Roundtable: King's Widow Dies, Rice Rejects Hamas

Topics: The legacy of Coretta Scott King, Condoleezza Rice rejects aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, and a report that FEMA turned down help during Hurricane Katrina. Guests: Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; and Laura Washington, a Chicago Sun-Times columnist.

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ED GORDON, host:

All right. Now, we turn our attention to our roundtable, an abbreviated version. Joining us today to discuss Mrs. King and other topics, Laura Washington, columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times; at our New York Bureau, Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; and George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He joins us from Maryland.

Folks, we want to give you an opportunity, very quickly, to go over your remembrances of Mrs. King. Michael Meyers, let me start with you.

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): Well, this is a time when civil rights, and she lived in a time when civil rights, the civil rights effort was seen as an interruption to one's life. That was not the case for Coretta Scott King.

For her, struggle was an affirmation of her life, even before her marriage to Martin Luther King Jr., I remember when she went to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, as did Eleanor Holmes Norton and myself. She went to Antioch, which was regarded as the Harvard of Southwest Ohio, a progressive, co-ed, interracial college, which reputation was for people who were active in civil rights, but today, at the age of 78, which is the range of morality, in my eyes, Coretta Scott King was still quite young.

We've already lost the mother of the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks. Today we lost the mother of Martin Luther King's children and the widow of the civil rights movement. She was a person of enormous dignity, moral courage, and persistence, and integrity of purpose.

GORDON: Laura Washington?

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Well, Michael Meyers just mentioned Rosa Parks, and I think that Coretta Scott King is a part of a trilogy of very strong and important women in the civil rights movement we've lost in the last year. Maybe Tilde(ph) Mosley(ph), of course, the mother of Edna(ph) Tilde(ph), and Rosa Parks last fall, and now Coretta.

And I think, you know, it is a sad moment, but it also a moment of opportunity. These were living icons. These were people who were not just in the history books but were still living everyday, as we heard, in terms of the discussion of King's life, and as a professor, and a college professor at DePaul University, and I'm sure you'll see this across this country, it provides a teaching moment for young people who don't really understand what the civil rights movement is all about. So when folks like this pass, we need to take this kind of opportunities and capitalize on them and make it real.

Mary Frances Berry mentioned the whole issue of nonviolence and how she stressed nonviolence in the center and their work. Nonviolence has become sort of this arcane, antique concept that people don't even embrace anymore. War is taken for granted. So I think, again, this is an opportunity for us to get into a conversation about the value of and the possibility of nonviolence and using her legacy to do that.

GORDON: George, you and I have had the opportunity, the grand opportunity, to spend many hours with this woman and watch, in front of and behind the scenes, how gracious and dignified she was.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): No question. People forget, this was an accomplished concert pianist who grew up in rural Alabama, my home state, and I think that it would be a mistake for people to pretty much try to identify her as Dr. King's wife. She was far more than that. She was on the frontlines, and let's not forget, she was at home with her kids when the Klan bombed their home in Montgomery, at the beginning of the Montgomery movement.

This is time, not to just to commemorate and say just a good life, a rich life she lived, this is time for us to rededicate our lives. We don't do honor to Coretta or Martin by simply talking about what they did. We do honor to them by continuing their work.

GORDON: Mm-hmm. Well, one can only hope that this will spur people to, in fact, do so.

We'll turn our attention to some other headlines now. One of the things that has come up over the course of the last couple of days, and we saw it early on yesterday when the headlines hit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggesting that the United States will not give financial aid to a Palestinian-led government by Hamas.

Laura Washington, when we hear this, we go back to what we raised last week in questioning the President's attempt to suggest that while democracy was coming into play, because we don't like what democracy brought us here, we're not now going to be in play. And the question begs, forgive me, but the question begs here is now we're trying to force other governments to believe as we do and not give aid to this government.

