Barbershop: What's the Buzz?

The men in this week's Barbershop discuss the Gonzales resignation, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's arrest and a controversial public service ad, airing on cable network BET, to promote reading.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Just ahead, we'll hear what's on your mind in BackTalk. That's coming up.

But first, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about whatever's in the news and whatever's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week, our opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael, Professor Lester Spence, TV host and author Keith Boykin, and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist.

I know the guys have a lot to talk about. The Michael Vick apology; you know I can't speak on it. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation, and I hear somebody got an exclusive interview, like Ruben. Senator Larry Craig gets some unwanted publicity. And also a new PSA from BET stirs up controversy. I may jump in, but for now, take it away Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Hey, hey, fellas. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Dr. LESTER SPENCE (Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University): Cold chilling.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): Good. Good. Good.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, all right. Well, let's get the ball moving right down field talking about Michael Vick pleading guilty and revealing that he's giving his life to Jesus, and not a moment too soon. Now, Lester, I remember when you told us weeks ago that Atlanta would not fire Vick. But can somebody that signed off on killing dogs and torturing them, can they be rehabilitated in the public eye?

Dr. SPENCE: I mean, there's this long history of black professionals messing up and then turning to Jesus and then getting okay after that. So to the extent that he's taking step number one, he's on the road to recovery.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, the R, how do you feel about that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm glad he took the step, but it's a long road. You have to acknowledge you did wrong. You have to show some contrition. You have to apologize. And I think that the mistake that he would want to avoid is where he just gets to a point where he's frankly tired of apologizing and then he just sort of decides, okay, I'm not going to do this anymore. I'm not going to grovel anymore. And I think Mel Gibson and other celebrities have tried to pull that off, and it doesn't tend to work. Michael Vick will know this is over when the fans tell him it's over.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Keith.

Mr. KEITH BOYKIN (Author, TV Host): Some of them are already telling that. You know, a lot of the fans in Atlanta are telling him they're through with him, fed up with him. I think there's a little hypocrisy about that whole thing because, you know, I lived in Georgia for a while. I used to see the pick-up trucks with all the Confederate flags and the gun racks. Now, for people who shoot and kill animals for sport, now how can these people be upset about a dogfight?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know, sports fans seem willing to forgive him. Keith?

Mr. BOYKIN: I think it's a money thing more than anything else. He's their quarterback. You don't want to get rid of him just because he's unpopular. You know, look at what's going with Barry Bonds out in San Francisco. He's not a popular figure either, but he still hits home runs and they still want him on the team.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, well…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right. That's only part of the thing.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Think of the jerseys on the merchandizing and all that. Once you are this well known and you are a popular figure, you are marketable.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, me, I'm always skeptical of people who find Christ in a crisis. Now, that said, I can't judge his heart. And we're going to have to take a wait-and-see kind of attitude with this.

So, moving on, Alberto Gonzales stepped down just like I said he would. Now, this just after Karl Rove flies the coop. Ruben, correlation or coincidence?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes. I think there is something to that, to the two resignations. And the Rove theory holds up this way. It has been said that Gonzales was there to sort of act as a human shield against the White House. That if Gonzales left, all of a sudden all those questions about how the U.S. attorneys' matter was handled would go to the White House and go specifically to Rove. All of a sudden, Rove is not there anymore, and, lo and behold, Gonzales is free to resign. I think there might be a connection there. My trouble with this story, and I did get an interview with Gonzales this week.

MARTIN: Oh, so, oh. So it's Ruben who's got the…

Mr. IZRAEL: Whoa. Can you pay my haircut now?

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) is taller. Go ahead.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It was me. He had nothing else to do on Monday but announce that he was going to resign and talk to me about it. But my frustration with this has always been I don't think Alberto Gonzales has been a good attorney general, but I think the case against him is so incredibly flimsy. They kept changing the terms of the indictment until finally they sort of like fit something in here while we just sort of, you know, think he's muddied the office and we think he's incompetent. He needs to go. I just think that was a really shoddy way to handle going after a guy like that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, in your column, you call his resignation a graceful exit. Now, seriously, bro, what kind of graceful exit is this? I mean, he's like that crazy cat that comes to your dinner party and he's wandering around from table to table, you know, talking politics and he finally takes the hint to leave. I mean, what kind of graceful exit is that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No. Because he and the president decided when to go, under what circumstances to go. Don't forget, the Democrats wanted to call the shots as to when he would leave. And then they actually suggested, why don't you send us the names of folks to replace him with. I mean, the president ultimately said, this is my prerogative. If you don't like Alberto Gonzales, well then join the club, because a lot of folks didn't like Janet Reno there when Clinton put her there.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Keith.

