Did SNL Go Too Far With Paterson Sketch?

It's another Friday in the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ruben Navarrette. Up for discussion this week: a closer look at President Bush's close call with a pair of flying shoes and a recent comedy sketch on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" that failed to hit New York Governor David Paterson's funny bone.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, freelance editor Nick Charles, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo, yo, fellas. What's up? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Hey, hey.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: It's good, man. Great.

NICK CHARLES: Hey, Jimi. Happy holidays.

IZRAEL: Hey. Happy festivus for the rest of us. Yo, check this out. People who expected Barack Obama to pick a lot of people of color for his cabinet, well, so far, these people are a little disappointed. Ruben, you had a word with Alberto Gonzalez about this very issue, right?

NAVARRETTE: I did. I had a chance to call up the former attorney general, who has the distinction of being throughout history the only Latino to ever break into the inner sanctum of the top four cabinet positions - Treasury, Defense, State or AG. That is pretty rarefied air. Not that many African-Americans have been there either, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice come to mind. Eric Holder will soon join that crowd. And not all cabinet positions are created equal, so I had taken issue with Obama not putting Bill Richardson, I wasn't the only one, Michel, and others were backing me up on this, for not putting Bill Richardson in as secretary of state; instead, putting in Hillary Clinton, and I wondered where the Latinos would end up.

Richardson ended up at the Commerce Department. Ken Salazar, the former - the current senator from Colorado, I should say, is the nominee for Interior secretary and, this just in, the new Labor secretary nominee is Hilda Solis, who's got some serious liberal credentials, a congresswoman from Southern California. That's three Latinos in the cabinet. That's pretty good. I'm going to have to eat a little bit of crow on this one because three is definitely more than the two that Clinton was juggling in the cabinet at any given time. And that's something. I mean, it means something that Obama is listening to the fact that he needs to get more Latinos into some of these positions.

MARTIN: Can I just point out how Ruben just slipped in how he happened to dial up Alberto Gonzales, who to my knowledge has given...

NAVARRETTE: We just hung out.

MARTIN: Zero interviews since he left Mr. Bush's cabinet.

NAVARRETTE: And who can blame him, man? He's been like the piñata for the press corps.

MARTIN: But here's what's interesting about the interview, besides the fact that Ruben, of course, scooped us yet again, but that Alberto Gonzales isn't necessarily - didn't necessarily agree with the criticism of Obama, feeling that certain job should go to people of a certain heritage.

NAVARRETTE: That's right.

MARTIN: So would you mind telling more about that?

NAVARRETTE: Correct. He said he challenged the premise of my question and the premise of those who would say that somehow Latinos are owed something or that somehow it's Latinos' turn to have this position. He says it's just not as simple as some people say, you need a Latino at secretary of state? Here's Richardson. There may be things about that story you don't know. There may be background stories, things in Richardson's past that may come up during confirmation or whatever. And I think that was a fair enough point. He doesn't think that Latinos are entitled to any position or that any ethnic group is entitled to any position. He also doesn't think that any president owes any particular ethnic group or demographic any particular dispensation or compensation.

IZRAEL: Right. A-Train, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: I think that we can't underscore the fact that, you know, we are still starting to continuously see, you know, establishment machine choices. You know, starting from Hillary Clinton on down. And so, you know, we have to call a spade a spade wherever we see. I mean, I'm still not happy about the choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. She does not have the requisite portfolio experience. If it was Health and Human Services, by all means give it to Hillary. I think she'd be awesome at it. But you're an anti-war candidate who's going to put a hawk as your chief diplomatic envoy? I mean, that is completely counterintuitive.

IZRAEL: Nick?

CHARLES: You know, let me go back to what Ruben was saying about being owed anything. I don't think anybody feels like they're owed anything. But at the same time, what you would hope from an Obama presidency and him filling his positions is that he would cast a wider net for people we may or may not have heard of, or people who will fly a little bit under the radar. But people of color who do have talents, skills and, in some cases, a lot of experience, who would never have gotten a look-see. And what some people are saying is that maybe he hasn't cast a wide enough net.

MARTIN: Can I just ask one more thing before we move to the next topic? Nick, are you hearing the whole black folks, Barbershop conversation - blogosphere conversation about whether there are enough African-American appointments in high-visibility positions?

CHARLES: Yeah...

MARTIN: You know, we heard - the headlines have really gone to the Latino community being upset, but I'm kind of hearing rumblings that a lot of black folks are saying, excuse me, hello.

