Lou Dobbs, Sammy Sosa Make For A Week Of Surprises

The guys in this week's Barbershop — freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, sports reporter Pablo Torre and syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano — weigh in on the recent abrupt departure of talk show host Lou Dobbs from CNN and a noticeable change in appearance for former baseball superstar Sammy Sosa. Also, the men also offer predictions on the upcoming welterweight title fight between boxers Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of music)

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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 freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor, Arsalan Iftikhar, Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre and Gustavo Arellano who writes the syndicated column "Ask A Mexican."

Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey fellows, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey. Hey. Hey.

Mr. TORRE: Hey, what's going on, man?

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh man. Well, let's jump right in. Lou Dobbs abruptly calls it quits on his CNN broadcast Wednesday. Now Dobbs, who has been somewhat of a lightening rod for his outspoken views on illegal, he didnt say what his next move would be but quote, "is considering a number of options and directions," unquote. And I'm sure there are a lot of Latinos that wouldnt mind telling him where to go and how to get there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Gee, I love his language. Did you hear what he said? Somewhat of a lightening rod. When have you like, since when have we embraced British understatement.

Mr. ARELLANO: The epitome of lightening rod.

MARTIN: I mean what is going on here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: Jimi is the man.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: My email is overloaded with people burning up my email about this. But anyway, do you want to hear what he said when he stepped down, for those of you who missed the announcements, which I think was a surprise, I think. I think...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It was. It broke about an hour before his live broadcast.

MARTIN: Before his live broadcast.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: Anyway, if youre interested, I'll just play a short clip of what he had to say about why. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of CNN broadcast)

Mr. LOU DOBBS (Former CNN, anchor, Lou Dobbs Tonight,): Over the past six months, it's become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us. And some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute, positively, to a better understanding of the great issues of our day and to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible.

MARTIN: I just want to add one thing to that. I asked him, you know, Lou Dobbs was on the program in November of 2007. He was promoting a book - whatever his latest book was at that time and I specifically asked him. I said well, if you care this deeply this stuff why dont you run yourself? Why dont you get out there?

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh-oh.

MARTIN: And he said no, no, no.

Mr. TORRE: Thanks a lot, Michel.

MARTIN: No. No. I'm just saying.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, thanks Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. All right, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well yo. Thanks, Michel. And, you know, not for nothing, this isn't the first time he's resigned from CNN. He's been with the network since they started in 1980. This is his second resignation. He resigned once in 1999 and he came back the next year. So I dont know.

Gustavo, my man, do you think we'll see him come back to CNN?

Mr. ARELLANO: Oh, I dont know about coming back to CNN but this is not the last weve seen of Dobbs. First and foremost though, congratulations to those groups who have really been exposing Dobbs for the man that he is, for the disgusting man that he is - Bastadobbs.com, specifically, who would make these videos just showing the worst clips of Dobbs.

Dobbs saying that Latinos have brought in 3,000 cases of leprosy in the past three years, when the Centers for Disease Control says its actually been 3,000 cases overall in the past 30 years. So thank God the man's off, but I think those opponents of Dobbs, they got to be careful as to what his next step is. Is it going to be Fox Business Channel like some say? Maybe. Will he run for office? Perhaps.

I personally think he's probably going to join some think tank like the American Enterprise Institute, one of those conservative think tanks and really try to affect legislative policy that in some ways is going to make him much more dangerous than him just yapping his mouth on CNN every night.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, the Fox Business Channel would be a good fit for him. You know, he can flex that degree he got from Harvard in '67 in Economics. Harvard stand up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo, my man.

MARTIN: Thanks, Jimi.

Mr. TORRE: Harvard will, in fact, stand up. Listen, I like to view this - as much as I want to view this as a victory for the marketplace of ideas that were sort of informally or at least de facto ousting his voice, I think it's as much a victory for the marketplace of business.

You know, I think this is a great move for CNN. I think they're not going to be Fox News. They're not going to MSNBC. I think what theyre trying to do is show that they cant be the, you know, channel of record with a guy whos talking about leprosy, whos blaming, you know, a third of prison inmates for - blaming illegal immigration for a third of prison inmates. I think, you know, they wanted to go something along the lines of the Anderson Cooper route, which John King most certainly is, less ideological, less aggressively moronic, less, you know, incendiary.

