Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

The men in this week's Barbershop discuss black journalists' recent "thumbs down" verdict for cable network Black Entertainment Television (BET), baseball star Barry Bonds' record-breaking feat, and the Newark shootings that have left three young people dead, one person critically injured and a community outraged.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We bring you a special Barbershop today - live from Las Vegas. We are here at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

And as you know, the guys in the Barbershop dish every week about the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs this week for a shape-up are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael; television correspondent Charles Robinson; The New York Times' Marcus Mabry stuck around from this morning; and National Association of Black Journalists President Bryan Monroe joins us on the phone.

I hear the guys want to talk about the NABJ's decision to give BET a thumbs down for it's programming, Barry Bonds' history-making homerun, and the shootings of four young people this week in Newark, New Jersey.

I may jump in once or twice, but before I pass the mic to Jimi as usual, Jimi, I have to dog you. You had the nerve to come to my panel yesterday and argue with the premise of my question. We may not be speaking after this, but we'll see how it goes. Go ahead, Jimi. Do your thing.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Thanks so much, Michel. Yo, yo, fellas, welcome to the Shop, live from Vegas. What's up?

Mr. MARCUS MABRY (International Business Editor, New York Times): Hey.

Mr. CHARLES ROBINSON (Correspondent, State Circle): Where do I get my shoe shined? That's what I want to know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Man, that's not on the agenda, but, you know, man…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's deal right off the top of the deck. Speaking on NABJ giving BET the Thumbs Down Award for the channel's lack of news and abundance of much junk food entertainment.

Now, Bryan, obviously NABJ doesn't have a cable or they've been asleep at the wheel. Why are you just dissing BET now?

Mr. BRYAN MONROE (President, National Association of Black Journalists): Well, you know, we based the Thumbs Down Award on the actions during a calendar year. We focused on the year 2006…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. MONROE: …last year. And the part of the focus was that BET chose not to air the Coretta Scott King funeral when all their colleagues, all the other cable stations did. And, you know, we understand that BET is a network that was founded on the E in BET - entertainment.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. MONROE: But, at the same time, we also know that, particularly in the black community they have a responsibility to make sure they uphold the news and community affairs program and requirements that our culture needs. And…

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait…

Mr. MONROE: …that specific move was an abdication of that. And more and in general, the overall programming of the network, throughout its recent history and certainly in the last year or so, canceling its news programs, giving short shrift to community affairs, was again an abdication of that responsibility as a broadcaster.

Mr. IZRAEL: I see. And they've been doing so well up until now. Yo, C. Rob, how do you feel about that?

Mr. ROBINSON: Let me say that I used to work at BET when they actually did news. I don't have a problem with this, but understand that BET is trying to, you know, make it in a world where, you know, the least common denominator.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROBINSON: I mean, when you say Flavor Flav and everybody knows who he is, and the "Flavor of Love" girls.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROBINSON: You know, we're racing to the bottom, man. We're not racing to the top.

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't know about that. Yo, Marky Mark, I know you got BET.

Mr. MABRY: I got BET. I got all, like, three or four BETs (unintelligible).

Mr. IZRAEL: I know you do. Look at you.

Mr. MABRY: But it's true - look, I think Bryan is absolutely right. I say amen to NABJ for doing this. We have to speak truth to each other. Who else will we speak it to? It's true that entertainment is the second thing in BET, but black is number one. And so Coretta Scott King should have been on there. We have to blame ourselves, however, for watching this dreck, as well BET for not making it work.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what…

Mr. MONROE: He's right. You know, that's one of the real issues is that our community doesn't support the news programming and the important programming that we need.

Mr. MABRY: Yes.

Mr. MONROE: And so you're right. It comes back to us. It's on us.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, listen, Bryan, here's what I think. You know what? BET is an entertainment business, not in the business of uplifting the race. It's junk food TV. And I know that going in. And you know what? That's okay with me, bro. Let's move on to the next…

Mr. MONROE: But does it have…

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's move on to the next subject. Yo, Barry Bonds just broke the homerun record, but kids will never look at their baseball heroes the same. Now, C. Rob, should the history books make note of his alleged steroid use?

Mr. ROBINSON: Look, the bottom line is you better have good eye-hand coordination if you want to hit a homerun.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROBINSON: And if you don't have it, guess what? You can't hit them.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROBINSON: And if you don't - you can't hit them, you can't get in the record books.

Mr. IZRAEL: But the dope doesn't hurt, right?

Mr. ROBINSON: No, the dope is dumb.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. The dope is dumb.

Mr. ROBINSON: The dope is dumb. And - but the bottom line is, look, his name is going to be on the history book. But guess what? Wait until my boy A-Rod get in the mix. And guess what? That record is going to disappear.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm. Bryan?

