Guys in the Shop talk Fatherhood, Politics

The Barbershop guys talk about the week in politics. In the shop this week, the feud between Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood over the depiction of blacks in World War II films, Barack Obama's newest website, and what's on their agenda this coming Father's Day.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley sitting in for Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR news. Still to come, the anticipation of Father's Day for a new dad, one of our own. But first, it's time for our weekly visit from the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape up this week, our freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, and media critic Eric Deggans. Welcome all.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey! Thanks so much, fellas, welcome to the shop! How we doin'?

Mr. ERIC DEGGANS (Media Critic, St. Petersburg Times): Good to be here.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey.

NAVARRETTE: Good, man.

Mr. DEGGANS: Always, always good.

IZRAEL: Hey yo, well check this out. Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood, "Dirty Harry", go head to head on the portrayal of blacks in World War II history movies. Now you know, Clint Eastwood is not just an actor, he's also a - I believe, a screenwriter and he directed two films recently, "Flags of our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima." Now, he came under some criticism from Spike, because Spike said he didn't see a person of color in either one of those films. And of course, you remember Clint told him to shut his face because that wasn't necessarily the story he was telling. C-Love, we've got some tape around here, do we not?

CORLEY: We do.

IZRAEL: Drop that.

Mr. SPIKE LEE (Director): He did two films about Iwo Jima back to back, and there was not one black soldier in both of those films. His vision of Iwo Jima, negro soldiers did not exist, simple as that, you know. I have a different version.

CORLEY: I should point out first, Jimi, that when he said he had a different version, he was talking about a film that he's doing about the all-black 92nd Buffalo division which fought in World War II.

IZRAEL: Right, I believe the name of that film is "Miracle at St. Anna" and is due out this fall. Dig-E, my man, back again for the first time.

Mr. DEGGANS: The thing I love about Spike is that he makes great points. The thing I hate about Spike is that sometimes he lets his mouth kind of get ahead of his brain, and I do think he makes a good point here about Clint Eastwood and these films, although they found clips where there were black soldiers shown for like two seconds. The problem with World War II films, I think, is that because the military was so segregated, to try and show black soldiers, you wind up having to take a chunk of your story and tell their story, and so far, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood haven't wanted to do that. But if I was going to criticize Clint Eastwood, I would criticize him for all the other films he's done where he has black people in them, and they look like hell. So, let's really talk about that.

IZRAEL: Well, yeah there's that. Certainly, the "Dirty Harry" films, he was characterized as basically blowing away people of color, but that was certainly a different era. I think, A-Train...

NAVARRETTE: People of color just minding their own business and here comes Dirty Harry chasing them down with a 44. I'm just eating a hot dog, and here comes Dirty Harry coming at me.

IZRAEL: A-Train, my thought is that Spike kind of overstepped his boundaries here because he's an artist, Eastwood's an artist, and I think they're both entitled to their own interpretation. What do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I agree with that, actually, Jimi. I think that, you know, at the end of the day, these are two Hollywood personalities, sort of going toe-to-toe. I think we can argue the veracity of both sides' points, but you know, let's not forget that, you know, Spike's also been in a little hot water recently with Italian-American groups for his portrayal of Italians in "Do the Right Thing" and "Jungle Fever" amongst other movies. And you know, I don't think that Danny Aiello or John Turturro would say that there's a problem there, but you know, again, I just think it's two Hollywood people going at it.

IZRAEL: Yeah, I thought that's a fair knock. The R, what do you think?

NAVARRETTE: Well first of all, let's back up. Just as a point of clarification, you said that Spike Lee had complained that Clint Eastwood didn't have any people of color in his movies, these two movies. That's not true unless you think people of color are synonymous with African-Americans because obviously, with "Letters from Iwo Jima" you had the entire Japanese cast, right? It's from the Japanese perspective, right? And there's another thing too. The other movie, the "Flags of our Fathers" movie, there were six people who raised that flag at Iwo Jima and five were white, but the last one, the sixth one, was a Native American, and he was depicted as an American-Indian in the movie. So, just kind of a point of clarification there.

