Roundtable: Slavery in Delaware; Heckling Annan

Wednesday's topics include: Delaware as a "slave" state; heckling Kofi Annan; and male athletes seeking protection from laws originally meant for female players. Ed Gordon's guests are Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition; Professor ER Shipp of the Hofstra University School of Communication; and TV commentator Callie Crossley of Boston's Beat the Press.

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ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's Roundtable, Senator Biden's slave state - will it help him if he runs in '08? And Kofi Annan booed in Beirut.

Joining us from out New York bureau is Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, and E.R. Shipp, distinguished professor of journalism at Hofstra University School of Communication. Also with us, Callie Crossley, social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press, which is seen in the Boston area. She joins us as she gets that last-minute vacation in from Martha's Vineyard. We appreciate you interrupting that, Callie.

E.R., let me start with you. The idea of - and we wanted to take a broad-based look at Dems as they move to '08. A lot of talk about Hillary Clinton. But as we see others either quietly - like John Edwards - readying themselves, if you believe that he's going to run, or others laying groundwork. John Kerry has suggested that he's ready to go, and now has made claims which he backed away from immediately that perhaps Ohio didn't do him right by virtue of voter intimidation.

We also hear now from Senator Joe Biden of Delaware when he talks about whether or not a northern liberal can be something that's palatable to Southern voters. He said this on Fox News.

Quote, you don't know my state. My state was a slave state, my state is a border state, my state has the either largest black population in the country. My state is anything from a Northeast liberal state. We see Joe Biden embracing the fact that it was a slave state.

Professor E.R. SHIPP (Professor of Journalism, Hofstra University): Yes. This -between Kerry and Biden, it seems like this is an episode of the Democrats version of Desperate Housewives; we just call it desperate politicians. With Kerry, he should've raised the issue back in 2004. And the particulars of the vote count then have been challenged and so far upheld. But what he's doing now is pandering to try to raise money for the Democratic candidate in the race in Ohio.

But Biden sounds like he's - he's an interesting character - but it sounds like he's basically saying, I had more slaves than you did. Delaware was just a slave state. I mean it was like - it's ridiculous on his face. But he's been known to have difficulties with expressing himself verbally.

Remember way back when when he gave this very heartfelt off-the-cuff speech about labor and all of that, and it was really plagiarizing a speech that had been given by a British politician earlier. So Biden - and he also was found guilty of plagiarizing in law school. Got an F in a class that he had to retake.

So he's had difficulty with words, so who knows what he really wanted to say, but it didn't come across well.

GORDON: Michael Meyers, while I did not see the interview and I can't speak to the context of what was said, it does seem strange to read it. And E.R. hit it on the head, the idea of saying, hey, don't forget, we held slaves here, too. I do know about black folk, is a little strange.

Mr. MICHAEL MEYERS (Executive Director, New York Civil Rights Coalition): It doesn't sound strange to me from Joe Biden. He reminds me of the frog who thought he could sing if only he could eat the singing birdies. And he ate so many birdies - and after eating so many birdies he still croaked, but he was full of the subject.

Joe Biden is full of the subject, and the subject is always Joe Biden. The emphasis was not on the state of Delaware, but my state, my state, my state, me, me, me. I have said on previous occasions and previous shows that Joe Biden is insufferable. There is nothing else to say that Joe Biden is insufferable. Period.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SHIPP: Okay.

GORDON: We got it. Callie?

Mr. MEYERS: He can't help himself.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Commentator, Beat the Press): I guess I want to take Joe Biden's statement and put it in a larger context and just say that what he is speaking to is the sense that without the South, you cannot win the presidential election. And so the question becomes, is that true? And I guess most people have bought into that.

And in his statement, weird as it was, what he was trying to say that is I am a part of the piece of the country that makes presidential candidates, that gives them the support they need to win. And so that's the larger context of this, and I think we're going to see more people claiming some link to that part of the country as a way of making themselves more - as Ed had said - more palatable to the rest of the country for whatever reason.

Prof. SHIPP: You know what, and he's not a Southerner so there you go.

Mr. MEYERS: But Delaware doesn't have many electoral votes. At least Texas does. Ohio does. And what disturbs me about Kerry's arguments in his letter, his fundraiser - and that's what it was - was that it seemed that we was robbed. I mean that's good red meat for Democrats, especially minorities in Ohio. We was robbed! Well, the votes were recounted and recounted and recounted, and the Democrats lost.

GORDON: Well, here's what interesting to me in the statement that Biden made, and it speaks to not just Joe Biden. But a lot of white politicians in general don't really know seemingly how to connect with black America. As he tied it into my state was a slave state, my state is a border state, my state has the eight largest black population in the country.

So clearly he's speaking to black people. Just the idea of...

Prof. SHIPP: He was actually speaking - Ed, I would argue he was not speaking to black people. He was speaking more to the broad Southerner as a voter...

GORDON: But that's my point. That's my point. Clearly his attempt to speak to the Southerner, the broad Southerner - one has to question if you're really going to speak to that white farmer down South, do you really want to talk about, you know, mine is the eight largest population of blacks?