Mr. BOYKIN: The difference between Janet Reno and Alberto Gonzales, Bill Clinton didn't like Janet Reno. But Bill Clinton also knew that she had integrity. There was no cloud of suspicion about her integrity. There has been a cloud over the Justice Department for quite some time. And they can't be prosecuting crimes, they can't represent us, if the attorney general has a cloud over him. And to me, it's just more evidence of corruption and incompetence from the GOP, and I think it's going to be a bad thing for them. He did a good thing by getting out, because he's going to help them by getting rid of an albatross around Bush's neck.

Mr. IZRAEL: L. Spence, bust it.

Dr. SPENCE: Well, I mean, when you say that he's - that the case against him was flimsy, I'm really actually surprised you say that. And from my - where I sit, he's been the worst attorney general since I've been following this stuff.

Mr. BOYKIN: (Unintelligible)

Prof. SPENCE: You look at a series of incidents related to the administration of justice. You're talking about the extreme politicization of the Justice Department. I mean, these are the guys, they actually kicked attorneys out because they would not prosecute mythical examples of voting fraud. I mean, I don't know how you can get worse than that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. BOYKIN: I don't (unintelligible) this, man.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Why I think this - I think that it's sort of been one big pot, they put all the things that went wrong under justice, you end up talking about torture memos and…

Mr. BOYKIN: Yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …Abu Ghraib and all these various things…

Mr. BOYKIN: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …but what was at hand was this case about the U.S. attorneys' prosecutions and those firings. And they kept saying that he'd broken the law, that he had, you know, has already done the political bidding of the president.

Mr. BOYKIN: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: None of that was even proven. Finally, they get him for storming into a hospital room with a sick John Ashcroft.

Mr. BOYKIN: Right, right, right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: At that point, I'm stretching my head saying, what was one have to do with the other?

Mr. BOYKIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: If you are just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking to Jimi Izrael, Lester Spence, Keith Boykin and Ruben Navarrette. They're in the Barbershop. Sorry to interrupt, guys.

Ruben, how did he sound when you talked to him?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I've interviewed him three different times, and this one, obviously, as you would imagine, he was much more relaxed and reflective and not all that bitter. I kept giving him the opportunity to be bitter, but he wouldn't take the bait. It's been a long, difficult road for him. And I've got to say, I think a lot of it is the enemies you inherit once you work for somebody like George Bush.

MARTIN: See, notice how he got a slip in that he had three interviews with him.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No.

MARTIN: (Unintelligible). Go ahead, go ahead. Do your thing.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. Let's talk about Republicans encouraging Senator Larry Craig to resign behind his guilty plea to soliciting a lewd act in an airport bathroom. Now, Keith, will Craig weather the storm?

Mr. BOYKIN: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BOYKIN: In a word, no. He is out of there. He is so out of there. I mean, this is not a good time to be Republican, but certainly not a good time to be Larry Craig. Nobody's supporting him. The Republicans don't even support him. And his excuse, let me tell you, that was the worst lie I've ever heard. If there's anybody in America who believes that a U.S. senator accidentally pleaded guilty to a crime because he didn't have a lawyer present.

Dr. SPENCE: Keith, I actually want - I'm glad you're on here, because I wanted to get your opinions about repression in a Republican Party, about sexual repression and how you think this ties into what happened (unintelligible).

Mr. BOYKIN: Oh, gosh. Here we go. Look out…

Mr. IZRAEL: L. Spence, let's stay on topic. Ruben?

Dr. SPENCE: I mean, if your (unintelligible), I mean, (unintelligible) through.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Ruben, you got to help me out here. Help me out. Can Larry Craig recover from this?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He cannot. He is good as gone. He is dead in the water because of the way the Republican Party is going to treat him. They've already stripped him of some committee assignments and they're going to continue to do more of that. If he were a Democrat - let me take a shot at the other party here - things may go differently, you know. If you were a Massachusetts congressman involved in a sex scandal, involving, you know, male pages and the like, you can get by, you can get reelected. If you are…

Mr. BOYKIN: But there's a reason for that. There's a reason for that, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, let me finish. If you're a mayor in Washington, D.C. and you're caught smoking crack with a hooker and, you know, and use profanity in terms of how you got to that situation, you might get reelected. But in this case, Republicans are so skittish on this stuff they will throw these people overboard.

Mr. BOYKIN: But the reason for that is hypocrisy, Ruben.

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Keith.

Mr. BOYKIN: The Republican Party, the people get tripped up all the time because they are the party that pretends to be the party of family values. You can't say you're the party of family values when you've got David Vitter involved in a D.C. Madam Scandal. You can't say that…

Prof. SPENCE: Right.

