Morgan Freeman's Obama Comment Goes Viral

In a recent Tell Me More interview, Oscar winner Morgan Freeman sparked a firestorm of debate when he said President Barack Obama is not America's "first black president." Guest host Maria Hinojosa and editor Ammad Omar review what listeners had to say about that and other stories.

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MARIA HINOJOSA, HOST:

And now it's time for BackTalk. That's where we lift up the curtain on what's happening in the TELL ME MORE blogosphere. Editor Ammad Omar is here again, so Ammad, what do you have for us today?

AMMAD OMAR, BYLINE: Well, Maria, I want to start with an interview we did last week with Academy Award-winning actor, Morgan Freeman, and he said something about President Barack Obama that set off quite the controversy.

MORGAN FREEMAN: America's first black president hasn't arisen yet. He's not America's first black president. He's America's first mixed-race president.

OMAR: Well, what happened next is what we in the business call something going viral. The story got picked up by pretty much every media outlet you can think of and then some. Here's a little taste:

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: America is proud to have its first black president, but Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman thinks otherwise.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION SHOW, "THE VIEW")

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: And that's accurate.

JOY BEHAR: Right. That would be accurate. But, you know, it's not how you feel. It's how the world views you, I think, and so he calls himself a black president.

GOLDBERG: Well, I...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, Morgan Freeman's getting a lot of heat because he says that Obama is not black.

OMAR: And, on Twitter, Morgan Freeman went from about 1,000 mentions the day before our story to more than 5,000 the day it went to air, according to the website, Topsy.

HINOJOSA: Wow. So people have been looking at this story from every angle. That website also tracks the stories related to a topic and we've been seeing spinoffs ranging from Morgan Freeman, Obama Not First Black President to Morgan Freeman's Misguided Mixed-Race Quote and Don't Forget His White Mama.

OMAR: Side note, Maria. Morgan Freeman was also getting love on Twitter for his voice. A couple other tweets and stories that were getting a lot of traffic from Twitter - Morgan Freeman should be the voice for Siri and if Morgan Freeman was smart, he would record his own eulogy. Also, if I had a voice like Morgan Freeman, I would just talk to myself all day.

HINOJOSA: Oh, my God.

OMAR: Let's hear that voice one more time.

FREEMAN: They always leave you with the question, could we? Can we? Will we?

HINOJOSA: Yes. They do always leave you with that question. OK, Ammad. We also got a letter from listener, Toy Graham(ph), in Hampden, Massachusetts saying: This morning, while listening to your program, I think I heard one of the Beauty Shop participants say that the Affordable Health Care Act provides free abortion services. If my hearing was accurate, would you please correct this statement? It would be a gross inaccuracy which would tend to alienate many people from the new health care program.

OMAR: Well, thanks for that letter, Toy. And Toy was talking about a comment from Mary Kate Cary, who is a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Mary Kate tells us she was referring the Health and Human Services ruling under the Affordable Care Act, requiring insurance companies to provide contraceptive services, including the morning after pill, to women. That would also cover employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, but not the churches themselves.

Now, some Catholic groups say they're deeply concerned with that ruling. Mary Kate says the issue could come into play this fall, especially with Latino and Catholic voters.

HINOJOSA: OK. What else, Ammad?

OMAR: OK. Last news update. James Ammons has stepped down as president of Florida A&M University. You might recall he was on our program last month, talking about cleaning up the culture of hazing at that school. The school has been under a lot of scrutiny since marching band drum major Robert Champion died after a hazing ritual. Champion's parents sued the school on the same day Ammons resigned, and we're reaching back out to James Ammons for another conversation.

HINOJOSA: 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 TELL ME MORE, NPR.

Thanks so much, Ammad.

OMAR: Thank you, Maria.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: Just ahead, the USA is gearing up for the Olympics, but it looks like our athletes will be marching in the opening ceremonies in outfits made in China. Well, not if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has his way.

SENATOR HARRY REID: I think the Olympic Committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again.

HINOJOSA: We'll ask the guys in the Barber Shop if they're burning mad. That's next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HINOJOSA: Recovering from a health crisis might be something you'd like to keep private, but Grammy Award-winning singer Regina Belle says her story could inspire fans.

REGINA BELLE: I'm not scared to talk about it now, 'cause this is huge. I'm a walking miracle.

HINOJOSA: The incomparable Regina Belle takes fans higher with her new gospel album. That's next time on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HIGHER")

BELLE: (Singing) You deserve to go, so we lift you higher.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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