Roundtable: Jon Benet Arrest, $15 Court Shoe

Topics: The unexpected arrest in the Jon Benet Ramsey murder case, nearly 10 years after her murder; President Bush admits frustration with the lack of significant progress toward a peaceful Iraq; and NBA superstar Stephon Marbury touts a $15-dollar basketball shoe. Guests: economist and author Julianne Malveaux, president and CEO of Last Word Productions, Inc.; People magazine writer Bob Meadows; and Pedro Noguera, a professor at the Steinhart School of Education at New York University.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, the president admits his frustration with Iraq, and do we now have an ending to one of America's great mysteries?

Joining us to discuss these topics and more from our bureau in New York City, Pedro Noguera, professor of education from New York University, and Bob Meadows, a writer of People magazine - or for People magazine I should say. And from our NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., economist and author Julianne Malveaux. She's president and CEO of Last Word Productions.

All right, folks. We woke up to a face that has become all too familiar for the wrong reasons to all of us, and that is little JonBenet Ramsey. A suspect now has confessed to killing JonBenet, saying that her death was an accident. A former teacher, 41 years old, saying now that he was in love with the child beauty queen. He was captured in Bangkok and will be extradited to the United States.

We don't know enough details to discuss this particular portion of the case truly, Julianne. But what we do know is this is one of those cases, now that we see someone who may be - and I underline may be - the murderer of this young girl, it shows us the idea of rush to judgment that Americans - and really the world - made in this case and often other cases. So many people thought it was the brother or the mother or the father who immediately said it had to be.

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (President and CEO, Last Word Productions): You know, Ed, you're very right about the notion of rush to judgment. We've seen that in so many cases. But I think that's connected to this 24-hour cable cycle that focuses on certain kinds of cases and elevates them far beyond proportion.

Of course, the death of any child is a tragedy, but I would ask how many children's death have not had that kind of coverage? If you look at our community, the African-American community, at the number of poor children who are found dead that never get the attention or even the acknowledgment of a JonBenet Ramsey, whose death dominated the media for nearly a year.

I feel very badly, of course, for the family because they basically operated under the cloud of suspicion with Patsy Ramsey even being accused of killing her own daughter, albeit perhaps inadvertently. But we have to look at what news has done about elevating cases disproportionately and how reporters who, you know, rush to scoop each other, come up with these crazy, half-cocked, far-fetched, you know, kind of theories that then become part of this spin cycle.

Just this morning there was a piece where they had three court-type - Court TV-types or legal lawyers - you know what I mean. Well, they had them again speculating. Like, why are they speculating? We don't have enough information. We the public need to demand that people put a period on that, that they stop it.

GORDON: Bob, it's interesting. You worked for People magazine and that was a story that People covered back and front. When you think back 10 years ago -it's hard to believe she would be 16 had she lived - when you think back, as Julianne suggests the constant coverage of this, there were many of us in the media who thought that even at that point, you know, we were going too far.

Mr. BOB MEADOWS (Writer, People magazine): You know, I really don't know if that's the case here. I mean one thing I do want to say is that most times when children are killed, it's by somebody that they know. That's a fact. So it's not really completely out of the question that people would think that the parents or the brother - maybe not the brother - but the parents had something to do with this. There was a lot of evidence…

GORDON:: When I say too far, Bob, I just want you to understand I mean just about the amount of coverage we gave it, that's all.

Mr. MEADOWS: Yeah and you know - I mean, but it happened and people bought it. So I don't really know if we - if there was - you know what I mean? Yeah, to me it's like okay, enough. But just the nature of the business itself, you know, people kept reading about it. People are going to read about it now, they're going to be fascinated. OJ Simpson, boy that was coming out of my ears. I couldn't wait for that to be over with. But people kept watching. People kept reading. So yeah, is it too much? Well, as you know, don't pick up the magazine. Change the channel. Do that type of stuff.

GORDON: Here's the interesting point with JonBenet, Pedro, and the idea that you had videotape, as Julianne said, with the advent of 24-hour news we're so used to seeing, seeing, seeing. Had there been no videotape of this young girl on stage, had she not looked 13 or 15 rather than whatever age she was at the time - 6, I guess - you know, we would not have seen all of what we saw. The fact that she was a beauty queen really helped elevate all of this.

Professor PEDRO NOGUERA (Professor of Education, New York University): Absolutely, and I think the point that Julianne made earlier about the large numbers of deaths of children across the country and the fact that this is not an issue that we raise, it really speaks to the disservice that the media often plays in sensationalizing these kinds of cases and preventing the public from understanding the larger issues involved.

We have many children in America today whose lives are in jeopardy because they don't have secure homes, they don't have parents who can look out for them. And these are the bigger issues that Americans are not grappling with. Instead, what we get are these kinds of cases where these glamorous children and their wealthy parents are - occupy the news for long periods of time. And Americans just continue to not really understand the deeper issues that really affect the quality of our lives in this country.

Mr. MEADOWS: You know, I've got to say, though, it's not even really just wealth parents. You know, that girl in Utah, Elizabeth Smart, her parents weren't wealthy - it's just white kids. That's really what it is.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, you…

Mr. MEADOWS: Let's just be real.