MARTIN: Let me just clarify for those Dobbs, who was replaced by John King who is CNNs host of the Sunday political show, State of the Union. Of course, King has been with CNN for many years but before that he was a reporter for the Associated Press and obviously works very, very hard to keep his personal opinions out of the whole thing. For me the issue with Dobbs was twofold. I mean, his opinions, however noxious to, you know, some, embraced by others. The issue is - are you about the facts or not?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

MARTIN: I mean, if youre going to be at a cable channel that wants to be the sort of the broadcast outlet of record, you got to be about your facts. And I think that, you know, Pablo pointed out a number, or was it - sorry Gustavo, one of - that his acquaintanceship with facts became very, very tenuous over the years.

And secondly, the fact that reporters who were trying to be straight -straightforward reporters and just report the facts were constantly put in a position of having to answer to him in the host position where he would then browbeat them for not taking on his political perspective in their reporting. And to me that was what was problematic about it. Because there are people like Bill OReilly. Everybody knows where hes coming from, and you may not like where hes coming from but it wasnt as problematic an arrangement.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: You know, you werent pretending to be one thing while doing another. That was the problem.

Mr. IZRAEL: I guess, I guess from my - for me, I never looked at him as a journalist. I always looked at him as an ideologue with the - with a show, you know, who was pushing - he was pushing his world view through this filter. Hes kind of like, you know, Rush Light, you know, in a lot of ways. Just, you know, he takes a piece of the facts and, you know, he takes his filter and he pushes his opinion through. I never really

MARTIN: But you werent required to, I mean, if youre - lets say youre a reporter for CNN.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: You werent required to appear on Rush Limbaughs program. If you were a reporter for CBS News, lets say Rush Limbaugh might be - lets say Rush Limbaugh might be carried on the CBS radio network, okay? CBS reporters wouldnt be required to appear on his program. Thats whats problematic about it.

Mr. IZRAEL: I see. Got it. A-train.

MARTIN: So.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: This is Arsalan. You know, for me, I think, that he left CNN because he wanted to spend a little bit more time with his racism. Its, you know

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: He talks about the strong winds of change. And I hope those winds of change, you know, hit him right as he walked out of the door because, you know, were talking about advocacy journalism. You know, thats what were talking about, where youre not a traditional journalist by the textbook definition. Youre an advocacy journalist and Michel is absolutely right.

I mean, I have friends who are reporters on CNN who, you know, are reporting factual stories as journalists and then, like Michel said, you know, had to go on and had to deal with his advocacy journalism. So, you know, Im playing the worlds smallest violin for him right now.

MARTIN: Just to clarify things - just to be fair about it, he insists that he is not a racist. I mean, in fact, I think, he appeared before the

Mr. ARELLANO: He has a Latina wife.

MARTIN: Yes, he does.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yikes.

MARTIN: And I just - he feels that hes standing up for people who - hes saying what others wont say. But again, I think its inexcusable to be wrong on something like that leprosy charge.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Or something as explosive as that and just simply be wrong. Its inexcusable, particularly, when you have the resources of a major international news organization to check your facts. But anyway, if youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Youre listening to our weekly Barbershop segment. And were speaking with journalist Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Pablo Torre, and Gustavo Arellano. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, former major league slugger Sammy Sosa in the news after he showed up at the Latin Grammies earlier this month appearing muy blanco.

Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Now Sosa, now wait a second, now Sosa, he says he was using his skin cream there. Many people believe - he wont confirm or deny - but many people believe its a product called NUR-76. NUR-76 is a cream used for skin lightening and age applications - anti-ageing applications. Its widely available in Europe and Asia, and not by accident, it reportedly does $20 million in sales annually. So bust that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, I saw the dude and the dude looked masked. He looked like he was going to the audition for Thriller the Musical. I dont know whats going on in his head. Pablo, help me out.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, this is, you know, on one level, of course, its troubling for the same reason that the Michael Jacksoning of Michael Jackson was troubling in that youre sort of, you know, its seemingly de facto prizing this Western white ideal. You know, he was a dark skinned guy. He was not proficient in English. It seems to be a sort of transformation of his character, which further, sort of, makes the saga of Sammy Sosa all the more absurd.

