'Shop Talk': Black Leadership Gone Awry

In this week's installment of Barbershop, host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and Hollywood writer and producer Reginald Hudlin. They discuss embattled politicians New York’s Congressman Charles Rangel and Gov. David Patterson. Other topics they tackle are Jay Leno's return to the "Tonight Show," and predictions on who will be the winners at Sunday's Academy Awards.

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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 freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, Hollywood producer and writer Reginald Hudlin and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Hey, fellas, whats up? Welcome to the Shop. How are we doing?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney; Editor): Good, man. Good.

Mr. IZRAEL: Lovely. Huds, back for the first time. Welcome back, yo.

Mr. REGINALD HUDLIN (Film Producer; Writer): Good to be back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, well. You know what, I think ethical woes have plagued black politicians in recent weeks and this was documented on theroot.com this weekend, a piece called, "The Perils of Black Power," Michel.

MARTIN: You know, its true. And I know that some people would sort of take issue with the grouping of these stories together. But, I dont know, it is kind of interesting that in the same week New York Congressman Charles Rangel is forced to step aside from a temporary (unintelligible) his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Hes being investigated for accepting inappropriate corporate junkets, corporate pay junkets to the Caribbean.

And then, of course, New York Governor David Paterson announced he would not seek a full term as governor, only days after he said he would, after it was reported allegations that he abused the power of his office to try to stymie an investigation into the domestic abuse that one of his aides allegedly committed.

And for people who missed these stories, I have quotes of both of these gentlemen talking about it. Ill just play it. Do you want to hear it?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Drop it.

MARTIN: Want to hear it? Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Here it is. This is going to be Charlie Rangels first and then I believe David Paterson. Here it is.

Congressman CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): I have sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi asking her to grant me a leave of absence until such time as the Ethics Committee completes its work.

Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): I give you this personal oath. I have never abused my office, not now, not ever. And I believe that when the facts are reviewed, the truth will prevail.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yikes. Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Okay, there you go?

Mr. IZRAEL: Man. Ruben, is this something in the water? Whats going on with this black politician?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, you know, whats interesting for me - and I apologize for my cold as I worked through here, they do get cold in sunny California, I find out. But...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Little note.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think whats going on and whats interesting about this is particularly you have two individuals here who broke barriers, who are the first African-Americans to hold the respective positions. And I think that theres something to be said for the meeting that took place between, for instance, Governor Paterson, a meeting in Harlem with other African-American leaders saying stick it out, persevere, dont let them push you out. And thats really whats going on.

Now, there is a tension at work here between folks who want to get Governor Paterson, for instance, out of the way including folks I think at The New York Times, Ive heard this repeatedly, who want him out of the way to make room for Andrew Cuomo.

And other African-Americans are saying, wait a minute, hes the first black governor of state of New York. We shouldnt be so cavalier with how he handle this matter. And I find myself siding with the black leaders and saying...

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...and saying that - really. I mean, this is not, the man said, in Governor Patersons case, he said hes not going to run again. You know, they should take their time with this issue to see if theres something here worth investigating to a point where he might eventually just feel the need to step down altogether. If hes indicted for something, he should step down altogether.

Whats happening now is, to me, is very preemptive. Its a rush to judgment about whether or not he should step down. And I think thats a real push. Its a real push to get him out of the way and its all about politics in New York.

MARTIN: Well, I just want to say one thing about that. Ruben, youve said this several times you said that The New York Times has ran some campaign to drum Paterson out of office. I just think the predicate to that - well, the predicate to that would be that supposed if it was somebody else that they would turn a blind eye to this very serious allegations. If there is an aide whos extremely close to the governor and the allegation is that he called a woman who said that she had been viciously attacked by her domestic partner to press her not to go forward with legal protection. Now, Im sorry...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: ...are you saying that they should have ignored this if this information came to us? And I just have to challenge the argument that somehow reporters have certain meetings somewhere in some diner where they decide who theyre going to go after. And I just think that thats its a very serious charge to make against a reputable news outlet. And I dont think that thats fair.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah. Well, heres how I think its fair. I mean that story is incredibly important story. It should have been brought to light. But before the story about pressuring the woman who was a victim of domestic violence, there was the alleged leak of, you know, putting it out there to the press. Im not someone who believes, having worked in newsrooms for quite a while, Im not someone who believes that those stories just get out by accident. You know, those are stories that are leaked out by members of the press. And there was this story beforehand on the aid itself. When I started seeing stories about Patersons staff end up on A-1 of The New York Times repeatedly, before we got to the story about domestic violence, then you know something is up. And its not complicated.

