'Shop Talk': New York Gov. David Paterson In Boiling Water

In this edition of the Barbershop roundtable, host Michel Martin talks with Arsalan Iftikhar, of the Muslim Guy.com; syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette; Johns Hopkins political science professor and blogger Lester Spence and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. They discuss embattled New York Governor David Paterson, first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative to fight childhood obesity and a controversial Doritos advertisement that aired during Sunday's NFL Super Bowl.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Its time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about whats in the news and whats on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar; syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette; blogger and political science professor, Lester Spence and NPRs political editor Ken Rudin. Of course, we heard from Jimi earlier in the program. Theres only so much we can take.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, gentlemen, well have to just sort of carry on without him today. So, lets jump right in.

This week, embattled New York governor went on the offensive to dispel these unsubstantiated rumors of personal misconduct, including infidelity apparently beyond that to which he had already confessed rather early in his term. And allegedly, these allegations are supposed to be discussed in an upcoming article by the New York Times, but the Times is not confirming or denying any of this.

So, the governor Ken, Im very interested in your perspective on how hes handled this. He held a press conference on Tuesday, then last night he went on Larry King Live, and talked about this. Heres - Ill play a short clip. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV Show, Larry King Live)

Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): The human decency, if not journalistic ethics, I think would compel an organization when they see a person being slandered for over two weeks now. Ive been waiting for three weeks for this article to come out to clear the air and at least say the charges that are being made are not in the perimeters of our investigation.

Mr. LARRY KING (Host, Larry King Live): So youre saying the New York Times should print something tomorrow?

Gov. PATERSON: I wish they would, so I could be out of my misery because the reality is that these charges have been unsubstantiated. They are speculations. And, Larry, its like a Kafkaesque scenario.

MARTIN: Ken, you blogged about this. The whole thing is puzzling to me.

KEN RUDIN: It is puzzling, and its upsetting. First of all, my initial reaction was you should never dignify rumors because all they are are rumors. But David Paterson, first of all, has been in big trouble. His numbers are terrible in his bid for a full-term in 2010. And so, he decided to, well, I guess dignify the rumors by holding a press conference.

The point is when you have the New York Daily News and the New York Post and every blogger in the world constantly on their front pages talking about either drug use or sexual peccadilloes or - I think one paper said he wasnt responsible for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I mean, the rumors are just so insane. And you think that please just stay out it, ignore it. But its taking a tremendous toll on his personnel and his popularity as low as it is and I think he had to address it.

MARTIN: You do think he had to address, because normally these brushback pitches go on in private. You know, youve got your surrogates calling the paper. Normally the brushback pitch doesnt happen in public. And so, do you think that this - is this a reflection of the new media age in which, you know, stories can be discussed even before they are printed or stories or do you think this is more about him?

RUDIN: Well, its both. I think that the way the media have covered it I think is very disappointing, the fact that the tabloids in New York have had rumors on the front pages for days, which is very, very upsetting. But again, it takes a toll on you. And if you have any chance of holding on to a job, as David Paterson apparently wants to do, I guess he had to address it.

MARTIN: Ken, why Im sorry. Lester, what do you think?

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Political Science, Johns Hopkins University; Political Blogger): I dont know if so, to the extent that maybe he does have to address this. I think theres a way to spend his response, to deal with this signal problem that New York state has, which is that its a failed state.

Youve got significant - they dont know how to deal with this budget deficit. Youve got significant numbers of politicians that are being accused basically of corruption and its not like, you know, stuff thats made up.

I think the to the extent that you want to give a narrative here, what you want to say is like, listen, New York state is failing. We want to be able to put kids back in school. We want to be able to deal with the issues that New Yorkers face. This stuff isnt important, you know, because if you listen to the tape, what hes talking about is me, you know, oh, this is hurting me. Like no, its not about you, its about the state.

MARTIN: Do you think he opened the door though by confessing infidelity so early in his term, like, within a week or two after no, lets remember.