Ms. WASHINGTON: We're using the aid as the form of a bribe, in fact. We're putting other nations in other parts of the world that, as you say, that don't necessarily see democracy in the same form that we do, into a box. Hamas, rightly or wrongly, has a very different point of view on the future of the Middle East.

They've been very clear about it, and their party is now in control of a government that has been getting funding, not just from the United States, but from the Western world into the hundreds of millions of dollars, and now we're just basically saying, we don't like the new government that was chosen by your people, and so therefore, we're going to change the equation.

And again, it's a very difficult box for Hamas because they were elected on a particular platform. Some folks say that many of the Palestinians are not really necessarily embracing the issue of Israel as much as their embarrassing their charity and the way they run the government and their call for an end to corruption. But whatever they're embracing, they are the leadership of that country now, and I wonder how it will make the United States look to basically turn the tables on them at this point.

GORDON: George Curry, widely reported while Colin Powell was in this administration that he would sit at the table and suggest to the Bush administration that you have to rethink how you deal to this region and all of the players in this region. It seems as though if we believe the roadmap that we're seeing from Secretary of State Rice that that fell on deaf ears.

Mr. CURRY: Yeah, and I think that that's a mistake. I mean, it's funny that the United States talks about engaging with the enemies when he had a minority-controlled white power in South Africa, and our whole argument was, and the administrations were criticized for it, they were like, oh you got to be engaged. This is how you're going to bring about change, yet we want to sever all ties here with Hamas. Like it or not, they won. You have to deal with them.

Now, I think you can make much more progress being engaged with them rather than saying we're just cut off the money, because really money is no big thing because the Arab countries don't recognize Israel either, and they can provide as much money as Hamas needs.

GORDON: Isn't it problematic to a great degree, Michael Meyers, when you look at that region, and you look at our involvement with governments who aren't necessarily, by American standards, on the up-and-up, the oil-rich governments, many of whom have been criticized by many outsiders, the United States still sees them as in play.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, look, nothing, and I don't know why people think that money doesn't talk all of the sudden. Money talks, and I think the United States has a lot of money and has put a lot of money to the P.L.O. in 2005, over $400 million, which is a surprise to many people, but the United States can say, we will not fund, and we will not feed a group committed to the destruction of Israel, period. Israel is our ally. Israel has the right to exist.

Israel is a democracy. Israel is under siege. And I think, it seems to me, that in the war against terrorism we have a moral duty. We, meaning the United States of America, to say why should we finance the sworn enemy of our ally?

And economic sanctions is not bribery. Economic sanctions is legitimate form of national and international pressure, and yes George, economic sanctions was a legitimate form of international pressure against the illegitimate government of South Africa that practiced apartheid. It was illegitimate then, and it was a powerful effort to change the government in South Africa, and I think the withdrawal of money from the Palestinian Authority will be a powerful incentive for them to say, okay, we recognize the right of Israel to exist, period.

Mr. CURRY: I agree with you that Israel certainly has the right to exist. But the question is in terms of tactic.

GORDON: But Hamas...

Mr. CURRY: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Let me have my piece. You know, the thing is you can be engaged with them, and you can have some kind of discussion. You can't pull your money out and put every resource out there, and say we want you to follow our suggestion. I think the thing to do is not be so quick about it and try to work through a transition because Hamas is going to have to moderate. It's going to have to change now that it's in power.

Mr. MEYERS: I don't like to admit any. I think you have to be clear about your moral justices and I think we Americans who earned the civil rights field have to be clear about keeping consistency with respect to the use of economic sanctions against illegitimate forces and governments, and I think with Hamas we're going to have to fold, because all of those Arab governments you talk about, Arab rich, oil rich nations, that give money, they haven't given money, and apparently enough so that the U.S. money is not in play. U.S. money is very powerful, and money talks, so until you recognize the right of Israel to exist you get nothing from us, period.

GORDON: All right. Let me turn our attention to another headline since we're, unfortunately with the death of Mrs. King having to do an abbreviated round table here today, and that is that we are seeing the trial of the century, the latest trial of the century if you will, certainly by Wall Street's standard, and that is Enron going on trial. George Curry we see Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, names that have become household names now. What do you think is going to come of this trial?