Governor Paterson was not elected to that position. The liberal Democrats who run The New York Times and the liberal Democrats who propagate my industry of journalism - print journalism, never chose him. They dont want him and they want him out of the way.

MARTIN: Nobody chose him. He took that office because he was because Elliot Spitzer had to resign. Thats not Im sorry, thats the process. Its a constitutional right...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hes flawed. In their minds, hes flawed and they want him out of the way.

MARTIN: Well, I just think your allegation against The Times is - if you can back it up, then do so, but people who leak are sources, we reporters report. Thats the way it is. Arsalan, you want to jump in?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I wanted to sort of look at it more holistically. As someone from Chicago, you know, my home state of Illinois has had their own little forays of ethical dilemmas and dirty politics. And so...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, no...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, Im...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: As a native New Yorker I appreciate your pointing that out.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, and so, Im looking at it from sort of like an Illinois versus New York perspective. And in this case New York wins because their empire state of mind says that its a concrete jungle where dreams are made up and theres nothing you cant do. So, you know, New York is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...taking the cake here. And in terms of Charlie Rangel, you know, quoting Jay-Z again, if Jay-Z is paying LeBron, Im paying Dwyane Wade because, you know, he is, you know, hes used his chairmanship of ways and means to, you know, unjustly enrich himself. And I dont think that this is about race. I agree with you, Michel. I think that if these were white members of Congress and the governorship, respectively, I think The New York Times or any other media outlet would have covered it accordingly.

MARTIN: Well, Jimi, thats the point that The Root made, right, Jimi? Isnt that the point that Joel...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...editor-in-chief was making at The Root, which is the issue that these people have the power and scrutiny goes with the power. You agree with that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Absolutely, yeah, I absolutely do. I dont think the fact that theyre black helps. But, you know, politics corrupts everybody, even black people, you know. So, I think a bigger question Id like to ask is, does anybody think these people can bounce back from these politically, bounce back from these allegations?

MARTIN: I dont know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, I mean...

MARTIN: Thats a good question. No...

Mr. IZRAEL: Marion Barry notwithstanding because hes kind of an outlier. You know, I mean...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: No one has that kind of magic, I dont think, except in the movies, Hud, you know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let me just jump in just very briefly. If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Were having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette, as well as Hollywood producer Reginald Hudlin. Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, does anybody want to quickly tackle that question whether or not the politicians can make a comeback after all this rickety-racket? Go ahead.

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, I think, you know, your Marion Barry reference is a good one because certainly that is the most extraordinary phoenix-like political career ever. And I think one of the reasons why he was able to do that was he was so successful as a mayor for so long and did so much for people that there was at least a generation of constituents who remembered him as a very effective representative. So, the question is, when you look at these two careers you go, okay, have they built up enough reservoir of goodwill to weather these really bad times?

Mr. IZRAEL: Hmm, all right. Well, speaking of drama, after...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: After much wrangling earlier this year, NBCs late night line up: Jay Leno has returned to his old haunt as the host of the "Tonight Show" this week. He also returned to his usual thumping of David Letterman in the ratings. Boy...

MARTIN: And Jimi, have you gotten over your kind of the loss of Conan...

Mr. IZRAEL: I havent, really.

MARTIN: I dont know - hes had to be in a program to kind of deal with his grief about this.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh, man.

MARTIN: But...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: But listen, Jays opened up the first week with, you know, Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, hes had Olympians Olympians out the wazoo, of course, the NBC connection is clearly paramount here.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Our favorite NFL whipping boy like Brett Favre. And he also had ratings magnet, former Alaska governor, former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. I have to play a short clip. I just have to. Here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: My ears.

MARTIN: Okay, cover your ears, Jimi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of TV Show, "Tonight Show")

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "Tonight Show"): You were going to be sportscaster at one point, right?

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Commentator, Fox News): That was my dream, yeah...

Mr. LENO: Okay.

Ms. PALIN: ...to get to report sports. Back in the day, it was a dream to work with Howard Cosell. And...

Mr. LENO: Okay.

Ms. PALIN: And yeah, that was what I wanted to do.

Mr. LENO: Do you think youd ever give up politics to do a talk show? That seems to be, you know, youre going to move into the talk show realm.

Ms. PALIN: I hear once in a while this comes open.

