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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 business with the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and whatever is on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, artist and poet Bomani Armah, and civil-rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar. I may jump in here and there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, yo, fellows. Welcome to the Shop. How're we doing, men?

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey, hey.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good, man.

BOMANI ARMAH: Doing good. What's up?

IZRAEL: Oh, man. Well, everyone in New York, and everybody around the world, actually, is talking about the New York Post cartoon depicting two cops shooting a chimp and referencing the stimulus bill. And I - it's an allusion, some people think, to President Barack Obama. Now, there's something you should know about the artist. Sean Delonas has a reputation for running particularly offensive cartoons in the past; his targets have been gays, lesbians, feminists and - oh, yeah, that's right - people of color. We've got some tape right, Michel?

MARTIN: Well, we do. We have a tape of the Reverend Al Sharpton talking about this on CNN. But I do want to emphasize this...

NAVARRETTE: Aw, jeez. No, shocking!

MARTIN: OK. I knew Ruben was going to go there...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: That's all right.

MARTIN: But I do want to emphasize that he is not the only person who's been heard on this, members of the New York delegation, state legislature, state assembly, state senate, city council...

IZRAEL: NABJ.

MARTIN: NABJ, Journalists of Color, have all weighed in this, but we happen to have some tape of Reverend Sharpton on CNN. Here he's describing what it is that people are upset about. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show "CNN Newsroom," February 18, 2009)

Reverend AL SHARPTON (President, National Action Network New York): There is a historic racial stereotype of calling African-Americans monkeys. How you have a chimpanzee there as one who personifies the economic stimulus package that clearly is the advocated and authored by the president, the first African-American president, is clear.

IZRAEL: Hmm. Thanks for that one, Michel.

NAVARRETTE: Aw...

IZRAEL: You know, they're having me - I've got to say this. Not for nothing - I mean, I'm kind of on the fence about Al Sharpton and I appreciate him as an activist, but having him involved really, for me, clouds the issue. Ruben, please jump in here for me.

NAVARRETTE: Well, you and I both know what Al Sharpton's goal is; it's about putting money in his pocket by being a professional grievance merchant.

IZRAEL: Oh, come on.

NAVARRETTE: I mean, this is what he does; this is his shtick.

IZRAEL: OK, OK.

NAVARRETTE: This is what he does. But there are a couple of things about this controversy. One is this notion that somehow in the cartoon they said, somebody else - now they're going to have to find somebody else to write the stimulus bill. Well, Barack Obama writes good books - you know, books that people buy, bestselling books - but he didn't write the stimulus bill.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: He should be proud of that fact, because the stimulus bill is not something to be proud of. It's a mess; it's over 1,000 pages long; it's got all this pork in it. That was written by Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and all the Democrats in Congress, most of them. And so, to be accurate about that, this is not something - I doubt that Barack Obama has even read the bill and most Americans have read the bill; that's the first thing. The second thing is I'm all for coming down hard on cartoonists when they say or do something that's racially insensitive.

I read this cartoon, and I saw the debate as being about sort of the intelligence of monkeys as an animal, you know, they are the ones who created this, who wrote the stimulus bill; it was somebody of low intelligence; it was, you know, a monkey wrote it. OK, fine. But I want it played - but I want the game played by one set of rules, and I remember not long ago that Jeff Danziger, a liberal cartoonist, caricatured on several occasions Condoleezza Rice as a mammy, you know, the stereotype of someone who is using a broken English and subservient to the Bush administration, and none of those folks that - Al Sharpton was quiet; Jesse Jackson was quiet; all the folks on the left were quiet, proving once again that for many of these folks, they are blue first and black second. That is not the way it should be.

ARMAH: This is Bomani. First of all, if you're doing satire, you can't do satire about a human tragedy that's still fresh.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ARMAH: Like, the lady who got attacked by the chimp is still in the hospital...

IFTIKHAR: Critical condition.

ARMAH: Is still fighting for her life. So, that's not funny, you know what I'm saying? Maybe years from now, you maybe can make fun of it, but even still, that's, like, a thin line. And the other thing is, I'm wondering, because I've never worked in a newsroom, but I've seen the wire, I've seen a lot of people in this...

