'Shop Talk': Rep. Massa's 'Groping' Drama

In this week's installment of the Barbershop host Michel Martin talks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano, who writes the "Ask A Mexican" column for the OC Weekly, and Zack Rosen, who is the editor-in-chief of TheNewGay. They discuss former New York Congressman Eric Massa's resignation on Monday after allegations that he groped and sexually harassed a number of young, male staffers in his office. They also discuss California State Senator Roy Ashburn, who admitted he was gay this week.

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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 shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Gustavo Arellano who writes the column "Ask a Mexican" for the O.C. Weekly, and we're happy to welcome Zack Rosen, editor-in-chief of TheNewGay.net. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the Shop.

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil Rights Attorney; Editor): Hey, hey, hey. What's cracking?

Mr. IZRAEL: G-rock, A-train and Z-money. Welcome to the Shop, man. First time, man. Hopefully, it won't be the last.

MARTIN: Well, Zack is here. He's fiddling with his dials. Can you hear him now?

Mr. ZACK ROSEN (Editor-in-Chief, TheNewGay.net): Yeah, it's much better.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay, there you go.

Mr. IZRAEL: Can you do it on the radio?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Yeah, I guess so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Well, let's keep it in motion. New York Representative Eric Massa resigned on Monday after allegations surfaced that he groped and sexually harassed a number of young male staffers in his office, Michel.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Seriously?

MARTIN: Yeah. And the thing that gets me is that, you know, you say to people, okay, well, explain your behavior, and then you get even more incoherent than, you know - I don't know. Here it is. He sat down with FOX News Channel's Glenn Beck, which was interesting in and of itself, because Massa's one of the most liberal members - was one of the most liberal members of the House, and then he went and sat on FOX News Channel's "Glenn Beck," where he tried to explain his behavior. Here's what he said.

Mr. ARELLANO: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glenn Beck")

Representative ERIC MASSA (Democrat, New York): Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him till he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. We all...

Mr. GLENN BECK (Host, "Glenn Beck"): Was your wife at that one?

Rep. MASSA: No, it was a townhouse. We all live together.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hey, now.

MARTIN: Great.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey, now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't know, but, you know, A-train, when was the last - thank you for that one, Michel.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. IZRAEL: When was the last time you were out with the boys and a tickle fight broke out?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You know, I mean, I've actually worked on Capitol Hill, and I have never seen a tickle-palooza before. You know, this whole situation is about as believable as Larry Craig's wide stance in Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. And then, you know, for Eric Massa to go on...

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey, now.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...to go onto Glenn Beck's show and out-crazy Glenn Beck - as Jimmy Kimmel would say, that's like out-sexing Tiger Woods. So, you know, this has been a...

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, look...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: ...pretty absurd experiment here.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, is it a violation of anybody's civil rights? You know, did Massa cross that line?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I mean, obviously, you know, it's going to be a he said-he said, you know, scenario. In this situation, it depends on whether or not somebody files a civil lawsuit, and then you would go to see the preponderance of the facts.

MARTIN: Do the same rules apply for Congress, though? Do they have to adhere to the same - I mean, obviously, for matters of appropriateness, that's one thing. But do they have the same rules for - do the same legal standards apply or sexual harassment apply in the rest of the...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's very good question. There's a concept called sovereign immunity, essentially where, you know, members of the government in the, you know, federal branches of the government - many of them, like the president, for example - are immune from civil or criminal lawsuits during their time while they're in office. So, you know, many lawyers might argue that, you know, he might be technically immune while he is still a congressman, but if he - the day that he resigns, then, obviously, he would be open to these lawsuits.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Z-money, license to tickle. Go ahead, man.

Mr. ROSEN: The first thing that's been plaguing me: Anyone should know that salty is not a verb to use in a sexual harassment suit, ever. B: I've been to the DC Eagle. I've been to a lot of really crazy bars. I've seen a tickle fest, not a-once. But I don't know. I think he's just digging a hole deeper and deeper. If you grope someone, I think the thing to say is not, well, yeah. I groped him. Then they jumped me. It sounds like more something out of...

MARTIN: Do you think that - this is one of the things that interested me about this, is it seems to me that if we knew that a man had behaved this way toward women in his office, would we think it was funny? I mean, I'm not saying we -you know, it's - kind of the whole thing is so crazy, you want to laugh about it. But it does seem to me that this behavior is assaultive. And I guess I wonder, is it a thing - we just don't take it as seriously when men impose themselves on other men.