IZRAEL: Thank you. That was a really important point.

NAVARRETTE: But the bigger point, though, when I started to write my column on this very subject, I was all ready to slap Spike around because he had gone overboard, he had basically told Clint Eastwood, hey, you're not my father and this isn't a plantation. I thought when he brought the word plantation, he'd gone off the deep end. The more I read about this story, the more I realized that he was on firmer ground than Clint Eastwood was historically, that Clint Eastwood had attempted to say that there were very few African-American soldiers on Iwo Jima, period.

But there was a story that was done by Time Magazine that actually looked at the contributions of African-Americans at Iwo Jima, and the short story is that there were something like between 700 and 900 African-American soldiers at Iwo Jima, and they did the hard work of actually making it possible for the Allies to land on the beach. And so, they deserve props for that, and I think if you're going to tell a story that's accurate, what's wrong with including them? So I got to apologize to Spike here. I was all set to jump on him, but the more I looked at the story, African-Americans made a contribution to Iwo Jima that I think Clint Eastwood just missed.

CORLEY: Well, I think Spike would be waiting for that apology.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: We had a smack-down of our own, though, Jimi, didn't we?

IZRAEL: Aw man, Ruben was in the mix. He was called out by CNN's Lou Dobbs. Ruben, what's up with that? Thumbnail the conflict for us.

NAVARRETTE: Well, it started with Barack Obama. Barack Obama made a comment about Lou Dobbs and Rush Limbaugh in saying that they had done a lot to stoke the xenophobia, anti-Hispanic hysteria around the immigration issue. And he said it's not a surprise given that a number of hate crimes against Hispanics had gone up. Lou Dobbs went off on Barack Obama. And consequently, I wrote a column going off on Lou Dobbs and defending Barack Obama and saying that Barack Obama had really, sort of, just sort of scratched the surface, that there was a lot more to this. I mean...

IZRAEL: But wait a second, Ruben. I mean, hold on. Back up a bit. I mean, wait a second. Obama's numbers were wrong though, right? And doesn't that matter?

NAVARRETTE: Obama had said that during the last year, the number of Hispanics hate crimes had doubled.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And the number from the FBI had actually shown that it had gone into double digits, it had increased, like, by 30-some percent. It hadn't doubled. There were also cases where...

IZRAEL: But it's a huge inaccuracy, and it's certainly worth noting.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, and it was noted. I think it was noted by the Washington Post, actually, took exception to Barack Obama's charge of hate crimes statistics. But if you're going to make the argument which was part of his comment that Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs had stoked the flames of this anti-Hispanic hysteria, then there's a lot of, unfortunately, documentation to that effect.

IZRAEL: But you know what - I mean, if you're going to go out there on a limb and say so and so was stoking the flames of hate and all this kind of stuff, you better have your numbers right. Now, we have an Obama supporter in the house. A-Train, jump in here, man.

IFTIKHAR: Well, I think, you know, if you look at the Washington Post piece, it wasn't flattering to Lou Dobbs at all, either. You know, let's not forget before the show became "Lou Dobbs Tonight" - and I've watched it since the beginning - it was "Moneyline with Lou Dobbs." This is a Wall Street, Chardonnay-sipping dude, you know, who is not an expert on immigration to say the least. And so I do believe that Lou Dobbs, you know, has fanned the flames of xenophobia. I think that, you know, Obama was called out on having a factual inaccuracy in one of his stump speeches, but I don't see Lou Dobbs being called out on a daily basis on, you know, the regular inaccuracies that come out on his show.

IZRAEL: You know, that's a good point.

CORLEY: Now what exactly did Lou Dobbs say about Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: What he said about me was he thought that I had been unfair to him, obviously, that I - he thought that I hadn't read the Washington Post. And I confess, I don't read the Washington Post because I'm too busy writing for the Washington Post, you know. I write a twice a week syndicated column for the Washington Post.

IZRAEL: Whoa! Ouch.

NAVARRETTE: He also said I was small time, you know, he said I was...

IZRAEL: He called you a little fellow!

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, you little fellow.

