'Shop Talk': The Political Witchunt For Christine O'Donnell

The Barbershop guys discuss the campaign ad of Christine O'Donnell, Republican Senate nominee in Delaware, declaring that she's "not a witch," and reports in "The Nation" magazine that former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs hired illegal immigrants to work at his estates in New Jersey and Florida. The future of another former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez and the Major League Baseball predictions are also among topics tossed around. Host Michel Martin speaks with author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin.

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(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, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.

Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Hey fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Civil rights attorney; Editor, Founder, MuslimGuy.com): Hey.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated columnist): Hey, man. How you doing?

KEN RUDIN: How you doing, bigot?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All righty then.

MARTIN: Oh, my goodness.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You're a fighter, Ken.

Mr. IZRAEL: And it was nice to meet you too when I was in D.C. last week, Ken. Thanks for that. All right. Let's...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Hey, don't NAACP me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, no. Here we go.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, let's jump right in.

MARTIN: Stick to decaf, guys.

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't want to scare anybody or anything like that, but Christine O'Donnell, Delaware's Republican nominee for Senate, she released an ad this week saying that she, repeat, she's not a witch. I'm glad she could...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Happy Halloween.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. I'm glad she cleared that one up for us, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, it's always tricky when you have to release an ad telling people you're not a witch.

RUDIN: No, she's not a witch.

MARTIN: That's always complicated.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: It was a typo.

MARTIN: Was it? Okay. Okay. All right. Just moving right along.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Let me just say for the record that my ex-wife tried that. It didn't work with me either.

MARTIN: The ad she took out and okay...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ooh.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, she's not a witch.

MARTIN: The specific facts are, in case anybody's interested is, that she's -she used to appear quite often on Bill Maher, and she - Bill Maher when he was at ABC. His program, what was it called? "Politically Incorrect."

Mr. IZRAEL: "Politically Incorrect."

MARTIN: "Politically Incorrect." And she talked about how when she was an activist and she talked about how she dabbled in witchcraft but never joined a coven, and so Bill Maher had been playing this, you know, again and again on his new HBO show. And so in her campaign ad, she's trying to, you know, refute that and she's wearing, you know, a black jacket and pearls and being very lovely. And let's just play a short clip it, just so you hear. Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of campaign ad)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Delaware): I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you. None of us are perfect. But none of us can be happy with what we see all around us: politicians who think spending, trading favors and backroom deals are the ways to stay in office. I'll go to Washington and do what you'd do. I'm Christine O'Donnell and I approve this message. I'm you.

Mr. IZRAEL: That is some of the scariest music I've ever...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I love the music.

Mr. IZRAEL: ...background music I've ever heard in any political message.

MARTIN: I want somebody to follow me around playing that. I really do.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, what? Thanks for that, Michel.

MARTIN: Jimi, you know, what? I'm you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Scare me again, please.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm you. And I'm the one. He is the one.

Mr. IZRAEL: Listen, A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: For me though, the O'Donnell kerfluffle, it's kind of embarrassing ruse for the Democrats. You know why? Because it gives more press time to an already unviable candidate. That is, you know, but we're not dealing with the issues. I mean the problem - I mean all the ribbing actually turns her into an underdog and everyone like an underdog. Now, she already had an upset in the primaries so the Dems, I think they're set to hand her another one. What do you think?

MARTIN: That's an interesting theory.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I don't know about that. I think the last poll that came out showed her about down about 13 to 14 points. So, you know, I don't think that, you know, she is a viable candidate in the general election. What's interesting to me...

Mr. IZRAEL: I said she was unviable.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, right, she is unviable. But I think it is having that you know, this whole witchcraft thing is having an adverse effect on her. And let's not also forget that, you know, in addition to, you know, dabbling in witchcraft in high school, she was also, you know, against the master debaters in her high school career as well, and so...

Mr. IZRAEL: But so what? But so what? I mean let's talk about the issues. I think it looks, I mean I think it makes the Dems looks worse than it makes her look, that's what I think.

MARTIN: Well, she - well, Ken, I don't know, I mean - did the Democrats do this to her? I don't remember...

RUDIN: No. The only, I think the...

MARTIN: ...put those words. I don't...

RUDIN: I think the only reason we're focusing on her, I remember, there's also a Democrat named Alvin Greene who is running in South Carolina who is also a nut job. But I think reason we're focusing...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Not a nut job. I'm sorry, not a nut job. A...

Mr. IZRAEL: Nice.

