Obama's Win Surprises Nobel Followers President Obama wins the Nobel Peace prize, and late night television comic David Letterman's "creepy" confessions give him a ratings boost. Host Michel Martin checks in with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and NPR's David Welna in this week's Barbershop.
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Obama's Win Surprises Nobel Followers

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Obama's Win Surprises Nobel Followers

Obama's Win Surprises Nobel Followers

Obama's Win Surprises Nobel Followers

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President Obama wins the Nobel Peace prize, and late night television comic David Letterman's "creepy" confessions give him a ratings boost. Host Michel Martin checks in with Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and NPR's David Welna in this week's Barbershop.


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

It's time now for our weekly visit to 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 are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna. I'm sure I'll jump in. But for now, take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Freelance Writer): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome. Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. ARSALAN IFTIKHAR (Attorney, Editor): Hey, hey, hey.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Columnist): Good, man.

DAVID WELNA: Good morning.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hey, David Welna, D-Dubs, welcome.

WELNA: Thank you.

Mr. IZRAEL: How's it cracking? Check this out. Good morning because you know what? Today, President Barack Obama has become the third sitting president and the fourth overall to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, Woodrow Wilson won it in 1919, Teddy Roosevelt won it in 1906, and your man Jimmy Carter won it as the ex-president in 2002. Ruben.


Mr. IZRAEL: What do you think? Some people say it's too soon.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Okay, it's like this, brother.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: When I got the call from our producer at 4:30 in the morning California time…

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

Mr. NAVARETTER: And I heard the message, I had to first check the calendar and make sure it wasn't April 1st.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Then I checked my iPhone, and I pulled the story, and I found out it was real. I thought I was back in college, and the folks at the Harvard Lampoon had hacked into my phone and put up this parody. This story doesn't sound real.

Both people who support Obama and people who are critical of Obama are shaking their heads. They're shocked. It's disbelief. Even at the White House, at the White House, people who work for Obama couldn't believe the news. Okay, this is - to say it's unexpected and a stunner would be an understatement.

I think, I got to lay it out plain. It's easy to be happy for President Obama for everything he's accomplished. But I think given that he is fighting, at the moment, two wars, there are plenty of folks already on the left burning up the Internet, outraged over this saying that because they happen to be anti-war -and heck, there are people protesting outside the White House over the war in Afghanistan - they just don't think the shoe fits.

They don't think he deserved it. They don't think he's been long enough there long enough to earn it. And they think because of the wars, there's a real paradox here. So, what can you say? You're happy for the guy? He's accomplished a lot in a short time. He's living, you know, a blessed life. But I'm not sure this one fits.

MARTIN: Are you happy for the guy? It sounds like the hateration creeping into me.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I mean, the hateration this morning is coming from the left. You ought to see the emails. They're all folks who are against the war in Afghanistan.

Today, later today at the White House, he's convening a meeting of the war council. I mean, you have to be drunk on Obama love to not see the paradox of one minute you're meeting with the war council, having sent 20,000 troops to Afghanistan, and the next minute, you're getting the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know what? I think the people who are critical of Obama for having won this prize don't really know a lot of the criteria because, look, it says in the will of the industrialist Alfred Nobel, with - you know, the prize is named after, it says in part that, you know, you get props just for holding and the promotion of peace and congress.

So it's like, you know, you get props just for a good try. You know, I mean, so in some ways, you know, I don't know. I think maybe he does deserve it. A-Train.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I think, you know, first of all, on behalf of the city of Chicago, I just want to say who needs the 2016 Olympics, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: We got the Nobel Peace Prize. You know, as someone who's been a Nobel observer all my life, you know, it is interesting. And I would call this a preemptive prize, and I'll talk about that in a second. But I want to talk about some of the other finalists that people were talking about like Senator Piedad Cordoba from Colombia or Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, or of Ghazni, human rights activist Dr. Sima Samar. And somebody else I would have personally given the vote to this year is prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, personally.

Mr. IZRAEL: Careful with the hate, baby. Careful with the hate.


MARTIN: Well, those are two different things. You can - but anyway, go ahead, Arsalan.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Now, getting back to my previous point about preemptive prize, now, you know, let's not forget that President Obama…

MARTIN: I mean, just to clarify, I mean ridiculing someone else is not the same as preferring a different person.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: You see what I'm saying? You can have two different perspectives on that.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I'm saying if I had, you know, if I had a meaningless symbolic vote I would've given it to Prime Minister Chandra. But anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I think what the Nobel Committee was trying to do is give this preemptive prize to send a message to Barack Obama that A) the world supports you, B) you're going to have do something, you know, like an Obama Doctrine, where there's a final solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

Now, you know, he has eight year - or four years - you know, if he gets reelected eight years - to actually live up to this prize. You know, if I were him, you know, I wouldn't have wanted it before, you know, I had done anything either. And so, again, he's not to be blamed for this. You know, it's an honor that's bestowed upon him. There were 172 people, 33 organizations that were finalists who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and President Obama won.

Mr. IZRAEL: David?