IZRAEL: You little fellow!

NAVARRETTE: And lastly, he sort of said that I was a racial journalist that I only wrote about - and primarily about racial things.

IZRAEL: Dig-E get in there.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I was just going to say, you know, somebody who has tangled with both Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly on a number of these issues, I've got to totally agree with what Ruben is saying. And these guys' approach - Dobbs' approach to Ruben, for example, is their textbook way of trying to neutralize critics. The first thing they do is they try to turn the argument back on the person who's making it. You'll be tarred and feathered as a race baiter which, you know, O'Reilly has called me. You know, Lou Dobbs gave me one of the most disrespectful interviews I've ever had. At one point I just said, you know, we need to stop talking. I've never done this before in almost 20 years of journalism. Let's just end the interview because you are determined not to answer my questions respectfully, instead you want to insult me. Which is what these guys do.

CORLEY: And if you are just joining us, you are listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Cheryl Corley. And I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Eric Deggans, and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Yo, check it out! You talk about somebody having to deal with rumors and innuendo. Senator Barack Obama, he dedicated a website just to debunking rumors as his run for the president shifts into full gear. Now the name of the site is called Fight the Smears. And it's dealing with everything from him being a Muslim, not, to his wife and the infamous "whitey" tape. Now our resident...

CORLEY: So, when you say the infamous "whitey" tape, explain what you mean.

Mr. DEGGANS: That could have a lot of meanings.

CORLEY: Yes.

IZRAEL: OK, I'm sorry. I should explain that the "whitey" tape - there's been this Internet rumor that Michelle Obama, she was talking about white people and referred to them as "whitey." But it has turned out to be yet another Internet hoax. Yo, A-Train, hit it.

IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, a bunch of right-wing bloggers sitting in their tighty-whities in their momma's basement are, you know, circulating these viral conspiracy theories...

IZRAEL: What a picture!

IFTIKHAR: From everything, you know, like Obama being the Manchurian Candidate or a secret Muslim to, you know, all these sorts of things. You know, unfortunately, with the viral nature of the Internet these days, these forwarded emails and blog postings, you know, unfortunately end up in the mainstream media. And I think that it's good that Barack is dedicating some portion of his campaign resources to helping to combat that because that takes away, you know, discussing the real issues. Unfortunately it seems like, again, we've devolved into a YouTube presidential debate.

IZRAEL: Dig-E, hit it.

Mr. DEGGANS: Well, I was just going to say, you know, I think this is a brilliant move. And once again shows how the Obama campaign has been ahead of the curve in terms of using online resources to reach their people and get their message out. One of the things we know about these attacks is that you have to respond to them quickly, and you also have to get them online in a way that people can easily forward the material to their friends, they can embed it into blogs, and they can put it up on websites. And so the minute that some, you know, attack comes out that they can defang with the truth, immediately they can put it into the blogosphere, they can put it into cyberspace in a way that attacks it very quickly.

IZRAEL: Ruben, you know what I think, Ruben? I think, you know, number one, I think you don't dignify these types of things, these boogeyman, "I thought I saw a puddy tat" type of rumors. And I also think that it's too little too late.

NAVARRETTE: It's wild because I think that Barack Obama has said in the past that if it wasn't questions about his patriotism or his Americanism, it would be something else. Here's the significance, I think, of this website that he's created. It's brilliant for another reason. It's like working the refs. Because what he's done now is he's created a situation where there'll be this reservoir where you can put all the rumors, and guess what, guys? Some of those rumors that go in that reservoir are going to be true. But he's worked the refs, he's convinced people that there is enough falsehoods out there that some of the true stuff won't be paid attention to. And I'll give you one example. Six months ago, the Hillary Clinton campaign people were bothering me and everybody else hounding us saying, look into this thing about Barack Obama's minister. And not too many people took it seriously at the time because it sounded like one of these outlandish rumors. Turns out there was a real live minister. Oh boy, was there! And so I think that...

IZRAEL: Oh boy!