(Soundbite of knocking)

Mr. LENO: Really?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Its funny. I love it.

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Train, you and I both run team Conan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: And you and I kind of watched whole brouhaha with Jay Leno versus Conan OBrien. And I think this was a case of talent versus commercial sex appeal and talent clearly lost. What do you think?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: Are you excited to see Jay back and doing his thing?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, let me look at the notes that I have written on my hand, like Sarah Palin, and the answer would be, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, for me whats actually the most exciting thing is that, you know, he moved from the 10 PM time slot back to his original time slot. And now the 10 PM time slot is the new TV show "The Marriage Ref," the executive producer Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Papa is the host. I actually like that show a lot. So, I think thats going to be sort of the residual positive for NBC from Leno moving back.

Mr. IZRAEL: And, you know what...

MARTIN: Can you please move away from the haters and get to an objective person like Reggie Hudlin.

Mr. HUDLIN: Hi, everybody.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Hud.

Mr. HUDLIN: I never understood why the whole shuffle happened in the first place. I mean, Jay, whether you care for his style of comedy or not, was unbelievably successful. I mean, you know, ratings-wise he was McDonalds and everyone else was Burger King or...

Mr. IZRAEL: Jack in the Box. Rubbish.

Mr. HUDLIN: So, I just exactly, Crystals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUDLIN: So, I just never understood why you messed with success. So, you know, and the very fact that they had to keep Jay under contract because the fear of him going to another network and crushing "The Tonight Show" was that big of a fear. If that is a strategic concern, then why are you doing it at all?

MARTIN: Take that, haters. Thank you, Reggie.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oh.

MARTIN: Thank you so much. Im sorry, these people are Jay haters.

Mr. IZRAEL I dont think...

MARTIN: Im sorry, Im with you on this.

Mr. IZRAEL: I dont...

MR. IFTIKHAR: Now I think...

Mr. HUDLIN: Hey, guys, I used to run a network, you know, sometimes you have to look at the business of what youre doing. And in the - I mean, look, I love Conan. He is a fellow Harvardite. So, thats not the point. And look, certainly, you know, he is eating fine and...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. HUDLIN: And will end up on another network. So, I fear not for all these wonderful white men making millions and millions of dollars.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Jimi, hold on, real quick. Im team Leno. I must say that Leno is lot funnier than Conan OBrien, but thats not the point here. The point here is that Leno took a deal and he took a shot and he took a gamble to go a different time slot. And NBC wanted him there but he went along and he lost at that time slot. And for him to go back, Ive said all along, this is a bad look for Leno, this is bad form for Leno. So its not a question of which is funnier, its whos classier. And on that score Leno loses.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right.

MARTIN: Oh, snap.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: Please...

Mr. IZRAEL: Little loses...

MARTIN: Yeah, why....

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, I dont get that...

MARTIN: ...he was number one in the ratings...

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean just...

MARTIN: ...in his time slot and they wanted to move him out for Conan OBrien, who said he would walk if he didnt...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He tried an experiment, NBC tried an experiment. He went along with it and then ultimately it didnt work out and he wanted his old job back. Thats doesnt it shouldnt work that way.

MARTIN: Why not?

Mr. HUDLIN: Its not just a matter of he wanted his old job back, I mean, the fact is, look, hes been a team player. They said, look, we want you to move. He said, okay. Hey, we want you to stick around. Okay. Wow, we need you back. Okay. So the fact is, I mean, look, I dont see how its a bad look as long as you keep knocking the ball out of the park. Dude keeps knocking the ball out...

MARTIN: Okay. We...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thats not true. He didnt knock the ball out of the park at 10:00.

Mr. HUDLIN: Okay.

MARTIN: Hater, hater...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He did this week.

MARTIN: Hater, hater.

Mr. IZRAEL: I dont know.

MARTIN: Put down the hater-ade. Ruben, put it down, put it down. Lets talk about the Oscars.

Mr. IZRAEL: Time out.

MARTIN: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Oscar time, Oscar time. There are quite a few films with black actors in prominent roles like "Precious" and "The Blind Side." Theyre up for some major categories, Michel.

MARTIN: They are, but I dont know, why dont we just go right into our predictions. So, Reggie, you actually were excited because youre actually a voting member of the Academy.

Mr. HUDLIN: Thats right.

MARTIN: So, we can actually thank the Academy. I always want to say can I just thank you anyway? I dont know what Im thanking you for, but I always wanted to thank the Academy...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: On behalf of the Barbershop.