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: He was not elected to this position. Initially, he took it because he was lieutenant governor and Eliot Spitzer resigned because of what turned out to be true allegations that he had consorted with a prostitute, and after having taken such a hard line sort of legally on this question, it was politically untenable for him to stay. On the other hand, the argument is, he had to out himself, as it were, because if he didnt, someone else would. So do you think he opened the door, do you think

Prof. SPENCE: No, I think he had to out himself. I think it was an excellent idea just to get all that stuff out there in the move to governance. Its just that it didnt stick.

MARTIN: Ruben, what do you think?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): I think that I have trouble with the way that David Paterson has conducted himself in his marriage. But I dont have any trouble with the way hes conducted himself in public with regard to these scandals. I think there was a good move. It was probably the only move he could make, both in coming out at the very beginning of his term and admitting past fidelities, and most recently sort of confronting the rumors out in public. But what Im much more concerned about and the failing grade Im going to give is not to David Paterson but to The New York Times.

I dont fault the tabloids for, as Ken said, putting rumors on the front page. I fault - somebody at The New York Times leaked this story, okay? These stories exist all the time at newspapers. People at newspapers know stories that are not yet ready for print and they keep them to themselves. Somebody leaked this story with The News York Times either because they dont like Paterson or they do like Andrew Cuomo, who is in line to benefit from all of this, or whatever, for whatever reason, or to gin up initially a kind of electronic frenzy for the finished product so when it does come out, its a big splash.

MARTIN: But you have to interview people. I mean, the affect of interviewing people is not leaking per se. I mean the fact is that if you call somebody to interview

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Not for interviewing, Michel, but somebody put together this story and then it started leak out The New York Times was about to publish. When a story leaks out that a newspaper is about to publish, its because somebody at the newspaper leaked the story out and started talking.

MARTIN: I dont know if I buy that. The reporting process itself can be sort of semi, I dont know, I take your point. Arsalan, you want to weigh in briefly before we move on?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Right Attorney): Sure, I mean, first of all, being from Chicago, I dont think Im anyone to speak about the internal failings of state politics here. You know, I do think the one point that has been slightly overlooked is the fact that I think that this might be a little bit of blowback, you know, from the fact that, you know, this is that he was lieutenant governor from Eliot Spitzer's gubernatorial regime and so, you know, I think that, you know, thats one aspect that has to be looked at as well.

MARTIN: If youre just joining

RUDIN: We dont even know though - we dont even know if The Times has the story. I mean, it's a rumor but how could we blame The Times for leaking it? We dont even know if the story exists.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Oh, wow.

MARTIN: I guess Im is it a thing where the reporting process itself, and theyre trying to force their hand? I mean Ive had experience with this on election night where people, when I was at ABC, when I was reporting on election night, where people kind of hacked into our instant messaging system and sort of haranguing us to call states that we hadnt called yet. So this is kind of what this reminds me of. It will be very interesting (unintelligible) whether this is a media story or political story or just this is the new media age where even reporting cant be done, you know, privately, as it were.

If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. Were visiting with Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette, Ken Rudin, and Professor Lester Spence. The other big story here in Washington, of course, along with the blizzard, is that -back to back storms - just to defend like why were all like

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: exhausted - is that the nations capital was preparing for the blizzard, First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled this national initiative intending to address childhood obesity. Ill just play a short clip for people who may not have heard it. Here it is.

(Soundbite of ad)

First Lady MICHELLE OBAMA: The current generation is actually on track to having a shorter lifespan than their parents. So instead of just talking about this problem and worrying and wringing our hands, its time for us to get going and do something about this. So lets move. Lets get this done. Lets move to get families and communities together to make healthy decisions for their kids.

MARTIN: Ruben, Im particularly, Im interested in, as a father and as a person who covers policy, do you think that this is worthwhile subject for the government? Im interested in how you react to this?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, no the answer is no. I dont think this is a worthwhile subject for the government. I think its a good cause but its not a cause taken up by government. It should be taken up by parents in homes. My wife runs roughshod over the kids, over me, in terms of what I give the kids, in terms of, you know, buying a cereal and checking the box to see what the sugar content is on the cereal. I keep, you know, kids away from soft drinks and all those other things.

Heres my thing. About seven years ago I was in an argument with a Republican. And that is the secretary of agriculture in Texas at the time, Susan Combs, wanted to come up with this initiative to do away with soft drinks in public schools. And my argument was its not the role of government to protect kids from soda, its the role of parents. And so now Im stuck, because if I fought that battle with a Republican, now Ive to turn around and fight it with Michele Obama.