MARTIN: But you're a satirist. This is one reason we called you.

ARMAH: Yeah, yeah. But how...

MARTIN: Just for those who don't remember, Bomani is famous in some circles for his...

ARMAH: Infamous.

MARTIN: Infamous, others for his "Read a Book" - what would you call it? A poem of...

ARMAH: It was a music video, yeah.

MARTIN: A music video...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: Check it out on YouTube.

MARTIN: That encouraged folks to, you know, read and improve their hygiene, but in language...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That we don't usually associate...

NAVARRETTE: It was a gangster.

MARTIN: With these core values.

ARMAH: Right.

MARTIN: But Bomani, go ahead.

ARMAH: Well, so, even so - OK. So, when I did that satire for BET, when I did another satire for the Washington Post, it went through so many hands before it went out...

IFTIKHAR: Right, right.

ARMAH: To the public. So, my thinking is even if the cartoonist himself missed the racism in it...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ARMAH: How many other people - one of these professional journalists...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ARMAH: Who worked for one of the biggest newspapers in the world had to have been like, um, this is going to be misconstrued.

IFTIKHAR: Which tag teams perfectly into my point. Looking at the cartoonist himself...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: I think a pretty good litmus test that we could set is, let's rewind both the stimulus bill and the chimpanzee to five years ago. Let's say it was President Bush at that time, and he was signing a stimulus bill, and there was a chimpanzee attack in 2005 when President Bush was still in power. Would a cartoonist ever have the audacity or the common sense to make that cartoon? It was stupid to begin with, but it would never have gotten made with Bush and a chimpanzee.

ARMAH: I disagree with that.

IFTIKHAR: It would never...

ARMAH: It happened. It happened.

IFTIKHAR: No, it didn't.

NAVARRETTE: Yes, Bush has been...

IZRAEL: Bush was all over time being going on, though.

NAVARRETTE: He's correcting the record. I mean, this idea that somehow if Bush had been - we don't even have to play the hypothetical if Bush has been depicted as a monkey.

ARMAH: Right.

NAVARRETTE: He has often been depicted as a monkey.

ARMAH: But they're also dying in the cartoon, and they're dying at the hands of the police. That - there's a whole bunch of different politically incorrect things all meshed up in the one, you know, say, a two-second cartoon there, and I'm surprised that no one caught any of that at all.

IZRAEL: And let me just say this.

ARMAH: Or they intentionally put it to the side, put it out there like that.

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely...

IFTIKHAR: I was...

MARTIN: If I could just jump in just briefly to say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Bomani Armah in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel. Yo, what's going on with Alex Rodriguez?

(Spanish spoken) Ai, se lanza supremo en el marco del autobus, ay caramba(ph)!

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: (Spanish spoken) Michel, tenemos sonido, si?

NAVARRETTE: Oh, oh, racism, sorry.

MARTIN: Should I...

NAVARRETTE: Racism.

MARTIN: Should I - yeah, should I...

NAVARRETTE: Racism alert.

MARTIN: Should I slap him now or should I - I'm sorry. Not that I'm advocating violence, but should I...

IFTIKHAR: I speak French.

IZRAEL: I asked, Michel, if we had a tape.

MARTIN: Yes, we do. Arsalan, do you want to just remind people what the issue is with Alex Rodriguez?

IFTIKHAR: Alex Rodriguez held a live press conference in Tampa, the site of New York Yankees spring training, to actually - for the first time, actually, after Peter Gammons interview on ESPN, addressed the public. There were - the New York Yankees team players and managers were there. They were available for Q&A. It was basically what they call a 'til-you-drop news conference.

MARTIN: Kind of let it all hang out.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, and...

MARTIN: And A-Rod is a big deal because...?

IFTIKHAR: Because he makes a quarter of a billion dollars...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Literally, $252 million...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IFTIKHAR: For a 10-year contract.

MARTIN: Is he the highest paid athlete this fall?

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, I mean, in major...

MARTIN: Or certainly, you know, one.

IFTIKHAR: MLB history that is - it's a quarter of a billion. We're talking Bs now.

MARTIN: Let's let - hear what he has to say and then you can tell us how you feel about it.