NAVARRETTE: Yeah! There is going to be some truth to some of the stuff that's been said about Obama, or will be said about Obama. The brilliance of this strategy is that it all gets mixed together in this pot labeled falsehoods, and it all gets thrown out.

Mr. DEGGANS: I just want to say five words which is the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The way that worked against John Kerry who didn't say anything about their charges for weeks, proved that you have to answer this stuff. You can't let it simmer.

NAVARRETTE: It's true.

Mr. DEGGANS: Even if it's not true. Secondly...

IZRAEL: That's like 47 words, bro. But go on.

Mr. DEGGANS: The second thing I'll just say real quick is that I think they would destroy the value of the site if they put things on there that turned out to be true.

CORLEY: Hey, Jimi.

IZRAEL: C-Love.

CORLEY: Yes. I was just going to say, before you wrap everything up here, I was going to ask all of you gentlemen if you had any big plans for Father's Day.

NAVARRETTE: This is Ruben. I'm going to a barbeque, and luckily I don't have to cook. My sister is going to cook for me and for my dad. So that's a nice Father's Day present.

CORLEY: All right. Anybody else?

Mr. DEGGANS: My plan is to kick back and see what my kids come up with for me. I'm sure it will be imaginative and inventive. And I can't wait to see what they come up with.

IZRAEL: And I'm going to spend the weekend with my daughter and my son.

CORLEY: And Arsalan, I know that you're not a dad yet. You have wedding plans in the future. So anything?

IFTIKHAR: I'm just trying to figure out what to get my dad to say thanks for putting up with me for 30 years.

IZRAEL: And with that I think it's a wrap y'all. Thanks so much for coming in. I'm going to hand it over to the lady of the house sitting in for the lady of the house, Cheryl Corley.

CORLEY: Thank you. Jimi Izrael, a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com joined us from KOGO in San Diego. Eric Deggans is media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. He joined us from The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. And Arsalan Iftikhar, a civil rights attorney and contributing editor for Islamica magazine joined us here in our Washington studio. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

Mr. DEGGANS: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

CORLEY: There will be a tribute to millions of men Sunday for Father's Day. It's a timeworn tradition by now for many of them marked by ties and socks or maybe a gift card. But for first-time dads it will be a brand new and exciting experience. Our own Rob Sachs, the director of the show, is in that group.

ROB SACHS: I know I'm only four months into this whole fatherhood thing, so I don't have a lot of wisdom. I'm certainly getting a lot of advice from people I meet. I hear it all the time. Enjoy the moment because they grow up fast. Get sleep when you can. And watch out for those dirty diapers! Ha ha! That last one actually is pretty helpful. But if there's one refrain that actually has rung true, it's that fatherhood really does change your life forever. In our daily life, my wife, Ann, and I have had to adapt to a brand new schedule, one that's largely built around our daughter, Rachel. We nap when she naps, we eat only when she's satisfied, and we drop everything the moment her smile turns to a frown. We're hoping things get easier as she matures, but for now, it's abundantly clear who's the boss in this relationship.

What no one told me, though, is that being a dad isn't only about me. It's about our parents becoming grandparents, our siblings becoming aunts and uncles, and our friends becoming honorary aunts and uncles. And with all those new titles has come new ways to connect to and cherish the people we care about most in our life. And as for Anna and me, the shared excitement of Rachel's development has added a whole new dimension to our own relationship. But can I just tell you? It's also really cool just being in the new daddy club. I now have an instant connection with all those other new fathers. I can meet any dad on the street and trade war stories about lost pacifiers or talk about that latest in diaper bag fashion. You know, they actually come in camouflage?

But still, the dad I prefer to talk to the most is my own. Now, more than ever, I realize that my father really does know best, at least most of the time. As for my relationship with Rachel, that's still really in its beginning phase. But I can't wait for the day when I get to read her her first bedtime story, or watch her perform in her school play, or what it will feel like when we dance together at her wedding? But for now, I'm content to change her diapers, wipe away her spit-ups and try my best to make her giggle.

CORLEY: Good luck with that, Rob. Rob Sachs is our director here at Tell Me More. You've been listening to Tell Me More from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday.

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