It seems to me he had to find a way to speak to all of that area. And my point was the connection with being a slave state is not a way to speak to black America.

Prof. SHIPP: No, no, no.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, he was trying to do both actually. If I say it's the eight largest black population, then black people can hear that. But at the same time, if I say it's a slave state, then presumably other folks would hear that. So, I mean his whole point was I can relate no matter Delaware sits on the map, I can relate to your folks who are eating grits every morning.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, you know, he didn't say that because of the slave history we have, I have experience, I have expertise in terms of overcoming the legacy of discrimination and slavery. He didn't say that. You know why? Because he can't say that.

You've got to remember, Joe Biden went to Congress in the first place riding an anti-busing platform. Anti-busing is a codeword for anti-black, Joe Biden, the insufferable Joe Biden. I haven't forgotten.

GORDON: All right, Michael, we got that point. Let's move on to another insufferable incident and situation, and that is what's going on in the Middle East.

We saw a crossroads of events that's very interesting here over the last week. U.N. chief Kofi Annan was booed by a crowd of pro-Hezbollah supporters, or supporters of Hezbollah, as he toured Beirut's southern suburbs. Many of them suggesting that the United States and the U.N. has done nothing but brought pain and suffering to this area and has no intention of helping out.

That next to the idea that now civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has gone in to try to meet with Lebanon-based Hezbollah leaders in an attempt to secure prisoner exchanges with the Israelis. Callie Crossley, what's interesting here is you have old school and new school. You have the United Nations and Kofi Annan really doing just enough to stay on the map with the Hezbollah side, the Lebanese side, but not enough to really bring real conversation and peace to the area. You have Jesse Jackson saying enough is enough. You have to bring everyone to the table. Which side wins out?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I think it's old school and changing school. And I say that because some many in the world, as was demonstrated by Annan's being booed, really believe now that the U.N. is just a front for the U.S.; and whichever way the U.S. decides it wants to go, then the U.S. must follow. And that's a really sad state of affairs not only for the rest of the world but for the U.S., because we cannot at any point step in and be sort of a neutral arbiter of these issues.

And so it's left then to folks who use the old school method - which, by the way, in my opinion, was always the good way - sit down with all the folk. Sit down and talk to all the folk. It takes a lot of guts to go over there as Jesse Jackson is and trying to connect with the Syrians and connect with Hezbollah. And saying, hey, you have some conversation that we all need to hear. I may not agree with what you did.

But as his point was, all of them want release of prisoners. So he finds the common ground and goes into negotiate from that point. I think it's absolutely working, but it's the stuff that always works if you sit down and have a conversation with all the parties at the table.

GORDON: Though, Michael Meyers, it would - I'm sorry, Callie, go ahead.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I just want to say with the U.S. sort of strong-arming the U.N. saying you have to go in one direction and not the other and that everybody can't be at the table, then you have a problem.

GORDON: Though it seems to me, Michael Meyers, that some will argue with Callie that the idea is that these nations have always seen the United Nations as a toy for the United States and just recently have had enough guts to stand up and say it out loud.

Mr. MEYERS: You know, I will argue with Callie, and I'll take you up on that one. And, you know, it's a theme that seems to developing in this show when you talk about Kofi Annan and John Kerry and George W. Bush, Joe Biden, Jesse Jackson - and you're going talk I assume soon about male athletes who want pregnancy leave. These are dumb jocks and jerks - you don't - Kofi Annan - I have one word for Kofi Annan: Boo.

You know, I would boo him, because the U.N. has been a failure, a miserable failure in this regard. And we need diplomacy, we need tact, we need common ground, but can Jesse Jackson really find common ground? He has success, yes, past success with respect to going into a situation after everything has blown up, so to speak, and pulling out prisoners. But that's it. It doesn't - it doesn't establish common ground. It doesn't resolve the crisis in the Middle East, and that's what we need.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I don't think he's trying to resolve the crisis.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, somebody is…

GORDON: I would say, though - but in fairness to Reverend Jackson…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah.

GORDON: …Michael, that is not what he's suggestion is, other than to exchange these prisoners…

Mr. MEYERS: No, no, what I'm saying - what I'm saying is that Jesse Jackson is, in an exploitative way, taking a piece of what he thinks he can accomplish with media attention. And then what we have to have diplomats like Kofi Annan and the president of the United States and Condie Rice, real diplomats, resolve the Middle East crisis - nobody is addressing the Middle East crisis in a diplomatic way that makes sense.

Prof. SHIPP: Well, well…

GORDON: E.R. can you pull us out of this sea of cynicism or you could…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SHIPP: I hope so. I think what Jesse is saying in his own way is that we have a logjam here. We've been talking; the talks have been curtailed. We've had a little bit of a cease-fire here and a little bit of something else there. That's still going on, but the logjam is this prisoner issue.

So it looks like he's trying to say in his own way - self-aggrandizing, I might say - that he will go in as Superman and bring out a prisoner or two or three or four as he's done in the past. If - I'm suspicious of that. But if he can actually do that, he might be able to give some space for the diplomats to come back to the table. If the only thing really stopping them from having really frank discussions is this prisoner thing, then maybe he can be of some use.