Mr. ROSEN: I think people are taking it fairly seriously. I think that the man-on-man thing makes it a lot more salacious, and that's why you see it in the news. I'm sure that elder congressmen inappropriately touch women all the time, and that is frowned upon and not good. But something about that kind of "Top Gun" shower scene aspect to it, I think, is making people - their ears perk up a lot more. You know, people love sex - people love, kind of, gay sex scandals, and this ties in all of them.

MARTIN: Well, you, to that point though, the House Ethics Committee closed this investigation, but the majority leader, Steny Hoyer, made it very clear to the staffers when they raised these issues with him that they had to take it to the committee, and he said that do not stop at, you know, go straight there. And, on Thursday, the minority leader, John Boehner, wants the committee to open the investigation again. So to that point, you know, you can take the partisan overlay of it. Obviously, they - I think youre right; maybe they are taking it seriously, so. Mm-hmm. Okay.

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Columnist, "Ask a Mexican"): Yeah. Gustavo here. If he tickled once, he's tickled before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: When it comes to times like this, groping, I mean, for him to say oh yeah, I groped, I tickled, that shows to me, at least as somebody who has covered a lot of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I think there might be something more to the story than just an allegation or anything like that. I mean yeah, when my dad celebrated his 50th birthday, we didn't engage in this massive tickling match; we just hugged him and said, Happy Birthday, dad. It's a very, very bizarre story.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: And remember Congressman Mark Foley, you know, the Republican Florida congressman who essentially had to resign because, you know, he was hitting on underage male pages in Congress and sending salacious IMs and text messages and things like that, so its not the first time that weve heard this kind of story before.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Well, next on Maury Povich: tickle fights on the Hill. Anyway, enough political news, Michel, California state senator Roy Ashburn admits he's gay on a local radio talk-show. Now he outed himself on Monday after being arrested for a DUI. It was later discovered he'd been partying for hours at a local gay bar near Sacramento.

MARTIN: Yeah, and this also reminded me of an issue from the Congress from years ago, where congressman Bob Bauman, who was a very conservative congressman from the Eastern Shore of Maryland was constantly having these encounters with the police that just were, you know, it just didnt pass the snuff. Of course, subsequently, he comes out and says that he's also gay, was also a father of four, and had a very anti-gay voting rights record.

Well, for those who dont know, Roy Ashburn is a Republican representing Bakersfield, also has a very conservative voting record. He's a divorced father with four daughters, and here he is on KERN-FM 1180. Here it is.

Representative ROY ASHBURN (Republican, California): I do owe people an explanation. And so, the best way to handle that is to be truthful and to say to my constituents and to all who care that I am gay. But I don't think it's something that has affected, nor will it affect, how I do my job.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm. Wow.

MARTIN: Zak, is this a big story, what do you make of this?

Mr. ROSEN: Well, I hate doing gay 101, but I will say that in the circles we call this gay puberty, and the gay puberty is coming out. And just like real puberty, youre not really sure of yourself and your arms and your legs feel too long; youre just trying to fit in. And I think that Ashburn's way of just trying to fit in is to tell people well, I'm gay, but I'm still just like you. I'll just be just as homophobic...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. ROSEN: ...and I'll vote against all your gay laws. I'm just going to be gay while doing it. You know, it happens. Dont mind me. It's a big story in that it's a common story, and I think that's what makes this just a very glaring example of someone really voting against themselves, which is gross and annoying, I'd say, and to spout many more expletives I probably wouldnt get invited back to your show, Michel.

MARTIN: Does this surprise you that they're still having, what as you call, I understand your term about gay 101 or gay puberty.

Mr. ROSEN: Gay puberty.

MARTIN: Gay puberty at this stage of our lives. I mean the Bob Bauman thing was 20 years ago and Barney Frank's been out for 20 years, so...

Mr. ROSEN: Yeah. And Barney Frank probably...

MARTIN: ...who's a member of Congress, a Democratic member of Congress who also - that was 20 years ago. I'm sort of - I dont know.

Mr. ROSEN: I mean coming out as gay just kind of hits the reset clock for everybody. No matter what youve done in your life, youre gay, you are a 13-year-old. You are going to get, you know, erections in public, youre going to do things you dont want to do, youre voice is going to crack. It's just the way that it happens.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thank you for that.

Mr. ROSEN: Okay.

MARTIN: Zak, thanks for sharing. Thank you for sharing.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, for me, I'm going to put the civil rights lawyer hat on for a second and, you know, for Ashburn to, you know, vote against same-sex marriage and Prop 8 thing, yeah, yeah, I get that, you know, the whole right wing platform. But when you vote against hate crime bills and anti-discrimination bills against gays, or any demographic group of people, I think that that is completely unconscionable. You know, you can adhere to sort of -you can pander to your right wing constituency but, you know, when it comes to voting against hate crimes, against a group of people that you happen to be a part of or any other group of people...