(Soundbite of press conference, February 18, 2009)

Mr. ALEX RODRIGUEZ (Third Baseman, New York Yankees): I didn't think they were steroids. That's, again, the part of being young and stupid. It was over the counter. It was pretty basic. It was really amateur hour. I mean, it was two guys; we couldn't go outside; we couldn't ask anyone; we didn't want to ask anyone. We went outside team doctors, team trainers.

IZRAEL: Mm-mm...

MARTIN: Just to clarify. He said this is him and his cousin...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And cousin was his supplier of these steroids...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, he got it over...

IZRAEL: That's what I said.

NAVARRETTE: At what age does the young and stupid clause - does that...

IFTIKHAR: Well, he - and for me, that's a perfect point.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: Because - to every man on the street who knows anything about sports, you know that you've crossed the line when you're injecting a syringe into your body...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: OK, the injection, like, you know, injecting...

NAVARRETTE: That's not, like, a tic-tac.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, right, right, right, right.

IFTIKHAR: It's, like, honestly, when the syringe breaks the skin, you know you done crossed the line.

NAVARRETTE: Right. That's hardcore, that's hardcore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: You can't...

MARTIN: Well, when you put it that way...

IFTIKHAR: You can no longer...

IZRAEL: It's not, like, giving somebody a swig of something.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. You can no longer say, I was surprised...

NAVARRETTE: Well, here's my thing.

IFTIKHAR: You know, at what I was taking.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Here's my thing. I mean, here, as Arsalan said, is a guy who makes a quarter of a billion dollars a year. His body is supposed to be a temple.

ARMAH: Right, exactly.

NAVARRETTE: OK? His body is supposed to be this wonder of science, and he's sticking things in his body that he doesn't even know what they are, according to this testimony. I'm not sure; I wasn't really sure; it's amateur hour? Brother, if it's amateurs, you don't want amateurs around you with a syringe, you know? So...

IZRAEL: Right, yeah.

NAVARRETTE: It's sort of counterintuitive.

ARMAH: Yeah. He was playing $25 million Russian roulette with a needle, and that doesn't make any sense. He has to have known more than that.

NAVARRETTE: Crazy, crazy.

MARTIN: You know, you know, but we say this, and yet, let's talk about Plaxico Burris, I mean...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: He made quite a substantial salary and can certainly afford people to assist him in going into any club or wherever, if he felt that he would be bothered by people, and yet, here he is...

NAVARRETTE: He never hired his cousin...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Carrying a gun into a club and, you know, getting into beef and shooting off a gun, and now his career is in jeopardy. I guess what I'm saying is, just because you have athletic skill, does that mean you are necessarily a rational thinker around some of these issues? I don't know, I...

IFTIKHAR: I know, but I think the one major difference...

ARMAH: That's what's great about it.

IFTIKHAR: I think the one major difference between A-Rod and Plaxico is the fact that A-Rod's controversy directly affected his play on the field.

ARMAH: Right.

IFTIKHAR: Plaxico was chilling in a Manhattan nightclub, and he pulled a Cheddar Bob on himself.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: But A-Rod is in the debate of greatest player ever, and you know, this is - you know, everybody talks about A-Roid and stuff. He's going to be known as Asterisk Rodriguez at the end of his career.

IZRAEL: Hmm.

IFTIKHAR: And also guys, you know...

IZRAEL: Go ahead, A-Train.

IFTIKHAR: A-Rod was basically the LeBron James of baseball.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah.

IFTIKHAR: Like, he was a phenom, and you know, imagine - you know - and so, it was already like, dude, you're one of the most gangster players there is in the league, undisputed, and you still have to go out there...

MARTIN: You know...

ARMAH: Even Barry...

IFTIKHAR: And get an...

ARMAH: Barry Bonds is the same way.

MARTIN: But...

ARMAH: If you cut Barry Bonds from steroids to now...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

ARMAH: He still should make the Hall of Fame if you cut him out and...

IFTIKHAR: Absolutely.

ARMAH: So, it's like where - why are we doing this for?

IFTIKHAR: And I told you so, yeah.

MARTIN: Is it possible, though, that there is a whole underside to this industry that we just are not willing to face as the public?