I mean, think back to 98 - him in his home run chase with Mark McGwire. They were both heroes. Weve both learned since then that they were both vastly different men than we thought they were. You know, they appeared on the cover of SI as Greek Olympians, as sportsmen of the year. And now beyond, I mean, obviously this a superficial thing mostly, but beyond that we, of course, have the steroid revelation. Sosa, The New York Times discovered he was guilty of that and McGwire obviously is pretty much dead to rights as far as that goes as well.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: If you want to hear theres a - I dont know if you guys want to hear. This is - Univisions Tony Dandrades asked Sosa earlier this week if hes proud of being black. I can play it for you. Its in Spanish. Ill translate it if you want.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Absolutely. Why not.

(Soundbite of Interview)

Mr. TONY DANDRADES (Reporter, Univision): (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. SAMMY SOSA (Former Professional Baseball Player): (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: So, he was asked if he is proud to be black and he says, all the time. Thats the way I was born. Now I want to look better. My whole life I have wanted to look better. I dont see any problem with that but I dont forget where I came from. So, I mean, well, I got, you know, look.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. You know and for all the sisters that are out there that say there goes another good black man. Just so you know its not, it wont stick. You know the product - it just - it limits your melanin for a limited period of time and it is reversible.

MARTIN: But is that dangerous - can I ask Pablo? Isnt that dangerous to be using a product like that if youre going to be out in the sun? I dont get it. I dont get it.

Mr. TORRE: I cant imagine its a good idea on a variety of levels. I think, you know, medically, I think, you know, the fact that its legal in Europe and Asia does not necessarily provide a stamp of approval as far as health reasons goes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right.

MARTIN: Did he not think anyone would notice?

Mr. TORRE: Yeah, thats the troubling part. Hes on the red carpet at the, you know, at the Latin Grammies or whatever it was. And thats, you know, in this day and age I dont think you can hide anywhere, specifically not in an award ceremony in which youre - this guy who has been reviled and alternately praised throughout the past decade for a variety of baseball feats. You know, drawing attention to yourself in this way is not the way to go I think.

MARTIN: Can I ask Gustavo, though, is this whole skin-lightening product thing big in Latin America. I dont - I just

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, its the first time Ive ever heard of it although I have to say, you know, being from Mexico, we do have a very tiny Afro-Mexican community and that, of course, that would ostensibly be the population that would want to lighten their skin. Years ago in the 50s there was a famous Mexican film about that where you had an Afro-Mexican trying to lighten her skin to try to pass in Mexican society.

And if Sammy Sosa is indeed trying to lighten his skin because he has some issue with the color of his skin, I find it really sad especially in the Dominican Republic, which has such a large Afro-Dominican community. Yet historically, the people who have been in power have been, you know, lighter skinned, either you know, lighter-skinned Dominicans. And always though, even the Afro legacy has been diminished. I think whos the famous dictator from there? Trujillo, I believe, his last name is, or whatever. But he was of African blood, yet he always tried to pass himself off more as European. So Sosa just seems to be going down that sad trajectory, which is sad because if you think of the great Latino ball players, especially from the Caribbean like Roberto Clemente, Juan Mariachal or Orlando Cepeda. They never made any qualms about the color of their skin. In fact, they were proud of who they were and where they came from. And they didnt mind going out there in the public and showing the people what is the true worth of Dominican and Puerto Rico.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well for me, you know, this is Arsalan, I think that, you know, were living in such dire economic times where all of our paychecks are getting lighter than Sammy Sosa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And now Sammy Sosa is getting lighter than Sammy Sosa. You know, being from Chicago, you know, I mean, weve seen his career, you know, from the Chicago Cubs to today. And, you know, we remember his early days, you know his soul glow Jheri curl days and now he looks like some sort of broke sexual white chocolate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: So, you know, its - Sammys really just turned into a circus.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? I say in an age where, you know, you can - all this plastic surgeon and all this kind of stuff. I say its his face. Its his skin. Its his body, dont judge him. Dont judge him.