RUDIN: Not a witch. He's like me. No. But I think...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, a nut job, all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: But I think what it is is that this was a seat that the Republicans had in their hands. Had she not won the Republican primary, Mike Castle was going to win this Joe Biden Senate seat.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

RUDIN: And now it's just so startling that the Republican fortunes - but it reminds me though, you know, you talk about Nixon saying I'm not a crook and Bill Clinton said I didn't have sex with that woman, and so, for her saying I'm not a witch, it's kind of like wow. But when you look at the ad, she seems normal. And even though, you know, you think of all the background and all the crazy things she said...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: You know, you keep talking about what country Barack Obama was born in -what planet was Christine O'Donnell born in? I mean you just wonder about this. And yet, when you watch the ad, it's reasoned, it's calm. And, you know, but Jimi, you say she's unviable. In this bizarre year of Tea Party upsets and everything, who is unviable anymore? You really don't even know.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, you're right. You're right about that.

MARTIN: What does Ruben think?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I think first of all, on the Bill Maher thing, yeah, let's just be clear: Bill Maher had these clips and he basically said I'm going to continue to release these clips of your past appearances on my show unless you agree to go on my new show.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So, as I wrote on my column about Christine O'Donnell some days ago, what that tells us is the liberal Democrats are not good with black magic but they're okay with blackmail. And so I stand by that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm.

MARTIN: Why is that any different from like, you know, Fox berating Obama until he...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Because you don't...

MARTIN: ...that he agrees to go on their show? What's the difference?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Because if you had those clips on somebody else you wouldn't tell them: unless you come on TELL ME MORE, I'm going to continue to release these clips. That's blackmail.

MARTIN: No I wouldn't but other people would. I mean so I wouldn't but, you know.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And that's what separates you from Bill Maher. Right.

MARTIN: But I guess what I'm saying is that's not...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's what makes you a grownup and doesn't make Bill Maher a grownup. So I just want to put that out there for starters. Blackmail. Blackmail.

But the main thing that struck out - that struck me about the primary with Christine O'Donnell is we typically hear this kind of arrogant condescension from liberals talking about people like Sarah Palin. But in this primary, we heard it all from conservatives.

Conservatives quickly lost the moral high ground they used to claim, saying that it was only liberals who practiced this game. Charles Krauthammer, Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol, all came out against - a number of radio talk show hosts, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, all came out against Christine O'Donnell. They thought she wasn't smart enough to win. Unfortunately, a little thing like democracy got in the way - inconvenient thing that it is - and she beat Mike Castle, the establishment Republican.

MARTIN: So nobody is ever allowed to say they don't think somebody is qualified? You're saying that that's always...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, not, well...

MARTIN: Or is it exactly what they said or is it the way they said it? I mean because...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, it's the way they said it.

MARTIN: ..if you don't think somebody is qualified. You're not supposed to say that? You're just supposed to say yeah, absolutely, whatever.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's the way they said it, that every name I mentioned was a bunch of men in the Republican Party who looked down their nose and thought this woman wasn't, you know, sufficiently - they thought she was light. She's trying to hold a position that was once held by Joe Biden. Now talk about light. Talk about people who mangle the English language, who have soundbite problems, who make gaffes. And I wondered if there was a double standard there, in terms of these men who are all Republicans - let's be clear, they're all Republican conservatives and they all jumped on this one.

MARTIN: Is it a matter of mangling your words or is it a matter of not being adequately prepared or not having an adequate grasp of the issues? You can say whatever you want about Joe Biden.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, that's Joe Biden. That's Joe Biden.

MARTIN: No. Joe Biden, you know, when he was chairman the Judiciary Committee he would prep for weeks and weeks and weeks before a confirmation hearing.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And still say something dumb before the camera.

MARTIN: But that doesn't...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And still say something dumb before the cameras.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm just talking about a double standard, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: About the fact that women who make mistakes like this or mangle a word or whatever, and you have people again, on the right like George Bush, on the left like Joe Biden, we use a word like light and we don't talk about men that way, we talk about women that way. My other point was this was coming from...

MARTIN: Dan Quayle? Nobody has ever talked about Dan Quayle like that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, this was coming from Republicans.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And I think it was fair to say that to those Republicans because if you care about democracy, you got to give her props. She beat that other guy. She was way under funded.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: She beat Mike Castle in the primary, you know, leave her alone.

RUDIN: It wasn't about misstatements, though. I mean it was about just positions that were so way out of the mainstream, and plus the fact that Republicans had a Senate seat in their grasp and they lost it and they're just furious with her.

MARTIN: Well, okay. Well, we'll see. That's what elections are for, as Ruben pointed out.

So if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop, and we're talking with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ken Rudin.

Back to you, Jimi.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. So, moving right along, Rick Sanchez broke his silence today. He granted his first interview since CNN very publicly parted ways with the former "Rick's List" anchor, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah. We talked about this a little bit and people have been kind of weighing in all week on our blog about that. This morning he talked on ABC's "Good Morning America" with George Stephanopoulos and gave kind of his version of what was behind it. We can - does anybody want to hear a little bit?