MARTIN: Hmm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I have got to be consistent. The same exact rule applies. I dont think this is a role of government. This is about better parenting, not about better laws or better government.

MARTIN: Well, who decide that the sugar and fat content would be on the labels?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, yeah, that

MARTIN: Who?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Once its put up there, why put it on the label, right? Put it on the label to let me as a customer and as a parent know but to then swoop in and say by the way we dont even trust you to read the label. And the retort to what Im saying, I guess, is what about those parents who dont take it upon themselves to do this.

Well, this is not the answer to that. You dont absolve parents to the responsibilities by coming and saying that that the parents are going to be -the governance is going to be the nanny that comes in and tells you not to give your kids soda. And again to be consistent, if I had a beef with the Republican because I thought that Republicans were trying to creep into our lives, Ive got to be consistent now and criticize the Democrat when they do the same thing.

MARTIN: Lester, what do you think?

Prof. SPENCE: First, I support to recognize that it is not parents on one hand and government on the other. Parents are government, right. Second is that, there the structural dynamics that have an affect on what types and the range of choices that parents routinely makes.

So, Im a Detroit guy. You look in the city of Detroit or like the North side of Saint Louis you find almost no grocery stores, right? So, Detroit has like a million people. Its big enough to cover Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan and have room left over and there are no major grocery stores, right? That has nothing to do with parents choices. Theres something structural going on thats affecting that to the extent that that the first ladys program deals with that, I think, it would be very helpful.

MARTIN: Ken, what do you think?

RUDIN: Look, parents tell you the kids, look, you buckle your seat belt. They tell you not to smoke but the kids dont always listen. I think having the government saying look there are some things that need to be done to keep you living longer. Look at Bill Clinton. I mean, he is in the hospital for the second time in five years for obviously not eating well, shall we say. He once jogged a bunch of reporters over to McDonalds when he was president. So, I think look, its not a question of government control or government intervention, I think its smart thinking and, I think, Michel Obama should be commended for it.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of food and what we eat I dont know if you guys watch the Super Bowl if you didnt youre like the three people

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: who did it - the four people who did it. There are like a hundred million

RUDIN: It was Sunday, right?

MARTIN: It was, yeah, - all right, exactly, it was like a 106 million people watched it and, of course, the ads are always the thing that get peoples attention. Its interesting to me, that how many of them are for beer and how many there are for junk food. But having said all that, did anybody have a favorite ad. Arsalan, did you have a favorite?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I love the Hyundai ad with Brett Favre, the futuristic 2020 MVP, the wheels still be playing well and theres safety. So, I thought that was great.

MARTIN: Ken, what about you? Youre trying to tell us you didnt watch it. You know, you watched it. Come on?

RUDIN: Of course, I watch and I loved it. And I loved that the Giants won, right? Anyway one of favorite...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...my favorite commercial.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Youre right. They did.

RUDIN: Yeah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You owe me money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: The Snickers commercial with Betty White and Abe Vigoda. First of all, I thought Abe Vigoda was dead. But, the fact that, Betty White and Abe Vigoda were tackled - or looked like they were tackled - was hysterically funny.

MARTIN: That was funny. Lester, what about you? Do you have a favorite?

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah, that ad was - I like the Leno, Letterman ad with Oprah and I thought that - that was funny. But now youre that Betty White, Abe Vigoda ad. I like, I thought myself saying, Fish, oh my God, I thought this was dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, thats so funny there was controversy over the

RUDIN: You know.

MARTIN: Tim Tebow, the ad that featured Tim Tebow and his mom but at the end of the day I dont know that it even registered. But one ad thats getting some attention on the - I guess in the blogsphere was this ad for Doritos that well, let me just play it. Let me just play it its about a guy who shows up for a date with the mom who is obviously a single mom and her little boy is there. And here it is. Let me just play it for you. Here it is.

(Soundbite of Doritos Ad)

(Soundbite of door knocking)

Unidentified Woman: (As mom) Hi.

Unidentified Man: (As Kyle) Hello.

