Roundtable: CIA Outing Case, 50 Cent Posters

Monday's topics include the departure of Dick Cheney's chief of staff in the outing case of a CIA operative, and controversy over rapper 50 Cent's new movie posters. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Karen Narasaki, president and executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium; and Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, Scooter Libby and the continuing problem of the White House. Joining us from our New York bureau, Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post. Joining us from our Washington, DC, headquarters, Karen Narasaki, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center. And George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, joins us from Maryland.

All right, folks. Thanks for joining us. Robert George, let me go to you first. We talked with Juan Williams and Ron Walters up front in our A segment about the nomination of Samuel Alito to the High Court. We did not talk about what we were going to initially talk about in our A segment, and that is the indictments that came down on Friday. I am sure that this is part of what the White House is intending.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Exac--oh, yeah absolutely. The one thing that characterizes the White House and it doesn't matter who's in there, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat, is the fact that the White House, whatever the scandals or controversies that are facing it, it has the ability to change the topic. And after what they call, you know, the week from hell at the White House with the Harriet Miers and Scooter Libby and 2,000th death in Iraq, etc., they've decided they want to, you know, hit the Control-Alt-Delete button on the computer and say, `OK, this is our guy, Alito.' He is somebody that the conservatives are very, very happy with. They compare him favorably, I know in horror, to George Curry, but favorably to Antonin Scalia. And this allows them to change the topic, and as a result, all the news shows Monday morning were talking about this pick as opposed to just talking about the Libby scandal.

GORDON: George Curry, let me ask you this: Part of what we saw over the weekend were cries, quite frankly, on all of the Sunday talk shows, the political talk shows, that this president--and I heard this from both sides of the aisle--will still have to deal with the indictment that came down to Scooter Libby and the continuing investigation of Karl Rove and others. But the question is whether or not this president owes the American public an apology. Some suggested--and particularly on "Meet the Press," there were a number of former chiefs of staff on who suggested this president, in fact, had to say, in order to move on from this, he was sorry to the American public. A, do you expect that, and B, do you think that if, in fact, he does that, it means anything?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor in Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): No, I don't expect that, because you see already the spin. They're basically saying, you know, `This is a very skilled, crafted person, and this is a personal horror story, and we're going to be with him. He's still innocent till proven guilty.' And so Bush--basically his position is going to be, like, `I didn't do anything wrong. This is unfortunate. It happens in all administrations, and I'm sorry it happened, but I didn't do it myself.' I mean, I see that's where they're going with this.

GORDON: Karen, let me ask you, as relates to the expectation of the American public and what they choose to believe, there are many people that I talked to over the course of the last couple of days who said that, A, they expected the indictments, B, they did not believe it stopped at Scooter Libby's desk, they believe it went higher, but they also suggested that hey, that's just the way it is today, and they're willing to live with it.

Ms. KAREN NARASAKI (President and Executive Director, Asian American Justice Center): Well, I do think that people are tired of the political scandals in Washington and want to know more about what government is going to do that's going to really help them in their daily lives, and I think the sad thing is that with these scandals and the battle over Miers, it's really distracted us from some of the really horrible things that are happening right now in terms of policy. I mean, the House just voted to cut food stamps. They're still talking about tax cuts in the face of huge deficits and the billions of dollars that are going to be needed for the Gulf hurricane relief. I think that Americans, quite rightly, want to start talking about real issues, about governance. And I don't think, unfortunately, the leadership in Congress or in the administration is really focused--is keeping their eye on the ball, which is how are we going to get ourselves out of this fiscal mess?

GORDON: Robert George, are we seeing the idea of many of the issues that Karen brought up going by the wayside so very quietly with all of the other issues that have taken the headlines, that the American public may, in fact, wake up and ask, `What happened?'

Mr. GEORGE: I think that may very well be the case. I think one thing we found out from--in previous administrations, there--you start getting this mixture of inertia and scandal and all these other kind of things in a second term, and this is exactly what's happened here. There certainly are a lot of really important policy issues that are on the plate, whether it's tax cuts or spending cuts or tax reform or all of these kind of things going on. But it really will be a question as to whether they will get addressed, because on the one hand, you've got the scandal issue that--I mean, hey, the Democrats are going to take advantage of that, and rightly so. They're the opposition party, and if things were reversed, certainly the Republicans would be doing the same thing. And on the other side, you've got this--you're going to have a contentious ideological battle on the confirmation side with Alito. And in the meantime--in between those two tracks are the policy things, and I think the important big things that should be focused on are going to be ignored.