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. Absolutely.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, you know, again, he was kind of picking up on - there's a longer exchange and he was talking a little bit about the fact that he was frustrated by the fact that the landscape in broadcast television is not as diverse as he feels that it should be and here's a little bit of that exchange.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

Mr. RICK SANCHEZ (Former host, CNN's "Rick's List): And look, I will be honest with you, and I hope you don't mind my saying this, but I'm just going to go ahead and say it: If you look at the landscape right now in our media, in primetime, there's not a single Hispanic. There's not a single African-American...

Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Host, "Good Morning America"): Elizabeth Vargas.

Mr. SANCHEZ: In primetime, hosting a primetime show in the United States.

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: "20/20."

Mr. SANCHEZ: Which is "20/20." I'm talking about newscasts, in cable news.

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. That's newscast.

Mr. SANCHEZ: That's true. That's fair. I'm referring to cable newscasts - not magazine shows. There's not a single Hispanic, a single Asian-American, or a single African-American.

Mr. STEPHANOPOULOS: Connie Chung did have a show at CNN.

Mr. SANCHEZ: There's a lot of people who have had shows a little bit in the past. I'm talking about right now, though, George.

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Connie Chung isn't Hispanic, is she?

MARTIN: Yeah, well, yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh yeah, of course, on her mother's side. Nobody knew.

MARTIN: Nobody covered with glory in that combo.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I don't think George Stephanopoulos gets it. I mean I don't think he got it there. If you have to reach back to the Connie Chung example.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: In both examples he mentioned, Elizabeth Vargas and Connie Chung, okay, those are co-anchors. The response, Rick blew that response. But if George Stephanopoulos had teed that softball up to me here's what I would've said: In the primetime show "20/20," Elizabeth Vargas is a co-anchor with Chris Cuomo, okay, they're co-anchors. The Connie Chung experiment famously on CBS was a co-anchor experiment.

My question is when women get a chance to break through at that time, or in this case, minorities, ethnic minorities, an Asian woman, a Latina, why do they need a babysitter? Why do they need a co-anchor who tends to be a white male? But the white males are abundant in the industry. That was the proper response to George Stephanopoulos. But...

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: And Rick is a friend of yours though, Ruben, right, to be fair.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: I mean you wrote about this in one of your columns.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: And you felt what?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah but, the fact that..

MARTIN: What?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, the fact that he's a friend of mine doesn't mean that I can't say...

MARTIN: No, no, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying but you wrote about this and you said...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I may be out of (unintelligible) with George Stephanopoulos, but in this case...

MARTIN: Yeah, just give people the full flavor of what you had to say about this in your column, that's what I'm asking you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: His comments, here's by way of background, I'm a contributor to CNN.com and I do know Rick Sanchez. And I lamented the fact that we had just one - count them, one - Latino anchoring a show on cable or network television and now we have zero, and I think that was a real loss.

But overall, I didn't defend what he said. I wrote a column saying it is indefensible, his comments about - the most offensive thing that Rick Sanchez said was he downplayed and he dismissed the idea that Jews were an oppressed minority. And if you are a minority you ought not do that. It's bad form. It's not a good look for one minority to call out another and say, you know, I'm more oppressed than you are. And he doesn't know his history. He has to go back over 2,000 years of oppression of Jewish people all over the world, everywhere they've ever gone. So that's where he blew it.

But where we blew it in our coverage of this issue and in commenting on this issue on this issue for the last week or so, is we didn't take seriously the one valuable thing that Rick Sanchez talked about, which is: it is not an easy place to be to be a none-white journalist - a minority journalist in a institution where most of the people don't look like you. And, you know, whether you're Michel Martin, a pioneer in broadcasting, who has done print, television and radio, there is a story to tell there, and maybe they need to be told in great memoirs...

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But there's a story to be told there and that's what Rick as trying to do however, however inartfully(ph).

RUDIN: Yeah, but that's like...

Mr. IZRAEL: Ken. Ken.

RUDIN: That's like saying that yes, Lou Dobbs is correct. There is an immigration problem in this country and that's the issue he's trying to bring and the borders are not secure and things like that, and then you go on and on and on ranting about Latinos and people who don't belong in this country, you lose the message. I think yes, there is a legitimate question...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

RUDIN: ...about the lack of diversity on TV and radio and, you know, of course, that's true, but to talking about the ranting of, you know, of the Jews controlling - we talked about this on the show - on TELL ME MORE last week, when Loretta Sanchez, who won this long-time Republican seat, the first Hispanic in 1996, and now she talks about how the Vietnamese are talking over the seat...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

RUDIN: That's the kind of language that just throws that whole argument out the window.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

MARTIN: I'm glad you brought that up because that's the thing that came to my mind as well. I don't know. Jimi, what do you think? You want to have the final word on this before we get to baseball?

Mr. IZRAEL: I don't know. I'm really thinking of Tony Manero right now. I know this is going to seem kind of off topic. But...