Mr. CURRY: Well it is the basis equivalent of Watergate, and when you think about all the people who lost their pensions, and jobs, and everything else because of malfeasance, certainly, you know, the cameras and their focus will be on them. You know, it's been a long time coming. I think I read something where they spent almost $40 million on their defense, and I think it appears to be a strong case, and I can't wait to hear all the details.

Ms. WASHINGTON: I think you're going to hear another household name in the months to come. Judge Simeon Lake, that's the other household name, is predicting that this trial is going to take four months, and the way he's conducted this trial on the first day I think will hopefully send a message for the next four months, and that is that he's not going to take any nonsense.

There were a lot of legal experts that were pooh-poohing his promise that he was going to select a jury in one day. He did it. He did it efficiently. He did it without too much whining and complaints from either the plaintiffs or the defense, and I think that does send a strong message. It sends a strong message that we're not going to have shenanigans in the courtroom, that we're going to do this fairly, and I think everybody so far believes that the jury that was seated as a jury, that as much as any jury can, can judge this case fairly.

Mr. CURRY: Well, that was to me interesting as opposed to surprising. The fact that the judge could single-handedly pick a jury which both sides to the prosecution and defense said, all right, you picked a fair jury. Of course I never disbelieved that one could find twelve ignorant citizens in almost any American community, even in a media-rich market, to serve as jurors. People just don't read the papers, and they just don't understand why people come to court. But the just made it very clear that your role as jurors is not to seek vengeance.

In other words, whatever you might have read in the paper, the evidence must rule here in the courtroom. But I would have added something else. Seek neither vengeance, nor fame, nor a book or movie deal, because a lot of these juror who do serve, they want a movie deal. They want their fifteen minutes of fame.

They want to be able to come on NBC, CBS, ABC, and NPR, and talk about their jury experience, and why they this, and why they did not do that, and that is a danger. I think that's where, I think voir dire, where the prosecution and the defense should have a role in terms of screening out potential jurors with that kind of bias.

GORDON: George Curry, at the end of the day, does this change anything in terms of the landscape of business?

Mr. CURRY: That coupled with the outcome depends on what it is; coupled with the, so called reform in ethics on Capital Hill, if that actually happens and don't have many loopholes, can change the way we do business. Is that likely to happen? I don't think so. Are the jurors going to be prohibited from writing books and getting movie deals? Forget it. They will. They'll continue.

GORDON: Laura Washington, I'm broadcasting from Detroit this week. One of the names that comes to mind is John DeLorean. When you think back to that scandal and the idea of people talking about we were going to see a change in business that was short in coming, if at all. What about this?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, as you point out there has been, we've been wave upon wave of corporate scandals over the last 25 or 30 years. This is just another phase. There have been some reforms. FEC has introduced some reforms as George points out, but there's a lot of stuff out there still in relationship to the outrageous amounts of money that corporate executives are compensated. The continuing influence of analysts on stock prices, the continuing rejiggering of accounting that is going on as we speak in corporations. So, I don't think we're out of the woods yet on corporations.

Mr. CURRY: This is not about general corporate reform or even a collapse of Enron; the question here is were there crimes committed, and can the prosecution, can the government, prove them?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, my point is even if there have been crimes committed and they prove it, I don't think that's going to erase some of the malfeasance that I see that continues to go in corporations, and you can see it on the front pages of the business sections.

Mr. CURRY: Well, they do have some high level officials who have turned on Ken Lay and the others.

GORDON: Well, it will start and we will see. George, Laura, and Michael, thank you so much. And we appreciate you remembrances of Mrs. King. And Laura, you mentioned a couple of ladies that we have lost, and two others that we did not mention, Constance Baker Motley, and C. Delores Tucker also left us recently. We should not forget them. I thank you all for joining us.

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