CHARLES: It's on the low because people don't want to cast aspersions on Obama and they don't want to make trouble. But they are saying very quietly, OK, so he's filling with X,Y, and Z, but what about us? Yes, we do have the presidency. Yes, we may have an AG if Holder can get confirmed. But people are saying, well, there're not enough high-profile people of color. Black folks put Obama over the top in 2008. He is the first African-American president...

NAVARRETTE: They helped. Hold on. They helped with a lot of other people.

CHARLES: Hold on...

MARTIN: Thirteen percent of the population put somebody over the top? Sorry.

CHARLES: Ninety-one - over 90 percent - 95 percent of them voted for him - over 90 percent of them voted for him.

MARTIN: It's still 13 percent of - 90 percent of 13 percent is still 13 percent.

CHARLES: It's still a lot.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, but it's a swing...

CHARLES: It's still a swing vote.

MARTIN: OK. I'm sorry. I have to jump...

CHARLES: It's still a swing vote.

MARTIN: All right. I'm feeling you. That's why Nick's in journalism, because math wasn't his best subject. But we love you. Let me just jump in just to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Ruben Navarrette, and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Well, you know, I remember when Saturday Night Live was funny. And recently they did a spoof on New York Governor David Paterson that causes some people to wonder if they've crossed the line. Now, you'll recall that Governor Paterson is legally blind. We got a tape of that somewhere, right, Michel?

MARTIN: We do. We do have a tape, a little bit of a clip. And Governor Paterson is the - I think he's only the second legally blind person ever to serve as a governor. The first, I think, was in Arkansas who only served for a very short period of time, so this was kind of a major breakthrough, if you will. And here's the clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

FRED ARMISEN: (As Governor David Paterson) Come on. I'm a blind man who loves cocaine, who was suddenly appointed governor of New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ARMISEN: (As Governor David Paterson) My life is an actual plot from a Richard Pryor movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: OK. Where's the funny?

NAVARRETTE: I liked it. Of course, I like all of that stuff.

IZRAEL: I thought it's all right... because I think Paterson is - I think he's open to this kind of stuff. I mean, Eddie Murphy famously did a dig at Stevie Wonder, and it was - now that was back, again, back when they were funny. So, you know, I wonder if this is kind of political correctness gone wild. Nick?

CHARLES: I don't know that it's political correctness. But I definitely think it wasn't funny. And that's the most - that's the biggest test. If it's not funny, you shouldn't do it. I also think that, you know, one of the things about "Saturday Night Live," they have very few people of color, if any, on that show. I know they don't have any people of color writing for that show. That's a problem right there because when they did have people of color writing for the show, aka Paul Mooney was writing for that show. Chris Rock used to write for that show. Eddie Murphy used to famously write his own stuff for that show. They had stuff like making fun of Stevie Wonder, which they could make funny because he really understood what - got Stevie Wonder, he could do an impersonation of Stevie Wonder. And then Stevie Wonder appeared with him, and it was great. To have, you know, Fred Armisen now who, I guess, gets to do all the black roles even though he's not black, sit there and make fun of the blind guy, you know. And it wasn't funny.

NAVARRETTE: It's Ruben.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: I think it was just as funny or as unfunny as the stuff they did about Sarah Palin.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And we can't get to a point where, oh, I laughed at the Palin stuff because I don't like her. I don't respect her. I like making fun of her, but on the other hand when a time comes to pick on an African-American Democratic governor, somehow that is off the charts. That's inappropriate.

IZRAEL: A-Train, what do you think?

IFTIKHAR: Well, in many ways everyone knows that I like to consider myself the ubuntu of the Barbershop. But I think objectively speaking, I mean, I thought it was funny. You know, I think Ruben brings up a good point, you know, with Sarah Palin. I honestly think, you know, what Governor Paterson should have done is just brush it off his shoulders. You know, he is the governor of the state of New York. He needs to be like, you know what? I've got some dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me?

MARTIN: Let me - can I - let me just tell you what he said. What he said is this. First of all, I've talked to the governor about his - all his various identities. And one of the things he said is that having a physical disability, a pronounced physical disability has been more impactful on his life in some ways than being African American, thing one. Thing two, he said that there are only one-third of people with a significant physical disability are employed. And in that sense, he feels that that's because people have a very limited view of what people with disabilities can do. So in his instance, he wasn't reacting to this - he thought it was not funny and he said he thought it sort of reinforces this negative attitude about what people with disabilities can do.

NAVARRETTE: Right. And that was ridiculous.

