Guys Debate Bill O'Reilly, Hip-Hop Music

This week, the Barbershop buzz is all about Fox News' Bill O'Reilly comments on dining at a black-owned restaurant, hip-hop lyrics making headlines on Capitol Hill and Latino Americans' verdict on Ken Burns' latest documentary, The War.

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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 whatever's in the news and whatever's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are opinion writer and blogger Jimi Izrael, editor and columnist Gustavo Arellano, Professor Ed Dorn and Ruben Navarrette, a syndicated columnist. I know the guys have a lot to talk about.

I hear that Bill O'Reilly's Harlem dining experience has been a little hard to digest for some. Ken Burns' film, "The War," finally debuted with new material added to include stories about Latinos during the war, but is anybody satisfied? Also, hip-hop goes to the Hill. Several rap stars give in their take on questionable lyrics at a congressional hearing. I may jump in every now and again. But for now, take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Political Writer, AOL Black Voices): Hey, hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): What's going on?

Mr. GUSTAVO ARELLANO (Contributing Writer, Los Angeles Times): Hey, Jimi.

Dr. ED DORN (Dean, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas): We're great.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's hop right off the fire into the frying pan with Bill O'Reilly. You know, he's a political pundit. And lately, he's something of a restaurant critic, says eating in a black restaurant probably not so bad. Yo, Michel, you've got something of that, right?

MARTIN: Yeah. You guys want to hear the clip?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I guess so.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yes.

Mr. DORN: Go for it.

MARTIN: A little bit. Here it go.

Mr. IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Host, "The O'Reilly Factor"): That's right. There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, MF-er, I want more iced tea.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Please.

Mr. O' REILLY: …you know? I mean, everybody was, it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb, in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun, and there wasn't any kind of craziness at all.

MARTIN: And I should mention - hold on - I should mention that he was talking to NPR's Juan Williams about his lunch with the Reverend Al Sharpton at Sylvia's in Harlem. Back to you, guys.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks for that, Michel. Yo, Ruben, is this some kind of soft racism? Or did he just misspeak.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, I think it's soft racism. It might be even a little harder than just soft racism because, you know, he sort of, very honestly, imparted to the viewers how he views African-Americans and he said it as sort of an a surprising way, you know. I went to this restaurant and I was surprised that I found normal folks - acting like normal folks, you know, with knives and forks eating like normal folks do. And it was condescending in the extreme. It was off color, and it should be condemned.

But I'll tell you what, this is not the first time he's done that. Latinos and Mexicans, in particular, have complained about O'Reilly before for using the W-word, you know, and that's a word that rhymes with the phrase get back, you get my meaning. But…

Mr. IZRAEL: We get it, we get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I think that for a lot of folks, they jump on a comment like this and they should. They deserve to jump on it. But they also have to think about other comments that are out there. One quick example, when Roland Martin, who's a commentator for CNN, was talking about this particular da, da, da - (unintelligible) wanted Jimi's voice, talking about this particular case with O'Reilly, he mentioned that when he walks into a Mexican restaurant, he doesn't think that there's a van out back with a bunch of illegals hopping out.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He was making a fair point.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, oh, oh. He was making a fair point, okay? He was saying…

Mr. IZRAEL: It's not a fair point, Ruben. He just misspoke. I think he had the best of intentions.

Gustavo, don't leave me out here. I mean, here's what I think. I think that, you know, we can't ever get along, you know, if we can't ever make mistakes, you know I'm saying? And I think he made a mistake. I think he had the best of intentions. I think he wasn't trying to impart to his audience that, hey, you know, it's not like you see on TV, get out and experience America.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. I'm actually going to play the devil's advocate here. And I can't believe - kind of going to defend O'Reilly. But I'm actually a food critic for the OC Weekly. So sometimes when I write about restaurants that people might otherwise taste, - like, I'm going to say, hey, you know what? It's okay. It's something that you could try. If I tell people go eat chocolate covered grasshoppers or go eat this cricket enchilada, I need to explain it in a way that say, hey, you know what? It's perfectly fine. You could try that. So I think in O'Reilly's case, he was trying to tell his listeners - he knows his listeners are a bunch of whack jobs. He knows his listeners have these preconceived notions (unintelligible).

Dr. DORN: Yeah, help him out. That's it. Help him.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: You're right. Don't help me, Gustavo, don't help me.

Mr. ARELLANO: Yeah. He's like telling these listeners, look, it's perfectly fine. Probably some of you guys out there are probably racist but don't be, they're just like everyone else. And I hate to say that like there. But I think in that case, that's what O'Reilly was trying to get. And, you know, I do have one bone to pick with O'Reilly. I've been to Italian restaurants. Man, those are places where they're loud. Everyone's talking to each other. It's very - everyone's just being crazy. It's - everyone's being crazy.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, yeah, I mean…

Mr. ARELLANO: So for him to say they're fine…

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. You know what, Ed? I don't know what Italian restaurant Bill's going to. But I've been to some Italian restaurants where they curse loud and they party up. Yet, I think you had the best of intentions. What do you think?