IFTIKHAR: Of course, of course.

MARTIN: And maybe we should just grow up about it.

NAVARRETTE: Absolutely.

MARTIN: And kind of - I don't know maybe we're just...

NAVARRETTE: Oh, we buy the tickets. We're the ones who buy the tickets.

MARTIN: We do. I mean, I think about...

NAVARRETTE: And cheer and...

MARTIN: I think about the other side of the entertainment - because sports is entertainment.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And the more - the entertainment side when it look - you look at acting and the movies...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And all the things these women do to their bodies to keep themselves looking younger...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: Than they are and all the - the men, too, I find it - if you get to that level, you don't want to lose it.

IFTIKHAR: Well, and that's the thing. At the level of professional athletics, what is setting you apart from the rest of the human race is your natural talent and ability on the field. I mean, that is, at the end of the day, for purists...

MARTIN: I don't think so. It's work ethic; it's work ethic. It's...

IFTIKHAR: Right, I mean, you're...

MARTIN: These are extreme sports...

IFTIKHAR: I think - you're right and that goes to...

MARTIN: I'm not willing to get hit for a living.

IFTIKHAR: Well, that's - and that goes...

MARTIN: I'm sorry. I'm not, you know...

IFTIKHAR: And that...

MARTIN: I mean, there are sports...

IFTIKHAR: And Michel, that goes...

MARTIN: I'm not...

IFTIKHAR: That goes to your talent; that goes to your talents to evading tackles. And that's what I'm saying, is, you know, we do hold these people to a higher standard, and they, rightfully, should be held to higher standard when they are getting paid a quarter of a billion dollars.

NAVARRETTE: Call me - it may be a double standard, but I have a problem with steroids, but not breast implants in Hollywood. I'm - surprisingly talented...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, I'm just so relieved to hear that.

IZRAEL: Oh, boy.

MARTIN: And Botox (unintelligible). If you - next time I see...

NAVARRETTE: Not a big deal for me. God.

MARTIN: And your face doesn't move when you greet me, I will know what's up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: OK, moving right along.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Yo, what's going on in Chi Town? A-Train, what's up, man? Yo, your boy, Senator Roland Burris, he's pouring gas on the embers in Chicago.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: Somebody lights a match, it's on and cracking. What's really good?

IFTIKHAR: Chicago can claim Barack Obama, and we can claim Roland Burris, and you know, it's one of those things where, you know, right now, Roland Burris's latest admission that he did, indeed, try to raise $10,000 in campaign funds for Governor Rod Blagojevich's brother shows that he was obviously, clearly, lying to the general public from his statements beforehand. And honestly, for the best interests of Illinois, my suggestion is he says, you know, I will serve out the rest of my term, I will not run for reelection in the Democratic primary in 2010, and you know, let's move on with the business of, you know, trying to fix our economy and getting 47 million Americans health care and getting out of two wars.

MARTIN: That wasn't Senator Burris' posture in a press conference that he gave on Wednesday. This is what he said. He gave a press conference in Chicago, where he talked about his side of this. Here is what he said.

(Soundbite of press conference, February 18, 2009)

Senator ROLAND BURRIS (Democrat, Illinois): Thirty years in public life and never a hint of a scandal! I ask you to stop the rush to judgment. You know the real Roland. I've done nothing wrong, and I have absolutely nothing to hide.

IZRAEL: You know, that was my first clue that he had everything to hide. I mean, what...

NAVARRETTE: He's living his own world. He is living...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

IZRAEL: Really he is.

NAVARRETTE: His own world, just like Blago.

IZRAEL: Bo.

ARMAH: Well, first of all, I don't like the civil-rights tone that he took, right?

IFTIKHAR: Right. And Bo is absolutely right, you know, he's part of sort of the, you know, old Chicago dinosaur civil-rights guard, you know, generation, and you know, it's one of those things where, you know, every person in Illinois - I mean, he would get absolutely decimated if there was one Democratic challenger in the primary in 2010, you know, based on the fact that, you know, he's riding Blagojevich's coattails, you know, like...

MARTIN: Can I just ask you what's his...