MARTIN: David, can I ask David this question? There's a sense, you're hearing just some of the - sort of the punditry buzz that is not complimentary, and I just wonder if you feel that this might in some ways be a net negative politically here in the U.S.?

WELNA: I'm sure the Republicans are going to ridicule the fact that he gets this Nobel Peace Prize barely nine months into his first term in office. And it's true that he doesn't have a lot to point to so far in terms of accomplishments that would merit this prize. I think it's - in many ways it's more sort of an at-a-boy, keep up the good work prize, that the Nobel Committee is very pleased with Obama's intentions, but I think it's more endorsing his approach to dealing with the rest of the world and it really is a slap at his predecessor, President George W. Bush.

MARTIN: But wait, what I'm curious about is do you think that could be a net negative in a sense domestically? It's almost like you're the, you know, you're the popular kid and you get another prize, and so, you know, the kids on the back row have yet another reason to throw darts at you when you walk across the stage.

WELNA: Sure. That can happen. At the same time, I think that being a Nobel laureate probably gives him more of an impetus to wrap up these two wars that he's engaged in. The Iraq war, you can argue, he's made some progress on that front. The Afghanistan war, the big question is whether he's going to escalate this war or try to wind it down or just keep it going at the level it's at. But I think that having this title of the Nobel Peace Prize winner will make it more incumbent on him to live up to that title or else he will get more ridiculed.

MARTIN: Jimi, I'm not sure where you are on this. I wasn't sure. Where are you on this?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, you know, it's deep to me that, you know, and everybody knows I'm not a tankster, right? You know, but it's deep to me that nobody criticized Al Gore when he won his Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right. Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, you know, his job was to bring awareness to the issue of global warming. He didn't solve it. So I mean the very nature - respect, D-Dubs - but the very nature of the Nobel Peace Prize is really just kind of like a $1.4 million gold star. You know, it's like, hey man, keep up the good work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: And we've got your back.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I mean (unintelligible) done. I mean, you know...

MARTIN: But Ruben, can I ask you a question?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...raised awareness. I mean Obama got it for, in essence, let's be real.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay, let's.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) speeches. He got it specifically for the UN speech and for his multilateral approach basically slapping down the Bush Doctrine and saying we would not go it alone and people applauded. So there is a negative at home, not just among Republicans but among folks who think that the president has always been sort of the president of the world. And clearly there are a lot of folks out there who view him this way, and I'm not sure those people out there have our best interests at heart as Americans; certainly the international interests maybe different than American interests at times. This puts him in really great company: Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, you know, terrific. Good stuff. You know, Martin Luther King. But also, let's not forget, in 1994 the recipient of the Peace Prize was Yasser Arafat. So clearly...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...clearly people make the darndest decisions for the darndest of reasons and I think that if you are critical of Obama you have ammunition this morning.

MARTIN: Hold on a second. Let me just jump into say, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. You're listening to the Barbershop, and we're joined by Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and David Welna.

Ruben, can I ask you a question?


MARTIN: I mean here's what the committee...


MARTIN: Thank you. Here's what the committee said...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climactic challenges the world is confronting; democracy and human rights are to be strengthen. I mean, Abderrahim Foukara of Al-Jazeera, who was on the program earlier, as you heard, said that this is expressing this - it's two things, it's expressing the appreciate of the world community and it's also expressing the support. It's like saying we are with you. And based on accomplishment, I mean the 14th - the Dalai Lama was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. One can't say that he's really changed anything for the Tibetan people, but I don't think anybody disagrees with his receiving the award.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) accomplished up to that point. Typically the way this works is you accomplish something and then they give you this prize in recognition of what you've accomplished. It's always been that way. After Carter negotiated this miraculous peace in the Middle East, he got the Nobel Peace Prize. So now we've turned a corner where you can give a speech and get a prize, you can promise to do something and get a prize.

This prize was really about hope and change. It's about an investment in Obama and the hope that he will change the Bush Doctrine and the Bush view of the world. But even - I think even at the White House there's got to be some level of unease about this because this would've been a great thing for him to have won down the line when he actually did something.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think...

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what? You know what? You know what? This has inspired me to nominate Nipsey Russell posthumously for a Nobel Peace Prize.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi, always bringing it down to level…

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's keep it in motion.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm trying to make a serious point here (unintelligible)…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Let's keep it in motion. We know who's not going to get a Nobel Peace Prize. That's David Letterman. Although you know what? His "Late Show" getting mad props and all kinds of a rating boost from, you know, the extortion scandal where allegedly or I guess we know now for sure that he was the victim of a $2 million extortion attempt from a CBS staffer who was trying to keep secrets about alleged - well, I guess (unintelligible)…

MARTIN: I think we have to say alleged because the case hasn't gone to trial yet.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay. All right. Alleged affairs with...