MARTIN: ...so thank you, Academy, on behalf of the Barbershop. So, what are your predictions?

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, see...

MARTIN: Are you allowed to predict? Is that - can we ask you about it?

Mr. HUDLIN: Well, first of all, theres a difference between prediction and how I voted. Im not going to necessarily reveal how I voted because I believe that, you know, voting is a private, sacred thing. You know, no matter -whether its a presidential election or the Oscars. However, yes, we can guess about whos likely to win. Thats a whole other kind of conversation. I mean, but to make it clear, Im a person who votes my conscious. I dont vote: oh, I think so and so is going to win, so Im going to vote for him. Im like, no, this is a very small voting pool. And my vote weighs a lot. So, I always vote for what I believe in.

MARTIN: Why - doesnt everybody do that? Why shouldnt they vote their conscious? Why would you...

Mr. HUDLIN: I, you know, this is - I think this is one of our problems in our country.

MARTIN: Okay, so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, I feel you, Arsalan, what about you? The best what are you?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, best motion picture, you know, even though "Avatar"...

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ....is the front runner, Im going to pick a dark horse and say "District 9" which I thought...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...was just a gangster-ific movie. For best actor, you know, I think Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart" is this years Mickey Rourke from "The Wrestler," but Im still have to going to give to my man George Clooney, from "Up in the Air" and director, Kathryn Bigelow for "Hurt Locker."

MARTIN: Okay, Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: I dont know who else, Jimi, what else? You were cosigning there...

Mr. IZRAEL: Im pulling for "District 9." I cant give any love to "Avatar," which for me is just "Four Feathers" for dummies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I no love at all for "Avatar." Though it is brilliant to look at, its just, you know, "Four Feathers" with tall Smurfs. You know, Im all over George Clooney in "Up in the Air." That was a beast of a film. The script was just awesome.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Word.

Mr. IZRAEL: Those are my picks.

MARTIN: Okay, Ruben, what about you?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Okay,

MARTIN: Oh...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hey, listen, best actress, Sandra Bullock has to win this thing, okay.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: She has to win this thing. It was a superb performance.

MARTIN: The Sudafed has gotten to him. I dont know whats up with this man.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You know, Jeff Bridges for best actor. I think were in an agreement. I think he - will pull this out. And "The Hurt Locker," "The Hurt Locker" I think takes best picture.

MARTIN: All right. Reggie, can you tell us, what do you think?

Mr. HUDLIN: I well, I think those predictions are likely accurate. Its interesting because last night my wife decided to catch up on the - one of the few Oscar films she hadnt Oscar-nominated film she hadnt seen. So, we watched "Inglourious Basterds."

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hmm.

Mr. HUDLIN: And she is not big on violence. So, as you can imagine she left to go to the kitchen a few times. But watching that movie again, its a really spectacular movie.

MARTIN: Does any body remember "Precious"? Can I just play that the film based on that novel by Sapphire. I just have to play short clip. I mean, here it is here it is.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure, drop it.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of movie, "Precious")

Ms. MONIQUE (Actor): (As Mary Jones) Now, there was a time Precious had everything and I done told her that. And me and Carl, we love Precious. And we had dreams. Precious was born around the same time Ms. Wests son got killed, the summertime, remember? Remember that?

Ms. GABOUREY SIDIBE (Actor): (As Claireece Precious Jones) I was born in November.

Ms. MONIQUE: (As Mary) Yeah. Thats right.

Mr. HUDLIN: Oh.

MARTIN: Reggie, tell me somebody tell me that MoNique does not get best supporting actress for that, come on.

Mr. HUDLIN: MoNique is a lock for best supporting...

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. HUDLIN: ...the same away Christoph Waltz is a lock for best supporting in "Inglourious Basterds." You know, I think the young lady who played Precious, its really too bad that shes not getting more serious consideration for best actress because when you listen to her normal speech pattern you realize that she really did transform to play that lead role of Precious.

MARTIN: She was, and endorsed by no less than Barbara Bush, the former first lady. She was telling everybody to go see it. So there you go. So anyway, well see what happens. Well call you back and find out who was right and who was not.

Reginald Hudlin is a Hollywood producer, writer and director. He joined us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, California. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney and the founder of themuslimguy.com. He was here with us in our D.C. studios. And Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune and cnn.com. And he joined us from San Diego. Heres to all those Oscar parties, everybody, thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yep, Yep.

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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