IFTIKHAR: Sure.

MARTIN: What's his explanation for why he changed his story?

NAVARRETTE: I saw the actual testimony. I mean, we probably have seen them, clips of the testimony, where allegedly he committed this perjury, and it's, you know, did you ever talk to anybody close to - Blagojevich or anybody close to Blagojevich about the Senate seat? And then he says, he talks to his lawyer at his side and says, yes, I did talk to friends of mine about the Senate seat. And then they went onto the next question, right?

ARMAH: Wow.

NAVARRETTE: So, he was really obviously dodging that question and being less than truthful, perhaps, in that question.

ARMAH: He's got a good lawyer.

NAVARRETTE: But for me, I don't think what Arsalan is talking about goes far enough in terms of him waiting it out, serving in the Senate as an alleged perjurer. I think the Washington Post editorial page had it right when it called for him to resign. And I think that - unfortunately, as someone who really, I think, fought against the Harry Reid element to get - and the Dick Durbin element to get him seated, the picture has changed for me. And I think the Washington Post editorial page, which, if I'm not mistaken, also argued in his defense at the time...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: So, he'd be seated. But has now said that...

IFTIKHAR: But he won't resign.

NAVARRETTE: He probably perjured - well, whether he will or not...

MARTIN: Can I just something?

NAVARRETTE: He should.

MARTIN: But Ruben, I was going to ask you about this, because you were one of the people who was very critical of Harry Reid for being reluctant to seat him. You're saying...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: It's not his place to cast aspersions on his qualifications. He was, you know...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: He was appointed in a lawful fashion.

NAVARRETTE: That's right.

MARTIN: He should be seated. So...

NAVARRETTE: Before the perjury.

MARTIN: So, now, do you feel...

NAVARRETTE: Now I know more.

MARTIN: Betrayed is probably too strong of a word, but you feel that you will have...

NAVARRETTE: Well, I feel let down; I feel disappointed, because the whole imagery of him outside in the rain while - you know, turned away from the Senate...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: The whole civil-rights things, I mean, shades of James Meredith. I mean, how far you want to push it? I think he used that in a very unfortunate way and brought shame upon the legacy of people who really were excluded from institutions more legitimately than this. And again, go back to the reasoning; Harry Reid and Dick Durbin had very thin reasoning for why they wanted not to seat him. Now they have harder evidence, but at the time, they had no evidence. They only had their own sort of old-boy private-club preference and how they insisted that the Constitution gave him the right not to seat somebody when they were wrong about that.

IZRAEL: Well, the winds of change in Chicago...

IFTIKHAR: Go a lie nigh(ph).

IZRAEL: Stink. And I hope they get it together. But you know what? I think that's something like a wrap. I've got to thank everybody for coming to the Shop, and right about now, I have to throw it back to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Well, thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com and TV1 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. Bomani Armah is an artist and a poet and an educator and Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil-rights attorney, and they both joined us here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Gentleman, thank you all so much.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

ARMAH: Peace.

MARTIN: We have one final note about the New York Post cartoon that we were talking about. We mentioned that the New York Post issued something of an apology last night, but the Barbershop conversation was prerecorded. So, that happened after we had the conversation. And just to let you know what happened, the Post said that this most certainly was not its intent. To those who were offended by the image, we apologize. The remarks stopped short of admitting any mistakes in the matter and also took on longtime critics of the paper, such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, as opportunists, to whom no apology is due. The Post concluded, sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon, even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Tell Me More is produced by Brakkton Booker, Jasmine Garsd, Arwa Gunja, Lee Hill, Douglas Hopper, Jennifer Longmire, A.C. Valdez, Addy Whisenant and Jack Zahora. Our planning editor is Luis Clemens. Our line editor is Alicia Montgomery. The program is directed by Monika Evstatieva and Argin Hutchins, while Rob Sachs is away. Our technical director is Kimberly Jones. She had help from Melissa Marquis and Neil Tevault this week. Our theme music was composed by Underdog Entertainment, with additional arrangements by Ian Honeyman. The supervising senior producer is Tashima Walker. She got a hand from Walter Ray Watson this week. The executive producer is Marie Nelson. I'm Michel Martin. 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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