Dr. DORN: I'm going to agree with Gustavo, that he was probably talking to his audience. And let's face it, for a whole lot of folks in O'Reilly's audience the news that the black folks don't pound the table and eat with their fingers probably was a revelation.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, let's keep it moving. Speaking of audience revelation, Ken Burns' documentary, "The War," caught some heat from people in the Latino community, nobody - though, I'm thinking of Ruben - for virtually…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: …ignoring…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: …the contribution of Latinos. Now, Gustavo, I know you've seen an episode or two, what do you think so far?

Mr. ARELLANO: Any Ken Burns' film is almost always the same - these really long epic shots with a lot of interviews. Ultimately, he's a great filmmaker, but the very idea that he did this documentary, and he didn't bother to include Latinos, it's insulting, not so much because you have to include every ethnic group, but because Latino veterans - they are so integral to the war. And for Burns not to go seek out some of their stories - it was absolutely absurd.

Mr. IZRAEL: Gustavo, Gustavo…

Mr. ARELLANO: Yes, yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: …you make a great point. But, Ed, this is what I'm thinking, when we're dealing with art, you know, he's a documentarian, and you can't shape the story when you're trying to tell it because, you know what, he did this story about four specific towns: Luverne, Minnesota…

Dr. DORN: Right. Exactly.

Mr. IZRAEL: …Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama and Waterbury, Connecticut. Now, what I'm thinking is if you just go out and seek Latinos or Native Americans or whatever, you're being intellectually dishonest. You're not being true to the story, and that's what disturbed me about it. What about you, Ed?

Dr. DORN: I think that's right. If he'd selected another town, if he'd done San Antonio, Texas or San Diego, California, he might very well have picked up on the Mexican-American story. But the story he tells is a story about the experiences of African-Americans in the war and on the home front, the experiences of Japanese-Americans in the war, and having to get themselves out of these horrible internment camps in order to fight for their country. Those are pretty touching stories.

Mr. IZRAEL: True that. True that.. Now, the R., my dude.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, yo, yo. Don't tase me, bro. But listen, yo, are we supposed to go out and add people that weren't there and didn't come forward? Come on, bro. Don't tase me, bro.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: Just bring it down.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, okay. First of all, this is a really great documentary. I've enjoyed watching it. There's incredible information there. I don't support the efforts of some Latinos to boycott this. But Ken Burns really stepped in it, and he continued to step in it because he didn't know how to take criticism. Like any good liberal out there, he refused to be told what to do. Liberals like to tell others what to do. They don't like to be told what to do.

Mr. IZRAEL: We cannot…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Wait…

Mr. IZRAEL: …have art…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …I'm sorry.

Mr. IZRAEL: …by consensus, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Oh, well, let me tell you, I mean, just to correct one thing that Ed talked about. We're talking about four towns here: Sacramento, California, okay? Tickt-tock, Sacramento - a Spanish word. Forty percent of Sacramento is Latino. If you can't find a Mexican in Sacramento, you need to swing a dead cat, you'll hit one. They are everywhere there.

MARTIN: But was it 40…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: What I found interesting is three of the four…

MARTIN: I'm sorry, Ruben, but was it 40 percent Latino 40 years ago?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: No, it's true now.

Dr. DORN: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: But it was significant even then - I mean, I'm from Fresno down the road from Sacramento, I would say even then, it was probably one of the top 15 or top 20 cities in America with a high Hispanic population. The criticism for Burns is that he is a liberal who gets it part of the way. He has some great attempts in here to bring in African-Americans and Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, but he left out that other group of people. You had 500,000 Hispanics in World War II. They won 13 Medal of Honors. I don't know how somebody like Burns can miss that story unless you have an incredible…

Dr. DORN: Is it possible he missed it because…

Mr. IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ed.

Dr. DORN: Is it possible he missed it because during World War II, Hispanics were classified as white.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, that comes as news and a revelation to Hispanics. At the time, they were so conveniently talked about as being white.

Dr. DORN: They were definitely drafted as whites.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I got to correct this, I mean, here you had people born in that time period, and their birth certificate may have said white, the lives they lived was a version of Jim Crow in places like south Texas…

Dr. DORN: I agree with that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Restaurants that said - wait…

Dr. DORN: I agree with that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: …restaurants that said no Mexicans or dogs allowed. They didn't say no white folks allowed. You can't have it both ways. Either these folks are white or not, it will come as a revelation to these folks to know they were treated as white because they did not experience it that way.