Woman: (As mom) Aw, thank you. Have a seat. Kyle(ph), Jalin(ph), Jalin, Kyle. Jalin, keep playing nice. Ill be right back.

Unidentified Man: (As Kyle) Whats going on, little man? So, you got your game kills down pat? Might have your hands full, once pick up the controls.

(Soundbite of slapping)

Unidentified Child: (As Jalin) Put it back. Keep your hands off my mama, keep your hands off my Doritos.

Unidentified Woman: (As mom) Jalin, are you playing nice?

MARTIN: Now, what you again, Lester, is cracking up. Whats you cant see is that when mom walks away, the date brings flowers for mom, who is quite cute but when she walks away the date is checking moms butt out, okay. And the little boy doesnt appreciate this and responds and, Lester, what did you I mean a lot of people were thinking, well, wait, hold on here, whats first of all everybody is African-American in this.

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: Thats thing one. Thing two is whats about having a little boy slap a man a grown man and whats that all about. So, a lot of people are talking about this. So, Lester, what do you think?

Prof. SPENCE: Yeah, I thought it was I thought it was hilarious. But the thing is that a lot of, you know, black family images are intensely political. You cant just you cant get - theres not way around it. So, as hilarious as it was, the first thing I was thinking with my, you know, political scientist, public intellectual hat on this, like wow, the politics here arent right. You know, what type of message does this send about black families, about how they're constructed.

MARTIN: And, Arsalan, what did you think? You sent it to me, I was wondering what did you think? You sent me all the ads because thats because, you know, youre a student of the Super Bowl ads.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We had a lengthy discussion about the ads. Arsalan, what did you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, like thats right I thought it was I mean I thought the kid was adorable in the commercial. I you know, I think that one of the few things that did jump out I think that you mentioned that to me, you know, was that the gentleman in the commercial, you know, had braids which, you know, obviously elicited a very blue collar background, you know, I wonder, you know, would it have had the same effect if the guy had, you know, shown up to the date in a suit and stuff. I think holistically speaking, I thought it was a funny ad. I thought the kid was adorable and I love Doritos.

MARTIN: Oh. Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And, Ruben, what about you? What do you think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Good ad, harmless ad, fun ad. I wasnt as troubled as some people were by the fact that a child, you know, hit an adult. But I thought it was I think it was good. It was clever and, you know, were at a place now where this arrangement, as Les was talking about, applies to people of all different colors. You have in the same scenario you could have a white family, a Latino family an Asian family and still have a single mom and somebody coming over to take her on a date. So, I didnt see the race thing. I saw it being funny.

MARTIN: Ken, what about you? What do you think?

RUDIN: I disagree with everybody. I saw it well as as the token white here, I saw it as a race thing, I saw it filled with stereotypes.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

RUDIN: A single black woman and violence at home. I was actually - I didnt smile at the end of at all. I was very upset with it.

MARTIN: Well, youre never a token to us, Ken, but I have to tell you I agree with you on that. I think that having a little boy slap a grown man appalling. And why does he have to checking out moms butt? I just think, you know, I dont know. There was just a lot there that I found disturbing. Well, Happy Valentines Day to everybody. Anybody got any good plans you want to share for those who havent yet made any? Lester, you

Prof. SPENCE: Black tie affair with my wife and the Q's. We get it in.

MARTIN: Okay, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Arsalan, still a newlywed, any good plans you want to tell us about?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: A dozen of roses, bouquet of cookies because were a bunch of sweet-tooths and dinner anywhere she wants.

MARTIN: All right. Ruben, you got any

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, a special dinner planned in advance and a nice movie and the parents are babysitting.

MARTIN: Awesome. Ken, anything you want to tell us about?

RUDIN: Im going to tackle Im going to tackle Betty White.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, Happy Valentines Day to all of you. Hopefully there are some ideas there for people. Dont say you forgot because we let you know.

Lester Spence is a blogger and political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, the founder of themuslimguy.com. Ken Rudin is NPRs political editor. And Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune and cnn.com. Thanks everybody.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Prof. SPENCE: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thanks.

RUDIN: Happy Valentines Day.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And thats our program for today. Im Michel Martin and youve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Lets talk more on Monday.

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