MARTIN: Well, I dont know if I buy that. I mean there are African-Americans who are against hate crimes legislation, even if it covers African-Americans, because they think that the law doesnt require it and they think that it's creating different standards in the law. And there are people...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, no. But the...

MARTIN: I mean that's like saying you have to vote a certain way or have to have a certain political philosophy because of who you are, demographically. Clearly, that's not the case.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No, what I'm saying is that, you know, from a sort of legal philosophical standpoint, in terms of hate crimes legislation, those that are philosophically opposed to it are philosophically opposed to it because they said that you cannot convict someone based on what their thoughts are which is free speech issues. But, you know, in terms of Roy Ashburn and many right wing politicians today, it's sort of just part and parcel of an entire homophobic platform. And again, that's the aspect that I find particularly unconscionable.

MARTIN: Or maybe they just feel that it's not necessary.

Mr. ARELLANO: Well...

MARTIN: Or maybe they feel, I dont know. I don't know. Gustavo, youre a -what do you have to say about this?

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah, I think Ashburn is the epitome of a sell-out. This is a man who is voting against his - basically himself. He's voting against himself only so he could be a politician. He - this excuse that he's voting for his constituents, to me it just shows that he sold out his own principles, he sold out himself just so he could get elected into office. And it's a sad story in Bakersfield, of course, is notoriously homophobic. I mean, Bakersfield is just a couple hours north of Los Angeles.

It's, I mean, for a gay man to be living there, I really feel bad for him. Obviously, as a closeted gay man, he must've suffered God knows how much self torment. And I just hope that now he's able to make peace with himself. And we'll see what he does as a politician, but I probably bet you that he's not going to get elected again ever in Bakersfield, now that he's out.

MARTIN: Well, can he live wherever he wants? I'm sorry, are there like protective zones where youre required to live because of your sexual orientation? So what's up? What are there passbooks now to decide where youre supposed to live?

Mr. ARELLANO: Well, I dont know, Bakersfield is pretty - pretty crazy.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, Z Money...

Mr. ARELLANO: Go, ahead, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Z Money, it sounds to me like he got pushed out. It doesnt sound to me like he came out. It sounds to me like he caught in a DUI and then there were some circumstances around the DUI that would've brought him out anyways. So I think we're making it out like, you know, he did like an Ellen, you know, where he did the honorable thing.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: But I think he was shoved out.

Mr. ROSEN: Yeah. Well, that's what you get for going to a gay bar. Once you go to a gay bar, there's no really - you can't be outed. You kind of outed yourself. He wasnt sitting at home reading the Advocate when someone snapped a picture through his window, I would say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this it TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Gustavo Arellano and blogger Zak Rosen.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. So, I guess, you know, we can't go too much further without talking about Howard Stern going hard at "Precious." For what? You know, Michel?

MARTIN: Okay. I just have to say that this is the kind of thing and, in fact, they're a lot of things that we talk about in the Barbershop that have - at some point, could offend somebody. And so, I just so maybe we should say all the time I have to recognize that this could offend somebody out here. But this - he unleashed this venomous tirade against best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe, and I will play it just because I dont feel it's fair to talk about something without letting people know what it is. But here it is.

(Soundbite of radio show, "The Howard Stern Show")

Mr. HOWARD STERN (Host, "The Howard Stern Show"): She is enormous. And you feel bad because...

Ms. ROBYN QUIVERS (News anchor and co-host of "The Howard Stern Show"): Everybody's pretending that she's a part of show business.

Mr. STERN: Right. It's just ludicrous, because everyone's pretending she's a part of show business...

Ms. QUIVERS: And that she's going to be around.

Mr. STERN: And she's never going to be in another movie. And she really should have gotten the best actress award because she's never going to have another shot. What movie is she going to be in?

Ms. QUIVERS: What part do they have that she can play?

Mr. STERN: "Blindside II." She can be the football player.

Ms. QUIVERS: She could be the next football player.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. QUIVERS: She could take out the whole front line.

MARTIN: You know, okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: I can't even.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Wow.

MARTIN: And that, of course, was Robin Quivers, his sidekick.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: All right, Jimi, you have to take it because I can't even speak on it. This is somebody's child we're talking about here. Go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean, I think what he said was ugly, but I think there's an ugly truth here. Look, now let's just face it, there're not a lot of roles for women in Hollywood. There're not a lot of roles for women of color and there're not a lot of roles for women of certain carriage. Now to be all three, I'm afraid it bodes badly for her future in Hollywood. I'm sorry, this is a conversation being had in beauty salons and barbershops all across America. Sadly, Howard Stern had to bring it out in the ugliest...