GORDON: George...

Mr. CURRY: Listen, more than...

GORDON: ...do you believe that if Karl Rove left alone in terms of indictment, that the president skates free of all of this? There are those who suggest that it's hard to believe that Scooter Libby knew and that the vice president would not know, and conversely, those that will say that if Karl Rove knew, one would believe--I should say, many would believe that the president would have known.

Mr. CURRY: Well, Libby made it clear with his notes that certainly Cheney--he certainly knew. I'm not so sure Rove's going to get a pass on this. I mean, the fact that they're going to extend the grand jury lets you know that there's something still perking there. And the question becomes how effective can he be in the interim? I mean, he's the chief political strategist for Bush, and he has his own problems now. And so at a time when Bush needs him most, he's kind of intractable with his own problems.

GORDON: Right.

Mr. GEORGE: And on top of that, obviously, you know, you've got the--it's very clear that the, you know, White House press secretary has been, quote, "lied to." And so the press, frankly, doesn't believe what the president's spokesman is telling them, and that makes the whole credibility issue--well, when the administration is trying to take a message to the American people and they're now going through an increasingly hostile filter of the national press, so I think it's--the president's problem stays whether Karl Rove is there or not.

GORDON: Though, I don't know how atypical that is, Robert. The press is skeptical of what they hear from the White House's press secretary almost at any given time.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah, but I think it's definitely more so than, say, the beginning of the second term. I mean, this--the big body blow that Libby's indictment did, you know, regardless of what Cheney knew or whatever...

GORDON: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. GEORGE: ...is to the president credibility.

GORDON: Well, I'm talking about all administrations, for that matter, particularly when scandal is about.

Mr. GEORGE: Fair point. Fair point.

GORDON: All right. Let's move to one of those stories that, in fact, may get lost in all of the headlines here. It is that eight engineering professors and a group of engineering students filed a lawsuit last week in hopes of saving the engineering department and program at historic Clark Atlanta University that is set for closure in the year 2008. The lawsuit will be heard, at least to set the hearing, for November 10th. George Curry, we know that Clark Atlanta University and many black colleges have been through the years concerned about the economic firm ground they stand on, so to speak. This is part of a cost-cutting measure that Clark has entered into in suggesting that they are going to eliminate departments that they felt--or the president felt, Walter Broadnax--did not draw dollars from donors and others. He said that they need to concentrate on areas like business, mass media, biology, education and social work. Yet when you take a look at black engineers and engineers in general graduating from the United States, this, in fact, causes concern.

Mr. CURRY: It causes concern, but the problem with a lot of the colleges--and I'm a product of one, Knoxville College in Tennessee, of course and still on the board of trustees--is that we all struggle. We're all struggling to find our role, and you can't be all things to all people. So, for example, you look at Xavier, for example, you'll see, you know, great pharmacy programs. You kind of got to pick the areas that you're going to specialize in, and you just can't offer the broad array there where you don't have the students. I mean, that's just the economics of it, and sadly, you have to make choices, and, you know, some of them are unfortunate, especially when you look at the overall shortage of black engineers, but some other schools have to concentrate on that.

GORDON: Robert, the idea that many of these schools are struggling mightily--and Karen, pick up on this--also speaks to, quite frankly, the question of how often communities give back to these institutions.

Mr. GEORGE: I think that's exactly right. It is the--I mean, if the alumni and the alumni network of specific colleges, whether it's HBCUs or, you know, just general colleges, mainstream colleges--you know, if their support isn't there and they're the ones, obviously who know the value of the education that they received for it, it is that much harder for these institutions to go out and find other revenues to support it, 'cause people will say, `Well, look, if your own aren't helping you out, you know, how can you expect us to?' So I mean, I think what George says is exactly right, that it's going to become as we go further and further along, institutions of higher learning are going to become more specialized and the students that come from that specialized background, they will, I think, be more inclined to keep that same type of student from coming out of there. And if they then have that kind of body of support, those schools, those universities, I think, can then get secondary and tertiary revenues as well.

Ms. NARASAKI: I think...

Mr. CURRY: And for the record, black colleges are--I mean, alumni are giving. You know, both NAFEO and UNCF show that, but what you have with black colleges is an overreliance on foundation--or greater reliance, I should say, on foundations and government programs and private donations, and they don't get that at the same rate as other colleges, even though they graduate a disproportionate number of African-Americans.

GORDON: All right. Karen, you wanted to say?