Mr. MONROE: Well, you know, I think this beat up on Barry time has just gotten old and tired. You know, are there issues that he's got to deal with? Absolutely. But he has broke the world record for home runs and that is no small feat. And you got to give the brother his props.

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't know about that. Marky Mark, A-Rod, brother. A-Rod.

Mr. MABRY: I'm seeing big, red asterisks in the history books. And that's what it should be.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's what I think. You know what, I mean, because, I mean, he has changed the game but not in a good way. I mean, these allegations will follow Bonds through history, and frankly that's the way it should be.

Mr. MABRY: A-Rod, you're not listening.

MARTIN: Wait, wait. Hold up, guys. But allegations are not the same as confirmation.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I hear that, but I don't know. Look at the brother.

Mr. MABRY: (Unintelligible)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, what (unintelligible) every day, three times a day. Give me a break. You know, I mean, milk does a body good but come on.

Mr. MONROE: Seven hundred and fifty-six home runs, you don't do that by just waking up each morning. It's hard work. It's hand-eye coordination. And, you know, whether or not he was on the juice as well, he still did a formative job breaking this record, and that's something that's going to get to be beaten on.

Mr. ROBINSON: Why do you all think it's not going to get broken again?

Mr. IZRAEL: I hear you, B-Shil(ph), I hear you. Marky Mark, you want to check in one last time?

Mr. MONROE: Yeah, I was going to ask my man. So who do you think will break the record?

Mr. IZRAEL: A-Rod.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBINSON: Yo, when that happens, (unintelligible).

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's keep it moving. Let's keep it moving. Now, the police have arrested two suspects in the Newark murders of - is it three or four college students?

MARTIN: Well, it's a terrible story but, you know, changing - shifting gears for a big minute here. There were four students who were shot and one of them survived.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. And there's still more questions than answers. Now, Michel, we're seeing crimes like this everywhere. Is this the heat, or, as a society, have we turned a corner somewhere?

MARTIN: Yeah, you know, I don't know. I think about this all the time. I think all of you have children, too, and…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: …this is one of my greatest fears as a parent, is that, you know, my child - these kids, by all accounts, were all doing everything they were supposed to be doing with their lives. They were all headed off to college in the fall. And I have to tell you, this is one of my greatest fears is that my child will be, you know, attacked, you know, for some random nonsense…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: …reasons having nothing to do with anything that they've chosen to do in their own lives. I just don't know. I'd tell you one thing is that I am glad to see that we are paying attention to this. My fear is that we become desensitized to these issues and we don't give them a level of attention it deserves because it just becomes normal. So I don't know what you guys think.

Mr. ROBINSON: One of the (unintelligible) last night said on television…

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, C-Rob.

Mr. ROBINSON: …is that it was about the parents and their inability to pass along morals and engage their kids. You know what, that parent was absolutely right because it, you know, even if you don't have a relationship with who the baby mommas is…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. ROBINSON: …or the daddies are, somebody's got to step in there and say, you know what, you can't do right and do wrong and think it's okay. You got to do right. We're going to tell you it's okay. You know what? I chastise other people's kids. And people say, why are you doing that?

Mr. IZRAEL: And that will get you in trouble nowadays.

Mr. ROBINSON: It will get you trouble, but guess what? We as a community got to step up and say, no, that's wrong, son. You can't do that. Young lady…

Mr. MABRY: That's the way it used to be. That's the way it used to be.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know…

Mr. MABRY: That's what (unintelligible) it was, you know. Ms. Jones down the street might yell at you more than your mom would.

Mr. ROBINSON: Yeah, you can't - Ms. Jones can't do that anymore. She might end up in the paper.

Mr. IZRAEL: That's right. That's real talk. Bryan?

Mr. ROBINSON: (Unintelligible) this is my quick question.

Mr. MONROE: …the shooting of these four students.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Bryan.

Mr. MONROE: …but Michel's point is absolutely right that finally it's getting some attention. But we've had another murder that is not getting attention, and that's the murder of one of our fellow journalist, Chauncey Bailey, in Oakland last week…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. MONROE: …who was shot down allegedly because he was out there doing journalism, doing an investigative piece involving the Black Muslim Bakery in Oakland, and was shot down in front of the Alameda County Courthouse in broad daylight by guys who made him beg for his life before shooting with a shotgun. Our journalism is in jeopardy when this kind of stuff happens.

Mr. IZRAEL: Marky, you said you had something to add.

Mr. MABRY: Yeah, this Newark story hits me home because I'm a poor kid from Trenton.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

Mr. MABRY: And kids from the Trenton ghettos, you know, Newark and Trenton is like sister cities. And education saved my life. And so when - we have to change the rules of this society. We have to make this intolerable. We have to take out the people who do this stuff.