MARTIN: Now that first part yes. The second part, no. Whats the point of being a public figure if we cant judge you from afar? Excuse me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We should we talk about, anyway. Anyway, go ahead, Jimi. Get something else.

Mr. IZRAEL: With that with that on the deck, lets get ready to rumble. You know what? The best pound-for-pound fighter Manny Pacquiao aka the Packmaster is back into the ring against Miguel Cotto. Does anybody, anybody think Cotto can get it? You think he stands a chance? Pablo?

Mr. TORRE: No, no, and Ive reported on Pacquiao extensively and his trainer Freddie Roach. And, you know, run dont walk to your television screen and order this, this Saturday. Dont mean to put on my Don King hat here but if you like, if you have a stomach for fights, if you have a stomach for boxing, go watch this fight. Pacquiao is going to destroy him. Itll be really, really entertaining.

MARTIN: How come?

Mr. TORRE: Well, because there are two great storyline. You know, Floyd Mayweather, for example, who is the premier American fighter, you know, he gets the attention for being an American, for being boisterous. These two guys are actually fairly civil. But Pacquiao and Cotto both are ace sluggers. They both fight and both take it to them. They both undoubtedly will have health problems down the road because of it but also its a great storyline. I mean, Manny Pacquiao could be the president of the Philippines in five years and I mean that as no exaggeration.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. TORRE: He is the most popular man there.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yikes.

Mr. TORRE: And its terrifying for Filipinos, trust me. Cotto himself is a soft spoken guy but, you know, has this history of being an excellent fighter and has a great chin. So, its going to be a good match up and this will - back storylines. Freddie Roach, who I wrote about this week in SI, has Parkinsons disease and speaks of the brain-damage risk in boxing. So theres a bunch of stuff that sportswriters like me at least love as far as human drama goes.

MARTIN: Anybody else watching it?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, absolutely.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, Manny Pacquiao is gangster, like he is the Michael Jordan of boxing. I think, you know, in terms of, like, analyzing the fight, I do agree Pacquiao is going to win. You know, Cotto tends to cut real easy and give up in the later rounds. And Pacquiao is more of a marathon man who, you know, will sort of start in round eight, hell take the rope-a-dope body punches, you know, for the first - I dont think its going to be a De La Hoya fight where youre going to see a quick K.O. I think, its going to go the distance and Pacquiao will win probably on points in a split decision.

MARTIN: Jimi, are you going to watch it?

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely. Knock it out, Michel.

MARTIN: Im the only one.

Mr. TORRE: Jay-Z has already named-checked Manny Pacquiao in a song. I think, that means hes the best boxer in America.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thats gangster. Thats gangster.

MARTIN: Can I just be the girl about this and say I have no desire to watch grown men beat each other up for money?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes.

MARTIN: None. None. Zero. Zippo.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Shouldnt watch football then either.

MARTIN: Oh, well. Thats another issue.

Mr. TORRE: Michel, you should read On Boxing by Joyce Carol Oates, which is its about a short little 50-page book where she talks about just in such - in her own lyrical fashion the beauty of boxing. Boxing really, I love it, its an amazing sport

MARTIN: Whatever.

Mr. TORRE: that Manny Pacquiao, hes the Packman. Hes also the Mexicutioner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Actually one of my best friends is a boxing writer and shes a woman but I still aint doing it. Sorry. Love you all.

Mr. TORRE: He destroyed every great Mexican boxing champion of this past generation.

MARTIN: Okay, all right. We got to leave it there, Pablo. Love you. Pablo Torre is a reporter, as you can tell, for Sports Illustrated. He likes boxing. He joined us from our New York studio. Gustavo Arellano is a syndicated columnist who writes the syndicated column, Ask a Mexican. He was kind enough to join us from member station KUCI in Irvine, California. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com. Hes also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from member station WCPN and Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney and the author of a forthcoming book. He joined us in our Washington D.C. studios. Gentlemen, thank you.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. TORRE: Gracias.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And thats our program for today.

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