MARTIN: But one point I would make on this, Ruben - and I completely take your point - is that Latinos were not segregated in all Latino units as African-Americans were.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, there was one all Hispanic unit. The Defend the Honor campaign in Austin, Texas, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez who's interviewed 700 of these people found a Puerto Rican division. It was all Puerto Ricans lumped together, and they were mostly Spanish speaking and lumped together sort of as a necessity because they can communicate with one another. I'm just saying that it's not a finite quantity we can tell all those good stories. If he had told World War II and left out the Tuskegee Airmen, people would be yelling foul. They'd say, how can you skip that?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. And we're here with the guys in the Barbershop. Back to you.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks so much for that, Michel. And you know what, here's what I think. I think that when you and I first discussed this - no one tells the story better than you tell, yourself. And I think we need to get with Hector Galan, the Latino documentarian. Maybe he should consider making his own documentary.

All right. Let's move on to talk about the House subcommittee that convened on Tuesday to address dirty hip-hop lyrics. Now, Ed, you're the O.G. in the house.

Dr. DORN: Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: How are hip-hop lyrics any dirtier than the blues? You know, they address many, if not the same, issues in the exact same way, you know, school me.

Dr. DORN: Let me change the referent, Jimi, because I remember watching "The Ed Sullivan Show" when Elvis Presley appeared for the first time. And Elvis Presley was filmed - or taped - from the waist up. So when I heard all these young women in the audience going crazy, I didn't know what they were going crazy about. Now, there's a reason that the cameras did not pan below Elvis Presley's waist.

What we're seeing in hip-hop is simply a continuation of some of the rebellion that every generation experiences. But, in this case, it's also combined with a lot of resentment. It's not just adolescent rebellion. It's resentment about the society that's left them in certain conditions. If we want to get rid of the hate and the hopelessness in those lyrics, we've got to provide an environment in which love and hope are a little more prominent.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ed, you know, well, you make a great point that Lavell Crump A.K.A. David Banner made while he was sitting in front of the house. But you know what, a lot of these cats making this music, you know, it's been a long time since Snoop Doggy Dogg was smoking (unintelligible), sipping on gin and juice, I mean, these are suburbanites mostly. You know, Ice Cube had a pretty middleclass upbringing, and, you know, I've never bought the argument that a lot of these rappers are documenting their lives. I think they're documenting something…

Dr. DORN: No, I don't think they're documenting their lives, but they are documenting or they are talking to a huge number of people. And one of the things I'm fascinated by is that hip-hop is not just an American phenomenon now. It is universal. If you go to Japan, if you go to Western Europe, you will find a variant of hip-hop.

Mr. IZRAEL: Gustavo, has rap lyrics gone too far, bro?

Mr. ARELLANO: I think rap lyrics - we view them as far. We view them as pushing the envelope in terms of graphic violence or sexual depictions. But it's true, you go back to the blues, the blues - they were talking about the same thing, rock and roll even, you know, and for Mexicans (unintelligible) and so forth, the only difference is back then, they were alluded to. They were done in different ways. Now, they're just a bit more explicit.

But for me, Washington, get out of these moral wars. The government has way more things to worry about. Some of the conditions that create these hip-hop lyrics, some of the international issues we have to deal with - let's concentrate on that. Let's not have subcommittee meetings on hip-hop. No, just stay out of it.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yo, Ruben, here's - I think that rap music was okay until white Americans started playing it. What do you think about that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I think that's a big part of this. I think that, you mentioned it, as it went out into the suburbs and you had more young kids there listening to it, people began to worry about corruptive influences in the suburbs. But, you know, I think Gustavo's right: Keep the government out of it.

Mr. IZRAEL: It's not Snoop Doggy Dogg or Nelly's job to parent your kids. It's not Nelly's fault there is no father in the home to tell your daughter that she's beautiful. It's not his fault. So let the artists make art, let them make money, and let us move on because it's about that time.

Fellows, thanks so much for coming. I got to kick it over to that girl, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: I'm still trying to wrap my head around Gustavo and Jimi both defending Bill O'Reilly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: This might be Armageddon. I don't - these might be the last days. I don't know…

Mr. ARELLANO: Oh, well.

MARTIN: …you know, check the calendar and see what's going on. Thank you, guys.

Jimi Izrael joined us from WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. He's an opinion writer and blogger. Ruben Navarrette writes for The San Diego Union-Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from KPVS in San Diego. Author and columnist Gustavo Arellano joined us from the University of California at Berkeley. Ed Dorn is a professor at the University of Texas. He joined us from member station KUT in Austin. You can find links to all of our Barbershop guests at our Web site, npr.org/tellmemore. Gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thanks.

Mr. GUSTAVO: Thanks so much, Michel.

Dr. DORN: Thank you, Michel.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

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