Mr. ROBINSON: And I'm glad that…

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, (unintelligible).

Mr. ROBINSON: …people stepped up - they stepped and said, look, we're going to find who these killers are. And people both in the Chauncey case and in Newark, people said we are going to find these people no matter what.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I hear you. You know what, I think America has become an increasingly violent place. I don't know what we do about it and I don't know where we start.

MARTIN: Well, actually that's not accurate, Jimi. I mean, in fairness to say, I mean, in all politics is local.

Mr. IZRAEL: Sure.

MARTIN: If this happens in your community, this is a top line issue.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But the level of violence in this country has really - actually diminished…

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

MARTIN: …in the last 15 or 20 years. Yeah, the murder rate in this country has really actually dropped over the last 15 years, and I don't know what it all means.

Mr. MONROE: Whoa, whoa, one thing that's…

MARTIN: (unintelligible) but first, guys, before we go, we only have a couple of minutes left. And I just wanted to - if we could just sort of conclude and thank you for letting me bust in on the Barbershop but, you know, I know it's your space.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's your world, Michel.

MARTIN: I know it's my world. But there are - I wanted to talk about what a conference like this means. I think there are some people who would say, well, gee, why do African-American journalists, Latino journalists, Asian journalists, Native American journalists have a reason to get together. And I just wanted to ask you in a couple of minutes we have left - just about three -what's the purpose of a gathering like this? Marcus, do you want to take it?

Mr. MABRY: It's incredibly important. You know, we talk a lot about going back to your roots. That's what we get to do once a year. We get to come here and replenish ourselves as black journalists. And we need it because it is - it's rough out there. In all of journalism, we are facing economic challenges that make it harder and harder to do what we do. We may all be, you know, in BET's shoes soon.

MARTIN: Right.

Mr. MABRY: News is getting harder to make a viable business. It's important when we're fighting those struggles not just on the economic front, but on the racial front as black journalists, most of us working in white newsrooms, we need to come here to our peeps and get reenergized to go back out and do the battle for another year.

MARTIN: Charles.

Mr. ROBINSON: And this is where we also find out where we need to go, you know. It's not so much about where we've been but what's the next frontier, you know. This conference has all kinds of workshops of different kinds of media, you know. I've been privileged to do stuff that I've never done before this year from Webnars to (unintelligible) on Internet. I'm going, like, oh my God, the world is actually doing what it's supposed to do. It changes, and we've got to change with it.

MARTIN: Bryan, I want to hear from you on this. You are the outgoing president of the organization.

Mr. MONROE: Well, you know…

MARTIN: What do you think it means? What do you think an organization like this is for?

Mr. MONROE: The organization continues to be critical, especially in this time when we've got consolidation and buyouts and layouts - layoffs in the media industry. Most of us don't realize - a year ago, I was unemployed. The company I worked for, Knight Ridder, evaporated. It got bought out by another company, and after 150 years, we went out of business. And that's because there wasn't enough of a voice in the newsroom, particularly of journalists of color, standing up and reporting on news and information that's important.

You know, I get e-mails and letters about why isn't there a national association of white journalists, and I think the answer to that is there is. It's in the newsrooms every day, in the newsrooms that we work in. And it's so important that our voices come together at least once a year and make sure…

MARTIN: Well, there are other organizations for journalists. There's Sigma Delta Kai. There's the Investigative Reporters and Editors. There are those organizations.

Mr. IZRAEL: STJ(ph).

MARTIN: Jimi, just very briefly, we only have a minute left. Now, you are always threatening to quit.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. It's true. It's true.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, well, truth to tell…

MARTIN: I just think it's because you can't afford the dues, but that's all I'm saying.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's something like that but it's also, you know, I mean, I enjoy the camaraderie and all that kind of stuff. But truth to tell, I come for the free bag. I stay for the T-shirts and the shrimp.

Mr. ROBINSON: And it's good. It's good.

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. IZRAEL: How do we work on that?

MARTIN: All right. I don't know. We have to take that offline. Thank you, gentlemen. Thanks again.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you, M and M.

Mr. MABRY: Thank you.

MARTIN: Jimi Izrael is an opinion writer and blogger. Charles Robinson is a reporter for Maryland Public Television. Marcus Mabry is a reporter for The New York Times and editor for The New York Times. He's also the author of a new biography of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And Bryan Monroe is the president of the National Association of Black Journalists. They joined me from member station KNPR in Las Vegas. Bryan Monroe was on the phone. You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests today at npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks again.

Mr. ROBINSON: You're welcome.

Mr. MONROE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

Mr. MABRY: All right.

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