Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

I'm Jennifer Ludden and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, how one school principal found success with controversial methods, including name calling and public humiliation.

But first, over the weekend the president's special advisor for green jobs resigned. Van Jones had recently been targeted by conservative critics. The main controversies: in 2004, he signed a petition questioning whether the U.S. government allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen.

And earlier this year, he used a vulgarity to describe Republicans. Jones acknowledged his actions had become a distraction, but he also claimed he was the victim of a vicious smear campaign. Here to talk with us about the Jones controversy are Glen Ford. He's executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. And James Rucker, he co-founded with Van Jones the online political advocacy group colorofchange.org. And gentlemen, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. GLEN FORD (Executive editor, The Black Agenda Report): Thanks for the invitation.

LUDDEN: Glen, over the past couple of weeks FOX News host Glenn Beck has really hammered away. He's repeatedly played clips of Jones referring to Republicans with a pretty foul insult just a month before he joined the administration in March, and then his part in that online petition about 9/11 came out.

Apparently, it suggested the government let these attacks happen as a pretext for war in the Middle East, something Jones has now disavowed. Why didn't all this come out in the White House vetting process?

Mr. FORD: Well, one has to examine what the White House was about in creating this proliferation of so called czars. And I have to say upfront that Van Jones has said himself that there is no such thing as a green jobs czar. But the White House gave the impression that it was creating these little centers of influence throughout its administration. And I think that these - that these centers of influence were intended as a kind of window dressing for the benefit of underserved constituents.

LUDDEN: Well, the administration officials have said it was actually a pretty low level position and that's why they didn't have the same vetting.

Mr. FORD: Well, yes, they say that now and yet when the administration was making all of these appointments they certainly weren't saying that these were low level and not that meaningful positions.

LUDDEN: Well, do you think that by - that he did the right thing that by staying on he would have hurt, you know, the health care debate and other administration goals?

Mr. FORD: I think that Van Jones' tremendous skills are best used outside this administration. He's a tremendous organizer. And what we need is people organizing outside the administration in order to bring pressure on this administration.

LUDDEN: James, you co-founded colorofchange with Jones. What about his claim that this really is a result of a smear campaign against him?

Mr. JAMES RUCKER (Co-Founder, Color of change): Yeah, it absolutely - I mean, that's exactly correct. Look, we Color of Change went after Glenn Beck after he called the president a racist, said that the president had a deep-seated hatred for white people, which was really just part of this overall narrative that Beck has been pushing and FOX has been helping to get out, which is that, you know, President Obama, the new head of the FCC, the - in this case, Van Jones, these black people are basically going to undo America as you know it.

And he's done this, this race beating day in and day out and he targeted Van Jones, really cherry picking things that Van Jones have said. There's the question of whether even Van knew. In fact, there are several other folks, including Michael Lerner, Howard Zinn, who claimed that 9/11 petition changed after they signed it.

He's cherry picked and really distorted the story of Van Jones. And, yeah, the White House has effectively I think laid down and Beck has said himself, look, Van Jones is the first, he won't be the last. We've got to root the administration out of these kinds of folks.

LUDDEN: But wouldn't it have been pretty hard to defend some of the things that he, I mean that, you know, the foul mouth - the foul label he gave to Republicans and even if he didn't know the petition, wouldn't that have been difficult to defend?

Mr. RUCKER: I actually don't think so. What he does, he's talking about playing hardball. Now, look, it's still not something you want to say absolutely, these are things that you can certainly defend. And look, if you look at people inside the administration and you look at hundreds of hours of footage of every time they spoke, you're going to get certain things.

And if the administration can't push back when you have someone like a Glenn Beck, who is a race baiter, who 57 advertisers - we've got in Color of Change 57 advertisers to abandon this show because of what he's doing. That's the messenger here. He has no credibility.

LUDDEN: Glen, you said that, you know, he was kind of window dressing anyway. So do you thinkā€¦

Mr. FORD: And - and I meant he was intended as window dressingā€¦

LUDDEN: Intended.

Mr. FORD: This was not to diminish his actual work.

LUDDEN: Right. So now that he is no longer in this post. I don't know if the post is going to be filled again, but do you think it matters much that he's outside the administration now?

Mr. FORD: Well, his ouster certainly does matter. It certainly sends a, has a chilling effect on those progressives who remain in the administration and on relations with progressives outside. At outset of this administration, many progressives thought that they had a home in the Obama administration, at least politically. I think they're being disabused of that.

And in terms of the McCarthy-like atmosphere that's being created I think we have to understand that the problem with McCarthy was not just McCarthy, it was with the people who acted on McCarthy's charges. And so, that rebounds back to the administration. They can defend whatever they are prepared to defend.

This is an administration which has a treasury secretary who neglected to pay his taxes, the two top, really top economic advisors were key players in setting the stage for the current economic disaster. I'm talking about Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. And there's no problem defending them. In fact, they seem to have no need of a defense.

LUDDEN: Right. James, just in a very few seconds, chilling effect on progressives?

Mr. RUCKER: Absolutely. I think, you know, business will go on on some level. But I think it gives people pause, and I think that's the purpose as far as what Beck is trying to do and what FOX is trying to do. It gives them a pause and it gives the administration a little bit of a headache. They have to think about what's happening with respect to the health care debate, with energy coming up. What is Glenn Beck and FOX going to do and are they prepared to push back?

LUDDEN: All right, James Rucker is executive director of colorofchange.org, he joined us from San Francisco. And Glen Ford is executive editor of Black Agenda Report. He joined us from NPR member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. Thanks to you both.

Mr. FORD: Thank you.

Mr. RUCKER: Thanks.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.