MARTIN: No he didnt have to. He had to?

Mr. IZRAEL: ...ugliest way imaginable.

MARTIN: I'm sorry, he had to? He had to be demeaning, bigoted...

Mr. IZRAEL: No, he didnt.

MARTIN: ...sexist, okay. Sorry.

Mr. IZRAEL: But sadly he did. Sadly he did.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know - this is Arsalan.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: You know, Howard Stern has made his money, you know, throughout the years as shock jock and, you know, when he signed his $100 million a year deal with Sirius a few years ago, I think that that's the point where he became irrelevant. To me what was the interesting point was Robin Quivers, his quote/unquote, "sidekick," who herself in March 2009, was battling obesity. She lost 90 pounds on the Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox. She issued a press release about it. So for her to be jumping on Howard's bandwagon as someone who has dealt with weight issues, I mean weve all have people our family that have dealt with weight issues in their life.

I think it was completely unconscionable, again, and I think, you know, Gabourey Sidibe was awesome in "Precious." Let's not forget she was, you know, nominated for best actress with Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, you know, with Meryl Streep, with the highest caliber, you know, Hollywood actresses. I mean, I think it was just Howard Stern being a stupid shock jock like he's always been.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Well, to Howard Stern's defense, I dont know that he was getting at her so much as he was getting at Hollywood. That, you know, he was just saying that it's not really a place for that kind of actress in Hollywood, right now.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Dude, he said...

MARTIN: Magically, you managed to say that without being offensive.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. He said she should in "Blindside II" as the offensive lineman. I mean, come on, dog.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, that's too bad. That's, yeah, that's awful that he said that. But that's why he makes the big money though, for insulting people like that.

MARTIN: Zak, you want to weigh in on that?

Mr. ROSEN: Oh, I was just going to say someone has to be the first. I'm really partial to anyone that kind of challenges what it is to be normal, so maybe there will be more roles for actresses of a particular size. Also, I just what to quest - A, my mom used to listen to Howard Stern in the morning when I was getting ready for school, so I've heard that man say a lot of things since I was 13. But I remember that he used to have a wife and he used to kind of have - oh, I'm a, you know, a bigot with a wife. I can be cuddable(ph). And now I think he just managed to attack someone who has more goodwill built up for themselves than anyone else in this entire country. So I dont know what he was thinking, doing that. It was probably not the best idea. It's like Don Imus styled that idea.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Okay.

MARTIN: Gustavo, what do you think?

Mr. ARELLANO: Oh yeah, I'm a huge Howard Stern fan, baba-booey, baba-booey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ARELLANO: But, in this case - sorry, you have to say that if youre a Howard Stern fan. Yeah, what he said, it's below the belt. "Blindside II" thing, below the belt. He's been saying these things about everyone for decades, of course, every possible person can get insulted. But I do have to disagree with him and even with Jimi. I do think she - the actress has a future in Hollywood or at least in film.

Hollywood, of course, that's where you have these screen goddesses that have to be shifted into a particular person - the Meryl Streep character, the Sandra Bullock character. Maybe she could carve a niche for herself. But at the very least, we know that she does have talent to boot. She'll maybe - she might take the track of another curvy woman, America Ferrera, who, you know, "Ugly Betty" starred in this great indie film called "Real Women Have Curves," and she's made a career for herself in Hollywood. I know she's in that new film with Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. ARELLANO: But I think that's where I think the future is for the actress that won in "Precious." She's going to get a career based out of her talent rather than any issues with body size. Maybe she won't be getting the roles alongside what, you know, Ethan Hawke or Tom Hanks...

Mr. ROSEN: Or Nell Carter.

Mr. ARELLANO: ...but I think she has a future.

MARTIN: Well, we'll see. Well, we'll see. Well, thanks everybody. We have to leave it there for now.

Gustavo Arellano is a syndicated columnist who writes the column "Ask A Mexican." He joined us from member station KUSI in Irvine, California. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Zak Rosen is co-founder and editor-in-chief of thenewgay.net, or, as their slogan says, everyone over the rainbow. And Arsalan Iftikhar is a civil rights attorney, the founder of muslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. They - that's a mouthful, you know.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: It is.

MARTIN: They were both here in our Washington, D.C. studio. Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. ROSEN: Thank you.

Mr. ARELLANO: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more on Monday.

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