MARTIN: If you think of what this man has accomplished...

NAVARRETTE: That was ridiculous, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, I don't...

CHARLES: No it wasn't.

NAVARRETTE: No...

MARTIN: I don't think it is. Because he's a role model...

NAVARRETTE: Employers are going to watch that...

MARTIN: The first person to do anything carries a certain burden, responsibility, whatever.

NAVARRETTE: I heard him say that, Michel. And that was the part that was - where he went too far. The idea that I'm an employer, and I was about to hire a blind person, but then I saw the "Saturday Night Live" skit, and now I thought different of it. That's ridiculous.

CHARLES: Oh, Ruben, that's cheap, though. My thing is, he's right...

MARTIN: I don't know. I'm conflicted by it.

NAVARRETTE: I'm confused. The man's blind. Could he even see the skit? I'm not sure I get that.

CHARLES: Oh!

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yes, he could see the skit. He's legally blind. He has some vision.

IZRAEL: I've known people that are legally blind that drive.

MARTIN: I just think you should think about what this man has accomplished. I mean, think about the fact that he got through law school basically memorizing all these things. I just think the guy...

IFTIKHAR: Well, that's what - what I'm saying is he's gangster. He needs to brush it off his shoulders.

MARTIN: Well, OK. Difference of opinion here.

IZRAEL: All right. Well, OK. Check this out. Keep it in motion. An Iraqi reporter throws his shoe at President Bush to express his disdain for the outgoing president. A-Train. You wrote a little something about that, if I'm right.

IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah. I mean, in my column I like to call it the shoe heard around the world. Not since Nikita Khrushchev's, you know, 1960 banging at a United Nations session conference have we seen the shoe, you know, create such a political firestorm. I think, you know, the absurdity to me is, you know, there was a report by ABC News that showed that there was a wealthy Saudi citizen named Hassan Mohammad Makhafa that wanted to buy the shoe for $10 million. And, you know, instead of giving that 10 million - you know, in my column, I call out Mr. Makhafa to give his 10 million, you know, to help educating Iraqi women and building water wells and resettling refugees, you know. When it comes to sort of our global foreign policy, I mean, we've really entered the absurdity of an Albert Camus novel.

MARTIN: That was deep.

IZRAEL: I'll tell you what I think is absurd. Dude has apologized, and he's expecting a pardon. You know what? Not bloody likely, bro. I'm just putting that out there.

NAVARRETTE: Try that with Saddam Hussein. Throw your shoes at Saddam and see how far you get. Saddam's response would have been like, listen, I've got good news and bad news for you. First of all...

IZRAEL: You won't need shoes anymore.

NAVARRETTE: The good news is...

IZRAEL: That's the good news.

NAVARRETTE: You won't need shoes anymore. You don't need shoes anymore, that's the good news. The bad news is because I'm going to cut off your feet.

CHARLES: Throwing those shoes was symbolic, man.

MARTIN: Well, you know, this is an interesting question because a lot of the journalism sites were discussing whether or not this issue was taken seriously enough, whether people were making fun of it, and I don't know. What do you guys think?

CHARLES: Well, it's a three-point thing. First point, where was the Secret Service? That's one. Secondly, he's a journalist. And I think some people were saying, as a journalist, aren't you supposed to be impartial? But people have to realize this is Iraq. This is a country that's been wartorn for the last seven or eight years, invaded by a country that, you know, that said it was coming there to liberate them. And the guy who started it and is leaving, you know, in a couple of months, and the country is still going through a lot of upheaval, is standing there and smiling. And I can understand this guy's frustration. Now the way he did it, maybe not. But at the same time, I can understand wanting to throw the kitchen sink and everything else you can find in your house at George Bush if you lived in Iraq.

MARTIN: You know, I remember as an American journalist getting access to the Blue Palace in South Korea, which is a highly restricted location because of the threat of terrorism from North Korea. And it's considered a real privilege to have that kind of access. And I just think that it just conveys a poor impression of the profession when your colleagues don't comport themselves. As a journalist you get access to people, but there is a responsibility that goes along with that access. And that is to not throw your - I don't know.

IZRAEL: I hate to put my foot down, but I think that...

NAVARRETTE: I'll put my shoe down.

IZRAEL: I think we've got to call it a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to the Barbershop. I've got to kick it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV ONE online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Nick Charles is a freelance writer and editor. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and a civil rights attorney. And he was here in our bureau in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

CHARLES: Thanks.

IZRAEL: Yep yep!

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