Mr. BOYKIN: …when you've got Ted Stevens under a scrutiny, when you got Mark Foley and Ted Hager and all these other people who were coming out of the woodwork. I mean…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. BOYKIN: …the Republicans, if they were smart, they would get out of the whole sexual police morality business and start just being real about who we are. If the Democrats…

Prof. SPENCE: Well, that's what I…

Mr. IZRAEL: Lester, drop it.

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah. But the problem is, what it is, is people are living their lives in a number of different ways, right? In private and in public. You've got a significant component of the population who themselves are repressed and they just don't want to see that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Dr. SPENCE: So the Republican Party has hitched their wagon to that population, and you can't just unhitch that ride, right?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But there's more to that. But in both the black community and the Latino community, you have a very conservative strain there…

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …and it shows up in things like their opposition to gay marriage. And I don't condone that. I happen to think the communities are wrong on that issue. And so the Democrat Party, by not dealing with those kind of morality issues, I think they lose part of the flock over those issues.

Mr. BOYKIN: But there's no evidence whatsoever, Ruben, that the Democrats have lost a single vote because of the issue of gay marriage among black people. There's no polling data to support that.

Mr. IZRAEL: And here is what I think. I do think Larry Craig is done. I think the Republicans, with all the Foley scandal and Vitter, you know, they keep the hits coming. But anyway, speaking of hits, let's move on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: And yo, has anybody heard about that BET thing?

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, I heard.

MARTIN: Hey guys, do you want to hear a little bit of it?

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Michel, drop that clip.

MARTIN: All right. Here.

Dr. SPENCE: Run that beat by.

(Soundbite of TV ad "Read A Book")

Unidentified Man: Read a book, read a book, read a (beep) book, read a book, read a book, read a (beep) book, not a sports page, what, not a magazine, ooh, but a book (beep), (beep) book (beep)…

MARTIN: Now unfortunately, we had to edit a little bit.

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, I was about to start singing.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: It's a PSA called "Read a Book."

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: It was developed by BET Animation, which is a new division established by the network's president, Reginald Hudlin. And it has some - how shall we put it? - lifestyle advice, Jimi. Well, it's expressing our in a rather unique fashion. And, Jimi, take it back.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, Michel, I for one am really excited to see BET going this direction. Lester, now, I know you're with me on this, right?

Dr. SPENCE: Yeah, oh yeah. It's hot. It's hot. Every time I see it…

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm singing it in the (unintelligible)

Dr. SPENCE: …I just roll. I mean, it's…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Dr. SPENCE: …but the thing is that you got people actually taking it a lot more serious than what it was intended to be taken. I mean, it's a joke.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Dr. SPENCE: It's not an indictment of black people. I thought it was just really, really humorous, but, you know, maybe it's just me.

MARTIN: You can look at the whole clip on YouTube without…

Mr. SPENCE: Yeah.

MARTIN: …the editing for, you know, the general audience, if you get my drift. And comments, people are hot. People are saying that it's racist.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, Michel, all good satire calls for controversy. Don't you agree, Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The criticism is that it's advancing a stereotype, but the brilliance of something like this is actually speaking a different language. It had a rap structure but going after a very positive message and talking about things like read a book and take responsibility and do the right thing and do all these things.

And if anything, you know, I think the Latino community and the black community need to hear more and more of this stuff. And we have to stop feeling so defensive. It's ultimately really up to ourselves and our communities to police our own communities and prove our communities and make them independent and clean up this stuff. It's creative.

Mr. BOYKIN: Maybe I'm the only one who doesn't see it that way.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey K.B., what do you think?

Mr. BOYKIN: You know, I'm a little troubled by it. When I saw it, I thought using profanity to reach kids does not seem to me like the best way to make the message get across. It's bigger than just this one thing. It's a part of this whole sort of culture that we are at the same time satirizing and replicating. And you can't do both. And you have to figure out is this a culture you're going to change? Can you change it when you're just putting out this message? A lot of people won't get the message.

Mr. IZRAEL: Keith, here is what I have to say to that. I think that we and many other, you know, middle class and kind of middle-class blacks are really some of the most conservative people in America. Sometimes, we have to loosen up and be able to laugh at ourselves. And with that, yo, we've got to wrap up. We've got to wrap up the Barbershop. I got to kick it back over to my girl, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, gentlemen. Jimi Izrael is an opinion writer and blogger. He joined us from Public Radio Partnership in Louisville, Kentucky. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com. He joined us from KPBS in San Diego.

Keith Boykin is the host of BET's "My Two Cents". He's a former White House aide and he joined us from our bureau in New York. And Dr. Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He joined us from his office in Baltimore. You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site npr.org/tellmemore.

Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us today.

Dr. SPENCE: Thank you.

Mr. BOYKIN: Thanks a lot.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup yup.

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