Ms. MALVEAUX: And what we ignore is the foster care system and the number of African-American children in the foster care system. There have been a couple of recent cases in New York that, to its credit, the New York Post had covered somewhat extensively. But that - those cases are like the tip of the iceberg. Our children are in trouble and folks are running around talking about JonBenet without talking about, for example, the oversexualization(ph) of that child and the extent to which, you know, sex and sexuality play a role in the exploitation of children.

GORDON: Yeah, and say what you will. One of the things that happens when you see and hear people talk about something every day - the idea of the brother being suspicious or the parents being suspicious - even for those who are investigating the case, it does plant that in your mind. And sometimes you will react because you hear something day after day after day and start to believe it even in your subconscious. So it is something that we have to be careful about.

All right. We'll move our attention now to the president. We are finally hearing through cracks and crevices that the president - as he made clear in a private meeting held this week - is concerned about the lack of progress in Iraq and frustrated about the new Iraqi government.

Pedro, this really cannot come as a surprise, yet it's interesting because usually this president holds cards very close to his vest and would not let something like this out.

Prof. NOGUERA: Well, it's amazing that he's finally concerned.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. NOGUERA: I just finished reading the most recent issue of Time magazine; journalists just describing the carnage, the constant carnage in Iraq, the civil war that's going on nonstop, the total inability of the Iraqi government to address any of it and the irrelevance increasingly of the American troops there. It's a total mess. It's a quagmire. They have no way out. There's no strategy. And Bush has created a mess of immense proportions that the American people and the next administration will have to try to figure out.

The fact that he's finally realized that maybe he made a mistake is quite amazing and disconcerting.

GORDON: Here's what's interesting to me, Bob Meadows, the idea - and we can recall in the early days of this war when Rumsfeld and - the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the vice president, suggested that we would almost see parades in the streets by people being freed from the oppression that they knew, and now the president is saying that he's shocked by not seeing greater public support for the American mission.

Mr. MEADOWS: Yeah, it's - right. They thought…

GORDON: …from the Iraqi people.

Mr. MEADOWS: Exactly. People would be singing the praises. And you know - a lot of people, sure, they were happy once Saddam went down. But the thing is, when you knock down somebody's government, whether they're elected or not, there's going to be turmoil and instability that follows. The other thing about it is, can you imagine if some other country came in here and - you know, I'm not a Bush fan - but if some other country came into America and actually got rid of him somehow? Even I wouldn't be too happy about it. You know, it's like this is the person leading my country. So no, you can't expect for people to just throw rose petals in front of you. That was so incredibly naïve.

GORDON: All right. Julianne Malveaux, have at it.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Take Bob's analogy, because I love it; it's a great one. And actually I would have a different reaction. But take Bob's analogy of someone came and got Mr. Bush. But not only did they do that, then they decided to reorganize our Congress.

GORDON: Right.

Ms. MALVEAUX: They decide to reorganize our Senate. They decide to pick who they like to be in charge of whatever. I mean, people are outraged. In addition, let's say that they - you know, Iraq is just about in civil war, and so let's say that this governing group came in and decided to fan our attentions, you know, so that maybe we had a North-South war or a race war, something like that. Yeah, people are upset.

You know, this administration is an utter disaster around this issue. We're going to spend a trillion dollars, we're - you know, but we can't fix New Orleans. I know that's an aside, but you know we're going to spend a trillion dollars on this mess. We can't figure a way out of it. The people do not want it. Our actions there have inflamed extremists in the rest of the Middle East, and so now we have other drama that we've got to deal with. We don't have the troops to deal with it. We don't want to pay our troops. And this man runs around, you know, on a motorcycle in Pennsylvania yesterday, you know, touring the Harley-Davidson plant without a clue.

We - the problem, though, is that Democrats aren't a heck of a lot better. And we are in desperate need of leadership in this country. And though Democrats have talked about things, they've talked about them very softly. They have not talked about what is wrong and what an alternate plan is. And certainly we can't just get up and leave. As Colin Powell said in the beginning: if you break it, you're going to have to fix it. But we have not figured out how to fix it.

GORDON: But, you know, it's funny you - yeah, you stole my thunder there, Julianne.

Ms. MALVEAUX: I'm sorry.

GORDON: Because that's what I was going to give to Pedro - the idea that lest we forget the words of Colin Powell, they're really starting to ring true here, Pedro.

He quietly - and then, toward the end, not so quietly - tried to tell those in the administration who were for this war and moving fast and moving quick that there has to be a new way to talk to people that we've not talked to in the past. And if, in fact, you break it, you buy it. And now it's bought.

Prof. NOGUERA: But fixing it is not going to be easy. And as we saw with Yugoslavia, when you have a dictator in place who's holding together a country that's historically been divided, when you remove that dictator what you often get is civil war and years of bloodshed. It's unlikely that you're going to be able to find a regime that can pull together the Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds, into a regime that was - that leads to a coherent Iraq now. And so fixing it I think is a very complicated proposition, and I'm not sure what that's going to entail and how easy it will be.