Mr. MEYERS: If you believe that, I got a bridge to sell you…

Prof. SHIPP: Absolutely.

Mr. MEYERS: I have a bridge to sell you.

Prof. SHIPP: No, no, no.

GORDON: All right. Callie, let me ask you as relates to Kofi Annan and his clout on the world stage. Many people, as you alluded to just a few moments ago, are seeing the United Nations power and clout diminish and diminish and diminish as the years go by. What can or should be done to help bolster that?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I think there's got to have to be some demonstrative stand by him or somebody else in the U.N. to say: Okay, U.S., you're a part of the world, but you are not the world. As you said earlier that, you know, other countries have been getting to say that. But they really have to stand up and say it, we have really - that point has to be made in articulating - maybe Britain can help a little bit in this way. I know it also wants to side with the U.S. all the time.

But otherwise, when you have U.N. peacekeeping forces - it will not be effective at all because nobody will trust or support that there is a broad-based support for peacekeeping. So there got to be some way to back it up.

GORDON: E.R., anyone big enough to do that? If you think about it, we just heard from former President Jimmy Carter who said that he is dumbfounded at Tony Blair and his almost lapdog approach to this administration.

Prof. SHIPP: Well…

GORDON: Those are my words.

Prof. SHIPP: I can sort of - I can see that…

GORDON: Bow-wow.

Prof. SHIPP: …as a perspective. I still believe in the United Nations, so I'll start with that. I'm not sure that the booing of Kofi Annan was aimed at - as a critique of his administration of the U.N. as much it was Hezbollah trying to show, as others around the world are trying to show, that they too have clout and power and should be recognized.

This - clearly this protest was orchestrated; it wasn't some kind of spontaneous thing. So Hezbollah is trying to show that justice - the West was surprised that it could be as strong and organized as it is in the military side, that it can fight for a place at a table during the resolution of the conflict. So there are a lot of things going on here. The U.N. has difficulties: The U.S. is still trying to be the big dog in town, but others are demanding their place in the sun.

GORDON: All right, with about a minute for each of you on this, because I got to get to this, we've been trying to for the last three days. And that is Title IX, which had been put in place to try to find equal footing for females sports with male sports in college athletics, is being challenged now by Eric Butler, a Kansas defensive tackle on the football team there, who said that he was denied an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA - that's the collegiate athletic association - after missing the 2001 season following the birth of his daughter. He's filed a federal civil lawsuit against the NCAA saying that that violates Title IX, which, until now, has applied only to females. Callie?

Ms. CROSSLEY: I believe that the guy should have paternity leave. Now that's just me. And I think it's admirable, personally. If you're asking these athletes, and they are role models, to stand up and take responsibility and make it in some obvious way, then to me, yes; if the man wants paternity leave, give him paternity leave. End of story.

Prof. SHIPP: No, he wants to save his career in football.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, he may want to do that, but in this case - if the daughter is there, all the other facts line up, so I'm willing to bite that…

Prof. SHIPP: Well, you're missing a point, Callie. This rule about giving the female athletes leave I think is based on the fact that physically they can't play that year.

GORDON: It is.

Prof. SHIPP: He doesn't have that - this rule was not intended to cover a male who wants to care of a baby while saving his career. There needs to be a different rule. It's not this particular one that is appropriate for extending paternity leave.

Mr. MEYERS: But this is an athlete who's claiming…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Okay, I might go with that.

Mr. MEYERS: He's claiming. Thank you, Callie. This is an athlete who's claiming even before I speak - I'm trying to persuade you, all right - even before…

Prof. SHIPP: I think she was agreeing with me, Michael.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CROSSLEY: I was agreeing with E.R. Shipp, actually. I was agreeing with E.R.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MEYERS: But this is a…

GORDON: All right, guys. Come on, Michael.

Mr. MEYERS: This is an athlete who says a rule is a violation of a federal law, a federal law which has not been read or interpreted the way he sees it. So if he wants to change the law and have a new social policy, change the law. In the meanwhile, if he wants paternity leave or leave for pregnancy, he ought to be able to get pregnant. If you can't get pregnant, you don't get the leave. It's just that simple, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GORDON: All right, well…

Mr. MEYERS: (Unintelligible)

Ms. CROSSLEY: Oh, God.

GORDON: If it is that simple, Michael…

Mr. MEYERS: Geez.

GORDON: …then the one thing we know is that defensive tackle Eric Butler will not become pregnant…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Will not get pregnant.

GORDON: …this football season.

Mr. MEYERS: Well, he's not going (unintelligible).

GORDON: That's it. We'll leave it on that. All right, Michael, Callie, E.R. We're getting close to the holiday, that's all this is, folks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CROSSLEY: No, kidding.

GORDON: Thank you. Thank you, guys, appreciate it. And, Callie, thanks for interrupting your vacation.

Ms. CROSSLEY: All right. Bye

GORDON: Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, many of New Orleans musicians lost their homes in last year's hurricane. Now a new building project is helping to house the people who give the city its unique sound.

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