammad?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Well, Michel, first off, we got a lot of email about some comments made by some of our regular Barbershop guys, Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar and Mario Loyola. Jimi and some of the guys weren't too sympathetic of the Occupy Wall Street movement a couple of weeks ago. Let's play a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF 11/18/2011 BROADCAST)

JIMI IZRAEL: I was an early critic of this movement and I remain so because, in my mind, sending back soup in a restaurant is far more radical than the Occupy movement could ever hope to be. I'm going to tell you why. Because when you send back soup, there's a coherent complaint, an explicit objective with a demonstrable metric for resolve.

MARTIN: That was Jimi, of course.

OMAR: It was. And let me tell you, Michel, the emails - they came flooding in, like you might expect. Jerry Waldman from White Plains, New York had this to say. I was shocked by the contempt that the Barbershop guys showed for the Occupy movement, which has raised the important issue of economic inequality, immediately before saying they were union guys, so they supported the NBA players. I'm usually impressed by the Barbershop, but today, I was appalled by the disdain that was expressed for the needs of working Americans. How is it possible that a group of educated, thinking men see the Occupy movement as ignoring the needs of African-Americans while supporting Kobe Bryant's desire for more than 50 percent of the NBA's profits?

MARTIN: All right. Thank you, Jerry. Ammad, anything else?

OMAR: Well, we did get some positive feedback on maybe a not-so-positive story that you did on Monday, your commentary. In case some of our listeners haven't heard, Michel, you broke your arm in multiple places last week and you said you were going in and out of consciousness while you were going to the hospital there and you were reminded about some stories of courage like your mom showed when you were growing up.

Well, Keith Roper wrote this on our website. I'm a baby boomer and John Lennon's truism became a pathetic maxim for me to live by, i.e., life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. Fortunately, there are folks like Michel's mom with their "just do it" maxim. Grateful for these kind of folks.

And we're grateful, too, Michel, because we know you've had a not-so-easy week, but you've been here, anyway. And people want to know, by the way, how's that arm doing?

MARTIN: It hurts. It hurts.

OMAR: I'm sure it does.

MARTIN: But thank you. Thank you, Keith, and thank you for everybody else who wrote in. I appreciate your supportive comments, but it hurts. (Laughing)

OMAR: Seems like it.

MARTIN: Yeah. What else do we have?

OMAR: Well, even though there are a lot of people that praised your courage this week, some others claimed you weren't tough enough on Emma Sullivan. She's the Kansas teenager who sent some controversial - some would say rude - tweets about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.

The whole thing blew up when the governor's office contacted the school and Emma's principal demanded an apology from her. Mike in Philadelphia claims you were 600 percent wrong in the way you handled that interview. Mike goes on to say, that kind of language Emma used isn't free speech, but rather rude comments by a child who should have apologized. Free speech would be a tweet about his programs, dissent about his comments, not gutter language. Shame on the girl's mother for defending her rudeness and triple shame on the governor's office for backing down. I won't say, shame on Michel, but I am disappointed in her for not taking the high road here and saying to the mother, how are these appropriate comments for a child to post in a public forum?

MARTIN: I think Mike's giving me a pass because of the painkillers. I appreciate it.

OMAR: Maybe.

MARTIN: Give me one more week on that. I'll be back and fighting for him.

Okay. What else do we have?

OMAR: Well, we've got a few updates on past stories. As some of you may know, hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean has been criticized for allegedly misusing funds for his charity, Yele Haiti. Jean cofounded the organization in 2005 to benefit his home country. We most recently spoke to him last August.

MARTIN: We talked to him when he was running for president of Haiti. At the time, he was trying to get on the ballot. He ultimately did not succeed in that quest, but I did ask him about those allegations and this is what he had to say at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF 8/9/2010 BROADCAST)

WYCLEF JEAN: Yele Haiti was not a foundation. It was an NGO, a non-governmental organization, that was practically ran by me. The tax situation, we dealt with that. The idea of the misuse of funds, this allegation was never proven.

OMAR: Well, there have been some more allegations, as well, against Jean and Yele Haiti. The New York Post is reporting that less than a third of the $16 million donated after that earthquake in Haiti were used for emergency efforts. The report also alleges that the organization made a $1 million payment to a firm that doesn't exist.

In a statement, Jean defended his work with Yele Haiti and claimed the report was misleading, deceptive and incomplete.

MARTIN: And just to tie a bow on that, Wyclef Jean left Yele Haiti in the summer of 2010, right before he made his presidential bid or his attempted presidential bid. The new CEO of Yele Haiti says he cannot personally deny or confirm the allegations.

Well, thank you for those updates, Ammad.

OMAR: Thank you, Michel, and I hope you have a good weekend and rest up that arm a little bit.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. And remember, with TELL ME MORE, the conversation never ends. To tell us more, you can call our comment line at 202-842-3522 or visit us online at NPR.org/TellMeMore. Please remember to leave us your name. You can also find us on Twitter. Just look for TellMeMoreNPR.

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