GORDON: Perhaps another trip by the White House - this from words from the vice president last week - and people really started to kind of pay attention this week, and that's the question of whether or not voting for or against Joe Lieberman was aiding and abetting the war in Iraq and those who are opposed to American standards. What was said by the vice president is that the Democratic primary was giving the al-Qaida types exactly what they wanted. Julianne?

Ms. MALVEAUX: You know, Dick Cheney needs to get off the Kool-Aid. This is so ridiculous. I mean these folks have abused the word terrorism, the notion of terrorism, the concept of terrorism, to try to bludgeon people into voting for them. And so to come out of that Connecticut primary with that kind of a statement is typical Republicanism. They used this war from the time it started - they used September 11th from the time it started for political purposes. And this is nothing more than political rhetoric, which fortunately, finally, the American people are beginning to see through.

GORDON: How much, Bob, can this be said to be, rather than political rhetoric, Republican rhetoric, just the idea that we all don't see through the same prism in that there are a load of Americans who really believe this?

Mr. MEADOWS: There really are. There are tons of them. And Bush was applauded yesterday because he actually - he didn't say this, he didn't bring up al-Qaida and he didn't say Democrat, but he said something that implied the same type of thing and people were applauding him.

They were like - he said, you know, there are some good people out there but they think we should cut and run, and we can't do that. This is what he said when he was speaking with Lynn Swann. And he got - he was, like I say, he got an ovation for saying that.

This, though, it is politics, because let's not leave out Joe Lieberman in all this. He said the same exact type thing about Ned Lamont as well after the loss. And you have to realize Ned Lamont only won the primary. He's still got to repay - face a Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger. So they're just still fanning those flames so that Lamont will lose.

GORDON: Mm-hmm. All right. Let me move quickly to a subject that has been talked about for quite some time, and it became a phenomenon in inner city and with inner city children about a decade or so ago. And that is the high cost of gym shoes and the want for many African-American. And now we see suburban children buying $150, $180 gym shoes. The difference is, oft times those in the inner city cannot afford these.

InStep's NBA Superstar Stephon Marbury, who is now suggesting that its time to stop this high priced gym shoe. He is putting out a line that he will wear himself during this upcoming NBA season, Bob Meadows, of a $15 gym shoe - the Starbury.

Mr. MEADOWS: I think it's great, nothing wrong with it. I'm sure that the kids will add it to their collection. It won't be the only sneaker they buy, unfortunately. But I think it sends a really good message that we have to -that we as black people especially have to slow down on this just rampant consumerism. Save your money. Don't spend it on - don't spend $150 on sneakers. And actually, you know, of course, this has been going on for generations...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. MEADOWS: ...since the Jordan's came out in 1984, so it's not a new thing. I don't really blame the kids for it. But I think it's a really positive move by Stephon who got a ton of bad press last year for the Knicks. So hopefully this will get him some good...

GORDON: Yeah, that's, we know that's certainly part of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: With about a minute and a half to split between the two of you. Pedro, this is something that you have to talk about the parents as well, those who know they can't afford to buy the expensive gym shoes who have often made a way somehow.

Prof. NOGUERA: No, you're right. And too many parents fall, you know, prey to the advertising and to the pleas of their children to buy these very expensive sneakers. I have some kids myself who are putting pressure on me for the (unintelligible), so I understand those pressures.

It'll be even more significant when we see Nike and these companies that produce these sneakers come out with cheaper products and take a step similar to Marbury's in reducing these inflated prices. So I think it's a good step; it's a small step, but hopefully it's a step that others will follow.

GORDON: And, Julianne, very quickly, put your economist hat on for me. I've not seen this shoe yet, though I'm told we'll get a look at it next week. But I am told that it is not a, quote, cheap shoe. It doesn't look cheap. And this really shows you the idea of the profit side of these kinds of gym shoes, that you can make a quality shoe and sell it for $15.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Absolutely. I mean these shoes are produced in China. They're using the same material that they use for all these other shoes. And so what you're really saying is that Nike Swoosh, all these other folks via stars like Michael Jordan and others, basically was extracting $130 worth of profit. You know, take a couple dollars out for the advertising budget, take a couple dollars out for Mr. Jordan or whomever, but, you know, $120 worth of profit per pair of shoes.

The thing is, you know, one of my nephews had his shoes taken from him on a bus in Oakland about five years ago. Somebody stole his shoes. Pulled a gun on him and said give me your shoes. And so I just want to hug Stephon Marbury. I think this is just such a wonderful move. And I just would like to see more of these stars step up and connect their own economic success to the success of the community that has empowered them.

GORDON: Yeah. All right. Well, Bob, we see it's already working. Stephon is turning that image around. He's getting a hug from Julianne Malveaux today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEADOWS: Exactly.

GORDON: All right. Julianne, Pedro, and Bob, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Prof. NOGUERA: Thank you.

Mr. MEADOWS: Thanks, Ed.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you.

GORDON: Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, Sam Moore may be best known as part of the duo Sam and Dave, but his new CD puts him together with some other great musicians, the greatest of our time. And in our African music series we'll hear how singer Sara Tavares is making a uniquely Cape Verdean sound from a mix of cultural influences.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SARA TAVARES (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

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

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