Ms. NARASAKI: I think it's striking that the school can't get resources for--to support engineering. That is the number-one need right now, science and engineers, in this country. That's why we have--that's why the H-1B program for immigrants from China and India are done within, you know, the first three months of the year. They've already filled the quota because there's such a need for engineers in the United States. Never mind not producing enough minority engineers; they're not producing enough engineers period.

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. NARASAKI: And I would think that this is something that companies really need to step up and really start investing in.

GORDON: And we should note that Clark Atlanta's trustees voted two years ago to eliminate the engineering department along with the School of Library Studies, international affairs department and allied health professionals program in the system's science doctoral program. And one would hope, Karen, as you suggested, with the true need that we have in this country for engineers, that perhaps some monies will be found to save that program.

All right. Real quick, if we could, rapper 50 Cent has a movie, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," coming out in November. November 9th it opens. But it's already sparked controversy in Los Angeles. There were protests to pull down movie posters which showed the rapper holding a gun and a microphone with arms outstretched, and we should note that 50 Cent has--suggesting that in fact, Paramount Pictures did the right thing in promoting this, and we should say, there's a lot of money being put into the promotion of this movie. And his suggestion is, `Our movie and our poster is no more violent than what you normally see.' Let's hear a clip from a woman who protested the billboard, and we'll tell you more about it.

Unidentified Woman: I lost my daughter to violence on these streets. So I'm telling you, as a mother of a murdered child, this is not 50 Cent. It's Paramount. It's the predators in our community. You think it's all right to exploit our community.

GORDON: All right. Now these billboards most specifically were placed near elementary schools, and that is where the bulk of the concern and complaint came, suggesting that the billboard glorified violence.

Robert George, when you hear this, how much does 50 Cent have a leg to stand on to suggest that hey, this is no more violent than any other action movie that you would see?

Mr. GEORGE: I think on a technical basis, he's right. I mean, I think if you go to see--well, you know, before the gentleman became governor of California, you know, you had Arnold Schwarzenegger with, you know, guns blazing and, you know, Sylvester Stallone and, you know, all of these other kind of things. I mean, I think that's true. I do, however, think that the--I would say that the lady who's protesting, I think that she is mistaken in saying that it's all Paramount because, I mean, the movie is named after 50 Cent's multimillion-dollar-selling CD "Get Rich or Die Crying." And, you know, he shows he's on the cover of that with all his bullet wounds and so forth. So the rapper's been pushing this image himself.

GORDON: I thought that was an interesting note, George Curry, when I heard from the woman, who did not want to blame 50 Cent but blame the movie company. Obviously the move company bought the billboard and the placement of the billboard but did not buy the image in the sense of 50 Cent created this image.

Mr. CURRY: Well, let's cut through this. I mean, 50 Cent got shot up himself. He's making a movie that glorifies that. And I don't stop at Paramount. I stop with consumers. If you don't want this garbage out here, don't go to the movies, and they'll have empty theaters, and that's how you change behavior. You know, I'm tired of people saying, `Oh, look what they're doing to us with the movies.' Don't go. Just say no, and that will change it.

Ms. NARASAKI: Well, I think it's...

GORDON: And, Karen, what if they do want it? What if the kids do go and they want to see this? What do you say to George Curry's argument at that point?

Ms. NARASAKI: Well, I think the problem is not just the movie. It's the music, 'cause this is all based on his music, and this is what kids are listening to, and I think that there is an issue about parents standing up and telling their kids that this is not something that they want them to listen to. And I would go after the record companies and go after the stores who are selling the CDs and say, you know, `This kind of thing is not something that we want to see.' I know that it's unpopular to talk about boycotts, but really that's the only way you're going to change the behavior, and I'm sure 50 Cent is talented enough to find a new image and a new kind of music.

Mr. GEORGE: And the fact is that...

GORDON: Hold on. Go ahead.

Mr. GEORGE: ...he's not, though. I mean, this argument, this debate is like about 12...

GORDON: Real quick for me, Robert.

Mr. GEORGE: ...about 12 million record sales too late. I mean, he's...

GORDON: Well...

Mr. GEORGE: I mean, yeah, his first--his "Get Rich" sold about eight or nine million, and his latest one has sold about four or five million.

GORDON: All right. Well, nonetheless, he is very popular. November 9th the movie comes out. We'll see. I would suggest that this movie's going to make a whole lot of money for Paramount and 50 Cent, based on his popularity and the ad time they've put into this.

All right, folks. Thank you so much for joining us on today's Roundtable. Robert George, Karen Narasaki and George Curry. Thanks very much.

Mr. GEORGE: Thank you, Ed.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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