MARTIN: I mean, so he's been arrested but he's pleaded not guilty, so…

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: So here's a CBS staffer who obtained the journal of his live-in girlfriend, who it appears was a former enamorada of David Letterman who worked for him, and on the basis of that, it was revealed that David Letterman had had some - had had prior relationships with a number of women on his staff and he revealed this to his audience last Thursday. He said he wasn't going to talk about it again, and then again at the beginning of the week he felt a need to talk about it again, to apologize to his wife and to his staff. I just want to play just a short clip for people who may not have heard it. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Late Night with David Letterman")

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host): Did - did your weekend just fly by?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN: I'll be honest with you, folks, right now I would give anything to be hiking on the Appalachian Trial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Of course, that's a reference to Governor Mark Sanford, whose previously been skewered by Letterman for, you know, saying that he was on the Appalachian Trial when he was in fact with his enamorada in Buenos Aires, so there you go.

Mr. IZRAEL: All right. Well, thanks for that, Michel.

Ruben, what do you think about this whole thing? You know, after heard his ratings, and Martha Stewart, you know what she said? She said, you know what? As long as nobody got hurt, it's a good thing. Not that Martha Stewart is the arbitrator of morality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: But just say…

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) celebrity standard, if you summer at the Hamptons they have a different set of rules for you, and here's my thing, and I'm going to give props to Michel Martin, who actually hit this nail right on the head when we first talked about this. And she said, here's the thing, if you are a producer who works for David Letterman - a female producer - and you didn't sleep with him and somehow you didn't get promoted because of that, does that automatically put you in a disadvantage?

This is a very serious thing Michel said, and she was right about that. This is textbook sexual harassment quid pro quo kind of stuff. This is not something that you should get away with at any company down the street, let alone at CBS. And I think it's unfortunate that - kudos to people like NOW, the National Organization for Women actually came forward and called it that way and said we're criticizing Letterman, this is inappropriate.

And I watched this bizarre thing where Wolf Blitzer at CNN is defending his friend, saying, well, even if it's consensual? Even if it's consensual? I mean the same folks who used to criticize Clarence Thomas, you know, are not defending Letterman. Good for NOW, I'm glad NOW stood up and said, you know what? It doesn't really matter about whether you're a liberal or conservative, a celebrity or not, you ought not be sleeping with the folks you work with.

MARTIN: Well, to me, it's not just the women who worked with him, what about if you're a guy? What if you're a junior male on that staff? And, you know, this is the same issue I have with golf - these golf outings that women aren't included onto, where you get that kind of inside...


MARTIN: ...inside information relationship with the boss - just because you happen to be a golfer. Let's say you're a young guy on a staff and you're not getting access to these, you know, fancy dinners or whatever it is that they do. You know, I don't know. Maybe they went to Wendy's. I don't know what they did. But anyway, Arsalan, you wanted to say something.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well, I'm still - I agree with Ruben. I'm still kind of perplexed that. you know, when he first came out and admitted it on his late-night monologue, people started clapping. You know, I was still kind of dumbfounded by that, you know, just - our adoration of the cult of celebrity, you know, has reached epic proportions where, you know, if this were a CEO of a company, you know, it probably would not have been tolerated, or you know, chuckled at as much. And so I think it is serious. In the last week I have read news reports that, you know, he had a secret bedroom inside the Ed Sullivan Theater that they nicknamed The Bunker.

MARTIN: Oh no.


MARTIN: Eeww. I don't want to hear that. Eeww.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Yeah. So you know...

Mr. IZRAEL: Who doesn't?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Well...

Mr. IZRAEL: Wait, wait, you don't?

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I have a one-bedroom apartment, dog.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IFTIKHAR: I ain't…

MARTIN: Well, David, this is never heard on Capitol Hill, right?

WELNA: Oh, never. Actually, I found it pretty interesting that there's been all this hubbub about David Letterman, while meanwhile we have a Republican Senator from Nevada, John Ensign...

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Right.

WELNA: ...who earlier this year admitted to having had an affair with not just somebody who worked for him as the treasurer of his campaign, but also was the wife of somebody who acted basically as his chief of staff. So he's got two subordinates involved in this. And Ensign, you know, went out and admitted freely that this happened.

But since then, the New York Times established that there were many other things that went on, involving Ensign looking for a job for the cuckolded husband of the woman he had an affair with. And you know, we've been sort of chasing Ensign around up here on the Hill, asking him whether he thinks he's going to resign or not, and he says, of course not. I've done nothing wrong.

Republicans aren't exactly rushing to his defense, but they're not - they're also not saying that there should be anymore investigation than there already has been. And you know, you got to think that, you know, David Letterman is an entertainer but this guy is a lawmaker, and in many ways lawmakers are models for the rest of society. I mean (unintelligible) bad shape if that's the case.

MARTIN: Well, maybe, maybe not. But you know what? Who's my role model? Don't you love a guy who can use cuckolded in a sentence and have it make sense?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I just love that man. I love that man. Jimi, thumbs up, thumps down on Letterman?

Mr. IZRAEL: Thumbs up. Go, bro. Do you.


(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. Well, hmm. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and he joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney. He joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist and writes for CNN.com and the San Diego Union Tribune. He joined us by phone from San Diego. And we were also pleased to be joined by David Welna, who's NPR's congressional correspondent. He joined us from Capitol Hill.

Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Nobel peace.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

Mr. WELNA: All right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

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