MARTIN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm thinking about Tony Manero's quote from "Saturday Night Fever." He was that everybody's - I'm paraphrasing here - but he said everybody's got to mess with everybody. You know, that the blacks got to mess with the browns and, you know, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. So, you know, I think everybody's got their beef and somebody's got to take something out on somebody else, so that's what I say, so.

MARTIN: Yeah. Okay. I don't really know what you're saying there, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Hey. So, okay, I guess can't we all get along? Maybe that was he meant.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Basically.

MARTIN: Anyway...

Mr. IZRAEL: Basically. That...

MARTIN: All right. Baseball. I'm sorry. We have to talk about baseball. Major League playoffs underway.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Arsalan, help us.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I think the highlight so far has obviously been Phillies' pitcher Roy Halladay, who pitched a no-hitter in game one, first time since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Phillies are just - they're operating on all cylinders right now.

MARTIN: Yeah, are you loving it, though? Because, you know, it's funny, the ratings have been down this season. The TV ratings have been down this season. I just think it's so exciting. I guess maybe I'm - I just think it's so exciting. Are you into it?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: To be honest, no.

MARTIN: What? What?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean it's...

MARTIN: Why is it always me?

Mr. IZRAEL: What?

MARTIN: Why am I always the outlier here?

Mr. IZRAEL: Shock. Awe. Right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I mean if you look at baseball compared to football and basketball, I mean you have three and a half hour games, you know, as a, you know, you have a 162-game season. It's a, you know, there's a - for Ken Rudin, it's become an older person's sport.

MARTIN: Oh, my God, no.

Mr. IZRAEL: Whoa.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Whoa.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: That's right. I said it.

RUDIN: Oh, at least the Jews don't control baseball.

MARTIN: Oh, goodness.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Here's the thing, though, I mean as a long-suffering Yankees' fan, we haven't won the World Series since 2009, okay?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Long-suffering.

RUDIN: So, but it's exciting. Roy Halladay, his whole great career.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. No that was great.

RUDIN: The first time in he pitches a no-hitter. He had a perfect game earlier this year.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: Texas Rangers, who have never won a playoff series in their career, in their history...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. Right.

RUDIN: ...they are leading Tampa Bay two games to none.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yes.

RUDIN: And you saw that great pitching by San Francisco. It's very exciting.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: The weirdest thing, though is that this playoff, these playoffs in the World Series may go beyond Election Day, November 2nd, and what's going to win out with the American people? Are they going to care about the elections or say no, we're going to be watching baseball, then we'll worry about the elections November 4th or November 5th when it's too late.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Sounds right.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Sounds right.

MARTIN: Ken, who do you like for the...

RUDIN: Well, I'm a Yankees fan but I like, I agree with Arsalan, the Phillies are just tough. They have these three top of the line pitchers, they are hungry, even, though they've won the pennant two years in a row. But they lost it last year to that team from the Bronx, which I am a personal fan of, and I think they're ready. But, you know, a lot of things are strange, Texas is hitting.

MARTIN: Yeah.

RUDIN: It's very very exciting. And Cincinnati which, of course, is playing the Phillies, but the fact that they're in the playoffs for the first time all these years, that's exciting too?

MARTIN: Ruben, who do you like? Are you going with the Giants just because...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The Giants. I grew up with the Giants. No, I grew up with the Giants.

MARTIN: You're doing the geographic thing? Okay. All right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, absolutely. Oh, I grew up in central California, half my friends were going to be Dodgers fans growing up and half were Giants fans, we used to be Giants. Go up to the old Candlestick Park, watched the games. It's been a long, long drought for Giants fans. And one of the things that Ken talked about is absolutely right. What makes playoffs like this exciting is the fact that you have teams that have not been in it for a while or not been in it forever and it mixes things up. And the Texas Rangers folks are happy and the Giants folks are happy. And I think it's great to watch.

RUDIN: (whispering) Yankees. Yankees.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you like? Last word.

Mr. IZRAEL: Phillies.

MARTIN: Okay, like that. So it's like that.

Mr. IZRAEL: It is like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Ken, you can over my house. The rest of you all...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I'm sitting next to two Yankees fans here, so come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's all, you know, it's all, it's New York, it's New York, it's New York. It's New York everywhere else.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's been since 2009.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: No. No.

MARTIN: Exactly.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: They haven't won it since 2009.

MARTIN: They're just haters. No, Ken, they're just haters.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Nobody cares about them.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Tell that to Cubs fans.

MARTIN: Okay. Ken, they're just haters. They're just haters.

Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist and author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writer's Group. He also writes for CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Arsalan Iftikhar was here with us in our D.C. studios. He's the founder of themuslimguy.com and a legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor - our political junkie. He was here with us in our studio also.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Thank you, Yankees. I mean, thank you.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more on Monday.

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